Australia’s digital divide is not going away



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People in remote areas use the internet much less for entertainment and formal education compared to their urban counterparts.
Mai Lam/The Conversation NY-BD-CC, CC BY-SA

Julian Thomas, RMIT University; Chris K Wilson, RMIT University, and Sora Park, University of Canberra

Despite large investments in the National Broadband Network, the “digital divide” in Australia remains largely unchanged, according to a new report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Australian Household Use of Information Technology report says we are doing more online, and we are using an increasing number of connected devices. Our homes are more connected.

However, the number of people using the internet is not growing, and the basic parameters of digital inequality in Australia – age, geography, education and income – continue to define access to and uses of online resources.

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Almost 2.6 million Australians, according to these ABS figures, do not use the internet. Nearly 1.3 million households are not connected. So what is going on? The ABS data points to the complexity of the social and economic issues involved, but it also helps us identify the key areas of concern.

Who’s missing out

Age is a critical factor. While more than nine in ten people aged between 15 to 54 are internet users, the number drops to eight in ten of those aged 55-64 years, and to under six in ten of those over 65 years.

Most people with jobs (95.1%) are online, compared to just 72.5% of those not employed. Migrants from non-English speaking countries are less connected (81.6%) than those Australian born (87.6%). Those already at a disadvantage – the very people who have the most to gain from all the extraordinary resources of the internet – are missing out.




Read more:
Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide


This is not to say that it is only individuals that will benefit from greater digital inclusion. Raising the level of digital inclusion yields direct benefits for the community, government and business. There are, for instance, clear efficiency gains for government moving services online.

Raising the level of online health engagement for those over 65 years of age (the heaviest users of health care) would provide such a benefit. Currently, just over one in five people in this age category access online health services, substantially below the national average of two in five.

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But nor should we focus only on the economic and efficiency gains of inclusion: the social benefits of connection and access to entertainment and information are considerable for most internet users, and especially so for those who are isolated and lonely, as older people may be.

Income and affordability matter

Australians with higher incomes are substantially more likely to have internet access at home than those with lower incomes – 96.9% of the highest quintile (bracket representing one fifth of the sample) income households have access, whereas only 67.4% of the lowest quintile have access.

And better-off Australians appear to be doing more online. Compared to the general population their uses of online banking and shopping, education and health services are higher. They are connected to the internet with multiple devices, with an average of 7.2 devices at home, compared to 4.4 in the lowest income quintile.

The gap between the major cities and the bush has not narrowed over time – 87.9% of those living in major cities have internet access at home, 82.7% in inner regional, 80.7% in outer regional and 77.1% in remote areas. It’s important to note that this survey did not include remote Indigenous communities, where the evidence suggests that internet access is usually very poor.

Among those who are connected, geographical differences in the means of access and modes of engagement with online services suggest a further gap among those who are already disadvantaged. People in remote areas use the internet much less for entertainment and formal education compared to their urban counterparts, which are services that require more bandwidth and better quality connections.

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Unfortunately, the ABS did not ask why households do not have home internet access, as it did in 2014-15. That data revealed cost was a factor keeping 198,600 households offline. Unsurprisingly, 148,200 of these households were from the two lowest income quintiles. Cost was the major factor in keeping more than 30,000 of the 76,000 family households (with children under 15) offline.

Given the increasingly central role of the internet in educational activities, the fact that the number of family households without access has not fallen since 2014-15 is concerning.

Affordability will continue to be a problem as more data-intensive services are offered online and the demand for data increases, and as mobile services become increasingly important.




Read more:
Bridging the digital divide means accommodating diversity


However, cost was not the only reason people gave for non-use. Around 200,000 of the two lowest income households lacked knowledge or confidence to use the internet. Digital ability, and our readiness to make use of the internet, are clearly areas for continuing attention. We know that interventions there can make a difference.

The final survey on household use of IT

This ABS survey is the last of its kind. We hope the Bureau will be able to undertake further surveys in this area. The end of this data series does not signal its lack of relevance, at a time when digital inclusion is more important than ever. On the contrary, it points to a pressing new challenge for governments, the community, and business.

As our service economy increasingly moves online — in education, health, work, and government services — we need to ensure that all Australians, particularly those already disadvantaged, have affordable access to the online world. A reliable evidence base to inform our work in this area is essential.

But the information we have should be enough to spark action in some critical areas. The affordability of broadband is clearly one of these. When we consider, for example, the situation of families with children — where cost is clearly an issue for a significant number of them — we need to recognise that existing policy settings and market mechanisms are not working.

The digital divide is likely to grow

The ABS findings correspond to other recent work in the area. Australian policy has long had the aim of making communications widely accessible across our huge country and dispersed, fairly small population.

But the Australian Digital Inclusion Index has highlighted the problem of affordability and unequal access across economic, social and spatial lines. Australia’s performance also compares poorly to other countries.

The Inclusive Internet Index, produced by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, rates Australia at 25 out of 86 countries, behind Russia and Hungary.




Read more:
Inequality is not inevitable, it’s a policy choice, says Oxfam


So despite the egalitarian aspirations embodied in the policy language of the National Broadband Network, the evidence suggests that the Australian internet remains unusually unequal in terms of access and affordability.

The ConversationInstead of a digital economy designed for everyone, we appear to have created a highly stratified internet, where the distribution of resources and opportunities online reflects Australia’s larger social and economic inequalities. The risk is that over time the digital divide will amplify these. Unfortunately there is little indication in the ABS data that any of the key indicators will change soon.

Julian Thomas, Director, Social Change Enabling Capability Platform, RMIT University; Chris K Wilson, Research Fellow, Technology, Communication and Policy Lab – Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT University, and Sora Park, Director, News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Tech diplomacy: cities drive a new era of digital policy and innovation



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Cities will be driving globalisation and innovation in the emerging world order.
28 November Studio/Shutterstock

Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

France recently appointed a tech ambassador to the Silicon Valley. French President Emmanuel Macron named David Martinon as “ambassador for digital affairs”, with jurisdiction over the digital issues that the foreign affairs ministry deals with. This includes digital governance, international negotiations and support for digital companies’ export operations.

The appointment is part of France’s international digital strategy, which is becoming a focus of its foreign policy. And France isn’t alone in doing this.

In early 2017, Denmark appointed a “TechPlomacy” ambassador to the tech industry. Casper Klynge is possibly the first-ever envoy to be dispatched to Silicon Valley with a clear mandate to build better relationships with major technology firms.




Read more:
Cities in the Future of Democracy


In an interview with Danish newspaper Politiken, Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said:

Big companies affect Denmark just as much as entire countries.

He isn’t wrong. According to geopolitical strategist Parag Khanna, the world’s top tech companies are achieving more international influence and economic power than dozens of nations put together. In 2016, the cash that Apple had on hand exceeded the gross domestic product (GDP) of two-thirds of the world’s countries.

Some of these global players are also influential policy actors in their own right. In 2016, Foreign Policy presented its Diplomat of the Year Award to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet Inc. The award was in recognition of Google’s contributions to international relations through empowering citizens globally.

What’s different about TechPlomacy?

The recent ambassadorial appointments signify not only the important socio-economic and political roles of technology, but also how diplomacy is evolving and adapting to the disruptive changes in our societies.

These developments mark the prominence of tech-cities on the global scene. Nation states are no longer the only players in international affairs; cities are also taking centre stage.

As opposed to lobbying governments in the world’s capitals, the new breed of diplomats will target tech-cities with multi-trillion-dollar technology sectors. They will also rub shoulders and nurture a direct dialogue with organisations that have gigantic economic impacts. In 2016, for example, Google helped to inject US$222 billion in economic activity in the US alone.

The so-called “Google ambassadors” won’t be targeting Silicon Valley only. The Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador has a team with physical presence across three time zones in North America, Europe and Asia. It will also connect with tech hubs around the world.

As part of an interconnected planet, these tech hubs will increasingly play a more active role in the global economy. Decision-makers are starting to recognise the imperative to establish good relationships and understand the tech giants’ policies and agendas.




Read more:
Creative city, smart city … whose city is it?


Cities as autonomous diplomatic units

The rise of cities as “autonomous diplomatic units” may be a defining feature of the 21st century.

Already, just 100 cities account for 30% of the world’s economy and almost all its innovation. New York and London, together, represent 40% of global market capitalisation. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the top 600 cities generate 60% of global GDP and are projected to be home to 25% of the world’s population by 2025.

McKinsey expects that 136 new cities will make it into the top 600 by 2025. All these new cities are from the developing world – 100 of them from China alone.

These global cities appear likely to dominate the 21st century. They will become magnets for economic activity and engines of globalisation. Khanna argues:

… [C]ities rather than states or nations are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.

He also suggests that connectivity through an expanding matrix of infrastructure (64 million kilometres of roads, 4 million kilometres of railways and 1 million kilometres of internet cables) will far outweigh the importance of 500,000 kilometres of international borders.

Still more questions than answers

As more cities assert their leadership on the world stage, new mechanisms and networks (e.g. C40 Cities) could emerge. That could signal a new generation of diplomacy that relates and engages with cities rather than bilateral collaboration between nations.




Read more:
This is why we cannot rely on cities alone to tackle climate change


The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group connects more than 90 of the world’s major cities.
The Independent UK

Although these new diplomatic outposts have generated some profound interest, questions remain.

Will this era of tech diplomacy create collaborative ways to develop and achieve foreign policy priorities? Will it increasingly become a unifying global priority?

Do these appointments signify a transformation in international relationships? Will big tech companies also develop diplomatic capacities?

And will we witness the emergence of a post-national ideology of civic-ism, whereby people’s loyalty to the city surpasses that to a nation?

What comes next?

Not everyone will be excited by these appointments. Many would downplay their significance. Others would argue that tech companies have been engaged globally for years, and that they do this anyway as part of their “business as usual” activities.

Whether you embrace or object to it, a new world order is emerging around cities and their economies, rather than nations and their borders. These cities may ultimately chart pathways to their own sovereign diplomacy and formulate their own codes of conduct.

The ConversationIt is anyone’s guess whether the future will bear any resemblance to TechPlomacy or something else we haven’t yet imagined. The significance of these appointments will become clearer as the envoys go to work and we begin to understand the possibilities.

Hussein Dia, Associate Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why we are still convinced robots will take our jobs despite the evidence


Jeff Borland, University of Melbourne

The tale of new technologies causing the death of work is the prophecy that keeps on giving. Despite evidence to the contrary, we still view technological change today as being more rapid and dramatic in its consequences than ever before.

The mistaken view that robots will take our jobs may come from a human bias to believe that “we live in special times”. An absence of knowledge of history, the greater intensity of feeling about events which we experience first-hand, and perhaps a desire to attribute significance to the times in which we live, all contribute to this bias.

History repeating

In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes envisaged that innovations such as electricity would produce a world where people spent most of their time on leisure activities. In the United States in the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson established a Presidential Commission to investigate fears that automation was permanently reducing the amount of work available.

Australia has not escaped the prophecy, with similar concerns about the future of work expressed in the 1970s.

In their history of Monash University, Graeme Davison and Kate Murphy report that:

In 1978, the historian Ian Turner, organised a symposium on the implications of the new technologies. The world, he predicted, was about to enter a period as significant as the Neolithic or Industrial revolutions. By 1988, at least a quarter of the Australian workforce would be made redundant by technological change…

Some years later, Barry Jones continued the gloomy forecasts in his best-seller Sleepers Wake!:

In the 1980s, new technologies can decimate the labour force in the goods producing sectors of the economy…

Of course, none of this came to pass in Australia; just as work did not disappear in the 1930s in the United Kingdom, or the 1960s in the United States.

Yet today, we are seeing the resurrection of the prophecy. Commentary on the Australian labour market abounds with claims that the world of work is undergoing radical and unprecedented change.

The increased application of computer-based technologies in the workplace is suggested to be causing a reduction in the total amount of work available; or to be bringing a more rapid pace of substitution of machines for humans than has been seen previously.

No evidence for the death of work

In recent research with Michael Coelli, we argue that the prophecy is no more likely to be realised in the 2010s in Australia than in the 1970s.

Certainly, there is no evidence that the death of work is at present underway. Since the mid-1960s the aggregate hours worked by the Australian population (on a per capita basis) has remained stable.

In particular, there has been no long-run decline in the aggregate amount of work that matches the timing of the progressive introduction of computers to the workplace since the early 1980s.


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Source: Borland, J. and M. Coelli (2017), ‘Are robots taking our jobs?’, Australian Economic Review, forthcoming, Figure 3


Moreover, the pace at which workers are churning between jobs in the Australian labour market is not getting quicker. Not only is there no evidence that more workers are being forced to work in short duration jobs, but what is apparent is that the opposite has happened. The proportion of workers in very long duration jobs has increased over the past three decades.


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Source: Borland, J. and M. Coelli (2017), ‘Are robots taking our jobs?’, Australian Economic Review, forthcoming, Figure 9


Why work is not disappearing

There are good reasons why we should not expect new technologies to cause the death of work. New technologies always cause job losses, but that is only part of the story. What also needs to be understood is how they increase the amount of work available.

One way this happens is through the increases in incomes that accompany the application of new technologies. With the introduction of these technologies, it may take less labour time to produce what used to be consumed, but higher real incomes, together with an apparently unlimited human desire to spend, bring extra demand (for existing products as well as for new types of goods and services), and hence for workers to provide those extra goods and services.

As well, new technologies are likely to substitute for some types of workers, but to be complementary to, and hence increase demand for, other types of workers. Computer-based technologies appear to be complementary to workers who perform non-routine cognitive jobs.

In a report on the digitally enabled workforce, Stefan Hajkowicz and co-authors suggest a range of examples for Australia – such as an increase in demand for photographers at the same time as demand for photographic developers and printers has decreased; an increase in demand for graphic designers versus a decrease in demand for printers and graphic press workers; and a decrease in demand for bank tellers simultaneously with an increase in demand for finance professionals.

The ConversationThe end of work is no closer in Australia today than at any time in the past. So, perhaps there is a need to keep disproving the prophecy, to change our mindset.

Jeff Borland, Professor of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

Will Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) face damaging competition from the upcoming 5G network? NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow thinks so.

This week, he even floated the idea of a levy on mobile broadband services, although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly rejected the idea.

NBN Co is clearly going to have to compete with mobile broadband on an equal footing.


Read More: Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


This latest episode in the NBN saga raises the question of exactly what 5G will offer broadband customers, and how it will sit alongside the fixed NBN network.

To understand how 5G could compare with the NBN, let’s examine the key differences and similarities between mobile networks and fixed-line broadband.

What is 5G?

5G stands for “5th generation mobile”. It builds upon today’s 4G mobile network technology, but promises to offer higher peak connection speeds and lower latency, or time delays.

5G’s higher connection speeds will be possible thanks to improved radio technologies, increased allocations of radio spectrum, and by using many more antenna sites or base stations than today’s networks. Each antenna will serve a smaller area, or cell.

The technical details of 5G are currently under negotiation in international standards bodies. 5G networks should be available in Australia by 2020, although regulatory changes are still needed.

Connections on 5G

In a mobile network, the user’s device (typically a smart phone) communicates with a nearby wireless base station via a radio link. All users connected to that base station share its available data capacity.

Australia’s mobile network typically provides download speeds of around 20 Mb/s. But the actual speed of connection for an individual decreases as the number of users increases. This effect is known as contention.

Anyone who has tried to upload a photo to Facebook from the Melbourne Cricket Ground will have experienced this.

Mobile base stations.
kongsky/Shutterstock

The maximum download speed of 5G networks could be more than 1 Gb/s. But in practice, it will likely provide download speeds around 100 Mb/s or higher.

Because of contention and the high cost of the infrastructure, mobile network operators also impose significant data download limits for 4G. It is not yet clear what level of data caps will apply in 5G networks.

Connections on the NBN

In a fixed-line network like the NBN, the user typically connects to the local telephone exchange via optical fibre. Directly, in the case of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or by copper wiring and then fibre, in fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).

An important difference between the NBN and a mobile network is that on the NBN, there is virtually no contention on the data path between the user and the telephone exchange. In other words, the user’s experience is almost independent of how many other users are online.

But, as highlighted in the recent public debate around the NBN, some users have complained that NBN speeds decrease at peak usage times.

Importantly, this is not a fundamental issue of the NBN technology. Rather, it is caused by artificial throttling thanks to the NBN Co’s Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) charges, and/or by contention in the retail service provider’s network.

Retail service providers like TPG pay CVC charges to NBN Co to gain bandwidth into the NBN. These charges are currently quite high, and this has allegedly encouraged some service providers to skimp on bandwidth, leading to contention.

A restructuring of the wholesale model as well as providing adequate bandwidth in NBN Co’s transit network could easily eliminate artificial throttling.

The amount of data allowed by retailers per month is also generally much higher on the NBN than in mobile networks. It is often unlimited.

This will always be a key difference between the NBN and 5G.

Don’t forget, 5G needs backhaul

In wireless networks, the connection between the base stations and internet is known as backhaul.

Today’s 4G networks often use microwave links for backhaul, but in 5G networks where the quantity of data to be transferred will be higher, the backhaul will necessarily be optical fibre.

In the US and elsewhere, a number of broadband service providers are planning to build 5G backhaul networks using passive optical network (PON) technology. This is the type used in the NBN’s FTTP sections.

In fact, this could be a new revenue opportunity for NBN Co. It could encourage the company to move back to FTTP in certain high-population density areas where large numbers of small-cell 5G base stations are required.

So, will 5G Compete with the NBN?

There is a great deal of excitement about the opportunities 5G will provide. But its full capacity will only be achieved through very large investments in infrastructure.

Like today’s 4G network, large data downloads for video streaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications will likely be more expensive using 5G than using the NBN.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In addition, future upgrades to the FTTP sections of the NBN will accommodate download speeds as high as 10 Gb/s, which will not be achievable with 5G.

Unfortunately, those customers served by FTTN will not enjoy these higher speeds because of the limitations of the copper connections between the node and the premises.

The Conversation5G will provide convenient broadband access for some internet users. But as the demand for ultra-high-definition video streaming and new applications such as virtual reality grow, the NBN will remain the network of choice for most customers, especially those with FTTP services.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how to extend your phone’s battery life



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Without proper care, mobile phone batteries can degrade and hold less charge.
Arthur Mustafa/Shutterstock

Jacek Jasieniak, Monash University

As mobile phone users, all we want is enough battery life to last the day. Frustratingly, the older the device, the less power it seems to have.

In fact, the amount of battery life our mobiles have on any given day depends on two key factors: how we use them on that particular day, and how we used them in the past.

Mobile phones use lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. In this type of battery, lithium metal and lithium ions move in and out of individual electrodes, causing them to physically expand and contract.


Read more: Do you know where your batteries come from?


Unfortunately, these processes are not completely reversible and the batteries lose their charge capacity and voltage as the number of charge and discharge cycles grows.

To make matters worse, the electrolyte (electrically conductive liquid) that connects the electrodes also degrades throughout these cycles.

The ability of lithium-ion batteries to store charge depends on the extent of their degradation. This means there is a link between how we handle our devices today and the charge capacity available in the future.

Through a few simple steps, users can minimise this degradation and extend their device’s life.

Lithium ion batteries are the main battery type in mobile phones.
Andy Melton/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Strategies for extending battery capacity

Control battery discharge

Typical lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones are supposed to retain 80% of their charge capacity after 300-500 charge/discharge cycles. However, batteries rarely produce this level of performance, with charge storage capacity sometimes reduced to 80% levels within only 100 cycles.

Fortunately, we can extend our future battery capacity by limiting how much we discharge our mobile phone batteries. With most battery degradation occurring during deep discharge/charge cycles, it is actually better to limit the battery discharge during any one cycle before charging it again.

As it happens, our devices do have battery-management systems, which reduce damage from overcharging and shut down automatically if the battery gets too low.

Nonetheless, to maximise the battery capacity in the future we should avoid that 0% battery mark altogether, while also keeping those batteries at least partially charged if storing them for a prolonged period of time to avoid deep discharge.

Extend charging times

Many of today’s mobile devices have a fast charge option that enables users to supercharge them in minutes rather than hours. This is convenient when we’re in a rush, but should be avoided otherwise.

Why? Because charging a battery too quickly reduces its storage capacity.

Physically, the shuttling of lithium metal and lithium ions between the electrodes in lithium-ion batteries is a slow process. Therefore, charging at lower rates allows more complete shuttling to occur, which enhances the battery’s charge capacity.

For example, charging a phone in five minutes compared with the standard two hours can reduce the battery capacity for that charge cycle by more than 20%.


Read more: How to make batteries that last (almost) forever


Keep the temperature just right

Fortunately, for most parts of the country, temperatures in Australia sit between 0℃ and 45℃ throughout the year. This is the exact range in which lithium-ion batteries can be stored to maintain optimal long-term charge capacity.

Below 0℃, the amount of power available within the battery system is reduced because of a restriction in the movement of lithium metal and lithium ions within the electrodes and through the electrolyte.

Above 45℃, the amount of power available is actually enhanced compared with lower temperatures, so you can get a little more “juice” from your battery under hotter conditions. However, at these temperatures the degradation of the battery is also greatly accelerated, so over an extended period of time its ability to store charge will be reduced.

As a result, phones should be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods, especially in summer when surface temperatures can increase to above 70℃.

Mobile phones only have a limited number of charge cycles before the battery loses its capacity to recharge entirely.
www.shutterstock.com

Use battery-saving modes

Aaron Carroll and Gernot Heiser from Data61 analysed the power consumption of different smartphone components under a range of typical scenarios.

They concluded there are a handful of simple software and hardware strategies that can be used to preserve battery life.

  • Reduce screen brightness. The easiest way to conserve battery life while maintaining full function is to reduce the brightness of the screen. For devices such as mobile phones that have an organic light emitting diode (OLED) display, you can also use the “light on dark” option for viewing.

  • Turn off the cellular network or limit talk time. The connection to the cellular network uses the global system for mobile communication (GSM) module. The GSM is the most dominant energy-consuming component in a mobile phone, so it is beneficial to turn it off altogether or at least limit call time.

  • Use Wi-Fi, not 4G. With Wi-Fi being up to 40% less power-hungry than 4G for internet browsing, turning off cellular data and using Wi-Fi instead will help your battery life.

  • Limit video content. Video processing is one of the most power-consuming operations on a mobile device.

  • Turn on smart battery modes. All modern mobile devices have a smart battery saving mode (for instance, Android has Power Saving Mode and iOS has Low Power Mode). These software features modify central processing unit (CPU) usage for different apps, screen brightness, notifications and various hardware options to reduce energy consumption.

  • Use Airplane mode. This mode typically disables GSM, Wi-Fi, bluetooth and GPS functions on your devices. When turning off all such auxiliary functions, the device will use only up to 5% of its usual energy consumption with the screen off. For comparison, simply having your device in idle can still use more than 15%.

Enhancing your phone’s battery usability requires a combination of limiting the use of power-hungry hardware and software, as well as handling mobile devices so as to maximise the charge capacity and minimise battery degradation.

The ConversationBy adopting these simple strategies, users can extend their battery life by more than 40% in any given day while maintaining a more consistent battery capacity throughout the lifetime of the device.

Jacek Jasieniak, Associate Professor of Materials Science & Engineering and Director of the Monash Energy Materials & Systems Institute (MEMSI), Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cloud, backup and storage devices: how best to protect your data


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How much data do you still store only on your mobile, tablet or laptop?
Shutterstock/Neirfy

Adnene Guabtni, Data61

We are producing more data than ever before, with more than 2.5 quintillion bytes produced every day, according to computer giant IBM. That’s a staggering 2,500,000,000,000 gigabytes of data and it’s growing fast. The Conversation

We have never been so connected through smart phones, smart watches, laptops and all sorts of wearable technologies inundating today’s marketplace. There were an estimated 6.4 billion connected “things” in 2016, up 30% from the previous year.

We are also continuously sending and receiving data over our networks. This unstoppable growth is unsustainable without some kind of smartness in the way we all produce, store, share and backup data now and in the future.

In the cloud

Cloud services play an essential role in achieving sustainable data management by easing the strain on bandwidth, storage and backup solutions.

But is the cloud paving the way to better backup services or is it rendering backup itself obsolete? And what’s the trade-off in terms of data safety, and how can it be mitigated so you can safely store your data in the cloud?

The cloud is often thought of as an online backup solution that works in the background on your devices to keep your photos and documents, whether personal or work related, backed up on remote servers.

In reality, the cloud has a lot more to offer. It connects people together, helping them store and share data online and even work together online to create data collaboratively.

It also makes your data ubiquitous, so that if you lose your phone or your device fails you simply buy a new one, sign in to your cloud account and voila! – all your data are on your new device in a matter of minutes.

Do you really back up your data?

An important advantage of cloud-based backup services is also the automation and ease of use. With traditional backup solutions, such as using a separate drive, people often discover, a little too late, that they did not back up certain files.

Relying on the user to do backups is risky, so automating it is exactly where cloud backup is making a difference.

Cloud solutions have begun to evolve from online backup services to primary storage services. People are increasingly moving from storing their data on their device’s internal storage (hard drives) to storing them directly in cloud-based repositories such as DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive.

Devices such as Google’s Chromebook do not use much local storage to store your data. Instead, they are part of a new trend in which everything you produce or consume on the internet, at work or at home, would come from the cloud and be stored there too.

Recently announced cloud technologies such as Google’s Drive File Stream or Dropbox’s Smart Sync are excellent examples of how cloud storage services are heading in a new direction with less data on the device and a bigger primary storage role for the cloud.

Here is how it works. Instead of keeping local files on your device, placeholder files (sort of empty files) are used, and the actual data are kept in the cloud and downloaded back onto the device only when needed.

Edits to the files are pushed to the cloud so that no local copy is kept on your device. This drastically reduces the risk of data leaks when a device is lost or stolen.

So if your entire workspace is in the cloud, is backup no longer needed?

No. In fact, backup is more relevant than ever, as disasters can strike cloud providers themselves, with hacking and ransomware affecting cloud storage too.

Backup has always had the purpose of reducing risks using redundancy, by duplicating data across multiple locations. The same can apply to cloud storage which can be duplicated across multiple cloud locations or multiple cloud service providers.

Privacy matters

Yet beyond the disruption of the backup market, the number-one concern about the use of cloud services for storing user data is privacy.

Data privacy is strategically important, particularly when customer data are involved. Many privacy-related problems can happen when using the cloud.

There are concerns about the processes used by cloud providers for privacy management, which often trade privacy for convenience. There are also concerns about the technologies put in place by cloud providers to overcome privacy related issues, which are often not effective.

When it comes to technology, encryption tools protecting your sensitive data have actually been around for a long time.

Encryption works by scrambling your data with a very large digital number (called a key) that you keep secret so that only you can decrypt the data. Nobody else can decode your data without that key.

Using encryption tools to encrypt your data with your own key before transferring it into the cloud is a sensible thing to do. Some cloud service providers are now offering this option and letting you choose your own key.

Share vs encryption

But if you store data in the cloud for the purpose of sharing it with others – and that’s often the precise reason that users choose to use cloud storage – then you might require a process to distribute encryption keys to multiple participants.

This is where the hassle can start. People you share data with would need to get the key too, in some way or another. Once you share that key, how would you revoke it later on? How would you prevent it from being re-shared without your consent?

More importantly, how would you keep using the collaboration features offered by cloud providers, such as Google Docs, while working on encrypted files?

These are the key challenges ahead for cloud users and providers. Solutions to those challenges would truly be game-changing.

Adnene Guabtni, Senior Research Scientist/Engineer, Data61

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.