We’ve probably all been there. We buy some new smart gadget and when we plug it in for the first time it requires an update to work.
So we end up spending hours downloading and updating before we can even play with our new toy.
But what happens when we can’t update our gadgets any further?
Every year vendors such as Apple and Google add to their list of vintage devices that no longer get operating system or security updates.
For example, owners of the Pixel 2 smartphone (released by Google in 2017) were told in late 2020 they would no longer receive regular scheduled system updates and security updates.
Upgrading to Google’s newest smartphones won’t insulate them from this problem for long. Owners of the latest Pixel 5 are told to expect this device (released in October 2020) to be made vintage in 2023.
While Apple has a reputation for supporting devices for longer than Google and Samsung with Android, even Apple owners are occasionally in for a shock, such as thoseusers who bought the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3 late last year only to discover it only works with an iPhone 6s or above.
Even if an operating system vendor still supports a device, this presumes the apps and network connections will still work for older devices, which is not always the case.
The unrelenting march of technology
Technology is not what it used to be. Twenty years ago, we could buy a laptop and everything would work pretty much the same for over a decade.
For example, switch on an old Windows XP machine (no longer supported by Microsoft) and any installed Word and Excel software will be there just as we left them, still available for your document and spreadsheeting needs. (We need to be careful about updating any software as then it might not work on the XP machine.)
If we want to play some old computer games, there’s an argument that an old machine or operating system will be a better choice to play on as a newer machine will run the game too fast, or be incompatible and not run it at all.
But the world of technology has changed in the last ten years or so. More and more apps need a network connection to operate, or take advantage of new features in the software or hardware that didn’t previously exist such as augmented reality (AR), so they need a new device to work.
Backers of the original smartwatch, The Pebble, found themselves on the wrong end of this situation when the company was bought by Fitbit, who decided to shut down the Pebble servers. This effectively turned all Pebble watches into paperweights, although an unofficial fix was developed.
Assuming the hardware works, we might find the network connection deserts us.
The WiFi Alliance last year announced a new WiFi standard, increasing speeds for countries that support it.
But it’s already the case that older WiFi devices running on older standards can have trouble connecting to new networks, and even if they can they are likely to slow down the whole network.
In the world of cellular networking, some parts of the old 3G network (famous for powering the iPhone 3G released a little more than ten years ago) has been shut down in some countries (including Australia), with the whole service destined for the dustbin in several years. Even if we could power up that old iPhone, it wouldn’t get any phone service.
A call for sustainable technology
So what’s the solution to this problem of disposable and expiring technology? One suggestion is that manufacturers move to making devices more modular, comprised of several detachable components.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is for manufacturers to work harder to recycle and upgrade devices for consumers. Companies such as Apple already do this, with machines that can disassemble iPhones and remove the precious metals and components for recycling, but more work needs to be done.
In particular, the commercial aspect of these initiatives likely still needs to be worked out. Some service providers offer trade-in in deals for old phones but you still have to pay for a new phone. Many people aim to use older devices to avoid paying for a new device after all.
Until manufacturers are willing to perhaps just do a straight swap of that old gadget for a new model with no money down, it’s likely we will still live in our expiring device culture for a while yet.
The federal government has announced a A$3.5 billion upgrade to the National Broadband Network (NBN) that will grant two million households on-demand access to faster fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) internet by 2023.
Reports fromthe ABC suggest the plan would go as far as to upgrade the FTTN services to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – although this wasn’t explicitly said in Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher’s announcement.
The minister said the upgrade would involve expanding current FTTN connections to run along more streets across the country, giving people the option to connect to broadband speeds of up to one gigabit per second. Improvements have also been promised for the hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) and fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) systems.
Altogether the upgrade is expected to give about six million households access to internet speeds of up to one gigabit per second. But how will the existing infrastructure be boosted? And who will miss out?
Getting ahead of the terminology
Let’s first understand the various terms used to describe aspects of the NBN network.
The FTTN system serves about 4.7 million premises in Australia, out of a total 11.5 million covered under the NBN.
With FTTN, households are connected via a copper line to a “node” in their neighbourhood. This node is further connected to the network with fibre optic cables that transfer data much faster than copper cables can.
With FTTN systems, the quality of the broadband service depends on the length of the copper cable and the choice of technology used to support data transmission via this cable.
In reality, however, Australia’s FTTN speeds using a fibre/copper mix have been slow. An FTTN connection’s reliability also depends on network conditions, such as the age of the copper cabling and whether any of the signal is leaking due to degradation.
The limitations of FTTN mentioned above can be sidestepped by extending fibre cables from the network right up to a curbside “distribution point unit” nearer to households. This unit then becomes the “node” of the network.
FTTC allows significantly faster data transmission. This is because it services relatively fewer households (allowing better signal transmission to each one) and reduces the length of copper cable relied upon.
In many areas, the NBN uses coaxial cables instead of copper cables. These were first installed by Optus and Telstra in the 1990s to deliver cable broadband and television. They’ve since been modernised for use in the NBN’s fibre network.
In theory, HFC systems should be able to offer internet speeds of more than 100 megabits per second. But many households have been unable to achieve this due to the poor condition of cabling infrastructure in some parts, as well as large numbers of households sharing a single coaxial cable.
Coaxial cables are the most limiting part of the HFC system. So expanding the length of fibre cabling (and shortening the coaxial cables being used) would allow faster internet speeds. The NBN’s 2020 corporate plan identifies doing this as a priority.
Minister Fletcher today said the planned upgrades would ensure all customers serviced by HFC would have access to speeds of up to one gigabit per second. Currently, only 7% of HFC customers do.
Mixing things up isn’t always a good idea
Under the original NBN plan, the Labor government in 2009 promised optical fibre connections for 93% of all Australian households.
Successive reviews led to the use of multiple technologies in the network, rather than the full-fibre network Labor envisioned. Many households are not able to upgrade their connection because of limitations to the technology available in their neighbourhood.
Moreover, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s NBN monitoring report published in May (during the pandemic) found in about 95% of cases, NBN plans only delivered 83-91% of the maximum advertised speed.
The report also showed 10% of the monitored services were underperforming – and 95% of these were FTTN services. This makes a strong case for the need to upgrade FTTN.
Who will benefit?
While the NBN’s most recent corporate plan identifies work to be done across its various offerings (FTTN, FTTC, HFC, fixed wireless), it’s unclear exactly how much each system stands to gain from today’s announcements.
Ideally, urban and regional households that can’t access 100 megabits per second speeds would be prioritised for fibre expansion. The expanded FTTN network should also cover those struggling to access reliable broadband in regional Australia.
Bringing fibre cabling to households in remote areas would be difficult. One option, however, could be to extend fibre connections to an expanded network of base stations in regional Australia, thereby improving the NBN’s fixed wireless connectivity capacity.
These base stations “beam” signals to nearby premises. Installing more stations would mean fewer premises covered by each (and therefore better connectivity for each).
Regardless, it’s important the upgrades happen quickly. Many NBN customers now working and studying from home will be waiting eagerly for a much-needed boost to their internet speed.
Last year, Professor Roger Bradbury and I questioned whether or not there was an unacceptable risk of the world “sleepwalking” into war.
We cited as reasons to be concerned a lack of strong and principled leadership, the problem of a rising power contesting other major powers for influence, the rise of nationalism, and the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in managing conflict situations. And we said:
the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war
So, in the aftermath of US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent and provocative speech to the Hudson Institute in which the US laid down the gauntlet to China over many issues, it seems timely to look at Australia’s naval shipbuilding enterprise and our readiness for the future if conflict does someday break out in our region.
But, in a comparative sense, we seem slow-moving and complacent in our decision-making and lack the agility to keep up with the times.
Why do I make this point?
In May 2017, the Coalition government released its Naval Shipbuilding Plan. The government announced it was embarking on a large shipbuilding enterprise to equip the nation to meet future challenges. Its vision is:
to deliver and sustain modern, capable naval vessels, on time and on budget, maximising Australian industry involvement and contributing to a secure and prosperous future for our nation.
In summary, the plan included:
A rolling acquisition program to produce a new submarine fleet at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. Construction of 12 future submarines will commence around 2022-23. The last submarine to enter service will be delivered in the early 2050s. This plan means the present Collins class submarines will have to remain in service until the late 2030s. There would also be no capability gap (with at least two serviceable submarines available for operations at all times).
The construction of nine future frigates would commence in 2020, also at the Osborne Naval Shipyard. The last of these frigates will be delivered in 2039. These ships would allow us to create surface task groups comprising one air warfare destroyer and three frigates able to be deployed quickly, with a second surface task group able to be deployed at no more than 90 days notice for up to six months. These measures could enable us to operate in two separate geographic areas at the same time.
A continuous build program for minor naval vessels that was to begin with the Pacific patrol boat replacement project in 2017 at the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Western Australia and the construction of 12 offshore patrol vessels. Construction of the first two offshore patrol vessels will begin in 2018. The remainder will be built at the start of the future frigate project, with the final vessel delivered in 2030.
The key to successful delivery and sustainment of our “enhanced” naval capabilities will be a coherent national approach formed through strategic partnerships with the defence industry, state and territory governments, foreign allies and other suitable partners, commercial enterprises, academics, and science and technology research organisations.
Adequate force for a changing region?
Earlier this month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report about submarines detailing many of the problems yet to be solved in maintaining our current naval capability and simultaneously constructing a future fleet of 12 submarines.
The plan certainly looks challenging enough, but is it even adequate to meet our needs now – and in the future?
I note, for example, that the new naval surface fleet will deliver about the same level of capability that Australia has had since I joined the Navy in 1961 – one surface task group of four ships. But in 1961, we also had the possibility of adding to the mix the power of a small aircraft carrier.
To assess the adequacy of our current plans, we need to look ahead to what our region will look like in 2050.
In a snapshot: there will be an estimated 5.3 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia will have about 321 million people and a defence budget equal to ours. Australia’s population is expected to reach 33 million, just 0.6% of the total regional population.
And, we have little idea where China will be positioned by that time!
Given these circumstances, will we have the assets to meet our needs if conflict does arise, or if there is a period of escalating tensions?
The size of our force structure has been limited since 1945. But, if war were to break out, the numbers we have been thinking about in our current naval programs will be at the low end of our needs.
From this strategic perspective, there are a range of questions:
Will these plans deliver sufficient capability in time to meet significant strategic challenges?
Will our shipbuilding enterprise be able to ramp up quickly to deliver more vessels if there is a sudden deterioration in our strategic circumstances?
To what extent will we be able to build more vessels that are dependent on systems supplied from other countries?
How dependent will these new capabilities be on the provision of spare parts and sophisticated weapons from overseas suppliers?
By what measures should we assess that our capability plans are adequate to meet Australia’s needs at any time?
And to what extent can the success of our international relationships ameliorate the need to go it alone?
I do not have answers to these questions. I raise them because I think we need to bear them in mind in today’s fast-moving strategic environment.
It’s also important to recognise that our plans require all levels of government, and many foreign governments, to pull together in a clearly defined way.
In addition, our ability to play in the big game in our region and retain a military advantage if conflict does break out depends a lot on the capabilities of our opposing forces. And even here, an analysis of the current situation is not re-assuring.
China’s new Navy
In May, the ANU Strategic and Defence Study Centre published a paper by Sam Roggeveen about China’s new Navy. It’s a reminder of the complexities of the issues that Australia will have to confront over the next three decades and is intended to be a guide for policymakers.
According to Andrew Erickson of the US Naval Institute, the Chinese PLA Navy is:
poised to become the world’s second largest navy by 2020, and – if current trends continue – a combat fleet that in overall order of battle is quantitatively and even perhaps qualitatively on a par with that of the US Navy by 2030.
The US naval predominance will continue to erode in north Asia and give way to a multi-polar balance. And in Southeast Asia, China will become predominant.
In addition, China may already be building a “post-American navy” – one designed not to confront US naval predominance in the Pacific, but to inherit it as the US balks at the increasing cost of continued regional leadership.
The final point of China’s naval ambitions is worth emphasising:
China wants a powerful surface fleet to signal to the region and the
world its great-power ambitions, thereby eroding incentives to resist China’s agenda.
What can Australia do better?
For policy recommendations, Roggeveen proposes that:
Australia must plan for a future in which its major ally is not the uncontested maritime leader in our region, and in which America’s will to maintain a preeminent place in the region will be severely tested.
Australia should follow China’s example by focusing its maritime force structure on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities. The plan to double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet is welcome, but given the leaps in Chinese capability, there are major questions around the pace of this program.
Australia cannot pursue an A2/AD strategy without Indonesia’s consent, and preferably its cooperation. Our defence diplomacy should be concentrated on Jakarta.
Emergence of Somali-related Islamic extremists puts authorities on high alert.
NAIROBI, Kenya, February 11 (CDN) — A constitutional battle to expand the scope of Islamic courts in Kenya threatens to ignite religious tensions at a time when authorities are on high alert against Muslim extremists with ties to Somalia.
Constitutional provisions for Islamic or Kadhis’ courts have existed in Kenya since 1963, with the courts serving the country’s coastal Muslim population in matters of personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance. Kenya’s secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters, and even a decision in the Islamic courts can be appealed at the High Court.
The Islamic courts have functioned only in Kenya’s Coast Province, but in a hotly debated draft constitution, their jurisdiction would expand across the nation and their scope would increase. The proposed constitution has gathered enough momentum that 23 leaders of churches and Christian organizations released a statement on Feb. 1 asserting their opposition to any inclusion of such religious courts.
“It is clear that the Muslim community is basically carving for itself an Islamic state within a state,” the Kenyan church leaders stated. “This is a state with its own sharia [Islamic law]- compliant banking system; its own sharia-compliant insurance; its own Halaal [lawful in Islam] bureau of standards; and it is now pressing for its own judicial system.”
Muslim leaders are striving to expand the scope of Islamic courts to include civil and small claims cases. They also want to upgrade the Muslim tribunals to High Court status. These demands have alarmed Christians, who make up 80 percent of the population and defeated a similar proposal in a 2005 referendum. Muslims make up 10 percent of Kenya’s 39 million people, 9 percent of the population follows indigenous religions and less than 1 percent are Hindu, Sikh and Baha’i.
The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) said the Committee of Experts (CoE) responsible for “harmonizing” drafts from various stakeholders ignored their concerns. The committee was responsible for determining what matters would be unduly “contentious” and was charged with keeping them out of the draft.
“We wrote to them, but we have been ignored,” said the Rev. Canon Peter Karanja, NCCK general secretary. “Who told the CoE that Kadhis’ courts were not contentious?”
Saying the committee ignored the crucial requirement of omitting what is “contentious,” Karanja said it did little to build consensus. He said that unless the Islamic courts are stricken from the constitution, Christians might be forced to reject the document in a national referendum later this year.
Muslim leaders, just as stridently, insist that recognition of the Islamic courts does not elevate Islam over other religions, and that if the courts are removed they will shoot down the draft in the referendum.
The 2005 referendum split the country and was followed by a bitterly disputed presidential election in 2007 that sparked rioting, reportedly leaving 1,300 people dead. The election dispute was resolved with one candidate becoming president and the other prime minister, and at the heart of the proposed constitution is an attempt to transfer presidential powers to the prime minister.
Christian leaders point out that the “Harmonized Draft” of the constitution discriminates against non-Muslims and contradicts its own Article 10 (1-3), which states that there shall be no state religion, that the state shall treat all religions equally and that state and religion shall be separate. They see the attempt to expand the scope of the Islamic courts as part of a long-term effort by Muslims to gain political, economic and judicial power.
Muslim leaders claim that inclusion of the Islamic courts in the new constitution would recognize “a basic religious right” for a minority group. Some Muslim extremists have said that if Islamic courts are removed from the draft constitution, they will demand their own state and introduce sharia.
The constitutional issue erupted as security officials went on high alert when sympathizers of the Islamic terrorist al Shabaab militia appeared in a protest in mid-January to demand the release of radical Muslim cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal, who had entered the country on Dec. 31.
Al-Faisal, imprisoned from 2004 to 2008 after a British court convicted him of soliciting murder and inciting hatred, is on a global terrorism list. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Al-Faisal has been known to recruit suicide bombers and was arrested for violating terms of his tourist visa by preaching. He was reportedly deported to his native Jamaica on Jan. 21.
Eyewitnesses to the protests in Nairobi told Compass one demonstrator clad in fatigues, with his face masked by a balaclava, waved the black flag of the al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militia and passed his finger across his throat in a slitting gesture, taunting passersby.
Officials from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and from Muslims for Human Rights defended the demonstrations as legitimate to condemn violation of Al-Faisal’s rights. At least one person died as the protests turned violent, and Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said five civilians and six police officers were injured, with one security officer wounded from a bullet said to be shot by a demonstrator.
Al Shabaab-affiliated operatives appear to have targeted Christians in Kenya, according to an Internet threat in December by a group claiming to align itself with the Islamic extremist militia seeking to topple Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. In an e-mail message with “Fatwa for you Infidels” in the subject line to Christian and governmental leaders in Kenya, a group calling itself the Harakatul-Al-Shabaab-al Mujahidin threatened to kill Muslim converts to Christianity and those who help them.
“We are proud to be an Islamic revolutionary group, and we are honored to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, a group of honest Muslims in which we share long-term goals and the broad outlines of our ideologies, while focusing on our efforts on attacking secular and moderate governments in the Muslim world, America and Western targets of opportunity and of course Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Kenya if they do not stop their assistance to the Somali fragile and apostate government,” the group wrote in the e-mail. “Although we receive support for some of our operations, we function independently and generally depend on ourselves…”
The group threatened to shake the Kenyan government “in minutes,” calling it the “the most fragile target in the world.”
The emergence of al Shabaab and its sympathizers in Kenya coincides with the swelling of the Somali population in the country to 2.4 million, according to the August 2009 census.