The curse of BPL

August 16, 2007

I am hesitant to put pen to paper to write about Broadband over Power Lines or BPL and Power Line Communications or PLC (maybe this should be Broadband over mains in the UK!) as I have no doubt that I am biased in my views and have been for a long time. This does not derive from in-depth experience of the technology but because I have been a radio amateur or ‘ham’ since my teenage years.

In the amateur radio world BPL is seen as a ogre that could have a major impact on their ability to continue their hobby due to interference from BPL trials or deployments. More on this later.

Today, the principle technology used to deliver broadband Internet access into homes is Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology delivered by local telephone companies or ISPs collocating equipment in their switching centres. As ADSL is delivered over the ubiquitous copper cables previously used to deliver only traditional telephony services, it’s rollout has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade throughout the world.

However, ADSL does have some inherent commercial and technical limitations. For example, The further away you are from your local telephone exchange or central office the lower the bandwidth that can be delivered. This means that ADSL works best in high population areas such as towns and their suburbs. Even in the UK, there are still country areas where ADSL is not available because BT believes it is uneconomic or technically challenging to provide the service. For many years BT ran trials using wireless (that we would probably call WIMAX these days) to test the economics of providing Internet service to remote locations or caravan parks.

As ADSL can only be offered by telecommunications companies, whether they be old telephony providers or newer ISPs, this led to other utility providers wanting to get into the act. Water companies installed fibre optic cables when they dug trenches and canal and railway operating companies allowed telecommunications companies to run cables along their facilities.

We should also not forget our very own Energis (now Cable and Wireless) who started by providing wholesale backbone services by running cables along pylons. At one time nearly every electricity company had a telecommunications division.

This neatly brings back to Broadband over Power Line technology. The logic that drove the development of BPL is quite straightforward to understand. Every home is connected to an electricity distribution network so why should that not be used to deliver a broadband Internet service? This would mean that electricity companies could participate in the Internet revolution and create additional revenues to fill their coffers! Moreover, maybe BPL could be used to deliver broadband access to remote locations where ADSL cannot reach.

There is one thing about BPL that is clearly different from all the other technologies I have written about and this may seem a little strange. There are no IETF or IEEE technical standard for BPL although there are standards activities afoot. This makes deploying a BPL service a rather hit or miss affair.

Deployment is also challenging due to the fact there is tremendous variation in the electricity distribution networks throughout the world making standardisation a tad difficult. For example, in the UK hundreds if not thousands of homes are connected to a local substation where the high transmission voltages are converted to the normal 240 volt house supply. Hence it should be possible to ‘inject’ the broadband service in front of the transformer and deliver service to many houses at the same time which helps improve service economics.

In the USA the situation is quite different because of the distances involved. It is always more efficient to carry electricity at the highest voltage possible over long distances to reduce losses, so in the USA it is common practice to have the transformation to 110 volts done at the last possibly opportunity by placing an individual transformer on a pole outside of each home. This can wreck BPL service economics. However, this has not stopped many services trials taking place.

BPL technology

A BPL service can offer similar bandwidth capabilities to ADSL in that it supports an 256kbit/s up stream and up to 2.7M/bit/s down stream,. It achieves this by encoding data utilising the medium and shortwave spectrum of 1.6 to 30MHz or higher. In-house modems connect back to the head-end located at the substation where fibre or radio can be used to connect back to a central office as used in wide-area Wi-Fi services ( see The Cloud hotspotting the planet). The modulated radio frequency carrier is injected into the local electricity distribution network using an isolation capacitor and transmitter can have a power of 100s of watts.

BPL modems use several methods of modulation depending on the service bandwidth required:

  • GMSK (Gaussian minimum-shift keying) for bandwidths less than 1Mbit/s
  • CDMA (Code division multiple access) as used in mobile 3G services for greater than 1Mbit/s, and
  • OFDM (Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) for bandwidths up to 45Mbit/s

Most modern BPL deployments use ODFM as higher bandwidths are required if the service operators are to compete with their local telephone companies ADSL services.

There are several organisations involved in standardisation efforts:

Consumer Electronics Powerline Communication Alliance (CEPCA): A PowerPoint introduction to the activities of the CEPCA can be found here.

Their mission and purpose is the:

  • Development of specifications enabling the coexistence
    • Between in-home PLC Systems
    • Between Access PLC Systems and in-home PLC Systems
  • Promotion of high speed PLC technologies in order to achieve world-wide adoption thereof.

Power Line Communications Forum (plcforum): A similar body to CEPCA with many equipment suppliers as members.

HomePlug Powerline Alliance (HPPA): This group focuses on home networking using home electricity wiring as the distribution network – as they say, “power outlets are almost everywhere someone might want to use a networked device at home.”

IEEE P1901: According to their scope description the P1901 project will “develop a standard for high speed (>100 Mbps at the physical layer) communication devices via alternating current electric power lines, so called Broadband over Power Line (BPL) devices. The standard will use transmission frequencies below 100 MHz.”

Powernet: The main project objective of Powernet is to develop and validate a ‘plug and play’ Cognitive Broadband over Power Lines (CBPL) communications equipment. Power net is a European Commission project.

Side effects

With other postings about communications technologies I guess I would go on to say that although there is much work to be done, BPL is a complimentary technology to ADSL and it has its place in the Internet marketplace. My commercial reservations are quite strong however in that it is difficult to see how BPL can effectively compete with the now ubiquitous ADSL utilised by every local telephone company on the planet. Maybe there are niche markets where BPL could work and these would be geographical areas where ADSL cannot reach – yet.

However, as I indicated in my opening paragraph there are other concerns about BPL that are not encountered with any of the other ways of providing Internet service to homes whether they be delivered over wires such as ADSL or wireless such as Wi-Fi or WIMAX.

BPL has a dark side which I believe to be unacceptable and could prevent other legitimate users of the shortwave radio frequency spectrum to pursue their interests and hobbies without interference.

Interference is the issue which can be better understood by looking at the following video of a BPL service trial currently taking place in Australia.

BPL interference is causing problems in other countries as well, even the USA, where the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) the body that represents all US radio amateurs has been forced into legal action in May 2007: ARRL Files Federal Appeals Court Brief in Petition for Review of BPL Rules

Also in May, the US Federal Communication Committee (FCC) has called for a BPL manufacturer to show that it complies with its experimental licence due to interference complaints – FCC Demands Ambient Demonstrate Compliance with BPL License Conditions

To quote the ARRL: The Commission’s obsessive compulsion to avoid any bad news about BPL has clearly driven its multi-year inaction,” the League continued. “Had this been any other experimental authorization dealing with any technology other than BPL, the experimental authorization would have been terminated long ago.”

Many amateurs see BPL as the biggest threat to their hobby that they have ever been seen.

So why should there be this level of interference from BPL?

It might be good to start answering this question by looking at ADSL as this does not have any major interference issues despite its deployment in many millions of homes. ADSL is delivered into peoples homes via the copper telephone line. This cable is not just a single copper cable as it might have been in the early 19th century but rather it is a twisted pair.

A twisted pair cable is like a rather crude coaxial cable. It is balanced in that the signal flows forward through one wire and returns through the other. This means that the bidirectional signals cancel each other out and the cable does not radiate the signal it is carrying to the outside world. Twisted pair cable are not as lossless as coaxial cables so there is a little loss but it is quite small for the length of cable usually used to connect a home to a telephone pole.

In general ADSL has been immune from creating interference because of the use of twisted pair cables. Imagine the consumer furore that would occur if there was was interference from ADSL to FM or TV services it does work.

It’s interesting to remember that cable companies also use broad band RF encoding but as services are delivered using high quality coaxial cables or fibre there is generally no interference (The tale of DOCSIS and cable operators).

On the other hand, electricity power lines that brings electrical power into houses are not shielded and are not twisted pair. They are standard three or four core cables that we are all familiar with when we connect our kettles to plugs although they are of a heavier gauge.

BPL transmissions are spread over the shortwave spectrum with a head-end power of possibly 100s of watts and the lossy distribution cables effectively act as an antenna or aerial so the wideband BPL signal radiates quite effectively over a wide area causing the not inconsiderable interference as seen in the video above.

Surely, the regulatory bodies such as OFCOM or the FCC would not allow a service that significantly interfered with other spectrum users to go ahead – would they? That is not so easy to answer today as it would have been a decade ago when anti-interference regulations were very strong. Nowadays, in this commercial world we live in, there is far more flexibility given if there is a potential commercial benefit. For example, even in the UK the old guard band (allocated unused spectrum between services to provide isolation) have been sold off for use in picocell GSM services as discussed in GSM pico-cell’s moment of fame .

The level of interference from a service such as BPL would not – could not – have been tolerated a few years ago when everyone used the shortwave bands for entertainment. But in this modern ‘digital age’ shortwave seems an anachronism and who really cares if it not usable…

At least two groups of individuals do and they are radio amateurs and short wave listeners. BPL vendors and service providers and have attempted to suppress their criticisms of BPL by what can only be described as a sticking plaster solution. This solution is to put filters on the BPL transmitter so that notches are inserted in the broadband spectrum to coincide with the amateur bands.

However the general consensus by amateurs who have been involved in notching trials is that they do indeed reduce interference but not by a sufficient amount for workable co-existence.

Another concern is that BPL is not just used for the provision of Internet access services but it is also possible to buy modems to provide in-house LAN capabilities in competition to Wi-Fi. This could be a another worrying source of interference to shortwave services. Bearing mind there is no filtering in a mains or power socket, the use of a BPL modem in one house will radiate in all homes connected to the same substation.


I really am unable to see any real benefit in this technology when compared to cable operator DOCSYS or telephone ADSL delivered Internet services whose access infrastructure is designed for purpose. Just slapping a broadband transmitter on a local electricity distribution network is crude and is definitely NOT fit for purpose – even if filter notches are applied.

If the electricity industry redesigned their supply cables to be coaxial or twisted pair, which in practice is not really technically or commercially achievable, then the concept may work.

I doubt that BPL is viable in the long term and my view is that it’s use will fade with time. In the mean time if I am asked for a financial contribution to fight BPL, I reckon I would dig deep into my pockets.

One example of one of the up and coming trials is TasTel in Hobart, Australia, a partnership between Aurora Energy and AAPT who say they have a unique service. To quoute their web site:

Because BPL is brought to you by TasTel and eAurora, we can give you something nobody else can offer: fast Internet access and cheap broadband phone calls through a single service, on one bill which is sent to you electronically.

Where have I heard this before – time move away from Hobart?

Chaos in Bangladesh’s ‘lllegal’ VoIP businesses

April 11, 2007

Chaos in Bangladesh’s Illegal VoIP business

Take a listen to a report on BBC Radio Four’s PM programme broadcast on the 9th April which talks about the current chaos in Bangladesh brought about by the enforced closure of ‘illegal’ VoIP businesses. This is one of the impacts of the state of emergency imposed three months ago and has resulted in a complete breakdown of the Bangladeshi phone network.

It seems that VoIP calls accounts for up to 80% of telephone traffic from abroad in the country driven by low call rates of between 1 and 2pence per minute.

The new military backed government has been waging war on small VoIP businesses with the “illegality and corruptions of the the past being too long tolerated”. Many officials have been arrested, buildings pulled down and businesses closed.

The practical result has thrown the telephone industry into chaos as hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi’s living abroad try to call home home only to get the engaged tone.

“In many countries VoIP is legal but in Bangladesh it has been long rumoured that high profile politicians have been operating the VoIP businesses and had an interest in keeping them outside of the law and unregulated to avoid taxes on the enormous revenues they generated.”

The report says that the number of conventional phone lines is being doubled in April but to 30,000 lines but with a population of over 140 million people this is too few!

You can listen to the report here Chaos in Bangladesh’s Illegal VoIP business Copyright BBC

It really is amazing how disruptive a real disruptive technology can be, but when this happens it usually comes back to bite us!

I talked about the Sim Box issue in Revector, detecting the dark side of VoIP, and the Bangladesh situation provides the reasoning about why incumbent carriers are often hell bent on stamping VoIP traffic out. In the western world, the situation is no different, but governments and carriers do not just bulldoze the businesses – maybe they should in some cases!

Addendum #1: the-crime-of-voice-over-ip-telephony/

The magic of ‘presence’

March 20, 2007

Presence is one of the in-words of the telecoms and web industry for the last few years. It sits alongside Location based services as a capability that is still to “realise its full potential”. A Wikipedia overview of presence can be found here.

I have used Google Alerts for the last couple of years to track market activity of technologies and companies that are of interest to me and presence has been one of the key words that I have looked at. These are typical of the results I see pouring into my in-tray each week:

As you can see, I havn’t seen too many announcements about presence from a telecommunications perspective!

Presence is a very broad church and like the word platform everyone uses it with their own interpretation. Wikipedia defines presence as “A user client may publish a presence state to indicate its current communication status.” Let’s go through some examples of presence as it used today.

One of the most simple examples of presence has been around for many years and that can be seen in email clients like Outlook by using an Out of Office auto reply message. I say simple, but in a typical Microsoft way it can be quite complicated to set up if you are not using an Exchange server. However that aside, by using this facility you can indicate to anyone that sends you an email that you are away from the office for a time. You can use this message to just say that you are not around or it could be helpful by providing an alternative contact.

The use Out of Office feature brings us straight way to the fact that using it can create problems! For example, I am a member of many news groups and Out of the Office auto-responses do create problems as everyone in the newsgroup receives them. following each and every post. If the group is very active, they can really build up and rapidly become an irritant.

Another simple use of presence information can be found on web sites and in email signatures. The one shown on the left is in an email from VerticalResponse where they show information about if their support organisation is open. This is an application of presence showing the availability of the support team.

This shows an interesting aspect of presence. Someone may be present but do they wish to be available? These are different concepts and need to be considered separately. Rolling them together can create all sorts of problems as we will see later.

The VerticalResponse signature shown above shows a live presence element. When Live Chat is available it is shown in green and I assume when it is not available it is shown as Not Available in red (I havn’t seen this). One company that helps provide this type of capability is Contact at Once. According to their web site they use their presence engine to “continually monitor the availability of advertiser sales representatives across multiple devices and aggregates the availability status of each representative into an advertiser-level availability or “presence.”

Another company that provides a presence engine is Jabber: “By integrating presence—i.e., information about the availability of entities, end-points, and content for communication over a network—into applications, devices, and systems you can streamline processes and increase the velocity of information within your organization. Discover the latest best practices organizations are implementing to take advantage of the benefits of adding presence to business processes.”

Although they offer Instant Messaging services described below they focus on integrating presence information into enterprise process flows to increase the efficiency of business processes. The available flag is an example of this as is the automatic routing of internal calls to an available expert or an available person in a company’s call centre.

On of the most common application of presence is in Instant Messaging (IM) services where you are able to set your status to be on-line or Away. The picture on the right is the status options in Microsoft Messenger.

On the left below is Yahoo Messenger. It is interesting to note the addition of the Invisible to Everyone option. Why is this supplied I wonder? Most instant messaging services and some PC-to-PC VoIP services provide an option to set your availability status. Many users have found that this capability can create real problems.

When you boot your PC, your status is set to On-line automatically. Annoyingly, this often leads to several of your buddies saying “Hi” or work colleagues asking you questions immediately!

Away status. You can choose to set an Away status automatically after say 5 minutes. The IM or VoIP service detects that you are away because you have not touched your keyboard or mouse. As soon as you return to your PC and touch the keyboard you are placed On-line again and open to immediate interruption just as you start working. This is just the exact opposite of what you want!

Multiple services. When you use several services such as IM, VoIP or calendar it is highly unlikely that you will set your status on every application before your leave your desk so that they do not reliably reflect your real status.

These problems can become so severe that the only solution is for many is to opt to appear to be Off-line permanently destroying any benefits of sharing status information.

One of the problems with presence being built into many on-line applications is that you need to set your status on every single one of them every time it changes or your will not see any benefit. There are quite a few companies who aggregate presence information. One such company is PRESENCEWORKS that enables you to integrate presence information from instant messaging into your pre-existing business software as shown below.

In my post about the Would u like to collaborate with YuuGuu? I showed their initial presence option. In its current simple form, this is of limited use because of the difference between presence and Availability. For example when I contacted YuuGuu, Philip was shown as being Available but it was half an hour later when he came back to me saying he was on another call thus demonstrating that he was not Available.

Many new social network services claim to use presence as a component to their service. This is so common it could be said to be ubiquitous. A good example of this is NeuStar who provide “next generation messaging” technology to service providers. To quote their web site: “Presence services enable people within a community to keep connected anytime, any place. When they indicate their availability or see that their contacts are on-line, presence is a catalyst for interactive services for those users who demand an enriched communications environment.”

This capability is similar to that seen in IM services. If your mobile phone is on, you are deemed to be available unless you manually set your status to be unavailable.

Another provider of presence technology is iotum who produce a Relevance Engine™ that can be used as the basis of a number of services.

One of the core applications is call handling: When someone calls you, iotum’s Relevance Engine instantly identifies the caller and cross-references their identity with your address book. Within a fraction of a second, iotum understands the relationship you have with this person.

Just as quickly, iotum accesses your IM presence status and/or online calendar program to determine what you are doing at that moment. It determines which of your communications devices should receive the call and helps to ensure your phone will only ring if you want it to, based on your schedule, your defined preferences and your past behaviour.

iotum has also launched a consumer presence service aimed at Blackberry users – Talk Now.

A recent mobile social networking service that uses presence is jaiku from Finland. Jaiku uses what it terms to be Rich Presence. This is about texting presence updates to your community from any phone.

Note: The above is an old picture and shows how information on your mobile phone can be used to interpret your presence or availability.

These free-form messages can show availability and they can show location but will often just show an irrelevant message commenting on something that is currently happening to the text sender – just like SMS messages really!

Which brings us to Twitter. Twitter is similar in many ways to Jaiku, in that it is a “global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM, or right here on the web!”

Sam Sethi at Vecosys recently posted a good update on Twitter and its ecosystem – The Twitterfication of the blogosphere. To me, the best description of Twitter is a microblog – that says it all.

One of the big challenges of today’s on-line world is information overload and although there can be useful presence and availability information contained in Twitter updates if users control what they post, I’m sure that this is often not the case. Twitter is useful and fun in a social context but because of the baggage that goes along with it, I suspect that it will be of limited use in focused business applications today.

I do not use Twitter at the moment so I guess my last post shown above will remain as my current status forever?

This is but a brief overview of the world of presence and I have missed out many areas of interest. I will try and talk about these in future posts. Like Location Based Services, Presence is full of intrigue and promise. We shall see what happens in coming years.

Addendum: I was planning to planning to mention another presence aggregator that was started up up by Jeff Pulver in 2006 – Tello. But, according to Goodbye, Tello they are no longer as of a few days ago. Tello took a technology platform integration of providing presence information; an approach which I believe to be flawed for any start-up – even one with deep pockets.

Addendum: A good post about new presence

GSM phone jammers and detectors

March 2, 2007

In an earlier post – The mobile or cell phone appears normal, but… I mentioned the subject of mobile or cell phones that could be used for spying on their owners. In a similar vein many people have not heard about another category of illegal electronic device called GSM blockers or jammers.

Although there are actually are times when it can be quite entertaining to listen into other people’s phone calls, most experiences can be really annoying. One humorous example of the former is a recent case is mention by Peter Cochrane on where he listened into the conversation from a guy who had visited one those ranches in Texas where the main activities are not concerned with rodeo riding… Peter has a great web site for those interested in a contrarian view of the technology and telecommunications world – in the late 1990s, Peter used to be BT’s Chief Technologist.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of the unconscious misuse of mobile or cell phones, we all come across examples of this on a regular basis and is a popular subject for blogs. I have collected numerous examples for quite some time and I’ll put a list up as a future post. In fact, there are even several books about the subject – this is one of the most entertaining: The Jerk with the Cell Phone: A Survival Guide for the Rest of Us by Barbara Pachter and Susan F. Magee:

In The Jerk with the Cell Phone discover the smartest – and funniest – ways to deal with cell phone jerks without becoming a jerk yourself. Included are the world’s most unbelievable but true cell phone horror stories, revenge testimonials, and cartoons highlighting just how brainless we’ve all become about the technology we all love to hate but can’t live without.

The above book talks about personal intervention when someone starts talking loudly of a phone in an inappropriate place and I have certainly done this on several occasions on a train. However, there are electronic solutions to the problem although I would certainly not condone their use as their use as they are illegal in the United Kingdom as in many other counties. I’m talking about GSM phone blockers or jammers.

Like spy phones, these little devices are available if you know where to go. First stop is eBay of course! Here is one that can be shipped to you from the far east. However, I would warn you that there could be consequences if you were caught importing one into the UK…

One outlet in the UK is Global Gadget who sell a wide variety of jammers, but their home page says:

We sell all types of cell phone jammers to suit all needs. From the small handheld personal mini jammers to the mega power Y2000 model. Whatever your requirement is, we have a unit to deal with your problem. Whether it is to restore some peace and quiet or to stop the unauthorised use of the mobile phones in restricted areas including anti terrorism measures, then we have a cell phone jammer to provide the solution.

Please note that we do not sell jammers to UK customers due to Ofcom regulations. Also, we do not sell jammers to any end users in EU countries due to lack of CE approval of the jammer products.

One model covers 800/900/1800/1900/3G networks.

Another interesting and more legitimate gadget is the cell phone detector.

“This pocket sized device is ideal for use for detecting people using mobile phones in use in offices, prisons or hospitals etc, anywhere that people are not supposed to be using phones or are to be discouraged. This model is super sensitive and will detect cellular phones up to 40 feet away, once detected the sensitivity can be adjusted to home in on the signal, making this device particularly suitable for use in prisons and other establishments with concealed rooms.”

The dark side of mobile or cell phone usage is an interesting area to delve into occasionally!

Will I live through browser incompatibilities?

February 20, 2007

Living in the 2st century can be very trying sometimes – is this just me? After posting my PC problems last week I’ve found that I’ve been plagued in numerous other aspects of living in the 21st century as well. No, I’m not talking about those people who use mobiles on quiet railway carriages, by the age old problem of browser incompatibles.

No, I’m not talking about bad rendering of HTML code on a particular browser, but the much more pernicious writing of services that will only work on a particular browser.

Nobody would particularly mind a new service that has problems; you would just swear and move on! But honestly, to come across a service that has had millions of public money spent on it is another matter.

I’m talking here about the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). They have introduced a service that allows a patient to book their own appointment. On the service this sounds great, but honestly the fact that it only works with Internet Explorer is not brilliant by any means!


All I wanted to do was to make a hospital appointment using Firefox…

Another example was when I thought about early retirement a couple of year’s ago – if only! Great I thought, you can do it on line but Microsoft Visual basic enevitably decided otherwise!


To round things off, remember the eye glasses I broke last week in my ‘PC problem’ week? I went for an eye test at Boots this morning to get them replaced. All was going swimmingly well until I discovered that they had just installed a new IBM system based on – guess what? – Windows. I thought I might crack a joke to the receptionist but I held back. Then, guess what, right at the end of the consultation, up popped the usual little Windows style error message containing the message Abort! Well, the system did just that and dropped out losing all the imformation about my prescription just entered.

I promise to return to normal service soon and return to talking about positive aspects of technology and stop being a grumpy old man. Maybe I should swop to using an Apple (everyone else in my house uses an Apple) but what about the rest of the world?



In Loco Parentis anti-grooming software

February 7, 2007

It seems kind of strange that after writing about Crisp Thinking, who have taken a network-based approach to detecting possible predatory paedophile discussions in chat rooms, I noticed xGATE who have come up with a hardware firewall solution aimed at solving the same problem. Now blow me down, along comes In Loco Parentis who produce anti-grooming PC software.

Interestingly, the software has been developed on behalf of a charity together with an ethical backer. Phoenix Survivors was established by Shy Keenan and Sara Payne. Phoenix Survivors is a completely independent web based voluntary support group set up for, and by, the victims of child sexual abuse and the families of children murdered by child molesters.

To quote the In Loco Parentis web site:

In Loco Parentis is an interactive system which allows you to:

  • See which websites your child has visited, allowing you to check the website’s suitability and block if necessary
  • Build a personalised library of words that you do not want your child to use or see online (watch words).
  • Monitor their online behaviour and set actions to be taken in the event that good conduct rules are broken
  • Be alerted by email to violations of the rules you have set up
  • Encourage respect between users with a bad language alert and lock out feature

In Locus Parentis provide a list of acronyms that could be used as part of a grooming discussion:

ASL Age, Sex, Location
BF/GF Boyfriend, Girlfriend
BRB Be Right Back
CD9 Code 9— means parents are around
GNOC Get Naked On Cam (webcam)
G2G Got To Go
IDK I Don’t Know
LMIRL Let’s Meet In Real Life
101 Laugh Out Loud
MorF Male or Female
MOS Mum Over Shoulder
NIFOC Naked In Front Of Computer
Noob When someone cannot use a computer very well
NMU Not Much, You?
P911 Parents Emergency
PAW Parents Are Watching
PIR Parents In Room
POS Parents Over Shoulder
PRW Parents are Watching
S2R Send to Receive (this relates to pictures)
TDTM Talk Dirty To Me
W/E Whatever
Warez pirated software

The software runs on the PC itself, unlike Crisp and xGATE. It contains a ‘watchword’ dictionary’ – like xGATE – that allows parents to be alerted to inappropriate language or behaviour. These words are divided into the categories of swearing, bullying, sex and grooming for easy access and administration. Parents are provided with search and blocking options.

The watchword dictionary

I wonder whether just being alerted by email to violations of the rules is suffcient. As we know, email is not a real-time service and is not much use in multi-PC homes where parents may be working, otherwise engaged or sleeping while their children are in chat rooms. xGATE’s SMS alerting seems far more sophisticated and usable.

An article in the Sun newspaper proivides an overview.

Anyway, we now have a network, firewall and a software solution for detecting chat room grooming and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the market.

XGate: Protect your child’s on-line experience

February 5, 2007

Having only recently posted a short review of Crisp Thinking, who have taken a network-based approach to detecting possible predatory paedophile discussions in chatrooms, I was interesting in seeing another UK company launching a product in the this product sector – xGATE a division of Global Security One. Like Crisp, ,hey are also based in the north of England, Manchester to be precise.

The xGate is a full blown domestic firewall with additional features that enable parents to monitor, if they so wish, their child’s chat room discussions. To quote their web site:

XGate is the world’s first internet security device that is specifically designed to protect your child’s on-line experience. Even when you are not sat beside them!

  • Monitor your child’s chat room activities even when you are not there.
  • Receive a mobile phone SMS message or an email every time your child enters an unauthorised chat room.
  • Monitor your child’s chat room conversations from your mobile phone or by email.
  • Terminate your child’s chat room conversation immediately from your mobile phone or email if you detect a danger.
  • Prevent grooming by paedophiles – keep your children safe!

xGate take what could be considered to be a more conventional approach by integrating this capabilility into a small box that sits between household computers and the Internet.

It seems to be based on word detection and continuously monitors chatroom conversations looking for selected words that you have entered. I would assume xBox pre-populate the word list for you as this is key for successful detection. Also, can it detect only individual words or can you identify combinations of words which I would have thought to be quite important?

When it finds one, parents will immediately receive an SMS or email to alert to the issue and you can:

a) Terminate and block session
b) Shut down the computer
c) Continue monitoring the chat room conversation
d) De-activate the chat room senso

I do like the pro-active alerting mechanism as it will certainly gain your attention – unless your ‘phone is off!

Just after posting this I came across newly launched anti-grooming software from In Loco Parentis

Crisp Thinking: a child protection technology

January 29, 2007

When I heard the short presentation from Adam Hildreth of Crisp Thinking at Library House’s MediaTech 2.006 event held at the iMax theatre before Christmas, there was something that really intrigued me about what they were up to.

They were hosted at the event by David Rowe who runs Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team and hosts their Startup Zone.

In fact there were three things that I found interesting (a) The service they offer seemed, to me at least, very innovative that focused on an industry pain not being addressed in a significant way by other companies (b) Their approach to solving the problem from a network and technology perspective seemed remarkably different, and (c) their CEO is only 21! You don’t come across this combination too often in my experience.

What do they do?

Crisp have developed a child protection gateway (CPG) that has been designed to sit in an ISP network to protect children and teenagers from the specific threat of online-grooming and cyber-bullying. The CPG acts as the gateway for the traffic from protected households. Because all of the child protection components actually sit in the network layer, not on the client, the Crisp solution could offer unrivalled levels of protection. It is extremely hard for even a “well tuned” teenager to circumvent their network level controls.

The core of the CPG is Crisp’s Anti-Grooming Engine (AGE™). AGE™ takes a completely different approach to the traditional market approach for Parental Controls. It focuses on protecting children from external threats, rather than on moderating what children can and cannot do on the net. The net result provides an experience which is positive for both Parents and Children.

How do they do it?

Clearly, CPG type functionality could be installed in a domestic environment attached to DSL router to intercept traffiic but Crisp’s business model calls for them to work with ISP’s and embed their CPGs in the ISP’s network.

Although working with carriers / ISPs is always a challenge, it strikes me that Crisp’s technology would be well received as it provided a service that could prove to be very popular with parents. Crisp describe it thus:

“Offering controls within a network that an ISP can ‘switch on’ drives one of the key aspects of an ISP’s revenue model; value added services. With child protection being one of the few mass-market value added services this becomes particularly important in the current broadband ‘price war’.

Network-level protection also gives an ISP huge brand differentiation within the market; a consumer’s perception is immediately changed if their ISP is actually pro-actively protecting their family.”

The people:

Crisp is a young company and is actually Adam’s second start-up, even though he is only 21. Although he might be mightily embarrassed by this, when he was 18 he came number 4 in the RichList 2020 drawn up by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Internet can be a horror sometimes!

Adam has put together a strong management team and has attracted Andrew Burke to be their Chairman. As Andrew was earlier BT’s CEO, BT Entertainment, I guess Adam has had many meetings with BT at Adastral Park!


This certainly seems to be a company that has come with some cute technology and is taking an innovate, but challenging, approach to market. They are certainly addressing a major industry pain and if they are successful with thier trials I would expect a significant take up by the ISP community both small and large.

And, if you want to beat a path the Adam’s door, book your train seat because as they are based in Leeds in Northern England.

Postnote: Coincidentally, I saw that MySpace could be offering child monitoring software.

In January 2006, xBOX was launched – a firewall-based solution.
In February 2006, I came across newly launched anti-grooming software from In Loco Parentis