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It’s news to us: stories that caught our eye in August

Posted by Joe McNamara on 31st August 2012

In this new feature, we take a look back at this month’s most interesting and impactful technology news stories. We don’t discriminate – we’re equally interested in the latest global consumer launches to patent legislation and faulty chips. Whatever it is, we have a view.

Ofcom permits Everything Everywhere to provide early 4G service – 21st August 2012 

Telecoms overlord Ofcom will allow Everything Everywhere, the company behind the UK branches of Orange and T-Mobile, to launch 4G mobile services from 11th September 2012. The news angered Vodafone, with the company declaring that it was ‘frankly shocked’ at Ofcom’s decision. 4G services are widely anticipated in the UK, but by the end of this year the number of mobile phones in the world will outnumber the global population.

4G is unlikely to provide a wholesale solution to the issue of global mobile data traffic and smartphone internet usage, meaning that operators such as Vodafone and 3 may actually benefit from looking towards more innovative ways of managing their networks.

Facebook to trial placing ads directly in users news feeds – 15th August 2012

The social networking giant has announced that it will launch a trial scheme to place adverts in users’ timelines that have not been triggered by a friend’s activity for the first time. The scheme promises to give advertisers a more direct route to their target audience, representing an opportunity for brands attempting to tame the beast of Facebook advertising.

However, some users are likely to find the idea of unwanted ads appearing in their timeline spammy and irritating, and brand marketers must continue to pursue a more strategic, content-led approach to Facebook marketing, and indeed digital marketing on any platform. Facebook app developers are helping marketers gain the full benefit of Facebook as a market research tool, meaning that generating and sharing targeted content, ads and promotions is set to become the most effective way of engaging Facebook‘s audience.

The Huffington Post launches HuffPost Live – 12th August 2012

HuffPost Live may have set the tone for the future of journalism. The platform is a culmination of a whole host of media industry trends, combining online video, social media and trending topics with the technologies such as Skype and Google Hangouts. The online broadcast channel is available 12 hours a day, five days a week, and marries traditional media with social networks to present the news of hour in all different parts of the ‘connected’ world.

Is this just the beginning of a new breed of broadcast journalism? Increasingly we are seeing so-called traditional publications such as The Guardian upping its use of social media to share articles directly with an extended audience. Similarly, the BBC has dramatically improved its online services in the last five years. Perhaps we will see giants such as these turning to similar, more revolutionary models in years to come.

Curiosity completes successful landing on Mars – 5th August

NASA scientists may not be curious for much longer – the space robot rover landed on The Red Planet after an eight-month voyage, having been launched on 26th November 2011. As Curiosity descended through Mars’ atmosphere, NASA engineers endured the long anticipated ‘seven minutes of terror’ as it plunged into the unknown. Having landed safely, Curiosity is sending reams of stunning photographs back to Earth, and will prove an invaluable resource to NASA’s understanding of Mars.

Space always represents a challenge for technological components – whether they’re providing the aerodynamics of the sky-crane that allows space rovers to decelerate from 13,000 mph to 1,000 mph ensuring safe entry to Mars, or are buried deep inside complex micro-electronic circuits. High-reliability is crucial at every level, which is why this project cost a massive £2.5 billion. We hear it’s even more difficult to get a decent repairman up on Mars than it is here in the UK.

Government cuts subsidies for solar technology – 2nd August

Cuts to the feed-in tariff for solar panels announced by the UK government earlier this year have officially been brought in, resulting in less money for households investing in this form of clean energy. Anyone installing solar panels will now receive 16p per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, compared with 21p previously, and will receive the subsidy for 20 years instead of the 25-year duration that was formerly available.

Retail giants such as Sainsbury’s have long known that this day was coming, cashing in while times were good. It has, to date, installed over 69,500 solar panels (16MW of solar capacity) on 169 of its 572 UK stores, meaning that collectively the firm manages the largest solar array in Europe – and is looking to invest even further. Although not every homeowner has the equivalent space of a football field on their roofs, it would seem that the industry message is that the falling cost of solar panels combined with growing industry confidence means businesses and households can still generate attractive financial returns from installing solar panels, cuts an’ all. With this in mind, excuses are running out for large companies not to be investing well in their own clean energy production policies.

Photo courtesy of NASA Blueshift

Joe McNamara