2021 in Review: January-March
UK announces third national lockdown with home schooling forcing a level of digital transformation that many schools, colleges and households remained unprepared for. Communications regulator Ofcom meanwhile warned of a growing digital divide with around 1.5m children in the UK unable to access a laptop or devices for home schooling while 7% of households could only access the internet through mobile connectivity.
Pro-Trump extremists storm Capitol Hill causing Congress to suspend proceedings confirming the election of Joe Biden as US president. Some blamed social media firms, prompting calls for greater curbs on platforms such as Facebook which were accused of recommending groups to users that amplify and endorsed violence. Twitter, which allowed outgoing president Donald Trump to suggest the election was rigged, also came in for criticism with both companies ultimately blocking Trump’s accounts.
The UK Government, through the Department for Media Culture and Sport, launches £28m fund to trial innovative new uses of 5G. Recipients include the O2 and Digital Catapult-backed Project Vista which looks to create in-stadia next generation viewing experiences for fans, as well as 5G Ports, which sees the Port of Felixstowe use 5G IoT devices and data analytics to reduce the unscheduled downtime of cranes.
Google (temporarily) cancels Australia after the nation introduced a world-first law to make the search engine giant – alongside Facebook and other tech firms – pay media outlets for their news content. Silicon Valley fought back, warning the law would make them withdraw some of their services. Within a month however, Google relented, cutting a deal with News Corp in February. Facebook, which relies less heavily on news articles, walked away from the table and began preventing users from sharing links from Australian publishers.
LGBTQ+ dating app Grindr receives a hefty €9.6m (£8.17m) fine for breaching GDPR rules in Norway. The fine – which represents 10% of the dating apps’ annual revenue – was issued by Datatilsynet, the Norwegian Data Authority, over Grindr’s alleged collection and sharing of sensitive user data with third-party advertisers without appropriate consent.
Microsoft reports a record quarter for Q2 2020. The tech giant said that this was mainly driven by its commercial cloud business, which grew by 34%, boosting revenue by $16bn. Revenue for the quarter was $43.1bn, up 17%. CFO Amy Hood described how digital transformation was driving “healthy demand” for Microsoft’s hybrid and cloud offerings and revealed the company had received over $10m in Azure and Microsoft 365 contracts.
Eurpol takes down hacking network Emotet. The malware released by the malicious network obtains access to victims’ computers, via email attachments and their details are passed on to criminals who install more dangerous malware. Police from the UK, EU, US and Canada worked together to disrupt what Eurpol called “one of most significant botnets of the past decade”.
IBM, Apple and Verizon join MIT’s multi-industry climate change-tackling consortium. The initiative sees firms working together to “drive down costs, lower barriers to adoption of best-available technology and processes, speed retirement of carbon-intensive power generating and materials-producing equipment” within their respective industries.
Amazon announces record breaking £100bn revenue quarter as CEO Jeff Bezos steps down to become the retail giant’s executive chairman. Long- time company man Andy Jassy – the exec responsible for growing AWS cloud service segment into a $45bn business – takes over. Adam Selipsky, head of data visualisation company Tableau, is hired to succeed Jassy.
Congress learns more details about last year’s SolarWinds cyber-attack during a committee hearing attended by a number of the firms affected. Using SolarWinds and Microsoft programs, hackers believed to be working for Russia were able to infiltrate the Texas software firm’s private enterprise and government agency clients. Microsoft’s president Brad Smith told senators the firm’s researchers believed that at least 1,000 skilled engineers had worked on the attack, adding that it was the largest, most sophisticated hack that Microsoft had seen.
West Midlands 5G unveils the UK’s first 5G connected tram as part of a regional transport trial. The project claims that 5G’s increased bandwidth allows for high-definition CCTV footage and other data captured on the tram to be securely and remotely transferred to the Regional Traffic Control Centre while in operation.
Scotland gears up for digital transformation. The government publishes its new digital strategy post-coronavirus. Key actions include ensuring access for all for online services; the use of digital technology to increase community engagement and increasing diversity in the digital skills pool by working with firms in the digital tech sector. Former Skyscanner COO Mark Logan is appointed to oversee the programme, which hopes to establish the country as a global technology hub.
Silicon Valley’s Cloud providers link up with Nokia to work on open radio access network (RAN). Google, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services hook up with the comms giant to develop new customer-focused 5G use cases. The partnership sees Nokia combine its mobile network offerings with the Azure Private Edge Zone; extend the reach of its vRAN technologies with AWS and with Google Cloud, develop new, cloud-based 5G radio systems.
The annual Ransomware Threat Report reveals the average amount paid out by corporate ransomware victims has increased threefold. Affected companies in Europe, the US and Canada paid an average of $300,000 per incident in 2020 and with the spread of double extortion tactics this number is continuing to grow.
Uber classifies drivers as workers after UK Supreme Court ruling. The ride-hailing firm will pay its UK drivers minimum wage following the ruling – but only for the time they are assigned to trips, rather than, as the Supreme Court ruled, from when they log in to the app. Drivers will also receive holiday pay and are entitled to automatic enrolment in a workplace pension scheme.
The UK’s largest mobile network operators agree to pay Ofcom £1.3bn for additional 5G airspace. A total of 200MHz of spectrum was available to bid for in the auction’s principle stage, split across two bands. The four networks, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, bid for airwaves in 34 ‘lots’ to determine how much of the available spectrum they each secured. EE purchased the largest chunk of spectrum, at a cost of £284m, with an additional 40MHz in the 3.6-3.8GHz band at a cost of £168m.
IT-led business services supplier Capita restructures after reporting falling revenues. The company will create two core units that focus on public sector and commercial enterprise customers and the firm will sell off its non-core assets. The pandemic affected firm – a major supplier to the UK government – reported a loss of £49m and a 10% fall in sales at £3.32bn for its financial year ended 31 December 2020.
Ofcom unveils new regulations for the wholesale telecoms markets used to deliver broadband, mobile and business connections in the UK with the aim of promoting competition and investment in gigabit-capable networks.
Amazon Web Services embarks on a Singapore based clean energy project to tap solar energy for its Singapore operations and contribute clean energy to the country’s power grid. The 62MW solar project is forecast to generate 80,000MWh of clean energy a year, enough to power more than 10,000 homes
Sky enters the business broadband arena. Sky Connect makes it a new entrant to the UK’s B2B telecoms market. The broadband provider said that it wanted to give small businesses a better broadband experience, creating 1,000 jobs in the process.
Liverpool launches first-of-its-kind drone technology test and development area The project, Phoenix I, is developed by Drone Major Group Phoenix with the aim of creating a pathway to develop operational drone capabilities in urban logistics, the environment, security, maritime logistics, port and maritime, and the wider community.
Computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing is celebrated as the new face on the £50 note. The banknote enters circulation on 23 June, which would have been the late mathematician’s birthday.
Analysis by advocacy group Public Citizen reveals Facebook and Amazon have eclipsed telecoms and arms giants as biggest lobbying spenders. The research found that during the 2020 US presidential election cycle, Big Tech spent a total of $124m on lobbying and campaigns. While firms included Apple and Google the growth was mainly driven by Amazon and Facebook, which have increased their spending by 30% and 56% respectively since 2018.
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