Chromecast comes to South Korea and Australia, now in 24 countries

Google’s quest to bring Chromecast everywhere continued with an expansion to Australia, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Belgium and Portugal in May of 2014. Chromecast is now available in 24 countries and territories.

The company struck a few partnerships with content providers in these countries, bringing cast capabilities to apps like NTT docomo in Japan and Tving and Hoppin in South Korea.

Users will obviously also be able to cast from Google’s own apps, with YouTube being especially popular in some of these countries. South Korea has long been the country with YouTube’s biggest mobile usage, with more than 60 percent of all YouTube views there now coming from mobile devices, according to a Google blog post.

This post was updated at 10:31 a.m. to reflect the fact that the international expansion actually happened nine months ago.

Nokia Networks and SK Telecom pair up on millimeter-wave 5G

Nokia Networks and South Korean carrier SK Telecom have signed a new collaboration deal around the development of 5G, which will see the companies work on the mobile broadband technology at SK’s Bundang facility near Seoul.

The companies’ existing 5G collaboration has already seen them jointly develop new “Cloud vRAN” virtualized base station technology. Now they’re going to work on “cmWave/mmWave” wideband communications, which they say will support “gigabit-class” data transmission in the airwaves north of 6.5GHz. Nokia has already said it will set up a 5G test network in its native Finland.

According to Nokia and SK, their 5G tech will be demonstrated in 2018 and ready for deployment a couple years later. Regulators such as the U.K.’s Ofcom are also pegging 2020 as the likely start date for 5G’s materialization.

5G remains a poorly defined thing for now, as the relevant standardization bodies are still dealing with what various vendors and carriers want it to be. However, there does seem to be increasing momentum behind its use of millimeter-wave frequencies, which provide a lot of bandwidth, although work will be needed to get them carrying data over sufficient distances.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K., a new consortium featuring carriers EE and Deutsche Telekom, as well as vendors such as Bluwan and Thales, started work on a new kind of millimeter-wave transmission tech earlier this month.

The EU-funded consortium is called Tweether (“Travelling Wave Tube based w-Band Wireless Networks with High Data Rate Distribution, Spectrum & Energy Efficiency”) and it’s trying to develop a point-to-multipoint broadband delivery system in the 92-95GHz range. This is much higher-frequency spectrum than what’s being eyed for 5G, though, and the technology would be used for backhaul rather than servicing mobile devices directly.

This article was updated on January 23rd to change “north of 6GHz” to “north of 6.5GHz”, based on SK Telecom’s advice.

NSA’s North Korean insight reportedly helped attribute Sony hack

When the FBI formally accused North Korea of being behind the Sony Pictures hack, it was clear that it knew more than it were letting on about the evidence – it’s one thing to give anonymous briefings about the attack’s attribution, and another to officially name the attacker. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the NSA played a major role in creating that confidence.

Apart from providing interesting context for the global digital arms race and noting how Chinese hacks on the U.S. Defense Department turned out to be awfully expensive, a Der Spiegel article over the weekend referenced a document (PDF) that described the “ramping up” of the NSA’s targeting of North Korea. The NSA has a clever “fourth party collection” strategy of tracking what other spies are doing and stealing what they find – in this case, it was South Korea spying on North Korea, and after a while the NSA decided to establish its own window into North Korean intelligence.

On Sunday the New York Times described these efforts in greater detail, citing anonymous officials and computer experts to assert that the NSA had penetrated the Chinese networks connecting North Korea with the rest of the world, and “picked through connections in Malaysia” that North Korean hackers use. This program apparently dates back to 2010 – long before the Sony Pictures kerfuffle.

However, despite this insight and the fact that North Korea had expressed anger at the upcoming release of “The Interview”, it seems the NSA failed to alert Sony Pictures about the incredibly damaging hack – internal documents were stolen and published, movies were leaked, executives were embarrassed – before it happened. Officials told the NYT that the NSA should have been able to spot the spear phishing that gave the attackers access to Sony’s networks, but “those attacks did not look unusual”.

According to the piece, South Korea reckons North Korea has around 6,000 hackers in its Reconnaissance General Bureau spy agency and Bureau 121 hacking unit, and a large hacking “outpost” in Shenyang, China. The Sony hack involved two months of planning, U.S. investigators later decided.

Earlier this month, FBI chief James Comey claimed that the North Koreans “got sloppy” in the Sony hack, failing to properly mask the North Korea-associated IP addresses from which their attack originated. According to the NYT piece, this same laxity manifested in a North Korean hack on South Korean banks and broadcasters back in 2013, which was traced back to Shenyang with the addresses falling “within a spectrum of IP addresses linked to North Korean companies.”

SK Telecom glues together 3 LTE networks, hitting 300 Mbps speeds

SK Telecom is starting the new year with a new kind of 4G network – or at least a network built from the pieces of its older LTE systems. This week, SK turned on a 300 Mbps LTE service that ties together spectrum from three different frequency bands.

The network uses an LTE-Advanced technique called carrier aggregation to bond together 4G channels to create a kind of super-connection. [company]SK Telecom[/company] was one of the first operators to use carrier aggregation technology, bonding two 4G transmissions together back in 2013 to hit 150 Mbps. At the time, it jumped the gun a bit by calling its network LTE-Advanced, when in truth it wasn’t building anything more powerful than most LTE services in Europe.

But by using tri-band carrier aggregation, SKT is now making the leap to speeds that plain old LTE could never reach. It’s combining 20 MHz in the 1800 MHz band with 10 MHz in each of the 2.1 GHz and 800 MHz bands, and coordinating their transmissions so they act like a unified downlink pipe.

As SKT gets access to more spectrum in those bands it can boost speeds and capacities further. The U.K.’s [company]Everything Everywhere[/company] is already testing a network in London with [company]Huawei[/company] and [company]Qualcomm[/company] that hits 410 Mbps, while SK itself has used tri-band tech to hit 450 Mbps in demos. SK said it is already working on combining four and even five frequency bands.

Though SKT claims the new network is now commercial launched, it doesn’t appear to be widely available just yet. The operator said it plans to upgrade 26,000 cell sites in the Seoul metro area and the centers of other South Korean cities in the first quarter. It also plans to offer the new tri-band capabilities in all of the country’s subway lines.

As for devices, per usual the SKT is ahead of the curve. [company]Samsung[/company] has made a version of Galaxy Note 4 that appears to be specifically optimized for the Korean network, and SK said it would offer those oversized handsets to a limited group on customers to help it test and improve the service. The first widely available devices with tri-band aggregation support should be coming out in the next six months, according to Qualcomm.