Stolen mobiles to be made ‘unusable’

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Muggers could soon find stolen mobile phones virtually unusable, after British operators agreed to share information allowing calls to and from the handsets to be blocked.

Vodafone, BT Cellnet Virgin Mobile, One-to-One and Orange agreed to share lists of handset identity numbers to help fight the soaring number of phone thefts.

Government figures revealed that 700,000 mobiles were stolen last year, many involving violent attacks.

More than half of the victims are under 18 and on Thursday night a 12-year-old girl was stabbed three times for her phone by a suspected teenage gang in Croydon, south London.

The phone operators hope the exchange of information will stop stolen mobiles being used on any network, even if the Sim card is changed to connect the phone to a different service.

Despite the measure some thieves with access to specialist software could still use the handset by altering its identity number, known as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.

Industry experts have called for the changing of the IMEI number to be made a criminal offence.

The new system comes into force after Vodafone and BT Cellnet bowed to government pressure to take action against mobile phone thieves.

Virgin, One-to-One and Orange were already able to immobilise handsets using the IMEI number.

Jack Wraith, a spokesman for the Mobile Phone Industry Crime Action Forum, said: “The five network operators have agreed they will put into place, within the next six weeks, a system whereby they will exchange, between themselves, lists of IMEI numbers of reported stolen handsets.

“When a network sees a mobile connecting to it, it will recognise that mobile as being on any of the lists and bar that number.

“I believe this is a positive move on behalf of the mobile industry.”

The move follows a warning to thieves that they will face tougher sentences and a pledge by the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry to re-examine industry regulations.

The blocking system being developed by BT Cellnet includes an upgrade which could track the first calls made from a stolen handset on its network.

That could guide police straight to the criminals who stole it, the company said.

 

Plusnet Urge Oftel to “Think Again”

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The whole ISP industry and community are waiting for BT to confirm “significant” wholesale price cuts for consumer ADSL.

Sheffield based ISP, Plusnet are of the opinion that in addition to reducing the wholesale cost of ADSL by at least £8 per month, from the current level of £25 (excl. VAT), BT should also reduce the activation fee, which is currently £50 (excl. VAT) (It’s worth noting that activating an ADSL service involves similar work to that which needs carrying out to activate a standard phone line, for which BT charges no fee).

Plusnet, like most ISPs, are very keen to see wholesale price cuts to BTs ADSL service. Alistair Wyse, Technical Director for Plusnet said, “Meeting the mass-market consumer price point of £25 per month (incl. VAT) will undoubtedly create significant demand for Broadband ADSL services,” he continued, “We want to see BT stimulate the market by cutting the monthly rental by at least £8 to £10, and lowering the activation fee to below the £25 mark.”

Plusnet would also like to confirm that they will indeed be passing on cost saving benefits when BT announce and get approval on the impending wholesale price changes. “Anybody thinking of getting Broadband now does not need to wait. If they signup with Plusnet, the applicable monthly bill will be adjusted when the BT prices are confirmed,” Wyse commented.

As well as the main issue, above, Plusnet would also like to see a change in strategy from Oftel.

During the evolution of Internet Service Provision in the UK, over the last five years, Oftel have operated a strategy which assumes that a competitive market (and therefore consumer benefit) exists if BT are regulated in such a way as to protect the interests of the Other Licensed Operators (or ‘OLO’s’, such as: Energis, Colt, NTL and Telewest). It was thought, given the growth potential of Internet services, that the OLO’s would have the necessary incentive to work with ISPs and deliver the services the market demanded. The reality, especially over the last three years, has been somewhat different.

“Since demand was initially created for Unmetered access and subsequently Broadband, we have seen little or no wholesale Unmetered or Broadband Internet services from the OLO’s.” Wyse continued, “The situation is so bad, that we have ended up being dependant purely on BT to build Unmetered and Broadband networks. Things could have been very different if Oftel had a realistic strategy for the wholesale of BTs network, instead of the folly of Local Loop Unbundling.”

Another symptom of the situation is that even today, ISPs are still being prevented from reselling NTL’s & Telewest’s networks to each of these cable companies’ customers, be it for Unmetered or Broadband Internet access.
“It would seem that, consistent with what most people outside, and also inside BT, have thought for a long time, BT are finally going to take the appropriate action on wholesale aDSL pricing. We only hope that Oftel comes to its senses and establishes formal dialogue directly with the ISPs in parallel to the Other Licensed Operators and BT.”

 

 

  

Checkout the latest deals on PlusNet broadband here.

Cutting spam out of your mobile diet

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If you did not get a Valentine’s card from your true love this year, perhaps you got a spam Valentine’s message instead.

Spamming, or unsolicited messages sent by text to your mobile phone or email, is becoming ever more prevalent.

One text message doing the rounds this week is: “If you were a chicken, you’d be impeccable… Get loved up at lastminute.com/valentines”.

You may or may not have read it – many people just press delete before they are even halfway through the message.

Others are simply bemused as to how the sender of the spam managed to acquire their mobile phone number, or email address (in this case, Lastminute says your contact details have been posted by someone who knows you and it promises not to reuse them).

These unsolicited messages are undoubtedly irritating and can also be costly if email is being downloaded at home or the recipient is duped into calling a premium-rate telephone line.

Despite this, however, text messaging has become the hottest new way to market a company, brand or product. But if most of us tend to ditch the messages sight unseen, how are they effective?

Lars Becker, chief executive of SMS marketing company Flytxt, argues that text messaging campaigns can have a very high success rate if they are carefully designed.

A recent survey by the technology research firm, Forrester, also found that 56% of the responding companies planned to use text messaging as a marketing tool in 2003.

Flytxt itself has found that a well-crafted text message can get a response rate as high as 10% – for a relatively low cost. The company, which has devised text message campaigns for clients such as Cadbury and Emap, uses the medium in a variety of ways. For example, it runs text clubs designed to build customer loyalty for Emap’s Smash Hits magazine, sending text messages containing pop gossip to members and inviting them to participate in competitions.

But one of Flytxt’s most well-known campaigns was for the chocolate maker Cadbury last summer. Customers learnt whether they had won a competition by sending a text message to a number on the chocolate bar wrapper. The campaign enabled Cadbury’s to collect information about the times when customers ate certain bars and which other bars they liked.

Mr Becker, however, is careful to differentiate his company’s tactics from the more unscrupulous senders of spam. He says that recipients of messages are always given the chance to opt out from receiving any further messages. Flytxt also only uses customer information it collects itself – with permission – or from reputable databases.

“The danger is that the market follows the email model, which has automatic associations with spam,” he explains. “And it got a bad name.”

To this end, Flytxt helped found the Wireless Marketing Association which has established a code of best practice for text marketers. “We are against unsolicited messages and we want to protect the industry,” says Mr Becker.

Indeed, spam emails are notorious and almost inescapable if people have signed up for free email services or bought products on the internet. Companies can also pass on your personal information to companies, if permission has been given. The moot point is whether customers were aware that they were giving permission.

Even if you only registered to look at a website, you may have inadvertently agreed to a clause buried in the terms and conditions that allowed your data to be used or passed on.

Consumer groups are also keen to stamp out spammers in both email and text messages. Last year, Consumers International discovered that the vast majority of websites gave users no choice about being on the site’s own mailing list or having their name passed on.

The European Union is also working to tighten up laws on data protection in e-commerce. A new directive could require companies that use email or text messaging to get explicit permission from the recipient through an “opt-in”.

Last year Flytxt’s Cadbury campaign printed terms and conditions on the wrapper and then asked the customer to send a text message. By sending the message, the customer implicitly agreed to the conditions.

Under the new EU directive, customers would have to be asked for permission up-front, as well agreeing implicitly to any terms and conditions.

Ursula Pachl, an e-commerce policy officer at the European Consumers’ Organisation is optimistic the new directive will be passed, despite some quibbling over whether an opt-in takes away companies’ freedom to provide information.

Too many controls, however, could end up hurting the consumer. Inevitably, free text clubs, such as the Smash Hits gossip service, depend upon being able advertise to the customer.

“We have not found the holy grail of how this works or what exactly the model should be,” says Mr Becker. “But if consumers want something, they have pay for it one way or another.”

Clearly, the art of using text messages to market is still in its infancy. The trick will be to cut out the spam and keep customers on side by disguising any blatant marketing with useful or entertaining messages.

 

 

BT claims it owns the right to ‘click here’

Imagine if every move you made on the internet was taxed by BT. It may sound bizarre but it could happen if a court case starting in New York on Monday finds in the company’s favour.
  
Imagine if every move you made on the internet was taxed by BT. It may sound bizarre but it could happen if a court case starting in New York on Monday finds in the company’s favour.
 
In what is likely to be one of the most watched patent disputes in history, BT is taking pioneering American internet service provider, Prodigy, to court for royalties it claims it is owed as the inventor of the hyperlink.
 
A hyperlink is the highlighted – often underlined – text on a website that lets you click from one site to another. BT is determined to prove that a patent lodged with the US patent office back in 1980, when the World Wide Web was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye and BT was part of the Post Office, is still valid. The company claims that every US hyperlink is its intellectual property and therefore subject to a licensing fee. If successful, every internet service provider in the US would be liable to pay BT for the use of the technology.

 
The UK patent has already expired so ISPs in the UK would escape having to pay anything. But in the US, the patent does not expire until 2006. The original patent was part of a technology called Prestel – an early system of linked computers that the Post Office was developing. BT stumbled upon the patent during a routine update of its 15,000 global patents in the summer of 2000.

 
BT is determined to prove that a patent lodged with the US patent office back in 1980, when the World Wide Web was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye and BT was part of the Post Office, is still valid.
 
The company claims that every US hyperlink is its intellectual property and therefore subject to a licensing fee. If successful, every internet service provider in the US would be liable to pay BT for the use of the technology. The UK patent has already expired so ISPs in the UK would escape having to pay anything. But in the US, the patent does not expire until 2006. The original patent was part of a technology called Prestel – an early system of linked computers that the Post Office was developing. BT stumbled upon the patent during a routine update of its 15,000 global patents in the summer of 2000.
  
On Monday, a judge will look at the definitions of the patent in readiness for a full trial to take place later in the year. Prodigy, owned by the US’s second largest telephone company SBC, argues that the language used in the patent is too vague to apply to hyperlink technology as we know it today. BT disputes this.
 
“In the original patent we use the term ‘remote terminal means’ which nowadays means PCs,” a BT spokeswoman says. “Prodigy is asserting that remote terminals cannot be construed as PCs,”.
 
Technology lawyer with Willoughby and Partners Ben Goodger believes the case could hinge on the language of the patent. “The terms of the patent cover the technology they had in mind at the time. The question is whether the words are sufficiently precise to cover the technology used in the internet,” he says. However, according to the UK Patent Office, patents are, by nature, vague so such an argument might not prove to be sufficient defence.

 
“If I patented a flying machine the patent could equally apply to helicopters and aeroplanes even though they are completely different,” explains Stephen Probert deputy director of the Patent Office. “It seems ludicrous that a patent for one technology can cover another but patents are anything but precise and are meant to cover things that aren’t yet invented,” 

 
A stronger case could be made if the defence could prove the patent was invalid because the invention was not original. Here Prodigy has a killer piece of evidence up its sleeve. Prodigy’s unlikely saviour comes in the form of a fuzzy black and white video which shows a 1968 demonstration by Stanford computer researcher Douglas Engelbart apparently demonstrating hypertext linking.
 
Engelbart has an impeccable internet pedigree being the second person to link up to the US defence department’s ARPANet, widely regarded as the forerunner to the modern internet. Whether the film will be enough to sink BT’s claim is of course not known, and some argue BT would not have taken the case to court if it was not convinced it could win. Whichever way it goes, the case will one of the most exciting for years thinks Mr Goodger.
 
“It could blow up in BT’s face and if it doesn’t it will have far-reaching effects for the whole internet industry,” he says.
 
The case could also be a public relations disaster for a company not always seen as the best friend of the internet. Its slowness to adopt unmetered internet access and broadband have come in for huge criticism at home, and it’s reputation across the pond could be equally damaged by this court claim.
 
New chairman Sir Christopher Bland remains defiant. At the announcement of its quarterly financial results Sir Christopher claimed it was not in the business of making friends with US ISPs. “The idea that we should abandon the suit for the feel-good factor for ISPs is bizarre,” he said. On the outcome of the case, he was more reticent. “If the court decides in our favour then that will be nice. If it doesn’t that won’t be so nice.”

 
 

 

Mobile safety debate heats up

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The danger of mobile phones is under fresh scrutiny after a study found radiation emissions can affect the body without heating up tissue.

The findings challenge fears that heating from mobile phone signals is their only potential threat to brain cells.

There is no evidence that mobile phones harm human health, but some limited research suggests that radiation from mobiles can speed up the growth of human tissue

In laboratory tests, scientists at Nottingham University, UK, have found that microwave emissions typical of mobile phones make a type of earthworm more fertile.

There is no suggestion that human fertility could be affected, but according to a report in New Scientist magazine, the results provide the first clear evidence that mobile phone radiation may have biological effects without warming tissues.

Scientists found the larvae of tiny nematode worms grew faster and became more fertile after they were exposed for a long time to weak microwave radiation, of the same strength and frequency as that emitted by mobile phones.

The proportion of worms that matured into egg-bearing adults was 28-40% higher. By comparison, worms that had been exposed to mild heat suffered a 10% reduction in their growth rate, and virtually none developed into fertile adults.

Sir William Stewart, who chairs an expert group co-ordinating a new £7.4m research programme in the UK looking into the health risks of mobile phones, said: “These results are very important and potentially far-reaching.

David de Pomerai, who led the research, said the findings were significant because even mild heating would normally make larval worms infertile as adults.

In previous experiments, De Pomerai’s team studied worms that were genetically modified to generate a heat-stress protein when exposed to stresses other than heat. Prolonged exposure to microwave radiation produced the stress protein, even though there appeared to be no noticeable heating.

In addition, the worms grew about 10% larger than worms not exposed to the radiation. The experiments were inconclusive, however, because of the problem of measuring the temperature of such tiny worms.

The new research, on the other hand, ruled out any heating effect.

One theory to explain what is happening is that water molecules agitated by microwaves are attracted to water-seeking areas on the surface of proteins, influencing their ability to function.

But Mr De Pomerai said a mechanism still had to be established.

The latest results are unlikely to have an immediate impact on mobile phone safety advice.

Michael Clark from the National Radiological Protection Board, the Government’s radiation watchdog, said: “The guidelines can’t be changed on the basis of one experiment.

However good it is, it needs to be “replicated elsewhere”.