Mobile net ‘heading for data jam’

The number of people accessing the net on mobile phones could soon outstrip the capacity of networks, experts warn.
 
The number of people accessing the net on mobile phones could soon outstrip the capacity of networks, experts warn.
 
Mobile data traffic looks set to rise 25 fold by 2012, said mobile analyst firm Informa. The boom could present operators with problems as revenues generated by those using such mobile data services will only double over the same time period.
 
Mobile network experts warn that operators need to take action to avoid imminent data traffic jams.
 
“Revenues from data are increasing much slower than traffic,” said Dimitris Mavrakis, mobile network analyst from Informa. “Where operators are experiencing exploding data traffic, revenues are not following them.”
 
The “decoupling” of revenues from traffic presented operators with a problem, said Mr Mavrakis, because it deprived the phone firms of cash at a time when their networks were in need of upgrading. This was compounded, he said, by the fact that hardware to build next-generation mobile networks that can handle high data rates will not be widely available until late 2010.
 
Graham Carey, a spokesman for network optimisation firm Bytemobile, said the history of mobile networks also made it harder to handle the always-on nature of many smartphones and laptops. “Radio networks today have been designed to have very short sessions for telephone-type calls,” he said.
 
He added that flat-rate pricing made it hard for mobile operators to recover enough cash to cope. Such payment plans made it hard to persuade users to be parsimonious with their data browsing.
 
“As far as users are concerned, they do not see the need to manage their consumption,” he said. “The consumption rate is far outweighing the network improvement rate, There’s a crunch point coming.”
 
Already many mobile networks were turning to optimisation schemes that shrink the size of files that people download. Typically these involve using software centrally to look at what people are downloading and shrink them where possible. For instance, web pages with a lot of white space can be shrunk with little or no effect on the quality of a site seen by end users.
 
John Spindler, vice president of product management at network optimisation firm ADC, said operators were also struggling to cope with sudden spikes in mobile data use. Heavy users of mobile data were not spread equally around an operator’s network, he said.
 
“When you start looking at data applications, if you look at laptops or mobile handsets, a lot of that is not happening on the street corner,” he said. “It is happening in conference rooms and convention centres. Today the primary use for wireless is happening indoors,” he said. “What’s going to happen if carriers do not respond appropriately? They are going to crush the user experience.”
 
 

Parents sound off as teens ring up £376 million on phone bills

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British parents are counting the cost of having to pay for their teenager’s mobile phone calls with a third admitting they struggled financially to pay for their teens’ calls.

The ‘bank of mum & dad’ bails out UK teenagers’ phone bills to the tune of £374 million a year, with nearly half (48%) of parents paying their teen’s mobile bill.

For many teens, running up costly phone bills has become a way to increase their pocket money by stealth from parents.

Of the 2000 parents of 16-19 year olds surveyed by Tesco Mobile almost half (43%) of parents confess they feel under pressure to pay their teenager’s mobile phone bills.

Temper tantrums if they don’t pay (34%) and concerns about their teens’ safety (34%) are the top reasons parents cite for footing the bill.

With the growing popularity of mobile add-ons and the increase in ways to pay for services via mobile phone (premium subscriptions and text voting) the opportunities for teenagers to run up higher bills than expected are ever greater.

Tesco Mobile has launched a brand new ‘Cap Your Mobile Spend’ service which gives all the benefits and value of a Pay monthly tariff but with the control of Pay as You Go top-up.

Customers choose to receive a set amount of Pay monthly credit each month and when the credit is used up they simply top-up just like Pay as You Go, without the risk of running up a large bill.

Lance Batchelor, Chief Executive Officer of Tesco Mobile and Tesco Telecoms commented: “This is a great way to avoid bail out banking. Mobile phones are a central part of our lifestyles, and an important way to keep in touch but not at the cost of getting into financial difficulties. You can set a cap on your own mobile or any other Tesco Mobile phones you pay the bill for.”

The new capped tariff is available to all Tesco Mobile customers.

Seven million homes exposed to Wi-Fi hijacking

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About seven million* homes and small businesses are vulnerable to Wi-Fi hijacking and so at risk of being wrongly disconnected from the Internet according to a new study into broadband security released today.

The study coincides with today’s launch of a campaign against Lord Mandelson’s plans to disconnect people suspected of illegal filesharing without a trial.

Don’t Disconnect Us (www.dontdisconnect.us) has been initiated by TalkTalk, Britain’s biggest provider of broadband to homes. The campaign’s website sets out three principal objections to Lord Mandelson’s plans:

1. It by-passes the courts and gives rightsholders quasi-judicial powers;

2. It exposes millions of people to false prosecution since it is based on an approach where those suspected of illegal filesharing will be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence in order to avoid being falsely disconnected;

3. It will do little to tackle illegal filesharing since the main offenders will easily avoid detection by using other people’s broadband connections to download content or encrypting their activity. Indeed the proposed measures will increase Wi-Fi and PC hijacking and so increase even further the chances of innocent customers being wrongly cut off.

The risk of innocent people being disconnected is not hypothetical. Consumer organisations such as Which? have been contacted by dozens of people who have been wrongly accused of filesharing by rightsholders who used a similar method to the one Lord Mandelson is suggesting.

Last week a knowledgeable Parliamentary committee, Apcomm, came out squarely against Mandelson’s disconnection plans saying “this approach [disconnection] to dealing with illegal file-sharing should not be further considered.”

The Don’t Disconnect Us website provides a hub for people to learn the latest views on tackling illegal filesharing from around the world, a forum to discuss the issues and a link to a petition on the No 10 website where opposition to the plans can be registered.

The survey of 1,083 Wi-Fi connections, which was conducted by TalkTalk, found that 5 per cent of connections were completely open (ie no security at all), 36 per cent used WEP which is easily hackable and 56 per cent used WPA which is currently fairly secure, though a vulnerability has already been detected meaning it could become hackable soon. Only 3 per cent used the most secure form of protection, WPA2.
 
 
 

Check the latest TalkTalk broadband deals here.

 

 

 

114,000 people call on Ofcom to “Terminate the Rate”

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Terminate the Rate, the campaign to lower unfair Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs), will today hand a 114,000 strong petition to Ofcom calling on the industry regulator to reduce the cost of calling mobiles.
 
Supported by more than 60 organisations, the campaign wants to see MTRs reduced to reflect what they actually cost to give consumers a fair deal.
 
Launched by BT, 3 UK and supported by The Post Office, The Federation of Small Businesses, MoneySupermarket.com and The National Union of Students among others, Terminate the Rate represents a broad-based coalition of businesses, consumers, charities, unions and local government.
 
Since the campaign launched in May this year, 114,259 people have signed the online petition calling for Ofcom to reduce MTRs from about 5p a minute to around a penny or less.
 
In addition 258 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) asking for MTRs to be reduced, making it one of the most widely supported EDMs on the parliamentary books.
 
The submission of the petition comes as the campaign gears up for its second stage as Ofcom reviews pricing levels for April 2011.
 
John Petter, MD Consumer, BT Retail, said: “114,000 people, 258 MPs and more than 60 organisations, businesses and councils have all joined the campaign for MTRs to be cut to a penny or less.  Any reduction less than this will mean continued unfairness and high prices for UK consumers and businesses.
 
 “This petition is only the first stage in an ongoing campaign to show how MTRs stifle competition and increase the cost of calling mobiles – our goal remains for them to be set according to what they actually cost.”
 
Earlier this year, the European Commission recognised that high MTRs penalise consumers and harm competition. On 7 May 2009 it recommended that regulatory bodies take a new approach to setting lower MTRs.
 
MTRs are charges paid to mobile operators to connect calls to mobiles and cost UK phone users around 5p per minute when calling a mobile phone from a landline or from a mobile phone on a different network. The billions of minutes for which this fee is charged add up to billions of pounds for UK phone users each year.

 

  

 

Mandelson plan will leave millions exposed to ‘superhighway robbery’

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Millions of innocent broadband customers could be in danger of being caught out by Lord Mandelson’s ill-conceived proposals to curb internet piracy according to TalkTalk, the UK’s largest broadband provider to homes.

To demonstrate the point, an internet security expert from TalkTalk today visited The Highway, a residential road in Stanmore, Middlesex.

Within a couple of hours he had identified 23 wireless connections on the street – more than one third of the total – which are vulnerable to Wi-Fi hijacking. These connections are either completely unsecured (6%) or use WEP technology (28%) which many users think is secure but is in fact easily hackable by anyone with a laptop computer.

To show how vulnerable people are to unauthorised filesharing, he downloaded music files from two connections, including Barry Manilow’s hit Mandy and the soundtrack from the 1992 film Peter’s Friends.

Of the 68 Wi-Fi connections on the road only one used the strongest available security (WPA2). The majority (65%) used WPA security which may become hackable in the future. Indeed a vulnerability has already been discovered.

The Highway is actually comparatively well protected. A Wi-Fi survey of central Ealing in West London conducted on 11th October found 41% of 1,083 Wi-Fi networks were vulnerable to unauthorised use.

Connecting to a Wi-Fi network is just one way that illegal filesharers can use other people’s internet connections, leaving innocent people vulnerable to disconnection. PC hijacking is another.

The risk of innocent people being disconnected is not hypothetical. Consumer organisations such as Which? have been contacted by hundreds of people who have been wrongly accused of filesharing using a similar method to the one Mandelson is suggesting.

“The Mandelson scheme is wrong-headed and naive,” said Andrew Heaney, Director of Strategy and Regulation at TalkTalk. “The lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process combined with the prevalence of Wi-Fi hijacking will result in innocent people being disconnected.

“Also, the plan won’t work in practice. It will actually encourage offenders to use Wi-Fi and PC hijacking more frequently and so increase the chances of innocent users being falsely accused and disconnected.

“It is absurd to make people, in effect, legally responsible for the traffic on their internet connections and require them to prevent any unauthorised traffic.

Will people be required to upgrade to WPA and throw away much of their equipment such as games consoles that can only run using WEP or open Wi-Fi networks? What will happen if WPA is compromised in the future; will the whole country have to upgrade their Wi-Fi equipment again to avoid the risk of prosecution?

“TalkTalk acknowledges that there is a problem with illegal filesharing and that solutions must be found. First and foremost the content industry must develop new business models to make content more easily available and more affordable.

“We are happy to play our role alongside this but we will resist any approach that does not protect the innocent.”

TalkTalk is currently developing a series of controls which will give parents the ability to block access to certain filesharing sites through their connections. Whilst it won’t stop all illegal filesharing it could help significantly to reduce it. We also advise our customers on how they can secure their Wi-Fi networks.
 
 
 

Check the latest TalkTalk broadband deals here.

 

 

 

Mobile broadband feels the strain

Researchers predict that more than one billion people around the world will be using mobile broadband by 2012. However some European mobile operators claim that current levels of use are already crippling their networks.
 
Researchers predict that more than one billion people around the world will be using mobile broadband by 2012. However some European mobile operators claim that current levels of use are already crippling their networks.
 
In Britain mobile operator Vodafone is doubling its mobile broadband capacity to 14.4Mbps (Megabits per second). The new service rolling out across the UK should give users a realistic peak speed of 10.8Mbps, says the company. The upgrade will not affect devices. By March 2009 three million British homes had mobile broadband access according to communications watchdog Ofcom.
 
Many use dongles, which attach to computers like a USB stick and enable internet access from anywhere with a mobile signal.
 
“Dongles really are reaching a critical mass,” a Vodafone spokesperson said. “There has been quite a bit of obsessing about speed by the media, but we have been concentrating on depth of coverage and quality of the network… as it will help us cope with the demands of new users.”
 
French operator SFR claims laptops equipped with a dongle use 450 times more bandwidth than a classic mobile phone.
 
The mobile broadband service is proving particularly popular with young adults says Howard Wilcox, senior analyst at Juniper Research. “There’s a growing number of under 35s living in rented properties, who tend to move around and take their mobile broadband with them,” he said. “Growth has also been driven by the availability of smartphones. It must be placing a strain on the mobile operators’ networks.”
 
The majority of complaints about mobile broadband from UK users are about network congestion in busy areas and poor signals inside office buildings.
 
Phil Sayer, principal analyst at Forrester Research, believes that the TV industry may unwittingly provide the solution to the interior signal problems. Following digital switchover in 2012, the TV analogue frequency that the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Five currently broadcast on, will no longer be in use. A decision has not yet been made about what will happen to it.
 
“It would improve mobile broadband enormously,” he believes. “700 MHz is a great frequency for good building penetration. 2.4 GHz [the current frequency used for wireless broadband] is pretty poor.”
 
An added attraction of web access on the move is that it is usually available for a competitively-priced, fixed-rate fee. In the UK many fixed rate deals are capped – which can lead to high charges for dongle users who go over their allocated bandwidth. Earlier this year O2 claimed the surcharge was “used as a deterrent and to make sure that others using the network had a good experience”.
 
“Very few of our customers go over their limits,” added a spokesman. 
 
According to Phil Sayer fixed rates are here to stay. “People need to know what it’s going to cost them – there’s no way back from fixed monthly deals,” he said. “A fair use policy is reasonable. Nobody wants anybody totally hogging the service.”
 
Some operators, such as Norway’s Telenor, slow down or even block the internet connection of individual users once they reach a certain amount of bandwidth. “We have to do this otherwise only a few users will end up straining the whole network,” a spokesman told Reuters.
 
Some operators claim that they do not generate a big enough financial return from fixed price deals to allow for much investment in the service.
 
“You can easily lose money on mobile broadband if you do it in the wrong way,” warns Bjorn Amundsen, director of mobile network coverage at Telenor in Norway. We have had to be careful not to invest too much, because the only thing that would happen if we did would be to increase data traffic without an increase in our profits.”
 
Phil Sayer does not think there will be much public sympathy for their plight. “The user community as a whole is tired of hearing special pleading from the mobile operators,” he said. “Remember, these guys have been making money hand over fist from data roaming charges.”
 
In July this year the EU introduced caps on the cost of using the internet abroad from a mobile. The maximum operators can now charge is one Euro per megabyte.