Tesco Mobile joins Three in offering free 4G



Tesco Mobile is offering free 4G from today, becoming the first MVNO to do so.

The deal applies to new and existing customers on contract and SIM-only contracts, meaning it has removed the £2.50 premium which previously made 4G more expensive than 3G.

Tesco Mobile also said it will soon offer 4G on prepay, and will add the Motorola Moto X and Sony Z1 compact to its range of 4G handsets.

The cheapest Tesco Mobile 4G SIM-only tariff will be priced at £7.50 per month and includes 250 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500MB of data.

The MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) uses O2′s network to provide 4G services. It currently covers around 25 per cent of the population and aims to cover 98 per cent by the end of 2015.

At the moment Three is the only other network set to offer 4G without a premium – but Tesco has pipped it to the post and is also the first MVNO to give the mobile giants a run for their money. And with Tesco’s brand power and the same coverage as O2, it could force the hand of the bigger networks to continue making 4G more affordable across the board.”





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Tesco Mobile launches free 4G



As the first MVNO to introduce 4G, Tesco Mobile is now offering more customers the opportunity to benefit from quicker speeds and larger data allowances, by providing 4G at no extra cost on all Pay Monthly and SIM Only contracts.

The deal is the latest move in Tesco Mobile’s ambition to make 4G easily accessible for all its customers.

Customers can choose to use 4G and pay from as little as £7.50 a month with a SIM Only tariff that gives 250 minutes, 5,000 texts and 500MB data, with no long term contract commitment.

Over the coming weeks, in addition to free 4G, the network will be:

Launching 4G data bundles for Pay as you go customers

Enhancing its range of 4G enabled devices, launching handsets such as the Sony Z1 compact and Moto X to offer a wider variety of high-spec phones on affordable 4G tariffs

Simon Groves, Chief Marketing Officer of Tesco Mobile says: “After giving customers the chance to try 4G at their own pace with our flexible 4G tariffs, we’ve seen people really benefit from what it has to offer.

“Customers should be able to expect more from their mobile network, so as we see demand for 4G become more widespread, we wanted to take a different approach.

“Introducing free 4G is a clear example of our intention to provide all of our customers with the very best at no extra cost.

“As a network we hope that this move will challenge others in the market and encourage the industry to follow suit. We want to see 4G with no extra cost become the norm and networks making the very latest technologies accessible for all.”



Two-month deadline over in-app charges


Creators of mobile apps that promote in-app purchases are being given two months to comply with Office of Fair Trading guidelines.

Apps that do not reach the standards set by 1 April could face legal action.

The OFT is attempting to crack down on instances where children rack up huge bills without their parents’ consent.

Earlier this month, Apple agreed to refund $32.5m (£19.9m) to customers who had made complaints about unexpected bills from games.

A large number of mobile games now offer in-app purchases – for items such as power-ups or in-game currency – as a way of making their games profitable. Prices for such items typically range from 69p to £10, but can top £100.

PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator for premium phone lines and related services, estimates that 90% of seven-to-15-year-olds in the UK have played mobile games in the past six months.

Last year the OFT outlined its guidelines for app makers after studying 38 popular titles.

It concluded that app makers must:

provide up-front information about the costs associated with a game before consumers download it.

ensure gamers are not misled to believe they must make a payment to proceed if that is not the case, for example if they could wait for a period of time instead.

prevent the use of language or anything else that might exploit a child’s inexperience, for example, implying an in-game character would be disappointed if they did not spend money.

make it clear how to contact the business if the gamer has a complaint.

only take a payment if the account holder provides “informed consent”, in other words a charge cannot be made because a password had recently been entered for something else.

In addition to those guidelines, the OFT on Thursday posted advice for parents. It includes checking the in-app payment settings on their devices and trying the games themselves to better understand how they work.

“Many children enjoy playing these types of games,” said the OFT’s chief executive Clive Maxwell. “This rapidly growing creative sector has also brought wider economic benefits. Our principles make clear the type of practices that games makers and platform operators should avoid. Parents and carers have an important role to help protect their child and their bank balance.”

Furthermore, a series of videos explaining how to change relevant settings has been posted on Ofcom’s website. The OFT praised games companies for co-operating with their investigation into the issue, and noted that several developers had already made moves to adhere to the guidelines.

However, games that do not comply could face legal action, the OFT warned, although its first course of action would be to work with the developer to make changes.

The video games trade body Ukie said it was happy the OFT had acknowledged that protecting consumers was a shared responsibility.

“We are pleased to see the OFT recognise that parents need to be more aware of and use parental controls that are available on devices,” said the organisation’s chief executive Jo Twist. “Done responsibly, micro-transaction based business models give choice and value for both players and businesses.”

In the US, action from the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month led to Apple agreeing to refund in-app payments to “thousands” of customers.

The FTC said consumers had been harmed by “unfair billing”.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook said: “The consent decree the FTC proposed does not require us to do anything we weren’t already going to do, so we decided to accept it rather that take on a long and distracting legal fight.”



Broadband prices ‘have fallen 48% in eight years’



UK broadband prices fell significantly between 2004 and 2012, Ofcom has revealed. Research conducted by the communications regulator shows the average amount spent on a residential fixed broadband connection was £16.38 per month in 2012.

This was down from £31.79 per month eight years earlier – highlighting the impact of continued industry innovation and greater competition during this period.

The fall in prices occurred against a backdrop of increased broadband adoption, with a rising number of homes and businesses signing up.

At the start of the study period, many premises were reliant upon dial-up technology for their internet connection.

But over the course of the last decade, broadband has rendered this technology largely obsolete, other than in the remaining few network ‘not-spots’.

While just six per cent of households had a broadband line in 2003, more than seven out of ten homes now take advantage of a fixed connection.

“Competition has driven the availability of low-cost broadband deals, some now starting at £2.50 a month plus line rental,” Ofcom stated.

The regulator said this trend has been “underpinned by regulatory intervention” to support increased competition in the long-term interests of consumers.

“Total spending over the past ten years has increased, driven by increased take-up of broadband and progressively higher speed packages,” it stated.

Ofcom noted that consumers are using their broadband more and more, with laptop and desktop internet users spending at least 35 hours online each month.

“The average household now owns more than three types of internet-enabled device, with one in five owning six or more,” the regulator stated.

“Take-up of fixed broadband services has now increased to 71 per cent of households, with more and more of these connections being super-fast.”

BT boosts commercial fibre broadband rollout by £50m



BT has announced plans to invest a further £50 million into its commercial fibre broadband programme over the next three years.

The broadband provider is to make super-fast BT Infinity broadband available to another 400,000 premises across 30 UK towns and cities.

The latest investment will see BT enable city cabinets that were not part of its original commercial plans due to technical challenges or local planning restrictions.

BT will also deploy fibre to cabinets to serve multi-dwelling units such as apartment blocks, and lay fibre at new-build sites across UK cities.

The telecoms giant is spending more than £3 billion deploying fibre broadband around the UK, with its open-access fibre network already passing more than 18 million homes and businesses.

At present, around 73 per cent of UK premises can access a fibre broadband deal; a figure which should rise to 90 per cent by late 2015 or early 2016.

Mike Galvin, Managing Director of Network Investment at Openreach, said BT’s fibre programme is “going extremely well” with engineers connecting homes and businesses across the UK.

“Some city areas have proved challenging in the past but we are returning to those and will pass hundreds of thousands of additional premises with fibre,” he stated. “We are reaching vast swathes of rural Britain with our public sector partners but we will upgrade these city areas under our own steam. Businesses in cities already have access to ultra-fast speeds but fibre will give them greater choice.”

Mr Galvin claimed the UK is already ahead of its main European rivals when it comes to fibre and “is set to race ahead” in the months and years to come.

According to BT, more than five million premises are already using fibre broadband across all networks.

This level of adoption puts the UK ahead of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, the broadband provider claimed.

Safer Smartphones – a guide to keeping your device secure

More than half of UK adults now own a smartphone. If you’re one of them, here are some tips to help keep you and your device safe and secure.
More than half of UK adults now own a smartphone. If you’re one of them, here are some tips to help keep you and your device safe and secure.
This guide has been produced by the Information Commissioner’s Office, Ofcom, the Office of Fair Trading and PhonepayPlus working together. We are reproducing it here as a one-stop reference point for you.
1. Guard your phone, and set PINs and passwords
Treat your phone as carefully as you would your bank cards. Take care when using your phone in public, and don’t let it out of your possession. Thieves can quickly rack up huge bills on stolen phones, and you may be liable for all charges run up on your phone before you have reported it lost or stolen to your provider.
To help prevent this happening, protect your phone against unauthorised use by setting up a PIN, swipe pattern or password for your home screen. You can usually do this through the Settings feature on your phone.
2. Take precautions in case your phone is lost or stolen
Make a record of your phone’s IMEI number, as well as the make and model number. The IMEI is a unique 15-digit serial number which you will need to give to your mobile operator to have your phone blocked . You can check your IMEI number by keying *#06# into your handset or by looking behind your phone battery.
Consider making your phone less useful to potential thieves by barring calls to international numbers and premium rate lines, if you never use them.
Some mobile insurance policies, or any other policies that may cover the mobile phone, could provide limited cover for unauthorised use. So it is worth checking the terms and conditions of your existing policy, and when considering a new policy.
The national Mobile Phone Crime Unit’s “Immobilise” database is a free registration service that assists the police in reuniting owners with their stolen smartphones.
3. Don’t override your smartphone’s security settings
It is not advisable to attempt to ‘crack’, ‘jailbreak’ or ‘root’ your smartphone or tablet. This is a process people use to remove restrictions placed on their device’s operating system by the phone manufacturer. Doing so carries considerable risks: it compromises the security of your device, and may leave you more vulnerable to malicious software.
It is also likely to invalidate your manufacturer’s warranty.
4. Back up and secure your data
Many smartphones come with a software package to back up your data to a personal computer, so that you don’t lose it if your phone goes astray. Check for information on how to do this in the phone’s manual. There are also some third-party applications (‘apps’) that can do this for you, creating a copy of information such as contacts, photographs and other data.
5. Install apps from trusted sources
Apps are the easiest way for someone to hack into your phone. Sometimes hackers will take a popular paid-for app, add their own illegitimate elements and then offer it for free on ‘bulletin boards’, ‘peer-to-peer’ networks or through fake online stores. Once the rogue app has been downloaded to your phone, the hacker can potentially take control of the handset, incur charges via premium SMS without your permission, make calls, send and intercept SMS and voicemail messages, browse and download online content.
You may not be aware anything is wrong until it’s too late.
So avoid apps from unauthorised sources, such as ‘bulletin boards’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ networks. Instead, download your apps from official stores, such as the Apple App Store, BlackBerry World or Google Play – and exercise care: for example, research the app and check reviews.
6. Use antivirus software
It’s not just rogue apps which pose a threat to your smartphone. Viruses and spyware can also be downloaded from websites, or by connecting your device to an infected computer. Some phones may be more vulnerable than others, but you can check for antivirus software in a reputable app store such as Google Play.
Also, before connecting your device to a computer, ensure it has the latest antivirus/antispyware and firewall installed and running. To find out more, visit Get Safe Online, the UK’s national internet security initiative.
7. Use software to find or erase your phone if it goes missing
Consider installing a reputable security app that enables you to track your phone’s location if it goes missing, or to wipe data from the phone remotely if you’re not able to recover the handset. Some manufacturers provide such an app themselves: for example, Apple’s Find My iPhone, BlackBerry Protect, the Android Device Manager or Windows Find My Phone. Third-party apps are also available to perform a similar function.
8. Clear your phone before you dispense with it
If you decide to donate, resell or recycle your smartphone, remember to erase any data on it first. Remove and erase any media cards and perform a full or ‘factory’ reset by going into the Settings menu.
9. Accept updates and patches
Occasionally, your smartphone manufacturer may send you a message proposing an update to your operating system – the software that runs your device. App developers may also propose updates to their app. It is advisable to accept these updates as they become available. As well as typically offering new features and improving your phone’s performance, they can also fix security vulnerabilities.

Smartphone sales pass 1bn in 2013 as China booms


The smartphone market passed a key milestone in 2013, with 1bn devices sold during the year, according to the research company IDC – and other research companies gave almost identical figures.

Chinese vendors made significant inroads. Samsung and Apple topped the figures with 31.3% and 15.3% of fourth-quarter shipments, with Korean firm LG third with 4.8%. Huawei, Lenovo and ZTE were key players, taking nearly 15% of smartphone sales collectively.

More generally, smartphones are eating into the total mobile phone market, which totalled 1.82bn handsets in 2013, up just 4.8% from 1.74bn in 2012, said IDC. That means that smartphones made up 55% of all mobile phone sales in the year.

With growth accelerating, in the fourth quarter smartphones made up 58.2% of the 488.4m mobile sales, the research company said.

But the rapid expansion of smartphones to markets where featurephones have held sway has also created a huge market at the low end, while seeing saturation at the premium end where Apple in particular dominates. Its year-on-year phone sales growth in 2013 was just 12.9%, compared to smartphone sales growth for the year of 38.4%.

The figures suggest that Apple is increasing its share of the smartphone market against the context of total mobile phone sales that grew by 4.8%. That may be at the expense of featurephone makers – notably Nokia, which saw combined shipments of smartphones and featurephones for 2013 plummet by 25.2% from 335.6m to 251.0m.

Nokia’s mobile phone division is being sold to Microsoft, which is trying to build a smartphone platform to compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone.

“Smartphone market share is a bullshit metric,” commented Benedict Evans, telecoms and tech analyst at Enders Analysis, on Twitter. “Phone share matters. Smartphone share tells you nothing about Apple or Samsung’s success.”

Samsung shipped 313.9m smartphones by IDC’s estimates, up 42.9% on 2012, while its total phone shipments grew 9.1% to 446.7m. As a proportion of all its phone shipments, its smartphone shipments rose from 53.6% to 70.3%, according to IDC’s estimates.

Samsung does not provide official figures for smartphone or featurephone shipments.

However, the mobile phone business remains a brutal one for many companies. While Samsung and Apple have made huge profits in the past two years from smartphones, other companies have seen losses.

Even LG, which this week announced that it had surged back into contention with shipments of 13.2m smartphones in the fourth quarter, and 18.5m including featurephones, made an operating loss because of high marketing costs.

The drive of smartphones to newer buyers in developing markets as prices of handsets plummets – driven by the huge growth of handset makers in mainland China – is changing the basis of competition, suggested IDC.

“Among the top trends driving smartphone growth are large screen devices and low cost,” said Ryan Reith, program director with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

“Of the two, I have to say that low cost is the key difference maker. Cheap devices are not the attractive segment that normally grabs headlines, but IDC data shows this is the portion of the market that is driving volume. Markets like China and India are quickly moving toward a point where sub-$150 smartphones are the majority of shipments, bringing a solid computing experience to the hands of many.”

Smartphone sales volumes have doubled in just two years, from just under 500m in 2011; in 2010, they were fewer than 300m.


BT to bring more fibre to cities



BT will invest a further £50 million into its commercial fibre broadband programme over the next three years, it was announced today. The money will benefit more than 30 cities, helping to make high speed broadband available to more than 400,000 additional premises.

BT is spending more than £3 billion on deploying fibre broadband 1 and its open access fibre network already passes more than 18 million homes and businesses. That footprint is set to grow rapidly as various rural fibre programmes are delivered.

UK fibre broadband availability currently stands at 73 per cent 2, when all networks are taken into account. The current Broadband Delivery UK programme, which receives financial support from both central and local government, is set to extend that coverage to around 90 per cent by late 2015 or early 2016. The programme has made strong early progress with hundreds of thousands of premises passed with fibre to date.

Mike Galvin, MD Network Investment at Openreach said: “Our fibre programme is going extremely well with our engineers connecting homes and businesses across the UK. Some city areas have proved challenging in the past but we are returning to those and will pass hundreds of thousands of additional premises with fibre.

“We are reaching vast swathes of rural Britain with our public sector partners but we will upgrade these city areas under our own steam. Businesses in cities already have access to ultra-fast speeds but fibre will give them greater choice.

“The UK is already ahead of its main European rivals when it comes to fibre, and is set to race ahead thanks to the BDUK plans that are already in progress across the country.”

BT’s new investment will focus on three areas: Enabling city cabinets that weren’t part of BT’s original commercial plans due to technical challenges or local planning restrictions, Deploying fibre to cabinets to serve multi-dwelling units such as apartment blocks, Laying further fibre – including ‘Fibre-to-the-Premises’ technology – to new build sites in cities

The UK is making strong progress with more than five million premises already using fibre broadband across all networks. This high level of adoption puts the UK ahead of France, Germany, Italy and Spain and it is set to close the gap on Japan and the US according to a recent report 3.

That report also found the UK is ahead of its main European peers on various other measures, including average speeds, the competitiveness of the market and pricing.

BT’s fibre network is open to all communications providers on an equivalent basis, ensuring businesses and consumers benefit from intense competition, a wide choice of supplier and low prices.

Fibre broadband at home means everyone in the family can do their own thing online, all at the same time, whether it’s downloading music in minutes, watching catch-up TV or posting photos and videos to social networking sites in seconds. Fibre improves the quality of online experiences and supports exciting new developments in internet services.

The benefits are also considerable for businesses, which can do much more in far less time. Firms can speed up file and data transfers, collaborate with colleagues and customers on conference or video calls or swap their hardware and expensive software licenses for files, processing power and software from cloud computing. Staff can work as effectively from home as they would in the office.

Mobile users able to quit ‘fixed’ contracts if prices rise mid-term


Consumers can now leave their telephone and internet provider mid-contract if their bills are increased, following a clampdown by regulator Ofcom.

Some providers have been raising charges during fixed-term contracts, which typically span 18 or 24-months, with Ofcom receiving more than 1,000 complaints about the practice.

A total of 10 companies, including Vodafone, BT, Sky and Virgin Media, had put up prices having offered a “fixed-price deal” when customers took out the contract.

Ofcom has been consulting on how to protect people on contracts from unexpected price rises, with plans proposed in October to enable consumers to move supplier without penalty. These take effect from 23 January.

Providers must give 30 days’ notice that they are increasing prices, and customers must be able to cancel their contracts during this period without incurring a penalty. The rules will apply to any new landline, broadband and mobile contract, including some bundled contracts, entered into after this date, and also apply to small businesses of up to 10 employees.

The same applies if the provider reduces the number of minutes or the amount of data provided, rather than actually increasing the charges. Pay TV will be included if it is part of a package, but not where it is sold on its own.

Claudio Pollack, consumer group director of Ofcom, said: “We have reached an important milestone in our work to ensure consumers and small businesses have better protection against unexpected price increases.”

EU law meant the regulator was unable to completely ban price rises mid-contract.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: “This is good news for mobile phone customers and the 60,000 people who supported our campaign against unfair price rises in fixed contracts. People can now be confident that the price really will be fixed when they sign a mobile contract, or they can walk away without a steep penalty if faced with a hike.”, adding: “We will be keeping a close eye on the mobile phone industry to make sure it follows this guidance and gives customers clear information about contracts at the point of sale.”

Ofcom has also produced a checklist to help guide customers on what to consider when they are taking out a new contract.





Telecoms users can now switch without penalty, orders Ofcom



Consumers no longer have to stick with telecoms providers who raise their prices unexpectedly. Operators often promise a fixed price when selling a contract, but subsequently increase their charges.

Under new rules drawn up by telecoms regulator Ofcom for mobile phone, landline or broadband contracts, providers now have to give customers 30 days’ notice of such changes.

If customers then decide to switch, they cannot be charged a penalty.

The plans were proposed by Ofcom last October, but take effect from 23 January.

Pay TV will be included where it is part of a package, but not where it is sold on its own.

“We have reached an important milestone in our work to ensure consumers and small businesses have better protection against unexpected price increases,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director.

Ofcom found that 10 companies, including Vodafone, BT, Sky and Virgin Media, had put up prices, having originally promised a fixed-price deal when customers took out the contract.

It looked at more than 1,000 complaints about the practice. Telecoms operators said that they have to put up prices when their own costs go up. Vodafone, for example, said it had to pay more for services like directory enquiries. But along with other firms, it has agreed to the changes.

The new rules mean that providers are still free to raise prices, but they have to give a month’s notice if they do so. Customers who decide to switch provider as a result will not have to pay an exit fee. The same applies if the provider reduces the number of minutes, or the amount of data provided, rather than actually increasing the charges.

Ofcom has also produced a checklist to advise customers what to look for when they are taking out a new telecoms contract.

Telecoms firms will, however, still be able to stipulate in their contracts that prices may rise, even though the contract is for a fixed period.



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