Vodafone and Wind sign letter of intent for Italy fibre-optic network

Vodafone and Vimpelcom’s Italian mobile phone unit Wind have signed a letter of intent with shareholders of broadband firm Metroweb to build a fibre-optic network in Italy, the companies said in a joint statement.

 
Vodafone and Vimpelcom’s Italian mobile phone unit Wind have signed a letter of intent with shareholders of broadband firm Metroweb to build a fibre-optic network in Italy, the companies said in a joint statement.
 
The agreement comes as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is pushing to upgrade the country’s ageing phone infrastructure in a 12-billion-euro ($13 billion) plan he considers vital to modernise the economy. Rome sees Metroweb, which is partly owned by the state and has attracted takeover interest from former phone monopoly Telecom Italia, as a building block for the multi-billion-euro plan.
 
In the statement on Friday the companies said the project was open to other operators and investors ready to pursue the goals set by the government. A decree detailing the broadband plan is expected in the coming days.
 
Telecom Italia had proposed a gradual take-over of Metroweb. But its proposal was rejected by the company’s state owners who favour opening up the capital of Metroweb to all operators. If the letter of intent leads to a deal, this would put pressure on Telecom Italia, which is going ahead with its own investment plan to upgrade its copper network and bring faster Internet connections to Italian consumers.
 
The statement on Friday did not mention any timeframe for any agreement nor the size of the possible joint investment.

Half of UK homes turn to tablets – in just five years

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The tablet computer has established itself as a must-have device in just five years with more than half of UK homes now owning one.
 
Apple’s iPad launched in the UK on 28 May 2010 and, alongside Android and other tablet devices, it is helping to shape the way we surf the internet, communicate and watch TV and video.
 
The rapid rise in popularity of tablets means that over half of UK households (54%) now have one1, up from just 2% in 2011. Tablets are proving particularly popular among people aged 35-54 with nearly two thirds of this age group (64%) having a tablet.
 
The trend looks set to continue – 21% of households currently without a tablet told Ofcom they were likely to get one within the next 12 months. According to Ofcom research, seven in ten (71%) children aged 5-15 had access to a tablet at home by the end of 2014, up from just over half (51%) in 2013.
 
And many kids do not even have to share a tablet with their parents. One in three children (34%) aged 5-15 have their own device – up from one in five (19%) in 2013. Tablets are also proving popular with toddlers – one in ten (11%) of 3-4 year olds now have their own tablet to keep them entertained.
 
In terms of reach, the mobile phone was the primary device used for gaming by the end of 2014, with over a quarter (26%) of mobile users playing games at least once a week. But gaming on tablets is becoming increasingly popular, and catching up on console gaming. Some 15% of all adults use a tablet to play games such as Angry Birds, Halo or Candy Crush compared with 17% for gaming on consoles. Almost one in four (24%) 16-24 year olds are regularly gaming on their tablet.
 
Tablets are helping to drive the use of apps, with 86% of adults who go online on a tablet using apps at the end of 2014. News apps are proving popular with 48% of all app users typically getting their headlines on an app, compared to 37% who tend to use a web browser. But, when searching for information, the browser still prevails. 61% of app users mostly use a browser to find the information they are looking for. Only 25% tend to use an app.
 
While more than one in three adults (37%) use a tablet to go online at home, only 15% appear to take their tablet with them when out and about – away from home, work or their place of study.

Watching video clips is proving popular on tablets. At the end of 2014, 58% of people with a tablet connected at home were watching video clips online. 36% were watching catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player.
 
Kate Reeve, Director of Consumer Research at Ofcom, said: “In just five years, tablets have become a must-have device for millions of UK households. We’re using them to catch up with the news, watch our favourite soaps and keep the kids entertained, with around one in three 5-15 year olds having their own tablet.”

Pakistan bans BlackBerry services in privacy crackdown

Pakistan has banned BlackBerry’s enterprise server and its internet and messaging services “for security reasons” in a crackdown on privacy. Mobile phone operators were told by the Pakistan telecommunication authority on Friday that the BlackBerry services must be shut down by the start of December.
 
Pakistan has banned BlackBerry’s enterprise server and its internet and messaging services “for security reasons” in a crackdown on privacy. Mobile phone operators were told by the Pakistan telecommunication authority on Friday that the BlackBerry services must be shut down by the start of December.
 
BlackBerry uses strong encryption – part of its appeal to businesses and users – which prevents law enforcement and intelligence agencies from intercepting messages and snooping on user activity.
 
“PTA has issued directions to local mobile phone operators to close BlackBerry Enterprise Services from Nov. 30 on security reasons,” said a PTA spokesperson.
 
BlackBerry operates servers through which all internet traffic destined for its smartphones and tablets flows. The servers handle email, messaging, browsing and other communications services, encrypting the data and ensuring greater privacy.
 
A recent report by Privacy International claims Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is seeking to dramatically expand its ability to intercept communications. Privacy International said the ISI had few legal checks on its surveillance practices.
 
“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have abused their communications surveillance powers, including by spying on opposition politicians and supreme court judges. Widespread internet monitoring and censorship has also been used to target journalists, lawyers and activists,” the report said.
 
BlackBerry has faced similar problems in the past in India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In 2010, BlackBerry services were banned within the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Bans were lifted in some states but with tightened restrictions. Prime minister David Cameron also considered banning BlackBerry’s messaging services within the UK during the 2011 riots.
 
BlackBerry said: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognise the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.” 

Demand for quad-play drives growth for TalkTalk

TalkTalk has today reported a strong year of growth driven by more customers choosing bundled phone, broadband, TV and mobile packages, known as ‘quad–play’.
 
TalkTalk has today reported a strong year of growth driven by more customers choosing bundled phone, broadband, TV and mobile packages, known as ‘quad–play’.
 
In the last 12 months, over a million TV, broadband, fibre and mobile customers joined TalkTalk, demonstrating the demand for value for money services. The huge popularity of TalkTalk TV has seen the platform  become the third largest in the UK, with 1.4m customers.
 
Mobile has been a significant driver of growth. TalkTalk disrupted the market last month by launching Britain’s lowest priced unlimited All-in SIM for £12 a month. In December it added a free SIM with 100 minutes, 250 texts and 200MB of data a month, worth £90, to its Plus TV, broadband and calls package. 
 
The response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Around 12% of TalkTalk’s base now take mobile, with 66,000 new customers joining in the first three months of 2015. TalkTalk Mobile took a 13% market share of new SIM-only connections in March, a larger share than both Vodafone and Tesco Mobile. It’s currently on track to take a 20% share in May.
 
TalkTalk’s continual improvements to its TV offering have also attracted customers. The value provider has announced that Game of Thrones, HBO’s most popular show to date, will be coming to the service in June. TalkTalk TV homes will be able to buy to own full series or individual episodes from seasons 1-4. Customers will also be able to stream their purchased episodes on TalkTalk’s TV2Go app.
 
The addition of Game of Thrones builds on the launch of Netflix on TalkTalk TV earlier this year, alongside TalkTalk’s existing line-up of blockbusters and flexible ‘Boosts’ that provide additional channels on a monthly basis. Between January and March sci-fi action film Lucy was the most popular movie rental on TalkTalk Box Office, followed by Oscar nominated Gone Girl, and The Inbetweeners 2. TalkTalk has also added 16 new channels in the last year and now over a third of customers take TV, phone and broadband.
 
Tristia Harrison, Managing Director, TalkTalk Consumer said: “It’s exciting to see the growing demand for quad-play. Not only are savvy shoppers making considerable reductions to their household bills by bundling their services with TalkTalk, they’re also getting some of the best TV and mobile deals. Our mission is to make Britain better off, that’s why we’re always finding new ways to constantly deliver for our customers. It’s fantastic to see that over the last year so many more families across the UK have started to benefit from our efforts.”
 
In line with TalkTalk’s commitment to provide great customer service along with Britain’s best value TV, broadband, phone and mobile, TalkTalk has launched an extensive programme dedicated to improving customers’ experience. The renewed focus is already benefiting customers as TalkTalk has enjoyed its lowest ever churn this period.
 
 

EE to carry exabyte of data per year by 2018

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EE, the UK’s most advanced digital communications company, has announced it is the first European operator to surpass the 10million 4G customer landmark. To mark the occasion, EE has released its latest 4GEE Mobile Living Index, which has analysed EE’s 4G mobile data use and customer trends since early 2013.
 
With customer numbers and data usage growing at the current rate, EE predicts that a colossal amount of data, at least a one Exabyte of data (1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes), will be carried across the network per year by 2018. This is triple the amount of data the network carries today, 16 times more than over the 3G network in 2012. This is the equivalent of streaming 38,000 years of HD films.
 
The increase in data is being fuelled by video and social media (now representing 51% of data on the network), as well as by new industries and sectors looking towards mobile connectivity to better serve businesses and consumers.
 
The EEMLI shows a 63% rise in the use of health-related apps on the network since August last year, as more reliable connectivity encourages people to use their phones in new ways:  More than one in four customers use some form of mHealth monitoring, from calorie counting to tracking blood pressure. Nearly 50% would happily conduct video consultations with GPs rather than visiting the surgery in person. EE already works with the NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group who securely transmit images of patients’ moles and skin lesions to a team of skin specialists for rapid diagnosis via 4G. This drastically  reduces the pressure on secondary care (74% of patients who had images submitted have not needed further treatment / assessment). Two in three customers say they would like the opportunity to manage their prescriptions via their mobile devices,
 
For the first time on the EE network, total 4G traffic has now passed 3G traffic as coverage reaches new places. Rural areas are benefiting significantly. Since the introduction of 4G, data usage in rural parts of Scotland has increased 60%, usage in rural Wales is up 50%, and data in the South West of England is up 49%.
 
Olaf Swantee, EE’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “EE pioneered 4G in the UK and we’re determined to keep the country at the forefront of innovation. We were the first to launch 4G+, and the first to introduce WiFi Calling in the UK. We are bringing our 4G network coverage to where it is needed most – enhancing the quality of life of people who live in the most rural and underserved parts of the country. Our network advances have truly unlocked the power of the mobile internet, so much so that customer usage is doubling and we predict our 4G network, built for capacity, will comfortably handle more than an Exabyte of data per year by 2018. People are using 4G to change how they live and work, and one of the most exciting areas to watch is healthcare, which looks set to be transformed by access to superfast 4G.”
 
Other key findings from the 4GEE Mobile Living Index include:
 
Seamless streaming: YouTube rules the roost as the most popular service, driving 67% of overall video streaming
Mobile mapping: Apple maps remains the most popular source of GPS, representing 73% of traffic. Google maps follows at 21%
Mobile gaming: PlayStation wins battle of the consoles, securing 37% of network gaming traffic. Meanwhile Steam and Xbox Live follow with a 28% and 19% share respectively.
Email: Microsoft email services (MSN and Outlook) are the clear favourites for 4GEE customers, garnering 45% of overall email traffic
Music: Almost half (44%) of all music streaming is via Soundcloud, well ahead of Spotify (29%) and Deezer (10%)
To celebrate the 10million customer milestone, EE has commissioned digital artist, Colin Hayward, to design a series of unique images representing a day of 4G data activity across the EE network, based on the EE Mobile Living Index.
 
From social media, video streaming and web browsing to gaming, instant messaging and mapping – the flower illustrates the millions of everyday mobile interactions enabled by 4G, while the roots capture the huge volumes of data used across the network.

 

Facebook tightens its grip on news

For millions, to gain speedy access to news the answer is Facebook, and now the social media giant is moving to make it even easier to access news articles. It’s introducing something called Instant Articles, which will offer news organisations the chance to create interactive content that is much simpler and faster to read on Facebook via a mobile device.
  
For millions, to gain speedy access to news the answer is Facebook, and now the social media giant is moving to make it even easier to access news articles. It’s introducing something called Instant Articles, which will offer news organisations the chance to create interactive content that is much simpler and faster to read on Facebook via a mobile device.
 
For news firms desperate to get their content in front of young audiences, that is attractive – but they will also be wary of handing even more power to the social network.
 
National Geographic, the New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Guardian and the BBC are among the organisations which will now try out a system which means their articles will be hosted on Facebook’s servers. That means Instant Articles will appear, well, instantly rather than the user having to wait as they follow a link.
 
“We think the most important thing here is speed,” Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox told me over a video link to his Menlo Park office. “The obvious lesson we keep on learning is that on a mobile phone, the most important thing is immediacy.”
 
Facebook says it can take as long as eight seconds for a news article to load on a phone under the existing system.
 
In a demo of Instant Articles, I was shown a National Geographic piece that filled the screen at once, and had a number of extras – photos you could “like” individually, embedded videos that autoplayed, pop-out charts and maps. Facebook says it is providing publishers with the tools to make their content more engaging.
 
Some will be using those tools to make tailored content for Instant Articles, others, including the BBC, which will soon start using the service with its Newsbeat material, will decline that option. They will not want to put on Facebook’s servers anything that is not available on their own sites.
 
What the news organisations will want to know is whether this all means their traffic will improve. Facebook seems confident it will, and says they will also get 100% of the revenue from any adverts that they have sold, whereas if they’re sold through the social firm’s own advertising network there will be a 70:30 revenue sharing deal.
 
But the news firms will also embark upon this experiment with some trepidation. They know how powerful a presence Facebook already is in news – the recent Pew report on the US media found that nearly half of Americans who used the internet had got news about politics and government from the social network over the previous week.
 
But these days media groups fear the mechanics behind Facebook’s newsfeed in the same way that small businesses have nightmares about tweaks in the Google search algorithm. They have watched their traffic from the social network ebb and flow with every change – one day your stories can be popping up all over everybody’s timelines, the next they have disappeared without trace.
 
So the Instant Articles experimenters are treading carefully. An executive at one media organisation said it was difficult to resist getting involved in anything that would put your content on the phones of the social network’s users – “Facebook is killing it on mobile,” he said. But he was extremely cautious about handing over distribution to a third party and being subject to its decisions on how to prioritise content.
 
Facebook, like Google, has always insisted that it is just a technology platform, not a media giant. With its newsfeed algorithm acting as an editor, that has long been a difficult argument to sustain, and now that it will be hosting news articles on its servers it is harder still.
 
Facebook is already richer than any traditional media company – and with that wealth comes ever greater power over how its audience finds out about the news.
 

Latest customer complaint numbers revealed

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Ofcom today published data on the volumes of consumer complaints made against major providers of telecoms and pay TV services.
 
These reports provide useful information for consumers when choosing a provider, and incentivise operators to improve their performance. The reports cover the nine months from April to December 2014. Over this period, telecoms and pay TV complaints made to Ofcom decreased slightly, continuing a long-term downward trend.
 
Today’s report includes data for operators with a customer market share of at least 1.5% – a lower threshold than in previous reports. As a result, for the first time, EE, Plusnet and Post Office HomePhone are included in landline complaints; Plusnet is included in broadband; and Talk Mobile and Tesco Mobile are included in pay-monthly mobile figures.
 
Claudio Pollack, Director of Ofcom’s Content and Consumer Group, said: “Complaints figures help inform consumers’ choices of telecoms and pay TV services. There are now more providers included in our report, so people can compare complaints figures for all the biggest companies. While operators still have room to improve their performance, it’s encouraging to see a continuing decline in the total volume of complaints.”
 
For landline telephone services, the inclusion for the first time of EE revealed it to be the most complained-about provider over the nine months, with complaints peaking at 0.33 per 1,000 customers in Q4 2014. Complaints about EE’s landline service mainly related to problems with changing provider; fault, service and provision problems; and customer bills. Plusnet, TalkTalk, BT and Post Office HomePhone also consistently generated complaints per thousand customers that were above the industry average for their landline services. Virgin Media and Sky both attracted below-average landline complaints per customer over the period, with Virgin Media finishing the year with the lowest number (0.06 per 1,000 customers).
 
EE generated the most complaints for broadband as a proportion of its customer base over the nine months, with 0.42 complaints per 1,000 customers by the end of 2014. Complaints were mainly driven by faults, service and provision problems; complaints handling; and problems changing provider. BT, Plusnet and TalkTalk also generated above industry average broadband complaints per 1,000 customers over the period. Both Sky and Virgin Media both generated broadband complaint volumes below the industry average, both ending the year with 0.06 complaints per 1,000 customers.

 
In the most recent quarter, Vodafone was the most complained-about provider (with 0.15 complaints per 1000 customers in Q4 2014). However, EE was the most complained-about provider of pay-monthly mobile services over previous quarters. The inclusion for the first time of Tesco Mobile showed it to generate the fewest complaints in the pay-monthly mobile market, finishing 2014 with 0.02 complaints per 1,000 customers.

 
Over the nine months, Ofcom received the most complaints about BT TV, although these declined slightly to reach 0.15 per 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. This was five times the industry average. The main causes of complaints were service faults and provisioning; complaints handling; and problems changing provider. TalkTalk’s TV service also generated well above-average complaints, though these also declined to reach 0.10 per 1,000 subscribers by the end of 2014. Sky continued to generate the lowest volume of pay TV complaints – 0.01 for every 1,000 customers at the end of the year.

 

Time spent online doubles in a decade

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People are spending twice as much time online compared to 10 years ago, fuelled by increasing use of tablets and smartphones, according to new Ofcom research.
 
Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report, now in its tenth year, shows that internet users aged 16 and above(-1-) claimed to spend nearly 10 hours (9 hours and 54 minutes) online each week in 2005. By 2014 it had climbed to over 20 hours and 30 minutes.
 
The biggest increase in internet use is cited among 16-24 year olds, almost tripling from 10 hours and 24 minutes each week in 2005 to 27 hours and 36 minutes by the end of 2014.
 
2014 saw the biggest increase in time spent online in a decade, with internet users spending over three and a half hours longer online each week than they did in 2013 (20 hours and 30 minutes in 2014, compared to 16 hours and 54 minutes in 2013).
 
Increasing take-up of tablets and smartphones is boosting time spent online. Apple’s iPad launched in the UK five years ago this month(-2-), alongside Android and other devices, helped to take tablets into the mainstream. While just 5% of adults reported using a tablet to go online in 2010, this increased to 39% in 2014. Using a smartphone has more than doubled in five years, from 30% of adults in 2010 to 66% in 2014. As a result, the amount of time people are online while ‘out and about’ – away from home, work or their place of study – has increased five-fold over the past ten years, from 30 minutes in 2005 to nearly two and a half hours (2 hours and 18 minutes) in 2014.
 
Overall, the proportion of adults using the internet has risen by half – from six in ten in 2005 to almost nine in ten today.
 
More people are watching TV and video on the internet. Over a quarter (27%) of internet users regularly(-3-) watch TV or films online, compared to one in ten in 2007. This rises to 39% of 16-24 year olds, up from 21% in 2007. 
Watching video clips online has almost doubled over the past eight years, from 21% to 39% of internet users. 
The mobile phone is now the primary device used for gaming with over a quarter (26%) of mobile users playing games at least once a week, compared to 17% playing on games consoles. Fifteen per cent of adults now use a tablet for gaming. The proportion of internet users saying they regularly play games online has doubled from 10% in 2005 to 22% in 2014.
 
Instant messaging has become a popular way of keeping in touch, driven by services including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and BBM. Regular instant messaging on a mobile phone has leapt from 29% of mobile phone users in 2013 to 42% in 2014. Instant messaging across all devices has seen the biggest growth among 25-34 year olds, 80% of internet users in this age group are instant messaging at least once a week, up from 38% in 2005.
 
Nearly all mobile phone users are sending text messages (90% in 2014, compared to 70% in 2005). People are also increasingly using their mobile phone to email (52% regularly using their phone to email, compared to 5% in 2005) or make a phone call over the internet (VoIP) – 43% in 2014, compared to 27% in 2013.
 
The use of social media has tripled since 2007, when Ofcom first asked people about their social media habits. Nearly three quarters (72%) of internet users aged 16 and above say they have a social media profile, compared to 22% in 2007. Some 81% of social media users log into these websites or apps – including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Tumblr – at least once a day, up from 30% in 2007. Social media has seen the biggest growth among 35-44 year olds, with 80% of internet users in this age group now on social media, up from just 12% in 2007.
 
2014 saw a dramatic surge in older people using social media, with nearly half (49%) of 55-64 year olds who go online having a social media profile, up from one third (33%) in 2013.
 
People are spending more time online but, when asked which device they would miss the most, 37% of adults said they would miss their TV more than any other device. The mobile phone came a close second with nearly one in three adults (32%) saying it would be the device they would miss the most. But for 16-24 year olds, the TV came a distant second to their mobile phone. Some 59% of this age group said they would miss their mobile the most, compared to 17% saying TV.
 
The proportion of internet users aged 16 and above saying they are concerned about the internet has fallen over the past 10 years, from around 70% in 2005 to 51% in 2014 – stable on 2013. But internet users are increasingly likely to agree they should be protected from inappropriate or offensive online content (60% strongly agreed in 2014, compared to 51% in 2013). There was an increase in concerns about mobile ‘apps’ in 2014, with 28% of app users reporting concerns compared with 20% in 2013. This has been largely driven by issues around security, fraud or privacy, with 20% of users saying they were concerned about these areas, up from 14% in 2013.
 
The majority of internet users (68%) are happy to provide personal information online in the belief they will benefit in some way. But more people say they would never provide their credit or debit card details (21% in 2014, compared to 13% in 2013) or their mobile number (26% in 2014, 17% in 2013).
 
People are much more likely to go online for public or civic activities now than they were in 2005. For example, in 2014 nearly eight in 10 internet users (78%) said they had gone online to find out about a public service, up from half (49%) in 2005. More internet users say they have visited political or campaigning websites, up from 19% in 2005 to 44% in 2014.
 
Ofcom’s Adults Media Use and Attitudes Report 2015 covers the use and attitudes of UK adults (aged 16 and above) across the internet, TV, radio, games and mobile phones.

Jersey telecom firm JT compensates 250 customers

Jersey’s only fixed-line telecom company compensates 250 customers in four months after introducing a service promise.
 
Jersey’s only fixed-line telecom company compensates 250 customers in four months after introducing a service promise.
 
Chief Executive Graeme Miller introduced the promise after a survey showed 70% of JT customers would change operator if given the choice. It promised a year’s free line-rental if it failed to meet certain criteria.
 
Mr Miller said they had given the customers free line-rental worth about £30,000 since launching the promise. He said the company had listened to customers and there had been a reduction in the number of complaints.
 
Customers would be given a year’s free line rental if the company failed them in one of three ways: If it took more than five working days to repair a home phone fault, If a customer gave it 15 working days notice before moving to a new home and it failed to connect them on time, If it took more than three months to complete a fibre connection from the first visit.
 
Mr Miller said: “We went a lot further than the regulator was suggesting in terms of addressing what was said in the survey in terms of saying we are listening to our customers. We need to demonstrate to customers we are providing a great service and if in any way we fail we need to say sorry.”