Three defends mobile tariff ‘price hike’

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Mobile network Three has defended its decision to end a popular “all you can eat” phone contract.
 
Thousands of customers currently paying £17 a month for unlimited data and calls have been told they will be moved onto a new £30 tariff if they do not opt out within 30 days. The company has notified customers by post and said it would also text them.
 
Three said the more expensive plan was the closest remaining deal offering unlimited calls and data.
 
It stopped offering the £17 monthly deal to new customers in 2014 and said it was phasing out “legacy” tariffs, but there are still hundreds of thousands of customers still using the tariff and will be affected by the switch.
One mobile industry analyst said the demise of unlimited data plans was “inevitable”. “Consumer data usage is growing exponentially,” said Ben Wood from CCS Insight. “The networks are seeing huge growth in data consumption as people watch more video content at ever-higher resolutions on their smartphones. At some point certain all-you-can-eat tariffs become uneconomical.”
 
While the network does still offer plans with unlimited data and calls, Three says its average account holder consumes just 4.9 gigabytes of data per month. The firm had 8.8 million customers in 2015, according to its website.
 
Some have posted their anger at the tariff change online, ironically tagging their posts #MakeItRight – the hashtag Three uses in its advertising campaign. “That’s how you lose brand loyalty,” tweeted software engineer Joseph Longden.
“Stop forcing loyal customers like myself into new plans which are almost double the price,” wrote Nathan McLean.
 
In a statement, Three said: “In March 2014, we introduced new price plans giving customers more options in the size of their data and voice bundles, as well as limits and alerts to prevent bill shock. “We have a lot of tariffs that we no longer sell and moving customers to one of the new plans will ensure they can enjoy the benefits of these plans.”

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1 in 3 home routers to be public Wi-Fi hotspots

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One in three of home routers are to be used as public Wi-Fi hotspots inside two years, a new study suggests.

 
According to Juniper Research, so-called homespot routers create two wireless networks – one of which is for private use and the other is separated by a firewall and used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot by broadband operators.
 
This model has already been adopted by the likes of Virgin Media and BT, as it is seen as an affordable way of expanding domestic Wi-Fi coverage. However, Juniper Research is concerned that it is not being made clear to customers that their home routers are being used in this way and effectively supporting public Wi-Fi initiatives.
 
Gareth Owen, author of the study, commented: “While most operators now allow consumers to opt out, if they so wish, most consumers simply have no idea that their routers are being used in this way.”
 
He pointed out that in light of current concerns over data security and privacy among the general public, the realisation that complete strangers can access their home routers is “unlikely to be viewed in a positive light”.
 
Juniper Research went on to suggest that if consumers become aware of what is happening, there is a “real possibility of a backlash”. However, it added that the policy does offer direct benefits to consumers, such as free or cheaper access to a broadband operator’s homespot network. A similar approach is already being taken by major TV operators in the US including Cablevision and Comcast, as they also see the homespot model as a way of boosting domestic Wi-Fi coverage in an low-cost way.

Apple plug recall over safety concerns of ‘electrical shock risk’

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Apple has issued a voluntary recall of millions of its two-prong AC wall plugs after incidents of them breaking and causing electric shocks.
 
Apple said it knew of 12 such incidents and asked customers to stop using them. The plugs came with Macs and other iOS devices sold in Continental Europe and five other countries around the world between 2003 and 2015 and were included in the Apple World Travel Adapter kit.
 
Apple said customer safety was its “top priority”. 
 
The recall relates to plugs for: Continental Europe, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand & South Korea. It does not affect plugs for: US, UK, China, Japan & Canada. Affected users can exchange their plug at their local Apple store or request a replacement via the website.
 
Last year, Apple urged owners of one of its Beats loudspeaker systems to stop using the kit because it posed a fire risk. In 2014, the company offered a free exchange for one model of USB iPhone chargers sold in Europe between 2009 and 2012, after a few cases of overheating.

Apple developing iPhone with over-the-air wireless charging

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Apple is working on technology that could charge iPhones wirelessly over a distance, which could be introduced as early as next year.
 
The Californian company is reported to be developing a form of wireless charging which frees the iPhone from needing to be placed on a charging mat, the most commonly used format currently, according to Bloomberg. It could be introduced in an phone released in 2017, rather than the iPhone 7 expected later this year.
 
The Apple Watch and several rival smartphones, including Samsung’s Galaxy S6 flagship, use a form of wireless charging that can power a device by resting them on pads instead of being physically plugged into a cable – a process known as inductive or QI charging.
 
However, technology that allows power to be transferred over the air has proved elusive. Engineers are currently trying to overcome difficulties in the technology maintaining power over distance, meaning the battery could take longer to charge the further away from the base unit.
 
Wireless charging is looking to be a key element in future iPhones as rumours gather credence.  A source previously told Fast Company that Apple was looking to integrate QI charging technology into future handsets, though it’s unknown if it could be as early as the iPhone 7, expected this September. 
 
The iPhone 7 will also boast a waterproof body thanks to chemical coating and will do away with the iPhone’s headphone jack, it has been reported. 

The Apple Watch was the company’s first product with inbuilt inductive charging, which uses a magnetic connector that snaps onto the back of the device. It recently created a larger magnetic charging dock based on the same design as its inductive charging puck.

 
Inductive charging works by transferring electricity between two objects – the charging pad and phone, for example – via two coils: a transmitter and a receiver. An alternating current is passed through the transmitter, which generates a magnetic field. This in turn induces a voltage in the receiver, which can be used to power a mobile device or charge a battery.
 
Apple has filed several patent applications over the years surrounding wireless charging, including the notion of charging your iPhone via an iMac, and aluminium phone bodies which allow radio waves to pass through them.
 
Should Apple choose to incorporate the technology, iPhone owners could take advantage of Ikea’s wireless charging furniture range, alongside charging hubs in Starbucks and McDonalds across the country.

The decision to remove the headphone jack in order to create a thinner body would prove a controversial one. The company would presumably include new wireless headphones with the new handset, or a pair of headphones which connect to the phone through a lightning connector.
 
The source added the company was likely to incorporate noise-cancelling technology from UK audio company Wolfson Microelectronics which aim to eliminate background noise. Third parties have been able to create lightning connector headphones since June 2014 when Apple extended its Made-for-iPhone licensing programme.
 
The new iPhone, slated for release in September, represents an important moment in Apple’s history. The company has reportedly slashed production levels of the iPhone 6s and partner unit the 6s Plus by a third amid fears of slowing demand for the ‘fallow year’ s models, despite initial sales of more than 13 million units within three days of availability.
 
The iPhone 7 will have to contain more innovative hardware changes to persuade legions of fans to buy it, as developing markets reach increasing levels of saturation as the economy shifts from a buy to an upgrade cycle.

BT responsible for one in three illegal roadworks in London

Thousands of angry pay TV and rural broadband customers are not the only people being kept waiting by BT, it has emerged. Commuters in London have been delayed by more illegal roadworks for BT than for any other utility provider, according to the capital’s transport authority.
 
Thousands of angry pay TV and rural broadband customers are not the only people being kept waiting by BT, it has emerged. Commuters in London have been delayed by more illegal roadworks for BT than for any other utility provider, according to the capital’s transport authority.
 
Transport for London said BT now accounted for one in three such offences, after another successful prosecution – its 28th in the last five years. BT has been issued fixed penalties for another 650 infringements.
 
TfL has tried to minimise congestion by issuing permits for roadworks but said it had encountered a “repeat offender” in BT, which has racked up thousands of pounds in fines.
 
Last week BT was forced to pay more than £6,000 in fines and costs at Westminster magistrates court for carrying out a series of works around the capital without permission in summer 2015 – and failing to pay its fixed penalty notices.
 
The judge noted the “seriousness of these offences and impact on road traffic, particularly given the number of fines previously issued against BT by TfL for similar offences.”
 
Firms undertaking work anywhere in London need a permit before digging up the roads, allowing highway authorities to coordinate work to minimise disruption.
 
Garrett Emmerson, chief operating officer for surface transport at TfL, said: “Ensuring that roadworks are carried out in a safe manner is vital, especially in a busy city such as London. BT are repeat offenders – having failed to manage their roadworks properly on a number of occasions. We will always push for the strongest possible action in order to ensure London’s streets are safe and free from unnecessary congestion.”
 
BT had yet to respond to requests for comment.

BT’s Openreach ‘failing’ on new home broadband

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Many residents moving into newly-built homes are finding broadband services slow or non-existent, an investigation from broadband advice site Cable.co.uk has revealed.
 
It has received hundreds of complaints from owners of new homes about poor broadband. According to the Home Builders Federation, BT Openreach has failed to connect new homes on time.
 
In response, Openreach said it was “working hard to fix this issue”. It acknowledged that it had a backlog of new homes waiting to be connected to broadband.
 
“The rapid growth in the number of new homes being built around the country has resulted in some owners of new build properties having to wait longer than usual for their phone and broadband service,” it said in a statement. “Openreach would like to apologise to any affected customers and is working hard to fix this issue. We have also stated our ambition to provide infrastructure to all homes in new build developments before customers move in. Close liaison with developers is critical so Openreach continues to work closely with the house-building community to better plan for and deliver the capacity and infrastructure needed.”
Openreach, the BT subsidiary responsible for the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, is facing increasing pressure over its performance, as regulator Ofcom considers whether to separate the two companies. In January, a group of more than 100 MPs signed a letter calling for Openreach to be split off.
The HBF offered its own response to the possible break-up of Openreach in October.
 
In its report, the federation said that it had “grown increasingly concerned at the persistent failure of BT Openreach to connect new build homes in a consistent and timely fashion”. “The poor performance of Openreach in connecting many new build homes to broadband services within a reasonable timeframe is now having an impact on the customer satisfaction levels obtained by the house builder,” its report read. “With broadband now seen as an essential utility it is unsurprising that customers moving into new homes with little or no connectivity feel dissatisfied even when, in some cases, house builders provide mobile broadband services in the interim.”
 
A spokesman for the HBF said that the relationship with BT has improved in recent months. Openreach added that it too “has made a lot of progress over the past year in improving its communication with developers”.
 
“Improved processes such as encouraging developers to register new sites with Openreach at the beginning of the planning stage are also helping us to deliver on our commitment to bring fibre to as many new housing developments as possible,” it said. The telecoms company is expected to make an announcement on its plans to provide broadband services to new homes imminently.
Andrew Ferguson, editor of broadband news site ThinkBroadband said that often timetables between developers and BT clashed. “Even where developers work with Openreach, the timescale from agreeing to put a cabinet for fibre and going live is around a year (based on the 20-30 private funded cabinets that have done this to date). If a developer can get Openreach on board ahead of time this can be done to coincide with the first house being sold.”
 
He advised buyers wanting a good connection to make sure they checked that broadband was available before purchasing. “Only when people stop buying homes with bad broadband will developers be forced to consider it with the same importance they give things like electricity and parking,” he said.
 
Hundreds of residents who have recently purchased a new home without broadband, have contacted Cable.co.uk to express their anger.
 
Dan Howdle, editor-in-chief of the website, said: “It comes as a complete surprise to most new build homebuyers that their ultra-modern home not only offers broadband speeds unfit for basic everyday use, but in some cases no broadband connectivity at all.”
 
Earlier this month Labour MP Chi Onwurah – a former telecoms engineer – said that it was “incomprehensible” that new developments are being built without access to fibre networks. She urged the government to act on the issue.
 
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: A DCMS spokesperson said: “Connectivity is something home buyers expect when buying a new build. Government is working closely with industry to address this and we expect to make an announcement on further progress soon.”
 

TfL sees over 3 million mobile phone journeys since Apple Pay launch

apple pay londone underground peoples phone

Over 3.2 million journeys have been made on the London transport network using smartphones in the six months since Apple Pay launched in the UK, and almost 200,000 devices have been used to make trips.
 
Figures from Transport for London show that more than 35,000 journeys a day are now made using mobile devices, a number that has risen seven-fold since Apple Pay went online. It represents 3.5pc of all contactless journeys and around 1pc of the total pay-as-you-go journeys made on the London Underground, buses and train routes.
 
Apple Pay, in which an iPhone or Apple Watch can be simply tapped against a terminal to make a contactless transaction, launched in the UK in July last year.
 
TfL’s Oyster network, which sees around 13 million journeys a day, is one of the world’s only transport networks to incorporate contactless transactions, after launching in 2014. Although TfL’s figures, revealed in the body’s Commissioner’s Report for February, are for “mobile devices” – so include EE and Vodafone’s contactless payment services – the increase since July suggests that the vast majority are Apple Pay.
 
TfL says 194,000 mobile devices have been used to make journeys, a number that is increasing at 1,000 a day. Shashi Verma, TfL’s director of customer experience, said that around a third of people who use their phone to pay for a journey do so once and then not again, similar to the patterns of those who use contactless cards, since users of both are increasingly tourists who do not have an Oyster.
 
Apple has revealed little about the use of Apple Pay in the UK, which was just the second country to get the feature after the US in 2014. The company recently introduced the service for American Express cards in Canada and Australia, and plans to launch in China next month.

Ofcom Code of Practice for business broadband providers

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The regulator wants the industry to agree to give firms clearer and more accurate information on broadband speeds before they enter into a contract.
 
It has drawn up a voluntary code outlining the responsibilities of business broadband providers. The code also calls on organisations to commit to giving customers the freedom to exit a contract if broadband speeds fall below a minimum guaranteed level.
 
BT Business, Daisy Communications, KCOM, TalkTalk Business, Virgin Media, XLN and ZEN – who collectively service around two-thirds of SMEs with standard broadband – have signed up to the code.
 
The Federation of Small Businesses has hailed the move, saying the code of practice is a “timely and well targeted intervention” in the business broadband market. Mike Cherry, Policy Director at the body, commented: “To plan effectively, firms need accurate information on what speeds they can expect, and how much this will vary. 
 
“Business owners should be able easily to compare suppliers and exit a contract early if their communications provider does not deliver the speeds promised.” Mr Cherry went on to stress that a dependable broadband connection is “essential” for nearly every aspect of modern business life, from driving online sales and customer relations to accessing data held in the cloud.
 
Sharon White, Chief Executive of Ofcom, added that the code will make it easier for businesses to “walk away from their contracts without penalty” if their broadband provider fails to provide the speeds they promise. She said it will also ensure providers give “clear and reliable information upfront so business customers can make more informed decisions”.
 
According to research by Ofcom, one in five SMEs in the UK are not satisfied they are getting the broadband speeds they are currently paying for.

Dixons Carphone are set to close 134 stores nationwide

Dixons Carphone are getting ready to combine all of their remaining Currys and PC World stores together and add a Carphone Warehouse branch into every store during the combination process.
 
Dixons Carphone are getting ready to combine all of their remaining Currys and PC World stores together and add a Carphone Warehouse branch into every store during the combination process.
 
As a result of merging PC World and Currys stores together there will be 134 stores closed nationwide.
 
Group CEO Seb James has said, “We are very confident that the impact on sales and colleague numbers will be neutral or better.”
 
“When we build one beautiful, refitted new 3-in-1 superstore and we have one great Carphone Warehouse in town… sales go up and also we end up usually needing more colleagues to work on the shop floor.”
 
According to Seb James around £50 million will be invested into refitting the new stores with an additional £70 million being set aside to cover shop closures.

 

Clarity for businesses baffled by broadband speeds

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UK businesses will receive more accurate and reliable information on the broadband speeds they should receive, under new protections announced by Ofcom today.
 
As part of a new Ofcom Code, providers agree to give businesses clearer, more accurate and transparent information on broadband speeds – before they sign up to a contract.
 
Signatories to the voluntary Code also commit to manage any problems that businesses have with broadband speeds effectively, and allow customers to exit the contract at any point if speeds fall below a minimum guaranteed level.
 
Seven of the UK’s specialist broadband providers for businesses – BT Business, Daisy Communications, KCOM, TalkTalk Business, Virgin Media, XLN and Zen – have signed up to the Code. They together provide a service to around two thirds of SMEs who have standard broadband.
 
Ofcom is concerned about a ‘speeds gap’ – the mismatch between what broadband customers believe they are buying and the actual service delivered. Ofcom research found that some businesses – particularly small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – were confused about how the ‘actual’ speed of their broadband service compared to the ‘headline’ maximum speed used in advertising.
 
Not all providers were giving personalised speed estimates to businesses during the sales process, the study found, while a fifth (20%) of SMEs were not satisfied they were getting the speeds they had paid for.
 
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Ensuring consumers get the best possible communications services is Ofcom’s top priority. And that includes businesses getting the broadband speeds they need. Yet too many buy unsuitable broadband packages because of confusing or insufficient sales information, or are hampered by slow speeds after they’ve signed on the dotted line. Where broadband companies fail to provide the speeds they promise, we’ve made it easier for businesses to walk away from their contracts without penalty. Providers have also agreed to give clear and reliable speeds information upfront so business customers can make more informed decisions.”
 
Mike Cherry, Policy Director for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “A dependable broadband connection is now essential for almost every aspect of modern business life. Everything from driving online sales, customer relations and accessing data held in the cloud relies on a stable broadband connection. Yet small business dissatisfaction with broadband providers appears to be widespread and deeply felt. The new Code of Practice announced by Ofcom is a timely and well targeted intervention in the business broadband market. To plan effectively, firms need accurate information on what speeds they can expect, and how much this will vary. Business owners should be able easily to compare suppliers and exit a contract early if their communications provider does not deliver the speeds promised.”
 
Under the Code, businesses taking a new broadband service will, for the first time, enjoy a similar level of protection as residential broadband users – whose interests are already safeguarded under an existing Code.
 
The new Code for businesses applies to all businesses, regardless of size, and to all standard business broadband services across all technologies (ADSL, Cable, Fibre to the Cabinet, Fibre to the Premises, Wireless and Satellite).4 It has also been tailored to meet the specific needs of businesses.
 
The seven internet service providers who have signed up promise to: provide businesses with an accurate estimate of their expected speeds when signing up. This covers both download and upload speeds, which are particularly important to businesses as they can send large amounts of data; manage their business customers’ speed-related problems effectively, and offer them the right to exit their contract without penalty if speeds fall below the minimum guaranteed level; give additional relevant speeds information at the point of sale (for example, how the provider manages internet traffic on its network, and how this might affect a customer’s speed); and provide further detailed speeds information in writing to the customer after the sale.
 
Ofcom’s Voluntary Business Broadband Speeds Code of Practice comes into effect from 30 September 2016 to give providers time to put in place the requirements of the Code. Ofcom is inviting all providers of business broadband to sign up to the Code.
 
Mystery shopping, to check if ISPs are complying with both the letter and spirit of the Code, will be carried out once it is fully implemented. Ofcom will also continue to assess the Code’s effectiveness while considering other ways to improve communication of broadband speeds.