BT hikes prices, but promises faster broadband for free and quicker fault repairs

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BT has announced a series of price rises, but has promised a range of enhancements to justify the new charges.

From July 3rd, line rental costs are to go up by £1, as will the cost of subscribing to BT Sport. Meanwhile, Infinity1 subscribers will have to pay £2.05 extra on average.
However, BT has promised to balance this with an improved service, as broadband customers will get a free speed boost to 52Mbps from 38Mbps. 
In addition, it has pledged to repair line faults faster for all of its voice and broadband customers by upgrading them to a higher level of service, which means an engineer will be sent 24 hours faster than before, if a home visit is required.
Furthermore, BT Sport will show a greater number of Barclays Premier League games next season, with the number rising from 38 to 42 and being shown at a better kick-off time of 17:30 on a Saturday. Broadband customers will also receive free Net Protect security, worth £36 a year.
John Petter, Chief Executive of BT Consumer, commented: “It is clear that customers want better service and that is what we are going to give them. We have also done our best to ensure that all of our customers will get more value if their price is going up, and we know they want faster speeds and better online security from their broadband. So, most of our Infinity 1 customers will enjoy much faster speeds for a little extra, while all of our customers will receive a quicker response if they have a fault and free BT Net Protect security.”
BT went on to stress that its price hikes are lower than those recently announced by rival providers Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk in recent weeks.
 

Carl Icahn dumps Apple shares over China fears

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Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn has sold all his shares in Apple over concerns about the technology firm’s prospects in China.
 
“We no longer have a position with Apple,” he told CNBC.
 
Reports say Mr Icahn made $2bn (£1.4bn) from selling his stake in Apple. At one point last year, he owned 53 million shares worth $6.5bn.
 
He blamed China’s economic slowdown and worries over government interference for selling out of Apple.
 
In March China passed a law that required all content shown in China to be stored on servers based on the Chinese mainland. As a result Apple’s iBooks and iTunes movies service were shut down in the country. Apple said it hoped access to the services would be restored soon.
 
Earlier this week, Apple reported in a 13% drop in its second quarter revenue as sales of iPhones slipped.
 
Mr Icahn started buying Apple shares in the third quarter of 2013 when they were trading at about $68 a share. Shares closed down 3% to $94.83 on Thursday and have shed 27% in the past 12 months.
 
Mr Icahn said he spoke to Apple chief executive Tim Cook to tell him about the share sale. “I called him this morning to tell him that, and he was a little sorry, obviously. But I told him it’s a great company,” he said.
 
The stock sale has not been disclosed in a filing to the stock regulator.
 
Mr Icahn is the majority shareholder in Icahn Enterprises – a holding company with a range of investments, with interests ranging from mining to automotive to real estate and food packaging.
 

Koodo bodyslams the competition

Koodo Mobile, renowned for it’s loudmouthed cartoon wrestler El Tabador, ranks the highest in satisfaction with customer care in new Canadian study.

 
Koodo Mobile, renowned for it’s loudmouthed cartoon wrestler El Tabador, ranks the highest in satisfaction with customer care in new Canadian study.
 
Wireless customers in Canada, notably Millennials (born 1982-1994), are increasingly taking a hands-on approach to resolving issues with their carrier by contacting customer service online and using chat tools, a shift in customer care preferences that has helped improve satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Canadian Wireless Customer Care Study, released today.
 
The study measures wireless customers’ perceptions of their carrier’s performance in the estimated $22 billion wireless market. Satisfaction is measured across four factors (listed in order of importance): phone customer service representative (CSR); in-store service; online service; and phone automated response system (ARS). In 2016, overall wireless customer care satisfaction rises to 738 from 715 in 2015 on a 1,000-point scale.
 
As wireless carriers face a maturing and potentially saturated market, customer service differentiation continues to be top of mind. According to the study, wireless customers are moving away from traditional phone contacts and instead adopting a self-service approach to resolving issues with their carrier by using online tools as their go-to method for contacting customer care. One-third (33%) of care contacts are conducted online (including carrier website and chat function), a sizeable increase from 28% in 2015. In terms of contact frequency, the online channel now surpasses each phone channel (ARS; ARS, then CSR; and CSR only).
 
The migration toward online channels is being driven by Millennials’ preference for self-service, which allows them to deal with issues whenever it’s convenient for them. Millennials, often digitally connected, are much more likely to have had a contact in a self-service-enabled channel than customers in the other generations. Four in ten (40%) Millennials contacted customer care online during the previous 6 months, compared with 29% of other customers. Millennials also show their preference for self-service by using the ARS only channel at a much higher rate than other customers (14% vs. 6%, respectively). Among Millennials who contact their carrier online, the incidence of those who use the chat feature has risen considerably from 2015 (51% vs. 45%, respectively) as has the rate of visiting a user forum (19% vs. 14%).
 
“Wireless carriers need to embrace the shift to online self-service across all customer segments to provide a gratifying experience that matches customer behaviours,” said Adrian Chung, director at J.D. Power.“While Millennials have initially led the migration, customers across all generational groups are also being exposed to self-service tools with companies outside of telecom to resolve customer service issues in a timely and efficient manner. The task for carriers is to create awareness, educate customers and communicate the benefits of using these digital channels.”
 
Millennials contact customer service with relatively high frequency. As they become a larger share of the customer base, customer service becomes an increasingly important aspect of the overall customer experience. In Canada, Millennials made an average of 4.9 customer care contacts during the previous 6 months, compared with 2.5 contacts made by Boomers (born 1946-1964). A similar finding is reported in the J.D. Power Millennials Insight Report: The Customer Experience PerspectiveSM   released in the United States earlier this year. Among U.S. wireless customers, Millennials are also frequent users, having made an average of 1.7 care contacts in a 3-month period, compared with 0.5 contacts made by Boomers.
 
Following are some additional findings of the 2016 study: Efficient Problem Resolution Impacts Satisfaction: For customers using the online channel, there is a 220-point gap in satisfaction between customers whose most recent question was answered online and those whose question was not (760 vs. 540, respectively). This key performance indicator (KPI) is met 80% of the time.
 
Time Matters in Problem Resolution: Satisfaction is 830 when it takes less than 5 minutes to resolve a problem online, compared with 677 when it takes 10 minutes or more for resolution—a 153-point difference. Satisfaction is also impacted when more Web pages must be viewed to resolve an issue (780 for one page vs. 654 for four or more pages).
 
Satisfaction Influences Customer Loyalty: On average, 47% of delighted customers (overall satisfaction scores of 900 or higher) say they “definitely will not” switch to another carrier, while just 12% of displeased customers (scores of 549 or lower) say the same.
 
Koodo Mobile ranks highest in customer care satisfaction with a score of 798. Koodo Mobile performs particularly well in the in-store service and online service factors. Videotron (790) ranks second, followed by SaskTel (785).
 
The 2016 Canadian Wireless Customer Care Study is based on responses from more than 5,500 wireless customers. The study was fielded in August – September 2015 (Wave 1) and March 2016 (Wave 2).
 

Samsung profits jump 14% on success of Galaxy S7 smartphone

Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has recorded better than expected first quarter profits thanks to the successful early release of its new flagship Galaxy handset.
 

 
Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has recorded better than expected first quarter profits thanks to the successful early release of its new flagship Galaxy handset.

 
The result will encourage shareholders after a disappointing 2015 that saw Samsung lose more than $8bn in market value, with its smartphone business sandwiched by top-end rivals like Apple’s iPhone and lower-end devices from fast-growing Chinese outfits like Huawei and Xiaomi.
 
In an effort to defend its smartphone share, Samsung rolled out the latest version of its Galaxy S7 smartphone in March – a month earlier than the previous year and ahead of new launches by its competitors. Boasting an improved camera, waterproofing and microSD storage support, Galaxy S7 models are on track to set a new first-year shipments record, boosting hopes the mobile business will post its first annual profit gain in three years. 
 
“The first quarter saw overall earnings growth led by the early launch and successful sales of the flagship Galaxy S7 and S7 edge,” the South Korean company said on Thursday. Net income for the January-March period stood at 5.25 trillion won ($4.56 billion), up 14.1% from 4.63 trillion won in the same quarter last year. The first quarter figure was higher than the 4.42-trillion-won average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg News.

 
The strong Galaxy S7 performance came in the face of a flattening global smartphone market that saw arch-rival Apple on Tuesday report its first-ever drop in iPhone sales since launching the iconic handset.
 
Apple reported net income of $10.5bn in the fiscal quarter to March 26, down from $13.6bn last year.

German city puts traffic lights on pavements for smartphone users

A German city has put traffic lights on pavements so smartphone users don’t have to look up from their screens.
 
A German city has put traffic lights on pavements so smartphone users don’t have to look up from their screens.
 
Officials in Augsburg were worried pedestrians were so addicted to their mobiles, they weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. The lights, which are red like typical stop signals, mean even when people are looking down, they will still see when it is not safe to walk. 
 
The death of a 15-year-old prompted the trial, local media reports. She had been hit by a tram while distracted by her phone as she crossed the tracks, police said.
 
Town planners took into account where people who frequently used smartphones, such as young people and commuters, were likely to be walking, said city spokesperson Stephanie Lerman. They then placed the lights appropriately, she added. 
 
Those who walk while using their phones have been christened smombies – as in smartphone and zombie. The word is especially popular in Germany, where it was declared youth word of the year in 2015.
 
 

BT to trial broadband service without home phone line

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BT is planning to offer broadband services without the need to take a traditional fixed telephone line.

According to the organisation, internet-based communications services such as FaceTime and Skype have become “increasingly popular” over the last ten years. As a result, it believes all-internet protocol services will be the norm for the whole of the UK by 2025.
BT is therefore planning to trial a fibre broadband service that is not coupled with a traditional voice service.
According to the Financial Times, BT will limit its trials to a series of small-scale tests during 2016, before expanding their scope by opening them to the public next year.
A spokesman commented: “This would use the same underlying infrastructure from Openreach, so it would need similar levels of investment to build and maintain, but it would offer service providers a simpler option for their customers who only use their landline to connect to the internet.”
The shift towards all-internet protocol services could potentially cut costs for customers further down the line, as they would not have to pay for home voice call services.
Broadband providers have already come under pressure recently to stop charging households for services that they do not use.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said households are having to pay rental charges for landline connections even if they do not actually make fixed line calls, adding that many “want to get rid of their landline entirely and pay for their broadband”.

Apple revenue falls for first time since 2003

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Apple reported a 13% drop in its second quarter revenue on Tuesday as sales of iPhones slipped.
 
The technology giant reported quarterly sales of $50.56bn (£34.39bn) down from $58bn last year – the first fall in sales for the company since 2003.
 
Apple sold 51.2 million iPhones during the quarter, down from 61.2 million in the same quarter of 2015. China was a particular weak spot – sales there fell 26%. Results were also hit by the impact of a stronger dollar. Apple shares fell 8% in after hours trading. Its shares have fallen close to 20% over the last twelve months.
 
Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook said the company performed well “in the face of strong macroeconomic headwinds”.
Apple’s quarterly profit slipped to $10.5bn from $13.5bn.
 
Nevertheless, it announced it would return $50bn to shareholders through an increase in share buybacks and a 10% increase in quarterly dividends.
Back in January the company warned that it was experiencing its slowest-ever increase in orders for iPhones and that this would cut into second quarter earnings. Declining growth in smartphone sales has had an impact on the entire industry and companies are struggling to find the next area of innovation.
 
“The industry is in a lull between the mobile boom and what comes next in automotive, the connected home, health and industrial applications of the internet of things,” said Geoff Blaber, from CCS Insight.
 
One bright spot for Apple was its services unit, which includes App Store downloads, Apple Pay and Apple Music. The division experienced a 20% growth compared with the same quarter in 2015. However, growth at that unit could be threatened by a new law in China passed in March. It requires all content shown to Chinese people to be stored on servers based on the Chinese mainland.
 

As a result Apple’s iBooks and iTunes movies service were shut down in the country. Apple said it hoped access to the services would be restored soon.
Apple was recently in a standoff with the US government over whether the company should help the FBI unlock an iPhone. The FBI wanted Apple to build a program to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook.
 
Apple refused, calling the government’s order a violation of its rights. The FBI eventually turned to outside hackers to break into the phone
 

Google partners Uber on driverless cars

Google has formed a coalition with carmakers and taxi-hailing companies to help steer the regulations needed to make self-drive cars a reality. Including Ford, Volvo, Uber and Lyft, it will lobby lawmakers and regulators on some of the legal barriers.
 
Google has formed a coalition with carmakers and taxi-hailing companies to help steer the regulations needed to make self-drive cars a reality. Including Ford, Volvo, Uber and Lyft, it will lobby lawmakers and regulators on some of the legal barriers.
 
Former US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official David Strickland will be its spokesman. The coalition also aims to convince the public of the benefits of driverless cars.
 
“Self-driving technology will enhance public safety and mobility for the elderly and disabled, reduce traffic congestion, improve environmental quality, and advance transportation efficiency,” the group said in a statement.
 
Fully autonomous vehicles are not legal under current regulations, and California is considering barring self-drive cars that do not have: steering wheels; pedals; a licensed driver who can take over in an emergency.
 
Google has opposed the move and wants to avoid a patchwork of differing state regulations. In a Senate hearing on autonomous vehicles, Google’s self-driving cars chief, Chris Urmson, pointed out 23 states already had a total of 53 pieces of legislation related to the topic.
 
The NHTSA is due to release guidance on self-drive vehicles to states and policymakers in July. In February, it said the system behind a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, which was seen as a major step towards rubber-stamping fully autonomous vehicles.
 
Last year, there were 33,000 fatalities on American roads, according to the US Department of Transport. Human error caused 94% of road accidents, and car crashes were the leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds, it said.
 
In China, a university group backed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is drawing up a plan for self-drive cars that could see autonomous vehicles on city streets within three to five years. It will include technical standards, a common language for cars to communicate with each other as well as regulatory guidelines.
 

Microsoft reveals ‘blazingly fast’ predictive iPhone keyboard

With the iPhone getting ever larger, for many users actually typing on screen has become a challenge. However, Microsoft could be the unlikely saviour of Apple owners – with a new free one handed keyboard.
 

 
Users can download the new Word Flow app from the iTunes Store, which has a ‘fan-like’ keyboard that allows users to easily access the entire keyboard.
 
Word Flow can then intelligently suggest the next word, auto-correct mistakes and learn over time. The Word Flow app was developed by Microsoft’s in-house project division Garage and is now listed in the US App Store.
 
It was first introduced to Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014, and was critically acclaimed for its noticeable speed over the traditional ‘key punching’ to text. Users have the option to change the display to a more traditional look and feel, and even customise it by adding background pictures – something Apple’s own iOS keyboard doesn’t allow.
 
‘It is a blazing fast keyboard that comes with free customization options and includes Arc mode for easy, ergonomic one-handed typing,’ the Redmond software giant says.  Microsoft also says the more it’s used, the better is will become as it learns the user’s typing style and commonly used words.  It can also be synced with the phone contacts, allowing it to predict names even faster. 

 
Microsoft prides itself on its keyboard technology and hoped it would be a way to win over the smartphone market to its own devices. The app was originally developed for its own smartphone platform, and has also been offered to users of its desktop product, Windows 10 as an on screen keyboard for tablet users.

 
It came from an internal project called Garage designed to allow small startup-like projects to flourish within the firm.  ‘Garage projects are crafted and cared for by small teams across the company who are hoping you’ll find the next thing you can’t live without,’ it says, and Garage has already produced dozens of apps for different platforms.
 
Apple at first banned keyboards other than their own, but this all changed with the release of iOS 8, which gave developers the green light to create outside versions and added more features into its original keyboard – including next-word predicting technology.
 

Microsoft has also looked outside its own developments, and acquired British predictive keyboard firm SwitfKey for $250 million back in February. Following the acquisition, Microsoft said it will continue to develop SwiftKey’s projects for Android and iOS as well as explore other scenarios for the integration of its technology in their own products and services. Microsoft also has another keyboard app, called Hub, which was on iOS already. 
 

However, it focuses on multitasking and productivity for Office 365 users by letting them search for and share documents from other Microsoft services such as OneDrive and SharePoint. The software also distinguishes between informal languages and adjusts the style based on the person the users is communication with – words are more laid back with a friend than your boss. But many iOS users have shared bizarre autocorrects and as amusing as they are, hopefully Word Flow’s autocorrect will be more accurate.
 
Following Apple’s text predicting technology, Microsoft headed down a path of developing more apps in order to still be seen as a major player.
 

Vodafone M-Pesa reaches 25 million customers milestone

Vodafone M-Pesa now has more than 25 million active customers, marking another year of accelerated growth for the innovative mobile money transfer service, it was announced today.
  
Vodafone M-Pesa now has more than 25 million active customers, marking another year of accelerated growth for the innovative mobile money transfer service, it was announced today.
 
Across markets in Africa, Asia and Europe, active customers of M-Pesa increased by 27.1% to 25.3 million in the year ended 31 March 2016, boosted by market launches in Albania and Ghana and supported by a network of more than 261,000 agents in 11 M-Pesa countries.
 
Vodafone Group Director of Mobile Money, Michael Joseph, said: “Since 2007, M-Pesa has enhanced the lives and livelihoods of people without bank accounts, giving them access to essential financial services through their mobile phones.
 
“I am delighted and proud that M-Pesa has reached the 25 million active customers milestone.  M-Pesa continues to expand, evolving beyond traditional money transfers to encompass savings and loans, payment of salaries and benefits, settlement of utility bills and school fees and to enable vital health and agricultural solutions.”
 
Vodafone M-Pesa continued to innovate during the last year, adding new features and services and entering into partnerships with public and private sector organisations.  Highlights from some markets included:
 
Government Partnerships:  Vodafone has entered into a partnership with the Ministry of Social Development in Lesotho to pay welfare grants using M-Pesa.  Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture is now paying fertilizer subsidies using M-Pesa.  In India, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission utilises M-Pesa to enable financial inclusion for women’s groups and the National Rural Health Mission is using the service to disburse pre-natal health benefits. 
India:  The launch of an M-Pesa smartphone app enables Indian customers to use M-Pesa to pay for goods on Ebay, for taxis with TabCab and to book train tickets on India’s national railways.  Enterprises including Walmart are using M-Pesa in India to improve cash management and business efficiency.
Lesotho:  Vodafone launched a service enabling customers to convert airtime to M-Pesa credit to pay for emergency treatment.  Also, hundreds of community health workers across seven hospitals and 67 clinics managed by Partners in Health are now paid using M-Pesa and international children’s charity World Vision pays a portion of employee salaries using M-Pesa.
Mozambique:  Global development agencies now use M-Pesa to pay employee salaries and allowances.  Water, electricity and pay television companies in the country collect payments via M-Pesa.  The national carrier LAM also accepts M-Pesa for air tickets.
Tanzania:  Solar solution companies including Mobisol, Off-Grid Electric, M-Kopa and others use M-Pesa to help provide affordable clean energy for thousands of rural households.  Qatar Airways and KLM now accept M-Pesa for air tickets from Tanzania.
Kenya:  Safaricom has partnered with healthcare finance organisations PharmAccess Foundation and CarePay to introduce M-Tiba, a mobile health wallet that channels money from donors and government meant for health services directly to recipients.  Customers can redeem their savings digitally with cashless access to a network of registered clinics and pharmacies.  The World Food Programme is using M-Pesa to help deliver their food aid programme in Kenyan refugee camps
Over the past 12 months, Vodafone has agreed a series of deals with partners to enable M-Pesa customers to transact with other services and across borders, including:
 
Global Framework Agreements with two international money transfer hubs, TransferTo and MFS For Africa, laying the foundations for strong partnerships with other money transfer operators around the world.
An agreement with MTN Mobile Money to enable direct money transfers between M-Pesa and MTN customers in seven countries across East Africa.
The launch of international money transfer services in Romania, Lesotho and Albania.
An agreement between Tanzania’s major mobile operators, including Vodacom, to enable their domestic mobile money services to be fully interoperable – the first market in Africa to do so.