Downloads make it easier to watch on the go

Netflix members worldwide can now download in addition to stream great series and films at no extra cost.
 
Netflix members worldwide can now download in addition to stream great series and films at no extra cost.
 
While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited. Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an internet connection.
 
Many of your favorite streaming series and movies are already available for download, with more on the way, so there is plenty of content available for those times when you are offline. For example, Orange is The New Black, Narcos and The Crown are available for download today.
 
The new feature is included in all plans and available for phones and tablets on Android and iOS. 
 
 

Virgin Media unveils 4K box and large tablet

Virgin Media has launched its first 4K TV set-top box, offering four times the resolution of high definition broadcasts.
 
Virgin Media has launched its first 4K TV set-top box, offering four times the resolution of high definition broadcasts.
 
The firm also unveiled a large tablet and an online store from which its UK customers will be able to purchase HD, but not 4K, content – it had only sold rentals before. Its pay-TV rivals BT and Sky already offer 4K services of their own.
 
One expert suggested Virgin’s initial line-up of content might disappoint. “Virgin Media will hope that this well long overdue move will help boost its declining TV base,” said Paolo Pescatore from the technology consultancy CCS Insight. “For the first time in a while its total TV subscribers grew in the last quarter, reversing a worrying trend seen over the last couple of years. But despite claims that the box is future-proof, it lacks premium 4K content such as live sport and on-demand movies, unlike rivals, which is something that it needs to address. However, its hands are tied due to the high fees BT Sport and Sky will most likely command [for their content].”
 
Virgin’s chief digital entertainment officer has played down the issue. “The box is 4K capable and therefore future-proof,” David Bouchier said. “Do we see a significant demand sitting here in 2016 for a large amount of 4K programming by the majority of our subscriber base? No we don’t. We would quite happily put the 4K football matches on if we felt that this was something that our customers were saying. I’m not saying that it’s like 3D [which failed to catch on], but we need to wait and see exactly what people think. It’s not something that is a must have. What is a must-have is six-times recording [where the new box records six shows simultaneously], that’s what they really want.”
 
For now, the V6 box also lacks HDR (high-dynamic-range) playback, a technology that allows images to reveal more detail and display a wider range of colours. But Mr Bouchier said he hoped to add the facility some time next year when the chip-maker Broadcom released new firmware for the processor inside the device. Virgin is charging a one-off fee of £99.95 for the box, but it does not require subscribers to take out a new contract or pay more per month than otherwise.

 
Virgin has also introduced the TellyTablet, which runs the old Marshmallow version of Android, and is an optional extra purchase. It features a 14in (35.6cm) touchscreen, making it larger than both Apple and Amazon’s biggest tablets, but smaller than Samsung’s Galaxy View. Fitted with four speakers, the new device is being pitched as a way to watch TV around the home.
 
It contrasts with Sky’s approach, which involves offering a small wi-fi equipped box that extends its service to multiple TVs. The TellyTablet is limited to 1080p HD playback, which has helped keep down its cost.
 
“It’s not a service enhancement that we would have guessed before we heard it because tablet sales have already started slowing,” commented Ed Barton from the consultancy Ovum. “The two things that stood out are that it’s big and it’s relatively cheap. But the question is: how much of an overlap is there between Virgin subscribers and those that want a big £300 tablet? I’m not sure it’s going to be huge.”

 
Virgin is also adding new services including a Kids app, which brings together cartoons, TV shows, interactive games and picture books in one place. It is targeted at children aged three-to-six years old and guarantees no advertisements or in-app fees. However, it is limited to the firm’s premium subscription options.
 
The company’s new online store will let people buy digital copies of movies shortly after their cinema run, and then be sent a physical disc-based copy when it becomes available. Mr Bouchier acknowledged that Virgin was adopting a practice pioneered by Sky in April 2015.

 
“Sky was very successful and within a very short space of time had a bigger market share than iTunes,” he said. “One of the major reasons for that was that it had the DVD-to-the-home as an integral part of the proposition. So, we will be one of only two places where you will get the electronic version in your digital locker… and also a DVD in the post.”
 
But Mr Barton said Virgin might find it harder to succeed. “What Sky has is its own TV channels on which it has run adverts very aggressively promoting the release of movies in its Store,” he explained. “It worked very well for tent-pole releases, such as the recent Star Wars movie. So one wonders what Virgin’s marketing and communications will be, as it won’t work just by setting the store up.”
 
 

 

Netflix to allow TV and movie downloads

Netflix is allowing some of its shows and films to be downloaded and watched offline, the company has announced.
 
Netflix is allowing some of its shows and films to be downloaded and watched offline, the company has announced.
 
It had previously said letting people download shows added too much “complexity” to its experience. Other video apps such as BBC iPlayer, All 4 and Amazon Prime Video already let viewers watch content when offline. Netflix said some of its original programmes were already available to download and more would be made available in the future.
 
“It’s surprising because just weeks ago they said it wasn’t going to happen,” said Tom Harrington from the consultancy Enders Analysis. “You can understand why they wouldn’t want to do it because it opens up a whole pot of rights issues. Offering a download service will cost Netflix more. But everyone else is already doing it. Amazon is doing it, Sky has been doing something similar with Sky Q. Netflix doesn’t want to be left behind, or compared unfavourably to rivals.”
 
 

Apple iPhone users hit by ‘calendar spam’

Apple iPhone owners are reporting a rise in unwanted event invitations appearing in their calendars.
  
Apple iPhone owners are reporting a rise in unwanted event invitations appearing in their calendars.
 
The invitations often offer discounts on designer labels, but they are from spammers, not the brands they claim to represent. Whether the recipient accepts or rejects the invitation, it notifies the spammer that the message has been received, so that more can follow. Sometimes they take the form of photo-sharing alerts.
 
Rather like spam email, the invitations are sent at random to huge email lists, and they appear as calendar notifications. The flaw has existed for a while but has only recently been exploited, particularly in the run up to Black Friday.
 
“It’s a problem with the way the iCloud works,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at Surrey University. “Because the calendar and photo sharing is mirrored to the cloud – even if you say you don’t want to go it still keeps a copy in the cloud. You can turn the iCloud off, but that defeats the object of having it, or you can use a complicated work around. What they really need is an ‘ignore’ button.”
 
Business lawyer and technology writer David Sparks wrote a guide to dealing with the influx of unwanted mail on his blog. He suggested creating a special calendar specifically for the spam or moving the notifications to arrive in email form, which can then be deleted without the sender knowing.
 
“Most of the calendar spam I’ve seen has originated from China,” he wrote. “Somebody has a big list of email addresses and sends out calendar invites with spammy links embedded. My guess is this is only going to get worse, and I really hope Apple intervenes.”
 
 

Ship’s anchor severs Jersey’s undersea internet cables

A ship dragging its anchor on the seabed in the English Channel has cut the three main internet cables to the Channel Islands overnight.
 
A ship dragging its anchor on the seabed in the English Channel has cut the three main internet cables to the Channel Islands overnight.
 
Broadband speeds are expected to be slower as a result and telecom company JT said it could take up to a week to repair. The company said engineers have already been dispatched to repair the cables. All communications traffic from JT, the main operator in Jersey, is going through a single link to France.
 
JT says insurance will cover the cost of repairs and if they are able to track the ship then the owners insurance will pay for the work.
 
Daragh McDermott, Director of Corporate Affairs for JT, said: “With all traffic now using this connection, customers may notice some impact on services. It is exceptionally unlucky and unprecedented for three submarine cables to the UK to be cut in the same day.”
 
A number of people have reported losing internet completely earlier this morning, with one woman saying she had to set up a mobile hotspot to get a connection. A spokesman for Jersey’s second largest telecom provider, Sure, says they are also having problems and there are likely to be issues with off island phone calls.
 
Mr McDermott said repairing the cable would be a “tricky tricky job” involving engineers going out in heavy winds to remove the cables from the sea and splice them back together.
 
 

BT ordered to legally split from Openreach by Ofcom

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has ordered BT to legally separate from its Openreach division, which runs the UK’s broadband infrastructure.
 
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has ordered BT to legally separate from its Openreach division, which runs the UK’s broadband infrastructure.
 
Openreach should become a distinct company within the BT group, the regulator said. BT had not voluntarily addressed competition concerns Ofcom laid out in July, it said. Ofcom said it was preparing a formal notification to the European Commission to start the process. The regulator has resisted calls to split Openreach off entirely, which telecoms rivals have sought.
 
Ofcom said BT had not gone far enough to address its concerns about BT’s ability to favour its retail business when making investment decisions in Openreach. It wants Openreach to become a distinct company with its own board, with non-executives and a chairperson not affiliated with BT. It also wants Openreach to have control over its branding and budget allocation. Openreach would also have a duty to treat all of its customers equally, the regulator said.
 
On Monday, BT had appointed Mike McTighe – who was on the board of Ofcom between 2007 and 2015 – as the first chairman of Openreach. BT said in a statement: “We put forward proposals in July that we believe are fair and sustainable, and that meet Ofcom’s objectives without disproportionate costs. We are implementing these proposals, and have just appointed Mike McTighe to be the first chairman of Openreach. We are in discussions with Ofcom on two outstanding issues, the reporting line of the Openreach chief executive and the form of legal incorporation. We will continue to work with Ofcom to reach a voluntary settlement that is good for customers, shareholders, employees, pensioners and investment in the UK’s digital future.”
 
BT shares wobbled in early trading, losing 1.5% at first before recovering to trade higher by 0.5%.
 
Dido Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk  said that “consumers and businesses across the country are completely fed-up that their broadband doesn’t work. In the sense that it is a small step in the right direction it is a good thing, but I think it’s important to remember it is only a small step… because… Ofcom’s proposal is for quite complex corporate governance, and even this complicated legal separation is one that BT Group has been fiercely resisting,” she said.
 
Despite the appointment, Ofcom is still concerned that – against its wishes – Openreach chief executive Clive Selley will continue to report directly to BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson. Ofcom is also concerned that Openreach will not end up in control of its own assets and cash, and that it may not be able to consult confidentially with customers such as Sky and TalkTalk. BT is concerned that transferring Openreach assets and cash will incur costs that would take away from investment in broadband infrastructure.
 
Kester Mann, an analyst at CCS Insight, said: “Today’s news shows that Ofcom remains hugely concerned over BT’s ability to satisfy its competition concerns. It again highlights clear flaws in the existing Openreach model and a worry that UK broadband deployment could be restricted without serious change.”
 
He said BT’s rivals could criticise Ofcom for not pushing for structural separation, but they should see Ofcom’s efforts to engage with the European Commission as “a partial victory”.
 
 

 

Sky enters UK mobile phone market

Broadcaster Sky is launching its own mobile phone service. Sky Mobile will offer flexible monthly payment plans and the ability to roll over unused data each month for up to three years.
  
Broadcaster Sky is launching its own mobile phone service. Sky Mobile will offer flexible monthly payment plans and the ability to roll over unused data each month for up to three years.
 
Sky will become a “quad play” provider, offering broadband, television fixed-line telephone and a mobile service. And existing Sky TV customers will not have to pay for calls or texts and can compile playlists of their favourite shows to watch on their mobiles. According to Sky, some 46,000 have pre-registered for the service.
 
The service comes with three data plans: 1GB for £10 per month, 3GB for £15 per month, 5GB for £20 per month. Non-Sky TV customers can add on unlimited calls and texts for £10 per month, or pay for calls and texts on a pay-as-you-use (PAYU) basis.
 
According to Sky, UK consumers use less than half of the mobile data they buy from mobile network operators, adding up to an annual £2bn of wasted data. Therefore Sky’s decision to let people roll over data and store it for three years is both unique and compelling.
 
Stephen van Rooyen, UK and Ireland Sky chief executive, said: “We felt it was time to shake up the mobile market and give customers a completely new way to manage their mobile plan. We’ve designed it based on what people told us they want – it’s easy, flexible and transparent and it puts the customer in control.”
 
Sky’s mobile offering is very competitive, as long as you’re already a Sky TV customer. The key difference between this and other sim only deals is Sky ties you in for 12 months.
 
 

Deutsche Telekom fault affects 900,000 customers

Deutsche Telekom has confirmed up to 900,000 customers have had their broadband service cut off following a possible hack of its hardware.
 
Deutsche Telekom has confirmed up to 900,000 customers have had their broadband service cut off following a possible hack of its hardware.
 
That figure had now fallen to 400,000 as security measures had been implemented, the German company said. But Reuters reported some affected customers may still be unable to make contact in order to report the problem. Internet access, phone connections and TV reception for those with a certain router have been affected since Sunday.
 
“There is no error pattern: some customers are experiencing temporary problems or very marked fluctuations in quality, but there are also customers for whom the service is not working at all,” Deutsche Telekom said in a statement on its website. “Based on the error pattern, we cannot exclude the possibility that the routers have been targeted by external parties with the result that they can no longer register on the network.”
 
There was no apparent geographical pattern either, Deutsche Telekom said, but there appeared to be more people affected in cities because they had a larger concentration of customers. The company, which has 20 million customers in Germany, has issued a software update and is asking affected customers to disconnect their routers.
 
 

Scrutiny for phone book harvesting apps

The mobile phone numbers of former Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, celebrities and millions of other people are being stored in databases that can be searched by the public.

 
The mobile phone numbers of former Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, celebrities and millions of other people are being stored in databases that can be searched by the public.
 
While the numbers cannot be obtained simply by entering a name, data watchdogs are concerned about the way the information has been gathered. These databases have been compiled by phone apps that promise to block spam calls and let people “reverse-look up” calls from numbers they do not recognise. But it appears many of the names and numbers have been gathered without their owners’ knowledge.
 
The apps, which include Truecaller, Sync.me and CM Security, ask users to upload their phone’s contact lists when they install them. That means they end up with huge databases – one app claims to have two billion numbers while another claims more than a billion. 

These can then be searched to connect any number with a name, although you cannot put in a name and get a number. Searches can be conducted on the app provider’s website without even installing the software.
 

The issue has been highlighted by Factwire, an investigative journalism organisation that found the numbers of leading Hong Kong lawmakers had been stored in the systems. It found that many British numbers are also listed – including that of Mr Cameron, Mr Corbyn, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the Olympic diver Tom Daley and the music producer Pete Waterman. Hong Kong-based Factwire had those numbers already when it conducted its searches.
 
Many numbers appear to be stored in the databases without the knowledge or consent of their owners. For example, we found the number of the security researcher Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro in the database of Truecaller, which is based in Sweden. He told us he had not installed the app and had not consented to having his number stored.

 
He described the app as “highly deceptive” and questioned whether it broke data protection regulations. “Data can only be collected for specific, explicitly stated and legitimate purposes, may not be kept for a longer period than is necessary and crucially only with the explicit and informed consent of the data subject,” he said.
 
There is also concern about the security of the data. In 2013 Truecaller suffered a data breach, admitting that it had fallen victim to a cyber-attack but insisting that no sensitive information had been exposed. Truecaller said that it ensured strict protection of user data, which was safely stored in Sweden. The company said it did not share any information with external organisations and in a statement said: “Truecaller is not in violation of the data protection laws in Sweden, nor across the EU as a whole.”
 
The ICO said: “UK data protection law says businesses are required to process data fairly and lawfully. We’re asking questions on behalf of UK citizens and are following up with the Swedish authorities.”
 

The security blogger Graham Cluley, whose mobile number is stored by one of the apps, says everyone needs to be more careful about what they share: “If you upload your address book, you’re not just putting your own privacy at risk – but the privacy of everybody else in that address book.”
 
Most of the apps mention in their terms and conditions that users should have permission from their contacts before sharing their data. One of the apps, CM Security, has now halted its reverse-look up function. All of them say users can opt out if they do not want to have their numbers stored.
 
 

 
 

China breaks patent application record

China-based inventors applied for a record-setting number of patents last year. Huawei was one of the most prolific Chinese patent applicants, making 3,898 filings last year.
 
China-based inventors applied for a record-setting number of patents last year. Huawei was one of the most prolific Chinese patent applicants, making 3,898 filings last year.

 

The country accounted for more than a million submissions, according to an annual report by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo). It said the figure was “extraordinary”. Many of the filings were for innovations in telecoms, computing, semiconductors and medical tech. Beijing had urged companies to boost the number of such applications. But some experts have cast doubt as to whether it signifies that the country is truly more inventive than others, since most of China’s filings were done locally.
 
A patent is the monopoly property right granted by a government to the owner of an invention. This allows the creator and subsequent owners to prevent others from making, using, offering for sale or importing their invention into the country for a limited time. In return they must agree for the patent filing to be publicly disclosed.

 
A total of 2.9 million patent applications were filed worldwide in 2015, according to Wipo, marking a 7.8% rise on the previous year. China can lay claim to driving most of that growth. Its domestic patent office – the Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (Sipo) – received a record 1,101,864 filings. That was more than its Japanese, South Korean and US equivalents combined. But Chinese inventors were more reticent about seeking patent rights abroad.
According to Wipo, they filed just 42,154 applications outside their borders – Huawei and ZTE, two smartphone and telecoms equipment-makers, led the way.

 
By comparison US-based inventors sought more than five times that figure. And Japan, Germany and France also outnumbered the Asian giant.
 
One patent expert, who works with Chinese firms but asked not to be named, said the disparity in the figures was telling. “What’s called a patent in China is often a species of design, and these are the things they are getting copious amounts of,” he said. “This is probably innovation at its thinnest. I’ve seen some of these things and they are typically around parts of machinery on production lines. The detail of what they are applying for means they would be unlikely to have the necessary degree of novelty to be granted a patent worldwide.”
 
In Europe, creating a new look for a manufactured object is not enough to qualify it for a patent – there must also be a technical aspect featuring a new process, improvement or concept that would not be obvious to a skilled person in the field.
 
In China, however, creating a distinctive new design – based on an object’s shape, pattern and/or colour – is sufficient, so long as the product can be sold or used independently of other parts. The US also affords similar patent rights. 
Part of the reason so many applications were made locally was that China set itself a target to boost patent filings five years ago. Sipo declared at the time that it wanted to receive two million filings in 2015. The government supported the initiative with various subsidies and other incentives. As such, its tally of just over one million applications in a single year may be a world first for any patent office, but it was still well short of its goal.