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BT’s landline-only customers set for cheaper bills

More than two million people who buy only a landline telephone service from BT would see their monthly bills cut by at least £5 per month, under plans announced by Ofcom today.
  
More than two million people who buy only a landline telephone service from BT would see their monthly bills cut by at least £5 per month, under plans announced by Ofcom today.
 
Ofcom has reviewed how the market is working for customers who buy only a landline service from a provider – either because they do not want broadband or pay TV, or because they take these services under separate contracts, usually from different companies. They 

have found that these customers – often elderly or vulnerable people who have remained with the same landline provider for decades – are getting poor value for money in a market that is not serving them well enough.

 
Landline-only customers are particularly affected by price hikes in telephone line rental. Major providers have increased their line rental charges significantly in recent years – by between 25% and 49% in real terms. This is despite providers benefiting from around a 26% fall in the underlying wholesale cost of providing a landline service.

 
So Ofcom intends to give customers with standalone landline contracts additional protection by cutting the cost of BT’s line rental by at least £5 per month – or £60 per year. The planned price cut would not apply to landline services sold by BT Consumer as part of a bundle of services including broadband. This would mean that BT customers with only a landline, who currently pay £18.99 per month for line rental, would pay no more than £13.99 – a reduction of at least 26%.
 
The cut would return the cost of line rental to 2009 levels in real terms, effectively reversing price hikes for landline-only customers. They are also proposing safeguards to prevent BT from making future increases to line rental and landline call costs by more than inflation.
 
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Line rental has been going up, even as providers’ costs come down. This hurts people who rely on their landline the most, and are less likely to shop around for a better deal. We think that’s unacceptable. So we plan to cut BT’s charge for customers who take only a landline, to ensure that vulnerable customers get the value they deserve.”
 
Customers of ‘bundled’ services – packages including landline, broadband and/or pay TV – benefit from a range of attractive deals, driven by strong competition. By contrast, offers for landline-only customers have become increasingly limited, with a number of providers withdrawing their telephone-only products altogether.
 
Almost 80% (2.3m) of the UK’s 2.9m landline-only customers are with BT. Ofcom has found that BT’s market power has allowed it to increase prices without much risk of losing customers. Other providers have then followed BT’s pricing lead.
 
Ofcom expect that their proposed cut in BT’s prices would lead to other providers following suit and reducing theirs. This would mean savings for landline-only customers across the market.
 
Ofcom is proposing, and seeking views on, a range of £5-£7 per month for the cut to BT’s landline-only line rental. We will take into account the need to protect consumers, while also preserving competition and ensuring that competitors to BT can profitably attract new customers.
 
Ofcom also intends to require BT to trial different approaches for communicating with its landline-only customers. This is to help them better understand what they are paying, and how other BT packages – or even other providers – might offer better value for money.
 
Ofcom publishes information to help landline customers choose the right tariff to match their use. This includes information on the low-cost services available for customers in receipt of certain state benefits. We also have advice on switching landline provider.
 
 

Sony launches super-slow-motion phone

Sony’s latest smartphone is capable of filming smooth slow-motion footage at four times the rate possible on Apple and Samsung’s top-end models.
 
Sony’s latest smartphone is capable of filming smooth slow-motion footage at four times the rate possible on Apple and Samsung’s top-end models.
 
The Xperia XZ Premium captures video at up to 960 frames per second (fps). The achievement was made possible by a new type of image sensor that has built-in memory of its own. Sony’s smartphone market share is small, but it usually makes its sensors available to rivals about six to 12 months after they debut.
 
Apple, Samsung, LG and Xiaomi are among those to have used its technology in recent handsets. The new phone was unveiled alongside several lower specification devices on the first day of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

 
“Despite this being one of the best devices at MWC, I don’t see it changing Sony’s fortunes,” commented Francisco Jeronimo, from the market research firm IDC. “If you go through Sony’s financial statements you can see it now makes more money from selling phone cameras to its competitors than selling its own smartphones, which is quite remarkable So, its phones are a way to show off its capabilities, and the new camera is outstanding – not just the slow-mo but also the picture quality.”
 
Sony shipped about half as many smartphones in 2016 as the previous year and has about 1% share of the market, according to IDC, putting it in 17th place.

 
Sony calls the new technology Motion Eye. It uses a three-layer stacked sensor fitted with one gigabit of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Doing so lets the component temporarily store a rapid burst of video data locally before it is transferred to other memory components, which takes more time.

 
When the firm first announced the sensor earlier this month it said it was capable of 1,000 fps in 1080p “full high definition”. However, on the Xperia XZ Premium it has been restricted to slightly fewer frames per second at 720p resolution. In practice, users can only capture 0.18 seconds of footage at this speed, which produces six seconds of video when played back. But they can do so in the middle of filming normal footage to create a slow-down-and-speed-back-up effect. The challenge is to press the button at the right moment.
 
“It’s only a very brief amount of time and you’ve got to be really on the ball to use it effectively,” commented Tim Coulling from the Canalys tech consultancy. “But it’s a great feature.”
 
The built-in DRAM memory also lets users record action that happened a second before they pressed the record button. This buffer function is intended to help them avoid missed moments, but only works if the device detects motion, which triggers the facility.
 
Other unusual features include:
a 5.5in (14cm) 4K resolution display that has four times as many pixels as 1080p equivalents. It also plays back Amazon Prime Video content in high dynamic range. HDR delivers more vibrant images that reveal extra detail compared to traditional footage & the choice of a mirrored body. This allows the back of the device to be used to help put on make-up or put in contact lenses. However, it also attracts fingerprint marks

 
The machine is designed to be used while connected to a power source, but can work for up to an hour unplugged. 

A potential problem, however, is its price: Sony plans to charge €1,499 ($1,584; £1,269) when it goes on sale in Europe and Japan.
 

“I think Sony should be applauded for being bold enough to push into a new category, but unfortunately it’s out of reach to all but the most affluent gadget addicts,” commented Ben Wood from CCS Insight.

 
Mr Jeronimo was more harsh in his criticism. “It’s a huge mistake,” he said. “If Sony combined a projector with a device like the Amazon Echo or Google Home for a third of the price, that would be a very interesting. But asking for more than $1,500 – there’s no way they will sell them.”
 
 

Google brings Assistant to Android phones

Google’s voice-activated digital assistant will soon be available on smartphones running the latest versions of the Android operating system.

 
Google’s voice-activated digital assistant will soon be available on smartphones running the latest versions of the Android operating system.
 
Until now, Google Assistant had only been available on the firm’s own Pixel phones. The service, like Siri on iPhones, allows users to interact with apps and ask questions.
 
Google’s update will starting rolling out this week to users with Android 6.0 Marshmallow or 7.0 Nougat installed.
 
“With this update, hundreds of millions of Android users will now be able to try out the Google Assistant,” said Gummi Hafsteinsson, product lead for Google Assistant, in a blog post.
 
Initially, Assistant will be available to English-speaking users in the United States. English-speaking users in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom will receive the update next. Support for other languages will follow, Google said.
 
 

Huawei P10 has smarter selfie and rear cameras

Huawei’s latest high-end smartphone features a camera on its front that counts how many people are in shot.
 
Huawei’s latest high-end smartphone features a camera on its front that counts how many people are in shot.
 
If the P10 detects there is more than one person being photographed in a “selfie”, it automatically switches from standard to wide-angle mode. The phone’s rear cameras also use use 3D depth-sensing technology to help enhance portraits.
 
Analysts said the device only marks a relatively minor improvement on last year’s well-received model. It was unveiled on the eve of Mobile World Congress, a tech trade show in Barcelona.
 
“I think it’s deliberately incremental, but I don’t think that’s a problem,” commented Ben Wood from CCS Insight. “It makes it an even more refined version of the P9, which was a milestone device for Huawei as it took them from being a relative unknown to a player with a credible top-end smartphone.”
 
The Chinese firm is currently the world’s third bestselling smartphone-maker. It has said it intends to be one of the top two by the end of 2018. The company shipped more than 139 million handsets last year – according to market analysis by IDC – which represented a 30% gain on 2015. That put Huawe’s share of 2016’s smartphone market at 9%, behind Apple with 15% and Samsung with 21%.
 
The P10 continues Huawei’s alliance with Leica, the German camera-maker whose brand is stamped on the phone’s photo sensor components. As before, there are two of these cameras on the rear of the device, one capturing colour, the other black-and-white data – the information is combined to create a single 12 megapixel colour image or used to deliver a 20 megapixel monochrome one.
 
What is new, is that software now analyses the difference between the two images to work out the position and size of the subject’s various facial features – such as how big a nose they have. This is then used to adjust the lighting, shadows and skin colours to try and produce more flattering portraits.

 
In addition, Huawei has built in software co-developed by the action camera-maker GoPro to automatically create photo books and videos. The firm has also moved the fingerprint sensor from the rear of the device to the front.
 
The standard P10 has a 5.1in 1080p high definition display, while the P10 Plus has a 5.5in higher resolution component.
 
Much of the firm’s press conference was dedicated to the fact they now come in blue and green bodies among other options.
 
“If you saw it against the P9 you might think: what’s the difference?” commented David McQueen from ABI Research. “What Huawei has done is really push the camera features and functionality. That will appeal to keen photographers, but others won’t notice much improvement.”
 
 

LG G6 phone offers split-screen use

LG has ditched the modular design of its previous flagship smartphone and unveiled a new top-end model that is designed for split-screen uses.
  
LG has ditched the modular design of its previous flagship smartphone and unveiled a new top-end model that is designed for split-screen uses.
 
To achieve this, the G6’s display has an 18:9 aspect ratio, rather than the 16:9 used by most handsets. It means that when viewed in landscape mode, the screen appears wider than normal. LG has acknowledged that last year’s G5 missed its sales targets. One analyst said the change in strategy was wise. The new device was unveiled in Barcelona ahead of the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show.
 
LG’s new phone was also distinguished by being the first Android device announced to include Google Assistant – the search giant’s voice-controlled rival to Apple’s Siri – beyond Google’s own Pixel phone.
 
The G6’s display measures 5.7in (14.5cm) compared to the G5’s 5.3in (13.5cm) component. It is also brighter, adding support for high dynamic range (HDR) video playback. This makes compatible footage appear more vibrant and detailed in the shadows. The new device can also be submerged underwater for up to half an hour.
 
Yet the G6 is thinner and slightly smaller than last year’s model thanks to the decision to abandon add-on components – such as a higher quality audio processor – and a return to an irremovable battery. The new phone is designed around Android 7’s support for split-screen software, allowing two same-sized square interfaces to be seen either side-by-side or one-above-the-other, depending on how the phone is held.

 
Suggested uses include: running two different apps alongside each other, displaying a monthly calendar in one box, and a day’s agenda in the other, showing a music album’s artwork and play controls in one interface, and a list of the songs it contains in the other. A further use of the split screens would be to help take square-shaped photos for the social network Instagram. When the phone is held vertically, the top box shows the live view from the camera while the bottom one displays the last photo taken. The idea is to make it possible to review an image without the risk of missing another key moment.
 
However, one side effect of the screen’s unusual aspect ratio is that many apps will have to be slightly stretched to fit it, unless the owner opts not to use the full screen.
 
LG acknowledges that the G6 is less radical than last year’s offering, but it hopes that means demand will be stronger than it was for the G5. “I’d love to be sat here now saying that the mass market had adopted it and understood it – unfortunately that wasn’t the case,” Jeremy Daniels, head of sales for LG UK said. “We proved the concept could be done, but actually we know that [this year] we had to tick a lot of boxes like water resistance and bigger battery. And that could only be done by moving to a design that was more appealing to the masses.”
 

LG is the world’s sixth bestselling smartphone maker, according to the research firm IDC. Figures indicate that the South Korean firm shipped 7% fewer handsets in 2016 compared to the previous year.
 
Despite the G5’s struggles, its unusual design won plaudits when it was unveiled a year ago. The GSM association – a trade body representing the world’s mobile operators – even declared it the best device introduced at 2016’s MWC. But one expert said the idea of adding functionality via add-on accessories – known as friends – proved to be unwieldy in practice.

 
“If you look at the way G5 worked – owners had to open the case, remove the battery and power down the device before putting in another friend – that concept was fatally flawed,” said Tim Coulling from the tech consultancy Canalys. Also because the phone had to be taken apart a lot, there were problems with dust and water. So, the decision to move back from modular to non-modular is completely the correct decision.”
 
Over the past year, Google has also cancelled its Project Ara modular smartphone concept. But Lenovo continues to pursue the modular idea with its Moto Z devices, which do not need to be switched off when their parts are swapped.
 
 

 
 

Blackberry revives classic keyboard phone

 A new Android-powered Blackberry with a physical keyboard has been unveiled by Chinese phone-maker TCL Communication at MWC 2017.

  
A new Android-powered Blackberry with a physical keyboard has been unveiled by Chinese phone-maker TCL Communication at MWC 2017.
 
The company now licenses the brand for its devices, after Blackberry decided to outsource the development and manufacture of its smartphones. The device was unveiled ahead of the start of the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
 
Last year, TCL signed a brand licensing deal with BlackBerry to use the technology company’s name for new smartphones, while the Toronto-based technology giant refocuses its business on software rather than devices.
 
At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, TCL took the wraps off the BlackBerry KEYone, which will be available in April. It’s key features that include: A QWERTY keyboard with a fingerprint sensor built into the spacebar. The keyboard also responds to touch gestures which mimics the old BlackBerry trackpad; Running Android 7, the latest version of Google’s Android operating system; A 4.5 inch touch screen display; A Pre-installed BlackBerry security software called DTEK; A Fast charge allowing 50 percent charge in 36 minutes; and A 12 megapixel rear camera and 8 megapixel front facing selfie camera.
 
TCL’s president of North America, Steve Cistulli, said that the company’s plan is to market this device to the enterprise market, as part of a broader strategy to recapture the hearts of consumers, and challenge mobile behemoths Samsung and Apple.
 
“We can compete with Apple and Samsung directly in the enterprise market,” Cistulli said. “We are going to use this device, to break the armor and it’s our way in, once you have a way in you can get the mind share and hearts of those people.”
 
BlackBerry was once one of the most dominant brands in the mobile phone world, but quickly fell from the top of the heap shortly after Apple introduced the iPhone. The latter quickly seized the imagination of gadget geeks and devoured market share, leaving BlackBerry in the dust.
 
The Canadian firm lost more ground once Samsung also bulldozed its way into the smartphone market, but tried to stage a comeback as its market share languished in the single digits. BlackBerry’s efforts included releasing new units like the Leap and Android-powered PRIV, all of which fell flat as smartphone users flocked to iPhones and Galaxy devices.
 
After licensing its brand to TCL to make devices with the BlackBerry name, BlackBerry has increased its focus on software. Meanwhile TCL is hoping that it can use BlackBerry’s once strong brand to win back consumers that have since moved on. The TCL executive also revealed that there will be more BlackBerry products coming to target the consumer market. But with Apple, Samsung and Huawei dominating the high-end smartphone market, analysts said it could be a tough time for TCL’s BlackBerry devices.
 
“TCL will be hoping that by licensing the BlackBerry brand it can extend its market reach beyond the low margin consumer segment (which it currently targets via the Alcatel brand) to the higher margin enterprise devices space,” Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight said.
 
“However, the jury is out on how relevant the BlackBerry brand remains to that segment,” he added.
 
In recent years, BlackBerry’s operating system struggled to compete against Android and Apple’s iOS, both of which dominate the market. However, Cistulli said this time it is different and is setting ambitious goals for TCL.  
The executive said the company, which also makes the Alcatel brand of mobile phones, is aiming to be the number three player in North America by 2020, and near the top five globally.
 
 

Apple checking ‘exploding’ iPhone video

Apple is investigating claims that a US woman’s iPhone 7 Plus “exploded” and caught fire.

  
Apple is investigating claims that a US woman’s iPhone 7 Plus “exploded” and caught fire.
 
Brianna Olivas, 18, from Tucson, Arizona, was sleeping with the phone nearby when her boyfriend noticed it smoking and emitting a strange noise. He moved the phone away from her and took a video, which has gone viral, in which the handset can clearly be seen emitting smoke. Apple has replaced both the phone and the case that were damaged.
 
Brianna said that she had noticed a problem with the phone, which she bought in January, the day before it caught fire.
 
“It wouldn’t turn on so I took it into a store,” she said. “They were able to get the phone on and ran diagnostics. They said nothing was wrong with it and everything was fine.”

 
But the next morning she woke to discover her phone on fire. “I sleep with my phone next to me. It was on the bed right next to my head. My boyfriend actually moved the phone to the dresser and went into the bathroom,” she said. “From the corner of his eye he saw the phone smoking and heard a squealing noise coming from it. I woke up because I heard the noise and then he started raising his voice.”
 
Brianna’s boyfriend grabbed the phone and moved it into the bathroom. “Right when he put it there, it blew up and even more smoke was coming out,” she said. “The phone smelt so bad. I can’t really explain the smell but it was really strong. It made the whole apartment smell.”

 
Despite the problem with Brianna’s phone, there is no indication of a widespread problem with iPhone handsets. A spokesperson told digital media website Mashable that the firm was “looking into” the issue.
 
But Brianna’s not sleeping with her phone so close for the time being. “The past two nights it hasn’t been on my bed at all,” she said.
 
 

India police arrest ‘world’s cheapest smartphone’ firm boss

The director of Ringing Bells, the Indian firm which claimed to be selling the world’s cheapest smartphone, has been arrested on allegations of fraud.
 
The director of Ringing Bells, the Indian firm which claimed to be selling the world’s cheapest smartphone, has been arrested on allegations of fraud.
 
Mohit Goel was held after one of the phone’s distributors claimed it had not received handsets it had paid for. The Freedom 251 phone, priced at 251 rupees ($3.70; £3), went on pre-sale in February 2016. But while many customers got their phones, Ringing Bells is accused of not fulfilling all of its orders.
 
The distribution company, Ayam Enterprises, said it paid 3m rupees ($45,000; £35,800) after Mr Goel persuaded it to distribute the phone. But it claimed only 1.4m-worth of devices were delivered and alleged staff received death threats if they “kept asking for the money again and again”.
 
Police spokesman Rahul Srivastava confirmed the arrest and said that Mr Goel would appear in court on Friday. “A number of similar complaints have been filed against him from other parts of the state. We want to investigate these claims thoroughly,” he said. “It’s important for us to expose these scams because innocent people end up losing their hard-earned money. We are seeing an increasing number of technology-related frauds. I appeal to people to be sure before investing money into such schemes.”

 
Ringing Bells first started taking money for the phones in February last year, initially promising delivery by June. Demand for the cheap handset, which it sold through its own website, caused the company’s servers to crash.
 
At the launch, Mr Goel had said the phone would be locally made as part of the Make in India program, promoted aggressively by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. But there were plenty of questions around the firm’s business model, with many asking how it could be offered so cheaply.
 
Several analysts have described the phone as a “ponzi scheme”. This is a form of fraud in which belief in the success of a non-existent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors.
 
 
 
 

Scammers taking control of computers

Scammers are taking control of people’s computers and demanding payments to release them again, consumers are being warned.
  
Scammers are taking control of people’s computers and demanding payments to release them again, consumers are being warned.
 
Trading Standards officers say that tens of thousands of users are falling victim to such scams, which begin when they ask for help with a printer error. The fraudsters claim to offer “printer helplines”, which consumers are fooled into contacting. Typically, users then allow scammers remote access to their computers.
 
In some cases the fraudsters steal information – such as bank account details – or demand money to hand back control. They appear credible by claiming to have links with well-known computer and printer brands.
 
In one case, they tried to charge a victim £700. Another user was told that their online identity had been corrupted and all their passwords had been stolen. The “fee” to correct it was £200.
 
“This printer helpline scam scam is particularly pernicious because it encourages victims to unknowingly contact the fraudsters of their own accord,” said Mike Andrews, lead co-ordinator of the National Trading Standards eCrime team. “While victims expect they will receive help with their printer problems, they have in fact been lured into a trap, and find themselves at risking of losing money or important personal information and also have their computer security compromised.”
 
In 2016 there were more than 32,000 such cases of computer service fraud, according to Action Fraud, which is a 47% rise since 2014.
 
“I would urge people to be particularly vigilant about this scam,” said Lord Harris, chair of National Trading Standards. “If you are seeking help for printer issues you should always use the official printer helpline details provided when you bought the product or consult the official website of the manufacturer for helpline details.”