UK mobile network performance best in Belfast area

Belfast and its surrounding area is the best in the UK for overall mobile network performance, according to research.
  
Belfast and its surrounding area is the best in the UK for overall mobile network performance, according to research.
 
Research company RootMetrics tested the performance of the four main operators in the UK’s 16 most populated areas. London ranked fourth from the bottom, with only Bristol, Hull and Cardiff getting lower overall scores.
 
But RootMetrics said all the areas surveyed had improved over the past few years. Newcastle and Glasgow were both singled out for improved network performance, thanks in part to increased data reliability and speed.
 
The research focused on six categories: network reliability, network speed, data performance, call performance, text performance & overall performance.
 
Belfast, Manchester, and Liverpool took the top three places in four of the six categories. As well as being ranked best overall, Belfast was found to be best for text performance, data performance and speed. Manchester was the best performing in terms of network reliability and call performance.
 
Of the 16 cities RootMetrics studied, Cardiff got the lowest score.
 
RootMetrics’ research showed that data speeds in the area were getting faster, but the networks’ performance in the other categories was largely unchanged from the first half of 2016.
 
The research covered not just the named cities but their surrounding areas. The region covered by the London data, for example, stretches “from Maidenhead to Southend-on-Sea, and from Tunbridge Wells to Cambridge”, according to Scott Stonham, general manager for RootMetrics Europe.
 
“There’s a high level of transient demand from people travelling through the area, which is difficult to plan for, and the bigger the area the harder that is,” he said. “With the numbers of people and the area covered, we get quite a wide spectrum of performance. London as a city is much better.”
 
RootMetrics said that the improved mobile performance in Newcastle was the result of faster download speeds, data reliability, and fewer blocked and dropped calls on all the networks. In Glasgow, the researchers found “significant improvements” to both the speed and reliability of data services.
 
 
 
 

Uber ‘tracked iPhones to stop fraud’

Uber reportedly used a tactic called fingerprinting to track iPhones in order to fight fraud – despite Apple banning the practice.
 
Uber reportedly used a tactic called fingerprinting to track iPhones in order to fight fraud – despite Apple banning the practice.
 
The New York Times reports that in 2015 Apple discovered that the ride-sharing company had broken its privacy rules by collecting iPhone serial numbers. Boss Tim Cook told Uber founder Travis Kalanick to remove the “fingerprinting” code or he would ban the app from the Apple Store, the paper claims.
 
Uber said the practice of fingerprinting deterred criminals from installing its app on stolen phones, using stolen credit cards to book journeys, then wiping the phone and doing it again. “Being able to recognise known bad actors when they try to get back on to our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users,” it said.
 
Security researcher Will Strafach told news site Tech Crunch that the coding in the iPhone version of the app from 2014 revealed that it was noting the device’s serial number. The New York Times also claimed Uber ringfenced Apple’s Cupertino headquarters so that employees using the app there would not notice.
 
Cyber-security expert Prof Alan Woodward, from University of Surrey, said the act of fingerprinting is fairly common and generally not blocked by other operators – for example, if you sign into a service from a different device and get an email warning you about it, it’s because there is a device ID linked to your account.
 
“Digital fingerprinting can be effective in tracking who goes where on the web, and it can be used to prevent fraud, but also it has the potential to invade your privacy,” he said. “Whether it should be allowed ultimately will be a matter for the legislators and not all jurisdictions will necessarily agree.”
 
The practice is still banned by Apple.
 
 
 

Three apologises after network problems

Mobile phone company Three has apologised after some of its customers were unable to make calls or texts.
  
Mobile phone company Three has apologised after some of its customers were unable to make calls or texts.
 
The company said it had a “temporary network issue” which affected calls and texts during Saturday afternoon and evening. It said calls had since been restored and that it is working to restore full service.
 
But some users on Twitter complained of their texts being sent to random numbers instead of their contacts.
 
A spokeswoman said the company was “currently investigating the cause of the service disruption” and that it apologised for any inconvenience. It also said that some “customers and non-customers” may have received a message from an unknown sender on Saturday.
 
In a statement on its website, the company said its advice “is to ignore all text messages that you deem incorrect”.
 
Three, which has about nine million customers, experienced a data breach last year which saw personal details, including names and addresses, accessed unlawfully.
 
 

TalkTalk and BT rated worst for broadband

TalkTalk and BT have received the worst customer satisfaction scores in a survey of 12 broadband providers.
  
TalkTalk and BT have received the worst customer satisfaction scores in a survey of 12 broadband providers.
 
They scored 38% and 45% respectively with their customers, while Sky (48%) and EE (49%) came close behind them in the Which? survey of 1,800 people. Frequent price rises, connections that drop, unreliable speeds and “woeful” customer service all contributed to the scores, the consumer group said. The four account for almost three-quarters of the UK broadband market. BT alone accounts for almost a third of the country’s broadband connections.
Five stars?
Zen Internet had the highest customer rating at 86% in the survey, followed by Utility Warehouse (81%), John Lewis Broadband (68%), SSE (66%) and Plusnet (65%) Virgin Media (52%), Vodafone (50%) and the Post Office (48%) were also included.
 
Which? surveyed people about their broadband in November and December. The customer score is based on satisfaction levels with their provider and whether they would recommend it to others. Those surveyed were also asked to evaluate aspects of the service, with five stars being the highest rating in seven categories, including speed, reliability and customer service.
 
BT scored just two stars in all seven categories, while TalkTalk also scored two stars in each except value for money, for which it got three stars. Just four of the 12 providers scored more than three stars for speed: Zen Internet, Utility Warehouse, Virgin Media and Vodafone.
 
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home services, said: “The big players still have a long way to go to satisfy their customers, so if you’re unhappy with your broadband, complain and look to switch if your service doesn’t improve.”
 
A BT spokesperson said it was disappointed with the survey result and apologised to any customers who had been let down. “Generally, our broadband performs extremely well for customers and offers very reliable speeds at peak times, according to the latest Ofcom broadband speeds report.”
 
A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “Our extensive improvement programme has already led to fewer faults, faster average speeds, shorter times to resolve issues and customers reporting higher satisfaction levels.”
 
Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, said last month that broadband customers who suffered poor service may get automatic refunds under new plans. Its own survey suggested that 51% of broadband customers were “very satisfied” with their provider, with 36% fairly satisfied. That meant a “significant” minority – 13% – experienced poor service, mostly due to slow speeds or loss of service, it said.
 
BT had the lowest score for “very satisfied” of the four providers in the Ofcom survey at 45%, followed by TalkTalk on 49%, Sky on 52% and Virgin Media on 55%.
 
Last month BT agreed to Ofcom demands to legally separate Openreach, which runs the UK’s broadband network, in a bid to give better service to both consumers and broadband providers.
 
Digital minister Matt Hancock said: “Too many people are suffering from poor customer service when things go wrong with their broadband. Getting a better deal for consumers is at the heart of our Digital Economy Bill, which strengthens Ofcom’s power to make sure providers pay automatic compensation when service falls short.”
 
 
 
 

Apple settles patent case at last minute

Apple has settled a patent dispute with a litigant that had already beaten Huawei and Samsung in court.
 
Apple has settled a patent dispute with a litigant that had already beaten Huawei and Samsung in court.
 
The jury for the latest case had been selected but a deal was done in the early hours of the day the US trial was to begin, according to news site Ars Technica. Unwired Planet had sought $33m (£25.7m) and a cut of iPhone and iPad sales, which it said made use of its tech. The terms of the settlement have not been made public.
 
Apple had previously described the case – involving voice recognition and data transmission inventions – as being “frivolous”. Nevada-based Unwired used to develop mobile software, when it was known as Openwave Systems, but no longer makes products of its own. It acquired the rights to the inventions involved in the case from Ericsson in a controversial deal. Rather than purchase the technologies outright, Unwired instead agreed to share future revenues generated from the patents with the Swedish telecoms equipment-maker.
 
That has led some to describe Unwired as a “patent troll” – although the firm’s legal team described the term as “hackneyed”.
 
“Our ambition is to bring efficiency and fairness to patent licensing and create a marketplace where product manufacturers and innovators feel confident that high quality technology is available at a fair and reasonable price,” a spokeswoman for PanOptis Patent Management, which recently bought Unwired’s licensing business, said. “Over the past nine months since we acquired the Unwired Planet patent portfolio, we have actively resolved a majority of the existing litigation that had been initiated by Unwired Planet, including suits involving Samsung, LG and Apple.”
 
Earlier this month, the firm scored a court victory over Huawei in London. The Chinese company was ordered to pay a global fee for use of Unwired’s 4G patents or face a UK sales ban. Unwired previously won a case against Samsung involving 2G technologies. It is also involved in disputes with Google and HTC.
 
 

Vodafone to use artificial intelligence to speed up online queries

Vodafone UK has launched TOBi – the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot – as an innovative way of offering our customers a quicker web chat service.  
 
Vodafone UK has launched TOBi – the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot – as an innovative way of offering our customers a quicker web chat service.  
 
TOBi, a virtual customer services’ agent, can handle a range of customer queries including device troubleshooting, usage and order tracking amongst many others.
 
Recent research shows that 55% of UK consumers say that the most important factor in the ideal customer experience is getting a prompt and effective response to queries[1], highlighting the need for companies to provide faster and more integrated customer service responses. With 75% of all consumers aged 18-25 already using instant messenger everyday [2], TOBi is our answer to providing customers with the quick and easy web chat service they want.
 
TOBi is already available to some customers through our online web chat service. Later this month messaging will also be available through the My Vodafone app, so customers will be able to speak to advisors whenever they want and while they are on the go.
 
The pilot platform is powered by a combination of IBM Watson and LivePerson, in a blend of the two cutting edge technologies. This provides customers with a smooth and efficient way of having simple queries answered, before being seamlessly handed over to web chat advisors if needed. Vodafone continues to assess multiple solutions and technologies to implement the future roll out of the programme.
 
However, we know that sometimes customers just want to speak to a person.  That’s why in March we started recruiting 2,100 new UK customer services roles across the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland.
 
Neil Blagden Vodafone UK CS&O Director said: “If customers have a question or want to raise an issue, we know they don’t want to wait.  So introducing TOBi is an exciting step forward in giving our customers the quick and seamless service they want. Our ambition is to give our customers the best experience possible: TOBi is another important step in our journey to achieving that ambition.”
 
 
 
 

Apple takes Swatch to court over ‘Tick Different’ ads

Apple has filed a complaint against Swatch in a Swiss court over the use of the phrase Tick Different in a marketing campaign.
  
Apple has filed a complaint against Swatch in a Swiss court over the use of the phrase Tick Different in a marketing campaign.
 
Swatch is using the slogan to market a wristwatch containing a contactless payment chip. Apple says the phrase unfairly references its Think Different campaign, which ran in the 1990s.
 
According to Swiss news site Watson, Swatch chief executive Nick Hayek said the similarity was purely coincidental. He said the slogan was a nod to one of its own campaigns from the 1980s: “Always different, always new.”
 
Apple used Think Different in its adverts from 1997 to 2002, in what was thought to be a response to IBM’s Think ad campaign. A 1998 television advert, featuring black-and-white images of historical figures such as Einstein and Gandhi, won an Emmy.
 
In the complaint to the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, Apple’s lawyers Lenz & Staehelin said the tagline was long considered “the core of the Apple brand”.
 
Legal experts say that, to win the case, Apple must show that Swatch’s use of the phrase Tick Different provokes an association with Apple products in the minds of at least 50% of consumers. A similar complaint lodged at the same time with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property was rejected.
 
Swatch was granted trademark status for the phrase Tick Different in the US in 2015. It also has the trademark for the slogan in Switzerland. 
 
This is not the first time the two companies have clashed. In September last year, the UK Intellectual Property Office upheld Swatch’s opposition to Apple’s efforts to trademark “iWatch” in the UK. It ruled that the term was too close to “iSwatch” and “Swatch”.
 
 

Huawei chief dismisses usefulness of smartwatches

Eric Xu, chief executive of Chinese tech firm Huawei has said he doesn’t see the point in smartwatches.
This is despite the fact the company launched a device during the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. He was responding to a question during the firm’s analyst summit in Shenzhen, at which he was asked if smartphones are dying because of wearable tech.
Mr Xu said: “I’ve never figured out why we need to wear smartwatches when everything we need is on our phones.”
Mr Xu, who is one of three rotating CEOs at Huawei, each serving six months at a time, is also reported by Forbes to have said: “I’m not a man who wears watches, and I’ve never been optimistic about this market.”

His comments have not come as a surprise to some in the industry.
“Smartwatches are a solution looking for a problem, rather than being a game-changer,” Ben Wood, an analyst at tech consultancy CCS Insight said.
Mr Wood also praised Mr Xu’s honesty, saying: “It’s one view of just one of the three chief executives at Huawei.”
The smartwatch sector has been dominated by tech firms such as Apple and Samsung.
However, fashion and luxury watch manufacturers also announced their interest in the devices at the recent Baselworld trade show. Brands such as Guess, Montblanc and Movodo, all revealed plans for new Android Wear smartwatches during the event. They join TAG Heuer and Fossil, which operates a portfolio of watch brands including Michael Kors, Skagen and Armani Exchange.
Mr Wood said there has been a lot of progress since the early offerings created by “middle aged engineers” in what he described as a “sea of sameness.” He added: “2017 is a pivotal year for smartwatches with lots of new launches at the end of this year. That doesn’t guarantee success, but with a lot of them, we’ll see if people want them.”

Vodafone scraps roaming fees in much of Europe

Vodafone has scrapped roaming charges for UK customers in 40 countries, meaning they can use their plans there without additional costs.
 
Vodafone has scrapped roaming charges for UK customers in 40 countries, meaning they can use their plans there without additional costs.
 
However, the new terms are being applied initially only to new or upgraded contracts. The EU is expected to abolish roaming charges for its 28 member states in June. Countries in Vodafone’s roam-free destinations list include non-EU states such as Norway, Iceland and Turkey. Beyond these territories, mobile phone users will be charged £5 per day to use UK plans in 60 states including the United States, Russia, China and India.
 
Vodafone rival Three already offers free roaming in 42 countries on advanced plans.
 
 
 

Virgin Media flaw caused Facebook glitch

Virgin Media has admitted it was responsible for a fault that that prevented some of its broadband customers from being able to access Facebook.

The unusual glitch had also prevented use of Messenger and Instagram. The telecoms firm had earlier pointed the blame at Facebook itself. The issue started on Tuesday evening and Virgin had initially indicated it would take it longer to resolve than was ultimately the case.
“We have now investigated an issue which meant some Virgin Media customers were intermittently not able to access Facebook and Instagram,” a spokesman said. “This was due to an interconnect router going down on Virgin Media’s network meaning that some of our DNS [domain name system] requests were not able to contact Facebook servers. Our fault has now been fixed and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
DNS refers to the internet’s address system, which converts www.facebook.com and other addresses into strings of numbers that allow users’ computers to connect to the servers behind specific sites and apps. The fault had only affected some of Virgin Media’s broadband users and not those trying to connect via its mobile network, which relies on EE.
Virgin Media has 5.2 million customers in the UK, according to its owner Liberty Global. The problem coincides with a report from the telecoms regulator Ofcom that said Virgin Media tied with TalkTalk as the broadband providers with the highest proportion of customers who had a reason to complain about their services in 2016.
However, the same study indicated that Virgin customers also enjoyed the highest level of overall satisfaction of the major providers.