In-flight call ban should be upheld says US watchdog

A ban on the use of mobile phones during airline flights in the US looks likely to be upheld.
  
A ban on the use of mobile phones during airline flights in the US looks likely to be upheld.
 
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, said a previous plan to allow calls was “ill-conceived”. His predecessor had argued that the ban was obsolete because so many airliners now used mobile signals for in-flight entertainment. Mr Pai said keeping the ban would be a victory for those who valued quiet.
 
“I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes,” Mr Pai said in a statement. “Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet.”
 
The FCC received thousands of comments from the general public opposed to allowing voice calls on planes. One said lifting the ban was “the worst idea ever” while another said it was “cruel and unusual torture for those of us trapped”.
 
Flight attendants have also opposed lifting the ban, over concerns about passengers ignoring safety briefings and terrorists co-ordinating attacks. A handful of airlines do allow calls during flights, enabled by services such as AeroMobile.
 
The firm, which offers voice services on four airlines flying to America, told USA Today that only about 5% of passengers use it, with calls lasting an average of just two minutes.
 
In 2014, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said that electronic devices such as mobile phones can be left switched on during flights.
 
The FCC’s vote on whether to uphold the phone call ban will not extend to the use of wi-fi for voice calls – via services such as Skype – although most airlines do currently prohibit such calls.
 
 

Vodafone deal creates India mobile giant

UK telecoms giant Vodafone has merged its Indian business with Idea Cellular, India’s third-largest network, to create the country’s largest operator.
 
UK telecoms giant Vodafone has merged its Indian business with Idea Cellular, India’s third-largest network, to create the country’s largest operator. The merger could signal the arrival of cheaper tariffs as fewer players will be left in the fray.
 
Sustained investment by the combined entity will accelerate the pan-India expansion of wireless broadband services using 4G/4G+/5G technologies, support the introduction of digital content and ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) services as well as expand financial inclusion through mobile money services for the benefit of Indian consumers, businesses and society as a whole.
 
Vodafone will own 45.1% of the combined company after transferring a stake of 4.9% to the Aditya Birla Group for circa INR39 billion (circa US$579 million) in cash concurrent with completion of the merger. The Aditya Birla Group will then own 26.0% and has the right to acquire more shares from Vodafone under an agreed mechanism with a view to equalising the shareholdings over time.
 
The transaction is expected to close during calendar year 2018, subject to customary approvals.
 
Vodafone Group Plc Chief Executive, Vittorio Colao said: “The combination of Vodafone India and Idea will create a new champion of Digital India founded with a long-term commitment and vision to bring world-class 4G networks to villages, towns and cities across India. The combined company will have the scale required to ensure sustainable consumer choice in a competitive market and to expand new technologies – such as mobile money services – that have the potential to transform daily life for every Indian. We look forward to working with the Aditya Birla Group to create value for all stakeholders.” 
 
Aditya Birla Group Chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla, said: “Throughout its history, the Aditya Birla Group has been synonymous with the task of nation building and driving inclusive growth in the country. This landmark combination will enable the Aditya Birla Group to create a high quality digital infrastructure that will transition the Indian population towards a digital lifestyle and make the Government’s Digital India vision a reality. For Idea shareholders and lenders who have supported us thus far, this transaction is highly accretive, and Idea and Vodafone will together create a very valuable company given our complementary strengths.”
 
The combined company will have almost 400 million customers, accounting for 35% of the market share, the firms said in a statement. The announcement ends months of speculation over an impending deal. Analysts say the merger was to fend off competition from a new operator – Reliance Jio. 
 
Owned by the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Jio has forced Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, together with current market leader Bharti Airtel, to cut prices. Shares in Idea rose almost 4% in Mumbai following the announcement of the deal.
 
India’s leading mobile networks are embroiled in what analysts have described as “a vicious price war”, started by the arrival of Jio. More than 10 telecom operators are battling it out to try and attract India’s one billion mobile phone users. That has forced firms to keep tariffs low – significantly impacting their profitability.
 
 
 
 
 

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.
 
 
 
 

FBI pressured on cost of iPhone hack tool

Three news organisations have asked a US judge to force the government to reveal the amount it paid for technology to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino gunman.
  
Three news organisations have asked a US judge to force the government to reveal the amount it paid for technology to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino gunman.
 
In the court filings, the organisations said that there was “no adequate justification” for the FBI to continue to withhold the information. They added that they did not seek information that would jeopardise national security. The groups sued the FBI last year. Associated Press, Vice Media and Gannett, the parent company of USA Today, are seeking to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the event.
 
The FBI has never named the security firm or group of hackers who helped unlock the phone, which was used by killer Syed Rizwan Farook. The process would have involved finding a way to bypass the passcode on a locked phone. In normal circumstances, if 10 incorrect attempts at the code are made, the device will automatically erase all of its data.
 
“While it is undisputed that the vendor developed the iPhone access tool, the government has identified no rational reason why knowing the vendor’s identity is linked in any way to the substance of the tool, much less how such knowledge would reveal any information about the tool’s application,” lawyers for the news organisations wrote in the filing to the US District Court in Washington. “Release of this information goes to the very heart of the Freedom of Information Act’s purpose, allowing the public to assess government activity – here, the decision to pay public funds to an outside entity in possession of a tool that can compromise the digital security of millions of Americans.”
 
Farook and his wife killed 14 people in the Californian city in December 2015. In February, a court order demanded that Apple help unlock the phone, something which Apple resisted, saying said it was unable to do so. It added that it hoped that the government would share with the company any vulnerabilities of the iPhone that might come to light.
 
There was speculation that the FBI paid at least $1.3m (£1.05m) to break into the phone, based on calculations following comments by FBI director James Comey who said that the agency had paid more to get into the phone than he “will make in the remaining seven years” in his post. He added that it was worth it, even though no details of what was found have been released.
 
 

Kim Dotcom can be extradited, New Zealand High Court rules

Kim Dotcom, the founder of content-sharing site Megaupload, can legally be extradited to the US, New Zealand’s High Court has ruled.
 
Kim Dotcom, the founder of content-sharing site Megaupload, can legally be extradited to the US, New Zealand’s High Court has ruled.
 
Dotcom is wanted by the US on a number of charges including fraud and copyright infringement. Three other Megaupload accused can also be extradited, the court said, upholding an earlier ruling in the District Court. The four have said they will appeal against the decision.
 
Megaupload, which was shut down in 2012, allowed millions of people to download digital content, including films, music and TV shows.
 
The High Court agreed with the defence that the accused could not be extradited on the basis of alleged copyright infringement, since “online communication of copyright protected works to the public is not a criminal offence in New Zealand”. However they can be extradited on the fraud charges, he said, as they are crimes in New Zealand. The ruling does not determine the defendants’ guilt or innocence, merely that they can be sent to the US for trial.

 
Dotcom responded on Twitter, saying he had “won” as the ruling agreed he cannot be sent to the US for copyright infringement, but had “lost anyway”, calling the ruling “a political judgement”.
 
“Judges who prioritize political views and career over impartiality and the law shouldn’t be Judges at all,” he said. Mr Dotcom and former colleagues – Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato – are accused of copyright infringement, conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.

 
Dotcom, a German national living in New Zealand, has described himself as an “internet freedom fighter” engaged in a David and Goliath battle against major corporations. US authorities say Dotcom and others cost film studios and record companies more than $500m (£322m) in lost earnings, while making at least $175m for themselves.
 
 

Cuba announces home internet trial scheme in Havana

The Cuban government has announced a two-month trial scheme to allow internet access in private homes.
  
The Cuban government has announced a two-month trial scheme to allow internet access in private homes.
 
State-run telecommunications company Etecsa will install internet in some 2,000 homes in the capital’s colonial district, Old Havana. The company has also reduced by 25% the fee charged to connect to the web, which most Cubans can only access from public wi-fi hotspots. Cuba has one of the lowest online connectivity rates in the world.
 
Many Cubans hope the country’s communist government will eventually expand the scheme. Details are scarce, but the authorities say the experiment will be extended if it is approved after the two-month trial period.
 
Last week, Etecsa signed an agreement with Google to provide faster access to content including Gmail and YouTube. Google will install local servers that will speed up connection to its services. Much of the island’s internet infrastructure is obsolete.
 
Google and Etecsa reached agreement in the final weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency, but it is not clear whether his successor, Donald Trump, will change US policies towards Cuba.
 
 

Cuba signs deal for faster internet access to Google content

Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company Etecsa has signed a deal with Google that will enable faster access to content from the American company.
  
Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company Etecsa has signed a deal with Google that will enable faster access to content from the American company.
 
Under the deal, the technology giant will install servers in Cuba to improve connectivity speeds to Google services, including Gmail and YouTube. Google and Etecsa have reached their agreement in the final weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is not clear whether his successor will change US policies towards Cuba.
 
President Obama restored relations with Cuba earlier this year, after more than five decades of hostility between the two former Cold War rivals. Donald Trump has made arguments both for and against improved ties with the communist-run nation since being elected last month. But there is some uncertainty on the island as to what his definitive policy will be.
 
Even though most Cubans are likely to see the deal with Google as a step forward, it will do little to change the overall online accessibility in the country. Cuba still has one of the lowest online connectivity rates in the world. The majority of the population is not allowed access to the internet from home and must rely, instead, on expensive wi-fi points to get online.
 
“This deal allows Etecsa to use our technology to reduce latency by caching some of our most popular high bandwidth content like YouTube videos at a local level,” said Google in a statement. The agreement was signed in Havana by Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent company Alphabet Inc, and Etecsa president Mayra Arevich Marin.
 
 

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.

 
 
 
 

T-Mobile USA suspends sales and exchanges of Note 7

T-Mobile has clarified its policy on mobile data use after anger from its customers. The company initially said that it would slash the amount of data all of its customers could use to 500 MB.
 
While Samsung investigates multiple reports of issues, T-Mobile is temporarily suspending all sales of the new Note7 and exchanges for replacement Note7 devices.
 
Customers can still bring their recalled Note7 or the new replacement Note7, along with accessories they purchased from T-Mobile, to a T-Mobile store for a full refund and choose from any device in T-Mobile’s inventory. We’ll waive any restocking charges, and customers who purchased during pre-order can keep the free Netflix subscription and Gear Fit or SD card they received.
 
Customers should visit a T-Mobile retail store to begin the return process. For additional questions, customers can call our customer care line at 1-844-275-9309.
 
Again, we encourage customers to stop using and power down their recalled devices and return them to T-Mobile. To help offset any additional costs our customers may have incurred throughout this process, anyone who returns their recalled Note7 will automatically receive a one-time $25 credit on their T-Mobile bill within two bill cycles.
 
 

Telecom giant Reliance sparks India price war

The Indian telecoms giant, Reliance, is offering smartphone users what it says is the cheapest mobile data network in the world.
  
The Indian telecoms giant, Reliance, is offering smartphone users what it says is the cheapest mobile data network in the world.
 
The arrival of Jio – the new mobile network – has ramped up the battle among Indian telecoms firms to win customers. High-speed 4G internet is by no means new to the country, but Jio is offering it at prices well below its rivals. The company says it hopes to reach 90% of India’s population within a year.
 
The ambitious plan is backed by the country’s largest private sector firm, Reliance Industries. Chairman Mukesh Ambani recently used the firm’s annual general meeting to announce his plans for Jio’s 4G services. It has taken them six years to set up the infrastructure for Jio.
 
Analysts say Jio is likely to make India’s telecoms sector extremely competitive. As soon as Mr Ambani unveiled his plans, the share price of India’s biggest telecom company, Bharti Airtel, fell 8.5% – losing $1.3bn (£975m). Idea Cellular’s market value also dipped by 7%, wiping more than $500m of its value. Even Reliance’s own stock witnessed a dip of 3%.
 
The firm had further troubles because of its controversial newspaper advertisements with many taking to social media to criticise Jio for using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph.

 
Critics have also accused the firm of unfairly undercutting competitors. Jio’s cheapest plans begin at just over $2 a month. Initially, all users will get data, voice, video and a host of applications and content for free until next year.
But some analysts have expressed concern at Jio’s price war. Sanchit Gogia, analyst at Greyhound Research, said he was worried about Jio getting a monopoly in the market. “One business house having controlling stakes in start-ups, content and even in telephony, mobile and broadband services – that does worry me. And it should worry the regulators as well.”

 
Reliance is entering the market at a time when the telecom industry has a combined debt of over $50bn. Mr Gogia said India was an open market and needed at least three to five players for prices to normalise in the future. The price war means Indian mobile users should be the winners.
 
So what do customers think? Delhi resident Shilpa Dhingra has been looking out for a phone that would work with Jio’s 4G services. She said cheap internet access was her key requirement. “I use WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook all day and cheap internet will definitely be welcome.”
 
Many like her have been queuing at Reliance’s stores in the capital, Delhi. The SIM cards are free but they would need handsets that are 4G enabled.
 
IT professional Atul Mohan said he was a little wary. “Just because we see advertisements we won’t rush out to change our telecom operator,” he said.
 
He added that he would wait to compare Jio’s network quality with other operators before deciding to switch.
 
Jio has already faced accusations of using unfair means during its testing phase. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), an organisation that represents Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and others, had protested last year, saying Jio was giving out full-fledged services to customers under the guise of testing. Jio has denied these allegations.
 
Even after the launch, Mr Ambani has kept the pressure on his competitors – on Thursday, he highlighted that 50 million call failures were reported in the past week. This is just the beginning of what many expect to be a long war of words.
 
India is a country where internet speeds are still slow and the problem of call drops is too frequent. So it’s not going to be an easy market even for Reliance. While cheap deals will win it customers early on, only good service will guarantee it the long-term loyalty of users.