Coronavirus: BT has ‘plenty of capacity’

BT says its broadband infrastructure has plenty of “headroom” to cope with increased demand as more people stay home due to coronavirus.

The company said that since Tuesday, data use on its network had increased by between 35-60%.

On Thursday, Netflix said it would lower the picture quality of movies in Europe, to reduce data use.

But BT said daytime and evening usage was still much lower than the highest levels it had ever recorded.

In a statement, BT said: “The additional load… is well within manageable limits and we have plenty of headroom for it to grow still further”.

The highest rate of traffic BT has ever seen on its own network is 17.5 terabits per second (Tbps), on an evening where there was high demand for video games downloads and streaming football.

At a data rate of 1Tbps, 125 gigabytes (GB) is downloaded every second – the equivalent of about 55 high-definition movies.

By comparison, average daytime use on BT’s network this week has been 7.5Tbps – far below the highest peak that the company said it had been able to handle.

While analysing its data, BT said it discovered that:

  • mobile internet use had reduced by 5% on its networks as people stay at home and use the wi-fi
  • data use peaked at 17:00 GMT every day this week, the time of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s daily news briefing about the coronavirus

However, it warned that mobile phone voice calls could be affected if demand increased.

It said current use was “well within the levels the network is built to handle”, but encouraged customers to use a landline phone if they have one, or internet voice-calling services such as Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom instead.

Virgin Media said it was seeing a similar 50% boost to the amount of downloaded data during the day – but added that this was still below its evening peaks. Uploads, meanwhile, were 80% higher than normal during daytime hours. Virgin said the number of voice calls via its landlines were also up by 80% during the busiest time of the day.

On Thursday, Netflix said it would reduce the bitrate of movies in Europe, to reduce data use by about 25%.

The company said it was in response to “the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus”.

Other video-providers are considering similar moves.

Amazon’s Prime Video said it was talking to local authorities, and had “already begun the effort to reduce streaming bitrates whilst maintaining a quality streaming experience” in Europe – including the UK.

A spokesman for BBC’s iPlayer service said: “We’re in contact with the relevant organisations to determine what action to take.”

Several factors influence how much data is used when streaming a movie online.

One of them is video resolution, including whether a video is high-definition (HD) or ultra-high definition 4K. Another is bitrate, which influences how clear and smooth videos look when streamed online. Videos with a higher bitrate tend to look less “blocky” or pixelated, but use more data.

“The UK has a very capable core network because UK consumers are more heavily invested in HD-streaming video, including live football, Netflix, than many other nations,” a spokesman said “So in the UK there isn’t a pressing need to reduce bitrates at the current time, but we are supportive of the move, as clearly the situation is unprecedented and it is common sense to do it.”

“However the UK’s communications infrastructure is well within its capacity limits, and has significant headroom for growth in demand.”

Netflix to cut streaming quality

Netflix will slightly reduce the video quality on its service in Europe for the next 30 days, to reduce the strain on internet service providers.

Demand for streaming has increased because large parts of Europe are self-isolating at home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The video-streaming provider said lowering the picture quality would reduce Netflix data consumption by 25%.

But movies will still be high-definition or ultra-high definition 4K.

The change will apply to the UK as well as other European countries.

Several factors influence how much data is used when streaming a movie online.

One of them is video resolution, including whether a video is high-definition (HD) or ultra-high definition 4K.

Another is bitrate, which influences how clear and smooth videos look when streamed online. Videos with a higher bitrate tend to look less “blocky” or pixelated, but use more data.

Out of these two, Netflix says it will cut its streaming bitrates.

Customers who pay for ultra-high definition 4K movies as part of their subscription will still be able to watch 4K films.

The announcement came after a phone call with European officials.

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, had earlier said people should “switch to standard definition when HD [high-definition] is not necessary”.

An hour of standard definition video uses about 1GB of data, while HD can use up to 3GB an hour.

Netflix also offers ultra-high definition 4K video for some of its programmes.

Netflix’s decision to reduce video bitrate by a quarter appears to be a compromise.

“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and [Netflix chief executive] Reed Hastings, and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, Netflix has decided to begin reducing bitrates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” the company said.

Commissioner Breton praised the “very prompt action” Netflix took just hours after the phone call, saying it would “preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis”.

Netflix has not yet said whether the bitrate reduction will be applied to other areas such as North America.

Internet usage has been heightened in the last few weeks as more people work from home and avoid going out.

Coronavirus: Vodafone & TalkTalk report surge in use

Vodafone has said it is experiencing a 30% rise in internet traffic across its UK fixed-line and mobile networks.

More people are working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, putting more demand on all networks.

TalkTalk, another internet provider, said that its daytime network traffic had risen 20% since Monday.

One EU official has suggested that online TV services should stream content in lower resolution to protect broadband infrastructure.

On Wednesday evening, European Union commissioner Thierry Breton called on content providers to switch to standard definition feeds to prevent networks from being overloaded.

But the internet providers have played down suggestions that they cannot cope.

Use of remote-access technologies, webmail and video-conferencing apps are taking their toll.

Vodafone says spikes in usage are “largely the same” as before in terms of the total amount of data being uploaded and downloaded.

But the “busy hours”, which normally run from 18:00 to 20:00, now extend all the way back to lunchtime.

“We have enough headroom to meet growing demand and to keep the UK connected,” a spokesman said. “Our network team is keeping a constant watch on the situation.”

Other network operators have noted streamed television and games downloads still make use of considerably more bandwidth.

One of the most popular corporate video chat apps, Microsoft Teams, typically requires 0.5-1Mbps, while streaming a TV programme in 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) can require a constant rate of 20-44Mbps.

The forthcoming launch of Disney+ in the UK, which will offer 4K-resolution content, and the BBC’s plans to provide classes for children online because of schools being suspended, could therefore put the networks under more strain.

However, TalkTalk rejected the idea that its systems were at any imminent risk.

“We continually optimise our network for both our consumer and business customers and are well prepared to ensure they receive reliable connectivity,” it said.

That does not mean that every service will necessarily run smoothly.

UK mobile networks face problems

person using mobile phone

The UK’s mobile networks have experienced problems with their services.

EEsaid it was something “affecting all operators and we are working closely to fix it”.

The problem has been blamed on “interconnect issues” between the operators.

“We don’t believe it is connected to the rise in home working [due to the coronavirus],” added EE.

O2 had posted on its website that some customers were experiencing issues with its voice service but added that a full service was being restored. The alert has since been removed.

In a statement, O2 said the problem meant that O2, Vodafone and Three customers were unable to connect to EE – and EE customers were unable to connect to O2, Vodafone and Three.

It added that the issues were limited to making and receiving calls on its 2G, 3G and 4G networks, while data and messaging services were not affected.

O2 also denied that the problem stemmed from its network, which had initially been blamed, saying it was a “cross-industry issue”.

“At a time when the country needs connectivity most, it is important we work together rather than pointing fingers before facts have been determined,” it said.

The firm added that a conference call had been scheduled with the communications regulator Ofcom to help determine the exact cause and “ensure this doesn’t happen again”.

Vodafone said that it was a “short-lived problem” only affecting around 9% of voice calls on 3G networks.

“All operators are working together on the matter,” a spokesman said.

Downdetector, a website which monitors network problems, had shown issues for all four operators in a range of locations, including Birmingham, London, Manchester and Glasgow.

35 years since the first UK mobile phone call

At just after midnight on 1 January 1985 in Parliament Square, London, Michael Harrison made the UK’s first mobile phone call over Vodafone’s cellular network.

He called his father Sir Ernest Harrison, Vodafone’s founder and first chairman, and said: “Happy New Year dad, it’s Mike here. This is the first call ever made on a UK cellular network.”

And history was made – just one of many firsts for Vodafone.

Recalling the momentous day, Mike said “The network was real and the future had arrived.”

The phone he used then – the Vodafone Transportable VT1 – was the size of a car battery and nearly as heavy, and mobile phones were primarily envisaged as being car-based tools for travelling sales people.Video Player00:0001:04

Margaret Thatcher was the British prime minister and Ronald Reagan was president across the Pond. Hairstyles involved industrial quantities of hairspray and Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was number one in the UK pop charts.

People used to communicate by writing letters, sending faxes, or chatting via fixed line telephones. Apparently they even spoke to one another. It was a year that saw the introduction of compact discs (CDs) to replace tapes – music streaming was the stuff of science fiction – and the first commercial internet domain name registration. The Berlin Wall seemed as permanent as ever.

Old-style circular dial telephone

So much has changed over the last 35 years. Now, internet connectivity is practically taken for granted and our phones are slim, powerful rectangles of magic, capable of audio, video, text, photo and location tracking. And there are more than five billion unique mobile subscribers around the world.

We are more connected than ever and the world has dematerialised – streaming has replaced physical tape cassettes, videos, CDs and DVDs. We live in a world of entertainment on demand. Could Sir Ernest have ever imagined that his company would one day send the UK’s first holographic call over a 5G network?

When that first UK mobile phone call was made 35 years ago, the Vodafone brand had only just been born. And a week later, on 7 January 1985, a certain Lewis Hamilton entered the world. This boy from Stevenage would grow up to become a peerless racing driver, winning the Formula 1 world championship six times…and a Vodafone ambassador.

As 2020 dawns, Vodafone UK is pressing ahead with its programme of innovation: rolling out its 5G network to nearly 50 towns and cities by the end of March; expanding its internet of things business; and working hard with the other network operators to provide a 4G signal to more of the UK landmass through the Shared Rural Network.

Much has changed, but Vodafone remains as committed as ever to innovating and connecting the world for a brighter digital future.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro ‘can override location settings’

Apple’s flagship iPhone 11 Pro tracks users’ locations even when they have set it not to, a security researcher has discovered.

Brian Krebs found that the phone collects data about a user’s position even if location sharing has been turned off in every individual app.

However, the user could avoid being tracked if the entire system was set to never share location.

Apple said it was “expected behaviour” and denied it was a security problem.

The company has made big play of the fact that it allows users granular control over sharing their location – so for instance they can have location switched on for Maps but off for everything else.

Mr Krebs found users could disable all location services entirely via Settings>Privacy>Location Services, but if they chose the individual controls, they might still be tracked.

“One of the more curious behaviours of Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro is that it intermittently seeks the user’s location information even when all applications and system services on the phone are individually set to never request this data,” Mr Krebs wrote on his blog.

He contacted Apple to report the issue, sharing a video which showed the location services icon on, even though every app and system service was set to “never request” this information.

An engineer replied: “We do not see any actual security implications. It is expected behaviour that the locations services icon appears in the status bar when location services is enabled,” adding that some system services “do not have a switch in Settings”.

That, argued Mr Krebs “seems at odds with the company’s own privacy policy”.

In 2018, Google was found to be recording locations even when users had asked it not to.

In a report from Associated Press, a Princeton University researcher tracked his daily commute and found that Google saved location markers even though location history had been turned off.

To disable this entirely, users had to switch off another setting called Web and App Activity, which was enabled by default and did not mention location data.

Vodafone strikes full fibre deal with Openreach

Vodafone is expanding its Gigafast Broadband roll-out to bring full fibre services to many more consumers and small businesses in the UK after striking a new commercial deal with Openreach, the country’s largest network infrastructure provider.

With speeds of up to 900Mbps, Vodafone Gigafast Broadband gives users download speeds 20 times faster and upload speeds 150 times faster than the average home broadband connection in the UK. For example, this will allow the whole family to stream their favourite films, play online games or upload videos and photos across multiple devices with almost no time lag or buffering – all at the same time.

From spring 2020, Vodafone will start making Vodafone Gigafast Broadband available to customers in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool on the Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network that Openreach is building. The service will grow as Openreach expands its footprint and will be available to 500,000 premises in these locations by mid-2021 under phase one of this strategic agreement with Openreach. The agreement includes the option for further phases that could extend coverage to other places.

With the addition of Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool, Vodafone Gigafast Broadband is currently live or planned in 15 cities or towns. Vodafone has previously announced 12 other fibre roll-outs under its complementary agreement with CityFibre, the UK’s largest alternative provider of wholesale fibre network infrastructure. So far, Vodafone Gigafast Broadband has already gone live in Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Coventry, Huddersfield, Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Stirling, with additional places to follow this year and next.

Vodafone UK Chief Executive Officer Nick Jeffery said: “Vodafone is committed to a full fibre future and to creating the infrastructure Britain needs to compete and win in the digital era. This initiative with Openreach builds on our existing commitments with CityFibre and underlines our belief in the power of digital technology to connect people for a better future and unlock economic growth for the UK.”

Openreach Chief Executive Clive Selley said: “Our full fibre broadband network already covers more than 1.9 million premises in the UK, and Openreach engineers are building it to another home or business every 26 seconds. We’re keen to upgrade customers as quickly as possible to this new, ultrafast, future-proof platform, so we’re proud that Vodafone’s placing its confidence in Openreach to deliver a great broadband experience for their customers. We’re determined to be the partner of choice for all Communications Providers and we’ll do that by offering the best connectivity and service with the widest possible coverage throughout the country.”

In addition to full fibre, Vodafone has already introduced 5G in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool as part of its wider nationwide roll-out programme of the new mobile technology. Together, full fibre and 5G form the foundation on which local and central government plan to create digital super towns across the UK.

Virgin Media and Vodafone strike new mobile deal

Virgin Media has agreed a five year deal with Vodafone UK to bring innovative new services, including 5G, to more than three million mobile customers and provide further flexibility to grow its mobile operation.

The new Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement, which runs until 2026, will see Vodafone supply wholesale mobile network services, including both voice and data, to Virgin Mobile and Virgin Media Business. Virgin Media will have full access to all of Vodafone’s current services and future technologies, such as Vodafone’s expanding 5G network, enabling new product advancements and benefits for its customers.

Virgin Media’s current MVNO agreement with BT Enterprise, which has been in place since January 2017, will come to an end in late 2021, at which point Virgin Media’s mobile offering will transition to Vodafone. Virgin Mobile 5G services are set to launch on the Vodafone network before the transition takes place.

Lutz Schüler, Virgin Media CEO, said: “This agreement with Vodafone will bring a host of fantastic benefits and experiences to our customers, including 5G services in the near future. Twenty years ago Virgin Mobile became the world’s first virtual operator and this new agreement builds on that heritage. It will open up a whole new world of opportunity for Virgin Media as we focus on becoming the most recommended brand for customers and bring our mobile and broadband connectivity closer together in one package for one price.”

He added: “We’ve worked with BT to provide mobile services for many years and will continue to work together in a number of areas. We want our customers to have a limitless experience – it’s now the right time to take a leap forward with Vodafone to grow further and faster.”

Nick Jeffery, Vodafone UK CEO, said: “We are delighted that Virgin has recognised the huge investments we’ve made, and continue to make, in building the UK’s best mobile network and our role in challenging the market with new commercial services. As a result, they have chosen us to work with them in the next phase of their development.

“This is an exciting deal between two great British brands. We are combining our strong heritage in innovation to create a world without limits for our customers through unlimited data offers and 5G.”

As a ‘full MVNO’, Virgin Mobile has control over the products and services it offers, which means existing customers will not need to change their SIM cards as part of this agreement. Further details on product offerings and network transition will be provided in due course.

A complementary and extensive wholesale agreement has also been struck between both parties in relation to the supply of network services by Virgin Media Business to Vodafone.

Vodafone and Fairphone announce strategic partnership to bring ethical Fairphone 3 smartphone to Vodafone customers

Vodafone and Fairphone today announced a strategic partnership to offer the Fairphone 3 to Vodafone customers in five European markets including the UK, by the end of 2019.

Vodafone and Fairphone will also collaborate on best practice and share knowledge on key industry sustainability issues, including the circular economy, electronic waste and responsible sourcing.

The new Fairphone 3 builds on the company’s ambitions for fairer, more sustainable electronics with the insights it gained from creating its two previous devices.

Fairphone 3 is a durable Android smartphone based on a modular design that allows for different elements such as the battery and camera to be replaced easily. This extends the life of the device and minimises its environmental footprint as a result.

Fairphone actively encourages the re-use and repair of their handsets, offering recycling options that reduce electronic waste worldwide. As an industry leader in responsible sourcing, Fairphone traces materials used in Fairphone 3 to their source and incorporates fairer, recycled and responsibly mined materials, such as Fairtrade gold. The company also works with suppliers to establish better working conditions and better worker representation for people employed in the manufacturing industry.

Nick Jeffery, Vodafone UK CEO said: “Vodafone has committed to halving our UK carbon footprint and purchasing all our electricity from renewable sources by 2025. We have also committed to reuse, resell or recycle 100% of our network waste and help our customers extend the lives of the devices they already own.

“Fairphone has made bold strides in creating a sustainable, long-lasting smartphone, designed from the outset for people who care about how their products are made, with materials that are better for the planet.  We are delighted to bring the Fairphone 3 to customers in the UK by the end of 2019.

Fairphone CEO, Eva Gouwens said: “Fairphone is showing that there is a market for more ethical products to inspire the rest of the industry to produce more ethically.  This is one of the strongest signals we can send to the rest of the industry, and working with a large, mission-aligned operator such as Vodafone helps to bring sustainable electronics to the mainstream market.”

Vodafone will offer Fairphone 3 to retail customers in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Ireland by the end of 2019.

Ofcom welcomes mobile firms’ agreement for ‘shared rural network’

Ofcom spokesperson: “We warmly welcome these commitments, which follow detailed discussions between Government, Ofcom and the mobile operators. These improvements will make a real difference to mobile customers across the UK, and we’ll ensure they’re legally binding by writing them into operators’ licences. We will also monitor and report on companies’ progress in achieving better coverage.

“Separately, we will shortly set out revised plans to release more airwaves for mobile services next year. In light of today’s agreement, we are no longer proposing to include coverage requirements in our auction process. We will now press ahead, with industry, on the urgent task of getting better mobile services to people wherever they are.”