Category Archives: Telecoms

Attend Ofcom’s Public Meeting On Its Annual Plan

Ofcom is holding public meetings in Belfast, Cardiff, London and Edinburgh to gain feedback on its proposed Annual Plan, which outlines Ofcom’s planned areas of work for the next financial year.

Ofcom wants to make sure that people and businesses in the UK get the best from their communications services. We aim to do this by encouraging competition; securing standards and improving quality; and protecting consumers from harm.

Those with an interest in Ofcom’s work are encouraged to attend one of the meetings, which offer an opportunity to comment on Ofcom’s approach to TV, radio, telecoms, postal and wireless communications services.

Each event will begin with a brief presentation, after which there will be an opportunity to comment and ask questions. All meetings are open and free of charge. Further details are available online.

The views expressed in the meetings, together with responses to Ofcom’s consultation document, will help Ofcom inform its final Annual Plan statement for 2018/19, due to be published in March.





Better Mobile And Wi-Fi Connectivity For Rail Passengers

Government fires starting pistol on an ambitious plan that could see UK’s train passengers benefitting from a dramatic improvement in onboard mobile and Wi-Fi connections.

  • Proposals could allow everyone onboard to stream videos simultaneously
  • Fibre optic cables and mobile masts could be rolled out alongside tracks to provide gigabit speeds to trains
  • Ministers now looking at “future proofing” rail connectivity to help pave the way for a 5G rollout

The Government has fired the starting gun on an ambitious plan that could see the UK’s train passengers to benefit from a dramatic improvement in onboard mobile and Wi-Fi connections.

The rapid growth of mobile data requirements and the use of smartphones and tablets now means that consumers expect high quality, reliable connectivity everywhere. As part of its 5G strategy the Government has committed to improving coverage where people live, work and travel – including on trains.

Minimum standards for mobile connectivity on new franchises already being introduced, but today’s proposals set out how, working with industry, connectivity for passengers on all mainline routes could be dramatically improved by 2025.

Each train could get speeds of around 1 Gigabit Per Second (Gbps). This would future proof the connectivity, and in practice could allow several hundred passengers to stream uninterrupted video content at the same time.




Minister for Digital Matt Hancock said:

We want people to be able to get connected where they live, work and travel. This means improving connections on Britain’s railways now, and making sure they are fit for the future. We’ve got a long way to travel but our destination is world-class signal for passengers. This will not only make journeys more enjoyable and productive, but will help improve the operation and safety of the railway and deliver economic benefits for the whole of the UK.

Bruce Williamson from Railfuture said:

Wi-fi has moved from being an optional extra to something essential for the 21st century rail passenger, so we welcome any improvements to capacity and coverage. It should become absolutley standard for all trains on the British railway network to have seamless connectivity, as it’s essential for attracting the smartphone connected generation to rail, as well as the business traveller working on the move. Very soon, trains without wi-fi will become unthinkable, and rail passengers will look forward to the day when the phone doesn’t cut out in tunnels.

Rail passenger connectivity is largely delivered through mobile phone networks operating from remote (non-trackside) masts, meaning coverage is patchy and in many places, non existent. To deliver the improvements, upgraded trackside infrastructure could be required for reliable connectivity in areas of high passenger demand and in hard to reach areas such as tunnels. Delivering this will involve laying fibre along the tracks, mounting wireless devices on masts (and other trackside infrastructure) to transmit the signal to the train; and providing power supplies to these masts.

To help us understand some of the technical and practical deployment challenges of trackside infrastructure, work has already begun on a trial on the Trans Pennine route between Manchester and York, in partnership with Network Rail. This will ensure we know how best to make use of existing trackside infrastructure and utilise Network Rail assets, as well as testing suitable track-to-train radio systems to deliver services to passengers under real-life conditions. This pilot is part of the government’s £31 billion National Productivity Investment Fund, which has already earmarked £1bn specifically for improving Britain’s digital infrastructure, ensuring the UK is match-fit for the future.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:

We are investing record levels delivering the biggest rail improvement plan since Victorian times to improve services for passengers – providing faster, better and more comfortable trains with extra seats.

Improved mobile connectivity will help passengers to keep up with work, connect with friends or even check the latest journey information online while on the move, as we continue to build and develop a railway fit for the twenty-first century.

A call for evidence has now been launched on the different ways the improvements could be delivered to support the Government’s ambitions to have a digitally connected railway that meets customers expectations and cements the UK’s place as a world leader in 5G technology.




people working on train

Apple Admitted It’s Slowing Down Certain iPhones

Reddit users have noticed that Apple appears to be slowing down old iPhones that have low-capacity batteries.

Apple is effectively saying that it’s not slowing down older iPhones just to urge people to upgrade to newer devices. Rather, the company says it’s addressing an issue with devices containing older lithium-ion batteries that results in unexpected shutdowns. Because those older batteries are incapable of handling peak current draws with the same effectiveness of iPhones with newer batteries and more efficient processors, they run the risk of the device powering down to prevent damage to its internal components.

Apple said it wanted to “prolong the life” of customers’ devices.  Apple has now confirmed that it made changes to the iOS operating system to manage ageing lithium-ion batteries in some devices, since the batteries’ performance diminishes over time.

Is Apple in the wrong ? Many people may wish it were true, this isn’t an evil marketing scheme. It’s just good engineering. A closer look at processor basics and lithium-ion battery technology tells us that Apple is simply doing what must be done to improve its users’ uptime—something we should all strive for.

Technical details via www.theverge.com



Switch Mobile Provider With A Free Text Message

Ofcom has today announced major reforms that will make it quicker and easier to switch mobile provider.

Under the new rules, mobile customers will be able to switch provider by simply sending a free text message.

According to Ofcom research, one of the biggest hurdles people experience when changing provider is having to speak to their current provider, and facing unwanted attempts to persuade them to stay. Ofcom’s changes will give customers control over contact with their existing provider.

This is how Ofcom’s new ‘text-to-switch’ process will work:

Ofcom’s new rules also mean mobile providers will be banned from charging for notice periods running after the switch date. This will put an end to people paying for old and new services at the same time – saving UK mobile customers around £10m in total each year.

Bringing in such substantial reforms means mobile operators will need to make a number of changes to their systems, and require coordination between mobile companies. For example, industry will need to set up the new short codes for people to text, and the means to send instant automated responses to switching requests, as well as new billing arrangements to end notice-period double payments.

So there will be an 18-month implementation period before this comes into effect, meaning providers must comply by no later than 1 July 2019.



Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2017 Report

Around one million homes and offices still cannot get a decent broadband connection, Ofcom has found, though coverage is steadily improving.

The finding is part of Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2017 report – an in-depth look at communications networks in the UK and its nations. This year’s report outlines progress on the availability and take-up of broadband and mobile services, which are crucial to people’s personal and working lives.

Ofcom is concerned that around 1.1 million homes and offices, or 4% of properties, still cannot get the broadband speeds needed to meet their typical needs. This is currently defined as broadband offering a download speed of at least 10 Mbit/s, with an upload speed of at least 1 Mbit/s – although we expect these needs to increase over time. The figure has fallen from 1.6 million premises last year.[1]

Today’s report shows broadband speeds and access remain worse in rural areas, where properties are often situated a long way from the telephone exchange or local street cabinet. Around 17% of rural premises are not getting decent broadband services, compared to just 2% in urban areas.

Superfast available to nine in ten and bought by four in ten

Access to superfast broadband – defined by Ofcom as a download speed of 30 Mbit/s or more – continues to improve. The option of taking superfast broadband was available to 91% of UK homes and small businesses (27 million) by May 2017, up from 89% (25.5 million) a year earlier.

And more people are taking advantage of this, reflecting a growing demand for faster speeds. Four in ten premises (38%, or 11.2 million) have bought connections that deliver  superfast broadband, up from less than a third (31%, or 9.1 million) a year earlier.

Around 2.7 million small and medium-sided enterprises (SMEs), or 84% of the UK total, can now get superfast broadband or faster – up from 81% (1.9 million) in 2016. But around 230,000 SMEs across the UK are unable to get a decent broadband connection with download speed of at least 10Mbit/s and upload speed of at least 1Mbit/s.

Full-fibre broadband – where fibre optic cables are used all the way to the property – is only available to 3% of homes and offices, up from 2% a year earlier. We expect this figure to grow in the next few years as a number of network operators have recently announced plans to build new networks.[2]

Ofcom is also taking a range of steps to help improve broadband coverage and speeds, including:

  1. Promoting industry-wide investment in full-fibre networks. These connections can deliver far quicker, more reliable broadband. Ofcom is making it easier and cheaper for competitors to lay their own ultrafast networks using BT’s network of telegraph poles and underground ducts
  2. Supporting plans for universal broadband. Ofcom has provided technical advice to the Government on its plans for homes and businesses across the country – including in rural and remote areas – to have the right to request a broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10 Mbit/s, and an upload speed of at least 1 Mbit/s.
  3. Ensuring better information for customers. Broadband shoppers must receive better information about speeds before they commit to a contract, and can walk away from their contract if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum. New protections were set out by Ofcom in October.





Today’s report shows the total amount of data carried over UK broadband networks increased by 52% over the last year. The average home broadband connection now carries 190 GBytes of data – the equivalent of around 100,000 digital photographs – in a month.

Steve Unger, Chief Technology Officer at Ofcom, said: “Broadband coverage is improving, but our findings show there’s still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need.

“Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. So we are supporting plans for universal broadband, and promoting investment in full-fibre technology that can provide ultrafast, reliable connections.”

Further action needed on mobile coverage

Ofcom has changed the way we measure mobile coverage, to reflect the growing usage and expectations of smartphone users. Today’s devices receive far more data, but also require stronger signals, than older phones.

We have raised our requirements for what constitutes coverage[3], using new crowd-sourced information from thousands of handsets to capture mobile users’ real experiences.

This means people can get the most accurate ever picture of mobile coverage, using Ofcom’s interactive maps and smartphone app, which have been updated today. These tools provide clear, detailed information on the availability of mobile calling, text and data services in different parts of the country.

Our updated coverage data shows that nearly six in ten premises (58%) can receive an indoor 4G mobile signal from all four networks[4], up from 40% last year.

But too many people in the UK still struggle to get a sufficiently strong signal – particularly in rural areas and on roads and railways. ‘Total’ geographic 4G coverage, where reception is available from all four mobile operators, is available across just 43% of the UK’s landmass.

For calls and text messaging, 30% of the UK’s geography does not receive a signal from all four operators – down from 37% last year.

While these figures show improvements, we are calling for further investment from mobile providers to improve coverage.

Ofcom is also taking direct action, including:

  1. Setting new requirements in operators’ licences. Early next year we will consult on detailed plans to improve coverage in rural areas, by setting coverage obligations on mobile airwaves being released in future. The requirements would be written into licences of operators who are awarded ‘700 MHz’ frequencies, which are suitable for providing strong coverage over very wide areas.
  2. Enforcing existing obligations. Mobile operators are already required to provide calls-and-text coverage to 90% of the UK landmass by the end of this month, while O2 must provide an indoor 4G signal to at least 98% of premises by the same time. We will report on mobile companies’ compliance with these obligations early next year, and any possible enforcement action if they fall short.
  3. Increasing network capacity. In July, we announced plans to auction more airwaves this year to improve current mobile capacity, as well as frequencies for future 5G services. The auction is currently subject to legal appeal by BT/EE and Three, which we hope can be resolved promptly in the interests of mobile users.
  4. Helping to improve coverage on trains. Ofcom has recently installed equipment on Network Rail’s engineering train. This will build a detailed picture of actual mobile reception across the UK’s rail network, informing our work with Government to help improve coverage.
  5. Working with Government. We are also helping to implement new planning laws that will make it easier for mobile operators to improve coverage by sharing and installing equipment, such as mobile masts.
  6. Extending use of signal boosters. In October we decided to allow controlled, unlicensed use of mobile phone ‘repeaters’, which amplify signals between a mobile phone and the operators’ transmitter. The changes come into effect early next year.

Steve Unger added: “People have never relied so much on their phones in daily life. As a nation, we are using 13 times more mobile data than just five years ago.

“While the industry works to improve mobile coverage, it’s vital people can get a trustworthy picture of reception across the UK. Using our tools, mobile users can see which network offers the best service in areas where they live, work and travel, before they take out a new phone contract.”




Ofcom Consultation On The 070 Number Range

Ofcom has today published a consultation on proposals for the regulation of telephone numbers beginning with 070, following a review of this market.

070 numbers are designed to be used as a ‘follow me’ service, where calls are diverted from one number to another, so the person being called can keep their own number private.

Ofcom has found that 070 numbers are often mistaken for mobile numbers, which can lead to bill shock, as the costs of calling these numbers are usually much higher than they are for mobile.

Ofcom are proposing to set a cap on the wholesale charge of 070 numbers, which would be aligned with the existing regulated cap set by Ofcom for mobile numbers – currently around 0.5 pence per minute.

Today’s consultation will close on 28 February 2018.





Broadband And Landline Customers To Get Automatic Compensation

Customers who receive poor service from their telecoms provider are to get automatic compensation, the regulator Ofcom has announced. From 2019 they will get £8 a day if a fault is not fixed which will be paid as a refund through their bill.

This is less than the £10 that was proposed when Ofcom started its consultation earlier this year.

Providers will also have to pay £5 a day if their broadband or landline is not working on the day it was promised.

If an engineer misses an appointment, they will have to give £25 in compensation.

Ofcom has estimated as many as 2.6 million people could benefit from the new rules.

The scheme is a voluntary agreement between Ofcom and broadband providers. But five providers – which between them have about 90% of broadband and home phone users as customers – have already signed up:

  • BT
  • Sky
  • TalkTalk
  • Virgin Media
  • Zen

The regulator also expects EE and Plusnet to join the scheme in due course.

Anyone wanting to obtain compensation under the current arrangements can find help on the Ofcom website.





Apple i Autocorrect Issue Now Resolved

Apple has resolved an  an issue that caused some iPhones to unexpectedly start auto-correcting the letter “i” to a capital “A” and a question mark.

The issue emerged when people updated their phones to version 11.1 of the iOS operating system.

Apple said people could “fix it by installing the latest software update”. The update ( iOS 11.1.1 ) also addresses an issue with Siri. Apple has not explained what caused the problem.

Users can find the update available through the Settings app under General and Software Updates.




Ofcom Consultation On Proposed Changes To The National Telephone Numbering Plan

Ofcom has today published a consultation on proposed changes to the National Telephone Numbering Plan, to simplify the designation of numbers beginning ‘07x’, so they may only be used for genuinely mobile services.

Ofcom are seeking to make these changes to bring further clarity for consumers, after identifying that some numbers on this range were being used for non-mobile services.

Today’s consultation closes on 21 December 2017.

Telephone



Reforms To Boost UK’s Mobile Phone Infrastructure

People in areas of the UK with poor mobile coverage will soon get a significant boost to their connections thanks to Government action to speed up the rollout of mobile and broadband services.

Reforms made today to outdated legislation will reduce the costs of housing phone masts and other communications infrastructure on private land. This opens the way for faster and more reliable broadband and mobile services, particularly in rural areas.

Changes to the UK Electronic Communications Code will:

  • bring down the rents telecoms operators pay to landowners to install equipment to be more in line with utilities
  • providers, such as gas and water;
  • make it easier for operators to upgrade and share their equipment with other operators to help increase coverage;
  • make it easier for telecoms operators and landowners to resolve legal disputes.





Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital, said:

It’s not good enough that many people are struggling with poor mobile and broadband connections which is why we are improving coverage across the UK.

We want everyone to benefit from the growth of digital services. Removing these outdated restrictions will help promote investment in new technologies such as 5G, and give mobile operators more freedom to improve their networks in hard-to-reach places.

By the end of the year all mobile operators are required to deliver coverage to 90 per cent of the UK and 95 per cent of all homes and businesses will be able to get superfast broadband, but more needs to be done.

These reforms will help to drive investment and stimulate the continued growth, rollout and maintenance of communication technology infrastructure, an increasingly significant area of the UK’s economy.

Hamish MacLeod, Director of Mobile UK said:

The Electronic Communications Code is an important piece of the puzzle alongside further planning reform that will help mobile operators to overcome the challenges they face with expanding their networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

Good mobile connectivity is no longer an optional extra. It is essential infrastructure as core to modern economic activity as broadband, electricity and other essential services.

Mark Talbot FRICS, Chair of the Royal Institute of Chartered (RICS) Surveyors Telecoms Forum Board, said:

RICS recognises the critical role that a modern, efficient and equitable digital infrastructure has on the future development of the UK economy. RICS has worked closely with our colleagues in DCMS to ensure that the new Code enables investment in our national digital infrastructure whilst balancing the needs of the public and private property owners.

With high speed internet seen by many as the fourth utility service the public and businesses expect access to digital services when they want and as they want, and RICS believes that the reformed Code is a great step forward towards this ultimate goal.

The old Electronic Communications Code was originally enacted in 1984, and became out-of-date as technology evolved, making it difficult for landowners and network operators to reach agreements and resolve disputes when rolling out modern digital infrastructure.

The Government reformed the Code through the Digital Economy Act, which received Royal Assent in April. The supporting regulations laid in Parliament today will bring the new Code into force, which is expected to take effect in December 2017. UK Electronic Communications Code