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Should BT be split?

July 14, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BT.

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BTOpenreach is the “utility” bit of BT- which is the delivery mechanism for broadband to millions of customers.

Think Network Rail owning the railways bit of the train network, or National Grid owning the electricity grid which delivers power to our home.

Openreach is virtually a monopoly service, with Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and others obliged to pay BT for access to the broadband “pipes”.

And as such it is heavily regulated already- although according to John Fingleton, the former head of the Office of Fair Trading- the “enormously profitable” Openreach would be likely to perform better as a standalone company.

Mr Fingleton argues that a separate Openreach would be likely to invest more in improving broadband connections.

As an example he cites Worldpay, a former division of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Worldpay operates a “plumbing business” for banks – providing payment services for card transactions and mobile phones.

Since RBS sold it, as a condition of the bank’s taxpayer bailout in 2008, its new private equity owners, Bain and Advent, have significantly increased investment.

Many believe that Openreach would travel the same route, and the amount invested in it as a standalone business would be more than the present £1 billion BT provides each year.

It could also mean accelerated investment in changing the network from the older copper network to “super-fast” fibre.

To enforce a sale, BT’s ownership of Openreach would probably need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority which has more muscle in this area than Ofcom.

Mr Fingleton agrees this is the best route to decide whether Openreach would be better out of BT’s hands.

Sky – of course a major competitor to BT – concurs, calling this morning for a referral to the CMA.

It says that BT’s performance on broadband delivery leaves a lot to be desired, and that under investment means that appointments to connect its customers to broadband are often missed and that faults regularly remain unfixed.

Sky and BT don’t like each other very much, particularly since the latter took a healthy portion of Sky’s lunch by piling into sports television and winning the rights to broadcast Premier League matches.

There are dark mutterings that BT uses the vast profits from Openreach to fund its incursion into television, a claim the company hotly denies.

BT insists that Openreach’s service has improved, with 2,500 engineers added in the last year and 700 more coming this year. It says it reaches or exceeds all of the 60 service targets set it by Ofcom.

And that it is only because of BT’s large and healthy balance sheet that so much investment has been made in upgrading the network to super-fast broadband.

What won’t be superfast is the Ofcom process. This is just the latest stage in a far wider review of the UK’s digital market which will take months to conclude and years to implement.

Moores Law still stands- after 50 years

April 10, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Computer chips are both the most complex things ever mass produced by humans and the most disruptive to our lives.

It noted that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could "cram" onto a sliver of siliconSo it’s remarkable that the extraordinary pace they have evolved at was in large part influenced by a three page article published 50 years ago this month.

It theorised that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could “cram” onto a sliver of silicon – before which the rising risk of failure made it uneconomic to add more – was doubling at a regular pace every two years.

Its author, Gordon Moore, suggested this could be extrapolated to forecast the rate at which more complicated chips could be built at affordable costs.

The insight – later referred to as Moore’s Law – became the bedrock for the computer processor industry, giving engineers and their managers a target to hit.

Intel – the firm Mr Moore went on to co-found – says the law will have an even more dramatic impact on the next 20 years than the last five decades put together.

Although dubbed a “law”, computing’s pace of change has been driven by human ingenuity rather than any fixed rule of physics.

“Moore’s observation” would be a more accurate, if less dramatic, term. In fact, the rule itself has changed over time.

Mr Moore’s article predicted a time when computers would be sold alongside other consumer goods.

While Moore’s 1965 paper talked of the number of “elements” on a circuit doubling every year, he later revised this a couple of times, ultimately stating that the number of transistors in a chip would double approximately every 24 months.

For most people, imagining exponential growth – in which something rapidly increases at a set rate in proportion to its size, for example doubles every time – is much harder than linear growth – in which the same amount is repeatedly added.

Moore retired in 1997, but Intel still follows his lead.

In 2013, the firm’s ex-chief architect Bob Colwell made headlines when he predicted Moore’s Law would be “dead” by 2022 at the latest.

The issue, he explained, was that it was difficult to shrink transistors beyond a certain point.

Specifically, he said it would be impossible to justify the costs required to reduce the length of a transistor part, known as its gate, to less than 5nm (1nm = one billionth of a metre).

In simple terms, a transistor is a kind of tiny switch that is triggered by an electrical signal. By turning them on and off at high speeds, computers are able to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power, making it possible for them to carry out the calculations needed to run software.

Computer communication encryptions are a problem for police

March 30, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Encrypted communications are the biggest problem for police, says Europol’s police chief.

Computer communication encryptions are a problem for policeThe European police chief says the sophisticated online communications are the biggest problem for security agencies tackling terrorism.

Hidden areas of the internet and encrypted communications make it harder to monitor terror suspects, warns Europol’s Rob Wainwright.

Tech firms should consider the impact sophisticated encryption software has on law enforcement, he said.

There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

Mr Wainwright said that in most current investigations the use of encrypted communications was found to be central to the way terrorists operated.

“It’s become perhaps the biggest problem for the police and the security service authorities in dealing with the threats from terrorism,” he explained.

“It’s changed the very nature of counter terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore.”

Mr Wainwright, whose organisation supports police forces in Europe, said terrorists were exploiting the “dark net”, where users can go online anonymously, away from the gaze of police and security services.

But he is also concerned at moves by companies such as Apple to allow customers to encrypt data on their smartphones.

And the development of heavily encrypted instant messaging apps is another cause for concern, he said. This meant people could send text and voice messages which police found very difficult or impossible to access, he said.

“We are disappointed by the position taken by these tech firms and it only adds to our problems in getting to the communications of the most dangerous people that are abusing the internet.

“Tech firms are doing it, I suppose, because of a commercial imperative driven by what they perceive to be consumer demand for greater privacy of their communications.”

Mr Wainwright acknowledged this was a result of the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed how security services were conducting widespread surveillance of emails and messages.

He said security agencies now had to work to rebuild trust between technology firms and the authorities.

The extent of the challenge faced by security services is shown in the scale of social media use by IS.

The programme also found evidence that supporters of ISIS are using encrypted sites to radicalise or groom new recruits.

Mr Wainwright revealed that ISIS is believed to have up to 50,000 different Twitter accounts tweeting up to 100,000 messages a day.

Europol is now setting up a European Internet Referral Unit to identify and remove sites being used by terrorist organisations.

Mr Wainwright also says current laws are “deficient” and should be reviewed to ensure security agencies are able to monitor all areas of the online world.

“There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

“We have to make sure we reach the right balance by ensuring the fundamental principles of privacy are upheld so there’s a lot of work for legislators and tech firms to do.”

Smaller broadband companies are better

March 18, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Customer Service, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Customers of smaller broadband companies are much happier than those of the big three BT, Sky and TalkTalk according to the consumer group, Which?

Smaller broadband companies are betterThe three largest providers received customer satisfaction scores below 50% in a survey.

Smaller broadband companies such as John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Utility Warehouse and Zen Internet had customer satisfaction rates over 70%.

Which? is campaigning for greater clarity in the broadband speeds companies are allowed to advertise.

The consumer campaign group says most of the internet service providers in the survey received scores of three stars when people were asked to rate their broadband speed.

TalkTalk customers were least happy, giving their provider two stars for speed.

Which? is campaigning against rules which it says allow providers to advertise broadband speeds that only 10% of their customers actually receive.

Broadband companies should give customers the speed and service that they pay for, the consumer group Which? has said.

A survey carried out on its behalf claimed that 45% of customers suffer slow download speeds. Over half of those customers said they experienced slow speeds frequently or all the time.

Ofcom already has a voluntary code of practice on broadband speeds in place that it says ensures customers are protected.

Providers who have signed up to it must give customers a written estimate of their broadband speed at the start of a contract and must allow them to leave a contract without penalty if they receive speeds significantly below the estimate.

A mystery shopping exercise carried out by Ofcom revealed that the code was working effectively. However, there were areas where it could be improved and a revised code of practice would be published in the coming months.

Which? said in practice it supported the code but it was voluntary, not compulsory and providers needed to go further. Rather than providing an estimated speed range that a customer could expect to receive, providers should pinpoint a more accurate speed that customers can expect at their home address and provide this in writing.

This written confirmation should be accompanied by information explaining what consumers can do at different speeds – what they could download and how long it would take – and how to test their speed, Which? said.

According to the survey of 2,000 people, a quarter of those who had reported a loss in service said they had had to wait two days to get it fixed, with one in 10 waiting a week or more.

Twenty per cent said they had contacted their internet service provider at least three times when trying to resolve a problem with their broadband connection.

Which? is calling for broadband companies to fix connections as quickly as possible and refund customers for any loss of service.

End of Orange Wednesdays

February 26, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Customer Service, Dr Search, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Search Clinic, smart phones, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Yesterday was the last “Orange Wednesday” when UK cinemas offered 2 for 1 deals.

Yesterday was the last The latest company behind the phone operators EE- announced last year that it was ending the promotion because its customers’ “viewing habits had evolved”.

It promises to have another package to offer soon, but there was speculation that the company couldn’t reach a commercial deal with a cinema chain.

In a statement issued in December, EE said: “Orange Wednesday launched over a decade ago and at its peak was a massive success and an iconic promotion.”

“After 10 great years our brand has changed and our customers’ viewing habits have also evolved so it’s time to move on.”

2013’s box office attendance was the lowest in 20 years, according to Rentrak.

Cinemas in the UK and Ireland saw box office takings drop 2.9%, or around £34 million, from 2013 – the most significant change since 1991.

Blame, in part, was being directed at a lack of Hollywood blockbusters on screens that year, but it was also put down to the increasing cost of a ticket and people downloading films and box sets at home on a tablet, TV or phone.

But Stephen Fry says it’s not as simple as people being turned off film and brands the decline as “sad”.

“I don’t know whether one can factor in the figures for those who wait in order to watch Netflix, iTunes and other such downloads. Because I think that’s really on the up enormously and the passion for cinema and for movies is the greatest I think that it’s ever been.”

“So the fact that it’s not reflected in box office returns is sad, because I think filmmakers and everyone like to see their movies watched in proper, big, big cinemas. “

“Indeed Imax and funnily enough, you get things like Game of Thrones being shown in Imax cinemas. It’s disappointing but actually that’s bound to happen but over a longer period I think. I think you’ll find that cinema attendance is still pretty good.”

And he’s not wrong. 2014 did mark the fifth consecutive year that the film industry exceeded the £1.1 billion mark.

Which makes Search Clinic conclude that as the brand name has changed since the promotion’s inception, the brand value to EE was no longer cost effective.

Samsung loses market dominance as competition hots up

October 30, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Dr Search, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Samsung, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Samsung smartphones are struggling to “wow” consumers with new phones- leading to slowing sales.

Samsung loses market dominance as competition hots up

This week, the world’s largest smartphone maker said its third-quarter operating profit fell 60% from a year earlier to £2.5 billion, marking its weakest quarterly profit since 2011. Sales also tumbled 20% in the same period.

News of Samsung’s worsening condition come even as the tech giant maintains a stronghold on the global smartphone market – accounting for 25% of it in the second quarter of this year, according to technology research firm IDC. But, that’s down from 32% a year earlier.

With the mobile business making up 70% of its operating profit, Samsung has launched several products recently to try to stay ahead of its rivals, such as the latest version of its flagship smartphone Galaxy S5 in April, while being the first to launch the latest tech trend – the smartwatch – last year.

It also rushed the release of the newest editions of its larger screen Galaxy Notes – the Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge – ahead of schedule in September to face off against demand for Apple’s larger screen iPhones.

But stiff competition from the likes of Apple in the premium end, and cheaper smartphones from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi and Lenovo in the lower end, is making it more difficult for Samsung to see growth.

Analysts say Samsung will continue to lose market share unless it can figure out a way to once again “wow” consumers that no longer appear to be impressed by its massive line-up of products.

Fast-growing Chinese budget smartphone maker Xiaomi announced this year that it was planning to double the number of handsets sold in 2014 from a year ago to 60 million, which is the same amount that Samsung sold in China last year.

That has not helped Samsung’s case, especially when added to the delayed launch of Samsung’s long-awaited Tizen operating system, which would have reduced its reliance on Google’s Android system for its phones.

While analysts agree that it is too early to call the end of Samsung’s reign at the top of the market with still such a sizeable gap between it and its closest competitor Apple at 12% market share, they believe that Samsung’s current growth rate is not sustainable.

The double-digit growth last year that propelled Samsung’s mobile phone revenue to overtake its television revenue, will no longer happen in a saturated smartphone market.

But in order to stay on top of the market,  Samsung needs to figure out how to better integrate its devices and add services on top of its phones to add value for consumers.

Samsung needs to narrow its focus from being a mass producer of phones in every segment to concentrate on areas where there is consumer growth, such as the lower end of the market.

Samsung’s future plans to reignite sales growth do seem to be heading in the direction of the lower end of the market.

In its earnings release on Thursday, the tech giant said it expects demand to grow for its new “middle-end smartphone models” but that may “require a potential increase in marketing expenses associated with year-end promotion” to keep up with the competition.

But Samsung’s earnings may also take a hit in the long term from this move- once you move to the mid-range segment, you look at the profit margin, and you probably have to sell two or three phones to equal the flagship model revenue that you can get.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet

October 24, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Twitter, Uncategorized

The Queen has sent her first tweet to launch the Science Museum gallery.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet“It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”

That was the Queen’s first tweet – sent through the @BritishMonarchy account – heralding the launch of a major new exhibition at London’s Science Museum.

Three years in the planning, the exhibition is one of the most ambitious projects the museum has undertaken.

The Information Age gallery, opened by the Queen this morning, takes visitors on a journey through the history of modern communications from the telegraph to the smartphone.

There is the first transatlantic telegraph cable which connected Europe and North America, the broadcast equipment behind the BBC’s first radio programme in 1922, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which hosted the first website.

The gallery’s chief curator Tilly Blyth hopes that visitors who may be somewhat blase about the digital revolution will come away with a longer view.

“We really want them to see that our predecessors lived through similar periods of change. Ours isn’t the only revolution – just the latest. in a series of transformations since the electric telegraph in the 1830s.”

You can construct a 1980s mobile phone network, making sure your cell towers are efficiently positioned. You can go into the web story box to find out exactly what happens when you click on a link. And you can plug headphones into a 1950s telephone exchange, and listen to the operators describing what their work involved.

Baroness Lane-Fox, who has campaigned for better access to and understanding of the internet, welcomes the new gallery: “It’s an amazing opportunity for people young and old to come and see the extraordinary developments in technology over the last hundred years or so. It really reminds me of the scale of ambition that people have had to change things.”

She hopes too that visitors will learn of the great contribution made by Britain to the development of communications – from Ada Lovelace, the woman who conceived the idea of computer programming in the 1830s, through to the 1950s when Lyons Corner Houses introduced the first business computer Leo, and on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “I hope that people who visit will have their ambition and excitement lit so we can continue to be world leaders in this field because it’s so important.”

The gallery certainly does show off the role Britain has played, and a number of British companies including BT and the chip designer ARM Holdings have sponsored the Information Age and supplied exhibits.

Black market for stolen smartphones grows

April 22, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: mobile phones, smart phones, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

A black market of shops and traders willing to deal in stolen smartphones has been exposed.

Black market for stolen smartphones growsMore than 30,000 phones have been stolen in London alone in 2014.

They were then all blocked or reported stolen to the networks

All the phones used had ‘find-my-phone’ style blocks activated, and in theory their IMEI numbers mean they are not useable once reported stolen.

But it is simple it was to get around such features – using only a laptop.

By giving a device a new IMEI number – effectively changing the phone’s fingerprint – it means that the phone could be used as normal again.

And restoring the phone’s default software removes “find-my-phone” protection.

In just a few mouse clicks and the phone is turned from a paperweight back to a useable device again.

Over the past 12 months:

  • 30,430 phones taken in thefts – down 12% on previous year
  • 13,724 phones taken in robberies
  • Equivalent to 80 phones a day being taken
  • More than half of all the thefts on the Tube are of mobile phones

Source: Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police

A phone stolen this morning could be back on the streets by this afternoon, packaged up as a second hand legitimate phone.

A fundamental redesign of smartphones to place the IMEI number on a ‘read-only’ part of the device would prevent this. But Mr Roughley said manufacturers have been reluctant to do this.

So beware you so called smart phone- isn’t that clever if it is lost or stolen.

Blackberry sells million Z10 smartphones

April 09, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: BlackBerry, Dr Search, smart phones, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

 Blackberry says it has sold one million of its new Z10 smartphones in the first three months of 2013.
Blackberry sells million Z10 smartphonesThe company reported profits of £65 million ($98 million) for the quarter, after posting a big loss for the same period last year.

The Z10 handset is seen as crucial to the future of Blackberry, which has struggled to keep up with new Apple and Android phones.

It has been on sale for a month in the UK, Canada and other markets.

It went on sale with little fanfare a week ago in the United States, Blackberry’s most important market. The latest figures do not include US sales.

Blackberry was previously called Research In Motion (RIM), but changed its name last year.

Analysts greeted the results cautiously, saying that it was too early to judge the success of the Z10 and its sister device the Q10.

Earlier in the week, Blackberry shares were hit when two major US brokerages expressed disappointment with the US launch of the Z10.

The Blackberry results also showed the company lost three million users over the year. Its handsets are now used by 76 million people, down from 79 million 12 months ago.

In total, Blackberry said it had shipped a total of about six million handsets in the three months to early March.

Mobile position data present anonymity risk

April 02, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: data security, Mobile Marketing, mobile phones, Personal Security, smart phones, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Scientists say it is remarkably easy to identify a mobile phone user from just a few pieces of location positioning information.Mobile position data present anonymity riskWhenever a phone is switched on, its connection to the network means its position and movement can be plotted.

This data is given anonymously to third parties, both to drive services for the user and to target advertisements.

But a study Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility in Scientific Reports warns that human mobility patterns are so predictable it is possible to identify a user from only four data points.

The growing ubiquity of mobile phones and smartphone applications has ushered in an era in which tremendous amounts of user data have become available to the companies that operate and distribute them – sometimes released publicly as “anonymised” or aggregated data sets.

These data are of extraordinary value to advertisers and service providers, but also for example to those who plan shopping centres, allocate emergency services, and a new generation of social scientists.

Yet the spread and development of “location services” has outpaced the development of a clear understanding of how location data impact users’ privacy and anonymity.

For example, sat-nav manufacturers have long been using location data from both mobile phones and sat-navs themselves to improve traffic reporting, by calculating how fast users are moving on a given stretch of road.

The data used in such calculations are “anonymised” – no actual mobile numbers or personal details are associated with the data.

But there are some glaring examples of how nominally anonymous data can be linked back to individuals, the most striking of which occurred with a tranche of data deliberately released by AOL in 2006, outlining 20 million anonymised web searches.

Recent work has increasingly shown that humans’ patterns of movement, however random and unpredictable they seem to be, are actually very limited in scope and can in fact act as a kind of fingerprint for who is doing the moving.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Catholic University of Louvain studied 15 months’ worth of anonymised mobile phone records for 1.5 million individuals.

They found from the “mobility traces” – the evident paths of each mobile phone – that only four locations and times were enough to identify a particular user.

“In the 1980s, it was shown that you need 12 points to uniquely identify and characterise a fingerprint,” said the study’s lead author Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye of MIT.

“What we did here is the exact same thing but with mobility traces. The way we move and the behaviour is so unique that four points are enough to identify 95% of people.”

“We think this data is more available than people think. When you think about, for instance wi-fi or any application you start on your phone, we call up the same kind of mobility data.

“When you share information, you look around you and feel like there are lots of people around – in the shopping centre or a tourist place – so you feel this isn’t sensitive information.”

Sam Smith of Privacy International said: “Our mobile phones report location and contextual data to multiple organisations with varying privacy policies.”

“Any benefits we receive from such services are far outweighed by the threat that these trends pose to our privacy, and although we are told that we have a choice about how much information we give over, in reality individuals have no choice whatsoever.”