What is it with telcos and the ‘creative’ approach to advertising honesty?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once again had to step in to put a stop to telco advertising, this time Three’s efforts, posing a pretty simple question; why do the telcos find it so easy to put misleading adverts into the world?

The latest ruling was surrounding Three’s ‘Go Roam’ claim, which states users are able to ‘Feel at Home’ by using their full data allowance without any extra costs in 71 countries. An investigation from the ASA found postpaid users were limited to 13GB and postpaid to 12GB, before costs were applied. There is text hidden away somewhere on the Three website pointing towards a fair use clause, though the ASA does not believe this is sufficient and Three has been misleading customers.

Three’s response to the claims was relatively simple. Firstly, most of it customers only use 0.75GB per month in a ‘Go Roam’ destination, therefore 12GB was excessive. Secondly, that the claim had been used since 2014 and was strongly associated with their brand, which supposedly makes it alright. It does appear some customers were using it for business purposes, making several trips abroad per month, while the offer had originally been intended for holidays.

This is a perfectly respectable defence from Three, but without informing the customer of these conditions, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately this is becoming a common trend. Service providers seem to think they can do what they like before pointing to some obscure reference on websites, incredibly small print or a statement made to an irrelevant number of people at a niche event. While Three might have been caught out in this instance, it is not alone.

BT had a complaint upheld regarding its claims on wifi speeds in April. Sky was caught misleading customers in March regarding a price promotion. Vodafone was caught out earlier this month and in September for misleading claims in adverts featuring Martin Freeman. There are other examples, plus the pending investigations with the ASA and also dozens of examples over the last few months of ‘informally resolved’ incidents. Vodafone has ‘informally resolved’ 12 of these complaints so far in 2018, TalkTalk seven and O2 five. Some of these will be down to honest mistakes, but the complaints seem to becoming more common.

Of course the other factor which needs to be taken into account is the ‘up to’ metric which plagued telcos advertisements for years, misleading customers over speeds which can be achieved. Any normal person would have told any of the telco’s marketing team this is not a fair or honest way to communicate with the consumer, but it become commonplace. It seems the telcos are harbouring different standards when it comes to honesty than the rest of us.

LTE data scores big at this year’s World Cup

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Wick, SVP and GM of Connectivity and Mobility Services at Syniverse shares some of his company’s recent research into LTE roaming.

LTE is growing globally, and growing fast, and one area in particular that it’s been taking off in is roaming. To better understand this growth, Syniverse has been examining this through a series of studies based on the LTE roaming patterns of our global IPX network. We most recently focused on LTE roaming at one of the world’s largest events this year – the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament – and the findings revealed some important implications for the development of LTE globally in the next few years.

North America leads regions

LTE won a convincing victory over non-LTE at the World Cup, according to our data. The analysis of roaming data shows that 67 percent of data usage was LTE from travelers to Russia over the four weeks of the tournament, compared to the global average of 54 percent of all traffic for LTE roaming usage between major world regions.

Specifically, the analysis found that the largest volume of global LTE usage coming into Russia during the World Cup came from North America (42 percent). The next most popular LTE roaming location was Asia  (19 percent), followed by Europe (18 percent), Latin America (11 percent), and the Middle East and Africa (9 percent). This is surprising given that no teams from North America played at the World Cup, but it points to the strong LTE roaming agreements between countries.

LTE gaining in other areas

The 67 percent LTE data usage we found points to a huge growth trend over the last few years. In developing markets, more and more operators are launching new LTE services, while operators in developed markets are continuing to build out and enhance their networks. In fact, the GSMA forecasts that by 2020 there will be over 3.5 billion LTE connections and approximately three-quarters of the world’s population will be covered by LTE networks.

This growth is reflected in another huge sports event we analyzed this year, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, in February. According to our findings, of the data usage generated by visitors to the Games, an enormous 92 percent was LTE, versus just 8 percent non-LTE. Not surprisingly, Asia received the largest amount (72 percent) of LTE traffic during the Games. Next was North America (23 percent), followed far behind by Europe (3 percent).

IPX a barrier to LTE growth

In addition to these LTE roaming highlights, we uncovered a milestone, as well as a significant challenge, in LTE growth in a global study we completed early this year. The study focused on roaming traffic between six regions – North America; Latin America; Europe; Asia Pacific; the Middle East and Africa; and India – and the findings revealed that in the last year LTE traffic surpassed non-LTE traffic and now represents the majority of global roaming traffic, having risen to 54 percent in 2017 from 46 percent in 2016.

At the same time, the findings highlight the need for the mobile industry to more urgently prepare for technologies like 5G, based on the eight years that it took from the time that LTE was commercially launched for it to surpass the previous generation of technology. A challenge then is fully enabling LTE roaming on a global scale. But outside the Americas, where most of LTE roaming is concentrated, we found the tipping point with global LTE roaming hasn’t fully occurred yet. Specifically, the Americas represent 79 percent of total volume, while LTE roaming volumes for other regions include Europe at 11 percent, Asia Pacific at 7 percent, and the Middle East and Africa at 3 percent.

In fact, this study revealed that a barrier in providing a consistent LTE service footprint was found to lie in the inter-regional connectivity that an IPX network can enable. This technology in particular has emerged as a versatile network backbone that can provide a single-connection capability to link to multiple networks and greatly expand inter-regional connectivity. For this reason, it offers a crucial asset in expanding LTE roaming coverage, and mobile operators need to have a full-scale strategy for integrating IPX in order to accelerate the growth and maturity of their LTE networks.

Looking ahead

The World Cup and other global events present some of the largest and most complex world stages on which to demonstrate the promise of mobile. How operators manage LTE roaming for these events will have profound implications for their success in meeting the rising demand for high-speed, high-capacity usage by today’s traveling mobile users. With 67 percent of data usage at the World Cup consisting of LTE traffic, and with LTE traffic reaching 54 percent to represent the majority of global roaming traffic, it’s imperative that operators are prepared to meet the new demands of the dynamic LTE-powered future now taking shape.

 

Syniverse John Wick Sep2018John Wick is Senior Vice President and General Manager for Mobile Transaction Services, and is responsible for the management and growth of Syniverse’s next-generation networks, messaging, and policy and charging lines of business. He also leads the product and software development across these lines of business.

Watershed moment: should mobile operators be worried we talk less?

A new report from Ofcom claims users in the UK spoke 2.5 billion minutes less on their mobile phones, down by 1.7% in 2017, the first such decline in history.

This followed the trend total talking time by the UK population has been declining over several years, primarily mainly driven by the sharp drop in minutes spent on fixed line phones. The combined talking time also suffered the sharpest drop in years, at more than 6%. See the chart from Ofcom’s The Communications Market 2018 report (p.17) below.Ofcom report call minutes decline

In some ways mobile operators should be concerned. After OTT messaging services (WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, etc.) destroyed the text message cash cow, it looks they are also losing another revenue stream, the voice call.

However it does not necessarily mean we speak less. Some simply move the calls into other apps, especially when we need to speak to people overseas, more than one people at the same time, or when we like to combine video with audio. Group video call features from WhatsApp or Skype and others come handy.

Operators’ response is not too dissimilar to the one when they tried to fend off the OTT messaging services. After throwing in unlimited number of text messages to typical packages, they now often throw in unlimited minutes. However this does not look to have reverted the trend of fewer minutes spent on voice calls, just like the unlimited text message offers have not reverted the decline in SMS and MMS (p.20).

Ofcom report SMS decline

The experience of messaging apps may be superior when handling rich features, but it needs internet connection, and it consumes data, which is exactly what operators are working hard to monetise. Some choose to offer bigger data buckets at a higher price, while others bundled with value-added services, for example video streaming. The result shows people do pick up higher packages. The total mobile retail revenues dropped by 1.3% from 2016, but revenues from mobile packages grew by nearly 3%, while revenues from out-of-bundle data near held. The biggest drop occurred in out-of-bundle voice. It seems for most people the bundled voice was already more than enough.

Ofcom report revenue types

Throttling video streaming is not criminal but Xfinity has botched the move

Comcasts’s Xfinity Mobile is going to limit video streamed over cellular to 480p resolution and cap hotspot speeds at 600 kbps unless customers pay more.

In a letter sent to current customers, which inevitably got posted online for all to see (on Reddit), Xfinity Mobile announced two changes to its service: it will limit the resolution of video streaming over cellular networks to 480p (so-called “DVD quality”), and it will cap the speed of hotspots powered by mobile device to 600kps. Although it may help customers’ data plans last longer, ultimately this is a measure to control cost. Comcast does not have its own mobile network and is reselling Verizon Wireless’s data.

Limiting the resolution of mobile video streaming is nothing new. YouTube will fall back to SD (240p or 360p) when the network quality degrades, prioritising continuous play over picture quality. For a long time, Netflix had by default capped the resolution of streaming over cellular at 600p before it gave users the choice to go for higher resolution.

Neither is limiting tethering using mobile hotspots. When T-Mobile launched its Uncarrier programme “One”, mobile tethering speed was limited at 128kps. Even with the expensive “One Plus” the hotspot speed was only lifted to 512kps.

However Xfinity could have handled the issues better to avoid the backlash on its reputation. Xfinity should realise that the increasing popularity of video streaming is the main driver for data consumption. Therefore when designing the products it should either raise the data plan cap of its “Unlimited” data plan, currently at 20GB, or go for real “unlimited” but bill different customers based on the speeds offered, like the common practice in Finland, where per capita mobile data consumption is the highest in the world.

More importantly, Xfinity should have given its existing customers the grace period till their current contracts ran out if it wanted to avoid antagonizing them. Exerting new limitations and charging additional fee for services that are in the original contract is even potentially a breach of contract on the service providers’ side.

Beware the AI snake oil salesman

Artificial intelligence has taken over as buzzword of the year so few should be surprised it is being thrown around like a ragdoll, but does selling AI actually mean anything?

This is a question which was posed at 5G World. Can you actually sell artificial intelligence and the glorious benefits promised in the digital era? Is there any substance to the ‘intelligence’ features which are being promised by the plethora of technology companies littering the digital economy?

Following his presentation focusing on automation and building intelligence into network architecture, Huawei’s Peter Zhou was asked whether it is actually possible to sell artificial intelligence as a product. It seems to be entwined with every product Huawei is bringing to the market, but what does it actually mean?

This is the problem which many telcos or enterprise customers are facing now. Every company is now selling AI, such is the excitement around the technology, but as it was pointed out in the session AI means nothing without data. The data is the power, and the data comes from the customers own business.

Artificial General Intelligence is a term which is starting to become more popular, and is perhaps more accurate when looking at the ‘intelligent’ solutions which are being paraded around the industry. When looking assessing an AI ‘product’ to enhance operations, customers should always remember such a thing does not really exist. The value of AI comes in time, when it is suitably trained to the specific use case and environment. As every company is different, with a different approach to business and different needs, AI will be very different in every application. It has the potential to be a very powerful tool, but the benefit comes from graft, not buying a product.

Perhaps this is an obvious statement when read, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded every now and then of the obvious. Especially when such glorious promises are being made by enthusiastic and convincing salesman.

European tech ambitions might be hampered by regulation – Meeker

Mary Meeker is one of the most respected names worldwide when it comes to the internet, meaning her annual evaluation of the state of play is a much anticipated presentation. 2018 looks to be a bit gloomy though.

First of all, looking at consumer trends there are some very positive numbers. Internet usage continues to growth year-on-year, adults spend an extra 0.3 hours a day on the internet in 2017 compared to the 12 months prior, and there is strong evidence the rate of adoption is continuing to increase. While it took 80 years for US consumers to adopt the dishwasher, the consumer internet penetrated the mass market in less than a decade. For disruptive technologies lurking on the horizon, such as virtual reality, this is a very positive trend.

Brand Top 25Looking at the technology industry on the whole, this is another very positive development. The tech industry is continuing to play a more influential role in economies around the world, in the US for example, it accounted for 25% of the country’s capitalization in April. The percentage might not be as high in other nations, but the trends are heading that direction. Technology is fast becoming the driver of economies and society, which is perhaps a worrying sign for Europe.

One slide, which you can see to the right, pointed out the biggest names in the technology world, with not one of them being from the European continent. The US has eleven representatives while China has nine. The majority of these organizations were only created in the last 20 years, and while Europe might be trying to improve the landscape for start-ups, it is clear the ability to scale is not on the same level as the US and China.

Unfortunately for the European start-ups this might be a trend which will only worsen over the coming years, partly due to restrictive regulations. Regulating an industry where there are still so many unanswered questions, like the data economy, is a tight-rope walk. Too light-touch and the corporations take advantage, too heavy-handed and innovation is throttled. The pro-privacy bloc seems to leaning towards a red-tape maze.

Europe is a distant chaser as it stands, but GDPR and the up-coming e-Privacy regulation threatens to limit the exploratory nature of tech innovators. Other regions are granting more freedom to explore, which could impact Europe negatively in two ways. Firstly, companies in Silicon Valley, for example, create better products and services, therefore capturing global market share. And secondly, when choosing a base, entrepreneurs may choose to go to the freer markets as opposed to being shackled in Europe. Europe loses ground on the US and China in both circumstances.

“It’s crucial to manage for unintended consequences,” said Meeker. “It’s also irresponsible to stop innovation and progress, especially in a world where there are a lot of countries that are doing different things.”

Sharing DataWhat we should point out is that Meeker is biased. Meeker is a venture capitalist who invests in technology companies with the sole purpose of making more money. Regulations, while necessary, make it more difficult for companies to make money, so you have to take Meeker’s comments bearing this in mind.

That said, the digital economy is defined by data. Personalised services are developed by access to data, so are location-based services, the price of some are off-set by access to an individual’s data, engagement and experience can be improved as well. The US are the leaders in the internet world because companies are aggressive and forward-thinking. With the stringency of data regulations in Europe, you have to wonder whether the same culture and intent can be curated in the bloc.

Looking at the potential for tomorrows leaders, despite President Trump demonstrating the world cannot function without the US tech industry, prospects in China are looking promising. AI has been targeted as the catalyst for growth and with a population which is more open to sharing personal data than anywhere else in the world, the raw materials are available. Data provides the fuel for rapid development and advancement of AI. Europeans are generally very pro-privacy, which is of course good, but reluctance to share data is a direct contradiction of the AI ambitions of countries like the UK. Pro-privacy regulations, conscious consumers and a world-leading AI industry do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

Regulation will always have a place in the world, evidence proves some cannot be trusted when money is involved, but it seems Meeker believes Europe is leaning too heavily on the technology companies, imposing restrictions which will not be beneficial to the growth of the digital economy. Changes needed to be made to the rules, but it doesn’t seem Europe has got it right this time.

Trump tax breaks start paying off for Google

Google has unveiled the numbers for the first quarter of 2018, which also happens to be the first period of 11% corporation tax, with the search giant pocketing profits of $9.4 billion, up from $5.4 billion in 2017.

Revenues in the advertising continue to surge, with this quarter growing 26% year-on-year, though Google is showing it isn’t simply a one trick pony. Looking at the ‘Other Revenues’ segment, which includes cloud, Play and hardware, revenues were up 36% to $4.354 billion. Even without the search advertising, Google would be a business generating roughly $17.5 billion a year; that is monstrous.

“We delivered ongoing strong revenue growth, up 26% year-on-year and up 23% in constant currency,” said Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet, parent company of Google. “The sustained outstanding performance in sites revenues, in particular, reflects the combined benefits of innovation and secular growth, with mobile search again leading the way. Robust growth in network revenues was again led by our programmatic business. Ongoing substantial growth in other revenues, namely cloud, hardware and Play, continues to highlight the growing contribution of our non-ads opportunities.”

The additional cash from alternative revenues, as well as the tax breaks from President Trump’s ploy to lure technology cash back into the US come will be welcomed by executives as reform lurks on the horizon. The Cambridge Analytica scandal might have been focused on Facebook as it stands, but it won’t be too long before the likes of Google and Twitter feel the collateral damage.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already pointed towards competitors in the digital economy to deflect the unwanted attention and it won’t be too long before regulators on both sides of the Atlantic start to make changes in the data economy. Europe is already rolling out GDPR which will add additional complexities to the monetization of data, though Google CEO Sundar Pichai believes the firm won’t be affected that significantly.

“We started working on GDPR compliance over 18 months ago and have been very, very engaged on it. It’s really important, and we care about getting it right,” said Pichai, before going onto state. “It’s important to understand that most of our ad business is Search, where we rely on very limited information, essentially what is in the keywords to show a relevant ad or product.”

These rules were gaining momentum long before the ugly head of Cambridge Analytica burst into the tech headlines, perhaps demonstrating how much more enlightened European regulators are than US counterparts, but the scandal will lead to an investigation. This is an incident which rocked the technology world and there will be repercussions for any and every organization which makes money out of insight. This scandal hasn’t impacted the wider community just yet, but it is only a matter of time.

Whether this impacts Google’s activities in the smart speaker world remain to be seen. As it stands, Google is losing the battle for the living room, but this is not for a lack of effort. Expenses over this quarter were up 27% year-on-year, while headcount was up almost 5,000. Winning the battle in the living room takes the search advertising business to pastures new. Google will be on your laptop, smartphone and your speaker. It will be collecting advertising and referral revenues everywhere.

Pichai also noted that the speakers are being used for a wider range of uses, such as using voice commands to make phone calls or control other smart home products. Perhaps this demonstrates the normalization of the voice interface, which would be another very positive development for Google. Using your voice to control other products is just a couple of steps away from vocal purchases and payments. Once this aspect of the smart speaker is normalized, buying pizza or ordering groceries for example, some very interesting revenue opportunities awaken.

However, these developments could also be impacted to a reform in how data can be monetized. The question is whether regulators will aim to address what is in front of them, or have the foresight and imagination to tackle how data will be used in the future. Rule makers have shown themselves incapable of keeping up with developments in the technology space, but a broad investigation should (if there is a basic level of competence present) address future uses of personal information, such as the smart home. We seriously doubt this aspect of the industry will be addressed, priming the world for another major privacy and data protection scandal in a few years’ time.

Investors might be nervous about the future of the internet firms, but the data scandal has seemingly had little impact here to date. Next quarter will be a more accurate representation, but all things are rosy at Google right now.

Europe wants to hit internet giants with 3% revenue tax, for starters

The European Commission has picked a good time to try to tax internet giants more, starting with 3% of revenues made from advertising, data and digital interactions.

The most significant fall-out from the overblown, but persistent Cambridge Analytica story will be for internet giants to face far more scrutiny over how they use the extensive data they gather on all of us. What seems to upset people the most is when they’re reminded of the Faustian pact they have made with said giants by being reminded of the enormous profits they’re making by exploiting all of us.

This is therefore a good time to be shaking those companies down and the European Commission must be delighted this story has broken just as it unveils its initiatives to stop that exact type of company from avoiding paying tax in the countries in which it does business, as opposed to just where it’s headquartered. No doubt the nuances of transnational tax law are riveting, but it doesn’t really matter, because the EC has spoken.

The proposed remedy to this shocking lack of revenue into EC coffers comes in two phases. Ultimately Europe wants the whole world to come to an agreement on how to tax digital products according to where the value is generated, rather than banked. But until that happens the EC thinks it’s fair enough to slap a 3% tax on revenues (not profits, mind) on online advertising, the sale of user data and digital platforms that facilitate interactions between users.

“Digitalisation brings countless benefits and opportunities, but it also requires adjustments to our traditional rules and systems,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, VP for the Euro and Social Dialogue. “We would prefer rules agreed at the global level, including at the OECD. But the amount of profits currently going untaxed is unacceptable. We need to urgently bring our tax rules into the 21st century by putting in place a new comprehensive and future-proof solution.”

“Our pre-Internet rules do not allow our Member States to tax digital companies operating in Europe when they have little or no physical presence here,” said Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs. “This represents an ever-bigger black hole for Member States, because the tax base is being eroded. That’s why we’re bringing forward a new legal standard as well an interim tax for digital activities.”

As ever this is just the first inch forward by the glacial European bureaucratic machine and its will take sever hundred obscenely lavish lunches to really get to grips with it. More significantly things like this require all member countries to sign it off, which seems unlikely, so it could all be a massive waste of time. But if companies like Facebook know what’s good for them, they could do worse than show some goodwill when it comes to tax.

Here’s a handy vid from the EU Taxation and Customs Union explaining why tax is actually great in the kind of dumbed-down language that speaks volumes about how they perceive their client electorates.

 

Infographic: Does social media influence our spending?

Advertising on social media is nothing new, but some sceptical individuals might question whether there is any value in it. New data from Post Office Media argues the case it is more influential than we think.

The majority of people are stubborn. This might sound like a very broad statement, but look at the person sat next to you and ask whether it is true. Despite the Post Office’s data showing a substantial chunk of us are influenced by friends or celebrity posts, or sidebar adverts and featured content, we still deny it.

As you can see from the infographic below, social media advertising is very real, and big business. Maybe there is something to the digital economy? Please note, the statistics below are for the UK.

As always, if you have any interesting, shocking or quirky statistics, feel free to send them through to jamie@telecoms.com.

Post Office (2)

Uber concealed data hack affecting 57 million users for a year

Hackers accessed a bunch of data on Uber drivers and customers in late 2016 but the company chose not to notify either regulators or those affected.

This is just the latest legacy bestowed on Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi by his predecessor and Uber founder Travis Kalanick. The company seems to be a magnet for controversy and recently had its license to operate in London revoked over public safety concerns. Khosrowshahi was brought in earlier this year to steady the ship, but skeletons keep emerging from the corporate closet.

“I recently learned that in late 2016 we became aware that two individuals outside the company had inappropriately accessed user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service that we use,” wrote Khosrowshahi in an announcement. “The incident did not breach our corporate systems or infrastructure. Our outside forensics experts have not seen any indication that trip location history, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or dates of birth were downloaded.”

From the many reports on this it appears the hackers got hold of some login details for an AWS account and it was from there that they downloaded the data. They then used that data to blackmail Uber, in the manner that is becoming increasingly common in the cyber-crime world.

Data breaches have become so common in recent years that we might not have even bothered reporting on this one were it not for the way Uber handled it. Apparently it paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep quiet, and then made out like the payment was a ‘bug bounty’ that is commonly paid to by companies to hackers to test their security.

“At the time of the incident, we took immediate steps to secure the data and shut down further unauthorized access by the individuals,” wrote Khosrowshahi. “We subsequently identified the individuals and obtained assurances that the downloaded data had been destroyed. We also implemented security measures to restrict access to and strengthen controls on our cloud-based storage accounts.”

The dodgy part of all this is the extent to which it was hushed-up. Uber’s Chief Security Officer – Joe Sullivan – has already been shown the door for the part he played in it and it asks further questions of Kalanick, who remains on the company’s board. The New York Attorney General has already opened an investigation into the matter and given the company’s track record it can expect to be given little benefit of the doubt.