BBC Watchdog calls out Virgin Media for slow broadband – as stores close and staff voice dissatisfaction

The BBC’s consumer affairs show, Watchdog, will call out Virgin Media tonight for slow broadband with tests revealing that some consumers are only getting three percent of the download speed they were sold.

Many consumers are being told their slow download speeds are due to over-utilisation in their area, but packages are still being sold advertising much higher speeds than customers are receiving. Watchdog highlights Virgin Media promotes speeds up to 200Mbps, but this is old information and the company now promotes speeds of up to 300Mbps.

A letter from executive sales director, Neil Bartholomew, said:

"Customers trust Virgin Media and it is our job to live up to that hard won reputation; balancing how we talk and work with customers with the facts a customer needs to know.

"BBC Watchdog has highlighted some cases where we have not lived up to this responsibility."

Posing as new customers, Watchdog investigated how Virgin Media are selling packages in areas known to suffer from over-utilisation. They were consistently sold packages under the premise they’d be receiving speeds of around 200Mbps but with the concession “there would be a marginal decline at peak times.”

When the Watchdog team performed speed tests at the addresses, they found customers were at times receiving just 3 percent of the speed claimed by Virgin Media’s staff. Speaking as one of the affected customers, it’s something which I’m able to corroborate.

The revelations come as Virgin Media recently announced it plans to close 30 shops at the expense of 250 jobs.

Feedback from employees being shared on the company’s intranet forum have voiced their dissatisfaction at the apparent lack of internal communication about the redundancies with one member saying: "How come this wasn't briefed out to us all sooner rather than hearing it from the media over the weekend? Not good at all!"

The closures are expected to be a result of the company exaggerating the number of its superfast broadband ‘Project Lightning’ connections which utilise DOCSIS and FTTP. Many staff, however, are said to have become unhappy with the company ever since it was taken over by Liberty Global back in 2013 for £15 billion and the subsequent internal reorganisation and subcontracting it entailed.

During a Q&A session last year, one employee said: “We have worked really hard under the threat of redundancy for nine months with very little communication.” Another roasted their new employer by saying: “[Liberty Global] seems to be ripping the very soul (and people) out of the company and everything that was good about it. There’s no excitement or engagement about what we are working to become … Morale is at an all-time low.”

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media CEO, said:

“I, along with everybody at Virgin Media, am disappointed that, in these cases, we fell short of the high standards we set for ourselves and which our customers rightly expect of us.

We apologise for the inconvenience to these customers and have resolved the issues they raised. All of our sales agents have been re-briefed on the Company’s sales policy and we are providing additional training to ensure everyone complies with it.

Virgin Media invests more than £1 billion a year in its ultrafast network. This year we are also investing £200 million to upgrade network capacity where it’s needed to meet the growing demand for faster broadband speeds across the UK.”

In the interest of balance, it’s worth noting even the reduced download speeds which Virgin Media offer are often still faster than many competitors and the company ranks high in speed test studies. The concern remains, of course, that customers are paying for mis-sold packages and only receiving 3 percent of the advertised speed.

The BBC Watchdog investigation will be aired on BBC One at 8pm tonight (July 5th, 2017.)

What are your thoughts about the Watchdog investigation into Virgin Media? Let us know in the comments.

Outdoor small cells will be ‘integral’ for operator networks – especially with transition to 5G

The outdoor smart cell market will become an integral part of mobile networks, according to new analysis from iGR.

The report argues that the main barriers to growing the outdoor small cell market have little to do with the technology itself and more to do with actual installation issues - power, backhaul, regulations, timelines, and overall cost.

Small cells will be playing an important role in the coming days as the demand for high-quality data services on LTE networks is continuously growing, with the increasing number of mobile subscribers and their rising consumption of data on their smartphones and tablets, especially to watch mobile video.

The vast majority of the cost of an outdoor small cell is related to providing everything except the actual small cell. Accessible sites - actual, physical locations - are the scarcest resource with respect to small cell installation. There are only so many accessible poles, building sides and roofs in a given area, and there is only so much useable space on them, and using that space comes at a premium.

According to iGR, the outdoor small cells – which the market research consultancy defines as either a metrocell, RRH deployed as a small cell or an outdoor DAS (oDAS) – will be an integral part of mobile operator networks, especially as they transition to 5G.

IHS Markit, another market research firm, says that the global small cell rollouts delivered strong double digit year-over-year growth to the market in 2016, with 1.7 million units shipped and $1.5 billion in revenue.

NATO: Cyber attacks like WannaCry, Petya could invoke Article 5 and trigger a military response

NATO has warned cyber attacks like WannaCry and Petya could trigger Article 5 of the treaty and be met with a military response from members after the organisation said there are signs the aforementioned incidents were state-sponsored.

Article 5 is the basic principle of collective defense. An attack on a NATO member is deemed an attack on all members and, if invoked, ties others to a collective response. It has only been triggered once in NATO’s history by the United States following the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center.

“As important government systems have been targeted, then in case the operation is attributed to a state this could count as a violation of sovereignty. Consequently, this could be an internationally wrongful act, which might give the targeted states several options to respond with countermeasures,“ said Tomáš Minárik, Researcher at NATO CCD COE Law Branch. “A countermeasure is a state response that would otherwise be unlawful but for the fact that the state is responding to an internationally wrongful act attributable to another state.”

WannaCry infected the UK’s health service and took critical systems offline which caused increased waiting times and even some urgent operations to be cancelled. Whether this led to fatalities has not been revealed, but at the very least it caused many patients to suffer longer from their ailments.

Last week, UK Defense Minister Sir Michael Fallon spoke about the recent cyberattacks and suggested his nation might respond to future cyberattacks with airstrikes or other military action. In other words, the UK might invoke Article 5 to obtain NATO support for such military action and call upon its 29 members.

After the U.S. invoked Article 5, NATO members joined the country in its war in Iraq and Afghanistan. After nearly 16 years, some NATO troops remain in the countries. The treaty is quite clear when it comes to conventional warfare, but it’s not been updated for modern threats such as cyber attacks and what can be deemed an act of war.

There’s a clear difference between cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. The former can result in the loss of life, while the latter is to gain valuable information. Due to the risk to life, the attack which infected the NHS could be deemed as cyberwarfare especially if it was thought to be intentional. In this case, the ransomware was expected to have spread quicker than the perpetrators expected, but there are suspected links to it raising money for North Korea’s regime. WannaCry took advantage of an exploit leaked from the NSA.

NATO appears to be more concerned about Petya, however.

“In the case of NotPetya, significant improvements have been made to create a new breed of ultimate threat,” said Bernhards Blumbergs, Researcher at the NATO CCD COE Technology Branch. “Among all new features, the malware has been more professionally developed in contrast with sloppy WannaCry, and instead of scanning the whole Internet it is more targeted and searches for new hosts to infect deeper on local computer networks once initial breach has occurred.”

WannaCry was a more typical ransomware attack which spread wherever and however it could in order to encrypt computers and demand payment to restore access. Petya, however, was more targeted and mostly aimed at organisations and businesses worldwide. Ukraine was said to be one of the biggest victims of Petya, with thousands of systems going down, including those at the Chernobyl plant.

Security experts at NATO explain that Petya was mostly “a declaration of power,” with Lauri Lindström, Researcher at NATO CCD COE Strategy Branch, saying the second attack was only designed to be a “demonstration of the acquired disruptive capability and readiness to use it.”

One thing is for certain, the perpetrators should be aware their cyber attacks can be met with a very real world response.

Do you think cyber attacks warrant invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty? Let us know in the comments.

Arqiva acquires 28GHz spectrum license ahead of 5G FWA trial

Communications infrastructure provider Arqiva has announced the acquisition of an additional 28GHz spectrum license ahead of the UK’s first 5G FWA field trial.

Global trials in countries leading 5G research including the USA, Japan, and South Korea have been utilising the 28GHz spectrum band for Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). The acquired Region A licence for 2x 112MHz covers Central and Greater London and bolsters Arqiva’s existing nationwide spectrum band ownership.

Nicolas Ott, Managing Director of Telecoms and M2M at Arqiva, commented:

“5G connectivity is a highly debated topic, especially with regards to what it will deliver and by when. However, the FWA component is set for a head start thanks to the drive from major global fixed line and mobile operators as both a substitute and a companion to traditional fibre services. 3GPP certification is critical to achieving global acceptance.

“5G FWA is an exciting opportunity to deliver true ultrafast broadband above 500Mbps to millions of households; this is especially relevant in the UK where so few households are connected by fibre to the home (FTTH) or fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). FWA has the ability to become a true alternative technology to deliver fibre-like services.

“In purchasing this additional licence we are able to further our ambitions in this area, standing ourselves in good stead to deliver a compelling 5G FWA wholesale service to UK mobile and fixed operators across the country, and with even more capacity in Greater London.”

Arqiva’s spectrum license was acquired from intelligent managed services provider, Luminet.

“The advent of 5G is set to be one of the most exciting digital developments of the decade, and we will be following Arqiva’s trial with interest,” added Sasha Williamson, CEO, Luminet. “Divesting the spectrum was a strategic business decision for Luminet as we continue to build on our existing 400Sqkm London network and enhance our focus on wholesale for our intelligent GB connectivity and computing services.”

Arqiva is partnering with Samsung for the UK’s first 5G FWA field trial – currently planned this summer in London. It will make use of the 28GHz band to explore the possibilities of ultra-fast, high bandwidth connectivity via wireless technology rather than conventional wired services.

The next major milestone for 5G will be in March 2018 when the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) completes Release 15 and marks the first standardisation of 5G.

Are you looking forward to Arqiva’s 5G FWA trial? Share your thoughts in the comments.

UK government re-announces broadband plan – for the third time

In what some have observed as being a desperate bid for positive headlines, the sitting UK government has re-announced the same broadband investment plan as it has twice before.

The £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment fund was mooted in the run-up to the Autumn Statement in late November last year, before it was officially announced by the Chancellor Philip Hammond.

Following a further commitment in the Spring Budget, headlines provided further positive coverage despite being the same amount of cash for the same plan.

This shows the paucity of the government’s strategy and vision for digital infrastructure

Now the Treasury is officially re-announcing the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund for the third time at a launch event in Peterborough on Monday hosted by Junior Treasury Minister Andrew Jones. News organisations received the invite for the event on Sunday afternoon.

Mr Jones, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, is expected to say: “We are investing £400m to make sure the UK’s digital infrastructure is match-fit for the future. As technologies change and people’s habits move with them, it is crucial we play our part to ensure Britain stays at the front of the pack.”

“Gone will be the days where parents working from home see their emails grind to a halt while a family member is gaming or streaming Game of Thrones in the next room. Full fibre will provide us with the better broadband we need to ensure we can work flexibly and productively, without connections failing.”

Following a request, the Treasury confirmed the money and the plan are the same as was previously announced.

Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow digital economy minister, told The Independent the re-announcement showed a lack of new policy thinking in government: “This shows the paucity of the government’s strategy and vision for digital infrastructure in this country that they’ve had to re-announce the same policy three times.”

“Businesses and individuals across the country are dependent on reliable internet, and the Government’s lack of progress is undeniably holding the economy back.”

It’s easy to criticise, but at least it’s not another policy U-turn.

Should the UK government be re-announcing the same broadband plan? Let us know in the comments.

WikiLeaks: How the CIA tracks your exact location

New documents released by WikiLeaks detail how the CIA is able to locate you if you’re using any WiFi-enabled Windows PC or laptop.

The project, known as ELSA, infects a target Windows PC with malware. By using the device’s WiFi chip, the malware scans for all the nearby public WiFi networks and their strengths. This list is then cross-matched with the databases of WiFi networks held by the likes of Google and Microsoft to work out where the person is.

ELSA has likely grown more accurate with time

Where this strategy fails is when an infected PC doesn’t have WiFi or if no public signals are in range. Both of which, in today’s world, are quite unlikely scenarios.

The documents are dated back in 2013 and therefore mention targeting Windows 7 specifically, but it’s believed the method is simple enough that it’s likely the CIA has a variant for every version of the operating system.

After the location data has been generated by the CIA’s malware it’s encrypted and stored in preparation for an agent to decrypt it for use in operations. The documents also detail a removal process to ensure the CIA’s tracks are covered and undetectable.

Where this strategy fails is when an infected PC doesn’t have WiFi

The extent of the malware’s capabilities has not been disclosed but it likely has further control abilities once a PC has been infected. In theory, this could mean even if a WiFi adapter has been disabled it can still be reactivated for scanning.

Exploits hoarded by the NSA and CIA recently leaked and caused havoc across the globe. One exploit, EternalBlue, was used in the WannaCry ransomware which demanded bitcoin payments on infected PCs around the world – including vital health systems in the UK. WannaCry had potential links to North Korea.

For its part, ELSA has likely grown more accurate with time as the WiFi databases held by Google and Microsoft have improved and become more robust since 2013.

What are your thoughts on the latest revelations? Let us know in the comments.

GSMA claims mobile IoT initiative has ‘taken off’ after operator LPWA rollout

Several of the world’s leading mobile operators, including AT&T, China Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, have launched commercial rollouts of low power wide area (LPWA) networks, with the GSMA claiming its Mobile IoT Initiative has been a success.

The list of operators includes AT&T, China Mobile, China Unicom, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon and Vodafone.

The rollout programme is part of the GSMA Mobile IoT Initiative that encourages the market to take on licenced LPWA networks. In China, several key cities have seen the launch of NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) by China Mobile and China Unicom, whereas China Telecom deployed NB-IoT networks across the country. Vodafone introduced the NB-IoT in Spain and the Netherlands, with DT launching the technology in multiple German cities along with nationwide rollout in the Netherlands, while AT&T and Verizon have previously announced nationwide launches of LTE-M technology.

“It is clear that the market sees the benefit of adopting solutions that offers flexibility, security, lower costs, and cover all use cases, and we look forward to seeing other operators follow in the near future,” said Alex Sinclair, GSMA chief technology officer.

Along with these deployments, the GSMA also announced that its Mobile IoT Innovators programme, which is designed to encourage the development of new LPWA solutions, has reached over 500 members, underscoring the growth of the wider IoT ecosystem.

Gartner says China is at forefront in development of the LPWA market. According to the US-based research company, China is set to be the one to lead the LPWA markets by 2025, accounting for 486 million of the estimated 3.1 billion connections globally. It is also at the forefront in the global development of mobile IoT in terms of both network launches and a record number of ecosystem developer partners.

As part of the GSMA’s Mobile IoT Innovator community, China also leads the development of new innovative solutions based on Mobile IoT technology. Interestingly, among the 546 global companies currently developing new solutions based on Mobile IoT technology, more than 215 are from China alone.

Why the end of European roaming charges will spur new service innovation

After a protracted regulatory effort, the European Union has finally abolished mobile roaming charges. As of June 15, mobile network operators can no longer charge customers a premium for calling and using data while travelling in any of the 28 EU countries.

This is great news for European consumers, holidaymakers and business travellers who will not have to suffer “bill shock” when they return home. Mobile phone bills loaded with exorbitant roaming charges have a way of making the post-holiday blues worse and sending the corporate accounts department into conniptions. Indeed, EU policymakers have hailed the 10-year project to eliminate roaming charges as a true European success story.

But not everyone is celebrating. Mobile operators and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are not exactly eager to raise a glass to regulatory intervention that directly impacts their revenue. From now on, the bill shock will be all theirs when they stare at the gaping hole in their turnover where roaming income used to be. At one point in the negotiating and lobbying process, the European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO) association claimed that abolishing roaming fees could wipe out some €7 billion in revenue across the industry by 2020. The extent of the impact on each operator will vary, of course, but all operators will certainly feel a pinch.

The new rules also come into effect at a time when levels of customer growth at some of Europe’s largest operators have slowed due to highly competitive market conditions. Squeezed by competitive and regulatory pressures, some have little room to manoeuvre. Their options are to find efficiencies to cut costs or raise prices to make up for roaming revenue shortfalls. Alternatively, a much better option is to respond by developing new revenue-generating services.

Operators and MVNOs have known regulated roaming cuts were coming for some time. In fact, they have had two years to prepare for this final phase of implementation. In anticipation, many operators started offering “roam-like-at-home” plans long before they were legally required to, which allowed them to differentiate and steal a march on rivals.

But now that all operators are required to charge the same for mobile services at home and abroad, operators need new ways to differentiate services. Without the worry of incurring roaming charges, subscribers will be more relaxed about using mobile data abroad and not as tempted to turn off data services, which gives operators the perfect opportunity to create compelling data services that their customers will value wherever they roam.

This is a good time for operators to consider IP-based services like Voice over LTE (VoLTE), Video over LTE (ViLTE) and Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) as part of their Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) strategy. These are essentially voice and video services that run over mobile data or Wi-Fi networks. But when coupled with NFV and cloud-native design principles, they also lay the foundation for other innovative services.

VoLTE and VoWiFi are sound foundations to build upon. VoWiFi ensures that good quality voice services will be available to subscribers even in places where cellular coverage is poor, such as inside homes and office buildings, while VoLTE provides better quality voice services and increases spectrum use efficiency. They are powered by the same core network elements deployed as scalable, cloud-native virtual network functions (VNFs) that allow operators to innovate and launch services quickly.

Once in place, the cloud-native VNFs that underpin VoWiFi and VoLTE services effectively become open platforms for migrating legacy services and creating new services, such as collaborative mobile unified communications for families, prosumers and small business owners. These are typically underserved market segments, but the service creation platforms enable operators to expand offerings to meet their needs. Such offers might include group chat functionality, support for multiple lines or multiple identities (i.e., personal and business) on the same device, or rich messaging services.

Thanks to the end of mobile roaming charges in Europe, the reliable, innovative services that subscribers are accustomed to in their home markets are no longer limited by country borders in Europe. Subscribers will likely use more mobile data services when travelling abroad from now on. When operators create excellent customer experiences, their subscribers will want to have it wherever they go.

By moving to open, programmable, all-IP networks that are built on highly scalable and cost-effective VNFs, operators can rapidly launch new services, increase market share and offset the loss of their roaming revenue.

Murdoch’s Sky takeover bid is referred to competition authorities

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch was dealt a blow today as culture secretary Karen Bradley announces decision to delay his Sky takeover bid and refer it to competition authorities.

Concerns have been raised about Murdoch’s grip on the media and the influence this can have on consumers if the coverage is not impartial or rounded with alternating views. Bradley told the Commons that UK telecoms regulator Ofcom concluded the deal would result in the Murdoch family having "increased influence" over the UK's news agenda and the political process.

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox is the company putting forward the bid. Fox’s news coverage topped US cable ratings last year for the first time and the company already owns 39 percent of Sky but is now looking for permission to undertake a full takeover.

"On the basis of Ofcom's assessment, I confirm that I am minded to refer to a phase two investigation on the grounds of media plurality," Bradley said.

This isn’t the first time Murdoch has attempted to take over Sky. The previous attempt was abandoned in the wake of the phone hacking scandal which involved publications belonging to Murdoch’s News International company and resulted in the closure of British newspaper News of the World.

Tom Watson, the shadow culture secretary, told the Commons undertakings from the Murdoch family were "not worth the newsprint they are written on" and lessons had not been learned from the phone-hacking scandal. He said it was clear the rules need to be reviewed, and if the current Conservative government won’t do that then “the next Labour government will.”

Bradley intends to submit the proposed takeover to a further 24-week inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority. The EU Commission, for its part, authorised 21st Century Fox to buy Sky back in April.

What are your thoughts on the proposed takeover? Let us know in the comments.

SK Telecom conducts 5G trials using 3.5GHz technology by Samsung and Nokia

South Korean telecommunications giant SK Telecom has conducted 5G trials using 3.5GHz technology by Samsung and Nokia.

With 29.83 million mobile customers, SK Telecom is the largest operator in the nation. Looking to continue its lead, the operator is hoping to get the jump on its competitors when it comes to 5G deployment.

“With the successful demonstration of 5G communications using the 3.5GHz spectrum, SK Telecom has secured all key technologies for building commercial 5G networks using 3.5GHz and 28GHz frequency bands,” said Park Jin-hyo, Senior Vice President and Head of Network R&D Center of SK Telecom. “We will maintain our leadership in 5G by enhancing our technologies for both above-6GHz and below-6GHz frequencies, while playing an active role in the standardization and commercialization of 5G technologies.”

Samsung was tasked by SK Telecom to develop a 3.5GHz 5G network – comprised of 5G virtualized core, virtualized RAN, Distributed Unit (baseband unit and radio unit) and test device – based on the 3GPP 5G New Radio (5G NR) standards elements.

SK Telecom and Samsung completed their trial at Samsung Electronics’ R&D Center in Suwon, Korea.

“We achieved another milestone today, taking 5G in to the sub-6GHz spectrum for use cases and applications requiring wider area network coverage. The below 6GHz spectrum has been identified by the industry as ideal for enabling 5G services such as autonomous/connected car that require a wider area network,” said Park Dong-soo, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Sales & Marketing Team in Networks Business, Samsung Electronics. “Today’s trial with SK Telecom serves as a significant development in our collaborative efforts to accelerate 5G commercialization.”

In a separate trial, SK Telecom has partnered with Nokia to co-develop 5G base station equipment and test device for the 3.5GHz spectrum and successfully realized Gbps-level throughput during a field trial held near its Bundang Office Building through the application of carrier aggregation techniques to expand bandwidth.

“We are pleased to collaborate with SK Telecom on their journey towards 5G deployment. The 5G technology will enable a number of use cases such as critical machine-type communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. This demonstration on 3.5GHz band is a crucial step in the development of 5G ecosystem as it will enable increased data speeds and comprehensive coverage. Nokia is committed in future technology advancement and our partnership with SK Telecom will accelerate the development of the global 5G ecosystem," said Andrew Cope, head of Nokia Korea.

Next on the agenda for SK Telecom and their partnership with Samsung and Nokia is to further enhance transmission speeds, expand coverage, and improve communication stability while on the move.

What are your thoughts about SK Telecom’s 5G trials using 3.5GHz spectrum? Let us know in the comments.