Heat, light, water, and Wi-Fi: The benefits and risks for commercial buildings

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Commercial venues have certain basics they must offer to their customers. Heat, light and water are absolute essentials, but Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must have.

It may seem glaringly obvious but offering your customers a slick, robust and free Wi-Fi experience is just as important as the environment, and the quality of service you provide.

Whether it’s a bar, restaurant, shopping centre or airport, people now just expect access to Wi-Fi as a minimum but they also have very definite expectations around its speed, safety and reliability too.

Get it right, and the customer will stay on your premises longer, increasing revenue and strengthening your customer base.

Of course lots of businesses already offer Wi-Fi to their customers. Access is usually provided by leaving the internet connection ‘open’ or by writing the password on the menu or a blackboard somewhere on the premises.

I’m sure we are all familiar with asking a member of staff for the Wi-Fi password or wandering around a venue until you spot it blue-tacked to the till.  Unfortunately this way of providing Wi-Fi comes with a number of risks and problems for both business and customer.

First of all, if the internet connection is critical to the day to day running of the company, from processing card payments to running retail point of sale systems, then there is a real danger that customers may stumble across sensitive and confidential information. I don’t need to tell you that this can end badly and be used for all sorts of nefarious activity.

Next is the risk that the default login details to the Wi-Fi router have not been changed. Anyone could simply log into the router and make changes, leading to all sorts of problems, from an unauthorised user wiping out internet connectivity completely, to something as puerile, but damaging, as changing your network name to something offensive or just plain hilarious.

Lastly, leaving your connection open or freely handing out the password means that people do not necessarily even have to be on site to use your internet connection. People just passing by or sitting next door could be happily using up your bandwidth without contributing anything to your bottom line, resulting in you running up hefty internet bills.

Alongside this there is the danger that an openly displayed password draws the attention of hackers. There are a number of free tools easily available on the internet which can be used to ‘sniff’ the traffic sent over a network. This means they could see data, including usernames and passwords. Seeking out open and vulnerable networks is a fairly common practice in the hacker community and is known as ‘wardriving’. Once they have intercepted information they can breach customer accounts anonymously and with no consequences to the attacker but reflecting very badly on your business or brand. The reputational damage incurred could be huge.

But as I said at the start, customers expect Wi-Fi and expect a good guest experience. So what can a business do to provide the best possible Wi-Fi and avoid the pitfalls of having an open connection?

Having a closed network that uses Wi-Fi management software is the way forward. It is very easy to set up and maintain and it is cost effective. It not only secures your business network it also makes it very easy for your customer to access the web safely and interact with your brand or business via dedicated portals.

There are many advantages for a business. Not only do they keep the customer happy by providing what they view as the fourth essential service but such management software enables the business to gather valuable raw data from the customers using Wi-Fi. It can provide amazing insights from new and repeat customers to gender ratios and much more.

This customer data can transform the marketing and promotional activity of a venue. It allows the business to build a complete picture of exactly who their customers are and provides them with the means to engage with them directly. They can then target their key demographic, promote offers that make sense to the customer base and encourage people to spread the word about their great experience.

In this age of instantly sharing our experiences – both good and bad – having a fully functioning, safe, closed public Wi-Fi network work means that companies can be one step ahead as soon as customer walks in. 

Read more: Fairhair Alliance drafts specifications to equip commercial buildings with IoT

O2 and Three UK criticise Ofcom’s spectrum auction

While it’s not the partnership the operators hoped for, Three UK and O2 have voiced their joint concerns about Ofcom’s upcoming spectrum auction.

Ofcom confirmed a spectrum auction for 190MHz across the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz frequency bands will happen later this year – with the proposals released today. 2.3GHz spectrum can be used for extra capacity and therefore faster download speeds, while spectrum in the 3.4GHz band is expected to be key for the rollout of 5G.

Spectrum in both frequency bands are highly desirable and bids are expected to be high as it could determine the competitiveness of the operators in the coming years. Rival operator, EE, had a headstart on rivals in launching 4G services and has used its success to continue network investment and outbidding rivals to cover 95 percent of the population with 4G and cement itself as Europe’s largest 4G operator. This had further advantages, such as being awarded the contract to supply the UK government’s £1 billion Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP)

At the time, EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “We are immensely proud to be selected to deliver this vital new network for Britain’s Emergency Services. We’ve worked closely with the Police and Ambulance crews to show the power of 4G in helping save time and save lives. We will now work tirelessly to deliver a highly resilient, truly nationwide 4G network to serve all of Britain’s Blue Light and First Responder teams across the UK.”

Smaller networks, Three UK and O2 in particular, feel they are being treated unfairly. The companies even attempted to pool their resources and merge in a deal worth £10.25 billion, however, the deal was blocked by national and European regulators due to concerns a reduction to three operators in the UK would reduce competition. The merged companies would have become the UK’s largest in terms of mobile subscribers and helped to even the field in terms of spectrum ownership.

Three UK launched a campaign it called ‘Make the Air Fair’ which called on Ofcom to place a 30 percent cap on spectrum ownership so no one company is able to own more to prevent a monopoly of the industry. O2, for its part, asked for a 35 percent cap. Now the proposals have been announced, Ofcom has decided on a 37 percent cap.

“Ofcom’s proposal is a kick in the teeth for all consumers and in particular for the near-200,000 people who signed up to the 'Make the Air Fair' campaign,” responded Dave Dyson, Chief Executive of Three UK. “By making decisions that increase the dominance of the largest operators, Ofcom is damaging competition, restricting choice and pushing prices up for the very consumers that it is meant to protect.”

O2 CEO Mark Evans had a similar response and said: “The announcement from Ofcom falls short of our expectations but it is important we now press ahead with the auction quickly so that the spectrum can be obtained by operators that will deploy it for the benefit of consumers, businesses and ultimately UK plc.”

Three UK has previously threatened legal action if Ofcom did not come around to its way of thinking. Based on Dyson’s comments, it sounds as if this is still a possibility: “The mobile market is imbalanced and failing customers. Ofcom has shown little interest in tackling the problem. We will consider our response as a matter of urgency.”

We’ll be sure to keep you updated as this story develops.

Do you think Ofcom’s spectrum auction proposals are fair? Let us know in the comments.

Report argues ‘mixed’ results for Australian telco customer satisfaction

More than three quarters of Australian telecoms customers say they are happy with their service – but the figure is down on the previous quarter.

The figures come from the latest Telecommunications Customer Satisfaction Survey, from the Communications Alliance.

The research, conducted alongside Roy Morgan Research, found a similar number (74%) were satisfied when it came to the ease of contacting their provider, while more than four in five (83%) had no complaints when it came to understanding their monthly bills. Customer satisfaction with the information provided on telecoms products was at 82%.

This is where the good news ends, however. When it came to handling complaints, the satisfaction figures continue to go down, to 60%. This compares unfavourably with the antepenultimate and penultimate quarters where the figure was 66%, but holding steady from the previous quarter’s 61%. One in five respondents (21%) said they were dissatisfied with their provider’s customer service in some way, with 9% saying they were ‘very dissatisfied’.

Alongside satisfaction rates, the research also examined user trends. 98% of users had a mobile phone for their personal use compared to 71% for a landline or VoIP phone – although this was a slight uptick on previous quarters. Telstra remains the eminent telco in Australia cited by 46% of respondents, compared with Optus (30%), BigPond (27%) – a Telstra product – and Vodafone (13%). When comparing users under 30, Telstra (42%) and Optus (41%) were far ahead of Telstra/BigPond (21%) and Vodafone (14%).

The Alliance said that overall the results were ‘mixed’ for this quarter, with some metrics ‘highlighting areas for industry improvement’. You can check out the full results here (pdf).

Read more: Australia joins ‘Five Eyes’ partner UK in calls for weaker encryption

China Mobile downgraded by Morgan Stanley, ‘scrambling’ to catch up on IoT, say reports

It has not been the best week for China Mobile. The operator, which is the largest global telco in terms of domestic subscribers, has been downgraded in the eyes of analysts Morgan Stanley, while another analyst, Edison Lee at Jefferies, said the company faces a ‘dilemma’ in terms of Internet of Things (IoT) standards.

According to Barrons, Morgan Stanley finds three issues with China Mobile’s current strategy; the 5G spending cycle, higher operating expenses, and how competition effects profits. The analyst called the path to 5G a ‘painful journey’ for China Mobile, as well as removing the company’s stock from its Asia Pacific excluding Japan telecoms portfolio.

Elsewhere, a report from the South China Morning Post has found that the operator ‘may be scrambling to catch up’ with its two competitors, China Unicom and China Telecom, in deploying IoT architecture.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) recently announced the country would need to accelerate its implementation of NB-IoT (narrow band IoT) technologies, building 1.5 million base stations by the end of 2020. As this publication previously reported, operators around the world are starting to dip their toes in the water with rollouts, including Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone New Zealand.

Edison Lee, equity analyst at Jefferies, noted that China Mobile could either wait for the MIIT to give it a licence to redevelop its GSM 2G network for 4G or upgrade it itself, while another issue is that its 4G network is based on TD-LTE (time division long term evolution), as opposed to FDD-LTE (frequency division duplex) preferred by Unicom and China Telecom.

Shares in the company, which were at 86.95 on June 1, slumped to a low of 80.10 on July 6 and at the time of publication sat at 80.85.

British government pumps £16m into 5G research

The UK government has pumped £16 million into 5G research to help ensure Britain is at the forefront of mobile technology.

By 2030, 5G is expected to inject up to £173 billion into the economy. In comparison, the £16 million investment announced today sounds like a bargain for the potential return.

Andrew Jones MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, added: “Ensuring Britain remains at the forefront of digital innovation is a priority for this government.

“We are investing £740 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund to boost the country’s digital infrastructure, and today’s announcement will help provide people and businesses with the next generation of connections.

The research will be conducted by experts at King’s College London, and the Universities of Surrey and Bristol. The plan is to develop a cutting-edge 5G test network with the aim of ensuring businesses and people can enjoy the benefits commercially sooner.

Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Head of the Communication Systems & Networks group commented: "As part of the University of Bristol's Smart Internet Lab we've been developing some amazing 5G technologies.

For example, we hold the world record for spectral efficiency with our 5G Massive MIMO base station. We're also a world leader in the use of millimeter spectrum and software defined networking. Working with our industrial and academic partners, we aim to show off some of the incredible new services made possible by 5G networks."

The speed, coverage, and reliability of 5G will enable new uses for mobile technology including for other recent advancements such as virtual reality and self-driving vehicles. It will also play a large part in enabling the IoT (Internet of Things) to flourish as record numbers of devices and sensors are brought online.

Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital, said: “We want to be at the head of the field in 5G. This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy.

“We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultra-fast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities, and I’m thrilled to announce King’s College London and the universities of Surrey and Bristol have agreed to collaborate on this project.”

Countries at the forefront of 5G are sure to reap significant economic benefits, and the British government plans to ensure the country is among them. This investment aims to deliver a 5G end-to-end trial in early 2018.

What are our thoughts about the 5G research investment? Let us know in the comments.

NB-IoT and VoLTE progress: Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Verizon pushing initiatives

A couple of updates – and firsts – have taken place in the NB-IoT (NarrowBand IoT) and VoLTE (voice over LTE) spaces.

Deutsche Telekom has introduced two entry packages as pilot NB-IoT solutions in Germany, in a move to widen the scope of its network offerings in the arena and accelerate its 2020 5G communications standard.

The packages are NB-IoT Access, a streamlined NB-IoT device connectivity package, and NB-IoT Access & Cloud of Things, which is a more comprehensive product offering.

Both packages allow for easy prototyping and piloting of NB-IoT solutions in the markets, the German giant claims. The NB-IoT Access entry package comes with a six-month activation of up to 25 SIM cards each having 500 KB per SIM that uses the NB-IoT network. It includes useful add-ons such as a private APN with IPsec-key encryption. The NB-IoT Access & Cloud of Things entry package provides direct access to Deutsche Telekom’s Cloud of Things platform for device and data management.

Vodafone NZ has announced that it will deploy its NB-IoT in early 2018 across New Zealand. The business customer trial will comprise of software deployments across several cell sites and will also make use of Vodafone’s networking testing facilities. The trial is supported by more than 40 mobile operators, and aims to connect the tens of millions of IoT devices in the next few years.

Elsewhere, Verizon and China Unicom have announced the completion of Cat M1 VoLTE calls, with an eye on supporting Internet of Things (IoT) applications and use cases.

Verizon sent a release to the wire on June 30 confirming it had for the first time carried a live over the air LTE Cat M1 VoLTE call, while another release on July 3 confirmed China Unicom had demonstrated two Cat M1 VoLTE use cases, a fire alarm trigger panel and a GPS emergency tracking device, at the recent Mobile World Congress Shanghai event.

In both cases the assisting companies were Ericsson and Qualcomm. Ericsson said in the Verizon case that “the IoT space offers new revenue-generating services for operators and adding voice capabilities to IoT devices takes use cases such as alarm panels and medical alert systems to the next level of functionality,” while Qualcomm said for Unicom that its LTE IoT modem solution was “designed to support the low power, cost-efficient and global deployment required by many of these IoT applications.”

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.