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.

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.