November 2012 Archives

Maria Miller - the buck stops with you

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EU symbol 1 2

EU symbol 1 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There always seems to be a spat between Westminster and the European Union, especially in these current days of having a government looking to get out of it at the nearest opportunity. However, the latest row has seen the EU grow a pair and bite back at what I think were unfair and harsh criticisms of its process.

Yesterday, the recently appointed culture minister Maria Miller got an ear bashing from David Cameron for her department "not doing as well as [it] should be" when it came to helping the UK economy grow and the slow progress of broadband roll-out was named as one of the culprits.

Miller used this as an excuse to lash out at Brussels, saying it was her "intervention" that had ensured the broadband plans it had been tasked with approving went through and she had brought them "out from under stifling EU bureaucracy," essentially telling the PM he should thank his lucky stars to have her on his team.  

This wasn't the case though.  Yes, the EU had to look at the BDUK project for rolling out broadband across the UK, but this needed to happen. It had to check it was competitive and stuck to the rules when it came to state aid.

With only BT and Fujitsu allowed to bid for the contracts worth hundreds of millions, a lot of us in the industry have raised eyebrows and wondered if all is fair in love and broadband, especially with BT being named the only winner in the seven programmes confirmed so far.

Having an extra set of eyes to comb through the government's plans and the processes of BDUK gave me a bit more reassurance and, despite wanting broadband roll-out to happen as fast as possible, I was willing to wait to get the nod from Brussels.

For Miller to claim she was some saviour speeding up this process is a load of nonsense and luckily, for once, the EU has told her so.

Joaquín Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, said "Brussels bureaucrats worked faster than their London colleagues" in moving broadband roll-out forward and "the real origin of the delays... should also be made clear."

He told the FT: "We asked the UK government last February to supply the necessary information to us and only received a complete answer in October."

So actually between her and her predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, it was the lack of communication from our side of the Channel that was causing problems.

This is not the first time Miller has tried to take credit for something that she has no right to lay claim to.

In October she met with mobile operators to talk about the contentious issue of spectrum and who would be first to get 4G. After the meeting, she claimed she had brought peace to the mobile industry by ironing out the timetable for the spectrum auction and stopping the providers going to the courts over it.

The victory had actually been a technical one, where the two companies tasked with clearing the analogue television frequencies for the auction - Arqiva and DigitalUK - had completed the job five months ahead of schedule. It wasn't down to you was it Miss Miller?

Yes, the broadband roll-out needs to happen for this country's economy - excuse me whilst I die of shock from agreeing with Cameron here - but it is the lack of funding - £530m is a pitiful amount for such a big project - and the long winded process put in place by BDUK and the department for culture, media and sport holding things up.

Add to that the lack of imagination when it comes to the technologies that could be utilised rather than just being blinkered by fibre, and I think the blame falls squarely at the UK government's door. And yes, that means you Miss Miller.

Stop trying to take the credit for other people's achievements and start taking the blame for your faults.

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Stop taking the credit for broadband and start investing the cash

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DCMS headquarters in Cockspur Street

DCMS headquarters in Cockspur Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week the European Commission (EC) gave the go ahead for the BDUK project, which will see £530m of central government funding go towards rolling out broadband.

There have been a lot of complaints about this figure not being large enough, to which I totally agree. It seems mad that something as important to both home and work as connectivity is given such a measly sum when the government is willing to payout £33bn on a new train track or £9bn on a glamourised sports day.

But what has got me scowling today is how Whitehall is trying to take so much credit for 'making Britain digital' whilst paying so little towards the scheme and expecting everyone else to empty their pockets.

The figure the EC released for state funding was £1.5bn. When I asked where this was coming from, the spokesman said it was all public money.

If central government is only putting in £530m, that leaves a bill of almost £1bn at the local authorities' door, when originally the BDUK project said they would only have to match funding from Westminster.

What was even worse was the attitude of the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS) towards this whole process. The spokesman I talked to today told me not to "pay too much attention to that figure as it might not be that much," adding: "We had to give a figure to the EC for the purpose of the investigation."

So, not only does the DCMS not have the figures in order of how much these plans will actually cost, it doesn't care if it gives the wrong figure to the EC, which has just been carrying out a serious inquiry into the whole BDUK project.

Delving deeper into the original proposal for the BDUK scheme, the government said its aim was to get 50% of funding from the private sector.

Now, I am not against this investment at all. Private companies will benefit hugely from the roll-out and I believe they should put cash in.

However, the figures today show government expects £1.5bn from them, so suddenly it becomes very clear why BT is the only one winning the contracts.

There cannot be many ISPs in the UK who could afford to put down such a huge sum on the table, triple what central government is prepared to invest themselves, despite telling us all how important a connected Britain is for the economy and our wellbeing.

The EC may have given it the green light but it is clear there is a lack of variety when it comes to the providers involved in this project, as well as with the technology as I have ranted... I mean blogged about before.

Cameron, Clegg, all of you. I agree we need better broadband infrastructure in this country. I agree private companies should put in their fair share. But I believe you should be using tax money to fund this roll-out and bring connectivity to everyone in the country at a much faster pace.

You feel like the colleague from work who always makes sure he is last in the pub on a Friday and sips his pint the slowest so he doesn't have to get a round in.

Stop relying on everyone else and make a valid investment into broadband. I hear there is a lot of spare cash you are thinking of wasting on something called Trident...

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Why does Apple need to have a sale?

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Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

The Twittersphere is a very excitable place today. Why, you ask? No, it is not because of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks getting charged, although this has helped. It is because Apple has announced for one day only it is going to have a sale.

Yes fanboys, roll up, roll up, Apple will be slashing its prices this coming Friday in both its retail stores and online outlets, but just for 24 hours.

It is not clear yet what the discounts will be but we are already peering round the corner from our central London office to see if queues are forming on Regent Street yet.

What baffles me is why is Apple doing this. The company has never seemed to have a problem shifting its products before, especially in the run up to Christmas, and the premium price tag has ensured premium profits every quarter.

I think a sale shows Apple might be getting nervous. The smartphone market is not going in its favour as Samsung continues grow in its domination and the tablet world is becoming cramped with a number of low price and appealing products from the likes of Google and Amazon.

Consumers have a lot more choice than even 12 months ago and when you can get a premium smartphone for almost £150 less than the iPhone or a smart, budget tablet device with change from £200, the appeal of Apple's innovations may be waning.

Don't worry, I have not lost my mind. I know Apple isn't going anywhere soon and its beautifully crafted marketing has many a man and woman hooked on all of its gadgets. There will still be significant sales figures coming in the next financial results and profits will still have so many zeros I will feel nauseous.    

But, this one day sale means they want to get some attention and perhaps need to get some attention, dragging the spotlight away from devices like the Google Nexus 4 or Samsung Galaxy Note II that are getting way more coverage than the iPad or iPhone in the festive build up.

Do they know something we don't know? I guess the sales figures in January will tell the story but I just hope they separate the sales from the one day extravaganza out from the rest of the quarter so we can see what is really going on.

Happy queuing guys! I'll be in the pub with a book and a glass of mulled wine...

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The People's Operator

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I will put my hands up and admit I rarely use this blog to talk about something positive and, in general, I am rarely called an optimistic soul. However, a piece of news caught my eye today that I wanted to share and enjoy the warm and fuzzy feeling as a result.

Today saw the launch of The People's Operator - a new mobile phone network with a charitable goal.

Piggy-backing on EE's extensive network, the company offers pay as you go SIM cards with voice, text and data bundles, starting at £7.50, £2.25 or £4.25 per month respectively. Pretty standard so far, like the way wholesale broadband companies run over BT's lines.

But here is the fuzzy part. A significant 25% of the TPO's profits are given away to charity, to partners of Foundation, including the NSPCC, Dimbleby Cancer Care and Childline.

And, if you want to feel even warmer about it, you can donate 10% of the cost of all your call, text and data usage to the charity of your choice, whether a large, famous name or a local project you are passionate about.  

The Shoreditch firm will still make money of course and I can't see everyone leaping over to the new deals, but I will stick with my new found optimism and say well done TPO. If ever a new philanthropic company was needed, it is now and good on you for pushing the causes you are.

With Christmas coming up and new handsets flying all over the place, take a look at getting your SIM from TPO and get your warm and fuzzy feeling. 

Citizen puts EE in its place - it might be better to wait for 4G

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There has been endless coverage of EE and its 4G roll out hitting the UK, but who can blame us? It seems to have taken forever for the UK to get on the 4G train and it is exciting that it is now possible to get the much speedier connections.

I was given a wireless hotspot by EE for a week to test out its capabilities and I was suitably impressed. Being able to Skype with my work colleagues when out and about was of great use, being able to do my emails without having to try and resend several times when the signal drops out was fantastic and sitting on a night bus home being able to catch up on Eastenders... I mean a very interesting documentary, without any buffering or pauses, was a great experience.

But, I live and work in central London. I am one of the lucky ones that, if I decide to pay the rather high prices for a 4G device, will be able to get the signal in all my daily haunts. Not everyone is so lucky though.

Remember EE has only launched its 4G services in 11 cities to begin with. It plans for an extra five by the end of the year, but this is still a very limited number and the vast majority of UK citizens won't be anywhere near the superfast speeds for some time.

Not that you would have guessed by the firm's advertising campaign. I will admit I am a sucker for Kevin Bacon and the TV ads of him speaking in British slang was quite entertaining, but it does give the impression 4G is available in many more locations than it is in reality.

Now a conscientious citizen has taken the issue into his own hands after EE went one step too far.

The Telegraph has reported that Jon McKnight complained to Trading Standards after seeing a poster stating "4G is here" in his local store in Plymouth. The reality is the closest city with 4G capabilities is Bristol - 120 miles away.

"The poster claims that the iPhone 5 on the superfast 4G system is available now in Plymouth and is five times faster than phones on 3G," he wrote. "That is a lie."

"I believe it is misleading in the extreme to suggest that an iPhone 5 bought in Plymouth would work on 4G and operate five times faster than on 3G when that service is not available here and no date has yet been announced for its introduction."

A leaked email from the Plymouth division of Trading Standards showed it agreed with the complaint and was concerned this could be a wider issue across the UK.

EE told me it was a "single wrong poster" and an "isolated error for which we apologise" and the poster has been removed, but I agree with Trading Standards that this is likely to happen again and many might be lured into EE stores with the false hope of faster connectivity.

Like Mr McKnight we should all be aware of what we are being sold and not let operators mislead us, whether it comes to speeds, costs or usage limits.

Despite the impressive performance of 4G on my trial device, I think we will all be better off waiting until next May when all the operators have their own offerings and we as consumers have more of a choice, as well as more coverage in the UK. 

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Stop procrastinating RIM and get the OS launched

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Image representing Research In Motion as depic...

Image via CrunchBase

Today RIM finally made a public announcement that its new BlackBerry 10 mobile operating system, along with two handsets housing the software, will launch on 30 January.

Executives from the company have been leaking this information left, right and centre for a few months now, but RIM is hoping that a formal statement will whip the industry up into a frenzy and get people excited about the launch.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I still don't understand why it has taken them this long. RIM is so far behind all its competitors to have a current mobile OS, developers for the system are few and far between and, let's face it, who on earth buys a mobile in the poorest month of the year when there is nothing but cobwebs and receipts from Christmas presents in our wallets.

I have had a few hands-on experiences with BlackBerry 10 and I do think it is nifty software. The new 'peek' feature to allow a glimpse into apps without closing what you are working on, as well as the much more intuitive keyboard, are just a couple of top developments.

However, I think it will take more than this to convince the evangelical iOS users or the Android worshippers to convert to what is viewed by many as the handset of the 1990s business man, rather than the bring your own device professional of 2012 - or 2013 by the time these handsets launch.

Credit to RIM for keeping us talking about them but I fear the longer they drag this out, the more negative the coverage will get, and the industry will be bored of the OS before it even hits the shelves.

Stop procrastinating RIM and get the OS and the devices launched. 

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Apple must stop going in circles over patent infringement

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Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Sorry if this blog appears to be turning into an Apple bashing contest but I think even the most avid Apple fan boy would accept things are starting to get a tad silly.

Last week, the company was forced to rewrite a statement it was, in-turn, forced to post on its website by the courts, proclaiming to UK customers that Samsung had not infringed its patents when designing the Galaxy Tab devices.

Initially it had written an open letter detailing the ruling but basically throwing it back in the judges' faces, citing all the times it had won its legal battles and apparently proved Samsung's guilt.  

Unsurprisingly, the courts were less than happy about this and made Apple rewrite the statement within two days and make it more prominent on its homepage.

Apple did as it was told but managed to ensure that, even though the link to the statement was on its UK homepage, a special piece of code ensured it always appeared below the fold of the page, regardless of what device you visited the site on.

The childishness of this is infuriating and continuing to play games with the legal system is incredibly disrespectful to the UK courts. On top of this, it also seems like a bit of a dumb tactic as not only does it grow the attention of the press around the case, the judges involved have already shown they won't be made fools out of and could yet again drag the company through the courts.

But, if this ongoing saga wasn't enough, Apple has now launched yet another case against Samsung in the US, just a matter of months after it was awarded $1bn in damages by a Californian court ruling the South Korean firm had infringed its iPad patents.

Why has it launched yet another suit? Well, it seems Apple was waiting for Samsung to roll-out the Android version 4.1 mobile operating system - codenamed Jellybean - to then leap on its products again and say "Look! They are still copying us!"

The official statement says it wanted to ensure every variant of the Galaxy range, now including the Nexus handsets, as well as the Note ranges and the Galaxy SII smartphones, contained the same infringements, but it just seems like another excuse to try and embarrass Samsung, win some cash they don't need from the same court and bore us technology journalists to death.

The thing is I think it is Apple that should be embarrassed, not Samsung. Due to its incessant legal action, the idea of patent infringement has become a joke to many and is no longer being taken seriously. It looks like large companies see this as the new way of getting free publicity and are happy with the result of a media circus around them whether they win or lose.

On the other side, the fear has been cast into smaller companies who could never fight cases like this and will be afraid of innovating in case their designs are accused of patent infringement - the differing rulings on either side of the Atlantic prove it depends who is in the court on the day on which way the axe would fall.

But for Apple itself, I think it is making the firm looked scared and unable to face competition. If a company will spend that many millions of dollars on protecting a rounded corner of a smartphone, it doesn't sound like it has much up its sleeves for the future.

Yes, if people blatantly copy your design, you have a right to feel wronged and the law backing you to take them down. But Apple is going round and round in circles in different countries across the globe and would better spend that money on Johnny Ive and his team to start innovating again rather than rereleasing iPads and hoping the market will stick with it. 

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O2 roaming rises are a tax on the business traveller

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One potential definition of transatlantic rela...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the summer, consumers rejoiced as the EU won its battle with mobile operators and made them slash their roaming prices across Europe.

It meant we could finally travel around the continent and have fantastic holidays without panicking about coming home to huge bills.

But it was the business community that sighed the biggest amount of relief. When you are out of the office, your mobile becomes your most precious possession; both as a way of contacting those for anything you need in the office and as a way to keep you sane with the nightly call to your loved ones.

You don't have a choice when you are abroad on business to switch your phone off and ignore it until you return to your home shores. It is a necessary tool to keep you working on the move and you just have to pray your office will accept the expense claim when the bill rolls in.

But our little European victory as business travelers has now been dwarfed by mobile operators desperate to claw back the cash they are losing from the new and fair legislation.

O2 announced the first price rises for five years for its outside EU roaming tariffs, proving before this legislation, the numbers had clearly sufficed.

Now, it has had the gall to whack the prices up an excessive amount. You can read the full run down here, but figures included a rise from 81p to £1.50 to make a call in Zone 3 countries, such as Croatia and an introduction of a flat 40p rate for text messaging wherever you are outside of the EU, up from 25p in the US.

But receiving calls was even worse. In the US & Canada, Asia Pacific and Zone 3 countries, the charges had more than doubled for each minute, rising from 39p to 90p, 43p to 80p and a whopping 52p to £1.25 respectively.

This is appalling. Yes, if you are heading to the US for a one week holiday it might not be an issue, but what if you are heading there once a month with work? What if your company doesn't hand out expenses for your phone bills but expects you to be contactable all the time? Or what if you run a small business that has to go meet prospective customers but has no accounts department to submit expenses to?

These sort of price hikes target the corporate user that the likes of O2 know have to use their phones or they can't do their jobs. It is a tax on the business traveller who has no choice but to make a call and pay through the nose for it.

I sing the praises of the EU for what they have done but we need to find a way to stop mobile operators using roaming as a license to print money as there is no way it is costing them this much to connect calls.

Maybe if the business community makes enough noise, we can get the ball rolling. It is time to tell operators we won't put up with sky high charges for low rate service. 

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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