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The British 4G auctions are underway December 13, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware.
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And so at last the 4G auctions have begun in the UK. There is some 4G available already via Everything Everywhere (EE), but none of the major operators are able to offer the service yet.

The applications will be considered before the end of this year with the winning bidder chosen by the end of Q1 2013. This means that 4G services should roll out to the public in general by May or June next year.

Many have asked about the importance of 4G and whether we need the service at all. After all 3G already allows most web browsing and email activities to function perfectly well.

I believe that the difference will be related to video and audio, specifically movies, TV shows, and streaming music. Services like Spotify are getting increasingly popular – you pay a fixed monthly subscription and can then play almost any music. However the big downside to Spotify is you need a computer and Internet connection for it to work. There is some offline functionality, but it’s all clunky and not easy to use.

Imagine if the Internet speed on your phone was so fast that you could stream any music anywhere? There would no longer be a market for iPods for a start.

The same applies for TV and movies. It’s possible to watch video on the move using 3G, but it’s usually a bit slow, the image can be buffered and delayed. The experience is not usually very good – if you want to watch a movie on a train journey it’s easier to download the video file first, not attempt to stream something big on 3G.

Putting data limits to one side, if there is no issue over speed then the phone will almost certainly become the most popular viewing platform for movies and TV shows.

I wonder if that will change how they are produced – filmed with the expectation that they will be viewed on an iPad Mini or iPhone rather than a cinema screen?

Rear of the Year

 

Photo by Scott Wills licensed under Creative Commons

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Does regular data protection apply to location-aware ads? January 25, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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In 2010 I wrote on this blog about some of the difficulties associated with facial recognition and privacy. Although biometric scanning is becoming more important, it’s still not really the method of choice for advertisers who want to recognise a consumer in a particular location.

That solution is far more mundane, the good old Smartphone.

In the past couple of years, location based services such as foursquare and Facebook Places have made it easy for users to check-in and let their friends know where they are located, based on location-aware mobile devices.

What’s interesting though is that there seem to be few issues of privacy for advertisers to worry about, if some basic rules are followed.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. You are a ‘fan’ of Starbucks cafes on Facebook. You go to one of their branches and check-in on Facebook Places. You notice that the café chain has pasted a voucher on your Facebook wall that can only be used within the next one hour at a specific location…

To some this might seem an abuse of information. The café chain knows where you are and the exact time so they can make a time-bound offer to a specific branch, but think for a moment… the consumer has already clicked ‘like’ on the Starbucks fan page to indicate that they like the brand, and they volunteered their own location information to Facebook Places.

If the consumer has volunteered all this information, then surely they are going to be delighted when the chain rewards them – rather than having any concern about being stalked by a coffee company – Starbucks or anyone else.

Though social media is involved, all the standard principles of data protection still apply even in this case. Soon advertising may be not just directed to an audience of one, but to one person in a specific place at a specific time too.

Starbucks' Christmas Bokeh
Photo by Piero Fissore licensed under Creative Commons

Why can’t phone users cancel a contract if they find they have no coverage at home? August 17, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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Telecoms watchdog Ofcom recently published maps showing the expected 3G phone coverage across the UK for all the major service providers.  What’s scary for most consumers is the large amounts of dead space – usually in rural areas.
I know how difficult it can be to sometimes get a phone signal in the UK as I recently cycled from London to Lands End in Cornwall and I was often searching for a particular road, hoping to use the GPS function on my phone, only to find there was no signal.

But what happens if you buy a brand new phone and take it home, only to find that you can’t even get a reliable signal at home. Surely it means the product is not fit for purpose – just like buying a product that does not work, you should be able to return it to the shop? It seems that is very difficult. Most retailers don’t like to see you cancelling a juicy 18-month contract because of perceived poor signals at home.

There are now examples of consumers taking complaints to the courts, but this is not common. Most consumers just hope things will be improve, but there are even some phone operator adverts now featuring people hanging from the window trying to get a signal, implying that this is usual on other networks.

It should be simple to offer a cooling-off period after getting a phone, where you can test the signal, or even offering to allow potential customers to try the service using a temporary SIM. But the status quo is surely not acceptable. Why would anyone pay for a service that doesn’t work?

Bill shock to end? March 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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This month, new EU laws to protect users with roaming mobile devices came into effect. The aim of the new legislation is to prevent what the media has termed “bill shock” as many users of telephones or Internet dongles have found that roaming data charges can be extremely high – especially when compared to the charge (often in contract anyway) when used in the home market.

Look at the case of William Harrison, a student at Nottingham University who visited Paris last year to begin an internship. Mobile phone company Orange advised him to use a 3G dongle, but Harrison never counted on his first month of internet use costing £8,000.

Other examples recently documented in the Sunday papers include a £4,900 bill for downloading a copy of The Apprentice on the BBC iPlayer and a £31,500 Vodafone bill for similar TV downloads. Vodafone did slash that bill to a more manageable £229, but how can such huge bills be racked up in the first place?
It’s all about data use. A laptop or phone that is using broadband on a roaming package – rather than the locally agreed fixed monthly price – will rack up additional charges based on how many megabytes (mb) of data are downloaded. The March 2nd edition of Eastenders on the BBC can be downloaded in 319mb. At the Virgin mobile roaming rate of £5 per mb, that’s going to be a cool £1,595 on your phone bill, just for catching up on the latest happenings in Albert Square.

So will the new legislation work? It’s aimed at ensuring mobile operators cap roaming usage to no more than €50 per month, and they now have until July to implement the procedures. If every provider implements the new rules then it should prevent further “bill shock”, but what if one company doesn’t, or their systems fail to give warnings in time? Who’s liable for the bill then?