Bad Stuff Business Legal ofcom Regs scams

Information, Connection and Signposting Services (ICSS) Update

ICSS update

A little while ago I was approached by someone else that shares an interest in the subject of Information, Connection and Signposting Services (the so-called ICSS), about which I have previously written on Trefor.Net.

As a brief reminder, someone will buy up all the Google Ad-words (or, I suppose, the Yahoo equivalent if they’re still a thing) for “British Gas Customer Services” and variants thereof, and show a revenue sharing phone number, such as 0844 (which can be upto 7 pence per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) which they then translate to the actual customer service number and pocket the difference.

Since I last wrote about this, the Consumer Rights Directive was transposed and the Financial Conduct Authority implemented a similar requirement to outlaw the use of “premium rate” calls when contacting a company in connection with a contract.

Firstly, some pedantry from me. The term premium rate is bandied about far too often by everyone. It has a very distinct legal meaning, which is based in the Ofcom Premium Rate Services Definition. Broadly, that means it has to be more than 7 pence per minute in terms of the Service Charge element; and as the National Telephone Numbering Plan (given force by virtue of General Condition of Entitlement 17) prohibits the use of anything above 7 pence per minute to just 087x and 09x ranges, then 084 numbers and 03 numbers are not Premium Rate by definition. Hopefully some sub-Editors for the Daily Mail shall take note. Incidentally, the numbering plan doesn’t prevent 087 being used below 7 pence per minute – in the changes to the non-geographic call services market in the summer of 2015, many operators set a service charge of 1-2 pence per minute for 0870 numbers to maintain the status quo. This means they are not “premium rate” despite the fact the next number block in sequence might be 13 pence per minute.

So, now we are all up to speed, why the renewed interest? Well, PhonepayPlus intervened in the ICSS market where the Service Charge element was over 7 pence per minute (i.e. premium rate where they have jurisdiction). They set a prior permission regime, which denoted ICSS has high risk, but then softened this to Special Conditions along with the rest of the prior permission regime in an update to the PhonepayPlus Code of Conduct. Their intervention wasn’t a smooth one, with some ICSS operators seeking a judicial review of their intervention. That will give you an idea of what the market is worth – a view supported by the growing number of entities apparently offering such a “service”. I have a list broken down by year and it has demonstrably been growing over time.

I cannot think of any direct PhonepayPlus censure of an ICSS provider; however, the Advertising Standards Authority has intervened in a couple of cases. The first brought to my attention was in 2014 whereby the ASA ruled against them on the basis it wasn’t clear it was a connection service. Interestingly, in a case in 2015, they went further, discussing that customers looking for a number for customer services wouldn’t go into detailed small print. This is heartening as it means the ASA is almost going further than PhonepayPlus and is a useful alternative body to make complaints to.

Unsurprisingly, the Fair Telecoms Campaign made a suggestion that all ICSS should be treated as Premium Rate Services (i.e. under Phonepayplus control) in their response to the Ofcom consultation on the latest Phonepayplus Code of Conduct. Ofcom dismissed this in their Statement due to a lack of consumer harm being evidenced, which is a stock Ofcom answer for “not important enough to warrant our resource or attention yet”.

That Ofcom position also correlates with me having made representations on behalf of some financial institutions who were rather aggrieved at being passed off (which is still the advice I give people – treat it as impersonation more than a telecommunications regulation issue).

So, it’s clear there’s still a problem, and potentially one that is growing. Where do we go from here?

Well, it is heartening that a Google search I have performed for a few private sector companies people may wish to call (including those I referenced in my original piece) has them in the top couple/three hits with ICSS at least being less obvious and less baiting then I recall, although they are still there. This of course doesn’t get around the natural human instinct of just dialling the number that’s there at the top, of course. However, I cannot say the same for government departments who appear to be subject to it, and, in terms of Ofcom’s statutory duties, should have them pay more attention as it presents services used by the more vulnerable in society.

I believe that the ASA has broader power and is clearly more disposed to using it in situations where ICSS is misleading. The problem here is two-fold though. First, it is a lot harder for a commercial entity to make a complaint to the ASA (something I found out when ITSPA were going to refer EE for its “shed load of data” advert a couple years ago). Secondly, there is a balance between offering a service at a premium taken willingly by lazy consumers (the economists would say “reducing their search costs”); just like being put through to a number given to you by the guys in moustaches at their 118 rates, ICSS can be argued to have a legitimate role in society.

That means we need to have a debate, which is where Ofcom should come in. They are the subject matter experts and have a wide range of powers available for them to research and intervene as they feel appropriate. So, I think my advice needs to be updated as follows;

  1. Complain to the ASA. It is easier for it to be given attention if the consumer does it as opposed to the passed off company.
  2. Be in control of your search engine results and outspend the ICSS people if needs be. I haven’t experienced it myself as it isn’t my area, but one ITSPA members tells me Google are receptive to  companies complaining they are being passed off, so that should be something done as well.
  3. Complain to Ofcom. Google “Ofcom contact us” and pray I haven’t been mischievous and bought the ad words for it and translated an 0908 number to their 0300 to fund an Aston Martin. In all seriousness, their details are here.


My experience from dealing with fraud, net neutrality and other issues that various agencies want to try and ignore is that once there’s a clear weight of evidence, in fairness to those agencies, they do start to act. So let’s get the evidence to them and break the vicious cycle of “no action because no reporting” and “no reporting because no action”.

Business ofcom

UK Calling what does Ofcom new ruleset really mean?

Ofcom new UK calling rules muddy the waters – calls to mobile and 0870/0845 will rise

Today is the day that brings changes to the way telephone calls are charged for 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers. The Ofcom new UK Calling rules are the latest initiative from the UK regulator that claims to make the cost of calling these numbers clear for everyone.

However, looking over the website, it doesn’t actually say what the cost of calling an 0845 number is on the new scheme. Their own calculator on the ‘Cost of Calling’ page is no use either. Enter ‘0845’ and it says “Calls are typically charged at between 1p and 12p per minute depending on the time of day for landline customers, plus a call set-up fee. Calls from mobile phones generally cost between 5p and 40p per minute.”

Doesn’t seem clear to me? What is the cost? Tell me the money!

The new charging structure is as follows. There is an access charge and a service charge that together make the overall call charge. The access charge is what your provider charges you and the service charge is the portion that goes to the service provider. Add the two together and I get the call rate. Makes sense to the telephone geeks, me included. I like maths but at least I have the sense to know that most people don’t.

To be fair to Ofcom, this works best with telephone voting on TV. You will now see a message that says something like vote for Dan, “Calls cost 20p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”

This should be clearer if you can remember the access charge for you provider!

You can probably tell from the tone of this article that I am not supportive of this initiative. I have often joked that Ofcom has no powers to fix the problems in the market unless it is related to TV voting and then they come up with this UK Calling nonsense that seems to be focussed on TV voting!

The more I look at Ofcom’s project, the less I am sure of what it is trying to achieve. Fact, non geographic numbers are confusing, no one knows how much it costs to call them, even me with my power for numbers. Fact, mobile providers charge ridiculous rates for calling these numbers.

So Ofcom must have some goals?  Goal, simplify the whole system so that more people understand the costs of calling non geographic numbers. Goal, try to ensure mobile and other telecom providers reduce their rates to the caller.

So let’s look at the first goal. Simplification.

When I speak to customers and they ask me the cost of something, they always want a straight answer or at least something that makes sense in English. Up until now I have been able to answer the question, how much does it cost us to call 0845, 0870 and 0871 from our  service? The answer was 3p and 1p and 11p. Pretty straightforward. Now the answer is that we charge an access charge of 3p, plus the service charge for that number. My answer now doesn’t tell you the actual cost to call. The answer to that question is an now unknown and possibly different for every number you may dial. If I was speaking to the customer I would probably now say, ‘well we charge 3p per minute plus whatever you will get stung for by the service charge but I am with you on this one regarding the costs, who knows, it’s a lottery mate’.

Doesn’t sound simpler to me.

So what about reducing costs. In the past Mobile providers have managed to charge huge amounts for calling 08 numbers. But guess what, this UK Calling thing hasn’t sorted this. Mobile access charges are still high. A text regarding the change from my provider Three managed to include a hidden message to Ofcom.

‘Do you call numbers that start 084, 087, 09 or 118? From 1 July how these calls are charged is changing & will cost more. To find out more click …’

Did you spot it? Yes, ‘will cost more’. A small F you to Ofcom?

One second though. 0800 and 0808 numbers are now free to call on mobiles. Yes, this is indeed the greatest thing go come out of the whole initiative. Except, sorry Ofcom, no credit or pat on the back for this. You are just finally fixing something you should have stamped down on the day the mobile providers started charging for something that was meant to be free anyway. Dense question of the week for you. Freephone, how much is that to call? Anyone? Anyone?

Another reason the cost of calling has also gone up, is because Ofcom has let service providers set their own pricing for their number ranges. 0870 which were cheaper to call thanks to Ofcom’s previous initiative are now up by 10p per minute and 0845 service charges seem to be several pence per minute higher now from the providers I have checked. And why not? It’s a good time for service providers to take the opportunity to make increases hidden amongst the other changes.

So Ofcom have neither simplified nor reduced costs to the consumer with this new initiative!

The painful outcome of all this is. It has increased the cost of calling these number to the end user. Ofcom has allowed service providers to set their own prices on 0845, 0870 and 0871 and therefore fragmented the number ranges to make it impossible to answer the question, how much does it cost to call an 0845. Ofcom has forced providers to waste hours changing systems and communicating this to customers for no tangible benefit.

But wait, there might be one really positive and hidden message from all of this.
“Service providers, ditch your expensive 084 and 087 numbers and get an 03 number instead. That is if you want anyone to call you.”

See also this post by Simon Woodhead in which he quantifies how much prices will go up as a result of this move by Ofcom.

Business ofcom

Ofcom Business Connectivity Market Review

Ofcom Business Connectivity Market Review

As part of their Business Connectivity Market Review (BCMR), Ofcom published a document last Friday detailing its proposals related to competition in the provision of leased lines.

Ofcom are looking at whether BT should grant access to its Dark Fibre network to other ISPs. They also want to consider reducing the Service Level Agreement for leased line installations by Openreach from 46 to 40 days by 2017 (for some reason Ofcom call this Quality of Service). Also Ofcom thinks London is a highly competitive market (which it is) and doesn’t include the Capital in the review.

The news has come as a surprise to many as Ofcom’s previous review of business connectivity (carried out in 2012) which also investigated leased lines rejected the idea of using ‘passive remedies’, including ‘dark fibre’ access.

The proposals are subject to a consultation which will close on 31 July 2015, with Ofcom stating that they expect to publish their final decisions in the first quarter of 2016.

What Ofcom should also be doing in tandem is insisting the government review the whole business rates system for fibre which is stitched up by BT. It’s all very well making BT open up it’s dark fibre estate to competition but BT’s favourable rates deal means that they are almost certainly going to be able to quote the end customer more competitive rates for that same fibre route.

Ofcom also published a press release on the proposals which is available here.

Loads of posts on the subject of fibre rates on this blog here. More specific detail on the subject in the post entitled Fibre Rates Inequity Iniquity. In Valuation Office Parlance the rates are called hereditament btw. Just shows you how archaic the whole system is. The whole system needs reviewing. The problem is that it’s a huge bag of worms. BT may well argue that they pay a fair amount of rates based on their business as a whole but it doesn’t stop the fibre rating system being wrong.

You have until the end of July to get your comments in, at which point there will be nobody in the office at Ofcom to read them.


4g Business Mobile ofcom UC webrtc

WebRTC and the mobile reseller opportunity

The WebRTC opportunity for mobile sales dealers

So far in the ipcortex WebRTC week we’ve talked a lot about the impact that WebRTC will have on how we might communicate, as well as exploring some of the technical aspects of the technology. One thing that we’ve not really touched upon is the way that WebRTC will change the commercial comms ecosystem and, being browser based technology, how it will come to affect the mobile business market.

We invited Dave Stephens,  ‎Sales Manager at major O2 dealer Aerial Telephones to share his views on the current challenges in the business mobile market, diversification into unified communications and how WebRTC will impact the delivery of solutions that marry the two.

A changing market

mobile conversationThe business mobile market is in a difficult space right now. Monthly prices are falling whilst handset costs are rising dramatically; a situation made worse in the UK where by and large we still expect to be able to get a free handset with a new contract. Of course we all know the handset is not really free, rather subsidised by the selected tariff, but the result is that many mobile providers only seeing a profit in month 18 onwards.

This differs from  most other countries, where the norm is to select a tariff and then have to purchase the handset separately. While this alternative is beginning to creep into the UK market it’s proving to be a very difficult shift from the “free handset” culture that’s become so ingrained over the last fifteen years.

The business mobile world has also taken a few other hits recently. Non traditional mobile players are making real plans to infringe on the space. WhatsApp are now offering phone calls over 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi, and Google have confirmed their intention to act as an MVNO (in the US at first). Their Project Fi will introduce pay-for-what-you-use data plans, where unused data allowance is credited at the end of the billing cycle. Add to this that within the last few months, Ofcom have proposed a dramatic cap on the price of mobile phone calls between different networks. This will reduce another revenue stream for most UK mobile providers.

For business mobile resellers, there is additional pressure in that many of them have seen their base being attacked by traditional IT or unified comms resellers. It is true that it is far easier for IT or UC resellers to move into the business mobile market than it for a mobile reseller to go the other way, which would take significant investment and upskilling.

Adapt or perish

ChameleonThis all contributes to an environment where companies in the mobile space must adapt or perish. This isn’t limited to resellers, either. It can even be seen at a mobile network operator level where even the big players are beginning to move into some very untraditional services such as hosted telephony, landline services and even hosted IT products.

For the opportunistic and imaginative reseller, however, moving into other areas of business comms like these can present significant benefits and is a challenge worth attempting. “Mobility” is a growing concern within the IT and Telecoms industry right now with many businesses striving to adopt a “work anywhere” approach. We are seeing a clear push to give employees the tools they need to be effective wherever they are. This is ideal for the savvy mobile reseller that has always had this as their core remit.

There are of course issues when looking after a truly mobile unified communications platform. Primarily this is related to the fact that there are 3 core mobile operating systems which are constantly being upgraded, not to mention the 1000s of different handsets that users can choose from, each with their own quirks and nuances. Standard native mobile apps delivered by PBXs produce all kinds of headaches for engineering teams. This is where the development of WebRTC is really exciting as it may negate the need to install, upgrade and manage these difficult situations.

That’s a long way off – not every mobile OS supports WebRTC – but we are watching the progression of the standard with a keen eye.

Previous posts from the ipcortex WebRTC week:

Real Time Campaigning: How will WebRTC and other tech impact elections in 10 years’ time?

Hacking together a WebRTC Pi in the sky – keevio eye

Wormholes, WebRTC and the implications of algorithmical analysis Defragmenting today’s communications

WebRTC – where are the real world applications?

Welcome to ipcortex WebRTC week on

Check out all our WebRTC posts here

End User ofcom Regs

Ofcom annual plan at a glance

Quick shufty at the Ofcom annual plan for 2015/16 with some comments

The Ofcom Annual Plan 2015/16 is available at a glance here. Ofcom has a very wide ranging brief and one does wonder how they get anything done1 but I thought I’d pick out some bits for your attention.

Promote effective competition and informed choice:

  • Undertake a Strategic Review of Digital Communications (as previously announced on 12 March)
  • Ensure effective competition in the provision of communications services for businesses, particularly SMEs
  • Improve the process of switching providers for consumers

Hopefully the strategic review will conclude that Fibre to the Premises is the only sensible long term goal. Unfortunately they will also say that they don’t know how to achieve this and they can’t see it happening on their watch.

Also I’m not sure how they will help SMEs. In particular very small businesses get ignored because they are too expensive to service/sell to and they don’t want to pay top dollar in taking the services.

Protect Consumers from harm

  • Introduce clearer pricing for numbers starting 08, 09 and 118, and make ‘080’ and ‘116’ calls free from mobiles
  • Monitor and ensure improved quality of service and customer service performance
  • Protect consumers from harm in a range of priority areas including nuisance calls

Funnily enough the latter two points are dear to my heart. Check out the customer support graphs.  Also the still warm post on scam calls here. As far as customer service monitoring goes I think that’s a commercial issue not a regulatory one. It should make commercial sense for Communications Providers to offer good customer service as this should provide them with a competitive advantage.

Promote Opportunities to Participate

  • Review the factors that potentially affect the sustainability of the universal postal service (uhuh)
  • Promote better coverage of fixed and mobile services for residential and business consumers

It’s all very well saying they want better coverage but unless the government mandates it, which they won’t because they won’t want to pay for it, it isn’t cost effective for the networks.

Protect consumers from harm

  • Work with UK and international bodies to promote improvements in caller line identification
  • Support industry and Government initiatives to improve levels of trust in internet services
  • Work to ensure that critical services are supported on next generation voice networks
  • Ensure consumers have access to redress for service failures and poor quality of service

Quite interesting ones here. The international cooperation bit must surely be a very long term aspiration. I can’t see it succeeding. It’s too difficult. As regards improving trust in internet services this is somewhat at odds which what the government aspires to in removing your on-line rights to privacy. The critical services reference relates to 999 and Emergency Services access. It’s a complex bag of worms that really needs a total rethink but you will never find a government willing to do it. They don’t want to be held responsible for the “burning granny”.

I’m quite supportive of the last point. I see a lot of people complaining about long term absences of service whilst being tied in to contracts. It should be easier for people to say to a service provider “bye I’m off – you haven’t been doing a good enough job”. I can of course also see the service provider side of things especially with the difficulty of maintaining services running on this country’s ageing copper infrastructure but on this occasion I’m siding with the consumer.

There you have it. My quick shufty at the Ofcom Annual Plan for 2015/16. There is more to it but I wasn’t interested in the rest of it. Ciao amigos.

1 Now now I’m sure they must have got something done and that someone will list these achievements as a comment. There is a very interesting annual communications market report for one.  They aren’t just there to take hospital passes aka the Digital Economy Act.

Business Legal ofcom Regs

Ofcom. It really isn’t an all powerful deity.

Aladdin: You’re a prisoner?
Genie: It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig.
[grows to a gigantic size]
Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space!

Aside from the comic genus of the late, great, Robin Williams, the Disney classic “Aladdin” reminds me of conversations I often have with people in our industry.

Telecommunications is regulated; heavily regulated. Sometimes we can be forgiven for forgetting this, because of the “General Authorisation” regime. Courtesy of the various European Directives which ultimately govern many facets of our industry, anyone is presumed to be a “fit and proper” person to run a network/reseller and provide a communications service. Compliance with the rules is presumed until otherwise demonstrated, or in the rare few cases where ex-ante regulation such as charge controls is imposed.

I have many conversations, often with smaller operators, but not exclusively, where a sentence like “Why doesn’t Ofcom do something?” comes up. Be that in the long-running net neutrality debate, something ITSPA members will remember, where Ofcom’s Chief Executive went before a Select Committee and invited more powers to deal with issues, through to perceived abuses of various legislative, moral or ethical codes (I would say number portability ticks all of those boxes).

Whilst Ofcom, in delivering taxpayer value, has slowly exited several floors in Riverside House, to the extent, for those that have had the misfortune of being summonsed into the inner sanctum, will know it truly is an itty bitty living space, many also seem to think that Ofcom has, or expects it to use, “Phenomenal cosmic powers!”. Aside from the obvious issue of how often it is currently found to have erred by the Competition Appeal Tribunal and how worrying such unmetered discretion could be, Ofcom is simply not an all-powerful Genie. Its powers are very limited, derived (in voice and data telecommunications at least) from a handful of European Directives, Recommendations and Regulations, with a little thrown in via the Communications Act 2003, Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 and a few competition and consumer-right centric pieces of legislation. Yes, Ofcom has the power to set retail and wholesale price caps, but only after going through an exhaustive exercise of consultation and demonstration that such regulation is necessary and proportionate; the presumption in the regulatory construct of the day is one of deregulation and light touch regulation.

Various layers of jurisprudence have layered on top of this and reinforced the non-interventionist approach, such as last year’s Supreme Court judgement which essentially says that there has to be actual demonstrable consumer harm before Ofcom can exercise certain dispute resolution powers, not just uncertainty whether it will be caused or not.

Increasingly, Ofcom expects its stakeholders to tell it what powers it has and how it should exercise them; maybe they just like trolling me, but it is certainly increasingly my experience that you have to do the heavy lifting for them and point to regulatory and legislative provisions before they’ll entertain acting, if they can at all. In fact, I think my most uttered phrase in industry meetings is “Ofcom doesn’t have the power to do what you ask”. On top, they don’t expect things they publish or consult on to necessarily be the first a regulated telco hears of something – last year’s drop in fixed termination rates was a journey that started with the adoption of a Recommendation by the European Union in 2009, for example.

All of this conspires together to create an environment where there has to be a grave injustice with a well constructed legal argument as to why there’s an injustice and why/how Ofcom can act. For small operators, this could be tantamount to investigating crimes committed against them and prosecuting their burglar themselves!

Let’s just say that David does defeat Goliath and Ofcom takes action against an alleged injustice; well heeled and deeply resourced Goliath just throws some barristers at the Competition Appeal Tribunal and has the entire injustice reheard. If Goliath doesn’t like the Tribunal’s answer, it can go off to the Court of Appeal – right now I believe there’s one application in progress and there’s been 3 judgements appealed in the last few years. Then there’s been further escalations to the Supreme Court and also the constant risk of a reference to the European Court of Justice.

Ofcom is far from a genie, hardly a powerful wizard either. Perhaps a wise and battle scarred druid would be an appropriate analogy? Its decisions have no certainty until after the window to litigate expires (2 months from the date of the decision) and I would suggest it is becoming increasingly litigation weary – a sense I get from the current nature of its decision making.

I write this in response to Tref’s request for something to inform debate before the parliamentary purdah; Parliament’s wings are clipped here too – various European Directives explicitly prevent it from directing Ofcom in certain affairs, however, there are two things I would suggest they could strongly hint that Ofcom do (although one is really pushing it in relation to the non-interference directive) to ensure the sustainability of our highly competitive and vibrant telecommunications industry, assuming they aren’t too distracted throwing more public money at BT’s FTTC roll-out. Oh, and a third thing they can do outright.

Firstly, number portability is a farce. We used to be the world leaders in this area having one of the first truly open and competitive markets, only to have been lapped by Yemen. I strongly believe Ofcom does have the power to implement the appropriate European Directive in a more rigorous way to deal with some or all of the shenanigans we endure daily, but won’t.

Secondly, without boring you all (unless I am requested by popular demand) with a lecture in economics, the way that BT’s charges are controlled afford it the ability to subsidise its quad-play offering and Premiership football rights acquisitions courtesy of your business – its regulated weighted average cost of capital is calculated by Ofcom with reference to its near-junk status bonds and its beta of equity which are both influenced by its extra-curricular activities and artificially inflate your charges.

Finally, there was a government consultation process on streamlining the post regulatory decision making process to make things more, in part, accessible and to address some of the issues I refer to here. That seems to have stalled and/or died in a ditch, so would be worth dusting off and pursuing to a conclusion.

Three, relatively small,  relatively simple things would address two grave injustices; fibre rollout (premises or cabinet), net neutrality, data protection, Openreach structural separation, privacy and snooping, nuisance calls – all great and important topics for politicians and ones I am sure will be covered this week; but these two would be a decent, easily administered shot of adrenaline for us all.

Other political week posts on

James Firth on why government should stop looking to big corporates for tech innovation
Gus Hosein on Data Protection Reform and Surveillance
The Julian Huppert crowd funding campaign here
Paul Bernal suggests government should hire advisers who know what they are doing
Domhnall Dods on Electronic Communications Code reform
James Blessing Says “No matter who you vote for…

See all our regulatory posts here.

Legal ofcom Regs voip

Emergency Calls and VoIP

Emergency Calls and VoIP have always been a contentious issue, but the need for ever increasingly innovative and cheaper ways of communicating means the tensions are getting worse than ever.

Despite what many of you may think, Regulatory Affairs is fun. Bear with me for a second. This isn’t quite like a train spotter defending a book of carriage numbers as fun (though for them I am sure it is). Regulatory Affairs is a truly multi-disciplinary job. Each day, I have to be a little bit telecoms engineer, lawyer, accountant, economist, lobbyist, salesman, compliance officer, and more. My work this year has taken me to documents in the British Library regarding the 1984 privatisation of BT that were pertinent in a dispute being argued at Ofcom, and I am currently working and planning on charge control periods for 2016-2019 and beyond. Every day you get to be at the leading edge of technological environments, helping businesses understand the regulatory environment and coming across some wonderful problems and innovations.

That fun gets drained, though, when it comes to 999 (or 112 for our European brethren…and I think we can all safely say we know 911 is America). Lives are at stake, and it is rightly a very important topic, however much I despise having to deal with issues arising from it.

There are two pieces of history that tie on to why we have the 999 environment we have today. The first one, serious and sombre, is that the foundations of the regime today came about following the 1986 Hungerford Massacre where the local exchange couldn’t handle the volume of calls as Michael Ryan perpetrated his horrific crimes. There were only two lines into the 1986 equivalent of a call handling authority for Newbury at the time. The second is more interesting than serious, that being that the design of pay phones in 1925 was such that the dial was fixed but the number 9 and 0 could be used — the former thrice for emergency services and the latter for the operator — without having to put money in to release the dial. The urban myth is that it was chosen in the pulse dialing days because overhead wires could touch in high wind and send a 1 pulse … if done three times in a certain period would make a false call. The avoidance of this was simply a fortunate consequence of the pay phones.

More recently, in the late nineties, we have had significant improvements to location information databases, we’ve had the rise of mobile phones and the location information therein, and we’ve also had the ability to text 999 (pre registered users with special needs as I recall). In amongst all of this we have VoIP, one of the most important innovations in telephony for a generation. Today I can sit in a hotel in Brazil and make calls presenting my UK 0208 number. More importantly, I can make such calls from an app via a smartphone connected to a switch/PBX/platform in the UK that doesn’t even know I am abroad.

So what on earth happens when I dial 999?

That instance is simple; apps should probably just let the handset deal with it natively so as to pass on all the relevant information….. but what if I sign into a hosted PBX in my colleague’s home office and something goes wrong? I’ve been a good boy as a homeworker and the call handling authority would see the address of where I am most often – my own home office. Thankfully, Emergency Calls are presented to the call handler in two ways, based on a prefix the originating network places on the call — there’s one for old school legacy TDM fixed network that says “reliable address” and there’s a second one that says “unreliable address” used for roaming VoIP. Cutting a very complex story short, that triggers a different script for the operator to follow. The mobile world is somewhat different and their location information plans regarding GPS chips etc. will undoubtedly save lives. We’ve managed like this for coming up to a decade, since Ofcom made its last pronouncements on VoIP and Emergency Calls. All well and good.

The legacy broadband superimposed over narrowband copper voice world has a short shelf life now, though. Various government bodies and Ofcom are consulting and whatnot on how to deal with Emergency Calls when we can’t rely on the BT Exchange to power the line (the narrowband voice at least) should the wider electricity supply be compromised. Right now if there’s a power cut at home I will lose broadband and my phone. I can, however, go to the garage, dig out an old phone and plug it into the master socket and knock myself out. The current regulatory/government consensus is that data-only/wires-only/naked services should have at least one hour battery backup to remove this potential problem.

Wow. 1 hour.

Essentially then, in a VoIP only world (or strictly VoIP or other technology over naked DSL or somesuch), if someone wants to axe-murder me during a power cut I am in deep trouble if nPower cannot get their ducks back in a row within 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

According to Ofcom’s own research, 26% of socio-economic group DE households are now mobile only (16% in other groups if you are interested). They are relying today purely on whether they’ve remembered to charge their phone and/or Apple have invented a hydrogen cell, as opposed to the usual offering making you reminisce for an old Nokia and that the local masts have sufficient backup power in a prolonged outage too. I suppose, in my alluded to axe-murdering power-cutting thunderstorm I would also have my mobile, but everyone knows I have to carry around a 14000mAH battery pack because I always forget to charge my phone! This situation in itself is why I am surprised that the fixed requirement is just one hour…… after all, we are familiar with the snowmageddonwe endure each winter, with communities sometimes cut off for days.

At times I get the impression (and I have some sympathy with this position) that some VoIP companies would like to be able to just have a disclaimer that says “This device/service cannot be guaranteed to be able to make Emergency Calls” or somesuch. With the growth of VoIP and our need to have this technology widely accepted and embraced by the populace — and our desire to not pay for the line card and metallic path to the voice processor in the exchange — I don’t think that just making it someone else’s problem will wash….. you can just see the Daily Mail headlines now.

That all said, the solution isn’t a room UPS for every household, nor is it a hot-standby generator for every street. We also cannot avoid much longer the roaming VoIP location information issue; a return to the pre 1998(ish) situation of the caller having to give their address would be retrograde. That will make it interesting, and for once, I may not actually hate dealing with Emergency Calls in Regulatory Affairs either.

This is a VoIP week post on Check out other VoIP themed posts this week:

Why are major telcos afraid of encrypted VoIP? by Peter Cox
Emergency calls and VoIP by Peter Farmer
VoIP, the Bible and own brand chips by Simon Woodhead
Why the desktop VoIP telephone isn’t going away by Jeff Rodman
Small business VoIP setup by Trefor Davies
VoIP fraud-technological-conventionality-achieved  by Colin Duffy

Bad Stuff Business ofcom scams security voip

VoIP Fraud — Technological Conventionality Achieved

VoIP has reached the mainstream. We know because the fraudsters are coming after us. welcomes VoIP Week guest contributor Colin Duffy, CEO of Voipfone and ITSPA Council member.

VoIP merges two of the largest industries in the world: Telecommunications ($5.0 trillion) and the Internet ($4.2 trillion). It is big business.

Estimates of VoIP market size vary, though they are universally large. For instance, Infotenetics Research estimates the global residential and business VoIP market to be worth $64bn in 2014, growing to $88bn in 2018. Visiongain, on another hand, puts the 2018 value at $76bn. WhichVoIP (Bragg) has it as $82.7bn by 2017, and also claims that VoIP calls account for 34% of global voice traffic – 172bn call minutes. And then there is the United States Federal Communications Commission, which estimates that “In December 2011, there were 107 million end-user switched access lines in service [ the USA and..] 37 million interconnected VoIP subscriptions.

And with opportunity comes the thief:

ICT Recent Scenarios: VoIP Week: Colin Duffy
(Corporate ICT)


(You have to love that New Scotland Yard hack…..)

But it’s not confined to big organisations; perhaps a little closer to home:

“A family-run business says it has ‘nowhere left to turn’ after hackers rigged its telephone system to call premium rate phone numbers — racking up a bill of nearly £6,000. ‘We reported it to the police, but we were told there was very little likelihood of them catching anyone so they wouldn’t be able to investigate’, she added.”                               

— Lancashire Telegraph

The Communications Fraud Control Association publishes a global fraud loss survey, and in 2013 they estimated that the global telecommunication industry loss to fraud was an enormous $46.3bn, which included:

  • VoIP hacking ($3.6bn),
  • PBX hacking ($4.4bn),
  • Premium Rate Services Fraud ($4.7bn),
  • Subscription Fraud ($5.2bn)
  • International Revenue Share Fraud ($1.8).

Over 90% of the telephone companies included in the CFCA’s survey reported that fraud within their company had increased or stayed the same since the last report.

Globally, the top emerging fraud type was identified as Internet Revenue Sharing Fraud, with Premium Rate Service Fraud (both international and domestic) also in the top five. Of the top five emerging fraud methods, PBX Hacking was the most important with VoIP Hacking at number three.

Who’s doing all this is a big and interesting topic, but here’s a starter:

Top Ten Countries where fraud

Top Ten Countries where fraud

East Timor

CFCA, Global Fraud Loss Survey, 2013

What can be done?

Earlier this year a customer of Voiceflex was hacked to the tune of £35,000 when over 10,000 calls were sent to a Polish Premium Service number over a period of 36 hours. The customer refused to pay, which resulted in a court case that the telco lost. Now the industry is looking to its terms and conditions for protection, but it’s clear that this isn’t enough – the cause needs addressing.

The best approach would be to cut off the money supply – if Telcos could withhold payments for known fraudulent calls, the activity would end. But this solution requires changes to inter-operator agreements and cross-jurisdiction interventions.

“We are currently in discussions with our fellow EU regulators about steps that may be taken to address cross-border [Dial Through] fraud and misuse. It is important that companies using VoIP systems take steps to ensure both the physical and technical security of their equipment in order to avoid becoming an ‘easy target’ for this type of criminal activity […..] We are approaching the NICC and relevant trade associations to ensure their advice is updated to help businesses better protect themselves against newer types of dial-through fraud that have emerged as technology has developed.”

— Ofcom 2013

For once I agree with Ofcom. The industry needs to work harder at target-hardening. We need to be making this industry safer for our customers.

There’s a lot to be done but a good start is to read and apply the guidance issued by ITSPA – the UK trade organisation for Internet Telcos.

I’m taking a close personal interest in VoIP fraud and security, and I invite anyone who has more information or who wishes to discuss this in more detail to contact me at email

A naive user asked me, ‘why can’t you just make safe telephones?’ Well, why can’t we?

End User Legal Mobile ofcom Regs

What is a Mobile Number?

What is a mobile number – bet you thought you knew!

Seems like a simple question doesn’t it? You would be surprised how many people will answer “07”. Just like some schoolgirls on a bus I overheard once, this presumption can have costly consequences. 070 is designated as Personal Numbering – the old follow me services now largely overtaken by soft clients, VoIP and the ilk, and 076 is radiopaging (yes, apparently they still exist!). Unfortunately, both of these ranges do attract an element of the cheeky through to the fraudulent and criminal with high termination rates…… and the perception of some people that a missed call from an 070 most-definitely-not-a-mobile number is genuine and needs to be called back…. at fifty pence per minute. That’s what happened to the schoolgirls. Perhaps I should’ve warned them, but at the height of the Saville affair I probably would’ve been arrested!

Anyway, by extension you will now have guessed that 071-075 and 077-079 are mobile numbers (strictly speaking Mobile Services in the National Telephone Numbering Plan), and you would be correct. Our friends at Ofcom define this as:

‘Mobile Service’ means a service consisting in the conveyance of Signals, by means of an Electronic Communications Network, where every Signal that is conveyed thereby has been, or is to be, conveyed through the agency of Wireless Telegraphy to or from Apparatus designed or adapted to be capable of being used while in motion;

Wireless Telegraphy has an equally simple definition, offered in Section 116 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 as (paraphrased): electromagnetic signals not exceeding 3,000 gigahertz and not transmitted over a physical medium. Aside from the fact that whoever drafted the bill could have used “terahertz”, the conjunction of the two definitions (and some other basic statutory references) defines a Mobile Service as a telephony or data service capable of being used in motion where part of the media path is transported at upto 3THz in the ether. Simple.

There is the obvious elephant in the room, which is that my mobile network’s voicemail and call diversion services could be viewed as unlawful; think about a fixed call to voicemail or my mobile diverting to my desk phone – no Wireless Telegraphy would be involved in an efficient design. Actually, the get out is my desk phone is a Cisco 525 and operates over WiFi, so EE can breathe a sigh of relief.  WiFi works under 3THz (though the super fast variants are knocking on that ceiling). But that get out is important in considering that the definition of a Mobile Service is in fact very broad. A laptop is portable. So a VoIP client used over WiFi (or doubly so, over a 4G MiFi) would fit that definition, let alone a soft client on a smartphone. This is why the Internet Telephony Service Providers’ Association (“ITSPA”) has growing concerns about Ofcom’s apparent reluctance to provide these recognisable numbers to its members for the purpose of developing innovative and competitive new services. ITSPA is taking action on this and has formally written to Ofcom seeking clarification — unfortunately as legal recourse is still potentially an option, I can’t go into more detail at this time lest it is prejudiced, but I promise to update’s readers as and when I can!

In the meantime, though, I think we should have a Trefor.Net competition. The winner shall be the reader that comes up with the most entertaining/outrageous design for a Mobile Service that technically fits the definition of Wireless Telegraphy. The greater the stretch, the better, of course, with bonus marks for involving an elephant. The prize is temporary glory, so don’t delay…the comments section below is now open!


Bad Stuff broadband Business Net ofcom

…Superfast Broadband That

In moving into a world of affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices, the way in which we consume Internet access and connectivity will rely on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. once again welcomes Zen Internet and ISPA Council Member Gary Hough to the page. Superfast Broadband This…, the first part of Gary’s “Broadband Week” post, ran yesterday, and readers wanting a more comprehensive understanding of the piece that follows (and a wee bit more of Gary’s biography) will want to start there.

At the ISP who I work for, we are expecting a real boom in the adoption of superfast broadband over the next few years. In fact, we believe it is likely that 95% of UK households and businesses will take up such offers, though of course this depends massively on the network coverage and rollout of suppliers who can deliver it. And this is where my dilemma lies, because we’re now moving away from the home PC, desktop, archaic server networking that we’re all used to and into a world of very affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices. All of this will become the norm as time goes on, of course, and the way in which we consume our internet access and connectivity will rely more and more on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. Our economic success at the local, national and international levels will become dependent on superfast broadband, without which we all lose out in some way, be that education, business, trade or indeed leisure.

As more and more customers come to enjoy the benefits of faster Internet content delivery, and more businesses discover new and indeed cheaper ways of using the Internet to improve on or enhance their commercial performance, managing bandwidth-hungry customers becomes more and more difficult, especially for the larger ISPs like Virgin Media (the one I employ at home). Based on my own experience, I believe these larger ISPs are likely to continue throttling on the fly to cope with the demand and their network capacity issues, and that the impact on you and I will very much depend on your post code area of residence.

It is unfortunate, but up until quite recently I have been unable to utilise the benefit of a free staff account on fibre from my employer, this due to my local exchange not being fibre-enabled. Now, though, I can at last avail myself of this perk, which gives me one heck of an advantage as my company doesn’t traffic shape or manipulate their broadband services like so many do. Sadly, however, most ISP’s customers don’t have the advantage of a free account nor can they simply switch at the drop of a hat, because typically they are tied into a lengthy contract period. In part, this is because BT charges the ISP heavily for the first 12 months, and this charge gets passed on. As such, on fibre at best the customer is looking at a 12-month minimum contract, which can be quite dire if the service is bad.

Ofcom are partly to blame for this situation, because they really do need to look at the wholesale price charged to ISPs that restricts them from providing an alternative and cheaper service. That said, some ISPs (including Zen Internet, I am glad to say) continue to invest heavily into improving access and ensuring that they can provide the best possible service. To me, this shows a real commitment to existing customers and potential new customers alike, who need to know that the longevity and speeds paid for will be delivered.

With ADSL the market competition was less of an issue, as the biggest providers slugged it out for market share and monthly contracts were easier to come by, but as lengthier contracts remain in place for superfast services the budget you set and the reliability of the service you choose will become far more important.

There is no harm in summing up, though by this point you can probably guess which approach I’m going to take. A strong commitment to providing a better service for discerning customers, along with consistently high speeds and excellent support, as well as a years-long track record of continual investment will see me move my fibre broadband service away from Virgin Media to one supplied, ironically, by my employer.

You should think long and hard about which ISP is really going to be committed to you and your fibre broadband service needs for the next 12, 18 or even 24 months. After all, you’re paying for it and you will no doubt be quite tied to it for the foreseeable future.

broadband Business internet Net ofcom Regs

Ofcom to Cut Openreach Prices: Will it Increase Fibre Broadband Take-up?

Openreach’s wholesale prices to drop dramatically, but will it make a difference in fibre broadband adoption? welcomes guest contributor Julia Kukiewicz, Editor of, a consumer site focused on UK broadband (among many others).

Later this year Ofcom will force Openreach to radically cut the wholesale cost of installing a fibre line, from £50 to £11. The regulator says that this price cut, which is currently waiting on European Commission approval, will promote competition among the ISPs that resell BT fibre. That’s BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Primus and EE, among many others.

How big a difference, though, will an Openreach wholesale price cut really make to consumers?

Let’s consider how the ISPs pass on these wholesale prices today by looking at a sampling — three of the biggest providers, and three substantially smaller — of how much they are currently charging new customers to sign up for fibre broadband:


£30 (free with up to 76Mb)










Free (£50 without Plusnet home phone)

Almost all of the ISPs are already incorporating part of the wholesale fee into their monthly fee or just eating it, with the expectation that their customers will buy extra services and/or stay and pay beyond their minimum contract term. Even with that concession, though, the fees could be a significant barrier to standard broadband households that are considering making the leap to fibre broadband. Psychologists call this ‘the pain of paying’: it’s unappealing to make a big upfront payment for a service, even if you feel that the monthly price is pretty reasonable. Similarly, almost all of the listed ISPs offer fibre only on an 18-month contract (Sky being the exception, offering a 12 month tie-in), which is a big commitment for a household looking to switch. Thus, at face value, reducing the wholesale installation fee and contract length for fibre (Ofcom want Openreach’s fibre contracts to go down from a year to a month) looks to make BT FTTC more attractive, as long as the cuts are passed on. In the case of fees, at least, that certainly seems likely. It is expected that the effect will be less pronounced with contracts, because there are a lot of other pressures encouraging ISPs to offer long contracts, but even 12-month fibre contracts would be an improvement in terms of encouraging fibre switching. However, although price seems like an important barrier to signing up households to fibre, the level of that factor’s importance is far from assured.

Let’s pause here to consider the current rates of fibre take-up. As of March 2014, about 14% of UK households who have a fibre service available actually take it. Take-up has been growing over the past few years — just a year before the rate was just 10% — but it is still pretty low. At the same time, infrastructure availability is growing fast. BT FTTC is now available to around 70% of UK premises, and will soon be available to many more as it rolls out services on behalf of the local councils that awarded it BDUK money. Based on current projections, fibre broadband penetration could exceed 90% by the end of 2015. In this environment, price barriers like fees and long contracts may be stopping households from taking up fibre, but taking the popularity of pay TV services as an example, the ‘pain of paying’ explanation can clearly only take us so far. Logo

In a 2012 report entitled Strategies for Superfast Demand Stimulation, the broadband monitoring group Point Topic suggested that the focus needed to shift from building infrastructure to building customers that actually want it. Successful fibre broadband network areas — that is, areas where take up was high, giving companies a return on their investment and hence more impetus to continue expanding the network — were not areas with the most coverage and the lowest prices, according to Point Topic, but instead were places where real and active support from local people made people enthusiastic and excited about signing up for better broadband. And we are already seeing this in some areas with broadband champions, and even more strongly in communities which have taken the initiative to work with a local ISP, such as Frilford, Oxfordshire working with Gigaclear and Forest of Bowland and the Lune Valley, Lancashire working with Broadband for Rural North (B4RN)*. The bigger ISPs, though, haven’t taken the initiative to really stimulate demand in this way, and unless they do we may be waiting a long time for fibre take-up to really increase, even with Ofcom’s cut in wholesale costs.

Business End User ofcom Regs voip

A VoIP Spring

A regular contributor, Peter Farmer is the Commercial and Regulatory Manager at Gamma, as well as an ITSPA Council member and Chair of ITSPA Regulatory Committee.  We are pleased to present his “VoIP Week” post.

So, Trefor asked me to approach an article for “VoIP Week” from a commercial perspective as opposed to regulatory…. took me a while, but sunstroked approaching Havant cycling from Esher to Portsmouth, it dawned on me.

We’ve had our VoIP Spring. We just don’t realise it yet.

Last year, there was much furore around Ofcom’s decision (enacting an EC Recommendation) to reduce geographic termination rates to the Long Run Incremental Cost (“LRIC”). These rates were previously calculated using Fully Allocated Cost (“FAC”). Very roughly, FAC is 5x LRIC in this market, so 0.3 became 0.06 pence per minute.

All the views espoused on that subject were valid, especially as we have a diverse industry with many niche interests and many unbalanced portfolios of net termination and origination. In the same market review, however, Ofcom transferred — for BT at least — the foregone common cost (the difference between LRIC and FAC, attributable to costs such as your CEO and Finance and HR teams, etc., and not directly to each incremental unit of what you are selling) in the termination market to the origination market. Granted, this had the perverse effect of reducing the cost (through the Significant Market Power Condition that governs non-geographic out-payments), but what it did to was virtually double the per-minute cost of the origination leg of Carrier Pre-Select and Indirect Access. Granted, again, this nets off against calls to UK geographic and non BT terminating non-geographic (why BT itself is exempt is a very long story that I will tell another day), but means that calls on legacy ISDN30 estates to mobiles and international numbers increased. Markedly. We are now in a situation where the direct cost of getting a call from the Network Terminating Equipment (“NTE”) over the Local Loop to the Digital Local Exchange (“DLE”) is five times that of getting it from the DLE to a mobile in the US of A. Seriously.

If you’re an over-the-top provider, your cost base just went down. You don’t have to worry about that leg from the NTE to the DLE. Your voice traffic is ones and zeroes encoded in packets of data over broadband frequencies, not analogue on narrowband frequencies. The per minute cost of providing the service to any caller has plummeted, relative to an ISDN2 or 30 or even a single WLR line.

And that right there, Ladies and Gentlemen, was our VoIP Spring. Let’s make the most of it.


VoIP Week Posts:

internet ofcom voip

VoIP and Emergency Services – Location, Location, Location… welcomes VoIP Week guest contributor Ray Bellis, Senior Researcher at Nominet UK and Director at NICC Standards Ltd.

UK Proposed Architecture

I’ve blogged previously on the UK Specification being produced by the EmLoc Task Group of NICC Standards regarding the thorny problem of Emergency Services determining the location of a VoIP caller who may be unable to disclose their location, for whatever reason (e.g., the caller is under duress and is unable to talk, or they simply doesn’t know their location, etc.). This work was driven by General Condition 4 (GC4) of the “General Conditions of Entitlement“, which apply to all Communications Providers:

The Communications Provider shall, to the extent technically feasible, make accurate and reliable Caller Location Information available for all calls to the emergency call numbers “112” and “999”, at no charge to the Emergency Organisations handling those calls, at the time the call is answered by those organisations.

At the time of publication these were draft specifications — they’ve since been made publicly available as NICC Document ND1638.   For more details of the architecture please see the aforementioned blog posting and the NICC Document.

A key component of the proposed architecture is that it would require every Internet Service Provider and Access Network Provider (ANP) to operate a service known as a “Location Information Server” (or “LIS”).  The protocol provided by the LIS is described in RFC 5985 and is known as “HELD”, short for “HTTP-Enabled Location Delivery”.
Nominet NICC

Whilst Ofcom has not (yet) carried out any enforcement activity on ISPs or ANPs relating to GC4, they have commissioned a report on the NICC Document that concluded that the architecture described therein is “technically feasible”.  It is therefore to be expected that at some point Ofcom will start enforcing this requirement.

Work to update ND1638 to reflect recent changes to IETF standards is ongoing, and also to allow device-provided location (e.g., GPS readings) to be sent to the Emergency Services during call setup.   However, even if device-provided readings were available, ultimately the Emergency Handling Authorities (EHAs) would trust the network-provided location as the primary source of location, with device-provided location acting only as a means to enhance  the former and be used when consistent with it.

ETSI M/493 Architecture

The European Commission published Standardisation Mandate M/493 in May 2011, requiring European Standards Organisations to develop standards in support of a “Location Enhanced Emergency Call Service”.  This work is being carried out under the “End-to-End Network Architectures” (E2NA) ETSI Project.

The draft architecture being devised by the ETSI working group builds upon previous work by the National Emergency Number Association, the European Emergency Number Association, the Internet Engineering Task Force and others, and many of the functional components are very similar to those used in the UK architecture.

The draft ETSI architecture has one very significant difference from the UK architecture that reflects the more complicated emergency call routing required in some countries.  In the UK all emergency service calls are now handled by BT, so the VoIP operator therefore has no need to make any call routing decisions other than recognising that the called number is an emergency number and passing the call to BT via the appropriate interconnect. In some European countries, however, that initial call routing also depends on the caller’s location, and therefore the architecture requires that the IP Access Network must provide the caller’s location to the VoIP operator before the call can be passed to the emergency services!  This makes the LIS an essential component of the architecture, and therefore safety-critical, with all that this entails.

With EC and ETSI backing for this architecture it seems more likely than ever that ISPs and Access Network Providers will have to implement additional services within their networks to support emergency service calls, even though they are just “mere conduits” for those calls.

VoIP Week Posts:

Bad Stuff End User fun stuff Mobile ofcom Regs scams

An Open Letter to Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE

Hi Olaf.

I hope you don’t mind the informal start to my letter as, after all, your company’s recent one to me regarding an increase in the price for my package from EE was as equally informal (I’ve popped a copy of it in the gallery below, though I’m sure you already know all about it).

Before I start, I will admit that you have a contractual basis from which to make the change detailed in the letter, and can mount a robust (albeit one open to challenge) argument about regulatory compliance. That isn’t quite the point, though.

First, I’d like to draw your particular attention to the line that says “RPI (Retail Price Index) is a measure of inflation, which directly affects the cost to run our service.

Interesting. And I’d like to point out a few things to you which would suggest that you are mistaken.

  • RPI, as a measure of inflation, is now largely discredited. Anyone in the know, including your sector’s regulator, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), is migrating to the use of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Have a look at Ofcom’s discussion in paragraph 3.155 onwards of the Wholesale Local Access Review.
  • Some debate exists on whether wages over the last 12 months have tracked CPI (which is lower than RPI, by the way); it somewhat depends on which decile you find yourself in. Considering this data from the BBC, I suspect you and your executive are OK but a substantial number of EE staff may not be. Unless, of course, you gave them all a CPI-busting wage increase of the RPI figure. Did you?
  • A substantial part of your business is your mobile phone customers calling landlines: 01 and 02 numbers. As a result of a European Union Recommendation some time ago, Ofcom lowered the termination rates on 1st January 2014 for these calls by around RPI (this review was started before the Office of National Statistics drove the final nail into the RPI coffin) minus 87% — a net 84% reduction in that cost to your business. Funny, but I don’t recall getting a reduction in my line rental or other charges, so I assume you’ve kept this windfall, yes? See Table 1.1 of the Final Statement in the 2013 Wholesale Narrowband Market Review for information.
  • The Treasury estimated that the 4G spectrum auction would raise around £3.5bn. In reality, it raised £2.34bn, so there’s a £1.1bn saving there for the mobile industry against a reasonable market expectation; thus, rationally-speaking, EE must have forward-priced its 4G services expecting to outlay a market value for spectrum, resulting in further savings on your part. Is this true?

I am sure you can see at this point why I have a problem believing you when you say that RPI (or CPI) has had a direct affect on your entire business; unless in spite of what I have cited above there is a cost that has risen so disproportionately high that it means the average cost increase is the same as the RPI? What could that cost be…perhaps Kevin Bacon’s fees?

broadband End User ofcom

Fit Broadband Policy

Is broadband fit for purpose, writes Lindsey Annison

Some years ago a few of us touted the notion that broadband could become an election issue on the next hustings. And it sort of did, although not to the extent that many of us at grassroots without a connection would have liked. It triggered some hastily written speeches for Party Conferences, though, and some grandiose promises which of course have never been implemented.

As we run up to the next election (<groan> Have the last lot even achieved anything yet?!), perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and consider some of the aspects of broadband that seriously need to be taken on board by those campaigning on the hustings, and also by those who have desks in Whitehall and Westminster, etc. (Could it be they all work from home these days? Doubtful, but it’d be nice to think that at least a few know the difficulties of teleworking in modern day Britain.)

Philip Virgo’s rather canny A Confucian view of UK broadband, spectrum and cybersecurity can be found on his Computer Weekly blog this week, and as we can but hope that the powers-that-be can actually find a free moment to read I would like to expound a little on the piece’s first section, to start educating our potential candidates for those doorstep meetings they shall soon be starting. Last week at TechQT the three considerations Virgo mentions were covered — transmission, capacity and protection — and Martin Geddes finally nailed it (in his inimitable style) to being a simple question that any person can ask and answer:  Is my broadband fit for purpose?

rosetteEven the most non-techie person can assess whether or not the connection that they are paying for (or are using for free in a hotspot) is FIT FOR PURPOSE. It either works to do what you are endeavoring to, or it doesn’t. Simples.

Waiving wayleaves may seem like a simple solution to one problem, and the arguments given by Philip Virgo’s Confucius contributor covers some of the reasons why this is so. However, it goes beyond wayleaves to my old bugbear, fibre tax. We have made it nearly impossible for new entrants to enter a level playing field should they wish to play the fibre game.  Aidan Pauls’ slide show on the UK VOA fibre tax illustrates just how problematic the issue is, and though it may be from 2010, sadly nothing notable has changed since 2000.

As a regulator, Ofcom is over-populated with ex-Telco employees and is toothless. Well, not so much toothless, but it is as if they are putting their dentures back in after a night’s sleep whenever circumstances require they react to current events of the day/week/month or year in a timely fashion. And that needs to change, and fast, if Britain is to catch up with other nations. Plenty of information is out there regarding developments, lessons learnt, what has been tried and tested, etc., so maybe the Ofcom guys and gals just need to get out more?!

Listen to the voters!  Too often our candidates fail to do enough of this simple and essential task, and thus many of those who will be walking the pavements with their pretty rosettes are not sufficiently well-informed. And because they are not well-informed they assume that the constituents are in a similar boat, which is simply not the case. At the very least, the average householder can answer the Is my broadband fit for purpose? question. Enough “No.” responses, offered hand-in-hand with the odd constituent who pipes up to tell a prospective parliamentary candidate exactly how and why this is causing problems with life/work/play, and the message just might make its way back to the Houses in #thatlondon.

Can but hope.  Toodlepip till next time.

Related posts:

internet mobile connectivity net neutrality ofcom Regs

Net Neutrality update

Regular readers will remember my piece for Trefor.Net last September, where I defined what the average VoIP telco wants from an open internet. I know this article had a readership of at least one, because I saw someone brandishing a print out in Ofcom. Yay me!

Anyway, things have moved on. We had Ed Richards, Ofcom’s CEO, saying they weren’t “waiting for Europe” when Philip Davies MP pressed him on the issue at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last year (for which Philip earned a nomination as ITSPA’s Members’ Pick at the 2014 Awards) – but Europe aren’t waiting for them earlier.

Last week, the European Parliament voted in favour of the so-called “telecoms package” which includes, amongst proposals regarding a Single Market I have previously slated here and the abolition of roaming fees (which I shall slate below), proposals on Net Neutrality. Before we get too excited, this was only the first reading. The College of Commissioners is about to be disolved, along with the European Parliament for elections and who knows what political landscape will be returned to Brussels in May. It’s not likely to receive much more Parliamentary time until the end of the year now at the earliest, which makes their December 2015 implementation date seem optimistic.

The European Union’s proposals mirror, largely, what ITSPA and the VoIP community would accept (in my view) as a legislative intervention. ISPs cans till offer specialised services to protect business critical applications, or prioritise video on demand, but would not be able to do so to “the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services” offered to other companies or service suppliers, except for traffic management measures which are “transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate” and “not maintained longer than needed” to protect the integrity of a network.

This is a good step, but I for one, along with ITSPA colleagues and others aren’t waiting for Europe like Ofcom – watch this space for a progress report soon!

Abolition of Roaming Charges

The European logic is rather federalist; it says you should be able to use your phone for the same rates anywhere in Europe for the same price as at home. Aside from the age old rule (which also applies in next generation telecoms – distance is still a factor in signal regeneration, rateable value of fibre etc) that the further a call is conveyed the more it costs, it is wholly illogical to be able to call next door with your mobile for the same rate as calling it from Lithuania, you cannot ignore the basket effect. 26% of socioeconomic group D and E households are mobile only. The reduction of roaming profits to mobile operators leads, in part or in whole, to a waterbedding…. (I almost wrote waterboarding, as that’s what it feels like to deal with a mobile operator’s customer services sometimes)… other products and services will increase in price to compensate for the foregone margin.

So, in short, one consequence of the EU’s proposal is that those that cannot afford to go on holiday in Europe, or those businesses that don’t trade in person in Europe, shall subsidise those that do. That just doesn’t seem right to me.


End User fun stuff nuisance calls and messages ofcom online safety Regs social networking


I’m not a lawyer. This is something of which I am proud. Nor am I a chartered accountant, this is something of which I am equally proud.

People that are in Regulatory Affairs (telecoms or otherwise) often individually present a real Heinz 57 of backgrounds, abilities and skills. As far as I am aware, no-one leaves school thinking “I want to be in Regulation!”. You sort of fall into it, from a carrier in the faculties of law, economics, accounting or the commercial arena – and have to be able to hold your own, at a high level, in all of them. In all cases, you need a desire and drive to get under the skin of the regulator and former incumbents alike; those that know me know I revel in this sort of protagonism.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I have an academic background in Finance and Management and a professional background in commercial affairs and compliance, hence my ultimate arrival in Regulatory Affairs. 18 year old Pete Farmer would’ve laughed if anyone suggested this is where I would end up.

So, this isn’t legal advice. It isn’t to be relied upon. It’s to be taken on an “as-is” basis as a way of stimulating debate and discussion around a subject of which I am as passionate about as annoying the Office of Communications; food.

Believe it or not, in my spare time I run a foodie

Business net neutrality ofcom piracy Regs

The Copyright Enforcement Enigma

When I was on a panel at the Eight Parliament and Internet Conference last year, I was approached afterwards by an academic – Monica Horten. We had a chat about a few things regulatory (notably ITSPA’s work in the field of Net Neutrality) and she mentioned she had written a book on copyright, called the Copyright Enforcement Enigma.

I eventually sourced a copy and then eventually read it (it took a while as there were quite a few on my bookcase I hadn’t read that had military hardware on the cover, you see). It’s quite an excellent romp through the beginnings of copyright, from printing presses and State censorship all the way through to recent European pronouncements on piracy and counteracting it, along with comparing and contrasting different national approaches to intellectual property.

I’ve always found that the view on copyright, intellectual property and piracy  generally correlates strongly with political views. These range from “you can’t own an idea” on one end of the scale through to basic property and contract rights saying you should have the right to protect and exploit your creations. Obviously the debate around piracy tracks the political leanings with the preferred sanction often generally correlating with that political niche’s view on criminal sanctions and it is good to read a balanced and non-partisan approach to the topic; if it raises its head again I would suggest this book as a good refresher.

In any event, the primary legislation focusing on this issue today in the UK is the Digital Economy Act 2010, which covers the obligations on Internet Service Providers to restrict access of (or even disconnect) some users or some content depending on the will of the court at the time in the face of an army of barristers from various large entertainment companies. BT and TalkTalk sought a judicial review of the legislation as it had been accelerated through Parliament as a general election had been called, but lost. Then lost the Appeal. So there we have it, Ofcom are now front and centre in managing a lot of this stuff.

There’s one out though; if you are an Internet Service Provider with less than 400,000 subscribers, as it stands, you are not in scope for much of the legislation. I am surprised that so far this gaping loophole has not been exploited; after all, surely you could charge a substantial premium for Napster Broadband? A high bandwidth service that guarantees it will never exceed 399,999 subscribers? I am sure the regulator would soon move to close the loophole, but that takes time. And on that note, I am off to find some seed capital 😉


Business ofcom Regs

Mid Term Price Rises

The implementation date of Ofcom’s recent foray into mid-term price rises has now been and gone.

If you were the recently discovered Pacific castaway, then, briefly, Ofcom were concerned that Communications Providers were advertising fixed term contracts at a price and then increasing that price during the contract

This went through one stage of Ofcom intervention, when they introduced (via General Condition of Entitlement 9) the “materially detrimental” test. Which was to say that if an Communications Provider during a fixed term, to a domestic consumer or a small business (the usual sub-10 employee rule) made materially detrimental changes to the terms, the contracted party could have a penalty free exit from the contract.

Don’t ask me what materially detrimental meant. I once spent

broadband Business ofcom Regs

Should Ofcom compel BT to publish broadband maps?

Should BT have to publish broadband availability map?

trefor_150We keep hearing complaints from many quarters about the lack of transparency related to the Government subsidised Superfast Broadband rollout into the “final third”. Should BT be compelled to publish broadband availability map?

County Councils are apparently seen to hide behind “non disclosure agreements” signed with BT that prevent them from disclosing details of broadband plans.

Having sat on the Broadband Panel for Nottinghamshire the input from BT was that it whilst they had an outline plan for target broadband rollout areas this would be very much subject to change when detailed site surveys were made of conditions on the ground.

For example

Business ofcom Regs

Non-Geographic Villainy

Unless you’ve been in Outer Mongolia, on the Moon, or unconscious for the last few years, the trials and tribulations of the non-geographic numbering regime won’t have escaped you.

We’ve had the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) implementing the European Consumer Rights Directive which mandated the use of basic rate (don’t ask what that really means) numbers for post-contract queries. This came with a list of exemptions so long and complicated it’ll be beyond many on the coalface advising service providers on their telecommunications. The initial drafting also made it unlawful to use a freephone number for around 9 months between June 2014 and March 2015. Thankfully, BIS has recognised this as an issue and has apparently changed the drafting to say that you can use a higher revenue sharing number than just free to caller, geographic or 03 (the original proposal) but you have to offer a refund if you used a higher one. I am yet unclear whether that is a refund on just Ofcom’s proposed Service Charge or the combination of the Access Charge and Service Charge in the new regime coming into force in 18 months (more on that in a second).

We’ve also had PhonepayPlus intervening in requiring signposting services

Business internet ofcom Regs

Business Rates

In the Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne gave small businesses an early Christmas present with some relief on business rates. Welcome news, I am sure, for all of our high streets and favourite independent hostelries.

However, when you start to look into the rates regime in telecommunications, things starts to get a little more confusing. Yes, they are due on our data centres and our offices and whatnot, just as we would expect them to be if we were a bank, a pub or a newsagents. But they are also due on fibre and ductwork. Worse still, one council or unitary authority (specifically one in England & Wales and one in Scotland) is often the beneficiary of the whole liability regardless of its potentially national coverage, which defies logic, but that’s a story for another time.

I have a problem with how fibre and duct can be rateable in the first place. Keeping the receipts and expenditure method of valuation (otherwise known as the “profits basis” out of it for a minute), to my simple mind, a factory has a rates liability – i.e. the bricks and mortar, but the machines inside don’t attract it. After all, tax is levied on their product (value-added tax, for example, or other duties in the case of alcohol) and the company producing them is also levied taxes on their profits (corporation tax, or income tax for a sole trader). It would seem somewhat akin to “two bites of the cherry” to tax the machines…… of course that argument could apply to the building itself as well, though I would suggest that as business rates are meant to pay for local services, a building is a fairer demarcation than counting widget machines for example; one could say fairer than some duct in a field.

Anyway, that can all be debated ad nauseum. What I want to get across here today is that when we talk about incentives to develop telecommunications, say 3G coverage to address those so-called “not spots”, or dealing with the issue of slow speeds in rural broadband, one of the critical factors facing a telco in deciding whether or not to build masts, unbundle exchanges (those taking BT Openreach Access Locate space have to pay a room licence fee, which is code for “their share of the rates bill”) or dig up fields to lay fibre out to a rural community with dial-up speeds on their ADSL is how much that activity will increase their rates liability. Seeing as fibre in rated on a sliding scale per pair per kilometer (contiguous in your network) basis, and given the distances that can be involved, it can soon add up.

We have high profile government initiatives such as BDUK, to deliver rural broadband, but I wonder…… instead of spending to “stimulate commercial investment” for telecos to expand into these areas, how much could be achieved through some simple manipulation of basic levers such as business rates? After all, if it were profitable for a telco to expand into such an area (be it a 3G mast or high speed broadband), an economically rational profit maximising entity would’ve done so already. One can only assume the investment appraisal delivered a negative net present value…. perhaps, just perhaps, it may have swung the other way if the rates regime in telecommunications was different.

As ever, very interested in all of your views.


Business ofcom Regs

The Single Market

At the recent Eighth Parliament and Internet Conference, at which I was privileged enough to be speaking on a panel extolling the virtues of an open internet for ITSPA, one of the preceding presentations had been by the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (that mouthful is colloquially abridged to “DG Connect“) promoting the Commission’s new idea for a single market for telecommunications.

A slide was shown, seemingly promoting the United State’s competitive landscape of 3 major operators, alongside China’s similar landscape, against the European Union’s 250 major operators. The Commission’s proposals, in summary are “aimed at building a connected, competitive continent and enabling sustainable digital jobs and industries.“.

Hang on a second. I thought the European Economic Community established a single market for goods and services? I thought the Common Regulatory Framework introduced in 2002 harmonised telecommunications regulations and a general authorisation regime across Europe, negating the need to be “licenced” in each country (though as Skype recently found out, it doesn’t prevent “registration” necessarily)? Bluntly, today, if Deutsche Telekom wants to buy Jazztel, it can, subject only to the overarching rules of mergers and acquisitions and competition concerns common to any member state and any industry.

Yet they haven’t. All of these hundreds of telecommunications companies branded “major operators” by the European Commission are economically rational profit maximising entities. That’s regulatory/economist speak for “they’ll make decisions in relation to their resources that will always maximise their profits”, in other words if buying Jazztel was the best thing for Deutsche Telekom to do, that means they would’ve done so already.

We live in an era where mass consolidation led to “too big to fail”. The Banking industry is a shining example of how such growth through acquisition can go horribly wrong; but yet we seem to be promoting a regulatory and legislative framework to repeat it in telecommunications.

Theoretically, consolidation should lead to efficiency savings for the benefit of both shareholder and consumer, but there is empirical proof it didn’t in telecommunications; look at the cost of broadband in New York versus London. Take a moment to compare mobile tariffs across different countries on Google too. Within that article is a quote from a presidential adviser on technology;

We deregulated high-speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we’ve seen enormous consolidation and monopolies, so left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight.

Instead of thinking that having 250 major operators is a weakness in our competitive landscape, or instead of thinking there are barriers to consolidation, maybe the European Commission should embrace what has been created under the framework we already have and the US and China should be looking to them for guidance, not the other way around.

These proposals, to me, are worrying. Unless I have missed the point (which, in all fairness wouldn’t be the first time) they seem to be a solution hunting for a problem. Ill-conceived and rushed (they are trying to get it through before this EU parliament ends) legislation rarely ends well. This is why I was heartened to hear Ed Richards, the Ofcom CEO, challenging this during the conference and have heard rumblings of concern in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Of course, there is always room for improvement…. and there are issues with the regulatory landscape across Europe today, but nothing insurmountable – certainly not beyond the odd evolutionary tweak as opposed to a revolutionary approach.

That said, this pack of proposals also contains the proposed Regulation on an Open Internet, a subject close to my heart, so hopefully that at least will survive the legislative process! What does everyone else think – interested in your views, but be kind on my inaugural proper guest post!


Business mobile connectivity ofcom Regs

Orange avoids banana skin – Ts & Cs changed to allow VoIP

EE subsidiary Orange appears to have avoided a slippery situation by amending its terms and condition for mobile internet use

The pic below is a screenshot of a YouTube video ad published by EE on July 31st 2013 to push Orange PAYG mobile. It majors on the fact that you get “a shed load of data” (1GB) when you top up your Orange mobile PAYG sim with £10. It’s an attractive ad.

shed load of data

However this advert was misleading as it explicitly showed the logos of Skype, Whats App, YouTube and  SkySports. Whilst the guy in the ad doesn’t specifically mention these services the impression you get is that you could use your shed load of data to access them.

orangetscs1What the average punter doesn’t know is that the EE t’s & c’s for Orange at the time specifically prohibited the use of these services. Page 45 in issue 12 (September 2013) of EE’s booklet  (EE81006958_0913) ee_page45contains lots of very small print of “legal stuff” – in other words its customer terms and conditions.

Page 45: Internet on your phone/data tethering for consumers

ORANGE DATA (including mobile broadband): Mobile internet browsing or tethering (whether as part of an inclusive allowance or not) is not to be used for other activities (such as non-Orange internet based streaming services, voice or video over the internet, instant messaging, peer to peer file sharing).










In their November brochure the TCs and Cs appear to have been changed and VoIP is now allowed. No mention is made of the other services previously proscribed but presumably this means they are also allowed.

Over the past 12 – 18 months The UK VoIP industry trade body ITSPA has been complaining to regulator Ofcom and others that some mobile networks have been exhibiting anti competitive practices by specifically banning the use of Over The Top VoIP services on their data services with Orange being a specific culprit.

The EE response has been that older networks can’t cope with the levels of data traffic generated by these services and that the restrictions were imposed to protect other users’ traffic.

EE now seems to have relented. I doubt that this was down to any ITSPA pressure though this may well have helped. More likely in my mind is the fact that a lot of Orange’s network traffic will have moved to the newer 4G service which will have freed up some bandwidth on the older 3G network making VoIP more palatable.

The final inset picture is of the latest EE T’s & Cs showing the change in terms. Click on the image for a pdf of the full page. It’s nice to be able to put this episode behind us. Well done folks.EE November brochure

Engineer ipv6 ofcom

IPv6 usage in UK lagging behind our major global competitors

ipv6_usage_headerThis graph of  percentage IPv6 adoption by country as of today, 14th October 2013, was extracted from It shows the percentage of internet users in each country using IPv6. You can get the exact numbers from potaroo. The UK’s 34th place suggests we are seriously lagging behind. OK we can look at it in terms of actual numbers of users – see the next chart below.  We are 13th one this one but take a look at the top 5 – all major competitors in the global commercial stakes.



These charts don’t show us how IPv6 adoption is moving with time for each country but I don’t get the feeling it is proceeding with any pace here in the UK.

Whilst we are on the subject of UK competiveness it is also worth noting that the annual Cisco Visual Networking Index is forecasting an average global broadband speed of 39Mbps by 2017. Ofcom reports that in May 2013 the UK average broadband speed was 14.7Mbps. This does fit with the Cisco forecast but to keep up with the game there is a lot of work to do to hit the 2017 number.

The base technology roadmap is there in the UK – you can now get FTTP on demand at 330Mbps. It’s going to take ultra high def TV delivery over broadband to drive the market. I think we are still relatively early days in this space. Fibre To The Premises with a performance of 1Gbps and up is still the end game.

Business net neutrality ofcom Regs

Net Neutrality – Pete Farmer speaks

PortcullisOpen Internet & Net Neutrality – both are terms that are meaningless to many and equally emotive and commercially crucial to many others.

As with many things in life, there’s a spectrum of what this means. At one end, there’s a threat to civil liberties, commercial strategies, intellectual property and safeguarding against illegal content. At the other end, there’s (for want of a better phrase) a type of technological anarchy whereby there are ideological demands that all packets of data should be equal regardless of the content, legality, source or otherwise.

ITSPA’s members all operate in the VoIP space to some degree, so the subject of throttling (sorry, I think the marketing term is “traffic shaping”), blocking etc is both emotive and important to their businesses; so I think it is worthwhile explaining what I think the average VoIP provider means by Net Neutrality.

The first qualifier is that we always talk about legal content. What is legal and not legal varies by jurisdiction and is defined by various legislatures around the world; we would not necessarily expect any definition of an open internet to include illegal content.

We would also say that prioritisation of some services is an important

Engineer internet ofcom

Ofcom slow news – 98% of tablet owners use them to connect to the internet

August is normally a deadly quiet month. Almost to the extent that it would be very easy to say I might as well take the whole month off. This year seems to be different. We are rushed off our feet. It’s all good stuff. I’m not complaining. Just saying that we are very busy.

August is also normally a very quiet news month. The media resorts to headlines such as “Boy’s ice cream melts before he could finish it” and other riveting slow news day reports. The one bit of news that you could set your watch by every year in August is the Ofcom Communications Market Report. This year it came out when I was on holiday in North Wales and observing radio silence so I’ve only just noticed it. On that basis whatever I might say on the subject has possibly already been said.

Notwithstanding that the Ofcom CMR usually has some nuggets worth looking at. The first that stands out is the headline saying:

Total UK revenues from telecoms, TV, radio, and post fell for the fourth successive year in 2012.  These services generated £59.5bn in revenues during the year, a £0.1bn (0.2%) fall compared to 2011 as a £0.7bn fall in telecoms revenues was offset by increasing TV, radio and post revenues.”

This is interesting because our use of the internet is growing massively. This might lead you to naturally conclude that the revenues for businesses operating in that market are growing. Certainly this is true for Timico.

It is clear though that for the industry as a whole the model is changing. Old fashioned lines of business are changing. ISDN is being replaced by SIP trunks – telephony by VoIP. The cost of minutes has plummeted largely to a fixed monthly fee per subscriber. Broadband prices are also at rock bottom, particularly for consumers. The government is right when it says we have one of the most competitive markets in the world.

This is also true for mobile and whilst people might whinge about mobile prices the mobile operators are struggling with their gross margins. These large telcos are still seen as fat organisations paying fat salaries and there is probably some way to go on the cost cutting side before mobile markets reach the bottom.

Everyone in the game is trying to modernise their business model. The money must still be there. It is just going elsewhere. One clue is in the growth in TV, radio and post revenues. People must be using their internet connection to spend money. In our house we probably watch more TV over the internet that on the actual TV itself. Including the advertising. We also buy a lot more stuff over the internet than we used to, hence the rise in postal revenues. It’s mostly not downloaded. It comes in a van.

As the world moves more “onto the internet” the one thing that is becoming more and more important is the integrity and the quality of the internet connection. This is particularly true for businesses who are increasingly growing to depend on revenues that rely in one way or another on connectivity to make them happen. For example if you own an ecommerce site then every minute of downtime means lost revenues. Similarly in the physical retail world, most payments are processed using broadband connections. Lose the connection and lose the lolly.

However people might be spending their cash this represents a huge opportunity for the telco that can respond to change. They just have to look up and look forward and not dwell on what was.

One final note. Ofcom bless em do have a way of stating the bleedin obvious. They tell us that nearly all (98%) tablet owners say they use their tablets to connect to the internet. One wonders what the other 2% use their tablets for?!

Gotta go. Busy busy busy.

Business fun stuff ofcom

Smart SEO makes a difference – NewNet wholesale comms provider

Web presence makes a huge difference to your business these days. You need to be on the front page of Google search rankings or you ain’t on the web.

I’m not saying we are up there for every search term we would like – that’s work in progress. However NewNet, our wholesale business is very much getting it right.

Check out the two screenshots below. The first is the top of the page showing the results for the “wholesale comms provider” search term. NewNet comes top for both paid for and organic. The other organic results on that page are mostly BT and then Ofcom. The second just shows you the rest of the screen. Nice.

google rankings wholesale comms provider



4g Business mobile connectivity ofcom

Analysis of who bought what in the Ofcom 4G spectrum auction #O2 #BT #merger

google_campus_thumbThe 4G spectrum auction results were announced back in February. Five telcos won spectrum: Telefonica O2, Vodafone, EE, 3 and BT. MLL Telecom and HKT (UK) Company lost out. Before looking at the merits of each deal it is worth understanding the pros and cons of each spectrum band.

Two bands were up for grabs: 800MHz and 2,600MHz or 2.6GHz. 60MHz was available in the 800MHz band and 185MHz in the 2.6GHz band. There was therefore more capacity available and in bigger blocks at the higher frequency than in the lower. The data throughput that can be achieved in a mobile network is proportional to the amount of spectrum you can throw at it.

The higher frequencies are potentially more valuable from a network capacity perspective than the lower. Where there is a 35MHz block available you can also decide whether to use the whole block to offer a faster service to fewer people or to divide it into smaller packages and serve more subscribers with lower speeds. 45Mbps versus 15Mbs say (my guess).

The downside for the higher speed spectrum is that it has poorer in building penetration and a lower  reach and is therefore not as useful for providing a fixed line broadband replacement service as the lower 800MHz band.

One lot in the 800MHz band was designated by Ofcom as being saddled with a coverage obligation with a requirement to reach 98% of the population with a 2Mbps service by 2017.

Before rural dwellers get excited it is worth noting that the coverage obligation states that “a minimum download speed of 2Mbps should be available with 90% confidence in 98% of houses (residential properties) covered by the mobile broadband service when the network is lightly loaded. Lightly loaded is defined by Ofcom as a “single user demanding service within the serving cell, and the surrounding cells of the network are loaded to a light level (by which we mean the common channels only are transmitting at 22% of the maximum cell power)”.

In my mind that means that 2Mbps is the absolute maximum anyone will get under the coverage obligation. If this was introduced to support the government’s 2Mbps for all pledge then look out for weasel words galore when that number is not achieved by “the end of this parliament”.

Next let’s look at who bought what.

Winning bidder Spectrum won Base price
Everything Everywhere Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz and
2 x 35 MHz of 2.6 GHz
Hutchison 3G UK Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz £225,000,000
Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd (a subsidiary of BT Group plc) 2 x 15 MHz of 2.6 GHz and
1 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired)
Telefónica UK Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz
(coverage obligation lot)
Vodafone Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz,
2 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz and
1 x 25 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired)
Total £2,341,113,000



At £790 million Vodafone spent the most dosh in the auction and came away with the best spread of spectrum with 20MHz of the 800MHZ and 65MHz of the 2.6GHz spectra. Basically roughly a third of what was available. This should give them the most optimal flexibility to provide a mix of in town and rural services. Vodafone, which is sharing infrastructure with O2 under a venture known as Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Ltd has like O2 stated a goal of hitting the 98% population coverage before 2016.


The next biggest spender at £589 million was EE bringing it 70MHz of the 2.6GHz spectrum and the “minimum buy” of 10MHz from the 800MHz band. EE is already offering 4G services in the 1.800MHz band so whilst its 800MHz holding may be a little light the company still has a good spread of spectrum.

EEs head start in this game also adds an additional competitive dimension to the whole business.


The O2 spectrum allocation is an interesting one. Paying £550 million for the 20MHz coverage obligation lot in the 800MHz spectrum it has paid more for this band than either EE or 3 if we use the reserve price of £225 million paid by 3 as a benchmark. It isn’t as simple as that but without spending days analysing the finer points of the auction it serves a purpose as a rough guide.

O2 is obliged to cover 98% of subscribers by 2017. In my mind this is something they will have been wanting to achieve in any case so the “obligation” is unlikely to be a particular burden. The relatively high cost of the spectrum combined with what I imagine to be a higher cost of serving rural districts might raise an eyebrow but I am not party to O2’s infrastructure cost model and plan.

What is potentially more likely to be an issue for O2 is the absence of a holding in the 2.6GHz band. O2 may be pinning its hopes on being given future permission to use its 2,100 MHz spectrum holding or there may be a clue in the recent announcement that BT will be working with O2 to provide the backbone network for O2s 4G services. Having the high capacity backbone is fine but not particularly necessary if you don’t have the spectrum capacity to drive traffic.

Hutchinson 3G UK Ltd

There isn’t that much to say about 3 really. The company was guaranteed some spectrum in the Ofcom process. It paid the reserve price of £225 million for the smallest allocation of all the networks. 3 is currently by far the smallest mobile operator in the UK ignoring the fact that BT seems likely to re-enter the market and one wonders what the long term plans are likely to be. Will they change their name to 4? 🙂


BT’s acquisition of 2.6GHz spectrum at £186 million represented by far the lowest cost per meg and so on that basis the incumbent fixed line operator seems to have got the best value out of the auction.

However the obvious spectrum for BT to have gone for would have been in the 800MHz range, assuming its intention is to use 4G to improve its broadband penetration to rural areas. This would be consistent with BT’s increasingly monopolistic position in the “final third” of the country as seems to be suggested in the awarding of Government BDUK contracts.

I don’t have any insight into their plans but when people look back with the benefit of hindsight at some event or other they often say “of course it was obvious”.

If we look at the BT and O2 positions in respect of spectrum it would seem obvious that both parties should share their respective spectra. I wouldn’t rule out some kind of re-convergence of the twain/merger bearing in mind that BT sold off O2 at some stage in the medium term past.

O2 has just offloaded its fixed broadband business to Sky. BT is getting back into mobile. O2 owner Telefonica is a Spanish company and therefore likely to be suffering from the woes of the Spanish economy. BT could buy O2! Pure speculation but makes sense to me.

That’s it as far as an analysis of who bought what in the 4G spectrum auction. A bit overdue but sometimes these things benefit from digesting the information for a little while before rushing to gain first mover/publisher advantage in the SEO stakes. In the meantime developments have allowed me to add an additional dimension to the analysis.

I doubt we will have to wait much long to find out where this whole space is going. You can read up about my thoughts on time to market here.

28/9/13 update – comparison of O2, EE and Vodafone 4G networks in London

4g Business mobile connectivity ofcom

The 4G race to market in the UK – the heavy rollers are in town and the stakes are high

EE4GIt’s the middle of May. The 4G auctions were in February. We are all waiting with bated breath for announcements of service rollouts. Last time I looked was when I was preparing for my 4G talks at Convergence Summit North. The word on the web was “summer”. No specifics. In fact the O2 website said summer but I’m not sure that Vodafone even said that.

Now I’m writing a 4G update for Comms Business and thought I’d take another look. O2 has removed the reference to a summer availability but has not offered an alternative. I suspect that this means Christmas which is the big payout time for mobile networks. The Vodafone website just says “later this year”.

I guess this isn’t likely to come as a surprise. A 4G network rollout will be a lot of work and cost a lot of money so I guess there is a scenario that O2 and Voda will be pacing their investment.

There is a race on here though. I hear EE already have around 330,000 subscribers and say they are targeting 1 million by the end of the year. If O2 and Voda don’t get their act together that will mean EE will be ahead of them to the tune of 1 million customers, higher spending customers, by the year end.

Personally I don’t think 330,000 is a particularly good result for EE considering they have had the market to themselves for over six months even though their ARPUs might be good. Also the EE marketing appears to me to be less than optimal.  I recently spoke to an EE reseller who said that the product strategy wasn’t particularly joined up. The company apparently sells to consumers through EE, small businesses through Orange and larger businesses through TMobile1 with three different hardware portfolios and different sets of pricing.  If I were EE that is one thing I’d be looking to sort out.

In fairness EE will have the same coverage rollout issues as being faced by the other mobile operators so there will only have been a limited segment of the market available to them in that first six months. Word is that EE will have reached 80 towns by the end of June. By the end of April that number was 62 covering 50% of the population.

According to the Ofcom Communications Market Report 2012 in 2011 there were 82 million mobile connections. Assuming the number is still the same today that would suggest that around 0.8% of the available market (330k/41m) is on EE 4G after 6 months. I guess the next six months are going to be crucial in the race. EE will have had a year’s head start on the others, assuming my Christmas guess is right. If they can sort out the marketing then if I were EE I’d be disappointed with only a million subs by the end of the year.

If I were O2 and Vodafone I’d be stepping up the pace of their own 4G rollout. The two operators are jointly building out the network, ultimately to 18,500 cell sites and according to the Vodafone blog splitting the work 50/50. It would be interesting to see how their respective rollouts are doing. Who is going to get there first in the partnership? If they are doing half the work each presumably they will be announcing the service at the same time. The timing of these announcements is therefore likely to be quite critical. Get there first and presumably get the marketing advantage. Get there second and you can tailor your own pricing and packaging competitively knowing what the other guy is offering. Get there at the same time and risk accusations of a cartel.

Whatever happens it looks like I will have to wait until Christmas before I get a 4G connection – my phone is with O2 and my laptop with Vodafone. At least I’ll know what to put in my letter to Santa.

1It may be the other way round re TMob & Orange marketing.

28/9/13 update – comparison of O2, EE and Vodafone 4G networks in London