a week in wireless

The right to be forgotten

The right to be forgotten might sound like a made-for-TV weepie about a woman with a terminal illness, or an advertising slogan for Rohypnol but it is neither of these things. In an age where vast quantities of personal information are sitting on the servers of organisations whose intentions are at best unclear, the right to be forgotten is something that a growing number of consumers are worried that they might have lost without realising they ever had it.

In a great piece of investigative reporting, UK newspaper the Guardian claimed proof this week that US operator Verizon has, under a top secret court order, been turning over all of its call records to the US National Security Agency. The Guardian followed this up with the allegation that a host of internet players—Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple—have all granted the NSA direct access to their servers.

All of these companies are compelled to hand over data when specific, individual requests are made, the issue here is the NSA being allowed to plug straight in whenever it feels like a spot of voyeurism. In the case of Verizon—and there is no suggestion that the other US operators are doing any different—the court order published by the Guardian requires that the operator:

“Shall produce to the NSA upon service of this Order, and continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an electronic copy of the following tangible things: all call detail records of “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad, or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

While the content of the calls is not part of the deal, nor the “name, address or financial information of a subscriber or customer,” the NSA does receive telephone numbers, IMEI and IMSI numbers and the time and length of the call. It is also possible, the Guardian said, that location information is included.

The follow-up story detailed a broader programme, called PRISM, which allows the agency to collect search history, email contents, file transfers and live chats of internet users.

There is a lot of outrage out there as a result but surely nobody can really be surprised that this is happening? The movers and shakers are all in Watford right now at the Battenberg Club, or whatever it’s called, reading your emails and laughing!

Interestingly all of the internet companies that responded to the Guardian’s call for comment denied any knowledge of PRISM, and refuted the allegation that the NSA is up to its elbows in their servers. Make of those denials what you will but it’s stupid to assume that companies are ethically upright until proven otherwise in the same way, say, as individuals are deemed innocent until proven guilty.

What is the NSA going to do with data on this kind of scale anyway? The fact that it’s going to need processing is probably why so many of these companies are happy to hand it over—they can smell a big analytics tender in the offing.

The Informer, experiencing a little spasm of outrage recently at the UK tax avoidance policies of some of these big players, started thinking about how he might remove himself from their clutches. It quickly became apparent that this would be more or less impossible. They’ve got everything—and there’s nothing to stop them using it against us.

Seriously, though: Watford?

Speaking of the rich and powerful the GSMA responded this week to comments made by Neelie Kroes, european commissioner for the digital agenda recently about the need for a single European telecoms market, describing them as “unfortunate”. Last week Kroes delivered an emotionally charged speech in which she spoke of the importance of addressing issues including net neutrality and cyber crime and said that a single European telecoms market would have economic and social benefits for a range of social and demographic groups.

But her emphasis on roaming, including a call to “end mobile roaming costs”, was not what GSMA wanted to hear. “Everyone loves the benefits of EU price cuts to roaming. It is the one thing even Eurocritics agree the EU did well,” Kroes said last week. “On one hand my portfolio is the source of this incredibly popular EU policy… but on the other hand we struggle to push other telecoms and digital issues to the top of the political agenda. A strong single market package is the way to change that.”

It’s a tricky one for the GSMA because, while it has always opposed European roaming legislation, it is sympathetic to the notion of a single market. Last week the organisation released a report in which it warned that the European market has lost its competitive edge and is now, according to director general Anne Bouverot, “significantly underperforming other advanced economies, including the United States.”

In a statement released Monday, Tom Phillips, GSMA’s head of regulatory affairs, urged Kroes to take its findings on board. “The GSMA encourages the Commissioner to keep her focus on the big picture and to make bold and long-term recommendations. In this regard, it is unfortunate that the Commissioner should have used her recent platform with parliament to talk about roaming… The Commissioner should immediately clarify her intentions with regard to roaming, to avoid the industry investing in a roaming solution that has been superseded before it is launched,” he said.

Someone else who is keen on a single European market is Portugal Telecom CEO Zeinal Bava. This week Bava was appointed as CEO of Brazilian operator Oi, in which PT holds a 23.4 per cent stake. Bava is an interesting chap and you can read a lengthy write up of a speech he gave recently here. Operator CEOs don’t speak like this very often, so give it a read.

One of Bava’s messages is that network investment must be kept up. This week UK operator Vodafone said it will increase the amount it invests in its domestic network this year by 50 per cent, as it prepares to launch LTE.

The operator plans to spend more than £900 million in the current financial year and expects its 4G service to go live by the late summer. While the group is spending more in the UK, Vodafone announced that it, along with China Mobile, has withdrawn from the process to win two telecommunications licences in Myanmar.

Meanwhile UK LTE debutante EE announced this week that it had passed the half million subscriber mark for its 4G service.

Global LTE subscriptions will hit one billion in 2017, according to Ericsson’s latest Mobility Report, released this week. Mobile data traffic is expected to grow 12-fold between now and the end of 2018, with video traffic growing annually at 60 per cent during the period.

Ericsson also announced plans to build a new ICT centre in Canada this week, a land where they have things called pancake keg parties, apparently, which involve drinking beer for breakfast. These parties probably do not happen at the CRTC, Canada’s regulator, which this week issued a code of conduct for mobile operators in a bid to make it easier for subscribers to understand their contracts and rights.

The code will enable consumers to terminate their wireless contracts after two years without cancellation fees, even if they have signed on for a longer term contracts; cap extra data charges at $50 per month and international data roaming charges at $100 per month; and have their smartphones unlocked after 90 days, or immediately if they paid for the device in full.

In addition, consumers will be able to return their smartphones within 15 days and specific usage limits if they are unhappy with their service; accept or decline changes to the key terms of a fixed-term contract and they will receive a contract that is “easy to read and understand”.

In other Canadian news, the government has blocked mobile operator Telus’ application to acquire Mobilicity’s spectrum holdings. Telus agreed to acquire the smaller Canadian operator for $380m in May, pending regulatory approval which, it turns out, has not been forthcoming.

Christian Paradis, minister of industry for Canada, explained that Mobilicity’s licences were among those set aside for new entrants in the 2008 Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) auction. The allocation of those licences included restrictions on transferring licences to incumbents.

“Our government has been clear that spectrum set aside for new entrants was not intended to be transferred to incumbents. We will not waive this condition of licence and will not approve this, or any other, transfer of set-aside spectrum to an incumbent ahead of the five-year limit,” said Paradis.

Meanwhile another Canadian operator, Public Mobile has been acquired jointly by Toronto-based investment vehicle Thomvest Seed Capital, and Cartesian Capital, a New York-based private equity firm.

“In the coming months, the Canadian wireless industry will see consolidation, and an important spectrum auction,” said Paul Pizzani, partner at Cartesian. “Public Mobile is well-positioned to grow in scale by pursuing these consolidation opportunities and by bidding for national spectrum in the 700MHz auction.”

Public mobile was one of three small Canadian operators that announced their withdrawal from industry body the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) in April this year.The operators claimed the association was biaseds towards the country’s three largest operators. The other two, Wind Mobile and Mobilicity could soon merge, according to reports.

In handset news this week Microsoft’s Windows OS now has 8.4 per cent of the UK smartphone market, while demand for lower cost devices in Southern Italy is being exploited by Sony and LG.

Data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech shows Sony’s share of the Spanish smartphone market has reached 19 per cent, while LG is close behind at 17 per cent, up from three per cent a year ago. The firm said that these improved performances  have been driven by entry level handsets including Sony’s Xperia U and LG’s Optimus L3 and L5 models.

Flagship, high-end devices have faced challenges in Southern Europe. Samsung’s Galaxy SIII accounted for just 4.7 per cent of smartphone sales in Spain over the first quarter of 2013, compared to 23.5 pet cent in Germany.

Outside of Europe Android leads the US market with 51.7 per cent, ahead of Apple on 41.4 per cent. Windows now accounts for 5.6 per cent of the US smartphone market, which Kantar described as “good news” for Microsoft.

In urban China, Kantar said, Apple enjoys 25.1 market share, despite a price premium of 82 per cent above the market average. Samsung remains the top brand in this market, with 30.2 per cent, while domestic vendor Lenovo has 10.3 per cent of the urban Chinese market.

Staying in China, ZTE announced this week that it has completed what it claims is the first end to end VoTD-LTE call, together with China Mobile on the operator’s network in Guangzhou.

In Australia, meanwhile, Optus has deployed its first TD-LTE base stations in the city of Canberra.

And that’s about it for this week from the Informer, somebody who will probably not have to fight too hard for his right to be forgotten when the time comes.

Take care

The Informer



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