Automatic Broadband Compensation Is Nigh

After Ofcom announced back in November 2017 that broadband and landline customers will automatically be able to get compensation from their providers when things go wrong without the need for a claim, it appears that an £8-per-day deal agreement has finally been reached between Openreach and five of the UK’s internet service providers.

Agreement

The voluntary agreement, which will only apply only if a fault takes longer than two days to fix, is between BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Zen. Plusnet and EE had indicated previously that they would be prepared to sign up.

This should now mean that the new automatic compensation system will, from early 2019, bring automatic compensation to consumers (home, small and medium business customers) for a total loss of fixed broadband and phone connectivity.

Although Openreach, which looks after the infrastructure, is keen to point out that it has been offering compensation for broadband failures since 2008 and would pay compensation even when others prevented it from accessing its network, it has said that it is not prepared to pay-out for measures beyond reasonable control / force majeure events e.g. flooding. Openreach also has another exclusion under its Service Level Guarantee (SLG) arrangements.

The new agreement, which was reached after more than 6 months negotiations, and is subject to a 12-month review of Cancelled Provisions, will mean £8 compensation per-day, £25 compensation if an engineer does not arrive on schedule, or cancels within 24 hours, and an offer of £5-per-day for new services not starting on.

What Happened?

The voluntary, automatic compensation agreement only came about because of a review and intervention in the broadband market by regulator Ofcom, which introduced a voluntary Code of Practice.

It was found that compensation was only paid in approximately one in seven cases (15%) where landline or broadband customers suffered slow repairs, delayed installations or missed engineer appointments. The actual amount of compensation paid in these cases was also widely recognised to be small.

Considering that BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet, collectively serve around 90% of landline and broadband customers in the UK, it was thought that an automatic compensation agreement that reflects the harm consumers suffer when things go wrong would help consumers and the industry alike as well as satisfying Ofcom.

Openreach

Openreach has been set its own set of tough Quality of Service (QoS) standards by Ofcom, but Openreach’s position of not paying out for force majeure-type events, and Ofcom expecting retail ISPs to cover those costs themselves has led to ISPs perhaps feeling that they will end up paying for Openreach’s failures.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For retail ISPs, although the agreement may go some way to making them improve their quality standards (which is good for customers), the regulator estimated in 2017 that such an agreement could mean that 2.6 million UK customers could receive up to £142 million per year in automated compensation payments.  This could represent a significant extra service cost to the ISPs, and hopefully one that won’t end up being passed on to customers in raised prices.

Ofcom’s research shows that nine in ten adults report going online every day and three-quarters of internet users say it is important to their daily lives. For businesses, a fast and reliable broadband connection is now vital for them to operate and compete effectively in today’s marketplace. Problems with broadband services can be very costly and frustrating for businesses, and many businesses feel that they shouldn’t have to fight for compensation on top of the problems caused by poor broadband services, and that current levels of compensation are too low, and don’t come close to reflecting the harm caused. Automatic compensation at higher levels is, therefore, good news, and it is good news that an agreement has finally reached and the (voluntary) scheme can start operating as soon as early 2019 (we hope).

The new automatic compensation scheme is particularly good news for small businesses because one-third of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) choose residential landline and broadband services, and around half (49%) of SMEs don’t know if they’re entitled to compensation when service falls short (Ofcom figures).

Hard of Hearing? Skype Offers Live Captions And Subtitles

On 3rd December, Skype announced that it was celebrating United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities by launching its new call captioning with live captions and subtitles feature.

Inclusivity & Accessibility

Skype says that this latest feature, which uses AI-driven captions, is part of its on-going work to make Skype more inclusive and make Skype calls more accessible to all.

How Does It Work?

The new live captions and subtitles feature works on a call-by-call basis through the in-call screen or can be set to activate by default under Settings > Calling > Call Subtitles > then toggle ‘Show Subtitles’ for all voice and video calls.

The feature works on the latest version of Skype for one-on-one calls with friends or co-workers, or to any phone number, as well as in group calls with a work team or friend group.

Currently, the captions and subtitles auto-scroll in your call, but Skype says that it will soon enable additional viewing options, including the ability to scroll through them in their own side window.

Skype says that the captions and subtitles will be optimised to be fast, continuous, and contextually updated as people speak.

Translations Into 20 Languages

Skype also says that in the coming weeks, it will be augmenting the live captions and subtitles feature further by releasing translations that support over 20 languages and dialects.

Microsoft – Introducing Captions and Subtitles For PowerPoint Presentations

Microsoft, which owns Skype, announced that as part of the same celebration of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it is introducing AI-powered captions and subtitles for presentations in real-time for PowerPoint.

Many Languages Too

Microsoft also announced at the launch, that the live captions and subtitles for PowerPoint will support 12 spoken languages and display on-screen captions or subtitles in one of 60+ languages.

Features

Live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint will use AI, automatically adaptive speech recognition based on the presented content for more accurate recognition of names and specialised terminology, and the ability for presenters to easily customise the size, position, and appearance of subtitles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is the technology at the heart of these new features, and Microsoft is finding ways to utilise the technology to create many different value-adding and differentiating benefits to its services.

Accessibility is an important consideration and point of compliance for businesses, and these new AI-powered features can help businesses to communicate and present information in a more inclusive, accessible and engaging way.

Microsoft has emphasised that the new captions and subtitles feature joins many other accessibility features that it has introduced to Office 365, such as automatic suggestions for alt-text in Word and PowerPoint, expanded availability of automatic closed captions and searchable transcripts for videos in Microsoft Stream, plus enhancements to the Office 365 Accessibility Checker.

Mobile Networks Faster Than Wi-Fi

A report by OpenSignal has highlighted how the fact that smartphone users in 33 countries get faster average download speeds using a mobile network than Wi-Fi means that mobile operators and smartphone makers need to ensure that consumers’ smartphones aren’t simply pushed onto a Wi-Fi network, only to receive a worse experience than the mobile network.

Assumption Wrong

The report, by Ian Fogg of OpenSignal, highlights the fact that the long-held industry assumption that Wi-Fi is better than mobile networks in almost every way appears to be wrong in today’s environment.

For example, the report showed that in 33 countries, or 41% of the 80 countries analysed by OpenSignal, mobile delivers a faster download experience than Wi-Fi.

Also, the report shows that it appears to be hard to categorise the range of countries where mobile offers a faster download experience for smartphone users.  For example, according to the report, these range from richer markets and industrialised economies e.g. Australia, the Czech Republic, and France to countries across every continent, and a range of demographics (income, and state of development) e.g. UAE, Turkey, Kenya, Myanmar and Mexico.  The report did find, however, that there is a correlation between higher per capita GDP and more time spent on Wi-Fi, mainly because of the presence of a suitable Wi-Fi network rather than by a consumer’s decisions to connect to Wi-Fi.

Big Changes in 10 Years

The OpenSignal report acknowledges that while the assumption that Wi-Fi is better, faster, and cheaper than a mobile network may have been true 10 years ago, some big changes in the connectivity environment mean that is no longer the case.

For example, 4G networks have launched and boosted the quality of smartphone users’ experience, almost everyone now owns a smartphone, and mobile video and consumption has exploded as smartphones have become a mainstream way to watch TV (Netflix is even trialling mobile-only tariff plans).

Some A ‘Dead Heat’ With Wi-Fi

It was also noted in the report that in four countries – Hungary, Bangladesh, Belgium and Norway – there is no real difference between the Wi-Fi and mobile download speeds experienced by smartphone users.

What’s The Problem?

The problem, therefore, is that the failure to take into account the current connectivity environment, and operators working on what may now be a mistaken assumption is that smartphone users have actually been given a worse experience as they are dumped onto Wi-Fi wherever possible.

Not All The Same

The report did find, however, that not all operators always switch users to Wi-Fi.  For example, Huawei switches connections from a slow Wi-Fi link to a faster cellular connection.

Why Are Cellular Phone Networks Faster?

Reasons why cellular networks are faster with 4G in some countries (e.g. in Brazil, Finland) is that it’s easier to lay the (fibre) cables there, smartphone design priorities don’t always focus on Wi-Fi in those countries, and many smartphones there don’t work on 5 GHz Wi-Fi.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The report indicates that there needs to be a re-think about when and how to use Wi-Fi to complement the mobile experience, and it may be necessary for operators to challenge the old assumption that Wi-Fi is best.  To provide the best experience to their users in today’s environment, the report notes that operators need to become smarter with Wi-Fi offload strategies.

Also, Operators will need to deliver good in-building mobile network coverage from now on, because consumers will increasingly override their smartphone’s automatic Wi-Fi choice in favour of selecting cellular in order to get the fastest download speed.

It is also likely that smartphone makers are will be changing the designs of smartphones to allow the use of both Wi-Fi and mobile network technologies simultaneously to deliver the fastest data experience.

For those users of mobile services, the realisation by mobile manufacturers and operators that they must change their products and services to rely less on Wi-Fi is likely to bring a better experience going forward.

Make Skype Calls Through Your Amazon Echo

On Monday, the Microsoft Skype blog announced that Skype calling is now available on Amazon Alexa devices using a simple voice command and that Alexa customers can now call most landlines and mobiles internationally using Skype, as well as benefitting from 200 free minutes of Skype to call 34 countries.

Can Already Make Calls

Many Amazon Echo / Echo Plus and Echo Dot users may already be used to making calls via their Echo. Last year, Alexa-to-Alexa calls from compatible devices were enabled e.g. calling another Echo from your Echo by saying “Call (John’s) Echo”.  Also, Echo Connect combined with a user’s landline or VoIP service has enabled compatible Echo devices to call any number supported by a user’s home phone service provider e.g. contacts by name, specific mobile numbers, and by saying the individual digits of a full phone number.

How To Set Up Skype Calls On Your Alexa Device

Amazon Echo users can set up Skype calling by :

– Opening the Amazon Alexa app (the same one used to set up the Echo in the first place)

– Going to ‘Settings > Communication > Skype’

– Signing-in using the same account used for Skype

How To Make A Call Via Skype

According to the Microsoft Skype blog, once Skype has been set up on the Amazon Echo, (using an example) making a completely hands-free call should be simply a case of saying, “Alexa, call Mum on Skype.”

The new Skype call service via the Echo is being rolled out in the U.S, U.K., Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, and New Zealand.  The addition of the new feature is also being supported by a price drop in the Echo.

Video Calls With Echo Show / Spot Display-Based

The hook up with Skype also means that although speaker-only Echo devices can only make audio Skype calls, an Echo Show or Echo Spot display-based device should be able to make video calls using Skype.

It should also now be possible to make Skype calls via the Echo to other Skype-enabled devices e.g.  PCs, smartphones, or even an Xbox One console. SkypeOut also means that calls can be made to mobile and landline numbers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon is already the market leader (41% market share) of global smart speaker shipments, ahead of Google at 28% (Strategy Analytics data).  There is fierce competition in the huge and growing smart speaker market e.g. one-quarter to one-third of the U.S. population already owns a smart speaker, and the global number of installed smart speakers may more than double to 225 million units in two years (Canalys).  Amazon is trying to make its smart speakers as ubiquitous as possible e.g. at home, at work and in the car, and adding feature like this may make it even more attractive to customers, particularly at the season where sales are likely to be high, and where sales are already being supported by a price drop for Echo devices.  More sales of Amazon Echo devices could also mean that voice shopping on Alexa could potentially generate more $5 billion+ per year in revenue by 2020.

For users of Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker devices, the promise of easy, hands-free Skype calls could be another value-adding feature to tempt them to buy an Amazon smart speaker instead of others such as Sonos, or Google Home.

Businesses Looking Forward to 5G

UK businesses are looking for a boost in the speed and scope of communications in the form of 5G, but how soon will having a 5G phone that delivers all the 5G benefits become a reality, and what will it take to make it happen?

What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications. i.e. you use it to call, text and (when not connected Wi-Fi network) get online. It is thought that 5G should be much faster than previous generations, and may open up new opportunities for mobile data, stimulate innovation, and make UK companies even more competitive.

5G Phones

Tech and communications commentators are quick to point out, for phone manufactures, manufacturing 5G phones will be a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
  • Miniaturisation of a more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smart-phone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation.
  • The first 5G smart-phones will need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

What About The Network?

The 5G network is, of course, the crucial element in giving customers the 5G experience that we’ve been promised. Some of the key points to remember about the 5G network are that:

  • The frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.
  • Other technologies will need to be developed and trialled. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.
  • There will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) are likely to be the first offered to users, and there will also be an expensive high-frequency “millimetre wave” (mmWave) for use in densely populated areas. In short, this could mean limitations on where an owner can use their shiny new 5G phone.

When?

Taking all this into account, phone manufacturers have been publicly offering estimates of when their 5G phone models will be available. For example, Motorola’s 5G add-on for its Moto Z3 smart-phone are due in early 2019, Samsung may launch their first 5G smart-phone in August 2019, and Huawei’s 5G model could be with us by mid-2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities, and could help provide a boost to new industries. For example, it will help to boost virtual and augmented reality, provide greater connectivity to IoT and smart devices, and help with all kinds of services e.g. smart bins and smart lighting, and remote healthcare services. The growing autonomous vehicle market could also benefit as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need. Those companies operating delivery drone / robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas. Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.