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).

70% Increase In DDoS Cyber Attacks On Black Friday Prompts Christmas Warning

Cyber security experts are warning companies with online shops to have adequate protection against DDoS attacks in place after a 70% increase in that kind of cyber-attack was recorded on Black Friday.

What Is A DDoS Attack?

A denial-of-service attack is a cyber-attack on that is intended to make a computer or network unavailable to users, and a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) is one that uses multiple compromised systems, sometimes thousands, that are often infected with a Trojan virus to launch a single attack on one system. The sheer number of requests that the target receives (called a ‘flood’) typically overload the resources and memory and render the targeted computer or network unavailable.

Black Friday – 70% Increase!

According to DDoS protection provider Link11, DDoS attacks on e-commerce providers showed an increase of more than 70% compared with other days in November, and Cyber Monday attacks showed a massive increase of 109% compared with the November average.

Up To 100 Gbps

Gbps, which stands for billions of bits per second, is a measure of bandwidth on a digital data transmission, and is the level used to gauge the intensity of DDoS attacks. When you consider that Link 11 have reported that attacks of around 6 Gbps are more than enough to exceed the capacity of most websites, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday recordings of levels of up to 100 Gbps in some attacks were extremely high.

The Cost of DDoS Attacks

Bitkom research found that cyber-attacks can cost retailers an average of €185,000.  This total includes costs of IT repair, loss of sales revenue and reputational damage to the business.

Research from Corero, in April this year, found that (DDoS) attacks typically cost enterprises up to £35,000 per attack in lost business and productivity, as well as mitigation costs. The research revealed that 69% of respondents said their organisation experiences anywhere between 20 and 50 DDoS attack attempts a month – about one attack per day!  78% of respondents in the Corero research said that the loss of customer trust and confidence was the most damaging effect on business of DDoS attacks.

Christmas Warning

Based on the huge increase in DDoS attacks on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, cyber security professionals are warning businesses to prepare now in order to protect themselves against an expected high level of DDoS attacks over the Christmas shopping period.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses trying to simply expand their own infrastructure to absorb peak loads with their own resources may not have enough resources to stop determined attackers who may decide to deliver ever greater attacks to overwhelm services completely.

One of the best ways that businesses can prepare themselves for a possible increase in DDoS attacks is by investing in scalable, cloud-based protection solutions that can counteract the kind of targeted overloads caused by DDoS attacks.

Making sure that the business has an updated and workable Business Continuity Plan and Disaster Recovery Plan in place are also important elements of preparing for the possibility of the aftermath of a successful DDoS attack.

SIM Swap Scam Warning

A recent investigation by BBC TV’s Watchdog Live revealed evidence that some mobile phone shop staff are not conducting proper ID checks for replacement SIM requests, thereby enabling some customers to become victims of SIM swap scams.

What is a SIM Swap Scam?

SIM swap scams are believed to have been in existence for the last four years in one form or another.  In its current form, the SIM swap scan happens when a fraudster goes into a mobile operator’s shop and claims a false identity i.e. the identity of one of that operator’s customers.  The fraudster knows that the person they are claiming to be is a customer of that operator because of personal details that have been stolen in previous malware or cyber-attacks, and those details have been posted or sold on the dark web.

In the shop, while pretending to be that customer, the fraudster claims that their phone has been lost or stolen and asks to be issued with a replacement SIM. Once the fraudster has the replacement SIM, the victim’s SIM no longer works, and the fraudster can then access any online service that requires security codes to be sent to the phone, as well as being able to access any other of the victim’s personal details that are stored on the SIM.

In the past (London 2016), a similar version of the scam worked when fraudsters used an intercepted bank statement from the victim (or information found on social media) to call the person’s mobile operator, pass security checks, and get a blank SIM card.  The fraudsters were then able to access the unique codes sent by the victim’s bank to log into their account and transfer funds.

What Should Happen When Someone Requests a Replacement SIM?

At the moment, mobile operators should conduct i.d. checks for replacement SIMs, but it is not compulsory.  Also, the Watchdog Live investigation revealed that checks for contract customers and Pay As You Go customers may differ.  For example, O2 said that it only asks for photo ID when replacing SIMs on monthly contracts, and that Pay As You Go customers will be sent an authorisation code if someone is trying to access the number.

What Happened in Reality?

In the investigation, which involved the secret filming of Watchdog Live’s own ‘King Con’ former fraudster in multiple EE, O2, Three and Vodafone stores, EE and Three staff conducted all the necessary checks, but Vodafone blamed rogue employees for not doing so.  Also, replacement SIMs were obtained from O2 stores and the authorisation codes that the company says it sends out were not received.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It appears that this relatively old fraud is still very much alive and is a reminder of how valuable our personal details can be to criminals. Bearing in mind how serious this fraud can be to the victims, it is shocking that photo ID checks for replacement SIMs are not made to be compulsory for all operators in all situations.  Mobile operators could help themselves and customers by introducing compulsory measures and by making sure through training and in-built systems that all staff conduct satisfactory checks.

It is also worrying that the investigation appears to have revealed a two-tiered security system, with Pay As You Go customers afforded less protection.

In the meantime, one way that we can help ourselves is to regularly check both our phone and bank statements, and if you have a contract with e.g. O2, contact them to confirm that no replacement SIMs have been issued in your name.

ICO Investigation Into Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology

ICO head Elizabeth Dunham is reported to have launched a formal investigation into how police forces use facial recognition technology (FRT) after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.

Concerns Expressed In Blog Post In May

In a blog post on the ICO website back in May, Elizabeth Dunham expressed several concerns about how FRT was being operated and managed. For example, although she acknowledged that there may be significant public safety benefits from using FRT, Elizabeth Dunham highlighted concerns about:

  • A possible lack of transparency in FRT’s use by police and how there is a real risk that the public safety benefits derived from the use of FRT will not be gained if public trust is not addressed.
  • The absence of national level co-ordination in assessing the privacy risks and a comprehensive governance framework to oversee FRT deployment.  This has since been addressed to an extent by an oversight panel, and by the appointment of a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) lead for the governance of the use of FRT technology in public spaces.
  • The use and retaining of images captured using FRT.
  • The need for clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that it is no more intrusive than other methods.

Commissioner Dunham said that that legal action would be taken if the Home Office did not address her concerns.

Notting Hill Carnival & Football Events in South Wales

Back in May 2017, South Wales and Gwent Police forces announced that it would be running a trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day in Cardiff. In June, the trial of FRT at the final was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulted in one arrest of a local man whose arrest was unconnected.

Also, after trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals, Police faced criticism that it was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

Research

Recent research by the University of Cardiff, which examined the use of the technology across a number of sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff for over a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals found that for 68% of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image had too low a quality for the system to work. Also, the research found that the locate mode of the FRT system couldn’t correctly identify a person of interest for 76% of the time.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses use CCTV for monitoring and security purposes, and most businesses are aware of the privacy and legal compliance aspects (GDPR) of using the system and how /where the images are managed and stored.

As a society, we are also used to being under surveillance by CCTV systems, which can have real value in helping to deter criminal activity, locate and catch perpetrators, and provide evidence for arrests and trials. It is also relatively common for CCTV systems to fail to provide good quality images and / or to be ineffective at clearly identifying persons and events.

With the much more advanced facial recognition technology used by police e.g. at public events, there does appear to be some evidence that it has not yet achieved the effectiveness that was hoped for, may not have justified the costs, and that concerns about public privacy may be valid to the point that the ICO deems it necessary to launch a formal and ongoing investigation.

Liberty Wins Right To Judicial Review Into Investigatory Powers Act

The fact that Human rights group Liberty has won the right for a judicial review into the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 could mean a legal challenge in the high court as soon as next year.

The Investigatory Powers Act

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’) became law in the UK November 2016. It was designed to extend the reach of state surveillance and requires web and phone companies (by law) to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and to give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to that data. The Charter also means that security services, government agencies and police can hack into computers and phones and collect communications data in bulk, and that judges can sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records.

Long Time Coming

Liberty was given the general go-ahead by the UK High Court to make a legal challenge against the Investigatory Powers Act in July 2017 and was enabled to do so with the help of £50,000 of crowdfunding raised via CrowdJustice.

Also, Liberty’s challenge is thought to have been helped by the European Court of Justice (in a separate case, represented by Liberty lawyers back in 2016) ruling that the same powers in the old the UK state surveillance law the ‘Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act’ (DRIPA) were unlawful, and by a ruling by the court of appeal in January 2018 also finding the same thing.

The UK government was, therefore, given until July 2018 to amend or re-write powers to require phone and internet companies to retain data on the UK population.

Part 4 of the Act

The most recent High Court ruling on 29th November gives Liberty the right to a judicial review on part 4 of the Investigatory Powers Act.  This is the part which gives many government agencies powers to collect electronic communications and records of internet use, in bulk, without reason for suspicion.

Concerns About GCHQ’s Hacking

Human rights groups and even Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee have become particularly concerned about an apparent shift towards the use of hacking of computer systems, networks and mobile phones for information gathering by intelligence services such as GCHQ in projects such as the ‘Computer Network Scaling’ programme.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK’s ability to spot and foil potential plots is vital. Although the Investigatory Powers Act may include measures that could help with that, many people and businesses (communications companies, social media, web companies) are still uneasy with the extent of the legislation and what it forces companies to do, how necessary it is, and what effect it will have on businesses publicly known to be snooping on their customers on behalf of the state. The 200,000+ signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the Investigatory Powers Act after it became law, and the £50,000 crowdfunding raised from the public in less than a week to challenge parts of the Act in the courts, both emphasise the fact that UK citizens value their privacy and take the issues of privacy and data security very seriously.

Liberty is essentially arguing for what it sees as a more proportionate surveillance regime that can better balance public safety with respect for privacy. The government initially believed that this level of surveillance was necessary to counter terrorist groups and threats posed to safety and democracy by other states, but successive legal challenges by Liberty have seen them give some ground. According to the Intelligence and Security Committee, GCHQ is running a project that aims to improve the way that it complies with the Act, and MI5 has also said that it trying to operate more compliantly.  As for any additional oversight of government orders to internet and phone companies, this is estimated to be running about a year behind schedule with IT problems being blamed for the delay.

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.

Data Protection Trust Levels Still Low After GDPR

A report by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has shown that as 42% of consumers have received communications from businesses they had not given permission to contact them (since GDPR came into force), this could be a key reason why consumer trust in businesses is still at a low level.

Not Much Difference

The CIM report shows that only 24% of respondents believe that businesses treat people’s personal data in an honest and transparent way.  This is only slightly higher than the 18% who believed the same thing when GDPR took effect 6 months ago.

Young More Trusting

The report appears to indicate that although trust levels are generally low, younger people trust businesses more with their data.  For example, the report shows that 33% of 18-24 and 34% of 24-35 year olds trust businesses with their data, compared with only 17% of over 55s.

More Empowered But Lacking Knowledge About Rights

Consumers appear to feel more empowered by GDPR to act if they feel that organisations are not serving them with the right communications.  For example, the report showed that rather than just continuing to receive and ignoring communications from a company, 50% of those surveyed said that GDPR has motivated them to not consciously opt-in to begin with, or if opted in, make them more likely to subscribe.

This feeling of empowerment was also illustrated back in August in a report based on a study by business intelligence and data management firm SAS.  The SAS study showed that more than half of UK consumers (55%) looked likely to exercise their new GDPR rights within the first year of GDPR’s introduction.

Unfortunately, even though many people feel more empowered by GDPR, there still appears to be a lack of knowledge about exactly what rights GDPR has bestowed upon us. For example, the report shows that only 47% of respondents said they know their rights as a consumer in relation to data protection.  This figure has only increased by 5% (from 43%) since the run-up to GDPR.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The need to comply with the law and avoid stiff penalties, and the opportunity to put the data house in order meant that the vast majority of UK companies have taken their GDPR responsibilities seriously, and are likely to be well versed in the rights and responsibilities around it (and have an in-house ‘expert’). Unfortunately, there are always a few companies / organisations that ignore the law and continue contacting people.  The ICO has made clear examples e.g. back in October Manchester-based Oaklands Assist UK Ltd was fined £150,000 by the ICO for making approximately 64,000 nuisance direct marketing calls to people who had already opted out of automated marketing.  This is one example of a company being held accountable, but it is clear from the CIM’s research that many consumers still don’t trust businesses with their data, particularly when they hear about data breaches / data sharing on the news (e.g. Facebook), or continue to have their own experiences of unsolicited communications.

It may be, as identified by the CIM, that even though GDPR has empowered consumers to ask the right questions about their data use, marketers now need to answer these, and to prove to consumers how data collection can actually benefit them e.g. in helping to deliver relevant and personalised information.

The apparent lack of a major impact of GDPR on public trust could also indicate the need for an ongoing campaign to drive more awareness and understanding across all UK businesses.

£385,000 Data Protection Fine For Uber

Ride-hailing (and now bike and scooter-hiring) service Uber has been handed a £385,000 fine by the ICO for data protection failings during a cyber-attack back in 2016.

What Happened?

The original incident took place in October and November 2016 when hackers accessed a private GitHub coding site that was being used by Uber software engineers. Using the login details obtained via the GitHub, the attackers were able to go to the Amazon Web Services account that handled the company’s computing tasks and access an archive of rider and driver information. The result was the compromising (and theft) of data relating to 600,000 US drivers and 57 million user accounts.

The ICO’s investigation focuses on avoidable data security flaws, during the same hack, that led to the theft (using ‘credential stuffing’) of personal data, including full names, email addresses and phone numbers, of 2.7 million UK customers from the cloud-based storage system operated by Uber’s US parent company.

The ICO’s fine to Uber also relates to the record of nearly 82,000 UK-based drivers, including details of journeys made and how much they were paid.

Attackers Paid To Keep Breach Quiet

Another key failing of Uber was that not only did the company not inform affected drivers about the incident for more than a year, but Uber chose to pay the attackers $100,000 through its bug bounty programme (a deal offered by websites and software developers to offer recognition and payment to those who report software bugs), to delete the stolen data and keep quiet about the breach.

Before GDPR

Even though GDPR, which came into force on 25th May this year says that the ICO has the power to impose a fine on a data controller of up to £17m or 4% of global turnover, the Uber breach took place before GDPR.  This means that the ICO issued the £385,000 fine under the Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force before GDPR.

Other Payments and Fines

Uber also had to pay a $148m settlement agreement in a case in the US brought by 50 US states and the District of Columbia over the company’s attempt to cover up the data breach in 2016.

Also, for the same incident, Uber is facing a £533,000 fine from the data protection authority for the Netherlands, the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As noted by the ICO director of investigations, Steve Eckersley, as well as the data security failure, Uber’s behaviour in this case showed a total disregard for the customers and drivers whose personal information was stolen, as no steps were taken to inform anyone affected by the breach, or to offer help and support.

Sadly, Uber joins a line of well-known businesses that have made the news for all the wrong reasons where data handling is concerned e.g. Yahoo’s data breach of 500 million users’ accounts in 2014 followed by the discovery that it was the subject of the biggest data breach in history to that point back in 2013. Similar to the Uber episode is the Equifax hack where 143 million customer details were stolen (44 million possibly from UK customers), while the company waited 40 days before informing the public and three senior executives sold their shares worth almost £1.4m before the breach was publicly announced.

This story should remind businesses how important it is to invest in keeping security systems up to date and to maintain cyber resilience on all levels. This could involve keeping up to date with patching (9 out of 10 hacked businesses were compromised via un-patched vulnerabilities) and should extend to training employees in cyber-security practices, and adopting multi-layered defences that go beyond the traditional anti-virus and firewall perimeter.

Companies need to conduct security audits to make sure that no old, isolated data is stored on any old systems or platforms, thereby offering no easy access to cyber-criminals. Companies may now need to use tools that allow security devices to collect and share data and co-ordinate a unified response across the entire distributed network.

Even though the recent CIM study showed that less than one-quarter of consumers trust businesses with their data security, at least the ICO is currently sending some powerful messages to (mainly large) businesses about the consequences of not fulfilling their data protection responsibilities.  For example, as well as the big fine for Uber, back in October, the ICO fined a Manchester-based company £150,000 for making approximately 64,000 nuisance direct marketing calls to people who had opted out via the TPS, and earlier this month, a former employee of a vehicle accident repair centre who stole customer data passed it to a company that made nuisance phone calls was jailed for 6 months following an ICO investigation.

New Hashtags Feature For Google Maps

Google has begun the global rollout of its new ‘hashtags’ feature in Google Maps, which allows users to add hashtags to the end of the reviews they write, thereby helping others to find local attractions and businesses.

How It Works

When using Google Maps e.g. to find places to eat or local attractions, if a Google Maps user then chooses to write a review afterwards, they are given the opportunity to add up to five hashtags to the end of the review (to keep the text easy to read).  The hashtags need to be specific to be useful e.g. #love or #food, but things like #familyfriendly, #wheelchairaccessible, #sunsetviews, or #vegetarian.

The idea is that these hashtags will make it easier for other users to discover places that have been recommended by others for specific reasons, thereby increasing the value of Google Maps to users.

More Competitive

From Google’s point of view, this (and other new features) could help Google Maps to compete against other platforms in the world of social recommendations as well as other popular local search offerings such as Yelp.

Just Local Guides For Now

So far in the rollout of Hashtags, it’s only available on Android for members of Maps’ Local Guides program.  This is the program where members receive rewards for sharing their opinions and photos for the places they visit and review.

Added to ‘Follow’ & ‘My Business’ Updates

The new hashtag feature comes right after the new ‘Follow’ feature that was introduced to Maps last month.  ‘Follow’ allows users to click a follow button for locations which enables them to receive updates about any events and offers e.g. from favourite stores and restaurants, and information about new places that are due to open soon.

The update to ‘My Business’ in Google was to enable businesses to update their Maps profile with new content, use the app to view and respond to reviews and messages, and to enable businesses to add all the content that will work with ‘Follow’.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Local search and platforms offering users value-adding information and recommendations about the places they plan to visit are now competitive areas, and Google wants to stay ahead of the game.  Adding social elements such as hashtags, ‘Follow’, and direct messaging all contribute to the vital engagement factor for Google and can be monetised.

Other updates to Google Maps that could add even more value to Google’s platform from a consumer’s point of view are a useful commuter tab that shows a user information about their commute e.g. real-time public transit information and status alerts about anything that could cause delays, and allowing users to control their music from inside Google Maps. Google is clearly well placed and is fighting hard to make its platform more attractive than competing offerings.  It will be a matter of opinion, however, how user-friendly all these bundled features turn out to be.

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.