Network-locked phone sales banned

From December 2021 UK mobile networks will be forbidden from selling network locked mobile handsets.

Communications industry regulator Ofcom believe locked-handsets is anticompetitive, and prevents customers switching mobile providers easily.

Network providers have claimed locked handsets are a deterrent to phone theft, although Three mobile, O2, Sky mobile and Virgin mobile have already ended the practice.

Mobile providers also argue locked handsets help justify better promotional rates (blocking customers exploiting the cheapest handsets deals and then swapping networks) although consumers often claim it is an attempt to hold onto customers who would otherwise have switched provider anyway, such as after the end of their contract.

Unlocking a phone typically costs around £10, but customers must normally find a third-party provider to assist, and face a delay or technical problem during switching – which Ofcom believes is unfairly difficult.

The change to consumer law brings the UK into line with the rest of the EU, although the UK changes have been under consideration since before recent EU rulings on the mobile market.

In addition a number of other changes are planned or June 2022, including more accessibility provisions for disabled customers and greater exit-rights where contract terms change unexpectedly.

 

For Business mobile advice and expertise, please contact our team today.


UK Government rules against Huawei 5G

UK mobile networks have been instructed not to buy Huawei 5G equipment for their infrastructure by the Government, and must remove all existing Huawei equipment by 2027.

The landmark ruling came following an overturning of last year’s half-way decision to ban Huawei from the ‘Core’ UK network only – decided as a result of the UK National Cyber Security Centre’s 2019 findings that due to US sanctions affecting Google Android products, any Huawei chip manufacture removed from (Japanese-owned and UK-based) ARM could ‘increase the risk’ to the UK.

But Government MPs, the US and Australian Governments, and even some China-critical Human Rights Groups, argued the ruling did not go far enough – resulting in today’s announcement of a complete ban.

Huawei itself argues the criticism is a politically-motivated attack by Washington to hit the Chinese economy. The tech company is the World’s biggest provider of this kind of technology, as well as one of China’s most successful exporters.

China itself has undoubtedly faced more scrutiny from the international community in recent months, following news stories about the Chinese Government’s handling of Coronavirus, Hong Kong protests, the detention of Uighur Muslims in ‘reeducation’ camps, and the close connections between Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party.

All four of the UK’s big mobile providers (BT EE, Vodafone, Three and O2) all use Huawei equipment in their core networks, albeit to different extents. The decision also affects major broadband infrastructure providers, such as BT Openreach, and related ISPs.

In practice, this means 5G providers will be forced to look at alternatives from either Finnish-provider Nokia or Swedish provider Ericsson.

 

 

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Mid-market iPhone SE relaunched by Apple

Apple have launched a new mid-market iPhone, the iPhone SE, to popular aclaim.

Similar to the iPhone 7 in appearance, this more baseline model of iPhone is designed to broaden the user-base of Apple’s popular iPhone range into the territory of more budget Android smartphone alternatives.

Not that Apple have scrimped on the technology – even the more basic SE includes an A13 Chip, 4.7-inch Retina HD display, and the ‘best single camera’ system on an iPhone ever (as opposed to the multi-lens affairs on more premium iPhones.)

In a nod to the World’s current Coronavirus difficulties, the SE also contains the original TouchID fingerprint sensor, so that users can still unlock the screen without removing facemasks.

Like it’s experimental predecessor, the 2nd-generation SE will also be available at more affordable prices: including £10.99 a month, or £279 upfront via Apple trade-in, suggesting there will soon be some very cost-effective deals reaching customers on the high street. To thin Apple’s extensive iPhone range, the iPhone 8 will also be discontinued.

Apple’s physical high-street stores remain closed due to Covid-19 lockdown – however online preorder begins from Friday 17th April, starting at £419.

For technical expertise and business mobile, please contact Lineal today.


Hands on with the new Office Mobile App

Microsoft have combined the mobile versions of its Office programs into a single new Office app, uniting Word, Excel and Powerpoint under a single banner.

It’s true that Microsoft would prefer you use their whole Office 365 suite of apps, but the combination isn’t just strategic – the new mobile Office includes a whole toolkit of new abilities better optimised for mobile.

A number of typical tasks people might tackle when using a smartphone, such as PDF signing, reading QR codes, photo-to-document conversion or scanning PDFs with Microsoft Lens, are all ‘baked in’ to the new mobile Office version, with Microsoft clearly trying to maximise awareness of these lesser-known extras.

Such tools are activated from a new ‘Actions’ menu aimed at simplifying the controls users have to input to complete common tasks, as part of Microsoft’s Fluent design scheme.

Microsoft Word comes with a new dictation ability (which may be familiar to those using the desktop app) that supports speech to text. It’s hard to imagine users writing lengthy documents this way unless forced not to type, although assembling plain text into a OneDrive file for others to collate, or editing changes into an existing project might be more practical.

Excel is, of course, not a natural fit on mobile – where individual cells remain a bit fiddly on a touchscreen. Even so, there are improvements here too: Excel ‘cards’ simplify wide Excel rows into a simple summary, which ensures the user doesn’t have to open an unwieldy spreadsheet to find information.

 

Again, there’s an awareness here – that very few users will seriously attempt heavy editing via mobile, but access and convenience is critical for a workforce that increasingly operates on the move. Powerpoint presentations can also be created from a bullet-point list: not a work-of-art perhaps, but potentially a lifesaver at short notice.

Outlook, Teams, OneNote and the other Office 365 apps remain independent (for now) although it’s easy to imagine some of these also being merged into the combined app in future, as Microsoft seeks to build a seamless experience between the different productivity apps of the popular Office package.

In a diplomatic move, Office also includes support for popular third-party storage apps including Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud and Box.

Microsoft Office is available for iOS via the App Store here: (https://apps.apple.com/app/id541164041) and for Android via Google Play here: (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.microsoft.office.officehubrow)

Try it today!

 

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and expertise, please contact us today.


Android 11 Previews 5G VR Overlay

Google have released the new developer preview of Android 11, with technology ready for 5G and support for virtual-reality overlay options within apps.

Developer previews are designed to encourage 3rd-party app developers to stay ahead of the curve, and test the compatibility of new features, prior to the release of Android 11 during the Summer.

This time around, the much-hyped release of 5G requires Android handsets and app developers to adapt to the new technology: including operating-system to assess whether connections are metered or unmetered, and unlock boosted computing options if data speeds are sufficiently high.

android 11 vr

Some of the improvements are also being driven by hardware trends among the big manufacturers – including new support for folding-screens and the ‘pin-hole’ style cameras that sit within the screen extent of the phone.

An ‘Only this time’ choice will be added to security preferences which allows for a one-time exemption to default security options. This is already the case with standard apps (such as your default browser) but will now apply to system tools such as the phone’s GPS, microphone or camera.

On the flip side of this, more of the phone’s intrinsic features (such as phone/messaging apps) will begin behaving more like their popular 3rd-party app counterparts – allowing persistent notification ‘bubbles’ that can be re-positioned on screen for a more fluid experience.

At present Android 11 will only operate on Google’s own flagship ‘Pixel’ range of smartphones, but expect the OS to begin appearing on other handsets from June 2020.

 

For Business Mobile expertise, please contact our team today.


Crowdfunding Launched to Pay Eagles’ Roaming Bill

An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched to pay the mobile roaming bill of migrating eagles being tracked the Russian Wild Animal Rehabilitation Team at the Siberian Environmental Centre.

The thirteen tagged Steppe Eagles, being tracked via bi-hourly SMS messages containing GPS coordinates, ran up a hefty data roaming bill after migrating across countries as far afield as Egypt, Georgia and India.

One eagle, named ‘Min’ by researchers, unexpectedly flew from Kazakhstan via Iran, initially losing signal but then sending a backlog of messages at high rates, before crossing into Saudi Arabia and reaching as far South as the Yemen.

At a cost of 7,000 roubles (£85 per day), Min quickly used up the programme’s entire budget for tracking all 13 Eagles, forcing the Russian team of environmentalists to turn to social media for financial support.

Considered endangered by the IUCN, the Steppe Eagle once commonly reached as far afield the Ukraine, but researchers were unprepared for expensive data charges across the Middle East, which can be three-times higher than those in the Russian Federation.

The centre’s crowdfunding campaign has raised more than 250,000 roubles (roughly £3,000), although Russian telecoms provider MegaFon has since agreed to write-off the wayward Eagles’ data roaming bill debt as a gesture of goodwill.

Modern business mobile packages offer in-built policies to support data roaming limits across multiple countries worldwide, and to allow data ‘pooling’ across an entire organisation to offer some protection against any one individual breaking their data limit. Even if you migrate South for the Winter.

 

For Business Mobile expertise, please contact our team today.


Google hit with €4bn Android anti-competition fine

The European Commission has issued Google with a €4.34 billion fine for Android anti-competition practices, after ruling the popular operating system unfairly cemented the dominance of Google Search.

The EC found Google had, via ’significant’ payments to smartphone manufacturers, ensured exclusive installation of Google’s own search application, and bundled Google apps such that selectively omitting services was impossible on the mobile platform prior to release.

More than 95% of all searches on European Android devices are made via Google search, testifying to the search giant’s unprecedented reach via pre-installation.

Many users (as Microsoft’s Bing search engine can surely attest) never change their system defaults, and although many rival search and browser providers are available for Android, these must be installed separately, often via Google Play.

Many will remember similar court battles fought between the US Government and Microsoft, resulting in the former’s eventual ruling that the latter had unfairly influenced the market via pre-installation of Internet Explorer, and creating the convention of an initial default browser choice on all new Windows PCs.

Microsoft eventually paid $561 million, but also continued losing ground to rival web browsers, including Google Chrome, among those using the internet on their operating system. Since 2013, the number of affected devices (particularly handhelds operating various versions of Android) has increased hugely. In future, new Android devices may be forced to include a similar initial search/browser selection, to help maintain consumer choice.

Google has defended its actions throughout, and has already announced it will appeal the decision, with the case expected to continue for some years.

 

For technology expertise and support, contact Lineal today.


EU roaming charges end – what you need to know

Mobile phone charges for travellers within the EU officially end from today under a new EU Law.

Additional fees levied by mobile providers for cross-border calls (‘roaming’ charges) had been significantly higher – often catching out unsuspecting holidaymakers.

The end of costly EU roaming charges is widely credited as one of the EU’s most popular achievements, ending fees that the commission felt represented one additional cost barrier to cross-border communication. The agreement has not been without difficulties however, and the new regulation has taken 10 years to come into force.

However, as always with the EU, this welcome news for travellers comes with some specific caveats:

  • Users will still be charged high fees for data use (at around £8.30/GB, falling incrementally in future years), whilst standard calls and texts will remain at typical network pricing. 
  • EU roaming phones will be monitored for time spent on ‘home’ networks and ‘roaming’ networks to discourage phone users taking out a contract in a cheaper country and using it permanently in a more expensive country. If found not to be truly ‘roaming’, extra charges may still apply.
  • Call fees will still be higher for international calls made from the customer’s home country.
  • Countries in ‘Europe’ but not in the European Economic Area (EEA) will not be included in the agreement (including Switzerland, Serbia and the Channel Islands among others) nor will calls from cross-channel ferries and other satellite-linked areas.
  • It’s as yet unclear what will happen after Brexit.

 

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4 Smartphone security threats you need to avoid:

smartphone security

We increasingly live in a mobile dominated world in which Smartphone sales have skyrocketed whilst traditional PC sales have stalled. With portable devices likely to be the future of many people’s IT use – we’ve put together a few of the main smartphone security threats you need to be aware of.

 

  • Mobile Phishing & Fake Apps

Phishing websites which pretend to be your bank in order to get your personal or financial details have been around for many years, but for few people imagine that this is also a big risk on their smartphone.

Fake apps are the most obvious modern incarnation of this scam. IT security specialist ESET recently showed that a popular app like Prisma spawns multiple fakes online, downloaded unwittingly over 1.5 million times before being pulled from Google Play, with many containing harmful malware which attempt to steal personal information.

Don’t attempt to download an anticipated app before it’s official release date, as it’s likely you’ll be downloading a fake. Avoid downloading apps from unknown third-party websites, check the comments for warnings from other users, and invest in mobile antivirus to intercept downloaded threats to your smartphone security.

 

  • Old-fashioned Theft

In addition to fitting in your pocket, your phone contains a staggering amount of personal information about you which makes theft a real danger – everything including your personal details and those of friends/family, your emails, GPS coordinates of places you regularly visit and more: all stored on the device.

Home Office research suggests iPhones are the device most likely to be stolen – perhaps reflecting the Apple smartphone’s high value, quality and distinctive branding.

In addition to setting numeric pin codes on every device to prevent the danger of theft, tracking and lifesaving wiping tools like are strongly advised.

 

  • Public Wi-Fi Networks

With the proliferation of portable devices, many businesses, particularly in retail, offer public Wi-Fi hotspots to customers.

The problem with this is that you’re sharing a network with… whom? Terrifying free tools like [Redacted – obviously] and [Redacted] allow anyone on a shared public network to view insecure websites you visit, and snoop on any keystroke you type.

Not every public Wi-Fi network is a security nightmare, but it’s sensible to avoid using public Wi-Fi to do anything sensitive, such as online banking. A 4G data connection or simple telephone banking is the easiest alternative if you’re on a mobile phone, and likely to be more secure than a public Wi-Fi Network.

It should probably go without saying that you shouldn’t connect to entirely unrecognised, unsecured or unknown Wi-Fi networks either. For obvious reasons.

 

  • Being Personally Targeted

The problem with the wider shift to portable devices is that we carry our workplace into the outside world. Many of us expect complete access to our business data on our smartphone (as we would on our PC) wherever we are.

But carrying your work phone outside work means you’re also outside the protection of in-house IT security software and firewalls.

A simple phishing email can easily be targeted to you outside working hours when you’re ‘off-guard’, and the potential loss of confidential company data could be devastating.

Of course, many of the best IT security software providers now offer Android & iOS smartphone versions of their antivirus software – so why not extend your business’ IT security to your smartphone?

 

For IT support and security guidance – contact Lineal today.