Operators Asked to Install Mobile Towers to Deal With Call Drops

The government has asked telecom service providers to install new towers to deal with the problem of call drops and improve quality of service, union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday, adding that the problem was a “legacy” of the previous Congress government.

“The Congress has demanded my resignation. I have certain questions for them. Under 10 years of Congress rule, the Sanchar Bhawan was unfortunately known for all the wrong reasons,” the communications and information technology minister told reporters here.

“It had become an example of corruption, loot and gross impropriety, where honest opinion of good officers was ignored. 2G and other scams took place under the Congress rule,” he said.

“Call drops is also a legacy of the Congress government,” he added.

The minister’s statement came a day after the opposition party demanded Prasad’s resignation over the call drop issue.

“I have asked telecom service providers to install new towers to improve the quality of service. The final decision on call drops will be taken after getting the views of Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India),” Prasad said.

The government has been taking proactive measures to address the issue of call drops since April, with the telecom secretary holding a meeting of all operators and directing them to improve services.

Prasad has already written to chief ministers to permit installation of telecom towers on state government buildings also, as has been done by the Kerala government.

Earlier, the central government conducted a special audit of cell phone towers and said that of the 34,600 such towers operating poorly, about 16,962 had improved their performance while the rest were in the process of doing so.

Pointing out that the telecom service quality of all operators was being monitored on a weekly to 10-day basis, a Department of Telecom statement on Monday said: “A special audit was done in the entire country to adjudge their performance.”

Apple Working on Fix for High Roaming Charges, Says Eddy Cue

What does a company like Apple that already obsessively controls the software and hardware aspects of its smartphones and tablets do to further improve the experience of its users? Try to cut reliance on the mobile carriers and build alternatives. That’s what Apple appears to have been quietly doing for the last few months, with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, talked about some of this progress in a wide-ranging interview.

Speaking about the expensive nature of roaming charges (in this case, specifically international roaming charges), Cue said Apple is doing something about it.

When you’re on a roaming network, you have to pay more for sending texts and making phone calls. Depending on the carrier, you might also have to pay extra to use Internet data. Cue, much like everyone else is not happy with this. He casually expressed his discontent on how expensive it is when you’re on a roaming network. Cue, who was in London for the interview said that he is “trying not to get roaming charges […] “We’re trying to fix it and we’re making a little bit of progress but you’ve got to convince a lot of people.”

Apple has long been rumoured to be planning to be come a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), something that Google has already started with Project Fi. China’s Apple, Xiaomi, has also made asimilar move with Mi Mobile. The Cupertino giant has however denied any plans to become a virtual carrier or MVNO on multiple occasions.

The company has separately however been working on enhancing the users’ carrier experiences. The company last year bundled a SIM card with its iPad Air 2 that allowed users to switch between different carriers. The SIM card worked with multiple US carriers – AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile – and allowed users to pick the cellular plan they find best.

Earlier this year, Apple and Samsung reportedly were in advanced talks to start using electronic SIM cards in smartphones. The report had also noted that the SIM card would allow users to quickly switch between different carriers, and offer more security.

Bolstering this theory is company’s own iPhone Upgrade Plan, which was announced at the megaiPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus event last month. In the program, Apple allows anyone to come to it – and not the carriers – to upgrade to a new iPhone every year.

These incidents coupled with Apple’s rather open opinion about how much it is not content with the existing offerings and technologies that mobile carriers offer suggest that the company is indeed secretly working on to further decrease our reliance on one carrier and make it easier to survive on roaming networks.

Airtel 4G Speed Challenge Ads Found ‘Misleading’

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), responding to a consumer complaint about Airtel’s 4G speed challenge ads, has sent a notice to the telecom operator saying the ad campaign is misleading. The watchdog has also asked Airtel to either withdraw or modify the ad campaign, or seek a review of the decision.

The advertisement was launched in August after Airtel announced nationwide 4G services rollout. Called Airtel Challenge, it says: “If your network is faster, we will pay your mobile bills for life.”

The ASCI order (via Livemint) to Airtel, states, “The claim in the ad, ‘Airtel 4G is the fastest network ever’ and ‘If your network is faster, we will pay your mobile bills for life’, is misleading by omission in the absence of appropriate disclaimers in the print, TV, [and] hoarding advertisements. The advertisement contravened Chapter 1.4 of the code… We have advised the Advertiser to withdraw or to modify appropriately the said advertisement before 7 October 2015 or seek a review of the decision. If you continue to see the advertisement after the due date, kindly bring the same to our notice.”

Chapter 1.4 of the ASCI Code reads, “Advertisements shall not contain statements or visual presentation which directly or by implication or by omission or by ambiguity or by exaggeration are likely to mislead the consumer about the product advertised or the advertiser or about any other product or advertiser.”

 

Bharti Airtel responded on Thursday, saying its 4G speed challenge ad campaign is based on rigorous tests and that it will engage with the advertising industry watchdog to clear whatever misconceptions that may have cropped up on that.

“4G technology is proven to deliver the fastest internet experience, and the same has been accepted globally,” the company said in a statement to IANS.

“As the only commercial providers of this world class technology in India, our advertising campaign revolves around the 4G promise of fastest internet speeds and features a set of claims that are based on rigorous test conditions,” it added.

The company said it was engaging with the Advertising Standards Council of India to provide it with necessary technical data in support of the advertising claims — and that the prescribed process was being followed to schedule a review of the issue.

Proposal on Compensating Users for Call Drops by October 15

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Sectoral regulator Trai will come out with recommendations on compensating consumers for call dropsby October 15 while it will also release a service paper in the next few days listing reasons behind the menace.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Thursday conducted an open house discussion on the issue wherein all the stakeholders including mobile operators and consumer groups expressed their views.

“We will come out with recommendations on compensation to the consumers for call drops by October 15. The stakeholders can submit their written submission on the issue deliberated today by October 5,” Trai Chairman R S Sharma said in New Delhi.

He further said the regulator will also come out with a quality of service paper in the next few days which will identify the reasons responsible for call drops.

“We will present the ground situation on call drops in data terms,” Sharma added.

The move will help customers to determine, which player is providing better services in an area that will help them in choosing an operator.

Trai will also publish the results of the drive tests conducted by it on September 28-29 in Delhi and Mumbai in a few days.

Apart from the two metros, Trai has also conducted drive tests in five other cities including Ahmadabad and Pune recently.

It is also considering making it mandatory for telecom operators to disclose their network capacities periodically, as the regulator feels that call drop problem needs to be examined in entirety.

The operators are though opposing any move for compensation on call drops while the consumers are strongly backing it.

The operators said there are many things which are responsible for call drops and not all are under their control. They also said the cost to set up a mechanism for tracking call drops will be huge.

Bharti Airtel said during the open house that as per the licence conditions, operators are required to provide street level coverage and not inside buildings.

Indian Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said on Wednesday that call drop problem was improving across the country.

The minister said operators have contained the problem and nearly half of the defective mobile sites have been fixed to address the menace.

The call drop problem has become acute in the last four-five months and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced serious concern over the issue.

The government recently stepped up pressure on operators to check call drops asking their promoters including Anil Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla and Sunil Mittal to directly intervene in the matter. It had also warned that the companies would face penal action if they fail to take corrective actions.

Millions of T-Mobile Customers Exposed in Experian Breach

Experian Plc, the world’s biggest consumer credit monitoring firm, on Thursday disclosed a massive data breach that exposed sensitive personal data of some 15 million people who applied for service with T-Mobile US Inc.

Connecticut’s attorney general said he will launch an investigation into the breach.

Experian said it discovered the theft of the T-Mobile customer data from one of its servers on Sept. 15. The computer stored information about some 15 million people who had applied for service with telecoms carrier T-Mobile during the prior two years, Experian said.

T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere said the data included names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers and passport numbers. Such information is coveted by criminals for use in identity theft and other types of fraud.

“Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian,” T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere said in a note to customers posted on the company’s website. “But right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected.”

The Experian breach is the latest in a string of massive hacks that have each claimed millions – and sometimes tens of millions – of customer records, including the theft of personnel records from the US government this year, a 2014 breach on JPMorgan Chase and a 2013 attack on Target Corp’s cash register systems.

It is also the second massive breach linked to Experian. An attack on an Experian subsidiary that began before Experian purchased it in 2012 exposed the Social Security numbers of 200 million Americans and prompted an investigation by at least four states, including Connecticut.

Experian on Thursday said it had launched an investigation into the new breach and consulted with law enforcement.

The company offered two years of credit monitoring to all affected individuals. People, however, said that they did not want credit protection from a company that had been breached.

Legere responded by promising to seek alternatives.

“I hear you,” he said on Twitter. “I am moving as fast as possible to get an alternate option in place by tomorrow.”

Experian said the breach did not affect its vast consumer credit database.

Legere said no payment card or banking information was taken.

T-Mobile had nearly 59 million customers as of June 30. A representative for the carrier said that not all 15 million of the affected applicants had opened accounts with T-Mobile.

The telecom carrier’s shares were down 1.3 percent in extended trading after closing little changed at $40.13 on the New York Stock Exchange.

In the earlier data breach affecting Experian, a Vietnamese national confessed in US court last year to using a false identity to opening an account with the unit, known as Court Ventures, sometime before Experian purchased it in 2012.

A spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said on Thursday that it would investigate the latest attack.

The spokeswoman, Jaclyn Falkowski, declined to elaborate on the T-Mobile incident, but said the investigations of the Court Ventures matter “is active and ongoing.”

US Official Defends Surveillance on Eve of EU Data Ruling

US intelligence does not conduct mass, indiscriminate harvesting of foreigners’ private data, a senior US official has said on the eve of a landmark EU court ruling that will affect thousands of companies including the likes of Facebook.

Robert Litt, legal adviser to the Director of National Intelligence, firmly rebutted allegations that a USsurveillance programme known as Prism, revealed in 2013, allows authorities to hoover up such information on a vast scale.

“Prism is focused and reasonable. It does not involve ‘mass’ and ‘unrestricted’ collection of data,” Litt wrote in the Financial Times, referring to the programme whose existence was leaked in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s revelations prompted an Austrian student, Max Schrems, to challenge Facebook’s transfers of European users’ data to its US servers because of the risk of US snooping. As Facebook has its European headquarters in Ireland, he filed his complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

The case has found its way to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which will rule on Tuesday on the validity of the entire legal framework, known as Safe Harbour, that allows more than 4,000 companies, from social media groups to airlines, to transfer data from the European Union to the United States.

Without Safe Harbour, such transfers would be forbidden, or only allowed via costlier and more time-consuming means, under EU laws that prohibit data-sharing with countries deemed to have lower privacy standards, of which the United States is one.

Separately from Schrems’ case, the European Commission has been talking to Washington for the past two years about reviewing the 15-year-old Safe Harbour to address its own concerns.

Those efforts could prove to be fruitless if the ECJ follows the reasoning of one of its top advisers, who said two weeks ago that Safe Harbour ought to have been scrapped.

Officials are waiting to see how much wiggle room the ECJ decision will leave them to come out with a strengthened framework, or if they will have to resort to other mechanisms to ensure companies can continue to transfer data.

The Commission will give a news conference at 1500 CET (1300 GMT) on Tuesday in reaction to the ruling.

UK Spies Can Hack Smartphones

British spies can hack into phones remotely with a simple text message and make audio recordings or take photos without owners knowing, former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said on Monday.

“They want to own your phone instead of you,” the whistleblower said in an interview with the BBC’s Panorama programme, referring to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) agency.

Snowden claimed that GCHQ used a series of interception tools called “Smurf Suite”, after the blue cartoon characters, The Smurfs.

“Nosey Smurf” enabled spies to switch on a smartphone’s microphone even if the phone was off, he claimed.

Other programmes used by GCHQ were nicknamed “Tracker Smurf” and “Dreamy Smurf”, which allows phones to be switched on and off remotely, Snowden said.

He said the text message sent by GCHQ to gain access to the phone would not be noticed by its owner.

“It’s called an ‘exploit’,” he said.

“When it arrives at your phone it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for it but whoever controls the software owns the phone,” he added.

The BBC said the government had declined to comment in line with usual policy on intelligence matters.

Snowden, who has been charged by the US with espionage and theft of government property after leaking documents to the media about digital espionage, has been living in exile in Russia since June 2013.

The British government is planning legislation that would give more powers to intelligence agencies to monitor online activity to investigate crime.

Alcatel’s Strategic Undersea Cables Unit to Be Swallowed by Nokia

Alcatel-Lucent said on Tuesday it will not sell its undersea cables unit, meaning the strategic business which underpins the global Internet will be taken by Nokia once it completes its acquisition of the Franco-American group.

The Finnish firm said in April the EUR 15.6 billion (roughly Rs. 1,11,079 crores) acquisition of network gear maker Alcatel-Lucent as they aim to better compete with market leader Ericsson and low-cost Chinese powerhouse Huawei.

Alcatel had previously said it planned to sell a majority stake in Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (ASN) or list the business separately, but in a statement on Tuesday, said it had opted to keep the unit instead.

That means the division, which has facilities in Calais, France and Greenwich, Britain, on the site where the world’s first transatlantic cable was manufactured in 1858, will become part of the new Nokia group once the acquisition is complete.

Ministers had envisaged asking the French sovereign fund to take a stake in ASN, to ensure it keeps activities that are strategic to France’s surveillance apparatus on French soil.

Asked about possible government concerns, a spokesman for Alcatel-Lucent said France was not opposed to the submarine cable unit being bought by Nokia.

“We constantly exchange with the government, they are aware of our decision,” the spokesman said. “This will be part of discussions, but there was no objection,” he added.

Michel Combes, Alcatel-Lucent’s former CEO, had said in April the undersea cable business would not be sold to Nokia and would either be spun off as a private company or floated in an initial public offering.

France’s economy ministry had no immediate comment.

ASN has more than 575,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable systems deployed worldwide, along with the maintenance of 330,000 kilometres of undersea systems.

Telenor India Launches Free Life Insurance for Subscribers

Telenor India on Wednesday announced free life insurance cover for its existing 47.55 million as well as potential new customers across its six operating circles.

By spending on regular recharges with a small incremental value, Telenor consumers will get the benefit of a life insurance cover, which will be a hundred times of the monthly recharge value and up to a maximum of Rs. 50,000, the company said in a statement.

“This is an innovative product that will bridge the disparity in access to life insurance among the low and middle-income individuals. With insurance penetration being very low in the country, our scheme has the potential to empower society through financial security,” said Telenor India CEO Vivek Sood.

Telenor will work with Shriram Life Insurance and MicroEnsure to take the initiative to the masses. At each customer touch point, trained staff will be available to educate the customers and address their queries.

“It would help contribute meaningfully to the financial inclusion agenda of the government ensuring financial security for family members,” the company said.

“Our deep understanding of mass-market consumers’ behaviour, a huge retail network and efforts to create awareness around services beyond basic voice will enable us to remove persistent financial risks faced by our customers. With the life insurance offer, Telenor will create a unique differentiation in financial services just like we have done with our affordable mobile service,” Sood added.

Telenor customers can avail this service by calling customer call center or dial the self-help menu *121# or opt-in for it by approaching any of the 2,100 Telenor stores.

Telenor operates in six circles – UP (West), UP (East), Bihar (including Jharkhand), Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat and plans to start commercial operations in Assam soon.