Monthly Archives January 2013

CRTC releases draft wireless code

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has released a working draft of its new national wireless code and is now welcoming feedback on the document.

Among the guidelines are clear rules about unlocking phones, keeping contracts transparent and easy to understand and allowing for users to establish caps and monitor usage to prevent overages.

“I would like to thank Canadians for having shared their candid views on wireless services,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, in a press release. “The draft code is still very much a work in progress and intended to encourage more discussion. We are inviting Canadians to participate by telling us what they think of the working document. Once finalized, the wireless code will enable them to make informed decisions in a competitive marketplace.”

Over 4,000 Canadians answered the CRTC’s call for input on wireless services – including cell phones and other personal mobile devices – last fall. The code will apply to all types of service, including pre-paid, pay-as-you-go, contracted and bundled.

While some critics have said the draft code mostly contains guidelines already in play, others – including some wireless companies – are applauding the document. A spokesperson for Telus told the CBC the code is a “good start to work from.”

As laid out in the code, providers offering unlimited cellular plans would have to outline any restrictions associated with it and would not be permitted to charge customers for any services or devices they have not “expressly” purchased.

Service providers will also be required to alert customers via text message when undertaking activities that would result in extra fees, such as international roaming. Many Canadian wireless companies already do this on a voluntary basis.

There are also provisions for unlocking phones. A provider will have to give the consumer means to unlock a subsidized phone within 30 days of service, and a non-subsidized phone immediately at no charge. Last weekend, the United States enacted legislation that makes unlocking a phone using third-party hacks a criminal act.

Notably absent from the draft code was a restriction on three-year contracts, which has been one of the biggest consumer gripes.

Canadians can provide feedback on the code at http://consultation.crtc.gc.ca until Friday, Feb. 15. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 11-15 in Gatineau. A live audio feed of the hearing will be broadcast and comments will be accepted on a real-time basis.

 

 

 

BlackBerry comes out swinging at BB10 launch

It proved to be a big morning for Research in Motion, rolling out its new operating system, new smartphones, new branding and a new celebrity representative for the ailing Canadian company.

The long awaited launch of BlackBerry 10 took place in New York City, with fans, media, analysts and the curious tuning in to a live stream online. RIM CEO Thorsten Heins was center stage for most of the announcement, with some speculating that if BlackBerry 10 is well received it could prove to be his “Steve Jobs moment.”

An impassioned Heins told the audience the new platform has been a journey of transformation, not only for the business and brand but for mobile computing. He insisted that innovation is at the heart of Research in Motion and applauded employees for their tireless work in bringing BB10 to market.

“Today is actually not the finish line, it’s the starting line,” he said.

And that fresh start – one that will likely make or break the company, depending on its success with BB10, its new handsets and newly revamped Enterprise software – includes a name change for company, which will now be known simply as BlackBerry.

The launch included the unveiling of the Z10, which features a 4.2-inch touchscreen, and the Q10, which features the traditional, physical BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. The Z10 was used throughout the demonstration, which included a play-by-play on how to use the new camera, the Story Maker feature and BBM video calling, which features screen sharing capabilities that would easily facilitate remote presentations.

Its intuitive touchscreen keyboard provides the “absolute best typing experience in the industry, period,” boasted Heins, who also played up the BlackBerry Hub with its Peek and Flow features.

App development has been going well, with 70,000 options already in Blackberry World, including Skype, Kindle, Whatsapp, SAP and Angry Birds. BlackBerry Balance will allow users to keep their work and personal lives separated, all while using one device.

The company also added some star power to its new campaign, announcing songstress Alicia Keys as BlackBerry’s new Global Creative Director.

The Z10 is available in the United Kingdom starting tomorrow and will roll out in Canada on Feb. 5. Pricing will be approximately $149 on a three-year term, or $650 with no contract.

The handset will launch in the United Arab Emirates on Feb. 10, finally hitting US shelves in March. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile will all carry the device.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry stock took a beating, dropping 3.5 per cent by late morning, continuing the fall that started Monday. Analysts say it’s too early to speculate and consumer response to BB10 will dictate the stock’s future.

Open letter demands Skype transparency

Skype users are demanding more transparent security and privacy practices, calling for action in an open letter posted online. The letter is supported by institutions, organizations, media outlets and individuals from around the world.

Of particular concern are “persistently unclear and confusing statements” about confidentiality of conversations and the access others –including government and third parties – have to them. Ownership of Skype is currently being transitioned to Microsoft, and many of the company’s software and services are being integrated with the popular VoIP software.

Because of this, authors of the letter state the time has come for Microsoft to come clean about Skype’s privacy and security practices by releasing transparency reports similar to those issued by Google, Twitter and Sonic.net.

We call on Skype to release a regularly updated Transparency Report that includes:
1. Quantitative data regarding the release of Skype user information to third parties, disaggregated by the country of origin of the request, including the number of requests made by governments, the type of data requested, the proportion of requests with which it complied — and the basis for rejecting those requests it does not comply with.
2. Specific details of all user data Microsoft and Skype currently collects, and retention policies.
3. Skype’s best understanding of what user data third-parties, including network providers or potential malicious attackers, may be able to intercept or retain.
4. Documentation regarding the current operational relationship between Skype with TOM Online in China and other third-party licensed users of Skype technology, including Skype’s understanding of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to as a result of using these alternatives.
5. Skype’s interpretation of its responsibilities under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), its policies related to the disclosure of call metadata in response to subpoenas and National Security Letters (NSLs), and more generally, the policies and guidelines for employees followed when Skype receives and responds to requests for user data from law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere.

The release of the open letter coincides with Data Privacy Day, which was marked on Monday, Jan. 28. In honour of the day, Microsoft conducted a worldwide privacy survey. The results showed only 40 per cent of people said they totally or mostly understood how to protect their online privacy.

Retailers can now charge swipe fees back to customers

Starting yesterday, you may have paid a bit more at your local retailer to use your credit card … or maybe not.

As of Sunday, merchants in most U.S. states have the option of tacking on an extra fee to credit card transactions to help cover the fees that card companies charge to retailers, commonly known as swipe fees. Stores can charge up to four per cent for credit card purchases, but must notify customers before processing the payment.

The move is a result of a 2005 lawsuit filed against credit card giants Visa and MasterCard, and some card-issuing financial institutions. A court ruling gave merchants the green light to recoup some of their costs.

What remains to be seen is whether stores will be quick to slap on the extra fees, having to weigh the need to cover costs with the possibility of turning off customers, which could cost even more money in the long run.

Read more about credit card swipe fee issues facing North American businesses.

Unauthorized Unlocking of Phones Now Illegal

As of Saturday, it will be illegal for Americans to unlock a smartphone without carrier authorization. Anyone interested in an unlocked phone will have to purchase it that way, without the heavily discounted and highly appealing subsidized price offered when signing on to a carrier contract.

It’s all thanks to Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The recent interpretation coming into effect tomorrow means all smartphones must be unlocked via traditional channels. Those who choose to do so through third-party hacks could find themselves before a judge. But it’s unlikely it is law enforcement that will track down offenders. Instead, expect carriers to begin monitoring and sending notices to those caught breaking the rules.

Carriers will continue to sell unlocked phones, which remain completely legal. For those with locked phones, there is speculation some carriers may allow customers to unlock the device when their contract is complete.

Canada boosts 911 services for hearing, speech impaired

Newly announced enhancements to 911 services will open the door for Canadians with hearing or speech impairments to contact emergency call centres by text message. The new initiative should be completely rolled out by late January 2014, the deadline for wireline and wireless companies to upgrade their network to support the feature.

“Services such as 911 are critical to the health and safety of all Canadians,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “This initiative is a perfect example of how technology can be used to improve access to 911 services for Canadians with disabilities. I would like to thank those who participated in last year’s trial. Its success convinced us that expanding the initiative across the country is not only possible, but also in the public interest.”

The service’s implementation comes on the heels of a 2012 trial, in which the feasibility of such a feature was assessed on a nationwide scale. Areas evaluated in the trial included Montreal, Vancouver, Peel Region and Toronto.

As the service is rolled out, users will register their cell phone number with their wireless provider to ensure compatibility. When contacting 911, they will first dial the number and the emergency call centre will then respond via text message. Only those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impairments will be permitted to use the service. The CRTC reminds the public that text messages sent to 911 do not reach emergency call centres.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which participated in the development process, commended the CRTC on its decision to implement the system.

“CWTA and its members applaud all parties involved for their dedication to improving safety for Canada’s DHHSI community,” said Bernard Lord, CWTA president and CEO. “Wireless service providers are always looking for ways to improve accessibility for Canadian consumers, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships with community, government and other stakeholders in deploying this revolutionary safety tool.”

The CRTC is planning a complete examination of Canada’s 911 infrastructure in 2014-2015, and has appointed national commissioner Timothy Denton to research the issues related to the provision of services on next-generation telecommunications networks.

BlackBerry Enterprise Service to support BYOD environment

Research in Motion is clamoring to get back its slice of the corporate market, announcing today that its enterprise service will now support iOS and Android devices. The move will allow former BlackBerry workplaces to embrace a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment.

Enterprise Service 10 – which offers mobile device and application management, secure connectivity and the ability to separate work and personal data and apps – is now available for download on a 60-day free trial. Details about its long-term pricing structure have not been released.

“BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 empowers employees to be more productive and better equipped to serve customers while it provides business and IT leaders with the confidence that corporate data is protected and manageable in the same way they have long enjoyed with BlackBerry,” said Peter Devenyi, senior vice president of enterprise software, in a press release. “BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 makes mobility easy for businesses to help keep them moving.”

Whether BES 10 will be enough to restore Blackberry’s former corporate stranglehold, or if the platform is too little too late, remains unknown. Atlanta-based start-up AirWatch has been garnering plenty of media attention as of late, being pointed to as the company poised to take down RIM in the mobile device management market.

Learn more about BES 10 in the video below.

Apple ahead in U.S. smartphone market

Apple led smartphone sales in the U.S. for the 12-week period ending Dec. 23, capturing 51.2 per cent of the market, according to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech fourth quarter data released Tuesday.

In second place was Android, with nearly 45 per cent of sales. Microsoft’s Windows phone snagged just 2.6 per cent of the market. Blackberry didn’t even make the list.

AT&T topped carrier rankings with 33 per cent of smartphones sold, followed by Verizon, which sold 32 per cent. Sprint was in third with only 14 per cent.

“Apple’s continual improvement is thanks to both the iPhone 5 and older models attracting various customer groups, from repeat Apple buyers, first time smartphone buyers and those coming from other smartphone brands, ” said Kantar Worldpanel ComTech analyst Mary-Ann Parlato, in a press release.

“In particular, 36 per cent of iOS sales were derived from other smartphone users over the last year. While this figure remains stable over time, the proportion of Android users moving towards the Apple brand increases. Nineteen per cent of iOS sales over the last year were derived from Android users, compared to nine per cent in 2011.”

Nearly half of Verizon’s Apple sales were a result of users of other brands switching over, including 30 per cent who ditched their Android. AT&T saw a much smaller shift: Only 15 per cent of iOS purchases came from other smartphone users, including six per cent from Android.

Meanwhile, Verizon reported it sold 6.2 million iPhones, a 48 per cent increase over the year before. Analysts pointed to steep discounts on older iOS devices and supply constraints as the reason why only half sold were the much-hyped iPhone 5. It recorded a profit margin of 41.4 per cent for the quarter, something blamed on heavy upfront device subsidies.

CRTC investigating Internet throttling

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission received 75 complaints about bandwidth throttling last year, including 11 that were still active at the end of December.

Also known as Internet throttling, it is a controversial way for service providers to control network traffic and congestion. It can have a negative effect by limiting a user’s upload and download speed and often makes it difficult to stream video. Just 41 complaints were received in 2011.

Analysis has shown Canadian ISPs are some of the worst in the world for bandwidth throttling, with Rogers and Bell interfering most with user traffic. Bell Canada had plans to eliminate throttling by March 2012, while Rogers vowed to the same by year end. It will be interesting to see what the 2013 results hold and whether Canada’s telecom giants hold true to their promises.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Canada has refused an appeal, essentially giving the green light to a class action lawsuit against Bell for alleged Internet slowdowns dating back five years. The lawsuit is on behalf of customers in Ontario and Quebec.

GPS glitch leading lost phone owners to Las Vegas home

One of the most bizarre stories floating around the Internet this week is focused on Wayne Dobson, an average 59-year-old retired resident of Las Vegas. Nothing is unusual about his life, except for the fact people keep showing up at his doorstep insisting he has their lost or stolen cell phones.

A GPS glitch in Sprint phones is pointing people to Dobson’s property, telling them their phones are in the area. So many people have shown up, at all hours of the day and night, that Dobson has taken to sleeping near his front door on weekends to keep disturbances to a minimum. He’s hung a sign on his house proclaiming “No lost cell phones!!” Police have been called to the residence several times, sometimes by angry people who insist their phone is inside the house and sometimes by Dobson himself.

In one instance, Dobson discovered police lurking in his yard at 4 a.m. They had responded to a 911 call from a woman fighting with a man who did not provide a location. Police traced the GPS on her phone, which of course led them to Dobson’s home. He was ordered out of his home and searched on the front lawn, but received an apology after police realized the error.

“It’s a hell of a problem,” Dobson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It would be nice to be able to get a good night’s sleep.”

A Sprint spokesperson told the newspaper that the company is investigating the issue. Others have pointed to a nearby cell phone tower as the source of the problem.

 

Update: Sprint says the problem is with people “misinterpreting the results of cell phone location software.”