HomeTechHome Comms: Virgin Media Tops Complaints Table For Second Quarter Running

Home Comms: Virgin Media Tops Complaints Table For Second Quarter Running


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18 April: Regulator Sees Room For Improvement In Service Levels

Virgin Media was the most-complained-about landline, broadband, and pay-TV provider for the second consecutive quarter, according to Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, writes Mark Hooson.

Ofcom’s latest figures, covering October to December last year, showed that Virgin Media received 20 complaints per every 100,000 broadband customers, well above the industry average of 12.

For landline use, the company’s figure stood at 13 complaints per 100,000 bill payers, nearly twice the average of seven complaints. For pay-TV, Virgin Media prompted 13 complaints per 100,000 subscribers.

The largest contributor (43%) to service gripes from its broadband customers concerned complaints-handling. Other noticeable areas of complaint focused on service and faults (22%) and billing (22%).

The figures echoed those covering Virgin Media’s landline services, with nearly half (43%) of complaints stemming from complaints-handling, about a quarter (24%) from billing and nearly a fifth (19%) from service and faults.

For Virgin Media’s pay-TV offering, nearly half (48%) of the company’s customer grievances focused on complaints-handling, with more than a quarter (27%) on billing and 11% on service and faults.

Ofcom has an ongoing investigation into the way Virgin Media handles complaints and contract terminations. 

Although this is the second consecutive quarter Virgin Media has topped the complaints table, Ofcom’s figures show that the company’s performance improved when compared with the preceding quarter, spanning July to September 2023.

Fergal Farragher, Ofcom’s policy director, said: “We can see from these latest figures that customer dissatisfaction remains at a similar level to the previous quarter. While there has been an improvement in Virgin Media’s performance, its position at the bottom of our tables shows there is further room for improvement.”

Sky recorded the fewest complaints for its broadband and landline services. It was also the joint best-performing provider for pay-TV services, along with TalkTalk.

A Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said: “We’re committed to providing an excellent service to our customers, and while overall these complaints represent a very small proportion of our customer base, we acknowledge there is a need for improvement, which is underway, and we’re focused on getting this right.

“We are investing heavily and making changes across our business to deliver tangible improvements, for example, through multi-skilling our teams and rolling out new IT platforms that will make it easier for customers to get support when they need it, and empowering our people to resolve any issues quickly and effectively first time.”

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18 January: Artificial Intelligence Software To The Fore

Samsung has announced new iterations of its flagship Galaxy Smartphone, with the new S24, Galaxy S24+ and Galaxy S24 Ultra focusing on artificial intelligence.

The new handsets will be available from Wednesday 24 January and will cost £799, £999 and £1,349 respectively, when bought direct from the manufacturer.

The S23 is a hair larger than its S23 forebear at 6.2”. Its battery also has a slightly larger capacity at 4,000mAh, meaning it has the potential to run for longer between charges.

Other upgrades to screen brightness, processing power and camera sensors are similarly modest, making the actual hardware barely changed since the last-gen S23 handsets.

The S24+ tells a similar story. It has a 6.7” display and a 4,900mAh battery, but many of its technical specifications are only marginally different from the S23+, if they are different at all. 

The S24 Ultra is the highest spec model of the new range and adds an extra 50 megapixel telephoto lens to its rear camera array, but is otherwise very similar to the S23 Ultra in both form and function.

The S24 and S24+ are made with aluminium, but the Ultra gets a premium titanium casing. Buyers get a choice of Sapphire Blue, Jade Green and Sandstone Orange (exclusive to Samsung.com) and Cobalt Violet, Amber Yellow, Onyx Black or Marble Grey.

Samsung appears to be focussing more on software than hardware for the latest update to its Galaxy range, with a heavy marketing focus on AI-powered features.

Galaxy AI, as Samsung calls it, enables features previously seen on similar handsets from Google. This includes ‘Live Translate’, a two-way, real-time voice and text translation of phone calls built into the phone, with no need for third-party apps.

Chat Assist, meanwhile, will help users compose messages using AI suggestions based on context, while Transcript Assist will convert audio into text and, if necessary, translate it into a chosen language.

There is also a slew of photography-based AI tools. The phone will, for example, allow you to instantly remove a subject or object from a shot and then use generative AI to fill the space its removal leaves behind.

Samsung has confirmed that all of its new AI features will be rolled out to older handsets that can run it, including the S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra.

Mobile networks have already opened their pre-orders ahead of the phones’ release next week.

Tesco Mobile’s deals start at £37.99 a month for a 256GB Galaxy S24 with a 3GB data allowance over 36 months. O2 offers the same handset over 48 months with a 30GB data allowance for £45.82 a month.

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12 December: Move Could Prevent Double-Digit Hikes

The telecoms market regulator, Ofcom, wants to ban mobile networks and broadband providers from increasing customer bills in line with inflation – a practice which, it says, causes ‘consumer harm’.

Most mobile networks and broadband providers have customer contracts which allow for prices to be hiked each year, usually in April. The size of the increase is typically linked to the rate of inflation recorded at the start of the year.

EE, O2, Vodafone, Three, Virgin Mobile, Plusnet, iD Mobile and BT Mobile all enforce in-contract price hikes that track inflation. 

The increase is usually whatever inflation was in the preceding January, measured by either the consumer price index (CPI) or the retail price index (RPI), plus anywhere between 3.9% and 4.5%.

Tesco Mobile is the only major operator that doesn’t have in-contract price increases.

Ofcom says that in spring this year, most customers on contracts subject to inflation-linked price rises saw their bills increase by between 14% and 17%. For a family with a broadband connection and several mobile subscriptions, it notes, the increases could amount to hundreds of pounds a year.

The regulator is looking to put an end to inflation-linked, in-contract price hikes. Launching a consultation today, 12 December, the watchdog said people signing up to a phone, broadband or pay TV contract should be “clear and certain about what they will have to pay throughout its duration.”

It expressed concern that such increases stifle competition and make it difficult for consumers to identify the best deals, while forcing customers to assume the burden of financial uncertainty from inflation.

Instead, Ofcom wants operators to tell prospective customers how much their bills will go up each year in pounds and pence, and when the increases will apply.

It is unclear how firms will determine the level of increase to be applied in future years when the inflation rate is unknown.

The consultation seeks opinions from the industry but if implemented, the new rules would take effect just four months after Ofcom’s final decision in spring next year. 

The speed, Ofcom says, reflects “the scale of consumer harm that may result from providers continuing to sign customers up to inflation-linked price rise terms.”

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21 November: Company Breaks End-Of-Contract Rules

Shell Energy will pay a £1.4 million fine for breaking consumer protection rules and causing around 70,000 broadband and phone customers to overpay their bills.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom said that between March and June 2022, Shell Energy failed to prompt customers to review their accounts and didn’t make them aware of savings they were missing out on. 

Under the regulator’s rules, telecoms providers must issue an ‘end-of-contract’ notification to customers between 10 and 40 days before their minimum contract period comes to an end. 

They’re also obliged to contact customers already outside their minimum contract period at least once per year to remind them that they are free to leave or change deals.

Both notifications must include ‘best tariff’ information to help consumers understand they could save money by switching.

‘Errors and failures’

Ofcom’s investigation found that, in some of the 70,000 cases, Shell Energy failed to send out ‘end-of-contract’ notifications and ‘annual best tariff notifications’. 

In other cases, customers were issued with notifications that included inaccurate or incomplete information, with 7,750 customers receiving an end-of-contract notification with incorrect information about the price they would pay once their minimum term period ended. 

More than 6,000 of them went on to pay higher charges than they were originally quoted. On average they overpaid £65.81 each – a total of £398,417.67. 

Ofcom concluded that this was caused by a combination of manual errors and systems and process failures at the company. It added that the fine would have been greater had Shell not self-reported the matter and co-operated with the investigation.

Shell Energy has since made a number of changes to its systems and processes. It has refunded affected customers and donated to charity the money due to ex-customers where less than £3 was owed.

Serious breach

Suzanne Cater, enforcement director at Ofcom said: “Shell Energy’s failings represent a serious breach of our consumer protection rules and they must now pay the price.”

A Shell Energy Broadband spokesperson said: “Transparency and clarity for our customers is something we believe in strongly so we were extremely disappointed to have let some customers down in the past by not providing them with the notifications and accuracy we should have. 

“As soon as we became aware of the errors we self-reported to Ofcom, rectified the issues, compensated customers and supported Ofcom in its investigation. We apologise to any customer who we let down.”

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5 October: AI Deployed To Enhance Image Editing

Google has announced a pair of new flagship phones for its Pixel range, the Pixel 8 and the Pixel 8 Pro, with a focus on AI-based photo editing and software future-proofing.

The phones will be available next week (October 12) priced at £699 and £999 respectively.

For this iteration of the Pixel range, Google is pledging software updates for seven years. This is the longest commitment of any major smartphone maker.

Google’s new phones feature a new Actua display, which promises a clear, vivid picture even in direct sunlight. Both phones also house Google’s third generation Tensor processor, the G3, which continues Google’s heavy focus on AI.

Speaking of AI, the technology is applied to photos taken with the phones. The previous generation of Pixels allowed users to scrub out photobombers and passers-by from their photos with a Magic Erase feature. 

The new phones’ AI functionality takes this idea further, allowing users to automatically swap out faces where a subject’s eyes were closed with an eyes-open alternate, and to move subjects around in the frame for better compositions. Background noise can also be removed from videos.

Despite having the name Pixel 8, photographs taken with the phones won’t suffer from pixelation. A new Super-Res Zoom feature enables better photographs from further away without the need for an additional telephoto lens, while a Macro Focus option optimises extreme close ups.

The Pixel 8 Pro is larger than the Pixel 8, with the display sized at 6.7” instead of 6.2”. Its Super Actua display improves on the Actua display with a 489 pixel-per-inch (ppi) density. The Actua has a pixel density of 428ppi.

The Pro model also has a larger, longer lasting battery at 5,050mAh, compared to the Pixel 8’s 4,575mAh battery.

While the Pixel 8’s 8GB of RAM is not to be sniffed at, the Pro ups the ante with 12GB of RAM.

The main, 50 megapixel lens is the same on both handsets. The wide-angle lens, however, is of a higher resolution in the Pro at 48 megapixels compared to the Pixel 8’s 12 megapixels.

The base Pixel 8 doesn’t have a telephoto lens but the Pro does. Its 48 megapixel sensor is paired with a 5x optical zoom and a 30x Super Res Zoom.

Both models are available to pre-order from Google now, and their satin aluminium finishes come in a choice of blue, black or silver for the Pixel 8 Pro and silver, black or pink for the Pixel 8.

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13 September: Action Button Increases User Choice And Control

The latest generation of iPhones was unveiled by Apple last night, sporting a new, contextual ‘Action Button’ and, as widely trailed, a USB-C charging port, writes Mark Hooson.

Pre-orders for the phones open on Friday 15 September. The cheapest standard model will cost £799 and the cheapest Pro handset £999. All four models will hit the shelves on 22 September.

As with previous years, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the new handset and its predecessors. But while the dimensions and form of the latest iteration have barely changed over recent generations, the 15th does have new unique identifiers.

The charging port is now USB-C rather than Lightning cable because Apple was forced to comply with EU regulations designed to reduce electronic waste by making chargers uniform across all suppliers. 

The rules only apply in the EU, but Apple has taken the strategic decision to introduce the change on all its new phones. The firm is no stranger to the USB-C, having used it in other devices, but this is the first time the iPhone has received one.

The other main change is that the mute switch, a staple of the iPhone design for some time, has been replaced with the Action Button. 

Users choose, from a list of preset options, what they want this button to do when pressed. For example, it could be set to activate the camera, turn on the torch or enable silent mode.

As we’ve seen previously, there are four handsets in the range: a base iPhone 15, a larger iPhone 15 Plus, a premium iPhone 15 Pro and an oversized premium iPhone 15 Pro Max.

The main camera specs are catching up with Apple’s rivals too. The main lens is now a 48 Megapixel sensor, up from the iPhone 14’s 12 Megapixel lens, although Apple has previously made a point about optimisation being more important than raw numbers.

In terms of power, the A16 processor from the last generation’s Pro handsets features in this generation’s standard models, with the A17 processor used in this year’s Pro handsets. 

Apple says the A17 chip would make the latest console games, such as Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 2023 remake and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Mirage, playable on iPhone – although how a player would control the games with the iPhone’s touch screen is yet to be seen.

In addition to this, there have been the usual upgrades to the display, screen brightness, battery life and handset durability.

The phones will be available in black, blue, green, yellow and pink. The Pro models are all clad in titanium and are available in silver, blue, black and white.

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20 July: 1 In 5 Travelling Overseas Unaware Of Roaming Charges

Telecoms industry regulator Ofcom is proposing rules that would require providers to inform customers travelling abroad when they may be liable for roaming charges, writes Bethany Garner.

Almost one in five holiday makers don’t know they could face extra charges for using their mobile phone overseas, according to Ofcom research, with a further 18% saying they don’t check roaming charges before setting off.

Prior to the UK exiting the EU, domestic charges applied to UK travellers when in an EU country, but this is no longer the case. A law requiring firms to to alert customers to roaming charges when they start to roam has also ceased to apply.

Some firms have voluntarily continued to send their customers alerts when they start roaming, but Ofcom says the information provided can be inconsistent and unclear.

It says the average provider now charges customers around £2 per day to send texts, make or receive calls and use data abroad. 

The regulator wants all UK mobile companies to tell their customers when they start roaming, how much it will cost them and any action they can take to limit their spend.

Under its proposals, mobile customers would get personalised alerts including details on:

  • roaming charges that will apply including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that applies to any daily charges
  • any mobile bill limit the customer has in place
  • where to find free-to-access additional detail on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spend.

Ofcom will publish its decision on this issue in early 2024 and then give providers six months to implement any necessary changes.

An Ofcom survey of 2,018 UK mobile customers in November 2022 suggests that many travellers rely on automatic roaming alerts to find out what their provider charges.

To avoid a large roaming bill, Ofcom advises holidaymakers to check charges before they travel, consider a ‘bundle’ deal to cut costs, and switch off mobile data where possible, using Wi-Fi networks instead.

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13 July: Watchdog Ofcom Hears Of Long Waits, Dropped Calls

The telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, is investigating Virgin Media after complaints from customers that the phone, broadband and TV provider made it hard to cancel subscriptions.

Virgin Media may be breaking the regulator’s rules with regard to long waiting times and dropped calls to its customer services department.

Announcing the investigation, Ofcom reported that many customers had to make lengthy and repeated requests to cancel, as their initial instruction was not processed.

The watchdog says the conditions or procedures telecoms providers have in place must not act as a disincentive for customers who wish to cancel their contract.

It will also investigate whether customers were appropriately informed of their right to escalate their complaints to an independent ombudsman.

If Virgin Media is found to have breached the rules, Ofcom can issue a fine and direct the company to take remedial action, or change its procedures.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “We’re taking action today, on behalf of Virgin Media’s customers, to investigate whether the company is putting unnecessary barriers in the way of those who want to switch away.

“We’re also expecting more from the industry as a whole in helping to support customers through the cost-of-living crisis. That means no more excuses when it comes to offering and promoting social tariffs to eligible customers who could switch and save today.”

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing our customers with excellent service, supporting them with any issues and giving clear options should they wish to leave. 

“Complaint rates relating to ‘difficulties leaving’ have halved over the past year, showing the progress we’re making, and we will keep working with Ofcom throughout its investigation, while making further improvements in how we handle customer complaints to provide a better overall experience.”

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23 June: Dedicated Infrastructure To Boost Speeds

Vodafone is offering free, faster 5G connectivity to Samsung smartphone users in selected UK cities.

Customers with Samsung S21 and S22 handsets in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff will be able to take advantage of the network’s new standalone 5G service, 5G Ultra. It makes Vodafone the UK’s first standalone 5G provider.

Standalone 5G networks use dedicated 5G infrastructure to deliver faster speeds, unlike the majority of 5G connections, which have to be augmented with widespread 4G infrastructure.

While the availability of 5G Ultra is limited to certain areas and smartphones, there’s no cost for those who are eligible. Customers with a compatible handset who signed up to a Pay Monthly contract after 24 February will have 5G Ultra added to their plan automatically.

Vodafone says it plans to roll out 5G Ultra to more devices in more areas over time. More handsets will be compatible with 5G Ultra from July.

Vodafone also claims 5G Ultra users will get longer battery life from their handsets because of the network upgrade. Its Bandwidth Part (BWP) power saving feature allows devices to operate using much smaller bandwidth, and could extend battery life by 25%.

The news comes after confirmation of plans for a potential merger of Vodafone and Three, creating the UK’s biggest mobile network operator with around 28 million subscribers. The merger is subject to approval from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Max Taylor, Vodafone consumer director, said: “The proposed merger with Three UK would mean the merged company would have the scale to deliver 5G standalone for more than 99% of the UK’s populated areas by 2034, delivered via an £11 billion investment in the network over the next decade.”

14 June: Merger Likely To Attract Regulator Attention

Mobile networks Vodafone and Three have confirmed plans to merge and become the UK’s largest mobile operator, with around 28 million customers.

The Competition & Markets Authority and industry regulator Ofcom will scrutinise the deal, but the companies are hoping the £15 billion merger will be completed by the end of next year, with 51% of the new company owned by Vodafone Group and the rest owned by Hutchison Group, Three’s owners.

The deal comes with “no cash consideration to be paid”, but includes both businesses’ debts.

The two companies say the merger will, over the next 10 years, improve average network speeds six-fold and deliver 5G connectivity to more than 95% of the places people live and work.

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone UK chief executive, said: “The combination of Vodafone UK and Three UK will bring more choice and better value to customers nationwide. 

“With scale to invest, we will create a best-in-class 5G network, supporting the government’s 5G ambitions, drive digital transformation and create jobs.”

Robert Finnegan, Three UK, chief executive, said: “Today’s news marks a significant step in our efforts to create a business that will build the biggest and fastest 5G mobile network in the country.”

A £10.25 billion plan to merge Three with Telefonica – the parent company of mobile network operator O2 – was scuppered in 2015 by regulators. This was appealed before being ultimately quashed by European authorities.

The watchdogs expressed concerns that consolidation in the market could result in less competition and choice for consumers, potentially pushing up bills. 

Virgin Media merged with O2 in June 2021, resulting in a 46 million customer base across mobile, broadband and pay-TV.

If the long-vaunted Vodafone-Three merger goes ahead, it would give the new organisation more subscribers than EE – itself a merger of Orange and T-Mobile, which has 21.7 million subscribers.

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24 May: Subscribers Told To Limit Access To People In Household

Streaming giant Netflix is writing to subscribers in the UK to remind them not to share their access passwords outside their household.

The email begins: “Your Netflix account is for you and the people you live with in your household”.

It tells customers that, if they want to share their password, they can either transfer it to a new paid-for membership account or pay for an additional membership. Subscriptions start at £4.99 a month.

The move comes alongside similar crackdowns in its biggest market, the US, and across Australia. Earlier this year it introduced its paid-sharing capability in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal and Spain.

Password sharing is where a paying subscriber provides login information to a non-paying friend to access films and programmes on the streaming service for free. Netflix estimates 100 million households are sharing their passwords with people outside of their home.

Media analysts think the company will use IP addresses and device fingerprinting techniques to detect accounts sharing login credentials beyond their own homes. Where it finds rule breakers, the streamer is expected to notify the account holder and ask logged-in users to reverify their devices.

Netflix had, for many years, turned a blind eye to password sharing, even going so far as to share a post on social media platform Twitter which read: “Love is sharing a password” in 2017.

In a companion blog post, Netflix said it would continue to invest heavily in new film and television content. Shares in the company (NFLX) were down 1.93% in the 24 hours to the time of writing.

11 May: Tablet Also Added To Flagship Range

Google revealed a cut-price version of its flagship Pixel 7 smartphone and a new foldable handset at its annual I/O developer conference in California yesterday.

Starting at £449 – around £150 cheaper than the Pixel 7 – the Pixel 7a is available now in four colours: coral, sea, snow and charcoal. The 6.1” device uses the same AI-focussed Tensor 2 processor as its more expensive predecessor, charges wirelessly and has a vibrant OLED display.

Also on display was Google’s first foldable mobile: the Pixel Fold. The clamshell device has a 5.8” display when closed and opens up into a 7.6” mini tablet.

Google is claiming the Pixel Fold has the most durable hinge of any foldable device and boasting that it’s the thinnest foldable phone when closed.

It has the standard Tensor 2 processor and a translation feature that allows the user to show someone their translated words on the exterior screen facing them while being able to control the device using the inside display.

Unsurprisingly, the Pixel Fold is expensive. It starts at £1,749 and is available now in porcelain or obsidian.

Finally, Google showcased a new 11” tablet that comes with a charging dock which doubles as a speaker. The Tensor-powered tablet starts at £599 and can be pre-ordered now for launch in June.

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27 April: BT, Virgin Media, O2 Also Feature In Regulator Analysis

Shell Energy, BT Mobile, Virgin Media and O2 have topped the charts for complaints made by telecoms customers, writes Mark Hooson.

The latest data from Ofcom, the industry regulator, found Shell Energy customers made more complaints about its broadband and landline services than customers of any other provider.

Shell’s broadband complaints focussed on faults and service (44%), complaints handling (27%) and pricing/billing (16%). For landlines, the proportion of complaints for each of the three areas was similar at 39%, 27% and 17%.

The watchdog says it remains concerned about Shell Energy’s high volume of complaints but expects improvements in the coming months after working with the provider to resolve issues.

The figures, covering October to December 2022, also showed Virgin Media, O2 and BT Mobile received the most complaints for pay-monthly mobile service. Complaints handling was the most common complaint for BT Mobile and Virgin Media, while O2 customers complained most about faults and service.

Sky recorded the fewest customer complaints across mobile, landline, broadband and pay TV.

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24 April: Regulator Says 95% Of Eligible Households Missing Out

Virtually every household that is eligible for a discounted broadband tariff isn’t taking advantage, according to research from regulator Ofcom, writes Mark Hooson.

These ‘social’ broadband tariffs are designed to help lower-income households access the internet with prices up to £200 cheaper per year when compared to the average standard tariff.

But Ofcom today said that 95% of 4.3 million eligible UK households are not signed up for a social tariff.

Social tariffs are available from a number of broadband providers. They offer average download speeds of up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and start from as low as £12 per month.

Ofcom says awareness of social tariffs is a problem. It found more than half (53%) of people it surveyed were unaware the discounts were available to households claiming Universal Credit.

The watchdog says provider websites should do more to highlight social tariffs on their websites, and it is continuing to pressure TalkTalk and O2 to introduce social tariffs.

Here’s a list of the social tariffs currently on offer:

Tariff £/month Average speed For customers in
4th Utility Social Tariff £13.99 30 Mbps England
BT Home Essentials £15 36 Mbps UK
BT Home Essentials 2 £20 67 Mbps UK
Community Fibre Essential £12.50 20 Mbps London
Country Connect Social Tariff £15 50 Mbps Newport
EE Basics £12 Up to 25 Mbps UK
G.Network Essential Fibre Broadband £15 50 Mbps London
Grayshott Gigabit Connect £19 100 Mbps England
Hyperoptic Fair Fibre 50 £15 50 Mbps England, Scotland, Wales
Hyperoptic Fair Fibre 150 £20 150 Mbps England, Scotland, Wales
KCOM Full Fibre Flex £14.99 30 Mbps Hull
Lightning Fibre Social Tariff £15 50 Mbps East Sussex and Kent
Lothian Broadband Social Tariff £19.99 100 Mbps Lothian
NOW Broadband Basics £20 36 Mbps UK
Sky Broadband Basics £20 36 Mbps UK
Virgin Media Essential Broadband £12.50 15 Mbps UK
Virgin Media Essential Broadband Plus £20 54 Mbps UK
Vodafone Essentials Broadband £12 38 Mbps UK
Wildanet Helping Hand Social Tariff £20 Up to 100 Mbps Cornwall and Devon
WightFibre Essential Broadband £16.50 100 Mbps Isle of Wight
Source: Ofcom

Ofcom’s Lindsey Fussell said: “We’re urging anyone who thinks they could be eligible for a discount deal to contact their provider today and potentially save hundreds of pounds. Providers should also do much more to help these customers find and access these deals, at a time when these savings could make a massive difference.”

As of January 2023, the regulator’s Communications Affordability Tracker showed three in 10 households – roughly eight million – reported struggling to pay for their phone, broadband, pay-TV or streaming bills.

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8 March: Only Fibre-To-Premises Should Use Descriptor

Telecoms regulator Ofcom is launching a consultation on how broadband providers can standardise the meaning of ‘fibre broadband’, writes Mark Hooson.

The watchdog wants providers only to use the terms ‘fibre broadband’ or ‘full fibre broadband’ when describing fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections, and not for fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) connections.

FTTP and FTTC are different types of fibre broadband, with the former being faster. If the change is adopted, it will prevent slower FTTC connections being promoted in the same way as the faster alternative.

  • FTTP connections transfer data via fibre optic cables direct from the nearest telephone exchange to a home or business, and vice versa. FTTP is capable of transferring data at 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps), or 1 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and beyond. For context, the average UK download speed is around 52Mbps.
  • FTTC connections transfer data over fibre optic cables from the nearest exchange to the nearest roadside telephone cabinet. The final leg of the journey then uses copper telephone wiring from the cabinet to a home or business. FTTC speeds top out at around 80Mbps.

Electrical resistance in the copper telephone wiring makes data transmission slower than on an FTTP connection.

Source: Ofcom

Cable broadband is a third type of connection that eschews fibre optics in favour of coaxial cable – a kind of shielded electrical line that blocks interference to accelerate data transmission. Cable is capable of download speeds up to 1Gbps and beyond.

Virgin Media is the only telecoms provider using cable for its broadband, and has its own proprietary network covering around 55% of the UK.

Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) is an older, pre-fibre broadband technology that effectively uses copper telephone wires at every stage, limiting its data transmission speeds. ADSL is still available and covers the vast majority of the country, but offers speeds of only around 8Mbps.

Ofcom is seeking responses to its consultation by 3 May.

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7 March: Inflation Stokes Prices By Up To 14.4%

More than a third of broadband subscribers don’t know if their providers are allowed to put prices up during their contracts, says new research.

The majority of broadband and mobile network providers subject their customers to annual price increases, typically linked to inflation.

With inflation currently above 10%, pay-monthly mobile customers with a number of networks are finding their monthly bills going up by as much as 14.4%.

For example, Virgin Media O2 increases its prices each year by the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which was at 10.5% when it calculated its 2023/24 prices, plus 3.9%. Virgin Media, meanwhile, is raising its cable customers’ average bills by 13.8%.

But research from Zen Internet, a provider that does not increase prices during contracts, says 34% of broadband subscribers don’t know if the contract they signed allows their provider to impose a mid-contract increase each year.

Paul Stobart, Zen CEO, said: “The truth is that many providers will be introducing price increases to contracted customers that are ahead of CPI. With CPI running at 9.2% {in December 2022] that amounts to a substantial additional burden in household budgets.  

“Our industry unfortunately has a poor reputation for managing customer expectations and being transparent with communications, and introducing price rises mid-contract at a time when everyone is struggling with household bills will not improve matters.”

The telecoms regulator Ofcom opened an investigation into mid-contract price increases last month, expressing concern that customers aren’t well equipped to know what will happen with inflation in the future, and how that could affect their bills.

Zen’s research corroborates similar Ofcom research from February, which also found a third of mobile and broadband customers didn’t know if their providers could increase prices mid-contract. 

Among those that were aware, around half didn’t understand how price increases were calculated, while half did not know what CPI and the Retail Price Index (RPI) measured.

Ofcom expects to publish the findings of its investigation later this year.

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10 February: Rules Expected To Land In UK In March

Netflix is rolling out measures to prevent its Canadian users from sharing their passwords with people outside their households, writes Mark Hooson.

Subscribers in Canada have received emails and in-app notifications from Netflix asking them to set their ‘primary location’ before the end of the month, in a bid to stop them sharing access to the streaming platform with non-subscribers.

Netflix set out its intention to stop subscription sharing at the start of the year, and has also notified users in New Zealand, Spain and Portugal. 

UK users are expected to receive the same communications by the end of March. 

After that point, subscribers will be asked to verify a device logged in to a user’s account with a four-digit code sent to their email address that must be entered on the device within 15 minutes. 

In some territories, Netflix plans to allow subscribers to add sub-accounts for a fee. It’s unclear whether this feature will be available in the UK.

Research from Digital i estimates four million Netflix subscribers in the UK are sharing their passwords.

On its website, Netflix recently clarified that accounts meant to be shared in one household (people who live in the same location with the account owner). 

On 10 March 2017, the streamer famously posted on Twitter: “Love is sharing a password.”

Netflix viewers currently using a borrowed password will have to subscribe to continue watching, with packages starting at £4.99 with ads. An ad-free subscription costs £6.99 per month, although streaming is capped at a less-than-full-HD 720p resolution.

Netflix’s standard subscription with Full HD streaming and no ads costs £10.99, while 4K and HDR streaming costs £15.99 per month.

9 February: Customers Facing Near 15% Mid-Contract Increases

Ofcom, the telecoms watchdog, is opening an investigation into inflation-linked price increases for mobile phone customers, writes Mark Hooson.

With inflation above 10%, pay monthly mobile customers with a number of networks are finding their monthly bills going up by as much as 14.4% because of the way annual price hikes are calculated.

For example, Virgin Media O2 increases its prices each year by the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is at 10.5%, plus 3.9%. Virgin Media is raising its cable customers’ average bills by 13.8%.

Ofcom’s review will examine whether inflation-linked, mid-contract price rises give consumers “sufficient certainty and clarity about what they can expect to pay”.

The regulator is concerned that, because consumers can’t be expected to know how inflation might increase months after they’ve signed up for a contract, they won’t know what the increase could equal in pounds and pence.

In preliminary research, Ofcom found a third of mobile and broadband customers didn’t know if their providers could increase prices mid-contract. Among those that were aware, around half didn’t understand how price increases were calculated, while half did not know what CPI and the Retail Price Index (RPI) measured.

Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s director of telecoms consumer protection, said: “Inflation-linked price rises can be unclear and unpredictable. So we’re concerned that providers are making it difficult for customers to know what to expect.”

Ofcom expects to publish its findings later this year.

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2 February: New Offerings Boast Enhanced Camera Arrays

Samsung is showcasing the latest iteration of its Galaxy S series smartphone for pre-orders ahead of its physical launch on 17 February, writes Candiece Cyrus.

The Galaxy S23 series consists of the S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra. Samsung says it will double a device’s storage to 512GB for the price of 256GB for those who pre-order, with mobile networks such as Sky and O2 offering the same deal.

As the premium handset, the S23 Ultra presents the biggest departure from the S22, with a 200 megapixel (MP) rear wide-lens camera. This is up from the 108MP wide lens on the S22 Ultra, and the highest resolution the S series has seen. 

The S23 and S23+ have 50MP wide-lens offerings. A 12MP ultra-wide lens, 10MP telephoto lens at the rear and a 12MP selfie camera complete the camera array on all three S23 devices.

The range includes enhanced camera technology to allow for sharper image and vivid colour when shooting at night, as well as optical image stabilisation.

The S23 Ultra has a 6.8” HDR display. The S23 and S23+ have 6.1” and 6.6” HDR displays, respectively. 

All three are powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, which is designed to keep graphics fast and smooth for lag-free gaming, while the 5,000 mAh battery in the Ultra can keep the device fully powered-up for up to 26 hours.

With its 4,700 mAh battery, the S23+ offers up to 27 hours of video playback while the S23 3,900 mAh battery offers up to 22.

The S23 Ultra also features the S Pen, introduced with the S22 series, which can be used to take handwritten notes and draw.

All handsets are generally available in green, phantom black, lavender and cream. Graphite, sky blue, lime and red versions of the S23, and graphite and lime versions of the S23 and S23+, are available on the Samsung website.

When bought directly from Samsung, the S23 Ultra comes with 8GB of RAM with 256GB of internal storage for an upfront cost of £1,249 or £34.70 per month. Alternatively, there’s the option of 12GB of RAM with 512GB of internal storage, which, for pre-orders, has been reduced from £1,399 to £1,249, or from £38.87 to £34.70 if paying monthly. 

The handset with 1TB of internal storage, for pre-orders, has been reduced from £1,599 to £1,499, or from £44.42 to £41.64 if paying monthly.

The S23+ comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage for £1,049 or £29.14 per month. There’s also the option of 8GB of RAM with 512GB of internal storage for £1,049.00 reduced from £1,149, or monthly payments of £29.14 reduced from £31.92, if pre-ordering.

The S23 comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for £849 or £23.59 per month. Alternatively, there’s the option of 8GB of RAM with 256GB of internal storage, reduced from £899 to £849 or from £24.98 per month to £23.59 per month, if pre-ordering.

Deals are also available from a number of mobile network providers. For example, with no upfront cost, prices start from £31 per month for the S23, £39 for the S23+, and £47 per month for the Galaxy S23 Ultra, with Sky Mobile. 

For pre-orders between 1 and 16 February, Sky is offering double data at no extra cost, starting at 6GB for just £7. 

The handsets are also available for pre-order for those on O2 Custom and Plus Plans. The S23 is available from £22.75 per month for the first three months, then £49.74 thereafter when the device is purchased before 22 March 2023.

The S23+ is available from O2 at £46.31 per month and the S23 Ultra from £51.87 per month, both with an upfront cost of £30.

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31 January: Virgin Announces 13.8% Price Increase

Virgin Media subscribers will see their bills rise by an average of 13.8% this year, writes Mark Hooson.

The hike, which is not linked to inflation, will affect all Virgin Media’s cable customers except those on its Essential broadband packages and its Talk Protected landline tariff.

Prices will increase from either 1 April or 1 May, depending on each subscriber’s package. Virgin Media is writing to all customers to let them know when they’ll be affected.

It has also announced it will link annual price increases to inflation from 2024, when bills will rise by the Retail Price Index (RPI) plus 3.9%. 

Though RPI is currently 13.4%, which would result in price hikes of 17.3%, Virgin cites Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predictions that it will fall to 1.5% by the time the changes take effect next year.

Anyone affected by price increases this year will be allowed to exit their contracts without penalty if they do so within 30 days of receiving a letter from Virgin outlining the increases to their bill.

A Virgin Media spokesperson said: “We know price rises are never welcome, particularly right now, but like many other businesses we are experiencing significantly increased costs while investing to keep pace with growing demand.

“The introduction of inflation-linked price changes, which comes into effect in 2024 when RPI is projected to be at around 1.5%, will give customers clarity and certainty about what to expect from their bills while fuelling the investment required both now and in future. 

“We will be clearly communicating these changes directly to our customers over the coming weeks.”

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27 January: Plymouth, Basingstoke First To Lose Connectivity

Vodafone customers with older handsets could lose connectivity in Plymouth and Basingstoke from February as the UK begins its 3G network switch-off.

The third generation of mobile data connectivity – now two generations behind the latest mobile technology, 5G – is being retired across the country over the next few years. Vodafone will be the first mobile network to start switching off its service. 

Vodadfone plans to shutter its 3G service nationwide by December, but will begin with the Basingstoke and Plymouth areas next month after investing in network upgrades to keep customers connected.

It means mobile users in the area will need handsets capable of 4G connectivity to make calls and send texts. Emergency calls will not be affected.

The network says it’s spent more than £3 million over the last 18 months to get the areas ready for the switch-off. 

Currently, 70% of Vodafone customers in Plymouth and Basingstoke use 4G or 5G connections. Upgrades to 40 network sites across the region mean the region has 99% indoor 4G coverage.

Other networks aren’t switching off their 3G service until next year. EE plans to start in early 2024, while Three is aiming for the end of 2024. O2 is yet to disclose its 3G retirement plans.

The change won’t just affect mobile phones – anything with a SIM card using 3G technology will also lose connectivity. This includes security alarms, card payment terminals and personal care alarms.

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26 January: Ofcom Data Shows Customers Unhappy With Broadband

Shell has topped the lists of the most-complained-about broadband and landline providers, according to data from the industry watchdog Ofcom, writes Mark Hooson.

The regulator’s figures covering July to September 2022 show overall complaints about broadband, TV and phone services were broadly flat compared to previous quarters, but that Shell had recorded much higher than average numbers of customer complaints.

For broadband, Shell recorded 27 complaints per 100,000 customers. The average across all providers was 11 complaints per 100,000 customers. Sky had the fewest complaints at just four per 100,000 customers.

For landline complaints, Shell had 20 per 100,000 customers compared to an industry average of 7 per 100,000. Again, Sky performed best with 3 complaints per 100,000.

Pay monthly mobile complaints were much lower. BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile were the most complained about, with four complaints per 100,000 customers. EE, Tesco Mobile and Sky Mobile each scored one complaint per 100,000 customers.

In Pay TV, Virgin Media saw the most complaints with nine per 100,000 customers – above the industry average of four. Sky fared best, with one complaint per 100,000 customers.

Ironically, customers in all areas – except broadband – were most likely to complain about their provider’s complaints-handling processes. In broadband, most complaints were about faults and service.

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19 January: 14.4% Rise Pushes Monthly Bills Towards £50

BT broadband customers’ bills will rise by 14.4% over the coming months, thanks to its inflation-linked approach to annual price hikes, writes Mark Hooson.

The telecoms giant confirmed the expected increase in prices in a statement today. Like many other telecoms companies, it increases prices each year by the equivalent of inflation plus 3 or 4%. 

Since BT adds 3.9% to the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is currently 10.5% (see report), millions of its customers will pay 14.4% by 31 March.

In its statement, the company said price increases were “never easy”, and that the “cost of living squeeze is something none of us can ignore right now”. However, it said  the hike was necessary to cover “all the increasing costs” it faces.

BT stressed that three million of its customers would be unaffected by the new prices, since they don’t apply to landline-only customers. It also said BT Home Essentials, EE Mobile Basics, Pay-As-You-Go, BT Basic and Home Phone Saver customers will see their prices frozen through 2023.

Regulator Ofcom data puts the average monthly broadband-only bill at £43.71 per month. With other broadband providers likely to follow suit with their own price increases over the coming weeks, the average broadband-only bill is likely to be close to £50 per month from April.

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6 January: Coverage To Be Provided In Remote Locations

The next generation of premium Android smartphones will allow users to send messages where mobile coverage isn’t available, thanks to a new Snapdragon satellite, writes Candiece Cyrus.

Due to launch in mid 2023, the satellite is the result of a collaboration between chip firm Qualcomm and satellite communications company, Iridium. 

The technology will initially be used to provide coverage for emergency messaging, starting with smartphones that are based on Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.

Qualcomm will later use Snapdragon to provide global coverage for day-to-day messaging, allowing users to send texts and use messaging applications across the world, including in rural, remote and offshore locations.

It plans to extend the technology to other devices, including tablets, laptops, and vehicles.

Apple currently provides a satellite messaging service in its iPhone 14 range, which is limited to two-way emergency text messaging.

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6 January: Rule Changes Improve Broadband Provision For New-Builds And Tower Blocks

New-build properties must be gigabit broadband-ready, and tower block residents will have less trouble getting faster broadband after changes in the law, writes Mark Hooson.

Gigabit broadband, which is an internet connection capable of 1,000 Megabits (1 Gigabit) per second, is currently available to around 72% of the UK. 

An amendment to 2010 Building Regulations legislation, effective from 26 December 2022, means that all new properties in England must have the infrastructure necessary for gigabit broadband when construction is complete.

The government estimates that in a typical year, 12% of new-build properties are without a full-fibre connection upon construction.

The rules mean developers’ construction costs associated with including the connection will be capped at £2,000 – a figure that more than 98% of premises fall within. Where a developer cannot make a property gigabit-capable within that cap, it will need to install the next-fastest connection available.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a separate new law will make it easier for nine million renters in tower blocks to get faster broadband where landlords have repeatedly ignored requests for access from broadband providers.

The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act (TILPA), now effective in England and Wales, makes it easier for providers to install broadband equipment when a resident requests a faster connection. 

Until now, tower block residents had to wait for a landlord’s permission to have a broadband operator install a faster connection.Broadband providers say around 40% of requests for access receive no response

TILPA creates a new route through the courts for providers to gain access where a landlord is unresponsive. The legislation will come into effect in Scotland in the summer.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) estimates an additional 2,100 buildings per year will take advantage.

Julia Lopez, digital infrastructure minister, said:: “Nothing should stop people from seizing the benefits of better broadband, whether it is an unresponsive landlord or a property developer’s failure to act.

“Millions of renters will no longer be prevented from getting a broadband upgrade due to the silence of their landlord, and those moving into newly built homes can be confident they’ll have access to the fastest speeds available from the day they move in.”

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18 October: Sky Ditches Dishes With New Streaming Box

Satellite TV provider Sky is launching a new way to receive its broadcasts without a satellite dish.

Sky Stream will allow households to subscribe to 120 channels, Freeview and Netflix, from £26 per month via a wireless streaming device plugged into their televisions.

The dishless technology was introduced in Sky’s Glass televisions last year but has been emancipated from flatscreens and put into a palm-sized, wifi-enabled box that connects to your existing television via HDMI cable. 

The device comes with a voice-activated remote control and enables cloud-based programme recording.

Sky Stream will also be available on a rolling, one-month subscription that can be cancelled at any point, though Sky is hoping to tempt customers into 18-month contracts with a better-value deal.

Both the £29 one-month subscription and the £26 18-month subscription come with Sky Ultimate TV and Netflix Basic. Sports and film fans will be able to add extra channels to their subscriptions for an additional fee.

Sky Stream’s ‘Entertainment OS’ operating system will also integrate third party apps such as Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, YouTube and others.

Sky Stream is available now via Sky.

18 October: Ofcom Warns Worst Providers Of Need To ‘Step Up’

Shell Energy was the worst broadband and landline provider for complaints-handling from April to June this year, while BT had the highest number of dissatisfied pay-monthly mobile customers, according to telecoms regulator, Ofcom.

The regulator’s second-quarter research into customer complaints also found that Virgin Media performed the worst when handling pay-TV complaints, and received the second-highest number of complaints for mobile services after BT, writes Candiece Cyrus.

Shell Energy stacked up 31 complaints per 100,000 broadband customers and 23 complaints per 100,000 landline customers. BT received four complaints per 100,000 mobile customers. 

Virgin Media received three complaints per 100,000 mobile customers and 10 complaints per 100,000 Pay-TV customers. All firms were the worst performing in the same sectors in the first quarter of this year.

Sky received the fewest complaints for broadband (three per 100,000), landline (two per 100,000), and pay-TV (one per 100,000), and the joint-fewest complaints in the mobile sector, tying with Tesco Mobile, EE and iD Mobile (one per 100,000). 

EE fell from first to second for the fewest complaints in the broadband sector, compared to the first quarter. BT, NOW broadband, Plusnet, Vodafone and TalkTalk all received more complaints from broadband customers in the second quarter, while Virgin Media received fewer.

Virgin Media was the only firm to experience fewer complaints from landline customers in the second quarter two compared to the first. In the mobile sector, BT was the only firm to experience a rise in complaints, while ID Mobile, O2 and Virgin Media experienced fewer. 

Vodafone and Three, which confirmed merger talks earlier this year, as well as Sky, EE and Tesco Mobile, each received the same number of complaints per 100,000 customers.

Overall, the data found that broadband customer complaints increased slightly while the volume of landline, pay-monthly mobile, and pay-TV complaints have remained the same.

Commenting on the figures, Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s group director for networks and communications, said: “Overall complaint numbers are stable, but these figures show some providers need to step up. And with household budgets being squeezed during the cost-of-living crisis, people will be taking a closer look at their provider to make sure they’re still the right one for them.”

Regardless of performance, next year will see telecom providers hike prices in line with inflation plus a typical 3.9%. Customers agree to the scale of the annual increase, when signing their contract. 

This means customers are facing price increases well into double figures. BT and Plusnet are among the companies that use the consumer prices index (CPI) measure of annual inflation, which currently stands at 9.9%. Virgin Media  the retail prices index (RPI), which stands at 12.3%. 

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14 October: Budget Offering Aims To Bolster Subscriber Numbers

Streaming giant Netflix has announced a £4.99 per month subscription tier that will feature up to five minutes of advertisements per hour.

The famously ad-free streamer’s latest offering, launching next month, is £2 per month cheaper than its previously cheapest subscription tier. 

Video streaming on the Basic With Adverts plan will be capped at a less-than-full-HD 720p resolution. Certain titles within Netflix’s library will also be unavailable to £4.99 per month subscribers, due to licensing restrictions.

Advertisements of between 15 and 30 seconds will be shown before and during films and episodes of serialised programmes. Netflix says ads will be tailored to subscribers’ interests.

In the summer, official figures showed Netflix had shed almost a million subscribers between April and July, marking the second consecutive quarter of falling customer numbers. 

As of June, Netflix reported having around 220 million paid-up members.

13 October: New Models Upgrade Kit Without Price Hike

Google today launches two new handsets in its Pixel range, the 7 and 7 Pro, starting at £599 and £849 respectively – the same price points as the Pixel 6.

We’re also seeing the debut of the Pixel Watch, Google’s first foray into the smartwatch market. As with the Apple Watch, the aluminium device can be paired with a variety of wristbands for customisation.

Unlike Apple’s device, Pixel Watch has integrated health tracking care of FitBit, following the search giant’s acquisition of the firm last year.

The new base Pixel 7 smartphone improves on its predecessor’s processor and cameras without a cost increase. The Pixel 7 Pro also maintains price parity with its predecessor, the Pixel 6 Pro, and offers incremental upgrades to its chipset and cameras.

Cameras on both devices come with improved zoom capabilities when compared to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, bringing them more in line with Apple’s latest.

The new handsets also debut upgrades to Google’s, self-developed Tensor processor. The Tensor G2 is said to better optimise battery life, improve the clarity of photography and enable a new video portrait mode akin to Cinematic Mode found on Apple’s iPhones.

The actual devices themselves have been given a makeover, with a new metal camera bar to house the rear-facing cameras and new colour options: lemongrass (light green), hazel (dark green), snow (white) and obsidian (black).

6 October: USB-C Ruling Provides Potential Headache For Apple

All new phones, tablets and laptops sold in the EU will have to use the same charging cable from 2024.

EU lawmakers this week overwhelmingly backed a move forcing manufacturers to adopt USB-C type charging cables for all their devices – including Apple’s iPhones and iPads, which do not all use the technology.

USC-B, the latest USB standard, can be plugged into devices regardless of the cable’s orientation, unlike previous generations of USB. USB-C can also transfer both data and power, with faster data transfers than older USB types. 

The EU laws, expected to be rubber-stamped later this month, are designed to reduce electronic waste and standardise how devices are charged. Smartphones and tablets would be subject to the new law from 2024, while laptop manufacturers will be given until 2026 to get on board.

As the UK is not part of the EU, there’s no obligation for manufacturers to change the products they sell into Britain, but existing Brexit agreements could make things more complicated for Northern Ireland, where an as-yet unresolved treaty dispute potentially keeps NI in the EU Single Market.

Most newer devices using Google’s Android operating system and manufactured by the likes of Samsung, Google, Oppo, Xiaomi and OnePlus are already using USB-C, but Apple is likely to be hit harder by the law.

While some of Apple’s devices already use USB-C, many use the firm’s own ‘Lightning’ connection. The tech giant has previously argued against such laws, saying they stifle innovation. Assuming the law is finalised, however, Apple will also have to ensure all its new phones and tablets comply with the EU edict.

Whether Apple is forced to adopt USB-C wholesale for products it sells in the EU remains to be seen. It may be that the manufacturer instead includes a Lightning to USB-C adapter with its devices, if the law allows.

4 October: Vodafone confirms merger talks with Three

Mobile operators Three and Vodafone are in talks to merge.

The merger would create a business with 27 million mobile and broadband customers, which would be more than EE’s 26 million or O2’s 23 million (excluding customers in their sister organisations BT and Virgin Media).

The deal is expected to be agreed by the end of the year if approved by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Similar mergers of BT and EE and Virgin Media and O2 were permitted in 2015 and 2020, respectively. 

In February the CMA said future mergers “would be informed by the specific circumstances of that particular merger, rather than just the number of competitors”.

It’s unknown how such a merger, if approved, might affect prices for customers, but prior to February the CMA had expressed concern about mergers which reduce the amount of choice available to customers and the effect mergers might have on prices.

Briefing shareholders, Vodafone said: “By combining our businesses, Vodafone UK and Three UK will gain the necessary scale to be able to accelerate the rollout of full 5G in the UK and expand broadband connectivity to rural communities and small businesses.”

iPhone 14: Apple Unveils Four Next-Generation Handsets

Apple showed off its newest iPhones last night, introducing higher resolution camera lenses and emergency calls functionality using satellite technology.

The iPhone 13 range will be succeeded by the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone Pro and iPhone Pro Max on 16 September, with preorders opening tomorrow, 9 September.

The base iPhone 14, oversized iPhone 14 Plus, premium iPhone 14 Pro and oversized premium iPhone 14 Pro Max will begin at £849, £949, £1,099 and £1,199, respectively. 

The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus will be available in blue, red, purple, black and white.

What’s new?

The entry-level, 6.1” iPhone 14 isn’t a massive departure from its predecessor, offering the same A15 Bionic chipset and a 12 megapixel (MP) main camera that’s slightly improved from the iPhone 13 thanks to a brighter flash and wider angle lens.

The iPhone 14 is essentially the same device with a larger, 6.7” Super Retina XDR display. Both phones have longer battery life than the previous generation’s handsets did, at up to 26 hours of video playback on the Plus and up to 20 hours video playback on the iPhone 14.

But Apple said it’d saved its biggest technological leaps for the two new Pro-level handsets. 

The main headline is that the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max each have a 48MP main camera lens, bringing Apple into line with much of the rest of the smartphone market.

The Pro and Pro Max have 6.1” and 6.7” displays and both feature what Apple calls its Dynamic Island technology, which essentially means the black bar at the top of the display that houses the front-facing camera changes shape depending on context. For example, the notch will expand to show information about a song that’s playing, or an incoming call.

Both displays are now also always-on, which means even when not in use, the display will show notifications and phone information.

Powering all of its new features is Apple’s new, six-core A16 Bionic chip – comprising 16 billion transistors and a five-core graphics processor offering 50% more memory bandwidth.

Apple’s pledging 29 hours’ worth of video playback on the iPhone Pro and 23 hours’ worth of video playback on the Pro Max.

The two Pro handsets will be available in purple, black, white and gold.

29 July: BT To Hike Average Bills By £53 A Year 

Telecoms giant BT is forecasting price hikes of 13% next April, adding £53 every year to the average customer’s broadband bill.

Like many broadband providers, BT raises its prices every April. The increases, which customers agree to when signing a BT contract, are equal to inflation plus 3.9%. 

The £53 hike will also apply to broadband customers of EE, which is part of the BT Group.

BT says it needs to increase customer bills to cope with inflationary pressures and the cost of investment programmes. 

A spokesperson said: “Like every business, we face huge inflationary pressures. At the same time, we are making massive investments in the digital networks that UK families and businesses need; our pricing makes that possible.”

In April this year, BT increased its prices by 9.3%.

The news is the latest in the round of relentless price hikes consumers are facing in their general household bills. 

On top of a new energy price cap in October, which analysts are predicted could reach £3,500 a year for a typical household, consumers are having to absorb a 12% increase to cost of an Amazon Prime subscription, a 4.4% rise in food prices compared to last year (per British Retail Consortium data) and inflation reaching a 40-year-high of 9.4%.

13 July: Nothing’s Phone (1) Attempts To Shake Up Smartphone Market

With the launch of its Phone (1) device, Nothing’s goal is to take the concept of the smartphone back to basics, writes Candiece Cyrus.

The two-year-old London tech firm’s first phone, priced from £399 for those who want to buy the phone from the manufacturer without a contract, represents pressing “a giant reset button” with regards to design.

It can also be purchased in black or white from O2, which offers three 36-month plans with unlimited texts and calls, and a choice of 3GB, 10GB or 30GB of data. 

You will be required to pay £10 upfront, and then £24.20, £27.20 or £32.19 monthly, depending on the amount of data you choose. 

Perks, such as a set number of months on a Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video subscription, and double your data if your household uses Virgin Media broadband, are also included. Delivery takes up to two weeks.

The Phone (1) has a see-through casing to show off the phone’s inner workings, which could be seen as symbolic of the company’s mission “to remove barriers between people and technology, and create a seamless digital future.”

It has a 6.55” OLED display. This compares to the likes of competing flagships from Samsung, iPhone, Google and Huawei for example, that boast 6.8” or 6.7” screens. 

Less disputable is the clarity, range in colour and depth in contrast, that comes from High Dynamic Range 10+ (HDR10+) technology, one of the latest forms of video technology used to make what you see as true-to-life as possible. This is teamed with a display refresh rate of 120Hz.

The 50MP wide and ultrawide dual camera on the rear of the device surpasses the latest iPhone’s 12MP cameras, and can shoot 4K video. However, it does not match the Samsung S22 Ultra’s four-lense setup which includes a 108MP camera. For selfies, there is a 16MP lens.

Powering the device is the Snapdragon processor. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in a large 4,500mAh battery, that can last longer than a day on a single charge.. 

The handset comes with a decent 8GB or 12GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage.

These features allow Phone (1) to sit comfortably among the competition. However, added details such as the built-in studio lighting on the rear of the phone that doubles as a notification alert light, add to its appeal.

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20 June: Streaming Service Throws Down Gauntlet To Netflix, Amazon

Film studio Paramount is bringing its Paramount+ streaming service to the UK on 22 June 2022, joining the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime in an increasingly competitive streaming market. 

The service will include a catalogue of blockbusters including several Star Trek films, Pulp Fiction, the original Grease, Castaway and Mission Impossible: Fallout, as well as popular television series such as The First Lady and Mayor of Kingstown.

It will also stream original content including the highly anticipated Halo series, based on the popular video game of the same name, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and a reboot of the bellowed sitcom, Frasier

Another Paramount+ exclusive series expected to make a splash is The Offer — a fictionalised account of how producer Albert S Ruddy adapted The Godfather into the iconic film. 

Access to the platform’s 8,000 hours of content will cost viewers £6.99 a month, or £69.90 a year — matching the price for a basic Netflix subscription. New users will also be offered a seven-day free trial period.

How to access Paramount+

As of 22 June, you can sign up to Paramount+ through your internet browser or by downloading the Paramount+ app. Subscribers can stream to three screens at a time on smartphone, tablet, smart TV, or browser.

Paramount+ has also made a distribution deal with Sky, meaning that Sky Cinema customers can access the service at no extra cost through their Sky Q, Sky Glass, or set-top box. 

The streaming service has been available in the US since 2021 and will launch in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria later in 2022.

8 June 2022: Universal USB-C Charger Rule In Place From 2024

Electronics manufacturers will be forced to ensure devices they sell in the EU can be charged using a USB-C charger from 2024.

The move, designed in-part to reduce the amount of electronic waste created by the electronics industry, will also affect Apple’s iPhone – which has used proprietary ‘Lightning’ charging cables for 10 years.

It’s understood that, following the UK’s departure from the European Union in 2020 and under the current trading arrangements, the USB-C mandate will apply to devices sold in Northern Ireland, but not in the other UK nations.

The rule change will have the biggest impact on the mobile phone industry, but will also affect manufacturers of tablets, mobile gaming systems and portable speakers.

It’s unclear whether manufacturers will redesign their products to incorporate USB-C charging ports, or simply use adapters to retro-fit them with USB-charging capability.

Newer models of Apple’s iPad Pro, Air and mini tablets already have USB-C charging ports, so it’s not unrealistic to think the smartphone giant will add USB-C charging to future models of its iPhone, regardless of the EU ruling.

USB-C was first announced in 2012 and began to be implemented in the mainstream in 2014/15. 

The pill-shaped connector is reversible, meaning it will work regardless of the orientation with which it’s plugged in. USB-C is capable of transferring data and power simultaneously.

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7 June: Apple To Enter United States BNPL Market This Autumn

Apple is to allow users to buy goods and services on credit under a new ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) service called Apple Pay Later.

Launching in the US this autumn, Apple Pay Later will let iPhone users split the cost of purchases into four installments over six weeks with any merchant that currently accepts contactless Apple Pay transactions.

There’s no interest on Apple Pay Later purchases and no fees charged for late payments. Apple Pay will run on the Mastercard payments network.

Users will be able to manage payments in the Wallet app and track deliveries as a result of Apple’s new partnership with ecommerce platform Shopify.

The move to take on other BNPL lenders such as Klarna and Affirm sees Apple move further into the financial services space after launching its own US-only credit card, the Apple Card, in 2019.

It is not yet known whether Apple Pay Later or Apple Card will launch in the UK.

Last summer, Bloomberg reported that Apple was likely working with investment bank Goldman Sachs to cover the cost of purchases under an upcoming BNPL service.

The BNPL market, which is unregulated in the UK, has faced criticism in recent years, with claims its no-fee, no-interest model makes it too easy for consumers to get themselves into debt over purchases they can’t afford.

According to Statista data, Klarna – which is the most downloaded BNPL app in the UK – has almost 1,000,000 active monthly users in the UK.

Data from UK Finance, the body that represents the banking and finance industry, last summer showed that more than 17,000,000 adults had registered for mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Google Pay as of 2020, with 84% of those registered having used their mobiles to pay for a transaction.

Overspending risk

Commenting on Apple’s move, Sarah Coles, at financial advisor Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Apple’s move into BNPL could fuel another boom in the market, putting more shoppers at risk of overspending.

“Since the start of the year, the phenomenal pace of growth of BNPL has slowed significantly, as people cut back on non-essential spending. However, if Apple chooses to expand its BNPL service into the UK, the arrival of a massive global lifestyle brand in the market could reignite our enthusiasm for borrowing.

“Already we know that people don’t tend to think of BNPL as borrowing – they consider it to be a budgeting solution. The arrival of a brand that’s far less associated with financial services risks reinforcing the misapprehension that BNPL isn’t a debt product, which could mean even more people are tempted to use it without really thinking it through.

“The fact it will be available through the same network as Apple Pay in the US means that, if it adopted the same approach in the UK, it would be available in an enormous number of retailers, both online and offline. BNPL companies have been gradually pushing into stores, and this would mean a step change in the process overnight. It means we may be tempted to use it for even more of our shopping.

“At a time of rising prices, there’s the risk that the arrival of Apple would mean more people using BNPL to make ends meet. Our research shows that already 11% of people have used it to buy essential clothes such as a winter coat, while more than one in 20 people have used it to buy groceries, and one in 10 have used it for other essentials.

“Borrowing to pay for essentials feels like a solution in the short term, but by spreading the cost, it means pushing up your expenses for months, making it even harder to keep on top of your finances. In the short term it feels like a solution, but in the end it just adds to the problem.”

Apple boss Tim Cook announced a raft of new developments at the firm’s latest developer conference

Apple Pay Later was one of a slew of iOS16 features unveiled at Apple’s developer conference WWDC2022 yesterday (Monday).

Other new features of Apple’s latest mobile operating system include the ability to edit text messages after they’re sent, and customisable, context-aware lock screens that can, for example, be set not to show work-related notifications at the weekend.

Apple Safety Check will help to protect people in abusive relationships by allowing users to review who has access to apps that reveal their location, and to revoke that access.

Read more: How To Buy Apple Stock

31 May: Free Mobile Data For Vulnerable Households

A hardship fund is to offer free mobile data to 255,000 households struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Mobile network operator Virgin Media O2 is working with bakery chain Greggs and its charity, the Greggs Foundation, to provide eligible households with free SIM cards and vouchers for 15GB worth of data. 

The SIM cards will be distributed via schools in Scotland, the North East, South East and Midlands on a trial basis. The 15GB allowance is more than three times what an average mobile user consumes each month, according to regulator Ofcom.

The trial forms part of the National Databank scheme, which already has support from Vodafone and Three, and aims to tackle ‘data poverty’ in the UK.

Tracy Lynch of the Greggs Foundation said: “We understand many people struggle to make ends meet and when unexpected costs arise, many can suddenly find themselves in very difficult circumstances. 

“With the Hardship Fund, we are able to offer a helping hand to people who need it most. By joining the National Databank we are now able to provide further essential support to those facing hardship.”

The news follows last week’s announcement from supermarket chain Iceland that it would offer special 10% discounts for customers over the age of 60 every Tuesday.

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23 May: Three Reinstates Overseas Roaming Charges

Mobile network Three has reintroduced roaming charges for certain customers using their mobile phones outside of the UK. 

Three previously said its roaming charges would not return after Brexit, but announced a U-turn in September 2021. Three customers who upgraded or took out a new contract after October 2021 will be impacted, with older contracts unaffected. 

From 23 May, making phone calls, sending an SMS, or using mobile data will incur a flat rate of £2 a day within the European Union (EU), rising to £5 per day for some non-European countries including the US, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Roaming charges do not apply to the Republic of Ireland or the Isle of Man. 

For almost five years, UK customers were able to use a Three SIM in EU countries without paying roaming charges, since EU regulations banned temporary roaming fees in 2017. However following Brexit, UK mobile networks are no longer beholden to the rule. 

Three was the third UK network to reintroduce roaming charges. EE and Vodafone both re-introducing a £2 per day roaming charge for selected customers travelling to the EU, based on when they joined their network.

Currently, O2 is the only major UK network that will not be introducing traditional daily roaming charges when customers use their phone in EU countries. 

Instead, the network says it is introducing a ‘fair usage’ policy, which charges customers £3.50 per GB of mobile data they use in Europe above the monthly limit of 25GB. Other than that, O2 mobile customers can use their phone in EU countries at no extra cost.

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18 May: O2 Mobile Scores Worst For Customer Service

Mobile and broadband customers waited longer on hold and were less satisfied with how providers handled their complaints in 2021, according to data from the UK telecoms regulator.

Ofcom’s latest research found that, despite relatively high customer satisfaction on the whole, subscribers were being kept waiting for longer to be dealt with. In fact, customers spent longer on hold than they did in 2019, before the pandemic.

O2 mobile phone customers were worst affected, with ‘call waiting’ times up by one minute and 42 seconds on 2020 levels to three minutes and 59 seconds. BT Mobile, EE, Vodafone and iD Mobile’s average waiting times were also longer.

At the other end of the scale, Three performed best. Its customers waited just 16 seconds on average to speak to an operative. 

Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile managed to reduce their wait times from 2020 levels but only Sky and Three were able to beat their pre-pandemic performances.

In the broadband sector, KCom also kept customers waiting more than twice as long in 2021 than they did in 2020, at an average of eight minutes and 53 seconds, up from three minutes 19 seconds. NOW broadband performed best, keeping customers on hold for an average of just 31 seconds.

The Ofcom data shows that only half the broadband and mobile customers who complained were happy with the outcome, and most had to speak to their provider more than once to get a resolution.

Complaints handling

Virgin Media customers recorded below-average satisfaction across the mobile, broadband and landline sectors. Subscribers were also less likely to recommend any of its services than the average telecoms customer.

Tesco Mobile was the opposite, with higher than average customer satisfaction levels, the lowest number of complaints and the highest proportion of customers who were willing to recommend it.

Ofcom’s Ian Macrae said: “When things go wrong with your phone or broadband service, it’s incredibly frustrating if you have to wait on hold for ages to get it sorted, or if your complaint is handled badly.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, some companies need to up their game when it comes to resolving problems, especially at a time when prices are going up. It’s never been simpler to switch, so if you’re not happy with the service you’re getting, vote with your feet and look elsewhere.”

12 May: Google Unveils New Pixel Smartphones, Smartwatch And Android 13

Google has announced a new iteration of its Pixel 6 smartphone, its first smartwatch, its next operating system and its next flagship smartphone, the Pixel 7.

The flurry of new product reveals at its IO developer conference yesterday marks a change in direction for the company’s Android division. 

While Google currently produces its own Pixel devices, its Android operating system is used by devices produced by many other third-party manufacturers like Samsung. 

With its newly-announced devices, however, the search giant has signalled a move towards creating its own ecosystem of products, in the same way as Apple.

Here’s a look at what’s new:

Pixel 6a

The Pixel 6a is a new mid-range smartphone priced at £399 and available from 28 July. 

It’s smaller than Google’s flagship 6.4” Pixel 6 device, measuring 6.1”, but includes the same Tensor processor and Titan security chip as its larger sibling. 

The handset comes with 128GB of storage and a choice of three colours: Sage, Chalk and Charcoal. Google has pledged to keep the 6a updated with its latest software for five years, which is longer than it typically does.

Android 13

Google also showed off the next generation of its Android operating system (OS), Android 13.

Due this summer, the free update for Android users will introduce new features, customisation options and privacy settings.

Elsewhere, the new OS will support different concurrent languages, allowing multilingual users to apply different languages to different apps.

Pixel Watch

The Pixel Watch (release date yet to be announced) pairs Google’s Wear OS for wearable devices with Fitbit health tracking, thanks to Google’s acquisition of Fitbit last year. The rival to the Apple Watch will work with many Android devices beyond the Pixel range.

Google didn’t share any specifics about the device beyond its name and images that show a circular watch face with crown-based controls and interchangeable straps – just like Apple’s smartwatch.

There was no release date given for the timepiece, but speculation says it’ll land around October this year, alongside the next flagship Google smartphone – the Pixel 7.

Pixel 7

The IO conference also teased the next generation Pixel devices – the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. Details were scant, but we can expect aluminium and glass-wrapped handsets that use a new iteration of Google’s much-vaunted Tensor technology.

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