The UK’s telecom watchdog, Ofcom, has bitten a chunk out of Vodafone’s bottom line for its “serious and sustained” customer failures, including not updating accounts when mobile phone users topped up their credit to make calls.
Vodafone has been fined a record $5.60 million for failing to act quickly enough to identify or address the problems, of its glorious new billing system.
Some 10,452 of the mobile phone giant’s pay-as-you-go customers collectively lost £150,000 over a 17 month period between the end of 2013 and April 2015.
Vodafone said it deeply regretted the system and process failures and had refunded the vast majority of the affected customers.
Ofcom’s Lindsey Fussell said the failings were “serious and unacceptable” and the fines, which are the highest ever imposed by the regulator, sent a clear warning to all telecoms companies.
“Phone services are a vital part of people’s lives, and we expect all customers to be treated fairly and in good faith,” Fussell said
Vodafone said all but 30 customers had been fully refunded or re-credited, with an average refund of £14.35, and it donated £100,000 to charity to ensure it did not profit from the 30 customers it could not track down.
“This has been an unhappy episode for all of us at Vodafone: we know we let our customers down,” the company said. “We are determined to put everything right.”
Vodafone said it was confident its customers were already beginning to see the benefits of its investment in its new systems.
Smartphones appear to have lost their way and are not as good as doing what they are supposed to do – make phone calls.
According to an Ofcom study, smartphone makers have been so busy packing gadgets into their smartphones they have forgotten that they are supposed to make calls.
The research, conducted in controlled lab conditions on a selection of popular smartphones and non-smart phones currently on the market, found that on a 2G network the cheaper handsets were much better at picking up weak signals.
Some smartphones require a minimum signal 10 times stronger than the best non-smart phone before they can make or receive a call, according to Ofcom’s research.
This is particularly important because mobile operators are under pressure to increase coverage, particularly in rural areas. Ofcom thinks that t while network infrastructure investment is seen as key to improving coverage, handsets also play a significant role.
Smartphones encased in glass and metal rather than the plastic typically used in cheaper mobiles have contributed to calls being cut off. On average, the smartphones Ofcom tested required a minimum 2G signal seven times stronger than the average non-smartphone.
On 3G networks the worst performer needed a signal nine times stronger than the minimum recommended by the GSMA, the mobile industry’s standards body.
On faster 4G mobile broadband the bottom of the class required seven times the recommended signal strength to send data back and forth.
Some smartphones are cut off if held in the left or right hand, owing to the position of the antenna.
Ofcom did not name the poor performers arguing that the number of devices it tested was not sufficient to make statistically significant comparisons between individual smartphones.
A spokesman added: “We tested a small number of mobile phones, not for ranking but to understand how handsets performed in different situations. As no one device consistently outperformed the others we chose not to list the handsets.”
The regulatory authority in charge of communications here in the UK has introduced an app for smartphones and tablets that will check their wi-fi connection.
The Ofcom Wi-Fi checker tests the quality of your wi-fi and also provides guidance on how to improve signals.
Research it released today shows over five million UK homes could improve their signal.
In a statement, it said that broadband can be slowed by fairy lights, microwave ovens, baby monitors and even a lamp.
The app is available for both iOS and Android, via the Apple app store and Google Play.
In separate news, Ofcom said that rural areas are still badly off for broadband speed. But BT is testing speeds in Swansea using G.fast, that can motor along at as much as 500Mbps.
Regulator Ofcom said today that next year there will be an auction for high capacity spectrum used by the military.
The spectrum is being made available by the Ministry of Defence after the UK government made it plain it wants to free the airwaves for civil use.
The auction will of 190MHz of high capacity spectrum in two bands – 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz. Ofcom said these are well suited for high speed mobile broadband services and equivalent to three quarters of the spectrum released by Ofcom in the 2013 4G auction.
Ofcom is setting reserve prices of £70 million for the spectrum.
The regulator said there won’t be a cap on the amounts that bidders can buy with large blocks supporting very fast download speeds, paving the way for a future 5G standard.
Most smartphones from major manufacturers including Samsung and Apple are already compatible with the 2.3GHz spectrum, while the 3.4GHz band is being used for 4G wireless broadband in six countries including the UK.
Mobile regulator Ofcom said it has revised annual fees for operators after receiving directions from the government to charge the full market value.
After consultation, Ofcom has decided that mobile operators in the UK will pay a combined total of $80.3 million for the 900MHz band and £119.3 million for the 1800MHz band.
That’s a total of £199.6 million a year.
The fees come into effect in two phases with the first half of the fees in effect on the 31st October 2015, and the second half into effect on 31st October 2016.
The regulator said that it conducted “detailed consultations” that considered factors including sums paid in the 4G auction and overseas spectrum auctions.
Ofcom had proposed fees in February this year but said that after consultation the fees for the 1800MHz band are three percent lower, and the fees for the 900MHz band are 24 percent lower.
Ofcom used the German auction which ended on the 19th June 2015 to provide evidence for market value for the spectra.
A report from regulator Ofcom said that for the first time in the UK, more people connect to the internet on smartphones than notebooks.
And people, on average, spend two hours online on their smartphones.
Ofcom said that a third of internet users regard the smartphone as the best device for going online, compared to 30 percent who use notebooks.
And 66 percent of adults in the UK have a smartphone, up from 39 percent in 2012. For people aged between 55 and 64, smartphone ownership has doubled since 2012, from 19 percent to 50 percent.
Ofcom said that smartphone users with 4G shop online more than those without 4G, with 57 percent watching more TV and video clips, and instant messaging using WhatsApp and the like.
Four in 10 British people can choose 4G from EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. By 2019, Ofcom estimates that 98 percent of premises will have an indoor 4G signal.
People are also using smartphones to take photos with 60 percent using their phone rather than any other device, including digital cameras.
Ofcom said that nearly half of young people between 18 to 24 check their smartphones for messages within five minutes of waking up.
Comms regulator Ofcom said it has finished the first stage of its digital communications review and has outlined challenges the UK faces.
It published a discussion document today which covers investment, competition, education and regulation or deregulation.
Sharon White, Ofcom’s CEO said the organisation wanted to promote competition, investment and innovation “so that everyone benefits from even better coverage, choice, price and quality of service to come”.
White said 4G mobile broadband can now be had to 42 percent of premises from the four operators, while one has managed 90 percent availability.
On the other hand, superfast broadband is available to 80 percent of premises in the UK, with a range of providers.
But Ofcom believes that a broadband speed of 10Mbit/s is needed to use today’s online servers, but eight percent of UK householders can’t get those speeds, particularly in rural areas.
Ofcom is actively looking at how BT spinoff Openreach works and is considering how it might work better for both business and people at home. It will also investigate how companies like Virgin Media help or hinder the competitive arena.
Ofcom is now canvassing comment to its discussion document, with a deadline of the 8th of October next.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom said it has fined EE a million pounds because it hasn’t handled customer complaints properly.
Ofcom said that between July 2011 to April 2014, EE didn’t give some customers “accurate or adequate information” about their rights to participate in an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process.
Independent regulators that provide ADR let people refer complaints that can’t be settled with a provider if discussions end in deadlock.
Comms companies that provide services to individuals or small businesses employing up to 10 people must be a member of one of the two bodies – the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services.
EE has to pay the million pounds within the next 20 days. The fine it levies then goes straight to the UK Treasury.
Ofcom said that EE has now changed its Customer Complaints Code to guide people that have a beef that can’t be resolved and has changed the information it provides on paper bills it sends out.
Freephone numbers starting 0800 or 0808 are free from people to call from their mobile phones.
Ofcom said that, from today, landline and mobile charges are clearer for calls starting 084, 087, 09 and 118.
The telecoms regulator said that people in the UK spend 250 million hours phoning these service numbers and that amounts to £900 million in charges.
From today, charges for the service numbers will consist of an access charge for the phone number and a service charge set by the organisation or company being called – the service provider.
These service providers will have to tell customers how much the service charge is when it advertises or otherwise mentions the phone number.
Ofcom said that because of these new rules many organisations that used 084 and 087 numbers will move to using 03 numbers – these don’t cost any more to 01 or 02 numbers.
The chief executive of Ofcom has told UK communications providers that they must try harder.
In a speech at a Which magazine conference, Sharon White said that while customer service levels are better, ordinary people are finding to it hard to change their providers and to cancel contracts.
People are also fed up with the kind of customer service they get, she said.
Customers ought to know what to expect from a service when they sign a contract.
White said: “When Ofcom was established, access to a reliable internet connection was a ‘nice to have’. Now it is essential to the functioning of the economy, to the way people work, and live their lives.”
She wants the industry to make things clearer when they’re advertising, make it easier for people to switch providers, better contracts, and better complaint handling.
Ofcom can punish companies if they behave badly.
She claimed that while Ofcom is a “light touch” regulator, but can intervene when necessary.
Ofcom has managed to sign up a code of practice with a number of providers including BT, EE, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.
That means people can walk away from providers when speeds fall to unacceptable levels.