Phone porting clampdown wins thumbs up – but is it enough?

Proposed new identification measures, designed to reduce mobile number fraud are continuing to win favour in the industry – but there’s a caveat, with one vendor calling on Australia to go even further.

The new telco regulations, announced by the Federal Government earlier this week, are aimed at preventing the hijacking of mobile numbers which can then be used to access personal and financial information.

In announcing the plans, Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, said fraudulent number porting affects thousands of consumers each year with average losses of more than $10,000.

The new measures include the mandatory use of two-factor authentication before mobile numbers can be transfered between providers.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority, which has been directed to make the new rules mandating stronger identify verification processes, hailed the move earlier this week.

Now the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman too, has applauded the announcement, noting it has received complaints about consumers having their bank accounts drained and email inboxes accessed through mobile number theft.

Ombudsman Judi Jones says the announcement is a positive step toward safeguarding mobile consumers from fraudsters.

“A lot of work has been done over the past year by the telco industry to address the security risks associated with mobile phone number theft, and I welcome the industry’s continued work towards consistently robust identity verification procedures. It is important to ensure these procedures keep up with evolving technological risks.”

Also giving a thumbs up – albeit a guarded one – is Robert Schwarz, managing director of software vendor Nuance Communications which says the move is ‘a step in the right direction’ – but one which can be improved on.

Schwarz says Nuance research shows fraud is a ‘massive’ issue impacting nearly a quarter of Australian consumers every year to the tune of $3,300 per person.

“As an organisation operating in fraud prevention and security, we still see too many cases where traditional knowledge based security methods like password are the industry norm,” Schwarz says.

“Cracking passwords has really become a routine for hackers, and I’m not surprised to see an average of 250 data breaches reported every six months in the context of the notifiable data breach scheme.”

He’s calling for the regulations to be extended to all industries handling consumer or business data, rather than just niche scenarios like telco rules.

“Another concern is that MFA and 2FA are only going to be viable for a limited amount of time. Hackers are learning fast and already discovering ways to bypass them.

“Even though they are still very secure, it is a patchy approach that fraudsters will force us to revisit in just a few years.”

He notes that just a few weeks ago, the FBI released a notification stressing out the insecurities of MFA, and urging organisations to start planning beyond with biometrics security.

ComCom: No regulation for NZ mobile – but 5G spectrum auctions need close attention

New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has given a thumbs up for the Kiwi mobile market  – and a thumbs down to any regulatory intervention – saying it’s a competitive market, serving customers well.

The Mobile Market Study final report says New Zealand’s mobile consumers are benefiting from an increasingly competitive market environment with market share among the three national players – Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees – has become more evenly balanced, with 2degrees taking more market share.

The report shows Vodafone and Spark still hold the lion’s share of the market, with 40.5 percent and 37.9 percent of subscribers, with 2degrees, which entered the market in 2009, now holding 20.5 percent of the market.

“We haven’t identified any particular problems or structural issues that could be hampering competition,” says Telecommunications Commissioner Stephen Gale of the report findings.

Unsurprisingly the findings were welcomed by Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees.

The study also shows an emerging market for ‘virtual’ operators selling mobile services without having to build their own mobile network.

The mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) holds just 1.1 percent market share, but has seen growth in recent months with companies including Vocus – which earlier this year slammed the preliminary Mobile Market report – Warehouse Mobile and Kogan entering the market. Trustpower also plans to enter the fray, bundling mobile offers with its existing broadband and energy services.

“Because of these developments, the Commission does not consider there is any need for regulation of wholesale access at this time,” the Commerce Commission says.

But Gale flagged the need for wholesale and retail competition matters to be at the forefront of decisions relating to the upcoming auction of radio spectrum for 5G services in order to ensure continued competition.

“With Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees each having a network of similar technology with similar geographic and population coverage metrics, looking forward we consider the allocation of spectrum to be particularly important for future competition,” Gale says.

The report, instigated back in 2017, comes as Vodafone and Spark jockey for 5G leadership. Vodafone has been testing 5G with plans to have a commercial service up and running in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown in December.

Meanwhile Spark – which had its original 5G plans shot down by the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau over Huawei network security concerns – has launched a limited, invitation only, 5G service in Alexandra. The service uses Nokia technology.

When is unlimited not unlimited?

When it come to the services Kiwis are receiving from their mobile telco providers, the report notes that New Zealand’s 4G performance is ranked eighth out of 88 countries in an OpenSignal report, though the availability of 4G at 57th out of 87 countries.

It notes that mobile plans offering higher volumes of data are increasingly popular. To highlight that, it noted the total number of residential subscribers purchasing voice, SMS and data bundles with allowances of 3G or more was up from 133,000 in 2016 to 497,000 in 2018.

Spark, in its cross submission on the reports preliminary findings paper, noted a shift towards unlimited data plans, including ones that can be shared across several users, as a predominant trend in the retail market.

However, Teligen, which does telco benchmarking, much of which the ComCom report relies on, no longer considers New Zealand’s ‘unlimited’ data plans to qualify as unlimited, because of telco’s throttling the speed once a threshold has been reached.

The average volume of data used by mobile consumers was 2GB per month in 2018 – a figure the report says is growing strongly.

Prices for mobile services in New Zealand have been falling and compare well with other OECD countries, the report notes – though not all fare so well compared with Australia, with mobile prices per GB for the highest data plans offered in New Zealand coming in around NZ$80-$85, versus NZ$56 from Vodafone Australia and NZ$103 for Telstra.

“For the 2G and 5G  baskets, the New Zealand price reported by Teligen is currently at or below the OECD average.”

For larger baskets, however, mobile pricing in New Zealand is relatively high when compared to Australia, but below the OECD average.

One area the report does note a need for change is in the low number of consumers moving telco plans. Sixty-eight percent say they rarely, if ever, compare plans and 54 percent saying they haven’t switched providers in the past five years.

“By shopping around more frequently consumers are likely to trigger more competition between mobile providers,” Gale says.

“We are keen to see more consumer activity and will be looking into ways we can help New Zealanders understand whether they are getting the best deal possible and, if not, consider switching.”

However, in response, Vodafone NZ says its data shows a high number of Vodafone customers change the make-up of their mobile plans each year – if not their provider.

NBN service quality complaints on the rise

Complaints about service quality, connections and migrations involving Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) rose in the first six months of 2019, despite complaints relating to the country’s broader telecommunications services falling overall during the year ending June.

This is according to the latest figures by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO’s annual report for the financial year ending June 2019, released on 25 September, paints a picture of increasing complexity among the issues Australians are complaining about when it comes to their telecommunications services.

“Complaints about phone and internet services in Australia have continued their downward trend, and this is good news for consumers and the telecommunications industry, but this is only one part of the story,” said Ombudsman Judi Jones. “The volume of complaints coming back to us unresolved shows an emerging picture of complexity in technical and small business issues.

“Some measures we have taken to address this are the formation of specialist teams to handle these escalated complaints, and working closely with the phone and internet providers to better understand the barriers to resolving these issues,” she said.

According to the TIO, the 12 months from July 2018 to June 2019 saw 47 per cent of escalated complaints closed within 60 days, compared to 77 percent in FY2017-18.

The top five complaint issues about internet services were no action or delayed action by a service provider, with 13,976 complaints, service and equipment fees (13,509 complaints), slow data speed (8,668 complaints), intermittent service/dropouts (7,915) and delay establishing a service (7,431).

At the same time, the top five complaint issues about mobile services were service and equipment fees, with 12,905 complaints, no or delayed action by provider (11,675 complaints), resolution agreed but not met (4,263), misleading conduct when making a contract (3,656) and termination fees (2,975).

Altogether, the TIO received 132,387 complaints throughout the year, representing a year-on-year fall of 21 percent. However, for the first time, complaints relating to internet services exceeded those of mobile services, with 43,164 complaints – or 32.6 percent – and 40,103 complaints, respectively.

Complaints relating to services delivered via the NBN comprised a large portion of the total regarding internet services. According to the report, 23,362 complaints were recorded in FY2018-19 about service quality on the NBN. Complaints increased from 2.1 per 1,000 premises on the network in the first half of the year to 2.5 per 1,000 in the second half of the year.

Services delivered over the NBN were the subject of 48.2 percent of complaints about service quality during the 12-month period. By comparison, 40.4 percent of such complaints revolved around services delivered via other networks. Mobile networks accounted for 11.3 percent of complaints of this nature.

Meanwhile, 11,635 complaints were recorded in FY2018-19 about changing providers or establishing a connection to the NBN. Complaints increased from 6.7 per 1,000 premises added in the first half of the year, to 8.6 in the second half of the 12-month period.

Indeed, 56.4 percent of all complaints relating to connection and changing providers were about services delivered over the NBN. However, this comes as little surprise, given that, as the national broadband wholesaler draws closer to the completion of its rollout, more end consumers are being connected to the network.

“With transition to the NBN, providers offered a range of new products and services. As a result, we saw a new range of complaints and enquiries from consumers navigating the changed environment. The increase in complaints about internet services is one example of this,” the TIO report stated.

By comparison, such complaints involving services delivered via other networks accounted for 30.6 percent of the total, while mobile network services were at the centre of 13 percent of complaints about connection or changing providers.

Unsurprisingly, the country’s largest telecommunications player, Telstra, claimed the lion’s share of complaints, accounting for roughly 50.2 percent, although it should be noted that the company enjoyed a 19.5 percent fall in complaints from the previous year’s tally of 82,528.

Optus, as the country’s second largest telco, came in second, with 23.9 percent of the total. Like Telstra, Optus saw a fall in complaints against its name, enjoying a 22.2 decrease, year-on-year. Optus was followed by Vodafone, iiNet and TPG Internet, with 5.1 percent of the total, 4.3 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively. All experienced a year-on-year decrease.

“We are pleased to see that complaints decreased in every state, and for all of the providers listed in the report,” said John Stanton, CEO of telecommunications industry body, the Communications Alliance.

“There has been significant work over the past two years by Industry to improve the customer experience, including – but certainly not limited to – NBN Co and RSPs [retail service providers] achieving better communication and coordination for consumers and businesses as they migrate services to NBN-based networks,” he said.

Australia’s peak mobile telecoms body welcomes Federal Government 5G inquiry

The peak national body representing Australia’s mobile telecommunications industry, The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), has welcomed the announcement by the Federal Government of a Parliamentary Inquiry into 5G.

Responding to the announcement that the Committee’s remit will cover the capability, capacity and rollout of 5G as well as the application of 5G, including use cases for enterprise and government, AMTA CEO Chris Althaus said the Association wished to contribute to a thorough examination of the implications of 5G technology from all perspectives.

“As the 5G evolution continues, it is critical that Government and society alike understand the magnitude of the 5G opportunity, and its relevance and benefit to all sectors of our economy and society,” he said.

“The mobile industry currently contributes nearly A$23 billion of Australia’s GDP, and the productivity benefits enabled by mobile applications and services are forecast to boost the economy by A$65 billion in 2023; equivalent to 3.1% GDP.”

While Althaus emphasised that businesses and society more broadly could expect to see considerable opportunity and progress through faster download speeds and improved connectivity through advances in The Internet of  Things and other new technologies, he acknowledged that “some questions and concerns exist within the community in relation to 5G and, to that end, we are committed to raising awareness and understanding around credible research to ensure public confidence in the safety of 5G mobile networks.”

“AMTA looks forward to contributing to that discussion further by providing information to, and potentially appearing before, the recently announced Parliamentary Inquiry,” Althaus said.

Oceania beats North America, Europe on mobile experience, while Australia outflanks NZ in global ranking

Australia has taken over New Zealand reaching first place for overall mobile experience within Oceania, according to crowdsourced mobile data firm Tutela’s inaugural annual Global Mobile Experience report.

Australia finished in 12th place worldwide with 83.9% of tests meeting the Excellent Consistent Quality thresholds, Tutela’s metric that is representative of intensive use-cases like 1080p video streaming, HD group video calling or multiplayer online gaming. New Zealand was in 26th place with 77.1% of tests meeting the thresholds, with both countries finishing above other developed nations like the United States and the UK.

As a continent, Oceania took first place, with the highest Excellent and Core Consistent Quality taken across the continent. Core Consistent Quality represents common use-cases like streaming Netflix or YouTube in standard definition or making VOIP calls

Other key findings included:

  • In the global country rankings, Japan came top of the leaderboard with the highest level of Excellent Consistent Quality, while Norway (which came second for Excellent Consistent Quality by just 0.1%) came top for Core Consistent Quality.

  • By operator, LG U+ in South Korea was the world’s best mobile network, as measured by Excellent Consistent Quality. Telenor in Norway delivered the highest Core Consistent Quality, and came in second for Excellent Consistent Quality by just 1.2%.

Tom Luke, VP at Tutela commented “Our results come at a time when the UK telecoms industry is laser-focused on the deployment of 5G. Whilst the next generation of wireless technology will be a vital component of future networks, operators need to ensure that investments continue to be made in existing 4G networks to keep up with the rest of the world.”

Luke noted the growing importance of HD video, with 1080p smartphone screens now being the most common and new devices like the iPhone 11 making HD viewing the expectation for many users. “As other high intensity uses grow in popularity, meeting these higher levels of network quality and consistency will be ever more important for delighting mobile users in an increasingly competitive industry,” he said.

The Tutela report is based on about 170 million speed tests from some 60 million unique iOS and Android devices in the three months between 1st May 2019 and 1st August 2019.

Aborted mobile rollout leaves A$237m dent in TPG financials

TPG Telecom’s (ASX:TPM) aborted mobile network rollout plans have hit the telecommunications provider’s finances for the year to the tune of A$236.8 million.

The publicly-listed telco halted its mobile network rollout in January after the Australian Government banned the use of equipment made by Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei – slated to be a key equipment supplier for the network – in Australian 5G networks.

In its preliminary financial report for the year ending July 2019, published on 5 September, TPG told shareholders that its decision to halt the rollout of its mobile network result in an impairment expense of $A236.8 million.

The scrapped rollout also led to an increase in amortisaton and interest expense related to mobile spectrum licences it bought to enable its mobile play, the company said.

The company’s results were also impacted by A$9 million in one-off transaction costs associated with its planned merger with Vodafone Hutchison Australia, which has been put on ice by the Australian competition watchdog.

On 30 August last year, TPG and Vodafone Hutchison Australia entered into an agreement to merge their two businesses and establish a combined entity that would boast both TPG’s fixed line infrastructure and Vodafone Australia’s mobile network.

However, the move was opposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). TPG and Vodafone Australia subsequently launched legal proceedings in the Federal Court in a bid to have the decision reversed.

The case is set to be heard in the Federal Court from 10 September and wrap up within three weeks of that date. If the Court sides with TPG and Vodafone Australia, and the merger does eventually go ahead, the merged group will be listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and renamed TPG Telecom Limited.

These factors, among others, contributed to a 56 percent tumble in TPG’s profit for the year, to A$175 million. The company’s preliminary reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), meanwhile, came to $572.6 million, well short of the $A826.7 million it notched up the prior year.

However, TPG saw only a relatively minor 0.7 percent drop in revenue during the period, to nearly A$2.5 billion, although the company said that EBITDA continued to be adversely impacted by the loss of margin as DSL and home phone customers migrate to low margin National Broadband Network (NBN) services.

The effects of the NBN rollout are set to be felt for at least another year, with TPG telling shareholders that its 2020 financial year is expected to be the year that suffers the greatest impact from customer migration to the NBN. Indeed, the combined impact from residential DSL and home phone customers migrating to the NBN is expected to be around $85 million for the group.

TPG said that the annualisation of the deterioration of profitability of existing NBN customers experienced in the second half of the company’s 2019 financial year as a result of increased NBN wholesale cost per user is forecast to create a further NBN headwind for FY20 of approximately A$25 million.

It is anticipated that, by the end of FY20, TPG will have less than 15 percent of its residential broadband customer base remaining on ADSL, as more customers migrate to the NBN.

“Operating cost efficiency programs across the Group are expected to continue to deliver savings and another of growth is forecast for the Group’s Corporate Division but, in this peak year of NBN headwinds, organic growth for FY20 is not expected to be sufficient to offset the headwinds,” the company told shareholders.

Macquarie Telecom to offer Apple mobility products, services to Australian mid-market businesses


Macquarie Telecom is set to target Australian mid-market enterprises with a range of mobility offerings, following what the telco tipped as “a landmark deal with Apple.

Macquarie Telecom said it will offer both bespoke and off-the-shelf iOS apps for business with world-class products like iPhone and iPad.

“This offering will help mid-sized businesses in Australia experience the power and value of Apple,” said Luke Clifton, Group Executive, Macquarie Telecom. “We’re backing the best devices for business coupled with native apps that will see our customers become more mobile, increase productivity and solve more business problems.”

The offering will initially focus on the delivery of core Apple products and business apps, before expanding to deliver a device enrolment program integrated with Apple Business Manager, in order to streamline the on-boarding process for customers.

“We’re aligning with the best technology providers to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” added Clifton. “Mobility used to be an afterthought, but that is changing as enterprises’ needs change. This move will see business mobility become a business-leading area of our company.”

“We’re developing relationships and building our business in a way that improves customer service, creates more local jobs and helps businesses innovate,” he said.

Apple devices will be available within Macquarie’s portfolio from 23 August 2019.