Saturday, July 31, 2010

Australia - Regulator has fined Telstra AUD 18.5M for blocking competitors from use of local exchanges

[business week] Australia's largest telephone company was fined 18.5 million Australian dollars ($16.6 million) Wednesday for blocking broadband Internet competitors from using its local exchanges.

Telstra was taken to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for breaches that occurred between January 2006 and February 2008.

Once a government owned monopoly, the company controls Australia's only nationwide copper wire telephone network. In many areas, competitors need to install equipment in Telstra's telephone exchanges to be able to offer Internet services that piggyback on the copper wires.

The corporate watchdog had demanded a AU$40 million fine. But Justice John Middleton of the Federal Court of Australia ruled that Telstra had not been deliberately anticompetitive.

He said those employees who denied the access were either not properly trained about access obligations or failed to comply with their training.

"In most cases Telstra staff did not understand their responsibilities or roles within Telstra," Middleton said. "I am not satisfied, however, that Telstra has demonstrated any remorse, nor that it appreciates the seriousness of its conduct."

Telstra admitted to 27 breaches of the Telecommunications Act during the court case.

Australian telco fined for blocking competition

Australia - Internet ranking is 50th fastest globally, NZ was 42nd

[it news] Akamai's latest State of the Internet was a shot in the arm for supporters of the National Broadband Network, reporting that Australia was in the bottom half of nations in the Asia-Pacific for broadband speeds and slower than neighbour New Zealand.

The content-distribution service Akamai rated Australia, with an average connection speed of 2.6Mbps at 50th fastest broadband nation in the world; New Zealand with an average speed of 2.9Mbps was 42nd.

Russia was only slightly slower than Australia, recording an average speed of 2.1Mbps.

But Akamai, the company known for data centres that shunted internet traffic for suchqueen high-profile events as the World Cup and Mars Pathfinder missions, awarded Australia most-improved in the region with average broadband speeds lifting 19 percent in the quarter while most countries' performances were static or diminished.

South Korea was again the fastest on the planet with an average and maximum speeds of 12Mbps and 32.7Mbps, respectively.

It was followed by Hong Kong with an average speed of 9Mbps and Japan (7.8Mbps). The US was 16th globally with average speeds of 4.7Mbps.

Australia scores a C on Akamai broadband report card

India - Govt has amended licences on security grounds to require full details of all network equipment

[business standard] In view of national security concerns, the Directorate of Telecommunications (DoT) has made it mandatory for equipment suppliers to share design, development and supply chain details, besides allowing inspection of their manufacturing facility by the Indian government or concerned certification agencies.

According to the amendments to the telecom licence agreement — the unified access service license (UASL) — the equipment providers have to give access to their hardware and software for examination at the time of procurement of equipment. The process would be repeated every year and an inspection would be carried out every two years.

The software code would be kept in the escrow account in an encrypted form and would be used in case of security emergency.

A penalty of 100 per cent of the contract value would be levied by telecom equipment supplier in case malware/spyware is found in the equipment. Operators would also have to pay a fine of Rs 50 crore for every purchase of equipment in case there is a security breach.

The licensee will also work towards a phased plan to take over the maintenance of the equipment locally — entirely by Indian engineers and dependence on foreign engineers will be minimum or almost nil within a period of two years.

DoT in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs had been working on the amendment to the licence to address security concerns. It had accepted feedback from the industry and all stakeholders.

DoT had in December, last year made it mandatory for telecom service providers to seek security clearance before placing an order for telecom equipment. Despite this, many orders for Chinese equipment manufacturers Huawei and ZTE have been pending with the department since the last six months.

According to the amendments, telecom service providers will also have to form an organisational policy on security and management of their network. The policy will have to be submitted to the government within 30 working days from the date of the amendment to the UASL licence conditions.

DoT amends telecom licence rules

India - Govt is objecting on security grounds to Blackberry e-mail services

[the hindu] Research In Motion, the manufacturers of the BlackBerry phones, has approached the Government seeking a meeting to address security concerns linked to the device.

In a letter to the Department of Telecom, the Canada-based smart phone maker said, “We would like to make an urgent meeting with you in order to explain and clarify the standard manner in which data travels or is transmitted when a Blackberry device is used by a consumer. In simple terms it is no different from how standard data packets currently travel over the network.”

Security agencies had raised concerns about Blackberry devices, Skype services and Gmail because data being transmitted through these networks are highly encrypted. This does not allow the security agencies to snoop into these networks.

The security agencies had asked the Department of Telecom to ask these companies to either ensure that data going through their networks be made available to security agencies in a readable format or face a ban from offering services in India.

But so far, DoT has not directly approached any of these companies. It had earlier asked the Cellular Operators'Association of India (COAI) to get RIM for a meeting.

But when COAI approached RIM, the latter took a view that it will go for a meeting only after getting a direct invitation from DoT.

The basic problem is that the data services being offered by RIM are highly encrypted because of which Indian security agencies are finding it difficult to keep a watch over the content being transmitted through the device.

Similar concerns were raised against Blackberry devices two years ago but the issue was put on the backburner.

BlackBerry makers seek meeting with DoT

UK - Regulator has rejected BT's plan to include pension fund costs in wholesale prices

[telegraph] Ofcom, the communications regulator, on Friday rejected BT's plan to put up the prices it charges rivals to use its nationwide network in order to help drag its pension fund out of the red.

The regulator said there was no "compelling evidence" to justify allowing BT to increase the wholesale prices its Openreach unit charges BSkyB, Cable & Wireless Worldwide (CWW) and TalkTalk.

BT had claimed that it should be able to ask its rivals to help fund extra pension contributions because its pensioners created the network that Sky, CWW and TalkTalk are piggy-backing on.

BT is pumping an extra £525m a year into its pension fund - the UK's largest - in order to reduce the deficit.

In its preliminary ruling, which is unlikely to be changed, Ofcom said allowing BT to recoup the cost of the extra pension payments could unfairly force up the prices paid by businesses and consumers.

Ofcom said any change to the current status quo, in which it takes into account BT's pension costs but not the extra payments, "could lead to fluctuations in wholesale prices which... would potentially, lead to those prices being set at levels which do not accurately reflect the relevant underlying costs".

A source close to BT said the company only expected to collect "tens of millions" of extra cash from the increased price so there would be no "material impact" on its cashflow.

However, John Ralfe, an independent pensions expert hired by BT's rivals to analyse its pension, said: "BT would have been hoping that the Ofcom ruling would be a 'magic bullet' that would mean they could pass on about a third of their deficit to consumers. That is not going to happen now and it is bad news for BT."

TalkTalk and CWW which viciously attacked BT's proposals in March welcomed Ofcom's ruling.

A TalkTalk spokesman said: "Ofcom has rightly recognised that consumers should not bear this surcharge."

Earlier this year CWW said: "BT's efforts to persuade Ofcom that its deficit is in some way an act of God is not supported by the facts."

CWW added that there was "overwhelming" evidence that "BT has been the sole architect of the entire deficit" and claimed that "BT paid its shareholders higher dividends "at the expense of adequately funding its pension scheme".

BT shares slipped 0.3 to 140.7p.

Ofcom will make a final ruling later this year.

BT fails in bid to make rivals plug its £9bn pension deficit

Kenya - Govt calls on telcos to improve quality of services to a minimum thresholds

[xinhuanet] The Kenyan government on Monday called on African telecommunications companies to improve quality of services to make them effective to their consumers.

Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio told a regional telecommunications meeting in Nairobi that despite stiff competition, a majority of operators in many African countries are yet to meet the minimum thresholds for quality.

"As I speak the Communications Commission of Kenya is now carrying out comprehensive benchmark measurement for the four mobile operators following the gazattement of mandatory quality of service parameters that licensees have to meet," the minister told the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) meeting in Nairobi.

He also called on the African ICT groups to be more stringent in vetting equipment that gets into the continent as one way of dealing with electronic waste.

The minister said the provision of quality telecommunication services in a safe environment where participants heard that mobile operators in the continent are yet to meet the minimum threshold of quality of service. "This could be partly ascribed to high rates of service subscription, which have exerted pressure on the mobile network resources of service providers," he said.

Poghisio however pointed out that this calls for regulators to sensitise consumers on the best ways to take advantage of the competitive environment in the telecommunications sector to get value for their money.

One such way, he said, would be to implement mechanisms that would enable the subscriber to switch to another network with minimal inconveniencies.

Kenya urges African telecom firms to improve quality

Africa - Alcatel Lucent has handed control of EaSSy over to shareholders

[business daily africa] Alcatel Lucent, one of the two large undersea fibre optic construction companies, handed over the East African Submarine System (EASSy) to its shareholders last week.

This is nine years after the mooting of the idea of the cable by telecom operators in the region, which was later to be dogged by ownership and operational problems causing major delays in its operationalisation.

As a matter of fact, EASSy was meant to be the first cable on the east coast of Africa, but SEACOM and later TEAMS took advantage of the disagreements in the consortium and rolled out faster.

Meaning both cable systems got to the market earlier and therefore managed to sell their capacity ahead of EASSy, which had a first movers advantage.

With the first mover’s advantage gone, and entering the market a late third, EASSy has a herculean task in selling its capacity especially in Kenya.

They have to come out aggressively and provide a very attractive value proposition to its customers.

The consortium is made up of 21 telecom operators and including Telkom Kenya who are the anchors in Kenya.

EASSy should rethink entry strategy

Mobile - Vodafone's decision to abandon dedicated handsets, should others follow?

[mobile business briefing] Should mobile operators be putting time and resources into the development of devices? Following Vodafone's recent decision to abandon the development of dedicated phones for its 360 suite of mobile Internet services, surely the answer must be ‘no’. Shall we move on?

Not so fast. Japanese mobile operators NTT Docomo and KDDI's deep role in the development of handsets has been a key factor in Japan's global leadership in the adoption of mobile data services and these operators' ability to generate some of the highest ARPUs in the world. Docomo and KDDI have been able to ensure that the devices and services they sell work really well together, creating a good experience for their customers.

Moreover, the success of both the iPod and the iPhone is partly due to Apple's success in creating an intuitive and complete package through its control of both the handset and related services via iTunes and the App Store. RIM's initial success was also due to its tight integration of its devices and push email services.

These were probably the very valid arguments made within Vodafone when it conceived the idea of handsets optimised for its 360 suite, which includes contacts aggregation and back-up services, plus an app store. But Vodafone's announcement earlier this week, in which it said there will be no further development of bespoke Vodafone 360 handsets, appears to have been driven by a more realistic assessment of mobile operators' role in the mobile Internet value chain.

"From now on we will be focusing all efforts on expanding the range of handsets and platforms that support Vodafone 360 and in developing and enhancing the suite of Vodafone 360 services," said Vodafone in a statement Monday.

That is surely the right decision - in the mid-to-high-end of the handset market, in which Vodafone's initial 360 devices were positioned, there is just too much competition and brands such as Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia carry much more weight than Vodafone and the operating system it favoured, LiMo. Better to focus on making 360 services work well with the various versions of Android and Symbian, than to try and shoehorn another platform into a crowded and competitive market.

Indeed, Vodafone's decision to stop making bespoke 360 phones is a major blow to LiMo, the Linux-based handset operating system, which was already struggling for traction, while two other mostly-open operating systems - Android and Symbian - have become much, much better established in the marketplace. LiMo's biggest advantage is the backing of many of the world's leading mobile operators, but that alone clearly isn't sufficient to ensure its success.

Should operators be involved in the devices business?

Brazil - Telefónica has won full control of Vivo, the mobile phone venture with Portugal Telecom

[ny times] Telefónica, the Spanish telecommunications company, has won full control of Vivo, the mobile phone venture it had with Portugal Telecom in Brazil, after raising its bid for a third time, to €7.5 billion, thereby overcoming opposition from the Portuguese government.

The deal, worth about $9.8 billion, was announced Wednesday by the Spanish stock market regulator.

The agreement is expected to end a lengthy tussle between two European telecommunications operators that have come to rely increasingly on earnings from Brazil’s fast-growing mobile market to offset sluggish performances at home.

The corporate dispute had ballooned into a European political issue because of Lisbon’s determination not to allow Portugal Telecom, the country’s flagship operator, to be pushed out of Brazil, where the number of wireless subscribers grew 15 percent last year.

Telefónica will now be paying almost a third more than it initially offered in early May for Portugal Telecom’s 50 percent stake in the holding company that controls Vivo, the leading operator in Brazil.

Last month, the Portuguese government vetoed an increased offer of €7.15 billion. José Sócrates, the Portuguese prime minister, justified the decision by saying that a presence in the lucrative Brazilian market was “strategic and fundamental for the development of Portugal Telecom.”

The government’s veto overrode a vote by Portugal Telecom shareholders in favor of the Spanish company’s offer.

In opposing the sale, the Portuguese government ran afoul of a ruling by the European Union’s highest court; its intervention was also condemned by antitrust officials in Brussels as evidence of protectionism and a violation of the free movement of capital.

The agreement Wednesday is likely to be a relief to investors on both sides, after the Spanish operator had threatened to start what was likely to be a lengthy and costly legal battle to circumvent the Portuguese veto and gain control of Vivo.

“Telefónica is paying more than they would have hoped, but to see a conclusion of the Vivo situation is still good news,” said Luigi Minerva, a telecommunications analyst at HSBC in London.

As it moves out of Vivo, Portugal Telecom is investing in another Brazilian wireless operator, Telemar Norte Leste, also known as Oi. According to securities filings, Portugal Telecom has agreed to pay $4.8 billion for indirect and direct stakes that equal 22.4 percent of Oi, which provides Internet access, mobile, fixed-line and pay-television services.

Telemar also plans to acquire 10 percent of Portugal Telecom, replacing Telefónica as the Portuguese company’s biggest investor.

Oi, based in Rio, had a 20.1 percent share of the Brazilian wireless market in June, while Vivo, the leader in the market, had 30.2 percent, according to the Brazilian telecommunications regulator.

Vivo reported strong earnings on Wednesday, with its number of clients increasing 20 percent in the second quarter from the year earlier, to 56 million. Net income rose 30 percent, to 236 million reals, or $134 million, Bloomberg News reported from London.

Telefónica shares rose 0.7 percent Wednesday, while Portugal Telecom jumped 2.8 percent. Shares of Banco Espirito Santo climbed 3.6 percent; the bank is the largest shareholder in Portugal Telecom, with a stake of 8 percent, and had voted for the earlier bid.

Telefónica’s revenue in Spain fell 3.9 percent in the first quarter, while revenue from Brazil and its other Latin American businesses rose 4.2 percent. A similar performance had unfolded for Portugal Telecom, whose domestic wireless revenue fell 6.5 percent in the first quarter while revenue from its Brazilian wireless business rose 26 percent.

Telefónica Wins Full Control of Brazil Phone Venture

Canada - telecommunications industry represents some 4.6% of gross domestic product or $41 billion

[teleclick] Canadian telecommunications carriers generated revenue of $41 billion in 2009, a 1.8% increase from 2008, despite the recession that dominated the early part of the year.

“The wireless and internet sectors posted positive results, while revenues for long-distance and local residential telephone services continued to decline,” noted Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, in a news release.

Established telecom carriers such as Telus and Bell raked in $18.1 billion, accounting for 44% of the industry total, while cable companies such as Shaw and Rogers increased their share of the pie, capturing a 27% share of residential telephone revenue and 57% of broadband internet sales.

As a whole, the telecommunications industry represents some 4.6% of Canada’s gross domestic product.

Canadian Telecom Industry Generates $41-Billion in 2009

South Africa - Telkom Chairman has dismissed allegations that he interfered in operational matters

[business day] TELKOM chairman Jeff Molobela has dismissed allegations that he had interfered in operational matters, which is said to have driven CEO Reuben September and chief financial officer Peter Nelson to resign recently.

Yesterday, Mr Molobela denied claims that he had ignored corporate governance and overstepped his mandate by meddling in Telkom’s day-to-day activities .

Last month, Mr September accused Mr Molobela of transgressing the boundaries between chairman and CEO, compromising independence, corporate governance rules and investor expectations. He described the board’s performance as “suboptimal”.

Mr Nelson also alluded to the board’s interference as the reason for his resignation.

The board has hired forensic firm KPMG to investigate Mr September’s allegations and the report is expected to be handed to Telkom in the next few weeks.

According to Telkom insiders, Mr Nelson also quit because he wanted the loss-making Nigerian business Multi-Links sold. Telkom has written off goodwill of R5,6bn because of Multi-Links losses.

When he joined Telkom in November, Mr Molobela said the board appointed a task team to investigate the problems at Multi- Links and propose a turnaround. But Telkom management “was not positively disposed” to the idea and viewed it as a micromanagement problem.

According to Mr Molobela, management proposed a merger of Multi-Links and Nigerian company Starcomms, which the board rejected. Telkom was to own 39% in the merged entity. But Starcomms had debt of about 120m, mounting legal woes and a merger would have increased Telkom’s risk exposure rather than reduce it, said Mr Molobela.

“Proposing a merger of Multi- Links with Starcomms was the most irresponsible move. It didn’t make sense,” he said.

Telkom has received two buyout offers for Multi-Links. However, the focus would be on turning around the business, as Multi- Links still presented an opportunity. Telkom was still weighing its options on how to further reduce the risks, Mr Molobela said.

Mr Molobela was appointed by the government, which has a 39% stake in Telkom, on a one-year contract and has been accused of being influenced by it.

He has said having the government as a majority shareholder did not mean the board would “rubber-stamp” its wishes. But it has the right to appoint board members, the chairman and CEO. “Every shareholder has the right to try and influence … but it’s really up to the board. If government wants to influence (appointing a CEO), we will ensure that interference is kept as little as possible.”

Mr Molobela said the board had started to look for a new CEO, also internationally. Acting CEO Jeffrey Hedberg would also be considered for the job, he said.

Mr Hedberg, who three weeks ago was still the MD of Multi- Links, has unveiled a strategy that includes a mobile plan, aggressively driving broadband services and exploiting bundled services. There would be greater focus on Telkom’s business in SA, the source of most of its revenue.

Telkom chair rejects claims of meddling

Thailand - Govt proposing TOT and CAT retain their roles and not switch to retail commercial activities

[bangkokpost] A government committee has proposed that TOT Plc and CAT Telecom serve as national 3G operators and end their retail commercial roles in order to not compete with private operators.

The state telecom enterprises could set up new subsidiaries to operate businesses on a wholesale basis. The government must hold less than 49% in the non-consolidated units, said one of the seven members of the committee chaired by Juti Krairiksh, the Information and Communications Technology minister.

The committee has 30 days to recommend a strategy for third-generation mobile broadband services and finalise details on the Finance Ministry's proposal to terminate concessions.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij has proposed ending the 2G concessions of AIS, DTAC and True Move and giving them 15-year licences to create fair competition with the 3G network, as well as minimising duplicate investment by 30-40%. Operators would pay 12.5% of their revenues as a licence fee.

Having a national 3G operator would provide competitive prices for operators as they could cut duplicate investment costs and share fibre optic infrastructure, cell sites and switching equipment, which could save them 10 billion baht each, said a committee source.

TOT and CAT, meanwhile, could receive rental fees from both 2G and 3G networks to offset declining revenues when existing revenue-sharing concessions end, the source said.

He said the national operator model would encourage a fair 3G marketplace for operators and the two state agencies.

However, he said it was the duty of the Finance Ministry to create a national operator with transparency, especially in middle organisation, which could be trusted by all operators as well as the government.

The committee now needs to work out details of evaluating all assets of the three mobile operators on a platform-by-platform basis to estimate the rental fees for each operator.

The source claimed that mobile operators had intentionally concealed some assets that needed to be transferred to the state under the build-transfer-operate contracts. They have been switching some assets into affiliates in a rental basis to pave the way for future use after their concession end, he said.

National 3G operator role proposed for TOT and CAT

South Africa - Industry is increasingly concerned about the disarray in Department of Communications

[itweb] Frustration in the telecoms industry is fast rising, following the Department of Communication's (DOC) unexpected axing of director-general (DG) Mamodupi Mohlala.

Industry bodies have lashed out, saying the situation between communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda and his DG is of serious concern, but only adds to the DOC's long history of erratic regulation, unclear policy direction and distinct lack of clear leadership.

News of the DG's axing came late on Friday afternoon, stunning the telecoms industry.

When reports first surfaced of a strained relationship between the minister and Mohlala, the department quickly released a statement denying the accusations. At the time, the DOC noted that Mohlala was on sick leave and strongly denied any tension between the two.

However, Nyanda fired the DG with immediate effect, saying the trust between the two had broken down. But Mohlala will not go down without a fight – yesterday she announced that she would fight her dismissal in court.

Industry concerns

Secretary general of the Black IT Forum Motse Mfuleni has raised his concerns about the situation, saying that, while the body respects the minister's decision, the controversy surrounding the situation cannot be ignored.

He points to allegations that the axing of the DG is related to her voicing concerns that the minister was getting involved in the department's procurement process. Mfuleni says this creates a situation within the department where staff will not want to raise concerns about the minister's behaviour in fear of being fired.

More worrying, he notes, is the effect of this instability on industry. He argues that the minister's hasty decision to fire Mohlala is not sensitive to industry's efforts to meet regulatory and transformation objectives.

Mfuleni is concerned that issues relating to the dumping of the spectrum auction, the sensitive SABC Bill and concerns around interconnect regulations, will lie in limbo while the DOC tries to gain some stability.

Furthermore, industry will now have to develop a new relationship with acting DG Harold Wesso, which will take time to achieve. This process will have to be repeated again when a permanent DG is appointed.
Click here

Telecoms companies MWeb, Vox Telecom, ECN, and Altech declined to, or could not be reached for comment. However, Internet Solutions MD Derek Wilcocks believes the situation is not as bad as it seems.

“Any conflict within a governmental function is of concern to the industry governed. With respect to the current situation within the DOC, this is an internal matter within the DOC, and to date IS has not observed any negative impact on the legislative, regulatory or other functions of the DOC in the market.

“We hope that this situation will be resolved in the shortest possible time and that we will see the DOC restored to its full executive complement, so the DOC can continue to execute on the accelerated pace of regulatory progress and reform, which we have seen over the past few months,” says Wilcocks.

Point of indifference

The relationship breakdown between the minister and the DG is not the first sign of instability to come out of the DOC, leaving some indifferent about the latest controversy.

Ant Brooks, GM of the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), argues this just adds to the view that the communications sector in SA has a long history of erratic regulation, unclear policy direction and a distinct lack of clear leadership from government.

“While there have certainly been some improvements in this regard over the last year or so, the current situation seems indicative that there are still some very serious problems which need to be urgently addressed,” he notes.

Brooks says concern over whether the DOC's instability will influence regulatory objectives must be viewed in the context of whether there has really been any recent regulatory objectives set by the DOC that would be negatively impacted.

“To pick just one example, last year the DOC announced it would undertake a comprehensive audit of frequency spectrum, and even issued a tender for consultants to do this work. The initial report on this was to have been released at the end of March 2010.

“To date, despite several letters from ISPA asking for feedback on the status of this audit, there has been a deafening silence from the DOC. Given that availability of spectrum is one of the most pressing concerns for the communications industry, this lack of progress (or even feedback on progress) is highly problematic,” he argues.

“Perhaps if the DOC had been more effective at meeting its own goals over the last year, there would be more reason for concern regarding the leadership problems. Unfortunately, given the DOC's relatively poor track record thus far, a cynical view is that it is hard to imagine the situation getting much worse,” he continues.

“Having expressed that cynical view, perhaps it is worth now optimistically suggesting that the current situation represents a good opportunity for government to get the DOC back on track, by ensuring that effective leadership is put in place, so that the DOC is able to fulfil some of the policy functions that it has been executing only rather poorly thus far,” concludes Brooks.

DOC instability fuels frustration

South Africa - Minister instructed DG to suspect tenders in contravention of the law

[itweb] Communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda had issued instructions to dismissed Department of Communications (DOC) director general Mamodupi Mohlala to suspend all tenders, according to Mohlala's affidavit.

Mohlala, yesterday, filed an urgent application with the Labour Court to have her dismissal overturned on grounds of legality and unfairness, that she be allowed to resume her duties immediately, an that the minister had no authority to dismiss her.

An annexure to her founding affidavit is a letter from Alfred Mashishi, Nyanda's chief-of-staff, instructing Mohlala to suspend a range of tenders including those for the development of remuneration guidelines of non-executive directors of SA Post Office, Sentech, SABC and Icasa; the appointment of service providers to investigate suspected fraud from the forgery of official signatures with regards to the staged NEPAD meeting from 4 to 7 May; appointment of a service provider to advise the department on Telkom's BEE status, and others.

The instructions to suspend the tenders, Mohlala alleges, were issued to her first via SMS and then the letter stating “Listed tenders but limited to these only”, was sent. However, Mohlala says in her affidavit that there was a typographical error and that the headline should have included the word “not” and so it meant other tenders had to be suspended too.

Nyanda issued a statement on 15 July denying that he was involved in the issuing or adjudication of tenders.

Mohlala claims in her affidavit that in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, it was she, as director general and the department's accounting officer, who had the authority and responsibility in relation to procurement processes.

Attached to Mohlala's affidavit is a letter sent to her by Nyanda saying that the Auditor General had advised all ministers to provide oversight on financial matters.

“It is on this basis that you were instructed to suspend the tenders issued only until I had spoken to you about them. It was not an instruction to permanently suspend any tender process and/or delay any such processes for an unreasonable time, and I deny that any such conduct in any way constitutes any form of unfair labour practice,” Nyanda states in that letter.

Nyanda instructed Mohlala to suspend tenders

South Africa - Telkom has a five-point strategy for its turnaround including broadband and repositioning in Nigeria

[itweb] Ailing fixed-line operator Telkom may be set for recovery if acting CEO Jeffrey Hedberg's five-point strategy is successful.

At first glance, the plan of action may appear timid, but industry insiders describe it as succinct, meaningful and valid.

Telkom has been in a slump after reporting just more than flat revenue growth at its last financial results; a situation that was further compounded by an exodus of top talent, including CEO Reuben September and CFO Peter Nelson.

But Hedberg, who has been famed as a turnaround specialist, yesterday stated that Telkom would no longer be defined by a set of individuals, but as a team. He added that his focus for the company's turnaround would be driven by five guiding principles.

Plan of action

The first marker in Hedberg's plan includes a focus on leadership and organisation. He says the company's focus will be on driving clarity and communication to achieve better alignment throughout Telkom.

Hedberg will prioritise a revival of culture throughout Telkom and develop a plan to recruit the best people into the company.

But Chris Gilmour, Absa Investments analyst, says Telkom will struggle to attract good people with all the controversy surrounding the recent departures of the CEO and CFO. Telkom will have to pay up to attract talent and prospective candidates will demand watertight contracts over a period of no less than three years, he predicts.

Hedberg explained that these objectives would be guided by transparency and encouragement to challenge the status quo.

Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) and cash flow improvement is the second key point of Hedberg's strategy. He said Telkom's cost-cutting initiatives were on track, but the company would also be focused on increasing revenue going forward.
Click here

The imminent launch of Telkom Mobile is Hedberg's third priority. He noted that he sees great potential in getting the operation off the ground and offering bundled fixed and mobile offerings.

The fourth point of Hedberg's strategy was his emphasis on the operator's broadband offering. He noted that Telkom's broadband offerings will be one of the company's key differentiators going forward, not only with ADSL, but also in future mobile broadband offerings.

Lastly, Hedberg acknowledged that he would be focused on the repositioning of Multi-Links. Telkom initially invested in the Nigerian company in 2007, but the unit has been a disappointment since it joined the Telkom stable. So far, Telkom has written down Multi-Links by R5.6 billion, which is a third more than the company paid for the Nigerian operator.

Earlier this year, Telkom hinted that it may be exiting the failing operation, but Hedberg noted yesterday that would lead to a case of buying in high and selling low. Now his strategy includes holding onto its loss-making subsidiary.

Hedberg outlines Telkom turnaround plan

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lebanon - Minister has announced plans for national backbone networks worth USD 60 M

[broadbandworld forum] Lebanon's Minister for Telecoms, Charbel Nahhas, has announced a plan to install fibre-optic networks and advanced broadband services across the country within the next 18 months, according to reports in local newspaper The Daily Star.

Mr. Nahhas is quoted as saying that the project will cost US$ 60mn and will involve the installation of 710km of phone wires as well as 2,750km of fibre-optic cables. The deadline for completion of this phase is said to be 16 months from now, and the Ministry for Telecommunications will launch a tender before the end of the month (July 2010).

A second phase of the project will see DWDM equipment installed in the new network. This second phase is expected to cost US$ 20mn, with the tender to be launched in September 2010.

A third phase of the project will see 100 active cabinets set up to link subscribers to the network, delivering speeds of up to 15 Mbps, at a cost of US$ 2.5mn. Finally, the fourth phase of the project will see 1,000 active cabinets set up, covering 75% of the population and costing US$ 25mn.

Mr. Nahhas is also quoted as saying that the Lebanese government is keen to liberalise the country's broadband sector and expand the use of Internet and other related services in the country: “This new technology which transfers data in the speed of light will open new doors for the use of the Internet in houses, offices and companies," he said. "It will also open the door widely [for] economic development in every part of the country."

Finally, the minister is also quoted as saying that the project could facilitate the deployment of IPTV services in the country.

Lebanese government unveils national broadband plan

UK - O2 (telefonica) is investigating roaming charges for customers who had turned off data roaming on Apple iPhone

[topnews] O2 probing iPhone hefty roaming bills problem

UK mobile phone operator O2 is probing why iPhone users have been facing hefty roaming bills despite turning off data roaming while abroad.

A spokesperson for O2 acknowledged the glitch, and assured they already had launched an investigation into the matter. The manufacturer of popular iPhones has also been briefed about the problem.

The UK iPhone users have been complaining that were slapped with hefty roaming bills despite following all the necessary steps to avoid the data charges, such as turning the data roaming facility off while out of country.

It is believed that the problem emerged due to a glitch in the phone’s software. The problem has reportedly affected iPhones on all networks, but most of the reported cases have being coming from O2 customers.

O2 has reportedly started making refunds to customers who have fallen victim to unfairly bulky roaming bills.

The new glitch could hit Apple's reputation further down as company’s new iPhone 4 has already been dogged by the so-called Death Grip signal problem.

O2 probing iPhone hefty roaming bills problem

IBM - The EC has opened two inquiries into alleged abuse of dominance in mainframe computer markets

[bbc] The European Commission has launched two competition inquiries to study whether IBM has abused its dominant position in mainframe computers.

One probe follows complaints by two software makers, T3 and Turbo Hercules.

The study will examine whether IBM has put obstacles in place that prevent competitors from operating freely. IBM says the claims have no merit.

The other inquiry, launched by the Commission itself, will look at IBM's relations with maintenance suppliers

IBM faces two competition probes

Canada - Regulator is consulting on definition of basic telephone service in a digital age

[teleclick] The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is seeking public input on the definition of “basic telephone service,” and what it should encompass in a digital age.

As of now, “basic” service refers to a landline phone with long distance and voicemail, as well as access to a telephone directory and emergency services. In the future, the CRTC is considering adding high-speed internet access to this category.

The definition of “basic” services is significant because it affects the obligations of carriers, as well the tax treatment of telecommunications services.

Until August 20, the CRTC is holding an online consultation on the matter. During the fall, it plans to hold a number of public hearings.

CRTC Request Public Input on Definition of “Basic” Phone Service

Europe - EC has provided EUR 90 M for Future Internet PPP for innovative applications

[ec] The EU is investing in the future of the Internet to ensure it will be able to support increasing demands from citizens, businesses and governments. The European Commission today made available €90 million under the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership.

"Ultra fast internet holds the key to delivering sustainable economic and social benefits" Commissioner Neelie Kroes

Researchers from all parts of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector can apply for funding for projects in 2011. This research will focus on innovative internet applications to make infrastructures like health systems, energy grids or traffic management systems 'smart'.

The €90 million are part of the €300 million from the EU research framework programme (FP7) that will be provided for this purpose over 2011-2013 (see IP/10/966 and MEMO/10/339) – with a further €300 million coming from industry. This complements the Commission's €200 million yearly ICT support to ongoing research for internet technology. Under the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200 ), the Commission has committed to maintain the pace of yearly increases of the ICT research budget until 2013. The Digital Agenda also invites EU Member States to double annual total public spending on ICT research by 2020 to €11 billion.

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, said: "Ultra fast internet holds the key to delivering sustainable economic and social benefits. Europe and its businesses should seize the opportunity to develop new technologies and applications that can increase tremendously the economic and social efficiency of processes we use every day."

Internet data traffic is today growing by 60% every year. We already rely on the Internet to deliver many essential services. In the coming years we will depend on it for delivering a whole range of new services supporting policy objectives in climate change, mobility, energy saving, healthcare, governance etc.

The aim of the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership is to improve key ICT infrastructures of Europe's economy and society by making them better able to process massive amounts of data coming from different sources. It should also render the Internet more reliable and secure to allow real time information to be processed into real time services.

Under the Future Internet Public-Private Partnership, €90 million of funding is available from the EU for 2011, with a further €210 million in 2012-2013. EU funding for the Future Internet PPP will go to strategic projects that link industry sectors across Europe to leverage advanced internet infrastructure and build innovative services. The call published today for 2011 seeks innovative projects integrating different industries to build on previous achievements and use the strengths of the public sector.

The Future Internet PPP aims to close the gap between research and innovation, and between technology supply and the user demand. To receive financial support, projects have to show commitment to the bigger picture. Phase one looks at integrating the underlying technology and developing use case scenarios; phase two looks at making available the future internet core platform, large scale trials and pilots; and phase three massively broadens the scope to large-scale trials with real applications. SMEs and user-driven innovation are expected to play a key role.

Until now, EU research funding in this field has been split between many different projects. The Future Internet PPP will focus the combined efforts of the European Commission, Member States and industry on a few innovation flagship projects to make Europe a leader in the research and roll-out of future innovative internet technologies needed to 'smarten up' infrastructures in areas affecting daily life like health, transport, and energy.

The Future Internet public-private partnership fits into the EU2020 strategy that sets out for a social market economy with a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The public-private partnership is part of the Digital Agenda for Europe's efforts to deliver economic benefits from fast and ultrafast internet and interoperable applications. The PPP aims to support an internet-enabled service economy using so-called 'cloud computing' (i.e. computer services delivered over the internet) and a wealth of real world data.

Examples of existing EU smart network research

Smart systems are already being piloted in regions and cities throughout Europe. For example, the city of Santander, together with Telefonica, is establishing "Smart Santander", a unique city-scale experimental research facility that supports internet applications and services for a smart city. More than 20,000 sensors and objects such as cameras will be connected to the internet for testing new ideas and new services for managing traffic, energy consumption and other services. This project has received €6 million from the EU and an extra €4 million from private investors.

The SmartTouch project in Finland is the EU's largest project on testing Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, a wireless communication technology which enables data to be exchanged between devices over about a 10 centimeter distance. The project involved partners from different fields: technology and service producers, researchers and organizations setting up first pilots. Two years after the start of the project, the basis of NFC-enabled services has been laid. In addition to the usual payment and ticketing services, SmartTouch partners have also tackled access control, infotainment and entertainment services.

ICiNG, the Innovative Cities of the Next Generation, creates an integrating city that remains sensitive to the needs of its citizens to continuously improve their quality of life. The ICiNG city has a network of environmental sensors and points of interaction for the mobile devices of its citizens which leads to a reduction in response time of the public services.

The Commission wants governments and industry to work together so that European research focuses further on key internet technologies and their fast application to daily life. The Commission, as shown in the examples, is already funding research that is making the internet itself smarter, with €650 million invested in nearly 100 European projects under its ICT research programme for 2007-2013.

€90 million available for research in future internet to make Europe's systems smart and efficient

Europe - EC has published the call for proposals for EUR 1.2 Bn for key ICT challenges

[ec] Today, the European Commission published calls for proposals that will result in projects worth €1.2 billion to be launched in 2011.

These projects will help mobilise the necessary resources around key ICT research challenges and objectives. They notably feature a set of Public Private Partnerships: the 'Future Internet' Partnership focuses on the development of open network and service platforms; the three Partnerships 'ICT for Energy Efficient Buildings', 'ICT for the Fully Electric Vehicle' and 'ICT for Factories of the Future' will make sure that ICT play their full part in delivering smart and sustainable growth as set out in the Europe 2020 strategy.

Under the Digital Agenda for Europe the Commission has committed to maintain the pace of yearly increases of the ICT research budget. It has also invited EU Member States to double total annual public spending on ICT research by 2020, to €11 billion per year.

With a budget that supports more than 15000 researchers every year, ICT research projects funded from the EU's Seventh Framework programme (FP7) have an increasingly essential role in reinforcing Europe's underlying innovation capacity, helping industry to conduct ambitious and groundbreaking research which stimulates economic growth.

This funding increase for ICT research is in line with the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200), the EU's flagship policy programme, which calls for doubling investments through strategic public-private partnerships, more extensive use of pre-commercial procurement, and by using structural funds for research and innovation. The increase to €1.2 billion for 2011 is the first significant increase for EU ICT research in more than 10 years.

The Commission is doubling its financing for the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) of the European Economic Recovery Plan. It is also launching a 'Future Internet' Partnership with a budget for 2011-2013 of €300 million to advance Europe’s industrial know-how in Internet technologies and systems and to support the emergence of Future Internet-enhanced applications of public relevance.

This work programme provides major opportunities for innovative SMEs. They are very present notably in areas of high potential growth such as photonics, embedded systems, and ICT for health and ageing. Significant opportunities also exist for large SME involvement in areas focusing on the development of open platforms for digital content and service provision and delivery.

EU earmarks €1.2 billion for groundbreaking ICT research in 2011

Africa - Forecast of broadband rising from 3.2% to 6.8%, due to improved undersea cables and last mile networks

[subtelforum] Driven by improvements in the terrestrial backbones and last-mile networks, the new undersea cables surrounding Africa will boost the broadband penetration rate from 3.2 percent in 2010 to 6.8 percent in 2015, according to a new report from Pyramid Research.

New Undersea Cables Help Boost Africa’s Broadband Prospects analyzes the factors related to the new undersea cables that will be instrumental in the growth of broadband adoption and revenue in Africa, specifically how variations in the state of domestic terrestrial networks in the regions where these cables land can impact potential operator revenue and broadband penetration rates among end users. It examines the effects of competition, regulations, and pricing strategies across the undersea cable suppliers as they enable small or large operators/service providers and create different market dynamics. The 17-page report provides scenarios of how the AME markets can grow in terms of broadband adoption and revenue under different prices and different market reactions to price reductions. Download an excerpt here: Purchase the report here: .

New undersea cables will drive the growth of total broadband users in Africa from 40 million in 2010 to 92 million in 2015 at a CAGR of 18 percent, while revenue will increase at a CAGR of 16 percent in the same period to US$20 billion, notes Kerem Arsal, Analyst at Pyramid Research, and author of this report. During the forecast period, WiMax will take center stage in the coverage for the last-mile access and its access lines. “We predict that WiMax will grow at a CAGR of 30 percent between 2010 and 2015; we also foresee similar trends in mobile broadband, particularly in the data cards/modems,” says Arsal.

“Many African telecom markets have the potential to improve their poor broadband penetration rates and limited revenues and transform their competitive structures,” Arsal claims. “However, there is still much work to be done by the players across the telecom value chain if they wish to take full advantage of this opportunity.” Tiered pricing strategies designed by undersea cable operators for smaller capacities and shorter durations, such as that announced by EASSy (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System), will improve competitiveness in the AME region. Growing broadband access will also need end-user devices that can exploit the available bandwidth.

Pyramid Finds Undersea Cables and WiMax to Propel Africa’s Broadband Growth

Undersea cables - Pacific Fibre Cable at up to 12 Tbps will link Australia, USA and New Zealand

[subtelforum] Pacnet, Asia’s leading provider of telecommunication services, and Pacific Fibre Limited today announced plans to jointly build the Pacific Fibre cable, a city-to-city, low-latency subsea fibre optic cable that will boost connectivity between Australia, New Zealand and the US.

The total project cost of the new cable is estimated at US$400 million, and comprises of at least two fibre pairs with 64 wavelengths per fibre pair. By using the latest 40 gigabits per second (Gbps) per wavelength technology, the cable is expected to have a capacity of up to 5.12 terabits per second (Tbps), and will be further upgradeable to beyond 12 Tbps with future 100 Gbps per wavelength technology.

The 13,600 km cable will land in Sydney, Auckland and Los Angeles, and will also offer the most direct route between these landing points, delivering the lower latency connections that are being demanded by core customers.

“As Australia and New Zealand look towards deploying national broadband networks that will raise broadband penetration and access speeds, this new cable that we are building with Pacific Fibre will deliver the enhanced international connectivity that is essential to support these broadband initiatives,” said Bill Barney, Chief Executive Officer of Pacnet. “This investment is also an integral part of our overall strategy to expand our subsea cable infrastructure into the Australasia region, to complement our pan-Asian and Trans-Pacific network coverage and boost broadband connectivity into Asia.”

“It’s great to have Pacnet join us as equal partners,” said Pacific Fibre CEO Mark Rushworth. “This even further validates the need for a new cable to Australia and New Zealand, and will ensure the success of the Pacific Fibre system. Pacnet has done this before as the largest investor within Unity cable group, and we are already benefiting from working with them. We are also very happy to announce a further reduction in our estimated system build costs to around US$400m.”

The new cable will be built on a partnership model that allows Pacnet and Pacific Fibre to each own and operate a fibre pair on the new cable system, but share responsibility for the cable supply contract as well as operations and maintenance costs. This model allows partners to complement each other’s expertise and resources while reducing costs and risks, and has been proven through a number of successful precedents including the US$300 million Unity cable connecting Japan and the US, where Pacnet was the largest investor with ownership of two of the five fibre pairs.

Pacnet and Pacific Fibre will begin the process of selecting a vendor to build the new cable shortly and will announce the award of the contract in the coming months. The new cable is expected to be ready for service in 2013.

Pacnet joins Pacific Fibre to build Trans-Pacific Subsea Cable

India - Security concerns have been raised over Nokia's push e-mail service, echoing complaints about Blackberry service

[reuters] India's domestic intelligence agency has asked the country's telecommunications ministry to stop Nokia's messaging services until they can be monitored, the Economic Times reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper quoted a representative of Nokia's Indian unit as saying the infrastructure required by the security agencies was being put in place.

Nokia email service faces India security test-paper

UK - Dundee is to get FTTH from Fibrecity - every home and business by 2012

[zdnet] On Monday, i3 — the company behind the Fibrecity broadband network — announced that it had signed a multi-million pound contract with Fujitsu to commence work on the Dundee rollout and future projects. The company did not disclose the specific amount of the contract.

By 2012, every home and business in Dundee should have access to the Fibrecity network.

Fibrecity has already built a super-fast network in Bournemouth and signed-up ISPs including Velocity1, Fibreband and Vispa. Dundee users can expect Fibreband and Velocity1 to be involved in Dundee as well, according to i3's group marketing director David Burnand.

Fujitsu will deploy i3's preferred technologies — microtrenching, sewer-cabling and the use of the GPON (gigabit passive optical network) units — during the rollout, said Burnand, and the collaboration is "a first step on moving towards that national [fibre-to-the-home] capability". According to i3, the use of these technologies allows it to lay fibre optic cables quicker and more cost-effectively than traditional civil works.

The Dundee project is part of Fibrecity's goal of serving fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband to a million UK consumers over the next four years, with plans in the pipeline to expand coverage to Derby, Halton (Cheshire), Nottingham, Plymouth and York over the next 10 months.

Fibrecity is currently considering new deployments in Belfast, Aberdeen, Ipswich, Bristol and Birmingham, but a decision is not expected imminently. "At this stage I wouldn't be able to give you the name of the next Fibrecity; we're looking at a range of sites. We'd expect to make a decision and an announcement on the next city towards September," said Burnand.

Multiple schemes for FTTH deployments are in place across the country, with BT recently announcing fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) trials for homes and businesses in London, Milton Keynes and York.

In 2009, Fibrecity had plans to expand to Dundee, with work due to start towards the end of the year. Quizzed on the delay, Burnand replied that i3 has "learned a huge amount from our work on Fibrecity Bournemouth, and we wanted to make sure we were doing this absolutely correctly and working with Dundee council and other stakeholders to make sure we can do the rollout as efficiently as possible".

Fujitsu signs Fibrecity deal to aid Dundee rollout

UK - Govt has announced auction fo 800 MHz band for mobile broadband coordinated by OFCOM

[telegraph] The Government has announced that it will auction off areas of radio spectrum to pave the way for a new generation of mobile broadband services. It is hoped that the sale will take place in late 2011, which means services could begin as soon as 2012.

Launching the “spectrum modernisation”, communications minister Ed Vaizey said: “The past 20 years has seen a revolution in mobile technologies – but we need the networks to continue to improve and increase services. Under our plans, our mobile industry will have access to the 21st Century infrastructure it needs to give UK consumers the latest technologies and even better coverage for broadband on their mobile phones.”
Previous auctions for 3G spectrum have raised billions of pounds, although some analysts have subsequently questioned whether the networks have been able to recoup their investment.

The new areas of spectrum will become available partly as the analogue television signal is replaced with digital broadcasts. In Cornwall, where this has already happened, commercial trials of new high speed mobile broadband are currently taking place.

Ofcom will coordinate a combined auction of 2.1GHz and 800 MHz spectrum “as soon as possible”, the Government has said, after it has carried out “a competitive assessment of future 3G and 4G markets, including the potential for new entrants”.

The existing 2G spectrum at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz will also be freed up for increased use of 3G technologies.

Users who currently require the 800 MHz spectrum had been forewarned that it was going to be used for new purposes; they will now be compensated for the need to invest in new equipment, the Government said.

Government announces spectrum auction for new mobile broadband services

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Roaming - Visitor to FIFA World Cup caused a surge in data roaming, directly correlated with the number of matches

[mobilitywire] A cumulative audience of nearly 400,000 visiting soccer fans from all over the world came to South Africa in June to watch 32 countries compete in the 19th FIFA World Cup tournament. As they attended games and enjoyed the festivities they sent home pictures, videos and messages using email and messaging services, all over wireless data networks. As one of the largest eXchange service providers to enable inter-network roaming, Aicent, Inc. (, recorded huge surges in network traffic during the competition, as much as 300 percent over the weeks just prior.

“As the data from our network shows, the World Cup is truly a social event where fans want to share the revelry with friends and family,” said Lynn Liu, president & CEO at Aicent. “Wireless data networks made sharing the action better than ever before as fans sent back millions of pictures, videos, tweets, emails and text messages from games in South Africa to their friends back home. Subscribers from a great number of international wireless networks were all able to use their mobile phones from South Africa due to roaming eXchanges like Aicent.”

Aicent is a leading provider of data network, messaging and roaming solutions for mobile operators globally serving more than 2.5 billion mobile subscribers around the world. Aicent operates one of the world’s largest GPRS and 3G network eXchanges, directly connecting to over 100 operators, including nine of the world’s ten largest. Aicent’s MMS and SMS eXchanges is one of industry’s largest, interconnecting with over 150 mobile operators around the world.

Aicent observed that traffic correlated directly with the number of matches taking place on a specific day; the more matches in a day, the higher traffic would spike. The day with the highest volume of data traffic was Wednesday, June 23, the day that Nigeria and South Korea played to a tie, Argentina defeated Greece, England defeated Slovenia, and the United States defeated Algeria. The day with the next highest volume was Tuesday, June 15, when three matches between Italy and Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, and Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal all ended in ties.

Aicent’s data shows that Americans were among the largest group of people visiting South Africa, with more than 60 percent of Aicent’s data traffic coming from customers of GSM operators in the United States. On days when the US National Team played, these operators experienced their largest spikes in traffic, with traffic leaving South Africa far and away exceeding traffic coming to South Africa by a ratio exceeding 4:1.

Soccer fans in South Africa relied on their mobile phones to share pictures, videos, live game updates and other messages with friends back home. In fact, according to Mayan Mathen, CTO of Dimension Data, during the World Cup, South Africa became one of the highest “tweet” sources in the world, referring to the Twitter social network phenomenon. World Cup fans in South Africa averaged 750 tweets per second, with some 3,500 going out every second during World Cup matches.

Wireless Data Roaming Scores Big at World Cup

Switzerland - Swiss cable operators have claimed roll-out of FTTH is not viable given cable networks are already present

[ip telephony] The Swiss association of cable operator Swisscable has attacked plans to roll-out FTTH fibre-optic broadband networks, questioning the economic viability of such projects when cable network operators already provide super-high-speed internet in more than 300 locations across the country. Cable operators currently offer minimum 50 Mbps speeds in more than 300 towns and cities, reaching around 1.1 million homes, with speeds of up to 100 Mbps possible on some networks.

Swisscable argues that cable internet is not only a cheaper and potent alternative to Swisscom's DSL services (up to 20 Mbps), but also to fibre-optic broadband services which will only be available to the minority of Swiss homes within five years.

Swisscable questions economic viability of FTTH networks

Australia - Opposition is planning to modify the NBN in favour of FTTN network to save money

[computerworld] The Coalition is planning a national telecommunications network reminiscent of the hybrid Fibre-to-the-Node-OPEL model briefly considered by communications minister, Stephen Conroy, in the wake of the 2007 federal election, insiders say.

Sources close to the coalition’s budding ICT policy say the cut-down alternative model to the $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) would green-light contractual fibre sites and scrap others in a bid to fill federal coffers and smear the Government’s fiscal management.

The exhumed $1.9 billion OPEL wireless network was a public-private joint venture with Optus and Elders passed by then Communications Minister Helen Coonan in the dying days before the 2007 federal election.

The coalition would also dump a possible structural separation of Telstra, and strengthen the regulatory powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), according to a source.

“The coalition is playing politics with the NBN, and is scoring points with embittered Telstra shareholders,” a source familiar with the coalition ICT policy said. “But that might backfire because we know the Government didn’t stuff Telstra’s share prices. Sol (former Telstra CEO) did.”

He said experienced ICT Liberal identities are shelving closet views favouring the NBN in order to toe party lines.

Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, also previous Optus regulatory chief and advisor to former communications minister, Richard Alston, is said to have played a key advisory role in the coalition ICT policy.

However Fletcher denied a large involvement, and said only that policy advisory is “open to everyone”. He said he has conducted “new candidate” duties within his North shore electorate.

Media reports claim the coalition is still weeks away from releasing its ICT policies.

FTTN-OPEL exhumed under Lib NBN-kill plan

UK - First customer of BT's FTTH reports almost 100 Mbps service

[trusted reviews] The first customer in the UK on BT’s FTTP trials has been connected, and has reported download speeds between 67.2Mbps and 92.37Mbps. Upload was a steady 15Mbps, the maximum supported by FTTP. Latency was reported as between 5 and 6ms.

Plusnet user ‘herbiejhopkins’ was connected earlier this week, and reported his findings in the PlusNet forums. The speeds achieved depended on the speedtest service used and the time of day it was run.

“So far the connection has been 100% stable, no problems to report. A huge upgrade to my 2Mb ADSL2+ !”, herbiejhopkins reported.

Plusnet is a BT owned ISP, and as such has access to BT’s FTTC (Fibre-to-the-Premises) trials, which uses fibre-optical connections to offers a theoretical download speed of 100Mbps, and a maximum upload of 15Mpbs.

Plusnet said that more FTTP customers would be connected in the next couple of weeks and that it would extend the trial to a batch of customers in the Milton Keynes area.

As its blog post explains, these speeds are achievable as with FTTP there is no copper cable connection anywhere along the link. All copper connections are limited to a theoretical maximum of 24Mbps using ADSL2+.

BT is currently also conducting FTTC trials, with a theoretical maximum of 40Mbps for downloads, where the connection uses optical up to the cabinet, and then copper to the premises.

Cable rival Virgin Media offers up to 50Mbps service on its DOCSIS 3.0 network, has announced plans for a 100Mbps service. It also claims to be trialling 200Mbps and even 400Mbps.

TrustedReviews recently investigated the various issue with Broadband in the UK, and while the Plusnet FTTP speeds are impressive they will do little to dampen the frustrations of those stuck with basic services.

Are you impressed by the speeds achieved with FTTP? Are you stuck in a remote area on a 1Mbps service with no hope in sight? Vent your thoughts in the comments below.

First Fibre-to-the-Premises Customer Connected – Hits 92.7Mbps

USA - Hills and low population density in Vermont present real challenges for political promises of broadband

[washington post] Marlene and Mike McCarty, real estate brokers who do much of their work at home less than four miles from the Vermont Statehouse, say they spend hundreds of dollars and hours each month on things they wouldn't have to if they had broadband Internet access.

Despite promises for years by state officials and phone and cable companies that they would have broadband by 2010, they're still waiting. Now Vermont is in the heat of a gubernatorial campaign, and the candidates are making a new round of promises about broadband and fixing Vermont's spotty cellular phone coverage.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Mike McCarty said.

Experts say Vermont's mountains and hills block wireless signals. Its sparse population of about 622,000 makes stringing cables to widely scattered rural homes and businesses too expensive to be profitable in many areas. The upshot is that Vermont has struggled to keep up with the information age.

"In most rural areas you have a very challenging business proposition for broadband," said Christopher Campbell, executive director of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. That state agency, created in 2007, is promoting Vermont's efforts to expand both broadband and cellular phone service statewide.

"That doesn't mean it can't be done," Campbell added. "It has been done. It's been done in Vermont. It's even possible that if we waited long enough somebody would figure out how to do it all without any help. The problem is we can't afford to wait."

It's difficult to quantify exactly how much broadband and cell phone coverage there is in the state. On broadband, estimates range up to 90 percent.

A state map shows the McCartys and their neighbors have broadband - but they don't yet.

On cell service, Campbell said, coverage is affected by everything from distance from a tower to the strength of an individual user's battery, so it's hard to measure.

But help has been coming, Campbell and other officials say, and Vermont is making progress - just not fast enough for some.

The VTA and Internet service provider Sovernet Communications, based in Bellows Falls, announced this month that they would use a $33.4 million federal grant to build a 773-mile fiber-optic backbone extending from southeastern to northeastern Vermont.

The object is to build the so-called "middle mile" of broadband Internet service, allowing schools, state buildings and community centers to hook up to the main trunk and, it is hoped, allow private-sector providers to split off it and deliver the service out along the dirt roads - the "last mile."

Vt. broadband Internet access: Where is it?

Thailand - Govt will need one month to study legal aspects of conversion of concessions to licences

[bangkokpost] The working committee dealing with contract conversion for 3G network services in Thailand needs at least one month to study legal agreement now held by private operators before launching innovative 3G network services in Thailand, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday.

In his weekly TV and radio address, Mr Abhisit said he fully realised that the public wants to see the 3G network services implemented as soon as possible.

Delays in the implementation has put the country behind several other countries, he said, adding that the National Telecommunications Commission is currently preparing the bidding process for the 3G network system.

It is expected that it would take more than one month before the bidding could start, Mr Abhisit said.

He reiterated that his government remains concerns that bidding for 3G network services could affect present concession holders of the current 2G system which could eventually hamper the country’s telecommunications system.

The government wants to convert concessions for the 2G system into a license system as the 3G system, he added.

Regarding advice from the National Reform Committee headed by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun to lift the emergency decree now imposed in 16 provinces, including Bangkok, Mr Abhisit said much of the public and security-related agencies believe the decree is still needed because some areas remain infiltrated by anti-government elements.

Most of the public are not now affected by the decree, imposed since April 7 during the anti-government protest which disbanded in a military show of force little more than two months ago, Mr Abhisit said.

The prime minister said last week that the emergency decree would be gradually lifted.

PM: Panel needs month to review 3G

Thailand - Regulator warns that 3G licences would be withdrawn for abuses of consumer protection laws

[bangkok post] The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) on Monday warned private operators that their 3G licences could be taken away from them if they do not abide by consumer protection laws.

NTC member Natee Sukolrat said measures had been put in place to protect consumers using 3G services.

"Firms that win a 3G licence are required to develop a corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy, which covers many issues such as junk mail management, consumer health and contingency planning," the commissioner said.

He said private operators must strictly follow the regulations. Otherwise, their licences could be revoked.

NTC warns firms of strict 3G rules

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thailand - Operators are concerned the new regulator will be too big and too remote from the market to be effective

[bangkok post] The new body that will be set up to regulate telecommunications and broadcasting will be too big, with too much power, and most of its members won't understand the industry, executives complained yesterday.

The comments were made at a hearing to sound out opinion on the Frequency Allocation Act, which calls for the establishment of a powerful 15-member National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

The NBTC will replace the current National Telecommunications Commission, which has been plagued by questions about the scope of its authority in its five-year existence.

The House of Representatives approved the new law in March and the Senate in April before sending it to a 35-member committee for further study. The bill is expected to be returned to Parliament next month for final passage.

The bill passed by the House called for 11 NBTC members but the Senate has recommended 15.

The members would be selected from 44 candidates in two stages.First, various organisations will select 22 candidates. Second, a 15-member panel, comprising academics and representatives from the government, independent organisations, professional and consumer groups, will select another 22 candidates. Altogether, 44 candidates will be nominated to the Senate. It will then have 180 days to name the 15 members.

Significantly, members of the NBTC must not be, or have been executives, employees, consultants or shareholders in telecom or broadcasting businesses for at least one year. The idea is to eliminate potential conflicts of interest.

Advanced Info Service chief executive Wichian Mektrakarn said the bill was drawn up by people who were biased against the industry and the prohibition in his view was inappropriate.

He said the NBTC would have only a handful of people with any industry knowledge, which would impede the growth of telecoms and broadcasting. He also said that 15 members were too many and decision-making would be bogged down as a result.

Thana Thienachariya, DTAC's chief corporate affairs and strategy officer, said the structure of the NBTC had a typical Thai pattern, with a "strong committee but weak secretariat".

Industry says NBTC will be too big and powerful

Cable & Wireless - Good performance due to performance in Macau and the Maldives

[reuters] Telecoms firm Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC.L) enjoyed a good start to the year due to solid performances in Macau and the Maldives, offsetting the continuing problems in its key Caribbean market.

C&W Communications said on Wednesday the group had traded in line with expectations, despite its struggles with falling tourist numbers, a weak economy and strong competition in the Caribbean.

Macau and Maldives offset weak Caribbean for C&W

Europe - National data protection registrars report on traffic data retention

Report 01/2010 on the second joint enforcement action: Compliance at national level of Telecom Providers and ISPs with the obligations required from national traffic data retention legislation on the legal basis of articles 6 and 9 of the e-Privacy Directive 2002/58/EC and the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC amending the e-Privacy Directive.


Vodafone - Reports renewed revenue growth in two years, driven by demand for mobile broadband

[glasgow herald] Vodafone has reported growth in service revenues for the first time in two years, helped by strong demand for mobile phone data.

The world’s largest mobile phone network operator reported a 1.1% rise in service revenues to £10.58 billion in the past three months, reversing a trend that began in the final quarter of 2008. Revenue from data services such as smartphones and high-speed internet “dongles” jumped by 25%.

“These are the first quarterly results to show service revenue growth since the global recession impacted,” said chief executive Vittorio Colao. “We have achieved these results through our continuing commercial approach in key European markets, focusing especially on data, and from strong growth in emerging markets, with India now cash-positive at an operating level and our highest ever quarterly revenue in Turkey,” he added.

Vodafone saw strong growth in demand for smartphones in Europe during the quarter, particularly in the UK where the company started selling Apple’s iPhone earlier this year.

Since taking over as chief executive in summer 2008, Colao has been trying to increase growth in Vodafone’s existing markets rather than continuing with the acquisition drive that has given it a global presence.

Vodafone said there was still room for further economic improvements in many of its markets but said the changes it had made so far – to focus on the sales of data plans for internet access and emerging markets – had worked well.

Later this year, the Newbury-based company will set out plans to accelerate its strategy to drive further shareholder value.

The group released the trading statement before its annual meeting, which is expected to be stormy. The board is fighting off increasing complaints from investors that the company’s market capitalisation does not match analysts’ valuations.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, a Canadian fund with a 0.42% stake in Vodafone, wants a board shake-up because of concerns about the mobile operator’s “strategic weaknesses” and “disastrous” acquisition record.

Vodafone has previously faced calls to resolve situations where it owns minority stakes in assets, such as in the US where it owns a 45% in Verizon Wireless, and in France where it owns a 44% stake in SFR. Its 3% holding in China Mobile could be another disposal option.

On the trading update, Robin Bienenstock, analyst at brokers Sanford Bernstein, said she expected a portfolio review and clearer commitment to change whether in disposals or structure.

Vodafone reports return to growth as storm brews ahead of AGM

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lithuania - Omnitel reported a year-on-year drop of 21% due to reduced roaming tariffs and general decline in the market

[tmcnet] Lithuanian mobile operator Omnitel announced that its revenues declined to LTL 288.9 million in H1 from LTL 371.6 million a year earlier. Revenues fell 21 percent year-on-year in Q2, to LTL 150.6 million. The main reasons for the decrease were the reduction in international roaming tariffs and the general decline in the market since 2009. However, revenues were better than Q1, growing 9 percent from the first three months of the year. The EBITDA margin totaled 31.5 percent in Q2 and 33.7 percent in H1. Omnitel reported a subscriber base of 1.952 million at the end of H1, stable year-on-year.

Omnitel reports 23% drop in H1 revenues

Zambia - Airtel to acquire the 22% Zain Group stake in Zain Zambia

[zambia post] ZAIN Zambia Plc, trading as Celtel Zambia, is tomorrow set to suspend transactions on Lusaka Stcok Exchange (LuSE) as Bharti Airtel prepares to buy the 22 per cent of the publicly-listed stake in the company.

According to a note sent to investors and the public, Pangaea Renaissance Securities Limited, the sponsoring broker for Zain Zambia Plc, stated that Bharti Airtel is expected to proceed to implement a mandatory offer to the minority shareholders of Zain Zambia in accordance with clause 56 (a) of the Securities – Takeovers and Mergers - rules.

A mandatory offer to the minority shareholders might result in Bharti Airtel mopping the 22 per cent stake in Zain Zambia Plc that is publicly traded, a move that would automatically lead to the country’s biggest mobile phone company de-listing from the local bourse.

According to market analysts, the continued existence of Zain Zambia Plc on LuSE was dependent on the response minority shareholders would make to the mandatory offer.

In accordance with clause 56 (a) of the Securities Takeover and Mergers rules, Bharti Airtel would be given authority of the possibility of offering to buy from the Zambian minority shareholders, up to 22 per cent Celtel Zambia Plc shares currently trading on the LuSE.

“Zain Zambia shareholders and public are hereby advised that trading in Zain Zambia shares shall be suspended effective 22 July 2010 to facilitate an orderly process for establishing a record date of July 27 of the shareholders register for the purpose of the mandatory offer,” the note read in part.

“Subject to the terms and conditions of the Lusaka Stock Exchange Listing rules and Companies Act, Chapter 388 of the Laws of Zambia, trading shall resume upon completion of the mandatory offer.”

The Zambia Competition Commission (ZCC) last May endorsed final conditional authorisation for Bharti Airtel to take over 78 per cent shares in Celtel Zambia Plc despite “concerns over interconnection rates and non or full disclosure of Internet roaming rates to Zain customers”.

The takeover of Zain Zambia Plc follows Bharti Airtel's acquisition of Zain's African mobile services subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabon, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Congo DR, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Madagascar, Nigeria, Ghana and Zambia.

The Kuwait-based mobile phone is selling all its franchises in Africa except its operations in Sudan and its investments in Morocco, both of which are Arabic countries.

Of all the Zain operations in Africa, Zain Zambia Plc was the only publicly listed entity.

Bharti Airtel set to acquire 22% of Zain Zambia public listed stake

USA - Smaller mobile operators complained two years ago exclusive deals between larger operators and handset manufacturers

[ars technica] It looks like the trade group representing rural mobile service carriers is running out of patience with the Federal Communications Commission. It has been two years, the Rural Cellular Association complains, since it asked the FCC to investigate the problem of exclusive deals between handset makers and big carriers like AT&T and Verizon.

And it has been over a year since FCC Chair Julius Genachowski assured Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that he'd give the question proper attention. "Yes, if confirmed, I will ensure that the full record on the RCA petition is reviewed, and act accordingly to promote competition and consumer choice," Genachowski declared, even before he formally took the job.

So where, RCA asks, are the results? "Rural consumers are still waiting for access to cutting-edge devices," the group laments.

RCA affiliates hate these AT&T/iPhone or Verizon/Storm deals because they lock them out of being being able to offer the hottest new mobiles to their customers. There's been some back and forth between Verizon and these carriers over the issue, but with uncertain results.

Now RCA says it wants the FCC to turn to Japan for inspiration on this issue. Two weeks ago that country's biggest mobile operator, NTT Docomo, announced that it will unlock the subscriber identity module (SIM) cards on all its handsets starting in April 2011. That means mobile subscribers who request the unlock will be able to use their device with another carrier by switching SIM cards.

Rural US carriers: we could learn a thing or two from Japan

Thailand - Finance ministry and the regulator have agreed on plans for 2G and 3G licences

[the nation] The National Telecommunications Commission and the Finance Ministry have reached an informal agreement to support each other's plans for 3G-spectrum licensing and the termination of concessions.

A source said yesterday that NTC commissioner Natee Sukonrat and Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij met informally on Monday to discuss possible collaboration.

Both agreed that the NTC should go ahead with its plan to auction 3G licences in September.

The NTC, meanwhile, will support the government's plan to terminate concessions so that concessionaires can be issued with 2G licences that are specific to existing spectrums, and which carry the same conditions as the 3G licences.

The Finance Ministry will also talk to private telecom-concession holders to ask for their collaboration in the concession-termination plan. It has also undertaken to examine all factors involved in the plan, including the matter of whether concession termination is legally possible.

The arrangement is intended to give concession holders a clear view of the situation, enabling them to decide whether to stay with their concessions or bid for the 3G licences.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will also meet with the NTC today to seek the commission's collaboration in supporting the government's concession-termination plan.

Earlier, the NTC wanted to proceed with auctioning the 3G licences as quickly as possible. The government, on the other hand, wanted the commission to wait until its concession-termination plan was complete, enabling the concession termination and the licensing processes take place together to ensure a level playing field under the same licensing regime.

Tomorrow, the NTC plans to send the 3G-spectrum licensing draft for publication in the Royal Gazette.

Abhisit explained yesterday that the concession termination would create a level playing field and help the country save about Bt40 billion by avoiding investment in redundant networks.

After the concession termination, TOT and CAT Telecom can lease their own networks to newcomers, so they do not have to invest in the networks. Currently, private concession holders have exclusive rights to use the networks they have built for TOT or CAT under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) principle.

Abhisit's comments followed the Cabinet's approval in principle of the concession-termination plan, which was jointly proposed by the Finance Ministry and Information and Communications Technology Ministry.

The ICT and Finance ministries will now set up a joint committee to complete the concession-termination plan within 30 days.

Natee said yesterday that the NTC might issue licences for the 900MHz, 1,800MHz, and 850MHz frequencies after the government finishes the concession-termination plan. Such licences can be used with any cellular technologies.

His remark was made in response to questions from about 40 Thai investors, fund managers and analysts who met the commission yesterday to learn details of its industry-reform policy.

Most of them wanted to know the NTC's position on the government's concession-termination plan.

Natee told them the NTC and the government were walking in the same direction, and if they could collaborate, they would be able to find "a perfection solution" to achieving industry reform.

NTC, Govt collaborate

Thailand - Prime Minister says conversion of concessions to licences will not delay 3G licences

[bangkok post] Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says his government's plan to change the concession contracts of the three existing 2G mobile phone operators will not delay a planned auction of 3G licences by the National Telecommunications Commission.

The government would try to complete the process to change the contracts within one month and it would not affect the 3G licence auction, which is set for September, he said.

Mr Abhisit said the change in the contracts was intended to promote free and fair competition and that revenues would be retained.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij proposed terminating the concession contracts of the three private 2G operators: Advanced Info Service (AIS), DTAC and True Move. He wanted the NTC to instead grant them 15-year licences, requiring them to pay 12.5% of their annual revenue as a licence fee. Mr Abhisit said the changes to the concession system would first need the approval of relevant ministries, the National Telecommunications and the private sector.

Mr Abhisit is scheduled to meet the NTC board today to hear its views on the government's proposal.

He said if the NTC board agreed with the changes to the concession contracts, the auction for the 3G spectrum and the frequency allocation bill would have to be amended in the same direction.

Meanwhile, deputy director of the Office of the State Enterprise Policy Committee, Kulis Sombatsiri, said that a joint Finance and Information and Communication Technology committee would hold its initial meeting tomorrow to discuss the 3G licensing.

Mr Kulis said the main concern with the government's plan is the 12.5% of annual revenues that operators would be forced to pay in exchange for a 15-year concession. Mr Kulis said there was a concern that operators would not be able to afford the fees and might pass the costs on to consumers.

He said that because 2G could be upgraded to 3G, licences for the respective spectrums are close in value. As a result, he said, the bid prices for 3G licences might be lower than expected.

He cited the example of the 2G spectrum in Germany, where licences on the 800 and 900 MHz spectrum were valued five times higher than those on the 3G spectrum because they could be upgraded.Saree Ongsomwang, head of the Foundation for Consumers, said it was unclear how the government's plan to change the existing concession contracts to licences would benefit consumers.

She called on the government to explain clearly the benefits to consumers of the policy.

'No delay' in 3G auction

Thailand - Cabinet has approved the plan to convert 2G concessions in proper spectrum licences

[bangkok post] The cabinet on Tuesday approved the Council of Economic Ministers' proposal to set up a joint committee to look into ways to convert the concession contracts of the three private 2G operators into licences, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.

He said the joint committee will have a month to complete its findings before the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is scheduled to open the 3G auction in September.

"If we can convert the concession contracts, not only would there be a fair competition but duplicated investment would be minimised by about 30 to 40 per cent, or about 30 billion to 40 billion baht," Mr Abhisit said.

Concession owners TOT and CAT Telecom will need to set up their own subsidiary companies if they want to take part in the competition, and they would pay the same licence fees as other private operators, he said.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Juti Krairiksh said rumolurs his ministry had already terminated the concession contracts were incorrect.

"The concession contracts of the three private 2G operators [AIS, DTAC and True Move] have not yet been terminated," Mr Juti said.

The joint committee will comprise representatives from the ICT and Finance ministries and it will take the people's and the government's interests into account, he said.

"I will discuss the issue with the NTC tomorrow," the minister said. "This is only the beginning of the process at the moment."

The government will not intervene in the NTC's 3G licence bidding, he added.

Cabinet approves 2G concession conversion

Monday, July 19, 2010

UK - A survey found one in five people had sent a sexually related SMS to the wrong person, highest group were under-25s

[digitalspy] A survey has discovered that one in five people in Britain have sent a sex text to the wrong person.

Under-25s are the most likely to make mistakes while 'sexting', as it has become known, with 43% having sent one to the wrong person.

"Text and picture messaging has now become so second nature that people are less cautious, leading to messages frequently going astray," the commissioner of the survey said.

"A key aspect of text messaging is that it allows a more detached method of communication. This was part of its initial popularity and a likely explanation for the large number of people willing to send out explicit content."

1 in 5 Brits send sex texts to wrong person

Sunday, July 18, 2010

USA - Preliminary approcal of a settlement in a class action over pre-paid calling cards

[] A federal magistrate judge in Newark, N.J., gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to an $8.4 million settlement of a class action alleging prepaid calling cards did not provide the quantity of minutes advertised.

The deal, which will come before U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo for a fairness hearing on Nov. 16, will affect hundreds of thousands of people who bought STi Prepaid cards from 2001 until the present.

Of the total settlement, $1 million will go toward free or discounted minutes and up to $7.4 million for refunds, according to the preliminary settlement.

An additional $2 million will go toward attorney fees and costs.

The complaint, in Ramirez v. STi Prepaid LLC, 08-1089, alleged that the cards, both rechargeable and nonrechargeable, did not provide the number of minutes advertised, and that voice prompts did not tell users making calls how many minutes they had left.

The plaintiffs alleged violations of New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee, New York, Washington and West Virginia laws against unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Specifically, they said the defendants engaged in unjust enrichment as well as fraud and misrepresentation and violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

The defendants created a "massive scheme to deceive and/or mislead customers" in the cards' manufacture, marketing and distribution by not providing the promised minutes, the plaintiffs alleged. In addition, they allegedly "engaged in calculated silence and did so because of the prospect of huge profits."

Defense lawyer Edward Kole, of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer in Woodbridge, N.J., says his clients deny the allegations. The settlement agreement says that it should not be construed as any admission of liability.

The settlement provides that the defendants would establish a website and toll-free telephone number with information, in English and Spanish, explaining the status of the settlement and providing instructions.

Defense lawyer John Goldman of Herrick Feinstein in Princeton, N.J., did not return a call.

One of the plaintiffs lawyers, Bruce Nagel of Nagel Rice in Roseland, N.J., says he is pleased with the settlement. His co-counsel, James Cecchi of Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello in Roseland, did not return an e-mail message.

Tentative OK Given to $8 Million Settlement of Suit Over Prepaid Calling Cards