Category Archives: Communications

Taiwan To Shut Down 3G Networks By Year End

Consumers in Taiwan will only be able to use 4G services from 2019 as the government will shut down 3G services by the end of the year, according to a Sina news report on Monday, citing local Taiwan media reports. From a report: Although the vast majority of the population in Taiwan have shifted to 4G networks, there are still around 200,000 consumers using 3G. This has prompted local carriers to roll out incentives and promotions to get 3G users to shift onto the latest 4G plans. Taiwan's latest move to shut down 3G networks follows its earlier decision to remove all 2G networks on July 1, 2017, as local regulators and telecom operators continue to actively push for the development of 4G network coverage. As of March this year, the number of 4G users has already exceeded the population in Taiwan, said the report. The number of 3G users has declined to some 228,000 people in mid-November from 5.5 million in 2017.

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Spam Calls Jumped Over 300% Globally in 2018

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to the yearly report published by Stockholm-based phone number-identification service Truecaller, spam calls grew by 300 percent year-over-year in 2018. The report also found that telecom operators themselves are much to blame. Between January and October of this year, Truecaller said, users worldwide received about 17.7 billion spam calls. That's up from some 5.5 billion spam calls they received last year. One of the most interesting takeaways from the report is a sharp surge in spam calls users received in Brazil this year, making it the most spammed country in the world. According to Truecaller, an average user in Brazil received over 37 spam calls in a month, up from some 20 spam calls during the same period last year. According to the report, telecom operators (at 32 percent) remained the biggest spammers in Brazil. The report also acknowledged the general election as an event that drove up spam calls in the country. As in Brazil, Indians were bombarded by telecom operators (a whopping 91 percent of all spam calls came from them) and service providers trying to sell them expensive plans and other offerings. Spam calls received by users in the U.S. were down from 20.7 calls in a month to 16.9, while users in the U.K. saw a drop in their monthly dose of spam calls from 9.2 to 8.9. [...] Truecaller also reported that scam calls subjecting victims to fraud attempts and money swindling are still a prevalent issue. One in every 10 American adults lost money from a phone scam, according to a yearly report the firm published in April this year.

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Lawmakers Push To Create a Three-Digit Suicide Hotline Number

In a letter addressed to the FCC, Senator Ron Wyden urged commissioners to create a three-digit, 911-style suicide hotline number. The Oregon senator cites the CDC's report that more than 40,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017. From a report: "I write on behalf of those struggling with mental health issues, our veterans struggling with PTSD and for those impacted by the tragedy of suicide," Wyden writes. "I urge you to designate a 3-digit code as a Behavioral Health and Suicide Crisis Lifeline. Thank you for your consideration." While The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launched an 800 line in 2004, many believe the number is too long and cumbersome for those reaching out in their time of need. The letter floats the idea of using 611. The call echoes a similar push last week by Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Chris Stewart to designate the number, which is currently used to report phone service problems by some U.S. and Canadian carriers.

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CenturyLink Blocked Its Customers’ Internet Access in Order To Show an Ad

CenturyLink briefly disabled the Internet connections of customers in Utah last week and allowed them back online only after they acknowledged an offer to purchase filtering software. From a report: CenturyLink falsely claimed that it was required to do so by a Utah state law that says ISPs must notify customers "of the ability to block material harmful to minors." In fact, the new law requires only that ISPs notify customers of their filtering software options "in a conspicuous manner"; it does not say that the ISPs must disable Internet access until consumers acknowledge the notification. The law even says that ISPs may make the notification "with a consumer's bill," which shouldn't disable anyone's Internet access. Coincidentally, CenturyLink's blocking of customer Internet access occurred days before the one-year anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission repeal of net neutrality rules, which prohibited blocking and throttling of Internet access. "Just had CenturyLink block my Internet and then inject this page into my browser... to advertise their paid filtering software to me," software engineer and Utah resident Rich Snapp tweeted on December 9. "Clicking OK on the notice then restored my Internet... this is NOT okay!"

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Quantum Network Joins Four People Together For Encrypted Messaging

An anonymous reader shares a report: The quantum internet is starting small, but growing. Researchers have created a network that lets four users communicate simultaneously through channels secured by the laws of quantum physics, and they say it could easily be scaled up. Soren Wengerowsky at the University of Vienna and his colleagues devised a network that uses quantum key distribution (QKD) to keep messages secure [the link is paywalled]. The general principle of QKD is that two photons are entangled, meaning their quantum properties are linked. Further reading: Nature.

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FCC Gives Carriers the Option To Block Text Messages

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: The Federal Communications Commission said it's getting tough on text message spam by clarifying that phone companies can block unwanted texts. At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Republican-led agency voted 3-1 to classify SMS text messages as a so-called Title I information service under the Telecom Act. The three Republicans on the FCC, which voted to adopt the classification, said this would allow phone companies to block spam text messages. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the new classification would empower wireless providers to stop unwanted text messages. "The FCC shouldn't make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts," he said during the meeting. "And we shouldn't allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services." But he said that's what would happen if the FCC were to classify text messages as a Title II telecommunications service under the law. Jessica Rosenworcel, the lone Democrat on the FCC, disagrees with the classification. "Today's decision offers consumers no new ability to prevent robotexts," she said."It simply provides that carriers can block our text messages and censor the very content of those messages themselves." She says the FCC did the same thing to the internet last year when it repealed Obama-era net neutrality rules. "That means on the one-year anniversary of the FCC's misguided net neutrality decision -- which gave your broadband provider the power to block websites and censor online content -- this agency is celebrating by expanding those powers to also include your text messages," she added.

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Comcast Rejected by Small Town — Residents Vote For Municipal Fiber Instead

A small Massachusetts town has rejected an offer from Comcast and instead plans to build a municipal fiber broadband network. From a report: Comcast offered to bring cable Internet to up to 96 percent of households in Charlemont in exchange for the town paying $462,123 plus interest toward infrastructure costs over 15 years. But Charlemont residents rejected the Comcast offer in a vote at a special town meeting Thursday. "The Comcast proposal would have saved the town about $1 million, but it would not be a town-owned broadband network," the Greenfield Recorder reported Friday. "The defeated measure means that Charlemont will likely go forward with a $1.4 million municipal town network, as was approved by annual town meeting voters in 2015." About 160 residents voted, with 56 percent rejecting the Comcast offer, according to news reports.

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At Least One Major Carrier Lied About Its 4G Coverage, FCC Review Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Four months after receiving a complaint claiming that Verizon "grossly overstated" its 4G LTE coverage in government filings, the Federal Communications Commission says that at least one carrier is apparently guilty of significant rules violations. The FCC did not name any specific carrier in its announcement and did not respond to our question about whether Verizon is among the carriers being investigated. But the investigation was apparently triggered by a complaint about Verizon filed in August by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA). The RWA, which represents rural carriers, made its case to the FCC by submitting speed test data. The speed tests showed the Verizon network wasn't providing 4G LTE service in areas that Verizon claimed to cover, according to the RWA. Inaccurate coverage maps could make it difficult for rural carriers to get money from the Mobility Fund, a government fund intended for unserved areas. "A preliminary review of speed test data submitted through the challenge process suggested significant violations of the Commission's rules," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Friday in his announcement of the FCC investigation. The FCC said its investigation focuses on "whether one or more major carriers violated the Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) reverse auction's mapping rules and submitted incorrect coverage maps."

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Millions of Smartphones in 11 Countries Were Taken Offline Yesterday by an Expired Certificate

Ericsson has confirmed that a fault with its software was the source of yesterday's massive network outage, which took millions of smartphones offline across the UK and Japan and created issues in almost a dozen countries. From a report: In a statement, Ericsson said that the root cause was an expired certificate, and that "the faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned." The statement notes that network services were restored to most customers on Thursday, while UK operator O2 said that its 4G network was back up as of early Friday morning. Although much of the focus was paid to outages on O2 in the UK and Softbank in Japan. Ericsson later confirmed to Softbank that issues had simultaneously affected telecom carriers who'd installed Ericsson-made devices across a total of 11 countries. Softbank said that the outage affected its own network for just over four hours.

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Opinion: 5G Has an Exciting Future When It Comes To Dedicated Mobile Apps But Will Do Little To Improve Our General Browsing Experiences.

Charlie Osborne, writing for ZDNet: However, there is a problem that no-one is talking about: the conflict between the rapid acceleration of wireless technologies and politics which is, unwittingly, going to render some of these improvements potentially pointless. In the UK and across Europe, there are two laws of particular interest: the EU's 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the so-called Cookie Law, passed in 2012. Ever heard someone expel a breath and a long list of expletives while they are attempting to look something up, book a service, or fact-check through the Internet on their smartphone? The likelihood is, they've come across both regulations in full force, stirring up annoyance and a rapid, frustrated smashing of fingers to screen as pop-ups scream for consent, T&Cs demand acceptance, and visitors must go through tick-lists of what data they are happy to be collected and in what manner. The EU's GDPR, which enforced data reform, protection, and collection changes across Europe, has resulted in a plethora of pop-ups which delight in lecturing visitors on data collection practices. Combine these two well-meaning regulations and you have a melting pot of sheer frustration when it comes to mobile browsing. When you are forced to stop and be lectured by pop-ups at every turn which must be manually shut down, one by one, it really doesn't matter how quickly you were brought to the page in the first place.

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Microsoft’s New Study Finds 162.8 Million People in the US Do Not Use the Internet at Broadband Speeds, Up From FCC’s 24.7 Million Estimate

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new study by Microsoft researchers casts a light on the actual use of high-speed internet across the country, and the picture it presents is very different from the F.C.C. numbers. Their analysis, presented at a Microsoft event on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., suggests that the speedy access is much more limited than the F.C.C. data shows. Over all, Microsoft concluded that 162.8 million people do not use the internet at broadband speeds, while the F.C.C. says broadband is not available to 24.7 million Americans. The discrepancy is particularly stark in rural areas. In Ferry County, for example, Microsoft estimates that only 2 percent of people use broadband service, versus the 100 percent the federal government says have access to the service. [...] Accurate measurements on the reach of broadband matter because the government's statistics are used to guide policy and channel federal funding for underserved areas. "It's a huge problem," said Phillip Berenbroick, a telecommunications expert at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit technology policy group. "The result is that we're not getting broadband coverage and funding to areas that really need it."

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Qualcomm: 5G Android Flagship Phones Will Storm the 2019 Holidays

Get ready for lots of 5G phones in time for the holidays next year. From a report: The first devices for the fast, next-generation network will hit the market in early 2019. Samsung, for one, said it will have a phone for Verizon, AT&T and other networks in the first half of the year. By the holidays next year, every flagship handset -- at least when it comes to those running Google's Android software and using Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor -- will tap into 5G, said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon. "When we get to exactly this time of year one year from now ... we will see every [handset maker] on the Android ecosystem, their flagship across all US carriers will be a 5G device," he told CNET in an interview Tuesday at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Technology Summit in Hawaii. "Every Android vendor is working on 5G right now."

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Apple Will Wait Until at Least 2020 To Release a 5G iPhone: Report

Apple plans to hold off until at least 2020 before offering an iPhone that can connect to the next generation of high-speed phone services coming next year, Bloomberg reported Monday. From the report: The delay may make it easier for rivals like Samsung Electronics to win over consumers to phones that connect to 5G networks, which will provide a leap forward in mobile data speeds when they are introduced in 2019. As with 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of mobile technology, Apple will wait as long as a year after the initial deployment of the new networks before its main product gets the capability to access them, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the company's plans. Apple's previous calculations -- proven correct -- were that the new networks and the first versions of rival smartphones would come with problems such as spotty coverage, making consumers less compelled to immediately make the jump. This time, 5G boosters argue the switch is a much bigger speed upgrade, making Apple's decision to wait riskier. The networks will open the floodgates to new types of mobile computing, 5G advocates say.

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5G Will Cover Roughly 1.5 Billion People By 2024, Researchers Say

By the end of 2025, 5G will reach more than 40 percent of the world's population and cover 1.5 billion people, according to the latest mobility report [PDF] from telecommunications company Ericsson, which says its networks currently carry nearly half the world's mobile traffic. From the report: 5G, short for fifth-generation network technology, promises a massive boost in speed and responsiveness. Industry watchers expect the first 5G smartphones to come out in the first half of next year. Researchers forecast that mobile data consumption will reach more than 21GB per month by 2024, which is nearly four times the consumption in 2018. 5G networks will carry 25 percent of global mobile data traffic, according to Ericsson. North America and North East Asia are expected to lead the 5G rollout, followed by Western Europe.

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Amazon May Be Hiding Its Plans To Test New Wireless Tech By Masquerading as a Massage Spa

Wave723 writes: What do a Silicon Valley massage spa, a local community college, and a Californian plastics manufacturer have in common? They will soon be testing hundreds of cutting-edge wireless devices, according to an application for an experimental permit filed last week with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If that sounds unlikely, it is. It seems much more likely that the new devices will actually be tested at three nearby Amazon facilities. These include two buildings belonging to the company's secretive Lab126 research division, and one of the retailer's largest fulfillment centers in the state. On November 19, a company called Chrome Enterprises LLC sought permission to test up to 450 prototype devices using Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), a new technology that aims to deliver ultra-fast wireless broadband over shared radio frequencies. In particular, CBRS opens access to a radio frequency band (3.5 Gigahertz) that the FCC had previously set aside for military use, and makes it so that the military can share that band with anyone who buys a router or phone that supports the service, or has a cell phone plan with a carrier that has paid for a sliver of the band.

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The Fax is Not Yet Obsolete

Fax, once at the forefront of communications technologies but now in deep decline, has persisted in many industries. From a report: Law-enforcement agencies remain heavily reliant on fax for routine operations, such as bail postings and return of public-records requests. Health care, too, runs largely on fax. Despite attempts to replace it, a mix of regulatory confusion, digital-security concerns, and stubbornness has kept fax machines droning around the world. An early facsimile message was sent over telegraph lines in London in 1847, based on a design by the Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. There is some dispute over whether it was the first fax: Competing inventors, including Bain in the United Kingdom and Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell across the Atlantic, sought to father facsimile technology, which was a kind of white whale for inventors. Telegraphs already allowed messages to be passed across distances, one letter at a time using Morse code. But the dream of transmitting copies of messages and images instantly over wires was very much alive. Writing in 1863, Jules Verne imagined that the Paris of the 1960s would be replete with fax machines, or as he called them, "picture-telegraphs." The technology did eventually lead to a revolution in communication, though it didn't happen until years later. It first became known to many Americans after the 1939 New York World's Fair, where a fax machine transmitted newspaper images from around the world at a rate of 18 minutes per page -- lightning speed for the time. Further reading: 'You Had to Be There': As Technologies Change Ever Faster, the Knowledge of Obsolete Things Becomes Ever Sweeter.

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FCC To Consider Making Text Messaging an Information Service, Denying Twilio Petition

The FCC has unveiled a new proposal as part of its plan to help reduce unwanted phone and text spam. From a report: In a move that's sure to make wireless operators happy, the FCC at its December meeting will consider a draft Declaratory Ruling on text messaging that would formally rule text messaging services are information services, not telecommunications services. That means carriers will be able to continue using robotext-blocking and anti-spoofing measures to protect consumers from unwanted text messages. Chairman Ajit Pai revealed the plan in a blog post highlighting items on the Dec. 12 meeting agenda. "Today's wireless messaging providers apply filtering to prevent large volumes of unwanted messages from ever reaching your phone," Pai wrote. "However, there's been an effort underway to put these successful consumer protections at risk. In 2015, a mass-texting company named Twilio petitioned the FCC, arguing that wireless messaging should be classified as a 'telecommunications service.' This may not seem like a big deal, but such a classification would dramatically curb the ability of wireless providers to use robotext-blocking, anti-spoofing, and other anti-spam features." That's why he's circulating a Declaratory Ruling that would instead classify wireless messaging as an "information service," denying Twilio's petition [PDF]. "Aside from being a more legally sound approach, this decision would keep the floodgates to a torrent of spam texts closed, remove regulatory uncertainty, and empower providers to continue finding innovative ways to protect consumers from unwanted text messages," Pai said.

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The Story of Lenny, the Internet’s Favorite Telemarketing Troll

dmoberhaus writes: Here's a conversation with the developer who maintains the public server for Lenny, a robocalling algorithm that throws telemarketers through a loop. Lenny was created in 2009 and almost a decade later has developed a cult following online. Anyone can forward their telemarketing calls to Lenny, who is a kind and forgetful old man who is interested in whatever the telemarketer is selling. Some telemarketers stay on the line for up to an hour interacting with this chatbot, leading to hundreds of hours of hilarious recordings on YouTube. This is the story of Lenny's rise, and an analysis of its effectiveness at stopping unsolicited calls.

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FCC Paves the Way For Improved GPS Accuracy

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paved the way for improved GPS and location accuracy today, approving an order that will allow U.S. phones to access a European satellite system. The order allows non-federal consumer devices to access the European Union's version of GPS, which is also known as Galileo. The system is available globally, and it officially went live in 2016. By opening up access, devices that can retrieve a signal from both Galileo and the U.S. GPS system will see improved timing estimates and location reliability. The iPhone 8 was the first Apple product to support it. Other phone models from Huawei and Samsung support the system, too. "Since the debut of the first consumer handheld GPS device in 1989, consumers and industry in the United States have relied on the U.S. GPS to support satellite-based positioning, navigation, and timing services that are integral to everyday applications ranging from driving directions to precision farming," the FCC said in a release. Now, the U.S. system will be able to commingle with the European one, making the way for better reliability, range, and accuracy.

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SpaceX Launched and Landed Another Used Falcon 9 Rocket, Marking Its Record-Tying 18th Launch of the Year

SpaceX has successfully sent up a communications satellite for the country of Qatar, marking the aerospace company's 18th mission in 2018, which ties the company's record in 2017 for the most launches done in a year. Since the company has several more missions planned for this year, it's very likely that the company will set a new all-time high soon. The Verge reports: For this mission, SpaceX is employing another one of its used rockets, a Falcon 9 booster that launched the Telstar 19 VANTAGE satellite in July. After that mission, the rocket landed on one of SpaceX's autonomous drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean, and the company hopes to pull off the same feat following today's launch. If successful, this particular Falcon 9 booster could be capable of flying a third time in the near future. The payload is the Es'hail-2 satellite, which is meant to provide communications services to the Middle East and North Africa. It's primarily meant to be used for government and commercial purposes, however, amateur radio operators can also use this satellite. Es'hail-2 has two transponders on board that can connect to amateur radios from South America to Asia. It's not the only satellite with this capability, but Es'hail-2 is going to a particularly high orbit 22,000 miles up. That will make it the first satellite at this altitude to link amateur radios from Brazil to India. SpaceX managed to successfully deploy the Es'hail-2 satellite into orbit "32 minutes after takeoff," The Verge reports in an update. "The company also landed its Falcon 9 rocket on one of its drone ships following liftoff, bringing its total number of successful booster landings to 31." You can watch the full launch here.

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SpaceX Wins FCC Approval To Deploy 7,518 Satellites

SpaceX won permission to deploy more than 7,000 satellites, far more than all operating spacecraft currently aloft, from U.S. regulators who also moved to reduce a growing risk from space debris as skies grow more crowded. From a report: Space Exploration Technologies has two test satellites aloft, and it earlier won permission for a separate set of 4,425 satellites -- which like the 7,518 satellites authorized Thursday are designed to provide broadband communications. It has said it plans to begin launches next year. Space companies riding innovations that include smaller and cheaper satellites -- with some just 4 inches long and weighing only 3 pounds -- are planning fleets that will fly fast and low, offering communications now commonly handled by larger, more expensive satellites. Right now there are fewer than 2,000 operating satellites, and the planned additional space traffic demands vigilance, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said before the agency voted Thursday on a variety of space-related matters including SpaceX's application, debris rules, and other space matters.

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The US Military is Making Balloons That Hover at the Edge of Space, Indefinitely

A sensor that can spot the wind direction from miles away will let DARPA's surveillance balloons hover at the very edge of space in one spot indefinitely. An anonymous reader writes: DARPA, the US military's research arm, is currently testing a wind sensor that could allow devices in its Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (ALTA) balloon program to spot wind speed and direction from a great distance and then make the necessary adjustments to stay in one spot. DARPA has been working on ALTA for some time, but its existence was only revealed in September. "By flying higher we hope to take advantage of a larger range of winds," says ALTA project manager Alex Walan. ALTA will operate even higher than Loon at 75,000 to 90,000 feet (22,900 to 27,400 meters or 14 to 17 miles), where the winds are less predictable. That shouldn't be a problem if the balloon can see exactly where the favorable winds are. The wind sensor, called Strat-OAWL (short for "stratospheric optical autocovariance wind lidar"), is a new version of one originally designed for NASA satellites. Made by Ball Aerospace, OAWL shines pulses of laser light into the air. A small fraction of the beam is reflected back, and the reflected laser light is gathered by a telescope. The wavelength of the reflected light is changed slightly depending on how fast the air it bounced back from is moving, a change known as doppler shift. By analyzing this shift, OAWL can determine the speed and direction of the wind. Unlike other wind sensors, OAWL looks in two directions at once, giving a better indication of wind speed and direction.

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