The European Union has reached a provisional deal to scrap mobile roaming charges across the 28 member states in mid-2017, in an attempt to boost growth and innovation across the region.
Most mobile operators currently charge extra fees for using a mobile phone to call, send text messages or access the internet in another EU country.
According to recent research by uSwitch.com, a fifth of UK holidaymakers have returned home from an European trip in the past year to find their bill was, on average, £61 higher than usual – amounting to £573 million collectively.
For the past seven years the EU has been forcing prices down by placing a cap on the charges operators can impose and reducing that limit each year.
Current charge caps are €0.19 per minute for calls, €0.06 per text message and €0.20 per megabyte of data. On 30 April 2016, these will go down to €0.05, €0.02 and €0.05 respectively.
Under the new agreement, mobile phone users travelling within the EU will pay the same price for calls, text messages and data as they do in their home country from 15 June 2017.
However, roaming providers will be able to apply a ‘fair use policy’ to prevent abusive use of roaming. This would include using roaming services for purposes other than periodic travel.
Although the removal of roaming charges could wipe two per cent off mobile operators’ revenues, the EU said that safeguards will be introduced to address the recovery of costs by operators.
The expected consolidation in the industry will also allow greater economies of scale for the high costs of building networks capable of handling ever-growing volumes of data.
Commenting on the news, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said the abolition of roaming charges would put an end to uncertainty about using mobiles abroad, and cut “bill shocks” off at the source.
“This long-awaited move to scrap EU mobile roaming charges would be a huge win for millions of travellers, especially those who have faced expensive charges for data roaming when their mobile hasn’t even left their suitcase,” he said.
While the announcement is potentially good news for travellers in Europe, this is not the first time the EU has promised to end roaming charges. Last year, the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming charges from 15 December 2015.
However, the move was delayed amid concerns about the impact on the overall telecoms market, and speculation that mobile operators would increase domestic tariffs to make up for the shortfall in roaming revenues.
“Let’s hope there’ll be no more backtracking after Europe’s mobile networks have had their say,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com.
“The ‘safeguards’ to address the recovery of costs by operators will have to be suitably robust to financially protect mobile customers and make sure bills don’t rise.”
Member states’ ambassadors will be debriefed on the new deal at the Permanent Representatives Committee on 30 June. The agreed text will then be presented for confirmation by member states later this year, according to the EU.
AMAZON ERROR ALLOWED ALEXA USER TO EAVESDROP ON ANOTHER HOME
A user of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in Germany got access to more than a thousand recordings from another user because of “a human error” by the company.
The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.
“This unfortunate case was the result of a human error and an isolated single case,” an Amazon spokesman said.
The first customer had initially got no reply when he told Amazon about the access to the other recordings, the report said. The files were then deleted from the link provided by Amazon but he had already downloaded them on to his computer, added the report from c’t, part of German tech publisher Heise.
CRYPTOCURRENCY INDUSTRY FACES INSURANCE HURDLE TO MAINSTREAM AMBITIONS
Cryptocurrency exchanges and traders in Asia are struggling to insure themselves against the risk of hacks and theft, a factor they claim is deterring large fund managers from investing in a nascent market yet to be embraced by regulators.
Getting the buy-in from insurers would mark an important step in crypto industry efforts to show that it has solved the problem of storing digital assets safely following the reputational damage of a series of thefts, and allow it to attract investment from mainstream asset managers.
“Most institutionally minded crypto firms want to buy proper insurance, and in many cases, getting adequate insurance coverage is a regulatory or legal requirement,” said Henri Arslanian, PwC fintech and crypto leader for Asia.
“However, getting such coverage is almost impossible despite their best efforts.”
Many asset managers are interested in digital assets. A Greenwich Associates survey, published in September, said 72% of institutional investors who responded to the research firm believe crypto has a place in the future.
Last month, Mohamed El-Erian, Allianz’s chief economic adviser said that cryptocurrencies would gain wider acceptance as institutions began to invest in the space.
Most have held off investing so far however, citing regulatory uncertainty and a lack of faith in existing market infrastructure for storing and trading digital assets following a series of hacks, as well the plunge in prices.
The total market capitalisation of crypto currencies is currently estimated at approximately US$120bil (RM502bil) compared to over US$800bil (RM3.3tril) at its peak in January.
“Institutional investors who are interested in investing in crypto will have various requirements, including reliable custody and risk management arrangements,” said Hoi Tak Leung, a senior lawyer in Ashurst’s digital economy practice.
“Insufficient insurance coverage, particularly in a volatile industry such as crypto, will be a significant impediment to greater ‘institutionalisation’ of crypto investments.”
Regulatory uncertainty is another problem for large asset managers. While crypto currencies raise a number of concerns for regulators, including money laundering risks, few have set out clear frameworks for how cryptocurrencies should be traded, and by whom.
Insurance might allay some of the regulators’ concerns around cyber security. Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission recently said it was exploring regulating crypto exchanges, and signalled that the vast majority of the virtual assets held by a regulated exchange would need insurance cover.
Keeping crypto assets secure involves storing a 64 character alphanumeric private key. If the key is lost, the assets are effectively lost too.
Assets can be stored online, in so-called hot wallets, which are convenient to trade though vulnerable to being hacked, or in ‘cold’ offline storage solutions, safe from hacks, but often inconvenient to access frequently.
Over US$800mil worth of crypto currencies were stolen in the first half of this year according to data from Autonomous NEXT, a financial research firm.
Some institutions have started working to solve this problem, and may provide fierce competition to the incumbent players.
This year, Fidelity, and a group including Japanese investment bank Nomura have launched platforms that will offer custody services for digital assets.
Despite the industry’s complaints, insurers say that they do offer cover. Risk advisor Aon, received some two dozen inquiries this year from exchanges and crypto vaults seeking insurance, according to Thomas Cain, regional director, commercial risk solutions, at Aon’s Asian financial services and professions group.
“It is not difficult to insure companies that hold large amounts of crypto assets, but given the newness of the asset class and the publicity some of the crypto breaches have received, applicants need to make an effort to distinguish themselves,” Cain said.
The industry also says it is getting closer to solving the custody problem.
“This year there have been a number of developments, and some providers have developed custody solutions suitable for institutional clients’ needs,” said Tony Gravanis, managing director investments at blockchain investment firm Kenetic Capital.
“Players at the top end of the market have also been able to get insurance,” he said.
But this is not the case for all.
One cryptocurrency broker, declining to be named because of the subject’s sensitivity, said insurers struggled to understand the new technology and its implications, and that even those who were prepared to provide insurance would only offer limited cover. “We’ve not yet found an insurer who will offer coverage of a meaningful enough size to make it worthwhile,” he said. – Reuters
CTECH’S THURSDAY ROUNDUP OF ISRAELI TECH NEWS
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Israelis receive 8.5 spam calls a month, according to Truecaller. The country ranked last among the top 20 countries affected by spam calls in 2018, according to a new report released by the company. Read more
Innoviz expands globally, sets up a commercial manufacturing line in China.The Israel-based LiDAR maker has doubled its employee count in the past year and intends to recruit additional personnel for research and development, business and sales. Read more
Particle analyzer company PML sold following liquidation. The company developed electro-optical systems for monitoring and measuring fluid particle sizes and concentration.