Tag Archive for Mobile Phones

The best way to keep your biometrics safe is not to give them away in the first place

What is so surprising about the revelation that fingerprint scanners on Android devices are vulnerable to hackers is that people are surprised about it.

The irreconcilable flaws in using biometrics were exposed years ago when Tony Blair’s despotic regime was trying to introduce biometric ID cards and more recently in the context of mobile devices, by how unbelievably easy it was to lift a fingerprint off the scanner of an iPhone which could be used over and over again.

You see, the main problem with using fingerprints is that you have to physically touch the scanner glass and that leaves a residue that can be lifted using a piece of plastic film and turned into as many copies of your fingerprint as you want. Whilst the physical method of cloning fingerprints is the simplest it can’t really be done on an industrial scale so the real vulnerability is a man in the middle attack which intercepts the digital encoding of your fingerprint and provides that to the system comparing it to the one on file rather than a physical scan of a finger.

As mobster John Dillinger found out over 80 years ago, you can’t obliterate or alter your fingerprints and the only way to stop them growing back as your skin heals is to graft skin from elsewhere on your body. If hackers manage to get a digital copy of your fingerprint, what are you going to do? Or your iris scans or DNA? You can’t change your biometric data so once it’s compromised it’s personally compromised.

My current mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) is listed amongst the devices that had a vulnerability with its fingerprint scanner. It’s been patched apparently but that was never a problem for me because I refused to set up the fingerprint scanner. I pledged to refuse to hand over my biometrics to the British government back in 2006 so why would I hand them over to the company that makes my mobile phone, Google and anyone else who has access to the fingerprint database?

The best way to keep your biometrics safe is not to give them away in the first place.

Crowd sourcing mobile phone coverage maps

A colleague showed me an app the other day that helps produce crowd sourced mobile phone coverage and performance maps.

I’m sure everyone’s seen the mobile phone operators’ own coverage maps which are reasonably accurate but are based on maths rather than user experience and Rootmetrics have seen this as a gap that needs filling.

I have no idea how Rootmetrics make money but that’s their problem, not mine.  The company has already mapped much of America and is now mapping the UK.  Their employees have already driven round London and Hull testing the mobile networks and the gaps are being filled by mobile phone users like me who are running the continuous test on the Rootmetric app when travelling to build up coverage and performance data.  The continuous test only works on the Android version of the app, not the iPhone version for some reason (probably a spurious “security” restriction imposed by Apple) and it’s pretty data hungry – the app has used over 750mb in 4 days – so you’ll only want to use it on an unlimited data plan.

Rootmetrics Coverage Map Telford

The tests produced are a good guide for signal strength at least but the data stats are slightly less convincing which makes the Rootmetric score – a combined score based on signal strength and data speeds – a bit misleading.  For instance, if I check my connection speed on the speedtest.net app I can get some blistering speeds for a 3G connection – 9.39mbit/sec one day this week – but the download speed is fairly average using Rootmetrics’ servers giving it a yellow/orange hexagon – which is more a refelection on Rootmetrics’ infrastructure than Three’s.  I tether my tablet to my phone at work and at least one of my colleagues tethers to it in the office because he’s on Vodafone and they’re rubbish and it’s good enough to watch live TV on more than one device using the same connection.

That said, the idea of crowd sourcing mobile phone coverage data is a great one and I’m certainly doing my bit!

High speed mobile services coming to the UK

Orange/T-Mobile are launching a new 4G mobile phone service under the brand Everything Everywhere (EE), the name they gave themselves when the two networks merged.

4G LTEThere’s been a bit of controversy around the 4G roll-out though.  OFCOM, which is responsible for licensing the spectrum that 4G mobile networks will use, has given EE permission to use some of the spectrum it already owns to roll out 4G services ahead of the auction for the rest of the spectrum.  Other mobile phone providers reckon this is a bit unfair as they don’t have any spare spectrum and EE only have spare spectrum because OFCOM gave them a big chunk for free a few years ago.  They thought that was unfair at the time as well but nothing came of it.

Three make a bit of a fuss about the way the 4G auction was going to be run, saying that it gave an unfair advantage to the big four networks who already had lots of spectrum.  They have since done a deal with EE to run their own 4G services over their network.  It’s a logical extension of the mast-sharing deal they currently have with Orange.

The 4G launch will be an Apple-free zone with only Windows 8 and Android phones expected in the first year and although Apple is rumoured to be preparing a 4G version of the iBrick it might not work with EE’s network.

It does seem a little unfair that EE are getting to launch their 4G network early but while it gives them an advantage at the outset being the only 4G provider, they’re going to find themselves running a network on the wrong frequency with a limited set of handsets as a result.  They’ll buy more spectrum in the auction and then spend stupid money running the two alongside each other.  This fragmentation happens in the US and it’s a nightmare – you get entire cities with only one operator because the mobile network has been built non-standard and no other operator’s handsets work.

Whatever happens, the rollout of 4G can only be a good thing.  Fixed line broadband really has had its day – wireless has virtually limitless possibilities and can provide high speed data connections where laying miles of copper wires or fibre optics just aren’t an option.  The only thing that is likely to hold it back is divergence as a result of EE’s early adoption and companies spending stupid money in the spectrum auctions and not having enough cash to invest in building the new networks.

I have Three. Yay!

Talking to a colleague at work about his problems with Orange (pretty much the same we’re having at Chez Wonko), I decided to phone Orange again to see what the score was following my phone call on Saturday.  The person I spoke to actually seemed to be doing something so thinking I was on a roll I decided to phone Three again.

The colleague in question had sent me a link to a website that said Three were opting out of network sharing with Orange in areas where they had good coverage.  Three think they have good coverage here which is why they turned a mast off so maybe they’d opted out of network sharing where I live?  They haven’t but the person I spoke to said “we don’t want you to leave us, let me see if we can fix your problem”.

What have I got to lose?  I’m waiting for Mrs Sane to sort out Orange so we can change networks together and like I said on Saturday, if Orange sort out their problem I don’t necessarily need to change networks.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at my phone this morning and it was on Three.  Not only was it on Three, it had a full signal.  They phoned me today and said they’d changed something at the mast so that I would get coverage while they sorted out another mast for the area which should be operational in about 3-4 months time.


Orange admits to 69.5% failure rate on mobile phone mast

The Orange rip-off saga continues unabated.  I eventually got Orange to disconnect my phone after a prolonged battle with customer services eventually got me talking to their network support people.  But I haven’t escaped Orange yet.

When I left Orange I changed to Three and it all went well for a couple of months until Three decommissioned a mobile phone mast near my house and left me unable to get a Three signal in my house.  And when you can’t get a Three signal, your phone roams onto Orange.  Same shit service at home, different name on the bill.

Orange, in their infinite wisdom, decided to turn off one of their masts a week later even though they’d already acknowledged a few months earlier that the network was congested.  If your car is running on 3 cylinders, you don’t take another spark plug out … unless you’re Orange.

Mrs Sane is still on Orange and tearing her hair out since they turned the mast off.  Since that weekend the pattern is the same – about lunchtime on a Friday you can’t make and receive phone calls or send and receive texts with any degree of reliability.  Most of the time it’s not possible to use the phone as a phone which is a bit inconvenient.  This goes on until Monday morning.

Mrs Sane complained to Orange and they agreed to release her from her contract if she wrote in to their head office.  She wrote in to their head office and I put a letter in the same envelope for #1 son’s phone which is also on Orange.  I haven’t had a reply but Mrs Sane got one denying there was a problem and insisting that their networks people said there is no problem.

The level of service is unacceptable.  I provide 24 hour cover for work every other week and the on-call phone is on Orange.  The last two times I’ve been on call I’ve had to give my house phone number to my employer because the mobile phone doesn’t work.  Mrs Sane can’t use her phone and neither can #1 son.  I can’t use my Three phone because roaming connections are dropped off first and neither can #2 son who’s also on Three.  My brother-in-law says that whenever he comes to Telford – and particularly where we live – he has the same problem.

Things came to a head today when Mrs Sane and I were trying to call each other this morning and couldn’t so I phoned Orange to complain again.  Five times.  It took about 30 or 40 attempts to make the five calls.  The first time a supervisor was going to call me but didn’t.  The second and third times I got cut off while I was on hold.  The fourth time I asked to be called straight back on my landline because I kept getting cut off but nobody called.  The fifth time I asked to be called back on my landline while I waited on the mobile and when they called me I didn’t bother wasting time explaining myself again and insisted on being put through to a network support person.

To my surprise I was put through to a network support person who was very helpful.  He checked the repeater mast at the end of our road and found that it was a bit poorly.  Well, when I say a bit poorly, what I mean is absolutely buggered.  The connection failure rate on that mast yesterday was 69.5%.  You haven’t read that wrong – 7 out of 10 attempts to connect to the network to make or receive calls, send or receive texts or use data resulted in a failure.  That is amazingly bad – a critical failure rate according to the networks person at Orange.  But according to Orange head office, there’s nothing wrong!

The nice networks man raised a ticket for an engineer to go and check it out next week.  He said it’s a line of sight repeated and it may have lost sight of a proper mast (the one they’ve turned off perhaps?) or just not be up to the job and needs cabling up instead.

It’s understandable that the first line support people don’t have access to that sort of information because they wouldn’t know what to do with it but it shouldn’t be so damn hard to get through to someone who can check out that sort of thing and deal with the problem accordingly.  I really hope they can sort the problem out because if I can get a reliable Orange connection at home, that means I don’t have to change from Three who I’m still really happy with, lack of connectivity at home notwithstanding.

Orange should have known there was a problem because that level of failure is just ridiculous but the big problem is people just accepting shit service and not reporting it.  If everyone who had a problem – and there are a lot of them – reported it they would have been more likely to have spotted a problem before now.

I’m not convinced that they’re going to fix the problem – certainly not in the short term – but let’s see what they say next week.  I am assured that I will have a phone call by Thursday at the latest to give me an update.

Help me choose: O2 or Vodafone

I’m beginning to think we’re jinxed when it comes to mobile phones.

Last week I posted about the dilemma I have now that Three have turned off the mast closest to my house.  I left Orange because it was so unreliable so staying on Three when I can only pick up Orange on my Three phone is no good and T-Mobile doesn’t work in my house.

Well now it’s becoming more of a pressing issue because Orange have also just switched off a mast and you’ve guessed it, it’s the mast nearest my house.  Getting an Orange signal isn’t a problem but making and receiving calls and sending and receiving texts is a problem and data connections are a rarity because the already overloaded Orange network is now maxed out all the time.

So in a nutshell, I’ve got a choice between O2 and Vodafone.  I’ve been asking on Twitter and Facebook and so far pretty much everyone has said Vodafone.  O2 are apparently having the same capacity problems as Orange and T-Mobile.  But what about Vodafone?  Everyone can’t be happy with Vodafone otherwise there’d be nobody on the other 4 networks!  Their data allowances are rubbish, as are their upgrades but what about the network?

The coverage checkers for O2 and Vodafone both show reasonable coverage for where I live – not as good as Orange, T-Mobile or Three – but there’s not much difference between the two.  So it’s just down to reliability, customer service and value for money but which one should I choose?  O2 or Vodafone?

A Dilemma

A couple of months ago I achieved a small personal victory against Orange who finally admitted that their network is struggling and terminated my contract early.  They’ve since agreed to pay me a quite reasonable amount of compensation for unreasonably keeping me in contract when they knew they couldn’t provide me with the service I was paying for.

So I changed to Three for a number of reasons, foremost of which was the value for money and the superior coverage.  For £32 per month I get a free network unlocked HTC Desire, 500 minutes of any network calls, 1000 minutes of Three to Three calls, 1000 texts, 120 MMS messages and 1gb of data.  On the coverage front, I get Three’s network which provides relatively patchy coverage nationally (but fine in the places I frequent regularly) and roaming access to voice and data on Orange – the largest combined coverage of any UK mobile network.

I have been more than happy with Three right up until last Saturday when my phone would no longer connect to Three and was stuck on roaming.  I assumed it was a local problem and after a few hours called Three to confirm they were aware of the problem.  They said there was no problem, it must be the phone and I should turn it off and take out the sim card, leave it for a few minutes and try again.  I left it overnight to see if the problem went away by itself but it didn’t so I tried what I was advised to do and that failed to fix the problem.

So I called again and was told it must be my phone and that there is a known problem with the HTC Desire that can cause it to latch onto a roaming network and be reluctant to move back to the home network.  I was told to take my phone to a Three or Carphone Warehouse shop and get it flashed to the latest version of the software under warranty.  The phone had updated that morning so I knew it was up-to-date but I reluctantly agreed to do as they said.  But later that day I went to a relative’s house and as soon as I travelled away from home, the phone picked up Three again.  “Ah-ha”, I thought, “that proves it’s the network”.

So when I got home I checked #2 son’s phone which is also on Three and his had the same problem.  I manually scanned for networks and it would only pick up Three on 2G – scanning with the phone set to 3G wouldn’t pick up Three at all.  So it’s definitely the network, without a doubt and I phoned Three back up again.  The person I spoke to this time told me that the mast by my house had been decommissioned and that they were currently working on the next nearest to upgrade it to take up the slack from the decommissioned mast.  This would take a couple of days, he told me.

Being a naturally suspicious person, I decided to go to the Three shop in town and check it out the following day.  I went, they checked and confirmed that what I was told was correct.  Brilliant, it’s not my phone and I just need to sit tight for a few days and it’ll be sorted.  Except it isn’t sorted because my phone still roams onto Orange as soon as I turn into my street and it’s been a week.  I called Three today to find out if the upgrade had been finished on the other mast – yes it has and there are no problems with any of the masts in my area.  You know what’s coming next don’t you?  I did and I sighed.

The handset faults person asked me for my software versions again and told me that I didn’t have the latest version.  I disagreed.  So did he.  He told me it was my phone and I needed to get it flashed.  I told him it wasn’t my phone and explained all the above again and asked him if he genuinely thought that it was all a co-incidence and that two different models of phone had spontaneously developed the same fault which only manifests itself in my street and started when they turned off the mast near my house?  He said it could be.  Clearly it isn’t.  This is what I do for a job – I diagnose and fix application infrastructure faults for a multinational IT company.

The aforementioned handset faults person got his supervisor to phone me back and we went through it all again.  He didn’t try and blag me the like his colleague did though and agreed that it was Three’s fault.  He offered me a different handset or to terminate my contract without charge.  As I’ve already proven it’s not the handset with #2 son’s phone, the only option is to terminate the contract and go elsewhere.

But here’s the dilemma: my phone works in the house, it just can’t get a Three signal so it roams onto Orange.  If I’m on a call when I turn into the street it invariably cuts me off as it tries to keep the Three signal for as long as possible and ends up cutting me off because it’s too late to switch the call to Orange.  And I came off Orange for a reason – the network is overloaded and unreliable.  But I won’t get the deal I’ve got from Three if I go to another network – I won’t get the data, the free calls or the coverage.

Obviously Orange is out of the question so that leaves me with T-Mobile, O2 or Vodafone.  We’ve dabbled with T-Mobile and it was nothing special and then they built a new mast at the end of the road and the signal nosedived to the extent that it often wouldn’t work indoors.  So that leaves O2 or Vodafone.  Having worked for a mobile phone dealer, I know that Vodafone’s upgrades are shit – you have to spend quite a lot of money with them to get a decent upgrade when your contract is up so that leaves O2.  But O2 have overloaded their network with free data packages to the extent that their network in London was pretty much knocked out earlier this year for weeks.

So now you see my dilemma, what should I do?