Monday, 22 December 2008

Seasons Greetings and a Prosperous New Year!

On behalf of Plum Communications I wish you…

Seasons Greetings
A Prosperous New Year!!

Click on these links for some holiday fun
Track and countdown to Santa
Light up a Christmas Tree as fast as possible (click on the North Pole Clock Tower)

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Ofcom is 5 years old

On 29th December Ofcom will be five years old, after being established on 29th December 2003. Ofcom was set up as a single regulatory body, taking over the duties of the five previous bodies - the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Independent Television Commission, the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel), the Radio Authority, and the Radiocommunications Agency. Originally solely located in one office in London, Ofcom now has offices throughout the UK. Communications has come a long way in those 5 years, for example: 9 out of 10 people in the UK now have at least 1 digital TV, 60% have broadband internet compared to 7% in 2002, and the number of mobile connections has also risen by almost 50 per cent to reach 74 million. A list of Ofcom’s milestones from 2003-2006 can be found here, and a list of Ofcom’s milestones from 2007-08 can be found here.

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Friday, 19 December 2008

Customers need to be alerted about 'Dial Through Fraud'

We would like to remind customers about the re-emerging danger of ‘Dial Through Fraud’ (also known as PBX Hacking). ‘Dial Through Fraud’ occurs when fraudsters crack the protection codes needed to get into a company’s switchboard, and then dial outside lines at a company’s expense. Many companies have phone exchanges that let company employees ring in to the switchboard, and then by keying certain dialing codes, get an outside line to anywhere in the world. The company then pays the bill for the outgoing call. Therefore, anyone who cracks the protection around those codes can make unlimited calls at the company's expense.

Examples of this has appeared in The Guardian newspaper. In one case, a fraudster hacked into the telephone exchange of a firm in Kent and made international calls to the Philippines, Dubai, US and Italy, which led to call charges of £1,000. In a further case in Manchester, fraudsters used Voice over IP technology to hack into the telephone exchange, which meant in reality that their calls could have been made from anywhere in the world, and made international calls to 19 countries (including Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, Serbia and the Republic of Yemen), which led to call charges of £2,100. Therefore, it is essential that companies try and protect themselves from such fraud.

We recommend these ‘15 Top Tips’ to help guard your business against the risks of ‘Dial Through Fraud’:

  1. Remove or de-activate all unnecessary system functionality including remote access ports. If you must have the latter, protect them with strong authentication techniques such as smartcards or tokens.
  2. Restrict the numbers that employees can dial: for example, bar calls to premium rate numbers, international numbers, operator numbers or Directory Enquiries.
  3. Review your PBX call logging/reporting records regularly to spot any increases in call volumes or calls to suspicious destinations.
  4. Bar voicemail ports for outgoing access to trunks if you can. Change your voicemail and DISA (Direct Inward System Access) passwords regularly and don't use the factory defaults or obvious combinations such as 1234 or the extension number.
  5. If access to trunks via voicemail is vital, then introduce suitable controls. Remove Auto Attendant options for accessing trunks too.
  6. Lock any surplus mailboxes until you have a user for them.
  7. Not using DISA? Then disable it completely.
  8. Restrict access to your core communications equipment, such as your communications room or master terminals.
  9. Only give individuals the appropriate and minimum level of system access they need to carry out a specific task.
  10. Change your security features - passwords, PINs etc - and re-set the password defaults whenever you install, upgrade, repair or maintain equipment.
  11. Treat all internal directories, call logging reports or audit logs as confidential. Destroy them securely when they're no longer needed.
  12. Avoid using tones to prompt for password/PIN entry: hackers find it easy to duplicate them.
  13. Implement formal processes to cover employee entry procedures, the issuing of pass cards, the vetting of new employees and when people change jobs or leave. For the latter, remember to revoke any access they might have had to your systems, mailboxes or buildings.
  14. Review your system security and configuration settings regularly. Follow up any vulnerabilities or irregularities promptly.
  15. Be vigilant against bogus callers: people who pose as a company employee and ask to be connected to a switchboard operator to get an outgoing line.

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Friday, 12 December 2008

Voters vote 'No' on Manchester congestion fare

At noon today at the Manchester Central conference centre, returning officer Sir Neil McIntosh announced that the majority of voters had voted against the introduction of the congestion charge. Across the 10 regions of Greater Manchester, 1.94 million ballot packs have been sent out over the last 2 weeks. By 10pm last night 1,030,000 residents (53.2% of the electorate) turned out to vote. The scheme needed at least 7 boroughs to vote in favour of the scheme for it go-ahead, but as the following breakdown suggests (see the Middleton Guardian), this didn’t happen:


Yes Vote

No Vote


Overall Outcome




































































The Times suggests that voters were not persuaded by the £1.5 billion Government funding for public transport, despite the fact that it would have created 10,000 extra jobs due to the construction of new tram lines and improved trains and buses. Many questioned the timing of the referendum, which would have seen drivers paying £5 a day (up to £1,200 a year) to get in and out of Manchester (here is a map of the proposed outer and inner rings), due to the current economic climate and the belief that building more roads is not financially possible or environmentally acceptable.

It appears that the vote was decided by whether you drove into Manchester, or took public transport into Manchester. Those who take public transport are more likely to vote in favour of additional public transport, as it would be more beneficial to them and across a year they wouldn’t pay as much as drivers. However, those who drive into Manchester would vote against it, as they would inevitably have to pay up to £5 a day just to go to work, a possible £1,200 a year, which for someone with a basic salary could be quite a financial burden. Similarly, those travelling from the most furthest out boroughs in Greater Manchester would prefer to drive over public transport, as it is a lot quicker.

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Review of Ofcom Telecoms Report Q2 2008

Ofcom have released their telecoms report for the second 3 months (April - June) in 2008. The report aims to highlight emerging trends in the UK telecoms sector, in order to generate a greater understanding of the sector amongst consumers and businesses alike. As stated on the Ofcom website, the main trends in fixed lines and calls, internet, and mobile phones, were as follows:<


  • BT’s market share of fixed calls and access revenues stayed at 59.7% in Q2 2008.
  • Total call volumes declined by 3% down to 37 billion minutes during the period, some 9% lower that at the same stage in 2007.
  • Total number of fixed lines and ISDN channels fell by 63,000 in Q2 2008.


  • The total number of residential and SME broadband connections increased by almost 400,000 to 16.6 million in Q1 2008, with LLU connections account for most of this increase and BT’s retail market share being unchanged at 26.5%


  • Total mobile revenue across the four mobile operators declined by 1.6% during the quarter, driven by a fall in revenue from calls and other charges.
  • Total volume of SMS and MMS messages increased by 4.8% during the quarter; but revenue in this area fell by 1.7% over this same period.
  • Contract subscribers grew by 545,000 in Q2 2008 and there was also an increase of 65,000 in prepay subscribers.
  • At 506 million minutes, international roaming call volumes in Q2 2008, some 7.7% higher than the 470 million minutes in Q2 2007.

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Thursday, 4 December 2008

Granada Congestion-Charge Advert Pulled

Ofcom has announced that a congestion-charge advert, shown in the ITV Granada region between November 6 and 13, was biased towards the introduction of the congestion charge in Manchester, and has consequently been pulled off the air. Ofcom states that the advert publicised a website which was pro-congestion charge, and that the advert itself showed partiality toward the congestion charge. A Greater Manchester transport spokesman said that Ofcom’s ruling was unjustified, as the advert, which cost £230,000 to produce, had been previously approved by an independent body of broadcasters. The full Ofcom review can be seen here.

Just a reminder, you have until 11th December to vote in the congestion charge referendum. Please visit our previous blog entry ‘Manchester Congestion Charge - Yes or No?’ for more information on this.

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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

Residents of Greater Manchester today woke up to picturesque views of roads, houses, cars and fields blanketed by up to 6 inches of snow. Last night’s snow falls were supposedly the heaviest since November 1996. However, this ‘winter wonderland’ has caused major disruptions to people travelling to school and work, with traffic and public transport being affected, in particular in Middleton and Oldham.

Throughout the region drivers were forced to reduce their speeds to 15 – 20mph in fear of skidding on the roads, which in addition to the traffic caused mass delays on the roads, with cars being abandoned on the traffic gridlocked A62, A635 and A627M. Snow ploughs were in put into use on the M62 eastbound out of Greater Manchester, in order to re-open a lane. Junctions 19 (Middleton/Heywood) and 20 (Rochdale) of the M62 was closed due to 2 HGVs colliding at 19, and a vehicle careering up the embankment at 20. In one incident, a car crashed into a house in Grimshaw Lane, Middleton, but thankfully no-one was injured. Consequently, many workers had to find alternative ways of travelling into work, as buses alike also struggled to cope with the poor weather conditions.

Due to teachers struggling to get into work, many schools in the area have been closed for the day or opened later in the day. Schools which have closed down today include: Royton and Crompton Secondary School, Crompton House, St. Mary’s, Buckstones Primary School, Saddleworth Prep, South Failsworth Primary, Counthill and North Chadderton.

The weather conditions also affected trains in the area, with trains breaking down and numerous services being heavily delayed or cancelled; Manchester Airport to Edinburgh, Manchester Victoria to Leeds, to name but a few. However, these disruptions look set to be cleared up this afternoon.

Is this the last of the snow? Possibly. Oldham Chronicle’s weatherman Damien Rogers said, “There may be more snow on Thursday and it is possibly going to stay cold until the weekend”. The BBC Weather pages show that for Oldham; there may be more snow today, tomorrow will be foggy, Thursday will be very wet, and Friday will have some sunny intervals. Is it me or is the weather just too unpredictable at the moment? Is this our snow for the year? Will there still be a White Christmas?

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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Manchester Congestion Charge - Yes or No?

As many local papers and websites are now hightlighting (e.g. This Is Lancashire), all residents across the 10 regions of Greater Manchester have until 10pm on 11th December, in 2 weeks time, to cast their vote in determining whether a congestion fare should be introduced in Manchester or not. The congestion fare would work by drivers paying up to £5 a day for crossing in and out of an outer ring (the M60) and an inner ring (the city centre) at peak times between 7 and 9.30 am, and 4 and 6.30 pm. The fare, to be provisionally introduced in 2013, would help make £1.2 billion of the £3 billion needed for improvements to public transport in Greater Manchester. Many agree, many disagree...what's your view?

The improvements to public transport across Greater Manchester would include:

  • An extra 22 miles of tramlines

  • 41 upgraded train stations

  • New direct buses from the north to the south of Manchester

  • 120 extra yellow school buses

  • More carriages and seats on trains

  • More park and ride service on rail and tram networks

  • More cycling provision

For full details on how the scheme will affect each region in Greater Manchester click here.

Some believe that the fare will help to reduce traffic levels in the city, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, in practice 9 out of 10 people across Greater Manchester wouldn't have to pay a charge. Campaigns in favour of the charge also argue that without the fare much needed transport improvements and extensions in Greater Manchester wouldn't go ahead, as highlighted on Vote Yes website.

On the other hand, some disagree with the charge, as it could cost commuters an extra £1,200 per year to travel around the city. Similarly, SMEs may consider relocating, as the extra financial burden may affect their ability, and their customers' ability, to travel around Manchester, as examples on the First Voice website show.

Still unsure how the congestion charge works? The BBC website has a useful FAQs page on the matter.

What do you think about the fare?

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Oldham Chronicle Business Awards

The Oldham Chronicle today launched the ‘One Oldham Business Awards’, to take place in March 2009, in conjunction with Oldham Council, and the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest Business Banking’ sponsorship. The awards aim to find the ‘cream’ of the business community in Oldham, in order to reward and celebrate their achievements. Between now and February the Chronicle will publish an entry form for each of the 8 categories available. The 8 categories will be:

  • Business of the Year
  • Start-Up Business
  • Businessman of the Year
  • Businesswoman of the Year
  • Innovation and Design
  • Young Entrepreneur
  • Retailer of the Year
  • Small Business of the Year

To enter you will need to download a form here and send it to the address on the Oldham Chronicle Business website.

For those wishing to attend what should be a memorable evening, tickets cost £35 per head, or tables of 10 are available for £400, for which you also get an advertisement in the programme.
God luck to all entrants!!

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Monday, 24 November 2008

VAT Standard Rate to Be Reduced

During his pre-budget report this afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced that the standard rate of VAT will be reduced from 17.5% to 15% from 1st December 2008 to 31st December 2009, and then revert back to 17.5% as of 1st January 2010, as a means of helping to improve the current economic climate. For more information on this change please visit the HRMC website.

In relation to the rest of the pre-budget report; there will be an increase in child benefit from January, pensioners will receive a one-off payment of £60 on top of a £10 Christmas bonus, and duties on petrol, alcohol and tobacco will increase. For more information on the pre-budget report please click here.

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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Telecoms Industry Giants Cut Thousands of Jobs

Last week BT announced that they were to cut 10,000 jobs worldwide, with 7,000 to be cut in the UK. This news shortly after BT announced a shock £80 million drop in profits, and UK unemployment levels were reported to be as high as 1.83 million. BT is the 4th large telecoms company to announce job losses in the past week; Virgin Media plans to cut 2,200 jobs over the next three years, yellow pages group Yell is cutting 1,300 posts this year, and Vodafone wants to reduce costs by £1bn a year with an unspecified number of job losses.

BT’s Chief Executive, Ian Livingston, explained that BT’s cuts were part on an ongoing efficiency programme: 'This reflects the fact that our prices have been falling every year for several years now,' he said. 'Since that is the case we have to deliver costs savings every year. But we also anticipated reasonably early on that economic conditions were worsening.”

With these large companies cutting jobs, what effect will this have on small and medium-sized companies? At Plum we feel that we can adapt to the current market forces and are bullish about the future. We have recently hired business graduate Rhodri Lloyd to help us improve our customers’ experience.

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Friday, 14 November 2008

‘Long way down’ – Lisa’s Skydive

On Friday 21st November, Lisa, Matt and Holly from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce are going to do a sponsored jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet, in order to raise money for the Prince’s Trust Charity. This charity helps young people between 14 and 30 years of age to overcome barriers and get their lives working, by giving practical and financial support and developing skills such as confidence and motivation.

They have currently raised £ 530.00, but still have a bit more to do to reach their target of £2,000. Companies who are already members of the GM Chamber of Commerce who sponsor £10 or more will have their logo and a link to their website placed on the Chamber website . To sponsor them, click here…every penny counts!!!

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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Oldham Pensioner Makes a Stand Over £4.50 BT charge

The front page of today's Oldham Evening Chronicle showed a story about John Slater, a 75-year old pensioner from Failsworth, Oldham, who has been fined £13.50 by BT, because he has refused to pay a charge of £4.50 on his last 3 bills he has received through the post. If he had made payments through a direct debit, such costs wouldn't have arisen. Despite being consequently cut off for this non-payment, Mr Slater has vowed to take BT to court over these charges. BT don't look set to back down, stating that their charge for non direct debit customers is already lower than other companies. Read the full article here.

Is such a charge necessary? As a company we do not make such charges. In the case of a pensioner, who suffers from diabetes and arthritis, should BT just let bygones be bygones and not dish out such fines?

Channel 4 have already reported on a similar case back in March, where a customer took BT to court over charges. Similarly, in March 2007, a group of 35 MPs, led by Midlothian Labour MP David Hamilton, signed a Commons motion in protest against the charges. Some people however believe they have got round this problem by simply deducting £4.50 from the bill themselves.

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Monday, 10 November 2008

BlackBerry Storm 9500 Review

Following the recent success of Apple’s touch screen and multi-functional iPhone, and Google’s own touch screen mobile, the G1 Android Phone, BlackBerry have now introduced their 1st touch screen smartphone, the impressive BlackBerry Storm 9500.

As with all BlackBerry phones, the Storm strongly focuses on its ease of use and efficiency for its business users. The BlackBerry phones are traditionally seen as phones which allow e-mails to be sent and received, and Microsoft Office files to be opened and edited. However, the new BlackBerry offers its user a lot more than that. Its media player utilises iTunes syncing and Roxio Media Manager, along with a handy 1GB memory built-in, so users can set up music playlists for themselves.

The 3.2 Mega Pixel camera takes high quality and sharp pictures, thus encouraging picture and video blogging. In terms of a keyboard, users can choose between 3 different styles. The phone also has other useful functions: GPS, BlackBerry maps, Java, 3.5 mm audio output jack, organizer, calculator, voice dial, built-in-handsfree, and voice memo.

Check out these slides from a Vodafone presentation to get further details on the phone.

However, the Storm does have a major disadvantage in that it doesn’t have WiFi, a factor which may affect its popularity and efficiency.

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Important Safety Notice: GN9120 Users

Some cases of battery failures in GN9120 headsets, distributed between January 2005 and September 2008, have been reported. These faulty batteries are possible fire hazards to users, as short circuits in the batteries can cause the handsets to overheat.

GN Netcom, the manufacturer, is asking customers to stop using their headsets until they have received and replaced the affected batteries. Customers can request battery replacements via, or by calling 0808 2381498 between 8am and 4pm Monday to Friday.

GN Netcom has now changed their battery suppliers and battery type for these headsets, in order to prevent possible future faults.

The full text of the safety notice issued by GN Netcom can be obtained here

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Monday, 27 October 2008

Customer Service Survey

I would like to thank all our customers who carried out our recent customer service survey. Based upon the feedback we have received, we are going to carry out the following actions:

  • The current website is to be revamped, allowing for a more customer friendly interface, and more product and service information
  • Our application form has been improved, so customers will now only have to enter their details once
  • A customer fault feedback questionnaire is to be introduced, allowing us to directly monitor how we deal with faults
  • Product fact sheets, case studies and tariff sheets are to be made available for customers to download off the website
  • ‘Plumblog’ is to be updated more frequently
  • User training sessions for telephone systems are to be arranged

Your feedback has been very constructive and helpful. We hope that the above changes will help improve and prolong our service towards you.

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Monday, 13 October 2008

Review of Ofcom Telecoms Report Q1 2008

Ofcom have released their telecoms report for the first 3 months in 2008. The report aims to highlight emerging trends in the UK telecoms sector, in order to generate a greater understanding of the sector amongst consumers and businesses alike. As stated on the Ofcom website, the main trends in fixed lines and calls, internet, and mobile phones, were as follows:


  • BT’s market share of fixed calls and access revenues fell to under 60% for the first time in Q1 2008.
  • Total call volumes were unchanged at 38 billion minutes during the period as a result of growth in call volumes from indirect operators offsetting a decline in call volumes from other operators.


  • The total number of residential and SME broadband connections increased by almost 600,000 to 16.2 million in Q1 2008, with BT’s retail market share being unchanged at 26.5%.
  • The number of people using mobile broadband, via 3G mobile USB modems or ‘dongles’, has increased. Around 6% of all UK internet access is done through mobile broadband.


  • Total mobile revenue across the four mobile operators declined by 1.6% in during the quarter, due to a fall in revenue from calls and other charges.
  • Total mobile call volumes declined slightly (0.23%) during the quarter while messaging volumes increased by 8%.
  • Contract subscribers grew by 1.9% in Q1 2008 compared to a 1.3% decline in prepay subscribers.

In relation to business users:

  • The total telecoms revenue from UK businesses increased by 6% during 2007, but fixed voice business services declined by 3%, and SMEs are tending to use residential internet connections rather than business.
  • The total volume of fixed line business calls fell by 6% in 2007, some 26% lower than in 2002, with many businesses using mobile phones and VoIP instead.
  • The total number of fixed business lines and ISDN channels increased in 2007, due to more larger businesses using ISDN 30 channels to route voice calls.

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