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printed January 21, 2018
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Amazon’s Alexa App Adds Support for Voice Commands

Friday, 1:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 1:52 PM

Amazon has updated its Alexa mobile app for Android devices with the ability to support voice requests. Until today, the app was merely a tool used to manage in-home, Alexa-powered devices such as the Echo and Echo Dot. Now, Android smartphone owners can issue voice commands to Alexa from their smartphone in order to access playlists or tap into Alexa’s various skills. The app does not support wake word functionality, which means people will need to open the app in order to make voice-based requests. The updated Alexa app with voice control is available from the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store. An update for Alexa for iOS devices is still in the works. Phone makers HTC and Huawei have already taken steps to add Alexa to their devices, such as the U11 and Mate series handsets. This update brings Alexa voice functionality to devices without special hardware requirements. Alexa is free to download.


Verizon Extends Unlimited Mexico, Canada Roaming to Go Plans

Friday, 12:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Friday, 4:00 PM

Verizon Wireless today said subscribers to its Verizon Go Unlimited plan will soon be able to bring their unlimited calls, texts, and data with them when roaming in Mexico and Canada at no extra cost. Go Unlimited subscribers may also place unlimited calls from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada. (Customers of the Beyond Unlimited plan already have access to Mexico and Canada roaming.) Verizon says Go Unlimited subscribers will see high-speed data capped at 500 MB per day when roaming in Canada or Mexico. Customers who use more than 500 MB of high-speed data on a single day will see speeds slowed to 2G rates until midnight. The new roaming features for Verizon Go Unlimited plans will be available starting January 25.

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OnePlus Confirms 40,000 Customers' Data at Risk

Friday, 11:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

OnePlus today said up to 40,000 customers' credit card data may have been lifted in an attack. Earlier this week, OnePlus customers reported fraudulent activity on their credit cards after making purchases from OnePlus' web site. OnePlus says its investigation shows the company was indeed compromised. "One of our systems was attacked, and a malicious script was injected into the payment page code to sniff out credit card info while it was being entered," explained the company. "The malicious script operated intermittently, capturing and sending data directly from the user's browser. It has since been eliminated. We have quarantined the infected server and reinforced all relevant system structures." OnePlus believes people who used its web site between mid-November 2017 and January 11, 2018, may be impacted by the breach. At risk are credit card numbers along with their expiration dates and security codes. OnePlus says customers who used PayPal aren't affected. The company has emailed everyone it believes may be at risk. In the mean time, OnePlus suggests those who made purchases on OnePlus.net during the above time frame should examine their bank statements for any fraudulent charges. "We cannot apologize enough for letting something like this happen," said OnePlus. "We are working with our providers and local authorities to better address the incident. We are also working with our current payment providers to implement a more secure credit card payment method, as well as conducting an in-depth security audit. All these measures will help us prevent such incidents from happening in the future." The company thanked its customers for their understanding and its community for its continued support.


Google Sends Security Patch to Pixel Phones

Friday, 9:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has sent a fresh security patch to the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets. Google says the update "fixes critical bugs and improves the performance and stability" of the Pixel smartphones. The update is about 50 MB and can be downloaded over the air. Google normally issues security patches at the beginning of each month. This mid-month update is atypical. Google has also begun distributing Google Play Services 11.9.74 beta, which contains fixes for the Chromecast WiFi-sapping bug revealed earlier this week. The Play Services update is being pushed in limited numbers. Google hasn't said when the final version of Play Services 11.9.74, with the Chromecast patch, will reach all devices.


FCC Puts Clear Line Between Mobile and Fixed Broadband

Friday, 8:26 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC this week released its findings concerning the state of broadband in the U.S. and the news is mixed. To start, the agency will continue to define "broadband" as connections that supply speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has flirted with the idea of downgrading the top speeds required to meet the definition of broadband, which would have benefited internet providers, but in the end chose not to. The report also concludes that mobile broadband, as suppled by wireless network operators, should not be considered as a replacement for wired broadband. "Mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service," said Pai. "Instead, [the report] notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." The FCC will, therefore, take a different approach for overseeing each. The FCC has tasked itself with encouraging the investment in and deployment of broadband, whether it be wired or wireless. Had the FCC put wired and wireless broadband on equal footing, it might have led to less choice for consumers in the long run. The report largely acts to pat the FCC on its own back for supposed progress made this year. Pai added a few stinging comments about the previous administration's Title II net neutrality regulations and suggested the changes put in place by his leadership have led to a surge in broadband investment. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel commented, "I'm glad that the FCC has backed away from its crazy idea to lower the broadband speed standard. But it defies logic to conclude that broadband is being reasonably and timely deployed across this country when over 24 million Americans still lack access." The full draft of the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report should be made public soon.


Review: Kyocera DuraXV LTE for Verizon Wireless

Thursday, 10:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless customers who need a crazy tough handset that not only braves, but conquers, the elements need look no further than the Kyocera DuraXV LTE. This rugged flip phone may offer a limited set of features, but it delivers excellent performance across core tools. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Cricket Offering Free LG and Alcatel Phones to Switchers

Thursday, 9:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today rolled out a new promotion that will give free phones to people who switch from another network. The phones on offer are the LG Fortune and the Alcatel Verso, entry-level Android handsets. People who switch can score the two free phones as well as two lines of unlimited service for $80 per month. Families of four can earn free phones, too, with a monthly service bill of just $100 for unlimited data. In this case, unlimited data is limited to 3 Mbps and video is limited to standard definition. Those who exceed 22 GB of data per month will see speeds slowed for the remainder of the billing period. The free phone promo is available through April 12 or while supplies last.


Sprint to Use Cox's Infrastructure for Some Backhaul

Thursday, 9:33 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint and Cox Communications today said they've agreed to work together to improve one another's businesses. Sprint plans to use Cox's broadband infrastructure to improve its macro backhaul performance, as well as to densify its wireless network through the use of small cells. Sprint will make use of macro towers, air poles, strand mounts, and repeaters all patched into Cox's network to improve coverage. It will be putting its 2.5 GHz spectrum to use with the Cox-supported small cells. Sprint owns more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the top 100 markets around the U.S. Today's deal was also reached in part to settle patent litigation between the companies, according to Sprint.


Xfinity Rolls Out BYOD Program for Select iPhones

Thursday, 9:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Xfinity Mobile today said customers can now use their old iPhones on its service. The company introduced a bring-your-own-device program for select, unlocked iPhones. Xfinity Internet subscribers can bring their unlocked iPhone to an Xfinity Mobile store to have it activated on the mobile network. Xfinity says incompatible devices may be traded in for a gift card that can help defray the cost of upgrading to a new device. Xfinity Mobile, run by Comcast, will be able to accept BYOD phones from more manufacturers later this year. Xfinity offers two basic plan, by the gigabyte or unlimited. The former costs $12 per 1 GB of data, which is shared across all lines. The latter costs $45 per month per line for up to 20 GB of high-speed service. Xfinity Mobile does not charge per-line access fees. Taxes and fees are included in the pricing. Xfinity operates on Verizon's network, but offloads data traffic to Comcast-owned WiFi hotspots when they are available. Xfinity says it has 18 million such hotspots positioned around the country.


Huawei Latest to Adopt Google's RCS-Based Messages App

Thursday, 8:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said Huawei has committed to using Android Messages, the search company's RCS-based messaging service, as the default SMS/MMS tool on its phones. RCS, a global standard, includes advanced messaging features such as texting over WiFi, group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, and read receipts. Huawei joins a long list of phone makers, carriers, and even brands that have added RCS to their messaging services. In the U.S., Sprint has adopted Google's RCS, as have phones from LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, and Kyocera. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon continue to use their own messaging services, though RCS-like features are included when people message others on the same carrier. Samsung has adopted its own RCS-based messaging app, but its use is limited to select carriers overseas. Android Messages supports normal SMS protocols, meaning it can interact with any and all devices whether or not RCS is on board. In addition to adopting RCS, Huawei device owners will be able to make video calls directly from Android Messages through carrier ViLTE and Google Duo. Last, Google and Huawei are working together to offer the Jibe RCS cloud and hub solution via Huawei's telecommunications services, which will broaden the reach of RCS to more users around the world over time.


iOS Update to Let iPhone Owners Keep Phones Running Fast

Thursday, 8:07 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple plans to give iPhone owners more control over their devices, particularly the battery and performance, says CEO Tim Cook. Speaking to ABCNews, Cook addressed the issue concerning older iPhone batteries. The company admitted late last year that it slows down the performance of some devices in order to prevent them from shutting down. End users often complain that their devices feel slow after updating the software. "At the heart of any decision we make is the user, and we felt it would be better to take something off of the performance to prevent [iPhones from restarting]. We deeply apologize for anybody who thinks we have some other kind of motivation," said Cook. Because the problem pertains to the battery, Apple reduced the cost of replacement batteries from $79 to $29. Putting a new battery in an old phone mitigates the issue. Apple plans to take things a step further. It will soon give people more insight into the health of their iPhone's battery. "We've listened to the feedback very carefully and in addition to giving everyone a very low price on a battery if they'd like to get a new battery, we're also going to, in a developer release that happens next month, give people the visibility of the health of their battery. It's very very transparent. This hasn't been done before. We will tell someone we're reducing your performance by some amount in order to not have an unexpected restart and, if you don't want it, you can turn it off." Cook didn't provide specifics as to how the battery tool will work. The company tests new features in developer betas ahead of releasing them to the general public. Apple did not say when the feature might reach all iPhones.


Google Says Bug Fix for Chromecast WiFi Issue On the Way

Wednesday, 5:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Responding to reports of poor WiFi performance in homes with Chromecast devices, Google plans to issue a patch that should resolve the issue. "We’re aware of an issue where Chromecast built-in devices may be affecting WiFi network performance," said Google. "In certain situations, a bug in the Cast software on Android phones may incorrectly send a large amount of network traffic which can slow down or temporarily impact WiFi networks." Google says the bug primarily affects those who have an Android handset and a device with Chromecast built in, such as a Google Home product, running on the same WiFi network. Google says it has identified the problem and will roll out a patch through Google Play Services beginning January 18. Until then, the company suggests people experiencing slow WiFi reboot their Android phone and update their WiFi router's software.


Google to Use Mobile Site Loading Times to Peg Search Rank

Wednesday, 4:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google says it plans to down-rank mobile web sites that deliver slow loading times. The search giant hopes to improve how mobile search behaves on devices and will prioritize mobile web sites that load quickly over those that do not. Google is calling this the "Speed Update" and it will apply to all web pages, no matter the technology used to build the site. The company is encouraging those who develop mobile web sites to tweak performance in order to keep their ranking higher. (Developers can find guidelines from Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, and the Chrome User Experience Report.) Google plans to implement the page speed ranking factor for mobile searches in July 2018.


FTC to Investigate Broadcom's Business Practices

Wednesday, 4:46 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today said it is investigating potential anticompetitive negotiating tactics used by Broadcom. Of note, the FTC believes Broadcom has altered its practices by requiring some customers to buy a certain percentage of its production items, rather than an absolute number or quantity. This can lead to companies overbuying. The FTC has issued subpoenas seeking more information from Broadcom on the matter. In a brief statement, Broadcom insisted the investigation will not impact its wireless business nor its attempt to buy Qualcomm. Qualcomm is itself the focus of a separate FTC antitrust investigation.


Apple Plans Major Investment in U.S., Says 20,000 Jobs On Deck

Wednesday, 1:52 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today outlined plans to contribute up to $350 billion to the U.S. economy across various avenues over the next five years. The company will invest some $30 billion in capital expenditures by opening a new campus and creating 20,000 new jobs. Apple already employs about 84,000 people in the U.S. The new Apple campus (location to be announced at a later date) will house technical support for customers. The company will invest $10 billion in data centers around the courtly, such as a new facility that broke ground today in Reno, Nev. Apple will power these facilities with 100% renewable energy. Apple said it is increasing the size of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund, first announced last spring, from $1 billion to $5 billion. The fund will continue to support ingenuity from American manufacturers. Further, Apple said it will work closer with its American suppliers to procure parts and materials for its own products. The company intends to provide more direct support to coding and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education. For example, it will expand initiatives such as its Swift Playgrounds coding app for kids. The company hopes these efforts will eventually pay off for developers. Apple claims the iOS app economy alone has created 1.6 million jobs and generated $5 billion in revenue for U.S companies in 2017 alone. "Apple is a success story that could only have happened in America, and we are proud to build on our long history of support for the U.S. economy," said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. "We believe deeply in the power of American ingenuity, and we are focusing our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness."


Google Debuts 'Bill Protection' - Effectively Unlimited Data - for Project Fi

Wednesday, 1:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Wednesday, 1:58 PM

Google today rolled out a new plan for its Project Fi wireless service that lets people use more mobile data at a lower cost. Since launch, Project Fi has charged $10 per gigabyte, pro-rated so people pay for exactly the amount of data they use. For example, those who consumed 2.3 GB in a given month were charged $23. This system works well for those who use data sparingly, but it adds up quickly for heavy users. Moving forward, the new Bill Protection plan caps the monthly mobile data expenditure at $60, no matter how much is used. People who exceed 6 GB of data in a given month will still be able to use high-speed data, but once they reach 15 GB in a single billing period they may experience slower speeds. Customers who need more than 15 GB of high-speed data per month can continue to pay the $10-per-gigabyte rate if they wish. Moreover, the unlimited plan still pro-rated data. People who use 1.4 GB of data in a month — even if they're using Bill Protection — will be charged $14 for that data. Last, Bill Protection applies to roaming in more than 135 countries and with data-only SIMs in tablets or laptops. Google says Bill Protection is rolling out today to individual and group plan subscribers. Project Fi is compatible with Google's Nexus and Pixel smartphones, and the Moto X4.


Sprint Offering Free Year of Service for Switchers

Wednesday, 8:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint is offering a year of free unlimited service to people who switch from other postpaid carriers to Sprint. The deal, detailed on Sprint's web site, requires switchers to jump through a lot of hoops and meet a wide variety of conditions. In order to quality for the free service, potential switchers need to have compatible, unlocked handsets, and they'll need to purchase and activate Sprint SIM cards before porting their number to Sprint. Sprint says the SIM cards cost $3 each, with $10 shipping and handling. The actual SIM activation will be free. People who take advantage of the deal will not be able to upgrade to new devices for at least four months, and Sprint warns that some phone features and network experiences will vary depending on the handsets in question. The promotion will provide one year of free talk, text, and data with 10 GB of mobile hotspot per line. People who exceed the 10 GB mobile hotspot allotment will be throttled. Video can be streamed at up to full HD, music can be streamed at up to 1.5Mbps, and games can be streamed at up to 8Mbps. Sprint says it will throttle people during instances of network congestion, particularly those who exceed 23 GB per month. People who earn free service will still be on the hook for taxes and other monthly fees. Sprint will allow a total of five free lines per account. Tablets are not supported, nor are other connected devices. The free service will expire January 31, 2019, after which Sprint will charge its normal rates for multi-line unlimited accounts. Auto-pay is required.


Samsung Galaxy Note8 Suits Up for the '18 Winter Games

Wednesday, 8:09 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Samsung has announced the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games Limited Edition of the Galaxy Note8. The phone maker often supports the Olympic Games and this year created a special version of the Note8 in honor of the Games being held in its home country of Korea. The core features of the phone are unchanged compared to the normal variants. The Olympic-themed version features a new white glass rear panel, wallpapers created from imagery of PyeongChang, and apps meant to help participants make the most of PyeongChang. Samsung plans to distribute some 4,000 Galaxy Note8 handsets to athletes and staff members. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games officials begin February 8.

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