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 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.
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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 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 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 will once again, and for a limited time, give 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 promotion is available through January 31. 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 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.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today, along with the attorneys general of 20 other states and the District of Columbia, filed a petition to block the FCC's attempt to repeal net neutrality. The FCC voted in December to scrap Obama-era rules that prohibit internet service providers from prioritizing some web sites and services over others. The FCC calls these measures draconian and believes abolishing them is the best course forward. Many disagree. "Allowing powerful special interests to act as the internet’s gatekeepers harms consumers, innovation, and small businesses," said Ferguson in a statement. "We believe the FCC acted unlawfully when it gutted net neutrality, and I look forward to holding the FCC accountable to the rule of law." Washington Governor Jay Inslee agreed, saying, "Protecting net neutrality is as critical as protecting free speech. The FCC’s attack on the open internet is bad for Washingtonians, bad for business and a major step backward." Ferguson and the other attorneys general say the FCC's decision violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which oversees the process for federal agency rulemaking, in addition to Constitution, and the Communications Act of 1934. Technically, the group filed a Protective Petition for Review, which puts them in line for a court date along with others suing the FCC over the reversal. Today's action coincides with news from the Free Press that 50 Senators want to vote on halting the FCC's actions and make Congress responsible for net neutrality rules.
Cricket Wireless recently added the Alcatel Verso, a minor upgrade to the Alcatel Ideal Xcite, to its lineup of entry-level Android handsets. This $30 smartphone offers low-end specs to keep the price down. It starts with a 5-inch FWVGA (854 x 480) display with scratch-resistant Dragontrail Glass. The phone is powered by a 1.1 GHz quad-core processor with 16 GB of storage and support for memory cards up to 128 GB. The main camera boasts a 5-megapixel sensor with flash and HD video capture while the front camera touts a 2-megapixel camera. Other specs include a 2,050mAh battery, LTE with HD voice and mobile hotspot, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS, and WiFi. The Alcatel Verso runs Android 7 Nougat. The phone is available online from Cricket Wireless for $30 for new and existing customers.
Cameras that capture 360-degree photos and videos are fun and creative smartphone companions. Xiaomi's Mi Sphere 360 Camera is an affordable entry in the space that lets you capture your 360-degree experiences, edit them, and easily share them with others. It offers high-resolution, 360-degree images and video, as well as a bevy shooting modes that pave the way to near limitless results. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.
Sprint recently launched its Direct Connect Plus push-to-talk service. Direct Connect Plus powers walkie-talkie style conversations with instant connections between users. The service relies on Kodiak's LTE network-based technology, rather than Sprint's discontinued iDEN network. It supports one-to-one and group conversations. Features include presence status, support for tablets, and corporate control over contacts and groups. Sprint's Direct Connect Plus service is available to most Android and iOS smartphones and tablets via mobile app for $5 per month. Several handsets in Sprint's line-up, including the Kyocera DuraXTP, DuraForce Pro, and DuraTR, include physical PTT buttons and native support for Direct Connect Plus. The service is aimed at business customers.
The number of Senators who've put their support behind protecting net neutrality has reached 50. Last week, Sen. Ed Markey (D) mustered support from 39 co-sponsors to force a vote in the issue. Today, that number has grown to 50 Senators, says the Free Press, including the entire Democratic caucus, several Independents, and Republican Senator Susan Collins (Maine). The idea is to put the fate of net neutrality into Congress' hands, rather than those of the FCC. With Collins siding with Democrats, the Republicans would need Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie in a vote. The FCC voted to repeal net neutrality last month. The order would reclassify broadband internet as an information service, rather than a utility, and would erase the bright line rules that prohibit throttling and blocking. "It’s no surprise that more Washington lawmakers are listening at last to the strong, bipartisan backing for net neutrality," said Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press. "Constituents have already logged more than a million calls to Congress to reject FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s decision. Regardless of party affiliation, all members of Congress should stand with those who’ve elected them and restore the 2015 protections that give internet users control over their online choices."
Some people who work for the U.S. government don't want AT&T and other firms doing business with Huawei, according to Reuters. Unnamed U.S. lawmakers are "urging" AT&T "to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei" due to national security concerns. The lawmakers in question suggested that AT&T cease working with Huawei on the development of the 5G network standard. Moreover, the lawmakers don't want AT&T or its discount subsidiary Cricket Wireless to sell Huawei handsets. The lawmakers, including members of the Senate and the House, further suggested that any U.S. firm doing business with Huawei may see its ability to do business with the U.S. government hindered. Earlier this month, AT&T canned plans to sell the Huawei Mate 10 Pro smartphone due to government pressure. The two companies were widely expected to kick off sales of the phone at the Consumer Electronics Show. The phone will still be made available to U.S. consumers directly from Huawei online. Neither AT&T nor Huawei commented on Reuters' story. Huawei is the world's third-largest supplied of handsets and the largest supplier of telecommunications gear. Reuters suggests the change in tone with respect to Chinese technology firms comes from the Trump Administration. The U.S. has recently blocked a handful of other Chinese acquisitions, and is actively seeking to prevent China Mobile from dipping its toe in the U.S. market. Last week, lawmakers introduced legislation that would prevent the U.S. government from using equipment or devices from Huawei and ZTE.
OnePlus said it is taking customer complaints about compromised credit card data seriously and is investigating around the clock. Nearly 200 people who purchased products from OnePlus' web site reported fraudulent activity on their credit cards afterwards. As a precaution, the company has disabled credit card payments on its web site and is only accepting PayPal for the moment. The company insists that customer card data is never processed or saved on OnePlus.net; instead, it is sent directly to its PCI-DSS-compliant payment processing partner over an encrypted connection where it is processed on secure servers. While the company investigates, OnePlus suggests all customers contact their credit card issuer and/or check their statements to ensure there is no fraudulent activity. OnePlus concluded by saying, "This is an ongoing investigation. We are working with our third-party providers, and will update you on our findings as they surface. Information security is a very serious topic, and it has always been one of our top priorities." OnePlus smartphones, such as the OnePlus 5T, are only available to purchase from the company's web site.
SoftBank Group, the parent company of Sprint, is weighing whether or not to offer shares in its own Japan-based wireless company. Under the direction of CEO Masayoshi Sun, SoftBank has transformed itself in recent years into an investor in technology companies. The goal of the IPO would be to raise about $18 billion in funds so SoftBank Group could continue to invest in other entities. SoftBank Corp., the wireless company in question, is Japan's third-largest provider of wireless services behind KDDI and NTT DoCoMo. SoftBank is exploring a fall listing on the Tokyo stock exchange and may also list sales in London. The plans are not final and may change. The potential IPO should not impact SoftBank's ownership and management of Sprint. SoftBank also has large investments in Alibaba and ARM Holdings.
A new bill introduced by Texas Representative Michael Conaway (R) would prevent any part of the U.S government from using equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. The "Defending U.S. Government Communications Act" (H.R. 4747) explicitly prohibits the government from "using or contracting with an entity that uses certain telecommunications services or equipment" from Huawei and ZTE. Conaway cited a number of reports that link both companies to China's communist party as the chief reason for introducing the bill. The idea is to protect the security of government communications, according to Conaway. Last year, ZTE was hit with a temporary ban after it was discovered the company supplied some equipment to Iran in violation of international sanctions. Just this week, Huawei's plans to distribute its Mate 10 Pro flagship device via AT&T fell apart due to government pressure. Huawei is the world's third-largest maker of smartphones and the world's number one maker of telecommunications equipment. Representative Elizabeth Cheney (R) from Wyoming co-sponsored the bill. The bill will need to approved by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform before it can be sent to the House for a vote.
Facebook's messaging application for children, announced late last year, is now available from the Amazon App Store. The application can be installed and used on Amazon's Fire tablets. Messenger Kids is a mobile app that gives kids under the age of 13 the power to communicate via text and video with approved family members and friends. The app works on smartphones and tablets, but is controlled through the parent's Facebook account. Messenger Kids was first made available to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. The app has yet to reach Android devices, though it is expected to soon. The app is free to download and use from Amazon.
OnePlus is looking to grow its business beyond the enthusiast crowd. Speaking to CNET, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau said, "If the right opportunity and right timing come along, we'll be very happy to experiment" with a distribution deal with U.S. carriers. OnePlus handsets are available only from the company itself. Striking a distribution deal with a U.S. carrier would give the brand far more visibility. For now, OnePlus believes it can earn more sales via its reputation. Lau also noted the company's next handset is arriving toward the end of the second quarter and it will make use of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. "Of course, there's no other choice," Lau said. OnePlus is not sure if it will produce two flagship handsets in 2018, as it has done the two previous years. Last, OnePlus expects to bring the Face Unlock feature, first offered on the 5T, to its older 3 and 3T handsets. "There's no reason to withhold features we can easily implement," said OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei.