The FCC is no longer accepting bids for the G, H, I, or J paired spectrum blocks in the AWS-3 auction, which is in the process of winding down. The AWS-3 auction encompasses a number of paired blocks and unpaired blocks. The paired blocks saw the most action, but the most recent round saw no new bids for any of those blocks. With no new bids, the FCC has closed that portion of the auction. The FCC is still accepting bids for the unpaired spectrum in the 1695-1710MHz band. After 340 rounds, the AWS-3 auction has generated provisional winning bids totaling $44.899 billion -- more than four times the reserve price for the auction.
Following in Iowa's footsteps, Delaware is considering whether or not to provide digital driver's licenses to its citizens. The state's assembly recently passed a resolution requesting that the Division of Motor Vehicles study and consider issuing optional digital driver's licenses for Delaware motorists. According to the resolution, Delaware uses the same driver's license vendor as the state of Iowa, which is also exploring the use of digital driver's licenses. Delaware's digital license would be available in addition to standard physical licenses and would't be required. The state indicated certain security standards would have to be met, and might require the use of biometrics or other technologies to authenticate device ownership and identification. In the end, Delaware's lawmakers believe digital driver's licenses could improve quality-of-life for its motorists. The resolution did not spell out any sort of timeframe.
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Microsoft today released an Outlook email application for Android and iOS devices, including smartphones and tablets. The app is based on the code from Acompli, a company Microsoft acquired last year. With Outlook for Android and iOS, users can manage their work and personal email. It supports Office 365, Exchange, Outlook.com, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, and other email services. Users can personalize their experience with customizable swipes and actions. The Outlook email app also offers native calendar integration to make scheduling and managing a calendar easy. Outlook for Android and iOS is free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store, respectively. The Android version of Outlook is being offered as a preview for the time being. In other Microsoft news, the company stripped the preview tag from its Office for Android suite of apps. Android tablet owners can now download Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from the Play Store and access a basic set of document creation and editing features with their Microsoft account. Advanced features require an Office 365 subscription.
Microsoft today pushed out a relatively big update to its OneDrive application for iOS devices. Most significantly, OneDrive for iOS allows people to sign into both their personal and business OneDrive accounts, open/organize their business files, and save new files to their business account. The app improves how it handles photos. For example, users can create photo albums that let them view photos in one folder or album without moving the actual image files. It also now supports tags, such as "plant" or "animal" automatically thanks object recognition. OneDrive for iOS also boasts a new design, integration with third-party password managers (1Password, LastPass, etc.), improves search and text recognition, resolves audio playback issues, and addresses several other bugs. OneDrive is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Following Chase, Bank of America today indicated that it will cease to support the Windows Phone platform come March. According to the Windows Store listing for Bank of America's Windows Phone app, the app will cease to work in early March. Bank of America said its Windows Phone users will be able to access their account through their mobile browser once the app is disabled. Chase bank made a similar announcement earlier this week. Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the U.S., while Chase is the largest.
Sony today said it will replace its Music Unlimited service on Xperia phones and tablets, and the PlayStations 3 and 4 gaming consoles with Spotify. Sony said Music Unlimited will go offline March 29 in all 19 countries in which it is currently offered, including the U.S. Like many services, Sony's Music Unlimited offered streaming music to smartphone, tablet, and console owners for a monthly fee. Sony says with Spotify its customers will have access to 30 million songs and 1.5 billion playlists. Spotify on Sony devices will launch in 41 countries, including the U.S., at the end of March.
TracFone has agreed to pay customers $40 million to reimburse them for what the FTC labeled as deceptive advertising. From 2009 to 2013, TracFone advertised "unlimited data" plans for $45 per month. Despite the promise of unlimited monthly data, TracFone throttled customers who surpassed 3GB of data and cut off entirely some customers who surpassed 5GB of data. "The issue here is simple: when you promise consumers 'unlimited,' that means unlimited," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. TracFone began to disclose the data limits and throttling policies in 2013, but the FTC said, "In many cases, the disclosures were in very small print or on the back of packages or cards where consumers were likely to miss them." Millions of customers were throttled, according to the FTC. TracFone will refund an unknown number of customers $40 million and more clearly spell out its network management policies.
Verizon Wireless plans to increase fees it charges customers when they activate a new line of service or upgrade to a new device. On Feb. 5, Verizon will increase the activation fee from $35 to $40 and increase the upgrade fee from $30 to $40. "These fees are not unique to Verizon and help offset costs associated with upgrades, activations, and other operational costs," said Verizon spokesperson David Samberg in an email to Phone Scoop. "Verizon Wireless is committed to the fees remaining competitive within the wireless industry." According to Verizon, it hasn't increased the activation fee in more than 10 years. It last increased the upgrade fee in 2012.
Huawei recently said it wants to sell more high-end smartphones and fewer entry-level devices in a bid to increase margins. The company shipped 75 million smartphones during 2014 and wants to improve that number to 100 million in 2015. "If we sold more low-end phones, we could even double our shipments … but in the low-end market there is no margin," said CEO Richard Yu. "We are giving up the low end of the market. Many vendors are suffering." The company has seen measured success in its home market of China with mid-range devices like the Honor series and its high-end Mate 7. Huawei wants to increase sales of devices like these. It's not clear if such a strategy will work, however, as HTC and Samsung both lost ground to rivals after making similar strategic changes. Most of the devices Huawei sells in the U.S. are entry-level and mid-range.
USA Technologies today said it has added support for Apple Pay to approximately 200,000 of its vending machines. The company has been adding NFC capabilities to its vending machines, including coffee brewers, vending machines, kiosks, laundry equipment, parking pay stations, and other self-serve appliances, for nearly 10 years. USA Technologies' vending machine owner-operators will be able to accept Apple Pay at their machines in addition to cash and/or bank cards. This means owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be able to pay for vending machine and other stand-alone, self-serve retail goods with their phone.
The FCC today issued a stern reminder to businesses that blocking or jamming WiFi signals for any reason is illegal. "Willful or malicious interference with WiFi hotspots is illegal," said the FCC. "The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal WFi hotspots on the commercial establishment's premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference." The FCC fined Marriott hotels $600,000 last year for blocking guests' WiFi hotspots at one of its properties. "WiFi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet," noted the FCC. "Personal WiFi networks, or 'hot spots,' are an important way that consumers connect to the internet." The FCC also pointed out that it is illegal to market, sell, or operate equipment that jams wireless signals.
Apple today released iOS 8.1.3 for iPhones, iPads, and the iPod Touch. The primary improvement in the operating system is a reduction in the amount of on-board storage needed to install the system update. (Last fall, some users with 16GB devices were unable to update due to a lack of storage.) The system update also resolves an issue preventing people from entering their passwords for iMessage and FaceTime, fixes a Spotlight bug, and smooths over multi-tasking gestures on the iPad. iOS 8.1.3 can be downloaded and installed over the air.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel today said the government needs to do a better job of allocating spectrum for unlicensed access, such as WiFi. Rosenworcel, speaking at the State of the Net Conference, emphasized the importance of WiFi and the role it plays in the economy. For example, she noted more than half of Americans have used public hotspots and more than 60% of Americans use WiFi at home. Rosenworcel outlined three steps in order to make sure the availability of WiFi continues to grow with demand. First, she wants the FCC to commit to freeing up more spectrum for WiFi, such as the white space spectrum in the 600MHz band. Second, she wants the government to change the way it accounts for spectrum, assigning more value to spectrum set aside for unlicensed access. Third, she made clear that the FCC will not tolerate willful interference with WiFi. Last year, several hotels asked the FCC to allow them to "manage" guest access to personal hotspots in the name of security. Rosenworcel wants the hotels' petition denied. "Let's not let this petition linger or create any uncertainty. I hope my colleagues at the FCC will work with me to dismiss this petition without delay," argued Rosenworcel. She concluded by saying, "I believe the future of wireless connectivity will be stronger if we make room for more WiFi."
Twitter will update its mobile applications this week with the ability to embed video clips in posts and to send direct messages to several people at once. Users will be able to record videos from within the Twitter app directly and even piece together multiple segments -- similar to how the Twitter-owned Vine application works. Users can also share 30-second videos from their mobile device camera roll (iOS only, for now). The videos won't playback automatically; instead people will need to click on them to watch. Group direct messages will allow groups of up to 20 people to hold private conversations. Users will be able to invite anyone who follows them to the conversation, even if other participants don't follow that person and vice versa. The features are meant to help Twitter compete better against Facebook, which has boosted its use of video, and myriad messaging apps that are popular on smartphones. The new features will hit the iOS Android applications in the days ahead. Twitter is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
The FCC today said it has fined Verizon $5 million for failing to investigate claims of low call connection rates in rural areas. According to the FCC, Verizon didn't look into consumer complaints over an eight month period in 2013 regarding failed wireless and wired calls in 26 rural regions. Verizon is to pay $2 million to the U.S. Treasury and set aside $3 million more to improve call connection rates over the next three years. "Rural call completion problems have significant and immediate public interest ramifications," said the FCC. "They cause rural businesses to lose customers, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications." Verizon signed a consent decree admitting its wrongdoing. The decree also lists a number of steps Verizon has agreed to take to resolve the issue, such as appoint an ombudsman to analyze call completion data, monitor call connection rates in rural areas, and investigate when connection rates fall behold a set threshold.
Chase has removed its mobile banking application from the Windows Phone Store. The company recently notified users that its app would be pulled and eventually shut down. Today the company followed through. Chase customers who've already downloaded the app to their Windows Phone will be able to use Chase Mobile until March 22, after which it will no longer be supported for account access. Chase based its decision on the lack of users. Chase still offers mobile banking apps to the Android and iOS platforms. JPMorgan Chase is the largest bank in the U.S.
T-Mobile plans to make some of its handsets compatible with its 700MHz spectrum through a software update. Today, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge can use LTE on T-Mobile's 700MHz spectrum. T-Mobile said it will provide the system update to the Motorola Nexus 6 in the early part of 2015, followed by the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy Avant in May, and the ZTE Max later this year. Two tablets and T-Mobile's Z915 LTE 4G Hotspot also support the 700MHz airwaves. T-Mobile is supplementing its AWS-based LTE network with its 700MHz holdings in select markets around the country. The company is still in the process of deploying LTE to all its 700MHz spectrum.
Cablevision today announced FreeWheel, a wireless service that relies wholly on WiFi networks rather than cellular networks. FreeWheel will offer unlimited voice calls (via VoIP), messaging, and data for $30 per month. Cablevision's Optimum Online customers will be able to use the service for just $10 per month. At launch, the service will work with the Motorola Moto G, which Cablevision is selling for $99. FreeWheel service can be accessed anywhere WiFi is offered. Customers will automatically be connected to Optimum Online WiFi hotspots when and where they are available. Cablevision claims to have 1.1 million public hotspots available. The service will be most heavily marketed in the New York City region, which is Cablevision's home market and where it has the densest number of access points. FreeWheel offers international calling and does not ask customers to sign contracts. The service and device will be available beginning in February.