AT&T today announced changes to its Mobile Share Value Plans, which are available to one or two lines. Under the old plan, a single 2GB Mobile Share Value line cost $80 per month ($55 for 2GB bucket plus $25 device access charge). Beginning March 9, the 2GB Mobile Share Value Plan drops to $65 per month ($40 for 2GB bucket plus $25 device access charge) - a savings of $15 per month. Under the new pricing, two lines will cost a total of $90 per month ($40 for 2GB bucket plus $25 access charge for each device). The Mobile Share Value plans include unlimited voice minutes and unlimited national and international messaging. AT&T said that both new and existing customers will be able to take advantage of these new rates, no matter what method used to purchase their device (contract, AT&T Next, etc.). Last, all Mobile Share Value customers can sign up to receive 50GB of free cloud storage using AT&T Locker. AT&T recommends that customers needing three or more lines use its Mobile Share Family Plans, which offer three lines 10GB of data and unlimited voice/messaging for $145.
T-Mobile tonight announced changes to its existing Simple Choice plans. At the lowest tier - people currently paying $50/month for the first line - the high-speed (4G) data cap doubles from 500 MB to 1 GB. The next tier also sees an increase, from 2.5 GB to 3 GB. However the third data tier - which starts at $70/month for the first line - will change from unlimited to a new cap at 5 GB, although existing customers will be grandfathered and keep unlimited data. Unlimited data for new customers will now only be available with a new tier starting at $80/month for the first line. Also, while Simple Choice plans already offered free global roaming in 115 countries for text and basic data, they will now also include free unlimited texting from the U.S. to other countries, and the number of countries has grown to 122. As before, extra lines cost $30/month for the second line and $10/month for lines 3-5. Also, extra data (such as $30/month for unlimited) is multiplied by the number of lines. Existing Simple Choice customers will automatically be upgraded to the new plans on March 23 for post-paid, or April 26 for pre-paid.
Pebble today officially released Pebble 2.0 for Android devices. The app update, which follows closely on the heels of a beta release earlier this week, adds the Pebble Appstore and gives Android device owners new powers over their Pebble smartwatch. Pebble 2.0 has been available to the iPhone since earlier this year.
AT&T recently added the LG A380 to its roster of entry-level flip phones. The A380's features suggest that its target market could be seniors, as it includes an enhanced audio mode to make phone calls louder, and a text-to-speech engine that reads text messages aloud. The A380 also includes a 2.4-inch display, 1.3-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, speakerphone, and support for microSD cards. The A380 costs $20 with a contract or $190 without a contract.
Samsung today launched a free music streaming service explicitly for owners of its Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets. The service, called Milk, is powered by Slacker and includes more than 200 curated radio stations, as well as the ability for people to create, listen to, and save their own stations. The service doesn't cost anything, and doesn't include ads. Milk is only available to Samsung phones and tablets, and can be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store.
Motorola today announced the College Collection, a series of pre-designed Moto X handsets that reflect the colors of more than 40 colleges and universities. Motorola also added nine more back colors and three new accent colors to allow for further customization of the Moto X. In addition to the expanded color palette, Motorola is selling clear cases with school logos and team names, which can accompany the matching handset. Last, college students who register with a .edu email address will receive a $60 discount on the price of their College Connection Moto X. The Moto X can be customized for $399, but is available for just $49 with a two-year agreement with select carriers.
Verizon today announced that customers of both its wireless and wireline services can receive $20 off their total monthly bill by combining accounts. In order to get the discount, customers must subscribe to Verizon Wireless and Verizon's FiOS triple-play bundle, which includes FiOS home internet, television, and home phone service. Customers will receive $10 off their wireless bill and $10 off their FiOS bill for a period of two years, providing a maximum discount of $480. The promotion is available starting today and it runs through April 19.
Sprint today indicated that it has rearranged the executives who manage its network business. Both Steve Elfman, president of network operations, and Bob Azzi, senior vice president of networks, will leave the company. The changes are effective immediately, according to Sprint spokesperson Kelly Schlageter, who confirmed the shakeup to Fierce Wireless. Azzi is retiring effective March 14, while no date was given for Elfman's departure. In their place, Sprint has promoted John Saw, formerly the company's senior vice president of technical architecture, to the position of Chief Network Officer. Before joining Sprint, Saw was CTO at Clearwire, which Sprint acquired last year. Sprint is in the middle of deploying its LTE network across the U.S., including Sprint Spark, which depends on tri-band LTE coverage to improve speeds and service. Sprint has been slow to get its LTE network up and running, and blamed the delay on its network equipment providers.
AT&T has improved its LTE network in Chicago and several other markets by using an LTE-Advanced technique called Carrier Aggregation. GigaOm confirmed the soft launch with AT&T SVP of Network Technologies Kris Rinne. With Carrier Aggregation, AT&T has combined the channels of its existing spectrum to double the capacity. AT&T is running LTE in both the 700MHz and AWS bands in Chicago. By aggregating the channels together, AT&T can deliver theoretical peak download speeds of 110Mbps to devices with the proper radio support. At the moment, AT&T is selling only one device with Carrier Aggregation, the Unite mobile hotspot. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is expected to be the first smartphone to support Carrier Aggregation in the U.S. AT&T did not name the other two markets that have access to Carrier Aggregation, but said that more markets on are on the way. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are all in various stages of deploying Carrier Aggregation in their own LTE networks.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today said the company expects to close its acquisition of Leap Wireless by the end of the month, and that it will use the pre-paid carrier's brand to shake things up. "We're going to be fairly aggressive [there]," said Stephenson, to "see if we can be a little disruptive down at that end of the market." Stephenson made the remarks at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. He explained that though Cricket has a strong brand, potential customers often avoid it due to its limited network coverage. Once AT&T acquires Cricket, that story will change. "All of a sudden overnight, Cricket is going to have nationwide coverage," he said. AT&T didn't announce any specific plans regarding Cricket. Stephenson also noted that the AT&T Next program, which lets customers pay for their devices over time, has become very popular. By the end of December, 20% of new device sales were being financed through AT&T Next rather than subsidized with a standard two-year contract.
Opera today made a new version of its mobile browser available for Android devices. Thanks to the inclusion of WebRTC, Opera 20 for Android permits users to conduct live, two-way video chats in the browser without the need for additional software or apps. The browser can be used to control the camera and the sound during chats, allowing users to fine-tune their experience. The update also introduces a new look for Speed Dial; the ability to adjust the browser navigation bar to suit individual tastes; improvements to search functionality; and a number of bug fixes. Opera 20 for Android is free to download from the Google Play Store.
Motorola made a small update available to its Touchless Control application. The improved software adds several new features, chief among them the ability to respond to a "What's Up" or "Read Notifications" voice command, prompting the device to read new notifications aloud. The notifications feature is available in English, Spanish, and Italian, with other languages are supported in beta. The update also improves the software's ability to detect the end of speech for better accuracy and faster responses. Touchless Control is available to the Moto X, Droid Ultra, Droid Max, and Droid Mini. It requires Android 4.4 KitKat.
Apple's request to ban an array of Samsung smartphones and tablets was denied by a U.S. District Judge. Apple already won a guilty verdict against 26 different Samsung devices that were found to infringe on its patents. A jury awarded Apple more than $1 billion in damages, but Apple still sought to prevent Samsung from selling the infringing products in the U.S. Though Apples' request was denied, the damages owed to Apple by Samsung were finalized by the judge overseeing the case. The Korean company must now fork over about $930 million for violating Apple's patents.
Sprint today said it has expanded efforts to help prevent the resale of stolen phones by using Recipero's CheckMend online tool. CheckMend maintains a global database of stolen phone IDs. All Sprint stores will check the ID of used cell phones against CheckMend's database to determine if they are stolen. Devices listed as stolen cannot and will not be activated on Sprint's network. Sprint will also submit the ID of any Sprint device reported lost or stolen by customers to CheckMend to further improve the database's accuracy. Because CheckMend is available online, consumers can use it to check the validity of a used phone's ID before they purchase it. CheckMend can also be used by law enforcement. U.S. carriers all participate in a national registry of stolen device IDs.
Isis today announced another promotion with the goal of coaxing smartphone owners into using its tap-and-go mobile payment service. The promotion will give American Express card holders who've registered their card with Isis a statement credit when they use Isis to pay for a ride in a medallioned New York City yellow cab. Isis will credit users back for 50% of the fare up to a maximum of $100. Isis is a joint venture backed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. About two dozen different Android devices are compatible with the system, which requires a secure SIM card, NFC, a credit card from a participating financial firm, and the Isis mobile application. The iPhone requires a separate case, which costs $70, to use Isis. It is free to sign up for Isis.
Flipboard today announced that it has acquired Zite from CNN for an undisclosed sum. Flipboard said it will integrate Zite's personalization technology and recommendation engine into its own digital magazine application. Further, Flipboard announced that its users will soon have access to CNN's content through Flipboard. CNN created three new magazines just for Flipboard, including Fareed Zakaria's GPS Daily, The Lead with Jake Tapper, and John King's Go Inside Politics. CNN says it will add more customized magazines to Flipboard over the coming months. Flipboard hooks into smartphone and tablet users' social networks and newsfeeds and delivers the content in a slick, magazine-like package.
Sprint today said it will update a handful of its Samsung smartphones to Android 4.4 KitKat. The company is already pushing KitKat to the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, but will also deliver updates to the Galaxy Note II, GS4 mini, GS III, Galaxy Mega, and Galaxy Tab 3 7.0. According to Sprint, the update includes the standard check list of KitKat goodies, and also adds a new lockscreen shortcut to the camera. The timing of the updates will vary by device.
Google today announced an update to its Gmail app for the iPhone and iPad. The most significant feature of the update is support for background email fetching. This means the emails will be downloaded in the background as they arrive and available for immediate viewing upon opening the app. Previously, new emails were not fetched from the servers until users opened Gmail. Gmail for iOS now also supports single sign-in with other Google apps, such as Maps, Chrome, and YouTube. Gmail for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store, but it requires iOS 7.
FreedomPop today announced the Privacy Phone, what it bills as a secure smartphone to protect users from hackers, government agencies, and spyware. The Privacy Phone uses 128-bit encryption to secure voice calls and text messages. It provides anonymous internet browsing and prevents online marketers from tracking web activity. The Privacy Phone also prevents data monitoring from third parties, and bypasses web site restrictions so it can connect to any site. FreedomPop says the Privacy Phone shields users from viruses and malware, blocks malicious web sites, and prevents phishing attacks. The Privacy Phone is a Samsung Galaxy S II that FreedomPop has refurbished with its own software. The device costs $189 and is offered without a contract. FreedomPop is providing three months of unlimited voice and messaging with 500MB of data for free, after which the service plan will cost $10 per month.
Yahoo recently revealed plans to cease support for third-party logins. In 2011, Yahoo made it possible to sign into some of its services with a Facebook or Google account. The change effectively reverses that decision. Yahoo will eventually require users to sign in with a Yahoo ID for all its services. The first Yahoo service to require a Yahoo ID is Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick'Em, which already enacted the change. Yahoo will begin to remove the Facebook and Google sign-in buttons from all its sites and services. The company did not say how quickly the change will be complete. According to Yahoo, the Yahoo ID requirement "will allow [it] to offer the best personalized experience to everyone."
Pebble recently released a new beta of its Android application. The beta is a pre-release version of Pebble 2.0, which adds the app store and other advanced features to Pebble smartwatches. Beta 11 fixes a large number of bugs, such as sideloading apps, and improves stability. Pebble 2.0 is already available for iOS devices, and Pebble says the final version will be ready for Android users soon.
Facebook has made a version of its Messenger application available to devices running Microsoft's Windows Phone. The app, which is free to download from the Windows Phone Store, brings conversations to life in a way the stock Windows Phone messaging app cannot. Facebook Messenger runs independently from Facebook. It lets users send stickers and photos, create and manage group conversations, share location data, and see read receipts. The app includes presence, which shows people who's available to chat via mobile or desktop, as well as adjustable notifications, and persistent log-in to prevent missed messages. Facebook Messenger is for devices running Windows Phone 8 and up.
Microsoft today made its OneDrive cloud storage service available to BlackBerry 10 devices. The app, which is free to download from the BlackBerry World store, provides users with 7GB of free online storage. Customers can choose to pay for more storage if they wish. The service, which was recently rebranded from SkyDrive, is already available to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices.
Facebook today pushed out a minor update to its Paper application for iOS devices. The update adds several new features, including the ability to share Facebook articles via email or text message. The app now also lets users turn off sound effects, adds support for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, and fixes several bugs. Paper 1.0.2 for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Paper presents the Facebook newsfeed in a more appealing way (similar to Flipboard) than the stock app.
RadioShack reported its fourth quarter earnings today, and revealed that it plans to close twice as many stores as initially forecast. The company said slow foot traffic, heavy promotions, and weak smartphone sales during the holiday season led to a quarterly loss of $191.4 million. The company had warned it would close about 500 stores to cut costs, but has now doubled that number to 1,100. The closures will leave RadioShack with about 4,000 stores still open in the U.S. RadioShack is in the process of updating both its image and its sales strategy with a focus on electronic entertainment devices. It sells devices from AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless.
SoftBank CEO and Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son is prepared to take a new tack in its pursuit of T-Mobile: asking other businesses to approve. Son plans to appeal directly to the U.S. business community and to policy makers in the hope that it can convince them further consolidation in the industry is a good thing, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. Son has already been warned by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission that a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile would undergo intense regulatory scrutiny. Son is prepared to speak at the Chamber of Commerce next week regarding competition in the wireless industry. It is possible he will use that stage to make his plea for a combined Sprint/T-Mobile. Son contends that neither Sprint nor T-Mobile can compete on their own against AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which together control two-thirds of the U.S. wireless market.
The U.S. government has filed a lawsuit against Sprint, alleging the company overcharged for wiretapping services by $21 million. Carriers are required to assist the government and must maintain certain types of equipment to do so. Carriers are allowed to bill the government for the upkeep of that equipment. In this particular case, San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag is charging Sprint with filing false claims during the period between January 2007 and July 2007, inflating costs by as much as 58%. Carriers are not allowed to use the maintenance money to improve their network or other equipment. "Because Sprint's invoices for intercept charges did not identify the particular expenses for which it sought reimbursement, federal law enforcement agencies were unable to detect that Sprint was requesting reimbursement of these unallowable costs," said the government. Sprint denies the charges and says all its invoices comply with the law. It will defend itself vigorously. Sprint is also facing a separate tax case in New York state, where the state says Sprint failed to collect enough taxes from customers.
Verizon Wireless today revamped its prepaid plans for both feature phones and smartphones. The new Allset plans for feature phones cost $35 per month for 500 voice minutes, unlimited messaging, and 500MB of data. Feature phones can jump to unlimited voice and text, and 500MB of data for $45 per month. Allset smartphone plans cost $45 per month and include unlimited voice, texting, and 500MB of data. Verizon is also offering what it calls "Bridge Data." Allset plan customers can add more data to their plan at any time. For example, customers can add 500MB (30-day expiration) to their Allset plan for $5 per month; 1GB (90-day expiration) for $10 per month; or 3GB (90-day expiration) for $20 per month. Unused data will carry over to the next month. For a limited time, Verizon is offering to double the monthly data allotment, as well as include 1,000 monthly minutes for calling to Canada and Mexico, for all Allset customers who sign up with autopay. Allset smartphone customers will be able to use their devices as a mobile hotspot. Verizon's new Allset plans are available beginning today.
Apple today announced CarPlay, a bridge that will let drivers user their car's infotainment center to access and interact with their iPhone. In order to work, CarPlay must be installed by the car manufacturer and a separate app must be installed on the iPhone. Drivers can use the car-based controls, such as steering wheel buttons, to launch Siri (Apple's voice-activated assistant), which can then access contacts, make calls, and listen to voicemails. Siri will read incoming messages aloud at the user's request, as well as dictate spoken messages for replies. CarPlay ties into Apple Maps, and can access recent trips, or addresses buried within emails or text messages, as well as plan and route turn-by-turn directions. Apple Maps will appear on the car's built-in display. CarPlay also gives drivers access to all their music, audiobooks, iTunes Radio, and podcasts with on-screen navigation or through Siri. According to Apple, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo will be the first to add CarPlay to their vehicles. Other car makers, including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota, will follow down the road. CarPlay will be enabled in iPhones through a system update.
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile USA today both announced plans to sell the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. Both companies, which are owned and operated by Sprint, said the GS5 will be compatible with Sprint's Spark LTE service. Pricing was not discussed, but the prepaid carriers said the GS5 will arrive during the second quarter with contract-free, flexible service options.
Sprint has been handed a defeat in its attempt to escape a $300 million sales tax case brought against it by the State of New York. New York alleged that Sprint underpaid sales taxes by as much as $130 million during a multi-year period beginning in 2005. Sprint sought to dismiss the case, but was shot down by an appeals court. The decision leaves New York open to pursue Sprint under the state's False Claims Act, which lets the state charge three times the amount underpaid in taxes. Sprint said it was disappointed with the ruling and is exploring its options.
BlackBerry today said that several new features are in store for a future version of its BlackBerry Messenger - or BBM - product. According to BlackBerry, it cultivated this list of features based on user feedback. For example, the next release of BBM will allow users to share photos to multiple people within chats. BBM will increase the size of files it allows to be sent between users from 6MB to 16MB. The next version of BBM will also increase the size of the emoticons so they are easier to see within conversation threads. BlackBerry didn't say if these changes will reach all platforms (BlackBerry, Android, iOS) at the same time, or if they will be staggered.
Google has released Google Hangouts 2.0 for the Apple iPhone and iPad. The app has been optimized for iOS 7 and given a visual refresh. Google added several new features, including the ability to record and send 10-second video messages, send animated stickers to contacts, send a map of current location to contacts, and see picture-in-picture video chats. The app also integrates better with iOS's contacts application, and makes it easier to start video chats from within an existing conversation. Google Hangouts for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Google recently made a version of the Nexus 5's Google Now launcher available to all Nexus and Google Play Edition devices. The Google Now launcher, which debuted as part of the Nexus 5's user interface, includes Google Now as part of the home screen. Google Now was upgrade from a widget to one of the home screen panels. The launcher lets people trigger voice search or voice commands by saying "OK Google" when on their home screen. Further, with a full home screen panel, Google Now has more room to reveal info cards, which provide information about travel plans, scheduling, the weather, real-time traffic, and more. The Google Now launcher is free to download from the Google Play Store, but requires Android 4.4 KitKat and either Nexus or Play Edition devices.
AT&T this week admitted that its planned late 2013 launch of VoLTE has been delayed. "We're in the final stages of optimization," said Kris Rinne, AT&T's SVP of network technologies in an interview with Fierce Wireless. But added, "It's not quite ready." VoLTE passes voice calls over LTE networks as data rather than through the traditional circuit-switched method used by most cell phones. Verizon Wireless has also delayed plans to launch VoLTE. It initially hoped to launch the service by late 2013, but in December pushed the launch back to mid 2014.
Sony this week announced plans to shutter two-thirds of its U.S. retail stores. It will keep several open, including its New York City flagship location. The move is being made as part of a cost-cutting measure. Along with the store closings, Sony plans to cut about 1,000 jobs in the U.S. and Mexico, amidst global cuts of 5,000. Last, Sony said that it plans to sell its old headquarters building in Tokyo. Sony used the building, which is now a home for several other businesses, from 1990 to 2007. The planned sale of its old headquarters follows Sony's sale last year of its Madison Avenue building in NYC for $1.1 billion. Sony announced several new devices at Mobile World Congress this week, including the Xperia Z2 and M2 smartphones, the Z2 tablet, and the SmartBand wearable.
A German court today dismissed a lawsuit filed by IPCom against Apple over smartphone patents. The patent in question covered technology that prioritized emergency calls even when cellular networks were overloaded. IPCom was seeking more than $2 billion in damages against Apple. Courts in Germany have dismissed similar claims made by IPCom, which is a patent holding company. The court did not provide a reason for today's dismissal.
The Federal Communications Commission's spectrum auction for the rights to select airwaves in the 1900MHz PCS band ended Thursday. Total bids for the auction reached $1.564 billion, which was the reserve price set by the FCC. At stake was the H Block of the PCS band, which covers a 10MHz channel: 1915-1920MHz for the uplink and 1995-2000MHz for the downlink. Dish Networks owns spectrum adjacent to the latter of these two blocks and was the most active bidder throughout the course of the auction. The FCC has not formally declared what companies won the licenses in question. "With this successful auction, the Commission makes good on its commitment to unleash more spectrum for consumers and businesses, delivering a significant down payment towards funding the nationwide interoperable public safety network," said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. "The H Block auction is a win for the American people, and we thank Chairwoman Clyburn for her leadership scheduling it. We also commend everyone who worked so hard to resolve technical issues that made this previously unusable spectrum valuable."
Galveston, Texas has become the first major U.S. city to use phone-based payments completely in place of parking meters. Many cities offer mobile as one option to pay for parking, but still have meters or kiosks as backup. Such cities include Boston, Chicago. Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco. But in Galveston's new deployment, there are no meters nor kiosks. Visitors are encouraged to use the PayByPhone app or mobile web site, or they can call a toll-free number to pay. Those that don't have a cell phone or credit card can pay with cash at a number of the local merchants along the seawall. The app - available for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry - registers payment using license plate numbers, eliminating the need for a receipt left in the window. The service can text users when their parking time is about to expire, and let them easily extend it, avoiding a ticket. The city pockets significantly more from parking fees by avoiding the ongoing costs of meters or kiosks. The service supports new EMV requirements of credit card companies by using CreditCall to process payments.
Alcatel this week announced a new range of phones in its Pop series of affordable, colorful Android phones. The new Pop S range has LTE 4G, unlike previous Pop phones. The range includes a small phone, a 5-incher, and a full-on phablet. We checked them out. Read on for our impressions.
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