The Federal Communications Commission today approved a key provision in Verizon Communication's attempt to buy Vodafone Groups stake in Verizon Wireless. The FCC said that it will be acceptable for more than 25% of Verizon's ownership to come from foreign investors after the deal closes. There is a limit on the amount to 25% because Verizon controls spectrum access licenses in the U.S. Due to the way the deal is structured, foreign ownership of Verizon Communications may at times exceed that percentage, but the FCC won't oppose it. This was the only approval Verizon needed from the FCC, though the deal still requires shareholder approval. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture that is 55% owned by Verizon Communications and 45% owned by Vodafone Group. Verizon Communications agreed in September to buy out Vodafone Group's stake in Verizon Wireless for $130 billion. Verizon will pay Vodafone primarily in cash and stocks. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014.
The European Commission today approved Microsoft's proposed purchase of Nokia's handset business. After assessing any overlap between the two companies' businesses, as well as how the merger might affect each companies' existing business relationships, the EU believes the merged entity won't be a threat to competition or choice in the industry. Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Nokia recently garnered approval from U.S. regulators.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group today announced Bluetooth 4.1, a revised specification that adds several new features to the short-range radio technology. The Bluetooth SIG characterizes this update as an evolutionary one that will still have a significant impact on consumers thanks to the changes. For example, the new spec improves compatibility with worldwide LTE bands so that it won't interfere with connections as often. It also improves device-to-device connections. According to the Bluetooth SIG, devices with 4.1 on board can automatically reconnect to recently-used devices upon coming back into range without requiring user feedback. The spec speeds up bulk data transfer so information from sensors (such as exercise gear) can be transferred more efficiently to other Bluetooth equipment when the user returns home. Bluetooth 4.1 includes new developer tools that will let them take advantage of dual-mode topology features. The spec also future proofs Bluetooth by laying the groundwork for IP-based communications. Bluetooth 4.1 devices will be able to setup dedicated communications channels allowing them to integrate with the "internet of things." The Bluetooth SIG didn't say when it expects Bluetooth 4.1 to reach end-user devices, but it did say that hardware can be updated over-the-air to include the new features.
The USB Implemeters Forum and the USB 3.0 Promoters Group today announced that they have begun development on the next-generation of USB connectors. According to the USB-IF the new USB connector, referred to as Type-C, will be based on the existing USB 3.1 and 2.0 specifications, but will use an entirely new design that is smaller and more apt to work with slim electronics. The new connector will do away with the fixed orientation of today's USB 2.0 and 3.0 plugs, and will use a unidirectional connector that can be inserted either way. The Type-C connector will also support scalable power charging and will be future-proofed so it can meet increased bus performance and speeds in the future. The new plug will not be backward compatible with older devices, so the standards groups will also create a series of adapters to work with the Type-C connector. The USB-IF says the specification should be drafted by the end of the first quarter of 2014 and finalized by the middle of next year.
LG today announced that the G Flex curved smartphone will go on sale outside of South Korea beginning this week. The phone will reach Singapore on December 8 and Hong Kong on December 13. According to LG, the G Flex will be sold at carrier stores as well as by electronics retailers. The G Flex is noteworthy for its curved design and healing skin. LG will push the G Flex to other Asian markets by the end of the year, followed by other, unnamed regions in 2014. U.S. carriers have not yet announced plans to sell the G Flex.
LG today announced that its future television sets will have Qualcomm's AllJoyn technology built-in. AllJoyn is a platform-agnostic tool that lets mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, control and connect to other non-smart devices, such as TV sets. AllJoyn offers a standard text, image, and multimedia notification service that allows media streaming between devices using open standards, and it allows devices to push their media player's user interface to other devices. According to LG, several mobile devices can participate in the same multiplayer game on an LG Smart TV even if they are running disparate operating systems. AllJoyn will be added to LG's Smart TV line beginning next year.
BlackBerry today announced the availability of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10.2 software. The mobile device management suite for companies adds a handful of new features, including expanded support for Android and iOS devices. Companies that use BES 10.2 will be able to control app and system updates pushed to Android and iOS devices, as well as sandbox and secure work data separately from personnel data on devices owned by employees. BES 10.2 gives end users self-service options in order to help reduce calls to IT, and lets businesses manage more devices (up to 100,000) for less money. BES 10.2 can be downloaded directly from BlackBerry.
Ultra Mobile today expanded the reach of its Ultra Zero plan to include 1,000 free voice minutes to more than 70 countries around the world. The plan also provides unlimited SMS to more than 190 countries. The Ultra Mobile plan, which was first introduced in August, costs $19 per month. Some of the new countries include Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand. Ultra Mobile is an MVNO that operates on T-Mobile's network and serves those who regularly communicate with people outside the U.S.
Zact Mobile today announced the addition of the ZTE Awe to its roster of smartphones. The Awe, which is also sold by Virgin Mobile USA, is an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean device that features a 4-inch WVGA display, 1.2GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, 5-megapixel camera with 720p HD video capture, and Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Zact Mobile is selling the phone for $89, and its customizable prepaid service plans start as low as $3.49 per month.
Consumer Cellular today announced that it will soon offer the Apple iPhone 5s, 5c, and 4s. The devices, which can be paired with most of Consumer Cellular's service plans, will require down payments of $150, $100, and $50, respectively. Customers are then expected to make payments of $25 per month until the remaining balance of the phone is paid off. The iPhone 5s, 5c, and 4S will go on sale Friday, December 13.
The U.S Federal Trade Commission today approved Microsoft's proposed $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia's handset business. Microsoft first announced the plan in early September. With the U.S. government on board, Microsoft is one step closer to absorbing Nokia's phone-making capabilities. Nokia's shareholders have already approved the deal. Nokia switched to Microsoft's Windows Phone platform in 2011 and has since become the world's foremost supplier of Windows Phone handsets. Nokia will continue to run its networking business and will retain rights to the Nokia brand.
Oppo today announced that it will offer its N1 Android-based smartphone to U.S. consumers beginning December 10. Oppo, which is a Chinese hardware maker, is selling the N1 with a choice of operating systems. Consumers can pick Oppo's ColorOS Android skin, CyanogenMod, or both. The phone will allow users to switch from ColorOS to CyanogenMod if they wish with no hacking required. The other stand-out feature of the N1 is a swiveling 13-megapixel camera that can be aimed either at the user or away from the user. Other features include a 5.9-inch 1080p HD display, a 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor with 2GB of RAM, and either 16GB or 32GB of storage. The N1 also includes a touch panel on the back for one-handed use. The phone will cost $599, and will be sold unlocked and without a contract.
The CTIA Wireless Association today announced that the major network operators in the U.S. have completed work on a stolen phone database. "The global, multi-carrier, common database for LTE smartphones has been finalized and implemented in advance of the November 30, 2013 deadline," said CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent. "The matter of stolen devices is extremely important to the wireless providers, which is why they worked so hard over the last year to meet each deadline on time. As more countries and more carriers around the world participate in the 3G and 4G/LTE databases, criminals will have fewer outlets since these stolen phones would be blacklisted and could not be reactivated." Largent went on to remind consumers that they should play their own role in deterring theft by exercising caution when using their devices out in public and by using apps that can remotely lock or wipe their device. He also called on network operators outside the U.S. to participate in the stolen phone database to help prevent criminals from selling stolen devices internationally. "By working together with everyone – from the wireless companies, law enforcement, policymakers and consumers – we will make a difference," added Largent.
The wood-paneled variant of the Moto X should hit Motorola's Moto Maker site in the coming weeks, according to Reuters reporter Sinead Carew. The Moto X was first announced this summer and can be designed with custom colors, accents, wallpapers, and inscriptions. Once available, customers will be able to select from several different woods to form the rear cover of the phone.
Nokia today revealed the Lumia 525, an update to the 520/521 that increases system memory from 512MB to 1GB. The upgrade will let the device run more apps at a time. Most other features of the device remain unchanged. The Lumia 525 has a 4-inch screen, 5-megapixel camera, dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, and swappable rear shells. The Lumia 525 is first slated to reach select markets later this month for $199. There's no word yet if the 525 will be made available to U.S. buyers.
Phone Scoop's 2013 Holiday Gift Guide is the only tool the discerning shopper needs to pick out the perfect phone. Whether the intended recipients have been naughty or nice, everyone needs a phone. Here are options for every carrier, every device style, and every budget.
BlackBerry today said that BBM Channels has graduated from beta status and will begin rolling out this afternoon to all BlackBerries running OS 5 and up. BBM Channels acts similar to social networks in that users can subscribe to channels, which are based on certain topics or brands, and receive updates when the channels have new content. Users can create their own channels and push updates to select groups of followers or users in a manner similar to Twitter. BlackBerry imagines that it will be best-used by companies and brands looking to connect with fans. BBM Channels will be available for download from the BlackBerry World store starting at 3pm Eastern Time.
The U.S. Department of Defense came to an agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters about clearing some airwaves for mobile broadband networks. Specifically, the Defense Department will vacate the 1755MHz to 1780MHz band and relocate those operations to the 2025MHz to 2110MHz band. That band is used by television broadcasters for remote TV operations, but the broadcasters have agreed to share it with the military. This move will leave the 1755MHz open for mobile broadband. The National Telecommunications and Information Association believes the 1755MHz block can be paired with the 2155MHz to 2180MHz block to offer uplink and downlink operations. The FCC is already planning to auction the 2155MHz block by 2015. It's not clear how long it will take the military to vacate the 1755MHz block and when the airwaves will become free for the FCC to auction away.
Motorola today made the Moto G Android smartphone available for sale through its web site. Consumers can buy the device directly from Motorola. The Moto G costs $179 for the 8GB model and $199 for the 16GB model. The Moto G was announced earlier this month. It has a 4.5-inch 720p HD screen, quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, and 5-megapixel camera. The Moto G ships with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but it will be updated to Android 4.4 KitKat early next year. Motorola is selling the unlocked GSM model only. Wireless network operators will sell the CDMA variant in January.
Google confirmed that the company is developing a fix for the Nexus 5's camera. "The team is aware of the issues and is working on a software update that will be available shortly," said Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano in a statement provided to CNET. The Nexus 5's camera performance leaves a lot to be desired. In addition to the Nexus 5 camera fix, Scigliano also confirmed that Google is working to add support for RAW imaging to the Android platform. "Android's latest camera HAL (hardware abstraction layer) and framework supports RAW and burst-mode photography. We will expose a developer API in a future release to expose more of the HAL functionality," said Scigliano. Google has laid the groundwork to permit RAW imaging, but has yet to provide developers with the tools they need to access it. Nokia recently added RAW imaging support to the Lumia 1520, and will soon add it to the Lumia 1020. RAW imaging provides photographers with an uncompressed digital negative that gives them more control over the end product.
Samsung recently updated its ChatOn messaging application for Android devices and gave it the ability to send SMS/MMS messages as well as instant messages. ChatOn is a cross-platform messaging app that uses data networks to send messages back and forth rather than SMS. This new feature allows users to set ChatOn as their text/picture messaging inbox. The app combines IM and SMS/MMS threads so all the messages sent and received from a single contact are in the same place. For the moment, this feature is only available in Germany and Brazil. Samsung has not said if it will expand the feature to more regions or more platforms.
The federal judge overseeing the Samsung-Apple patent case has denied an emergency motion made by Samsung that would have delayed the proceedings. Samsung wanted the trial put on hold because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is exploring the validity of Apple's pinch-to-zoom patent. "This decision by the [patent office] jeopardizes the jury's findings in the damages trial and may render all of the post-trial proceedings a waste of time and resources," argued Samsung. District Judge Lucy Koh disagreed and fired back, "If Samsung is truly concerned about efficiency, the court encourages Samsung to discuss with Apple an agreement to forgo post-trial motions so that the parties can expeditiously appeal this entire case to the Federal Circuit." The emergency motion was made last week before a jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple an additional $290 million in damages for violating its smartphone patents. Apple and Samsung have been battling one another in courtrooms around the globe for more than two years.
Nokia today announced a major update to its HERE Drive navigation application. HERE Drive, which is available to all Windows Phone 8 devices, offers step-by-step, voice-guided navigation. When planning routes, the app now shows a list of all the turns before the driver begins navigating. The app now also provides an overview of the entire route with real-time traffic included, so drivers can see ahead of time whether or not they should take an alternate route. The live traffic feature is available in all views of the map. HERE Drive is now better at calculating estimated time of arrival thanks to the more accurate, real-time traffic data. Last, Nokia has added a feature that automatically geotags the driver's parking spot when they complete a door-to-door route. The driver can then use HERE Maps' LiveSight feature to find their car, or view it on a map. HERE Maps is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Google announced that the Play Edition versions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 should receive the Android 4.4 KitKat system update in the coming days. The Play Edition versions don't have HTC's Sense nor Samsung's TouchWiz user interfaces, respectively. Instead, they run a stock version of Android, like Nexus devices.
GoSmart Mobile today announced the Coolpad Flo, an inexpensive Android smartphone that is available without signing an annual contract. The Flo runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and features a 4.5-inch display with 854 x 480 pixels, a 1GHz dual-core processor with 4GB of internal storage, and a 5-megapixel main camera. The Flo includes HSPA+ data, but no LTE. It also features a VGA user-facing camera; support for 32GB microSD cards; Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth radios; and an 1,880mAh battery. The CoolPad Flo is available for $99.
T-Mobile today announced that the Alcatel OneTouch Evolve and OneTouch Fierce will also be available under the MetroPCS brand. Both phones are already available for sale at T-Mobile stores. MetroPCS is selling the Evolve for $59.99 and the Fierce for $99.99. Both can be paired with no-contract monthly plans that start at $40.
BlackBerry today announced another shift at the top level of its management. The company said that Chief Operating Officer Kristian Tear, and Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben will both leave the Company. Further, James Yersh will replace Brian Bidulka as its Chief Financial Officer and Roger Martin, a board member since 2007, has resigned. The changes follow the departure of CEO Thorsten Heins, who was replaced by interim CEO John Chen. "BlackBerry has a strong cash position and continues to be the top provider of trusted and secure mobile device management solutions to enterprise customers around the world," said Chen. "I will continue to align my senior management team and organizational structure, and refine [BlackBerry's] strategy to ensure we deliver the best devices, mobile security and device management" solutions.
Samsung today announced the Grand 2, a large-screened Android smartphone with middle-of-the-market specs. The Grand 2 has a 5.25-inch 720p HD LCD display, a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, and 1.5GB of RAM. Other hardware features include an 8-megapixel camera with flash and a 1.9-megapixel user-facing camera; Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0; a 2,600mAh battery; support for microSD cards up to 64GB; and support for HSPA+ networks. The Grand 2 runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Samsung's TouchWiz user interface and apps such as ChatOn, Samsung Hub, S Health, Group Play, S Travel, S Translator, Samsung Link, and Story Album. The Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 will be offered in white, and black, and pink in select markets. Samsung did not announce specific plans to bring the Grand 2 to the U.S.
Motorola recently announced that the Android 4.4 KitKat system update is now being delivered to the AT&T version of the Moto X. KitKat was made available to the Verizon and T-Mobile versions of the Moto X earlier this week.
Delivering on its promise, Google pushed out an update to the iOS version of Google+ that enables full-resolution backups of pictures and videos. The revised app also makes changes to the notification tray and lets users share their location, as well as see the location of their friends on a map. These features hit the Android version of Google+ last month. Google+ for iOS is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today sought to clarify the FCC's stance on making phone calls from airplanes. Wheeler notes that the FCC's role is technological only. "The job of the FCC with respect to this issue is related to communications technology. Technology is available and being deployed today on flights outside the United States that permits use of mobile devices on planes without causing interference to cell phone networks on the ground. These advances in technology likely no longer warrant – on a technological basis – the prohibition of in-flight phone use with the appropriate on-board equipment," said Wheeler. In other words, the FCC can only determine if modern plane-based calling systems are safe for use on American airliners. It is up to each individual airline, however, to decide if in-flight cellular calling is something they want to offer to customers. Wheeler also said the public has an opportunity to provide feedback on the idea. "We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself. Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne. We believe that airlines are best positioned to make such decisions. For this reason, our proposal does not impose any requirement that airlines should provide voice connectivity. We encourage airlines, pilots, flight attendants, and the public to engage in our upcoming rulemaking process."
Verizon Wireless and Nokia today announced the availability of RedBox Instant for Verizon's Lumia Windows Phones. The app will be exclusive to Verizon for two months, after which it will be available to all WP8 devices. RedBox Instant lets users browse and watch movies, reserve new releases at local Redbox stores, and rent and buy movies digitally, on demand. The first month is free, but thereafter it costs $8 per month.
Apple today made the unlocked iPhone 5s available online. Apple is charging $649 for the 16GB model, $749 for the 32GB model, and $849 for the 64GB model. Unlocked models are already available in Apple's retail stores.
Motorola today announced that it has entered into an agreement with 3D Systems, a company based in South Carolina, to back its Project Ara modular phones. The two companies aim to create a continuous high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system for the modules needed to build Project Ara devices. 3D Systems will amp up its 3D printing facilities to include conductive and functional materials that can be used by Ara smartphones. Motorola announced Project Ara last month. Ara modular phones will be based on an endoskeleton, which is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. Device owners then can add modules - an extra battery, new processor, keyboard, display - to the endoskeleton to create their device. Motorola already teamed with the Phonebloks community and hopes to offer an alpha version of its Module Developer's Kit (MDK) sometime this winter. Motorola believes that Project Ara will lower the barrier of entry for hardware makers and result in a vibrant, open community that will let people create unique and compelling devices.
Google has pushed out a new version of Google Wallet that lets people add credit or debit cards simply by taking a picture of their card. The app is able to record the account number and expiration date during the setup process. Google also recently announced a Google Wallet Card, a physical debit card backed by MasterCard that can be used to access Google Wallet funds. The Google Wallet Card works in conjunction with Google Wallet accounts and can be used to make purchases and even withdraw cash. According to Google, the Wallet Card is available for free and it does not charge any annual fees to use it. The newest version of the Google Wallet app adds compatibility with the Google Wallet Card, and provides notifications to help keep users on top of their spending.
Motorola has made its Moto Assist and Moto Connect apps available to more of its devices by publishing them in the Google Play Store. Previously, they were only available on select devices, notably the Moto X, as preinstalled apps. Moto Assist is a tool that lets device owners set certain times when they shouldn't be bothered, such as when sleeping, in meetings, or driving. Moto Connect is a utility that let's people see incoming text messages and calls in their computer's Chrome browser. Both apps are compatible with the Moto X, Droid Ultra, Droid Maxx, and Droid Mini. Motorola also recently made the Moto X Camera and Touchless Control apps available in the Play Store.
Twitter recently made a new version of its Windows Phone app available to smartphones running Microsoft's operating system. The app adds several new features, including notifications when there are new tweets from favorited accounts. The app also makes it possible to delete individual direct messages and makes various other bug fixes and performance improvements. Twitter for Windows Phone is free to download from the Windows Phone Store.
Phone Scoop was able to spend a few moments with the recently announced ZTE Warp 4G for Boost Mobile and the ZTE Source for Cricket Wireless. Here are our initial impressions.
T-Mobile today said that it will "terminate all billing for premium SMS, except for charitable and political giving" as soon as feasible. The move is a response to customer complaints about the fraudulent billing practices of some premium SMS providers. T-Mobile says it has already ceased doing business with one of the largest such companies. This change does not impact T-Mobile's standard SMS service, nor does it affect purchases made via SMS through device marketplaces or applications. T-Mobile customers who believe they've been charged inappropriately for premium SMS services can request a refund from T-Mobile.
The Federal Communications Commission today indicated that it is willing to reassess whether or not U.S. flyers can make cell phone calls and/or text when in the air. Such use would require special equipment on the plane that duplicates the functionality of a cell phone tower and relays communications to the ground through a dedicated link, much like current in-flight Wi-Fi services. Planes without the special new equipment would still require phones to be kept in airplane mode throughout the flight. "Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband. Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers." The Federal Aviation Administration recently relaxed rules pertaining to the use of electronic devices when on planes. The FAA now believes it is safe for passengers to use devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops from gate-to-gate. The FCC didn't say how long it might take to review its current policy.
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