AT&T today enabled WiFi calling on the iPhone. iPhone owners who've updated to iOS 9 can make and receive voice calls via WiFi rather than cellular networks. The feature is meant to help people remain connected when cellular coverage is poor. WiFi calling can be set up directly from the iPhone and requires several steps. AT&T says customers have to have a post-paid account set-up wth HD Voice in order to activate the feature. WiFi calling works automatically with the subscriber's existing phone number. The service is free to use. Earlier this week, the FCC granted AT&T permission to offer WiFi calling by approving a waiver concerning services for hard-of-hearing customers. Sprint and T-Mobile have offered WiFi calling for the better part of a year with no such waiver from the FCC. AT&T chided the FCC for failing to take any sort of corrective action against them.
Dish Network is evaluating whether or not to participate in the FCC's 600MHz incentive auction next year, according to an executive. The company might bid on airwave licenses even though it was recently denied a $3.3 billion discount on licenses it won in this year's AWS-3 auction. The company did not say what it plans to do with the spectrum. Dish already owns a significant swath of spectrum, but has yet to deploy any sort of wireless network. Sprint recently said it will not participate in the auction, while T-Mobile has been very vocal about its plans to spend up to $10 billion securing country-wide 600MHz airwaves.
The FCC today approved a waiver requested by AT&T that will allow it to launch WiFi calling. The waiver gives AT&T permission to deploy Real-Time Text (RTT) as an alternative to TTY technology, which is relied upon by the hard-of-hearing. AT&T requested the waiver earlier this year. TTY is unreliable when used over WiFi and AT&T required a rule change from the FCC before it could move forward with the substitute. AT&T said it was pleased to receive the waiver, though it is puzzled why the FCC isn't taking action against Sprint and T-Mobile, which both launched WiFi calling services without a waiver. "We're grateful the FCC has granted AT&T's waiver request so we can begin providing WiFi calling. At the same time we are left scratching our heads as to why the FCC still seems intent on excusing the behavior of T-Mobile and Sprint, who have been offering these services without a waiver for quite some time. Instead of initiating enforcement action against them, or at least opening an investigation, the agency has effectively invited them to now apply for similar waivers and implied that their prior flaunting of FCC rules will be ignored." AT&T did not say how quickly it will get WiFi calling up and running.
Verizon today voiced support for Samsung Pay and said the service will be added to compatible phones through a future software update. Samsung Pay initially launched with support from AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, but Verizon only said it was "consiodering" the mobile payment service. Verizon did not say what delayed its commitment to the app, but now it is on board. Samsung Pay will be added to the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, Note 5, and S6 Edge+. Verizon didn't say when it plans to deliver the update.
The CTIA today announced that a number of member companies have agreed to take on additional measures to help prevent cellphone thefts. Following recommendations made by the FCC, wireless companies will make anti-theft tools available to all consumers that also respect consumer choice and privacy. All new phones made after July 2016 will "make readily available to the authorized user an option that allows the authorized user to enable or disable the anti-theft solution at any time that the smartphone is connected and is in the authorized user's possession." Beyond this baseline tool, consumers will have the option to use other, third-party solutions to locate, wipe, or reinstate their devices if they so wish. Companies that have agreed to this include Apple, Asurion; AT&T; BlackBerry; Google; HTC; Huawei; LG; Microsoft; Motorola; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; Verizon, and ZTE. In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "CTIA members' ... enhanced voluntary commitment to adopt anti-theft features and educate consumers demonstrates their resolve in combatting it. I am hopeful that this new voluntary commitment will make a meaningful difference for consumer safety. As the enhanced commitment recognizes, these solutions work only if they are adopted widely. The FCC will remain vigilant in this area by pushing for further improvements to the theft-prevention toolbox, and also by monitoring closely whether the efforts of industry and others are producing meaningful results." Apple's iOS and Google's Android already contain features that let device owners find and protect their mobile devices. The FCC hopes allowing people to download and use the protective measure of their choice will help encourage consumers to make broader use of the tool.
AT&T recently filed a complaint with the FCC over WiFi calling services on the iPhone, which it says it cannot offer due to certain regulations. AT&T competitors Sprint and T-Mobile have offered WiFi calling for the better part of a year, and AT&T insists they are doing so against FCC regulations. "AT&T intended to introduce WiFi calling services [on Sept. 25] in competition with ... T-Mobile and Sprint," said AT&T in its filing. "Those carriers have been offering WiFi calling services for a significant period of time. Neither of those carriers has approached the FCC to request a waiver of the TTY rules. Because the commission has not granted AT&T's waiver petition, we are not in a position to provide WiFi calling services to our customers even while our competitors provide those services in defiance of the commission's rules." AT&T requested a waiver from the FCC in June, but is still waiting for approval. AT&T says WiFi calling is not 100% reliable with TTY technology and wants to use RTT technology instead. Technically, AT&T says the FCC has to approve the technology switch before it can offer the service and remain in compliance with the law. In a rebuttal, T-Mobile said RTT technology is not necessary and the company has thus offered WiFi calling since last year. "AT&T urges the commission to seize this opportunity to grant AT&T's waiver request without further delay," said AT&T. "Doing so will enable AT&T to offer its customers Wi-Fi calling capabilities and correct the asymmetry that today exists between AT&T and its mobile services competitors." iOS 9, which Apple recently distributed to iPhone owners, has built-in support for WiFi calling. AT&T customers are unable to use the service, however, until AT&T gets the waiver from the FCC.
Nextbit's Robin smartphone won the financial support of more than 3,600 people who invested $1.36 million in the Kickstarter campaign. Nextbit said it received enough interest in the Robin to move forward with manufacturing. It has closed the Kickstarter campaign and is now working to bring the device to market, expected during the first quarter of 2016. According to Nextbit, most of the investment came from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, the U.K., and Singapore. The Robin is an Android phone that uses the cloud to manage on-board storage availability. It can seamlessly offload and reload content — including applications — when needed to free up space. It was designed by former HTC employees and costs $399. The phone will be available in GSM and CDMA variants, supporting the networks of AT&T and T-Mobile, and Sprint and Verizon.
Sprint is prepared to reduce expenses by as much as $2.5 billion over the next year, reports the Wall Street Journal, and is likely to cut jobs to help it reach that goal. An internal memo sent to staff by CFO Tarek Robbiati obtained by the Journal said the cuts "inevitably will result in job reductions." Sprint had about 31,000 employees as of March. Robbiati said the company is still exploring how best to reduce costs. "The main thing to consider when requesting to spend money is to take an owner's mindset by treating every dollar as if it were your own," he said. Sprint has already trimmed expenses by about $1.5 billion over the last 12 months. The company recently said it will not participate in next year's 600MHz incentive auction, citing its existing spectrum resources and the cost to obtain more spectrum. Sprint has struggled in recent years to compete with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
Sprint today said it will raise the cost of its Unlimited plan from $60 to $70 per month beginning Oct. 16. The company said customers who want to take advantage of the $60 Unlimited plan price point need to sign up by Oct. 15. "At $70 a month, Sprint still beats the competition. Rather than increase the price without warning, we want to give customers one last chance to take advantage of the $60 rate," said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. Customers who already enjoy the $60 Unlimited plan will be able to keep their current pricing even when upgrading to new devices. To qualify for the Unlimited plan, customers must purchase their device through iPhone Forever, Sprint Lease, Sprint Easy Pay, full retail, or bring their own. Sprint is still offering to pay the phone/contract balance to new customers who switch.
Following Sprint's decision to skip next year's 600MHz incentive auction, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai had harsh words for the FCC's plans. "Sprint's decision highlights the folly of the FCC's attempt to pick winners and losers before the auction begins," said Pai, in reference to the rules being assigned to the auction. "It also intensifies doubts about how competitive the bidding will be for set-aside spectrum and whether American taxpayers will receive fair compensation for that scarce public resource," said Pai. The FCC has agreed to set aside 30MHz of spectrum for smaller entities that market leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless will not be allowed to bid on. "Sprint's announcement only strengthens my belief that the FCC should not have granted a spectrum giveaway in this auction or placed artificial limits on carriers' participation." Pai is part of the Republican minority in the five-person FCC and is often at odds with his Democrat peers. The auction, scheduled to start in March 2016, will see television broadcasters sell their spectrum licenses to the government, which will in turn auction them off to wireless companies.
Samsung today made its mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, available to U.S. consumers. The service is compatible with only a few phones, including the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 Edge, and S6. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular support Samsung pay, but Verizon Wireless does not. Consumers can add their American Express, Bank of America, Citibank, or USBank MasterCard or Visa credit/debit card to the service, but it lacks support for Chase at launch. Samsung Pay differs from Apple Pay and Android Pay in one significant respect: it supports both NFC and MST transactions. MST, in particular, is more widely available than NFC and works with most regular credit card terminals used by retailers around the country. Samsung Pay is secured via fingerprint, and credit card information is tokenized so it is protected during transactions. Samsung will reward Note 5 and S6 Edge+ owners who activate Samsung Pay with a free wireless charger or a free wallet flip cover (through Oct. 11). Samsung Pay is free to set up and use.
Sprint today said it will not participate in the 600MHz reverse auction planned for next year. The company believes its spectrum position is "sufficient to provide its current and future customers great network coverage." Sprint owns significant amounts of spectrum, but much of it is concentrated in the 2.5GHz range. Such spectrum is good for capacity, but not for covering large areas. The 600MHz spectrum up for auction is highly valued for its propagation characteristics. Sprint is set to embark on another network overhaul that it believes will resolve many of the problems its network has faced in recent years. Sprint's finances may have played a role in its decision. The company has not turned a profit since 2007 and has been bleeding cash in recent quarters. A Sprint spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal it is "prioritizing its financial resources to improve network coverage, capacity, speed and reliability now and over the next few years—and we already have the spectrum we need to do so. That is more important for Sprint and its customers than investing in [this] spectrum that wont benefit our subscribers until 2020 at the earliest." T-Mobile plans to participate in the auction, and it is likely AT&T and Verizon will, too. The FCC expects to start the auction in March 2016.
The FCC today levied a $1.18 million fine against Sprint for its inability to properly handle emergency calls made through its wireless Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS). According to the FCC, Sprint's IP CTS system was unable to accept or handle emergency calls for a period of six months in mid-2014. Further, Sprint was unable to detect that its IP CTS service wasn't working properly. Last, Sprint inaccurately told the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund administrator that its systems were fully functional during the period the service was inoperable. Sprint admitted its fault, will pay the fine, and must submit a compliance plan to make sure the issue is not repeated.
Sprint today said it will lease the iPhone 6s to customers for a monthly payment of just $1. Consumers have to meet several conditions to get that deal. The special lease offer is available for a limited time only at Sprint-branded retail stores. The $1 price is for a 16GB iPhone 6s. Leasing a 16GB iPhone 6s Plus will cost $5 per month. Both lease prices are contingent upon customers trading in an iPhone 6. Sprint has attractive monthly pricing for higher-capacity iPhones, as well. For example, the 64GB iPhone 6s will cost $5.77 per month and the 128GB iPhone 6s will cost $10.53 per month. Similarly, the 64GB and 128GB iPhone 6s Plus models will cost $9.77 and $14.53 per month, respectively. These prices also require an iPhone 6 trade-in. Sprint isn't leaving out customers with the iPhone 5s. Customers who trade in the 2013-era iPhone can lease the 16GB iPhone 6s or 6s Plus for $10 or $14 per month, respectively.
Nextbit today released the final set of specs for the CDMA variant of its Robin smartphone. The details reveal that the device is compatible with Sprint's CDMA network in addition to Verizon's. The Robin supports CDMA in the 800MHz and 1900MHz bands, in addition to quad-band GSM, HSPA, and LTE. The CDMA version supports LTE in bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 13, 20, 25, 26, and 41. The device, which is based on Android and syncs apps and files seamlessly with the cloud, isn't expected to ship until the first quarter of 2016.
T-Mobile said it will drop the Jump On Demand lease payment for the 16GB Apple iPhone 6s to just $5 if customers trade in an iPhone 6. Customers who trade in an iPhone 6 Plus can lease the 16GB iPhone 6s Plus for $9 per month. Without the trade-in, the lease payment is $20 per month for the 16GB 6s. T-Mobile says the out-the-door cost is $0, and the full price of the 16GB iPhone 6s totals $523.99 for customers who remain with T-Mobile for 18 months. By way of comparison, Sprint's iPhone lease program costs $15 per month with a trade-in or $22 without a trade-in. T-Mobile also said it will sell the Apple Watch Sport beginning Friday, Sept. 25, the same day the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus go on sale. T-Mobile is offering the wearable for $0 down and 24 monthly payments of about $14.50 for the 38mm Watch Sport ($349) and $17 for the 42mm Watch Sport ($399).
FreedomPop today announced a new calling plan that targets owners of the Apple iPhone. Owners of the iPhone 6 or 6s who activate their phone with FreeomPop will receive 500MB of data, 500 texts, and 500 voice minutes each month for free. As a bonus for signing up, new iPhone customers will also receive 5GB of free data to get started. iPhone customers may choose to upgrade to the new $19 service plan that improves the offering to unlimited talk and text and 1GB of data. FreedomPop is offering new iPhone plan customers the first month for free. The company plans to sell the Apple iPhone 6s in October through its own financing plan. In addition to the iPhone-only plan, FreedomPop also announced an expansion to the U.K. FreedomPop U.K. users will get 200 minutes, 200 texts, and 200MB of data free for as long as they remain customers. Last, FreedomPop will award users in the U.S. and the U.K. with unlimited data if they take surveys, download coupons, or engage in other such activities. FreedomPop is an MVNO that resells access to Sprint's network (in the U.S.), though its calling and texting services also function over WiFi.
Sprint today a significant number of new countries to its Open World roaming plan. The program kicked off in August with initial support for Canada, Mexico, and a handful of Latin American countries. The new countries include France, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Fiji, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, St. Barthelemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Vanuatu. In these countries, texting is free, voice minutes are $0.20, and data is available at $30 per gigabyte. Customers will need to have an international-capable handset to take advantage of the roaming services. Open World can be added to Sprint plans for free. Interested customers will need to sign up online, in person, in stores, or via the phone. Sprint suggests customers who travel to other areas choose one of its global roaming packages.
Virgin Mobile today updated its service plans with more 4G LTE data. The entry-level $35 plan bumps the monthly high-speed data bucket from 250MB to 1GB, the $45 plan improves from 1GB to 3GB, and the $55 plan improves from 3GB to 8GB. Virgin throttles data speeds down to 2G once the data bucket is exhausted in a single billing period, but customers can purchase more high-speed data for $5 per 1GB. Virgin also announced availability of the LG Tribute 2, a $100 Android smartphone. Boost Mobile, run by Virgin parent Sprint, has sold the Tribute 2 since July.
Best Buy has added the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition to its selection of smartphones. Best Buy is offering the 16GB and 32GB variants in several different colors — including bamboo — for $399 to $475, depending on options. The Moto X Pure Edition is sold unlocked and is compatible with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.
Sprint today shared details about its iPhone 6s and 6s Plus launch plans and price points. To start, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will both support carrier aggregation on Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum (Band 41). Sprint claims cell sites with two-channel 2.5GHz carrier aggregation can deliver peak speeds of 100Mbps. The new iPhones will also include WiFi Calling, a feature already available to some older iPhone models. Sprint is offering the new handsets via its iPhone Forever program. New and existing customers who turn in an old smartphone will be able to lease the 16GB iPhone 6s for $15 per month — a price that undercuts T-Mobile's lease program by $5 and Apple's lease program by $17. Existing Sprint customers who already use the iPhone Forever program (with a 16GB iPhone 6) will be able to keep their $15 monthly payment if they upgrade to the 16GB iPhone 6s by Dec. 31. Sprint is offering to pay the ETFs of customers who switch from other carriers. Last, Sprint said it will open stores at 8am on Sept. 25, the day the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus go on sale, but it will also allow customers who prefer to avoid crowds to take advantage of Direct 2 You.
ROK Mobile today said it plans to launch an all-you-can-eat mobile video service during the first quarter of 2016. The offering will include thousands of Hollywood movies and television shows, as well as small-studio content, such as anime, extreme sports, and other niche content. The company has not announced pricing for the service, but says it will be "affordable." It will be added to ROK's existing all-you-can-listen mobile music plan. ROK is partnering with SeaChange, an over-the-top video provider, to bring the mobile video content to Android and iOS devices. ROK Mobile is a music-focused MVNO that resells access to Sprint and T-Mobile's networks. ROK Mobile bundles wireless and music streaming services together for $49.99 per month. For that, users get 5GB of LTE 4G, unlimited calling and messaging, and unlimited access to ROK's 20 million tracks. Consumers interested in ROK Mobile need to supply their own Sprint- or T-Mobile-compatible handset. The service works on Android and iOS devices through ROK's mobile app.
Sprint adjusted its offer to DirecTV customers and added more data options. The original pitch included unlimited talk and text and just 2 GB of data per month for a year for free for DirecTV customers who port to Sprint. Now, those customers will be able to improve their data bucket to 4 GB for $10 per month or 6 GB for $20 per month. Customers will be also responsible for a $36 activation charge and monthly taxes and fees. Once the 12-month promotion ends, users will be moved to a $50 monthly service plan (for a single line). The free year of service does not include Sprint's international services, and data overages are charged at $0.015 per MB. Data speeds may also be reduced at congested cell sites during peak hours. The promotion is available through Sept. 30. DirecTV was acquired by AT&T last month.
Sprint rolled out a promotion today that takes direct aim at rival AT&T. The company is offering DirecTV customers who switch to Sprint 12 months of free service. The offer includes unlimited talk and text and up to 2GB of LTE 4G data. Sprint said it will pay the ETFs for those who switch, as well as any remaining equipment payments up to $300. Customers will be responsible for a $36 activation charge and monthly taxes and fees. Once the 12-month promotion ends, users will be moved to a $50 monthly service plan (for a single line). The free year of service does not include Sprint's international services, and data overages are charged at $0.015 per MB. The promotion will be available from Aug. 28 through Sept. 30. DirecT was recently acquired by AT&T.
T-Mobile today added its network to the Competitive Carriers Association's LTE data roaming hub. The move gives CCA members and their customers access to T-Mobile's LTE 4G network for data roaming purposes. The Hub, which launched several years ago, is a collection of roaming agreements between small, rural carriers and large, national ones, such as Sprint and T-Mobile. The purpose of the Hub is to give larger carriers access to the rural networks of regional carriers, and give those regional carriers access to the metropolitan LTE 4G networks of larger carriers. T-Mobile has participated in the hub from a management perspective for some time, but had not yet contributed access to its own network. T-Mobile's network is strong in urban centers, but the carrier lacks the rural coverage available from other competitors.
Samsung is inviting a select number of people to beta test Samsung Pay in the U.S. In order to trial the mobile payment platform, consumers need to have a Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, or Note 5 smartphone. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular are supporting Samsung Pay at launch, Verizon Wireless is not. The beta requires users to have an active Samsung account and a MasterCard or Visa credit/debit card from Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, U.S. Trust, or U.S. Bank. Samsung Pay uses both NFC and MST for tap-and-go transactions. Apple Pay and Android Pay, in comparison, use only NFC. Consumers can request an invite to test Samsung Pay from Samsung.com.
The FCC has filed a citation against a Queens, New York, man for operating equipment in the 1900MHz band that is interfering with Sprint's network. Sprint filed a complaint about interference issues on March 10. The FCC investigated and determined the interference is being caused by an unknown device or devices on property owned in Queens by Jian Chang. "The device at this location is injecting noise into the Sprint network and degrading or blocking service to Sprint's customers," said the FCC. When asked for help, "Chang refused to assist the agents and refused to allow the inspection of any offending transmitter." The FCC sent Chang an official notice about the interference issue and received no response. The FCC says Chang is violating multiple rules, such as those prohibiting the "operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental radiator subject to the conditions that no harmful interference is caused. Any equipment or device subject to the provisions of this part [of the rules]…shall be made available for inspection by a Commission representative upon reasonable request." Chang has 30 days (from Aug. 19) to respond to the FCC's citation and inspection request. Chang may be fined up to $16,000 per day up to a total of $122,500 until the issue is resolved.
Sprint today expanded its Direct 2 You service to the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Antonio, and Seattle. The service is live in these cities and the surrounding areas. With Direct 2 You, a Sprint technician brings the store experience directly to the homes of customers who purchase a new phone. Customers still receive the same benefits as buying in stores, such as setting up a phone, transferring content, and device tutorials. Sprint's Direct 2 You service is offered free of charge. Sprint said more cities will be added throughout the year. It is already offered in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington, D.C. Sprint is also offering special promotions to Direct 2 You customers. Beginning today, people who complete a Direct 2 You appointment will receive a free gift, such as Motorola Bluetooth headphones or Harmon Kardon Bluetooth speaker. The promotion also includes a chance to win a cruise for two, or a paid-for trip to the Super Bowl next year. Every Direct 2 You customer will be entered to win a $250,000 cash prize if they post a picture of themselves with their Direct 2 You tech to Twitter or Instagram.
SoftBank has purchased yet more shares of Sprint stock, boosting its stake in the company to just over 80%. SoftBank shelled out $73 million for about 16.8 million shares. Earlier this month, SoftBank made an $87 million investment in Sprint. The moves have helped Sprint's stock price rally, increasing the company's value by about $6 billion. SoftBank believes Sprint's turnaround plan will work and CEO Masayoshi Son said he sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Sprint recently fell behind T-Mobile in terms of subscribers.
Sprint will soon stop asking customers to sign two-year contracts when purchasing new phones, says the Wall Street Journal. The change coincides with moves made by its competitors, including T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure told the Journal that it will move to a phone-leasing/financing model, such as the one it debuted earlier today for the iPhone, before January. Claure suggested that its parent company, SoftBank, will help it offset some of the costs associated with leasing — rather than selling — handsets to customers. SoftBank last week spoke of plans to create a subsidiary that might help finance some of Sprint's handset-related costs. The wireless industry has been transitioning from the subsidized, contract model to leasing and/or financing programs since T-Mobile announced its first Uncarrier move in 2013. AT&T is the lone national carrier still offering yearly contracts in addition to financing plans.
Sprint has kicked off a new program that lets customers upgrade to "the latest" iPhone at any time. Starting today, new or upgrade-eligible customers can lease a 16GB iPhone 6 for $22 per month. When a new iPhone becomes available (possibly in late September), those customers will be able to go into Sprint stores and swap their iPhone 6 for the new iPhone with no change in monthly lease payments. Sprint is offering to reduce the lease payment to $15 for customers who trade in old smartphones under several conditions. Current customers who are upgrade eligible and new customers who port to Sprint can get a new 16GB iPhone 6 today for $15 per month as long as they turn in an old smartphone. If these customers upgrade to the latest iPhone after Dec. 31, they will see their lease change to $22 per month. Separately, new or existing upgrade-eligible customers can turn in any smartphone and lease the 16GB iPhone 6 for $15 per month. If these customers then upgrade to the new iPhone before Dec. 31, they will get to keep the $15 monthly lease payment until their next upgrade. This promotion, which mirrors one recently revealed by T-Mobile, is meant to entice customers to sign up sooner rather than later. Sprint hopes prospective customers who may be waiting for Apple to reveal a new iPhone will jump on a new iPhone in the next few weeks. The iPhone Forever program is offering those new customers some protection, assuring them they'll be able to get the latest iPhone when it arrives later this year. Thee plans require customers to activate their iPhone on an individual unlimited plan or family share pack plan.
The majority of U.S. wireless network operators will offer the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless all plan to sell the new handsets from Samsung. The Note 5 and S6 Edge+ will also be sold by Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, Sam's Club, Target, and some Walmart stores. Carriers and retailers will confirm specific pricing and availability details.
SoftBank has been snapping up shares of Sprint, increasing its stake recently by as much as $87 million. Despite SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son's misgivings about the overall acquisition of Sprint, SoftBank said it "is enthusiastic about Sprint's prospects. The SoftBank Group and Sprint teams have been working closely together on Sprint's network strategy to enhance Sprint's competitiveness and reduce its capital expenditures and operating costs." SoftBank didn't say if it plans to continue purchasing Sprint shares. The carrier recently fell behind T-Mobile in terms of subscribers in the U.S., making it the fourth-largest carrier.
SoftBank's plans for Sprint have not unfolded as CEO Masayoshi Son hoped. Son initially believed a merger with competitor T-Mobile would serve the carrier, but was dismayed when U.S. antitrust regulators shot the idea down. "I was thinking to myself: 'I made one of the biggest mistakes in my life,' which was the misjudgment of the U.S. regulatory environment," said Son. SoftBank closed its equity stake in Sprint just two years ago, and the company has already considered selling Sprint to Comcast in the U.S. or Altice in Europe, according to the Wall Street Journal. Son's plan to sell Sprint went nowhere. Son also considered writing off the acquisition as a total loss. Now, SoftBank is facing the costly prospect of improving Sprint's network to entice back customers it has lost to rivals over the years. Sprint plans to install tens of thousands of small cells to improve the density of its network around the country, but is burning cash at an alarming rate and may go broke by mid 2016 if it doesn't reduce expenditures. For legal reasons, SoftBank's hands are tied; it cannot invest too much more money in Sprint's turnaround. It is considering forming two stand-alone entities to help finance Sprint's network and handset-leasing expenses to keep debt off Sprint's balance sheet. Son replaced Sprint CEO Dan Hesse a year ago with Marcelo Claure, who has made some progress in retaining customers, but the carrier still has a long way to go. It recently fell behind T-Mobile, which now stands as the country's third-largest carrier, behind AT&T and Verizon. Masayoshi Son and Claure hope the network densification plan and more consumer-friendly service plans will help put the carrier on a more positive track.
TextNow today announced the availability of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the LG Volt, two new additions to its roster of handsets. TextNow is selling the Galaxy S5 for $399 new or $299 refurbished. The LG Volt is just $13.99. Both handsets are more than a year old. The company said its phones, starting with the Moto G, are now available at all Fry's Electronics location. Moreover, TextNow will soon accept cash payments at more than 10,000 varied retail locations around the country, including Gates Petroleum, Sunoco, NMart, and Circle K stores, among others. TextNow Wireless offers all customers unlimited talk and text and up to 500MB of 4G data for $18.99 per month. TextNow runs on Sprint's cellular network but defaults to WiFi whenever possible. TextNow Wireless already offers a number of new and refurbished Sprint devices, including the LG Optimus F3, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Samsung Galaxy S4.
Sprint today expanded its Direct 2 You service to Atlanta, Boston, Houston, and Philadelphia. The service is live in these cities and a number of smaller cities and towns in the surrounding areas. With Direct 2 You, a Sprint technician brings the store experience directly to the homes of customers who purchase a new phone. Customers still receive the same benefits as buying in stores, such as setting up a phone, transferring content, and device tutorials. Sprint's Direct 2 You service is offered free of charge. Sprint said more cities will be added throughout the year. It is already offered in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.
Sprint today made it easier to call family and friends in Canada, Mexico, and other countries through its new Open World program. Sprint customers who enroll in Open World can call or text numbers in Canada and Mexico at no extra charge. Moreover, Open World offers free unlimited calling and texting, and 1GB of roaming data to Sprint customers who travel to Canada, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Paraguay. Sprint will charge customers who exceed the 1GB of free roaming data at the rate of $30 per extra 1GB, and may cancel service of those who roam excessively. Customers will need to have an international-capable handset to take advantage of the roaming services. Sprint permits roaming in countries other than those listed in the Open World program, but it charges $30 per 1GB of data and $0.20 per voice minute. Open World is a limited-time promotion, but Sprint didn't provide an end date. It can be added to Sprint plans for free. Interested customers will need to sign up online, in person in stores, or via the phone. Open World is similar to recent offerings from T-Moble and other carriers.
T-Mobile has lowered the price points of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge a week after Samsung said it would drop the phones' prices. The Galaxy S6 now costs $580, $660, and $660 for the 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models, respectively. Those reflect price drops of $100 to $200. The Galaxy S6 Edge has similar price cuts, and now costs $680, $760, and $760 for the 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models, respectively. Samsung reported its second quarter earnings recently and indicated the S6 and S6 Edge were not selling as well as hoped. In response, Samsung said it "plans to firmly maintain its sale of premium smartphones by flexibly adjusting the price of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge." T-Mobile's competitors, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless, have yet to follow the Uncarrier's lead, but they likely will in the near future.
AT&T said a problem with its wireline network was to blame for spotty cellular coverage in portions of Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee this evening. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless customers in those four states reported connectivity issues starting in the late afternoon. They took to social media in droves to complain about the lack of service. AT&T provides backhaul coverage for itself and its competitors in the region. "We've pinpointed the issue in the Southeast and are working to restore service as quickly as possible," said AT&T via its Twitter account. Sprint and Verizon took to their own social media accounts to assure customers that the issue will soon be resolved. "Verizon engineers worked with our vendors to identify and resolve the issue and service was restored by 8pm," said Verizon. AT&T has yet to provide specific details about the hardware issue that caused the problem.
Apple has denied a report suggesting it plans to sell phones and wireless service directly to consumers. Apple doesn't own any wireless spectrum, nor does it have any telecommunications infrastructure. The only way it could operate a wireless network would be as an MVNO, or by reselling access to the networks run by companies such as Sprint and T-Mobile. "We have not discussed nor do we have any plans to launch an MVNO," said Apple in a statement released to media. Apple very rarely comments on rumor and speculation, but was quick to denounce this particular report, which was published by Business Insider. Apple last year released the Apple SIM card, which lets owners of its iPad tablet easily switch between wireless network operators. The Apple SIM does not work with the Apple iPhone, however, and Apple recently agreed to work with the ITU in supporting electronic SIM cards that are permanently embedded in handsets.