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 two 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
LG launched its new F-series at MWC this week, which consists of the F90 and very similar but smaller F70. The specific F90 that they're showing off is a variant for Sprint, which appears to be named Volt. It's a mid-range Android phone with a 4.7-inch display, Snapdragon 400 processor, and 8-megapixel camera. We took it for a quick spin. Read on for our first impressions.
LG this week revealed two new mid-range Android phones with LTE 4G: the F70 and F90. At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona this week, they showed off a Sprint version of the F90, which seems to be called the Volt. The Volt has a 4.7-inch qHD display, 8-megapixel main camera, front camera, Snapdragon 400 processor, NFC, removable 3,000 mAh battery, tri-band LTE (Sprint Spark,) IR remote control, and a memory card slot. The software includes LG's QSlide, Knock Code, and Smart screen, which keeps the screen from timing out while you're looking at it. It ships with Android Kit Kat 4.4. Pricing and release date were not announced. The F70 is a smaller cousin to the F90. It has a 4.5-inch display, 5-megapixel camera, and a smaller battery, but is otherwise identical.
AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile each today affirmed that it will off the Samsung Galaxy S5 when it goes on sale in April. Exact sales dates and pricing were not shared by the carriers.
Sprint today announced that its juiced-up 4G network, called Sprint Spark, is now available in Salt Lake City and Jacksonville, Fla. Sprint Spark uses tri-band LTE to help improve access to, and the performance of, its 4G network. In order to use Sprint Spark, Sprint customers must have Spark-compatible smartphones. Only a handful of Sprint's smartphones work with Spark, including the LG G2, the HTC One max, the Samsung Galaxy Mega, and a newer version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Sprint Spark is available in 16 markets, and Sprint plans to cover 100 markets by the end of the year. Sprint claims Spark enables peak download speeds of 60Mbps. Sprint also said that its LTE network has expanded to a total of 382 markets, including Detroit; Rochester, N.Y.; Manchester, N.H.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.
Sprint today announced the availability of Wi-Fi calling from select smartphones. The Samsung Galaxy Mega and the Galaxy S4 Mini will be the first two handsets able to use the service. Sprint says Wi-Fi calls can be made over any Wi-Fi network, such as those in the home, office, or in public. The Wi-Fi calling service includes unlimited, free voice calls and messaging in the U.S. Sprint says the ability to use Wi-Fi networks rather than its cellular network resolves issues such as in-building coverage. The application and service can be set up by device owners in a few simple steps. Galaxy Mega and S4 Mini owners will be notified through an over-the-air update when the service is available to them. Sprint said the update will be pushed out over the coming weeks. Sprint expects to add more phones to the service throughout the rest of the year.
Sprint today indicated via its support site that Android 4.4 KitKat is now available to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The system upgrade will be made available over the air during the next few days.
Sprint today expanded the availability of its Framily Plans to small business customers. As with families, the small business variant offers discounts for each line of service added to the plan. A single line costs $55 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and 1GB of data. Each additional line drops the cost by $5 per month. Where one line costs $55, two lines cost $50 each, three lines cost $45 each, and so on. Businesses that group together between seven and 10 lines will enjoy a per-line monthly cost of just $25. Adding unlimited data costs an additional $20 per line, and each line is able to customize its needs separate of the group. The Sprint Framily Plan for small businesses is available to new and existing customers beginning today.
Transit Wireless today announced that it has begun Phase Two of its project to bring cellular and Wi-Fi wireless service to New York City's subway stations. The first step of Phase Two is to light up service at 11 more midtown Manhattan stations, including those at Grand Central Terminal, 34th St. Herald Square, and Bryant Park. The bulk of Phase Two, however, targets 29 stations in Queens. Transit Wireless is building a hub in Queens to help manage the infrastructure from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. The Queens build out begins in March and should be complete by June. Transit Wireless has not said if or when it will offer subway station service in the boroughs of the Bronx or Brooklyn.
Sprint today announced that its juiced-up 4G network, called Sprint Spark, is now available in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Sprint Spark uses tri-band LTE to help improve access to, and the performance of, its 4G network. In order to use Sprint Spark, Sprint customers must have Spark-compatible smartphones. Only a handful of Sprint's smartphones work with Spark, including the LG G2, the HTC One max, the Samsung Galaxy Mega, and a newer version of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Sprint Spark is available in 14 markets, and Sprint plans to cover 100 markets by the end of the year. Sprint claims Spark enables peak download speeds of 60Mbps.
Sprint is rethinking its intent to make a bid for T-Mobile after the idea was met with skepticism from government officials. Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son and CEO Dan Hesse met with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission in recent weeks. Both agencies indicated a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile would face tough resistance from antitrust regulators. Though Son and Hesse knew the idea would be meet some pushback, they were surprised by the level of skepticism for the deal, according to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal. Sprint and T-Mobile contend that the only way for them to effectively combat AT&T and Verizon Wireless is to join forces. U.S. officials have, however, made it abundantly clear they prefer to have four national carriers and not three. The Journal says Sprint may yet make a play for T-Mobile, but will likely spend weeks or longer to weigh its options.
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told executives from SoftBank and Sprint he is highly skeptical a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile would pass regulatory review. SoftBank's Masayoshi Son and Sprint's Dan Hesse met with Wheeler Monday in an attempt to convince the FCC it would be beneficial to the market for Sprint and T-Mobile to combine in order to better fight AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Wheeler said he would keep an open mind about such a deal, according to sources cited by Reuters, but he also repeated the sentiment given by the U.S. Department of Justice that a merger between the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers would face a long road toward gaining regulatory approval.
Ting, an MVNO that operates on Sprint's network, today celebrated its two-year anniversary by dropping its mobile data prices. Before today, Ting offered various data plans (XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL) that ranged from $0 to $60 per month. The XS plan still costs $0 per month for zero data, and the S plan still costs $3 for up to 100MB. The M, L, and XL plans have been lowered to $12 for up to 500MB, $19 for up to 1GB, and $29 for up to 2GB, respectively. The top-end $60 plan has been axed, and Ting lowered the overage rate from 2.25 cents per megabyte to 1.5 cents per megabyte. Ting also added 100 free minutes to its top voice plan and 800 free messages to its top messaging plan. The new plan rates are effective beginning today.
Sprint today expanded the number of handsets that are able to take advantage of its Direct Connect push-to-talk service. Sprint offers the service through a dedicated application called Direct Connect Now. Beginning today, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3, the LG G2, G Flex, and Optimus F3, and the Kyocera Hydro Edge can all download the Direct Connect Now app from the Google Play Store and use it for PTT calls. Sprint plans to add more devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy Mega, and GS4 with Sprint Spark, soon. Sprint says its Direct Connect Now app has been updated with a new user interface, and it is now interoperable with older Sprint Direct Connect phones. The app also has TeamDC and opt-in TeamDC closed group calling; call alerts to notify others you want to talk; displays contact image for speaker; syncs contacts with device address book; and lets users create favorite Direct Connect contacts. The app and service are free to download for most LTE 4G phones, though Sprint charges $5 per month for some handsets.
SoftBank CEO and Sprint Chairman Masayoshi Son is meeting with the head of the Federal Communications Commission today in an attempt to convince the regulatory body that combining Sprint and T-Mobile would be good for the wireless industry. Last week, officials at the U.S. Department of Justice indicated to Son and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse that the agency would not look favorably on such a merger and it would face heavy scrutiny. Son is already holding high-level talks with Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent company. The companies have not publicly announced plans to merge and are still hashing out details, such as a potential break-up fee, which management team would lead moving forward, and which brand would be preserved. Son intends to argue to the FCC that a combined T-Mobile/Sprint would be a stronger competitor to market leaders AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse will also attend the meeting.
HTC today announced that Sprint is the first U.S. carrier to offer the Android 4.4.2 KitKat update to its variant of the HTC One. The update can be downloaded manually by HTC One owners via the settings menu starting today. Sprint will begin delivering the update over the air beginning February 11. In addition to Android 4.4.2, the update brings the One to the latest version of HTC Sense.
Telenav has acquired Skobbler for $23.8 million in cash and stock. Skobbler, which is based in Germany, runs a crowd-sourced OpenStreetMaps application. OpenStreetMaps uses data supplied by the public to help create the most accurate and up-to-date maps possible. Telenav expects to add Skobbler and its development team to its own mapping and navigation products, including Scout. Scout often appears as a preloaded app on Sprint smartphones.
The Federal Communications Commission today indicated that it wants more industry players to participate in on-going efforts to enable text-to-911 services. The four largest carriers have already committed to offering such services by May 15 of this year, but the FCC believes this is not enough. It is requesting that the country's smaller, regional carriers get involved in order to fill in the gaps where AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon don't offer service. Further, the FCC wants companies that provide over-the-top (OTT) messaging services, such as WhatsApp or Skype, to enable text-to-911 within their applications. To wit, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would force OTT services to enable text-to-911 by the end of the year. The FCC is accepting comments on the idea and will make a final determination later this year. One of the core components is the ability to send a bounce-back message to senders in areas where 911 can't receive text messages. The FCC feels this is an essential service and keeps in step with how consumers prefer to communicate.
Sprint announced that its Sprint Spark service is available in and around Kansas City beginning today. Spark uses tri-band LTE to improve connectivity and mobile broadband speeds. Sprint Spark is already available in a handful of cities, including Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, Tampa, and others. Sprint expects to offer Spark to about 100 markets by the end of 2014.
HTC today said it will miss its self-imposed deadline of updating the One within 90 days from the time Google released Android 4.4 KitKat. It originally committed to giving the One the latest version of Android by the end of January. According to HTC, KitKat is now undergoing carrier testing with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Though it will fall short of the 90-day cutoff, HTC expects the update will take only another week or two to complete for each carrier. HTC asked customers for patience as it finalizes the system update. More information should be available soon.
Sprint's senior executives recently met with members of the U.S. Department of Justice to ascertain just how much opposition a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile might face. The meeting included Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, which holds a majority stake in Sprint, and Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint. Justice Department officials told Son and Hesse that such a deal would "face skepticism" from government regulators, according to people familiar with the details of the conversation. Regulators appear to favor the current competitive environment, which includes four national network operators, as opposed to three were Sprint and T-Mobile to combine. Sprint already has commitments from banks to finance the deal. SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom, which owns 67% of T-Mobile, have met to iron out the broad strokes of a merger/acquisition. Many details have yet to be finalized before an acquisition is formally proposed.
Sprint today announced plans to use fuel cells as the backup power source at some of its base station sites. Most cell sites have diesel-based generators to provide electrical power in the event of an emergency. Sprint says that while it still uses diesel at most sites, the fuel cell program should help the company reduce its carbon footprint. The fuel cells will be installed on rooftop cell sites. Sprint said it is still working to develop the fuel cells, but it imagines that they will be modular and easier to install than diesel-based generators, which often require a crane. Sprint is receiving some financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project, and believes it can begin installing the hydrogen-based fuel cells by the end of the year.
Sprint today announced the availability of a new cloud-based storage service. Owners of Android and iOS devices can download the new app from the Google Play Store or iTunes App Store, respectively, beginning today. Spring is offering all customers 5GB of storage for free, but customers can upgrade to unlimited storage for $4.99 per month. Sprint says the service will be ideal for those seeking a place to backup photos, videos, and other files. The service is being backed by a company called Pogoplug.
Sprint boosted the size of its LTE 4G network by 40 markets today. Some of the new markets include Colorado Springs, Colo.; Midland, Mich.; Jackson, Miss.; Carson City and Reno, Nev.; Camden, N.J.; Georgetown, S.C.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tacoma, Wash.; and Milwaukee-Waukesha, Wisc. According to Sprint, its LTE network is now available in 340 markets around the country.
Sprint is prepared to lay off an unknown number of employees, according to filings the company made with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The cuts are part of a restructuring plan that the company announced today. Sprint employs about 39,000 people around the U.S. The Associated Press suggests the cuts might be significant based on the size of the charges Sprint expects to take on the workforce reduction. Sprint said it is still reviewing how many employees it will cut, but expects the reductions to be complete by June. More information should become available when Sprint announces earnings February 11.
The Federal Communications Commission will today begin accepting bids for H Block spectrum. Auction 96 will be used to sell 176 licenses for the H Block spectrum, which falls in the 1915-1920MHz and 1995-2000MHz bands. The FCC held a mock auction to test the bidding process on January 17. Most of the major wireless network operators declined to participate in the auction, though Dish Networks and nearly two dozen other, smaller firms plan to make bids. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are expected to participate more aggressively in an auction on deck for mid-2015, which will cover spectrum in the 600MHz band. The FCC has not said how long it expects Auction 96 to take, though it hopes to raise about $1.6 billion from the winners.
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has begun active talks with Deutsche Telekom on how to acquire T-Mobile. According to sources cited by Bloomberg, the two companies are exploring the best way to structure such a deal. Unresolved issues include how much cash and stock SoftBank will pay, as well as how best to integrate the two companies, and what sort of break-up fees might be assigned. Deutsche Telekom wants all cash for the deal, but SoftBank wants to use both cash and stock. T-Mobile's market value is about $26 billion and SoftBank already has assurances from a handful of banks that they'll finance the deal. Son is reluctant to agree to break-up fees, as SoftBank has already taken on a lot of debt to buy Sprint. Last, the companies hope to structure the deal so that it meets as little resistance as possible from federal regulators, which are sure to scrutinize the deal closely. Bloomberg says that Sprint's management is not party to the talks, but CEO Dan Hesse knew Son wanted to buy T-Mobile when he agreed to sell a large equity stake of Sprint to SoftBank. The boards of SoftBank, Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, and T-Mobile will need to approve any deal.
Sprint has received proposals from several banks with respect to financing a potential bid for smaller rival T-Mobile. No such deal has been announced, but as many as three banks have approached Sprint with offers to provide the needed capital. The Wall Street Journal reports that banks are looking at a total value for T-Mobile of about $50 billion, including $31 billion for T-Mobile itself and an additional $20 billion to cover T-Mobile's debt. The Journal says executives at Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank, the companies that own T-Mobile and Sprint, respectively, have agreed in principle that the companies' best chance to compete against AT&T and Verizon Wireless is to combine forces. Such a deal would require regulatory approval, which could be a major hurdle for the merger to jump. Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank execs want the deal to be completed before the start of a major spectrum auction scheduled to take place in the middle of 2015. They believe it may take more than a year to win regulatory approval for a proposed merger.
Sprint today announced that it will sell the LG G Flex curved Android smartphone online and via telesales starting January 31. Sprint is asking $299.99 for the G Flex with a new two-year contract. Alternately, customers can purchase the G Flex with Sprint's new Easy Pay program, which asks for a down payment of $149.99 for the G Flex, followed by 23 payments of $20.84 and one payment of $20.68. Sprint is accepting preorders for the G Flex beginning today. It will reach Sprint retail stores February 7. The G Flex features a 6-inch, curved and flexible display, quad-core processor, and 13-megapixel camera.
Scratch Wireless today announced that it is fully open for business an accepting new customers. The company made a big splash in October and has since been in a beta period testing the service ahead of today's formal launch. Scratch Wireless is an MVNO that runs on Sprint's network. It promises free calling, texting, and mobile data to those seeking lower monthly bills. Scratch is selling a single phone, the 2012-era Motorola Photon Q, for $269, and lets customers make calls, send text messages, and surf the web all for free when connected to a Wi-Fi network. When Wi-Fi isn't available, Scratch Wireless devices will roam onto Sprint's network, where text messages will still be free, but voice and data cost extra. Scratch offers daily and monthly voice/data plans for cellular access. The 24-hour plan costs $1.99 for 30 voice minutes and 25MB of data, and the monthly plan costs $14.99 for 250 voice minutes and 200MB of data. Scratch does not have an agreement in place with any Wi-Fi aggregators, so customers are on their own to map out Wi-Fi hotspots and availability. Scratch does not require contracts or recurring monthly fees.
Sprint today announced Easy Pay, a payment system that lets people upgrade to new devices more easily by spreading out the payments over time. Sprint customers who want to upgrade devices more frequently will need to enroll in the Easy Pay program, which is being offered for a limited time. The program requires customers to pay off the balance of their existing handset. They can then choose a new phone, make a down payment on the device followed by 24 equal payments to cover the expense of the phone. Customers have the option of keeping their old device or selling it back to Sprint via its Buyback program. Sprint said Easy Pay can be paired with its new Framily Plans. Sprint Easy Pay replaces the OneUp program, which was cancelled on January 9.
NetZero Wireless today said that its mobile broadband service now runs on Sprint's CDMA-based 3G network. It previously ran only on Clearwire's WiMAX network. Now that it is available via 3G and WiMAX, NetZero Wireless customers have greater network access thanks to Sprint's large CDMA footprint, which covers about 276 million Americans. NetZero Wireless, which launched in 2012, offers broadband-only services to mobile hotspots, laptops, tablets, and netbooks. NetZero does not require contracts and offers month-to-month service that can be cancelled at any time. The company offers four different service plans to meet its customers' budgeting needs.