The FCC today said that the reverse portion of its incentive auction is now complete. Bidding for 600 MHz television airwaves is over, and the cost to clear the 126 MHz spectrum target exceeded $86.4 billion. The FCC expects to begin the forward portion of the auction soon, which will see wireless companies bid on the spectrum blocks. Carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless are participating, but Sprint is sitting out. The auction drew lots of interest from individual bidders, too. It's not clear how much the FCC expects to make from auctioning off the airwaves moving forward, but bidders will need to meet or exceed the $86.4 billion at a minimum. The airwaves are vital low-band spectrum to be used for mobile broadband. "Today, bidding concluded in the reverse auction, establishing the cost for clearing 126 MHz in the TV band for wireless use," said the FCC's Gary Epstein in a prepared statement. "Strong participation from broadcast stations made this initial clearing target possible. Now the action shifts to the forward auction, which will give wireless bidders the opportunity to compete for this beachfront spectrum to meet America's growing mobile data needs."
Motorola today said its fourth-generation G series smartphones will go on sale beginning July 12. The G4 will cost $199 and the G4 Plus (pictured) will cost $249. The phones will be sold by Amazon.com, Best Buy, BrandsMart, B&H, CarToys, Fry's, MicroCenter, Motorola.com, Sam's Club, and Walmart. Further, Republic Wireless will offer both phones with its service starting July 28. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus are sold unlocked with support for most U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.
Google has updated its Project Fi app in order to take advantage of cellular coverage offered by U.S. Cellular. Earlier this month, Google said it planned to supplement Project Fi's coverage with U.S. Cellular. The freshly updated app allows Fi subscribers to capitalize on that expansion. Project Fi already relies on Sprint and T-Mobile for cellular connectivity, and automatically connects to the strongest signal. U.S. Cellular provides LTE service in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest, which improves Project Fi's overall footprint. Google claims its dynamic network-switching technique provides customers with a cellular connection 99% of the time they are using their phones. Project Fi also relies on WiFi. The Project Fi app is free to download from the Google Play Store, but the service is only available to select Nexus smartphones.
T-Mobile today said its customers will be able to use an unlimited amount of high-speed mobile data across Europe this summer. Specifically, customers can enjoy the highest-possible speed, up to and including LTE 4G, throughout the European Union between July 1 and August 31. T-Mobile customers can already use unlimited 2G data in more than 140 countries. The high-speed summer roaming includes unlimited free texting and $0.20-per-minute voice calls, but not tethering. T-Mobile may terminate or restrict service for misuse or excessive roaming. T-Mobile is also giving every person who flies in the U.S. this weekend (including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon customers) a free hour of Gogo in-flight WiFi on their smartphone. The free WiFi offer is available from Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26 on all domestic flights that offer Gogo WiFi. Last, T-Mobile added Belize to its list of Simple Global countries, which means T-Mobile customers can use 2G data and send messages for free, and make low-cost calls when traveling to Belize. Free roaming in Belize begins July 1.
Google today said it has supplemented Project Fi's cellular coverage with the addition of U.S. Cellular. Project Fi already relies on Sprint and T-Mobile for cellular connectivity, and automatically connects to the strongest signal. U.S. Cellular provides LTE service in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest, which will boost Project Fi's overall footprint. Google claims its dynamic network-switching technique provides customers with a cellular connection 99% of the time they are using their phones. Project Fi subscribers will begin to roam onto U.S. Cellular's network where coverage exists over the coming weeks.
Sprint today launched a buy one, get one free promotion for Apple's latest iPhones. The offer includes both the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus. Customers must have an eligible upgrade and initiate at least one new line of service in order to qualify for the offer. Sprint said customers may purchase the iPhones on a monthly installment plan, lease the iPhones, or lease one and buy the other. However customers choose to pay for the iPhones, the cost of the second handset will be offset by a service credit applied each month. Sprint is also offering to cut $200 from the price of the latest iPads for customers who buy a new iPhone and iPad together on an installment plan. Sprint didn't say how long the buy one, get one offer will be available. It has offered similar programs for the Samsung Galaxy S7 and LG G5 smartphones.
Sprint today said its customers will be able to stream all the 2016 Copa América Centenario soccer matches on their phones of free. The tournament, which is being held in June, will be streamed via the fuboTV app. Sprint is giving its postpaid and Boost/Virgin prepaid customers free access to the fuboTV app for 60 days. After the trial ends (60 days for Sprint, 30 days for Boost/Virgin), customers can continue the subscription for $9.99 per month, or drop the app. In addition to free access to the live matches, Sprint will not count streamed games against customers' data buckets. Sprint is sponsoring the tournament, which is taking place in the U.S. for the first time, and will have an on-site presence at all the games. The sponsorship includes several giveaways and awards that customers can access through the fuboTV app.
Sprint today announced the Amazon Better Choice XXL plan, which includes 40GB of shareable LTE data and a year of Amazon Prime. Subscribers also get unlimited talk and text, Sprint Global Roaming, international texting, and mobile hotspot. The Amazon Better Choice XXL plan costs $100 per month, which does not include per-line access charges ($20) and monthly device payments. This plan, which is available to new and existing customers, requires subscribers to sign a one-year contract. Customers not interested in signing a contract can still choose to add Amazon Prime to their monthly bill for $10.99. Amazon Prime includes online storage for files and photos, as well as Amazon Music and Amazon Video streaming services, and expedited shipping on purchases made from Amazon.com.
Republic Wireless today said it has partnered with a new GSM-based carrier to help increase its service availability around the U.S. Republic launched as a WiFi-first service in 2011, and partnered with Sprint so customers could make calls, send messages, and surf the web when away from WiFi. Republic's new carrier partner is likely T-Mobile, though Republic Wireless did not say so directly. Republic will work with both Sprint and T-Mobile moving forward. With the new GSM partnership in place, Republic is set to expand its selection of devices to include some newer, top-tier Android phones. Beginning in July, Republic will offer the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, S6, and J3, the Google Nexus 6P and 5X, and the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition — all of which run Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Republic said financing will be available for each handset. Customers will be able to bring their own GSM-based device if they so wish. Last, Republic said it is prepared to roll out new service plans. One such plan costs $20 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB of LTE. Republic will share more details about its new service plans in the weeks ahead.
The FCC and FTC today asked carriers and phone manufacturers how they handle security updates for their devices. The FCC sent letters to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and other carriers, while the FTC queried Apple, Blackberry, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, Motorola, and Samsung. In particular, the agencies want to know: the factors carriers/OEMs consider in deciding whether to patch a vulnerability on a particular phone; data on the specific phones sold in the U.S. since August 2013; the vulnerabilities that have affected those devices; and whether and when the company patched such vulnerabilities. The government said the line of inquiry is to help it further understand how these companies do or do not protect consumers. "Consumers may be left unprotected, for long periods of time or even indefinitely, by any delays in patching vulnerabilities once they are discovered," said the FCC. "To date, operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers have responded to address vulnerabilities as they arise. There are, however, significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices — and that older devices may never be patched." Google provides monthly security updates to Nexus-branded Android devices, but individual phone makers lag badly. Apple provides occasional updates.
T-Mobile today said it has signed an interconnect and roaming agreement with Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba, allowing its customers to call Cuba as well as roam when visiting Cuba. T-Mobile says its U.S. customers can call Cuban landlines and wireless phones for $0.60 per minute when they subscribe to the Stateside International Talk feature for $15 per month. The deal also allows travelers to use voice, text, and data service in Cuba, though roaming won't be available until the summer months. Sprint and Verizon forged interconnect and roaming agreements with Cuba last year.
Sprint today said the HTC 10 will reach its stores on May 13. Sprint is not offering a lease option for the HTC 10, as it does for Apple's iPhone or Samsung's Galaxy S phones. Instead, Sprint will finance the phone for 24 months with payments of $26. An unlocked version of the HTC 10 is already available for sale directly from HTC.com for $699. The phone includes a 5.2-inch quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 12-megapixel camera, fingerprint sensor, and high-quality sound. It runs Android 6 Marshmallow.
Sprint is rolling out Android 6.0 Marshmallow to the Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport and Galaxy Note Edge. The update is being pushed in phases, which Sprint expects to complete by May 11 for the S5 Sport and May 2 for the Note Edge. In addition to the operating system update, Sprint says the Galaxy Note Edge is also receiving the latest security patches from Samsung and Google. Sprint did not say if the Note Edge update includes the improved Edge Panel behaviors that have been made available to the S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.
Sprint today announced that its LTE Plus wireless service is available across all five boroughs of New York City. LTE Plus relies on Sprint's three LTE bands (800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2.5 GHz) and carrier aggregation to improve capacity and speed. In particular, Sprint says it doubled the speeds available from some 900 of its 2.5 GHz cell sites around the city. It has also added coverage in areas popular with tourists. Sprint is working with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Transit Wireless to bring service to all 279 of New York's subway stations. LTE Plus delivers peak speeds in excess of 100Mbps on capable devices.
Sprint appears to have had second thoughts about selling the BlackBerry Priv smartphone. In January, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said the device — initially an AT&T exclusive — would reach Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Since then, T-Mobile and Verizon have launched the Android-based slider. Sprint has not. When questioned on Twitter, the official SprintCares account told consumers, "Sorry to say but we will no longer carry the BlackBerry Priv. If this changes in the future we will update customers." When asked directly, a Sprint representative said to Phonescoop, "At this time, Sprint does not have an availability date to share for bringing a smartphone from BlackBerry into our device lineup." BlackBerry has not commented on Sprint's change in plans. BlackBerry sold only 600,000 smartphones during its most recent quarter and cut the Priv's retail price from $699 to $649.
Sprint has agreed to sell select network assets to a company called Network LeaseCo and then lease back those assets for an unspecified sum. The move is meant to boost Sprint's cash position and will eventually add $2.2 billion to the company's coffers. Sprint will rely on the assets as collateral to generate loans from SoftBank and other external entities. Sprint has about $6 billion in cash on hand and will use the $2.2 billion infusion to cover debts. In 2008, Sprint made a similar move by selling many of its cell towers to TowerCo. Sprint then leased back access to those towers.
The FCC on Thursday followed through on plans to tackle consumer privacy. The agency issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to govern the use of consumer data by broadband providers, both wired and wireless. The FCC's goal is to help protect the data generated by millions of people who use internet services every day. The FCC wants broadband providers to obtain permission from customers before sharing their data with others, including advertisers. The rules would apply to companies such as AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon — including each company's wireless units. The FCC also believes consumers should be able to opt-out when they wish. "[This] proposal would give all consumers the tools we need to make informed decisions about how our ISPs use and share our data," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, "and confidence that ISPs are keeping their customers' data secure." Internet providers argue the rules would reduce their ability to sell advertisements to consumers. The FCC will continue to shape the policy over the next few months and present it in more final form before fully adopting it.
Walmart today said customers can save big bucks on Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy phones for the next three months. Walmart has cut the price of all iPhones by $100 (including the new iPhone SE) and all Galaxy phones (including the Galaxy S7) by $150. The rollback begins today and lasts through the end of June. The reduced prices will be available only in Walmart stores, and only to customers of AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless. T-Mobile is not participating in the rollback program.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today said the agency doesn't intend to investigate Netflix's throttling practices for customers of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Wheeler said web sites and other edge providers fall outside its purview and didn't violate any regulations. Netflix admitted to throttling the speed of video streamed by AT&T and Verizon customers due to those carriers' data overage policies. Netflix doesn't throttle the speeds of video streamed by Sprint and T-Mobile customers.
Verizon Wireless today confirmed to Phonescoop that it plans to charge customers $20 to upgrade to new devices beginning April 4. The fee will apply to customers who buy handsets with installment plans, or buy phones at full price. Verizon will assess the fee at third-party retailers, too, such as purchases made at the Apple Store or Best Buy. "The upgrade fee helps cover our increased support costs associated with customers switching devices," explained a Verizon spokesperson to Phonescoop via email. "Customers can pay the charge when they upgrade, bill it to their account, or trade in an old device to offset the cost. The fee for upgrading on device payment is still half of the two-year contract upgrade fee." Verizon charges contract customers $40 when upgrading devices. AT&T instituted its own device upgrade fee of $15 last year. Sprint recently lowered its upgrade fee from $36 to $30. T-Mobile charges $20 for a SIM card starter pack, which is widely seen as an upgrade fee. Verizon's new $20 upgrade fee was first uncovered by MacRumors.
Sprint customers can add an Amazon Prime membership to their monthly Sprint bill starting today. The subscription costs $10.99 per month and includes all the benefits available to Amazon Prime members, including reduced shipping charges, Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, and more. Customers can add Prime using Sprint's web site, telesales, or visit Sprint retail stores. Sprint says it will send an activation link to customers to complete the registration process. With a Prime account, Sprint subscribers will be able to download and use Amazon's collection of Prime apps at no additional charge. Consumers may be better off paying for Amazon Prime on their own. The subscription plan is attractive at $10.99 per month, but at $132 for 12 months the subscription is significantly more than the standard yearly fee to join Prime directly via Amazon, which is $99.
LG said its G5 smartphone will be available for sale in Korea starting March 31, with the U.S. to follow April 1. The G5 will reach other regions, including Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, over time. LG says more than 200 carriers plan to sell the phone. In the U.S., that includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, all of which will offer the phone on April 1. Along with the G5 itself, LG plans to sell the accompanying modules and accessories, called LG Friends. The two most notable Friends as the CAM Plus and Hi-Fi Plus, which are modules that plug directly into the bottom of the G5. The CAM Plus will be available in the U.S., but LG hasn't said if the Hi-Fi Plus will also be available. Other Friends include the 360 VR headset, 360 CAM, Rolling Bot, Tone Platinum, and H3 by B&O. Pricing for the LG G5 varies by carrier. The phone has a 5.3-inch quad HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 16-megapixel camera, and USB Type-C.
Sprint today said it will allow customers to test its network and service for 30 days with a satisfaction guarantee. Customers who aren't satisfied with their service can seek a full refund of all device and service fees up to 30 days after the point of inception. The satisfaction guarantee is available to new customers, some small business customers, and existing customers who add a line of service. Sprint said the 30-day satisfaction guarantee will be offered for a limited time. Most carriers already offer a 14-day trial period so customers can evaluate service and device performance before being fully committed. Sprint is still offering a number of other promotions, including half off competitor rate plans, ETF reimbursement, and low-cost device leases.
Netflix today said that it has limited its video speeds on most carriers worldwide for years, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the U.S. The issue came to light when T-Mobile accused AT&T and Verizon of throttling Netflix. Mobile video practices have been under a microscope since the December launch of T-Mobile's Binge On program, which zero-rates the video content from some providers. Netflix admitted that it is throttling its own service on purpose to about 600Kbps to "protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps." Netflix says it has throttled video speeds for as long as five years, but leaves video streamed by Sprint and T-Mobile customers alone due to those carriers' less onerous policies. Netflix, which claims to be a proponent of net neutrality, says it is exploring new ways to stream video in such a way that it consumes less data. AT&T and Verizon were not pleased with the revelation. "We're outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent," said AT&T.
Sprint said it will begin accepting preorders for the LG G5 on March 24. The device will reach stores April 1. Sprint is offering the phone via installment plan, with a contract, or at full price. Monthly payments for the phone will be $24 for 24 months; the retail price is $576. Customers willing to sign a two-year agreement can snag the G5 for $150 after a $50 mail-in rebate. Sprint says it will offer a minimum of $150 towards the G5 for phone trade-ins. Early adopters will be rewarded with a battery bundle, which includes a spare battery, charger, and USB-C to micro USB adapter. Sprint will sell the 360 CAM for $199.99 and the CAM Plus module for $69.99. Sprint said the phone is available with several of its ongoing promotions, such as half off service rates plans for those who switch from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon Wireless. Sprint will also pay ETFs and other switching fees up to $650.
Sprint today followed AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless by rolling out a buy-one, get-one offer for the Samsung Galaxy S7. Customers can lease or purchase the Galaxy S7 at full retail price and receive a second for free. Sprint's Galaxy Forever lease program costs $25.99 per month for 24 months and allows users to upgrade to a new phone after 12 payments. Sprint will credit the cost of the handset payment each month for the second/free S7. Customers who choose installment pricing for the S7 will pay $27.09 per month for 24 months to own the handset, with the second S7 available at $0 per month after a service credit. In either case, one of the handsets must be activated on a new line of service. Sprint says customers can mix and match between leasing and installment plans if so desired. Sprint is still offering new customers 50% off competitor rate plans, and will cover up to $650 in switching fees. Both new and existing customers who've already purchased the S7 are eligible for the BOGO offer. Sprint also rolled out a half-price lease deal for the 16 GB iPhone 6s, which costs $13.17 per month with a trade-in.
Nextbit has canceled plans to bring a version of its Robin smartphone to Sprint and Verizon Wireless. The company cited the slow carrier approval process and ballooning expenses as reasons behind its decision. "What people at the carriers, in good faith given our need for quick answers, thought would take 'weeks' has turned into 'months'," explained Nextbit CEO Tom Moss. "What they thought would cost 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' has turned into 'millions'. And we're still not there." The company is refunding those who pre-ordered the CDMA version of the Robin, and is also offering those customers 25% off the GSM version of the Robin should they want it. The Robin runs Android and proactively offloads apps and files to the cloud in order to conserve storage. It is sold unlocked and works with AT&T and T-Mobile.
Sprint today said it was able to achieve peak LTE speeds reaching 300Mbps on the downlink with the Samsung Galaxy S7. The phone, says Sprint, is among the first to support three-channel carrier aggregation, a feature in LTE-Advanced. In its lab, Sprint put together three 20 MHz channels in the 2.5 GHz band to push peak speeds in the S7 to 300Mbps. Sprint says the same setup can deliver 200Mbps in real-world situations. The carrier has already deployed two-channel carrier aggregation in its 2.5 GHz spectrum, delivering peak speeds of 100Mbps in more than 150 markets around the U.S. Sprint says it holds 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in a large number of top U.S. markets, which should allow it to offer three-channel carrier aggregation as part of its LTE Plus Network upgrade. Sprint is working to trim costs across the board. It recently cut its headcount and is hoping to reduce the costs associated with leasing tower space. Sprint didn't say how it will deploy its LTE Plus upgrade while also saving costs.
Sprint has dropped its activation fee from $36 to $30. The fee is charged no matter how customers choose to purchase their handset, be it via subsidy, lease, or installment plan. Sprint will charge a maximum of $60 when customers activate two or more devices on the same day. Sprint has also changed when the activation fee is applied to the account. Rather than bill customers later, Sprint will charge the $30 fee right away when people activate new phones at Sprint-owned and -licensed dealers. Sprint did not say why it made the changes. T-Mobile recently increased the cost of its SIM starter kit from $15 to $20. The SIM kit is widely referred to as an activation fee for T-Mobile customers.
The FCC is prepared to propose new rules governing the use of consumer data by broadband providers, both wired and wireless. The proposal is meant to help protect the data generated by millions of people who use internet services every day. The FCC wants broadband providers to obtain permission from customers before sharing their data with others, including advertisers. "Consumers should have effective control over how their personal information is used and shared," said an FCC official. The rules would apply to companies such as AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon — including each company's wireless units. Firms such as Alphabet (neé, Google) and Facebook would be exempt, which instead fall under the purview of the FTC. The FCC is expected to propose the rules later this month, when they'll be provisionally approved. Internet providers argue the rules would reduce their ability to sell advertisements to consumers. The FCC's next meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 31.
LG today said U.S. consumers can expect to see the G5 smartphone reach stores in early April. The modular smartphone will be available via AT&T, Best Buy, B&H, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. LG said carriers will be responsible for announcing their own release dates and pricing. The G5 has a removable bottom hatch that allows users to access the battery as well as add modules called LG Friends. The first two modules are a camera grip and stereo DAC. The phone also boasts dual rear cameras and a Snapdragon 820 processor. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Google today nixed the invite system it used for Project Fi and opened the MVNO service up to everyone. Project Fi relies on WiFi and cellular access from Sprint and T-Mobile to provide coverage around the U.S. Its software is able to dynamically jump from network to network in order to provide the best-possible speeds and service. Project Fi is novel in that it only charges people for the actual amount of data used each month, rather than for large buckets. Google says the first 10 months of the project have gone well and it is ready to move into the next phase. For the next month, anyone who activates Project Fi will be able to purchase the Nexus 5X handset from LG for $199.99. The phone's normal price is $349.99. Project Fi is only available to Nexus smartphones, including the Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, and Nexus 6P. Basic service costs $20 per month, plus $10 per 1 GB of cellular data. Google refunds users for the unused portion of data each month.
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile today both confirmed plans to offer the Samsung Galaxy S7 to their prepaid customers. Boost will kick off sales of the flagship handset on March 11, with Virgin to follow March 18. Both companies are asking for the full retail price, which is $649.99 for the 32 GB model. They are selling only the black variant. Boost has a promotion for families right now that offers 10 GB per line, while Virgin offers free music streaming via LTE. Boost and Virgin, which operate on Sprint's network, do not require contracts and offer low-cost service plans.
SoftBank today revealed a plan to separate itself into two separate companies, one for its Japan-based carrier business and another for its international operations, including Sprint. SoftBank's domestic business unit, which includes investments in Yahoo Japan, will be run by Ken Miyauchi. SoftBank's international unit, which includes Sprint and Alibaba, will be run by former Google exec Nikesh Arora. SoftBank will maintain full ownership of both businesses. The move is meant to separate the finances of the different businesses and prevent too much cash from SoftBank's Japanese operations being used to shore up its international investments. It may also help give SoftBank more legal and financial options for its international unit down the road. Sprint is $32 billion in debt, has lost marketshare to T-Mobile, has laid off thousands of employees, and faces a challenging network upgrade program. SoftBank purchased a majority ownership of Sprint in 2013.
Boost Mobile today announced its own promotion aimed at converting customers from competing carriers to Boost. Boost says AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless customers who port their numbers to a Boost Mobile family plan can see monthly savings up to 50%. Boost is offering 10 GB of high-speed data per line starting at $60 for two lines, $85 for three lines, and $110 for four lines. Further, Boost says it will provide a free phone (or $50 discount) for every line ported to Boost Mobile from AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon. Customers can get up to four free phones when activated with a new family plan. Boost Mobile said this offers will be available for a limited time, but didn't set a specific end date. Boost Mobile's parent company, Sprint, has offered a similar promotion for several months.
Bob Johnson, Sprint's Chief Experience Officer, will leave the company by the end of April. Johnson was in an early batch of new hires made by CEO Marcelo Claure shortly after he took over the struggling carrier in 2014. The Chief Experience Officer position was a new role created for Johnson. Johnson's tenure with the company will total 14 months. Johnson's position is being taken by Rockert Hackl, who will also be President of National Sales. Hacks starts April 1. Sprint is working hard to trim some $2.5 billion in expenses this year. It already let go of 2,500 employees and also plans to reduce lease expenses at its cell sites. The company is facing some $30 billion debt.
Sprint today announced a joint venture between it and Dixons Carphone to open 500 Sprint stores around the U.S. The joint venture follows a pilot program the two companies launched last year that saw them test Dixons' best practices in some 20 Sprint stores. Sprint says the pilot was successful and led to improvements in financial performance and customer satisfaction. The expanded partnership will see Dixons Carphone build and operate up to 500 new stores, but the two companies agreed to fund the joint venture equally so each maintains 50% ownership of the joint venture. Sprint has pushed hard to increase its retail presence around the country. Last year, it expanded its footprint to some 4,500 locations, including within more then 1,400 RadioShack stores. Sprint believes the new stores will help it reach more consumers.
Sprint has reversed its position on contracts and starting today began offering them again as an option to customers purchasing new equipment. Sprint customers can pay full price for phones, lease them, break payments up over time, or sign a two-year contract to purchase phones at subsidized prices. The company nixed the contract offering only a month ago. "We listened to our customers and are giving them more choices to get their new device," said a Sprint spokesperson to FierceWireless. "Sprint is the only carrier to offer the most choices to obtain a new device — lease, installment bill, two-year contract or pay full retail price." AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have largely given up the idea of using contract pricing to lure in customers. There is, however, a big catch for customers who choose to sign a contract with Sprint. The cost of the service plan and device payments will be approximately $150 more than if the device is financed (without a contract) or purchased outright. For example, the 16 GB iPhone 6s costs $649. If paid for in full and then added to a 3GB monthly plan, the total of payments over two years at $50 per month comes to $1,849 before taxes and fees. If customers purchase the same phone with a two-year contract, they'll have to pay $199.99 up front followed by $75/mo for 24 months for the same 3 GB plan. The total in payments through the contract route totals $1,999 before taxes and fees. The total dollar amount by which contract purchasing exceeds paying in full or financing varies by handset and contract terms — but is generally at least $110 more expensive over two years.
Google, the GSMA, and a collection of wireless network operators around the world today said they'll work together to bring Rich Communication Services to Android devices around the globe. Google will create an Android RCS client that all the participating carriers will adopt. The GSMA said the universal RCS client will let mobile operators offer a consistent messaging experience to devices no matter where they are. Operators can use Google's Jibe platform to handle the client, or provide their own. Some of the features of RCS include group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, advanced calling features, and read receipts. These enriched tools will become default characteristics of messaging services offered by Sprint in the U.S., as well as América Móvil, Bharti Airtel, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Globe Telecom, KPN, Millicom, MTN, Orange, PLAY, Smart Communications, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, Telstra, TIM, Turkcell, VimpelCom, and Vodafone. Notably absent from the list of participants are AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. The GSMA also says the interoperable messaging service will aid operators when it comes to testing, and the messaging profile will eventually be made available to other platforms. The GSMA did not provide a timeline for deploying RCS.
Samsung today said consumers in select countries, including the U.S., who preorder the Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge will receive a free Gear VR headset. Samsung didn't say how long the promotion will be available. Many U.S. carriers have also announced pricing for the pair of phones. The Galaxy S7 costs approximately $670 to $700, depending on carrier, while the larger S7 Edge has a much higher price point between $780 and $800, depending on carrier. Monthly payments for the phones range from about $30 to more than $40, depending on the terms. So far, AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have all said they'll sell the new handsets from Samsung. The device goes on sale March 11, but preorders start February 23.