Google today announced Project Fi, which relies on a combination of cellular and WiFi networks to keep users connected wherever they roam. Google partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile to provide the cellular component. Google says Project Fi can automatically connect to over one million verified WiFi hotspots around the U.S, and all connections are encrypted. The goal is to make communicating simple no matter what device or network is being used. Calls made through WiFi connections will seamlessly hand-off to cellular networks with no interruptions. Google says Project Fi users' phone numbers "live in the cloud," so they can talk and text from just about any phone, tablet, or laptop. Project Fi takes a new approach with respect to billing. The basic plan costs $20 per month and includes talk, text, WiFi tethering, and international coverage in 120 countries. Google then charges $10 per gigabyte of cellular data in the U.S. and abroad. So, 1 GB of data costs $10 per month, 2 GB costs $20 per month, and so on. The unique idea here is that Google will refund people for the data they don't use. For example, subscribers who pay $30 for a 3 GB plan, but only use 1.4 GB, will receive a $16 refund from Google for the unused data. Google is offering Project Fi through an early access program. It requires the Nexus 6 smartphone at launch, which Google says was developed with Project Fi in mind. Nexus 6 owners can request invites starting today.
AT&T and Pine Cellular have asked the FCC for permission to lease one another's spectrum. AT&T wants to snag a leased license in the Lower 700MHz B Block in parts of Arkansas from Pine. At the same time, Pine Cellular wants to lease one partitioned Lower 700MHz B Block license, three partitioned Lower 700MHz C Block licenses, and four partitioned PCS licenses in parts of Oklahoma. AT&T and Pine Cellular contend the leases will help them each improve their coverage and services in the markets involved. The FCC has accepted the application, applied protection orders, and opened up the transaction for comments. Wireless companies regularly buy, sell, and trade spectrum licenses in such transactions.
U.S. Cellular recently talked about plans to expand the availability of its LTE 4G network from 94% of customers today to 98% of customers by the end of the year. In order to do that, it will deploy about 600 new cell sites and increase coverage across portions of California, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The company believes increasing its 4G footprint will help reduce churn. The company operates LTE in the 700MHz band through a partnership with King Street Wireless. U.S. Cellular says about 61% of its customers have LTE-enabled devices, and 78% of its data transits the LTE network. As far as advanced features go, U.S. Cellular is testing VoLTE, but has no timeframe for deploying that or other tools, such as carrier aggregation.
U.S. Cellular has begun accepting preorders on its web site for the Samsung Galaxy S6. U.S. Cellular wants $199.99 for the 32 GB S6 or $299.99 for the S6 Edge, each with a two-year contract. Customers who prefer to pay over time can score the S6 for $34 per month or the S6 Edge for $39.50 per month. The 64GB models of the S6 and S6 Edge cost $299.99 and $399.99 with a two year contract, respectively, or $38.50 and $44 per month. U.S. Cellular is offering the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge in black or white, but not the gold color being sold by the big four carriers. U.S. Cellular didn't specify shipping dates.
Samsung today announced the general availability details for the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. The devices can be pre-ordered beginning Friday, March 27 and should reach most carrier stores on April 10. Samsung said the black, white, and gold models will be sold in the U.S. in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB configurations. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular all plan to sell the GS6 and GS6 Edge. Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and MetroPCS will only offer the Galaxy S6. In addition to carrier stores, the two phones will be available at Samsung Experience Shops at Best Buy, as well as Amazon, Costco, Sam's Club, Target, and Walmart. Some carrier stores will have the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge on display beginning tomorrow, even if sales don't commence until April 10. Samsung said carriers will announce individual pricing details later. The devices include 5.1-inch quad HD screens, 16-megapixel cameras, fingerprint readers, and multi-standard wireless charging.
U.S. Cellular today said it will begin selling the LG G Flex 2 on March 26. Customers can choose from several different payment options. The phone costs about $630 at full retail, but U.S. Cellular is also offering contract pricing ($150 with two-year commitment) or monthly payments ($31.50 for 20 months). U.S. Cellular will have both the silver and red models on hand. The device features a curved design, 13-megapixel camera, 5.5-inch screen, and Snapdragon 810 processor. Sprint is already selling the G Flex 2, but other carriers have yet to announce their plans.
Google's forthcoming wireless service will only be available to the Nexus 6 handset at launch, reports the Wall Street Journal. Citing sources familiar with Google's plans, the Journal says Google's wireless service will "weave together" access from T-Mobile and Sprint's cellular services, in addition to WiFi. The service won't be available to older Nexus handsets, such as the LG-made Nexus 5 and Nexus 4. The Nexus 6, made by Google's former Motorola unit, went on sale last year and is available directly from Google online. At the Mobile World Congress trade show this week, Google's Sundar Pichai confirmed plans to offer wireless service on an experimental basis. He likened it to the Nexus device program, about which he said, "Our goal here is to drive a set of innovations which we think the system should adopt." Android 5.0 Lollipop is able to automatically pick the best wireless service (cellular or WiFi) based on a given app's needs. Google did not comment on the Journal's report.
Wireless network operators are now required to unlock customers' phones once the phones are paid off or no longer under contract. Today's change follows an agreement forged between the FCC, the CTIA Wireless Association and carriers in December 2013. That agreement set a number of provisions, some of which were to be met in May 2014 and the rest by today. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless all agreed to the unlocking policies. Under the terms of the agreement, carriers are required to post clear details that define which phones can and cannot be unlocked to their web site. Carriers are required to unlock all phones upon request as long as customers have fulfilled their contractual obligations. Prepaid devices will be unlocked no later than one year after their initial activation date. Carriers have to unlock devices within two days after customers request that their phones be unlocked, or initiate a request with the OEM to unlock the device, or explain to consumers why their device cannot be unlocked. The carriers have to notify customers proactively once their devices are eligible to be unlocked. Last, carriers have to unlock the devices of all deployed military personnel who are in good standing. The carriers' individual unlocking policies vary slightly.
The FCC today said it plans to fine AT&T $640,000 for operating microwave stations outside the parameters of its licenses to do so. Microwave stations are generally set up in point-to-point configurations to beam signals across terrain where it is uneconomical to run copper or fiber wires. Companies use them to serve as backbone connections on the telephone network, to connect cellular base stations to the larger network, or to relay television signals. According to the FCC, AT&T altered 26 of its microwave stations without filing the proper paperwork with the FCC to account for the variances. AT&T ran afoul of the FCC in 2013 for similar infractions related to its wireless network.
Verizon Wireless recently added the Kyocera DuraXV to its lineup of rugged handsets. The DuraXV, a successor to Kyocera's DuraXT, is a flip phone that meets mil-spec standards for protection against temperature extremes, dust, and shock. It is also waterproof in depths up to six feet for 30 minutes. The DuraXV features Kyocera's Smart Sonic Receiver technology for clear phone calls, and includes dual front-facing speakers. It has two screens with the main color display measuring 2.4 inches with 320 x 240 pixels. The phone has a 5-megapixel camera, but Verizon also sells a variant with no camera. The phone runs the Brew MP operating system. The Kyocera DuraXV costs $199 at full price, $99 with a two-year contract, or $8.33 per month with a Verizon Edge plan. U.S. Cellular is also selling the phone as the Kyocera DuraXA. It is charging $199, but is offering a $50 mail-in rebate to cut the total cost to $149.
LG said it will begin selling the G Flex 2 in its home market of Korea on Jan. 30. The phone will reach other markets in the "coming months." Several U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular, have said they'll sell the phone but none has said when or for how much. The G Flex 2 will cost Koreans approximately $830 when it goes on sale next week. Separately, an LG executive refuted reports that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor overheats. Bloomberg on Wednesday reported that Samsung plans to drop the Snapdragon 810 chip from its forthcoming Galaxy S6 smartphone due to overheating issues. "I am very much aware of the various concerns in the market about the (Snapdragon) 810, but the chip's performance is quite satisfactory," said Woo Ram-chan, vice president for mobile product planning at LG. Woo said the chip emits less heat than other devices. "I don't understand why there is a issue over heat." LG uses the Snapdragon 810 in the G Flex 2.
U.S. Cellular said it will begin testing VoLTE in a handful of markets later this year. The company is focusing on completing its LTE deployment, but will trial the service in two or three unnamed markets. U.S. Cellular said it wants to ensure a high level of service is available before a full commercial launch to its entire LTE footprint. The company has previously committed to offering LTE to 93% of its customers by the end of the first quarter of this year. U.S. Cellular did not say which devices will be involved with its VoLTE trials, nor exactly when they will begin.
In addition to AT&T and Sprint, U.S. Cellular plans to carry the LG G Flex 2 "this spring", according to spokesperson Katie Frey. No further details were revealed.
U.S. Cellular today said it has agreed to sell 595 of its cell towers to Vertical Bridge Holdings for $159 million. U.S. Cellular called the cell towers "non-strategic assets" and said it will use the proceeds of the sale to invest in future growth opportunities. The company expects to complete the sale during the first quarter of 2015. U.S. Cellular didn't indicate what portion of its cell towers are included in the sale or how many it will still own once the sale is finalized.
AT&T and U.S. Cellular have asked the FCC for permission to exchange spectrum licenses in select areas around the country. The proposed transaction includes 122 counties across 39 Cellular Market Areas. If approved, AT&T would receive PCS spectrum in 104 counties in 32 CMAs, while U.S. Cellular would receive PCS spectrum in 18 counties in seven CMAs. AT&T expects to hold 76 to 185MHz in the areas covered post transaction, and U.S. Cellular expects to hold 34 to 91MHz. AT&T says the transaction will allow it to "increase its system capacity to enhance existing services, better accommodate its overall growth, and facilitate the provision of additional products and services." As for U.S. Cellular, it believes the transaction will let it "carry out its current business and operational plans while divesting spectrum that is not strategic to its long term success." The companies will not exchange customers or networking assets. The FCC has accepted the initial applications for review. Companies routinely propose such spectrum swaps.
Samsung today announced that the five largest wireless network operators in the U.S. will sell the Galaxy Note Edge beginning this month. The Note Edge is a variant of the Note 4 that has a unique, curved display that provides extra screen space for controls and shortcuts. Samsung said AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular will carry the Galaxy Note Edge in both black and white. The Note Edge goes on sale November 14. Carriers have yet to reveal their individual pricing plans.
Samsung and its carrier partners announced availability and pricing details for the Gear S smartwatch today. AT&T and Sprint will offer the device starting November 7, but T-Mobile won't sell it until November 9. Pricing for the wearable varies by carrier. The full retail price is $350. AT&T is offering it for $200 with a two-year contract and $10 monthly service charge. Sprint says customers can get the Gear S with $0 down followed by 24 monthly payments of $16. Sprint's Gear S plan also costs $10 per month. T-Mobile is selling the Gear S for $0 down followed by payments of $14.58 for 24 months. T-Mobile's Gear S service plan costs $5 per month. Verizon has yet to announce its pricing and service plan details. The Gear S requires a service plan because it can access 3G networks and make voice calls independent of a smartphone. The Gear S is based on Samsung's Tizen platform and features a 2-inch, curved Super AMOLED display with 360 x 480 pixels. In addition to 3G, the Gear S includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Samsung says it can transition between cellular and Bluetooth connections seamlessly. It includes Samsung's S Voice service for voice commands, and has an on-screen keyboard for composing messages. Other features include Samsung's S Health and fitness apps, music player and gallery apps, and the ability to receive notifications from a variety of services. The Gear S is powered by a dual-core 1.0GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It has a 300mAh battery, which Samsung claims provides for two days of usage per charge.
Transit Wireless and the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority today said more New York City residents will gain access to cellular service when using the subway. To start, Transit Wireless has completed Phase 2 of the project, which means 11 new stations in Manhattan and 29 stations in Queens are now connected with cellular and Wi-Fi service. Phase 3 will add service to Flushing Main Street Station in Queens, as well as stations in Lower Manhattan, West Harlem, and Washington Heights throughout 2015. Transit Wireless' project has seven phases in total, which will eventually bring connectivity to all 277 subway stations in New York by 2017. Wireless service is available from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless.
Google today announced Android 5.0 Lollipop and with it the first few devices to run the new operating system, the Nexus 6 and the Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 is a large-screened smartphone made by Motorola. It has an aluminum frame and a 6-inch quad HD display with a 13-megapixel main camera. The camera includes optical image stabilization and HDR+ for improved low-light shots. The device has stereo-speakers with high-fidelity sound and comes with a turbo charger for fast charging. Google claims the device can get up to six hours of battery time after plugging it in for just 15 minutes. The Nexus 6 will be available for pre-order in late October and in stores in November. Google will sell an unlocked version through the Play Store, and the Nexus 6 will also be sold by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. The device costs $649 at full retail, which is $200 more than the Nexus 5. The Nexus 9 tablet is made by HTC and features an 8.9-inch 2048 x 1536 screen with a brushed aluminum design. It is run by a dual-core Tegra K1 64-bit processor with each core clocked at 2.3GHz. Other features include an 8.0-/1.6-megapixel camera configuration; BoomSound speakers; dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and LTE; and a 6,700mAh battery. The Nexus 9 will be available for pre-order on October 17 and in stores starting November 3. The Wi-Fi model starts at $399.
U.S. Cellular today said it will soon offer the LG G3. The flagship device, which boasts a 5.5-inch quad HD display and 13-megapixel camera, will go on sale in October, though U.S. Cellular didn't say exactly when. U.S. Cellular said the phone will be available for $0 down followed by 24 monthly payments for well-qualified customers. The company didn't disclose the full retail price of the G3. The G3 has been available from other carriers for several months.
Consumer Cellular today said it plans to offer the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus beginning September 26. Consumer Cellular is asking for a down payment of $150 for the 16-GB iPhone 6, followed by 20 monthly payments of $25. The 64-GB and 128-GB models require down payments of $250 and $350, respectively, but keep the same $25 monthly payment. The 16-GB iPhone 6 Plus requires a down payment of $200 followed by 22 monthly payments of $25. The The 64-GB and 128-GB 6 Plus models require down payments of $300 and $400, respectively, but also keep the $25 monthly payment. Consumer Cellular said it will continue to sell the iPhone 5s and 5c, as well.
Samsung today said it will begin accepting preorders for the Galaxy Note 4 on September 19. The device won't ship, however, until October 17. Samsung said the Note 4 will be available in black and white, and it will be carried by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular. Samsung said the phone will also be available at Samsung Experience Shops in Best Buy stores, as well as from Amazon, Costco, RadioShack, Sam's Club, Target, and Walmart. Individual carriers and retailers will provide their own pricing and availability details in the near future. AT&T was first to announce those details. AT&T said the Note 4 will cost $34.42 per month with AT&T Next 18; $41.30 per month with AT&T Next 12; $299.99 with a two-year agreement; or $826 at full retail. AT&T is offering a $100 bill credit to new/existing customers who activate a new line of service with the Note 4. Verizon is offering the Note 4 for $299 with a new contract and said Verizon Edge installment pricing will also be available. T-Mobile isn't accepting preorders until September 24, and it is asking for $0 down followed by $31.24 a month for 24 months.
AT&T's top exec today said the company won't offer WiFi calling on its devices until next year. WiFi Calling has been around for years, but was highlighted by Apple this week as a new feature in the iPhone 6/6 Plus. Further, T-Mobile announced this week plans to expand WiFi calling to all its smartphones with a new in-home hotspot. T-Mobile's WiFi service goes live soon, but AT&T is in no rush to compete. "We're very focused on making sure it's a great experience for customers, but we see it as a complement, not a replacement," said CEO Ralph de la Vega. "We feel good about a great nationwide network with unlimited talk and text." WiFi calling passes voice calls and text messages over a local WiFi network rather than the macro cellular network.
Samsung debuted a new smartwatch that can make and receive voice calls, as well as send and receive messages thanks to built-in 3G radios. The Gear S is based on Samsung's Tizen platform and features a 2-inch, curved Super AMOLED display with 360 x 480 pixels. In addition to 3G, the Gear S includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Samsung says it can transition between cellular and Bluetooth connections seamlessly so it can function with and without a nearby smartphone. It includes Samsung's S Voice service for voice commands, and has an on-screen keyboard for composing messages. Other features include Samsung's S Health and fitness apps, music player and gallery apps, and the ability to receive notifications from a variety of services. The Gear S is powered by a dual-core 1.0GHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It has a 300mAh battery, which Samsung claims provides for two days of usage per charge. Samsung said the Gear S will be available in global markets beginning in October. Samsung didn't say how much the Gear S will cost.
Cellular One has indicated it plans to cease offering wireless service in the states of Montana and Wyoming. Cellular One has advised its customers there to find an alternate provider before August 31, which is when it plans to halt operations. Cellular One is endorsing AT&T and waiving ETFs so customers can switch their service. AT&T is offering Cellular One customers a $100 gift card, and will wave activation fees. Cellular One's retail outlets in Montana and Wyoming will be rebranded to AT&T. In a letter sent to customers earlier this summer, Cellular One said its business model "simply did not support the significant capital investment required to upgrade its Montana network to the 4G technology needed to remain competitive with the large national service providers." Sprint has assumed Cellular One's cell tower leasing rights, though it hasn't purchased any of Cellular One's spectrum, equipment, or customers. Small, regional carriers are finding it increasingly hard to compete against the national providers, which have enough revenue to invest in their networks on a country-wide level.
Radioshack and U.S. Cellular today announced a new distribution agreement that puts U.S. Cellular's devices on shelves in select Radioshack stores. U.S Cellular products and services can be purchased at 83 Radioshack locations across 12 states, including California, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Radioshack is offering U.S. Cellular's postpaid plans, which include unlimited voice minutes and messaging, and various buckets of data. Radioshack also sells AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless postpaid service, as well as some prepaid services, including Sprint's Boost Mobile brand.
U.S. Cellular and ZTE today announced the Grand S Pro, a high-end Android smartphone that costs $99 with a two-year contract. The Grand S Pro features a 5-inch 720p display protected by Dragontrail Glass, and it is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with 2GB of RAM. The Grand S Pro includes a 13-megapixel main camera with LED flash, autofocus, 1080p HD video capture and Pro Mode, as well as a 2-megapixel user-facing camera for video chats and selfies. The phone had 8GB of built-in storage and supports microSD cards up to 32GB for added capacity. The Grand S Pro can access and use U.S. Cellular's LTE 4G network, and it includes dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, MHL, and GPS. It runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and includes a 2,300mAh battery. The ZTE Grand S Pro is available starting today for $99 with a contract or $249 at full retail price.
The CTIA Wireless Association today said a number of handset makers and wireless network operators have agreed to a basic framework that will eventually provide consumers with better anti-theft tools for their smartphones. The Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is meant to deter theft while also giving phone makers and carriers room to innovate. All the companies agreed to implement a baseline anti-theft tool preloaded on (or downloadable to) all wireless smartphones manufactured after July 2015. This tool will let consumers: remotely wipe their data; render the smartphone inoperable to unauthorized users; prevent reactivation without owner's consent; and reverse the inoperability of the device as well as restore the data to the device in the event it is found by the owner. Consumers will also be free to use whatever third-party anti-theft tools they wish in addition to those provided by the phone maker. All signatories will make the baseline anti-theft tool available with all its core features. The initial batch of companies signing the commitment include: Apple; Asurion; AT&T; Google; HTC America; Huawei; Motorola; Microsoft; Nokia; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile; U.S. Cellular; and Verizon Wireless. Some of those who haven't signed include Kyocera, LG, Sony, ZTE. A number of lawmakers lauded the commitment, which arrives several months after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler mandated that wireless companies come up with such a solution or face regulatory intervention.
U.S. Cellular today announced several new initiatives it hopes will lure potential customers to the smaller operator. First, it is offering three new service plans. Customers can choose plans that cost $40, $50, or $60 per month. The first plan is for feature phones and includes unlimited voice and messaging, as well as an unspecified amount of simple web browsing. The second and third plans are for smartphones. The $50 option includes 500MB of data before throttling and the $60 option includes 2GB before throttling. U.S. Cellular added a device installment plan, too. Customers can choose to pay full price for their phone or break the device payments up over time. U.S. Cellular is not offering early upgrades, however. Last, U.S. Cellular will, for a temporary time, compensate new customers up to $350 if they switch from another carrier and join its Shared Connect plan with a device installment payment. U.S. Cellular's changes mirror those made by other companies in recent weeks, including Sprint and T-Mobile.
Sprint plans to add support for 700MHz Band 12 in some of its devices beginning next year. Sprint does not own any 700MHz spectrum, but hopes to use the 700MHz capabilities to forge better roaming agreements with small, regional carriers. It is part of Sprint's larger plan to expand the reach of its network through partnerships with competitors, such as the Competitive Carrier Association's Data Access Hub. Some of the carriers that support 700MHz Band 12 include U.S. Cellular and C Spire Wireless. Additionally, AT&T has agreed to support 700MHz Band 12 thanks to the FCC's interoperability agreement. Separately, Sprint has forged a partnership with NetAmerica and will together launch a project called the Smart Market Alliance for Rural Transformation. The partnership will operate similar to Verizon Wireless's LTE Rural America program in that Sprint will license its unused 800MHz and 1900MHz spectrum to NetAmerica members that want to build LTE networks of their own. Companies that choose this path will also have the option of using Sprint's core network. Regional carriers that build LTE using Sprint's spectrum will be able to provide their own customers with roaming on Sprint's network, and vice versa. The program helps Sprint as much as it does smaller carriers, as Sprint doesn't offer coverage in many rural areas.
U.S. Cellular today announced that its variant of the Samsung Galaxy S5 will be available for preorder beginning March 21. The device will reach stores April 11. It will cost $199.99 with a two-year contract. U.S. Cellular is offering $50 in Google Play Store credit to those who preorder the phone. The Gear 2 and Gear Fit wearable devices will also go on sale April 11.
A German court today dismissed a lawsuit filed by IPCom against Apple over smartphone patents. The patent in question covered technology that prioritized emergency calls even when cellular networks were overloaded. IPCom was seeking more than $2 billion in damages against Apple. Courts in Germany have dismissed similar claims made by IPCom, which is a patent holding company. The court did not provide a reason for today's dismissal.
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.
Motorola today released Android 4.4.2 KitKat for the U.S. Cellular variant of the Moto X. The update adds cloud printing, improves battery life, and resolves an email sync issue. The OS boost also includes several bug fixes. The update is free to download and install.
AT&T Mobility and Stelera Wireless have filed paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission seeking consent to transfer spectrum licenses from Stelera to AT&T. According to the FCC, Stelera acquired the licenses in 2006 at auction but later filed for bankruptcy. AT&T believes the transfer is in the public interest because it will put the spectrum to use to bolster its LTE 4G network. If approved, AT&T will gain 10 to 20MHz of AWS-1 A Block spectrum from Stelera in 55 counties in nine Cellular Market Areas across parts of Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. If the deal goes through, AT&T will hold a total of 56 to 180MHz of spectrum in the CMAs involved, including 20 to 50MHz of AWS-1 spectrum. No dollar value was placed on the spectrum transfer. Verizon Wireless filed a similar request with the FCC regarding Stelera's other spectrum licenses last year.
U.S. Cellular today unveiled a new no-contract plan that offers unlimited voice, unlimited messaging, and 500MB of 3G/4G data for $50 per month. Users who exceed 500MB of data in a single billing period will see their speeds throttled for the remainder of the billing period. Alternately, customers can choose a plan that includes unlimited talk and text plus 2GB of data for $65 per month. The new plans can be paired with smartphones and don't require customers to sign two-year agreements.
T-Mobile is expanding the availability of its ETF-reimbursement program to the customers of other, smaller carriers. Speaking to Re/Code, T-Mobile marketing chief Mike Sievert said the company will reimburse subscribers early termination fees if they come from regional carriers, such as U.S. Cellular and others, that require contracts. The deal provides potential customers with up to $350 per line to cover ETFs, and up to another $300 for device trade-ins. Additionally, T-Mobile expanded the number of handsets that it will accept as trade-ins to increase the appeal for consumers considering the jump. The program was first unveiled by T-Mobile during the recent Consumer Electronics Show.
U.S. Cellular today announced that it has made progress in repairing the damage done to its billing system when it switched to a new system last year. The company made significant changes to its billing processes in July 2013 and was immediately beset with billing issues. The problems led to a backlash from customers, who besieged the company's social media and support sites. U.S. Cellular claims that nearly all the erroneous bills generated by the system have been resolved. "Notwithstanding the progress our teams have been making in commercializing this new system, the experience we delivered to our customers was below our standards," said CEO Kenneth R. Meyers. "Individual customers have experienced delays in activation and billing backlogs, which have created customer confusion. As a token of our appreciation for our customers' patience, we issued reward points to every account in the program. This almost $50 million investment, which will impact profitability in the fourth quarter, is our way of showing customers they can and should expect more from us."
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has written a letter to the CEOs of the country's five largest wireless network operators requesting that they do more to help curb cell phone theft. Klobuchar points out that nearly one-third of all robberies involves a cell phone, and stolen mobile devices take a $30 billion toll on consumers each year. Lawmakers in California and New York recently attempted to convince the carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless) to add kill switches to their devices. The tool would allow consumers whose devices are lost or stolen to permanently deactivate their phone. Lawmakers believe that this will help curb the illegal resale of cell phones and eventually reduce robberies. Samsung developed such a kill switch, but carriers shot the idea down over fears of lost insurance revenue. "Your five companies [serve] more than 90 percent of the nation's wireless subscribers," wrote Klobuchar. "With that market share comes an obligation to do all you can to utilize technologies available to protect consumers. While I understand your companies are continuing to work with law enforcement on the stolen cell phone database, it is clear that consumers want and deserve a comprehensive strategy to prevent mobile device thefts." Klobuchar asked the carriers to send her information about any offers made by handset makers to add kill switches, and why they didn't adopt them; information on whether or not the carriers have considered devices with features similar to Apple's activation lock; and details on how each company will include kill switches on future products at no cost to consumers. Klobuchar gave the carriers until January 9 to respond.
Verizon Wireless today completed its planned acquisition of select assets from U.S. Cellular. Specifically, Verizon is snagging some of U.S. Cellular's spectrum, networking gear, and customers in the St. Louis, Mo., metropolitan area. The spectrum licenses cover approximately 110,000 POPs in an area greater than 1,700 square miles. U.S. Cellular customers in the affected region will receive a welcome letter from Verizon in the coming weeks. Verizon will continue to operate the assets as U.S. Cellular until Verizon completes its LTE build-out in the region, which is expected by mid-2014. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.