U.S. Cellular has tweaked its prepaid service plans, which range from $30 to $60 per month. The $30 entry-level plan is reserved for basic phones and includes 500 voice minutes and unlimited text. Stepping up to the $35 plan for smartphones nets unlimited talk and text, and 500MB of high-speed data. The $45 intermediate smartphone plan increases high-speed data to 2GB, and the $60 plan includes 5GB of data. The new plans are available immediately.
U.S. Cellular customers can now access up to 6 GB of mobile data per month for $40. In addition to the new rate plan, U.S. Cellular is offering potential customers up to $300 in rewards. New customers can receive a $150 gift card at the point of sale when signing up for service. Additionally, new customers who port their number and trade in their old phone can receive an additional $150 promo, which will arrive by mail. The company has halved the cost of monthly device connection charges, as well. For example, tablets can be added to a Shared Connect plan for $5 per month, rather than $10. Last, U.S. Cellular will give customers a $50 reward if they refer someone to U.S. Cellular and that person becomes a customer.
U.S. Cellular CEO Ken Meyers said the company has an adequate supply of spectrum and therefore doesn't think it will be necessary to participate in the upcoming 600MHz auction. "We want to make sure that we have low-band and mid-band spectrum in every one of our markets," said Meyers to investors this week. Meyers didn't rule out participating entirely, however. He indicated the company needs low-band spectrum in a couple of markets, but would only buy spectrum in those markets if the price is right. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all expected to bid for spectrum, though Sprint has said it will not. U.S. Cellular also said it has successfully tested VoLTE in three markets and expects to launch the improved voice service in at least one market later this year.
Motorola is delivering the Android 6.0 Marshmallow system update to some versions of the Moto X Pure Edition. Motorola's David Schuster said Android 6.0 is headed to the Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular models of the Moto X. Schuster said Motorola has started the Marshmallow soak test for the 2015 Moto X Play in Brazil/India. Motorola is still working to rollout Marshmallow to other devices in its lineup, and will have more information with respect to timing closer to the release date.
AT&T today started issuing refunds to customers that pre-ordered LG's latest smartwatch, the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition. LG later elaborated that it has postponed launch plans for the device indefinitely. The Watch Urbane 2nd Edition was to be the first watch to support the new built-in cellular connectivity features in the newest version of Android Wear. The watch included 4G LTE and was to be available first with AT&T and Verizon, as well as in Korea. A statement from LG reads "the decision was made to cancel the rollout of the Urbane 2nd Edition LTE due to the complicated nature of the issue. Whether the device will be available in the future will be decided at a later time. For now, our top priority is to ensure that only products that meet our very specific quality standards are available for purchase."
Transit Wireless today said it has completed Phase 4 of its project to bring cellular and WiFi service to subway stations across New York City. Phase 4 adds coverage to 20 stations in the Bronx, as well as 17 stations in Manhattan. Some of the new stations include 53rd St./Lexington Ave. (6,E,M) and 59th/Lex. (4,5,6,N,Q,R) in Manhattan, and 149th S. Grand Concourse (2,4,5), and 125th St. (4,5,6) in the Bronx. Transit says it provides service to more than 140 stations throughout the New York City subway system. Service is available to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and now Verizon Wireless customers.
Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal and regulatory affairs, today prosed that the FCC use existing rules to help organizations on opposite sides of the LTE-U debate find some middle ground. LTE-U is the use of LTE services over unlicensed spectrum, or WiFi frequencies. Proprietors of WiFi gear and networks worry about interference and don't want cellular network operators to encroach on what they see as their turf. Meanwhile, carriers want to use unlicensed spectrum to help offset capacity needs on their cellular (and licensed) spectrum. AT&T calls LTE-U opponents' fears unfounded, but recognizes that everyone must agree to move forward. Marsh believes the FCC can use laws built into the 1996 Telecommunications Act to manage interference concerns. The heart of the matter relies on how the FCC chooses to define words such as "willful" and "malicious" and "cause interference." In short, Marsh believes setting clear definitions will give the FCC the teeth it needs to ensure LTE-U proponents have the access they want without causing the interference LTE-U opponents fear. "We need a clear framework that will allow those technologies and the innovators behind them to continue to deliver on the promise that unlicensed spectrum offers — to innovate free from burdensome regulatory requirements and exclusionary conduct by incumbents for the benefit of wireless consumers everywhere — while ensuring existing users that all will be required by the FCC to act reasonably and play fair," concluded Marsh.
U.S. Cellular has finally set a target date for testing VoLTE. The carrier said its main LTE network deployment is now complete, a major milestone it wanted to pass before moving on to new technology. The company is modifying its network in several markets across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin to prepare for the trial, which will begin some time during the fourth quarter. Based on comments made by CEO Ken Meyers during the company's recent earnings call, U.S. Cellular has not finalized a key LTE roaming deal it announced several months ago. The roaming service was expected to be operational at this point. Last, U.S. Cellular said it discontinued its loyalty program on Sept. 1. Any reward points not redeemed by customers before Sept. 1 expired. U.S. Cellular admitted that, after five years, the program's usefulness had run its course.
Scratch Wireless, a Sprint MVNO, said it can no longer afford to give services away for free and will begin charging for some features. Scratch Wireless has historically offered free WiFi calling and free messaging via cellular and WiFi. Scratch sold unlimited voice minutes on Sprint's network for $15 per month. Moving forward, Scratch will charge $10 per month for unlimited calling on both WiFi and cellular. "As other costs go up, like text 911 and others, it is impossible for us to completely absorb the costs of WiFi calling and cellular text messages," said Scratch founder and CEO Alan Berrey in a statement provided to Fierce Wireless. "Our customers still have access to free unlimited text messaging on WiFi, free unlimited MMS on WiFi, and free unlimited data on WiFi. Again, we are only changing WiFi calling and cellular text messaging." Scratch is now bundling cellular messaging services into its data packages. Scratch's entry-level data plan costs $1.99 for 50MB for 24 hours, and its top-end data plan costs $24.99 for 1GB for 30 days.
The FCC today issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to define the spectrum rules that may help form 5G networks in the U.S. It designated four new bands to be studied for 5G. The four swaths of spectrum are high in the band, including the 28GHz band (27.5GHz to 28.35GHz), the 37GHz band (37GHz to 38.6GHz), the 39GHz band (38.6GHz to 40GHz), and the 64-71GHz band. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency is "taking a serious leap that creates a competitive opportunity for this nation to be a leader in the forthcoming 5G world." Moreover, the FCC will propose to the World Radio Conference 2015 in Geneva that these bands become added to the 5G standard. The Notice includes a number of rules, such as geographic area licensing, unlicensed use, and how to balance cellular broadband deployments with those deployed by private entities. Coexistence will be promoted throughout, as some bands will be shared with existing federal services. Such high spectrum bands were previously thought to be unusable due to their wavelength and propagation constraints. "Engineers have turned these weaknesses into strengths by finding ways to use short wavelengths to build dynamic beam-forming antennas to support high capacity networks that are small enough to fit into handsets," said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "Many expect that these engineering advances will lead to 5G networks that will offer much higher data speeds and substantially lower latency than what commercial mobile services offer today." Today's 4G LTE networks are primarily deployed in spectrum between 700MHz and 2100MHz, with some in the 2500MHz band. The ITU has yet to define what 5G itself will be, and doesn't expect to for some time.
Verizon Wireless updated its Verizon Message+ app for iPhones, adding the ability to make phone calls over WiFi. In order for WiFi calling to work, Verizon iPhone owners will need to switch on the advanced calling function of their phone. WiFi calls can only be completed via the Verizon Message+ app. Using the native iOS dialer still passes calls through Verizon's cellular network. The app also adds electronic gifting, improved media search, and scheduled messaging for sending texts at specific times/dates. WiFi calling is available to the Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, and 6s Plus. Verizon hasn't said if or when it might make WiFi calling available to Android handsets. The Verizon Message+ app is free to download from the iTunes App Store. Verizon's offering trails that of its competitors. AT&T launched WiFi calling last week, while Sprint and T-Mobile have offered the feature for about a year. WiFi calling is useful for making calls when cellular network coverage is poor.
Verizon Wireless today began accepting preorders for the Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch. The wearable, announced earlier this year, runs Samsung's Tizen platform and includes a cellular radio for calls and other functions. The smartwatch costs $350 at full retail, or $300 with a two-year contract. Service for the Gear S2 costs $5 per month when added to a smartphone plan. The device will reach stores Nov 6.
Virgin Mobile USA today announced Data Free Music, a program that lets customers stream an unlimited amount of music over the cellular network with no impact on their data plan. The idea is similar to one from T-Mobile. The feature is being added to Virgin's $35, $45, and $55 plans, which offer 1GB, 3GB, and 8GB of high-speed data, respectively. Customers who have these plans will be able to listen to as much music as they want from iHeartRadio, Pandora, and Slacker Radio. Virgin said it may add more music providers over time. Data consumed via these music streaming providers will not count against customers' monthly data limits. Data Free Music will be available beginning Oct. 9.
U.S. Cellular today lowered the price points of its Shared Connect data plans. The company now offers 1GB for $25 per month, 3GB for $45, 6GB for $60, 10GB for $70, 12GB for $80, 15GB for $90, and 20GB for $110. Line access charges per device on plans below 10GB cost $20 per month, while device access charges drop to $15 on plans 10GB and higher. All plans include unlimited talk and text. U.S. Cellular offers device financing over 20 months, and allows customers to upgrade after 12 payments if they wish. The new plans are available starting today.
The CTIA today announced that a number of member companies have agreed to take on additional measures to help prevent cellphone thefts. Following recommendations made by the FCC, wireless companies will make anti-theft tools available to all consumers that also respect consumer choice and privacy. All new phones made after July 2016 will "make readily available to the authorized user an option that allows the authorized user to enable or disable the anti-theft solution at any time that the smartphone is connected and is in the authorized user's possession." Beyond this baseline tool, consumers will have the option to use other, third-party solutions to locate, wipe, or reinstate their devices if they so wish. Companies that have agreed to this include Apple, Asurion; AT&T; BlackBerry; Google; HTC; Huawei; LG; Microsoft; Motorola; Samsung; Sprint; T-Mobile USA; U.S. Cellular; Verizon, and ZTE. In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "CTIA members' ... enhanced voluntary commitment to adopt anti-theft features and educate consumers demonstrates their resolve in combatting it. I am hopeful that this new voluntary commitment will make a meaningful difference for consumer safety. As the enhanced commitment recognizes, these solutions work only if they are adopted widely. The FCC will remain vigilant in this area by pushing for further improvements to the theft-prevention toolbox, and also by monitoring closely whether the efforts of industry and others are producing meaningful results." Apple's iOS and Google's Android already contain features that let device owners find and protect their mobile devices. The FCC hopes allowing people to download and use the protective measure of their choice will help encourage consumers to make broader use of the tool.
Samsung today made its mobile payment service, Samsung Pay, available to U.S. consumers. The service is compatible with only a few phones, including the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 Edge, and S6. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular support Samsung pay, but Verizon Wireless does not. Consumers can add their American Express, Bank of America, Citibank, or USBank MasterCard or Visa credit/debit card to the service, but it lacks support for Chase at launch. Samsung Pay differs from Apple Pay and Android Pay in one significant respect: it supports both NFC and MST transactions. MST, in particular, is more widely available than NFC and works with most regular credit card terminals used by retailers around the country. Samsung Pay is secured via fingerprint, and credit card information is tokenized so it is protected during transactions. Samsung will reward Note 5 and S6 Edge+ owners who activate Samsung Pay with a free wireless charger or a free wallet flip cover (through Oct. 11). Samsung Pay is free to set up and use.
Best Buy has added the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition to its selection of smartphones. Best Buy is offering the 16GB and 32GB variants in several different colors — including bamboo — for $399 to $475, depending on options. The Moto X Pure Edition is sold unlocked and is compatible with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.
U.S. Cellular recently made the third-generation Moto G smartphone available from its web site. The carrier is charging $0 for those who sign a contract, $129 for those who prefer prepaid service, or will finance it for $8.99 per month under an installment plan. The Moto G has a 5-inch 720p screen, 13-megapixel camera, and support for LTE 4G. U.S. Cellular is only selling the black version. Consumers who want to customize the colors will need to order the phone through Motorola's Moto Maker web site.
Samsung is inviting a select number of people to beta test Samsung Pay in the U.S. In order to trial the mobile payment platform, consumers need to have a Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, or Note 5 smartphone. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular are supporting Samsung Pay at launch, Verizon Wireless is not. The beta requires users to have an active Samsung account and a MasterCard or Visa credit/debit card from Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, U.S. Trust, or U.S. Bank. Samsung Pay uses both NFC and MST for tap-and-go transactions. Apple Pay and Android Pay, in comparison, use only NFC. Consumers can request an invite to test Samsung Pay from Samsung.com.
The majority of U.S. wireless network operators will offer the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless all plan to sell the new handsets from Samsung. The Note 5 and S6 Edge+ will also be sold by Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, Sam's Club, Target, and some Walmart stores. Carriers and retailers will confirm specific pricing and availability details.
TextNow today announced the availability of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the LG Volt, two new additions to its roster of handsets. TextNow is selling the Galaxy S5 for $399 new or $299 refurbished. The LG Volt is just $13.99. Both handsets are more than a year old. The company said its phones, starting with the Moto G, are now available at all Fry's Electronics location. Moreover, TextNow will soon accept cash payments at more than 10,000 varied retail locations around the country, including Gates Petroleum, Sunoco, NMart, and Circle K stores, among others. TextNow Wireless offers all customers unlimited talk and text and up to 500MB of 4G data for $18.99 per month. TextNow runs on Sprint's cellular network but defaults to WiFi whenever possible. TextNow Wireless already offers a number of new and refurbished Sprint devices, including the LG Optimus F3, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Samsung Galaxy S4.
U.S. Cellular recently revealed that it has forged its first LTE roaming partnership, and customers will reap the benefits in two to three months. U.S. Cellular did not name its roaming partner, and said the deal is still in the engineering phase, but in all likelihood the partner is a Tier 1 carrier. This means U.S. Cellular customers will benefit from dramatically expanded network access as they travel around. U.S. Cellular was frank in saying that it expects the deal to benefit its customers more so than its partner's customers and its own bottom line. The company has other roaming agreements in the pipeline. The carrier ended the second quarter with 4.78 million customers, and says it will cover 98% of them with LTE by the end of the year.
Motorola has revealed there will be at least two variants of the Moto G handset for the U.S. market. The first model, XT1540, is the GSM model that includes EDGE, HSPA+, and LTE. This model is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. The second model, XT1548, is the CDMA model, though it also supports GSM, EDGE, HSPA+, and LTE for world roaming. Motorola specifically said the Moto G will be offered by Sprint Prepaid, U.S. Cellular, and Virgin Mobile. None of these carriers has yet voiced support publicly for the Moto G. The Moto G, now in its third generation, has a 5-inch 720p screen, Snapdragon 410 processor, 13-megapixel camera, and support for memory cards. It costs $179 and is available directly from Motorola.com.
AT&T has filed a waiver with the FCC asking the agency to alter some of the rules governing how AT&T serves deaf and hard-of-hearing customers so it can deploy WiFi calling sooner. AT&T plans to use WiFi to supplement its cellular network in some areas. According to AT&T, however, the TTY technology used to provide telephony services to the deaf is outdated and unreliable when pushed over WiFi. AT&T has a replacement technology, called Real-Time Text, or RTT, under development. "RTT is designed to provide better functionality than TTY, working over WiFi calling and other new IP-based networks," explained AT&T in a blog post. "Once we implement RTT, it will be backwards compatible with TTY so our customers using RTT can still communicate with TTY users, including 911 centers." AT&T can't use RTT, however, until the FCC gives it permission to make the switch. Once AT&T is allowed to jump to RTT, it will be able to move forward with its WiFi network and WiFi-based calling services. The FCC has not publicly responded to AT&T's request.
U.S. Cellular is targeting AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers by promising to offer a lower monthly bill. It is inviting AT&T and Verizon subscribers to bring their bills into U.S. Cellular retail stores for a comparison. If U.S. Cellular can't beat the prices charged by AT&T and Verizon with a comparable plan of its own, it will offer a $50 promotional gift card to the prospective customer. Consumers who port their AT&T/Verizon number to U.S. Cellular will receive a guarantee of lower-cost service as long as they choose a Shared Connect plan. The price guarantee applies only to monthly service and not the device. U.S. Cellular also said it will pay off customers' ETFs and remaining device payments — no matter the total — if they port their number to a Shared Connect plan with installment pricing and Device Protection+. U.S. Cellular didn't say how long it is offering the promotion.
Republic Wireless today announced Republic Refund plans, which will reimburse customers for unused cellular data each month. The company is offering a range of new plans with varying data buckets. Any cellular data that goes unused will be credited on the customer's next bill. Republic's business banks on customers' proximity to WiFi hotspots. The entry-level plan costs $5 per month and includes unlimited WiFi calling, texting, and data. This $5 plan does not include cellular network access at all. The next step up costs $10 per month and adds unlimited calling and texting via cellular. The mid-range plan costs $17.50 per month and adds 500MB of cellular data. The $25 plan offers 1 GB of 4G data, and the $40 plan offers 2 GB of 4G data. Customers will be reimbursed and/or billed for mobile data at the rate of $15 per gigabyte. Republic says the vast majority of its customers use less than 1 GB of cellular data per month. Republic said its customers can keep their current plan or switch to the new Republic Refund plans if they wish.
Beginning today, most smartphones sold in the U.S. will include anti-theft security tools. July 1 marks the day by which phone makers and network operators agreed to implement free theft deterrents on smartphones. According to the CTIA, most of the industry has responded by placing remote lock/wipe capabilities on consumer devices. The addition of an activation lock on the Apple iPhone, for example, has dramatically reduced iPhone thefts in major cities. The activation lock prevents a stolen device from being activated by another person, thus making it useless to thieves. Remote wipe features allow people to erase the personal data from their handset if lost/stolen to protect their identity. The major participants in today's action include Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and ZTE. "Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft-deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features to protect their mobile devices and personal information." The industry was coerced into acting "voluntarily" when the FCC threatened to make such protective measures mandatory.
Sprint was found culpable of infringing on two patents held by Prism Technologies. The patents in question pertain to accessing protected computer resources and were used by Sprint in its "Simply Everything" and "Everything Data" plans, according to Prism. Sprint was ordered to pay a fine of $30 million. Sprint rejects the decision and said it will appeal. "We believe the evidence is clear that Sprint does not infringe the patent. Sprint plans to pursue post-trial motions," said Roni Singleton, a spokeswoman for Sprint, in a statement provided to RCR Wireless. Prism has similar cases pending against T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular.
C Spire Wireless is hoping to buy some Lower 700 MHz C Block spectrum from Waller Wireless. The companies recently filed the request with the FCC. In particular, C Spire would receive three licenses totaling 12 MHz of C Block spectrum covering 22 counties in three larger cellular market areas in Mississippi. The FCC says if the deal is completed as proposed, C Spire will hold 39 to 84 MHz in total and 24 to 49 MHz of below-1-GHz spectrum in the named regions. Because the transaction covers low-band spectrum, it will be subject to extra scrutiny from government agencies before being approved. C Spire says the transaction, which only includes the spectrum licenses and no customers/assets, will help it improve its LTE network in the region. The companies did not immediately place a dollar value on the transaction.
U.S Cellular today joined Sprint and T-Mobile in announcing planned availability for the LG G4 smartphone. U.S. Cellular will begin taking preorders on May 29 and the phone will reach stores June 4. U.S. Cellular is asking for $199 with a two-year contract, $29.50 per month for 24 months for the plastic rear cover, or $30.50 per month for 24 months for the black leather cover.
Google's Project Fi, its WiFi-and-cellular wireless offering, is moving forward slowly. Google emailed those who signed up for the project and said it won't be able to accommodate everyones' requests for months. "Over the past few weeks, we've been happy to bring the first customers onto Project Fi and the initial feedback has been very positive," said Google in the email. "We're sending invites as quickly as we can, while ensuring a high-quality experience. Given the number of requests we've received, we currently estimate that it will take until mid-summer to get to everyone." Google concluded by saying it will provide a way for people to check the status of their invites in a few weeks. Project Fi requires the Nexus 6 handset and runs on WiFi and the cellular networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, adjusting on the fly in response to the best possible connection. The service is priced at $10 per gigabyte, and Google will refund customers for the unused portion of their data allotment each month.
Sprint says 16 of the 30 companies who've agreed to participate in its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program have launched their LTE networks. The Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program is similar to Verizon Wireless' LTE in Rural America initiative. Both programs lease spectrum to small, regional providers who build out coverage in their home market areas. Under the terms of the agreement, the larger carriers' customers can roam onto the regional LTE network and vice versa. The idea is to bring coverage to areas where the larger operators might not necessarily like to commit resources to build out their own network. Sprint would not say which of its partners have launched their LTE networks. Some of the partners include SouthernLINC Wireless, nTelos Wireless, C Spire Wireless, Phoenix Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless, Pioneer Cellular, and United Wireless. "Our partners use a variety of LTE bands, including bands 4, 5, 12 and 25," said Sprint's Adrienne Norton. "We're continuing to work with our device OEMs to enable additional LTE bands to expand coverage for our domestic and international roamers." Sprint's LTE footprint covers about 280 million POPs. T-Mobile, which recently disclosed that it too has leased spectrum to regional operators, also covers about 280 million POPs. AT&T and Verizon Wireless both claim to cover about 308 million POPs.
U.S. Cellular today launched the LG Logos, a modified version of the LG Spirit that was announced earlier this year. The Logos runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with LG's user experience. It includes a 1.2 GHz quad-core processors with 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of storage. The Logos boasts LG's rear-positioned button array and a slight curve to design, which LG says helps the device fit better in the hand. Other specs include a 4.7-inch HD display, 5-megapixel main camera (different from the Spirit's 8-megapixel shooter), 1-megapixel user-facing camera, and 2,100mAh battery. The U.S. Logos is on sale beginning today for $99. It can be paired with once of U.S. Cellular's Simple Connect Prepaid plans, which start at $45 for 1 GB of LTE 4G data.
TextNow Wireless today announced new pricing for its service plans and added two handsets to its lineup. TextNow Wireless offers all customers unlimited talk and text and up to 500MB of data for $18.99 per month. Similar to Google's recently-announced Project Fi, TextNow runs on Sprint's cellular network but defaults to WiFi connections whenever possible. The service is available to most any device (phone, tablet, PC) for WiFi-based calling and texting, and customers can use their TextNow number no matter which form factor they choose. Customers can upgrade to 1 GB of cellular data for $26.99 per month, 2 GB for $39.99, or 4 GB for $59.99. All plans include taxes and fees. In addition to the reworked plans, TextNow Wireless now sells the Google Nexus 5 ($249) and Motorola Moto X ($149). TextNow Wireless already offers a number of new and refurbished Sprint devices, including the Moto G, LG Optimus F3, Samsung Galaxy S3, and Samsung Galaxy S4.
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.