Motorola announced the Z2 Force today, which replaces both the Z and Z Force from last year. The phone will be sold by most U.S. carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Motorola said the Verizon variant will not include the "Droid" branding that was found on last year's phones. Motorola is sticking with a single device name across carriers. Verizon did not provide comment on the name change. Motorola plans to sell the phone unlocked from Motorola.com, but there is no single unlocked model, according to Rudi Kalil, vice president and general manager at Motorola. Kalil said Motorola will offer unlocked variants for each carrier due to the specific cellular radio requirements for forthcoming 1 Gbps service that's under development from the carriers. The Moto Z2 Force is available for preorder today and will ship starting August 10.
Google today expanded the availability of Project Fi to its G Suite customers. G Suite users are those associated with businesses and use Google's email, calendar, contacts, and other products through their employer. Until today Project Fi has been available to individual users and families or other small groups, but moving forward G Suite customers can sign up for the monthly wireless service. Google says Project Fi is still limited to just six users per group plan, so it is not a viable option for medium or large enterprises. Google said Project Fi will be available to all G Suite users in the U.S. within the next few weeks. Project Fi relies on WiFi and LTE service from Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular to find the strongest/best signal. Project Fi only charges customers for data they use, rather than a large bucket. Plans start at $30 per month for talk, text, and 1 GB of data. A Pixel or Nexus Android smartphone is required.
Consumer Cellular recently added the ZTE Avid 916 and Motorola Moto G5 Plus to its roster of Android-based smartphones. The Avid 916 (pictured), a variant of the ZTE Grand / Champ, includes a 5.5-inch 720p display, 1.3 GHz Snapdragon 210 processor, and 8 GB of internal storage. The phone has an 8-megapixel main camera with 720p HD video capture and a 2-megapixel front camera. The phone includes Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi, GPS, and LTE. It supports microSD memory cards up to 64 GB and ships with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The phone costs $80. The Moto G5 Plus, which Motorola released earlier this year, is available for $200 or four payments of $50. It has a 5.2-inch full HD display, 12-megapiel camera, and runs Android 7.0 Nougat.
U.S. Cellular recently added the ZTE Blade Max 3 to its roster of Android smartphones. The Max 3 is similar to the Max XL in that it has a 6-inch full HD display with 2.5D Gorilla Glass and huge 4,000mAh battery. The handset is powered by a 2 GHz octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal storage. The Max 3 includes dual rear 13-megapixel cameras, with one that captures full color and one that captures black-and-white to assist with contrast and focus. The user-facing camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Other features include a rear-mounted fingerprint reader, high-fidelity audio, USB-C, memory card support, and GPS, Bluetooth, and WiFi radios. The ZTE Blade Max 3 is available from U.S. Cellular's web site for $200.
The FCC today marked the official end of the incentive auction for 600 MHz airwaves. The agency said 50 wireless companies bid a cumulative $19.8 billion on some 70 MHz of spectrum that was put on offer by 175 television stations. In total, the FCC sold some 2,776 licensed spectrum blocks. An additional 14 MHz has been reserved for unlicensed use. The low-band spectrum is seen as ideal for wireless broadband due to its strong propagation properties. T-Mobile, Dish, Comcast, and U.S. Cellular are among the biggest winners, according to the FCC. T-Mobile said it won 45% of all low-band spectrum sold, covering 100% of the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The company claims it scored 31 MHz of nationwide spectrum, a fourfold increase in its low-band holdings. The FCC will now embark on a 39-month odyssey that will see the owners of the spectrum give it up so it can be repurposed for wireless broadband. Some of the TV station owners have agreed to move to lower channels, while others will give up their licenses and remain on the air through spectrum sharing. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, "The conclusion of the world’s first incentive auction is a major milestone in the FCC’s long history as steward of the nation’s airwaves. Consumers are the real beneficiaries, as broadcasters invest new resources in programming and service, and additional wireless spectrum opens the way to greater competition and innovation in the mobile broadband marketplace." The auction was put in motion back in 2012, though bidding didn't begin until March 2016. The FCC says the auction will lay the groundwork for 5G services.
U.S. Cellular recently added the LG K8 (2017) to its roster of inexpensive Android smartphones. The K8 features a 5-inch 720p HD screen and it is powered by a 1.9 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 425 processor. The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor with flash and the user-facing camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Both cameras include LG's gesture controls. Other specs include 16 GB of storage with support for memory cards, 2,500mAh battery, Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE, and Android 7 Nougat. The LG K8 costs $50. The K8 is also sold by MetroPCS. In other U.S. Cellular news, the company recently added an unlimited plan to its service offerings. The plan costs $60 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and data with all taxes and fees included. U.S. Cellular doesn't charge overages, but will slow the speeds of customers who use excessive amounts of data (>22GB). Other options include 6 GB for $50 per month or 2 GB for $40 per month. Monthly discounts are available for additional lines. Autopay and paperless billing are required to qualify for these prices.
Cricket Wireless customers shouldn't expect to see an improvement in data speeds any time soon, despite the incredible gains in LTE performance made by Cricket parent AT&T. Cricket caps all customers' data speeds at 8 Mbps, even though its phones and the network support speeds up to 10 times faster. AT&T is already deploying 3-channel carrier aggregation and plans to upgrade to 4-channel carrier aggregation soon, delivering LTE Advanced speeds as quick as 1 Gbps. Those speeds will be reserved for AT&T's own customers. Cricket CEO John Dwyer told Phonescoop that its customers are more interested in value than performance, and most are satisfied with the experience delivered by 8 Mbps. For example, AT&T's new DirecTV Now application requires much less than 8 Mbps, despite its video-heavy nature, and can easily run across Cricket's network. In a related note, Dwyer said that the company may eventually offer a zero-rated data program, but hasn't made any firm commitments. For example, AT&T customers can stream DirecTV Now over LTE without impacting monthly data buckets. Cricket customers cannot, and will chew through data when using DirecTV Now over the cellular network. Cricket has made good progress in expanding its point-of-sale footprint. The company now claims to have more than 14,000 retail locations, of which 4,300 are branded Cricket Stores. Last, Cricket plans to make use of social media to spread its branding message.
Facebook today launched group video chats within Messenger. The tool will allow up to six participants to view one another in a live video call. People can easily initiate calls within existing groups or by creating new groups. Tapping a video button is all that's required to kick off a video group chat. Facebook says people can ring the entire group at once, or just select numbers before inviting others. The feature is rolling out to Facebook Messenger for Android and iOS devices, as well as the web, globally. The app is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Video calls are free over WiFi, but will use data if conducted over cellular networks.
Apple today made iOS 10.0.3 available to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. This update is targeted at Apple's newest iPhones and resolves an issue that impacted cellular connectivity. Apple recommends all iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus owners apply the update when possible.
Consumer Cellular today added the Motorola Moto G4 and Moto G4 Play to its lineup of Android handsets. Consumer Cellular is selling the G4 for $150 and the G4 Play for $100. The G4 has a 5.5-inch full HD screen and 13-megapixel camera while the G 4 Play has a 5-inch 720p HD screen and 8-megapixel camera. Both phones run Android 6 Marshmallow. Consumer Cellular also sells the older Moto G (3rd ed.) and the Moto E LTE.
Google today made it less costly for users of its Project Fi wireless service to add multiple lines to their accounts. The first line still carries a $20 access charge, with data costing a flat $10 per GB. Moving forward, additional lines carry a $15 access charge (rather than $20) and they can be lumped into the shared data plan with the first line. Google charges per megabyte each month, so people who don't use their entire data allotment receive a refund at the end of the month. Project Fi doesn't throttle speeds for those who use more than their allotment, but those people will be billed for their additional usage. Project Fi, which relies on the wireless services of Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and open WiFi hotspots, is available to the Pixel and Pixel XL, as well as the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X. Google is now offering discounts on the latter two when people choose to buy and activate them via Project Fi. Project Fi’s group plan is available starting today.
A number of senators have asked the FCC to look into law enforcement's use of stingrays to see if the tool puts the public at risk, and also to see if stingrays unfairly target minority groups. Stingrays masquerade as cell towers in order to collect location and other data from phones in a given area. Police departments use stingrays to search for known criminals' phones in order to locate them, but the stingrays don't take information from just specific phones — they scan all phones in range, including phones of innocent people. The lawmakers argue that stingrays force cell phones to abandon connections to legit cell towers when stingrays are in range, during which time those phones are unable to make 911 or other calls. This endangers the public, suggest the senators. Moreover, a study produced earlier this year highlighted how stingrays were disproportionately used in poor neighborhoods with large minority populations. "We are particularly concerned about allegations that cell site simulators — commonly referred to as 'stingrays' — disrupt cellular service and may interfere with calls for emergency assistance, and that the manner in which cell site simulators are used may disproportionately impact communities of color. While we appreciate law enforcement's need to locate and track dangerous suspects, the use of stingray devices should not come at the expense of innocent Americans' privacy and safety, nor should law enforcement's use of the devices disrupt ordinary consumers' ability to communicate," said Sen. Al Franken and others in a letter to the FCC. They want the FCC to provide a clear explanation of how stingrays interfere with the phones of innocent people, as well as explore options for regulating and/or licensing their use.
Google today released Android Wear 2.0 Developer Preview 3 and also shared some details on the timing for the platform's public launch. The biggest addition to the preview operating system is the availability of the Google Play Store on Android Wear devices. With Android 2.0, smartwatch owners will be able to browse for apps via keyword and voice search directly from their wrist. Moreover, users will be able to install watch apps directly to their wearable via WiFi or cellular connections. Google says it added the Play Store to Android Wear to appease developers' wishes for improved app discovery. The new preview includes a handful of other tools for developers, as well. For example, developers can require user permission to set up watch complications, and a new API will allow watch owners to interact with a greater number of notifications on their watch. Android Wear now generates automatic responses to messages locally, rather than on a nearby smartphone. Last, Google said it is still receiving lots of feedback from developers about the features and functionality of Android Wear 2.0. As such, it has decided to continue the preview program into early 2017, at which point the first watches will receive Android Wear 2.0. Google had originally said the refreshed wearable platform will launch in 2016.
U.S. Cellular rolled out new Shared Connect plans that offer a pooled bucket of data to multiple lines. All the plans include unlimited talk and text in the U.S. The least expensive option costs $30 per month and includes 2 GB of data. Subsequent choices cost $45 per month for 4 GB, $60 for 8 GB, $80 for 16 GB, or $100 for 24 GB. The latter two plans include unlimited talk and text to Mexico and Canada. These prices don't include device access fees nor device payments. The new Shared Connect plans are available starting today.
Google this week made its WiFi Assistant feature available to all Nexus devices. The tool is a direct carryover from Google's Project Fi. The WiFi Assistant lets Nexus owners automatically and securely connect to more than one million free, open WiFi hotspots that are certified by Google. Users won't be required to sign in or set up accounts to access the WiFi. Moreover, Google manages the connection and ensures it is protected. Google says the tool can help improve average connection speeds and lower monthly data consumption, regardless of which wireless carrier provides cellular service to the phone. The Google WiFi Assistant is available to Nexus devices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Nordic countries. Google says it will roll out over the next few weeks. Project Fi relies on WiFi for calling and data, but also hops onto Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular when WiFi is not available.
AT&T and dozens of other companies are escalating the war on robocalls with a new Strike Force aimed at disrupting spammers' ability to call and pester consumers. AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson says carriers, device makers, OS developers, network designers, regulators, and lawmakers will all need to work together to create a play book to tackle the problem. "In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors. Shutting down the bad guys is a necessary step, and a powerful example to others. Our goal isn't complicated: Stop unwanted robocalls. Easy to say. Hard to do," said Stephenson in remarks made at the FCC's first meeting of the Robocall Strike Force. Industry player are gathering today to discuss initial plans and are expected to report back with more solid short- and long-term plans on October 19. Some of the companies participating in the Strike Force include AT&T, Apple, Blackberry, Comcast, Ericsson, Google, LG, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon.
Google today released Duo, the video chatting app for Android and iOS it announced earlier this year. Duo is simple to use. It doesn't require a separate account, users need only their phone number to get started. Google says it built the app to function well even across poor network connections. The app will change the resolution to match the connection speed in order to keep the call going, and can seamlessly switch from wifi to cellular. A feature called Knock Knock gives people a preview video of the person calling so they can see what's up before answering the video call. Duo is free to download from the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.
Republic Wireless today said it has added nine modern smartphones to its lineup of Android devices. The new phones include the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge ($799), S7 ($699), J3 ($179), and S6 ($549); the Nexus 6P ($499) and 5X ($349); and the Motorola Moto X Pure Edition ($349), G4 ($199), and G4 Plus ($299). Republic customers can pay full price for the handsets, or elect to pay via monthly installments that range broadly from $11 to $48, based on the cost of the phone. Consumers who already own one of these unlocked handsets can pick up a Republic Wireless SIM card starting August 11. Republic's service plans start at $15 per month, which includes unlimited calling, texting, and WiFi data. Plans that include cellular data cost $20 per month for 1 GB, $30 for 2 GB, and $45 for 4 GB.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today asked the country's major telephone providers to improve consumer tools for blocking robocalls. The FCC said robocalls continue to be one of the top complaints filed by consumers. Wheeler sent letters to AT&T, Bandwidth Comms, Frontier, Level3, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon asking them to make blocking tools available to consumers as swiftly as possible. "Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive," wrote Wheeler in a blog post. "I am calling on the carriers and standards groups to accelerate the development and deployment of technical standards that would prevent spoofing of caller ID and thus make blocking technologies more effective. All of these companies have been asked to respond within 30 days with their concrete, actionable solutions to address these issues." The FCC said it will continue to investigate consumer complaints against robocalls and prosecute whenever possible.
The FCC today published a list of the 62 bidders who've made upfront payments and qualified to bid in the reverse auction for low-band TV spectrum. As expected, the list contains familiar names, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. A significant number of small companies plan to bid, as well, such as Alaska Wireless and Cellular South. Collectively, bidders will need to cough up more than $86 billion to purchase the 126 MHz of 600 MHz airwaves up for auction. The forward portion of the auction begins August 16.
Google today said Project Fi subscribers now have access to faster wireless speeds when traveling around the world. Google partnered with mobile network operator Three to increase the number of countries in which Fi is available to 135, as well as improve mobile data speeds by a factor of 10 to 20. Project Fi customers were perviously only able to roam at 2G speeds when abroad, but now have access to faster 3G/4G service. Google does not charge Fi subscribers any extra access fees when traveling; the data rates are the same at $10 per 1 GB whether at home or abroad. Google said new Project Fi customers can buy a Nexus 6P for $349 ($150 off) for the next week. Project Fi requires a Nexus smartphone. The service uses a mix of WiFi and cellular service from Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular to maintain a strong, fast connection.
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.
LG today announced four new X-branded Android smartphones to fill out its mid-tier range of devices. Like the X cam and X screen announced earlier this year, each of the new X phones has a single, enhanced feature that defines the device. The X power has a 4,100mAh battery with rapid charging for power-hungry users, while the X style has a curved design and slim body. The X mach boasts an LTE Cat 9 cellular radio, a 1.8 GHz processor, and a quad HD screen, while the X max includes an over-sized display for consuming media. LG said more details about the new X series, including pricing and availability, will be shared on a market-by-market basis. The X power, X style, X mach, and X max will go on sale around the world soon.
Facebook today said Facebook Messenger users will once again be able to send SMS messages — as long as they're running Android. Essentially, Android users can set Messenger as the default SMS app, which will route all SMS messages and conversations through Messenger rather than any other SMS apps that may be installed on the device. Messenger used to support SMS, but Facebook removed the feature back in 2012. Facebook says Messenger doesn't send, upload, or store conversations on its servers. Moreover, it uses the standard SMS protocol and not cellular data to send SMS messages. Sending SMS via Messenger includes text, pictures, videos, and audio snippets, but content such as stickers, emoji, GIFs, and voice/video calls will require the use of Messenger's data functions. Facebook Messenger is free to download from the Google Play Store.
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.
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.
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.
U.S. Cellular has finished building its LTE network, said the company, which now provides LTE coverage to 99% of its customers. With the LTE network up and running, U.S. Cellular is also expanding its roaming agreements with several other operators around the country, giving its own customers the ability to connect when not in areas with U.S. Cellular coverage. The company didn't name its LTE roaming partners. As far as VoLTE is concerned, the company said the trials it began late last year are promising, and it expects to launch VoLTE across its network on a commercial basis in 2017.
Samsung said the cellular variants of the Gears S2 Classic smartwatch will reach AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless on March 11. The Gear S2 supports 3G and HSPA 4G for connectivity. The Gear S2 can make/receive calls on its own, send and receive messages, as well as sync apps without a nearby smartphone. The wearable has a 1.2-inch screen with rotating bezel to control the Tizen operating system. Pricing is being set by the individual carriers.
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.