Phone Scoop

printed March 28, 2015
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Sprint Hopes 600MHz Auction Permits Joint Bidding

Thursday, 12:01 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure recently suggested the company might participate in the forthcoming auction for 600MHz spectrum if it is allowed to bid jointly with smaller carriers. Claure made the remarks during a roundtable discussion at the Competitive Carrier Association's Global Expo in Atlanta. "Hopefully the rules of the auction will allow us to participate," said Marcelo, noting the incentive auction will be a "great opportunity for us to lobby together to potentially form a coalition to go after this spectrum together." The 600MHz low-band spectrum is valued highly because of its propagation characteristics. Sprint said CCA members operate regional networks in areas it doesn't provide coverage, and vice versa. Allowing them to bid together would be advantageous to all involved and might let them actually win the licenses. The FCC hasn't finalized the rules for the auction yet, but it is scheduled to begin early next year. Surely AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which already own vast sums of low-band spectrum, will oppose any rules that might limit their participation or prevent them from competing for the licenses.


Samsung Galaxy S6 Lands In Carrier Stores April 10

Thursday, 8:19 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

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.


AT&T, T-Mobile Share HTC One M9 Pricing Details

Thursday, 7:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T and T-Mobile today followed up HTC's announcement concerning One M9 pricing and availability with their own. AT&T will begin accepting pre-orders for the M9 at 12:01 AM tonight and will sell the device in stores April 10. The device will cost $199.99 with a two-year contract or $708.99 at full retail. Customers looking to pay over time can get the One M9 for $23.64 per month with Next 24, $29.55 with Next 18, or $35.45 with Next 12. AT&T is selling the 32GB model in silver or gray. T-Mobile plans to begin accepting pre-orders for the M9 at 6:00 AM Pacific Time on March 27 and will sell it in stores April 10. T-Mobile is offering it for $0 down followed by $27.08 per month for 24 months. T-Mobile will also sell the device at the full retail cost of $649.92. T-Mobile's version of the device will have WiFi calling. Both AT&T and T-Mobile will ship the One M9 as customers place orders, which means they'll likely arrive before the April 10 in-store availability date.


HTC to Sell One M9 March 27 for $649, Carriers April 10

Thursday, 7:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC will make the One M9 available for purchase on its web site beginning Friday, March 27 for $649. Carrier and major retailer sales of the device will kick off on or about April 10. HTC will be offering an unlocked version of the One M9, which supports the LTE networks operated by AT&T and T-Mobile, in addition to major carrier models. The company is offering a 12-month, interest-free payment option for customers who'd rather pay for the device over time. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon plan to sell the phone and it will also be available from Amazon, Best Buy / Best Buy Mobile, Costco, and Target. The phone will be sold in gunmetal gray or two-tone gold/silver and in 32GB and 64GB models. The One M9 comes with Uh Oh protection, which will let owners get a free replacement device if theirs suffers a broken screen or water damage. The One M9 goes on sale via HTC's web site at 12:01AM Eastern Time. The phone features a 5-inch full HD screen, 20-megapixel main camera, Snapdragon 810 processor, BoomSound stereo speakers, and an all-aluminum chassis.


Lumia 640 Landing At T-Mobile In Near Future

Wednesday, 2:10 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile recently added the Microsoft Lumia 640 to its web site and described the device as "coming soon." Microsoft revealed the Lumia 640 at Mobile World Congress earlier this month. The phone has a 5-inch HD screen, 8-megapixel camera, LTE, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and Microsoft's productivity apps. The Lumia 640 will ship with Windows 8.1, but can be upgraded to the full version of Windows 10 later this year. T-Mobile didn't disclose exact availability or pricing, but Microsoft said the phone will reach stores in April for about $180. AT&T and MetroPCS also plan to sell the Lumia 640.


FCC Weighing Changes to Auction Discount Rules

Monday, 3:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC plans to alter how companies qualify for discounts in spectrum auctions. The rules came under fire recently after Dish Networks won $13 billion in spectrum by bidding through smaller entities. The smaller entities are eligible for discounts, wiping about $3 billion from the total price Dish will have to shell out. Dish's competitors, including AT&T and Verizon, decried the strategy as unfair because Dish is a large company and the discounts are meant for small companies. In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has floated a public notice with the other commissioners, according to sources cited by Reuters, that will close this loophole. Wheeler asked his colleagues to comment on how best to reform the discount program moving forward. The idea behind the discount program is to encourage smaller, regional companies to participate in spectrum auctions.


AT&T Trudges Forward with 700MHz Interoperability

Mar 20, 2015, 11:01 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T recently told the FCC where it stands with respect to interoperability in the 700MHz band and said it is making good progress. At issue is phones' abilities to roam between several different bands within the 700MHz A Block slice of airwaves, specifically Band 17 and Band 12. AT&T at first argued against the idea of adding support for Band 12, citing expenses and interference. It later reversed course and has recently finalized lab tests of its network multi-frequency band indicator (MFBI) capabilities. The carrier said it is "well into our field testing for all of our macro-cellular vendors and progressing well." AT&T is working with several of its competitors to fully test the interoperability between bands. Support for Band 12 is important mainly for smaller carriers, such as C Spire Wireless, but it is also important for T-Mobile, which plans to deploy LTE in the 700MHz band later this year. Phones that support more bands can be used across a greater range of carriers. "With recent 3GPP specification changes, it is now possible to build Band 17 devices that are upgradeable to Band 12 MFBI using software," said AT&T. "These devices require different filters/hardware than the legacy Band 17 devices. This requirement has been added to AT&Ts device requirements and RFP guidance." AT&T has committed to releasing Band 12-capable handsets later this year. Beginning Sept. 30, half of all new devices released by the carrier will be compliant.


Icon Q Debuts the Q5.5, Its First Smartphone

Mar 19, 2015, 1:36 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Icon Q today announced the Q5.5, the company's first smartphone. The device is being sold unlocked and free of contracts for $199. The Q5.5 features a 5.5-inch 720p screen, 1.4GHz octa-core MediaTek processor with 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage with support for memory cards. The device runs Android 4.4 KitKat and includes a 13-megapixel main camera and a 5-megapixel user-facing camera. The phone offers Bluetooth and WiFi, and supports GSM networks with HSPA (850MHz, 1900MHz, 2100MHz), meaning it will work on the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. Icon Q, which makes tablets and other devices, is pitching the Q5.5 as an ideal travel phone since it supports two SIM cards. The device is available directly from Icon Q.


Carriers to Rely on CTIA, Other Trade Groups to Sue FCC

Mar 19, 2015, 12:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other mobile network operators won't sue the FCC over its proposed net neutrality plans on their own, but will through a number of trade groups. Sources cited by Reuters suggest the move will allow the carriers to streamline their litigation and prevent them from becoming the targets of backlash. "We believe there will be a lot of litigation, which will probably be led by industry associations," said Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo. The CTIA is expected to lead the charge against the FCC and may be joined by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and the USTelecom association. The American Cable Association and the National Association of Manufacturers are still deciding whether or not to pursue legal challenges to the FCC's plan. The trade groups involved will likely target the FCC's authority to make the changes it did, and that it didn't properly notify stakeholders of the potential for reclassifying broadband under Title II. The FCC believes its proposal will withstand the impending legal assaults.


AT&T Offering Push-to-Talk API to Businesses

Mar 18, 2015, 9:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today announced a slew of improvements to its enhanced PTT service. Most notably, AT&T has released an API that will let developers add PTT communications directly to their business's dispatch operations. Other new features included in EPTT are: Talk Group Scanning, so managers can prioritize group chats; Broadcast Calling, so businesses can make announcements to 500 people at once; Sonim Channel Select, which lets owners of the Sonim XP6 and XP7 easily change talk groups; and FIPS certification for secured government use. AT&T's EPTT suite is available to businesses and is compatible with most Android handsets.


AT&T to Sell Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini On March 20

Mar 16, 2015, 8:37 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said customers can scoop up the Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini beginning March 20. The phone costs $429 at full retail, but is available for $14.30, $17.88, or $21.48 per month via AT&T's Next 24, Next 18, or Next 12 plans, respectively.


AT&T No Longer Targeting 40,000 Small Cells This Year

Mar 6, 2015, 8:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T recently dialed back language referring to its small cell deployments planned for 2015. The company said last year it would launch 40,000 small cells around the country to improve coverage and capacity by the end of 2015. However, its March 2014 acquisition of Leap Wireless led it to reconsider those plans. "The Leap deal gave us additional spectrum and towers that allowed us to pull back on our original target because we added more macro sites, providing us additional capacity to meet the rising traffic demands," said AT&T in a statement provided to Fierce Wireless. The company is still deploying small cells, but it will not say how many. Fierce Wireless suggests AT&T's goal for 2015 may be 20,000 small cells, or about half the original number.


Softcard to Shutter At the End of March

Mar 5, 2015, 1:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Softcard, the mobile wallet service developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, has informed users the application will go offline March 31. Softcard customers can use the app through that date, but afterward their accounts will automatically be closed. Softcard recommends users who wish to be able to make mobile payments in the future download Google Wallet. Google purchased certain Softcard assets in a deal announced last month. Google Wallet will replace Softcard on Android handsets later this year. Softcard never caught on with consumers due to limited handset, credit card, and retail support. General interest in mobile payments has increased after the launch of Apple Pay on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Samsung recently announced plans for its own mobile wallet service, called Samsung Pay. Samsung Pay will first be available to the Galaxy S6.


Lumia 640 XL Offers More for Phablet Lovers

Mar 2, 2015, 2:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 2, 2015, 3:05 AM

Microsoft today announced the Lumia 640 XL, a larger version of the Lumia 640. The screen is stretched to 5.7 inches, the camera is improved to 13 megapixels, and the battery is slightly bigger, as well. It includes Microsoft's standard set of productivity apps and supports LTE 4G. It will ship with Windows 8.1, but can be upgraded to the full version of Windows 10. The Lumia 640 XL will be available in April from AT&T, T-Mobile, and MetroPCS in the U.S. Microsoft said it will include a one-year subscription to Office 365, 1TB of OneDrive storage, and 60 Skype world minutes. The price will be approximately $245.


Microsoft Pairs with AT&T to Launch Mobile Office Suite

Mar 2, 2015, 2:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Mar 2, 2015, 3:11 AM

Microsoft today announced the AT&T Mobile Office Suite, a new partnership between the two to help small- and medium-sized businesses manage their devices, data, and productivity. It will be available later this year.

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AT&T to Sell LG Watch Urbane

Mar 1, 2015, 8:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it will sell the LG Watch Urbane smartwatch in the near future. AT&T didn't say if it will sell the Watch Urbane LTE. The Watch Urbane runs Android Wear. Pricing and exact availability are still to be announced.


Verizon Annoyed By Dish's AWS-3 Bidding Tactics

Feb 28, 2015, 11:22 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Like AT&T, Verizon Wireless is upset with the tactics used by Dish Networks in the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction. It accused the firm of artificially raising prices by creating perceived demand where in fact there was none. Dish used three smaller entities to place bids in the auction, but didn't place any bids itself. Verizon claims Dish closely managed these three entities, two of which ended up winning $13.3 billion in spectrum licenses, beating out Verizon and others. Further, because Dish used to smaller entities to bid for the spectrum, it scored a $3 billion discount on the license costs. Verizon filed a petition with the FCC asking the agency to look into Dish's actions. Dish, however, defended its tactics. "Anyone who's been in auctions knows that's impossible to do," argued Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen. "There was nothing artificial about it. We wanted to win the licenses. We were disappointed we didn't win all the licenses." The FCC hasn't said if it might take any action against Dish.


AT&T Pushing Demin Update to Lumia 1520

Feb 26, 2015, 3:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today made the Denim system update available to the Nokia Lumia 1520. The update makes numerous changes to the behavior of the camera, including a faster shutter and 4K video capture, and also adds Live Folders and an updated Glance screen. According to Microsoft, Lumia 1520 owners need to have 1GB of free internal storage in order to install the update, which can be downloaded and installed via WiFi. The update is free.

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FCC Officially Approves New Net Neutrality Regulations

Feb 26, 2015, 1:12 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today voted 3-2 along party lines to implement new regulations over broadband services. The rules seek to reclassify broadband services as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which will put them under stricter government oversight. The FCC's two Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly, opposed the vote. Chairman Tom Wheeler and the two Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, voted in favor of the rules. The rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services on both wired and wireless networks. Wheeler believes the rules will withstand the legal attacks that are sure to come from companies such as AT&T, which has already indicated it will sue. The agency fielded more than four million comments from Americans ahead of the vote.


Google to Kill Windows Phone Softcard App

Feb 25, 2015, 1:34 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Softcard today indicated that the Windows Phone version of the Softcard mobile payment application will be discontinued. "The Softcard for Windows Phone app will be terminated. A specific termination date will be provided soon," said Softcard in a statement on a new FAQ web site published today. Softcard was developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Supported devices, including a handful of Windows Phones sold by AT&T and Verizon, can use Softcard to make tap-and-go mobile payments at participating retailers. Google purchased Softcard's assets from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon earlier this week to bolster its own Google Wallet application. The three carriers have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android handsets moving forward. Wallet competed with Softcard. Softcard didn't indicate how soon the Windows Phone app will be deactivated. Without it, Windows Phone handsets won't have the same mobile payment options available to Android and iOS devices.


Global Rollout of LG G Flex 2 Underway

Feb 25, 2015, 8:18 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

LG today announced the global launch of the G Flex 2, its second-generation curved handset. LG said major carriers in the U.S., Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Germany, and the U.K are rolling the device out first. Sprint has already said when it will sell the phone, though AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have remained mum on their G Flex 2 plans. LG said a second wave of operators in North and South America, Europe, and Asia will begin selling the G Flex 2 later in March. LG first revealed the G Flex 2 at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The G Flex 2 is a curved smartphone that is flexible and has a self-healing rear cover. The phone features a Snapdragon 810 processor, 13-megapixel camera, 5.5-inch screen, and 3,000mAh battery.


Google Strikes Wallet Deal with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon

Feb 23, 2015, 12:39 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today announced that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have agreed to preload Google Wallet on their Android smartphones later this year. The mobile wallet will come on all devices running Android 4.4 KitKat and higher. At the same time, Google is purchasing intellectual property from Softcard -- the mobile payment service created by the same three carriers -- to help improve Wallet's performance. Softcard said its users will be able to continue to make tap-and-go payments at supporting retailers for the time being. Both Google and Softcard said more information will be made available in the coming weeks. Google is looking to revive its mobile wallet product after seeing Apple's success with Apple Pay, which is only available to the iPhone. Google Wallet has been around since 2011.


AT&T Unhappy About Dish's AWS-3 Bidding Tactics

Feb 20, 2015, 2:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today accused rival Dish Networks of creating artificial demand for spectrum and raising prices in the recently concluded auction for AWS-3 spectrum. Dish itself did not bid in the auction and instead had three smaller companies participate on its behalf. "The Dish entities acting in concert triple and double bid licenses in the auction nearly 4,000 times," wrote Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory, in a blog post. "During one round of the auction, because of their triple bidding tactics, the Dish entities collectively had close to $30 billion in bids while their actual financial exposure was only one-third of that. None of this suggests independent decision making by either of the DE bidders, which ultimately won over $13.3 billion worth of licenses with a $3.3 billion 'small business' discount. This conduct circumvented auction activity rules, masked actual demand and distorted the auction. As a result, Dish the corporate entity won NO licenses. The Dish DEs, who each enjoyed a 25% discount, won substantial allocations." Earlier this month, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai made similar complaints and said Dish's tactics made a "mockery" of the auction. Pai and AT&T called on the FCC to review Dish's practices. Dish, however, said it complied with the rules and disclosed its bidding plans before the auction took place. AT&T spent $18 billion in the auction, while rival Verizon Wireless spent $10 billion. AT&T is also unhappy Dish holds spectrum that it isn't using to provide wireless services. The auction generated more than $41 billion in wining bids, nearly four times the $10.56 billion reserve set by the FCC.


Gemalto to Investigate SIM Card Hacking Claims

Feb 20, 2015, 9:27 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Gemalto found itself at the center of a new hacking scandal this week after The Intercept reported the SIM card maker was compromised by the NSA and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The Intercept claims the U.S. and British spy agencies stole the encryption keys for SIM cards so they would be able to secretly monitor cell phone users around the world. With the keys in hand, the agencies could snoop around completely undetected by the targets or the network operators, and could do so without warrants. SIM cards are used in most mobile phones to identify the customer and allow the device to access the network. They are protected by light encryption, but only to prevent fraud -- not hacking. Possessing the encryption keys to the cards allowed the agencies to bypass the built-in security measures completely. In order to do this, the agencies monitored Gemalto employees and eventually broke into Gemalto's computer systems. The hacks took place in 2010, and Gemalto was completely unaware of the breech until contacted by The Intercept. The company issued a statement today, saying, "Gemalto is especially vigilant against malicious hackers, and has detected, logged and mitigated many types of attempts over the years. At present we cannot prove a link between those past attempts and what was reported yesterday. We take this publication very seriously and will devote all resources necessary to fully investigate and understand the scope of such sophisticated techniques." Gemalto is the world's largest manufacturer of SIM cards and ships about two billion SIM cards per year. The company is headquartered in The Netherlands, but has a large office in Texas and a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless all use Gemalto SIM cards in their mobile devices, as do 450 other mobile network operators around the globe. The Intercept's report is based on documents released by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.


Boost Mobile Offering Unlimited Calls to Mexico for $5

Feb 20, 2015, 9:08 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Boost Mobile today introduced a new add-on for its service plans that provides unlimited calling to landlines and mobile phones in Mexico. The Todo Mexico plan costs $5 per month and can be added to Boost's $45 and $55 Data Boost plans. In addition to unlimited calling to Mexico, the Todo Mexico plan includes unlimited calling to Canada and unlimited international text messaging. Boost's move could be viewed as a response to recent changes made by AT&T, which now offers free calling to Mexico through its Cricket and GoPhone prepaid brands. The Todo Mexico add-on from Boost Mobile is available starting today.


T-Mobile Urges Consumer Action Against 'Twin Bells'

Feb 18, 2015, 4:27 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile CEO John Legere today asked consumers to help guide the FCC's rule-making process for the upcoming 600MHz reverse auction. Legere hopes consumers will write to the FCC and ask the agency to create rules that will lead to more competition. Legere pointed to the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction, which he called "a disaster for American wireless consumers," as proof of the need for action. AT&T and Verizon Wireless, or the "Twin Bells" according to Legere, won the bulk of the AWS-3 spectrum auctioned off by the FCC. Legere says this can't happen with the 600MHz auction, which is for valuable low-band spectrum. "Three companies alone spent an insane $42 billion between them, grabbing a ridiculous 94% of the spectrum sold at [the AWS-3] auction," argued Legere. "This whole thing should scare the hell out of you and every other wireless consumer in the U.S., because there is another important auction coming next year, and the results have to be different if wireless competition is going survive." Legere wants the FCC to reserve 40MHz or at least half the available spectrum for companies other than AT&T and Verizon. Further, he wants the government to mandate that auction winners use the spectrum to provide mobile service rather than allow it "to be collected and traded like financial securities." Legere has always been outspoken about his feelings for T-Mobile's competitors. Today's appeal to the public for support is more direct that his previous efforts.


Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead to Retire

Feb 18, 2015, 11:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Dan Mead, who has served as the CEO of Verizon Wireless since 2010, plans to retire according to filings the company made with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mead will remain on the board of directors and serve as executive vice president and president of strategic initiatives. He'll stay in that role until Verizon Communications finalizes its sale of certain landline and FiOS assets to Frontier Communications. Once that is completed in mid 2016, Mead will retire fully. Mead has been replaced by John Stratton, formerly Verizon's executive vice president and president of Verizon's global enterprise and consumer wireline business. Stratton's new title is executive vice president and president of operations. He'll be in charge of both the wireless and wireline businesses. Both Mead and Stratton report to Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam. AT&T and Sprint have also installed new CEOs in the last six months. Glen Lurie succeeded Ralph de la Vega at AT&T and Marcelo Claure took over for Dan Hesse at Sprint. T-Mobile's John Legere has been serving as CEO since fall 2012.


AT&T Improves GoPhone Data Allotments

Feb 17, 2015, 9:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today bulked up the data offerings of two of its GoPhone plans. Subscribers to the $45 monthly plan will have 1.5GB of high-speed data instead of 1GB, and subscribers to the $60 plan will have 4GB of high-speed data instead of 2.5GB. The increased data buckets are available automatically and at no extra cost. The $45 and $60 plans also include unlimited talk and text, and unlimited texting to Mexico, Canada, and more than 100 other countries. The improved data buckets go into effect Feb. 20.


Verizon Sees No More Big Spectrum Grabs In Its Future

Feb 17, 2015, 9:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Feb 17, 2015, 10:10 AM

Verizon today said it doesn't believe it will need to make any more large spectrum acquisitions following the results of the recent AWS-3 spectrum auction. Verizon netted 181 spectrum licenses at a cost of $10.4 billion. The licenses cover 192 million POPs, or about 60% of Americans. Post auction, Verizon now has 40MHz of AWS spectrum covering 95% of the country's major markets, and 60MHz of mid-band spectrum covering about 84% of the population. Verizon may, when the opportunity arises, make small spectrum acquisitions or even lease spectrum, such as Sprint's 2.5GHz airwaves. For now, however, the company will focus on making the most-efficient use possible of its existing spectrum resources. Verizon said carrier aggregation will help a lot, and indicated that small cell deployments will further fill in a lot of gaps. Verizon also said it plans to more aggressively refarm its PCS spectrum, converting it from 3G to LTE 4G. Verizon's winnings ranked third in the AWS-3 auction, behind AT&T's massive $18 billion expenditure and Dish Networks' $13 billion. AT&T and Verizon have been forced to sell some assets in order to keep their balance sheets in order. For example, Verizon recently announced plans to sell some of its landline and fiber business assets to Frontier Communications. It is also selling some of its cell towers.


AT&T to Sell BlackBerry Passport and Classic Feb. 20

Feb 16, 2015, 9:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it will begin to sell the BlackBerry Passport and BlackBerry Classic smartphones on Feb. 20. Both handsets will be available with contract and monthly payment options. The Passport will cost $21.67 per month with AT&T Next 24; $27.09 with AT&T Next 18; or $32.50 per month with AT&T Next 12. Customers can choose to sign a two-year contract, which will allow them to purchase the phone for $199. Last, customers may also choose to buy the phone at full price for $649.99. The Classic will cost $14, $17.50, or $21 per month with AT&T's Next 24, Next 18, and Next 12 plans, respectively. The Classic's two-year price is $49.99 and the full retail price is $419.99. The Passport and Classic both run BlackBerry OS 10.3 and include touch screens and QWERTY keyboards for typing.


AT&T Debuts 7GB Mobile Share Plan with Rollover Data

Feb 13, 2015, 10:07 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today added a new option to its Mobile Share Value plans that offers 7GB of shareable data for a base charge of $75 per month. The plan includes unlimited talk, text, and Rollover Data. AT&T said customers who buy a new smartphone with its AT&T Next program and pair it with the new 7GB Mobile Share Value plan will pay a device access fee of $15 per month. For example, customers who select the 7GB Mobile Share Value Plan and add three smartphones though AT&t Next can expect to pay $120 per month ($75 plan charge plus $45 device access fees). This doesn't include the cost of the device itself, which varies depending on the handset in question. AT&T said it is still offering a $100 bill credit to people who switch from another carrier. The new 7GB Mobile Share Value plan will be available to new and existing customers beginning Feb. 15.


Carriers Have to Unlock Eligible Phones Beginning Today

Feb 11, 2015, 9:49 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

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.


Sprint Calls AT&T, Verizon's Bluff on Telecom Investment

Feb 11, 2015, 8:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint CTO Stephen Bye says the FCC's move to reclassify broadband under Title II won't stifle telecom companies' investment in building new networks. AT&T and Verizon have warned the FCC that strict regulation of broadband is likely to decrease investment and harm consumers in the long term. Sprint sees things differently. "Our competitors are going to continue to invest so they are representing a situation that won't play out," said Bye in an interview with Reuters. "The notion that some of our competitors are suggesting that they will stop investing if Title II is brought into effect... That's something we've refused." Bye points to the recent FCC spectrum auction as proof. AT&T spent $18 billion to purchase AWS-3 spectrum licenses, Dish spent $13 billion, and Verizon spent $10.3 billion. All three companies made those investments while fully aware of the FCC's plans for regulating broadband. Sprint does not see Title II reclassification as a problem. "It's one of those topics that is highly charged, highly politicized and we took a step back and said it works in the interest of our customers, our consumers and the industry and we frankly found some of the arguments (of our competitors) to be less than compelling."


AT&T Seeding Lollipop to LG G3

Feb 11, 2015, 8:25 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T has made Android 5.0 Lollipop available to its variant of the LG G3. In addition to Lollipop, the system update includes a number of stability fixes and performance improvements. The update can be downloaded and installed via WiFi.


Cricket Follows AT&T's Lead with Unlimited Calls to Mexico

Feb 10, 2015, 9:17 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today announced that all customers on its $50 and $60 plans can now make unlimited calls to Mexico. Cricket's subscribers can call landlines and mobile phones at no extra charge, though Cricket said calls to special or premium services may be blocked. The service also includes unlimited text, picture, and video messaging. The offer is not valid for Cricket's legacy CDMA customers. Cricket's Smart Plan costs $50 per month and includes unlimited calling, messaging, and 5GB of LTE data. The Pro Plan costs $60 and doubles data to 10GB. The Advanced Plan, which is available for a limited time, costs $60 and includes 20GB of LTE data and expands free messaging to 35 more countries. Customers can get a $5 monthly discount if they sign up for auto-pay. Cricket is still offering incentives to T-Mobile, MetroPCS, Sprint, and Boost Mobile customers, who will receive a free month of service for switching. Cricket operates on AT&T's network. AT&T recently acquired Iusacell, a Mexican network operator, and rolled out unlimited calls to Mexico to its own customers for $5 per month.


RadioShack Declares Bankruptcy, to Sell Stores to Sprint

Feb 5, 2015, 6:14 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

RadioShack today filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and signed an agreement to sell approximately 1,750 of its stores to Sprint. Under the terms of RadioShack's Chapter 11 filing, RadioShack will sell the stores to Sprint and General Wireless, a subsidiary of one of RadioShack's major investors. Moving forward, these stores will be co-branded Sprint and RadioShack, with Sprint being the primary brand. Sprint will own about 30% of the real estate within each store to sell Sprint, Boost Mobile, and Virgin Mobile USA products. The remaining 70% will be set aside for RadioShack to sell its own branded gear and other electronics. Sprint did not say what will happen to the AT&T, GoPhone, Net10 Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Tracfone phones that are currently offered by RadioShack. Presumably they will be no longer be sold. Sprint currently has more than 1,100 company-owned retail stores, which would more than double if the transaction is approved. RadioShack listed about $1.2 billion in assets and $1.39 billion in debts. A bankruptcy court will have to approve RadioShack's plans before Sprint can make its purchase official.


AT&T Looking to Sell Assets for Cash

Feb 2, 2015, 6:45 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T hopes to offset some of its debt by selling certain assets, reports Reuters. In particular, AT&T may offload several data centers worth about $2 billion, according to sources familiar with AT&T's plans. AT&T will need to write the government a check for $18 billion to cover the spectrum licenses it won during the recent AWS-3 auction. AT&T has hired a financial planner to help finalize the sales. AT&T has already sold other assets, including portions of its wireline business and some of its cell towers. AT&T didn't comment on Reuters' story. Verizon Wireless is expected to sell assets, too, in order to strengthen its balance sheet. Verizon spent about $10 billion in the same auction.


AT&T to Use Auction Winnings to Boost Downlink Performance

Jan 30, 2015, 4:23 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jan 30, 2015, 4:29 PM

AT&T today said its winnings from the recently concluded FCC AWS-3 spectrum auction give it a near contiguous 10x10MHz block of spectrum across much of the country. The J Block spectrum covers 306 million people, or 96% of the U.S. population and 96 of the top 100 markets. AT&T said it expects to begin deploying LTE service on the spectrum in the 2017-2018 timeframe. It will initially use the spectrum to supplement its downlink services. AT&T needs to work with the FCC, NTIA, DOD, and other federal agencies so it can eventually support uplink capacity. AT&T spent $18.2 billion to acquire the licenses. "Growth in our customers' mobile data usage continues to explode, driven by mobile video traffic. This spectrum investment will be critical to AT&T staying ahead of customer demand and facilitate the next generation of mobile video entertainment," said AT&T's John Stankey, chief strategy officer. AT&T said data traffic on its network has increased 100,000 percent from January 2007 through December 2014. Verizon also commented on its winnings. Verizon scored 181 licenses covering 192 million POPs, or 61% of the U.S. Verizon said it would have more to say about its plans for the spectrum next month.


AT&T, Verizon Dominate AWS-3 Auction

Jan 30, 2015, 1:07 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jan 30, 2015, 2:04 PM

The FCC today published a list of companies that placed winning bids for the AWS-3 spectrum auction. The FCC auctioned off 1,600 licenses, for which 70 companies were competing. The 10X10MHz J Block was the most coveted section of airwaves. The G, H, and I blocks are all 5x5MHz channels, but also saw competitive bidding. AT&T and Verizon won many of the J Block segments. For example, AT&T placed a $2.76 billion winning bid for J Block spectrum covering New York City. Verizon, however, won the J Block covering Washington, D.C., and Baltimore with a $966 million bid. Aside from AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile, Northstar Wireless, Advantage Spectrum, and SNR Wireless LicenseCo (Dish) won the majority of the licenses. The FCC was hoping to raise $10.54 billion and instead raised $41.32 billion. AT&T's bids alone totaled $18.2 billion, while Verizon bid $10.4 billion and T-Mobile bid $1.8 billion. The two bidding entities tied to Dish Networks totaled $13 billion. The $41.3 billion auction total is slightly smaller than the FCC earlier reported due to discounts and incentives.


Verizon Wireless Does About Face On Supercookies

Jan 30, 2015, 12:20 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless today reversed its stance regarding ad-targeting programs and will allow customers to opt out of its "supercookie" tracking tool. The company was under fire from privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Consumer Watchdog, as the supercookies track customer behavior, including web browsing history, and cannot be turned off. "Verizon takes customer privacy seriously and it is a central consideration as we develop new products and services. Delivering solutions with best-in-class privacy protections remains our focus," said the company in a statement provided to the New York Times. "We listen to our customers and provide them the ability to opt out of our advertising programs. We have begun working to expand the opt-out to include the identifier referred to as the UIDH, and expect that to be available soon. As a reminder, Verizon never shares customer information with third parties as part of our advertising programs." Verizon didn't say when customers will be able to opt out. AT&T tested a similar program last year, but eventually decided against using it.


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