AT&T today announced its own unlimited family plan meant to compete with the likes of those introduced by Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint earlier this week. Beginning Feb. 17, customers will be able to sign up for a wireless-only AT&T Unlimited Plan that AT&T says will cost $180 for a family of four. The package includes four lines with unlimited data, talk, and text. The first line costs $100 and each additional line costs $40. The four-person plan will start at the cost of $220 per month ($100 + 3x$40). The $180 monthly price reflects a $40 credit for the fourth line, which won't be applied to the account for several months. Critically, the new AT&T Unlimited Plan does not include tethering or mobile hotspot at all. AT&T says customers who wish to use those features should select is Mobile Share Advantage plan instead. The Unlimited Plan includes its Stream Saver by default, which downgrades video quality to 480p resolution to cut down on data use. Customers can turn Stream Saver off at no additional cost to stream HD video. Further, AT&T may throttle data speeds once customers exceed 22 GB of data usage in a given month. The AT&T Unlimited Plan also allows customers to make unlimited calls from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico, roam at no extra cost in Canada and Mexico, and send unlimited texts to more than 120 other countries. AT&T's plan costs the same as Verizon's for four lines at $180 per month, but Verizon permits up to 10 GB of mobile hotspot use. AT&T's separate unlimited plan for its DirecTV customers remains in place.
AT&T today said customers can access VoLTE services when traveling to Japan. Specifically, the carrier has struck a VoLTE roaming agreement with NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest carrier. AT&T customers who travel to Japan will be able to use VoLTE-based services, including HD voice and simultaneous talking and surfing via LTE. AT&T claims it is the first U.S. carrier to strike such a roaming agreement.
The FCC today said it will drop its review of sponsored data programs from the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC determined the nation's two largest carriers were likely violating net neutrality rules by zero-rating some video services. Now, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency has reversed course and will drop the investigations. "The Commission finally puts an end to the past Commission’s zero-rating inquiries and recommits to permissionless innovation," said Commissioner Michael O'Rielly in a statement. "While this is just a first step, these companies, and others, can now safely invest in and introduce highly popular products and services without fear of Commission intervention based on newly invented legal theories."
AT&T today said it plans to test some of its 5G network technologies, with peak speeds of 400 Mbps, in Austin and Indianapolis beginning later this year. The company has been testing a handful of next-generation network technologies for several year snow. AT&T said it will continue to densify its network and deploy technologies like carrier aggregation and LTE-License Assisted Access to boost speeds to 1 Gbps. AT&T is calling its evolving 5G platform AT&T Network 3.0 Indigo, or Indigo for short. "We see Indigo as the third generation of modern networking," said John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations. "Indigo is our term for a world where it isn't just your connection speeds that are accelerating, but every element of the network becomes more seamless, efficient and capable. It is a living, evolving, upgradeable platform. Think of Indigo like the operating system on your phone. We’re taking that model to the network." Indigo will rely on a handful of elements, including Big Data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, and software-defined networking. Earlier this week, AT&T said it plans to test Centralized RAN, AirGig, G.fast, and Fixed Wireless Internet technologies using mmWave spectrum.
AT&T today said it plans to test a wide variety of potential 5G technologies throughout the year as it evolves from 4G LTE to next-generation mobile broadband. For example, the company intends to kick off field trials of AirGig later this year. AirGig relies on transporting mmWaves over powerlines. AT&T engineers have invented low-cost plastic antennas, a Radio Distributed Antenna System (RDAS), mmWave surface wave launchers, and inductive power devices. These technologies push broadband signals along or near power lines, not through them, and deliver multi-gigabit wired and wireless broadband. AT&T believes this approach will pay dividends, as it can be deployed on existing power deliver infrastructure with no need to build new towers or bury new cable. The field trials aim to determine how inclement weather might affect signal delivery as well as asses real-world costs. AT&T is also testing small cells throughout San Francisco. AT&T is testing a Centralized RAN (C-RAN) architecture, which pulls the individual basebands normally associated with each cell site and consolidates them in a single location. The small cells themselves can be installed on light posts and other existing infrastructure around the city. AT&T says this approach reduces the amount of gear needed at each small cell site and lets technicians easily update lots of sites at once due to the centralized basebands. The C-RAN tests also rely on mmWave technology. Other technologies on AT&T's testing roadmap this year include G.fast and Fixed Wireless Internet. G.fast boosts the capacity of existing copper lines to that of fiber, while FWI will target some 400,000 rural areas by the end of the year. The International Telecommunications Union has yet to technically define what 5G will be, but that hasn't stoped carriers such as AT&T and others from exploring a number of potential 5G technologies.
T-Mobile today further sweetened the pie for former AT&T customers by offering a free year of Hulu. The offer is a consolation prize of sorts. In December, AT&T kicked off a promotion wherein it gave AT&T customers a free year of DirecTV Now when they switched to T-Mobile. DirecTV Now has experienced a bumpy launch, collecting numerous complaints from customers who say the service doesn't work as advertised. T-Mobile said it wants to protect customers who took advantage of the initial offer. "To make things right for those new T-Mobile customers, the Un-carrier is giving everyone who participated in this deal a free year of Hulu — an awesome streaming service that actually works — on top of their free year of DirecTV Now," said the company in a statement. T-Mobile says all former AT&T customers who signed up for a free year of DirecTV will be eligible for the free year of Hulu Limited Commercials service. The switchers will be notified with a promo code in the weeks ahead.
AT&T today made it less expensive and less confusing to use your AT&T phone overseas. The company introduced the AT&T International Day Pass, which provides travelers with unlimited talk and text in over 100 countries. Moreover, the International Day Pass doesn't charge extra for data; travelers will have access to their domestic data plan when overseas. AT&T will no longer charge by the minute, message, or megabyte. The International Day Pass costs $10 and unlocks access to roaming for a 24-hour period. AT&T says most popular destinations across Europe, Asia, and Central/South America are included. Under AT&T's old Passport-branded plans, travelers were required to buy access in large chunks that still required per-minute voice fees and placed limits on data. AT&T's new International Day Pass, which now closely mirrors Verizon's roaming plan, will be available starting Friday, Jan. 26.
AT&T confirmed to Phonescoop that it has raised the cost of activating a new line of service and upgrading an existing line from $20 to $25. The increase is effective today, according to AT&T. The increase was first reported by Droid-Life. AT&T's move follows closely a similar increase made by Verizon, which bumped activation fees from $20 to $30. Activation fees are largely seen as a way for carriers to pad profits.
The FCC today said the close of the fourth stage will mark the end of bidding in the auction for 600 MHz airwaves. The auction has been in progress since last May and worked its way through several stages. Television broadcasters agreed to give up portions of their spectrum holdings, which were then sold to wireless carriers. The repurposed airwaves will eventually be used for mobile broadband services and the TV stations relocated. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the auction a success, but it fell far short of initial projections as far as generating revenue is concerned. "The world's first spectrum incentive auction has delivered on its ambitious promise. Reaching the Final Stage Rule means the benefits of the auction are indisputable," said Wheeler. "We will repurpose 70 MHz of high-value, completely clear low-band spectrum for mobile broadband on a nationwide basis. On top of that, 14 MHz of new unlicensed spectrum — the test bed for wireless innovation — will be available for consumer devices and new services. The auction will provide $10.05 billion to broadcast television licensees who participated and billions towards deficit reduction." Broadcasters had expected to see as much as $86 billion for 126 MHz of licenses. When bidding in rounds two and three bottomed out, the amount of spectrum offered by broadcasters was reduced accordingly. "There is still a long road ahead to successfully implement the post-auction transition of broadcast stations to their new channels and bring the new wireless and unlicensed spectrum to market," noted Wheeler. "This will be an extremely important task for my successor and the new Commission; I wish them well." Wheeler is leaving his post at the FCC as President-Elect Donald Trumps takes office. T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless all participated, but Sprint did not. The FCC hasn't said what new spectrum licenses the carriers and other bidders have won.
AT&T confirmed in a blog post that it has fully retired its 2G network. The move had been in the works for years. AT&T said it helped move people with 2G equipment over to 3G/4G devices with discounts and, in some cases, free phones. "By shutting down our 2G network, this frees up more spectrum for future network technologies, including 5G," said AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan. "In the next few months, we plan to repurpose that spectrum for LTE." AT&T says the 2G shutdown will also help pave the way for the evolution of 5G.
ZTE today shared more information about its Project CSX handset, called Hawkeye. ZTE created a public campaign for Project CSX in 2016, which saw hundreds of entries. The final design, a self-adhesive handset that can track eye movement, was selected last fall. The device is a large Android slab that boasts a 5.5-inch full HD display. The phone will be powered by an octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The phone features two cameras on the rear, one with a 12-megapixel sensor and one with a 13-megapixel sensor with optical zoom. The user-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. A 3,000mAh battery will provide power, and the USB-C port will allow for rapid charging via Quick Charge 2.0. Other features include a fingerprint reader, Dolby sound, NFC, and support for memory cards. ZTE says the Hawkeye includes LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, and 66 for AT&T/T-Mobile. The Hawkeye, currently available for preorder on Kickstarter, costs $199 and will ship with Android 7 Nougat when it goes on sale in the fall. Right now, the fundraising campaign has generated a bit more than $31,000 out of $500,000.
Alcatel today made its Idol 4S with Windows 10 smartphone available unlocked from the Microsoft Store. The Windows Idol 4S has a 5.5-inch full HD display, Snapdragon 820 processor, 21-megapixel camera, and USB Type-C. Other features include a wide-angle 8-megapixel selfie camera, 3,000mAh battery, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, stereo speakers, and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. The Idol 4S with Windows is compatible with Continuum, which enables it to act like a full PC with the proper accessories. The phone is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. The Idol 4S with Windows 10 costs $470.
The FCC today took AT&T and Verizon to task for their zero-rated video services and said they may in fact be harmful to the market. The agency has spent time evaluating each of the zero-rated offerings from AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. While the agency has no quibble with zero-rated services, per se, AT&T and Verizon's offerings may cross a certain line with respect to competition. "We ... have found that two of the plans present significant risks to consumers and competition in downstream industry sectors because of network operators' potentially unreasonable discrimination in favor of their own affiliates," said the agency in today's report. The FCC judged the offerings based on whether or not they amount to blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization, and if they don't violate those tenets, whether or not the services violate the general conduct rule with respect to data caps, transparency, and user choice. T-Mobile's BingeOn service, for example, is in the clear because it is open to all customers and all third-party services. AT&T's Data Perks program is okay, too, but its Sponsored Data program crosses the line because it likely violates the general conduct rule. The same is true of Verizon's go90 offering. "We are aware of no safeguards that would prevent [Verizon or AT&T] from offering substantially more costly or restrictive terms to enable unaffiliated edge providers to offer services comparable to [go90 and Sponsored Data] on a zero-rated basis," noted the agency. The FCC believes companies such as AT&T and Verizon that own both the content and the delivery mechanism may cause real harm to consumers and competition. The FCC didn't say what, if any, actions it might take next.
AT&T has quietly increased the cost of its old unlimited plans by $5 per month. The price jump is the second in a year from AT&T. "If you have a legacy unlimited data plan, you can keep it; however, beginning in March 2017, it will increase by $5 per month," said AT&T. After the increase, the old unlimited plan will cost $40 per month. Device access fees, and talk and text services are extra. AT&T throttles its grandfathered unlimited customers once they surpass 22 GB of mobile data per month. Like Verizon Wireless, AT&T stopped offering unlimited plans years ago.
Nuu Mobile this week announced the X5 smartphone during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The X5 is a flagship-class Android smartphone for those seeking alternatives to traditional postpaid carriers. The device offers a lot of value thanks in part to Nuu's unique mobile service plans. The X5 is a large slab that features a 5.5-inch full HD display. The phone is powered by a MediaTek MT6750T 1.5 GHz octa-core processor with 3 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 128 GB. Nuu selected Sony camera chips for the device, with a 13-megapixel BSI sensor on back and a 5-megapixel wide-angle sensor on front. The X5 supports U.S. LTE bands 2, 4, 7, 12, and 17 for compatibility with AT&T and T-Mobile. It also packs Bluetooth 4, GPS, NFC, WiFi, and an FM radio. Last, the phone contains a 2,950mAh battery, and it runs Android 7 Nougat out of the box. Nuu Mobile gave the X5 support for two SIM cards in a removable tray, but the handset also includes Nuu's Konnect i1 eSIM technology. The eSIM allows the X5 to roam in other countries at local wireless rates. Introductory pricing for roaming is approximately $2 per day for 500 MB of high-speed data overseas. People who exceed the daily data limit will be throttled, but will have full access to 500 MB again the following day. The eSIM means users don't have to hunt down a local SIM card when traveling; instead, they can simply activate the Konnect i1 service directly on the X5. The Nuu Mobile X5 goes on sale in March. Pricing wasn't announced, but all of Nuu Mobile's handsets cost less than $250.
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.
Asus today announced the ZenFone 3 Zoom, a new "optical zoom" phone that uses two cameras, much like the iPhone 7 Plus. Both the standard and 2.3x zoom cameras are 12-megapixel. It can also do a portrait mode with depth effect, and the main lens has f/1.7 aperture. Other camera features include OIS, laser focusing, RAW support, and a dedicated color sensor for improved white balance. It includes an extra-large 5,000 mAh battery that can be used to charge other devices via the USB-C connector. Specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 5.5-in full-HD display, fingerprint sensor, memory card slot, and 3.5mm audio jack. Its US version will include LTE band 17 to support AT&T's network.
AT&T today laid out more of it is roadmap for 5G and brazenly said it is moving forward despite the lack of standardization for 5G. "We're not waiting until the final standards are set to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G," said John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations. "We're executing now." AT&T says its data network has seen a 250,000% increase in traffic since 2007, largely driven by video. It feels it needs to move on 5G now in order to accommodate the growing demand for data. The International Telecommunication Union isn't expected to formally ratify 5G until 2020, though some of the broad definitions of 5G have already been defined, such as 1 Gbps speeds and latency under 5 milliseconds. AT&T claims its lab trials have already delivered peak speeds of 14 Gbps with latency as low as 3 milliseconds. It says some portions of its LTE 4G network will offer 1 Gbps (theoretical max) speeds later this year thanks to small cells, densification, and 3- and 4-channel carrier aggregation. AT&T's DirecTV Now customers in Austin, Texas, will be the first to trial AT&T's 5G network technology during the first half of the year. The trial will involve fixed wireless 5G using mmWave in a handful of locations with a handful of devices in the Austin area. The tests may begin as soon as March. The company has been testing this same technology with Intel and Ericsson in Austin since last fall and says it saw consistent 1 Gbps speeds. AT&T plans more 5G trials this year in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands using the framework developed so far by the 3GPP.
AT&T will raise the price of its Go Big DirecTV Now package from the special, introductory rate of $35 per month to the standard $60 per month price early next month. "Any current DirecTV Now customers, and those who sign up before the promotion ends, will stay at the special price of $35 for 'Go Big' package," said the company in a statement provided to the Dallas Business Journal. "Customers who sign up for this offer will continue to enjoy this special price for as long as they keep the package, subject only to future reasonable programming price increases applicable to all packages." DirecTV Now is available in a number of packages, including 60 channels for $35 per month, 80 channels for $50, 100 channels for $60, and 120 channels for $70. HBO and Cinemax are $5 extra each. AT&T made the 100-channel option available for $35 as a way to tempt early adopters. The promotion expires at 1:59p.m. Central Time on January 9, 2017.
AT&T today announced AT&T Call Protect, a free service that automatically blocks and warns about fraudulent calls. AT&T says Call Protect is available to customers who have HD Voice service, and it only works in areas where HD Voice coverage is available. The automatic fraud blocking reduces the chances that people will be plagued by scams by preventing the calls from reaching subscribers' phones. Call Protect also warns people when an incoming call is a suspected scam or comes from a known spammer. Users will be able to whitelist safe numbers if they wish. AT&T customers can gain more features, such as temporary call blocking, via the companion mobile app for Android and iOS devices. The service is available at no extra cost.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless vigorously defended their sponsored data programs in separate letters to the FCC this week. The agency asked both companies to offer some rationale for their DirecTV Now and FreeBee programs, respectively, which the FCC views as violating its net neutrality rules. The programs each allow customers to enjoy video content streamed over LTE without impacting their monthly data buckets. "The Bureau's approach would deny consumers a service they value, raise prices, lower consumption, and curb the disruptive potential ... all in the name of preserving profit margins for individual ... rivals," argued AT&T. Verizon took a different approach. "It's similar to the over-the-air broadcast TV model, where advertisers pick up the expenses, and to newspapers, where the bulk of the costs are covered by advertisers," said the company. Both AT&T and Verizon say they are committed to "an open and free internet" and suggest their programs are beneficial to consumers rather than harmful. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to resign once president-elect Donald Trump takes office in January 2017, and democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's appointment was not renewed. It's likely no action will be taken against either company until after a new chairman and commissioner, appointed by Trump, are brought on board.
The FCC this week adopted rules that will allow carriers to replace their existing (but aging) TTY systems with the more modern RTT (real-time text) service. The move is meant to expand the tools for the deaf, hard of hearing, and blind. Phone makers and carriers are required to offer text services to the deaf and hard of hearing. The new ruling means they'll be able to update their systems with the newest technology, though they'll have to continue to also support TTY for the time being. Real-time text allows characters to be sent as they are created without hitting a 'send' button. This allows text to be sent at the same time as voice communications, which the FCC sees as a more conversation-friendly service. The FCC has already given AT&T and Verizon waivers to use RTT. RTT is easy to deploy on modern smartphones.
FreedomPop today said it has struck an agreement with AT&T that allows its customers to access AT&T's LTE network. FreedomPop is a WiFi-first carrier that provides unlimited calling and texting from WiFi hotspots and low-cost service when connected to cellular networks. The basic free plan includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500 MB of data each month. FreedomPop is now selling a $10 AT&T SIM card that can be put in any unlocked GSM handset. Customers can take advantage of FreedomPop's free, entry-level service on AT&T's network once the AT&T SIM card is activated. FreedomPop also kicked off sales of an AT&T-compatible MiFi mobile hotspot. FreedomPop is offering the $30 device with up to 2 GB of free LTE per month. The AT&T SIM card and MiFi device are available from FreedomPop's web site. The company recently began selling refurbished smartphone online.
T-Mobile today said it will give AT&T customers who port their number to T-Mobile a free year of DirecTV Now. DirecTV Now is AT&T's new mobile television service. The service costs between $35 and $70 per month, depending on the package. T-Mobile will cover the entry-level $35 plan for up to 12 months, a total of $420, via monthly service credits. AT&T customers will need to activate at least two lines of service with a T-Mobile One plan. Existing T-Mobile Simple Choice customers can subscribe to DirecTV Now if they wish. T-Mobile has added DirecTV Now to its Binge On program, so T-Mobile customers can watch as much as they want at 480p without impacting their data buckets.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today laid out plans to return some $88 million in cash to wronged AT&T customers. In 2014, AT&T settled with the FTC over illegally adding third-party charges to monthly bills, a practice known as cramming. The FTC says 2.5 million current AT&T customers and 300,000 former customers will receive reimbursement for about $31 sometime in the next 75 days. Existing customers will receive the money as a bill credit, while former customers will be written checks. "AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers' behalf," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices." Most of the third-party fees involved ringtones, horoscopes, and other messaging-based subscriptions.
AT&T today announced an expansion of its 5G trials with its first business customer. Intel has agreed to test AT&T's mmWave technology at its own Austin-based offices. AT&T and its technology partner, Ericsson, claim to have reached peak download speeds of 14 Gbps with 4K HD video and real-time camera feeds. This field trial will put business-class use-cases to the test, including internet access, VPNs, unified communications, and 4K video streams in the 15 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands. "Mobile video streaming continues to be a vital aspect of our 5G work, and this trial gives us an opportunity to test 4K HD video streaming across further physical distances between pieces of equipment," said Tom Keathley, AT&T's senior vice president, wireless network architecture and design. AT&T says the field trial will bring it one step closer to deployment. Until now, it has been testing its 5G technologies in the lab and some real-world spaces in Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, and California. AT&T hopes its technological path will help it contribute to the international 5G standard, which has yet to be defined by the ITU.
The FCC believes zero-rating content can hurt consumers and competition. The agency sent letters to AT&T and Verizon Wireless this week calling them out for exempting their own video services (DirecTV Now and go90, respectively) from customers' data caps. The agency believes the practice gives the carriers' own services an advantage over competing services. "We have therefore reached the preliminary conclusion that these practices inhibit competition, harm consumers, and interfere with the 'virtuous cycle' needed to assure the continuing benefits of the Open Internet," wrote FCC wireless bureau chief Jon Wilkins writes in the letter to AT&T. The FCC has already warned carriers that zero-rating content may be harmful. The regulatory body did not say if it intends to take steps or action against the carriers. The companies have until December 15 to respond to the FCC's letters. AT&T announced DirecTV Now earlier this week. The service is available to anyone who cares to pay for it, but only AT&T Mobility customers can watch via LTE without impacting their monthly data cap.
AT&T's prepaid service, Cricket Wireless, is offering customers a one-month free trial of DirecTV Now, the new internet-based television service from AT&T. Unlike AT&T, however, Cricket is not zero-rating DirecTV Now. This means Cricket customers cannot watch an unlimited amount of DirecTV Now via Cricket's wireless network. Instead, they will be encouraged to seek out WiFi whenever possible. Cricket says customers can use the Cricket WiFi app, which is preloaded on most phones, to find free WiFi hotspots. DirecTV Now includes four pricing tiers that range from $35 to $70 per month. For a limited time, early adopters can score 100 channels of content at the entry-level $35 price. HBO and Cinemax cost $5 extra.
Alongside its new DirecTV Now streaming television service, AT&T announced Fullscreen and FreeView. Fullscreen includes more than 1,500 hours of ad-free content (movies, television) for $6 per month, while FreeView includes ad-supported content for free. Fullscreen is a video-on-demand platform that's compatible with iPhone, iPad, select Android Phones, Chromecast, and Apple TV. For a limited time, AT&T will let new and existing customers access Fullscreen for a year for free. Like DirecTV Now, Fullscreen will not impact AT&T Mobility customers' data buckets. FreeView is a highly-curated, on-demand content platform from Audience. Both Fullscreen and FreeView are available within the DirecTV Now app and will launch November 30.
AT&T today announced an over-the-top television service called DirectTV Now. It includes a range of live, streamed television and on-demand content at a variety of price points. The $35 option includes 60+ channels. Customers will need to opt for the $50 plan for 80+ channels, the $60 plan for 100+ channels, or the $70 plan for 120+ channels. Premium movie channels, such as HBO and Cinemax, cost $5 per month extra. (No CBS/Showtime programming for now.) DirecTV Now will be streamed over internet connections, including both wired and wireless, and is available to most connected devices and platforms. The service launches November 30 and will be available to Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick; Android phones and tablets; iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV; Chromecast; Google Cast-enabled LeEco ecotvs and Vizio SmartCast Displays; as well as the web. AT&T said more platforms and devices will be available starting next year. At launch, early adopters will be able to score the 100+ channel option for $35 per month. This is a limited promotion, but those who sign up early will be grandfathered in. Moreover, AT&T is working with several hardware vendors, including Amazon, Apple, and LeEco, by offering between one and three months of service for free with select purchases. Last, AT&T is zero-rating DirecTV Now for its wireless customers, who won't see their data plans hit when streaming DirecTV Now content.
AT&T says allowing its customers to stream certain content without incurring wireless data fees is beneficial. The comments were made in a letter to the FCC, which, earlier this month, asked AT&T to justify its practice of zero-rating DirecTV content. "These initiatives are precisely the kind of pro-consumer challenges to cable that the Commission heralded in approving AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV," wrote Robert Quinn, AT&T's policy chief. The FCC is wary of zero-rating practices and feels they may be out of step with existing net neutrality laws. In this case, AT&T owns DirecTV and is in effect giving its own service an advantage over competing services that do incur data fees when streamed over AT&T's wireless network. Verizon allows customers to stream its own go90 video service without impacting data allotments, and T-Mobile's Binge On program provides unlimited streaming of lower-resolution content from a handful of video partners. The FCC has been pondering zero-rated content for some time and has yet make any sort of official stance known to the public.
AT&T is preparing to launch a ZTE smartphone called the ZMax 3, say documents found on the FCC web site. The ZMax 3 appears to be a variant of the Grand X 3, which AT&T-owned Cricket Wireless has sold since earlier this year. Most importantly, the AT&T-branded ZMax 3 adds NFC and carrier aggregation for quicker LTE speeds. The FCC documents don't reveal any other obvious changes between the two models. The Grand X 3 includes a 5.5-inch HD screen, Cat. 4 LTE, USB Type-C connector, 3,000 mAh battery, 2 GB of RAM, and 16 GB of storage. It also features an 8-megapixel camera, shoots 720p HD video, and packs a 2-megapixel selfie camera. AT&T hasn't said if or when the ZTE ZMax 3 might go on sale.
The AT&T Send Message Skill, set to be made available on November 19, will let AT&T customers send text messages by asking their Amazon Echo to do it for them. The skill we be added to the Amazon Alexa application (for Android and iOS). AT&T says it is the first carrier to bring messaging to Alexa and the Echo. Alexa is the artificial intelligence that powers the Amazon Echo in-home speaker and assistant. Echo-owning AT&T subscribers will need to enable the skill and can then add up to ten frequent contacts to the skill for messaging via voice command. Messages will appear as though they were sent by the account holder's main AT&T mobile number. The feature will be available to the original Amazon Echo as well as the Echo Dot. Alexa is already able to read news headlines, sports scores, and the weather report, as well as answer general trivia questions, play music, and pay bills. AT&T plans to sell the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot at its stores starting November 18.
AT&T said it is preparing a new service that will allow customers to stream more video content over the wireless network and conserve their data. Stream Saver, set to become available early next year, will downgrade streamed video to 480p so it chews through less wireless data. AT&T said it plans to alert customers when Stream Saver is available, and customers will be able to switch it on or off at will. Once customers activate it, all content Stream Saver can identify as video will be downgraded to DVD quality. Stream Saver does not impact the quality of music streamed from services such as Spotify. Moreover, Stream Saver does not allow for unlimited video watching via LTE; rather, it is a tool designed to help people reduce their data consumption when needed while still allowing them to enjoy video content over the network. By way of comparison, T-Mobile's BingeOn service allows for unlimited video streaming from select providers over LTE without impacting users' monthly data allotment.
The FCC has said to AT&T that it has "serious concerns" about the company's planned streaming mobile video service. Specifically, the agency is worried the $35 price point "may obstruct competition and harm consumers" as other services won't be able to match it in terms of content offerings and delivery costs. The $35 monthly fee will give AT&T customers access to more than 100 channels of DirecTV content. The price of the service includes the cost of streaming the service over the network. The agency also believes the service might violate its net neutrality rules with respect to prioritized content. The FCC gave AT&T until Nov. 21 to respond to its queries.
AT&T today said customers can place orders for the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch beginning November 4. The wearable, announced by Samsung earlier this year, supports AT&T's NumberSync service, which allows owners to use their main number to make/receive calls and send/receive messages from the watch. AT&T also says the S3 Frontier is the first wearable to support controls for its DirecTV and Digital Life services. For example, the Gear S3 Frontier can serve as a remote for DirecTV, allowing subscribers to watch and record shows, change channels, and pause/rewind programming. Together with the AT&T Digital Life app, S3 Frontier owners can set alarms, view camera images, and lock doors. The Tizen-based Gear S3 features a 46mm face with 1.3-inch round display, Exynos 7270 processor powers, 768MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage, and a 380mAh battery that Samsung claims can provide three to four days of uptime. The Gear S3 adds full support for Samsung Pay, including NFC and MST for mobile payments. AT&T is offering the watch for $17.50 per month for 20 months when purchased on an AT&T Next plan, or for $49.99 when purchased with a two-year agreement and a Samsung Galaxy smartphone on an AT&T Next plan. AT&T didn't say when the wearable will ship.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless have recently made changes to their respective prepaid services and taken dramatically different approaches in the process. AT&T's GoPhone customers now have more options than ever, while Verizon Wireless Prepaid customers have even fewer options. Specifically, AT&T improved the data add-on plans for GoPhone. For example, the $30 GoPhone plan (which does not include any data) allows customers to buy data access in increments of 250 MB rather than increments of 100 MB. Similarly, the $45 GoPhone plan lets customers buy more access in 1 GB increments rather than 500 MB increments. The prices for the add-ons remain the same. Last, the $60 GoPhone plan now allows people to buy extra data in 1 GB and 3 GB allotments. These changes give GoPhone subscribers more flexibility to manage their plan on a monthly basis. Conversely, Verizon Wireless has removed entirely its entry-level $15 monthly plan for feature phones. Verizon also nixed its $30 prepaid plan for smartphones, which included unlimited talk and text, but no data (WiFi only). The only two Verizon Prepaid options that remain are the $45 and $60 plans. Verizon Wireless CFO Fran Shammo has gone on the record before saying the company does not intend to chase low-profit customers.
H2O Wireless, an MVNO that operates on AT&T's network, rolled out a limited improvement to its service plans. Starting today, all new customers will have access to 1 GB more LTE data across H2O's various plans. The entry level $30 plan now offers 2 GB, while the $40, $50, and $60 plans offer 4 GB, 6 GB, and 7 GB, respectively. The data offer runs through March 31, 2017, after which the extra 1 GB of data will no longer be available and the plans revert to their normal allotments of 1 GB, 3 GB, 5 GB, and 6 GB. H2O Wireless does not charge overages, but will throttle speeds back to 2G once customers use up their data. H2O Wireless offers a 10% discount on monthly plans when customers sign up for auto-pay. H2O sells a variety of older Android handsets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and S5, the Moto X, and a handful of Blu devices. Customers may bring their own unlocked, compatible GSM device if they wish.
BlackBerry today announced the DTEK60, the company's new flagship non-keyboard phone. The DTEK60 is based on the Alcatel Idol 4S and looks similar, but actually has significantly upgraded specs in nearly every respect. (The DTEK50 is essentially a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4.) The DTEK60 sports a fingerprint sensor, Quad-HD 5.5-inch display, 3,000 mAh battery, NFC, and a memory card slot. Unlike the Idol 4S, it also packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 21 megapixel camera, and a USB Type-C connector with Quick Charge 3.0. The DTEK60 maintains the same 7mm thin profile as the Idol 4S, although with a larger camera bump for the upgraded sensor. As with all of BlackBerry's new phones, the DTEK60 runs Android with BlackBerry messaging and security software added. The phone supports LTE networks including those of T-Mobile and AT&T (including band 29.) The DTEK60 is available today directly from BlackBerry for $500 unlocked. Customers who order within the next two weeks will receive a free "soft shell" case and rapid charger.
AT&T has agreed to purchase Time Warner for $85.4 billion in a stock-and-cash deal that will merge AT&T's delivery networks with Time Warner's vast catalog of content. AT&T believes the combined companies will be able to save $1 billion per year once fully merged. The company says the acquisition will diversify its revenue mix thanks to the lower-cost, less-regulated content business from Time Warner. This will balance out the high cap-ex model currently run by AT&T and its wired and wireless networks, and DirecTV satellite service, which are all heavily regulated. The merger has been approved unanimously by both boards, but will require regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FCC. The transaction is expected to close before year-end 2017. The combined entity will compete with Verizon-AOL.