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printed August 3, 2015
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AT&T Debuts Wireless/DirecTV Bundles

Today, 7:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today rolled out combined wireless and television packages that rely on its recent acquisition of DirecTV. The basic package includes four wireless lines with unlimited talk and text with 10 GB of shared data and HD television service with up to four receivers (DirecTV or U-verse) for a combined price of $200 per month. AT&T is offering four different TV packages, including DirecTV Select or U-verse U-Family for $50 per month; DirecTV Xtra or U-verse U-200 for $70; DirecTV Ultimate or U-verse U-300 for $75; and DirecTV Premiere or U-verse U-450 for $125. The $200 combined price includes the entry-level $50 TV plan and AT&T's $160 four-line wireless family plan. Customers who choose one of the other DirecTV packages will still see a $10 monthly discount when wireless and television services are combined on a single bill. Customers may also choose to add AT&T's home broadband internet services on top of the wireless and television packages. AT&T customers who sign up for DirecTV will be given access to DirecTV's mobile video apps before the DirecTV service is even installed. Existing DirecTV customers who switch to AT&T will be given a $300 bill credit. AT&T is now selling DirecTV services at 2,000 stores around the country. The bundled wireless/TV packages will be available August 10.


Cricket Adds Calling and Messaging From Canada and Mexico

Friday, 8:39 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today improved its international offering by adding the ability to make calls and send text messages from Canada and Mexico to the U.S. The change means Cricket customers who travel to Canada and Mexico will be able to stay in touch with family and friends in the U.S. while they are away. Cricket customers are already able to make unlimited calls and send unlimited messages from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico. Cricket said the "roundtrip" feature will be available to its Smart and Pro plans ($50 and $60 per month, respectively) for at no extra cost. The unlimited calling/SMS feature goes into effect for Mexico on August 2 and will go into effect for Canada later in August. Cricket's move follows similar calling plan changes made by parent company AT&T, as well as competitors T-Mobile and MetroPCS.


More Phone Makers, Carriers Support Android for Work

Thursday, 8:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google today said support for its Android for Work program has swelled to 40 companies thanks to the addition of new carriers, phone makers, app developers, and management providers. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint in the U.S., and Rogers, Bell Canada, and Telus Mobility in Canada have thrown their weight behind Android for Work, marking the first time carriers have joined the program. This means people/businesses will be able to ask their carriers to provide the security, device management, and productivity tools included in Android for Work. Samsung is working with Android for Work, too, in conjunction with its own KNOX services. Silent Circle's forthcoming Blackphone 2 is another handset that will support Android for Work. Google says more than 10,000 businesses are testing, deploying, or using Android for Work. The program is meant to help offer secure connections to corporate information, the ability for IT to manage devices remotely, and access to Google's productivity apps.


AT&T to Mandate Working FM Radios In Android Handsets

Jul 29, 2015, 1:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T has requested that all its handset manufacturer partners include functional FM radios in their Android smartphones by 2016. Further, the company is asking its OEM partners to enable any FM radios that may be dormant inside existing handsets. FM radios are often included on modules that bundle other radios, such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular. The move means AT&T's Android customers will be able to listen to local FM radio via their smartphones through apps, such as NextRadio. The National Association of Broadcasters applauded the move, saying, "[This] marks a new beginning in mobile technology with the agreement by a global iconic brand, AT&T, to light up the FM receiver chips in all of its future Android smartphones." NextRadio, which makes it easy to find an listen to local FM radio stations, competes with myriad other third-party music services on smartphones.


AT&T Asks FCC to Change Rules So It Can Offer WiFi Calling

Jul 28, 2015, 1:58 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T has filed a waiver with the FCC asking the agency to alter some of the rules governing how AT&T serves deaf and hard-of-hearing customers so it can deploy WiFi calling sooner. AT&T plans to use WiFi to supplement its cellular network in some areas. According to AT&T, however, the TTY technology used to provide telephony services to the deaf is outdated and unreliable when pushed over WiFi. AT&T has a replacement technology, called Real-Time Text, or RTT, under development. "RTT is designed to provide better functionality than TTY, working over WiFi calling and other new IP-based networks," explained AT&T in a blog post. "Once we implement RTT, it will be backwards compatible with TTY so our customers using RTT can still communicate with TTY users, including 911 centers." AT&T can't use RTT, however, until the FCC gives it permission to make the switch. Once AT&T is allowed to jump to RTT, it will be able to move forward with its WiFi network and WiFi-based calling services. The FCC has not publicly responded to AT&T's request.


AT&T Rails Against FCC's 'Absurd' $100M Fine

Jul 28, 2015, 1:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T is not happy about the FCC's proposed $100 million fine levied against the carrier regarding its throttling practices. The FCC last month alleged that AT&T did not properly inform grandfathered unlimited customers about its network management techniques, which included slowing their internet speeds. In a filing, AT&T called the FCC's actions unprecedented and indefensible. "It is absurd to suggest that AT&T intended to or actually did mislead the relevant Unlimited Data Plan customers. Those customers were repeatedly advised of AT&T's congestion management practices, and, for nearly four years, they chose to keep their service," argued AT&T. "While the [FCC] speaks of AT&T's 'culpability' and 'clear knowledge' that it was misleading customers, the evidence is to the contrary. AT&T made multiple disclosures by email, bill message, text message, and online posting, precisely so that potentially affected customers would be informed about the policy." AT&T has requested the FCC to withdraw the fine. The FCC said it will weigh AT&T's request before making a final judgment in the matter.


AT&T Completes Purchase of DirecTV

Jul 24, 2015, 3:16 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today said it has completed its acquisition of DirecTV. The FCC approved the acquisition earlier today, and AT&T was quick to finalize the paperwork. "Combining DirecTV with AT&T is all about giving customers more choices for great video entertainment integrated with mobile and high-speed Internet service," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO. "This transaction allows us to significantly expand our high-speed internet service to reach millions more households, which is a perfect complement to our coast-to-coast TV and mobile coverage, We're now a fundamentally different company with a diversified set of capabilities and businesses that set us apart from the competition." AT&T said current customers will not need to take any action now that the deal is complete. It will take several months to fully merge the operations of both companies. AT&T said it will roll out new television, internet, and wireless packages in the months ahead.


FCC Officially Approves AT&T/DirecTV Acquisition

Jul 24, 2015, 1:41 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jul 24, 2015, 3:39 PM

The FCC today gave formal approval to AT&T's proposed acquisition of satellite TV provider DirecTV. The FCC believes that as long as AT&T adheres to the conditions of the deal, it will serve the broader public interest. Specifically, AT&T will be required to expand its deployment of fiber-optic broadband service to 12.5 million customer locations, as well as to eligible schools and libraries. Further, AT&T will be prohibited from using discriminatory practices to disadvantage online video distribution services. Last, it will be required to offer broadband services to low-income consumers at discounted rates. The merger improves the reach of AT&T's cable television business. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had floated a draft approval of the acquisition earlier this week. Today's decision, following a vote of the remaining commissioners, makes it final.


AT&T's GoPhone Debuts the Asus ZenFone 2E

Jul 22, 2015, 9:40 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Asus today announced the ZenFone 2E for AT&T's GoPhone prepaid service. This entry-level handset features a 5-inch 720p HD screen, and relies on a dual-core Intel Atom Z2560 processor with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. Asus says the Atom chip works hand-in-hand with the PowerVR SGX544 MP2 GPU for smooth gaming performance. The ZenFone 2E has an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture and a 2-megapixel front camera. The 2,500mAh battery is good for more than 19 hours of talk time. It includes Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, GPS, and support for LTE. The phone runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Asus' Zen UI skin on top. The ZenFone 2E is available today at Target and Walmart stores, and reaches AT&T stores on July 24 and Best Buy on August 2. The phone costs $119.99.


FCC to Approve AT&T-DirecTV Tie-Up with Conditions

Jul 21, 2015, 5:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has recommended to his fellow commissioners that the agency approve AT&T's proposed acquisition of DirecTV. The Chairman said AT&T will have to meet several net neutrality-based conditions in order to garner final approval. For example, AT&T will not be allowed to exclude affiliated video services from data caps on its fixed broadband connections. This is meant to prevent discrimination against competing video providers. Further, AT&T will have to submit all completed interconnection agreements to the FCC, along with regular reports about the performance of its network. The FCC said an independent officer will be appointed to assure AT&T lives by the conditions. "The proposed order outlines a number of conditions that will directly benefit consumers by bringing more competition to the broadband marketplace," said Wheeler. "If the conditions are approved by my colleagues, 12.5 million customer locations will have access to a competitive high-speed fiber connection. This additional build-out is about 10 times the size of AT&T's current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation's residential fiber build by more than 40%, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve." Wheeler did not say how the other commissioners intend to vote on the matter.


AT&T to Raise Activation and Upgrade Fees

Jul 21, 2015, 2:40 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T today confirmed to Phone Scoop that it plans to raise some fees beginning August 1. Moving forward, the activation fee for one- and two-year plans will increase from $40 to $45. AT&T raised the fee from $35 to $40 a year ago. Moreover, AT&T is for the first time adding an activation fee to its AT&T Next plans. The AT&T Next plans have always featured a $0 down initiation cost. Starting August 1, AT&T Next plans will charge a $15 activation fee with new lines. The $15 activation fee applies to new customers who bring their own handset, as well. "We are making a few adjustments to our activation and upgrade fee structures. Any lines already on a Next plan before August 1 are not affected at this time," said an AT&T spokesperson via email. Verizon raised its activation fee from $35 to $40 in January.


Ubik Relying On Kickstarter to Fund the Uno Android Phone

Jul 21, 2015, 8:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Ubik Mobile today announced the Uno, an affordable flagship smartphone that it is making available via Kickstarter. The handset runs a stock version of Android 5.1 Lollipop and features a 5.5-inch 1080p HD screen protected by Gorilla Glass 3. The display has minimal bezels along the sides, giving it an edge-to-edge look. The Uno is powered by a 2.2 GHz MediaTek octa-core processor with 3 GB of RAM. The main camera has a 20-megapixel sensor with autofocus, f/2.2 aperture, and 4K video capture, while the user-facing camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. The Ubik Uno has 16 GB of storage, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, WiFi, and support for memory cards up to 64 GB. The Uno is sold for $345 unlocked and it supports GSM-based LTE networks, such as those operated by AT&T and T-Mobile. The device will initially be sold through a Kickstarter campaign. The first 250 backers will get the Uno for $280, with other tiers priced at $299 and $320. The Kickstarter campaign has 44 days left and Ubik said it expects to ship the phone early in the fourth quarter. Ubik said the phone's software is nearly complete and, with production processes in place, it expects to test its manufacturing facilities soon. If Ubik Mobile doesn't hit its Kickstarter goal of $200,000, it may increase the price of the phone slightly and move forward anyway. The company said it will poll users through its web site as to what features it should include in future devices. They'll be able to choose from a bigger battery, thinner profile, and other potential features.


FCC Likely to Reject Dish's Auction Discounts

Jul 16, 2015, 2:55 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC is prepared to reject Dish Network's $3.3 billion in auction discounts, reports the Wall Street Journal. Dish used three smaller companies to place bids on its behalf. The smaller companies, known as designated entities, qualified as small businesses and received a significant discount on their $13.1 billion auction tally. Dish competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which placed first and third in the auction, respectively, cried foul over Dish's bidding techniques. Dish maintains that it adhered to the auction rules. Dish owns lots of spectrum and won big in the AWS-3 auction, but has yet to deploy any sort of wireless network. Dish did not comment on the Journal's story, which was not confirmed by the FCC. Earlier today, the FCC voted in new rules that prevent such actions in the future.


Apple, Samsung to Adopt GSMA-Backed Electronic SIMs

Jul 16, 2015, 10:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The GSMA said it is in advanced talks with Apple and Samsung to adopt the nearly-finalized electronic SIM card standard moving forward. The GSMA has been working with the industry on electronic SIMs for some time and is close to announcing a final standard. "We have got everyone back on one point, with Apple and Samsung agreeing to be part of that specification," said GSMA CEO Anne Bouverot. "We have been working with them and others to create an industry solution for machines and will agree on a solution for consumer electronics." Electronic SIMs would replace the plastic SIM cards used in today's cellphones. Electronic SIMs will make it far easier for consumers to change carriers and service plans without futzing with the physical SIMs. AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone have already voiced support for the forthcoming standard. "With the majority of operators on board, the plan is to finalize the technical architecture that will be used in the development of an end-to-end remote SIM solution for consumer devices, with delivery anticipated by 2016," said the GSMA. Apple developed is own universal SIM card last year, but it was not widely adopted. The new electronic SIM will not appear in the new iPhones expected in September, according to the Financial Times. Apple and Samsung did not comment on the GSMA's statements.


US Cellular Offers to Beat AT&T and Verizon Plans

Jul 16, 2015, 10:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

U.S. Cellular is targeting AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers by promising to offer a lower monthly bill. It is inviting AT&T and Verizon subscribers to bring their bills into U.S. Cellular retail stores for a comparison. If U.S. Cellular can't beat the prices charged by AT&T and Verizon with a comparable plan of its own, it will offer a $50 promotional gift card to the prospective customer. Consumers who port their AT&T/Verizon number to U.S. Cellular will receive a guarantee of lower-cost service as long as they choose a Shared Connect plan. The price guarantee applies only to monthly service and not the device. U.S. Cellular also said it will pay off customers' ETFs and remaining device payments — no matter the total — if they port their number to a Shared Connect plan with installment pricing and Device Protection+. U.S. Cellular didn't say how long it is offering the promotion.


HTC Debuts New Desire 626 and 526/520 Range

Jul 15, 2015, 2:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

HTC today revealed a new family of Desire handsets. The 626 series (pictured) and 526/520 series share many features, though the former is a bit more mid-range and the latter is decidedly entry-level. Traits common to the 626, 626S, 526, and 520 include Qualcomm's 1.1 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 210 processor; 2,000mAh batteries; single-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, and GPS/GLONASS; support for 2 TB memory cards; and Android 5.1 Lollipop with HTC Sense.

  • 626/626S: In keeping with prior Desire designs, the 626/626S are formed of polycarbonate and have variable color combinations. These larger Desire handsets have 5-inch 720p HD screens and 8-megapixel main cameras with 720p video capture. The 626 has 16 GB of storage, 1.5GB of RAM, and a 5-megapixel user-facing camera. The 626S has 8 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, and a 2-megapixel user-facing camera.
  • 526/520:The 526 and 520 share most design features, but differ in some key specs. They have a simple appearance and cheaper materials. The 526, intended for Verizon, has a 4.7-inch qHD screen, 8-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front camera, 8 GB of storage, and 1.5 GB of RAM. The 520, intended for Cricket Wireless, has a 4.5-inch FWVGA screen, 8-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front camera, 8 GB of storage, and 1 GB of RAM.
HTC said these phones will become broadly available from many U.S. carriers, including T-Mobile and MetroPCS, AT&T GoPhone and Cricket Wireless, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, Boost Mobile, and Virgin Mobile. Pricing, colors, and availability will vary by carrier.

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AT&T's HTC One M9 Slated to Get Lollipop 5.1 July 15

Jul 14, 2015, 12:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T will begin updating the HTC One M9 to Android 5.1 Lollipop on July 15, according to HTC rep Mo Versi. Notably, the system update includes improvements for the camera. The update will be available over-the-air.


ROK Mobile Expands Coverage and Retail Presence

Jul 8, 2015, 7:45 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

ROK Mobile, a music-focused MVNO, today said it has significantly expanded coverage by partnering with "the nation's largest 4G LTE network." ROK Mobile didn't name its new partner, but said customers can now enjoy cellular network access in more places. The carrier has already partnered with Sprint and T-Mobile, so the new partner is either AT&T or Verizon Wireless. ROK also announced plans to expand its retail availability across the country this month. ROK Mobile services will be available at "independently owned and operated" mobile phone stores nationwide starting in a few weeks. ROK didn't name its retail partners, but said it plans to be in 10,000 locations by the end of the year. ROK Mobile bundles wireless and music streaming services together for $49.99 per month. For that, users get 5GB of LTE 4G, unlimited calling and messaging, and unlimited access to ROK's 20 million tracks. Consumers interested in ROK Mobile need to supply their own Sprint- or T-Mobile-compatible handset. The service works on Android and iOS devices through ROK's mobile app.


Sony Z3+ Available to US Buyers Via Amazon

Jul 6, 2015, 7:16 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony has made the Xperia Z3+ available through Amazon's U.S. web site. The phone is being sold unlocked and is compatible with GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless plans to sell a variant of the phone, called the Z3v, later this summer. It has a 5.2-inch full HD screen, 20.7-megapixel main camera, wide-angle 5-megapixel front camera, and a quad-core Snapdragon 810 processor with 3 GB of RAM. Amazon is selling it for about $640.


CTIA Says Smartphones Better Protected Against Theft

Jul 1, 2015, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Beginning today, most smartphones sold in the U.S. will include anti-theft security tools. July 1 marks the day by which phone makers and network operators agreed to implement free theft deterrents on smartphones. According to the CTIA, most of the industry has responded by placing remote lock/wipe capabilities on consumer devices. The addition of an activation lock on the Apple iPhone, for example, has dramatically reduced iPhone thefts in major cities. The activation lock prevents a stolen device from being activated by another person, thus making it useless to thieves. Remote wipe features allow people to erase the personal data from their handset if lost/stolen to protect their identity. The major participants in today's action include Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and ZTE. "Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft-deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features to protect their mobile devices and personal information." The industry was coerced into acting "voluntarily" when the FCC threatened to make such protective measures mandatory.


Sprint Allowed to Settle Cramming Charges for $50M

Jul 1, 2015, 7:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint has settled accusations with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it over-billed customers for unwanted services. In May, the FCC fined Sprint $68 million for adding third-party services to customer bills without customer permission — a practice known as cramming. A U.S. judge is allowing Sprint to escape with a $50 million settlement, rather than the full amount. The FCC fined Verizon for $90 million in May also, and this week's settlement marks the end of the ordeal for both companies. Last year, the FCC tagged AT&T for $105 million and T-Mobile for $90 million to settle cramming complaints.


Sprint Forced to Backtrack On Throttling After Outcry

Jul 1, 2015, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint was forced to remove a speed limit on its new All-In plans after customers were quick to complain. On Tuesday, Sprint revealed a service plan called All-In that offers monthly service and phone payments bundled together for $80 per month. In the fine print, Sprint disclosed a policy to throttle mobile video speeds to 600kbps at all times for network management purposes. That didn't sit well with customers, who took to social media to voice their concerns. Sprint later admitted that it has slowed mobile video speeds for a period of two years. The practice runs afoul of the FCC's new net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers — wireless or wired — from throttling speeds of select apps or services. After a drubbing from customers, Sprint changed its policy. "At Sprint, we strive to provide customers a great experience when using our network," said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. "We heard you loud and clear, and we are removing the 600kbps limitation on streaming video." That doesn't mean Sprint won't protect its network from heavy users. "During certain times, like other wireless carriers, we might have to manage the network in order to reduce congestion and provide a better customer experience for the majority of our customers," said Claure. AT&T has been sued by the FTC and the FCC over its network throttling practices.


ZTE's Axon Phone Swings By the FCC for Approval

Jun 30, 2015, 10:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Documents spotted on the FCC site reveal more information about ZTE's forthcoming Axon phone. The company has been teasing the device on the web for several weeks and plans to reveal it in full at a July 14 event in New York City. The FCC details the Axon Phone's impressive support for wireless networks, especially AT&T and T-Mobile. For example, it supports LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, and 30 (AT&T's upcoming WCS 2.3GHz coverage). It also includes WCDMA bands 2, 4, and 5, and quad-band GSM. The FCC also reveals the Axon includes excellent support for hearing aids, and NFC. ZTE has already confirmed that the Axon Phone will have a dual-lens camera, 4K video capture, high-fidelity sound playback and audio recording, a fast processor, 4 GB of memory, and a large battery. The phone will be sold in blue, gold, or silver.


European Union to Ban Roaming Charges

Jun 30, 2015, 7:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The European Commission today agreed to make cellphone roaming charges illegal beginning in 2017. The change in law means European wireless network operators will not be allowed to charge roaming fees for customers who travel across the 28-country continent. Additionally, the European Commission also adopted some net neutrality regulations to prevent service providers from discriminating between different types of internet traffic. European carriers, such as T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom, warn the rules will reduce investment across the region, but regulators see the new laws as a win for consumers, who are often charged high fees when they travel. The new rules are specific to Europeans who go to other European countries. U.S. residents traveling abroad can still expect AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless to charge roaming fees for accessing wireless networks in Europe and elsewhere.


Cricket Scores Distribution Deal with Meijer Stores

Jun 26, 2015, 10:56 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Cricket Wireless today said its goods and services will be available at 213 Meijer stores across the midwest beginning June 27. Consumers in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky will be able buy prepackaged phone kits from phone makers such as HTC, Samsung, and ZTE. The stores will also sell Cricket's universal SIM card kits for those who already have a compatible device. Cricket Wireless is owned and operated by AT&T.


AT&T's GoPhone Now Selling the ZTE Maven

Jun 26, 2015, 8:34 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

AT&T's prepaid unit today added the ZTE Maven to its roster of inexpensive handsets. The Maven is a rebadged Overture 2, which is sold by AT&T's Cricket Wireless business. The Maven is an entry-level Android smartphone that it is selling for $59.99. The Maven features a 4.5-inch FWVGA display, 5-megapixel main camera, VGA user-facing camera, 8 GB of storage, and support for memory cards up to 32 GB. This handset also has a quad-core 1.2 GHz processor and a 2,100mAh battery. The Maven from ZTE runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and is compatible with AT&T's LTE 4G network.


FCC Keeps Auction Reserve at 30 MHz

Jun 25, 2015, 1:44 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The FCC today finalized its proposed rules for next year's 600 MHz spectrum auction and kept the reserve for smaller carriers at 30 MHz. T-Mobile and others petitioned the FCC to raise the reserve to 40 MHz, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes the 30 MHz cap offers plenty of opportunity for those who may bid. "The Incentive Auction offers one of the last opportunities for competitors to acquire significant quantities of low-band spectrum," said Wheeler. "With more than 70% of low-band spectrum in the hands of just two providers, one of the Commission's priorities is to ensure that multiple providers have a meaningful opportunity to acquire these valuable airwaves, which is critical to competition among wireless carriers. This is why the Commission voted to set aside this reserve a year ago. The draft Order concludes that the current reserve size of 30 MHz balances the desire to make low-band spectrum available to parties with limited holdings while facilitating competitive bidding for all auction participants." AT&T and Verizon Wireless will not be allowed to bid on 30 MHz of the airwaves in each market, which will be set aside for companies with less scale and fewer resources. The FCC also proposed changes to how it handles bids from designated entities and will close a loophole exploited by Dish Networks earlier this year to score a discount on spectrum. Dish relied on small companies to bid in its stead during the AWS-3 auction. Because the entities were under a certain size, they earned a 25% discount on the licenses that amounted to $3 billion. Dish's competitors complained and the FCC said it will put new rules in place for the 600 MHz auction to prevent such misuse. "We must also make sure that small businesses receiving credits are exercising independent decision-making authority. We will not allow small businesses to serve as a stalking horse for another party," said Wheeler. The FCC will vote on the rules during its next open meeting, scheduled for July.


Justice Dept. Suggests FCC Limit AT&T, Verizon Auction Participation

Jun 25, 2015, 10:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 25, 2015, 10:06 AM

Officials at the Justice Department are concerned AT&T and Verizon will dominate the upcoming 600MHz auction if more protections aren't put in place by the FCC. The agency filed a letter with the FCC this week suggesting the FCC give more weight to the concerns of companies such as Sprint and T-Mobile, which seek to limit AT&T and Verizon's participation. "The Department recognizes that the Commission must balance competing policy priorities in setting the appropriate reserve levels," said the officials. "In balancing these priorities, the Department urges the Commission to give considerable weight in determining the amount of spectrum included in the reserve to protecting and promoting competition, and the well-established competition principle that those with market power may be willing to pay the most to reinforce a leading position." Sprint, T-Mobile and others have asked the FCC to set aside 40MHz of spectrum that cannot be bid upon by AT&T and Verizon. So far the FCC has agreed to a 30MHz reserve, though the rules aren't yet final. T-Mobile, in particular, has fired off plenty of rhetoric in opposition of the two larger carriers' participation in the auction. AT&T and Verizon have responded in kind. The Justice Department didn't explicitly state that the FCC should bump the reserve to 40MHz, but it strongly implied that might be the best course for the FCC to take. The FCC hopes to lock down the rules soon, but the auction won't take place until mid 2016.


T-Mobile Trying to Block AT&T's 700 MHz Purchase

Jun 24, 2015, 11:36 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile has filed a petition with the FCC in an attempt to prevent AT&T from purchasing select 700 MHz spectrum licenses. AT&T filed a request to transfer the licenses, which cover portions of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, last month. The Lower 700 MHz C Block licenses are owned by East Kentucky Network and cover 20 counties in three Cellular Market Areas. If approved, AT&T stands to hold 113 to 145 MHz of spectrum in total, and 43 to 55 MHz of below-1-GHz spectrum in these three CMAs. T-Mobile wants the FCC to deny AT&T's request on the grounds that it believes AT&T already owns too much low-band spectrum. "The license assignments sought would result in AT&T holding more than one-third of the spectrum below 1 GHz in the Huntington-Ashland and Lexington-Fayette CMAs. Although six entities currently hold low-band spectrum in these Markets, this transaction, if approved, will eliminate one of them entirely," argued T-Mobile. The Uncarrier has about 42,000 customers and ranks last in the areas involved. AT&T responded by saying, "AT&T will not exceed the Commission's spectrum aggregation screen and — because the spectrum at issue currently sits completely fallow and unused — the deal will not reduce any actual competition." AT&T also accused T-Mobile of under-investing in rural markets, including the ones at stake. "T-Mobile has only limited plans to invest in the rural markets covered by these licenses, particularly those in West Virginia. T-Mobile has 20-30 MHz of AWS spectrum in all of these markets that it could use to serve these rural communities if it chose. Finally, if T-Mobile wants low band spectrum for these markets, it could buy the 700 MHz A block spectrum and deploy it. Yet, T-Mobile chooses to do none of these." The FCC hasn't said if it will approve the deal or not, but because the spectrum in question falls below 1 GHz it will apply look more closely at the proposed deal.


FCC Fines AT&T $100 Million Over Throttling Practices

Jun 17, 2015, 11:20 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 17, 2015, 12:52 PM

The FCC today took action against AT&T for misleading consumers about its unlimited mobile data plans and throttling policies. The agency says AT&T willfully and repeatedly violated its Open Internet Transparency Rule, which was put in place in 2010. Under the auspices of that rule, AT&T falsely labeled plans "unlimited" even though they had hidden data caps and then throttled customers who exceeded those caps. The FCC believes AT&T's Maximum Bit Rate policy, enacted in 2011, severely reduced the maximum data speeds of unlimited data plans without notifying its customers that they'd be hit with slower speeds. The FCC said it has received thousands of complaints from consumers since 2011, who claimed to feel misled by AT&T's policies. Consumers also complained about being locked into multi-year contracts for unlimited data plans that weren't actually unlimited. "Consumers deserve to get what they pay for," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "Broadband providers must be upfront and transparent about the services they provide. The FCC will not stand idly by while consumers are deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure." The FCC is seeking $100 million from AT&T. "We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions," said AT&T. "The FCC has specifically identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers, and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it. We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC’s disclosure requirements."


Panasonic Selling Its $1000 Lumix Phone Directly to Consumers

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

Panasonic recently made the Lumix Communication Camera CM1 available for purchase from its web site. The CM1 was first shown off at CES in January. The device is more camera than phone. It has a Leica lens and a 1-inch imaging sensor that captures 20 megapixels. The camera can shoot 15 frames per second and capture 4K video. The handset runs Android 4.4 KitKat and has a 4.7-inch full HD screen. It is powered by a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor and includes Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi, and LTE for connectivity. The CM1 is being sold as an unlocked GSM handset and is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. The Lumix CM1 costs $999.99.


Lumia 640 XL Reaches AT&T June 26

Jun 17, 2015, 8:57 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 17, 2015, 8:58 AM

AT&T today said it will begin selling the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL on June 26. The phone runs Windows Phone 8.1 with the Denim update and includes Cortana. It has a 5.7-inch HD screen, 13-megapixel camera, 3,000mAh battery, and a Snapdragon 400 processor. The 640 XL costs $8.34 per month with 30 device payments on Next 24, $10.42 per month at 24 payments on Next 18, or $12.50 per month at 20 payments on Next 12.


Deutsche Telekom Shopping T-Mobile to Comcast

Jun 17, 2015, 7:12 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Deutsche Telekom is discussing with Comcast the possibility of the cable firm buying T-Mobile US. Deutsche Telekom is talking to several other companies, including Dish Networks, but Comcast is seen as the primary contender thanks to its stronger finances. Deutsche Telekom hoped to sell T-Mobile to AT&T several years ago and then to Sprint last year. The company has gone on the record saying it will explore every possibility with respect to its U.S. wireless company. Neither Deutsche Telekom nor Comcast commented on Reuters' report, which cited unnamed sources.


Verizon Not Interested In Buying Dish

Jun 16, 2015, 10:54 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon does not plan to purchase Dish Networks, according to CFO Fran Shammo. When asked by the Wall Street Journal, Shammo responded, "My answer is going to be one word: No." AT&T is near to closing its acquisition of Dish competitor DirecTV. A Verizon-Dish merger would be a roughly equivalent transaction. Dish, however, is more likely interested in a tie-up with T-Mobile and it has already approached banks about funding a deal with he Uncarrier.


Verizon: T-Mobile's Legere 'Is Simply Wrong'

Jun 12, 2015, 8:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless fired back at T-Mobile CEO John Legere after he entreated Americans to ask the FCC for help. T-Mobile wants 40MHz of spectrum in the upcoming 600MHz spectrum auction to be set aside for smaller carriers. The FCC has agreed to 30MHz. Legere insists 40MHz is the minimum needed to keep the U.S. wireless industry competitive, and he claims AT&T and Verizon are trying to shut it out. Verizon begs to differ. "T-Mobile is more than welcome to participate in any auction the FCC holds. No company can prevent another from participating. The last time large swaths of low-band spectrum came to auction in 2007, for example, T-Mobile could have participated. It chose not to," said Verizon in a post to its public policy blog. Moreover, Verizon points out that it is in fact T-Mobile that has pushed Verizon out of the 600MHz auction and not the other way around. "Some companies can attempt to bake rules into an auction to prevent other companies from participating fairly. Mr. Legere and T-Mobile are" doing exactly that. "For example, T-Mobile — and Sprint and Dish — lobbied for and received from the FCC a set aside of spectrum in the upcoming auction that only they are allowed to bid on. Verizon can't. AT&T can't." Verizon further argues that qualifying Sprint and T-Mobile as "small carriers" is disingenuous at best, given the size and valuation of their parent organizations (SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom, respectively). Verizon also stuck a barb in the side of Dish Networks. "The FCC doesn't need to give additional handouts to global companies with the financial wherewithal to compete. Nor should it be handing out discounted spectrum to companies [Dish] with a track record of not investing in networks or serving consumers. The record of the U.S. wireless marketplace is clear: if one invests in networks, innovates and meets consumer needs, success can follow, with no need for government assistance." The FCC hasn't made a final decision on the 40MHz request, but is leaning on leaving the concession at 30MHz.


T-Mobile CEO Takes FCC Auction Fight to the Public

Jun 11, 2015, 11:24 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile CEO John Legere wants your help. In a recent blog post, Legere appealed to John Q. Public to aid in T-Mobile's pursuit of 600MHz spectrum. The FCC is set to approve final rules for the auction, which T-Mobile believes don't set aside enough of the valuable low-band spectrum for smaller carriers. T-Mobile has crusaded since last year in an effort to raise the reserved spectrum from 30MHz to 40MHz, which it says is needed to keep the American wireless market competitive. As it stands, AT&T and Verizon own the bulk of the low-band spectrum available with their 700MHz holdings. T-Mobile desperately wants the 600MHz spectrum. Legere is asking consumers to reach directly out to the FCC ahead of the vote in a last-ditch attempt to sway the FCC's decision. "If smaller competitors can't get more spectrum in this auction," said Legere, "it could put an end to all that pro-consumer competitive pressure. Imagine what that would look like! Every consumer in America loses. You'll face higher bills, stifled innovation, crappy customer service — all the usual AT&T and Verizon treatment! It would be a nightmare for American wireless consumers!" Legere is known for his unfiltered approach in leading the Uncarrier. T-Mobile isn't alone. Sprint and other carriers hope to see more of the low-band spectrum kept from AT&T and Verizon. The 600MHz auction won't take place until mid 2016.


AT&T Intros the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active

Jun 8, 2015, 9:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   updated Jun 8, 2015, 9:56 AM

AT&T today announced the Samsung Galaxy S6 Active, a semi-rugged version of Samsung's flagship smartphone. It carries over most features of the standard model, such as the 5.1-inch quad HD display, 16-megapixel camera, and Exynos processor. The phone has an IP68 rating for protection against water and dust. The battery had been enlarged to 3,500mAh, and the S6 Active has activity shortcuts, such as to the flashlight. The phone will be available June 12 for $199.99 with a two-contract or through AT&T next plans. The Next 24 plan costs $23.17 for 30 payments; the Next 18 plan costs $28.96 for 24 payments; and the Next 12 plan costs $34.75 for 20 payments.


T-Mobile and Dish Discussing Possible Merger

Jun 4, 2015, 6:58 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile and Dish Networks are negotiating a potential merger between the two companies, reports the Wall Street Journal. The companies have agreed to some of the broad strokes of combining, but not the details. For example, the Journal's sources say Dish CEO Charlie Ergen would become the combined company's Chairman, while T-Mobile CEO John Legere would serve as CEO of the joined businesses. The financial aspects of the transaction have yet to be worked out. T-Mobile's valuation stands at about $31 billion and Dish's is about $33 billion. The Journal expects a deal, should one be agreed upon, would be very large. T-Mobile is the country's fourth-largest network operator, while Dish is the country's second-largest satellite TV provider. Dish has acquired vast sums of spectrum over the years, including some in the recent AWS-3 auction, but has yet to put any of it to use. T-Mobile could use those airwaves to expand its coverage and capacity. Dish's Ergen has held merger talks with a handful of companies over the years, but none of the discussions resulted in an acquisition. The possible deal with T-Mobile mirrors that of AT&T's take-over of DirecTV, which is close to being finalized. Neither T-Mobile nor Dish commented on the Journal's story.


T-Mobile Implores FCC to Set Aside More Low-Band Spectrum

Jun 3, 2015, 12:38 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray filed a letter with the FCC asking it to raise the amount of spectrum set aside for competitive carriers in the forthcoming 600MHz reverse auction. The FCC has already agreed to reserve 30MHz of spectrum for carriers other than AT&T and Verizon. T-Mobile wants the reserve set at 40MHz. The Uncarrier has already made this abundantly clear. Ray's latest comments follow a report suggesting the FCC is leaning toward leaving the reserve set at 30MHz, which T-Mobile argues would favor AT&T and Verizon. "Mobile broadband providers need largely unimpaired, low-band spectrum to compete effectively in the wireless marketplace, but the two dominant providers currently hold more than 73% of all low-band spectrum available for commercial use across the entire industry today," said Ray. "Increasing the reserve to at least 40MHz of largely unimpaired spectrum will give competitive carriers an opportunity to secure the low-band spectrum necessary to provide more extensive and more reliable service in urban and suburban areas, and deploy new competitive services in less populated areas of the country." AT&T and Verizon have vast amounts of 700MHz spectrum, which each has used for its LTE 4G network. T-Mobile has some 700MHz, but not nearly as much as its competitors. The 600MHz auction is seen as the last opportunity for T-Mobile, Sprint, and others to win low-band spectrum, which is highly valued for its propagation characteristics.


AT&T CEO Believes Phone Subsidies Will Eventually Vanish

Jun 3, 2015, 7:06 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Phone subsidies and two-year contracts are on their way out the door, according to Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's CEO of mobile and business solutions. "I think it is one of those options that is going to go away slowly," said de la Vega to Recode, "not because we insist on it but because customers will choose it less often." AT&T has made changes recently to limit the availability of subsidies and contracts. AT&T partners Best Buy and Apple, for example, no longer offer customers AT&T contracts. Instead, they push AT&T Next plans, which break down the payment for phones over time. AT&T says two-thirds of new smartphone sales during the most recent quarter were via its AT&T Next plans, which clearly indicates consumers' preference when it comes to purchasing new hardware. T-Mobile was the first major carrier to break from the subsidy model with its Simple Choice plans, and now most carriers offer lower-cost service plans that are paired with monthly device payments.


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