The FCC this week made it easier for carriers to add LTE to their 800 MHz spectrum holdings. Rules concerning the 800 MHz band (CDMA Band Class 0, LTE Band 5) have been in place since 1981 and limit how much power carriers can use to transmit wireless signals across those airwaves. The effect has stymied wide-scale LTE deployments in the 800 MHz band. By relaxing the outdated regulations, the FCC is essentially making it possible for companies that have 800 MHz spectrum to repurpose it for LTE. Specifically, the Commission plans to allow 800 MHz licensees to transmit the same amount of power across the spectrum band, putting it in line with how other, similar spectrum bands are treated. The FCC will demand that carriers take care to prevent interference with public safety's use of 800 MHz spectrum, but the Commission will also eliminate what it calls unnecessary rules and burdens related to application filings and other red tape. Verizon Wireless, which will benefit most from the change, lauded the decision. "The FCC's unanimous adoption today of Cellular Service Reform rules is a big win for wireless consumers," said the company. "Today's order enables Verizon to accelerate the conversion of 850 MHz spectrum from 3G and put it to use for 4G LTE. The upside for consumers is big: Verizon Wireless will be able to provide 4G LTE coverage on cellular spectrum to 20%-30% more of the US geography and also increase peak 4G LTE speeds by as much as 40%." The change also benefits AT&T, though to a lesser degree.
AT&T today sweetened the deal for some subscribers to its DirecTV Now streaming television service. New customers who subscribe to either the Go Big or Gotta Have It packages will be given a free year of HBO. The Go Big plan costs $60 per month and includes more than 100 channels, while the Gotta Have It plan costs $70 per month and includes more than 120 channels. Normally, HBO costs an extra $5 per month. Further, AT&T is offering new customers a free Apple TV when they pre-pay for three months of any DirecTV Now package. Both the free HBO and free Apple TV offers end March 30.
AT&T today announced its plans to sell the LG G6 and the company is going a step further than competitor T-Mobile. For a limited time, people who purchase an LG G6 can score a second LG G6 when adding a new line. AT&T is asking for $24 per month for 30 months to cover the cost of the phone, or about $720 in total. The offer requires both lines use an AT&T Next installment plan, and the cost of the second device will be covered on a month-to-month basis. In addition to the two-for-one offer, customers who buy the LG G6 before April 30 will be given a free Google Home by LG. Last, AT&T customers who buy an LG G6 can get the LG Watch Sport for $50 with a two-year service agreement on the wearable. AT&T will start taking preorders for the LG G6 on March 17, with orders shipping on April 7.
AT&T today made one of its postpaid plans available via its GoPhone prepaid brand. The new AT&T GoPhone Unlimited service plan costs $60 per month and offers unlimited everything at reduced speeds. The plan includes maximum download data rates of just 3Mbps, with video capped at 480p standard resolution and limited to streams of 1.5Mbps. This is similar to the Unlimited Choice plan AT&T rolled out to its postpaid customers last month. AT&T said GoPhone Unlimited customers who exceed 22 GB of data in a given billing period may see their data speeds reduced when the network is congested. Alternately, GoPhone customers can select a new offer that includes unlimited talk and text with 6 GB of high-speed data for $40 per month. Customers who exceed the 6 GB limit in a 30-day period will have their speeds reduced to 128kbps for the remainder of the billing cycle. Both plans include free roaming in Canada and Mexico. AutoPay and paperless billing are required to get these $60 and $40 plan prices. The new GoPhone plans are available starting today. Last, GoPhone is offering $20 off select smartphones through April 20.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency will investigate a recent issue on AT&T's mobile network that prevented some 911 calls from going through. The issue occurred Wednesday evening over a period of several hours. "Every call to 911 must go through," said Pai. "So when I first learned of yesterday's outage, I immediately directed FCC staff to contact AT&T about it and the company's efforts to restore access to emergency services to the American public. I have directed Commission staff to track down the root cause of this outage." AT&T has not yet said what happened, though it apologized to those who were impacted by the outage.
AT&T recently announced the LG Phoenix 3, a low-cost Android handset intended for its GoPhone prepaid service. The device includes a 5-inch FWVGA display, and it is powered by a quad-core processor with 16 GB of storage. Both the front and rear cameras have 5-megapixel sensors, and the user-facing cam includes a selfie light. Other features include a slim design, 2,500mAh battery, and Android 6 Marshmallow. The LG Phoenix 3 goes on sale online and in stores March 10 for $80.
AT&T is rewarding what it calls "loyal" customers of its DirecTV Now service with free HBO. People who subscribe to the Go Big and Gotta Have It packages will receive HBO for free for 12 months. People who subscribe to the less expensive Live a Little and Just Right packages will receive a $5 discount on HBO for up to six months. Those who've already added HBO to their DirecTV Now service will see their bills adjusted accordingly. AT&T says subscribers will be able to use their DirecTV Now login credentials to access HBOGo, as well.The loyalty reward is available to any DirecTV Now customer with an account active as of March 6. AT&T launched DirecTV Now in November 2016. The service offers four packages that range from $35 to $70 per month with up to 120 channels. It is available to Android and iOS devices, as well as the web.
President Donald Trump today renominated Ajit Pai to the Federal Communications Commission. Pai has been running the agency since the January departure of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, even though Pai's official tenure at the FCC ended in the middle of 2016. Today's renomination cements Pai's position at the helm of the FCC through the end of Trump's term as president. "I am deeply honored to have been nominated by President Trump to serve a second term on the Federal Communications Commission. If I am fortunate to be confirmed by the Senate, I will continue to work with my colleagues to connect all Americans with digital opportunity, foster innovation, protect consumers, promote public safety, and make the FCC more open and transparent to the American people," said Pai in a statement. Since taking over, Pai has worked quickly to dismantle many of the regulations put in place by Wheeler. Notably, he reduced some transparency rules for small broadband providers, closed investigations into carriers' prioritization schemes, and set his sights on net neutrality. Pai is a Republican along with Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is a Democrat. The agency is short two Commissioners and Pai has yet to nominate anyone to fill the vacancies. Telecom industry companies such as AT&T were quick to congratulate Pai, who they see as an ally on the Commission.
AT&T today announced the AT&T Unlimited Choice service plan, which offers unlimited everything at reduced speeds. For example, Unlimited Choice includes maximum download speeds of just 3Mbps, with video capped at 480p standard resolution and limited to streams of 1.5Mbps. To put these speeds in perspective, AT&T's LTE network often supports speeds in excess of 50Mbps. Further, AT&T-owned Cricket Wireless offers speeds of up to 8Mbps. The 3Mbps limit on this new plan will allow for web browsing and social networking, but will likely impact app downloads and other data-intensive actions. The Unlimited Choice plan starts at $60 for a single line or $155 for four lines. AutoPay and paperless billing are required to get these prices. The AT&T Unlimited Choice plan will be available starting March 2.
AT&T today responded to consumer feedback concerning its new unlimited plan by overhauling the offer. The new AT&T Unlimited Plus plan for a single line provides unlimited talk, text, and data, and 10 GB of tethering for $90 per month. When first announced on Feb. 16, the plan cost $100 and did not include tethering at all. AT&T says four lines on the new Unlimited Plus plan will cost $185 per month. AT&T is tossing a $25 video credit into the mix that applies to both its wireless customers and those customers who subscribe to both AT&T for wireless service and DirecTV for television service. AT&T wireless-only customers can add DirecTV Now (the mobile TV offering) for just $10 per month after the $25 bill credit. That makes the Unlimited Plan with DirecTV Now $100 in total single line and $195 for four lines). AT&T and DirecTV customers will see their DirecTV bill dropped from $50 to $25 with the credit, making the Unlimited Plan with DirecTV $115. AT&T says the new plans are open to all customers, including those who recently jumped to the unlimited option. Customers who exceed 10 GB of tethering will see tethering speeds capped at 128Kbps for the remainder of the billing period. Tablets cost $20 extra to add to the Unlimited Plan. AutopPay and paperless billing is required. The new Unlimited Plan will be available starting March 2.
Google today said more wireless network operators and handset manufacturers will use Android Messages, its RCS-based messaging service, as the default SMS/MMS tool on their phones. (Android Messages was previously known as Google Messenger.) Some of the features of RCS, which is a global standard, include group chat, high-resolution photo sharing, advanced calling features, and read receipts. It has been improved lately with more interactive tools, such as the ability to check into flights. Google says a number of brands plan to use RCS in order to enhance their own services and help spur adoption. Some of the brands include Walgreens, Baskin-Robbins, FICO, Gamestop, Sonic, Subway, and Time. Moving forward, the Android Messages app with RCS will be preloaded by LG, Motorola, Sony, HTC, ZTE, Micromax, HMD Global, Archos, BQ, Cherry Mobile, Condor, Fly, General Mobile, Lanix, LeEco, Lava, Kyocera, MyPhone, QMobile, Symphony, and Wiko, along with Google's own Pixel and Android One devices. Further, Google was already working with carriers Sprint, Rogers, and Telenor, and today added Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, and Globe. Notably absent fro the list of phone makers is Samsung, while AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have also yet to commit. Phones with Android Messages on board will still be able to interact with Samsung handsets and those running on non-Sprint networks of course, but will lose the advanced features available via RCS. Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon haven't said if or when they might adopt Google's Android Messages, though T-Mobile and Verizon already use their own RCS-like messaging platforms.
Verizon Wireless today said it plans to trial 5G technology in 11 U.S. markets later this year. This "pre-commercial service" will be offered to a very limited number of customers and not necessarily made available to consumers. The tests will involve the 5GTF spec Verizon developed past year. The trial markets include Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bernardsville, Brockton, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Miami, Sacramento, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Verizon competitors AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are each testing their own variants of potential 5G technologies. The actual 5G spec has yet to be defined by the International Telecommunications Union, but carriers and telecom equipment makers around the world are hoping their technologies will be included in the final standard.
Intel today announced the XMM 7560 LTE modem, a fifth-generation wireless radio that can produce broadband-like speeds in a variety of mobile devices. The XMM 7560 is manufactured using Intel's 14nm process and supports LTE Advanced Category 16 for downloads up to 1 Gbps and Category 13 for uploads up to 225 Mbps. The Intel XMM 7560 modem supports 5x carrier aggregation for up to 100 MHz combined bandwidth on the downlink, and 3xCA for up to 60 MHz on the uplink. It also supports 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM. Intel says the XMM 7560 works well with its SMARTi 7 RF transceiver, which supports up to 35 LTE bands and 230 carrier aggregation combinations for worldwide compatibility. The XMM 7560 also packs envelope tracking and other power optimization features to improve battery life in smartphones, tablets, and PCs. The Intel XMM 7560 will sample during the first half of the year and Intel expects to see it in consumer devices shortly thereafter. Separately, Intel this week announced new efforts in its push toward 5G. It is working with Nokia, AT&T, Telefonica, 5TONIC, Ericsson, and others to define, prototype, and deliver early 5G products.
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.