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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
The Alliance for Wireless Power and the Power Matters Alliance today agreed to merge operations. In February 2014, these same two organizations agreed to work together to create a single wireless charging standard. That means a core charging standard supporting a wide range of consumer, medical, military, and industrial applications has already been established, called Rezence. The organizations say today's news has been in the works for a while, and the integration process is underway and will follow with a coordinated product roadmap. A4WP president Kamil Grajski and PMA president Ron Resnick will remain in executive positions as chairman and president, respectively. The new organization claims to have more than 170 member companies, such as AT&T, Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, Powermat, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, and Starbucks. The groups claim the merger will lead to better consumer access to wireless battery charging and power management products. The organizations said they'll debut a new, branded organization later this year. The Rezence standard competes with the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi standard.
AT&T recently launched a new AT&T Next equipment installment plan that requires a 30% downpayment on the device at the time of purchase. After the downpayment, subscribers to this plan can finance the remainder of the device over 28 months; however, they will be eligible to upgrade after making just 12 payments. "We are introducing AT&T Next 12 with Down Payment, so even more customers will now be able to receive the benefits of AT&T Next, which offers great value when combined with a Mobile Share Value plan," said AT&T. Many of today's handsets cost between $500 and $650, which means the average 30% downpayment will range from $150 to $200. None of AT&T's other Next plans require a downpayment, but they do require good credit. It is likely this new option is being offered to those who might not have strong enough credit to qualify for a normal AT&T Next plan.
Soon after announcing its new mobile payment service called Android Pay, Google set about clarifying its position on Google Wallet moving forward. The company is working on a new version of Google Wallet that's set to arrive later this year. According to Google, it intends to let the service live on for making peer-to-peer payments. "The new app will allow anyone with a U.S. debit card to send and receive money for free within minutes -- even if the other person doesn't have the app. The money you receive can either be directly sent to your bank account or it can be spent in stores using the Google Wallet card," explained Google in a blog post. Google said the revised Google Wallet app will be made available to Android and iOS devices, and can be accessed from the web. Android Pay, on the other hand, powers tap-and-go mobile payments at 700,000 retail locations around the country. Android Pay began life as Softcard/Isis and was developed by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Google purchased Softcard's assets from the carriers in February. Like Apple Pay on the iPhone, Android Pay requires NFC and an associated credit card in order to make payments. Google said it will have more details regarding Google Wallet in the months ahead.
The FCC is close to making a final decision regarding how much spectrum to set aside for smaller carriers in next year's 600MHz auction and T-Mobile isn't going to be happy. The FCC has already set aside 30MHz of the airwaves in question for smaller carriers, thereby limiting how much spectrum AT&T and Verizon -- the nation's two largest carriers -- can acquire. T-Mobile has been pushing the FCC to increase the allotment to 40MHz, but Reuters reports the FCC is prepared to move forward with the 30MHz limit in place. AT&T and Verizon already control about two-thirds of the nation's low-band spectrum, which is highly valued for its propagation characteristics. T-Mobile and Sprint would like access to more low-band spectrum, and the 600MHz auction is their best opportunity to acquire it. Reuters' sources suggest the FCC's decision could still change, but T-Mobile's request is likely to be denied. The 600MHz auction is scheduled to begin in mid-2016. The FCC wants the rules locked down before the end of 2015.
AT&T today was the last of the major carriers to disclose its plans for launching the LG G4 smartphone. AT&T said it will begin taking pre-orders for the device at 12:01 am on May 29. The G4 will reach company stores on June 5. AT&T is offering the metallic gray and black leather models, and has several financing options in place for the handset. The gray plastic version is available for $21 per month for 30 months with an AT&T Next 24 plan; $26.25 for 24 months with Next 18; or $31.50 for 20 months with Next 12. Customers may also buy the LG G4 for $199.99 with a two-year contract or for $629.99 at full retail price. The black leather model costs more. It's pricing runs $22.34 per month for 30 months with AT&T Next 24; $29.92 with Next 18; or $33.50 with Next 12. The black model costs $239.99 on contract or $669.99 at full retail. AT&T is also offering the LG G Pad F 8.0 for $0.99 to customers who buy an LG G4. Last, AT&T is offering a 32 GB memory card and battery bundle to those who order the LG G4 early.
AT&T has filed paperwork with the FCC hoping to gain permission to purchase three Lower 700MHz C Block licenses from East Kentucky Network. The licenses in question cover 20 counties in three Cellular Market Areas across regions of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Because all the licenses fall below the 1GHz threshold, the FCC will used its "enhanced factor" yardstick to measure the transactions. The FCC says AT&T stands to hold 113 to 145MHz of spectrum in total, and 43 to 55MHz of below-1-GHz spectrum, in these three CMAs. The FCC has accepted AT&T's initial batch of paperwork and set a schedule to oversee the transaction. Small spectrum purchases and exchanges are common between license holders.
A Delaware bankruptcy judge approved the sale of RadioShack's name and certain customer data to an affiliate of Standard General for $26.2 million. One of the key issues resolved over the last seven days concerned AT&T and Apple customer data. AT&T, Apple, and several state attorneys general disapproved of the sale of the customer data, and argued RadioShack had agreed to never sell it. Under the terms of the agreement, Standard General agreed to limit its own customers to email data generated over the last two years, as well as to only provide access to seven of 170 fields of data that RadioShack kept on its customers. The sale gives Standard General access to 67 million names and email addresses, rather than the full list of 117 million. Earlier this year Standard General purchased 1,734 RadioShack stores, which it plans to operate in cooperation with Sprint.
Sprint says 16 of the 30 companies who've agreed to participate in its Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program have launched their LTE networks. The Rural Roaming Preferred Provider program is similar to Verizon Wireless' LTE in Rural America initiative. Both programs lease spectrum to small, regional providers who build out coverage in their home market areas. Under the terms of the agreement, the larger carriers' customers can roam onto the regional LTE network and vice versa. The idea is to bring coverage to areas where the larger operators might not necessarily like to commit resources to build out their own network. Sprint would not say which of its partners have launched their LTE networks. Some of the partners include SouthernLINC Wireless, nTelos Wireless, C Spire Wireless, Phoenix Wireless, Bluegrass Cellular, Pine Belt Wireless, Pioneer Cellular, and United Wireless. "Our partners use a variety of LTE bands, including bands 4, 5, 12 and 25," said Sprint's Adrienne Norton. "We're continuing to work with our device OEMs to enable additional LTE bands to expand coverage for our domestic and international roamers." Sprint's LTE footprint covers about 280 million POPs. T-Mobile, which recently disclosed that it too has leased spectrum to regional operators, also covers about 280 million POPs. AT&T and Verizon Wireless both claim to cover about 308 million POPs.
AT&T recently filed paperwork with the FCC seeking permission to buy some Cellular A Block and microwave point-to-point spectrum from Cellular Properties Inc. The spectrum in question covers 11 counties and parts of two Cellular Market Areas in Illinois. Further, CPI's assets and customers would be transferred to AT&T. Because the Cellular A Block spectrum falls under the 1GHz threshold, the FCC will use the "enhanced factor" litmus test in examining the request. The FCC says post-transaction AT&T would hold 45MHz of the available 134MHz low-band spectrum in the named CMAs. Low-band spectrum is valued more than mid- or high-band spectrum and requires extra consideration. The FCC has accepted AT&T's initial filing and slapped a protective order on it to keep some portions of the proceedings secret. AT&T contends the deal will help improve its own network in the area while also opening up its services to CPI's existing customers. A dollar value on the transaction was not disclosed.
AT&T today said some of its retailer partners are going to offer only AT&T Next plans beginning June 1. These retailers, like Walmart, may have national footprints, but the change is only being made in some locations that AT&T would not name. AT&T itself will continue to offer contracts at company-owned stores, as well as via its web site, telesales, and most other third-party retailers. "We regularly consider any number of offers that might appeal to our customers," said an AT&T spokesperson to Phone Scoop, "but [we] can share that two year contracts remain a part of our portfolio of offerings." AT&T said it believes customers prefer to have choice. While many of its customers are moving to AT&T Next plans -- which break up device payments over time -- some of its customers still want subsidized handsets and don't mind signing contracts to get them. The change being made by some of AT&T's retail partners does not represent a change in strategy for AT&T. AT&T Next plans are the carrier's response to T-Mobile's Simple Choice plans, which forgo contracts and also break up device payments over time. Sprint and Verizon have their own device payment plans, too. The device payment plans have become popular with consumers because they don't require contracts and often allow people to upgrade to new phones at a faster rate.
Asus today said it will sell its 2015 flagship smartphone, the Zenfone 2, in the U.S. beginning May 19. Asus first revealed the Zenfone 2 at CES in January. The device has a 5.5-inch full HD screen and relies on a 64-bit Intel processor. The Intel Atom Z3580 chip has four cores clocked at 2.3 GHz, and is paired with a 533 MHz GPU, and 4 GB of dual-channel RAM. The chip includes integrated Cat 4 LTE-Advanced with Carrier Aggregation for compatibility with today's fastest 4G networks. The Zenfone 2 also includes a 13-megapixel camera with an aperture of f/2.0, Toshiba sensor, Super HDR, and dual-tone LED flash. Asus says the fast-charging mode can power the 3,000mAh battery to 60% capacity in 39 minutes. The device runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with Asus' ZenUI. It comes with a range of interchangeable rear covers, which Asus says consumers can use to personalize their handset. Asus is offering 100 GB of Google Drive storage to buyers of the device. The phone costs $299. (A slower version of the phone with 1.8 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM costs $199.) Asus plans to sell the device unlocked via Amazon.com, Newegg, Groupon, and B&H photo. It is compatible with AT&T's network.
AT&T's web site recently provided details about an unannounced handset from LG called the Escape 2. The Escape 2 has specs similar to the LG Spirit, which was announced earlier this year. The Escape 2 runs Android 5.0 Lollipop with LG's user experience, including Knock On, Knock Code, Quick Memo, and QSlide apps, according to the user manual. The phone has a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor with 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of storage. The Escape 2 boasts LG's rear-positioned button array and a slight curve to design. Other specs include a 4.7-inch HD display, front and rear cameras, and 2,100mAh battery. AT&T's web site did not say when the Escape 2 will go on sale, nor how much it might cost.
Apple and AT&T have filed legal objections to RadioShack's planned sale of customer data. RadioShack sold products from both AT&T and Apple and originally agreed to keep customer data private. RadioShack is going through bankruptcy and hopes to use any potential proceeds of selling customer data to third parties in order to pay off creditors. "Not only is AT&T committed to protecting the privacy of its customers -- it is required to do so by federal and state laws and regulations," said AT&T. Several state attorneys general have also filed objections. A judge is expected to rule on the matter May 20. Earlier this year RadioShack sold the bulk of its stores to Sprint, which is in the process of rebranding them.
USTelecom and others filed a petition today asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to stay the FCC's open internet order. The group, which includes USTelecom, AT&T, CTIA, ATA, WISPA, CenturyLink, and NSTA, filed a petition directly with the FCC last week seeking a stay of the rules. The FCC denied their request. At the moment, the open internet rules are scheduled to go into effect on June 12. USTelecom and its co-signees want the court to prevent the FCC from enacting the rules in order to "maintain the status quo" while the organizations fight the rules in court. "We are seeking to stay this ill-conceived order's reclassification of broadband service as a public utility service," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick. "This reclassification does not serve the public interest, but unlawfully paves the way toward expansive government management of the Internet. Once implemented, the order will result in huge burdens on companies of all sizes, and create an open season of regulation and litigation that imposes immediate and unrecoverable costs." USTelecom and its partners request the U.S. Court of Appeals rule on the matter no later than June 11, one day before the rules take effect.
AT&T today struck a deal with Hulu that will see the video streaming service offered across AT&T's range of products and platforms. The service will be available through a dedicated web site online, as well as from a mobile application on smartphones and tablets. AT&T and Hulu also are still exploring whether or not to offer a Hulu app to TV. AT&T said Hulu will become available to its customers later this year, but didn't provide specifics.
The FCC and Department of Justice are wrapping up their review of AT&T's proposed $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV and don't have any real concerns, according to people familiar with the matter. The agencies may still impose conditions on the deal, but aren't likely to block it, says the Wall Street Journal. AT&T plans to use DirecTV to help expand its payTV business into rural markets where it currently has no reach. The deal doesn't warrant the same level of concern the recently squashed Comcast/Time Warner merger created because the AT&T/DirecTV tie-up won't impact home broadband services in the same way. The FCC and Justice Department did not comment on the Journal's story.
AT&T today announced Rollover Data for its $45 and $60 monthly GoPhone plans. Beginning May 15, new GoPhone customers will be able to enroll in the rollover program, while existing customers can enroll on their next renewal after May 15. Data Rollover for GoPhone requires a smartphone, and requires the customer to renew their GoPhone plan on time. Data that is rolled over is only available for 30 days. For example, if a customer has a 3 GB plan, but only uses 2 GB in a 30-day period, the unused 1 GB will be available during the next billing cycle, making for a total of 4 GB for that month.
AT&T and a handful of other carriers today asked the FCC to consider a new way to define designated entities and small businesses in spectrum auctions moving forward. The proposal follows Dish Networks' use of designated entities -- or small companies -- to bid for spectrum in the AWS-3 auction on its behalf. The small companies qualified for a discount of $3 billion on Dish's $13.3 billion in spectrum winnings. AT&T and others are not happy about how Dish participated in the auction. "We envision a designated entity program that redefines 'small business' in a way that is more aligned with the structure of the modern wireless industry and that seeks to benefit true small entities -- many of which operate in rural America." AT&T thinks any incentives offered to small businesses in future auctions should be limited to $10 million, an amount AT&T says "will provide a meaningful benefit to the very types of business the program is designed to benefit while ensuring policymakers that those who seek to abuse the program will not be rewarded." AT&T also wants to be sure auction winners use their spectrum. Dish Networks owns vast troves of spectrum that it has yet to do anything with. AT&T's proposal includes suggestions for an aggressive build-out once spectrum licenses are assigned so auction winners don't sit on their spectrum. The FCC has not responded publicly to AT&T's proposal.
The FCC has denied petitions filed by a wide range of lobbying organizations that sought to stay the FCC's proposed net neutrality regulations. The CTIA Wireless Association, USTelecom, AT&T, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, CenturyLink, American Cable Association, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association all filed petitions hoping to prevent the FCC from formally adopting its rules in early June. The groups' request for a stay was in hope of keeping the industry unchanged while they pursue legal action to undo the FCC's proposed rules. The FCC has been sued by a wide range of entities over the regulations, but the FCC believes its goal to reclassify broadband providers under Title II regulations will survive in court. Stays in cases like this are uncommon and there was little chance the FCC would have approved such a measure.