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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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December 10, 2012 12:01 PM

T-Mobile upgrades Seattle network, ready for iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA today announced upgrades to its network, in several cities, including its hometown Seattle region.

The company said the upgrades will improve voice and data service, signal strength and coverage inside buildings.

T-Mobile's making the upgrade in part by reallocating spectrum that had been used for 2G service. It's still supporting 2G phones, but customers are moving toward 4G smartphones.

Specifically, the upgrades are providing 4G service on PCS 1900 spectrum that had been used for 2G.

"We've got a critical mass of coverage we feel really good about in terms of quality and consistency," said Mark McDiarmid, vice president of radio network engineering.

T-Mobile's clearing a path for customers switching to its network. The upgrade will particularly benefit former AT&T customers who bring their phones to T-Mobile's network.

T-Mobile said its testing found that unlocked iPhone 4S models running on the upgraded HSPA+ network saw download speeds increase by 70 percent on average compared with AT&T's network.

This comes just a few days after T-Mobile disclosed plans to begin selling Apple phones directly next year.

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA last month upgraded its network in Oakland, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Today it's announcing upgrades in Seattle, Atlanta and Minneapolis, plus additional Bay Area cities.

Locally, areas affected by the upgrade include Seattle proper plus Lynnwood, Bothell, Mill Creek, Edmonds, Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville, Bellevue, Issaquah, Sammamish, Kenmore, Mercer Island, North Bend, SeaTac, Burien, Tukwila, Renton and Lake Stevens.

T-Mobile's been working on the upgrade for months - even extending fiber to towers in the Cascades during Thanksgiving week.

"What we're doing today is basically unlocking it," McDiarmid said.

Still in progress are 4G HSPA+ network upgrades in metro areas such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Simultaneously, T-Mobile is preparing to roll out 4G LTE service in 2013. T-Mobile plans to reach 200 million people with LTE service by the end of 2013.

The "refarmed" PCS 1900 spectrum is being used for HSPA+ service that supports download speeds up to 21 megabits per second. T-Mobile's also offering HSPA+ service on AWS spectrum that supports up to 42 megabits per second. But only some recent, higher-end phones have radios capable of those speeds.

Here's a list - provided by T-Mobile - of phones that can take advantage of those speeds on the company's network:

1900 MHz (AWS & PCS) Devices:

Samsung Galaxy Note, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S II, Samsung Exhibit 4G, HTC Radar 4G, Nokia Lumia 710, and HTC One S.

HSPA+ 21

Smartphones: LG Optimus L9, Nokia Lumia 810, Nokia Lumia 710, T-Mobile myTouch & T-Mobile myTouch Q, T-Mobile myTouch by LG, HTC Radar 4G, Samsung Galaxy Exhibit 4G and the BlackBerry Bold 9900.

Tablets: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the T-Mobile SpringBoard with Google.

Laptop Sticks & Mobile HotSpots: T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile HotSpot, T-Mobile 4G Mobile HotSpot, the T-Mobile Rocket 3.0 and the T-Mobile Jet 2.0.

HSPA+ 42

Smartphones: the Windows Phone 8X by HTC, HTC One S, Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G, Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G, Samsung Galaxy S II, Google Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy Note II and the Samsung Galaxy Note.

Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Broadband , Gadgets & products , Phones , T-Mobile , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 6, 2012 11:09 AM

T-Mobile finally getting iPhone, inks Apple deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA will finally start offering Apple products in 2013.

T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, confirmed today that the companies have reached a deal after years of effort by T-Mobile.

The news was released at an investor conference in Bonn where the company said Apple products and a massive investment in LTE wireless broadband are part of a broad plan to reinvigorate growth at Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA.

Details of the Apple hardware weren't included but T-Mobile has upgraded its current network to accommodate current iPhones that customers bought elsewhere. More than 1.7 million iPhones are now on the network.

T-Mobile is preparing to launch LTE service next year, which could support the iPhone 5 unless Apple reserves its latest model for larger carriers.

Reports today said the deal will involve a new, unannounced iPhone model.

That would track with deals T-Mobile has made with other handset makers. Nokia, for instance, provides T-Mobile with the Lumia 810 - a variant on the Lumia 820 series that larger carriers such as AT&T offer. Perhaps T-Mobile will get the iPhone 4T.

It could also mean that T-Mobile won't get the iPhone until Apple releases the next model, which tends to happen in the fall.

T-Mobile USA Chief Executive John Legere told investors in Bonn that the carrier suffered because a "certain number" of customers wouldn't come to its stores if it didn't have the iPhone.

Legere said the company won't see cash flow benefits from the deal until 2014, but T-Mobile didn't bet the farm on the iPhone like Sprint did with a $15 billion commitment to Apple.

"This is not a volume commitment the size of what Sprint agreed to or anything close to it," he said in the presentation, which was shared via YouTube.

Legere said he can't discuss details of the Apple device coming to T-Mobile but said it "will be a dramatically different experience," adding that "it is different, it is unique."

Perhaps it comes in magenta?

An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the deal but declined further comment.

Of greater importance than any particular handset are plans to boost capital investments "considerably" over the next three years. This includes increased spending by T-Mobile USA following its merger with MetroPCS, which DT expects to close within the first half of 2013.

Overall DT expects capital investments of 9.8 billion euros next year, up from previous plans to invest 8.3 billion. That's mostly for wireless broadband in the U.S. and Germany.

Specifically, the company plans to spend around $4.8 billion next year on T-Mobile USA's network modernization and blending of the MetroPCS network. It plans to investment $3 billion in 2013 and again in 2015.

Here's the Apple mention in the DT release:

T-Mobile USA has entered into an agreement with Apple to bring products to market together in 2013.

A T-Mobile USA spokesman in Bellevue said the company won't be expanding upon the statement.

Here's a slide from Legere's presentation:

tmoiphone.jpg

Here's a video of Legere's presentation:

Comments | Category: Apple , Gadgets & products , Nokia , Phones , T-Mobile , Telecom , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

December 5, 2012 10:03 AM

Study: Washington No. 1 for broadband, tech economy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sorry California.

Washington topped a new national ranking of tech savvy states benefiting from broadband.

The report was produced by TechNet, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group formed by tech executives who have pushed to make broadband a top priority for lawmakers. Among the founders is John Chambers, chief executive of network technology provider Cisco, which sponsored the study released today.

"Simply put, broadband is the foundation for our nation's continued technology and economic leadership," TechNet Chief Executive Rey Ramsey said in the release. "Broadband is shown to help create economic growth, job creation and many other benefits."

Criteria included broadband adoption, network quality and economic structure.

Washington led largely because of its "economic structure" rating. That includes the percentage of jobs in "information and communication technology" industries and "ICT-centric" workers such as computing programmers or network administrators.

That reflects the presence of major software companies and companies such as network technology provider F5 and telecoms like T-Mobile USA.

Another factor was an estimate of the percentage of jobs in app development. The study noted that Washington has a number of companies developing mobile apps. It's also home to the world's largest app developer - Microsoft.

Right behind Washington in the ranking were Massachusetts and Delaware, followed by Maryland and California. Oregon ranked 13th.

"TechNet's Broadband study confirms the importance of high speed Internet access for our state," Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said in TechNet's release. "Our companies and residents are innovators, and they make the most of the high-speed networks in our communities. Washington's broadband environment has grown through years of planning and commitment, and we welcome the findings released today."

The study said Massachusetts' benefited from its "cluster of universities and tech companies" and Delaware did well because it has a "high network quality and concentration of corporate headquarters reliant on broadband connectivity."

Here's the report: TechNet_StateBroadband3a (1).pdf

Here's TechNet's infographic issued with the press release:

StateBroadband_Infographic2b.jpg

Comments | Category: Broadband , Enterprise , Public policy , Tech work , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 15, 2012 5:30 AM

Kirkland's Wave raises $1 billion for broadband growth

Posted by Brier Dudley

Wave Broadband may have to change its name to Tsunami.

The Kirkland-based company is announcing today that it has raised $1.052 billion to accelerate the expansion of its broadband network on the West Coast.

That's not all new money, though. It's a recapitalization of the company, which has about $350 million in debt. The $1 billion includes funding from new investors Oak Hill Capital and GI Partners and debt financing led by Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank.

Oak Hill and GI acquired a majority stake in Wave in June, buying out its previous backer, Sandler Capital Managment.

The recapitalization gives Wave plenty of capital to expand its broadband and cable services to business and residential customers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It also enables the company to bulk up with acquisitions.

SteveWeedWaveBroadband.jpg
Wave will continue providing cable and broadband services in communities where it has franchises, including parts of Seattle and its suburbs. Its big focus now is building up the business offerings, which aren't limited by franchise boundaries.

Operating quietly in the shadow of the region's larger telecom companies, Wave has steadily built a profitable business providing cable and broadband services in the Puget Sound area, San Francisco, Sacramento and Portland.

Chief Executive Steve Weed (pictured) is a longtime telco executive who started Wave in 2001. He built the company largely through acquisitions of cable and broadband operations, including distressed companies that sold assets for less than they cost to build. A recent deal was the January purchase of Broadstripe's operations in Washington and Oregon.

Wave now has about 400,000 customers and 800 employees, including about 200 at its Kirkland headquarters. By employees, it's comparable to Bellevue-based Clearwire.

Wave sales have been growing 40 to 50 percent over the past three years and should reach $300 million this year, Weed said.

"On the business side we've got a superior product to the big telcos. We're beating them on rates and a much better service experience," he said.

As part of its refresh, Wave has been hiring new marketing and operations executives from other broadband companies. It also promoted its chief operating officer, Steve Friedman, to president.

Partnering with cities to offer municipal broadband is a possibility.

"I think we would be interested in doing that," Weed said, "but it's not on my short-term to-do list."

Comments | Category: Broadband , Clearwire , Comcast , Enterprise , Entrepreneurs , Frontier , Telecom , Verizon |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 3, 2012 7:23 AM

With T-Mobile / MetroPCS deal, Puget Sound lands another giant

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA finally found a dance partner.

The Bellevue-based company today confirmed that it's merging with Dallas-based MetroPCS in a deal that will speed T-Mobile's rollout of a 4G LTE network and strengthen the bargain section of the wireless market.

It will take a few years to see whether the merged company overtakes Sprint and poses a major challenge to AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

T-Mobile HQ (2).jpg
T-Mobile customers won't be affected much, other than quicker access to a wider LTE network after the deal closes sometime next year. MetroPCS customers will be encouraged to migrate to T-Mobile's network by the end of 2015, which will enable the merged company to use common network technology.

But in the meantime a tremendous change will take place in the Puget Sound region, where there's suddenly another giant public company. The merged company will be headquartered in Bellevue and have $24.8 billion in annual sales.

To put that in perspective, by sales the company is more than twice the size of Starbucks or Nordstrom. It will be the state's fourth largest public company behind Costco, Microsoft and Amazon.com. (It would be the fifth if you count Boeing, which is now based in Chicago.)

This won't replace the loss of Washington Mutual or Safeco but it will help, especially since the deal solidifies the concentration of wireless employment in the region at a time when the industry's surging and -- with LTE technology -- building a new foundation for the technology industry.

The deal makes T-Mobile a more autonomous, U.S.-based company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. That's a long-term enterprise and ends the uncertainty that hung over T-Mobile as a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom, especially since DT began shopping it around.

From this angle, the MetroPCS merger is a far better deal than last year's attempt to sell T-Mobile to AT&T, which would have shifted the corporate headquarters to Texas.

That's not to say there won't be some pain. T-Mobile is saying it expects to find $6 billion to $7 billion in cost savings through the merger with MetroPCS, which means there will be job cuts across the companies.

At the same time, the new T-Mobile believes it's positioned to grow and win a larger share of the U.S. wireless market, which would lead to continued expansion in Bellevue.

"This combination of T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS means we are here to compete," Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Rene Obermann said on a conference call this morning. "We are here to unlock value and we are here to win. This deal has the potential to be a game changer."

The deal was announced today after it was approved by the boards of DT and MetroPCS. It still needs regulatory approval, but the companies believe it could be finalized in the first half of 2013. It's not likely to raise the same competition concerns as AT&T's attempt to merge with T-Mobile, which was scuttled after drawing antitrust scrutiny.

T-Mobile is the fourth largest wireless carrier and MetroPCS is the fifth. Together they'll still trail third-place Sprint, but it's a much closer race.

Today's deal is structured as a recapitalization of Dallas-based MetroPCS. MetroPCS is splitting its stock and paying shareholders a one-time dividend of $1.5 billion, or about $4.09 per share. DT is getting 74 percent of MetroPCS common stock, rolling in $15 billion in debt and providing $500 million in revolving credit to the combined company. It's also providing a $5.5 billion backstop for previous deals made by MetroPCS.

Combined, the companies are expected to have 42.5 million subscribers this year and $6.3 billion of earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation. It's expecting to spend $4.2 billion on capital expenditures -- mainly building out its network -- and have $2.1 billion in free cash flow.

DT will end up with 74 percent of the combined company and MetroPCS shareholders will hold 26 percent.

Employees of T-Mobile - including nearly 5,000 in the Puget Sound region - may benefit from stock grant programs.

T-Mobile's new chief executive, John Legere, said being public will enable the company to offer more competitive compensation programs to attract and retain employees. A plan for stock awards hasn't yet been formulated but he favors the approach.

"We can use ownership in our company to motivate employees," he said in an interview.

Legere will lead the combined company that will be called T-Mobile. J. Braxton Carter, vice chairman and chief financial officer of MetroPCS, will become CFO of T-Mobile.

T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers will continue to be served separately, at least until MetroPCS customers are upgraded to T-Mobile's network by the end of 2015. Jim Alling, a Starbucks veteran and current chief operating officer of T-Mobile, will lead T-Mobile's customer unit while Thomas Keys, MetroPCS president, will lead MetroPCS's customer unit.

Although it will be headquartered in Bellevue, the combined company will "retain a significant presence" in Dallas, its release said.

In a conference call, Legere said the merger will provide T-Mobile with a 40 percent increase in contiguous spectrum for LTE and provide particularly dense coverage in major metro areas such as New York and Los Angeles.

Addressing concerns about the different network technologies used by MetroPCS and T-Mobile, Legere said they will not attempt to mash the older, legacy networks together. Instead, they'll move MetroPCS customers using its older CDMA network onto T-Mobile's network as they renew and upgrade. T-Mobile's current, HSPA Plus network has capacity to accomodate MetroPCS subscribers, he noted.

The networks' incompatibility will soon be a moot question. Both companies were in the process of shifting their networks and eventually customers to the same LTE technology that's becoming the new industry standard.

Legere said they expect "a rapid migration" to LTE "as part of the normal upgrade cycle."

As for its pricing strategy, the new T-Mobile will continue to emphasize value, with unlimited 4G plans. It's also going to be the largest provider of non-contract wireless phone services.

"We'll be able to deliver the best value across the board and that means in both contract and no-contract offerings," he said.

It's natural for this to happen here. The modern wireless industry was born in the area, with McCaw Cellular establishing the first national, roaming network in 1990. Two years later McCaw began selling the company to AT&T, beginning decades of mega mergers of the region's wireless companies.

That generated wealth and insight that led to the founding of Western Wireless in 1994. It became VoiceStream, which was sold to Deutsche Telekom in 2001.

Comments | Category: T-Mobile , Tech work , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 2, 2012 10:37 AM

T-Mobile may merge with MetroPCS, go public

Posted by Brier Dudley

It looks like Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA is about to get much bigger.

Parent company Deutsche Telekom today confirmed that it's considering merging T-Mobile USA with MetroPCS, a move that would increase T-Mobile's reach by nearly a third and speed up its rollout of 4G LTE service.

Dallas-based MetroPCS began offering LTE service on its network in January 2011. T-Mobile has been working toward the launch of its LTE network in 2013.

T-Mobile USA is already one of the largest tech companies in the Seattle area, with 36,000 employees, including about 4,800 in the Puget Sound region, and about 33.1 million subscribers. MetroPCS has about 3,700 employees and 9.3 million subscribers.

Consolidation in the U.S. wireless industry has been expected, with smaller carriers bulking to help them better compete against dominant carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The MetroPCS deal would significantly narrow the gap between T-Mobile and Sprint, the third-largest wireless carrier in the U.S.

The deal could also turn T-Mobile USA into a publicly listed company. MetroPCS is publicly listed and its shares are up about 18 percent on word of the potential deal.

DT has been wheeling and dealing to improve its position with T-Mobile. Last year, it attemped to sell the company to AT&T, and last week it sold about 7,200 of its towers for $2.4 billion to tower operator Crown Castle.

DT's supervisory board is meeting Wednesday to consider the MetroPCS deal, according to Bloomberg, which broke the merger story and prompted DT to confirm the deal is in the works.

Here's the DT statement, which is all the company's spokesman would provide:

Deutsche Telekom is holding talks with the listed company MetroPCS with the aim of operating its subsidiary T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS within one company in which Deutsche Telekom would hold the majority of shares.

The talks are at a stage where significant issues have not yet been finalized, contracts have not yet been signed and the conclusion of the transaction is still not certain. The Board of Management and Supervisory Board of Deutsche Telekom have therefore not yet taken the resolutions necessary for such a transaction.

MetroPCS also confirmed the talks with a brief statement:

MetroPCS today confirmed that it is in discussions with Deutsche Telekom regarding an agreement to combine T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS. There can be no assurances that any transaction will result from these discussions, and the Company does not intend to comment further unless and until an agreement is reached.

Like T-Mobile, MetroPCS is known for lower-cost plans, including unlimited plans that cost $40 to $60 per month. Its service is largely concentrated in the metro areas of New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Orlando, Tampa and Dallas.

Comments | Category: 4G , T-Mobile , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 19, 2012 9:06 AM

T-Mobile USA names new CEO, an AT&T veteran

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA announced today that it has a new chief executive - John Legere, the former chief executive of Global Crossing, a network provider that was sold last year.

Legere, 54, starts his new job Sept. 22, taking over from interim CEO Jim Alling, who is returning to his position as T-Mobile's chief operating officer. They replaced Philip Humm, who resigned in June after two years in Bellevue to take a job at Vodafone.

IMG-5CVZ7JZ5410KQ34B.jpg
Bellevue-based T-Mobile is the nation's fourth largest wireless company and employs around 36,000 people, including around 4,800 in the Puget Sound region.

Legere arrives as T-Mobile is in the midst of a massive network upgrade to 4G LTE technology and simultaneously overhauling its business operations, following a failed merger attempt with AT&T last year.

Legere began his career at New England Telephone in 1980 then spent much of his career at AT&T, including stints as president of its Asia operations and its outsourcing business. Later he worked at Dell, where he was president of the company's operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

"John is a talented and proven executive who brings a successful track record of leading and operating consumer- and business-focused telecommunications and technology companies," Rene Obermann, chief executive of T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom said in a release.

"As T-Mobile moves forward with its strategic initiatives to improve its market position, including expanding its network coverage and initiating LTE service, John has obviously the right skillset to lead the business into the future."

Legere is a competitive runner -- like Humm -- and a Massachusetts native who received degrees from the University of Massachusetts and MIT.

Comments | Category: 4G , Phones , Sprint , T-Mobile , Tech work , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 10, 2012 9:43 AM

Thoughts on Amazon's new Kindles: Ads, phones and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Here are six more thoughts on Amazon.com's Kindle launch -- one for every new model the ambitious Seattle tech giant introduced at Thursday's launch gala inside an airplane hangar here.

Don't dismiss the rumors of a Kindle smartphone just yet.

It's still early days for Amazon's Kindle business, which could release phones and other wireless devices next.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos dropped a huge clue when he described in detail the new 4G LTE modem Amazon developed for its Kindle devices.

kindwithoffers.jpg
The modem is just 2.2 millimeters -- thin enough for a phone -- and works with multiple bands of 4G LTE, not just those used by AT&T.

Would Amazon invest in a modem like that and then use it in a single device with a single carrier? I don't think so, either.

Dave Limp, the vice president in charge of Amazon's Kindle business, told me the modem will work with other carriers but "we're starting with AT&T."

"We had a lot of things going on, so we thought we'd simplify and start first and foremost with AT&T," he said.

So does that mean the modem also will be used to make a phone? Limp sidestepped my question but didn't say no.

"If I had a dollar for every different rumor that came out over the last two weeks ... ," he said. "I'm flattered that people are paying attention, but I think the six products we announced today is pretty good. We're off to a good start."

Amazon's new Kindles may challenge the Apple iPad, but Google's a closer competitor.

Both Google and Amazon are building devices to draw people further into their online services, where the real money and customer connections are made.

The LTE service offered with the upper-end Kindle Fire HD reminds me of the wireless service bundled with Google's Chrome laptops.

Both Chrome and Kindle devices are built around online services. Connecting has to be cheap and easy to get people to embrace the concept. Google worked with Verizon Wireless to provide Chrome laptop users with 100 megabytes of free wireless access per month for two years, with additional data available for purchase a la carte.

Amazon worked with AT&T to provide 250 megabytes per month -- plus 20 gigabytes of online storage -- for $50 per year.

It's not as revolutionary as the free 3G wireless bundled with some Kindle e-readers, but it's an interesting new wireless option.

For data-hungry users, 250 megabytes seems pitiful. It's not enough to watch a single high-def movie. But it's probably fine if you mostly use the device at home or places with free Wi-Fi and want LTE service to occasionally check mail, maps or websites while on the go.

From the Kindle, you can sign up for additional data plans -- 3 gigs a month for $30, or 5 gigs for $50. Or AT&T will happily add the device to one of its new shared data plans for customers using multiple devices.

I'll bet more of these cheap-but-limited cloud-access plans are coming. Perhaps Microsoft will be next, offering access and cloud-storage bundles with Windows 8 systems.

Amazon doesn't seem too concerned about a nasty patent fight with Apple.

Apple is busy waging war on hardware companies using Google's Android software. The Kindle Fire line uses Android -- version 4.0, heavily modified -- but Amazon apparently hasn't been put on notice.

This is what Limp said when I asked if he expected a patent suit from Apple:

"We don't comment on unknown things."

All the new Kindles have ads by default.

Instead of selling versions of the Kindle with and without ads, at different prices, Amazon decided to have all new models display ads by default. Ads can be permanently removed by paying an extra $15 on Fire models or $20 on the black-and-white Kindles.

Amazon's stance evolved over the weekend. For a time it was going to make ads mandatory on the new Fires, but it decided Saturday to let buyers opt out, for a fee.

Amazon is reaching beyond consumers, aiming the Kindle Fire at business customers, too.

Company executives didn't push this last week because it could cloud perceptions of the device, but they didn't deny it's a priority.

"We've got a great new mail application with best-in-class Exchange integration. We have a new calendar application, we have a new contacts application," said Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon's Kindle tablet business.

"We also worked with third parties such as Cisco to make sure that their VPN [virtual private network] client is ready and waiting in our app store. Those are some examples of how we're making it better for enterprise."

There actually was a business reason for Amazon unveiling its new Kindles in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport.

Larsen told a Los Angeles Times reporter that the company wanted to change things up. Previous launches were in New York, the hub of book publishing.

The new tablets "are really about entertainment -- movies, apps, games, TV shows," he said, and L.A. is still the entertainment capital of the world.

That, or somebody at Amazon received a half-price coupon for hangar rental on a Kindle "with offers."

hangar1.jpg

Here's Amazon's video of its Kindle press conference last week:

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Amazon.com , Android , Apple , Billionaire techies , Chrome OS , Gadgets & products , Google , Kindle , Tablets , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 4, 2012 11:21 AM

Phone phrenzy: iPhone 5, Windows 8 and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, I suggest you wait a few weeks.

All sorts of new phones are surfacing this month, for those who want the latest model. Others may find deals as phone companies mark down 2011 and early 2012 models.

Every major phone manufacturer is releasing new models shortly. Some have teased the releases early and others have been pre-empted with leaked images.

Here's a summary of what's coming up:

Sept. 5 - Microsoft and Nokia are announcing new Lumia models -- the 820 and 920 -- built on Windows Phone 8 software. New features include wireless charging -- using magnetic induction -- and cases in gray, yellow and red, according to The Verge, which reports that the 920 will have 32 gigabytes of memory and a 4.5-inch display.

The same day, Google's Motorola Mobility and Verizon Wireless are having an event where they are expected to launch the Razr M Android phone with a 4.3-inch display and dual-core processor.

Sept. 6 - Amazon.com is holding an event in Santa Monica that's expected to feature the next Kindle Fire devices. There have been rumors of an Amazon phone surfacing as well, but that's a longshot.

Sept. 12 - Apple's expected to release the iPhone 5 at an event in San Francisco. Invitations to the event don't say anything about the phone but show the number 5 in a patent-pending shadow effect. Early glimpses suggest the phone will have a larger screen but similar design to the current iPhone. The iPhone is likely to finally be available with 4G LTE wireless capability.

Sept. 19 - HTC is holding an event in New York, presumably to announce three new Windows 8 phones, which surfaced last month. The "leaked" images suggest that at least one of the models will have a Lumia-like color case, 8 megapixel camera and 4.3-inch display.

Early 2013: If you can wait until next year, a completely new BlackBerry dubbed "London" is expected. Images are surfacing this week, perhaps so Research In Motion won't be left out of the current buzz around new smartphones.

Also coming out soon is a Samsung Windows 8 phone called the Ativ S. It was revealed by the company in August, but a release date wasn't specified. Here's an image shared by Microsoft:

7041_IMG_5533_thumb_1D1718ED.jpg

Comments | Category: 4G , Android , Apple , Gadgets & products , HTC , Microsoft , Nokia , Phones , Telecom , Windows Phone , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

July 23, 2012 10:19 AM

Wireless bills biting into consumer spending?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's my theory on the ominous decline in consumer spending, the widening crack in the economy that suggests leaner times ahead.

When the Commerce Department reported the spending slowdown last week, unemployment and stagnant wages received the blame.

But I think there's another reason Americans are cutting back: They're trying to pay their enormous bills for wireless phone service.

Consumers may be spending less overall, but they're still trading up to smartphones with more expensive service plans. Those who already own smartphones are adding iPads and other gadgets that increase their monthly bills.

These gadget sales aren't turning the economy around, but they're doing wonders for the wireless industry.

A few days after the consumer-spending news, Verizon Wireless said half of its customers are now using smartphones. It also surprised analysts by reporting that it's now making $56.13 per month per customer, up about 4 percent from last year.

Samsung Galaxy S II (1).jpg
AT&T may bring even more surprises Tuesday when it reports earnings.

Broadly, global wireless revenues should reach $1.5 trillion this year, tripling over the past decade, according to Chetan Sharma, an Issaquah-based industry analyst.

"Astronomical" sales of data -- largely since the iPhone's debut in 2007 -- have more than offset declines in voice and message services, he noted in a report last week.

AT&T -- the largest beneficiary of the iPhone effect -- saw data sales grow from $689 million in 2004 to $22 billion in 2011, he noted.

To maintain profit margins and keep a handle on surging data usage, the leading carriers have moved from unlimited data plans to tiered plans.

Now, to encourage the use of multiple devices, AT&T and Verizon are rolling out shared-data plans. This new billing approach may bring the average monthly revenue per smartphone user to $90 or more.

The cost per gigabyte may go down for some, but the carriers will do fine. That's because overall usage continues to grow as people use faster, higher-resolution devices to access more video and other content via wireless networks.

Sharma expects carriers will see strong growth in data-access sales for several years. He believes this will peak in three or four years, after which the industry will look to services and applications for its next wave of growth.

So will industry sales triple again over the next decade?

"I wouldn't be surprised," Sharma said. "There's a tremendous amount of growth left in the developing markets."

Where this money will come from is the big question.

Households typically spend around $1,000 a year on technology, including their phone, cable and Internet bills. In general, tech has taken about 4 percent of disposable income over the last decade, Sharma said.

As people spend more on wireless, they reallocate and cut back on things like wired phone service, he explained. Consumers are now spending about 43 percent of their tech budgets on wireless and he expects that to reach 50 percent early next year.

"The spend on cable and Internet is growing but slowing, and the majority of the growth is coming from the spend on cellphones -- that is, on both voice, as well as data," Sharma said.

This has to be consuming a larger share of Americans' disposable income. Consider the new Verizon and AT&T plans. For smartphones, they charge a minimum of $90 to $95 per month, with 1 gigabyte of data access. That's close to $1,200 per year.

Yet if wireless costs are affecting overall consumer spending, this isn't yet apparent in national spending reports, according to economic consultant Joel Naroff in Holland, Pa.

Naroff said spending on services isn't rising much. In fact services -- which includes real estate and health care, and accounts for about 65 percent of spending -- is seeing weak increases.

"More than likely it's putting pressure on people's budgets and they've cut back in other places," he said.

New devices and online services will also encourage people to spend even more on wireless data services in the next few years.

Apple's "retina display" technology started a race toward devices with higher density displays, which consume more data. Just around the corner is ultrahigh definition video with 4,000 lines of resolution.

The push toward online "cloud" services also will increase wireless data usage.

As people embrace online services that store and stream content, they'll depend even more on carriers to provide constant, fast service. And it's going to cost them.

I've been thinking about this while testing new Android phones that come preloaded with Dropbox, a service that automatically uploads photos and videos to an online storage locker.

It also struck me when testing Microsoft's upcoming version of Office. By default, it stores copies of all files online in the SkyDrive storage service, though Microsoft has also built it in a way that minimizes the amount of data that's transferred.

A bigger concern is the potential cost of streaming video services like Netflix, which uses up to 2.3 gigabytes per hour to stream a movie in high-definition. That means watching one could cost $60 if you're streaming it over AT&T and you've used up the data allocated by your "Mobile Share" wireless plan.

That would definitely lead to reduced consumer spending in my household.

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Broadband , Gadgets & products , Netflix , Phones , Sprint , T-Mobile , Telecom , Verizon , Windows 8 , iPad , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 18, 2012 11:33 AM

Review: Samsung Galaxy S III, the smartphone to beat?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Be thankful that Samsung's new Galaxy S III is fast, powerful and gorgeous.

I say that because there's a good chance it will be your next phone.

Samsung Galaxy S III_front.jpg
Samsung has become the world's leading phone-maker, surging past Nokia and Apple largely on the strength of the Galaxy S line, which debuted in 2010.

The third version goes on sale later this week on every major U.S. carrier, starting at about $200, plus a voice and data plan.

After testing a Galaxy S III on T-Mobile USA's 4G network last week, I'll bet it further extends Samsung lead. I found the phone hard to resist, despite software that's not as elegant as the gleaming new hardware.

The Galaxy S III uses carriers' latest 4G technology and has a ridiculous list of features, including most every new wireless trick for transferring files, photos and videos.

Samsung seems to have added every feature it could think of to be sure its flagship stacks up against any other phone in the store.

If you're intrigued by the iPhone's Siri voice-control system, for instance, a phone salesperson may suggest you check out the "S Voice" controls on the Galaxy S III.

No wonder Apple tried to block its importation with a patent lawsuit.

The Galaxy S III is a big phone, which won't appeal to everyone. At times it felt like I was talking into a shaving mirror held against my cheek.

It's basically a 4.8-inch diagonal screen, behind which Samsung stuffed a 1.5 gigahertz, dual-core processor, an 8 megapixel camera and a big battery.

Yet it's just a third of an inch thick -- about the same as a ballpoint pen -- and weighs about 5 ounces. Overall it's 5 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches.
samgalside.jpg

It feels well balanced and light for its size. Curved edges make it look smaller than it is, and the glass face tapers smoothly into its frame.

There's just one physical button on the front, a home button. It's flanked by hidden, touch-sensitive "menu" and "back" controls.

The high-definition display uses Super AMOLED technology. In other words it's strikingly vivid, though it's a bit hard to see the display in bright sunlight.

The battery, which can be replaced by users, kept my test model running on a single charge for two days of moderate use. Samsung claims 11 hours of talk time and 463 hours of standby.

On T-Mobile, the phone uses an HSPA+ network with theoretical download speeds up to 42 megabits per second. On my bus commute, without all bars of reception showing, I saw download speeds of 9 to 11 Mbps and uploads above 2 Mbps, using Speedtest.net.

High-def YouTube videos played with no buffering on or off the bus.

Calls were clear and the phone keypad was large and easy to use.

samgaldoubletap.jpg
There's a fun mix of gesture controls, such as shaking the phone to slide icons around the screen, or tapping the top the case to jump to the top of a list of emails. But it may take awhile for users to learn them all.

Like other Android phones I've tested recently, the Galaxy S III comes packed with apps, including competing media stores run by the carrier, the handset maker and Google.

This doesn't feel like a bonus. It's more like a strip mall and contrasts with the minimalist hardware design. Buyers will need to set aside time to clear this clutter after they've figured out which of the pre-loaded apps are worth keeping.

You'd think Google and its partners would share credentials, so you only have to sign in once, when you first turn on the phone and link it to a Google account. But you've got to set up a separate account to use Samsung's media applications.

I'm not a fan of Android's interface, which still feels dated and clumsy compared with Apple's iOS and Windows Phone. But people don't seem to mind and buy more Android phones than any other kind. I wouldn't be surprised if Samsung announced a Windows version of the Galaxy S III, perhaps later this week.

Samsung is among the tech companies exploring ways to incorporate mobile devices into home entertainment, using them as auxiliary screens and remote controls. With the Galaxy S III, Samsung added multiple ways to get video and photos on the phone onto larger screens nearby.

Video and photos can be played back wirelessly on a networked PC or TV or via an HDMI cable. I wonder how many people will bother, since there are so many devices connected to TVs nowadays.

samgalmediahub.jpg
I didn't have time to test the video sharing but was able to use a Samsung app for mirroring phone content on a PC over Wi-Fi. It worked fine, but required a Java download on the PC and the interface was clunky. It's still easier to simply connect to a PC with a USB cable.

Many buyers may look past these advanced connectivity options and buy the Galaxy S III simply because it's one of the best-looking phones in the store and loaded with most every gee-whiz feature they've heard of.

It will come in white and metallic blue finishes. T-Mobile hasn't yet disclosed pricing but it will probably be comparable to Verizon Wireless, which has said its LTE version will start at $200 for a model with 16 gigabytes of memory and $250 for 32 gigabytes. T-Mobile's sales begin Thursday.

Galaxy phones have been the best-selling models at T-Mobile for the last two years, according to the product manager, Brenda Fisher.

"Collectively they've done better than any other brand T-Mobile has sold," she said. "Consumers just keep coming back for it."

They'll probably find that, on the third time around, the Galaxy's even more charming.

UPDATE: Initial supplies of the Galaxy S III are apparently limited. T-Mobile's releasing the phone in 29 markets to start on the 21st and will extend it to other markets "over the coming weeks," a spokesman said.

T-Mobile's also charging more than some for the phone. It's charging $280 for the 16 gig model and $330 for a 32 gig model, after $50 rebate and with a "classic" voice and data plan. With a "Value" plan the phone's up-front cost will be $230 or $280, depending on storage size - plus another $400 that's paid in 20 installments of $20 per month.

Unboxing:
samgal3.jpg

Hello Google:
samgal7.jpg

T-Mobile is using the controversial CarrierIQ diagnostics technology on the phone. If you're concerned about the privacy implications, uncheck the "diagnostics" in the settings menu:
samgal10.jpg

Hay fever sufferers may want to change the default desktop image:
samgaldandelion.jpg

A photo I took with the phone:
samgal12.jpg
Here are specs, as provided by Samsung:

Dimensions: 5.38" x 2.78" x 0.34"

Weight: 4.7 ounces

Battery standby time: Up to 12.5 days

Battery usage time: Up to 8 hours usage time

Battery type and size: 2100mAh

Platform: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich

CPU / Processor: 1.5 GHz dual core

Display resolution: 1280 x 720 pixel

Main display size: 4.8"

Main display technology: HD Super AMOLED

User interface features: TouchWiz; Smart Unlock; Accelerometer; Motion Gestures; Smart Stay; S Voice; S Suggest; Kies Air; Pop Up Play; Share Shot; AllShare Play
Camera: 8.0 Megapixel

Front-facing camera resolution: 1.9 Megapixel

Digital optical zoom: 4x

Features: Auto Focus; Shot Modes, Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Fluorescent, Incandescent; Camcorder; DivX; HD Recording; HD Playback; Video Share; Zero lag shutter; Burst Mode; Best Shot; Share Shot; Smile Shot; Buddy photo share

Audio features: Music Player; Compatible Music Files, 3GP, AAC, AAC+, eAAC+, M4A, MIDI, MMF, MP3, PMD, QCP, WAV, WMA; Audio, Streaming; Ringtones, Polyphonic; MP3/Music Tones

Video features: Video Player; Compatible Video Files, 3GPP, H.264, MPEG4, WMV; Video, Streaming

Games and entertainment: Downloadable Content; Animated Wallpapers; Samsung Widget Gallery; Samsung Media Hub; Google Play Books; Music and Movies; Google Talk; Flipboard; T-Mobile TV

Productivity: Microsoft Office-compatible; Voice Memo

Messaging options: Email; Corporate Email; Picture Messaging; Text Messaging; Instant Messaging; Threaded / Chat-style Messages; Predictive Text (T9/XT9); T9 Trace
Connectivity features: Bluetooth; Bluetooth Profiles, A2DP, AVRCP, HID, HFP, PBAP, HSP, OPP, SPP; Wi-Fi; Wi-Fi Hotspot; HTML Browser; Flash; GPS

Internal memory: RAM (2GB), ROM (16GB

External memory/microSD Capacity: Up to 64GB microSD

Calling features: Speakerphone; Voice Recognition; Voicemail; Visual Voicemail; Text-to-speech; Music ID; Picture Caller ID; Multitasking; Call Restrictions; Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC), M3; TTY; Airline Mode

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Android , Gadgets & products , Phones , Review , T-Mobile , Telecom , Verizon , Windows Phone , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 12, 2012 10:07 AM

Verizon unveils shared data plans, sea change begins?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon Wireless today announced new shared data plans, a move that could lead to a shake-up in how people in the U.S. pay for wireless broadband on mobile devices.

As more consumers use multiple wireless devices including phones, tablets and even Web-enabled cars, the old billing models that require minimum data plans per device make less sense, at least from consumers' perspective.

Wireless companies have been hinting that they'll start offering shared data plans and now Verizon's started the shift. The new pricing approach by the nation's largest carrier provides a glimpse at what it's going to cost over the next few years to have multiple, web-connected wireless devices.

People with a single device may end up paying more, but there are savings for those with multiple devices and fairly high data consumption.

Under the new "Share Everything" plans that are rolling out June 28, Verizon customers may add up to 10 devices to their account and pay for a monthly allotment of data that's shared across the devices. Verizon charges a flat rate per device.

Consumers will pay $40 per month for smartphones, $30 per month for feature phones, $20 per month for laptops or portable modems, and $10 per month for tablets. Voice minutes and messages are unlimited.

Data's not cheap, though. Prices start at $50 per month for 1 gigabyte of data. Two gigs are $60 per month and 4 gigs are $70 per month. Tablets, laptops and portable modems can be added to the plan without committing to long-term contracts.

Under this approach, the minimum price for a smartphone with a data plan is $90 per month. Using an iPhone and an iPad on Verizon would cost a minimum of $100 per month.

"Customers asked, and today Verizon Wireless delivered an industry first," Tami Erwin, Verizon's chief marketing officer, said in the release. "Share Everything Plans are the new standard for wireless service."

Erwin said the new plans are simple, convenient and worry-free.

Verizon's move commoditizes voice plans and may encourage new patterns of mobile device usage, enabled by the more flexible plans, Eddie Hold, NPD vice president, said in a post on the research firm's blog.

Hold said the approach still faces challenges, such as the fact that tablets aren't used that much on cell networks yet since they're mostly used in the home with WiFi.

"However, the plans enable a change in consumer behavior that may be inevitable and if the plans did not change, the consumer behavior never would have," he wrote.

Verizon said customers may keep their existing plans or move to the new "Share Everything" plans with no fee or contract extension.

Under Verizon's current, individual wireless plans, a smartphone with unlimited minutes costs $70 per month for voice and $30 per month for 2 gigabytes of data or $50 per month for 5 gigs. Unlimited message service costs $20 per month.

Verizon will continue to offer usage-based data plans and will not require customers to switch to "Share Everything" plans. Customers who still have unlimited plans - which Verizon dropped earlier - can keep them, but if they upgrade to a new phone they'll have to pay the full retail price for the new device.

A Verizon spokeswoman said that some customers who move to "Share Everything" plans will see monthly charges drop. Others will see charges increase "slightly" or remain flat "but many will see an increase in available minutes in their plans."

She said "nearly all customers will receive more value" when they move to "Share Everything" plans.

AT&T declined to comment on if and when it may offer shared wireless data plans. T-Mobile USA last month said it's not moving toward shared data plans and will stay with its "flexible pricing" approach.

Here's a chart provided by Verizon showing the data price tiers:

vzw.jpg

Here's a chart Verizon provided that compares standard nationwide plans versus "Share Everything" plans. It shows that pricing is a bit higher for people with just a smartphone, although the new approach offers unlimited minutes. Savings begin to appear when you have two or more advanced devices:

vzw2.jpg

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Broadband , Gadgets & products , Phones , Tablets , Telecom , Verizon , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 21, 2012 10:29 AM

Review: Sprint HTC Evo 4G LTE jumps gun

Posted by Brier Dudley

Carrying a Sprint Evo phone used to make you feel special, in a geeky way.

It was the first true 4G wireless phones when it debuted in 2010, showcasing the Clearwire-powered WiMax network.

With a huge screen, sleek black case and powerful processor, the Evo was the baddest phone on the block. As long as the battery held out.

Now Sprint's releasing a more powerful version that I've been testing, the HTC Evo 4G LTE.

evolte.jpg
You feel special carrying this Evo, too, but for different reasons.

For one thing, it's contraband.

Imports of the new Evo were blocked this month by U.S. Customs, delaying its May 18 launch. The phones are being reviewed to see if they comply with a court ruling in a patent spat between Apple and HTC.

The Evo -- and an HTC One phone for AT&T that's also held up -- are casualties of Steve Jobs' going "thermonuclear" on Google's Android software.

I think the late Mr. Jobs is doing Sprint customers a favor by delaying the Evo's release.

The Evo's biggest selling point is that it uses fast, new 4G LTE network technology. LTE is becoming the new standard for smartphones in the U.S. and soon every major network will offer it.

Sprint plans to have LTE across its network in 2013.

The problem is, Sprint doesn't yet offer LTE coverage anywhere. It's promising coverage by "midyear" in six cities -- Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, San Antonio, Kansas City -- but won't say where it's coming next.

Yet it began selling LTE phones in April.

These phones also work on Sprint's 3G network, which is being upgraded, but there's no comparison to LTE speeds. Current LTE phones also won't work with the LTE capacity-boosting service Clearwire is providing Sprint next year.

This is like selling color TVs limited to black and white content. It's infuriating if you're already used to the newer technology.

I began testing the Evo the day President Obama was in town. Downloads were so slow I wondered if the Secret Service had jammed the network.

I tried watching a high-def YouTube trailer for "The Expendables 2." It was maddeningly slow, so I tried it on the free Wi-Fi at a McDonald's. It still froze and buffered more than a dozen times.

I tried the same video on the bus ride home, over Sprint's 3G network. The sound of gunshots roared out of the Evo's "Beats" audio system so I pressed the volume button, and the phone completely froze.

evokick3.jpg
After a reboot, the video "loading" icon spun for another mile. Finally it began playing as I stepped off the bus, then paused to buffer 25 seconds later.

Network aside, I found the Evo to be a nice phone with an 8 megapixel camera, good call quality and far better battery life than the 2010 Evo.

Despite a massive 4.7-inch display, the $200 Evo feels light and easy to hold.

From the front, the case is plain but handsome. The back has an odd combination of shiny and matte plastic, divided by a red aluminum kickstand. It's not as striking as the original Evo or as svelte as the HTC One series (T-Mobile's One at left).

EvoandOne.jpg
The first Evo's battery barely made it past lunchtime. I could use the new one lightly for well over a day without recharging. Sprint claims 7.5 hours of talk time, but the battery is "embedded" and can't be replaced by users.

There are many layers of capability in the Evo, which runs the latest "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android.

Especially prominent is an assortment of preloaded media apps. This profusion of digital storefronts is a little confusing.

Google's "Play" store and service get a home-screen icon and appear in the corner when you scroll through multiple screens filled with apps. "Play Movies" and "Play Music" also link to Google services. "Music" opens a folder with other music apps and "Watch" launches HTC's video store.

Another app, called "Media Share," is designed to connect the phone to a Wi-Fi network and share media files. I thought it would be cool to rent a movie from HTC and play it back through my home network, but I couldn't connect the phone. This was probably a user error, but it should be easier.

IMG_3163.JPG
The Evo also has the ballyhooed Google Wallet and NFC capability. Wallet lets you load credit-card info, which is permanently linked to your Google account. Wallet also stores retail-loyalty cards, and Google will use it to send you coupons and offers.

With near-field communications hardware, you can wave the phone near special credit-card readers at some stores to make a payment.

That may appeal to some, but to me the convenience isn't worth giving Google my credit information. It's like giving Cookie Monster keys to the Keebler factory. If Google wants that access, it should provide a free phone and wireless service in return.

Others may also be excited to have a truly next generation phone like the HTC Evo 4G LTE.

It's a fine phone, but users will be paying $80 per month to use it on a last-generation network for a significant part of their two-year contract.

Here are the phone's specs, via HTC:

Network: LTE (Band 25) and CDMA 1xRTT EVDO Rel. 0, EVDO Rev. A
Dimensions: 5.31" (L) x 2.72" (W) x 0.35" (T)
Keyboard/Form Factor: Virtual QWERTY
Weight: 4.73 ounces
Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with HTC Sense
Display: 4.7-inch 1280x720 HD with IPS technology (In Plane Switching); Capacitive touch screen
Battery: 2000 mAh
Camera: (Main): 8MP color CMOS with auto focus; (Front): 1.3MP color CMOS Front Camera; Back Side-Illuminated (BSI Sensor); HTC ImageChip
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB ROM, microSDHC compatible
GPS: GPS/AGPS
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0+, 3.5mm Stereo audio jack, Micro USB connector with MHL, NFC, WiFi: IEEE 802.11 A,B,G,N
Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Qualcomm MSM8960

Here's a photo taken with the HTC Evo 4G LTE, of the site of Amazon.com's forthcoming office towers:

2012-05-10 13.30.50.jpg

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Android , Apps , Gadgets & products , Google , HTC , Phones , Sprint , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 21, 2012 10:24 AM

Q&A: T-Mobile CEO on layoffs, iPhone, mergers and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a detour through Dallas, Philipp Humm is finally getting to reshape T-Mobile USA.

Humm reinvigorated T-Mobile's German business before parent company Deutsche Telekom sent him to Bellevue in 2010, to rev up America's fourth largest wireless company. But before Humm could make his mark here, Dallas-based AT&T moved to buy his company for $39 billion.

That left T-Mobile in limbo and hemorrhaging subscribers through much of 2011, until the merger collapsed under regulatory scrutiny in December.

hummmm.jpg
Before it was over, T-Mobile took another hit from the new Apple iPhone, which launched in October -- on the networks of T-Mobile's three large competitors.

Once the dust settled, the athletic German sprung into action.

In February he announced a $4 billion upgrade to LTE network technology going online in 2013. In March he consolidated call centers, closing seven of 24 In April, the company began re-branding itself as more aggressive and tech-oriented.

May's initiative -- announced last week -- is a broad restructuring that includes flattening management and cutting slower-growth areas of the businesses. About 900 layoffs resulted, but Humm said 550 positions will be added through the year.

Combined with an effort to build up T-Mobile's business sales, the company should end up with a much larger presence in the Seattle area, Humm said in an interview last week.

Here's an edited version of the conversation.

Q: It has to be tough leading a company through the roller coaster of a failed merger, followed by restructuring. How is morale?

A: I'm very proud about the way, in particular, our management and our employees have taken the news, taken the information and also the feedback we've received, the way we handled it and the way we supported our employees.

Q: What exactly is happening?

A: What we are really doing right now is we are trying to restructure T-Mobile to be ready to invest in different growth areas.

Q: Can you clarify the layoff numbers?

A: There will be about 900 positions which will be eliminated on one side, but at the same time we're creating 550 new positions, which means that we have a net reduction of 350 positions, which I think was often misunderstood.

Q: There are also "business to business" jobs being added?

A: We are creating on top of it another 1,000 jobs, but they will all be in B2B. They will be nationwide and that's a program which will probably take between two and three years to be completed. If you add that into it, we will, at the end of the day be net positive, but we will look very differently.

Q: What areas have less growth potential now?

A: We have looked at different areas where we can improve, for example, our expense or controls or reduce numbers of layers between the chief and the customer so we are more agile as an organization. I don't want to go into specific functions.

Q: Where do you see growth?

A: The business area. We're also investing in different paths of marketing. We simply need new employees with new skills.

Q: What's changed?

A: We have not in the past really focused on the B2B segment per se. That's why we have only a market share of 5 percent in B2B. Obviously, we have different ambitions and want to significantly grow our market share.

Q: For residential customers, will T-Mobile seem different?

A: If you contrast our advertising a year ago with the current advertising, we're really evolving the brand by making our spokeswoman also evolve. We're trying to evolve from "more affordability" to being known for cutting-edge 4G and affordability.

So we want really to make sure that customers start to understand T-Mobile is a very serious tech brand, which has a very strong 4G network, which has a very strong 4G device lineup.

Q: Will affordability continue to be a hallmark of the brand?

A: Yes.

Q: Will there be less affordability -- or price increases?

A: I don't think there is a need for less affordability or changing our price positioning. We have good price positioning now. It's really adding the tech aspect to our brand and really restarting the brand.

Q: Was the restructuring planned before the AT&T deal?

A: Yes and no. Being a challenger in the market, strategically you need to have an organization that is aligned with our strategy. We would have done the restructuring independent of the AT&T merger. Probably the same as we did or a little bit more.

Q: Do you need to sell the iPhone?

A: At the end of the day the iPhone is a good and important smartphone. The question is, do we need to carry it and subsidize it or do we simply open up the network to let people bring the iPhone with them?

We have been quite successful very quietly in really offering unsubsidized rate plans. If you look at our growth ... 45 percent of our growth adds are unsubsidized rate plans. We already shifted the model at T-Mobile quite significantly.

Q: Will you add shared data plans for families, like Verizon is planning?

A: We have a little bit different belief. We have family plans out today which are where, when you add a line, you get a discount or you get tethering included in your main rate plans.

We think that the industry -- that's our opinion -- is probably doing a mistake by trying to copy a very old fashioned voice model for data and now trying to pool data.

Imagine the situation: three people in the house, one of them is a teenager. You have a family rate plan -- say, a rich plan of 5 gigabytes -- and the teenager, girl or boy, watches an HD movie. Your family rate plan is gone. You are at work trying to download data and it suddenly says sorry, game over. You can get for another 10 bucks another half a gigabit or whatever.

I don't think that is a model that really applies to the modern world, and I wouldn't want that to be a rate plan we are putting forward because it will create negative customer perception.

Q: T-Mobile made a commitment to push Windows Phone this year. How is that working out?

A: I think we have a very good relationship with Microsoft, and we discovered that, in particular, for customers who are new to smartphones, they really enjoy the simplicity of the Microsoft [user interface], so they like the design and the ease of it.

Q: Are Windows phones selling as well as you hoped?

A: We are so far quite pleased and I think Microsoft, if you talk to them, [is] quite pleased with T-Mobile.

Q: There have been reports that T-Mobile may merge with a smaller carrier or go public. Will something big happen to your company?

A: We are pretty sizable company; we are profitable and we are on the right path to growth. ... That's really our main point of view, to strengthen our own business and come back to growth.

Beyond that we will always look at opportunities to gain additional scale or additional spectrum or strengthen capital structure in the U.S. market. Those are always things we will be looking into.

Q: Are there too many wireless carriers in the U.S.?

A: Overall we are in the infrastructure business. Infrastructure business always leads to a certain consolidation as a matter of principle. Based on today's model you would expect some sort of consolidation in the years to come.

That being said, if the government throws lots and lots of spectrum into the market, the barriers of entry for new people to come into the market would be lowered and you would have new competition.

Q: Isn't the market saturated, with subscription growth cresting last quarter?

A: We will continue to move customers from nonsmartphone rate plans to rate plans, which is accretive. So data is really the big driver. That's something everybody is doing.

Q: Will T-Mobile's local stature change?

A: The region is a very dynamic region for our industry and associated industries. Just look at Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, all very big and important companies in their respective sectors and working all different forms together. The region itself will continue to be a very vibrant and important region.

Also if you look at our restructuring, the net effect of the restructuring will not lead to a decrease of positions in the Puget Sound area, but actually lead to an increase of positions in the Puget Sound area.

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May 15, 2012 10:53 AM

Broad new layoffs at T-Mobile USA, 900 jobs cut

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA Chief Executive Philipp Humm warned employees a few months ago that more layoffs would happen by the end of May. It's happening right on schedule.

Today, the company is informing employees of "a series of organizational changes," a spokeswoman said.

A net loss of about 900 jobs will result. But even more jobs are likely affected by the changes, which include layoffs and shifts to outsource more work.

(Update: The day after the layoff announcement, the company said hiring planned through the rest of the year will offset some of the cuts.)

These layoffs are a major blow to the largest remaining wireless company in the Seattle area after a series of mergers over the last two decades.

The industry took off after McCaw Cellular established the first national cell network in the 1980s. It was sold to AT&T in 1994, and the cluster spawned other carriers that became T-Mobile.

Even if the layoffs restore T-Mobile's footing, its future remains unclear, especially given the likelihood of further consolidation in the wireless industry.

T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, is looking at combining T-Mobile with MetroPCS or perhaps spinning it off as a public company, according to a Bloomberg report last week. T-Mobile is the nation's fourth-largest carrier and MetroPCS is the fifth.

Reducing costs through layoffs and outsourcing could better position T-Mobile for another merger attempt or improve its balance sheet for presentation to potential investors.

Industry consultant Chetan Sharma expects industry shuffling in the next 18 to 24 months as the carriers adjust to slowing growth of pre-paid subscriptions in a saturated market and challenged economy.

"My theory is the market is desperately asking for consolidation," he said.

If T-Mobile is able to cut its costs and keep its network upgrades on track, "they still have a fairly good shot at being competitive," said Issaquah-based Sharma, who is not consulting for T-Mobile.

It's unclear how many of the affected jobs are at the company's Bellevue headquarters. It employs around 4,800 people in the area. Nationwide the company employs around 36,000.

The state Employment Security Department had not yet received notification of a mass layoff at T-Mobile on Tuesday afternoon. Such notifications are required before 50 or more employees are laid off in a single location.

The layoffs are in addition to the 3,300 call center layoffs announced in March as part of the company's effort to improve profitability after customer declines while the company was in the limbo of AT&T's attempted merger last year.

The new layoffs are affecting "all departments," spokeswoman Michelle Taylerson said via e-mail.

"The restructuring was based on a thorough review of our entire organization, at all levels. The degree and nature of impact varies - but every function was reviewed," she said.

The cuts won't affect technicians in engineering, customer-service representatives in remaining call centers or "front-line" retail employees in T-Mobile-owned stores.

Details of which jobs are being outsourced isn't being provided.

"In developing the new structure, we evaluated every aspect of our business - including which activities would be best reassigned to outside business partners that are experts in their given fields," Taylerson said.

T-Mobile's business picked up last quarter, when it added 187,000 subscribers. That was a sharp reversal from the holiday season when it lost 526,000 customers.

Simultaneously, T-Mobile has been hiring about 1,000 people to pursue more business customers while spending $4 billion on its upgrade to 4G LTE network technology.

But there will still be the net reduction in employees.

"It's not going to be easy," Sharma said, "but they can survive."

The company issued the following statement:

"T-Mobile previously announced its intent to restructure and optimize operations throughout the company in order to best reposition the company, given today's demanding and rapidly evolving marketplace. This week we are communicating to our employees a series of additional organizational changes to best position T-Mobile to powerfully compete and return to growth. We are restructuring the organization and optimizing operations so that we can make critical decisions better and faster in response to market and customer demands. Further, by reducing our cost structure and streamlining operations, T-Mobile will be able to invest in areas where we anticipate the strongest return: modernizing our 4G network; aggressively pursuing the B2B segment; and re-launching our brand. These changes resulted in a restructuring of key functions and departments across the company including the elimination of some positions and the outsourcing of others. While difficult choices had to be made, restructuring our organization will help us better respond to market and customer demands and bring opportunity for continued career development and growth for many of our employees. We appreciate the contributions of our affected colleagues and will provide them with assistance and support during this transition."

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March 26, 2012 10:17 AM

Clearwire, layoffs and the future of 4G wireless service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Garet Martin is ahead of the curve.

The Portland resident experienced the future of 4G wireless service last week, and it wasn't pretty.

Martin gets wireless home broadband and phone service from Bellevue-based Clearwire.

She's generally pleased with the $63-a-month package, even though she has to move her modem when a particular tree gets leafy in the summer and interferes with the signal coming across the Willamette River.

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It was all fine until earlier this month, when she lost access to her voice-mail box. She called me after she had been stuck for nearly two weeks, only getting a recorded message saying her voice mail "is temporarily unavailable."

A series of calls to Clearwire's customer-service numbers went nowhere. Visits to a Clearwire outlet in Portland led to more dead-ends, but she did learn others were having the same problem with their voice mail.

Martin's situation was a little unusual, but I'll bet customer service will be a growing challenge over the next year or two for wireless companies.

A storm is brewing: Phone companies are rushing to build-out fourth-generation wireless networks better able to handle the crush of data from smartphones, tablets and other mobile-computing devices.

Consumers have become dependent on wireless devices, and most are upgrading to smartphones that are more complex.

To cover the cost of their network upgrades, phone companies are making some changes. They're moving toward more complicated pricing plans that meter data service.

At the same time, phone companies are diverting resources away from customer service and toward network upgrades. As we've seen over the past month, this has led to huge layoffs at call centers.

T-Mobile USA last week said it's closing seven centers, cutting 1,900 jobs so it can afford a $4 billion upgrade to 4G LTE technology. Verizon earlier said it's closing three centers, including one with 850 employees in Bellevue.

These follow a string of layoffs at other companies, including Clearwire.

In some ways Clearwire is a bellwether. It was the first company to offer true 4G wireless broadband, but the expensive network project led to sweeping layoffs and restructuring in 2010.

Clearwire's shifting strategy led to the problems Martin encountered this month. But she didn't learn that from the company she's been supporting for several years.

Customer-service reps were stumped with her problem, and her extended waits on the phone ended in frustration.

"Frankly, all the people I reach in the Philippines and India ... they all say how sorry they are, but they can't really do anything -- they can't or won't give me a supervisor or tell me where I can call in the United States," she said.

The reps told Martin "they know there's a problem and they told me there are a lot of people who are calling, but they just can't help me."

Martin isn't your ordinary frustrated customer. She said she used to head the Better Business Bureau's complaint department in San Francisco. After moving to Portland, she became a community activist.

"I love handling disputes," she said.

It makes you wonder what a less-motivated customer would have done. I'd have thrown my Clearwire modem out the window after those calls.

Instead, Martin drove to a Clearwire retailer in Portland. A person there gave her a number for a corporate office, which was always busy when she called, and for a regional office in Portland that turned out to have been vacated.

The sales outlet had a Clearwire sign but stopped selling Clearwire service and now sells other plans. Still, an employee told her other Clearwire customers had come to complain about the voice-mail problem.

Finally Martin began calling reporters.

I contacted Clearwire last Tuesday and asked if there were any service problems in Portland or Seattle. The initial response was that there were no network problems, outages or service disruptions.

Martin was still stuck, so I tried again with Clearwire, explaining that some customers were apparently unable to access voice mail.

A spokesman then replied that Clearwire is shifting the operation of its home-phone service to a third-party vendor. Customers who try their voice-mail password repeatedly during this process could get locked out.

Clearwire no longer sells this phone service to new customers. It's now mostly focused on providing wholesale service that larger companies use to supplement their networks.

Still, it continues to support 1.3 million retail customers, including perhaps 100,000 using the home-phone service.

"The service didn't really make sense as a long-term product for us," spokesman Mike DiGioia said.

Most customers didn't notice the back-end provider changed, he said. But some were caught in the migration and had their mailbox PIN codes locked up.

I guess that's understandable, but Clearwire dropped the ball by not informing its call centers of the issue. After our exchange, it set up a process for call centers to resolve it, DiGioia said.

But after I passed this on to Martin and she tried again with customer service Thursday, it still didn't work. DiGioia noted the fix could take 24 to 36 hours to take effect, but offered to intervene.

"We're sorry it happened, but we're working to make it right for them," he said.

Martin opted to have me share her name with the company, rather than wait another day. That afternoon she was on the phone with Geoff Levy, Clearwire head of customer care, and a product manager, who immediately fixed the problem.

"I'm getting two months of free service, but I still gave him hell," Martin said. "I told him I can't believe you treat your customers this way and you weren't more proactive."

Even so, Martin will keep using the wireless service she's grown to depend upon.

"I'll probably stick with them for quite a while, unless I have more problems," she said. "There really isn't anything competitive now."

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November 14, 2011 9:21 AM

Seattle broadband network floated again, sort of

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seven years after it began pursuing a city broadband network, Seattle's trying again. Sort of.

Mayor Mike McGinn and other dignitaries will announce a new, smaller effort Monday morning in South Lake Union. The plan is to offer city infrastructure to lure phone or cable companies willing to build ultrafast broadband in one or two neighborhoods.

More and faster broadband is better, but I'm not sure this is going to result in much change. It's unlikely to help many homes or businesses truly suffering from a lack of fast service, especially since the targeted neighborhoods already have pretty good broadband.

Helping a small pocket of the city may be more realistic than pursuing top-notch broadband across the city, but it pushes the true goal farther back.

As it did in 2006 and 2007, the city's offering access to 500 miles of fiber-optic lines the public spent at least $50 million to install.

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This time around, the city's hooked up with the University of Washington and an alliance of universities across the country that's trying to get companies to provide faster service to research schools and their surrounding communities.

The alliance, called Gig U, wants to foster new research and development of applications using ultrafast connections. Success in these areas could prod telecommunications companies to provide more ultrafast broadband. Project proposals from companies are due early next month.

Broadband companies negotiate for city right of way to deliver service in Seattle. But McGinn said the city doesn't have enough leverage over the companies to extract better pricing or service from them.

"This is why it's so important for the city to start looking at different models... to start driving some competition or create the competition ourselves, ultimately."

But the city has started off on this road before and never went anywhere.

A high-profile broadband task force formed in 2004 said the city should pursue a network that would provide affordable, fiber-optic connections to everyone in the city by 2015, with minimum speeds of 20 to 25 megabits per second.

That led to a request for proposals from telecommunications companies willing to partner with the city, and talks with 11 providers. In 2007, Mayor Greg Nickels wanted to pursue a fiber network but the effort fizzled before there were any firm proposals to build anything.

One possibility that was never pursued was to have City Light become a broadband provider, similar to the approach taken by the city of Tacoma and other public utilities.

McGinn said that could be an option someday. But first the city will try to encourage a pilot project, in neighborhoods adjacent to the UW or UW facilities -- meaning South Lake Union or the University District.

I asked McGinn and Bill Schrier, the city's chief technology officer, why this will fare better than the city's earlier, more ambitious broadband plans.

Schrier said there's higher interest, driven by the federal broadband plan issued in 2010 and Google's 2010 offer to wire a few cities with ultrafast, experimental networks.

"There's a much wider awareness for broadband and its value than there was in 2007," Schrier said.

I hate to be critical about this because the need for better and more affordable broadband in America is real. There's not enough competition to bring prices down and there's little incentive for companies to provide faster service outside of dense, prosperous areas. But the project being floated today doesn't address those problems.

Also, Gig U's concerns about universities having ultrafast broadband do not apply to the UW proper. The UW has one of the world's fastest Internet connections. It's part of the Internet2 research consortium that's operating a new 100 gigabit per second network. Seattle is one of 10 cities connected by this network, enabling the UW to do cutting-edge research in computing and sciences.

South Lake Union is also an odd location for Monday's news conference. It may be the last place you'd talk about a broadband crisis.

A mass of fiber runs through the neighborhood, alongside the new Terry Avenue headquarters of Amazon.com.

"There's fiber all over South Lake Union from like eight carriers -- the biggest fiber route in the Northwest goes right down Terry," said John Van Oppen, chief executive of Spectrum Networks.

Spectrum provides 100 megabit-per-second Internet service to dozens of office and apartment buildings in the region, charging people $60 per month for unlimited usage.

Next spring, Spectrum services will be upgraded to 1 gigabit per second, at the same price. That speed is already available at Van Oppen's condo -- in South Lake Union.

Van Oppen said the city's making a good effort to improve broadband offerings, but he doesn't expect there will be a lot of private-sector interest in using its fiber to serve a neighborhood or two.

One reason is that fiber isn't as scarce a resource anymore. The biggest cost to provide ultrafast broadband is in the "last mile" connection, hooking up the individual homes and buildings.

"The cost isn't in anything but that last little bit," Van Oppen said. "The reason it's so expensive isn't because you need to get fiber from one of the data centers, it's because you need to get fiber into the building."

It's nice to support the Gig U effort, which may have better luck advancing broadband nationally than the FCC's federal plan.

But Seattle needs to be sure that in its eagerness to join the movement it doesn't give up fiber-optic capacity that city agencies and schools may need in the future.

The city also needs to be sure the public gets a good return on its infrastructure investment -- and not just intangible benefits.

Still hanging out there is the question of whether we'll ever see a citywide, municipal broadband service. If that's at all possible, the city has to take care it's not giving up fiber capacity the whole city may need someday, just to enhance neighborhoods that are already doing well.

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October 26, 2011 10:59 AM

T-Mobile's Wal-Mart 4G smartphone, starts at $29.99

Posted by Brier Dudley

Any lingering questions about whether smartphones are going mainstream should be put to rest by T-Mobile USA's newest offering - a 4G Android model that's debuting next week at Wal-Mart for $29.99.

That's after a $50 rebate and with a two-year contract. T-Mobile's also going to offer the Samsung Exhibit II 4G contract-free for $199.99.

Wal-Mart's getting first crack at the phone starting Oct. 27. It will be available in other stores starting Nov. 2.

The Exhibit II 4G has a 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor and a 3.7-inch touchscreen. Costs were cut on the camera - it uses a 3 megapixel sensor. There's also a front-facing camera for video chat and a spiffy "marine blue" case.

It's also not getting the fastest wireless radio. It's billed as a "4G" device because it will connect to T-Mobile's HSPA+ network, which is capable of download speeds up to 42 megabits per second. But the Exhibit II will have maximum download speeds of 14.4 Mbps.

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October 17, 2011 12:00 AM

Verizon flies past other carriers in Seattle speed test

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon and its new LTE network walloped other carriers in a new survey of Seattle-area wireless network performance.

The survey (posted below) was done by Bellevue's RootMetrics, which did more than 27,000 call, data and text tests in September to gauge speeds and performance of the different carriers in the area.

It found that Verizon's average download speed was up to 21.5 times faster and its average upload speed was 20 times faster than previous tests in February, which didn't test the latest 4G networks.

Verizon's average download speed of 14.5 megabits per second was faster than the maximum speed Root recorded on any of the other carriers, and its 9.6 Mbps upload speed was eight times faster than T-Mobile, its nearest competitor.

Verizon also topped its ranking of overall performance. Second place went to AT&T, followed by T-Mobile and Sprint.

Root also found that AT&T more than doubled its average download speeds since its previous tests, moving it from third to second place in its speed ranking. T-Mobile also showed faster downloads but they "increased at a less drastic rate, while Sprint's average download speed actually declined."

T-Mobile was the quickest to deliver text messages.

When it came to dropped calls, all four carriers "delivered statistically equal performances" the report found, with drop rates of 0.1 to 1.6 percent.

But data transmission failures were higher in Seattle than in other markets that Root has tested recently. AT&T had the lowest data failure rate - with failures in 6.2 percent of its tests - and Sprint had the highest rate, with failures in 14.2 percent of its tests.

Root did the tests with off-the-shelf Android devices. From the description of the devices and methods:

The HTC myTouch 4G Slide (T-Mobile 4G), the HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon 4G), the Samsung Epic 4G (Sprint 4G), and the Samsung Infuse 4G (AT&T 4G). During the Text test, SMS messages were sent from each phone to an in-market receiver kit holding mobile devices for each of the carriers. The phones used in the receiver kit were the HTC Droid Eris (Verizon), the HTC Evo (Sprint), the Samsung Captivate (AT&T), and the Samsung Vibrant (T-Mobile).

A few graphics from its report:

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October 3, 2011 10:34 AM

Rhapsody buying Napster, Best Buy gets part of Rhapsody

Posted by Brier Dudley

In response to growing competition in the subscription music business, Seattle's Rhapsody is buying Napster from Best Buy.

As part of the deal, Best Buy is getting a minority stake in Rhapsody, which was spun out of RealNetworks last year.

Rhapsody and Napster are the two largest "premium" subscription music companies in the U.S., the companies said. Combined they may stand a better chance against a wave of new and retooled music services being rolled out this year.

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"This deal will further extend Rhapsody's lead over our competitors in the growing on-demand music market," Rhapsody President Jon Irwin said in the release.

The sale is expected to close on Nov. 30, after which Napster subscribers will be shifted to Rhapsody. The notorious Napster brand will be dropped.

Napster's selling price and the combined total subscribers weren't disclosed.

The deal cements Rhapsody's position as the largest provider of "all you can eat," paid subscription music services in the U.S. and gives it a toehold in Europe, where Napster has a presence.

It also comes as the company faces new competition from younger challengers such as Spotify, Rdio and MOG.

At the same time, Netflix-era consumers may be warming up to the concept of paying about $10 a month to access huge online music libraries from computers, mobile devices and connected stereos.

Irwin said in an interview that Rhapsody is interested in additional acquisitions "that make sense" and further its growth.

"We're going to go after those aggressively," he said.

Consolidation was inevitable and could lead toward larger deals by Internet giants whose online music services don't have as much traction.

As smartphone and Web tablet use soars and mobile broadband proliferates, Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com and Apple will all vie to store and stream consumers' digital music collections on their networks.

Google, Amazon and Apple each introduced "cloud" services that provide online storage and access to digital music this year, but they don't yet offer all-you-can-eat subscription services. Microsoft has the Zune music service that's linked to Windows Phone and Xbox consoles and, with the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, it's going to put a bigger emphasis on storing, syncing and streaming digital content.

The Napster deal likely gives Rhapsody more than a million customers -- with esablished billing relationships. That will make it a more appealing acquisition target or at least give the company enough heft to compete with the big players.

Asked about the acquisition potential, Irwin said: "Our focus is going to be 100 percent on growing, providing the music experience for our customers and building value in the service we deliver for them."

His comments in the press release emphasized the importance of scale.

"This is a 'go big or go home' business, so our focus is on sustainably growing the company," Irwin said.

Scale also benefits the new social features the company added, including its new partnership with Facebook, he added.

Rhapsody has about 800,000 customers and expects to break even later this year. It lost $7 million on sales of $32.5 million in the quarter ending March 31. It has 150 employees -- including about 120 in Seattle -- and has sales of about $130 million a year.

Streaming music plans are increasingly bundled with cellphones, and Rhapsody's major focus lately has been expanding partnerships with carriers such as Verizon Wireless.

Napster began as a rebellious music sharing site that was shut down by record companies, but the brand lived on after software company Roxio bought the brand name in a 2004 bandkruptcy sale.

Napster then was built into a subscription music service that had about 700,000 paying customers when it was sold to Best Buy in 2008 for $121 million. At the time Best Buy was hoping the deal would help it better compete with Apple's iTunes store for music buyers.

Apple has continue to lead digital music sales but it's been slow to develop a subscription offering. It acquired streaming music provider Lala in 2009 but discontinued the Lala service.

Napster employs about 120 people, most at its offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. There are likely to be significant layoffs, as Rhapsody plans to close the Southern California offices.

"We'll be working with the Napster team to migrate the customer base and, to the extent that there are openings for Napster employees to join the team, we'll be discussing those opportunities with them," Irwin said.

The music libraries offered by Napster and Rhapsody mostly overlap so customers aren't likely to see much change. Napster subscribers will have their favorite tracks and other saved lists shifted over to Rhapsody after the deal closes.

Rhapsody's business, meanwhile, should continue growing through partnerships and acquisitions, Irwin said.

"I like our position -- I like where we're sitting," he said.

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September 7, 2011 10:13 AM

Droid Bionic, dual-core LTE phone: Better, stronger, faster?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if it cost Motorola $6 million to build the Droid Bionic, which raises the bar for smartphones when Verizon Wireless begins selling it Thursday.

The specs suggest that it really is better, stronger and faster than the Droid was before.
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The Bionic is Verizon's first dual-core phone that runs on its LTE mobile broadband network. Verizon says users should see 5 to 12 Megabit per second download speeds and 2 to 5 Mbps uploads.

The Droid has a 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass screen, 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video capture, front-facing camera for video chat and HDMI out for playing 1080p videos on a larger display.

Inside there are dual-core 1 Gigahertz processors, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 32 gigs of memory, including a 16 gig memory card.

It runs the "Gingerbread" version of Google's Android software - version 2.3.4. While working with Motorola on this device, Google decided to buy Motorola outright for $12.5 billion.

The phone costs $300 with a two-year contract. Its mobile hotspot feature costs an extra $30 per month, and a "Lapdock" that converts the phone into a laptop-like device with an 11.6-inch screen and keyboard costs $300.

Engadget's first take:

"Early impressions are those of a very nice phone. The styling is a bit drab, to say the least, but it's a sophisticated looking thing, and seemingly quite solidly built, too. The Gorilla Glass up front has a bevel around the edge that does give a bit of flare, but also succeeds in being an exceedingly effective lint trap after just one trip into a pocket."

Mark Smith at the Detroit Free Press said it's a great phone with all-day battery life during regular use, but he was cool toward the industrial design:

"It's an undeniably great phone, powered by the fastest wireless network in the air today.

For those who have been waiting out the 4G smartphone race this summer, hoping for a hit with the Bionic, your wait has been rewarded. This one is worth buying."

It sounds like a Steve Austin special:

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September 1, 2011 4:00 PM

Mass layoff at Bremerton call center, hello AT&T?

Posted by Brier Dudley

If AT&T wants to start hiring more U.S. call center workers to win support for its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, it should try the 360 area code.

A call center in Bremerton today informed the state that it's laying off 240 employees by Oct. 31. Last year the center's biggest client was Sprint.

The state disclosed the layoff today. If I'd known about it sooner, I would have mentioned it in today's column on the AT&T deal, which looks at AT&T's job creation pitch.

Englewood, Colo.-based TeleTech is doing the layoff in Bremerton. For a call center company, it's surprisingly hard to find someone to answer the phone there -- the media contact didn't respond to phone or email requests for comment.

TeleTech received a warm welcome in Bremerton, especially after it disclosed plans last year to hire 250 people.

That was supposed to bring its total workforce to around 675, according to an article in the Kitsap Sun last summer. The article said employees started at $9.75 an hour. That's nearly $2 lower than the median pay such workers receive across the country and close to the state's minimum wage of $8.67.

Before the layoff, about 1,100 people in the Bremerton area worked as customer service representatives, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Statewide there are about 30,000 people employed in that job category, which includes call centers and other customer service jobs.

UPDATE: Apparently another company at the Bremerton call center may hire the laid off workers.

TeleTech lost its contract to operate at the center, which is run by IBM, and the new contractor -- Manpower -- is offering jobs to those laid off, according to Peggy Barnett, Employment Security's business services manager for the area.

"That's my understanding -- that everybody has an offer to move over if they'd like, to their same positions," she said.

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September 1, 2011 10:07 AM

Q&A on T-Mobile deal now: effect on jobs, customers, 4G

Posted by Brier Dudley

The surprise decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to fight AT&T's takeover of T-Mobile USA raises all sorts of questions for wireless customers, employees and the Seattle area.

Hanging in the balance are more than 5,000 T-Mobile workers in the region, plus thousands of contract employees and vendors whose jobs are tied to T-Mobile's headquarters in Bellevue.
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Here are some opinionated answers to some of those questions.

Q: I'm a T-Mobile customer. What's going to happen to me?

A: Things should stay the same for a while -- perhaps a year or more. Under the original merger plan, T-Mobile would continue operating independently until the deal closed in 2012. AT&T promised to honor T-Mobile contracts after the deal was done.

The federal case is likely to delay the merger, if not stop it altogether. That means T-Mobile will continue operating independently longer. That will postpone any changes for customers.

Q: What if the AT&T deal falls through?

A: T-Mobile will continue to operate, but its parent company, Deutsche Telekom, may try to find another buyer, such as Sprint. That would mean a few more years of uncertainty.

Q: Should I hold off renewing my T-Mobile contract?

A: If you like your current phone and T-Mobile service, you may want to renew your service.

The DOJ lawsuit argues that T-Mobile provides better deals and innovative products. If that's correct, and you renew, you'll continue to get those deals through the life of the contract, even if AT&T takes over T-Mobile.

Q: What about the 4G stuff?

A: All the major wireless companies now offer fourth-generation, or 4G, wireless service that's faster than 3G but doesn't have as much coverage area yet.

T-Mobile and AT&T tweaked their 3G networks to provide 4G speeds.

Meanwhile, the industry is moving to a fast, robust new 4G technology called LTE, or Long-Term Evolution. Verizon and AT&T already offer LTE service in some areas. Sprint offers another wireless broadband technology called WiMax, but it's eventually moving to LTE as well.

Although the DOJ lawsuit says T-Mobile's innovation pushes the industry forward, T-Mobile is unlikely to join the others and move to LTE without hooking up with another company. So customers with the latest T-Mobile phones will get fast downloads where its souped-up network is available.

Q: What if I want the new iPhone/Android phone/BlackBerry/Windows "Mango" phone?

A: If you're shopping for a new phone and can wait a month or two, you'll have a bunch of new options, regardless of T-Mobile's situation. This fall we'll probably see a new iPhone and new Windows phones. A batch of more powerful Android phones is expected in time for the holiday season, and several new BlackBerry devices just surfaced -- at T-Mobile and other carriers.

Q: Why is the government getting involved?

A: The administration is gung-ho for technology and wireless progress in particular. The DOJ believes the merger will reduce competition, resulting in higher prices and less innovation. The deal also needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is still reviewing AT&T's plan.

Q: What's next?

A: The DOJ's case will be heard by a U.S. District judge in Washington, D.C. AT&T plans to fight the case, and ask that it be expedited.

Q: What will happen to T-Mobile employees?

A: They may get a reprieve, but not forever. AT&T is likely to cut overlapping jobs after the merger closes, but the company isn't providing specifics. For now, the federal lawsuit extends the uncertainty hanging over T-Mobile employees. If the AT&T merger is blocked, T-Mobile will continue to operate, but it's not likely to remain independent forever.

Q: What about the 5,000 jobs that AT&T promised to create?

A: Late Tuesday, AT&T announced that it would move 5,000 call-center positions from overseas to the U.S. if the deal closes. It also said there would be no layoffs at any of AT&T or T-Mobile's call centers (AT&T operates two call centers in Bothell).

This looks to me like politicking. AT&T presumably received a courtesy notice of the impending DOJ lawsuit, and made a pre-emptive move to cast the merger as creating jobs. This provided fresh talking points to unions representing AT&T workers. They already had sided with AT&T on the deal, and may put some pressure on regulators.

Creating more jobs is a good thing, but AT&T appears to be pandering and creating a diversion.

T-Mobile employs 42,000 people across the U.S., including more than 5,000 in the Seattle area. AT&T hasn't said how many non-call center jobs will be cut, and whether the merger will result in a net gain or loss of U.S. jobs.

Until that bottom line is disclosed, nobody can argue that the deal will create jobs.

Q: Hey, America needs jobs, now.

A: Yes, but before anyone's swayed by the 5,000 jobs, they should put AT&T's offering into perspective.

The latest federal figures say 437,890 people were working at U.S. call centers as of May 2010. That workforce will increase by about 1 percent if AT&T shifts 5,000 jobs back to the U.S. It's almost negligible when you consider there were 13,931,000 unemployed Americans in July.

The median hourly pay for those call-center workers was $11.84. Their mean annual salary was $30,940, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those are hardly family-wage jobs. Many call-center workers would be eligible for food stamps under federal poverty guidelines: The cutoff is $27,214 for a family of two and $34,281 for a family of three.

Meanwhile, AT&T is likely to cut higher-paying T-Mobile management and administration jobs that duplicate what AT&T has at its headquarters in Dallas. In Washington state, the mean salary for management jobs was $112,290 last year.

Q: With so many people unemployed, who is going to buy all these new 4G phones?

A: Good question.

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August 31, 2011 2:20 PM

Internal memo: T-Mobile boss on merger news

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA isn't saying anything about the Department of Justice opposing the AT&T merger.

But in an internal memo to employees today, Philipp Humm, chief executive of Bellevue-based Tmo, told employees to stay the course.

Here's the memo:

Aug. 31, 2011

Colleagues,

By now you have heard the news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit to block the AT&T and T-Mobile merger in U.S. District Court. We were surprised by this sudden announcement, and DT [Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent] will join AT&T in challenging the DOJ's case in court.

DT and AT&T believe the DOJ has failed to acknowledge the significant consumer benefits of this deal. DT remains convinced that bringing together these two world-class businesses would create significant benefits for customers and the country.

While this action is addressed in Federal court, the best thing you can do is continue to focus on strengthening our business and offering world class customer service.

Customers have many reasons to choose T-Mobile -- from the great value we offer, to compelling devices running on America's largest 4G network and our leadership in customer service and satisfaction. Working as a team, we will continue to prove there's no better time to be a T-Mobile customer.

Let's build upon the positive momentum we've created in recent months. We have a great team here at T-Mobile, and I know you will join me in ensuring that, no matter what, "I Am T-Mobile Count on Me."

I promise to make more information available to you in the coming days and weeks on OneVoice and through your leaders as this news develops.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and support.

Regards,
Philipp Humm

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August 31, 2011 10:32 AM

T-Mobile and AT&T fight: The dueling press releases

Posted by Brier Dudley

It will take awhile for a federal judge to rule on the feds lawsuit, attempting to block AT&T's purchase of T-Mobile USA.

In the meantime, the companies involved are duking it out with press releases. Here are the dueling statements issued today.

AT&T issued a statement of surprise and disappointment, attributed to Wayne Watts, senior executive vice president and general counsel:

We are surprised and disappointed by today's action, particularly since we have met repeatedly with the Department of Justice and there was no indication from the DOJ that this action was being contemplated.

We plan to ask for an expedited hearing so the enormous benefits of this merger can be fully reviewed. The DOJ has the burden of proving alleged anti-competitive affects and we intend to vigorously contest this matter in court.

At the end of the day, we believe facts will guide any final decision and the facts are clear. This merger will:

-- Help solve our nation's spectrum exhaust situation and improve wireless service for millions.
-- Allow AT&T to expand 4G mobile broadband to another 55 million Americans, or 97% of the population;
-- Result in billions of additional investment and tens of thousands of jobs, at a time when our nation needs them most.

We remain confident that this merger is in the best interest of consumers and our country, and the facts will prevail in court.

Sprint's statement calls it a win, even before the feds' lawsuit is resolved. It's attributed to Vonya B. McCann, senior vice president of government affairs:

"The DOJ today delivered a decisive victory for consumers, competition and our country. By filing suit to block AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile, the DOJ has put consumers' interests first. Sprint applauds the DOJ for conducting a careful and thorough review and for reaching a just decision -- one which will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of a competitive U.S. wireless industry. Contrary to AT&T's assertions, today's action will preserve American jobs, strengthen the American economy, and encourage innovation."

AT&T followed up by passing along a statement of outrage from the Communications Workers of America, which represent workers at AT&T but not T-Mobile:

The decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to seek to block the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA is simply wrong.

In today's sinking economy, where millions of Americans are looking for work, the DOJ has filed suit to block a merger that will create as many as 96,000 quality jobs. In the U.S., where too many Americans, especially in rural areas, don't have access to the tools of Internet technology, the DOJ is looking to block a plan to build out high speed wireless access to 97 percent of the country should be opposed.

In a nation where workers' rights are routinely violated, as occurs every day at T-Mobile, the DOJ apparently believes that workers should be on their own instead of having a fair choice about union representation.

More will come later today. A group of consumer organizations are gearing up for a teleconference where they'll speak out in favor of the feds' move.

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August 31, 2011 10:00 AM

Feds say: T-Mobile sale would raise prices, lower innovation

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's the complaint the U.S. Department of Justice filed to block AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA. The link below is to a PDF version and a scrollable version is embedded below.

ATT-TMO DOJ.pdf

A few excerpts:

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Seattle would be particularly affected by the market concentration:

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AT&T has been feeling heat from T-Mobile's innovation:

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T-Mobile has pressured other carriers to invest and improve:

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The DOJ's summary:

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Here's a version of the filing that's easier to scroll through:

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August 31, 2011 9:00 AM

Sprint president on AT&T, T-Mobile merger, LTE

Posted by Brier Dudley

Steve Elfman seems pretty relaxed, but maybe that's because he's in the eye of the storm.

As president of Sprint's network operations, Elfman, 56, is in the middle of most of the big, emerging stories in the wireless industry.

He's also part of the local wireless mafia, a veteran of AT&T Wireless from the old days in Redmond. He went on to Bellevue's InfoSpace and Motricity before joining his old boss, Dan Hesse, at Sprint in 2008.

Although he's based at Sprint's headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., Elfman kept his Redmond-area house and still calls himself "a Seattle guy."

The network he runs is powered in part by Kirkland's Clearwire, which is largely owned by Sprint. Both companies are moving toward LTE technology, which is emerging as the standard for mobile broadband.

Sprint also is a likely beneficiary of the new LTE network Clearwire announced Aug. 3.

Sprint's product lineup has set the pace for advanced smartphones, launching the first 4G model in 2010 and a 4G model with a 3-D display and camera in June.

Sprint also reportedly is going to carry the new iPhone debuting in October. Elfman wouldn't discuss the Apple deal, but Sprint is holding a big media event Oct. 7 to talk about the company's direction.

At the same time, Sprint is the leading opponent of AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA, which would further extend its lead over third-place Sprint.

As part of Sprint's merger attack squad, Elfman flew into Seattle Tuesday -- on a float plane from his summer place in the San Juans -- to drop a few bombs in meetings with the media and others in the area.

Here are edited excerpts of our conversation Tuesday:

Q: You're in the middle of a lot of the big wireless stories now.

A: We've been really against the AT&T/T-Mobile merger for a few good reasons, and personally there are a couple of reasons, because I'm a Seattle guy.

I started at AT&T Wireless some years ago, and we've seen that go away from here. We've seen Western Wireless leave here, and now my old friend [John] Stanton's VoiceStream [which became T-Mobile USA].

You don't want to see that go and it not be a hotbed any longer of telecom. There's that personal side of it; it really changes to me the landscape of what Craig McCaw started here some years ago.

Q: T-Mobile has been the lower-cost carrier, and Sprint also fills that role, by positioning itself as a value option. Won't Sprint continue to do that if the merger happens?

A: We'll try and do it. T-Mobile and ourselves, we went after similar demographics, but different ones. They were really leaders in driving the price down. What we've been more is the value (option) -- you get more for the same price or a slightly better price.

Between the two of us, we kind of kept the market having reasonable prices, both value and low price. So I think that is another one that starts to go away and that will drive prices up. We will try our best to be the alternative, but when you're only 15 percent share it's going to get pretty hard for us.

Q: You say AT&T has enough spectrum already. How does that track with the industry's broader complaint that there's not enough spectrum available, and it needs more spectrum freed up from TV broadcasters?

A: Having more spectrum is a good thing. But having spectrum and using it is an important thing. These guys ... they've got more spectrum in their warehouse than I've got and they're not using it.

But the need for more spectrum for all of us over time continues to be important because of data usage. We will all need more spectrum, but the argument that they needed T-Mobile to give them more spectrum to be able to serve rural [areas], that is totally bogus. Five years from now, they'll probably need more spectrum. I would agree with that.

Q: What about their argument that this will accelerate their build-out of LTE, by using one network for LTE while operating the other in its current setup?

A: They can do that now. They can even do it with the stuff they've not got warehoused. I'm doing that kind of stuff right now with our network vision. ...

T-Mobile has done an awesome job of going to HSPA+ [network technology T-Mobile markets as 4G] and they have been spectrum-constrained, but they've really done a great job. Even though I don't believe it's 4G -- it's faux G -- but they've still done a very good job of having a good performing network.

Q: A year or two ago you wouldn't have praised them. Your network was your big selling point over T-Mobile.

A: I think that ours is still an advantage because we've got a real 4G network, the WiMax network we've got with Clearwire.

Q: Everyone was expecting T-Mobile to make some kind of move, and perhaps hook up with Sprint. What if the AT&T merger falls through? They'll still have to hook up with someone, won't they?

A: I think T-Mobile will need to hook up or do as we do -- partner with a Clearwire or others, or (LTE provider) LightSquared, as we have done. The smaller guys like us and them -- and I know it seems odd to call ourselves small, but when you're around the monopolists you're quite small -- you've got to do some creative things.

Q: What I'm getting at is that some consolidation was inevitable.

A: Yeah, I think there's inevitability in this industry, like others, to get some consolidation.

Q: Five years from now, what's it going to look like? Will 3G be gone, and will there be three big players in the industry?

A: I don't think 3G will be gone. It's unclear to me what the landscape in five years will look like if this [merger] goes through. I do think if this doesn't go through, consolidation and strengthening a third player is a fairly good option.

Q: What about the networks in five years? Will LTE be dominant and WiMax just supplementing it?

A: I think LTE is showing itself globally to be pretty much the dominant standard so I think that's probably a yes.

WiMax is still a great product and working very well for us. We're not at this point in time announcing anything other than what we're doing.

But our network vision build-out is one that allows us to use the different types of spectrums, different technologies and will determine the right time to use the right technology.

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August 22, 2011 5:39 PM

Verizon LTE spending jumps in Washington, Oregon

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon Wireless today provided a mid-year update on its infrastructure spending in the region, calling out its investment in its new 4G LTE network.

In Washington state, the company spent $94.4 million on infrastructure upgrades through the first six months of the year. For comparison, it spent $114 million in the region during all of 2010.

"It's clear we're going to outpace 2010 this year," spokesman Scott Charlston said.

In Oregon, spending was $69.7 million in the first half of this year, passing the $60 million spent in all of 2010.

Washington projects this year included the launch of LTE service in Spokane, Tacoma, Everett and Olympia and expansion of the 3G network statewide, the company said in its release.

It said the company has spent more than $1.3 billion improving coverage in Washington since 2000, and more than $65 billion nationwide.

For half of that, it could have bought T-Mobile USA and maybe Clearwire to boot ...

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August 17, 2011 3:12 PM

Clearwire jumps as Stanton doubles down on stock

Posted by Brier Dudley

At least one investor has faith that Clearwire's bet on ultrafast LTE technology will pay off.

That would be Executive Chairman John Stanton, who oversaw the company's shift toward LTE while serving as interim chief executive over the past five months. Stanton stepped aside on Aug. 11 when Erik Prusch was named chief executive of the Kirkland company.

Between Friday, Aug. 12, and Tuesday, Aug. 16, Stanton bought 2,755,000 shares, including 103,035 shares for his family trust. At today's closing price those shares are worth $6.4 million.

Thumbnail image for JohnWStanton_ClearwireChairman.jpg
That brought his Clearwire stake to 3,431,352 shares as of Tuesday, according to a disclosure report filed that day. That's almost double his Clearwire stake disclosed by the company in April, when he had 1,796,685 shares.

The disclosure of Stanton's purchases boosted confidence in the stock, which soared 27 percent Wednesday, closing at $2.33, up 50 cents for the day. It was the second highest gaining stock, on a percentage basis, on Tuesday.

That nearly recouped the stock's loss since a big plunge Aug. 3, but it remains well below its $8.82 high for the year. Stanton paid between $1.78 and $1.89 for his recent buys.

The last plunge came after the company used its earnings report to announce plans for an "LTE Advanced" network that will provide wireless download speeds over 100 megabits per second. It was a turning point for a company built on WiMax, a different wireless broadband technology that's being eclipsed by LTE.

The catch -- that Clearwire needs to raise up to $900 million to pay for the LTE project -- overshadowed the company's recent growth in subscribers and progress towards profitability. The day after the earnings report, CLWR fell from $2.47 to $1.76.

Stanton must have confidence the company will find a way to pay for the LTE upgrade -- he and Clearwire founder Craig McCaw always seem to find ways to fund their wireless ventures -- but he declined to comment on the topic this afternoon.

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July 11, 2011 9:45 AM

The 2012 Audi A6: Loaded and connected

Posted by Brier Dudley

Please excuse any typos here. My fingers are still tingling from an incredibly fast wireless device I tested last week.

This one costs nearly $60,000, plus $30 a month for a data plan, and it weighs 4,045 pounds.

It's the 2012 Audi A6 sedan that went on sale last week.

A6100012_large__mid.jpg
Audi provided a fully loaded model with a supercharger, eight-speed transmission and a wireless system that turns the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot that connects up to eight devices at once.

The wireless system -- called "Audi Connect" -- is available with a $4,220 option package on the A6, which starts at $41,700.

Earlier this year, Audi became the first carmaker to offer a factory-installed hot spot. Previously, cars connected to information services via satellites, embedded wireless devices or drivers' phones.

Audi's A6 and A7 are also the first cars to use Google Earth in their navigation systems. They display the search giant's aerial imagery and use its local search to provide details on restaurants, hotels and other points of interest; there's even a touch-screen input system. (Here's a video I shot of Audi's Google system in action.)

Automotive electronics are going through a surge of innovation, parallel to what's happening with smartphones and Web tablets.

The number of cars shipping with factory-installed telematics systems will leap from less than 10 percent last year to more than 62 percent in 2016, according to an ABI Research report in January. Analyst Dominique Bonte said in the release that carmakers are "borrowing the hugely successful application store paradigm from the mobile industry" to release products more quickly and at lower costs.

Audi is extending its wireless technology from higher-end models down through its product line, but it's still a pricey system. There's convenience in having a connected car, but there are other options, including new phones that function as Wi-Fi hot spots and portable, puck-sized modems that connect multiple devices to the latest wireless networks.

My guess is that systems like Audi Connect won't take off in the U.S. until the prices come down further and wireless companies move toward pay-as-you-go metered data plans, similar to those in Europe. Under that approach, customers use the same data plan for multiple devices -- phones and cars -- instead of paying $30 a month for each one.

The Audis connect to T-Mobile's 3G wireless network, using a SIM card that fits into a slot on the dashboard. After a six-month trial period, "unlimited" data plans cost $30 a month or $324 for a prepaid yearly plan. T-Mobile doesn't specify a usage limit, but the contract says the carrier reserves the right to throttle your data throughput in a given month if usage is excessive.

IMG_1662.JPG
The taut and sprightly A6 showed two to five bars of 3G coverage while driving around Seattle and Bellevue. The Speedtest site measured download speeds of 267 to 798 kilobits per second.

Most important, the A6 passed the Netflix test: In an experiment, a passenger could watch a movie streamed to an iPad over the Wi-Fi connection while driving. It took a while to get started, but then played without a hiccup at a decent resolution.

Google Earth imagery is fun but nonessential. The navigation system gives you the choice of displaying regular maps or Google's aerial photos on a 7-inch diagonal color screen that slides out and flips up when you turn the car on. The computer uses an Nvidia processor and middleware from Ottawa-based QNX.

Spinning a control knob on the console, you can zoom out to see the entire globe or down to a particular block. Audi and Google are working together to eventually display "Street View" street-level images as well.

The aerial imagery is realistic enough that you may be fooled into thinking it's a live image, but your car's not on the screen and things outside the window don't look exactly the same. It also made one of my passengers feel a little queasy, watching aerial images scroll around as we drove.


Applications on the system include a Wikipedia search and news feeds, which can be customized via an Audi website. It also provides real-time weather, traffic and nearby gas prices (provided by Kirkland's Inrix). The system is also used to choose music from the radio, an attached device or the car's hard drive, but it won't play video content.

There are multiple ways to control the system -- too many, perhaps. You'd probably settle on a preferred control method after driving the A6 for a while, but several days of testing made me think the interface isn't yet as smooth and refined as the rest of the car.

The primary control is a large knob on the center console that you twist and press. It's encircled by 11 buttons -- four for navigating on-screen menus and four for launching primary functions: navigation, radio, hands-free calling and stored digital media. There's also a back button, one for car settings and one that calls up on-screen menus. I was grateful for the "back" button.

Nearby there's another knob and buttons for controlling the music volume and track selection.

IMG_1700.JPG
The touch pad on the console is about the size of a credit card. When I first heard about it, I thought it would be like a touch-screen PC or phone that reads handwriting, but it only reads one letter at a time and works best if you write carefully with capital letters. It reminded me of the game where you write with a finger on someone's back and they guess the words.

You can also select letters using the knob and an on-screen menu. Either way, it's too tedious to use while driving.

The touch pad can also be used to enter radio stations or navigate maps with a fingertip, but I kept changing stations when trying to use the map, and ended up mostly using the knob.

That's not all. The system also works with voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel.

IMG_1703.JPG
Fortunately, there are detailed instructions: The A6 manual is 295-pages long, plus a 106-page supplement for its Multi Media Interface.

That's another way connected cars are just like computers and smartphones: By the time you've figured out all their tricks, a more powerful model will be on sale. Audi is testing a new version that connects to faster 4G LTE networks, for instance.

In the meantime, A6 buyers who pony up for the wireless option will probably use it mostly to keep passengers occupied with gadgets, so they can enjoy the drive.

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July 7, 2011 1:06 PM

McCaw's ICO shuffles team, changes name

Posted by Brier Dudley

Kirkland satellite telecom company ICO Global Communications is reorganizing a bit, following its June 20 acquisition of IP services company Ovidian.

The company, backed by Craig McCaw, is changing its name to Pendrell Corp. later this month and adding new leadership. As part of the change, its ticker symbol on Nasdaq will change from ICOG to PCO.

Robert Mechaley Jr., a co-founder of Clearwire and former chief scientist at AT&T Wireless, is joining as chief scientist.

The company also named Timothy Dozois its corporate counsel and secretary and Mark Fanning as its "chief people officer." Fanning is a veteran of Clearwire, Nextel Partners, AT&T Wireless and McCaw Cellular.

ICO also announced that its chief executive, Ben Wolff, and Gerard Salemme, its chief strategy officer, resigned from their positions with McCaw's Eagle River investment company "in order to focus their full attention on the business of the company."

ICOG rose 2 cents today, to $3, after the changes were announced.

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June 22, 2011 10:51 AM

McCaw, Clearwire vet Nick Kauser lauded

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nick Kauser, a pioneer of the wireless industry spawned in the Seattle area, today was named to the Wireless Hall of Fame organized by the non-profit Wireless History Foundation.

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Kauser was chief technology officer of McCaw Cellular Communications, Rogers Cantel, AT&T Wireless and Clearwire. At AT&T Wireless, he led the "Project Angel" venture that was the foundation of Clearwire, which he co-founded and served as CTO until he retired in 2007.

In its announcement, the foundation noted that Kauser "built the first nationwide network across both Canada and the United States. He led U.S. standards processes, aggressively explored new technologies, and laid the basis for nationwide automatic roaming."

Kauser will be feted at an Oct. 10 dinner in San Diego. Other honorees include Robert Marino, the first employee of Sprint predecessor United TeleSpectrum; Clayton Niles, former chairman of Communications Industries; and the late Arnold Pohs, former chairman of CommNet Celluar and the CTIA trade group.

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June 22, 2011 10:10 AM

New iPhone in September, new iPad in testing, apparently

Posted by Brier Dudley

A strong voice joined the chorus saying that Apple will release the iPhone 5 in September. Bloomberg's reporting that the device is coming with a more powerful chip and an 8 megapixel camera, up from the current 5 megapixel version.

Apple's also testing a new iPad with a higher resolution screen like the one used in the current iPhone, the report said.

It cites "two people familiar with the product" and said Apple declined to comment.

But the report comes as a wave of competitive new phones are being released, some for the fast new wireless networks that Apple hasn't yet enabled the iPhone to use.

Firmer reports about the new iPhone create uncertainty among phone buyers considering recently released phones, and cast a shadow over Microsoft's Windows Phone launch and new Nokia hardware coming later this year.

The Bloomberg story said the phone will look similar to the current iPhone. It suggests more common hardware between the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone 5 will use the A5 processor that's used in the iPad 2, while the tablet device is getting a display with resolution similar to the current phone.

The report also said Apple's working on a smaller, lower-priced iPhone aimed at overseas markets.

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May 18, 2011 9:29 AM

Major pruning at Clearwire - engineering, 700 jobs handed off

Posted by Brier Dudley

Clearwire's restructuring took a radical turn this morning when the Kirkland wireless company announced that it's handing off engineering and support of its 4G network to Ericsson.

About 700 Clearwire employees will shift to Ericsson, which is taking over network engineering, operations and maintenance for at least the next seven years.

Clearwire still owns the network and will continue to handle relationships with consumers and business customers. The 700 employees are expected to start work at Ericsson soon, before "mid-year 2011."

"We're positioning this company to be able to be profitable and generate cash flow we're going to be able to reinvest back into the network," said Erik Prusch, Clearwire's chief operating officer.

Clearwire stock jumped about 5 percent on the news, to around $4.50 as of 10 a.m.

It's the second major reduction in employment at Clearwire in the last six months. Facing a cash crunch, the company in November laid off 630 and halted expansion of its retail network and growth into some new markets.

At the time it had 4,200 employees nationally and about 700 locally. As of April 1, it had 3,300 nationally and about 550 locally, of which about 100 will transfer to Ericsson.

With the Ericsson deal, the company's following the path of its corporate parent Sprint, which also offloaded network engineering and support to the Swedish telecommunications company.

Ericsson now works for Sprint in Redmond and has an office in Bellevue, but for the time being the Clearwire employees will continue working at its Bellevue office.

Prusch said the employees should receive benefits comparable to what they received at Clearwire.

"They're permanent employees, it is a long-term contract with Ericsson," he said. "One of our chief concerns was being able to continue to have the relationship with these employees."

Prusch continued:

"We really view this thing as a win-win which allows them continuity of employment, good or better benefits, or the same or better benefits than they've got, and most importantly retention of their institutional knowledge (and) the their ability to make an impact on our network."

Ericsson spokeswoman Kathy Egan said all 700 employees will be hired and will receive "comparable" benefits. They are spread across the country with the largest pockets in the Seattle area and Las Vegas, which also has about 100.

"I can tell you that everyone is coming over," she said. "We greatly value their WiMax expertise and we are very much looking forward to welcoming them to Ericsson."

Seniority will also transfer, she said: "Seniority will all be honored so the time that they had at Clearwire will transfer over with them to Ericsson."

As for employment beyond the seven-year contract with Clearwire, she said "I don't know that, I can't speculate beyond seven years."

Asked if the pruning positions Clearwire for a sale or merger, Prusch said he sees it doing the opposite, setting the company up to run profitably and fund its expansion with revenue.

"This is the next step in that evolutionary process, which is to make certain we're doing best practices across the business," he said.

Clearwire's expecting to be profitable within the next year to 18 months. Prusch wouldn't say how much the Ericsson deal changes that target but more details should be disclosed with the company's next earnings.

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May 12, 2011 10:44 AM

Video: Google Music hands-on

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a brief video clip of Google Music running on a Motorola Xoom Android tablet.

It showed a strong 3G signal, but the Web service buffered and fritzed. The service is still being developed so it's early to pass judgment on Google's effort, but the glitches were still surprising.

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May 10, 2011 9:28 AM

Microsoft buys Skype: Smart or crazy?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft buying Skype is like Seattle buying Italian streetcars.

On the surface, it seems like an outrageously expensive indulgence.

But if you can ignore the insane amount of money being thrown around and focus only on how it will help a few businesses, it makes some sense.

Microsoft already has powerful and widely used software for making phone and video calls and communicating over the Internet. Its messaging systems are among its crown jewels and used by far more people than Skype.

Similarly, Seattle is served by a vast and reliable bus system and is building up a light rail network.

But it still decided to spend $60 million - not counting priceless right-of-way - on streetcars that duplicate several bus routes. Sound Transit's going to spend another $132 million more more streetcar service.

Some people think the streetcars are neat, and they add flair and freshness to the mix of infrastructure in Seattle. But they'll never carry as many passengers as Metro and they'll probably never pay for themselves.

The trolley is largely an amenity, increasing the appeal of commercial property mostly owned by Paul Allen.

City leaders who took flak for this quasi subsidy may now feel vindicated by Allen's success redeveloping South Lake Union. The area along the trolley route has transformed into a vibrant, active neighorborhood anchored by Amazon.com's new headquarters.

You can't say the area blossomed because of the trolley but it helped.

With Skype, Microsoft now has a groovier, Web-native service that complements its established, industrial-strength communication systems.

Skype and particularly its video calling capabilities will be a focal point for the bundle of online services Microsoft will offer to consumers and businesses. Having one killer app in the bundle is enough to get people to enter Microsoft's online realm, or at least prevent them from logging into a competing suite of online services.

My guess is that Skype and video messaging will also be a cornerstone of Windows 8 or whatever the next version of Microsoft's flagship operating system is called. It's designed to work well on portable devices running the tiny processors used in smartphones, where video calling is coming to be expected as a standard feature.

Apple and Google have already developed video calling services for mobile devices and PCs but they don't yet have the critical mass of Skype. Microsoft has struggled to build a critical mass in search and now it has a head start as the next phase of online messaging is developed on fast, new 4G wireless networks.

Meanwhile Microsoft's going to use Skype to boost the appeal and reach of its Xbox, phone, Web mail and communication software products.

In its release, Microsoft noted that Skype has acquired the intellectual property powering its network. Perhaps that's a signal that Microsoft will assert its ownership of the patents, which could limit what competitors can do in the space or require them to send royalties to Redmond.

Skeptics expect Microsoft to fumble Skype somehow. To avoid this, Microsoft took the unusual step of creating an entirely new, autonomous group for Skype, giving the relatively small business organizational stature comparable to that of the massive Xbox, Office and Windows groups. Skype Chief Executive Tony Bates will be president of the Microsoft Skype Division, reporting to Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft actually has done pretty well with its messaging acquisitions. Key elements of Outlook were acquired, and it's now the most widely used email system in the world and an essential tool for most business PC users.

Microsoft also spent crazy money buying Hotmail in 1997 for around $400 million, when it was competing with AOL and Yahoo and was building out its suite of dotcom-era online services.

Microsoft's anxiety about falling behind Apple and Google no doubt led the company to overpay for Skype. But if the team in Redmond can avoid crashing their new trolley and it helps deliver a few big hits, the cost won't matter in the long run.

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May 4, 2011 4:39 PM

AT&T deal to buy T-Mobile brings flood of public comment

Posted by Brier Dudley

If the FCC gives much weight to public comments, AT&T is going to have a tough time getting approval for its $39 billion acquisition of Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA.

Poking around the 4,227 public comments submitted so far, it was hard to find people supportive of the deal.

The opponents aren't all T-Mobile employees. Only 190 of the comments as of Wednesday afternoon were submitted by people in Washington state, which has a huge concentration of wireless industry employees.

Texas -- home of Dallas-based AT&T -- generated 352 comments, but that includes filings by AT&T.

Comments can be submitted through a form on the FCC's website, at FCC.gov/ecfs. You'll need to enter the proceeding number, which is 11-65.

Here's a sample of comments by Washingtonians.

"As a T-Mobile customer of approximately eight years, I am vehemently opposed to the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom," wrote Aaron Burke of Everett. "If the deal is approved, it will sponsor massive anti-competitive behaviors, increased prices, and lower quality of service."

Trent Gillespie of Seattle identifies himself as the chief information officer of a midsize company who has worked with different phone companies.

"In my experience, AT&T has the worst customer service of any of the wireless providers I have worked with. I believe they also use their predominant position in the market place to keep rates artificially high (especially texting and data rates), limit devices that come to market, and essentially act as an obstacle to competitiveness that would be had in a more competitive environment. On the other hand, T-Mobile is the largest U.S. cellular provider who is pursuing new ways of conducting business, a focus on customer service, and quickly bringing new technologies and devices to the market."

Seattle's Deepak Sukumaran cited the Clayton Antitrust Act and wrote: "In any other environment and time, this type of acquisition would not even be attempted because it is
clearly illegal and violates antitrust law. It is my opinion that given no effective regulations, these companies have and will keep consolidating and strive to re-form Ma Bell, and in so doing overturn over 100 years of progressive antitrust, anti-competitive legislation and the progress we have made."

Triet Nguyen in Bellevue was a T-Mobile customer "until I got jealous of my iPhone friends telling me how great the iPhone is. I switched to AT&T and it was the worst mistake of my life. I regret and am counting down the days when I can switch back. AT&T has horrible phone service. I have dropped calls DAILY. I hate it when I'm talking and then find out my phone is ringing me from the person I was talking to. Their data coverage has a lot of dead spots. I never had these issues with T-Mobile. I think the merger will degrade phone service and worse, get rid of competition."

But T-Mobile's not perfect.

Separately, I received a copy this week of an internal memo sent to employees, after the company miscalculated severance benefits and significantly overestimated what some will receive. The memo was an apology from Larry Myers, chief people officer at T-Mobile, who said the severance estimates are being corrected.

It sounds like an awkward accounting error that's being fixed. What's surprising is how far along the discussion of severance has come, since the merger still needs regulatory approval and isn't expected to close until early 2012.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman wouldn't say much about the memo but provided a statement confirming that a mistake had been made.

"T-Mobile USA has a long history of open communication with our employees, which is why when we discovered a data error, we promptly advised our employees of the situation and provided them with updated information."

Comments | Category: AT&T , Public policy , T-Mobile , Tech work , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 14, 2011 1:23 PM

Broadband update: Comcast offers 105 Mbps, Frontier invests

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few updates from your neighborhood broadband providers:

Comcast today announced a new tier of service, the "Extreme 105 Mbps," which is now available in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver and other large markets. The top speed was previously 50 Mbps, which became available in late 2008.

If ordered with a "triple play" bundle, the service is available with 12-month introductory rate of $105 per month. After the intro rate expires, the service will cost $129.95 per month.

At that speed, you can download a 4 gigabyte high-def movie in five minutes, a standard-def TV show in 20 seconds and an album in three seconds, according to Comcast's release.

You could also hit Comcast's 250 gigabyte per month download limit in about five hours.

Simultaneously, Frontier Communications announced that it has spent $5.2 million to expand its broadband service in 11 counties in Washington state.

The effort brings Frontier's broadband to an additional 14,100 homes in 21 communities in Chelan, Clark, Douglas, Grant, Grays Harbor, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Whatcom, Whitman and Yakima counties.

Frontier pledged to spend $40 million upgrading and expanding broadband in Washington after it took over Verizon's phone business in the region last year. A spokeswoman said the remaining $35 million or so will be spent extending broadband to rural areas by the end of 2013.

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March 29, 2011 4:19 PM

Q&A: More on AT&T buying T-Mobile USA

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few more answers to questions people had during Tuesday's online chat about AT&T buying T-Mobile USA.

I asked AT&T to respond to a few specific questions. A spokeswoman answered most but not all. The company also prepared a list of answers to common questions from consumers that's located here, at a special site it created to explain the deal.

Here you go:

When will AT&T LTE be available in the Seattle area?

AT&T: We haven't announced the timing of specific markets, but nationally, it's planned to be largely complete YE 2013.

What will happen to T-Mobile prepaid plans - will AT&T offer something similar? Also, will T-Mobile prepaid minutes continue to be usable after the merger, as long as they haven't contractually expired yet?

AT&T: T-Mobile customers will be able to keep their existing price plan. It's too soon to comment on what any new plans may look like but AT&T offers a pay-as-you-go plan called GoPhone.

How seamless will it be to move phones from T-Mobile to AT&T? Don't AT&T and T-Mobile use different frequencies? Will new phones have to be built to take advantage of both networks?

AT&T: After the deal closes, T-Mobile customers' current phones will work fine. Any details further out than when the deal closes is too soon to speculate on.

"I heard my T-Mobile 4G phone will no longer work on the merged network once AT&T takes over. Is this true?"

AT&T: No. Their current T-Mobile phone will continue to work fine once the transaction is complete.

Are all T-Mobile handsets supported by the AT&T network?

AT&T: Yes.

Will AT&T and T-Mobile allow data and voice roaming on each other's networks, at least as a show of goodwill before the deal closes?

AT&T: AT&T and T-Mobile will continue to operate as fierce competitors until the deal is approved. (so the answer is apparently no ...)

How will the merger affect users of unlocked phones who want to use the network without a contract?

AT&T: It's too early to speculate on policies such as this.

What's Bellevue doing about this? Several people asked if the city of Bellevue is going to get involved. It's probably going to lose a number of jobs since T-Mobile USA is based in the city's Factoria neighborhood. I've asked the mayor but haven't heard back. Either way, residents can let their city officials know how they feel directly - their contact info is here.

What about Congress? It's a federal issue, so residents may also want to engage with their representatives in Congress. Here is a nice application for getting their contact info.

How do I contact the FCC? Chairman Julius Genachowski is at Julius.Genachowski@fcc.gov. Contact info for the agency and commissioners is here.

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March 29, 2011 10:39 AM

IDC: Windows Phone to overtake iPhone and BlackBerry

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hooking up with Nokia will help Microsoft overtake Apple's iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry within a few years, according to a new report from research firm IDC.

The combination should boost Windows phones to second place among smartphone platforms worldwide by 2015, IDC said in its latest Mobile Phone Tracker report.

For now, the big story is Google's Android software. IDC expects Android will become the most-used smartphone platform this year, after zooming up to second place in 2010.

"For the vendors who made Android the cornerstone of their smartphone strategies, 2010 was the coming-out party," Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst, said in the release. "This year will see a coronation party as these same vendors broaden and deepen their portfolios to reach more customers, particularly first-time smartphone users."

Overall sales of smartphones will continue growing but not at the same pace as 2010, it predicted. Smartphone sales are expected to grow 49.2 percent this year - to 450 million units - as consumers and business users continue upgrading their devices, it predicts.

Llamas said the Nokia deal will reverse Microsoft's phone slide.

"Up until the launch of Windows Phone 7 last year, Microsoft has steadily lost market share while other operating systems have brought forth new and appealing experiences," he said in the release. "The new alliance brings together Nokia's hardware capabilities and Windows Phone's differentiated platform. We expect the first devices to launch in 2012. By 2015, IDC expects Windows Phone to be number 2 operating system worldwide behind Android."

The chart from the release:

idcphonez.jpg

Comments | Category: Android , Apple , Google , Microsoft , Nokia , Phones , Telecom , Windows Phone , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 24, 2011 11:50 AM

Get ready for CenturyLink Field, links at the Link?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A CenturyLink executive spilled the red beans and rice - the Louisiana company is indeed taking naming over rights at Qwest Field, now that it's almost done acquiring Qwest.

logoCenturyLink.gif
The word came out of Nebraska, where CenturyLink is putting its name on Omaha's Qwest Center. A vice president told Omaha World-Herald that the same thing is happening to Seattle's Qwest Field and Boise's Qwest Arena.

Seahawks reporter Danny O'Neil called out the deal today, referring to the exchange I had with a CenturyLink spokeswoman about the stadium deal a few weeks ago. There was no definite word at the time.

CenturyLink Field is a mouthful, but there's still a fun connection with Seahawks owner Paul Allen, whose post-Microsoft business ventures were driven by his vision of a "wired world."

Perhaps CenturyLink will have better luck than the other companies that ponied up to name Seattle's big sports venues.

KeyBank paid for the arena vacated by the Sonics, and Safeco Field is named for the insurance company that was sold in 2008 to Boston's Liberty Mutual.

We probably shouldn't even mention the WaMu Theater that's part of the convention center tacked onto Qwest/CenturyLink Field.

The big winner in all of this may be Seattle's Oberto Sausage Company, which can now say it's selling links at the Link.

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March 22, 2011 10:54 AM

Photos: Bigger, faster superphones in 4G, 3D and dual-core

Posted by Brier Dudley

Every time you turn around nowadays there's another huge tech trade show, at which a bunch of new phones and tablets are announced.

Here's a sample of the cool new gadgets surfacing at the CTIA wireless conference this week in Orlando. Some of the devices were already announced, and some still don't have prices and specific ship dates yet.

Sprint was the first to offer a 4G phone in the U.S., and now it's offering a 4G phones with glasses-free 3D displays, available 2U this summer for a price to be announced later. It's an Android-based device built by HTC, with the "Sense" interface designed in Pioneer Square.

The HTC Evo 3D has a 4.3-inch, 960 by 540 pixel 3D display. Inside it has dual-core 1.2 gigahertz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 4 gigabytes of internal memory and 1 gig of RAM. It functions as a 3G/4G hotspot supporting up to eight devices at once over WiFi and outputs 720p video via HDMI. On the back it has dual 5 megapixel cameras for taking 3D images and videos.

HTC-EVO-3D-angle.jpg

HTC-EVO-3D-back.jpg

Sprint's also going to sell a tablet-sized version of the device, called the HTC Evo View 4G. It has a 7-inch diagonal, 1024 by 600 pixel touchscreen (without 3D). The tablet runs on a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon dual-core processor with 32 gigs of internal memor and 1 gig of RAM. It also uses HTC's "Scribe" system for input with a digital pen and works as a hotspot.

HTC-EVO-View-4G-vert.jpg

Yesterday, Sprint announced that it's also going to sell Google's new flagship Android device, the Nexus S 4G. The Samsung phone has a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, 1 GHz processor, a dedicated graphics processing unit and Android version 2.3 ("Gingerbread"). Sprint and Google also said they're connecting Google Voice, so Sprint customers can use their phone number with Google's calling service. The phone's coming this spring.

Nexus-S-4G-angle.jpg

AT&T yesterday announced that it's also selling a glasses-free 3D phone, the LG Thrill 4G, with a 4.3-inch screen, dual-core 1 GHz processor and Android version 2.2. The Thrill comes with 16 gigs of memory - 8 onboard plus an 8 gig memory card - and records 3D video at 720p and 2D video at 1080p. It also plays back high-def video thorugh an HDMI port or streams it to DLNA devices.

LG_Thrill_Right.jpg

AT&T's also going to sell a version of the Windows-based HTC HD7, which it's calling the HD7S. It's going to use the HSPA+ network and have the updated software with cut-and-paste when it's released in a few weeks.

T-Mobile also introduced several new phones, including the "G2x with Google by LG," or the G2x for short. It's based on a dual-core 1 GHz Tegra 2 processor and Android 2.2. There's also an 8 megapixel camera that takes 1080p video and front-facing 1.3 megapixel chatcam.

T-Mobile announced that it's boosting the maximum speed of its HSPA+ network in a handful of markets - Las Vegas, Orlando and New York - to 42 megabits per second. To get those speeds, you'll need a new device, though - namely the "Rocket" stick modems announced at the show:

T-Mobile Rocket 3 0.jpg

The Bellevue-based company also introduced a "value" smartphone, the Nokia Astound, that will cost $80 (after a $50 rebate) when it goes on sale April 6. It has a 3.5-inch AMOLED touchscreen, free turn-by-turn navigation and an 8 megapixel camera that takes 720p video. The Astound is based on Nokia's Symbian operating system that's going to be displaced starting next year by Windows.

nokia-astound-combo.jpg

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Adobe , Android , Broadband , Gadgets & products , HTC , Microsoft , Nokia , Phones , Sprint , T-Mobile , Tablets , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 22, 2011 9:56 AM

U.S. nuts for wireless: 2.2 trillion minutes last year, data soars

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unbelievable stats for wireless usage were released today by the CTIA trade group at its conference in Orlando, Fla. It makes you wonder if Americans now have mobile phones grafted to their hands.

A sample of the 2010 survey results, thrown out by CTIA Chief Executive Steve Largent:

-- Wireless companies had 302.9 million subscribers last year, up 6 percent from 285 million in 2009. That equates to a wireless pentration rate of 96 percent, up from 91.2 percent the year before.

-- Subscribers used 2.241 trillion minutes, down from the 2.275 trillion minutes the year before.

-- Instead of talking, they're texting and browsing. Data traffic was 226.5 billion megabytes, up 110 percent from the 107.8 billion megabytes transmitted in 2009.

-- SMS text messages jumped 31 percent -- 2.052 trillion were sent last year, up from 1.563 trillion the year before. MMS messages rose 64 percent, to 56.6 billion.

-- The average wireless bill fell to $47.21, down from $48.16 in 2009.

-- The number of smartphones in active use jumped 57 percent, to 78.2 million.

-- Wireless tablets, laptops and modems grew 14.2 percent, to 13.6 million.

To handle all of this, wireless companies spent $24.9 billion on capital projects last year, up 22 percent from 2009. That puts AT&T's $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile USA in perspective.

The companies are making big money, too. Annual wireless service sales rose 4.8 percent, to $159.9 billion, and wireless data revenue grew 31.4 percent, to $50.1 billion.

A few charts from the report:

ctia-bills.jpg

subscriber connex.jpg

second half revenues.jpg


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March 21, 2011 10:28 AM

Wall Street likes AT&T buying T-Mobile, how do you feel?

Posted by Brier Dudley

AT&T and Deutsche Telekom stocks are up today on news that AT&T is buying T-Mobile USA for $39 billion.

I wonder if consumers and employees are as enthusiastic. Here's a quick poll; I'll publish the results here when it's done.

Comments | Category: AT&T , T-Mobile , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 15, 2011 4:45 PM

State says goodbye Qwest, bonjour CenturyLink

Posted by Brier Dudley

Washington regulators unanimously approved the merger of Qwest and CenturyLink, despite a number of public comments opposing the deal.

The approval by the state Utlilities and Transportation Commission finalizes an agreement negotiated in December, under which CenturyLink will cap residential phone rates for three years and spend at least $80 million expanding broadband service.

The companies have 15 days to object to the conditions imposed by the UTC.

Merger costs cannot be passed on to ratepayers, savings must be reported to the UTC and CenturyLInk must reduce fees charged to other carriers, which could lead to lower long-distance rates for in-state calls.

Before voting on the agreement, the UTC received 95 public comments -- seven in favor, 51 opposed and 37 undecided or neutral, according to a UTC release.

Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink will serve about 1.5 million lines in Washington after the merger closes, including 1.3 million lines now served by Qwest.

The $10.6 billion merger was announced last April. It's been approved by 20 states and the Department of Justice. Oregon regulators and the Federal Communications Commission are still reviewing the deal, which is expected to close April 1.

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March 14, 2011 3:12 PM

After Japan quake, Verizon offers free calls, text to donate

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon customers can call Japan for free through April 10 through a program intended to help people contact friends and relatives in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Verizon wireless customers with monthly plans can make free calls to Japan and send text and multimedia messages from the U.S. to Japan for free until April 10.

Verizon prepaid phone card charges for calls between the U.S. and Japan will be waived from March 11 to April 10.

FiOS TV customers will also get free access to TV Japan - at FiOS channel 1770 - through March 17, matching the offer made by Comcast.

Verizon also set up a mobile-giving program, for people who want to donate to Japan charities by sending a text message. If you send a message to the following numbers, you'll be billed $10, which will be donated to the organization listed. Verizon said all $10 will be donated to the charities.

Verizon's list:

- ADRA Relief: text SUPPORT to 85944
- American Red Cross Relief: text REDCROSS to 90999
- Convoy of Hope: text TSUNAMI or SUNAMI to 50555
- GlobalGiving: text JAPAN to 50555
- International Medical Corps: text MED to 80888
- Mercy Corps: text MERCY to 25383
- Salvation Army: text JAPAN to 80888
- Save the Children Federation, Inc.: text JAPAN or TSUNAMI to 20222
- World Relief Corp. of National Association of Evangelicals: text WAVE to 50555
- World Vision, Inc.: text 4JAPAN or 4TSUNAMI to 20222

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March 14, 2011 1:49 PM

Could Seattle become the Detroit of wireless?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's looking more likely that T-Mobile USA and Clearwire could get swallowed up by Sprint.

Which raises the question, will Seattle become the Detroit of the wireless industry?

Not too long ago this was Wireless City, the heart of the industry. It started when McCaw Cellular assembled the first nationwide cell network in the 1980s.

McCaw sold to AT&T in 1994, but AT&T Wireless kept a presence here and more huge companies were formed.

The McCaw network spawned Western Wireless and VoiceStream, which became T-Mobile.

It also controlled Nextel, before it was sold to Sprint. Then Craig McCaw started Clearwire in 2003, pursuing his vision of wireless broadband.

Now what's left is in play.

T-Mobile has to decide whether to stay independent or join forces with Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint, to better compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, said Chetan Sharma, an Issaquah-based industry consultant. Major markets around the world eventually end up with three large players, he said.

Sprint and T-Mobile would have 83 million subscribers -- heft comparable to AT&T's 95 million subscribers and Verizon's 103 million, he said.

There's been speculation that Clearwire could be rolled in, but its chairman and acting chief executive, John Stanton, doesn't foresee a sale.

"I expect that Clearwire will continue to be here and continue to be independent and continue be an important employer," he said.

Stanton, a McCaw veteran who led VoiceStream through its sale, doesn't see a wireless Detroit here.

"It still is the capital of wireless," he said.

The region still has the largest percentage of population working in the industry, he said, including 4,500 AT&T employees still here and 3,000 to 4,000 more at T-Mobile.

The wireless industry contributed to hundreds of smaller companies, several venture firms and mobile efforts at Microsoft and other tech companies, he said.

But from a software perspective, the epicenter has shifted to Silicon Valley, Sharma said.

"If Seattle's going to stay relevant, it's going to have to do more on the software side of things," he said.

That could happen, if Microsoft gets traction with its phone platform. Nokia is also likely to expand its presence in the area as its Microsoft partnership gets rolling.

Amazon.com could increase its mobile business. Sharma said it's likely the company is exploring the potential of new mobile devices based on Android or other operating systems.

Even if T-Mobile and Clearwire are sold, they'd likely remain big employers for perhaps five years, Sharma said.

In the meantime, Seattle needs to see more development in wireless applications, operating systems and services to stay relevant, he said.

"It does need to reinvent itself if it still wants to be considered a wireless hub," he said.

It's probably too soon for an inspirational Super Bowl ad, like Chrysler's spot talking up Detroit's history and skill.

If it gets to that point, call Stanton for the voice-over:

"This is Wireless City, and this is what we do."

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March 10, 2011 2:48 PM

Report: Washingtonians pay huge wireless taxes

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you think the taxes on your wireless phone bills are outrageous, you're right.

A new report, called out by the Washington Policy Center, says the state has the second-highest wireless taxes in the country.

The report was produced by KSE Partners, a Vermont group backed by wireless companies pushing to reduce taxes on their services.

It found the combined federal, state and local tax rate on wireless services in the state is 23.53 percent. Nationally, the average rate is 16.26 percent. In Oregon the rate is 6.86 percent, and in Idaho it's 7.25 percent.

The number includes fees such as the Enhanced 911 fee approved last year, which adds 95 cents per line, and extra wireless taxes imposed by cities. Cities can impose telecommunication taxes up to 6 percent or more with voter approval; the report notes that Olympia's wireless tax is 9 percent.

Washington trails Nebraska's combined wireless taxes and fees of 23.69 percent and beats the 22.83 percent paid in New York.

"This puts Washington wireless customers paying a tax that is approaching the level of "sin" taxes; the state of Washington's tax on cigarettes is approximately 50 percent on a per-carton basis, and approximately 40 percent for alcohol," the group's small business and technology director, Carl Gipson, said in a release.


wapoctr.jpg

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March 4, 2011 1:20 PM

Frontier boosts TV hookup fee to $500, mulls Oregon shutdowns

Posted by Brier Dudley

Frontier Communications today dramatically raised the cost of hooking up to its FiOS TV service for new customers -- from $79 to $500.

The company also notified regulators in four Oregon cities that it's opting out of franchise agreements there, clearing the way to stop offering Frontier TV services in those cities.

Combined with plans for a big FiOS TV rate hike that surfaced in January -- but which hasn't taken effect yet -- Frontier seems to be on a path to phasing out its FiOS TV service altogether.

But spokesman Steve Crosby denied that's happening, and said the company's still evaluating its options.

"I wouldn't jump to that conclusion yet," he said, adding that "we are stil analyzing the business and figuring out what our cost structure is and the best way to treat our customers."

Frontier is using the "opt out" period of the Oregon franchises "because we have to continue to analyze the business" before committing to another 12 years of service under those agreements. The company has "no current plans" to opt-out of franchise agreements in cities other than Dundee, McMinnville, Newberg and Wilsonville, Ore.

The Connecticut-based company took over Verizon's wired phone, broadband and TV service in the West last year. Locally its service area includes parts of the Eastside of King County and parts of Snohomish County.

New hookup fees and the franchise changes affect only the TV service provided directly by Frontier. The hookup fees are for new customers, and are spread out over the first three months of service.

In January, when it disclosed plans to raise FiOS TV monthly rates by about 50 percent, the company suggested customers could switch to DirecTV and offered them free DirecTV service through 2011.

Crosby said the rates were disclosed prematurely but are still in the works.

"I imagine these rate increses will take effect at some point," he said.

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March 3, 2011 5:02 PM

AT&T boosting Washington network

Posted by Brier Dudley

AT&T held a press event today to call out the big investments it has been making in its wireless network and business operations in the Seattle area, where the company's wireless business originated.

Over the past two years AT&T spent more than $200 million in its Seattle-area network and $1.3 billion in Washington state.

The company wouldn't specify upcoming local investments, but it will apparently spend at least that much again in the next couple of years as it builds capacity for the flood of data traffic from smartphones and mobile devices. Nationally it's spending $19 billion this year on capital projects, including the rollout of an LTE network, which will reach the Seattle area in 2013.

"We're continuing to expand America's fastest mobile broadband network," said Mike Maxwell, vice president and general manager for the Northwest. "Our level of investment will continue."

This year the company will boost backhaul connections to two-thirds of its Seattle-area cell sites to boost speeds. It's also adding new capacity to more than 400 cell sites and additional antenna systems in crowded areas such as stadiums and office buildings.

AT&T employs more than 4,500 people in the state. Its regional headquarters are in Redmond and the largest of its three national data centers in Bothell.

While AT&T was talking up its investments in the region, its nemesis, Verizon Wireless, announced that it was the top-ranked wireless provider in the Northwest in a new J.D. Power and Associates wireless call quality survey.

The survey of 27,250 wireless customers was done between July and December.

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February 11, 2011 9:38 AM

HTC exec on Nokia-Microsoft deal: Been there

Posted by Brier Dudley

The top executive at HTC's U.S. headquarters said he's not too worried about Nokia hooking up with Microsoft and the deal validates HTC's approach to the smartphone business.

After getting an early boost from Microsoft, HTC has emerged as a leading producer of advanced phones, claiming higher-end market share that Nokia's hoping to win back with Windows-based devices.
JasonMackenzie - HTC.jpg
Mighty Nokia is actually following the same path HTC took to its success, said Jason Mackenzie, (left) Bellevue-based president of HTC for North America and Latin America.

Mackenzie said Nokia's partnering with Microsoft is "a validation of what we're doing."

"Nokia's following a similar lead to what HTC's been doing, in not investing in our own platform, taking solid platforms and filling the gap to deliver a solid experience to the end user," he said.

As for the competition HTC will face from Nokia phones running Windows, it's "one more competitor," he said.

"I feel confident in what we're doing," he said. "We've got a fresh brand that's resonating with consumers."

HTC emerged in the late 1990s as the first manufacturer of Microsoft Pocket PC devices and early Microsoft smartphones that appeared starting in 2002.

In recent years the company invested heavily in software and hardware design studios in Seattle and San Francisco to differentiate its phones. It developed a polished software interface that it layers over the underlying operating system.

HTC continues to make phones based on Windows -- including five Windows Phone 7 models so far =- but it's now selling more phones based on Google's Android software. It released the first Android phone in 2008.

Mackenzie said HTC will continue to produce Windows Phone 7 devices, despite the Nokia announcement. It won't be announcing any new Windows models next week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona but several will be announced later in the year.

"Obviously Windows Phone 7 is a platform we've invested tremendously on" and "we'll continue to support that," he said.

Asked if the Nokia deal will improve the momentum of Windows Phone 7, Mackenzie said: "It broadens the ecosystem, which is good for everyone. We'll see."

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February 3, 2011 11:39 AM

Poll: Is the iPhone so bad on AT&T you'll switch to Verizon?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's hard to tell what's really going on with iPhone network coverage in the Seattle area.

AT&T coverage problems in New York and San Francisco are magnified because of the concentration of media outlets in those cities.

Some reports have suggested AT&T is actually better in the Seattle area than Verizon, but you wouldn't know it from the attention the Verizon iPhone is getting.

So i've got to ask iPhone owners - is your AT&T coverage that bad, and are you going to switch to Verizon? (Especially now that word's out that Verizon may throttle heavy data users ...)

(UPDATE: After getting a lot of response I've upgraded this account so the poll should run faster. I'll post the tally Friday.)

(UPDATE 2: The poll closed after 24 hours and the results are posted here. Thank you for participating)

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Comments | Category: Apple , Phones , Telecom , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 2, 2011 3:08 PM

Paul Allen's Kiha lays off staff, halts beta

Posted by Brier Dudley

Paul Allen's mobile phone productivity startup, Kiha Software, is going through a few changes.

Last week, Kiha laid off an undisclosed number of its employees and on Monday it ended a public beta test of its software for organizing contacts and other information on Android-based mobile phones.

Allen invested $20 million in the venture before its "Aro Mobile" application was unveiled at November's Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. The software received attention from national media outlets.

Kiha's chief executive and co-founder, former Microsoft manager John Lazarus, stepped down later in November. Kiha's website now lists Chris Purcell -- vice president of technology at Allen's Vulcan umbrella company -- as its top executive.

Spokesman David Postman said Allen isn't folding the company. He wouldn't comment on whether the company has been shopped to potential buyers.

"We're going through an ongoing assessment of what the best way to deliver that product is," Postman said. "The company still operates. We've got dozens of people working there who are working hard to figure out the best way to get this in the hands of consumers."

A news release issued last fall announcing Aro's public debut said it was "was born out of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's vision for a more intelligent mobile experience and was developed by Kiha Software during nearly three years of work by a team of nearly sixty talented professionals in Seattle, Washington."

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February 1, 2011 2:18 PM

Cisco: Mobile traffic growing 26x, speeds 10x by 2015

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a day of amazing tech news, from Google and Bing executives publicly taking potshots at each other to Apple turning up the heat on the Kindle and Sony Reader.

But the biggest jaw-dropper for me is a report from Cisco, predicting outrageous growth in mobile data traffic over the next few years.

The networking giant is expecting mobile data traffic to grow 26 fold -- at a compound annual growth rate of 92 percent -- from 2010 to 2015. At that point mobile networks will be carrying 6.3 exabytes per month.

There will be more than 7.1 billion mobile devices connected by 2015 -- close to one per person on the globe.

Mobile network speeds will increase 10-fold, from an average of 215 kilobits per second today to more than 2.2 megabits per second.

Two thirds of this traffic flood will be video -- video traffic will more than double every year from now until 2015.

If you've got a metered smartphone plan, brace yourself.

The average smartphone will generate 1.3 gigabytes of traffic per month in 2015, up 16 times from the curent average of 79 megabytes per month.

Tablets are adding to the network crush. They'll generate 248 petabytes of traffic per month by 2015 -- equivalent to the total amount of mobile traffic in 2010.

But for data consumption, laptops will remain the top of heap. Last year laptops connected to mobile networks generated 22 times more traffic than the average smartphone, averaging 1.7 gigabytes per month. Tablets last year generated an average of 405 megabytes per month and smartphones, 79 MB.

Laptops and smartphones "will continue to generate a disproprorationate amount of traffic, but new device categories such as M2M (machine to machine) and tablets will begin to account for a significant portion of the traffic by 2015," the report said.

Even more shocking: there are 48 million people in the world who own mobile phones, but don't yet have electricity in their homes.

A few charts from the report, including mobile data forecast through 2015, and data forecast by device type:

cisco2.jpg

cisco 1.jpg


Here's how much more traffic various devices generate, relative to a basic feature phone:

cisco3.jpg

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January 31, 2011 9:33 AM

Motricity paying $100 mil plus for Adenyo

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue-based Motricity announced today that it's buying Adenyo, a Canadian mobile ad company with reach in Europe and a blue-chip client list, including Ford, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Paramount Pictures.

Motricity's paying $100 million - at least half in cash - and may pay up to $50 million more over the next year, depending on Adenyo's financial performance.

Toronto-based Adenyo had 2010 sales of around $20 million, according to Motricity's release.

Adenyo provides highly targeted mobile advertising and analytics. Its technology will be rolled into Motricity's mCore Platform, the company said.

"Adenyo's technology, mobile marketing and advertising expertise and their long-standing relationships with powerful enterprise customers will significantly strengthen our position in the mobile data services ecosystem," Motricity Chief Executive Ryan Wuerch said in the release.

Motricity's up about 2.5 percent to $19.84 this morning. More details will be provided by the company during a 2 p.m. conference call.

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January 20, 2011 10:07 AM

T-Mobile to grow with $10 data plans, $100 smartphones, LTE next

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lots of news came out of an investor meeting T-Mobile had in New York today.

T-Mobile USA Chief Executive Philipp Humm said sales growth should resume this year, in part because of aggressive moves to court the 150 million Americans interested in upgrading to smartphones.

The strategy includes offering smartphones for under $100 and $10 data plans, according to Bloomberg's account of the meeting. (The company now offers a 200 megabyte data plan as a $10 add-on to voice plans).

Humm didn't announce plans to carry the iPhone. He did say about 10 percent of customers that leave the carrier are going to companies that carry Apple's device; I wonder what's drawing the other 90 percent.

Executives said the company has enough resources to develop a 4G LTE network, which may cost $1 billion to $2 billion and come online in a few years. It could raise capital by selling its cell towers, then renting back space on the towers that it needs, Reuters reported.

But it doesn't have enough wireless spectrum for the LTE project. Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray told investors the company will need a partner by 2014 or 2015, Bloomberg reported.

Kirkland-based Clearwire is an obvious choice but it apparently wasn't specified by Ray or Humm.

It sounds T-Mobile won't be buying Clearwire outright, at least not for cash.

"We won't be pursuing large-scale cash acquisitions," Deutsche Telekom Chief Executive Rene Obermann said, according to Bloomberg.

Simultaneously, the company announced that it's going to carry the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone later this year. It's the first phone capable of the 21 megabits per second "theoretical peak download speeds" of the company's current network. Pricing wasn't disclosed, but it would be surprising if this one costs less than $100.

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January 19, 2011 3:44 PM

T-Mobile offers app to block DWT - driving while texting

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA today announced that it's offering a new application for preventing people from driving while texting, which dramatically increases the risk of accidents.

The app may draw parents concerned about their teens texting in the car. But it's only available on one phone so far and the full version is pretty expensive - $4.99 per month for all lines on a family account. The phone also requires a data plan.

There are many similar apps already available for most smartphones. Some cost less and don't have recurring charges, such as the Otter application developed by a Seattle parent that I wrote about last April.

Here's another story that covers some of the apps available and challenges they face.

Google also offers sample code to help develop your own texting safety app for Android phones.

T-Mobile chose to resell an app developed by Location Labs, a well-financed San Francisco startup that counts Intel and Qualcomm among its backers and provides services to major wireless carriers.

"This one allowed deeper levels of integration into the phone itself," T-Mobile spokesman Matt Wakefield said.
DriveSmart_Plus_screencap.jpg
Location Labs' "DriveSmart Plus" app blocks most texting and calling capabilities on a phone when it senses that the user is driving, using the phone's GPS system, and sends incoming calls to voicemail.

The app doesn't totally lock things down. Users can override the block. Parents can set up the phones so they receive a notification if the service is overriden.

T-Mobile has been preloading a barebones version of the app - "DriveSmart Basic" - on the LG Optimus T phone since Nov. 3. That version requires drivers to manually initiate driving mode and doesn't include parental notifications.

The company said it will also be available on additional devices being launched soon.

T-Mobile 's announcement may help build awareness among parents of the risks of texting while driving - which increases collision risk 23 times, according to a 2009 Virginia Tech study - and the availability of applications to improve safety.

But there's a better way for T-Mobile to stand out as the best option for parents with teen drivers.

Instead of asking parents to buy a particular phone and pay a hefty monthly charge, T-Mobile ought to build or buy its own version of the full application and make it a free or nearly free feature of its smartphones.

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January 11, 2011 3:02 PM

T-Mobile: We'll take the iPhone, too

Posted by Brier Dudley

Now that AT&T's exclusive hold on the iPhone in the U.S. is over, with Verizon announcing that it will start selling Apple's device on Feb. 10, other carriers are ready as well.

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA would like to offer the phone on its network, which uses the same sort of wireless technology as AT&T.

T-Mobile USA's new chief executive already has a relationship with Apple. Philipp Humm previously led T-Mobile's business in Germany, where he introduced the iPhone in 2007.

"We would be interested in offering the iPhone, but ultimately it is Apple's decision," a T-Mobile spokeswoman said.

I've asked an Apple representative whether the iPhone will come to T-Mobile and haven't heard back yet.

My guess is Verizon has an arrangement with Apple giving it premium play until it begins offering the iPhone, after which we'll hear about other carriers.

T-Mobile accepted this sort of second position during the Windows Phone 7 launch last fall. AT&T ponied up to be the official launch partner and not a lot was said about T-Mobile options until the AT&T launch event took place.

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January 6, 2011 8:33 AM

CES: Verizon gives big picture, 4G devices, Honeycomb and no iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- It's all about the network, according to Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg.

During his opening-day keynote at CES this morning, Seidenberg talked about the rapid growth of mobile phones and broadband in the U.S. A decade ago, a third of consumers had cellphones, where now 90 percent own the devices.

Meanwhile, broadband has gone from a rarity to a service used by more than 85 million homes in the country. Seidenberg noted that Verizon's broadband service is now available at up to 150 megabits per second and engineers have tested 1 gigabit residential service on the same infrastructure.

Wireless data is more than doubling every year, smartphones sales are growing at almost 90 percent a year, and mobile broadband is enabling a new computing platform for mobile applications. Altogether, the connectivity is creating the biggest opportunity ever for technology products "the world has ever known," he said.

Verizon brought Motorola Mobility Chief Executive Sanjay Jha on stage to show two 4G devices, including the Droid Bionic smartphone and Xoom tablet, both of which run Google's Android software and have dual-core processors. The Bionic launches in February, but won't run on 4G until an update comes in the second quarter. The Xoom also launches in the second quarter.

The company also drew aahs with a demo of Google's new "Honeycomb" version of Android for tablets, presented by Mike Cleron, Google's principal engineer on the project.

Google's big presence was almost enough to make people forget all the earlier speculation that Seidenberg would use the keynote to announce a Verizon iPhone. It turned out there was no mention of Apple at all.

Seidenberg did note the fast progress to the 4G LTE service that launched last month in 38 markets (including Seattle) and is expected to cover the country within 18 months. Verizon started the project in 2007, three years after launching its 4G network.

On Wednesday, AT&T announced that its 4G network will launch this summer, and Clearwire is testing LTE technology in parallel with its WiMax network.

There wasn't much focus on individual devices until Motorola's Jha came on stage. Seidenberg said additional devices coming later this year will be shown at a separate press event later today. Those devices include 4G products from HTC and Hewlett-Packard.

Here's a video of the Honeycomb preview:

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January 3, 2011 2:34 PM

More on state plan for Qwest-CenturyLink merger

Posted by Brier Dudley

State residents are apparently nonplussed about how the Qwest-CenturyLink merger is going down.

Of the 73 public comments submitted so far to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, 34 are opposed, 33 undecided and six are in favor of the deal.

Last week, the companies, the UTC staff and the state Attorney General's Office reached an agreement on conditions needed for the deal to receive state approval. Among other things, the deal caps residential phone rates for three years after the deal closes and requires CenturyLink to spend at least $80 million upgrading broadband infrastructure in Washington. (Here's an earlier post
with more details of the agreement.)
That agreement must now receive final approval from the commission, which is holding its first hearing on the topic at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 5 at its headquarters at 1300 S. Evergreen Park Drive S.W. in Olympia.

Here is a Web page for electronically filing public comments and a link to the proposed agreement with the phone companies. The settlement agreement and related documents are available here.

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December 29, 2010 5:37 PM

Qwest takeover in state approved; rates flat, $80 mil for broadband

Posted by Brier Dudley

State regulators have reached a deal giving CenturyLink approval to take over Qwest operations in the state.

As part of its tentative agreement with the state Attorney General and Utilities and Transportation Commission, CenturyLink pledged to freeze basic phone rates for three years.

The Louisiana-based company will also invest a minimum of $80 million upgrading broadband infrastructure in the state over the next five years.

That includes a "significant" amount dedicated to improving broadband in underserved areas, the company said in a press release. This comes just after the state issued its broadband report raising concerns about limited broadband availability in rural areas.

CenturyLink announced in April that it planned to acquire Qwest in a $10.6 billion stock swap. Including Qwest's debt, it was a $22 billion deal. The combined company will serve 17 million phone lines in 37 states.

The Washington agreement must be finalized by the UTC, which will hold hearings on the settlement Jan. 5-7. Elements of the agreement were first proposed by UTC staff in September.

Highlights of the settlement, as listed by the AG's office:

- Basic residential telephone rates are frozen for at least three years for all customers, as are basic business rates for CenturyLink business customers.
- Qwest basic business rates, currently "price deregulated," are limited to a $1 increase (up to a $30 per month maximum) for the next three years.
- Qwest and CenturyLink can't collect any of the costs of the merger from their customers in rates, including any transaction, branding, integration, or increased management costs. These costs will be paid by shareholders. The companies have agreed not to request in the future a higher rate of return than would have applied without the merger.
- The merged company will continue to offer a "DSL only" plan.
- The merged company will continue to honor terms of service for plans purchased before the merger; for example, "price for life" contracts.
- CenturyLink agreed to mirror Qwest by adopting a $25 credit for a missed appointment and a $5 credit for service failures. (UTC staff had suggested raising this to $35) C- enturyLink and Qwest agree to extensive reporting requirements to allow the UTC to track the impact and implementation of the merger. They will provide information on financial conditions, service quality, broadband deployment, capital expenditures and integration of the companies.
- The companies commit to better promoting Lifeline, a program that offers reduced phone bills for low-income customers, and to improve how they handle complaints from Lifeline customers.

UPDATE: To comment to the UTC on the proposed settlement, you can attend a hearing at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in the commission's hearing room in the Richard Hemstad Building at 1300 South Evergreen Park Drive in Olympia.

Comments may also be mailed through Jan. 7 to UTC, P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, Wash., 98504, or via e-mail to comments@utc.wa.gov. Mailed comments should include your name and mailing address and mention "docket no. UT-100820."

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December 7, 2010 3:51 PM

Dive Into Mobile: Sprint's Hesse on 4G, "unlimited" and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sprint's partnership with Clearwire didn't give the company as much of a lead as expected in 4G services, but it was still a good move, Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse said at the Dive Into Mobile conference.

Host Walt Mossberg asked about the bet Sprint made on Clearwire's WiMax technology, which is now being challenged by the LTE technology that Verizon and AT&T are rolling out over the next year.

The comments came a day after Sprint announced plans to upgrade its network over the next three to five years with multi-mode base stations that handle different technologies.

Hesse said Sprint made the Clearwire partnership at a time when it was short on capital and Clearwire had a technology that could be launched before LTE. An independent company like Clearwire could also raise money from partners such as Intel and Google.

"Even though at the time three years ago we were very cash constrained, it allowed us to hit the ground running ... and be first with 4G," he said.

Mossberg pressed Hesse on the value of that lead, which ended up being about a year before LTE arrived.

"It was clearly less than we thought it would be," Hesse said, adding that it apparently pushed Verizon to speed its LTE rollout.

The two discussed unlimited data plans, which Hesse said he first introduced when he was at AT&T. Hesse said consumers like the simplicity of unlimited plans, even though they may end up costing more.

"Even though it would be in their economic best interest to go with the metered plan, they will go with the unlimited plan," he said.

Yet unlimited plans aren't completely unlimited. Sprint will cut off "abusers" who swamp the network, Hesse said.

Mossberg asked whether Sprint wants to carry the iPhone.

"Under the right terms and conditions the answer would be yes. There's no question it's a great device and Apple has a great brand," Hesse said.

Hesse declined to comment on any possible alliance between T-Mobile and Clearwire, which is 54 percent owned by Sprint.

"I'm not aware of that, honestly," Hesse said.

Last week a Goldman Sachs analyst, who had met with Hesse, said Sprint "indicated they have encouraged a wholesale deal" and thAT Sprint "would support a T-Mobile equity infusion into Clearwire," according to a Bloomberg report.

Apparently the deal fell through because Clearwire decided to borrow $1.1 billion to continue funding its expansion.

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December 7, 2010 2:13 PM

Dive Into Mobile: AT&T on the spot, Verizon iPhone not a crisis

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Microsoft's Joe Belfiore thought he was roughed up by Walt Mossberg, he should have stuck around to hear Mossberg interview AT&T's Glenn Lurie at the Dive Into Mobile conference.

Mossberg opened the conversation by noting a new Consumer Reports story that panned AT&T service as the least reliable in the country.

"You've kind of become associated with the idea of dropped calls or failed to initiate calls," Mossberg said.

"I agree with the perception to a point," Lurie replied.

Lurie, president of AT&T's emerging devices business, said the company welcomes the feedback and it's spending heavily to keep upgrading its network as data usage explodes.

"The main point I'll say is we're always looking for feedback," said Lurie, a Seattle Pacific University graduate.

AT&T spent $18.5 billion in the past year and $18 billion the year before to keep up with data usage that's grown 5,000 percent over the past three years.

"Aren't you like the dog chasing the car and you're never going to catch it?" Mossberg said.

Lurie, a former professional soccer player, did a little sidestep when asked about Verizon getting the iPhone that's been exclusive to AT&T since its launch in 2007.

Pressed on the question, Lurie said AT&T's not worried.

"We have come out very publicly and said we're not concerned about it at all ... If and when that ever happens, we are in a position to compete with anybody who has any device any time," he said.

Lurie said AT&T is also pleased with the sales of Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.

"The key is when you have 93 million customers that you have everything," he said.

AT&T may be losing its iPhone exclusivity, but it's still tight with Apple. Lurie said he talks all the time with Apple's chief operating officer.

"I talk to Tim Cook pretty much every day," he said.

All networks are going to be under similar pressure from soaring data consumption through new devices and applications, Lurie said, making a bid for the 2010 Positive Spin Award.

"All the carriers are going to deal with this," he said. "We had the good fortune of dealing with it first."

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December 6, 2010 6:38 PM

Diving Into Mobile with Google's Andy Rubin (updated w/video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN FRANCISCO -- Today and Tuesday I'm covering the "Dive into Mobile" conference started by the All Things D group affiliated with the Wall Street Journal.

Today's speaker is Andy Rubin, vice president of mobile platforms at Google, who started discussing the Nexus One phone the company tried selling directly to consumers through a special online store in January.

The company today announced its successor, the Nexus S, which is being sold through Best Buy and pre-provisioned with T-Mobile service.

With Nexus One, "we bit off a little bit more than we could chew," Rubin said, explaining that the "European" approach of selling direct to consumers and requiring them to hook up with a carrier on their own didn't work in the U.S.
IMG_0225.JPG
The Nexus One was available with T-Mobile service and the company was working to make it available with Verizon service, but the company decided to end the experiment and put its effort into the software. It closed the online store last summer.

Both Nexus phones were intended to showcase Google's Android software, which has been a hit since it was released two years ago. Rubin said it's on 172 different phones in about 50 countries.

He attributed Android's success to "A, pretty good software, and B, it's open."

Rubin, a former Apple engineer, was diplomatic when hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher pressed him to discuss competing with the iPhone maker.

"Certainly they make great consumer products," he said.

Rubin said he sees Apple moving "in this other end of the spectrum," in services beyond devices.

Services were the big business Google was pursuing when it began developing Android.

"If that's the razor, the blades are these services -- these things you keep creating and innovating ... and selling over time," he said.

Mossberg asked if Apple has the DNA to do that, and noted its early challenges with the mobile services.

"My assumption is Apple is a company that learns from its mistakes," Rubin said.

Mossberg and Swisher got Rubin to say that Android is a profitable business for Google.

Rubin also disclosed that Google's been talking to Nokia about finally developing Android based phones. There's a new opportunity with Nokia getting new leadership, Rubin said, but he didn't mention that the new head of Nokia is a former Microsoft executive, Stephen Elop, who was president of Microsoft's Business division..

"They're evaluating what their options are," Rubin said of Google's success persuading Nokia to try Android.

Asked about Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform, Rubin said he thinks Microsoft's design team made a good bet with its unique interface but he gave it the classic mixed compliment.

"It's a good 1.0 product," he said.

Rubin said that if he was an advisor to Microsoft he would suggest they take Android's route more than Apple's, and let phone makers and carriers "differentiate so every Windows Phone 7 doesn't look the same."

Rubin saved the best for last. After demonstrating the Nexus S, he pulled out a prototype Motorola tablet running Android and a new version of Google Maps that will debut in a few days. In the picture above, Rubin at left is holding the Motorola tablet as Swisher looks on from the right.

The tablet -- which looks like it has about a 9-in.diagonal screen and a roughly quarter-inch thick case -- has a dual-core Nvidia 3-D graphics processor. Inside it has the Android "Honeycomb" version that's coming out next year.

Rubin showed a map of San Francisco and used pinch gestures to zoom in and tilt the map to bring up a 3-D version showing building elevations from a bird's-eye view.

Here's a picture of the big screen on which Rubin's demo was projected. Here he's showing the new version of Google Maps running on Honeycomb:

IMG_0212.JPG

Here's a video of Rubin showing the Motorola tablet:

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December 1, 2010 4:00 PM

Verizon LTE hands-on: 16 Mbps downloads in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

With no congestion yet on Verizon's LTE network in Seattle, speeds are pretty impressive.

Here's a speed test I just ran on my laptop of 4G LTE reception at the Seattle Times building on the north edge of downtown.

VZW4G1.jpg
With three of four bars showing it was getting 12 Mbps; when I moved the modem around to get four bars it began showing 15 to 16 Mbps.

Interestingly, the tests are sometimes showing uploads faster than downloads, with uploads of up to 15 Mbps.

This is with an LG VL600 USB modem loaned by Verizon on a Windows 7 laptop.

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December 1, 2010 9:49 AM

Verizon LTE: $50 for 5 gigs, no phones yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

After all the anticipation about Verizon's LTE network, consumers may balk at the price.

The ultrafast mobile network will cost $50 per month to transmit up to 5 gigabytes of data and $80 per month for 10 gigs. If users go over, they'll pay $10 per gigabyte.

LTE phones won't be available until mid 2011 and no current phones will be able to use the faster network. For now Verizon's service will only work with two laptop USB modems tha will cost $100, after a $50 rebate and with a two-year contract.

Verizon announced the details at a press conference in New York this morning. It's launching the service on Dec. 5 in 38 U.S. markets (shown on this map) and 60 airports, but pledged to have nationwide LTE coverage matching its current 3G network in 2013.
LTEmap.jpg
Seattle - where Verizon has been testing the service - is among the first markets served, as is Sea-Tac airport.

The company had said it would launch the faster network by the end of the year. AT&T is launching its 4G network in mid 2011, and T-Mobile and Clearwire - the first carrier to offer true 4G service - are testing the same technology.

Pricing and coverage are the key questions for people interested in 4G data plans. At this point Clearwire's 4G service seems to have the edge, with 68 markets covered and unlimited data plans ranging from $25 to $55.

Upgrading to Verizon's 4G service may make the most sense for Verizon's existing mobile broadband customers. Those connecting tablets, mobile hotspots and laptops are already paying $50 per month for 5 gigs and $80 for 10 gigs over its 3G network. Going to a 4G plan will give them the same service, plus 4G speeds where available.

The LTE USB modem service is actually cheaper than Verizon's 3G USB modem plans, which cost $60 for 5 gigs, and the same price as its prepaid mobile broadband plans. Here's Verizon's mobile broadband plan chart if you want to sort it out yourself.

Verizon's LTE launch could help clarify what's really 4G, a term that's been muddled by phone companies striving to present their products as the latest and greatest. LTE and Clearwire's WiMax network are technically "fourth generation" wireless networks, thus the 4G designation.

T-Mobile has boosted the speed of its 3G network to achieve comparable speeds and recently began describing its network as 4G. Apple added to the confusion by calling its latest iPhone "4"; it's the fourth-generation iPhone, but doesn't have 4G wireless technology.

LTE can theoretically handle dazzling speeds - up to 100 megabits per second - but Verizon today said its subscribers should initially expect real-world download speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second and uploads of 2 to 5 Mbps. It characterized the speeds at 10 times that of its current 3G network.

Clearwire's Wimax network - which provides the 4G service sold by Sprint and Comcast - offers downloads that average 3 to 6 Mbps with bursts over 10 Mbps.

AT&T sniped at the Verizon announcement in a blog post by its chief technology officer, John Donovan, saying that LTE is going to evolve slowly. In the meantime consumers will be more affected by the performance of 3G networks, where AT&T has been investing to boost performance.

"It's not sufficiently appreciated that LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It will take a long time for LTE to be deployed broadly," Donovan wrote.

Expect to hear more details of LTE phones in early January, when Verizon's boss is a keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show. If the company's going to carry a true 4G iPhone sometime in 2011, that's an opportunity to make the announcement.

The two LTE modems now available are also compatible with 3G networks, which they'll use when out of 4G service areas.

Here's the list of the 38 metro areas receiving at least some LTE coverage to start. (Click here for an LTE map and Web application with more precise coverage information; street-level coverage maps are coming Dec. 5):

Akron, Ohio
Athens, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia
Baltimore, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Charlotte, North Carolina
Chicago, Illinois
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio
Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, Dallas, Texas
Denver, Colorado
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Houston, Texas
Jacksonville, Florida
Las Vegas, Nevada
Los Angeles, California
Miami, Florida
Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota
Nashville, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
New York, New York
Oakland, California
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Orlando, Florida
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Phoenix, Arizona
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Rochester, New York
San Antonio, Texas
San Diego, California
San Francisco, California
San Jose, California
Seattle/Tacoma, Washington
St. Louis, Missouri
Tampa, Florida
Washington, D.C.
West Lafayette, Indiana
West Palm Beach, Florida

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November 11, 2010 12:01 AM

Report: AT&T better than Verizon in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Local iPhone owners grousing about AT&T and pining for Verizon may want to check out the latest report from Root Metrics.

The Bellevue company charts real-world performance of the major 2G and 3G wireless networks, using "crowdsourced" data pulled from a network test application Root offers for mobile phones.

AT&T's service in the Seattle area -- where the company's wireless business originated -- fared well in Root's latest report, covering the period from February 2009 to October 2010.

It actually provided better coverage than Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile USA, posting the best "RootScore" based on voice service, signal strength and data rates.

T-Mobile also fared well in the report, probably reflecting the Bellevue company's push over the past few years to upgrade its network. T-Mobile and AT&T both showed better-than-average data download and upload speeds.

The report is based on 450,408 samples on AT&T, 457,239 on T-Mobile, 453,189 on Sprint and 475,053 on Verizon. The samples were from apps running on BlackBerry and Android devices, plus some Windows Mobile samples in 2009.

Skeptical iPhone users may want to check out Root's new app. The company is releasing a version for the iPhone 4 that displays AT&T's signal strength and data transmission speed where they're standing. It also displays Root's network mapping service in real time.

For comparison, the app also displays how other major networks are performing at the user's current location.

Here are excerpts from Root's latest report showing average carrier performance:

root1.jpg

Another excerpt, with more details for Seattle coverage:

Root2.jpg

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October 19, 2010 11:15 AM

T-Mobile shuffles execs, Humm officially CEO

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA today said Philipp Humm (pictured) is now officially its president and chief executive officer, completing a transition that began when Robert Dotson announced his resignation in May.

Hummcropped.jpgIt's simultaneously shuffling senior executives at the headquarters in Factoria. Chief Technology Officer Cole Brodman is now chief marketing officer, and Neville Ray, formerly chief network officer, is now CTO.

The switch is happening sooner than planned. It was originally going to happen in February, but Humm's been working with Dotson for months on the transition.

Rene Obermann, chief executive of parent company Deutsche Telekom, said in the release that Humm and Dotson "have chosen the right timing for this change."

Humm was formerly chief executive of T-Mobile Deutschland where he introduced the iPhone in Germany in 2007.

Earlier worked for Amazon.com, McKinsey & Co. and Procter & Gamble.

Dotson is moving to vice chairman of the T-Mobile USA board of directors.

Here's the company's executive leadership team, reporting to Humm:

- Cole Brodman, chief marketing officer, T-Mobile USA
- Jim Alling, chief operations officer, T-Mobile USA
- Neville Ray, chief technology officer, T-Mobile USA
- Brian Kirkpatrick, chief financial officer, T-Mobile USA
- Larry Myers, chief people officer, T-Mobile USA
- Dave Miller, general counsel and chief legal officer, T-Mobile USA
- Peter Ewens, chief strategy officer, T-Mobile USA


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October 12, 2010 9:17 AM

Motricity up 18% on India deal with Reliance, new stock high

Posted by Brier Dudley

Motricity's recent talk about international expansion wasn't smoke and mirrors.

The company today announced a major deal with Reliance Communications, one of India's largest mobile operators, which will use the Bellevue company's mCore mobile data platform.

Motricity's stock soared on the news this morning. At last check it was up $2.37, or 18 percent, to $15.35.

The company simultaneously announced a new "mobile as a service" offering that delivers a suite of services including mCore.

Founder and chief executive, Ryan Wuerch, said in the release that it's particularly appealing to mobile operators in developing countries that have limited resources and "exploding demand for mobile data services."

(UPDATE: It's now at $16.45, a 27 percent gain ...)

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October 7, 2010 11:17 AM

Microsoft and Verizon ain't kin no more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon's new president, Lowell McAdam, has a way with words. He can speak volumes with a brief phrase.

In an interview with Cnet at the CTIA conference, he politely eviscerated Microsoft, saying it's no longer a contender in the U.S. mobile business and has lost to Apple, Google and RIM. He also said Microsoft has to innovate if it's going to get products into Verizon stores.

Mee-ow McAdam also likes Verizon's current relationship with Microsoft. That would be cold and distant?

Maybe he's just trying to cozy up to Steve Jobs.

Here are a few bits from the Cnet interview:

What about Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 phones? Microsoft is launching new Windows Mobile 7 phones next week on AT&T's network. Will Verizon offer some new Windows Mobile 7 devices on the LTE network?

McAdam: I can't really say which phones we'll offer yet. We like our relationship with Microsoft. But clearly in the U.S. there are three major mobile operating systems: RIM, Google, and Apple.

So you don't view Microsoft as a major player in mobile anymore?

McAdam: No not at the moment. Microsoft is not at the forefront of our mind.

Does this have anything to do with the short-lived Microsoft Kin? That was kind of a mess.

McAdam: This really goes back to what I said earlier about how innovation in wireless devices and applications is moving so quickly. Our device suppliers have to demonstrate to us that they will be developing leading edge products. And if they are not leading edge, then we can't afford to carry them in our stores. But if they are innovative, we'll offer them.

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October 6, 2010 4:39 PM

Comment of the day: Wireless coverage 101

Posted by Brier Dudley

A reader submitted a pretty broad take on wireless options, in a comment on today's Verizon LTE-4G story.

Anyone else care to share their experience and expectations?

Apparently Cdbtx928 in Monroe isn't a big fan of Clearwire:

The realities -- I've been a customer of all the major provides and to sum it up.

Sprint -- bad coverage, customer service is horrendus and the 4G network is very limited based upon their choice of technology. It will never roam on other carriers thus you're forever committed to your device. Sprint is the only US Carrier that has elected to take their 4G path, AT&T, T-Mobile, and VZW have all elected to migrate to the same 4G platform that 99% of all carriers in the world have chosen. Simply another dead end for Sprint.

T-Mobile -- They own very little spectrum in the U.S. thus your likely to be roaming outside of your home area. The majority of their coverage is 1900 PCS which offers much less propagation than 850 or 700 (AT&T and VZW). Thus if you except to roam and receive the same data service forget it. Customer service has always been excellent and when you're on their network it performs well.

AT&T -- Find a map of their network without roaming partners -- it's filled with holes. AT&T has too many moving technologies -- GSM/GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPDA and soon or not 4G. High Speed data is limited to Major Metro areas. AT&T is also very slow to react -- IPhone is a classic example.... underbuilt network so Nice Phone - but does it work. I'd rate them #2 though for voice coverage and quality. Uses 1900 and 850 -- poor coverage and performance with the 1900. 4G will likely be launched on 700Mhz -- great propagation and performance.

VZW -- Will beat AT&T to market with 4G by at least a year. 4G network will be launched on 700Mhz which means great in-building coverage.
Look for them at the 2011 CES and I'll suspect you'll toss the IPhone.
I live in a very rural area and even the EVDO often gives me speeds exceeding my Hughesnet.

T-Mobile and Sprint require me to walk outside to use the phone. AT&T works well with voice but limits me to the brutally slow GPRS (Non-functional). VZW 1mbs > 50% of the time.

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October 6, 2010 3:22 PM

More details on Verizon LTE, iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

More details are coming out about Verizon's LTE (4G) rollout and the rumored arrival of the iPhone on the company's network.

For starters, don't count on an actual 4G iPhone from Verizon anytime soon.

The company's LTE network will go live in Seattle and 37 other metro areas by the end of the year but will only work with laptop wireless cards and USB sticks to start. Verizon won't be selling LTE phones until the middle of 2011.

It doesn't sound like Apple's iPhone will be the debut smartphone on the network. Verizon today said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt will be on stage in January when the first batch of LTE devices are announced, according to Tricia Duryee's writeup of Verizon's CTIA press conference today.

That means Android phones will be the first on Verizon's LTE network.

At the same CTIA event, Verizon President and Chief Operating Officer Lowell McAdam tamped down the latest rumors of a Verizon iPhone, a story in the Wall Street Journal saying a Verizon iPhone will be available in early 2011.

McAdam said the story "is something that rolls out every few weeks," Tricia reported.

The key McAdam quote suggests Apple may be aiming toward the LTE network, but that would mean mid to late 2011 at the earliest:

"Apple has to be the one that makes that announcement. I expect at some point in time our business interests will align and I think LTE is a reason why they'd want to have a device or tablet on our network."

In the meantime, Verizon's LTE network will bring superfast mobile speeds but incomplete regional coverage. The company's announcement said service will extend from Lynnwood to Fife and Issquah to Seattle's waterfront, but a spokesman told me Vashon will also be included.

Kitsap County will have to wait, as will much of Pierce and Snohomish counties and the rest of Washington.

"This is just the first phase. Each year we'll be adding substantially," spokesman Scott Charlston said.

The Journal story on the iPhone quoted anonymous "people briefed by Apple" saying it was developing a CDMA version of the iPhone 4 for Verizon, to sell in early 2011. That means it would be another 3G phone with a misleading "4" in the name, but maybe switching to CDMA will fix the antenna flaw.

You've got to wonder if the leak to the Journal was perhaps intended to keep Apple stock's momentum going. Otherwise it could have been a rough week, heading into Monday's launch of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.

On Tuesday Apple lost a $625 million patent suit, for infringing on a Yale professor's work.

The same day, Nielsen reported that Android phones overtook the iPhone in smartphone sales over the last six months. That lead's probably going to continue with the new Android G2 and MyTouch phones announced recently by T-Mobile USA, the first to use the fast HSPA Plus service.

AT&T is also preparing HSPA Plus service, promising 4G-like speeds until its LTE network is ready, but the faster speeds will require a new phone.

Meanwhile, AppleTV's arrival late last week was underwhelming, and may be overshadowed by GoogleTV announcements today and Tuesday.

Quick, someone float the Verizon iPhone story again!

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September 10, 2010 11:47 AM

Best take yet on Elop's Haloo Nokia move?

Posted by Brier Dudley

You can only read so many tech blogs "surprised" by Stephen Elop's move to Nokia, opining that the Finnish phone giant really needed someone like Steve Jobs.

For more perspective, check out this analysis in the British tech pub The Register. A few excerpts:

So modest is Elop's resume, that he lists his tenure at fast food outlet Boston Chicken Incorporated twice on his LinkedIn profile. (To be precise -- Boston Chicken Inc and Einstein Brothers Bagels.)
It's amazing just how widespread is the perception that Nokia has been left behind. For example, today the BBC, reporting on the change of CEO, tells us that Nokia has "struggled to break into the smartphone market". This must hurt; Nokia effectively created the smartphone market and has (numerically, at least) led it for a decade. But Nokia's smartphones really aren't used as data devices. They're expensive phones, and the end-user experience has been horrible and getting worse.
Elop's biggest challenge is that Nokia is more than capable of restoring its fortunes. This was pointed out by Junhani Risku in his recent book on the company. It still has the clever designers and boffins to bring innovations to market. What the CEO needs to do is cut through huge layers of corporate bureaucracy to allow this innovation to flourish. And since Nokia is something of a state institution, this isn't going to be easy.

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September 8, 2010 3:18 PM

Seattle's Cequint sold for $50 million, up to $112 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

Six years after it was founded by a group of telecom veterans, Seattle-based Cequint was sold to TNS, a Reston, Va.-based enterprise data services provider.

Cequint provides carrier-grade caller ID products and services to mobile phone companies. It's expected to add $2 million in revenue to TNS earnings through the end of 2010.

The purchase was $50 million -- $46.7 million in cash plus about $3.3 million in TNS stock for Cequint executives. Another $62.5 million in cash will be paid if performance targets are met, for a potential total of $112.5 million.

A spokesman said all of Cequint's nearly 70 employees will keep their jobs and the company will remain based in Seattle, operating as a TNS subsidiary.

More than 30 million phones have been distributed with Cequint's first product, City ID, which displays the city and state of incoming numbers. The release said the company's moving to a new version that also delivers the caller's name and other features.

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August 11, 2010 3:10 PM

Wanting a Clearwire iSpot? A little fyi ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

A reader in Redmond who bought one of Clearwire's new iSpot portable hotspots for Apple devices shared some interesting details about the device.

It works well, providing much faster speeds for his iPad than the 3G service from AT&T, he said. The $100 iSpot works with Clear data plans starting at $25 per month.

But he almost ditched the iSpot after going through its activation process. It turns out the Clear service requires users to provide a phone number, which the company can use for marketing.

He was unable to activate the device and start using it until he had opted in to this arrangement. His trick, though, was to give Clear the silenced number of his fax machine.

Others buyers may not realize what they're agreeing to -- or have a dedicated fax line to fob off telemarketers.

A Clearwire spokesman confirmed that the phone number disclosure is required in the activation process.

"A lot of our products are evolutionary," explained Mike DiGioia, and Clear wants to "make sure customers have a way to be aware" of new offerings.

Clearwire shares customer numbers only with companies "that we work with in order to conduct our normal course of business, it's not selling our list," he said. The company may also use the phone numbers for billing and service, he added.

Here's what the terms of service say: "Regardless of whether this is a wired or wireless number or whether this number is listed on the Do-Not-Call Registry, you consent to being contacted by Clearwire (and/or its designated agents) at this number, for any purpose (including sales, marketing and promotional offers) and by any means (including autodialed or prerecorded voice calls and text messages)."

People who want to opt out may complete a form at Clearwire's website, after they've finished activating the device. The site cautions that junk mail ("marketing information by physical mail") may take eight to 12 weeks to stop arriving, and e-mail opt-outs will be processed within 10 business days.

The approach is standard with Clear devices, not just the iSpot, and it hasn't been a problem, DiGioia said.

"That's the policy that we've adopted. We haven't found a negative response from our customers," he said.

Except the one who called me. He's furious.

Maybe this is just the way it's going to be when you buy telecommunications services that aren't bound to a phone. But Clearwire's approach is still a surprising choice for a company that's been working to improve its customer-service reputation.

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August 2, 2010 10:22 AM

Android phone sales up 886%

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's jaw-dropper is the amazing growth of Android-based phones - up 886 percent in the second quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

The surge also made Android the largest smartphone platform in the U.S., where it took 34 percent of the market in Q2.

Crazy growth in the overall market for smartphones continues as mobile phone buyers, especially in the U.S., upgrade to the more capable devices. Canalys reports that smartphone sales grew 64 percent in the quarter.

Worldwide Nokia still leds with 38 percent of the smartphone market in Q2, with its shipments growing 41 percent year-over-year to 23.8 million in the quarter, Canalys reported.

RIM's BlackBerry grew 41 percent, holding second place with 18 percent of the global market, while Apple's iPhone sales grew 61 percent after the iPhone 4 launch and it now has 13 percent of the smartphone market, according to Canalys.

"Expect to see smart phones accounting for a growing proportion of the wider mobile phone market as they become increasingly affordable to more customers," Canalys Senior Analyst Pete Cunningham said in the release. "By 2013, smart phones will grow to represent over 27% of shipments worldwide, with the proportion in some developed markets in Western Europe surpassing 60% and 48% in North America."

The chart - with U.S. and China stats only - included in the Canalys release:

r2010081.gif

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June 4, 2010 1:00 PM

Washington Sprint stores sell out of HTC Evo 4G

Posted by Brier Dudley

This picture may show the last HTC Evo 4G phone being sold at a Sprint store in Washington during today's launch sale. I took this about an hour ago at the store at Westlake Center, where the guy in the vest is getting the last one ready for a customer.

DSCN1867.JPG

A worker told me that all the stores in Washington are sold out after the morning rush but they're hoping to get more soon. Westlake ran out during lunch and the store a few blocks away on Union ran out at around 11 a.m. I've asked Sprint for an official update. (I also heard that Radio Shack may still have a few ...)

Meanwhile, there were still a few cookies left from this morning's launch event at the Westlake store, where I briefly talked to one customer who said he'd buy an Evo if the store had any more in stock.

Here's my review of the Evo 4G, the first phone to use Clearwire's 4G network. I said that it has "network capabilities that may change the way people think about buying wireless and broadband service."

One update: After the review was filed, Qik, the video chat application provider, clarified that the basic video chat features will be free. Premium features, including video archiving and the ability to upload videos to the service, will cost $4.99 a month starting July 15.

A chart that Qik posted, explaining the pricing tiers:

Qik fees.png

Here's a picture of a speed test of the 4G service at my desk -- it was faster when I held it higher and closer to the window:

DSCN1826.JPG

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April 22, 2010 9:55 AM

Dell Windows 7 phone appears, 4" OLED slider

Posted by Brier Dudley

The parade of "leaked" phones to Gizmodo and Engadget is getting ridiculous. Do they have a deal with PR Newswire?

Anyway, the latest instalment is a batch of images and specs for upcoming Dell phones. Engadget's touting it as "the mother of all Dell leaks" but it's still no iPhone bar edition.

It does give an apparent early peek at several Android phones and the "Lightning" Windows Phone 7 coming to market in the fourth quarter, if Engadget's info is correct.

Lightning has the standard 1 gig processor, FM radio and Flash support, plus a 4.1-inch OLED display that slides up to reveal a qwerty keypad. The info said a 3G Lightning is coming to AT&T and T-Mobile first and an LTE version will be available in fourth quarter 2011 (which seems like a long wait for 4G ...).

A screen grab from the page:

dell.JPG

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April 9, 2010 10:27 AM

Nokia dangles $1 million for mobile entrepreneurs, apps

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle has to have a few contenders for a new contest Nokia is running. It's offering a $1 million investment in the best mobile business idea submitted to its Growth Economy Venture Challenge.

That's a lot of Finnish cheese for a phone app.

But it can't be another mobile game or Twitter client -- Nokia wants to hear from people thinking globally. It's looking for:

-- An idea that could truly change the way people use Nokia mobile devices.
-- An idea that demonstrates how mobility improves the lives of millions of people in emerging markets worldwide.
-- An idea that recognizes a good business opportunity can also contribute to "doing good" -- and making a dramatic difference in the lives of people in developing nations.


Here's the judging criteria, from the contest Web site:

-- It must include a clear mission statement; and provide a product or service plan that will undeniably raise the standard of living, and/or enhance the lives of people living in emerging market countries today.
-- The initial target market must be located in a region with per capita income significantly lower than what is found in industrialized nations today (e.g., sub-$5 per day).
-- It must include a viable business model that has a high likelihood of providing a strong return on investment for the venture funding provided.

Submissions are due June 10.

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March 18, 2010 10:37 AM

T-Mobile CEO: Talking to Clearwire about hookup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Move the story about Clearwire and T-Mobile USA hooking from "rumor" to "maybe."

Speaking to investors in Frankfurt today, T-Mobile Chief Executive Robert Dotson confirmed the company's been talking to Clearwire and other companies about joint ventures that would give T-Mobile additional spectrum, Reuters reported.

"We continue to look at JV opportunities for additional spectrum... there are a number of different options we look at, (we) have been talking with cable companies, with Clearwire," Dotson said.

Bloomberg reported in September that T-Mobile's parent, Deutsche Telekom, was in talks with Clearwire and others, but it was using unnamed sources and the companies would not comment at the time.

In clarifying the status today, Dotson also downplayed the chances of a merger with Sprint, saying, "What you never want to do is take one company that is going through challenges and take another company going through challenges."

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March 17, 2010 10:58 AM

Mobile apps $17B market soon, app seller claims

Posted by Brier Dudley

London-based mobile app seller GetJar created a stir today by releasing a study saying the mobile apps business will grow to $17.5 billion by 2012.

With 4 billion-plus mobile phone users around the world, that suggests an average of $4 per user generated by mobile apps.

appschart.jpg

Downloads of mobile apps will grow from 7 billion in 2009 to nearly 50 billion in 2012. The value of apps sold would then be greater than sales of music CDs, the study said.

Also predicted is a continuing shift away from "on deck" apps distributed by phone companies toward downloads from app stores, such as GetJar. The study predicted that on-deck applications' share of sales will fall to 23 percent, from 60 percent in 2009.

By 2012, Europe will be a bigger market for apps than the U.S., spending $8.5 billion versus $6.7 billion.

Asia now accounts for the most downloads, but consumers there spend far less on them than North Americans -- they're spending an average of 10 cents per app, vs. the $1.09 spent in this region.

The study predicts the overall average selling price of apps will fall 29 percent, from its current level around $1.90, but ad revenue from apps is expected to stay flat.

GetJar also predicted a shakeout in the number of app stores, which grew from eight to 38 last year and will continue growing this year.

"This report signifies a battle for survival of the fittest among app stores worldwide -- with app revenue and growth opportunities growing significantly," Chief Executive Ilja Laurs said in the release. "There is no way that this many app stores will survive in the long term and while the value of the global app economy is set to be astoundingly high by 2012, we think only a few app stores will share this revenue."

The study was done for GetJar by Issaquah mobile consultant Chetan Sharma. GetJar has other local ties; its vice president of sales, Bill Scott, is a Seattle native who used to work at InfoSpace.

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February 4, 2010 2:24 PM

Bellevue's T-Mobile USA may have IPO, $20 billion equity value

Posted by Brier Dudley

Deutsche Telekom is considering an IPO for its U.S. subsidiary, Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Other options being considered include spinning the U.S. unit off into a separate company or merging it with another U.S. carrier, although that's less likely, the report said.

T-Mobile USA would have an equity value of around $20 billion, the Journal said.

DT will spend the next few weeks discussing T-Mobile USA's fate internally and decide on a plan within two months, the report said.

An excerpt:

T-Mobile USA has languished under perceptions that its wireless network is inferior and lacks reach, a major shortcoming as customers turn to their cell phones to surf the Internet and stream video. In the third quarter, 77,000 users walked away from T-Mobile USA, while AT&T and Verizon Wireless added millions of customers.

Taking T-Mobile USA public would be a way to fund the build-out of new wireless technology that will keep its services current without relinquishing control of a business that had long been a corporate growth engine for Deutsche Telekom.

A spokesman in Bellevue declined to comment.

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January 20, 2010 9:45 AM

Seattle startup Cloudvox sold, three months after launch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cloudvox barely had time to get the kinks out of the telephony platform it launched in October, giving Web developers a simple way to add phone calling features to their applications.

The Seattle startup announced today that it was sold to Ifbyphone Inc., a Chicago "cloud telephony" provider.

"By acquiring Cloudvox, we're sending a message to businesses of every size: If you're interested in using telephone applications to automate sales, marketing, business processes, and Web applications, we're the place to start," Ifbyphone Chief Executive Irv Shapiro said in the release.

Terms of the sale weren't disclosed.

Cloudvox was started by Loudeye veterans Troy Davis and Eric Lindvall; Lindvall also worked at Consera and Therion.

Cloudvox will continue to have its office in Seattle - where it employs two people plus contractors - and its service will be called Cloudvox Powered by Ifbyphone, a spokeswoman said.

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January 14, 2010 11:15 AM

Clapton pitching T-Mobile Fender phone, Beyonce with Nintendo

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile this morning said Eric Clapton's lending his name to the company's new myTouch 3G Fender Limited Edition - the one with a sunburst wood-grain, guitar like design.

Thumbnail image for 161342.jpg

Clapton's appearing in the company's ads and his songs "Layla," "My Father's Eyes," "Rock 'N' Roll Heart" and "Wonderful Tonight" will be preloaded on the HTC device. Also included are songs from Wyclef Jean, Avril Lavigne and Brad Paisley and the "Guitar: Solo" and "Musical Light" applications.

T-Mobile is also contributing Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, which benefits a drug treatment center in Antigua. I wonder if they thought it would be held at the shopping center near T-Mobile USA's Bellevue headquarters?

The phone goes on sale for Jan. 20 for $180 with a two-year service plan.

It's the second Eastside company to lasso a celebrity spokesperson this week.

On Tuesday Nintendo - which has its U.S. headquarters in Redmond - said Beyonce will do more promotion of the DS and its "Style Savvy" fashion game.

Beyonce last year pitched "Rhythm Heaven" for the DS. For "Style Savvy," she's providing downloadable designs from the Dereon clothing line she and her mother, Tina Knowles, created.

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January 13, 2010 10:30 AM

Gartner predicts: Mobile Web overtakes PCs, Facebook wins, more outsourcing

Posted by Brier Dudley

Research giant Gartner is sharing its predictions that "herald long-term changes in approach" for information technology in 2010 and beyond.

Some excerpts from the release:

-- By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. According to Gartner's PC installed-base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

-- By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. Virtualization, cloud services and employees running their own PCs on corporate networks will contribute to this trend:


Continue reading this post ...


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December 29, 2009 11:38 AM

Report: T-Mobile to support new Google mobile phone

Posted by Brier Dudley

The nexus of Google's mysterious new Nexus One phone is apparently Bellevue.

TmoNews is reporting today that T-Mobile will be the network powering Google's new phone, which is apparently going to make its debut on Jan. 5.

A T-Mobile USA support page found by the blog says Google will sell the new Android-based device directly via the Web, confirming the story that emerged a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal. Bellevue-based T-Mobile will handle billing and rate plans for the device.

Manufacturing the new Google phone will be HTC, the Taiwanese phone maker with U.S. headquarters in Bellevue and its software lab in Pioneer Square.

The trio introduced Google's first Android phone, the HTC-manufactured G1, in September 2008 but it was sold by T-Mobile.

Google also scheduled an announcement at its headquarters on Jan. 5, the day before the Consumer Electronics Show begins in Las Vegas.

Google's boldly making an end-run around wireless companies with its own device, even though it's simultaneously working to get more of its software and services onto their devices and networks.

But it's also using old-fashioned P.R. tricks by launching just ahead of the show, forcing its new device into the conversations people will have about the array of new gadgets debuting in 2010.

Although initial reports characterized Google's phone as an assault on the iPhone, it's also a challenge to a wave of new devices built on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7, the software that's now Microsoft's big chance to regain its footing in the phone market. Google's announcement takes place the day before Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer presents the opening keynote at CES.

UPDATE: More details are flowing out. Gizmodo received what looks to be leaked details of the Nexus One pricing: $180 with a two-year, $80 per month T-Mobile contract, or $530 for one that's unsubsidized and contract-free.

The Gizmodo screenshots also have a tagline explaining the Nexus One name, if you couldn't figure it out already: "Web meets phone."

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December 2, 2009 10:41 AM

Best wireless carriers & phones, according to Consumer Reports

Posted by Brier Dudley

A big batch of information about mobile phones and carriers is appearing in the January issue of Consumer Reports, including results of a survey ranking the top carriers in 26 U.S. cities.

Verizon is tops -- nailing customer support, voice and data service -- "but it tends to be costly," with one in five saying high cost is their top complaint, the mag's release said.

T-Mobile USA was the next highest rated provider "in overall satisfaction, and worth considering as a good value for some. However, the carrier received lower marks in voice, messaging, Web and e-mail services."

Sprint and AT&T were ranked lowest, taking hits for customer service. "While AT&T's main weak spot is voice connectivity, they also scored below average in every attribute except Web access and texting," the release said.

"America is in love with the cellphone, but they are lukewarm about cellphone service," said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor at Consumer Reports. "They're especially concerned about its cost in these tight economic times."

Yet the magazine and its survey respondents are still huge fans of the AT&T exclusive iPhone. Here's a summary of its phone picks, by carrier.

On Verizon: The $100 LG enV Touch is "an impressive phone and multimedia device enhanced with touch-screen navigation and a Qwerty keyboard for easier e-mailing and texting." The $40 LG VX8360 "is a very good, straightforward cellphone at a bargain price."

Verizon's $147 Samsung Jitterbug has "large buttons, free directory assistance and a comfortable earpiece. Negatives include pricey service and a thick phone that lacks common features."

Among Verizon's smartphones, the mag likes the $200 HTC Touch Pro2 and $50 BlackBerry Storm 9530.

On T-Mobile: Consumer Reports especially likes the $200 Samsung Memoir with its 8 megapixel camera and the $130 Samsung Comeback "with a keypad that facilitates phoning and a 2.6-inch screen and keyboard to satisfy texters."

Among Tmo's smartphones, it called out the $150 myTouch 3G as "the best choice for multimedia use with intuitive navigation, easy access to main functions and direct downloading of music, games, applications and services."

(I'm partial to the T-Mobile BlackBerry Bold 2 9700 I began using a few weeks ago, and found out yesterday that its power cable -- which I'd misplaced -- uses the same connector as Amazon's Kindle.)

On Sprint: Consumer Reports calls out the $80 Samsung Exclaim as "a good bargain" with a "dual-slider design that slides up to reveal a keypad for phone calls and slides right to reveal a keyboard for e-mail and text messaging." Sprint's $150 Palm Pre "is a good bet for multitaskers with the ability to link contacts, calendars and messaging."

On AT&T: The magazine recommends the $150 LG Xenon, $125 Samsung Impression and $100 Samsung Solstice, which all have "large touch-screen displays and are compatible with AT&T's Video Share, which streams live, one-way video to a compatible phone."

The magazine said the $200, 16 gigabyte iPhone 3G S and $100 iPhone 3G from AT&T "ranked highly for multimedia use, with the best MP3 player Consumer Reports has seen in a phone to date." Its survey found a "staggering 98 percent of iPhone users were satisfied enough that they would buy the phone again, despite below-par ratings for AT&T."

Only 54 percent of readers it surveyed were completely or very satisfied with their mobile phone service, and 38 percent had switched carriers in the past two year to get a specific phone.

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November 17, 2009 10:28 AM

AT&T boosting 3G network in Seattle region

Posted by Brier Dudley

Relief is coming to iPhone users and others using AT&T's heavily used 3G wireless network in Seattle.

The company today announced a "substantial upgrade" of its network in the Puget Sound region from Everett to Tacoma, using additional wireless spectrum in the 850 MHz band.

"While specific benefits of the additional spectrum will vary by location, AT&T 3G customers should see improved quality and coverage throughout Seattle, Tacoma and surrounding markets," the release said.

The company said the upgrades are happening in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Renton and Auburn and Pierce and King Counties.

This comes as AT&T faces new competition in the region, where Clearwire is on track to roll out its faster, 4G network starting next month, and Verizon Wireless has been testing a new 4G service in Seattle with plans for service by next year.

The company's also in a spat over Verizon ads poking fun at AT&T's smaller 3G coverage in the U.S.

Meanwhile, AT&T's wireless traffic has quadrupled in the last year, driven by the iPhone and other smartphones used for Web access as well as calling.

The company's also providing 3G access to other devices such as the electronic books sold by Amazon.com and Sony.

Seattle-area upgrades have been made to its current 3G network using the 850 spectrum. They begin next year on a faster, HSPA 7.2 version that will be done in 2011.

The company's simultaneously adding nearly 1,900 cell sites nationally and new backhaul connections to support the mobile data traffic.

With one of AT&T's former lawyers now the incoming mayor of Seattle, the company may not expect much trouble getting permits for the new towers around here.

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October 30, 2009 11:22 AM

Comparing cost of Droid vs iPhone, Palm Pre & MyTouch 3G

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a great chart from BillShrink.com comparing total cost of ownership for the Motorola Droid versus the iPhone, Palm Pre and MyTouch 3G.

Something to think about while Christmas shopping -- the cost of smartphones smarts.

The bottom line: Ouch.

Motorola Droid vs iPhone 3GS vs Palm Pre


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October 15, 2009 1:37 PM

Michael Dell: We'll sell Android phones in the U.S. in 2010

Posted by Brier Dudley

"You'll probably see some products next year in the United States that are family members with some of the things we started in China," Michael Dell said at FiRe today.

He discussed the mobile phones Dell's developed for China Mobile on a variant of the Google-backed Android operating system.

Host Mark Anderson pressed Dell - one of Microsoft's biggest customers - on what operating system his U.S.-bound phones will use.

"They'd be Android," Dell said.

Last week the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported Dell would release an Android phone in early 2010 for AT&T.

Michael was on the record, but he didn't specify the carrier.

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October 14, 2009 4:20 PM

Report: Microsoft, T-Mobile sued over Sidekick glitch

Posted by Brier Dudley

It didn't take long for lawsuits to be filed against Microsoft and T-Mobile USA by Sidekick owners furious about last week's data loss, according to Cnet's Ina Fried.

Two were filed in Northern California, she reports. An excerpt:

One suit, filed on behalf of a Bakersfield, Calif., man "and all others similarly situated" charges that, among other things, Microsoft and Danger failed to use reasonable care in handling Sidekick owners data and that the Sidekick was falsely advertised. That suit seeks monetary damages as well as an order requiring the companies to fix the Sidekicks and service or offer a full refund.

Time to read the contract's fine print.


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October 14, 2009 11:58 AM

Future of wireless tech, at IEEE event in Bellevue

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're curious about the future of wireless networks and devices, the regional chapter of the IEEE has organized a pretty useful sounding workshop in Bellevue on Oct. 30 and 31.

Wireless sensor networks, 4G mobile broadband, personal area networks and wireless medical applications are among the topics that will be covered by speakers from AT&T, Intel, Impinj, Intermec, the University of Washington and other organizations.

But you have to be $275 curious to attend, or $200 if you're an IEEE member. More details about the IEEE Pacific Northwest Wireless Workshop 2009 are at IEEE-Seattle.org.

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October 7, 2009 11:28 AM

T-Mobile's G2 Fender edition

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile USA today announced its holiday phone lineup, including the Android-based Samsung Behold II and Motorola's Cliq. The company also said its 3G USB stick is now Mac compatible.

But the coolest thing in the batch may be the new Fender Limited Edition of the myTouch 3G, with a "guitar-inspired wood-grain finish."

161342.jpg

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September 22, 2009 12:55 PM

Report: T-Mobile may use Clearwire spectrum for 4G

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bloomberg is reporting a potentially huge cross-town collaboration: T-Mobile USA is interested in using Clearwire's spectrum for its 4G service.

The move would help T-Mobile catch up with other U.S. carriers' 4G efforts. It shouldn't be too hard for the Bellevue-based company to work things out with Kirkland-based Clearwire, which needs a cash infusion to finish its initial buildout.

Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's Germany-based parent company, is also talking with MetroPCS about spectrum, the report said.

Bloomberg also has a source downplaying the Deutsche Telekom-Sprint merger story that came out last week; maybe that was related to the Clearwire talks.

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July 22, 2009 3:30 PM

Casual Connect: Apple App Store hasn't won yet, Microsoft manager says

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's still early days in the mobile application marketplace and Apple's App Store hasn't won yet, competitors told game developers during a panel at the Casual Connect conference this afternoon.

A new version of Microsoft's equivalent, a Windows Mobile marketplace, will start taking submissions from developers on July 27, said Steve Hegenderfer, Windows Mobile group product manager. The company's still trying to figure out things like whether to set price tiers.

Hegenderfer said Apple has "early mover" advantage but the industry is still in its infancy, with all sorts of new opportunities, he said.

"If anyone thinks Apple is going to run this thing they're sorely mistaken," he said, adding that "we are so early, we are barely scratching the tip of the iceberg, and it's exciting."

Nokia launched its "Ovi" mobile application store on May 23, said Patrick Stanton, the Finnish phone company's director of content operations.

Stanton didn't comment directly on how it will compete with Apple's App store, but noted that the Ovi store software is being preloaded on Nokia phones and the company ships about 300 million units per year.

There will eventually be half a dozen big marketplaces and developers are going to offer their applications in all of them, Stanton said.

"We're all playing in similar spaces so you're going to have to look at how these things evolve over time,'' he said. "It's going to be a competitive marketplace for some time to come."

Hegenderfer said the winning mobile marketplaces will be the ones that enable developers to make a living.

"That's what its gong to come down to ... who is going to allow you to make more money than anyone else," he said.

But developers in the audience said it gets complicated to develop for platforms with multiple devices.

"If I build for you I've got to build for nine form factors," one told Hegenderfer, before telling Stanton that writing for Nokia's Symbian platform "doesn't do me any any good on the PC platform or Mac platform" and "it's wickedly hard to develop for because of your memory model."

If an Apple representative was in the room, he continued, he'd tell that company to open up its platform.

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July 20, 2009 12:25 PM

Qwest says 40 Mbps DSL coming, but where?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Qwest today announced that it's boosting its network to provide up to 40 Mbps download speeds and 20 Mbps uploads, but don't hold your breath waiting for the installation.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 27, 2009 10:40 AM

AT&T upping 3G speeds, but you'll need a new (iPhone)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Download speeds of up to 7.2 megabits per second (theoretically) will be available on AT&T's 3G network after upgrades are completed this year, the company said today.

The catch is you'll need a new phone or laptop card to get the fastest speeds. Users should also expect "typical real-world" speeds to be "less than the theoretical peak and will vary based on a number of factors, including location, device, and overall traffic on the local network at a given time."

Continue reading this post ...


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May 19, 2009 9:45 AM

Phone wars: Palm Pre launch set, iPhone 3.0 details and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a flurry of mobile phone rumors and tidbits today, which is distracting from the actual news from Sprint and Palm. Wonder if that's a coincidence ...

Sprint and Palm today announced pricing and launch details for their hot new Palm Pre smartphone, which they're blatantly pitching as an iPhone killer. The phone will be available June 6 for $199 (actually $299, with a $100 rebate and obligatory two-year contract).

Here's a Sprint-provided image of the Pre, which has a 3.1-inch touchscreen, a slideout Qwerty keyboard, a 3.0 megapixel camera, 8 gigs of memory and a tablike interface for flipping through applications, which can be run simultaneously:

PalmPre-frontview.jpg

Simultaneously, new details of the next iPhone were "leaked" to an enthusiast Web site, which I couldn't access but which was pounced on by gadget blogs. It said iPhone 3.0 will launch July 17 with a 3.2 megapixel camera and more memory -- 16 and 32 gigabytes.

Whether it's real or not, the info from Appleiphoneapps.com is tantalizing:

-- 32GB and 16GB to replace current capacities
-- $199 and $299 price-points to be maintained
-- 3.2 megapixel camera
-- Video recording and editing capabilities
-- Ability to send a picture and video via MMS
-- Discontinuation of the metal band surrounding the edge of the device
-- OLED screen
-- 1.5x The battery life
-- Double the RAM and processing power
-- Built-in FM transmitter
-- Apple logo on the back to light up
-- Rubber-tread backing
-- Sleeker design
-- Built-in compass
-- Combination of the camera, GPS, compass, and Google maps to identify photo and inform about photo locations.
-- Turn by turn directions

Other challengers joined the rumble.

Microsoft today opened the beta version of its My Phone Web service to the public. The free site gives users an online repository where they can store and sync contacts, appointments and photos from their mobile phones. The site can be used to backup and restore information on a phone, or share photos taken from mobile phones. So far it only works with Windows Mobile 6, though.

Also surfacing is a glimpse of the new Android "Rosie" interface being developed by Google, HTC, to distract the Android crowd from the Pre and iPhone 3.0 perhaps?

A video of "Rosie" from ">Androidguys.com:

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May 18, 2009 4:10 PM

Cheaper iPhone plans from AT&T?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Anonymously sourced story of the day: BusinessWeek reports AT&T may lower prices on iPhone data plans, starting with a $10 per month reduction this month:

"The possible price cut likely reflects the back-and-forth between AT&T and Apple as they work out whether and under what terms AT&T would remain the sole U.S. iPhone carrier."

Looks like a companion piece to the "Verizon getting iPhone" stories that emerged a few weeks ago - hardball negotiations are underway, with press leaks applying pressure.

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April 22, 2009 10:14 AM

Hackers paying $32K for old Nokia phones

Posted by Brier Dudley

Time to check the Goodwill's cellphone bin: Hackers in Europe are offering up to $32,000 for a certain type of phone made at a now defunct factory in Bochum, Germany.

Apparently these Nokia 1100 phones are particularly easy to use in a bank fraud scheme involving authentication messages sent by European banks, according to an IGN story picked up by PC World.

It sounds like something out of a novel:

The 1100 can apparently be reprogrammed to use someone else's phone number, which would also let the device receive text messages. That capability opens up an opportunity for online banking fraud.

In countries such as Germany, banks send an mTAN (mobile Transaction Authentication Number) to a person's mobile phone that must be entered into a Web-based form in order to, for example, transfer money into another account. A TAN can only be used once, a security feature known as a one-time passcode.

Nokia said it's unaware of any software vulnerability that's particular to the Bochum-made 1100s.

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April 16, 2009 9:00 PM

T-Mobile releases 3G Sidekick, first Danger phone via Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

You can't call it a big screen, but T-Mobile USA is excited about the relatively big display its using on the 3G Sidekick LX that's going on sale May 13.

At 3.2 inches and 854x480 resolution, it's the biggest, brightest screen yet on a T-Mobile phone.

sidekick1.JPG

sidekickpurpside.JPG

The company's talking the Sharp Aquos-powered screen up in part because the LX is aimed at young social media fans. It comes set to display video on sites such as YouTube and MySpace and preconfigured to work with Twitter and Facebook.

Users can also record and share video or stills - the LX has a 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus and flash - and a browser.

More than a million people use current versions of the Sidekick, and 75 percent of them are using the devices to check social media sites at least once a week, according to T-Mobile.

But the device could end up appealing to an older demographic - namely mobile workers - after T-Mobile adds Exchange Active Sync via a download "shortly" after the May 13 launch.

The LX is also the first Danger phone developed entirely since the Palo Alto-based mobile company was acquired by Microsoft in February 2008. The original Sidekick was Danger's marquee product.

Microsoft isn't any more prominent on the device than YouTube, although one button on the carousel menu is a Live location search that uses the phone's GPS radio to show what's nearby.

I spent a little time trying out a demo unit that Leslie Grandy showed at T-Mobile. The screen looks good - though not as bright as an OLED display - and the device feels solid. I'm especially partial to the keyboard, but I didn't spend enough time to get the hang of the Sidekick's controls and shortcuts.

T-Mobile's selling the LX for $199 after rebate and with a two-year contract. It's taking pre-orders starting Friday.

Here's the feature list:

Integrated social networking application bundle includes Facebook, MySpace and Twitter
High-speed Web browsing with 3G support
Built-in GPS support with Live Search
3.2-megapixel camera with autofocus and an LED flash
Ability to record, play and share videos
Share recorded videos via e-mail and upload videos to social networking sites
Watch videos on YouTube via the web browser or on MySpace
Carbon or orchid finish
Music player with streaming audio and streaming RTSP video
3.2-inch F-WVGA screen with high-definition LCD technology with 854x480 resolution
Support for personal e-mail, SMS, MMS, instant messaging (IM)
Built-in IM clients include AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Live and Yahoo Messenger
Iconic swivel design and full QWERTY keyboard (manufactured by Sharp)
Intuitive user interface with Quick Find to search across all applications
Network Address Book
Included 1GB microSD memory card
Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP supports stereo Bluetooth and Bluetooth file transfer to other Bluetooth devices including photo printers
Dimensions: 5.1 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches; 5.7 ounces
Quad-band GSM world phone (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
Dual-band UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850/1700/2100 - AWS Bands 1, IV, V)
1250 mAh Lithium Ion battery
Battery: 3G -- 3 hours talk time, 6 days standby; 2G -- 5.5 hours talk time, 8 days standby

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April 14, 2009 2:37 PM

eBay spinning off Skype in IPO

Posted by Brier Dudley

Skype is going to go public as a standalone entity in early 2010, eBay announced this afternoon. It bought Skype in 2005 for $2.6 billion in deal that never seemed to make sense.

I wonder if this will be a milestone, marking the return of tech IPOs. Or could it be a negotiation tactic, to get someone to buy Skype before the offering?

EBay Chief Executive John Donahoe's statement in the release:

"Skype is a great stand-alone business with strong fundamentals and accelerating momentum. But it's clear that Skype has limited synergies with eBay and PayPal. We believe operating Skype as a stand-alone publicly traded company is the best path for maximizing its potential. This will give Skype the focus and resources required to continue its growth and effectively compete in online voice and video communications. In addition, separating Skype will allow eBay to focus entirely on our two core growth engines - e-commerce and online payments - and deliver long-term value to our stockholders."

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April 8, 2009 9:51 AM

Yikes: AT&T, Verizon use FBI raids to collect debt

Posted by Brier Dudley

I thought the new administration was going to tone down the jackboot attitude of federal agencies that blossomed during the perpetual war on terror.

But apparently word hasn't yet reached public servants at the FBI office in Dallas.

According to a shocking Wired story, the feds responded to a debt collection spat between AT&T, Verizon and VoIP customers by seizing hundreds of servers from multiple co-location facilities, as well as the iPods belonging to a debtor's kids and even the savings of a former comptroller's grandmother.

More than 300 companies were using servers at a facility owned by alleged debtor Mike Faulkner, the story reported:

Faulkner says the two telecoms have used the FBI to seize equipment to obtain evidence through a criminal investigation instead of pursuing the companies through civil litigation and the discovery process. And instead of targeting the investigation specifically at the VoIP companies, he says the FBI swept in everyone who had servers in the same place where the VoIP servers were located. As a result, all of Crydon Technology's equipment was seized, as was the equipment of numerous businesses that had the bad luck to own servers running out of Crydon's facility.

"They're destroying more and more customers and it just doesn't seem to make sense," Faulkner says. "They've done a horrible amount of damage and have been so barbaric in the way they've shut things down. If they just picked some random guy off the street to do this investigation, he could have done a better job than the FBI did."

When one of the affected companies, a credit card processor, "tried to explain to an FBI agent that some of the servers that were seized belonged to him and not to Faulkner, the FBI agent implied he was lying,'' the story reported:

"We were treated like we were criminals," he said. "They assumed there was no legitimate business in there."

Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels seized the opportunity to suggest, on Twitter, that this is another reason to consider using cloud servers such as those rented by Amazon Web Services. Does Amazon have protection from this kind of thing? What if the RIAA takes exception to the DRM free music Amazon's distributing from its servers and calls the feds?

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April 2, 2009 5:07 PM

Verizon expanding wireless broadband in Eastern Washington, Oregon and Idaho

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon's bringing its wireless broadband network to the farm country of southeastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho.

On Sunday it's flipping the swtich on an upgrade that began last August when it acquired Rural Cellular, which served the area under the Unicel brand.

Verizon has converted the cell sites to its network and its upgrading them to provide wireless broadband.

Verizon is opening stores in Baker City, Bend, College Place, Walla Walla, Hermiston, Klamath Falls, LaGrande, Lewiston, Pendleton and Redmond. It's also extending network coverage to Burns, Dayton, John Day, Lakeview, La Pine, Moscow, Pomeroy, Pullman, Sunriver, Waitsburg and Warm Springs.

Unicel customers' numbers won't change but their devices will be operating on the Verizon network after April 5.

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April 2, 2009 2:20 PM

Free Clearwire 4G for Valley developers, what about Seattle?

Posted by Brier Dudley

To drum up enthusiasm for its 4G Clear service, Clearwire today announced a developer program that will provide a year of free access to a special network for software developers in Silicon Valley.

The idea is to give developers "a head start" on the service that Clearwire will launch next year in the Bay Area. It

By the end of the summer, the "WiMax Innovation Network" will cover 20 miles, including the campuses of Cisco and Clearwire backers Intel and Google and a university in the area.

What about developers in Clearwire's hometown?

A spokeswoman said the Seattle area could get a similar developer program if the one in Silicon Valley works out, although Seattle doesn't need as much of a head start since it's getting Clear service later this year.

"Seattle has a significant amount of developer talent and we look forward to working with them in the future. However, given the location of our active development partners (Google, Cisco, Intel, the university), the development support resources, and the coming availability of our commercial network in Seattle, Silicon Valley felt right as the place to launch the beta network and the developer program,'' spokeswoman Susan Johnston said. "We encourage open development of devices and applications for WiMax and, if successful, we could see an expansion of the program to Seattle."

Tricia Duryee has more from Clearwire's CTIA keynote here.

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March 24, 2009 9:01 PM

T-Mobile launches 3G USB modem

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue-based T-Mobile's introducing a new device taking advantage of its new 3G network: A nifty little USB stick modem for laptops with capacity for up to 8 gigabytes of storage.

It includes a slot for a micro SD memory card, plus a SIM card in a finger-sized black dongle.

T-Mobile webConnect 1.jpg
The "webConnect USB Laptop Stick," made by Huawei Technologies, is handsome but not cheap. It costs $49.99 with a two-year contract, $99.99 with a one-year contract or $249.99 by itself. The micro SD card isn't included.

Service costs $59.99 for up to 5 gigabytees of data over 3G, plus unlimited data through WiFi hotspots (any hotspots, not just those operated by T-Mobile). Additional 3G time is billed at 20 cents per megabyte.

To warn customers before they start facing overage charges, T-Mobile added some nice software features, including a usage meter and a notification system that sends a message when you've used 80 percent of your 5 gigs.

Jeremy Korst, director of broadband products and services, said the device provides download speeds of 600 kbps with peaks over 1 megabit per second.

"For the majority of customer use cases around web browsing, social media, MySpace, checking email - all those typical things we see our customers doing more and more while on the go, the speeds we're providing now are more than sufficient to provide that customer experience,'' he said.

T-Mobile's hoping the software and overall polish of the product will help it compete against similar USB modems offered by Sprint, Verizon and Clearwire.

Software comes in the stick and unpacks and installs when you plug it into a laptop. It took me about 15 minutes, including a restart, to get going with a test unit T-Mobile provided - I used it to write this blog.

The "connection manager" software gives you three big buttons - WiFi, Broadband and VPN, so you can choose which way to connect.

I haven't tried this yet, but Korst said the system will alert you when WiFi becomes available so you can switch over and save your 3G time.

In an unscientific, quickie test with the modem showing four out of five bars of 3G reception, I played a YouTube clip at regular resolution with no buffering interruption. In high def, the clip buffered about five or six times.

Korst said there are no bundle offers or discounts for customers with other T-Mobile plans. Maybe that will change after Clearwire's new service is widely available.

As for T-Mobile's 3G network, Korst said it should reach an additional 100 cities - in addition to the 130 served at the end of 2008.

T-Mobile previously offered a USB modem that used its slower EDGE network but that device has been phased out.

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March 17, 2009 3:27 PM

McCaw video startup 1Cast signs WSJ and Bloomberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

Continuing pace of announcing upgrades about once a month, Kirkland mobile video startup 1Cast today said it's lined up more business content providers.

Joining the video news distribution service are the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. They're joining Reuters, AP, CNBC and others.

Last month the Craig McCaw-backed venture announced a version for the Android platform, in addition to the iPhone version that debuted in December.

Perhaps next month they'll announce a Windows Mobile version.

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March 11, 2009 9:00 PM

Note to Clearwire customers: You'll need an upgrade eventually

Posted by Brier Dudley

Clearwire's upgrade of its network this year will be a mixed blessing for people using its current wireless broadband service.

The new "Clear" service coming to Seattle in the second half of the year will be faster but it won't work with the current Clearwire modems, spokeswoman Susan Johnston confirmed.

There's no word yet on what Clearwire will give customers now using its slower "pre-WiMax" network. Clearwire will continue to operate it simultaneous with the full WiMax network for awhile.

Providing a free hardware upgrade would be a nice gesture. But with the Kirkland company trying to stretch its billions to build out its network, it may only offer discounts.

Johnston said via e-mail that Clearwire "will proactively work with its customers to smoothly transition them to these enhanced mobile WiMax services as they become available. Unfortunately, the current modems aren't compatible with mobile WiMax, but we will make the new service and devices as attractive as possible for our existing customers."

Details should come out closer to the Clear service launch.

Also unclear is how long the current service will operate. Johnston wouldn't say, but noted the company now has enough bandwidth for both. Yet eventually Clear will take the current service's bandwitch.

The current pre-WiMax network offers downloads up to 2 megabits per second in 46 markets across the U.S. The full WiMax Clear service will provide up to 6 megabits.

"We'll have a transition period," Johnston said. "In other words, our existing customer won't be forced to migrate and upgrade to WiMax."

Not for a while, at least.

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March 10, 2009 12:00 AM

More startup reality: Zumobi's "official" American Idol app

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle mobile application developer Zumobi's jumping on the reality TV train today, releasing the "official" "American Idol" app for the iPhone.

Chief Executive Ken Willner said the $1.99 app is built around content, including exclusive material such as interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. It also has a "buzz" section with blogs, news feeds and other updates, plus a module devoted to show participants, with biographies and photos.

Willner has some history with "Idol": In his previous job as vice president of advertising and media at AT&T Wireless when it built a major campaign around the show, including public voting by text messages.

Those connections helped Zumobi pitch for the iPhone app contract but "it was a competitive process and we won based on the quality of the work we delivered and the team we have here,'' Willner said.

The app won't have interactivity live during the show, but it does have a bracket feature fans can use to rank their expected winners, and show their predictions to friends. (Maybe Zumobi should partner with BuddyTV's new reality fantasy league service.)

Revenues from the app -- and advertising that may eventually appear -- will be shared with "American Idol." Apple's also participating as a marketing supporter, Willner said.

Willner said the application will be exclusive to the iPhone during this season of the show.

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March 9, 2009 1:28 PM

Clearwire exec shuffle: new CEO, Wolff joins McCaw as co-chairman

Posted by Brier Dudley

Clearwire co-founder Ben Wolff is stepping down as chief executive, the Kirkland-based wireless broadband company announced today.

Taking his place is William Morrow, a former AirTouch and Vodafone executive who most recently was chief executive of Pacific Gas & Electric in San Francisco.

The shuffle comes a few days after Clearwire announced that it's slowing the pace of its network expansion to conserve cash. It's still expanding to major metro areas and the Seattle area should get its faster Clear service later this year.

In the release, McCaw called out Morrow's telecom experience.

"Years of experience in key positions with great companies such as AirTouch and Vodafone have given Bill a great perspective on achieving operating efficiencies and enhancing value creation to profitably build and scale businesses," McCaw said. "This experience, coupled with his outstanding leadership capabilities, makes Bill the perfect choice to lead Clearwire. I have every confidence that he has the capability, intelligence and dedication to inspire the exemplary team at Clearwire to fulfill the dream of making the power of the Internet truly mobile."

Morrow has lots of experience running wireless organizations abroad, having led Vodafone's British and Japanese operations, so perhaps we'll hear soon about Clearwire's international plans.

The shift was announced after the market closed. Clearwire closed up 4 percent at $2.93, but has recently been down about 2 percent in after-hours trading.

Wolff "will focus on Clearwire's strategic and financing opportunities," the release said. He'll also continue to serve on the CTIA board and as president of McCaw's Eagle River investment company.

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March 5, 2009 3:30 PM

Seattle area getting faster Clearwire later this year

Posted by Brier Dudley

Clearwire's finally bringing its faster broadband service to its hometown this year.

During the company's earnings report today, it said Seattle is among the metro areas getting the faster service it now offers in Portland and Baltimore.

A spokeswoman couldn't provide specific timing but said Seattle will get the service in the second half of 2009.

Clearwire also said - in its amazingly complicated earnings release - that it's going to launch a dual mode 4G/3G modem this summer. Perhaps that will coincide with the Seattle launch.

Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Las Vegas, Honolulu and Charlotte will also get the service this year. New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are getting it next year.

Update: The spokeswoman said that's just a sample; the company expects to cover more than 80 markets by the end of 2010.

Clearwire had sales of $20 million and a net loss of $188 million in the December quarter.

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March 3, 2009 11:02 AM

Newspapers on the Kindle 2: Jeff Bezos loves it

Posted by Brier Dudley

In Monday's Kindle 2 review, I said the device isn't so great for reading newspapers.

Here's another perspective, from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

This is from a video I took of him at the Feb. 9 Kindle 2 launch event, showing how to read a paper on the device.

"This is a really dramatic improvement in newspaper navigation,'' he said at one point.

Love to have him drop by this paper on Thursday evening, when we'll have a Kindle 2 available for anyone come by and try in our auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Kindle , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

Mobui launches way to chat with celebrities, live

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you're the sort who likes to send messages to interactive TV shows and vote on contestants, you'll love the new application that Redmond's Mobui is launching today.

Called Mobile Audience Chat, the software is aimed at TV networks that want to add a new level of interactivity to their shows.

The system lets them create chat rooms that match programming or "host celebrity moderated chat rooms to allow the audience to interact with on-air talent when the celebrity's show is airing," the release said.

It runs on more than 100 mobile phones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Java and Brew platforms.

Audience members can set up their own chat rooms, invite friends to join, create profiles and manage friend lists.

Comments | Category: Telecom , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 17, 2009 1:44 PM

Photos: Awesome new phones you can't get here, yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

These won't be your next phones, unless you live in Europe, but they give you an idea what's coming eventually.

Both were announced today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Samsung's new W7900 has a built-in Texas Instruments Pico projector that can project images or videos onto a wall - displaying images up to around 50 inches in diameter, depending on lighting conditions. The WVGA display has better than 1000:1 contrast ratios, TI says.

You can also use the W7900 as a flashlight. Or as a phone, with an OLED touchscreen and a 5 megapixel camera.

Korea's getting the W7900 in February and Europe's getting the similar I7410 shortly. No word on prices or U.S. availability, but you can bet other phone companies will start adding projectors. The W7900:

SamsungW7900.JPG

Then there's the HTC Magic, the new Google Android-phone that Vodafone and HTC unveiled today. It looks like a curvier version of T-Mobile's G1.

Vodafone's taking orders now for spring delivery in Europe. Gizmodo has a nice hands-on, and here's the supplied pic:

Magic_3v.png

HTC's latest Windows Mobile phone, the Touch Diamond 2, also won't be available in the U.S. initially.

The TD2, announced yesterday and shown below, is coming to Europe and Asia in the second quarter "with broader global availability coming later in the year," according to HTC's release. It's running Windows Mobile 6.1 but apparently upgradeable to 6.5; maybe it will have 6.5 by the time it gets to the U.S.

T_front.jpg

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Google , T-Mobile , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 6, 2009 3:48 PM

Microsoft confirms new phone service: "MyPhone" to offer free cloud sync

Posted by Brier Dudley

After inadvertently posting details of its new MyPhone service online, Microsoft went ahead and confirmed that it will unveil the service at the upcoming Mobile World Congress wireless show starting Feb. 16.

It looks pretty interesting -- and like Windows Mobile finally has an answer to the groovy cloud services offered by Nokia, Apple and Google.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 5, 2009 12:00 AM

Microsoft mobile exec stepping down

Posted by Brier Dudley

Todd Warren, vice president of Microsoft's mobile communications product group, is leaving the company this month.

Warren has been at Microsoft for just more than 21 years and recently led development of Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1. For the past few months he's been in a strategy-advisory role while considering his options.

After consulting with mentors such as former Microsoft executives Paul Maritz and Ben Slivka, Warren decided to take some time off and consider his options.

"They all gave the advice that it was best to get a little bit of distance before deciding what to do next,'' he said.

Warren came directly to Microsoft from Northwestern -- with five days off after graduating -- after he was recruited by Slivka.

Now Warren plans to be a visiting scholar at the school, teaching a computer science class and commuting from his Seattle home. He also plans to spend more time working with Ashesi University in Ghana, where he serves on the board.

Warren is leaving just before the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona starting Feb. 16. Microsoft is expected to present new mobile services and perhaps launch Windows Mobile 6.5 at the show.

Comments | Category: Microsoft , Philanthropy , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 4, 2009 9:33 AM

Melodeo brings iTunes streaming to BlackBerry Storm

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle mobile media venture Melodeo toda announced that it's bringing its nuTsie application - which enables remote access to iTunes libraries - to the BlackBerry Storm.

The $19.95 application is already a top seller on the iPhone, BlackBerry.com, Alltel, Nokia Download, Handango, Handmark and Danger Sidekick, Melodeo said.

"We think this bridges the gap for the hardcore BlackBerry user who wants a touchscreen and the functionality of an iPod while carrying only one device,'' nuTsie Chief Executive Jim Billmaier said in the release. "With smartphone ownership at 20% of U.S. mobile users and headed quickly toward 50%, it's important to stay nimble and keep nuTsie current with the latest and greatest devices such as the Storm."

storm-print.jpg

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February 3, 2009 11:35 AM

T-Mobile updating G1: Fixes glitches, adds "spam tapper"

Posted by Brier Dudley

T-Mobile's issuing a big update to its G1 mobile phone, fixing a few unpleasant glitches in the Android firmware and adding a couple of features.

The update (1.1 RC33) began streaming automatically to customers this week. All G1 users should have it within a few weeks.

One of the new features stands out - the ability to mark obnoxious comments in its Market service as spam, by tapping the screen.

Every computing device should have a "spam tapper" like this, although it may test the strength and durability of their displays.

Here's a screenshot T-Mobile shared on its G1 support forum:

Thumbnail image for tmobspam.png


Other new features, and the fixes for the G1, include:

Continue reading this post ...


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February 2, 2009 11:01 AM

Brazilian wireless company hires ex-Microsofties for new HQ in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Spring Wireless, a Brazlian company that manages wireless services for companies, today announced that it has hired several former Microsoft executives who are opening Spring's U.S. headquarters in Seattle.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 15, 2009 10:34 AM

While economists fret, Qwest announces big layoff in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Adding to the economic malaise being outlined during this morning's Enterprise Seattle Economic Forecast Conference at the Seattle Sheraton, Qwest just announced a major layoff in Seattle.

Continue reading this post ...


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November 25, 2008 9:37 AM

Freebie of the day: Opera's new mobile browser

Posted by Brier Dudley

Norwegian browser maker Opera today released a new version of its great Opera Mini for mobile phones.

The company said version 4.2 will be 30 percent faster in the U.S. because of a new server park, although wouldn't that also speed the performance of previous versions?

Anyway, Opera Mini 4.2 also adds new language support, skins for customizing its appearance and improve mobile video performance. It also works with the Android-based G1 from T-Mobile.

Opera says 21 million people used Mini to browse 5 billion pages in October, up 490 percent from October 2007.

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October 16, 2008 10:51 AM

A priceless Twitter treatise

Posted by Brier Dudley

Loved The Weekly Standard piece on politics and Twitter, the texting-for-grownups service making technorati feel young and groovy again.

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October 15, 2008 9:00 PM

Review: The long-awaited G1 Google phone, from T-Mobile and HTC

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's not really fair to constantly compare the first Google-powered phone, the T-Mobile G1, with the Apple iPhone.

That's like comparing a PC to a Mac.

But that PC-Mac comparison became more obvious during the week or so I tested the G1 in and around Seattle...

Continue reading this post ...


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December 11, 2007 10:19 AM

Microsoft's unified communication a hit, sellers shorthanded

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the take in CMP's Channel Web, a publication for the reseller industry.

It's reporting a "talent crunch" among Microsoft vendors (value-added resellers, or VARs) who are expecting a big rush on the company's unified communications software in 2008:

There's a hurricane approaching for Microsoft's channel partners. But instead of taping up windows and boarding up doorways, the best way VARs can prepare for this storm is to start building in-house expertise in unified communications and seeking out new types of partners to help deliver solutions.

That's the opinion of a growing number of Microsoft partners in the unified communications space who are gearing up for what they believe will be a flood of interest in the technology, which combines instant messaging, voice and videoconferencing to improve business collaboration.


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November 5, 2007 10:48 AM

Google's mobile OS: Do you want an AdPhone?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So the Google-Microsoft rivalry entered a fascinating new phase, with Google launching a software stack for the fastest-growing category of computers in the coming decade -- the tiny ones that fit in your pocket.

Phone companies now have a great negotiating tool when dealing the established mobile operating system vendors, and Microsoft has a fire lit under it to accelerate work on its ultra-mobile PC platform.

Widget developers are probably thrilled -- because no doubt there will be an easy way to develop their applications for both Google's OpenSocial platform and Google's Open Handset platform -- although hard-core device and application developers are probably also fired up by the Sync software stack that Microsoft is talking up today in Barcelona.

But so far there's not much to get consumers excited. In fact some may be less than excited at the prospect of Google-powered phones. It will be quite a test of the cuddly, do-no-evil brand.

A few questions:

Just how open will this stack be? Is the Google mobile ad placement system an optional component? How about the end user agreement? Will a contract with Google, authorizing its ad delivery, be mandatory for everyone using or developing phones with this software?

Will consumers be excited about mobile phones developed by an enormous advertising company like Google?

The cost savings of Google's software won't matter to most phone buyers. They already expect mobile phones to be free or nearly free.

What people don't like, though, is the intrusion of advertising via telephones.

In fact they hate ads on their phones so much, the country has regulations against uninvited solicitations and federal services such as the do-not-call registry.

Telemarketers are prohibited from automatically pitching your phone. There are also some regulations against unwanted text messages from solicitors.

How does the spirit of those regulations jive with Google's plans for targeted advertising on mobile phones? Do people want geographically precise ads synced to the activities they're doing on their mobile phone?

That gets back to my question about the openness of the Google software stack. The user agreement will no doubt say that by using the software, you're authorizing the company to deliver ads to your phone.

Unless the software is truly dazzling and the cost savings really significant, that may really limit its appeal.

But maybe I've got it wrong and mobile ads are just inevitable. Phone companies are obviously thrilled by the prospects of Google-style advertising.

Resentment of advertising via phones may be a generational thing; the FCC's do-not-call regulations seem to appease mostly older people who particularly resent being harangued via the phone service they're supporting with a monthly rate.

Perhaps future generations of phone users won't care as much, although I still think most people consider the phone to be a personal device for private communication. This may change as we move from phones to mobile computing devices, but ads, especially targeted ones, diminish the sense of privacy.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if and how the FCC regulations adopt to phone ad delivery platforms such as the one Google rolled out today.

Until there's some kind of "opt-out" option for mobile device ads (don't hold your breath ... ) the onus will be on consumers to sort through the phone options and contracts and decide whether the convenience of Web applications on their phone is worth the privacy tradeoff.

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September 19, 2007 4:18 PM

More Gphone details: Delayed, Bellevue firm involved

Posted by Brier Dudley

At least that's the word from DigiTimes, a Taiwanese publication talking to manufacturers claiming to know the status of the long-rumored Google phone.

It reiterated the story we've already heard that HTC, a Taiwanese company with U.S. offices in Bellevue, is the apparent manufacturer.

The story also said Google is mulling whether to make it a 3G phone, a move that could delay its release from late 2007 to the first half of 2008, the report said.

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September 5, 2007 11:45 AM

AccessLine sold at discount, staying in Bellevue

Posted by Brier Dudley

San Diego-based Telanetix is paying $34.9 million in cash and stock for AccessLine Communications in Bellevue, one of the early players in Internet telephony.

All 115 employees of AccessLine's employees will be retained, said Chief Executive Doug Johnson, a McCaw Cellular veteran who has run the company since 2002 and will continue with the merged company.

The Bellevue office will now focus on developing voice products and provide administrative support for the merged companies.

"We believe that we found a partner in Telanetix that allows us to continue and complete the dream of delivering this hosted VoIP product to the SMB marketplace,'' he said.

AccessLine seemed like a potential gold mine after it was founded in 1986 and raised more than $109 million from investors who saw the direction telecommunications was heading.

Now it's a hugely competitive industry with companies big and small offering a huge range of IP-based telecom services. Telanetix offers telepresence products that compete with Cisco, and Microsoft is moving aggressively into VoIP.

After Johnson became chief executive, he refocused the company from a broad provider of hosted services to a VoIP company targeting small to mid-size businesses.

In 2006 AccessLine had gross sales of $24.3 million and expects sales of $2 million a month by through the end of 2007.

Telanetix said the acquisition will allow it "to target AccessLine's substantial customer base, who is already thriving on an IP Platform. Telanetix will now be able to offer their customers voice, data and video simultaneously over ubiquitous IP networks.

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August 22, 2007 11:05 AM

Apple disrupting mobile phone business models

Posted by Brier Dudley

We're finally getting to the meat of Apple's dealings with wireless carriers.

It sounds like what's really revolutionary about the iPhone is the way it's shifting control from carriers to device manufacturers.

From an impressive Financial Times story breaking the news that T-Mobile, Orange and O2 will carry the iPhone in Germany, France and England:

The deal gives manufacturers of handsets for the first time a direct share of the revenues a mobile phone operator makes from calls and data transfers, marking a shift in the relationship between the parties.

Until now, mobile operators have campaigned fiercely against such an approach, but industry experts expect that Apple's success in securing the deals could spur other handset manufacturers to try to secure similar terms.

I wonder, though, Apple really has as much pull over carriers as the story implies. Are carriers really being snowed by Apple? They're crafty negotiators who may care more about the deals being made than the portrayals of their new partner.

You've also got to wonder about the kind of relationships Apple is building, if it really is dictating terms and snubbing executives. If it bullies them with iPhone 1.0, it may have a tougher time making deals with iPhone 2.0 and 3.0.

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August 16, 2007 5:22 PM

Latest word on Skype outage: Deficient algorithm

Posted by Brier Dudley

A statement just issued by Skype, via spokesman Ryan Wallace:

Apologies for the delay, but we can now update you on the Skype sign-on issue. As we continue to work hard at resolving the problem, we wanted to dispel some of the concerns that you may have. The Skype system has not crashed or been victim of a cyber attack. We love our customers too much to let that happen. This problem occurred because of a deficiency in an algorithm within Skype networking software. This controls the interaction between the user's own Skype client and the rest of the Skype network.

Rest assured that everyone at Skype is working around the clock -- from Tallinn to Luxembourg to San Jose -- to resume normal service as quickly as possible.

Wallace said he "will be reachable by cell during the evening."

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August 13, 2007 11:58 AM

Ex Microsoft, Google, Nextel team fund voice startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

They're not saying how much, but a group of blue-chip tech veterans is funding Travelling Wave, a Seattle startup developing voice recognition technology.

The angels include former Googler Colin Wong, former Microsoftie and VC Bill Miller, Madrona Venture principal Geoff Entress and Jim Judson, a lawyer who worked with McCaw Cellular and Nextel International.

The company has developed what it calls a "predictive speech-to-text" system for mobile devices. It describes the technology like this: When the software is installed on a phone, users press a button, say a word and type the first letter or two and have the word appear on the screen.

According to today's funding announcement, Travelling Wave has finished early trials and "is poised to deploy with mobile carriers and handset manufacturers in the coming year."

Founder Ashwin Rao previously worked in research at Bell Labs and Dragon Systems.

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August 13, 2007 10:11 AM

Learn more about Seattle broadband project

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are few more details about Seattle's broadband project that I wrote about in today's column.

First, citywide Wifi isn't high on the list of priorities. At least that's my impression, after talking to Bill Schrier, the city's chief technology officer. He mentioned the challenges EarthLink has had with municipal Wi-Fi in places such as San Francisco.

But he did say that Wi-Fi nodes could be added to the fiber that's extended into neighborhoods. I think that's an interesting option -- maybe the city could provide free basic service on the same network. That would help lower-income residents overcome what's really the biggest cost of computing nowadays, Internet service, and provide roaming access for everyone.

Schrier is also keeping his eye on Layfayette, La., and Clarksville, Tenn., as models of muncipal fiber providers.

He didn't say which Seattle neighborhoods could get the fiber pilot project, but assured me that Paul Allen's poeple haven't been twisting his arm to put South Lake Union at the head of the line.

Here are some links if you'd like more background:

Seattle Broadband Initiative home page

A column I wrote a year ago questioning the broadband project.

A column on Qwest's CEO discussing the company's plans for broadband in Seattle.

The key report by the city's broadband task force from May 2005

Contact info to provide input to the mayor.

The City Council's Energy and Technology Committee.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.