The third, fourth, and fifth largest wireless carriers in the United States have undergone some major changes over the last few weeks. Sprint has announced that it is being acquired by SoftBank, while T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS’ plan to merge the two companies have been met with lawsuits from shareholders.
SoftBank’s acquisition of Sprint cost the company $20.1 billion, giving it a 70% controlling share of the company. The buyout has been approved by Sprint’s shareholders and board of the directors, so it is expected to be completed within six months barring any holdups in regulatory approval. Sprint fans will be pleased to know that the CEO, board of directors, and headquarters will remain as-is. In essence, this deal was essentially made to “give Sprint a much-needed cash infusion.”
The T-Mobile USA/MetroPCS merger from a few weeks ago, on the other hand, hasn’t been received as favorably by shareholders. MetroPCS’s shareholders claim that the payments of $4.09 per share “drastically undervalues” the company and “cheats shareholders.” Worse, they’re saying that MetroPCS’ board of directors is “conflicted and serving its own financial interests.” As a result, a lawsuit has been filed against MetroPCS, its board of directors, T-Mobile USA, and its parent company Deutsche Telekom.
[Pocketables via Sprint | CNET via TmoNews]
LTE technology gets a lot of publicity, but smartphones currently only use the network for data. MetroPCS, however, has become the first carrier to launch a voice over LTE (VoLTE) service, beating out South Korean carrier SK Telecom by less than a day. Many carriers have been testing the technology, but only MetroPCS and SK Telecom have managed to actually bring it to market. VoLTE is currently only available in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but the company plans to increase the size of the network in the near future.
Of course, without VoLTE-equipped devices, the technology is practically useless. LG’s Connect 4G is the first VoLTE-capable device to be available on MetroPCS, with additional devices hitting stores in the coming weeks and months. While SK Telecom finished second, it actually offers a superior VoLTE handset: the Samsung Galaxy S III.
Interestingly, MetroPCS was also the first network to roll out commercially available 4G LTE in the US.
[PR Newswire via The Verge]
Remember that old, clunky phone you have laying around in your drawer somewhere? It’s about to become a paperweight when AT&T turns off its 2G network… in 2017. In other words, you probably don’t have anything to worry about, even if you’re one of AT&T’s 8.4 million customers who still uses a 2G handset on a regular basis.
While it’s somewhat surprising to hear that just over one in five At&T customers still use a 2G device, it’s unlikely that this will put a kink in the network’s plans. 2G networks were introduced roughly twenty years ago, and AT&T no longer sells 2G devices in its stores. Five years is more than enough time to upgrade the remaining 12% of people to a more modern network.
Sprint, by comparison, plans to turn off its 2G network by June of next year, while Verizon has no plans to disable legacy networks at this point. With 3G so prevalent and 4G rapidly gaining in popularity, it only makes sense for these companies to rid themselves of the aging technology.
[The Wall Street Journal]
Get out your laptops and tablets, Verizon customers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ordered the Big Red to stop charging a $20 monthly fee in order to take advantage of tethering apps. The company currently charges its customers $20 a month for in order to connect wireless devices to their smartphone’s data plan. This, however, violates the terms of Verizon’s 2008 acquisition of the 700MHz spectrum, which states that Verizon “shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network.”
As a result, Verizon has agree to pay the US Treasury $1.25 million and allow customers to tether as much as they’d like – provided they’re not on an unlimited data plan. The now-extinct unlimited plans are not subject to this agreement, since their all-you-can-eat nature makes it possible to use up an exorbitant amount of data while tethered. Technically, however, Verizon has no way of determining whether or not a customer who downloads a tethering app has an unlimited plan, making it possible – although not morally right – to get free tethering on any plan. Additionally, Verizon’s new Share Everything plans already offer free tethering.
If you’re not a Verizon customer, don’t get too excited. It’s unlikely that other carriers like AT&T will ever follow in Verizon’s footsteps, since they’re not bound by the terms of Verizon’s 700MHz C Block acquisition.
[FCC via Ars Technica]
AT&T has finally announced its plans for shared data, and they look awfully similar to what Verizon introduced last month. Essentially, AT&T will give you unlimited minutes and text messages, along with a set amount of data to share between up to ten devices, for a monthly data fee plus an additional fee for every device you add to the plan. The company is expected to introduce its Mobile Share plans in late August.
Unfortunately, AT&T’s plans are just as expensive as Verizon’s. The matrix above shows just how much each plan costs. Thankfully, AT&T decreases the price of each additional smartphone (which starts at $45 and goes down to $30) as you add more data to your plan. “Dumb phones,” laptops, mobile hotspots, tablets, and gaming devices each cost progressively less to add to your plan as well (although the monthly fee remains the same regardless of how much data you’re paying for). As with Verizon, you’ll have to give up your unlimited data plan in order to switch to a new Mobile Share plan. In return, however, you’ll get free access to tethering on your smartphones.
AT&T Mobile Share certainly isn’t for everyone. It might be slightly cheaper for some users with multiple smartphones (or multiple family members with smartphones), but it doesn’t allow you to add all of your devices onto your plan for a low cost. Then again, did anyone really expect AT&T to offer a low-cost data plan?
According to an article yesterday by the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is finally ready to offer his suggestion that Verizon’s $3.9 billion spectrum deal be approved. The deal will, however, be coming with some additional expected stipulations. Verizon must offer competitive prices for data roaming to other carriers, and must use it in a timely fashion. In other words, no monopolization of markets, and no hogging the ball.
If you’ve been out of the loop, here is what has been going on. Verizon wants to buy $3.9 billion USD of AWS spectrum from a combination of major cable networks. Verizon claims that this will be used soon in its LTE rollout, and is happy to do a spectrum swap to that end with T-Mobile USA.
Most of the companies not involved with the deal are at best annoyed, but some are downright hostile. MetroPCS claims that Verizon will do nothing but stockpile the spectrum for future use. Sprint has expressed serious concerns that Verizon’s incumbent cross-marketing deals with cable companies will make things unfairly difficult for other providers—particularly in the areas of backhaul and WiFi services.
Verizon currently has a slight lead on AT&T in terms of subscribers, AT&T in turn has a massive lead over Sprint and T-Mobile—the third and fourth spot holders. While it appears the caveats to this deal through the new stipulations will address the concerns of both Metro PCS and Sprint, I’m sure many people will still find the offer a little too sweet in Verizon’s favor.
Should smaller carriers be given preferential treatment in the name of competition? Feel free to speak your thoughts in the comments section below.
[WSJ via Fierce Wireless]
Many modern smartphones have built-in features (or support apps) which allow you to locate, lock, and/or wipe your phone if it has been stolen. This works well enough, but it’s still possible for the thief to reset the device (thereby removing any data left on it), swap out the SIM, and begin using their new illicitly-acquired smartphone. A new service from AT&T, however, aims to prevent the thefts from ever occurring at all by turning stolen devices into paperweights.
The service, which is reportedly set to launch on Tuesday of next week, allows you to block any smartphone or tablet on AT&T’s network. Think of it like a perma-ban, blocking all incoming and outgoing voice, data, and SMS. Any attempt to use this blocklisted device on another line will result in an immediate suspension. As a result, stolen devices will essentially become a paperweight, good only for WiFi connectivity. This feature will work with all of AT&T’s plans – postpaid, prepaid (GoPhone), and All Channels – but network representatives request that remote data wipe apps be used before the device is placed on the blocklist. If, by some stroke of luck, you manage to recover your device, AT&T will happily unblock it provided you’re the one who originally requested the block.
Motorola’s first-quarter numbers are out, and they aren’t exactly pretty. In the initial summary, the word “loss” was used six times. The word “gain” wasn’t used at all. This is not really a large surprise, as Motorola didn’t manage to break into the black for all four quarters last year, and is currently incurring extra costs associated with being purchased by Google.
On the positive side of things, Motorola still has $3.5 billion in cash, and it’s home division—cable boxes, anyone?—did manage to turn a profit, though it’s revenue is down 2% from Q1 2011. Other bright notes include the relative success of the RAZR MAXX, MOTOLUXE, Motorola DEFY MINI, and MOTOACTV, all of which were mentioned by name in the report, as if to remind us that Motorola is still relevant if not yet profitable. A 2% net increase in total revenues from Q1 2011 was posted, and 5.1 million smartphones were shipped, with a total of 8.9 million mobile devices world-wide.
Frankly, considering the drain that the sale is providing—including all the market-affected intangibles—I would say Motorola’s ability to hang in there as well as it has is impressive. Once the merger is approved by China—what the heck is taking so long, anyway?—I think Google has a strong chance of turning things around and continuing Motorola’s competitiveness.
How this will happen, I’m not entirely sure. But considering Motorola’s patents and Motorola and Google’s combined capital, I think something good will come—eventually. That or everything will fall to heck, Google will absorb the patents, and Motorola as we know it will cease to exist. I give it two more years of limbo.
[Motorola via FierceWireless]
2013 is a long way off yet, but Clearwire is starting to provide a few specific details about its forthcoming LTE network. Yesterday Clearwire announced that its initial launch would include 31 cities, focusing on “Hot Zones,” or large, high-demand markets. Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle were all specifically named. The other 26 markets are, sadly, still anyone’s guess.
It is quite interesting that Clearwire is choosing to go with a delayed massive roll-out rather than a “get it out as quickly as possible” strategy, given how far behind it is and how little financial wiggle room it has. Erik Prusch, President and CEO of Clearwire may have given us a little glimpse into the why, while also bragging on his upcoming network.
“Our new 4G network will show that not all LTE networks are created equal. Clearwire’s LTE Advanced-ready network will deploy our deep spectrum resources for the next great era in mobile broadband in which capacity is king. We’re positioned to bring much needed capacity on a wholesale basis to address the unbridled demand for mobile data and the scarcity of spectrum in major urban and suburban markets.”
As I sit here, in front of my QWERTY-endowed, web-connected PC, chatting with my editor-in-chief via my Droid, I can’t help but wonder at the slow death smartphones are dealing to desktop PCs. We’ve all been hearing the doomsday reports that the desktop PC is dying. First it was PDAs, then laptops, and now smartphones and tablets have joined the fray. And we can’t forget the “PC gaming is the only thing keeping desktops alive—the PS3 and XBOX 360 have killed desktops!” declarations.
My argument has always been that you can’t kill the desktop, and it still stands—there will always, always be a need for high-end stationary computing, in the enterprise and geek worlds, if nowhere else. However, for the masses, I think we are finally seeing the actual end of desktops. Why, you may ask? The answer is complicated, but the highlights are speed, speed, speed, and convenience.
With the advent of large-scale LTE, mobile internet is actually faster than most standard wired internet. Take where I live, for example. I live smack inside of one of Verizon’s LTE clusters. Even on last-gen 3G, my speeds often top 1.3Mbps—better than many DSL connections, and better than anything offered at my “little house on the ranch.” Not only that, it’s at least $20 a month cheaper than my cheapest “standard” option.