Verizon Wireless plans to increase fees it charges customers when they activate a new line of service or upgrade to a new device. On Feb. 5, Verizon will increase the activation fee from $35 to $40 and increase the upgrade fee from $30 to $40. "These fees are not unique to Verizon and help offset costs associated with upgrades, activations, and other operational costs," said Verizon spokesperson David Samberg in an email to Phone Scoop. "Verizon Wireless is committed to the fees remaining competitive within the wireless industry." According to Verizon, it hasn't increased the activation fee in more than 10 years. It last increased the upgrade fee in 2012.
Huawei recently said it wants to sell more high-end smartphones and fewer entry-level devices in a bid to increase margins. The company shipped 75 million smartphones during 2014 and wants to improve that number to 100 million in 2015. "If we sold more low-end phones, we could even double our shipments … but in the low-end market there is no margin," said CEO Richard Yu. "We are giving up the low end of the market. Many vendors are suffering." The company has seen measured success in its home market of China with mid-range devices like the Honor series and its high-end Mate 7. Huawei wants to increase sales of devices like these. It's not clear if such a strategy will work, however, as HTC and Samsung both lost ground to rivals after making similar strategic changes. Most of the devices Huawei sells in the U.S. are entry-level and mid-range.
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USA Technologies today said it has added support for Apple Pay to approximately 200,000 of its vending machines. The company has been adding NFC capabilities to its vending machines, including coffee brewers, vending machines, kiosks, laundry equipment, parking pay stations, and other self-serve appliances, for nearly 10 years. USA Technologies' vending machine owner-operators will be able to accept Apple Pay at their machines in addition to cash and/or bank cards. This means owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be able to pay for vending machine and other stand-alone, self-serve retail goods with their phone.
The FCC today issued a stern reminder to businesses that blocking or jamming WiFi signals for any reason is illegal. "Willful or malicious interference with WiFi hotspots is illegal," said the FCC. "The Enforcement Bureau has seen a disturbing trend in which hotels and other commercial establishments block wireless consumers from using their own personal WFi hotspots on the commercial establishment's premises. As a result, the Bureau is protecting consumers by aggressively investigating and acting against such unlawful intentional interference." The FCC fined Marriott hotels $600,000 last year for blocking guests' WiFi hotspots at one of its properties. "WiFi represents an essential on-ramp to the Internet," noted the FCC. "Personal WiFi networks, or 'hot spots,' are an important way that consumers connect to the internet." The FCC also pointed out that it is illegal to market, sell, or operate equipment that jams wireless signals.
Apple today released iOS 8.1.3 for iPhones, iPads, and the iPod Touch. The primary improvement in the operating system is a reduction in the amount of on-board storage needed to install the system update. (Last fall, some users with 16GB devices were unable to update due to a lack of storage.) The system update also resolves an issue preventing people from entering their passwords for iMessage and FaceTime, fixes a Spotlight bug, and smooths over multi-tasking gestures on the iPad. iOS 8.1.3 can be downloaded and installed over the air.
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel today said the government needs to do a better job of allocating spectrum for unlicensed access, such as WiFi. Rosenworcel, speaking at the State of the Net Conference, emphasized the importance of WiFi and the role it plays in the economy. For example, she noted more than half of Americans have used public hotspots and more than 60% of Americans use WiFi at home. Rosenworcel outlined three steps in order to make sure the availability of WiFi continues to grow with demand. First, she wants the FCC to commit to freeing up more spectrum for WiFi, such as the white space spectrum in the 600MHz band. Second, she wants the government to change the way it accounts for spectrum, assigning more value to spectrum set aside for unlicensed access. Third, she made clear that the FCC will not tolerate willful interference with WiFi. Last year, several hotels asked the FCC to allow them to "manage" guest access to personal hotspots in the name of security. Rosenworcel wants the hotels' petition denied. "Let's not let this petition linger or create any uncertainty. I hope my colleagues at the FCC will work with me to dismiss this petition without delay," argued Rosenworcel. She concluded by saying, "I believe the future of wireless connectivity will be stronger if we make room for more WiFi."
Twitter will update its mobile applications this week with the ability to embed video clips in posts and to send direct messages to several people at once. Users will be able to record videos from within the Twitter app directly and even piece together multiple segments -- similar to how the Twitter-owned Vine application works. Users can also share 30-second videos from their mobile device camera roll (iOS only, for now). The videos won't playback automatically; instead people will need to click on them to watch. Group direct messages will allow groups of up to 20 people to hold private conversations. Users will be able to invite anyone who follows them to the conversation, even if other participants don't follow that person and vice versa. The features are meant to help Twitter compete better against Facebook, which has boosted its use of video, and myriad messaging apps that are popular on smartphones. The new features will hit the iOS Android applications in the days ahead. Twitter is free to download from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
The FCC today said it has fined Verizon $5 million for failing to investigate claims of low call connection rates in rural areas. According to the FCC, Verizon didn't look into consumer complaints over an eight month period in 2013 regarding failed wireless and wired calls in 26 rural regions. Verizon is to pay $2 million to the U.S. Treasury and set aside $3 million more to improve call connection rates over the next three years. "Rural call completion problems have significant and immediate public interest ramifications," said the FCC. "They cause rural businesses to lose customers, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications." Verizon signed a consent decree admitting its wrongdoing. The decree also lists a number of steps Verizon has agreed to take to resolve the issue, such as appoint an ombudsman to analyze call completion data, monitor call connection rates in rural areas, and investigate when connection rates fall behold a set threshold.
Chase has removed its mobile banking application from the Windows Phone Store. The company recently notified users that its app would be pulled and eventually shut down. Today the company followed through. Chase customers who've already downloaded the app to their Windows Phone will be able to use Chase Mobile until March 22, after which it will no longer be supported for account access. Chase based its decision on the lack of users. Chase still offers mobile banking apps to the Android and iOS platforms. JPMorgan Chase is the largest bank in the U.S.
T-Mobile plans to make some of its handsets compatible with its 700MHz spectrum through a software update. Today, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge can use LTE on T-Mobile's 700MHz spectrum. T-Mobile said it will provide the system update to the Motorola Nexus 6 in the early part of 2015, followed by the Sony Xperia Z3 and Samsung Galaxy Avant in May, and the ZTE Max later this year. Two tablets and T-Mobile's Z915 LTE 4G Hotspot also support the 700MHz airwaves. T-Mobile is supplementing its AWS-based LTE network with its 700MHz holdings in select markets around the country. The company is still in the process of deploying LTE to all its 700MHz spectrum.
Cablevision today announced FreeWheel, a wireless service that relies wholly on WiFi networks rather than cellular networks. FreeWheel will offer unlimited voice calls (via VoIP), messaging, and data for $30 per month. Cablevision's Optimum Online customers will be able to use the service for just $10 per month. At launch, the service will work with the Motorola Moto G, which Cablevision is selling for $99. FreeWheel service can be accessed anywhere WiFi is offered. Customers will automatically be connected to Optimum Online WiFi hotspots when and where they are available. Cablevision claims to have 1.1 million public hotspots available. The service will be most heavily marketed in the New York City region, which is Cablevision's home market and where it has the densest number of access points. FreeWheel offers international calling and does not ask customers to sign contracts. The service and device will be available beginning in February.
AT&T today announced its intent to purchase Nextel Mexico, which covers 76 million customers across the country. Nextel Mexico is owned by NII Holdings and AT&T will pay it $1.875 billion. NII Holdings is currently in bankruptcy and AT&T's offer is less than NII Holdings' outstanding debt. AT&T will acquire all of NII's spectrum licenses, network assets, retail stores, and about 3 million customers. According to AT&T, the proposed acquisition complements its recent purchase of Iusacell, another Mexican network operator. AT&T said it plans to create the "first-ever North American Mobile Service area" covering more than 400 million people across Mexico and the U.S. The deal will need to be approved by both bankruptcy courts and Mexican regulators. AT&T expects the deal to close by mid-2015.
T-Mobile today unveiled a new program for consumers interested in cheaper handset upgrades called Score. With Score, users will qualify for a free entry-level smartphone after six months or significant discounts on all T-Mobile devices after 12 months. Score costs $5 per month and is open to all T-Mobile customers, whether prepaid or postpaid. After paying $5 per month for six months, for example, customers may choose to get the Alcatel OneTouch Evolve 2 at no additional cost; or, after paying $5 per month for 12 months, take $150 off the price of the Motorola Nexus 6 or $100 off the Samsung Galaxy S5. (Actual handset discounts will vary based on when the customer chooses to upgrade.) Customers who enroll in Score today will be able to upgrade to a new, free phone as soon as July 25 or enjoy a heavily discounted flagship as soon as Jan. 25, 2016.
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Sprint today launched an aggressive promotion aimed directly at T-Mobile. Sprint is promising $200 to T-Mobile customers who port their number to Sprint and turn in their working T-Mobile phone. The $200 trade-in offer, which runs from today through April 9, can be combined with Sprint's ETF buyout. In addition to the $200, Sprint will pay up to $350 per line to cover ETFs and other fees when customers cancel their T-Mobile service. With the two promotions combined, T-Mobile customers stand to receive up to $550 if they switch to Sprint, which should cover any costs associated with terminating their old service and acquiring a new handset.
Motorola today began pushing Android 5.0 Lollipop to the second-generation Moto G in the U.S. The update is being delivered in phases over the next few weeks. Motorola hasn't indicated if the first-generation Moto G will receive the update, too. Motorola has already delivered Lollipop to the second-generation Moto X.
Twitter has added a feature to its Android and iOS mobile apps, as well as Twitter.com and TweetDeck, that will let users translate foreign-language tweets. Microsoft's Bing Translator is providing the machine-based translations. In order to see translated Tweets, users need to turn the feature on in their online account settings. Once enabled, a globe icon will appear with foreign-language tweets. Users can click the globe and see both the translation and the original text. Twitter said Bing Translator can work with 40 different languages, though it warned the system is not perfect. Tweet Translator is available immediately.
Boost Mobile today announced a $35 Data Boost plan that includes unlimited talk, text, and 2.5GB of high-speed data each month. Normally, Boost's $35 plan includes only 1GB of data. Customers who sign up for Auto Re-Boost, which automatically keeps their accounts up-to-date, will receive 2.5GB at no additional cost. Boost says the promotion kicks off Feb. 3 and can be paired with any of its phones. Boost also offers a $45 plan and a $55 plan, which include 5GB and 10GB of monthly data, respectively. Boost said it will take $100 off the price of any phone when customers port their number from another carrier. New customers who switch to Boost but don't port their number will receive their first month of service for free. The pricing promotions also start Feb. 3.