StraightTalk Wireless and Net10 Wireless today announced they will each sell the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c beginning December 13. The iPhones will be sold at Walmart stores and online for their full retail prices. The 16GB iPhone 5s costs $649, the 16GB iPhone 5c (online only) costs $549, and the 8GB iPhone 4S costs $449. StraightTalk's no-contract plans start at $45 per month and Net10's no-contract plans start at $50 per month. Customers can finance their iPhone purchase when they use a Walmart credit card.
AT&T today announced that it has forged an LTE roaming agreement with Rogers, a wireless network operator in Canada. The deal gives AT&T's customers access to Rogers' LTE network when they travel to Canada. According to AT&T, Rogers offers LTE service to 70% of Canadians, and plans to deploy LTE in 95 new markets this year. AT&T recommends that customers sign up for one of its international data roaming plans before traveling. Rates start at $30 per month for 120MB of data.
AD more news below...
Sprint today announced that it plans to sell notes in a bid to raise more cash. According to Sprint, any proceeds derived from the sale of notes will be put toward network expansion and modernization efforts, its pension program, and other general corporate purposes. Sprint didn't say when it will sell the notes, nor how much it is looking to raise. SoftBank recently paid Sprint more than $20 billion for a large equity stake in the company. Sprint recently launched Sprint Spark, an effort to speed up its LTE network, and continues to deploy LTE around the country.
Eight U.S. tech companies have sent a joint letter to President Obama and Congress asking for changes in the way governments collect personal data through the web. Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, and AOL all believe that the bulk collection methods used today have gone too far. Referencing details that were exposed by Edward Snowden earlier this year, the companies said, "This summer's revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual–rights that are enshrined in our Constitution." The companies want governments to target individuals rather than everyone, and suggest that consumers and businesses alike will not use technology they don't trust. "Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it," said Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft. Microsoft recently said that it would increase the encryption it uses in an attempt to prevent government snooping. In the letter, the companies suggest five principles of reform, including the use of an independent way to oversee national security and more freedom to offer details about government record requests publicly.
T-Mobile has begun to repurpose some of the spectrum it acquired with MetroPCS to supplement its LTE network. Late last month, T-Mobile turned on LTE service in what was formerly MetroPCS's spectrum in northern Dallas, according to AllThingsD. Combining its own spectrum with that of MetroPCS, T-Mobile is able to offer 20MHz-by-20MHz of bandwidth to customers in that area, which significantly improves capacity. T-Mobile said that it eventually plans to offer similar LTE bandwidth increases to 90% of the country's top 25 markets beginning next year. It also hopes to offer 10MHz-by-10MHz LTE to 40 of the top 50 markets by the end of 2014. Verizon Wireless is undertaking a similar task, using AWS spectrum it acquired from cable providers to supplement its 700MHz-based LTE network.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today offered some thoughts on how the FCC will proceed with the planned incentive auction for the 600MHz television spectrum. Wheeler noted that the FCC wants the auction process to work smoothly for all parties involved, and the FCC understands just how complex the process will be. With that in mind, Wheeler believes the FCC and other parties involved with the procedures can hold the auction by the middle of 2015. This is later than the FCC originally believed it could hold the auction, representing a delay. The auction is a reverse auction that will offer television channels money to give up the rights to their broadcast spectrum. The winners of the auction will gain slices of 600MHz airwaves, which are to be used for mobile broadband services. A special Task Force will present an in-depth series of steps, including timelines and milestones, next month. This incentive auction is separate from another auction, for H Block spectrum, that's scheduled to begin in late January.
Apple plans to launch its iBeacon service at 254 of its U.S. stores today, reports the Associated Press. iBeacon uses Bluetooth transmitters inside Apple Stores to track the exact location of shoppers. Customers must download the most recent version of the Apple Store application, and turn their Bluetooth radios on in order for iBeacon to track them. When shoppers move about the Apple Store, iBeacon can sense if they are standing next to a table of iPhones, for example, and will send a message to ask if the customer is interested in an upgrade. The app can also direct shoppers to the check-out counter, or alert them when purchases are ready for pickup. Apple Stores will also be able to send alerts concerning sales or deals to shoppers in the vicinity. iOS device owners need to agree to allow Apple to track them in order for iBeacon to work. Apple has not updated the Apple Store application since early November, and it is unclear exactly when iBeacon will come online.
Google has pushed out minor updates to a handful of its Android applications in recent days. Google Voice Search has learned new languages. It can now understand and respond in French, German, and Japanese in addition to English. Google said support for more languages is on the way. Google also updated the Play Music app. Play Music now lets users store cached music on SD cards for devices running Android 4.4 KitKat. Play Music also added ability to shuffle all songs from an artist and made it simpler to share links of songs, artists, and albums to various social networks. Both apps are free to download from the Google Play Store.
Verizon Wireless today indicated that it plans to launch VoLTE service next year. As recently as October 8, Verizon said that VoLTE handsets and service would launch this year. The news regarding the delay was buried in a press release about the third anniversary of Verizon's LTE network launch. Specifically, Verizon said, "Next year, customers will be able to experience VoLTE, a 4G LTE technology that can enable a host of advanced services, including HD Voice and video chat." Verizon didn't provide an explanation for the apparent change of schedule.
Verizon Wireless has activated LTE 4G on its AWS spectrum in dozens of markets, reports GigaOm. Verizon Wireless lit up AWS-based LTE in New York City earlier this year, but has recently expanded the number of markets to include many of the major metro areas east of the Mississippi River, as well as a number along the west coast. In the majority of these new markets on the east coast (Atlanta, Boston, Washington, D.C., et al.), Verizon has tripled capacity, while in several western markets (Los Angeles, San Francisco) it has boosted capacity by 150%. This means more people can connect to the network in the same location and can access data at faster speeds. A handful of Verizon's existing smartphones (Apple iPhone 5s and 5c, Samsung Galaxy S4, Motorola Droid Maxx, Mini, and Ultra) can already access Verizon's AWS-based LTE network, and Verizon said software updates will add this functionality to others. Moving forward, most new Verizon smartphones will be able to reach LTE in both the AWS and 700MHz bands.
HTC today announced a promotional plan that will allow consumers to finance the cost of the HTC One smartphone over a period of 24 months. The device is being offered at the full retail price, and thus comes unlocked (GSM only) and without a carrier contract. It is compatible with the networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile. Customers with good credit can order the One through HTC's web site for no money down and then make 24 payments of $25, totaling $600 over two years. The model comes with 32GB of storage and Android 4.4 KitKat installed.
Google today began distributing Android 4.4.1 to the Nexus 5. The update primarily improves performance of the phone's camera with speed enhancements, better focusing, and HDR+ mode.
Foursquare today made version 7.0 of its application available for iPhones. The newest rendition of the popular location-sharing social network takes on iOS7's design language with new themes and colors throughout. Foursquare 7.0 now makes more real-time recommendations to users. For example, it will suggest food orders when users enter a specific restaurant based on the feedback provided by other users. The app also changes constantly, updating as users move about, offering information on as many of the nearby venues as it can. Foursquare also refreshed the news feed, making it easier to keep tabs on friends through Foursquare. Foursquare 7.0 is free to download from the iTunes App Store.
BlackBerry wades into the big-phone fray with the Z30. The Z30 has a huge screen, a fast processor, and plenty of smarts, but it lags competitors in several key areas.
Zact Mobile today announced that it is offering parents a customized version of the ZTE Awe that includes content from Disney and extensive parental controls. This kids' version of the Awe will feature Disney apps, as well as access to Disney music and video programming. It offers Spanish-language Disney content, too. The parental controls allow parents to remotely control when the phone can used, which apps can be used, who the child can contact, as well as cease service, and more. Parents will need to download a separate Zact Control app for their own iPhone or Android smartphone in order to give them control over the Awe. The ZTE Awe is an entry-level Android smartphone priced at $99. Zact's monthly service plans start as low as $3.49.
Google will soon push out an update to the Nexus 5 that will provide a wide range of fixes to the phone's camera performance. Google admitted last month that an update was on the way, but more concrete details have emerged. The update will arrive within Android 4.4.1 and will be released very soon, according to The Verge. David Burke, Google's Director of Engineering for Android, said the update focuses on improving the speed of the camera across the board. The autofocus function now dials much faster, and the camera is faster to launch. Google made other adjustments that improve contrast, low-light performance, exposure, and white balance. It also added a progress bar to the HDR mode. Burke indicated that Android 4.4.1 represents the first of several forthcoming updates to the native Android camera software. It hopes to make the user interface and controls more intuitive down the line. For now, Google wanted to improve performance. Google didn't say exactly when Android 4.4.1 will arrive, but implied that the release is imminent.
AT&T is mulling a bid for Verizon's unused 700MHz A Block spectrum, reports the Wall Street Journal. The A Block would complement AT&T's own 700MHz spectrum holdings and could be used to bolster its LTE network. Last month, Reuters reported that T-Mobile is interested in the same parcel of spectrum. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo confirmed that it would sell its A Block spectrum for the right amount. The company paid $2.4 billion for the airwaves and the Journal believes Verizon will ask at least $2.75 billion to sell them to a competitor. With two companies pursuing the spectrum, it's more likely that Verizon will sell it.
In conjunction with its new Mobile Share Value Plans, AT&T, added a new AT&T Next plan that has an 18-month device upgrade option rather than a 12-month upgrade cycle. According to AT&T, the value proposition behind the new plan is lower monthly payments for the device. The payments are spread out over a period of 26 months and let customers upgrade to new devices every 18 months for no down payment, no upgrade fee, no activation fee, and no financing fee. The new 18-month AT&T Next plan will be available beginning December 8. Customers who choose to finance their device with an AT&T Next plan will also enjoy a $15 monthly savings on the cost of their service.