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printed July 1, 2015
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TracFone Settles with FCC Over Locked Phones

Today, 1:03 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

TracFone has reached an agreement with the FCC concerning its policies for unlocking handsets. In February of this year it became mandatory for all carriers to unlock customer handsets and to properly disclose their unlocking policies to customers. TracFone did not have any sort of process for unlocking handsets in place, nor did it inform customers of their rights. Even so, TracFone later told the FCC multiple times that it was in compliance with the law. In order to settle with the FCC, TracFone agreed to transition to unlockable phones. It will allow eligible customers to receive new unlocked handsets, receive credit towards a new handset, or receive a partial cash refund in exchange for an unlocked handset. "Unlocking of cell phones has been widely embraced by the wireless industry and by consumers across the country," said Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. "Today's agreement ensures that millions of eligible TracFone customers will be able to use their phones on any compatible network they choose." TracFone has about 8 million customers, many of which should be able to benefit from today's enforcement action. TracFone has until September 1 to clearly notify customers about its new policies and when those customers will be eligible for unlocked devices. By May 2016, TracFone will need to launch some unlockable handsets and allow eligible customers to trade-in or receive credit. By December 2016, all phones launched by TracFone must be capable of being unlocked.


CTIA Says Smartphones Better Protected Against Theft

Today, 8:59 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Beginning today, most smartphones sold in the U.S. will include anti-theft security tools. July 1 marks the day by which phone makers and network operators agreed to implement free theft deterrents on smartphones. According to the CTIA, most of the industry has responded by placing remote lock/wipe capabilities on consumer devices. The addition of an activation lock on the Apple iPhone, for example, has dramatically reduced iPhone thefts in major cities. The activation lock prevents a stolen device from being activated by another person, thus making it useless to thieves. Remote wipe features allow people to erase the personal data from their handset if lost/stolen to protect their identity. The major participants in today's action include Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Google, HTC, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and ZTE. "Today's fulfillment of the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment is another example of the wireless industry proactively working together with policymakers and law enforcement to help protect consumers' smartphones in the event they are ever lost or stolen. We will continue to work with all interested parties to continue to deploy new technologies and tools to improve device theft-deterrence tools. We remind consumers to take a few minutes to use PINs, passwords, apps and other device features to protect their mobile devices and personal information." The industry was coerced into acting "voluntarily" when the FCC threatened to make such protective measures mandatory.

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Yahoo's Aviate Launcher Gains 'Google Now' Feature

Today, 7:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Yahoo updated its Aviate Android launcher with a new feature called Smart Stream. As described by Yahoo, Smart Stream "assembles relevant information" and adjusts it throughout the day based on where the user is and what they're doing. The information is presented clearly on cards in a way that makes it easy to find nearby restaurants and other points of interest, as well as glance at sports scores and add a soundtrack to your day. Yahoo says Smart Stream becomes smarter and more personal as people use it. Users can fine-tune Smart Stream to surface specific cards through the Focus menu, which lets people set preferences. Smart Stream mimics the behavior of Google's Google Now feature. Aviate is free to download from the Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.1 and up.


Sprint Allowed to Settle Cramming Charges for $50M

Today, 7:44 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint has settled accusations with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it over-billed customers for unwanted services. In May, the FCC fined Sprint $68 million for adding third-party services to customer bills without customer permission -- a practice known as cramming. A U.S. judge is allowing Sprint to escape with a $50 million settlement, rather than the full amount. The FCC fined Verizon for $90 million in May also, and this week's settlement marks the end of the ordeal for both companies. Last year, the FCC tagged AT&T for $105 million and T-Mobile for $90 million to settle cramming complaints.


YouTube Mobile App Supports 60fps Playback

Today, 7:35 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has updated the Android and iOS YouTube apps with support for 60 frame-per-second video playback. The higher frame rate is already supported via desktop browsers. YouTube is free to download from the Play Store and iTunes App Store.


NSA Given Permission to Spy On Calls Again

Today, 7:30 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court this week gave the NSA permission to resume spying on Americans' phone calls for a period of 180 days. In June, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which put an end to the bulk phone data collection. However, there was a provision in the act that allowed the program to be extended for a period of six months to give the government time to transition to another method of spying. In May, an appellate court ruled the NSA bulk phone data collection program was illegal. FISA said, "Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specially authorized. For this reason, the Court approves the application in this case." In other words, the NSA is once again allowed to vacuum up the call data of every American.


Sprint Forced to Backtrack On Throttling After Outcry

Today, 7:11 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint was forced to remove a speed limit on its new All-In plans after customers were quick to complain. On Tuesday, Sprint revealed a service plan called All-In that offers monthly service and phone payments bundled together for $80 per month. In the fine print, Sprint disclosed a policy to throttle mobile video speeds to 600kbps at all times for network management purposes. That didn't sit well with customers, who took to social media to voice their concerns. Sprint later admitted that it has slowed mobile video speeds for a period of two years. The practice runs afoul of the FCC's new net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers -- wireless or wired -- from throttling speeds of select apps or services. After a drubbing from customers, Sprint changed its policy. "At Sprint, we strive to provide customers a great experience when using our network," said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. "We heard you loud and clear, and we are removing the 600kbps limitation on streaming video." That doesn't mean Sprint won't protect its network from heavy users. "During certain times, like other wireless carriers, we might have to manage the network in order to reduce congestion and provide a better customer experience for the majority of our customers," said Claure. AT&T has been sued by the FTC and the FCC over its network throttling practices.


Sprint Found In Violation of Prism Patents

Yesterday, 3:17 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint was found culpable of infringing on two patents held by Prism Technologies. The patents in question pertain to accessing protected computer resources and were used by Sprint in its "Simply Everything" and "Everything Data" plans, according to Prism. Sprint was ordered to pay a fine of $30 million. Sprint rejects the decision and said it will appeal. "We believe the evidence is clear that Sprint does not infringe the patent. Sprint plans to pursue post-trial motions," said Roni Singleton, a spokeswoman for Sprint, in a statement provided to RCR Wireless. Prism has similar cases pending against T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular.


Facebook's Messenger Payment Service Now Widely Available

Yesterday, 2:47 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Facebook today said its Messenger-based, peer-to-peer mobile payment service is now available to everyone across the U.S. It was initially tested in New York City earlier this year. Messenger users need only add their MasterCard- or Visa-backed debit card to pay anyone else on Messenger. Money goes straight from the sender's checking account to the recipient's checking account. Sending money is free of transaction charges. Facebook says users can set up PINs to protect the service, and Apple device owners will be able to use TouchID to secure it. Sending money is possible from the Android, iOS, and web versions of Messenger.


Verizon Says Droid Turbo Lollipop 5.1 Update Pushing Wednesday

Yesterday, 2:05 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

Verizon Wireless said the Motorola Droid Turbo will be updated to Android 5.1 Lollipop beginning the afternoon of Wednesday, July 1. The update will be delivered in phases over a few weeks. Customers will be able to manually update their phones over the air if they wish. The update is free.


Court Says Apple Conspired to Raise E-Book Prices

Yesterday, 12:19 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

A U.S. court of appeals today upheld a ruling from a lower court that found Apple guilty of conspiring with book publishers to raise the prices of e-books. Books were generally priced at $9.99 by companies such as Amazon. Following the launch of Apple's iBook store, prices eventually rose to $12.99 and $14.99 for many titles. The appeals court said the initial ruling was correct, as was the injunction imposed against Apple. Today's ruling means Apple is on the hook for a $450 million settlement with attorneys general in 33 states. One judge dissented, believing that Apple's arrival in the market challenged Amazon, which was at the time the dominant player in the e-book market. Apple did not immediately respond to the ruling, but it marks the final chapter of a lengthy legal case that Apple has not been able to beat.


ZTE's Axon Phone Swings By the FCC for Approval

Yesterday, 10:13 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Documents spotted on the FCC site reveal more information about ZTE's forthcoming Axon phone. The company has been teasing the device on the web for several weeks and plans to reveal it in full at a July 14 event in New York City. The FCC details the Axon Phone's impressive support for wireless networks, especially AT&T and T-Mobile. For example, it supports LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 17, and 30 (AT&T's upcoming WCS 2.3GHz coverage). It also includes WCDMA bands 2, 4, and 5, and quad-band GSM. The FCC also reveals the Axon includes excellent support for hearing aids, and NFC. ZTE has already confirmed that the Axon Phone will have a dual-lens camera, 4K video capture, high-fidelity sound playback and audio recording, a fast processor, 4 GB of memory, and a large battery. The phone will be sold in blue, gold, or silver.


Apple Releases iOS 8.4 with Apple Music

Yesterday, 9:55 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Apple today made available iOS 8.4, a system update for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that installs Apple Music. Apple Music is Apple's new streaming music service and is part of an all-new Music app for iOS devices. The service is being offered for free on a trial basis for three months, after which it will cost $10 per month for individuals or $15 per month for families. Apple Music offers unlimited, ad-free streaming and access to Beats 1, Apple's global radio station. iOS 8.4 also makes improvements to iBooks application, and resolves some performance issues. iOS 8.4 is free to download and install.

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Sprint's All-In Plan Includes Phone and Service for $80

Yesterday, 8:48 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sprint today introduced a new plan that combines the cost of a service plan with the cost of a handset in one monthly payment. The Sprint All-In plan costs $80 per month and includes unlimited talk, text, and data, and a Sprint Lease on handsets such as the Apple iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6, and HTC One M9. There are no up-front phone costs aside from a one-time, $36 activation fee. The $80 monthly rate does not include taxes. Sprint believes this is the simplest, most straight-forward plan in the market. Sprint will use soccer star David Beckham to advertise the plan, which is available in Sprint stores beginning today.


European Union to Ban Roaming Charges

Yesterday, 7:47 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

The European Commission today agreed to make cellphone roaming charges illegal beginning in 2017. The change in law means European wireless network operators will not be allowed to charge roaming fees for customers who travel across the 28-country continent. Additionally, the European Commission also adopted some net neutrality regulations to prevent service providers from discriminating between different types of internet traffic. European carriers, such as T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom, warn the rules will reduce investment across the region, but regulators see the new laws as a win for consumers, who are often charged high fees when they travel. The new rules are specific to Europeans who go to other European countries. U.S. residents traveling abroad can still expect AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless to charge roaming fees for accessing wireless networks in Europe and elsewhere.


Sony Looking to Raise Capital for Image Sensor Business

Yesterday, 7:32 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Sony plans to issue new shares of stock for the first time in 26 years as it hopes to raise about $4 billion in capital. The company said it will spend the money on bolstering its image sensor business, which is seeing high demand from smartphone and tablet makers. Sony's image sensor business, along with its PlayStation unit, have helped push the company back to its feet in recent quarters. Earlier this year, Sony said it would ramp up production in its image sensor plants, but now admits that it is struggling to keep up with demand. The capital plan marks a wholesale change in strategy for Sony, which will now bank on the image sensor and PlayStation businesses to keep it afloat. Sony said it will continue to make other electronic devices, such as TVs, but it will reduce its investments in such products. Sony did not specifically address what it will do about its smartphone operations.


Qualcomm to Hold Onto Chip Biz for the Time Being

Yesterday, 7:23 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Qualcomm does not plan to sell off its mobile chip business, according to Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs. Investors have been putting pressure on Qualcomm to spin off the unit, which one called "worthless." Some would prefer that Qualcomm operate strictly as a patent-licensing business. "We've had that discussion for a long time, many years the board has looked at it but we still think the synergies of having the businesses together outweighs the dis-synergies," said Jacobs. Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors power hundreds of millions of devices every year and are often combined with wireless modems. Earlier this year, Qualcomm said it would expand its chip-building facilities through partnerships with firms in China. Jacobs did say the company may change its mind down the road if the right opportunity arises.


Google Hangouts for iOS Updated with Material Design

Yesterday, 7:04 AM   by Eric M. Zeman

Google has refreshed its Hangouts app for the iOS platform and given the messaging service a new look and feel. The app now makes use of Google's Material Design and gains a new quick compose button for starting conversations. The app improves how it handles emoji, the camera, and the photo gallery. Hangouts now lets people send more than one photo at a time. Google says it also took care of some bugs and made some performance improvements. Hangouts is free to download from iTunes.

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