Motorola's g-series phones have a long-held reputation for value and quality. With the 2018 incarnation, Moto is trying harder than ever to bring high-end features and design to a low price point. For $250, you get a metal body, curved glass back, full-HD screen with 2:1 ratio, dual camera with portrait mode and object recognition, USB-C, fast charging, a fingerprint reader, an ultrasonic sensor that lights up the screen as you approach. It also has much better support for U.S. LTE networks than most unlocked phones, including Verizon, Sprint, and newer bands used by AT&T and T-Mobile. How does it stack up in person? Here are our first impressions.
Motorola today announced four new affordable Android phones coming to the U.S. market before mid-year. Spread across the Moto e5 and Moto g6 series, all four new phones share the company's evolved design language that debuted with the Moto X4 last year. They also all sport a fingerprint reader, a clean version of Android 8 Oreo, Moto Actions gesture shortcuts, a water-repellent coating, front cameras with an LED flash, 3.5mm audio jacks, and memory card slots. They have Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series processors supporting Cat. 6 LTE, and excellent support for all major US networks, including Sprint, Verizon, and band 66.
- Moto g6: The highest-end model of the group, it has a curved glass back, metal frame, and a 5.7-inch full-HD display with 2:1 ratio. It's powered by a Snapdragon 450 processor with either 3 or 4 GB of RAM, and 32 or 64 GB of storage. The 3,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via the USB-C port. The 12-megapixel camera (f/1.8) is aided by a 5-megapixel camera for depth sensing, to create portrait effects. The camera app includes object, landmark, and text recognition, as well as slow-motion and time-lapse modes. An ultrasonic system detects when you approach the phone and lights up the display to show the time and notifications. It will be sold unlocked for $249, and via carriers.
- Moto g6 Play: This more affordable model (at $199) has a rounded polycarbonate back and metal frame. The 5.7-inch display with 2:1 ratio is 720p HD resolution. It's powered by a Snapdragon 427 processor with either 2 or 3 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of storage. The 4,000 mAh battery supports fast charging via micro-USB. The main camera is 13-megapixel camera with PDAF, while the front camera is 8-megapixel. Like the g6, it will be sold unlocked and via carriers. It supports all AT&T bands, include LTE 14, 29, and 30.
- Moto e5 Plus: A larger version of the Moto g6 Play. It has the same design and features, except the battery steps up to 5,000 mAh, the display size is bumped to 6 inches, and it adds laser focusing to the camera. The processor is a Snapdragon 435 and there is just one configuration with 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. It will be available in the U.S. exclusively from carriers.
- Moto e5 Play: A lower-end model, similar to e-series models of years past. Its plastic shells pops off to reveal a removable (2,800 mAh) battery. Its 5.2-inch display has HD resolution and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The Snapdragon 427 processor is accompanied by 2 of RAM and 16 GB of storage. (However at least one variant will have a Snapdragon 425 processor that only supports Cat. 4 LTE.) The cameras are 8 megapixel (rear) and 5 megapixel (front), and it can record 1080p video. Like the other models, it has dual-band Wi-Fi, a fingerprint reader, and gesture shortcuts. It will also be available exclusively from carriers.
Google has begun informing Google Voice customers who’ve integrated their service with Sprint that the two services will cease working together on June 1. Google has laid out a number of steps that customers will need to take in order to retain their separate services if they so wish. Beginning June 1, all outgoing calls and texts made will be made via Sprint’s network. Google Voice will no longer store calls, messages or voicemails sent from a Sprint phone. These communications will still be visible until June 1. People will need to export this data before June 1 in order to keep it. Google Voice / Sprint customers will not be able to use Google Voice capabilities, such as call forwarding, voicemail transcription and more, after June 1, though these features can be enabled on customers’ Sprint devices. Google suggests that users disable Google Voice with Sprint integration manually following the steps laid out on its support page. Any numbers blocked in Google Voice will need to be reblocked on the Sprint number. Customers who used their Sprint number as their Google Voice number will need to get a new Google Voice number from Google Voice.
The FCC today said it has reached a settlement with Sprint and Sprint's partner Mobilitie regarding the improper completion of cell tower sites. The FCC says the companies failed to complete the proper tower registration and environmental and historic impact reviews before building some cell sites. In order to settle the investigation, Sprint agreed to pay a fine of $10 million and Mobilitie agreed to pay a fine of $1.6 million to the U.S. Treasury. In addition to the fines, both companies must improve their compliance procedures moving forward. "The law was clear and it is vital that carriers and infrastructure companies alike never duck their responsibilities," said Christopher Killion, acting deputy chief of the Enforcement Bureau. "Companies must abide by the law as it stands whenever they are building infrastructure, operating wireless facilities." The enforcement action arrives after the FCC recently voted to reduce the amount of red tape carriers need to hurdle in order to put up new sites. All the major U.S. carriers are rushing to develop and deploy 5G networks, which will require more cell sites than are available today.
Samsung's U.S. carrier partners are rolling out Android 8 Oreo to the Galaxy Note8 handset. AT&T kicked things off last month and was followed by Sprint and Verizon Wireless. In the last day, T- Mobile, too, has begun pushing Oreo to the Note8. With the carrier variants picking up Android 8, only the unlocked version remains. Samsung said people who own the unlocked Note8 (and S8, S8+) can expect to see Android 8 in the next few weeks. The update includes the core Android 8 code (notification dots, autofill, picture-in-picture) in addition to the latest version of Samsung's user interface. Samsung released the Galaxy Note8 last September.
People in the U.S. who own the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+ can expect to see Android 8 Oreo reach their phone over the coming days. Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and not AT&T are all pushing the system upgrade to their customers. Oreo includes notification dots, picture-in-picture, and autofill. The update brings the S8/S8+ in line with the user experience seen on the newer S9/S9+, which includes updated emoji. It also packs the February 2018 security patch from Google. The update weighs in at a little over 1.5 GB and can be downloaded over WiFi. Samsung has not yet said when it will update the unlocked model of the S8/S8+ to Oreo.
All four major carriers in the U.S., AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, are building a "multi-factor authentication" method that will rely on peoples' cell phones to gain account access. The system, which has been in development since last September, is expected to launch before the end of the year. The goal is to cut back on identity theft and fraud enabled by weak or exposed passwords. The carriers said it will employ a "cryptographically verified phone number" that assesses data including device IP, SIM card, account, and how long customers have been with the carrier. "In addition, advanced analytics and machine learning capabilities will be used to help assess risk and protect customers," said the carriers in a statement. How this will be used by people on a day-to-day basis is still unknown. The group expects to provide more information later this year.
Sprint said those who preorder the Samsung Galaxy S9 or S9+ can save up to $500 on the new handsets. First, Sprint is offering $350 off the Sprint Flex price for those who preorder and trade-in an eligible handset. This knocks the monthly price of the S9 to $13.55 and S9+ to $18.55. Further, Sprint will reward those who port in a number with a $150 Visa gift card. The $150 gift card does not require a trade on its own. Sprint says the deals will be offered for a limited time. Samsung is also offering a $350 promo for consumers who preorder the Galaxy S9 or S9+ with a trade. Preorders for the Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+ kick off on Friday, March 2.
Sprint today indicated which markets will be first to see 5G service from the carrier at some point in the first half of 2019. Sprint said customers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. will be first to experience the company’s 5G network. First, however, Sprint plans to bring massive MIMO to Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles in April, with Atlanta, Houston and Washington, D.C. to follow later this year. Sprint says massive MIMO is a critical bridge that will span its LTE 4G and future 5G networks. The company is preparing to deploy thousands of massive MIMO radios with 128 radios (64 transmit, 64 receive). All Sprint subscribers who have a device with 2.5 GHz (Band 41) will benefit from the increased capacity and speed provided by massive MIMO. Sprint is working with Qualcomm and device manufacturers on 5G mobile devices, which it expects to launch in the first half of 2019.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency will commence an auction for 28 GHz airwaves as soon as November. Pai expects the spectrum in question will be used for 5G. As soon as the auction for 28 GHz spectrum is finished, the FCC will move forward with another auction for 24 GHz spectrum for the same purposes. Pai is seeking public input on the idea. "To set the foundation for these auctions, the FCC will ask for public input this spring on the right procedures for these auctions," said Pai in remarks made at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. In order for the auctions to proceed, Pai says Congress will need to pass legislation by May 13 concerning upfront payments to be made by potential bidders. The agency is already looking at the use of 6 GHz spectrum for 5G based on feedback provided by the public last year. Future 5G networks will likely be deployed on low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum. For example, T-Mobile expects to launch 5G using its 600 MHz spectrum (low) holdings, while Sprint is looking at its 2.5 GHz spectrum (mid) for 5G. Further, the FCC says it has already changed some rules to help speed up 5G deployment. "We want to remove outdated rules and make it easier to deploy wireless infrastructure," said Pai. Relaxing rules governing how cell sites are deployed will let carriers put small cells where they need to in order to densify their networks. The FCC Chairman also spent time espousing the value of his open internet order, which removes net neutrality rules. He called the "light-touch regulation" one of the major pillars to his approach to 5G.
A handful of companies have banded together with the goal of bringing real broadband to airplane passengers. The founding members of the Seamless Air Alliance include Sprint, Delta, Airbus, OneWeb, and Airtel. The idea is to let carriers "extend their services into airline cabins" so passengers have immediate access to high-speed internet while in the air. Mobile network operators would be able to reach airline passengers through the Seamless Air Alliance's satellites, which the group claims deliver the "same high speed, low latency connectivity from ground, to air and back again" as traditional cellular networks. One of the goals is to improve the on-boarding process. Today's in-flight WiFi service often requires painful connection steps that include entering credit card information. The Seamless Air Alliance believes in can "eliminate the immense costs and hurdles commonly associated with acquisition, installation, and operation of data access infrastructure" on airplanes with an open specification for interoperability. "With our 5G network rolling out next year we're investing heavily to make sure our customers have the best mobile internet experience possible," said Dow Draper, CCO at Sprint. "As an initial member of the Seamless Alliance, we're looking forward to enabling customers to experience Sprint's high-speed connectivity in the air, hassle-free." The founding members are inviting others to join the initiative.
All four major carriers in the U.S. plan to sell the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ beginning in March. Preorders for the phones kick off March 2 and the handset is expected to be available in stores on March 16. Samsung itself is selling the unlocked version via its web site. The S9 costs $720 and the S9+ costs $840. Customers can apply for financing from Samsung to break down the cost of the phone over 24 months. Samsung is offering app to $350 off the price with a qualifying trade-in. Pricing from U.S. carriers varies significantly.
- AT&T: AT&T is asking subscribers to its AT&T Next plans to pay $26.34 per month for 30 months for the S9 (total: $790), or $30.50 per month for 30 months for the S9+ (total: $915). AT&T says business customers can get a $150 activation credit with they by the S9 or S9+ on an installment plan. The devices support Band 14, and thus the AT&T-run FirstNet public safety network. AT&T's prepaid brand, Cricket Wireless, plans to sell the Galaxy S9 and S9+ at full cost.
- Sprint: Sprint is selling the S9 for $33.00 per month with $0 down on a Sprint Flex lease (total: $792). The Galaxy S9+ will be $38.00 per month with $0 down on a Sprint Flex lease (total: $912).
- T-Mobile: T-Mobile is asking customers to pay $30 per month for 24 months for the S9 with $0 down (total: $720), and $30 per month for 24 months for the S9+ with $120 down (total: $840) For a limited time, postpaid customers can get up to $360 off either phone with a qualifying trade-in when the S9 or S9+ is purchased on an equipment installment plan. T-Mobile's prepaid brand, MetroPCS, will sell the Galaxy S9 starting March 16 for full price.
- Verizon Wireless: Last, Verizon Wireless is charging $33.33 per month for 24 months for the S9 (total: $799) and $38.74 per month for 24 months for the S9+ (total: $930). Customers who switch to Verizon, port in their line, and trade in an old phone may get up to $500 in bill credits towards the purchase of a Galaxy S9 or S9+.
Google says its Android Messages app is on the upswing thanks to new RCS-based tools and growing support from phone makers and wireless network operators. To start, brands now have more power to interact with consumers thanks to RCS business messaging. Google says brands can "send more useful and interactive messages" to their customers with photos, videos, and links for purchasing. A number of companies have been testing RCS business messaging via Google's Early Access Program. Some include 1-800 Contacts, 1-800-Flowers.com, Booking.com, SnapTravel, and Subway — all on Sprint in the U.S. Google says more businesses will be deploying richer messaging via the Android Messages app over the coming months. The Android Messages app has gained a lot of traction with phone makers and carriers, and more support is on the way. Moving forward, Alcatel, BlackBerry, Transsion, Blu, Positivo, Multilaser, Mobiwire, Azumi, and Essential will all preload Android Messages as the default SMS/messaging app. A number of phone makers already offer Android Messages, including Huawei, LG, HMD Global, HTC, Kyocera, Motorola, Sony, and ZTE. The app has a growing footprint with carriers, as well. Google says America Movil, AT&T in Mexico, Celcom Axiata Berhad, Freedom Mobile, Oi, Telia Company, and Telefonica have joined Deutsche Telekom, Globe Telecom, Orange, Rogers Communications, Sprint, and Telenor in their commitment to launch RCS messaging. Sprint is the lone U.S. carrier to go all-in with Google's RCS and Android Messages. AT&T and Verizon each offers its own RCS-based messaging client for Android handsets. Google believes this new momentum for RCS and Android Messages will eventually mean a better messaging experience between people, brands, and more.
Google today said the Google Assistant is prepared to grow in a number of significant ways. First, the voice-activated tool is picking up some new languages. Google says Assistant will speak Danish, Dutch, Hindi, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai on Android phones and iPhones in the next few months, with more languages on the way. Google expects Assistant to understand as many as 30 languages by the end of the year. Further, Google Assistant will be able to understand multiple languages at a time, meaning people can speak both English and German to their Assistant without changing settings. This feature will first be available between English, French, and German, with other languages to follow. Google also noted that it is working more directly from carriers and phone makers to improve Assistant. For example, LG, Sony, and Xiaomi are all prepared to rollout device-specific commands and features based on Google Assistant. Moreover, carriers Sprint, Koodo, Telus, and Vodafone are developing integrations with Assistant. Between the phone makers and carriers, Google expects Assistant to support individual device features, customer service queries, and more. Last, Google Assistant is adding two new tools to help people manage their day. Routines let people issue one command and set off a chain of actions. For example, say "Hey Google, I’m home" and the Assistant on Google Home or phone can turn on the lights, share any home reminders, play your favorite music, and more. Location-based reminders have now expanded to Google Home speakers. People can tell Assistant on their speaker to set reminders for specific locations, such as to get milk when at the store, and the alert will popup when appropriate. Google expects to bring even more features to Assistant throughout the year.
Sprint expects to deploy voice over LTE across its network starting this fall. Sprint competitors AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless already offer VoLTE across the bulk of their footprints, making Spring the last major carrier to deploy the upgraded voice technology. "For more than a year we’ve been testing VoLTE and preseeding our customer base with VoLTE-capable devices in preparation for our commercial deployment starting this fall," said Sprint to Fierce Wireless. "Our network today offers a great HD Voice experience on a very efficient 1x platform, and our goal with VoLTE is to match this same high-quality experience that our customers have today." VoLTE allows devices to connect voice calls over carriers' data networks, rather than legacy voice networks, and delivers as much as three times the clarity. Sprint didn't say which devices support VoLTE, nor did it say if its VoLTE service will be compatible with those of other network operators. AT&T and Verizon, for example, allow some customers on some devices to connect VoLTE calls across carriers, though typically VoLTE calls are limited to intra-carrier connections.
Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon X24, a Cat 20 LTE modem with support for downloads up to 2 Gbps, to its hardware partners. The X24 is built on a 7nm FinFET process and includes advanced LTE technologies, such as 7-channel carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO on up to five carriers, and Massive MIMO. The X24 supports all deployed LTE bands worldwide and can be configured as needed by each carrier with licensed spectrum or License Assisted Access. Up the uplink, the X24 supports 3 x 20 MHz carrier aggregation up to 256-QAM. Qualcomm says the Snapdragon X24 is paired with an RF transceiver built on a 14nm FinFET process with support for envelope tracking up to 60 MHz. It also includes HPUE in Band 41 (for Sprint). Last, the X24 includes multi-frequency global navigation satellite system (GNSS), which will lead to more accurate real-time location tracking within apps. Qualcomm claims the X24 can deliver mobile experiences such as 360-degree video streams and instant apps. Qualcomm plans to demonstrate the X24 with its partners at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona later this month. Qualcomm expects to see the Snapdragon X24 in commercial devices by the end of the year. Qualcomm is positioning the X24 as the tallest, strongest bridge between today's 4G LTE technology and forthcoming 5G NR technology. The Snapdragon X20 modem with 1.2 Gbps speeds, announced late last year, will find its way into the top phones of 2018 that rely on the Snapdragon 845 processor. The X20 will be followed by the X24 in late 2018 and then, eventually, the X50 modem for 5G NR devices in 2019.
Qualcomm today said various network operators plan to use its Snapdragon X50 5G modem in trials this year, while a number of device makers have selected the X50 for mobile gear due next year. According to Qualcomm, the carriers committed to the X50 include AT&T, British Telecom, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, Verizon, and others. They will all rely on the Snapdragon X50 to test mobile 5G. A notable exception is T-Mobile in the U.S. The tests will occur in sub-6 GHz and mmWave spectrum bands and will be based on the 3GPP Release 15 5G NR standard. Qualcomm says the X50 will allow the carriers to test the modem within hardware that has the size, power, and limitations of a smartphone. This will help operators fine-tune their pre-launch 5G networks accordingly. Further, Qualcomm says the Snapdragon X50 will wind up in commercial mobile devices as soon as the first half of 2019. Device makers including Asus, Fujitsu, HMD Global, HTC, LG, Netgear, Oppo, Sharp, Sierra Wireless, Sony Mobile, vivo, Xiaomi, ZTE, and others all plan to bring 5G devices to market with the Snapdragon X50 5G NR providing the connectivity. Notable abesntees from the list include Apple and Huawei. Qualcomm believes the Snapdragon X50 will be ideal for smartphones, always-connected PCs, mobile broadband, and extended-, virtual-, and augmented-reality applications. The goal for 5G is to deliver multi-gigabit per second speeds and ultra-low latency — something Qualcomm asserts that the X50 can do. Network operators in the U.S. including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless have all committed to launching some form of 5G over the next 10 to 18 months.
Sprint will use its 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings to provide the backbone for its planned 5G network, which is on deck to go live during the first half of 2019. The company is already hard at work on what it calls its Next-Gen Network. Sprint plans to deploy 64T64R Massive MIMO 2.5 GHz radios, which it says will increase capacity by as much as 10 times that of current LTE systems, in addition to boosting data speeds. Massive MIMO will support both LTE and 5G New Radio services at the same time on the same towers. The company is already in the process of upgrading its towers in all three spectrum bands (800 MHz, 1.9 GHz, and 2.5 GHz). It plans to build thousands of new cell cites as part of its densification project, and hopes to deploy up to one million Sprint Magic Boxes. The Sprint Magic Boxes are small cells already being used at 80,000 sites across 200 cities. "We’re working with Qualcomm and network and device manufacturers in order to launch the first truly mobile 5G network in the United States by the first half of 2019," said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure today during the company's quarterly earnings call. Sprint competitors AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless have all committed to launching some form of 5G service later this year, though none has a nationwide footprint on deck for launch. Sprint has 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the top 100 markets around the U.S. Sprint's competitors are eyeing other spectrum bands for their 5G networks. For example, T-Mobile plans to use some of its 600 MHz holdings. Sprint says chipsets and devices are in the works, too. "We have come to an agreement with Qualcomm that they are going to be able to release this toward the later end of 2018, the new chipsets," said Claure. "And we have had a conversation with a leading Korean manufacturer to basically have devices ready by the first half of 2019." LG and Samsung are both based in Korea. Sprint expects to charge more for unlimited 5G service. Claure believes it has more wiggle room with respect to price than its competitors because it currently charges less for unlimited 4G service. In other Sprint news, the company said it added 256,000 postpaid customers during the fourth quarter of 2017, as well as 63,000 prepaid customers.
Sprint today followed AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless in offering free service to customers who travel to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. International service is already available to Sprint customers who have eligible phones. Sprint customers who travel to South Korea between February 1 and March 18 will have access to free high-speed data, voice, and texting. Sprint's global roaming service does not include free picture, audio or video messaging. Sprint did not specify the rates for sending such multimedia messages. Customers will need to be on a post-paid plan. The free roaming will be awarded to Sprint customers through seven-day passes. The weekly pass normally costs $25, but Sprint will waive the fee during the games.
HTC said that Sprint will begin pushing the Android 8 Oreo system update to its variant of the HTC U11 starting today. The news was shared by HTC executive Mo Versi on Twitter. Android 8 Oreo includes notification dots, picture-in-picture, and auto-fill. The new code from HTC also includes other bug fixes and tweaks. Though the update is available today, it may take up to a week to reach all users. The unlocked and T-Mobile variants of the U11 were updated to Android 8 late last year, as were most variants of the HTC U11 Life. HTC still plans to distribute Android 8 Oreo to the HTC 10 and U Ultra.
Sprint and Cox Communications today said they've agreed to work together to improve one another's businesses. Sprint plans to use Cox's broadband infrastructure to improve its macro backhaul performance, as well as to densify its wireless network through the use of small cells. Sprint will make use of macro towers, air poles, strand mounts, and repeaters all patched into Cox's network to improve coverage. It will be putting its 2.5 GHz spectrum to use with the Cox-supported small cells. Sprint owns more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the top 100 markets around the U.S. Today's deal was also reached in part to settle patent litigation between the companies, according to Sprint.
Sprint is offering a year of free unlimited service to people who switch from other postpaid carriers to Sprint. The deal, detailed on Sprint's web site, requires switchers to jump through a lot of hoops and meet a wide variety of conditions. In order to quality for the free service, potential switchers need to have compatible, unlocked handsets, and they'll need to purchase and activate Sprint SIM cards before porting their number to Sprint. Sprint says the SIM cards cost $3 each, with $10 shipping and handling. The actual SIM activation will be free. People who take advantage of the deal will not be able to upgrade to new devices for at least four months, and Sprint warns that some phone features and network experiences will vary depending on the handsets in question. The promotion will provide one year of free talk, text, and data with 10 GB of mobile hotspot per line. People who exceed the 10 GB mobile hotspot allotment will be throttled. Video can be streamed at up to full HD, music can be streamed at up to 1.5Mbps, and games can be streamed at up to 8Mbps. Sprint says it will throttle people during instances of network congestion, particularly those who exceed 23 GB per month. People who earn free service will still be on the hook for taxes and other monthly fees. Sprint will allow a total of five free lines per account. Tablets are not supported, nor are other connected devices. The free service will expire January 31, 2019, after which Sprint will charge its normal rates for multi-line unlimited accounts. Auto-pay is required.
Sprint recently launched its Direct Connect Plus push-to-talk service. Direct Connect Plus powers walkie-talkie style conversations with instant connections between users. The service relies on Kodiak's LTE network-based technology, rather than Sprint's discontinued iDEN network. It supports one-to-one and group conversations. Features include presence status, support for tablets, and corporate control over contacts and groups. Sprint's Direct Connect Plus service is available to most Android and iOS smartphones and tablets via mobile app for $5 per month. Several handsets in Sprint's line-up, including the Kyocera DuraXTP, DuraForce Pro, and DuraTR, include physical PTT buttons and native support for Direct Connect Plus. The service is aimed at business customers.
SoftBank Group, the parent company of Sprint, is weighing whether or not to offer shares in its own Japan-based wireless company. Under the direction of CEO Masayoshi Sun, SoftBank has transformed itself in recent years into an investor in technology companies. The goal of the IPO would be to raise about $18 billion in funds so SoftBank Group could continue to invest in other entities. SoftBank Corp., the wireless company in question, is Japan's third-largest provider of wireless services behind KDDI and NTT DoCoMo. SoftBank is exploring a fall listing on the Tokyo stock exchange and may also list sales in London. The plans are not final and may change. The potential IPO should not impact SoftBank's ownership and management of Sprint. SoftBank also has large investments in Alibaba and ARM Holdings.
Kyocera has quietly launched the DuraTR, a ruggedized bar phone intended for Sprint's Direct Connect service. The DuraTR meets mil-spec 810G for protection from drops, bumps, scrapes, and bruises. It can handle immersion in water, as well as exposure to fog, heat, moisture, dust, and cold. It is also certified for use in some hazardous environments. Stand out features include a user-assignable action button, extra-loud speakerphone, non-slip finish, and a standard numeric key pad. As far as specs go, the DuraTR includes a 2.4-inch screen, quad-core Qualcomm processor, 1 GB of memory, 8 GB of storage, and a 2,900mAh removable battery. It packs a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash and HD video capture. Software features include messaging, email, mobile browser, and enterprise-focused software, such as time sheets. Sprint is selling the phone through its business web site. Sprint's Direct Connect service is not yet live, though it is expected to become available later this month. Direct Connect uses Kodiak's service to power push-to-talk over the LTE 4G network, rather than a dedicated PTT network. Once Direct Connect goes live, DuraTR owners will be able to activate the service through a software update.
Boost Mobile recently added the LG Tribute Dynasty to its lineup of affordable Android smartphones. This device includes a 5-inch HD display and is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa-core MediaTek processor with 2 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage. The Tribute Dynasty has an 8-megapixel main camera with LED flash and a 5-megapixel selfie camera. Other features include a 2,500mAh battery; Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and LTE; and microUSB and headphone jack. It runs Android 7.1 Nougat. The LG Tribute Dynasty costs $100, but is on sale at the moment for $60. The phone is already available at Boost Mobile stores. Sprint said it will carry the phone starting Jan. 12.
Sprint today appointed seasoned telecom executive Michel Combes as President and Chief Financial Officer. Combes replaces Tarek Robbiati, who will transition away from Sprint at the end of the month. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure thanked Robbiati for his work in helping Sprint reduce costs over the last few years. In addition to serving as CFO, Combes will be added to Sprint's board of directors. Before joining Sprint, Combes served as CEO of Altice, CEO of SFR, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, CFO of France Telecom, and CEO of Vodafone Europe. "I have known Marcelo for many years and am delighted to join the Sprint team and build upon the great progress achieved to date," said Combes. Combes officially joins Sprint on January 6, he will report directly to Claure.
Sprint today voiced its support of the recently ratified NSA 5G NR specification and revealed its own plans for deploying 5G. The specification for NSA 5G NR includes support for up to 100 MHz on a single carrier (in the 2.5 GHz band) versus today's limit of 20 MHz per carrier. Sprint holds a massive 160 MHz slice of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the top 100 markets around the U.S., which will allow Sprint to offer mid-band 5G to many Americans. The company is working with Qualcomm and SoftBank to bring 5G services and devices to market by late 2019. Sprint says it will first use Massive MIMO as a stepping stone to 5G. It will launch Massive MIMO in its 2.5 GHz spectrum in 2018. These radios contain 64 transmitters and 64 receivers each, which allow for incredibly accurate beam-forming. These radios will be software-upgradeable to 5G NR. Sprint did not say anything about plans to support mmWave-based 5G in high-band spectrum. "This is an important milestone and we’re making great progress accelerating the development and commercialization of 5G NR in the 2.5 GHz band," said Dr. John Saw, Sprint CTO. "5G will spur dramatic innovation and progress around the world, and we see great opportunity in mobile 5G, massive machine type communications, and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications." AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all have similar plans and timeframes for bringing 5G to market.
Andy Rubin is taking some time away from Essential Products, where he is CEO. The company's day-to-day operations will be handled by president Niccolo de Masi during Rubin's absence. The timing of Rubin's leave coincides with a report from The Information that said Rubin had an inappropriate relationship with an employee during his time at Google. Google investigated the relationship in 2013 and concluded that "Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement." He was moved after the investigation from the Android team to Google's robotics division. Rubin later left Google and founded Essential Products. Essential insists the timing of Rubin's leave is not related to The Information's report. "At our last regularly scheduled board meeting earlier in November, Andy asked for a leave of absence to deal with personal matters," said the company in a statement provided to The Verge. Essential makes the PH-1 smartphone, a high-end Android handset. The PH-1 went on sale earlier this year for $699, but has since been discounted to $499 amidst slow sales. The device is available unlocked from Essential, and it is also sold by Sprint.
The HTC U11 is on deck to receive Android 8 Oreo beginning today, according to HTC exec Mo Versi. He tweeted the news over the holiday weekend. The unlocked version of the U11 will be first to see the Android 8 Oreo upgrade, though Versi said other variants, including Sprint, shouldn't be too far behind. Other HTC handsets that will receive Android 8 Oreo include the 10, U Ultra, and U11 Life. Versi didn't say when Oreo will be available for those devices
Sprint is adjusting its top ranks in an effort to streamline its management structure, according to an internal memo obtained by Fierce Wireless. To start, a number of executives are departing the company, including COO Günther Ottendorfer, who's been behind a lot of Sprint's network advancements. Ottendorfer framed the departure as a chance to return to his family in his home county of Austria. Other departures include Jeff Nelson and Jim Hyde. A handful of executives have been promoted, including Dow Draper, who is now the chief commercial officer, and Kevin Crull, who is now the chief strategy officer. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has reduced the number of executives who report directly to him from 16 to nine, including Draper, Crull, COO Nestor Cano, President of Sprint Jan Geldmacher, and CTO John Saw. In addition to the management changes, Claure outlined plans to reimagine its corporate offices in a way that promotes teamwork. Claure and select executives are relocating to a new space on the Sprint campus to test the changes, which will be rolled out across Sprint offices nationwide if they function as hoped. "As we start this new chapter, we’re building an organization that is flatter, faster and closer than ever to our customers," said Claure to Sprint employees. "At the same time, we’re creating an environment where partners can collaborate more easily and are empowered to make the decisions that will enable Sprint’s success." The changes appear to be a response to the failed merger with T-Mobile.
ROK Mobile has rolled out a new promotional rate plan that includes three months of unlimited service for $99. The offer is available to new customers only. After the three-month period ends, the plan reverts to the normal monthly rate of $45. ROK Mobile is an MVNO that offers service on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. Customers can select which carrier they wish to use when they sign up for ROK Mobile. This allows people to use their own device. The $99 promo is only available to new customers who choose service on Sprint or Verizon. Those who select Sprint will be eligible for a free ZTE Prestige smartphone. ROK Mobile started out as a music-focused MVNO but has since transitioned to a more traditional MVNO. Service plans range from $20 to $50 per month, depending on the data bucket. ROK Mobile also offers what it calls Life Plans, a series of services including roadside assistance, accidental death and cremation insurance, family legal services, family telemedicine, and ID theft insurance. These Life Services can be added as extras to any of ROK Mobile's service plans. Pricing ranges from $5 to $15 per month depending on the package.
Sprint and Hulu today said they've partnered together so Sprint customers can enjoy access to Hulu's content for free. New and existing Sprint Unlimited Freedom subscribers can add Hulu at no extra charge. Hulu has three services tiers: streaming with limited commercials for $8 per month, streaming with no commercials for $12 per month, and streaming with live TV for $40 per month. The Sprint promotion applies to Hulu's entry-level limited commercials plan. Sprint and Hulu hope to offer an upgrade option for Hulu's sports and news-focused live TV plan in the near future, but potential pricing wasn't revealed. Sprint Unlimited Freedom customers can stream HD content over the network, though only some of Hulu's content is available in HD. Sprint says customers can sign up for free access to Hulu starting November 17. The move by Sprint and Hulu mirrors a similar tie-up between T-Mobile and Netflix.
Samsung today said it will sell the Deepsea Blue color variant of the Galaxy Note8 smartphone in the U.S. Since launch, the device has only be available to U.S. buyers in black or gray. Other than the color, everything about the Deepsee Blue Note8 is identical to the black and gray versions. The phone will be available from Best Buy stores, BestBuy.com, and Samsung.com beginning November 16. Customers will be able to select an AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or unlocked model. The Note8 has a 6.3-inch Infinity Display, Snapdragon 835 processor, dual camera system, S Pen stylus, 6 GB of RAM, and fast wireless charging. The phone Galaxy Note8 runs Android 7 Nougat and costs $929.
Samsung today said its rugged Galaxy S8 Active will soon be sold by T-Mobile and Sprint. The phone has been available from AT&T since earlier this year. Notably, the T-Mobile variant of the S8 Active supports Band 71, or 600 MHz spectrum, which T-Mobile is slowly lighting up with service in rural areas. Otherwise, the device is unchanged from the AT&T variant. The S8 Active has a metal frame with bumpers that are able to withstand drops up to 5 feet. Samsung says the phone meets mil-spec 810G for protection against abuse in addition to IP68 for protection against water. The phone has a 5.8-inch quad HD+ display with 18.5:9 aspect ratio, but drops the S8's curved glass for a flat piece of hardened glass. Other features unique to the S8 Active include a larger 4,000mAh battery, and Samsung's Activity Zone software for tracking workouts and other activities. The S8 Active is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor, boasts 12-megapixel main camera and 8-megapixel front camera, and includes a dedicated Bixby key. T-Mobile says the Galaxy S8 Active will require a $100 down payment followed by $30 monthly payments for 24 months. Alternately, customers can lease the phone for $100 down and $29 per month for 18 months. It will be available from T-Mobile's web site starting November 17 and should hit stores November 22. Sprint has yet to share pricing and availability details.
Sprint has signed an agreement with Altice USA to resell Sprint service as an MVNO. Sprint is calling the deal a first-of-its-kind arrangement, as it will see the companies sharing services. Altice USA is the parent company of both the Optimum and Suddenlink brands, which provide internet, TV, WiFi, and telephone services to a combined 4.9 million customers in various markets throughout the country. Altice is currently building a next-generation fiber network. With the Sprint agreement, Altice USA plans to offer mobile voice and data services under its own brand. What's unique is that Altice will be able to connect directly to Sprint's network. Sprint will provide cellular connectivity to Altice MVNO wireless subscribers. On the flip side, Sprint will rely on Altice USA's broadband platform to help densify its own backhaul network. Sprint believes this differentiated network operating model will benefit both companies and help ease with integrating their services. Sprint may pursue similar agreements moving forward. Terms of the deal were not made public. The move comes just a day after Sprint and T-Mobile said the two wireless companies will abandon merger talks.
T-Mobile and Sprint today said they have ceased talks to merge into a single entity. The companies said they could not find mutually agreement terms. T-Mobile and Sprint have flirted with the idea of merging since 2014. Talks ramped up again earlier this year, but it appears the two companies weren't able to find a deal that worked for both organizations. "The prospect of combining with Sprint has been compelling for a variety of reasons," said T-Mobile CEO John Legere. "However, we have been clear all along that a deal with anyone will have to result in superior long-term value for T-Mobile’s shareholders compared to our outstanding stand-alone performance and track record. Going forward, T-Mobile will continue disrupting this industry and bringing our proven Un-carrier strategy to more customers and new categories — ultimately redefining the mobile Internet as we know it." T-Mobile and Sprint have vast spectrum resources, but combining them would have been difficult. Moreover, T-Mobile is worth twice as much as Sprint from a market capitalization perspective and that threw a wrench in how the merged company would be led. Marcelo Claure, Sprint's CEO, said, "While we couldn’t reach an agreement to combine our companies, we certainly recognize the benefits of scale through a potential combination. We have agreed that it is best to move forward on our own. We know we have significant assets, including our rich spectrum holdings, and are accelerating significant investments in our network to ensure our continued growth. We look forward to continuing to take the fight to the duopoly and newly emerging competitors." AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two industry leaders, each have about twice as many customers as both T-Mobile and Sprint.
T-Mobile has approached Sprint with a new proposal, reports the Wall Street Journal, in an attempt to keep the potential merger of the two companies alive. Talks failed earlier this week when Masayoshi Son, CEO of Sprint parent SoftBank, appeared to walk away from the deal over a disagreement concerning which company would own the other. The terms of T-Mobile's new proposal are unknown, but Sprint is considering them according to the Journal's unnamed sources. T-Mobile CEO John Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure have been in direct contact since Wednesday. T-Mobile ($49 billion) has twice the market capitalization of Sprint ($26 billion). This should put T-Mobile in the driver's seat concerning the terms of the merger agreement and ownership. The Journal's sources say a new deal could be reached within weeks, though they were certain to note talks could always fall through.
Blu Products recently announced the S1, an inexpensive Android smartphone that's available unlocked from Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. One of the chief benefits of the S1 is its wide compatibility with U.S. LTE networks. It supports AT&T and T-Mobile, and, unusually, Sprint, as well as their prepaid services including Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, and MetroPCS. Blu says it also offers SIM kits for the S1 from Tracfone, Net10, and H2O. The S1 features a curved glass front with metallic paint on the smooth rear panel. The 5.2-inch display offers 720p HD resolution in a 16:9 aspect ratio, and the phone is powered by an octa-core 1.5 GHz MediaTek 6750 processor with 2 GB of RAM. The main camera has a 13-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/2.0 and an LED flash, while the front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor. Other features include Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS, and WiFi; 16 GB of storage and support for microSD memory cards; front-mounted fingerprint sensor; and a 2,800mAh battery. The Blu S1 runs Android 7 Nougat and is available online for $130 from Amazon and $180 from Best Buy.
Sprint and T-Mobile may not be merging after all. SoftBank, the majority owner of Sprint, plans to break off merger talks, according to Reuters. SoftBank and T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom haven't been able to agree on who will own the combined company. T-Mobile and Sprint are the country's third- and fourth-largest carriers, when measured by customers. The merged entity would have been better able to compete with market leaders AT&T and Verizon. SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom had widely been expected to announced merger details by the end of the month. Neither Sprint nor T-Mobile commented on Reuters' report.