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Category: Sprint Nextel

Sprint announces first 4G LTE cities for mid-2012 -- no L.A. yet

The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Later this year, Sprint plans to launch its 4G LTE network in the cities of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio; no plans for Los Angeles have been announced as of yet.

So what does that mean for Sprint customers? Hopefully, noticeably faster download and upload speeds on smartphones, tablets and mobile hotspots.

Sprint's first LTE markets are to be activated "in the first half of 2012" along with improved 3G coverage and improvements in "boosting voice and data quality," Sprint said in a statement. In December, Sprint also began testing its LTE towers in Kankakee, Ill.

Of course, once Sprint begins its move over to an LTE network, its current customers with 4G WiMax phones may be left wondering what will happen to their devices -- and maybe even what the difference between WiMax and LTE is.

Sprint's current WiMax network offers users average download speeds of about 3 to 6 megabytes per second, which is about four times faster than 3G service. LTE, which uses different cellular-tower and in-phone-chip technology to build out the network (among other differences), offers higher top speeds than WiMax or the 4G HSPA networks AT&T and T-Mobile use.

LTE networks promise speeds that can be as much as 10 times faster than 3G service, with theoretical peaks of 300 megabytes per second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads. Among the nation's four largest carriers, only Verizon and AT&T currently have LTE networks up and running.

Sprint said that it planned to launch up to 15 devices, "including handsets, tablets and data cards," in 2012 that would be able to run on its LTE network and its 3G CDMA network if LTE was out of range.

Current WiMax devices won't suddenly be downgraded to 3G service or anything like that, Sprint said, adding that it "remains committed to our WiMax customers and plans to sell WiMax devices with two-year contracts through 2012."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Sprint says it has stopped pulling Carrier IQ data from phones

Sprint-newTwo weeks after the Carrier IQ dust storm, in which an unknown California company was found to have data collections software embedded on tens of millions of smartphones, one of the company's main allies is taking a step back.

Sprint Nextel Corp. is now saying that it has "disabled use of" the Carrier IQ software. Importantly, that doesn't mean they have turned off or deleted the data collection software from your phone. Instead, the company is using the term "disabled" to mean that it is no longer accessing data from the Carrier IQ program, even though that program is still operational on your mobile device.

"We have weighed customer concerns and we have disabled use of the tool so that diagnostic information and data is no longer being collected," wrote Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge in an email. "We are further evaluating options regarding this diagnostic software as well as Sprint’s diagnostic needs."

In late November, when the furor originally broke out, Sprint came to Carrier IQ's aid, noting that "Carrier IQ is an integral part of the Sprint service" and that "Sprint relies on Carrier IQ to help maintain our dependable network performance.”

But now, in the wake of congressional inquiries and a nasty public relations storm, it seems the company has reconsidered the value of Carrier IQ.

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Image: A Sprint storefront in New York City. Sprint says it has disabled use of Carrier IQ software. Credit: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

China's ZTE to launch high-end Android or Windows phone in U.S.

ZTEusa.com AT&T Avail Android smartphone

If you're familiar with ZTE in the U.S., then you're familiar with low-cost or free phones from prepaid or contract carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, and from major carriers such as AT&T.

And you'd also know that ZTE's phones are nowhere near challenging top-tier handsets such as the Apple iPhone, or Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. Like HTC used to do, ZTE often makes products devoid of their own brand for carriers looking for entry-level devices.

But next year, the Chinese company is looking to change things up and launch a high-end smartphone in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

A high-end ZTE handset, running on speedy 4G LTE networks, could arrive toward the middle of next year and "by 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE," said Lixin Cheng, ZTE's North American president, in a Hong Kong interview with the Journal.

Such a smartphone would offer iPhone-like features at a price still somewhat lower than Apple's handset, Cheng told the Journal, declining to go into specifics about price.

The newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, starts at $199 for a unit with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, increasing to $299 for 32 gigabytes and $399 for 64 gigabytes.

The idea may seem a bit far-fetched if you've never heard of ZTE before, but the company's growth is very real. As noted by the Journal, ZTE grew to a 5% share of global cellphone shipments in the third quarter of the year.

That recent push propelled ZTE to pass Apple as the No. 4 shipper of cellphones (not just smartphones) in the world, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. Aside from phones, ZTE also makes mobile hotspot and USB-wireless dongles for carriers such as T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.

ZTE is "in talks" with U.S. carriers about selling its high-end phones, which may run either Google's Android operating system or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software, Cheng said in the report.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of ZTEusa.com, ZTE's website for the U.S. market, which displays the AT&T Avail, an Android smartphone ZTE builds for AT&T. Credit: ZTE

AT&T again ranks lowest in customer satisfaction

ConsumerCellular.com

AT&T's cellphone service was pegged with the lowest satisfaction rating for the second year in a row in an annual Consumer Reports survey of wireless providers in the U.S.

"In the newest satisfaction survey of Consumer Reports online subscribers, a provider called Consumer Cellular topped the Ratings -- and AT&T found itself at the bottom of the Ratings for the second year in a row," the magazine said in an article about its survey, which will be published in its January 2012 issue.

The survey also offers rankings for mobile carriers in 22 major metropolitan markets, the L.A.-area among them.

"Of the four major U.S. national cell-phone standard service providers, Verizon again scored the highest in this year's Ratings, followed closely by Sprint. Survey respondents gave very good scores to Verizon for texting and data service satisfaction, as well for staff knowledge," Consumer Reports said.

"T-Mobile was below Verizon and Sprint but continued to rate significantly better than the higher-priced AT&T, which recently withdrew its application to the FCC to merge with its better rival."

For AT&T's part, Andy Shibley, the carrier's vice president and Los Angeles general manager, said the complaints noted in the Consumer Reports survey aren't being ignored.

"We hear our customers and we are committed to getting better and better," Shibley said in an emailed statement. "And that will continue as we deploy 4G LTE technology to millions of more customers. We have turned a corner, and we are making progress toward our goal to offer our customers the best experience anywhere."

AT&T also said in a separate statement that it has made more than 1,700 network improvements in the Los Angeles area this year and that dropped-call rates in the L.A.-area have fallen 41% over the past year.

Subscribers of prepaid and smaller carriers "are happiest overall with their cell-phone service," Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said in the article. "However, these carriers aren't for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smartphones. The major carriers are still leading options for many consumers, and we found they ranged widely in how well they satisfied their customers."

The Consumer Reports survey was put together using the survey responses of 66,000 of the magazine's subscribers and focused on experiences with their carrier's customer service and support.

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Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screen shot of ConsumerCellular.com. Credit: Consumer Cellular Inc.

Carrier IQ, T-Mobile, Sprint, RIM face class-action suits

CIQ-suit

Joining the growing parade of class-action lawsuits against cellphone software company Carrier IQ Inc., suits have been filed by a group of five California plaintiffs alleging that the Mountain View, Calif., company and affiliated wireless carriers and phone makers violated state law by "surreptitiously intercepting communications" of smartphone customers.

The plaintiffs are all clients of Century City attorney Susan Yoon, who filed the class-action suits Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Carrier IQ, T-Mobile USA, Sprint Nextel Corp., Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., Samsung Telecommunications America and BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd. Each suit alleged that the companies secretly recorded user cellphone activities.

"In violation of California's Invasion of Privacy Act, defendants herein secretly intercepted, received, recorded and/or monitored" the plaintiff's communications without alerting the plaintiff, the suit against T-Mobile alleges

The suit also alleges that Carrier IQ's software "records and transmits to defendants keystrokes, content of text messages and passwords."

That assertion has been disputed by Carrier IQ and a group of security researchers, who said that a video purporting to show the capturing of keystrokes and text messages had been incorrectly analyzed by the amateur security researcher who made it.

Nevertheless, the company has stopped short of offering details about the specific types of smartphone user data it collects, saying only that "a great deal of information is available to the Carrier IQ software inside the handset."

Doubts about the types of information the company and its clients collect have led to a series of state and federal class-action suits, as well as questions from federal legislators and privacy activists.

A Carrier IQ spokeswoman declined to comment on the California actions.

"The company has not seen or been served on any lawsuit, so we cannot comment on the allegations at this time," she wrote in an email.

When reached by telephone, Yoon, the attorney, declined to discuss the suits, including whether one of the named plaintiffs, Steve Yoon, was a familial relation.

The T-Mobile suit seeks both liquidated damages ($5,000 per violation to each class member) and an injunction to prevent further alleged violations of California's Invasion of Privacy Act.

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Verizon expanding 4G LTE network to cover area with 200 million people

Motorola's Droid Razr, one of Verizon's latest 4G LTE phones

As of Monday, Verizon's 4G LTE network is 1 year old.

It's also the largest 4G LTE network in the U.S., with AT&T having launched its LTE service in November, while Sprint uses a WiMax 4G network and T-Mobile's 4G service runs on a HSPA+ network.

Sprint and T-Mobile are planning to move over to LTE sometime in the future, but when they do, the two carriers will have some catching up to do, as AT&T does now.

On Dec. 15, Verizon's 4G LTE network will expand to a coverage area of 190 markets, populated by about 200 million people, the company said in a statement.

So what's the difference between 4G in an LTE flavor versus WiMax or HSPA+?

LTE networks, from both AT&T and Verizon, offer higher top speeds than the other networks and can be as much as 10 times faster than 3G service, with theoretical peaks of 300 megabytes per second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads.

HSPA+ networks have theoretical top speeds of 42 megabytes per second for downloads and 23 megabytes per second for uploads. Sprint's WiMax 4G lists a theoretical top speed of more than 10 megabytes per second for downloads and 1 megabyte per second for uploads.

But, as always, just how fast and how reliable a phone or tablet runs on any cellular network varies by city, by device and by carrier.

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Photo: The Motorola Droid Razr, one of Verizon's latest 4G LTE phones. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Doxo, a Jeff Bezos-backed bill-payment service, lands AT&T deal

Doxo dashboard screenshots

Seattle-based Doxo wants to be your digital filing cabinet -- where you pay your bills and get any other sort of documentation from businesses online via web browser or mobile app.

And the company, which names Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos among its investors, recently inked a deal with AT&T to make use of the company's digital bill and documentation services which it believes will help its cause.

AT&T, the nation's second largest wireless carrier, has more than 100 million customers in the U.S., and of course Doxo sees each of them as potential customers. The company has raised more than $15-million in investor funds to date.

"It's great validation of what we're doing," said Steve Shivers, Doxo's CEO, in an interview. "We opened up Doxo to the public from a private beta on July 1. And we've seen very, very healthy growth. We have Sprint on board, accepting payments through Doxo and we have multiple utilities, our first credit union, we'll have our first government customers, healthcare and insurance customers soon too."

But AT&T so far is the biggest company, by far, to integrate into Doxo's system.

Doxo operates not by allowing its users to pay with credit or debit cards, but by withdrawing funds directly from bank accounts. The direct bank account withdrawal allows the company, its users and its integrated businesses -- such as AT&T and Sprint -- to avoid credit and debit transaction fees.

That, Shivers says, is the key as to why Doxo is a better route to go than automatic bill pay options through banks or even online payment options from companies themselves.

"I look out there and I see a lot of companies that are collecting money, mailing bills and other documents on paper and statements and they still don't even have a decent website and they aren't even offering online payment options," Shivers said. "There are lots of other companies that, if they offer online services, they're still sending a lot of valuable documents by mail. And if people go that route, they're going to have to set up a credit card or bank account with each business, and if they ever get a new credit card or switch banks, they have to go to the website of each individual business and change all the information for each autopay account."

"With Doxo, you never have to do that again. You can just change your payment information in one place and it keeps all your payments going with no interruptions."

Shivers said that Doxo can cut a business' mailing and collections cost by about 80% for each user who signs up for Doxo. On Thursday, the company also rolled out a new feature to its service that allows users to set limits on how much they pay automatically. If a bill is higher than a user's set limit, they get an alert to take a look at the bill before approving its payment or not.

Doxo makes its money when a user pays its bills through the service by collecting a fee from the business paid. Shivers wouldn't say just how much its fees are, how many users it has or how many businesses it has integrated into Doxo, but he did say that its user base is up more than 300% since opening to the public about four months ago.

However, the CEO did admit that the idea of having a person's bills coming into one place is a concept a bit foreign to many people.

"It still sometimes astounds me, the sort of 'no duh' complexity that can be eliminated by turning the payment concept around and focusing on the customer rather than the business," he said. "But I see that changing, and with every business like AT&T that we get signed up with Doxo, we can go to other businesses and say: 'Hey, your customers are probably also customers of this business or this business or this one. And Doxo will be easier for your customers, if they want to use it, and it will save you money.'

"There is a real network effect to what we're doing."

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Image: Doxo dashboard screenshots. Credit: Doxo

AT&T's 4G LTE launching Nov. 6 with new Samsung, HTC phones

HTC Vivid 4G from AT&T

AT&T is launching its 4G LTE network Sunday along with two new 4G LTE smartphones in a bid to catch up with Verizon, which launched its 4G LTE network in December.

The first two AT&T 4G LTE handsets will be the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and the HTC Vivid.

The Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket is the AT&T's second Galaxy S II, but there are a couple of differences between the two phones.

The previous Galaxy S II on AT&T had a 4.3-inch screen, ran on the HSPA+ network and sold for $200 on a two-year contract. The Galaxy S II Skyrocket gets the larger 4.5-inch screen found on Sprint and T-Mobile's Galaxy S II variations, and runs on AT&T's LTE network and is priced at $250 with a two-year data plan.

Both versions of the flagship Samsung phone feature Android Gingerbread with a modified user interface, a 1.5-gigahertz dual core processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot up to 1080p video, a dual LED flash on the back, a 2-megapixel camera in front and 16-gigabytes of built-in storage. 

The HTC Vivid will sell for $200 on a two-year contract and also features a 4.5-inch touch screen but with a screen resolution of 960 x 540 pixels to the Galaxy S II Skyrocket's 800 x 480 pixels.

The Vivid has a 1.2-gigahertz dual core processor, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video, a dual LED flash and a 1.3-megapixel camera in front. The Vivid gets Android Gingerbread skinned with the HTC Sense user interface.

AT&T's 4G LTE data plans will be offered at the same prices as the carrier's 3G and 4G HSPA+ plans. AT&T offers 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month and overage charges of $15 for an extra 200 megabytes of data. Another option is 2 gigabytes of data for $25 per month with an overage fee of $10 for each extra gigabyte of data.

When it launches, AT&T's 4G LTE service will be offered in just five markets: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, the carrier said in a statement. However, AT&T has said it plans to expand its LTE coverage aggressively and that 4G LTE is where its network is headed.

Verizon has a hefty head start on AT&T and other rivals with its 4G LTE network currently offered in 165 markets.

AT&T has offered 4G phones for months, but its previous handsets ran on the company's HSPA+ network, which offers theoretical top speeds of 42 megabytes per second for downloads and 23 megabytes per second for uploads. 

LTE networks, from both AT&T and Verizon, have promised to be as much as 10 times fast than 3G networks, with speeds of theoretical top speeds of 300 megabytes pers second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads.

Of course, just how fast and how reliable a cellular network varies by city and by carrier. T-Mobile currently uses a HSPA+ 4G network and Sprint uses a technology called WiMax for its 4G service, but both are also looking to eventually switch to LTE networks as well. LTE refers to "long term evolution" and is considered to be the most scalable of the 4G options for telecommunications companies.

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Image: The HTC Vivid smartphone. Credit: AT&T

Apple iPhone 4S headed to small Southern carrier C Spire Wireless

C Spire iPhone 4S

Apple's iPhone 4S is available on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon and, so far, not T-Mobile, the nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier.

But a fourth U.S. carrier will soon join the ranks of iPhone 4S sellers; that carrier is C Spire.

Never heard of C Spire? Don't feel bad. For one thing, until late last month, C Spire went by the name of Cellular South.

The regional carrier has either 875,000, 900,000 or 1 million customers, depending on which report you read. The company, based in Ridgeland, Miss., has subscribers across the southeastern U.S., including Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.

C Spire hasn't yet said how much it will sell the iPhone 4S for, but it's a good bet it will hold the price line that AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and every other retailer (Best But, Radio Shack, Target and others) sells the Apple smartphone for -- $199 for a 16-gigabyte model, $299 for a 32-gigabyte phone and $399 for a 64-gigabyte unit.

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Image: C Spire's website listing of the Apple iPhone 4S. Credit: C Spire Wireless

FCC site to monitor compliance with cellphone 'bill-shock' guidelines

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski

In unveiling voluntary guidelines for wireless companies to provide consumers with alerts that will allow them to avoid unexpectedly large cellphone bills, the Federal Communications Commission said it would launch a website to monitor industry compliance.

And if the industry fails to put the free alerts in place within the agreed-upon 18-month window, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski strongly suggested Monday that the agency would move ahead with regulations to end what is known as bill shock.

Last year, the FCC proposed rules mandating that consumers receive alerts when they are approaching and then go over their plans' monthly limits on voice, texting and data allowances, as well as for costly international roaming charges. But Genachowski said those regulations are on hold after AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless and other leading wireless companies agreed to provide the alerts on their own.

"The carriers have committed to moving as expeditiously as possible to change their systems and implement these alerts," Genachowski said. "Now moving forward, the FCC will take a trust-but-verify approach."

Genachowski announced the new rules at the Brookings Institution in Washington along with Steve Largent, president of CTIA, the leading wireless industry trade group, and Parul Desai, policy counsel for Consumers Union. Consumers automatically will receive the free alerts.

CTIA members must begin providing two of the four alerts — either voice, texting and data overages, along with notification of potential international roaming charges abroad — within 12 months and the rest within 18 months.

"We will ... be closely monitoring industry practices to make sure that all carriers provide this necessary information to consumers as promised, and if we see noncompliance we'll take action," Genachowski said. He didn't specific they action, but the threat of restarting the rule-making process was clear.

The FCC and Consumers Union will work together to launch the website early next year to keep consumers updated on what type of alerts wireless companies are offering and to track their compliance. Genachowski said he hoped the website would provide incentive for companies to act quickly.

"Let's see carriers competing to see who can provide the best alerts, information and notifications to consumers," he said.

Some companies, such as Verizon, already provide some of the alerts, and Largent said he anticipated companies would comply with the new guidelines ahead of schedule. But he noted there were technical issues with setting up the alerts.

He also said companies would not charge customers more to offset any decrease in income from lost overage charges.

"Our companies are biting the bullet and we're going to get this done," he said.

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Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Bloomberg

 

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