If you already have AT&T service, your contract and bill will be unaffected.
The new plans roll out Sunday, the Dallas-based company said Wednesday.
AT&T's current smartphone data plans come in three flavors: 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month, two gigabytes for $25, or four gigabytes for $45. As of Sunday, those plans will be scrapped in favor of a new trio: 300 megabytes of data for $20 a month, three gigabytes for $30 or five gigabytes for $50.
In the new pricing structure for tablets, the nation's second-largest mobile carrier will increase the price on only the top two tiers of data. So the 250-megabytes-for-$15 plan will remain in tact for tablet owners, and the new options will be three gigabytes of data for $30 a month and five gigabytes for $50.
Although the plans are more expensive, the adjustment offers more gigs for the money — essentially tacking on an extra gigabyte of data for $5 a month in the top two plans.
"Customers are using more data than ever before," David Christopher, AT&T's chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "Our new plans are driven by this increasing demand in a highly competitive environment, and continue to deliver a great value to customers, especially as we continue our 4G LTE deployment."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: AT&T logo. Credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press
Broadband speeds have increased steadily in the United States, reaching an average of 5.8 Mbps in mid-2011. That's 50% faster than in mid-2009, and it's likely to keep going up. But aside from streaming movies and doing video chats on Skype, what will people do with all that bandwidth?
Alcatel-Lucent, a leading supplier of networking gear to telecommunications companies, is trying to give the public and broadband service providers a better idea of what connectivity can deliver. Just as important, it's trying to show DSL and cable-modem providers how they could offer new services, giving them more ability and incentive to invest in higher-capacity networks — and less incentive to cap their customers' usage or bill them by the gigabyte.
It's doing so through an inter-industry coalition it founded called ng Connect, which brings high-tech companies together to brainstorm and combine their technologies into new service concepts. It's been showing off some of those ideas this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, including new approaches to television, fitness, public safety, shopping and healthcare.
On Monday the coalition announced that it had expanded to more than 125 members. New additions include Fitting Reality, whose software creates virtual dressing rooms for retailers; MetaWatch, whose wireless watches can display Web data and alerts from the wearer's smartphone; and Zephyr Technology, which specializes in remote body- and health-monitoring.
The demonstrations at CES included some familiar concepts, such as using a smartphone in a store to gather more information about the products displayed there, or continuously connecting service and public-safety vehicles to all sorts of information sources and devices (see the "Striker" concept vehicle above). But there were also some intriguing new mash-ups of capabilities on display.
For example, there was a prototype of a table for bars or restaurants that combined Microsoft's Surface computing technology, Brass Monkey's cloud-based games, streaming video and advertising, and 4G wireless broadband. And the "Avatrainer" demo combined a fitness game with wireless heart-rate monitors into a cloud-based service that enables travelers to keep track of their workouts away from home.
Jason Collins, an Alcatel-Lucent vice president who leads ng Connect, said the point of the coalition is to help tech companies combine their specialties into services that improve the experience for broadband users. It's also to help broadband providers "become part of the value equation" of the services made possible by their networks.
The demand for what's already available through broadband is ever-increasing. The question is how telecommunications companies will afford the investments needed to keep up with that demand. Obviously, Alcatel-Lucent wants service providers to expand their capacity by buying more of the company's gear. But its interests — and ng Connect's — are aligned with consumers' when it comes to finding alternatives to bandwidth caps, metered pricing and similar strategies that broadband providers have been exploring.
– Jon Healey
Photo: The Striker concept public-safety vehicle. Credit: Alcatel-Lucent
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."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
AT&T announced that its 4G LTE network is growing, spreading to 11 new markets.
The 11 markets added Thursday are Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; Oakland; San Jose; the New York City metropolitan area; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Raleigh, N.C.
By the end of 2011, AT&T's 4G LTE service was available in 15 markets: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.
AT&T said its 4G LTE service's coverage area now includes a combined 74 million people across those 26 markets.
The nation's second-largest wireless provider also said it expected its LTE network to be "largely complete" across the U.S. by the end of 2013. Sprint and Verizon have both said they plan to have their respective LTE expansions wrapped up by then as well.
Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, has a 4G LTE network in 190 markets, covering an area with about 200 million people.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The LG Nitro HD, a 4G LTE-capable phone from AT&T. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Interested in owning your very own nuclear bomb-proof earth station, a massive satellite dish and a piece of American space history?
The one-of-a-kind securely fenced 160-acre property comes with a three-bedroom house, a 20,000-square-foot building, a helicopter landing pad and a 10-story satellite dish and antenna. It’s in Cachaua Valley, not far from Carmel Valley and about 20 miles southeast of Monterey.
I spoke with Jeffrey Bullis, CEO of Absolute Turnkey Services Inc., who has owned the Jamesburg Earth Station for seven years.
He says he bought the property next door to his friend Jack Galante who runs a family vineyard. Bullis and his son Adam cleaned up the decommissioned satellite communications station and planted fruit trees and had some cattle.
Bullis paid $1.7 million for the property and then poured another $2 million into it. Then Adam, just 23, died of leukemia.
“It really knocked the wind out of me,” Bullis said. “He was the one who really liked the property.”
After grieving for a few years, Bullis said he put the Jamesburg Earth Station on the market. But so far, no takers.
“It makes a great place for armageddon,” Bullis said. Sheltered from the winds and operating its own self-contained air system, it could survive a biological or nuclear attack, perfect for a survivalist or Ted Nugent, Bullis said.
“It’s an above-ground bunker,” he said. “The building is so strong that you couldn’t knock it over with a 5 megaton nuclear blast. And you could defend it strategically with a small platoon of Marines.”
For the tamer of heart without a military contingent at the ready, the picturesque property in rolling hills could be turned into a winery or olive orchard, he said.
Bullis is a Santa Clara entrepreneur who runs a 30-employee electronic assembly business, a holdout among manufacturing companies increasingly moving offshore. One of his current projects: Building a security system for nuclear sites around the United States.
– Jessica Guynn
Photo: Jamesburg Earth Station in Cachaua Valley, Calif. Photo credit: Jamesburgdish.org
Who wouldn’t want to own a nuclear bomb-proof earth station and a piece of space history?
The Jamesburg Earth Station, which transmitted some of the first images of the Apollo 11 moon landing, is on the market.
The one-of-a-kind securely fenced 160-acre property comes with a three-bedroom house, a 20,000-square-foot building, a helicopter landing pad and a 10-story satellite dish and antenna. It’s in Cachaua Valley, not far from Carmel Valley andabout 20 miles southeast of Monterey, a bit off the beaten track and offbeat, period.
The unusual selling point of this picturesque property situated among rolling hills and wine vineyards: Built at the height of the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, the 20,000-square-foot earth station can withstand a five-megaton nuclear blast.
The dish used to transmit satellite communications between the U.S. and other Pacific Rim countries. It was shut down in 2002 by owner AT&T and put up for sale. Some ham radio operators restored and fired up the dish in 2007 and bounced 20 radio signals off the moon.
The current owner of Jamesburg hails from Silicon Valley. He had hoped to turn it into a residence. He even added an exercise room and an indoor basketball court, according to his real estate agent.
For the last year he has been trying to sell the property for $4.2 million, but Bert Aronson of Keller Williams Realty in Carmel said the owner is considering dropping the price by $1 million or so. Local TV reports may generate interest among space history buffs or nearby geeks in Silicon Valley.
“We’ve gotten lots of inquiries but no offers,” Aronson said. “Somebody could use it as a server farm or to store vintage cars or wine. Someone will come up with a use for it.”
Aronson said he has received plenty of interest in the satellite dish from as far away as Australia. “But in this day and age,” he said, “nobody has any money.”
Photo: Jamesburg Earth Station in Cachaua Valley, Calif. Photo credit: Jamesburgdish.org
Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE network, normally known for its speed and stability, has had a rough time this month with three nationwide outages.
So what's the problem? Well, according to Verizon, this is all just some "growing pains."
"The Verizon Wireless 4GLTE Network is BY FAR the largest and the most advanced 4GLTE wireless network in the world," Verizon said in a statement posted to its website. "It is available in 190 US markets and covers more than 200 million people, providing the fastest 4G Network in the U.S."
Currently, only Verizon and AT&T are the only major wireless carriers in the U.S. with active 4G networks, and AT&T's 4G LTE network is much smaller.
Sprint is in the early stages of building up its 4G LTE network and T-Mobile will follow soon as well.
"Being a pioneer comes with growing pains," Verizon said. "The recent issues that affected our customers' 4G LTE service were unforeseen despite careful, diligent planning, deployment and ongoing upgrade programs.
"Problems customers experienced affected connectivity to the 4G LTE Network and data service. Several times, we have proactively 'moved' 4GLTE customers onto our 3G Network to ensure all would have a data connection. For brief periods, such as on Wednesday (12/28), 4G LTE customers could not connect to the 3G Network as quickly as we would have liked."
Verizon, the nation's largest wireless carrier with about 90 million customers, also estimated that the outages resulted in its network being in service about 99% of the time this year.
"Each incident has been different from a technical standpoint," Verizon said, failing to go into detail about just what has been the cause of the outages over the last four weeks. "Our engineers have successfully diagnosed those past triggering events, and they have not re-occurred. We also work diligently to rectify technical problems in the network before they affect any customers."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone, available from Verizon and running on the carrier's 4G LTE network. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles / Los Angeles Times
Verizon Wireless announced on Friday, after one day of consumer backlash and interest from a federal regulator, that it has decided to scrap a $2 "convenience fee" for credit and debit payments made either online or by phone.
"At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers," said Dan Mead, Verizon Wireless' president and CEO, in a statement. "Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time."
The decision to not implement the controversial fee came down "in response to customer feedback about the plan, which was designed to improve the efficiency of those transactions," Verizon said in the statement.
The $2 fee was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 15 and be charged to customers each time they paid their bills with a credit or debit card — unless that customer was enrolled in automatic bill-paying options that can charge credit and debit cards or withdraw money directly from bank accounts.
The decision also came after the Federal Communications Commission said on Friday that it would look into the charge as well as an online petition at the website Change.org that contended the fee was unnecessary.
When Verizon introduced the fee on Thursday, it said it was doing so to help cover the costs of processing fees taken from credit and debit payments by credit card companies.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A Verizon Wireless store in Portland, Ore. Credit: Don Ryan/Associated Press
Verizon Wireless’ new $2 “payment convenience fee” for online credit and debit payments is sparking a consumer backlash and a some scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission.
Since the fee was announced Thursday, customers of the nation’s largest wireless carrier have complained about the charge on Twitter, in Facebook groups and pages and Google+ too. The $2 charge is set to go into effect starting Jan. 15 for Verizon users not enrolled in automatic bill pay options who pay their bills online with a credit or debit card.
On Friday morning, the FCC said in a statement that, “On behalf of American consumers, we’re concerned about Verizon’s actions and are looking into the matter.”
Molly Katchpole, a Washington activist and Verizon subscriber, started a petition at the online activism site Change.org calling for Verizon to scrap the $2 fee.
The Change.org petition, launched late Thursday, is a tactic Katchpole used earlier this year when Bank of America attempted to institute a similar $5 fee for those who use its debit cards for purchases.
Time magazine identified Katchpole’s petition as one of the many instrumental actions that defeated the Bank of America fee and the activist is hoping to have similar success this time around with Verizon. As of the middle of the day on Friday, the petition had more than 37,000 signatures.
“Verizon just announced a new $2 fee for paying your bills online. Really. Even though paying via internet is fully automated,” Katchpole’s petition reads. “It’s not just about the money (though if you’re like me, you don’t have extra cash to be sending to a giant phone company in order to pay your own bills.) It’s that Verizon thinks it can do anything to its customers, and that we’re powerless to stop it. (Spoiler alert: We’re not.)”
Verizon, which has more than 90 million customers, said it was introducing the fee to help make up for the frees credit card companies take when they process payments.
In 2010, Verizon Communications, Verizon Wireless’ parent company, reported a profit of $10.2 billion, down from $11.6 billion in 2009. Last quarter, Verizon doubled its profit from a year earlier to $1.38 billion.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles and Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: A sign at a Verizon store in New York. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
Like the Xoom tablets before them, Motorola's two latest Android tablets, known as the Droid Xyboard 8.2 and Droid Xyboard 10.1, sit on the high side of tablet prices.
Thankfully, Verizon has dropped the price of the Xyboards by $50 — as long as you sign up for a two-year data plan for your device as well.
When the Xyboard line launched earlier this month, the Xyboard 8.2 (with an 8.2-inch display) was priced at $430 with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage or $530 for 32 gigabytes of storage, on a 4G LTE contract.
At launch, the Xyboard 10.1 (with a 10.1-inch screen) rolled out in three storage options and three different prices on contract. A Xyboard 10.1 with 16 gigabytes of storage fetched $530, a 32-gigabyte model sold for $630 and a 64-gigabyte unit ran $730.
With the $50 across-the-board price cut, the Xyboard 8.2 starts at $380 and the Xyboard 10.1 starts at $480, each with a two-year data plan.
While the price is lower and undercuts the Apple iPad (which is the best selling tablet on the market), it's still on the higher end of current tablet prices.
As noted by The Verge, which first reported on the price drop, it isn't clear whether or not this price drop is a permanent move or a temporary cut. Verizon is currently running a $50-off 4G LTE tablet promotion that ends Saturday. Verizon officials weren't available for comment on Friday morning.
If you're looking for a Xyboard and don't want to take on the two-year contract, the price of the tablets won't be receiving a price drop. Instead, the Xyboard 8.2 starts at $599.99 and Xyboard 10.1 starts at $699.99 free of contract.
Aside from the different prices, screen sizes and storage options, the Xyboards are largely the same. The tablet line runs on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system, although an upgrade to the Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system is said to be in the works.
Regardless of screen size, the Xyboards feature a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera with an LED flash, a front-facing camera for video chatting, and micro USB and HDMI ports. Unlike the Xyboard 8.2, the Xyboard 10.1 can also make use of a stylus.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: The Motorola Droid Xyboard 10.1 tablet. Credit: Motorola/Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is about to make paying your monthly cellphone bill a little more expensive.
Starting Jan. 15, the nation's leading mobile carrier will charge customers $2 each time they pay their bills with a credit or debit card. The fee applies to so-called "single payments," when a customer is paying for an individual month, but will not apply for users who set up automated monthly billing.
The carrier, which has more than 90 million retail cellular subscribers, said it was adding the fee to help cover the costs of the many credit card transactions its processes. Card companies such as Visa and MasterCard charge businesses a fee each time they perform a credit card transaction.
But Verizon offered several ways to avoid the charge, including setting up an automatic payment system that bills your credit card each month, paying by electronic check, and paying electronically from your bank's website.
– David Sarno
Image: A Verizon Wireless store in Portland, Ore. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press.
AT&T Inc. has officially completed its $1.9-billion purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.
The deal gives AT&T the ability to offer service on wireless spectrum that covers an area of more than 300 million people nationwide, with more than 70 million of them in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
The nation's second-largest wireless carrier announced the closure of the purchase Tuesday in a short statement on its website after the Federal Communications Commission approved the purchase Friday.
The FCC's sign-off on the purchase followed AT&T's decision last week to drop its attempted $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the U.S.
Until the AT&T backed off its bid to buy T-Mobile, the FCC was reviewing both the spectrum deal and the takeover together — a move that was expected to push any possible approval into next year.
AT&T's new wireless licenses applies to the 700 MHz spectrum, which the FCC described in its approval of the deal as "underutilized" by the telecommunications industry.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press
The Federal Communications Commission has approved a $1.9-billion AT&T purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.
The purchase gives AT&T control over licenses that, according to the FCC, "cover more than 300 million people nationwide, including more than 70 million people in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco)."
The FCC's decision on the spectrum deal was set to be delayed into next year as the regulatory agency was reviewing both AT&T's proposed Qualcomm purchase and the proposed $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA together — that was until AT&T dropped its T-Mobile plans on Monday.
In its approval of the Qualcomm deal, the FCC stated Thursday that AT&T cannot use the spectrum in a way that would negatively impact other carriers using or roaming on nearby wireless airwaves.
The FCC said that, given that AT&T is the largest phone company in the U.S. and the second-largest mobile carrier, concerns of competitive harm were looked at, but any resulting harm wouldn't "outweigh the public interest benefits of this transaction," the FCC said in the order.
In fact, the FCC said it hopes the purchase will prod AT&T and its rivals to use the "underutilized unpaired 700 MHz spectrum" for mobile service, "thereby supporting our goal of expanding mobile broadband deployment throughout the country."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo credit: Lisa Poole/Associated Press
Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile USA's German parent, will also receive licenses to AT&T-owned wireless spectrum — known as AWS, or Advanced Wireless Solutions spectrum — in major U.S. markets, and the ability to allow its customers to roam on parts of AT&T's wireless network.
"Both companies are in agreement that the broad opposition by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the U.S. telecommunications regulator (FCC) is making it increasingly unlikely that the transaction will close," Deutsche Telekom said in a statement on Tuesday.
"As part of the break-up fee, T-Mobile USA will receive a large package of AWS mobile spectrum in 128 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs), including 12 of the top 20 markets (Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Baltimore and Seattle)," Deutsche Telekom said.
AT&T also agreed to a seven-year roaming service deal with Deutsche Telekom that will result in T-Mobile's coverage area growing "from 230 million potential customers at present to 280 million.
"As a result of the agreement with AT&T, coverage will be extended to many regions of the U.S. in which T-Mobile USA previously had neither its own high-speed mobile communications network nor the associated roaming agreements."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A T-Mobile billboard near the Bellevue, Wash., headquarters of T-Mobile USA. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
The paper is based on a study of 140 students that were grouped into pairs and asked to engage in a role-playing game. One student took on the role of a stockbroker, the other student played a buyer. Researchers told the "stockbroker" that the stock they had to sell would lose 50% of its value in one week. They also gave the "stockbroker" a financial incentive to sell as much of the bad stock to the "buyer" as possible.
Researchers found that the stockbrokers were most likely to engage in duplicitous behavior — either lying about the quality of the stock, or not mentioning how bad it was — if they conducted the buy/sell conversation via text message.
They were most likely to be honest about the quality of the stock if the conversation happened via video, which beat out both face-to-face communication and audio chat.
Lying via text makes intuitive sense. It's what researchers call "lean media," which means it doesn't effectively transfer the rich emotional cues that might alert someone to duplicitous behavior. You can't stutter over text, or twist your hands nervously, or dart your eyes.
But researchers did find something that surprised them. When they asked buyers how angry they were that the stockbroker had lied to them, the researchers found buyers were more furious if they had been lied to via text than if they had been lied to in a face-to-face conversation.
"That was a big surprise to us," said Ronald Cenfetelli, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, who co-authored the paper.
"What we speculated was going on is there is some instant rapport-building, and some quick trust that happens when you talk to someone face to face, and it acts as a buffer and an inoculation — almost like a vaccine — against negative reactions. People are still angry or upset if they are lied to face to face, but when they are lied to in the leaner communications, they are more angry."
What's the takeaway here? If you are running late and considering texting your dinner date "I'm almost there" when you are actually 20 minutes away, you may want to relay the message in a phone call instead. The person may still be mad, but according to this research, they will at least be less mad.
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A person holding a phone, and texting, while driving. Credit Pat Wellenbach/Associated Press
The company is calling off the deal, which has hit a series of increasingly serious state and federal roadblocks, and said it would take a $4 billion pre-tax charge as part of its breakup fee to T-Mobile.
In a news release about the end of the deal, AT&T cited the opposition of the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, which had opposed the deal on the grounds that it would create a less competitive wireless industry and potentially lead to higher prices for consumers.
But AT&T said that the acquisition would have helped the wireless industry, and consumers, by allowing the company to continue building out its network and avoiding what it sees as a coming shortage of wireless airwaves, or spectrum, that companies believe is threatening the industry.
"The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage," the company said in its statement. "In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled."
The deal's end comes after an uptick in regulatory and legal action against the acquisition. Late last month, AT&T withdrew a crucial clearance application from the FCC, and soon after, the Justice Department argued its case to block the deal on antitrust grounds was no longer necessary, as the deal could only go through with FCC approval.
– David Sarno
Photo: AT&T executives at a news conference in March when it announced it was buying wireless rival T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG for $39 billion in cash. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
British Telecommunications, better known as BT, has accused Google of infringing six of its patents in a lawsuit filed in the U.S.
The company — which has customers in more than 170 countries and offers land-line and mobile phone service as well as Internet TV and IT services — alleges in its suit that a number of Google products violate its patents, including Google's search engine, the Android mobile operating system and Android Market app store, Gmail, Google+, Google Books, Docs, Maps, Music, Places, Offers and advertising operations.
Google plans to fight the suit, saying in an emailed statement: "We believe these claims are groundless and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them."
The suit, which was first reported by the website Foss Patents and filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., didn't specify what sort of damages BT is looking for, but did ask for an injunction against the products it accuses of infringing its patents.
The six patents BT accuses Google of violating cover broad technologies, such as products that tailor what information they present based on the location a user is in, as well as how user location and profile information is stored and accessed.
The BT suit is one of many Google is grappling with. The tech giant is dealing with a patent battle against Oracle, a suit from EBay/PayPal and suits from Apple and Microsoft directed at Google's hardware partners.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A Google sign outside the tech giant's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Credit: Clay McLachlan / Reuters
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.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
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'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.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ConsumerCellular.com. Credit: Consumer Cellular Inc.
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.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Motorola Droid Razr, one of Verizon's latest 4G LTE phones. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
The Federal Communications Commission agreed to allow AT&T Inc. to withdraw its application for approval of its proposed $39-billion purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc.
The agency also potentially dealt a further blow to the teetering telecommunications deal by announcing Tuesday it would release a report detailing its staff findings that the purchase was not in the public interest.
FCC officials said the 109-page report, which would be posted on the FCC's website later today, found that the combination of two of the nation's largest wireless providers — AT&T has the second-most subscribers and T-Mobile is fourth — would harm competition and despite the company's public claims would do little to expand high-speed Internet access and would not lead to more jobs.
The FCC staff analysis, which took six months and was based on more than 200,000 pages of documents, found that AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile would lead to job losses, agency officials said.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski signaled last week he opposed the deal when he moved to seek a hearing and review by an administrative law judge — the steps the agency takes to oppose a transaction.
Afterward, AT&T and T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom AG of Germany, said Thursday they intended to withdraw their FCC application to focus on winning an antitrust suit filed by the Justice Department to block the deal.
Both the FCC and the Justice Department must approve the purchase. FCC officials said they will provide their staff analysis to Justice Department officials. If AT&T wins the suit or reaches a settlement, it can reapply for FCC approval. But the usual six-month review would start over from the beginning, FCC officials said.
AT&T objected to the planned release of the FCC report, which it said it has not had the opportunity to rebut.
"This report is not an order of the FCC and has never been voted on," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. "It is simply a staff draft that raises questions of fact that were to be addressed in an administrative hearing, a hearing which will not now take place. It has no force or effect under law, which raises questions as to why the FCC would choose to release it."
– Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: AT&T offices in Detroit. Credit: Associated Press