Technologizer posts about Wireless

It’s  official, and not the least bit surprising at this point: AT&T has ended its attempt to acquire T-Mobile USA.  It’s not happy about it, either: 

The actions by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to block this transaction do not change the realities of the U.S. wireless industry. It is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in the world, with a mounting need for more spectrum that has not diminished and must be addressed immediately. The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage.  In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled.

AT&T’s agreement with T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom requires it to fork over $4 billion in penalties, which probably doesn’t make AT&T any less cranky.I’m glad that the merger didn’t happen, simply because I don’t want to see AT&T and Verizon share a wireless-industry duopoly. The continued existence of T-Mobile USA in some form–it may well be bought out by someone else–helps prevent that eventuality. I wonder what AT&T’s backup plan is, and whether we’ll even remember this non-merger five or ten years from now?

Posted by Harry at 2:30 pm

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One Small Step for Wireless Customers

By  |  Posted at 3:43 pm on Thursday, February 25, 2010


I don’t like signing up for two-year contracts when I buy a phone–in fact, I’ve frequently chosen to buy phones at full price and therefore avoid the commitment. But there’s been one giant argument against doing so: Wireless carriers charge folks who pay up front for a phone exactly the same monthly fee that they get from customers who opt to get the phone cheap in return for signing a contract.

Effectively, full-price phone buyers are paying back the subsidy to the carrier even though they weren’t subsidized in the first place. That’s why I reluctantly but rationally signed up for a two-year Verizon contract last week when I bought a Droid. (The Droid only works on Verizon in the first place, so it’s not like I have the option of leaving the carrier a few months from now and using the handset with another carrier.)

Now T-Mobile has become the first U.S. carrier to do the right thing: As Bob Tedeschi of the New York Times reports, it’s charging people who pay list price for phones less for monthly service than it does subsidy customers. By forgoing the subsidy, you’ll save money over the long run and won’t be locked into a relationship with T-Mobile; assuming you’ve got the cash on hand, it clearly becomes the smartest way to buy a phone.

Bravo, T-Mobile. May AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon follow your lead…


AT&T Aces 3G Tests. Most of Them, Anyhow

By  |  Posted at 4:48 pm on Tuesday, February 23, 2010


My pal Mark Sullivan of PC World has written a spectacularly ambitious story summarizing cross-country tests of the major wireless carriers’ 3G service. It’s a follow-up to an earlier piece, and the big news this time around is that AT&T did extremely well. It had the highest average download and upload speeds in tests conducted by Norarum, Inc. for PCW, and was tied for highest reliability. Most of the individual numbers associated with AT&T’s 3G performance via laptop and iPhone in thirteen cities range from good to excellent.

Except for one number. In the tests, AT&T’s reliability via iPhone in San Francisco was a dismal 55 percent, by far the worst performance turned in by any carrier on either laptop or smartphone in any city. Nearly half the time, the damn phone just didn’t work.

Continue reading this story…


What’s this about bloggers sitting around in pajamas regurgitating the work of real journalists? Gizmodo undertook an uncommonly ambitious project to test 3G wireless speeds in twelve U.S. cities, from New York City to Maui. The results? In a nutshell, AT&T was fastest overall, competing fiercely with Verizon Wireless for download dominance, and sweeping Giz’s upload tests. (The results are worth comparing with PC World’s somewhat similar tests from last Spring; PCW used different methodology in a different set of cities, so it’s no shocker that its conclusions weren’t identical.)

Posted by Harry at 5:39 pm

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Radical notion deconstructed: Does AT&T really have the nation’s best wireless network?

Posted by Harry at 12:40 am

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Too Many Next-Generation Wireless Standards

By  |  Posted at 2:44 pm on Thursday, December 10, 2009


This I know: We need faster wireless home networks. The Roku box hitched up to my TV works fine most of the time, but it’s also prone to unexpected pauses and freezes–and sometimes gets the video and audio out of sync in an amusing fashion. The moment I try to do something else that involves shoving a lot of data across my network–like performing an online backup–things get really gnarly.

So even though the ink is barely dry on the document making today’s 802.11n standard official, I’m happy that major technology companies are pooling their resources to come up with faster wireless technology more suited to HD video and other demanding applications. But the thing is, there isn’t one consortium figuring out what’s next–there are three of them.

As Dean Takahashi reports on VentureBeat, the Wireless Gigabit Alliance is announcing its WiGig standard, which combines Wi-Fi with 60-GHz networking that’s theoretically ten times faster than 802.11n. WiGig joins WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) and Wireless HD in the next-generation wireless race, inevitably bringing to mind that old saying: “The great thing about standards is that there are so many of them.”

As Dean notes, WiGig, WHDI, and Wireless HD aren’t trying to do exactly the same thing, and there are arguments in favor of all of them. But the fact that the industry’s pursuing a trio of related, overlapping standards still reminds me of the long, tedious, counterproductive squabbling that bogged down 802.11n’s progress–not to mention the equally pointless Blu-Ray/HD-DVD wars.

So I’m left with visions of consumers buying networking gear and gadgets that are doomed to obsolescence, and worrying that it’s going to be awhile before it’s clear which of these standards has legs and which doesn’t. Anyone want to make the case for competing standards being healthy? And is there anyone out there who knows more about these three than I and can outline their pros and cons?

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5Words: Watch Out, AT&T Data Hogs

By  |  Posted at 9:58 am on Wednesday, December 9, 2009


AT&T CEO: data metering coming?

Apple tablets in production now?

Skyfire upgrades Windows Mobile browser.

Facebook beefs up privacy options.

Live video streaming from iPhones.

Chrome for Mac first impressions.

Mobile Firefox to arrive soon.


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FCC Demands Answers from Verizon on Fees

By  |  Posted at 5:09 pm on Friday, December 4, 2009


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a letter to Verizon demanding answers about why it increased early termination fees for smart phone users as well as whether customers are charged for inadvertently accessing Verizon’s Internet services.

At dispute is that Verizon doubled early termination fees (ETF) for new customers that signed up to its wireless services with a smartphone. The company also charged a $2 fee of a number of customers who accessed its mobile Web by inadvertently loading their browsers.

Continue reading this story…

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AT&T and Verizon End Map Spat

By  |  Posted at 9:05 am on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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According to Dan Frommer at the Business Insider, AT&T and Verizon Wireless have agreed to end their legal tussle over the Verizon ads that slam AT&T’s 3G coverage. Good for Verizon. And good for AT&T, too–as far as I can see, the suit it filed against Verizon did absolutely nothing to improve anyone’s perceptions of AT&T. Actually, it mostly gave lots and lots of people a new excuse to grumble even more about AT&T–and gave more publicity to Verizon’s (accurate) map showing that it has far more 3G coverage than AT&T does than the Verizon ads could have gotten on their own.

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AT&T Sues Verizon Over “There’s a Map for That”

By  |  Posted at 4:28 pm on Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Rock 'Em Rock 'Em RobotsVerizon Wireless has been bashing AT&T and its products lately, in both its “There’s a map for that” ads snarking about AT&Ts 3G coverage and the “Droid does” campaign that says the iPhone is a bag of limitations. Now AT&T is bashing back–in court.

As Engadget is reporting, the company is saying that “There’s a map for that” misleads consumers with coverage maps that show what seems to be great swaths of the U.S. with no AT&T coverage, when in fact most of those areas have 2G coverage, but no 3G.

It’s not an irrational point, although I’m not sure if Verizon’s spot is any more deceptive than all those AT&T ads that say the company has the nation’s fastest 3G network. It does, but that 3G network is nowhere near as widely deployed as Verizon’s, so slow connectivity is far more of an issue for AT&T customers than for Verizon ones. (I wonder if Verizon’s ever flirted with suing over those spots?)

As Engadget notes, there’s an easy fix here: If Verizon tweaks its maps to show AT&T’s zones of 2G-only coverage, its ad will be just as compelling as the current version–and it’ll be tough for AT&T to claim that there’s anything inaccurate or confusing about the claim. Here’s hoping that this happens quickly, and that everyone involved goes back to spending money on improving their networks rather than legal wrangling.

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A Dream Car for Tech Lovers

By  |  Posted at 2:00 pm on Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Is there any part of our lives that’s more backwards from a digital-technology standpoint than the hours we spend in the second homes known as cars? Interesting exceptions such as Ford Sync aside, automobiles seem to routinely run about half a decade behind the rest of the world when it comes to personal technology. (I felt positively triumphant when I recently installed an adapter that lets me listen to my iPhone in the car–woo hoo!)

So the concept car being announced today by nG Connect–a consortium of companies involved in the next-generation LTE wireless broadband standard–is, indeed, a dream machine.  Designed by LTE infrastructure company Alcatel Lucent, Atlantic Records, infogizmo maker Chumby, kid site Kabillion, real-time operating system developer QNX, and Toyota, the modified Prius sports large multiple Net -connected touchscreens (including separate ones for the driver and front passenger) that deliver information services such as GPS navigation, car diagnostics, and home monitoring; music and movies (not to the driver, I assume!); networked games; shopping, and more.

It’s also a rolling hotspot so you can use laptops and Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones and other wireless gizmos.

When will we be able to park something like this in our own driveways? Well, LTE should start to matter next year. Judging from past history with network rollouts, I’m assuming it’s going to be awhile until it’s available everywhere I want to drive. (I rode in the passenger’s seat down California’s Highway 1 this weekend, and even plain old EVDO often disappeared on me.) I figure it’s also going to be awhile before car companies build even a fraction of this stuff into real vehicles–and once they do, it’ll be awhile longer before it’s priced for mere humans.

All of which is fine by me. I’m nowhere near ready to retire my trusty 2004 Mazda3, so if it’s a few years before this concept car becomes affordable reality, I can wait.

Does it appeal to you?

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Verizon vs. Sprint vs. AT&T

By  |  Posted at 1:12 pm on Monday, June 29, 2009


PC World LogoSprint claims to have “America’s most dependable 3G network.” Verizon says it has “America’s largest and most reliable wireless network.” AT&T says it has “the nation’s fastest 3G network.” With wireless, in other words, everybody’s a winner–if you ask the carriers themselves.

Which is why I admire what Mark Sullivan and my other PC World pals did: compare the three carries for upload speed, download speed, and reliability in thirteen cities. PCW conducted this ambitious real-world experiment in partnership with Novarum, using  Ixia’s IxChariot tool. As Mark says in his story, the results are only a snapshot of how the networks did on a given day, in the particular locations in the specific cities that PCW and Novarum visited. But they’re interesting nonetheless. And they tend to jibe with some of the anecdotal impressions that folks have about the three carriers:

–The performance varied a lot from city to city.

–Out of the 13 cities, Verizon got the highest reliability rating in seven and Sprint got the highest one in six. AT&T didn’t score highest in reliability in any cities, and was often far behind its two competitors.

–Verizon got the highest download score in seven cities; Sprint scored highest in four; AT&T in two.

–AT&T had the highest upload score in ten cities; Sprint was highest in two; Verizon in only one.

The most notable result is AT&T’s lackluster download score. AT&T told PCW that it stands by its claim of being the nation’s fastest 3G provider, based on results from two independent firms and tests involving a million road miles and a million data sessions. I don’t dispute its stance. But PCW’s experiment is a useful reminder that claims about “America” or “the nation” may or may not reflect what you get in your own hometown. And it might help to explain why AT&T is the only one of the big three carriers who never talks about dependability or reliability in its ads.

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LTE vs. WiMAX: The 4G Wireless War

By  |  Posted at 7:46 am on Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Remember when 3G was the future of wireless data? It’s not even universally available in the U.S. yet, and the race is already well underway to replace it. WiMAX, the 4G network technology that counts Sprint and Intel among its boosters, has a head start. But it’s losing ground to Long Term Evolution (LTE).

LTE’s promise of high-speed, two-way wireless data promises an “all-IP” mode of communications in which voice calls are handled via VoIP. It’s also designed to handle video well, and to permit roaming through multiple systems–from cellular to Wi-Fi and satellite.

LTE is considered by many to be the obvious successor to current-generation 3G technologies, based on WCDMA, HSDPA, HSUPA and HSPA, in part because it updates UMTS technology to provide significantly faster data rates for both uploading and downloading, while preserving backwards compatibility with existing handsets based on older standards. Verizon Wireless, has already said that it will support LTE as its 4G technology of choice, abandoning its current CDMA based network.

Continue reading this story…

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With Phones, Simplicity is the Best Innovation of All

By  |  Posted at 12:53 pm on Tuesday, March 24, 2009


[A NOTE FROM HARRY: I'm pleased to say that Technologizer is participating in Stanford University's Innovation Journalism program, which brings journalists from other countries to the U.S. to report on innovation. Afzal Bajwa of Pakistan's The Nation will be contributing articles to Technologizer on mobile phones and other wireless topics during his U.S. visit; please join me in welcoming him.]

Beyond jet lag, what worried me most when I embarked on a U.S.- bound plane at Islamabad International Airport was the possibility of technology lag. As chief reporter for The Nation, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, I covered technology and communications in a third-world nation–one with both real problems and image problems, especially in what’s traditionally been known as the new world.

Despite the ongoing global recession, the U.S. is still the world leader in innovation and technological advancement. But that is hardly true in mobile phones. It appeared, to me at least, to be the other way round when I finally arrived after covering more than 11,000 miles in over 25 hours of air travel.

Continue reading this story…