Tag Archives | Wireless Data

AT&T-Mobile Runs Into Another Roadblock

The FCC doesn’t like the looks of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile’s US operations. Paid Content’s Tom Krazit reports:  

During a media call Tuesday afternoon FCC representatives (who insisted on remaining anonymous) said that Chairman Julius Genachowski has asked fellow commissioners to review a proposal that the merger be subject to a hearing after finding aspects of the proposed deal that don’t line up with the public interest. One representative called the merger a unique concentration in market power in almost every single one of the top 100 local markets in the U.S., and also said that AT&T’s claims that the merger will allow more Americans access to 4G wireless (AT&T’s primary selling point) and create new jobs did not hold water.

If the hearing happens, it’ll only begin after the Department of Justice concludes a trial over the proposed merger that isn’t due to start until February. So it could be a long, long time until the deal gets a definitive yay or nay–and you’ve got to wonder at what point AT&T and T-Mobile decide that it’s best to give up and begin the rest of their lives as competitors. (AT&T wants T-Mobile so it can beef up its 4G, but it must have a backup plan, and it can’t postpone it forever.) 
For me, the prospect of the merger has always been pretty simple. Smaller wireless companies, like T-Mobile, Sprint, and regionals like MetroPCS and Cricket have lower prices and more creative plans. The two giants, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, have higher prices and less flexibility. I don’t see any scenario under which removing one smaller player from the equation improves things for consumers–and that’s why I’ll be happy if the merger falls apart, as it’s now looking like it will.

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Rogers Has One Bucket of Data for Two Mobile Devices

Oh Canada, land of free health care, and now home to a data plan that can be used across multiple devices.

Rogers’ so-called data share costs $15 per month on top of existing mobile broadband plans. Subscribers can then share up to 5 GB of data between a smartphone and another device (think tablets or 3G-ready laptops).

I’ve hoped that U.S. carriers would move in this direction ever since AT&T and Verizon Wireless started offering capped data plans. If there’s going to be a limit on how much data you can consume, consumers should be able to use that data however they want. After all, your home Internet service provider doesn’t care whether you’re on a laptop, tablet or game console, so why should wireless carriers?

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Verizon’s 4G Network: The Details

Verizon Wireless officially announced the roll-out plans for its 4G LTE high-speed wireless data network today, and none too soon: The LTE era starts this Sunday in thirty-eight metro areas. All Things Digital’s Ina Fried has more specifics, and Greg Kumparak of MobileCrunch lists the launch cities.

The facts that caught my eye:

  • Verizon is charging $50 a month for 5GB of data, and $80 for 10GB; as a current customer of its 3G data service, that strikes me as a decent deal, since I’m paying $60 for 5GB of pokier 3G service.
  • Two USB modems will be available, for $99 each on contract after rebates; they’ll double as 3G modems when 4G service isn’t around.
  • It sounds like 4G phones won’t show up until mid-2011 (there goes any last remaining possibility of a 4G Verizon iPhone in early 2011).

What I really want is a 4G MiFi mobile router that I can use with a laptop, an iPad, a smartphone, and any other Wi-Fi device; I assume that one is in the works. Hope that it arrives before too long–and that there’s a way for me to upgrade from my 3G MiFi without spending a fortune.

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Unlimited Smartphone Data: Not Dead Yet!

Verizon Wireless now offers tiered pricing for smartphone data, adding a 150 MB for $15 per month option beneath it’s existing $30 per month unlimited package.

The cheaper plan is a terrible value in terms of price per megabyte, but it’s not unwelcome. I know people who’ve opted for AT&T’s 200 MB for $15 per month package, on the logic that they consume most of their data on home Wi-Fi networks, but still wanted smartphones because, well, they’re cool.

The bigger news here is that Verizon didn’t touch its unlimited plan. AT&T, in the other hand, dropped the limit of it’s most expensive offering to 2 GB per month, and shaved the cost from $30 to $25.

For now, AT&T has the better deal for all but a sliver of smartphone users — the company claims that only 2 percent of its customers use more than 2 GB of data every month — but with a caveat: Smartphone data use is bound to grow, especially as the next generation of wireless networks comes online. Nowhere does AT&T promise that your monthly data allotment will grow accordingly. I’m having premonitions of steep overage charges for all.

Meanwhile, Verizon is sticking with unlimited data, and that’s pretty important coming from the largest wireless carrier in the United States. Of course, nowhere does Verizon promise that it won’t relent and replace the unlimited plan with capped data tiers in a few months (or years). But at the moment, the idea of unlimited wireless data seems safe from peril.

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Droid X Consuming 5x Data of Other Verizon Phones. Say What?

Motorola’s Droid X isn’t the only high-powered Verizon smartphone available, but it’s the biggest bandwidth hog according to one company executive.

Here’s the claim from Jennifer Byrne, Verizon’s business development executive director, made during the paidContent Mobile conference on Tuesday (emphasis mine):

“On Droid X, we’re seeing something like 5x the data usage of any other device.”

I’m skeptical. Droid X may be Verizon’s flagship smartphone at the moment, but it’s not the only one likely to consume lots of data. For Android alone, there’s the Droid Incredible, Droid Eris and plain old Droid, and I have a hard time accepting that Droid X users are suddenly way more likely to gobble up bandwidth. The only difference between Droid X and is peers is the option of becoming a mobile hotspot for $20 per month, and if that’s causing the data spike, it says more about mobile hotspot use than it does about the phone itself.

Still, the essence of Byrne’s statement is probably valid: Verizon’s seeing a huge uptick in mobile data use thanks to the popularity of Android smartphones, lending credence to the rumors that Verizon will nix unlimited data plans in favor of tiered packages.

The spike in data use also amounts to a day of reckoning for Verizon.  The carrier has said in the past that it’s equipped to handle the kind of traffic generated by an iPhone. Obviously, Verizon would be dealing with a lot more bandwidth demand if it ever got the iPhone, but think of the Android invasion as a sneak preview. If Verizon can handle this, it may have a chance at dealing with Apple’s traffic.

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AT&T Data Plans Get a Major Makeover, iPhone Tethering Coming Soon

Verizon Wireless’s Lowell McAdam keeps saying that the wireless industry will move towards “buckets” of data rather than unlimited pricing. AT&T Wireless is proving his point today: The company is going to phase out its current $30-a-month unlimited data for smartphones in favor of new, cheaper pricing plans with monthly caps on data usage and a tethering option (yes, even for iPhones).

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AT&T: Our Network is Fine, Thank You

att_header_logoSpeculation over the causes of AT&T’s network issues moved back to the forefront this week when a researcher speculated that the way the carrier had configured its network was the cause of its troubles. In other words, it ain’t the iPhone’s fault.

The research and idea was first presented by Brough Turner, a 25-year veteran of the communications industry. Turner’s work was republished by several media outlets (including us), and again put AT&T in the now familiar position of damage control.

Well, the carrier is none too happy about having to defend itself again. “The AT&T wireless network is designed and engineered to deliver the highest possible levels of capacity and performance. Our standing as the nation’s fastest 3G network is validated by multiple third-party testing organizations on the basis of millions of drive tests annually,” the carrier said in a statement to Technologizer.

What about Turner’s accusations of configuration issues? AT&T says there is no basis in fact for his research. “We believe that recent online speculation regarding AT&T wireless network configuration settings is without foundation. Allegations in these posts regarding packet loss network settings are incorrect,” spokesperson Seth Bloom said.

Back to the drawing board for those trying to figure out what’s going on with the “nation’s fastest 3G network” I guess.


AT&T’s Wireless Data Issues May Be No Fault of iPhone

att_header_logoAT&T’s favorite scapegoat when talking about data issues is the ever increasing number of iPhone users on its network. While no doubt these folks can be bandwidth hogs, there may be another reason why there are issues: network configuration.

Brough Turner, a 25-year plus veteran of the telecommunications industry, took to his blog on Sunday to discuss AT&T’s data network problems. In his estimation based on his own research and that of others, it appears as if the carrier may not have its configuration settings correct.

(Reader beware: the above link has quite a bit of technical jargon. It may be a bit difficult to understand for most.)

AT&T’s ping times can vary widely, from a fairly normal 200 milliseconds to an absolutely horrendous 8 seconds or more. This is likely caused by an issue with the buffers in place to normalize Internet traffic.

For the less technical among us, Internet buffers help to smooth out traffic and prevent bottlenecking when the amount of traffic exceeds the bandwidth. Thus to prevent long wait times, sometimes packets are dropped.

But here’s the problem. Turner hypothesizes that AT&T has its network set to have no packet loss at all. This is practically unheard of in wireless data, and is causing slower loading times for users.

If he’s right, this is very embarrassing for the carrier. Did they really screw up in configuring their network? Hopefully Turner’s research compels AT&T to take a second look just to be sure.


AT&T Next Up On Requiring Data Plans on Smartphones

att_header_logoVerizon was the first major carrier to do it in November of last year, and now AT&T will join the list of carriers requiring data plans for its customers with smart phones. Judging from the nearly 150 comments on the Verizon post, I’m going to take a educated guess you guys won’t like this deal either.

Like Verizon, AT&T will grandfather in old smartphone customers in who still choose to not carry a data plan. But after September 6, any new customer will be required to sign up for one, as well as old customers upgrading their phones.

The reasoning for this is pretty much total crap, and I take this from a copy of an internal memo sent to employees (courtesy Boy Genius Report): “We want our customers to have the best possible experience with their Smartphones … Data plans let customers fully utilize their device, without the worry of bill shock.”

Oh come on, are customers that stupid? If they’re not carrying a data plan, chances are these folks are very cognizant that anytime they use data, they’re gonna get smacked with pretty high a la carte data fees. Let’s just call this for what it is: a rate increase.

Now, I should say again what I said in November, even though it may sound like it contradicts what I just said. If you have a smartphone, you shouldn’t be skimping out anyway. The whole purpose of these devices is the Internet connectivity itself. It’s a waste of money to buy a device like the iPhone or LG Dare, etc. and then not get the data plan with it.

But then again, after reading all your comments over the past nine months, I can see why some would be a little peeved that they’re getting pushed into spending more on their cell phone plans than they may have wanted to.


Qik Roam: Travel Internationally, Pay Reasonable Rates

Qik LogoThere are plenty of benefits that come with owning an iPhone, but there are also some crosses that one must bear. One is the phone’s lack of support for video capture, which means that the nifty Qik video lifestreaming app only works if you’ve jailbroken your phone. (Or if Qik has given you access to the service via Apple’s approved “ad-hoc” access, which–full disclosure–it has for me.)

Another iPhone limitation: Assuming you’ve got an AT&T one rather than a pricey unlocked unit, it’s a costly phone to take on international trips. I’m on my way to Malta at the moment and have signed up temporarily for AT&T’s discounted global roaming rates and 20MB of international data access, but it’s still more expensive than buying the cheap local SIM I could pick up if my phone were unlocked. (AT&T has obligingly unlocked other phones I’ve bought from it in the past, but as far as I know,  it won’t free iPhones.)

So I’m slightly jealous of a new Qik service called Qik Roam, which is designed to control the cost of using the service and other Internet access, as well as making calls, while you’re trotting the globe.  Offered in partnership with a company called Cubic Telecom, Qik Roam gives you a SIM you can use for discounted calls and data in over 160 countries.  It makes perfect sense for data-intensive tasks like video streaming. And I can’t use it with my locked phone.

Out of curiosity, I used Qik Roam’s online calculator to do the math on whether the service would have saved me money in Malta versus AT&T’s rates–a moot point, but an interesting one. I discovered, first of all, that the extra $3.99 I’m paying this month for discounted international roaming is money down the drain:  Calls from Malta appear to be $2.29 a minute whether you’ve signed up for discounted roaming or not. But Qik’s rate for calls from Malta back to the U.S. is a much more affordable $1.22.

As for data, assuming I’m understanding the rates properly–never a given with wireless phone costs–Qik’s rate of $2.49 per 100KB is much, much cheaper than what I’d owe AT&T if I hadn’t signed up for 20MB  of international data. But it’s about what I am paying via AT&T, and AT&T might be cheaper if I purchased a large enough chunk of data. The cost comparison presumably varies meaningfully depending on who your carrier is and where you’re traveling to.

Another thing I just learned, maybe: The AT&T page for Malta seems to suggest that it may not have 3G data at all. I’ll let you know once I get there.

One lesson about international travel with phones that can’t be repeated enough: Don’t take your phone out  of the country without making some provision for avoiding paying undiscounted roaming data rates. One day I’ll tell you about the $900 bill I got when I surfed up a storm via my phone in an English village, and why I narrowly escaped having to pay most of it…