TIME Mobile

Google Is Reportedly Prepping a Wireless Service

The Google Inc. company logo is seen on an Apple Inc. iPhone 4 smartphone in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

New initiative would expand Google's quest to provide the world's Internet access

Google has been providing ultra high-speed home Internet to select cities for several years — but now it wants to be your mobile carrier, too.

The company is reportedly planning to launch its own cell phone service, according to The Information and the Wall Street Journal. Google has made deals with T-Mobile and Sprint to resell portions of their networks under a Google-branded name, a common practice by small wireless carriers known as mobile virtual network operators. Though T-Mobile and Sprint would still own the networks, Google would set its own prices and deal directly with customers.

Neither a launch window nor a price range for the service were disclosed.

Launching a wireless service would be another big step in Google’s quest to deliver Internet service directly to customers. Google Fiber is already providing broadband access in several U.S. cities, Project Loon aims to use balloons to bring remote areas online, and the company’s big investment in SpaceX could be a sign that it wants to use satellites to expand Internet connectivity as well.

But well-established ISPs and telecommunication companies won’t simply stand idle as Google takes their business. Sprint is reserving the right to renegotiate its terms with Google if the new service proves popular, according to the Journal.

Google and T-Mobile did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sprint declined to comment.

TIME Android

This Easy Android Trick Will Keep Your Home Screen Clutter-Free

Motorola Mobility Portfolio Launch Event
Today, Motorola announced the new Moto X and G, Moto Hint and Moto 360 by opening its headquarters for media to meet the engineers and designers committed to offering people more choice, control and accessibility in their personal technology. Daniel Boczarski—2014 Getty Images

So you won't need five different home screens anymore

No one wants a cluttered home screen on their smartphone, but that can seem like an inevitable outcome for anyone who downloads lots of different apps. However, Android users can change one simple setting to help keep their phones clean and tidy.

Here’s how to do it: In the Google Play store, navigate to the Settings menu by clicking the three-layer icon in the top left corner or just swiping right. Within settings, you’ll see a checked box for the item “Add icons to Home Screen.”

This is Android’s default setting, and means that every new app you download winds up taking up some real estate on your home screen. Uncheck the box, and new apps will be shuttled to the “app drawer,” which is the Android equivalent of the Programs folder on a PC.

You can use the app drawer, usually accessible via a permanent button on Android’s home screen, to see a full listing of all your apps. Then you can pick and choose which apps to feature on your home screen by simply dragging them from the app drawer to the home screen.

Google originally shared this handy tip on the Android team’s Google+ page.

TIME Smartphones

You Can Now Rollover Your Unused AT&T Data Into the Next Month

The AT&T logo is seen on June 2, 2010 in
The AT&T logo is seen on June 2, 2010 in Washington DC. AFP—Getty Images

But you'll only have that month in which to use it

AT&T users tired of watching all their extra megabytes melt away at the end of the month have reason to rejoice — the mobile carrier just announced Rollover Data, an upgrade that allows customers to transfer their unused plan data into the following month.

The data that rolls over will only last for one month, which means, for instance, that if you have 5 GB that carried over from last month but only use 3 GB of it, you’ll lose the rest.

The announcement on Wednesday is AT&Ts latest salvo in the tussle with rival provider T-Mobile, which announced a similar rollover feature a few weeks ago.

But AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega told USA Today that his company, which had pioneered the rollover concept for voice minutes years ago, has been planning to launch Rollover Data for a long time.

TIME Mobile

This Is How Apple Totally Won Christmas

Verizon Store Stocks Shelves With New Apple iPhone 6
An Apple iPhone 6 Plus gold, is shown here at a Verizon store on September 18, 2014 in Orem, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

Data trickling in after the holiday tells the tale

It looks like Santa put quite a few iPhones under people’s Christmas trees this year. According to mobile analytics firm Flurry, Apple’s iOS devices accounted for more than 50% of all new device activations globally among smartphones and tablets in the week from Dec. 19 to Dec. 25. Samsung saw the second-most device activations with a marketshare of about 18%. Nokia followed in third place with 6% of activations, and Sony and LG rounded out the top 5 with 1.6% and 1.4% of activations, respectively.

Flurry tracks data from more than 600,000 apps to determine when devices are turned on for the first time. Christmas Day also saw a significant spike in app installs as people unwrapped their new devices. On Dec. 25th, the number of app installs was 2.5 times higher than the average number of daily installs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 21, according to Flurry. Games and messaging apps got the biggest boost in installs on Christmas.

Flurry’s data also shows the ever-growing importance of phablets in the mobile market. In the week leading up to Christmas, 13% of the new devices activated were phablets, up from just 4% last year. The jump is likely thanks in great part to the new iPhone 6 Plus. Meanwhile, tablets, which have lagged in sales in 2014, saw their share of device activations slip from 29% in 2013 to 22% this year.

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile to Pay $90 Million to Settle Cramming Case

T-Mobile
An employee sets up a new Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy 3 smartphone for a customer at a T-Mobile US Inc. retail store in Torrance, California, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wireless carrier had originally called FTC lawsuit "unfounded"

T-Mobile has agreed to pay at least $67.5 million in customer refunds to settle claims that its customers were the victims of cramming, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday. Cramming is a once-common tactic in the telecom industry through which third parties hide unwanted charges for things like horoscopes and love tips in customers’ wireless bills.

In addition to the refunds, T-Mobile will pay $18 million in fines and penalties to attorneys general in every state and Washington D.C., as well as a $4.5 million fine to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more.”

The FTC originally filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile over cramming claims in July. At the time, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who has staked the company’s reputation on being more fair to customers than rival wireless carriers, called the allegations “unfounded and without merit.” T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

T-Mobile will be required to contact all current and former customers who had unwanted charges crammed into their bills and offer them refunds. The company will also have to get customers’ consent before putting third-party charges on their bills in the future.

The T-Mobile case is the latest in a series of cramming settlements that the FTC has brokered. AT&T agreed to pay $105 million in refunds and fines for cramming charges in October.

TIME cell phones

Researchers Find Flaws That Means Anyone Can Listen to Your Cell Phone Calls

Flaws found in global cell network means spies can hack your phone

Security flaws discovered by German researchers could allow hackers to listen in on private phone calls and intercept text messages en masse, the Washington Post reports.

The weaknesses in the global cellular network are to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, by Tobias Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs.

The Post reports that these experts believe that SS7, the global network that allows cellular carriers worldwide to route calls and messages to each other, have “serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.” Researchers in Germany have discovered that hackers with an in-depth knowledge of SS7’s different features would be able to exploit certain functions to listen to private calls and intercept text messages.

One way that hackers could intercept calls would be to exploit cellular carriers forwarding function — which allows a user to have his calls directed to another number — by redirecting “calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.”

Despite mobile carriers working to secure data, the Post reports that the weaknesses in SS7 have left millions vulnerable:

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

It’s unclear how much, if any, data has been intercepted due to these vulnerabilities, but as Engel told the Post, “I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Mobile

Here’s Why You’ll Pay Less for Your Wireless Plan Next Year

T-Mobile
T-Mobile President and CEO John Legere speaks at a news conference at the 2013 International CES at The Venetian on January 8, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. David Becker—Getty Images

Carriers like Verizon, ATT&T and T-Mobile are fighting a price war that could last months. The longer it endures, the more choice consumers will have

This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for wireless carriers’ stocks. While the S&P 500 Index has risen 8% this year, AT&T and Verizon, which together control about 83% of the wireless market, are down 8%.

The two companies have fared especially poorly in the last month: AT&T is down 10% and Verizon is down 12%, while the S&P is down only 2%. The reason is one that may delight consumers and concern investors: A price war, in which rivals cut prices to steal market share from one another, has broken out among carriers, and it’s only likely to get more intense next year. The longer a price war endures, the more choice consumers will have, though it means financial pain for carriers.

Verizon issued a press release last week with a headline touting “strong wireless customer growth” this quarter, but contained less sunny news further down: the “impacts of its promotional offers . . . will put short-term pressure” on Verizon’s profit margins. When companies issue statements about earnings before they’re officially reported, there’s usually worrisome news tucked inside. The following day, Verizon CFO Francis Shammo offered more spin.

“What we’re seeing is a pretty exciting period here at Verizon Wireless,” he said at an investors’ conference, “where we saw an increase in the activations but we’re also seeing some increase in the churn as well.”

Churn, which measures customer attrition, is a scourge to companies that rely on subscribers because it can signify customer dissatisfaction or the impact of rivals’ lower prices. A recent survey by Consumer Reports suggests customer satisfaction is comparable among AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile (not so much Sprint, which is having issues in upgrading its network). In previous surveys, Verizon had a clear lead and T-Mobile had lagged. That’s a sign Verizon owes its churn problem to competitors’ lower prices.

Still, Verizon’s Shammo argued that talk of a price war was overstated and that “the revenue of the industry . . . has come down slightly but not as much as everybody is making it out to be.” The market disagreed. Verizon’s stock fell 4% as Shammo made his comments. Two securities firms downgraded Verizon’s ratings, while two others lowered their price targets for the stock.

It didn’t help that at another investment conference that same day, AT&T CFO John Stephens was saying something similar in starker terms.

“The current impact — the current environment is impacting churn,” said Stephens. “In fact, we expect postpaid churn to be higher than it was in the year ago fourth quarter. This will impact fourth-quarter adjusted wireless margins.”

That’s especially good news for T-Mobile, which, under the banner of the “uncarrier,” has run promotions that remove two-year lock-ins and data caps and offer lower-price plans to steal customers away from its bigger rivals. AT&T and Verizon have responded with their own lower-priced plans, but the advantage seems to be going T-Mobile’s way.

Last week, T-Mobile CEO John Legere boasted to the Wall Street Journal that it’s taking in more customers than it’s losing, meaning it isn’t being hit by the same churn striking Verizon or AT&T. T-Mobile upped the ante yet again Tuesday with its eighth “uncarrier” promotion, which lets users roll over unused LTE data from one month into the next for free. Mobile carriers once offered similar roll-over offers for phone calls when it became clear that data networks were displacing voice calls, but until now data plans had no such perk.

None of this means T-Mobile and Sprint’s investors are necessarily any happier than those who own AT&T and Verizon stock. In fact, they’re probably less happy. T-Mobile’s stock is performing as badly as Verizon and AT&T’s this month, and year to date it’s down 26%. T-Mobile is pursuing subscriber growth and revenue with its low prices, but that strategy pushes down profits — the “uncarrier” has posted a loss for three of the last four quarters. Sprint’s stock is doing even worse: It’s down 62% so far this year.

From the looks of things, the carriers’ fierce competition may continue into 2015. This month, Sprint began offering to halve the monthly bills of AT&T and Verizon subscribers who switch to similar plans on Sprint. Not to be outdone, T-Mobile offered an unlimited data plan with two lines for $100 a month.

Verizon’s Shammo predicted the price war will pass in a matter of months. “I think that things will settle down in 2015,” he said at the UBS conference. “Some of this is just temporary promotion-type stuff to stimulate some growth . . . You can’t do that long term. You can do that for a quarter or two, but then you have to get realistic.”

There’s reason to think that may not happen. When price wars break out, investors often watch who is gaining market share and revenue. Right now, that’s T-Mobile, despite its struggling performance on Wall Street. Its CEO has taken on activist shareholders in the past and has the grit to do so again. As for Sprint, investors may come to see that fighting on price may be the best option as long as customer satisfaction remains low.

At the same time, niche carriers are beginning to win over some customers as well. In Consumer Reports’ recent ranking of carriers, the two clear winners were tiny ones: Consumer Cellular and Ting, both of which ranked high on value and network quality. Last quarter, according to Cowen & Co., smaller carriers like them made up 5.2% of the postpaid mobile market, up from 4.2% only a quarter before.

For subscribers weary of having only two comparably priced mobile carriers to choose from, price competition from smaller players is welcome, even if network quality has long been an issue. When industries go from being uncompetitive to more competitive, there is often a period of declining margins across the board as consumers are given a broader range of choices.

The current price wars are coming at a time when carriers need to bid on costly spectrum auctions and spend money upgrading their networks. That suggests a tough time ahead for wireless carriers and their investors in the short term. But if price competition becomes a long-term phenomenon, it could eventually bring big returns for whichever companies emerge as the victors.

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile Now Lets You Roll Over Your Unused Data

T-Mobile
A Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile logo hangs under pink umbrellas at the stand of the German telecommunications giant at the 2014 CeBIT computer technology trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany. John Macdougall—AFP/Getty Images

For customers who buy additional data on top of their plans

We’ve all been there: Every month, a slice of our mobile data plan goes unused, only to disappear into the ether forever at the end of the month. Now, one carrier aims to put an end to that.

T-Mobile will start rolling over customers’ unused data from month-to-month, the carrier announced Tuesday. That unused data will get added to what T-Mobile is calling a “Data Stash,” where customers can use it for up to a year to avoid going over their plan’s monthly data limits.

“With Data Stash, when you buy additional high-speed data, there’s no need to lose what you don’t use,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement.

T-Mobile is rolling out Data Stash for customers on “Simple Choice” plans who buy at least 3GB of additional smartphone data or 1GB of additional tablet data above their plan’s base rate. Qualifying T-Mobile customers will start out with 10GB of data in their Stash.

T-Mobile has a history of making bold moves to shake up the wireless carrier industry, like offering to pay competitors’ early termination fees for customers who switch to the service before their contracts are up. T-Mobile’s competitors, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, have often followed T-Mobile’s moves, but it remains to be seen if they’ll play ball this time: Overage fees charged to customers who exceed their monthly data limits are a lucrative source of income for wireless carriers. T-Mobile’s aim here is most likely to forego some of those fees in favor of attracting rivals’ customers fed up with overage charges.

The Data Stash announcement came during T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier 8.0″ event, during which the company also touted its recent speed improvements to wireless broadband services in several cities, including New York.

TIME Google

Google Android Is Getting This 1 Awesome New Feature

Android Apps
Bloomberg / Getty Images

Location, location, location

The Android version of Google Hangouts, Google’s video chat app, is getting some helpful new features today. If a friend you’re talking with through the video chat app asks “where are you,” Google will recognize the phrase and allow you to immediately share your location with the press of a single button. The app is also adding “last seen” timestamps to users so it’s easier to tell whether friends are available to talk or not.

The visuals of Hangouts are also getting an update with 16 new sticker packs that feature penguins, koalas and cats, among other creatures. New video filters like sepia and black and white have also been added.

The Hangout changes are exclusive to Android for now, but an iOS update is also in the works.

[The Verge]

MONEY Fast Food

Starbucks Launches Mobile Ordering So You Can Skip The Line

Starbucks is rolling out a mobile ordering system that will allow customers to place an order on the go and skip the line at pick up.

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