sprint

Sprint calls AT&T’s 5G E label ‘false advertising’ in new lawsuit

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, lawsuit, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

While it’s true that it’s going to take some time before most of us will actually be able to enjoy the benefits of 5G, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit back and enjoy the fireworks right now. AT&T’s adoption of the “5G Evolution” label has already been controversial among industry followers and fellow carriers alike for watering down the meaning of next-gen connectivity — and now Sprint is looking to do something about it.

The carrier filed suit against what it called “false advertising and deceptive acts” relating to AT&T’s 5G E. The suit notes, rightly, that Sprint, AT&T and other major carriers are all jostling to be first to market, “but calling its network 5G E […] does not make it a 5G network.” In fact, the network is more akin to advanced LTE.

AT&T called itself “[the] first U.S. mobile company to introduce mobile 5G service in a dozen markets by late 2018” courtesy of the label, in a much-maligned attempt to plant its flag. It’s similar to tactics used by the carrier ahead of the rollout of LTE. AT&T has largely waved away criticism, stating that it’s happy that such moves have gotten it into the heads of the competition.

That may be true, but anyone who has watched the industry with even passing interest knows that real network advances take time, and this sort of branding goes a ways toward muddying up consumer understanding. The suit goes on to claim that the 5GE label violates state and federal false advertising laws and does damage to competitors like Sprint, which is invested in the slower rollout of true 5G.

Update: AT&T is standing defiant on this one. Here’s their statement:

We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.

We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC that it cannot deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching ‘legitimate 5G technology imminently.’

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Sprint customers can now use Apple Business Chat to reach an agent

Posted by | Apple, Apple Business Chat, business, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

Sprint today announced it will support Apple’s Business Chat — the new platform that allows businesses and customers to interact over iMessage. According to the carrier, customers can now message a Sprint customer service agent, get info about plans and other services, as well as look up store information in Maps, Safari and with Siri during a chat session.

The support from Sprint comes after two other launches on the platform this week.

TD Ameritrade said it will allow customers to fund their brokerage accounts using Apple Pay on Apple Business Chat. And Gubagoo said it will connect car dealerships with customers through Business Chat for viewing inventory, plus scheduling test drives and service appointments.

Apple has been steadily growing its list of supported Business Chat partners, and today has a number of big brands on its platform, which is still in beta. These include names like 1-800-Contacts, DISH, Overstock.com, Quicken Loans, Kimpton Hotels, West Elm, Burberry, Vodafone, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse, Jos A. Bank, Men’s Warehouse, The Home Depot, Hilton, Four Seasons, American Express, Harry & David and several others.

The platform also supports integrations with customer service platforms LivePerson, Salesforce, Nuance, Genesys, InTheChat, Zendesk, Quiq, Cisco, Kipsu, Lithium, eGain, [24]7.ai, ContactAtOnce, Dimelo, Brand Embassy, ASAPP, IMImobile and MessengerPeople, according to Apple’s website.

Business Chat was officially introduced at WWDC 2017, and is Apple’s entry into the business messaging and chatbot space.

Before its arrival, customers would generally reach out to businesses through social media sites like Facebook (e.g. Pages and Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) and Twitter. But Apple’s product gets the businesses even closer to the customer, as their chats can live alongside those from family and friends. Plus, they don’t have to share their data with a third party.

For consumers, reaching a business through iMessage is also a bit easier at times.

A company’s Business Chat profile is highlighted across Apple’s iOS platform in areas like Safari, Maps and Spotlight, and via Siri. This makes it more seamless to move from one Apple app to an iMessage chat, compared with having to seek out the business’s social media profile.

It’s also less painful than having to dial a customer service phone number, in many cases — as Sprint today pointed out.

“More consumers are embracing quick and easy self-service and digital assistance versus calling customer service through an 800 line,” said Rob Roy, Sprint chief digital officer, in a statement about the launch. “Apple Business Chat is an amazing tool for our customers that makes communicating with Sprint fast, easy and stress-free.”

Business Chat has come at a time when the “phone” part of our smartphones is turning into just another “app” — and increasingly, a spammy and bothersome one thanks to spam calls. Apple’s solution makes it easier for customers and businesses to move away from phone lines, while Google is leveraging AI to handle spammers — and even place calls for customers through its Google Duplex technology.

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Despite promises to stop, US cell carriers are still selling your real-time phone location data

Posted by | AT&T, john legere, locationsmart, Mobile, mobile technology, privacy, Ron Wyden, Security, sprint, T-Mobile, technology, United States, Verizon, wireless, Zumigo | No Comments

Last year, four of the largest U.S. cell carriers were caught selling and sending real-time location data of their customers to shady companies that sold it on to big spenders, who would use the data to track anyone “within seconds” for whatever reason they wanted.

At first, little-known company LocationSmart was obtaining (and leaking) real-time location data from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and selling access through another company, 3Cinteractive, to Securus, a prison technology company, which tracked phone owners without asking for their permission. This game of telephone with people’s private information was discovered, and the cell carriers, facing heavy rebuke from Sen. Ron Wyden, a privacy-minded lawmaker, buckled under the public pressure and said they’d stop selling and sharing customers’ locations.

And that would’ve been that — until it wasn’t.

Now, new reporting by Motherboard shows that while LocationSmart faced the brunt of the criticism, few focused on the other big player in the location-tracking business, Zumigo. A payment of $300 and a phone number was enough for a bounty hunter to track down the participating reporter by obtaining his location using Zumigo’s location data, which was continuing to pay for access from most of the carriers.

Worse, Zumigo sold that data on — like LocationSmart did with Securus — to other companies, like Microbilt, a Georgia-based credit reporting company, which in turn sells that data on to other firms that want that data. In this case, it was a bail bond company, whose bounty hunter was paid by Motherboard to track down the reporter — with his permission.

Everyone seemed to drop the ball. Microbilt said the bounty hunter shouldn’t have used the location data to track the Motherboard reporter. Zumigo said it didn’t mind location data ending up in the hands of the bounty hunter, but still cut Microbilt’s access.

But nobody quite dropped the ball like the carriers, which said they would not to share location data again.

T-Mobile, at the center of the latest location-selling revelations for passing the reporter’s location to the bounty hunter, said last year in the midst of the Securus scandal that it “reviewed” its real-time location data sharing program and found appropriate controls in place. To appease even the skeptical, T-Mobile chief executive John Legere tweeted at the time that he “personally evaluated the issue” and promised that the company “will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen.”

It’s hard to see how that isn’t, in hindsight, a downright lie.

Sounds like word hasn’t gotten to you, @ronwyden. I’ve personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen. Your consumer advocacy is admirable & we remain committed to consumer privacy. https://t.co/UPx3Xjhwog

John Legere (@JohnLegere) June 19, 2018

This time around, T-Mobile said it “does not have a direct relationship” with Microbilt but admitted one with Zumigo, which, given the story and the similarities to last year’s Securus scandal, could be considered one of many “shady middlemen” still obtaining location data from cell carriers.

Legere later said in a tweet late Wednesday that the company “is completely ending” its relationships with location aggregators in March, almost a year after the company was first implicated in the first location-sharing scandal.

It wasn’t just T-Mobile. Other carriers were also still selling and sharing their customers’ data.

AT&T said in last year’s letter it would “protect customer data” and “shut down” Securus’ access to its real-time store of customer location data. Most saw that as a swift move to prevent third-parties accessing customer location data. Now, AT&T seemed to renege on that year-ago pledge, saying it will “only permit the sharing of location” in limited cases, including when required by law.

Sprint didn’t say what its relationship was with either Zumigo or Microbilt, but once again — like last year — cited its privacy policy as its catch-all to sell and share customer location data. Yet Sprint, like its fellow carriers AT&T and T-Mobile, which pledged to stop selling location data, clearly didn’t complete its “process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data” as it promised in a letter a year ago.

Verizon, the parent company of TechCrunch, wasn’t explicitly cleared from sharing location data with third-parties in Motherboard’s report — only that the bounty hunter refused to search for a Verizon number. (We’ve asked Verizon if it wants to clarify its position — so far, we’ve had nothing back.)

In a letter sent last year when the Securus scandal blew up, Verizon said it would “take steps to stop” sharing data with two firms — Zumigo and LocationSmart, an intermediary that passed on obtained location data to Securus. But that doesn’t mean it’s off the hook. It was still sharing location data with anyone who wanted to pay in the first place, putting its customers at risk from hackers, stalkers — or worse.

Wyden. who tweeted about the story, said carriers selling customer location data “is a nightmare for national security and the personal safety of anyone with a phone.” And yet there’s no way to opt out — shy of a legislative fix — given that two-thirds of the U.S. population aren’t going to switch to a carrier that doesn’t sell your location data.

It turns out, you really can’t trust your cell carrier. Who knew?

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The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

Posted by | 2018 Roundup, 5g, 5g network, Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, Google, HTC, huawei, LG, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, smartphone, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

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Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Posted by | Amazon, Android, andy rubin, Angry Birds, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, China, computing, consumer electronics, digital media, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, google nexus, hardware, HTC, HTC Dream, HTC EVO 4G smartphone, huawei, india, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, LG, lists, Mobile, Motorola, motorola droid, motorola xoom, Nexus One, oled, operating system, operating systems, phablet, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, TechCrunch, United States, Verizon, xperia | No Comments

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

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Xiaomi CDRs, SoftBank’s successors and China’s Samsung investigation

Posted by | Asia, Government, Mobile, Qualcomm, Samsung, Softbank, sprint, TC, Xiaomi | No Comments

The weekend provided no rest to news-wary reporters, with major announcements coming from Xiaomi, SoftBank and the Chinese government the past few days that will continue to change the global tech landscape.

Xiaomi Chinese Depository Receipts

One of the most important yet underreported stories of 2018 has been the development of Chinese Depository Receipts (known as CDRs). I wrote a comprehensive primer on the investment mechanism a few weeks ago, but the summary is that CDRs will give mainland Chinese investors access to overseas-listed stocks that set up the right custodian accounts. Due to domestic capital controls and relatively weak stock exchange rules in China, many Chinese tech giants are listed on overseas stock exchanges in New York and Hong Kong.

Beijing-based Xiaomi, which produces a line of phones and offers mobile software services, is launching one of the most anticipated IPOs of the year, with a valuation expected to top tens of billions of dollars. In its official filing, the company targeted a fundraise of $10 billion. While Xiaomi is a sterling example of the potential success of Chinese entrepreneurs, local retail buyers would likely have had no access to buy the stock, which will be listed in Hong Kong.

Fiona Lau and Julie Zhu at Reuters are now reporting that Xiaomi could be one of the first companies to take advantage of the new CDR mechanism, potentially reserving 30 percent of its new issue for CDR buyers. That would be about $3 billion if the assumptions of the fundraise play out.

If the CDR mechanism works as expected, Chinese companies and potentially many others could suddenly tap a vast new pool of capital, either in the IPO process or more generally. That could push valuations for many of these issues higher than they might otherwise go, since Chinese mainland investors have limited ability to invest in overseas stocks due to capital controls. A valuation that might cause a New York-based money manager to flee might be more than palatable to a Chinese investor.

While Chinese tech giants are likely to quickly offer CDR options to take advantage of their local brand power and increase upward pressure on their stock prices, the bigger question in my mind is how long it will take overseas companies to offer similar measures and get access to this capital market. While companies like Facebook and Google are blocked or mostly blocked from mainland China, other companies like Apple have strong brand presence in the country, and could theoretically offer a CDR as it strives for a $1 trillion valuation. There are huge legal and policy roadblocks to overcome of course, but such a debut would be a major milestone in China’s financial development.

SoftBank executive changes

Japan’s SoftBank Group, which owns a set of major tech and finance companies, announced a new group of senior execs late on Friday that sets up something of a leadership contest to succeed the group’s founder, Masayoshi Son.

Several years ago, Son had indicated that Nikesh Arora, who had spent a decade at Google and eventually rose to be the company’s chief business officer, would succeed him. Arora became president and chief operating officer of SoftBank, but would last less than two years before heading out from the role. As a sort of coda to that chapter, we learned late last week that Arora has joined Palo Alto Networks as its CEO.

Now, SoftBank has announced that three people will take leadership roles in the company, and all three will join its board of directors. Rajeev Misra, who runs the $100 billion SoftBank Vision Fund, will become an executive vice president (EVP) while maintaining his duties to the fund.

Katsunori Sago, who until recently was the chief investment officer of Japan Post, Japan’s largest savings bank with a $1.9 trillion portfolio, will join SoftBank as an EVP and chief strategy officer. Sago had been rumored to be considering leaving Japan Post just a few weeks ago. Finally, former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure was named an EVP and SoftBank’s new chief operating officer. Claure was elevated to executive chairman of Sprint last month, while stepping down as CEO.

Each of the three are positioned around the key tentpoles of SoftBank. SoftBank’s core business remains telecom, on which Claure will presumably spend significant time. The group’s financial interests, which includes a 100 percent stake in Fortress Investment Group, will likely get significant attention from Sago. And the SoftBank Vision Fund, which has received splashy headlines with its massive investments in global unicorn startups, is obviously a key future pillar of the company, giving Misra a powerful perch in the group.

Masayoshi Son is 60 years old today. While retirement seems to be the least likely course of action for the energetic entrepreneur, clearly he is starting to think through succession in a more robust way than he did before with Arora. That should make SoftBank investors far more content, and also provide a little bit of a competitive dynamic at the top of the organization to drive the group’s results in the years to come.

China initiates investigation into Samsung and other chip companies

The chip wars between China and the rest of the world continue to heat up. Now, it looks like Samsung, the world’s largest chipmaker, is in the crosshairs of Beijing, according to a Wall Street Journal report by Yoko Kubota. In addition to Samsung, Micron and SK Hynix were also ensnared in the investigation.

China has made building a strong indigenous chip industry a core pillar of its economic development strategy. In addition to a comprehensive plan known as Made in China 2025, the country has also been attempting to put together the world’s largest semiconductor venture capital investment fund, which in aggregate could have tens of billions of dollars in capital at its disposal.

The investigations against Samsung and the two chipmakers comes at the same time that China has also once again delayed the close of Qualcomm’s acquisition of NXP Semiconductors. Qualcomm has been waiting for months to get Beijing’s approval on that deal, which would provide the company a fresh source of revenue and a renewed product mix in strategic areas like automotive.

The use of economic investigations to help and hurt Chinese companies and their competitors is starting to become a mainstay. The United States used the negative conclusions of its investigation into Chinese telecommunications company ZTE in order to cut off its export licenses, practically killing the company. While the U.S. has now started to walk back that threat by floating the option of a large fine, it is clear that these sorts of tit-for-tat investigations are going to continue into the future.

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T-Mobile and Sprint have finally announced a merger agreement

Posted by | AOL, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon | No Comments

Sprint and T-Mobile, after years of going back and forth as to whether they are going to tie up two of the largest telecom providers in the U.S., have announced that the two companies have entered a merger agreement this morning.

The merger will be an all-stock transaction, and will now be subject to regulatory approval. That latter part is going to be its biggest challenge, because it will not only tie up the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers into the U.S. into a single unit, but also that international organizations hold significant stakes in both companies. SoftBank controls a majority of Sprint while Deutsche Telekom controls a significant chunk of T-Mobile. Following the administration’s intervention in the Broadcom-Qualcomm takeover attempt, it isn’t clear what will actually go through in terms of major mergers these days.

Bloomberg is reporting that Deutsche Telekom will have 42% ownership of the combined company, while SoftBank will own around 27% of the company.

As expected, the argument here is for the expansion of 5G networks as plans for that start to ramp up. T-Mobile argues in its announcement that it will help it be competitive with AT&T and Verizon as telecom companies start to roll out a next-generation 5G network, though it does in the end remove a carrier choice for end consumers in the U.S..

“The New T-Mobile will have the network capacity to rapidly create a nationwide 5G network with the breadth and depth needed to enable U.S. firms and entrepreneurs to continue to lead the world in the coming 5G era, as U.S. companies did in 4G,” T-Mobile said in a statement as part of the announcement. “The new company will be able to light up a broad and deep 5G network faster than either company could separately. T-Mobile deployed nationwide LTE twice as fast as Verizon and three times faster than AT&T, and the combined company is positioned to do the same in 5G with deep spectrum assets and network capacity.”

Both companies appeared to be finalizing the deal on Friday, when they set valuation terms and were preparing to announce the merger today. The deal values Sprint at an enterprise value of around $59 billion, with the combined company having an enterprise value of $146 billion. AT&T has a market cap of around $214 billion, while Verizon has a market cap of around $213 billion, as of Sunday.

I’m excited to announce that @TMobile & @Sprint
have reached an agreement to come together to form a new company – a larger, stronger competitor that will be a force for positive change for all US consumers and businesses! Watch this & click through for details.

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) April 29, 2018

The transaction, the companies said, is of course subject to regulatory approval. But, pending approval, it is expected to close “no later than the first half of 2019.”

Disclosure: Verizon is the parent company of Oath, which owns TechCrunch.

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T-Mobile is reportedly much closer to a merger deal with Sprint

Posted by | Fundings & Exits, Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile | No Comments

It looks like a potential merger deal between T-Mobile and Sprint, two of the major telecom companies in the U.S., is getting closer and now has set valuation terms, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The deal could be announced as soon as Sunday, according to a report by CNBC. The proposed tie-up of the two companies was called off in November last year, but now that deal appears to be coming closer, with T-Mobile’s backer valuing Sprint at around $24 billion, according to Bloomberg. As part of the deal, Deutsche Telekom AG will get a 69% voting interest on a 42% stake in the company, according to that report. (Both reports, however, disagree on the valuation — with CNBC citing a $26 billion valuation.)

This deal seems to have been a long time coming, and consolidates two of the four major telecom providers in the U.S. into one larger entity. That could, in theory, offer it some more flexibility as they expand into 5G networks. Still, a deal of this scale could still fall apart and would be subject to regulation — with significant international ownership of both companies (Softbank for Sprint, and Deutsche Telekom for T-Mobile).

Sprint shares fell more than 8% in extended trading to under $6, while T-Mobile shares were largely unchanged. Shares of Sprint were up around 8% on the day up to $6.50 in early trading.

A representative from Sprint declined to comment. A representative from T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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These will be the first cities getting 5G from Sprint and T-Mobile

Posted by | Mobile, sprint, T-Mobile, TC | No Comments

 Just last week, AT&T announced the first handful of cities where it’ll roll out its 5G network later this year. Today at Mobile World Congress, T-Mobile and Sprint did the same. Sprint’s first 5G networks will go live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Washington, DC and Houston. T-Mobile will fire up 5G in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Dallas first. Read More

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Sprint adds free Hulu service to its Unlimited Freedom plan

Posted by | Hulu, Media, Mobile, sprint, streaming service, streaming services, streaming TV | No Comments

 As had been rumored this week, Hulu and Sprint today announced that Hulu’s service will now come bundled with Sprint’s unlimited wireless plan. Starting on November 17, both new and existing customers of the Sprint Unlimited Freedom plan will gain access to Hulu’s Limited Commercials service – the on-demand TV streaming service offering access to thousands of TV shows… Read More

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