Verizon

Verizon flips on 5G for phones in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis

Posted by | 5g, Mobile, Verizon | No Comments

Verizon (which owns the company that owns TechCrunch) announced today that it has activated its 5G Ultra Wideband Network in parts of Minneapolis and Chicago. The news is the first step for the carrier’s plan to bring the technology to north of 30 U.S. cities at some point this year.

It’s all still baby steps, of course. While the roll out has started a week ahead of schedule, it’s only available in “parts” of the two Midwestern cities, according to the company. Those in the right spots, however, can expect top speeds of up to 1Gbps, per Verizon’s press materials.

Here are the areas that will get coverage:

In Chicago, 5G coverage is concentrated in areas of the West Loop and the South Loop, around landmarks like Union Station, Willis Tower, The Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park and The Chicago Theatre. Customers also have 5G Ultra Wideband service in the Verizon store on The Magnificent Mile and throughout The Gold Coast, Old Town and River North.

In Minneapolis, service is concentrated in the Downtown area, including Downtown West and Downtown East, as well as inside and around U.S. Bank Stadium, the site of this weekend’s NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband service is also available around landmarks like the Minneapolis Convention Center, the Minneapolis Central Library, the Mill City Museum, Target Center and First Avenue venues, The Commons, areas of Elliot Park and in the Verizon store in The Mall of America.

The other big rub here is the extremely limited availability of 5G handsets at present. The phones were seemingly all over the place at Mobile World Congress back in February, but actually getting your hands on one is another question entirely. Currently the Moto Z3 is the only phone that can access those speeds on Verizon, when paired with the 5G Moto Mod.

It’s important to temper expectations in all of this. Full coverage — especially for those outside of major cities — is going to take a while. And even for those who are in big cities, chances are it’s going to take a while to get it. That’s going to be coupled with limited availability of 5G options (Apple, for one, isn’t expected to go 5G until 2020 at the earliest) and some high-price premiums on already expensive flagship devices.

That said, the long-promised era of 5G is, indeed, finally dawning.

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HMD Nokia phones are coming to Verizon, Cricket and Rogers

Posted by | cricket, hardware, hmd, Mobile, Nokia, Verizon | No Comments

The North American market can be a tough one to crack for a number of reasons, not the least of which is consumers’ continued reliance on carriers. Without their distribution channels, most handset makers just can’t get a foothold here. In a meeting earlier this week, HMD told me that North America is going to be its primary focus for 2019, a push that starts with a trio of carrier deals.

This morning, the Finnish smartphone maker announced that it will be bringing its Nokia-branded Android handsets to a trio of key carriers — Verizon and Cricket in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada. The U.S. devices are arriving this month, with Rogers’ arriving “very soon” through its Chatr brand.

Cricket users will get access to the Nokia 3.1 Plus, which focuses primarily on its 3,500mAh battery, which the company optimistically puts at two days of life. It’s a budget device, of course, priced at $160, sporting a 5.99-inch screen, a middling Snapdragon 439 and dual rear-facing cameras.

Verizon users will get access to the Nokia 2 V, which sports an even larger 4,000mAh battery and a 5.5-inch screen. That one will be available through Verizon stores on January 30. Rogers, meanwhile, will be getting the Nokia 2.1.

HMD’s already had pretty solid growth in its first few years of existence, bucking the trend of an otherwise stagnate mobile market. That growth comes thanks in part to its out of the gate brand recognition from acquiring Nokia IP, some buzzy early retro handsets, a focus on budget devices and its continued commitment to the oft-neglected feature phone market.

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Apple expands its reach with free Apple Music on Verizon Wireless

Posted by | apple music, Gadgets, music streaming services, Verizon, verizon wireless | No Comments

Verizon Wireless is now offering free access to Apple Music. The music streaming service is available on select Verizon Wireless plans starting on January 17, 2019. Previously, Verizon and Apple offered a free six-month trial to the streaming service.

The partnership comes as Apple is clearly looking for partners to help extend the reach of Apple’s services. Just last week, at CES 2019, multiple consumer electronic companies announced compatibility and support for several of Apple’s services, including Airplay 2, HomeKit and iTunes video streaming services. This Verizon partnership further demonstrates Apple’s willingness to piggyback on another company to reach new users.

Verizon Wireless is America’s largest wireless carriers, though it’s unclear how many users will have access to this service. The free Apple Music offer is only available to Verizon subscribers on select plans. Starting January 17, Apple Music will be included in Beyond Unlimited and Above Unlimited plans. For other users, a six-month trial is still available.

Wireless carriers have long looked to offering outside services to its subscribers to prop up their offerings. T-Mobile offers free Netflix and limited access to GoGo. Sprint gives subscribers free Hulu and Tidal. Sprint lets users on some plans pick from free HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or other services. Verizon is the first to offer free Apple Music.

Partnering with wireless carriers is a proven strategy to supercharge growth. Previously, Spotify used similar methods to introduce its service to customers. Others, such as Dropbox, followed. It’s a smart move: Go where there are already customers. Wireless carriers offer service companies access to a huge range of customers from various demographic groups.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple discloses the source of Apple Music subscribers in quarterly reports. This deal will likely result in a massive increase of subscribers who are not paying for the service through traditional means.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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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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Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Posted by | 4G, 5g, 5g network, AT&T, deutsche telekom, Gadgets, Internet of Things, Mobile, mobile technology, T-Mobile, technology, Verizon, Verizon Communications, wireless industry, wireless networks | No Comments

AT&T recently started a shady marketing tactic that labeled its 4G network as a 5G network. Now, rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are not having any of it.

In an open letter, in which AT&T is not named directly, Verizon says in part “the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.” TechCrunch agrees. The advantages of 5G networks are profound. The next generation of wireless networks will bring more than just increased speeds, and AT&T’s current campaign of calling a 4G network a 5G network clouds the water.

T-Mobile is more direct in its criticism of AT&T. Because that’s how T-Mobile rolls. Watch.

didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH

— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019

This isn’t the first time AT&T has employed this mislabeling campaign. The wireless carrier did something similar prior to launching its LTE network; it was shady then and it’s shady now.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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AT&T is lying to customers with 5G marketing

Posted by | 4G, 5g, AT&T, CES 2019, Gadgets, Internet of Things, LTE, Mobile, mobile technology, technology, Verizon, wireless | No Comments

After a recent update some AT&T phones now have a 5G E icon. This icon replaces the one indicated the phone is running on a 4G network. But here’s the thing: The phone is still on a 4G network. AT&T has played these games before, too.

This nonsense is a marketing ploy by AT&T. The so-called 5G E (5G Evolution) network is just a beefed-up 4G network and not true 5G, which is still far from being ready for general consumption. AT&T used the same deceptive tactics before launching its LTE network.

Right now only select phones in a few markets will see the change. The wireless carrier intends to roll out this madness to even more phones and even more markets throughout the year.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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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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The 5G wars have entered the petty stage

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, TC, Verizon | No Comments

If you’re reading this the year it was written, you’re almost certainly not getting it over 5G. If you’re reading this in the future, congrats, you made it. And hey, remember polar bears?

5G is the latest buzzword to send the mobile industry into a tizzy. This one’s got a particular weight to it, too, given that smartphone sales have started flagging for the first time ever. The fact is that 5G has the power to be a truly transformational technology for smartphones and beyond — assuming we’re not all sick of talking about it by the time it gets here.

The first buds have finally begun to show. This morning, AT&T announced that it’s flipping the 5G switch this Friday. And you can take advantage of it if you live in parts of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio or Waco. And if you pick up the compatible mobile hotspot.

That’s already a lot of very important caveats, but Verizon was quick to “clarify” things. The carrier (which, for the record, owns TechCrunch), sent me the following unsolicited statement from Verizon spokesperson Kevin King, upon reading our story. “Welcome to the 5G party, begun by Verizon on October 1, 2018.”

Hey, cool, dude.

I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?! 🤷‍♂️

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 1, 2018

Now Verizon’s sweet party guy announcement brings to mind this tweet from foul-mouthed T-Mobile CEO John Legere, “I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?!”

The fact is that standards can be a tricky thing. Verizon launched something called 5G TF, not to be confused with 5G NR, more commonly accepted as the industry’s 5G standard. That’s led many to label VZW’s as something other than “true 5G.” AT&T, meanwhile, is using NR, but an early version of the spec, which will eventually be upgraded via firmware. Verizon, meanwhile, has been transitioning toward the standard.

Being first accounts for a lot in this industry, especially with the backdrop of slowing device sales. But the reality for most consumers is that ubiquitous 5G is still a ways off here in the States. And while hardware makers like OnePlus, LG and Samsung have been falling all over themselves to announce a 5G smartphone or two, many consumers who shell out that extra premium are going to be spending a fair amount of time on LTE.

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Ericsson software problem has been causing widespread cell phone outages

Posted by | AT&T, Ericsson, Mobile, mobile networks, Softbank, Verizon | No Comments

A problem with the software in Ericsson equipment is causing outages across the world, including O2 users in Great Britain and SoftBank users in Japan, according to a report in the Financial Times earlier today.

Ericsson took blame for the outage in a press release. It apparently involves faulty software on certain Ericsson equipment used on the affected company’s mobile networks. While Ericsson indicated it involved multiple countries, it appeared to try to minimize the impact by stating it involved “network disturbances for a limited number of customers.” The FT report indicated that it was actually affecting millions of mobile customers worldwide.

Regardless, the company said that an initial analysis attributed the problem to an expired software certificate on the affected equipment. Börje Ekholm, Ericsson president and CEO, said they were working to restore the service as soon as possible, which probably isn’t soon enough for people who don’t have a working cell phone at the moment.

“The faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned and we apologize not only to our customers but also to their customers. We work hard to ensure that our customers can limit the impact and restore their services as soon as possible,” Ekholm said in a statement.

While the press release went on to say they are working to restore the service throughout the day, as of publishing this article, the O2 outage maps still showed problems in the London area and throughout Great Britain.

The AT&T and Verizon outage pages are also currently showing outages in the U.S, but Ericsson reports that these are unrelated to today’s issues with their equipment, which are only affecting customers outside of the US.

(Note that Verizon owns this publication.)

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Google is killing off Allo, its latest messaging app flop

Posted by | Android, Apps, Assistant, computing, Google, Google Hangouts, imessage, machine learning, messaging apps, slack, SMS, Software, technology, Verizon, WhatsApp | No Comments

It’s official: Google is killing off Allo.

The messaging app was only launched in September 2016, but it was pretty much flawed from the word go, with limited usage. Google was, once again, painfully late to the messaging game.

The company said it had ceased work on the service earlier this year, and now it has announced that it’ll close down in March of next year.

“Allo will continue to work through March 2019 and until then, you’ll be able to export all of your existing conversation history from the app,” Google said in a blog post. “We’ve learned a lot from Allo, particularly what’s possible when you incorporate machine learning features, like the Google Assistant, into messaging.”

Google said it wants “every single Android device to have a great default messaging experience,” but the fact remains that the experience on Android massively lags iOS, where Apple’s iMessage service offers a slick experience with free messages, calling and video between iPhone and iPad users.

Instead of Allo, Google is pushing ahead with RCS (Rich Communication Services), an enhanced SMS standard that could allow iMessage-like communication between Android devices.

But “could” is the operative word. The main caveat with RCS is that carriers must develop their own messaging apps that work with the protocol and connect to other apps, while the many Android OEMs also need to hop on board with support.

As I wrote earlier this year, with RCS, Google is giving carriers a chance to take part in the messaging boom, rather than be cut out as WhatsApp, Messenger, iMessage and others take over. But the decision is tricky for carriers, who have traditionally tightly held any form of income until the death. That’s because they won’t directly make money from consumers via RCS, though it allows them to keep their brand and figure out other ways to generate income, such as business-related services.

Verizon has already signed up, for one, but tracking the other supporters worldwide is tricky. Another problem: RCS is not encrypted, which flies in the face of most messaging apps on the market today.

Elsewhere, Google is keeping Duo — the video chat service that launched alongside Allo — while it continues to develop Hangouts into an enterprise-focused service, much like Slack .

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