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Posts Tagged ‘AT&T’

AT&T’s real view of open networks

Posted by Fred on April 4, 2008

Back in December, AT&T responded to Verizon’s proposal to open its network to additional devices and applications by arguing that the AT&T network was already the most open in the world:

“You can use any handset on our network you want,” says Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T’s wireless business. “We don’t prohibit it, or even police it.”

Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today, de la Vega says. “We are the most open wireless company in the industry.”

Today, however, saw two articles that together show how AT&T really feels about openness.  The AP says that AT&T focused its efforts in the recent 700 MHz auctions on the non-open portions of the auction because it better fit their business plan:

AT&T spent $6.64 billion for licenses in the 700-megahertz band auction but avoided licenses in the consumer-friendly “C block” because of the additional regulatory requirements, said Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of the wireless unit.

“The auction worked well … but it highlighted that people put a premium on spectrum that is not encumbered by heavy regulation,” said de la Vega in a conference call with analysts and reporters.

And it’s not like AT&T didn’t value the C Block of the spectrum – they just didn’t want to open their network, so they spent $2.5 billion to buy Aloha Partners, which owned unencumbered C Block spectrum. 

Today also saw an article suggesting that AT&T may introduce an Android handset of its own, now that they are confident they can modify it to fit their own business plan:

When we spoke to AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph De La Vega a few months ago, he said AT&T was open to the possibility of Google’s Android phones being on their network. Today, at CTIA, he followed up on this and said that he’s already met with Google executives and is “encouraged by the idea that an Android phone could host AT&T branded apps.”

A possibility was to take an Android phone and shove AT&T’s own money-generating apps onto it, such as MediaFLO mobile TV. “One of the things we were looking for was that it was truly open and that you could put other features and applications on it.”

AT&T must have a different dictionary than I do. Open spectrum that allows the customer to use any device or run any application is encumbered by excessive governmental regulation.  A mobile OS expressly designed to breach the mobile carriers’ walled gardens, however, is only open if AT&T can litter it with revenue-generating crapware like AT&T Navigator or MediaFLO TV or $5 ringtones.  You can be sure that they’ll also make sure it has a crippled java implementation, crippled GPS, crippled (or missing) Wi-Fi, non-existent OS upgrades and other revenue-generating “features”.  All in the name of openness, of course.

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Starbucks to dump T-Mobile, offer almost-free wi-fi

Posted by Fred on February 11, 2008

Starbucks_Coffee Starbucks has announced that it is dumping T-Mobile in favor of AT&T to power Wi-Fi access at its 7,000 company-owned stores.  With the move, Starbucks is moving closer to free wi-fi, but is not quite there yet.  Wi-Fi will be free for AT&T customers, and it will be free for two hours per day for Starbucks Card holders (Starbucks Cards cost only the value you put on them, so that’s pretty much everyone in the world).  This has allowed Starbucks to claim they’re offering “free” access, and caused the coverage to skew that way , but it’s not really true.  Everyone else will pay $3.99 for a two-hour session or $19.99 per month for unlimited access at Starbucks and any other AT&T hotspot.  This makes it quite a bit cheaper than the existing plan – T-Mobile charges $39.99 for unlimited national access, although it does offer a $9.99 DayPass, which may be a better deal than the two-hour AT&T pass if you plan to use the service for more than four hours in a day.

Given the incremental cost of providing wi-fi, there’s little economic justification for charging $2 per hour for wi-fi.  It’s nice to see Starbucks getting cheaper, but there remain plenty of free alternatives.  Panera provides free wi-fi at about 1,200 cafes, and local options abound. In Richmond, you can get free access at Bakers Crust, Captain Buzzy’s, Coffee Nostra, the Daily Grind, Stir Crazy, Ukrop’s and probably a whole bunch of other places. The java’s better at most of those places, too.

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T-Mobile shows how to hurt your customers and decrease profits

Posted by Fred on January 23, 2008

I’ve complained before about AT&T’s idiotic crippled implementation of Java, which prevents customers from installing and using any application that needs to access the Internet.  According to Gearlog, T-Mobile is no better:

The V8 is a 500 Mhz, Linux-running powerhouse with two gorgeous screens. I know application developers who would love to write software for it. But as with all of their feature phones, T-Mobile forbids any third party Java applications from being installed on the device. They’re basically trying to sell it as an overpriced voice phone, which is like buying a Voodoo PC to run Microsoft Word, or getting a car with a V12 to drive to the store. It makes no sense. (I gave it an Editor’s Choice anyway, for the voice quality. Go figure.)

T-Mobile’s idiotic, incomprehensible and self-defeating policy only gets stupider with time. I get it: they can’t build a 3G network, so they’re going to pretend data services don’t exist. But the lack of 3G hasn’t stopped the iPhone from taking over the multimedia universe, and T-Mobile has a far better position in Wi-Fi than AT&T does. If T-Mobile stopped arbitrarily barring third party applications from feature phones it wouldn’t make them a data leader, but heck, it’d be a start.

These carriers are still operating with the mindset of a monopolist, in which the customer is beholden to the provider for all services, and any third-party competitors should be blocked.  AT&T and T-Mobile keep their customers from installing Opera Mini, and do everything possible to boost their own for-pay services, such as TeleNav. Comcast’s new TiVo DVR strips out anything that could conceivably take revenue from Comcast, such as Amazon Unbox downloads. It makes perfect economic sense, but it’s terrible for the customer.  They don’t want to hear it, but these companies are infrastructure companies that should supply the capability for customers to use any product or service they choose.  They should be dumb pipes. Instead they’re just dumb.

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Free App Friday: Fizz Weather

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007

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Today’s free application at Handango is Fizz Weather for Smartphone.  This is a $16.95 value for, well, free.  Features include 7 day full forecasts, 2 day forecasts, 6 hourly intervals, and current conditions for 58,000 cities worldwide.  You can also get weather maps that you can zoom and pan, ski reports, airport delays and weather alerts (US only).  You can access all this information from your home screen or via an application.  I used Fizz Traveller on my Blackjack and found it useful – Fizz Weather provides more weather information, while Traveller provides basic weather info (forecasts only – no current conditions) plus alarms, currency conversion, to-do lists, etc.

The one downside I ran into with Traveller was that there were lots of times that weather information for a location was unavailable.  This is undoubtedly a problem with Fizz’s upstream weather data provider, CustomWeather. In all, it’s a nice piece of software, and a good alternative to paying AT&T a monthly fee for MyCast Weather, which comes installed in the Applications folder by default. I have a religious objection to paying AT&T for the services they try to push, and this includes MyCast ($3.99/month), TeleNav ($9.99/month) and XM Radio Mobile ($8.99/month).  You can get most of the same functionality for free by using Fizz Weather, Windows Live Search or Google Maps, and XStreamXM Mobile.

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Top AT&T Ringtones For 2007, and Some That Don’t Smell Like Butt

Posted by Fred on December 20, 2007

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AT&T has released a list of the Top 10 ringtones purchased from the AT&T Media Mall, and it reads like a playlist the CIA may have used in the deleted-recording interrogation:

  1. “Party Like a Rockstar” by Shop Boyz
  2. “This Is Why I’m Hot” by Mims
  3. “Crank That” by Soulja Boy
  4. “Rockstar” by Nickelback
  5. “Don’t Matter” by Akon
  6. “Buy You A Drank” by T-Pain
  7. “A Bay Bay” by Hurricane Chris
  8. “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston
  9. “Pop, Lock & Drop It” by Huey
  10. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie

Of course, these are the songs people dumb enough to pay $2.49 for a ringtone purchased, probably mostly teenagers downloading ringtones and charging them to Daddy’s Family Plan bill. Here’s a Venn Diagram to illustrate the problem:

ringtone_venn.png

Virtually all phones can use MP3s as ringtones, so if you have a digital music collection, you can easily make your own for free. Copy the whole file to the phone or use Audacity to trim it to 30 seconds. If you must buy a ringtone, here’s my list of songs that are far more worth your two-and-a-half bucks than anything on AT&T’s list (all links are to the Media Mall – if you click from a regular browser, you can get the ringtone via SMS).

  1. Summertime – John Coltrane
  2. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down – Miles Davis
  3. Drunken Lullabies – Flogging Molly
  4. London Calling – The Clash
  5. Just One Fix – Ministry
  6. Lips Like Sugar – Echo and the Bunnymen
  7. Dirge Inferno – Cradle of Filth
  8. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
  9. The Sportscenter Theme
  10. Charlie Brown Theme – Vince Guaraldi

[via CrunchGear]

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What Should Google Mobile Do Next? Fix the Broken Stuff.

Posted by Fred on December 20, 2007

Judi Sohn at Web Worker Daily wants to know What Should Google Mobile Do Next?

As Google expands their supported platforms and applications in the mobile space, what do you want them to tackle next? Sync for Windows Mobile calendar? Gmail contact syncing? Stand-alone Reader or Docs? More iPhone-friendly browser applications?

To paraphrase the comment I left over there – should Google introduce new mobile products? God no. They should fix the ones they already have, most of which are broken in some way (other than the ones for the JesusPhone):

  • Gmail introduced IMAP support, which in theory should allow you to keep the messaging application on your phone and the web application in sync.  Unfortunately, on Windows Mobile it’s horribly, horribly broken.  HTML messages just show up as message headers with empty message bodies. Google knows it’s broken, they’ve known for over a month, and they haven’t said anything other than “Windows Mobile is not supported.”
  • An alternative would be the Gmail java application, which does a lot of neat things like prefetching messages for speedy access.  Unfortunately, on AT&T the application is unusable, thanks to the crippled java implementation AT&T uses to promote its own service offerings.  This isn’t Google’s fault, but they could easily fix it by either (a) releasing a signed java application, which would get around the security restriction (what Nokia ended up doing to get Widsets to work on the e62) or (b) releasing a native Windows Mobile application (like they did with Maps).  At the very least, Google should acknowledge the issue and explain what the problem is.
  • The new beta of the Maps application has a cool feature called My Location, which uses cell tower location to provide a rough GPS-like functionality for non-GPS phones.  Great if it works, but many handsets just say “location temporarily unavailable.”  The Blackjack and the Q are two primary examples.  Each of these devices does report location to the OS, which some applications are able to use (i.e. PhoneAlarm).  Google apparently doesn’t like the data the phone provides.  Again, this is not entirely Google’s fault, but they could fix it, if they wanted to.
  • The last time I used it, the Google Reader mobile site crashed Pocket IE any time you tried to mark all items as read.  The Q9h comes with Opera Mobile, which seems to work OK.  Opera Mini also works OK, although it suffers from the same problem Gmail does and is unusable on AT&T phones.  Google Reader also doesn’t play nice with Opera Mini – keyboard shortcuts don’t work.

It bears repeating that these problems are not necessarily Google’s fault.  Other mail applications can deal with Gmail’s non-standard IMAP implementation, for example.  But the mobile world is what it is, and if Google is going to play in the mobile space, they should figure out a way to make their applications work properly.

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Vaporware 2007, and the winner is (duh!)

Posted by Fred on December 20, 2007

Wired released its Vaporware 2007 list, and the #1 vaporware product is hardly surprising. Duke Nukem Forever was #2 in 2000, and has enjoyed a run at #1 ever since, interrupted only by its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 (Wired’s ill-fated attempt to get the thing off the list).  The AT&T Blackjack/WM6 upgrade made #4. Glad to see Wired piling on, but AT&T has released their BJ upgrade – it’s called the Blackjack II.  Poor pitiful BJ owners should give up hoping that the free upgrade will ever see the light of day, and install the hacked ROM (or do what I did, and get a Q9h).  AT&T’s not about giving you free stuff, after all.

One piece of vaporware Wired missed – the Slacker portable radio.  Originally supposed to be released in “summer 2007”, it’s now allegedly going to ship at the end of January.

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My new phone – Moto Q9h

Posted by Fred on December 12, 2007

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I finally broke down and replaced my Blackjack with a new Moto Q9h. The BJ was a nice phone, but it had some serious issues.  AT&T is apparently never going to release the WM6 upgrade. I was starting to get a lot of dropped calls.  Signal strength was bad – no signal in places where my wife’s Moto Razr V3 had a nice signal. The keyboard was fine for basic use, but bad for long e-mails.  So I got the upgrade via Premier ($149 after rebate).  Some early thoughts off the top of my head after a few hours of use:

  • The GPS didn’t work with either Google Maps or Windows Live Search out of the box.  I know there’s a hack to enable the GPS, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Bah humbug to AT&T for trying to get me to pay for Telenav.
  • For some reason, PhoneAlarm never reports the battery as full.  It’ll show 100% for a few seconds, and then it immediately drops to 80.  Not a huge deal, but annoying.
  • There doesn’t appear to be an easy way to adjust ringtone volume.  The BJ had a handy volume rocker on the side.  The Q appears to only have an in-call volume control, but maybe I’m missing something.
  • I miss the Blackjack’s battery charger, which allowed me to keep a battery charging all the time.  The Q only includes a power cord, so I can only charge the battery in the phone.
  • I like the Windows Mobile Bubble Breaker bug, which sends out only balls of the same color for a long time. High score, yippee.
  • Actual phone performance seems good, as with all Motos.
  • Finding a case for the phone+extended battery is going to be an issue.

Overall, I like it.  It’s an improvement over the BJ.  I’m off to DC again tomorrow, so I’ll be interested to find out (a) how the battery life is and (b) whether I can get a signal between Ashland and Fredericksburg on the train.

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Verizon Embraces Google’s Android, Kinda

Posted by Fred on December 4, 2007

Reports suggest that not only will Verizon Wireless embrace Android, but that Google’s mobile OS initiative played a role in the carrier’s decision to (kinda) open its network:

While Sprint Nextel (S) and T-Mobile (DT) were among the 34 charter members of this Google-led “Open Handset Alliance,” the two biggest U.S. carriers, AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless, were notably absent. “To get into that press release really didn’t do anything,” says McAdam. “We needed to understand the details of that operating system.”When Verizon executives and engineers examined Android’s software tool kit, however, they were impressed. “Clearly the Android system gives a lot of developers the opportunity to develop applications for a wide range of handsets,” says McAdam. Not only did the company decide to support Android, but McAdam says the new platform was a key influence in adopting open access. “Android really facilitated this move,”says McAdam.

As with all things Verizon, time will tell.  Does this mean Verizon will permit Android handsets on its network via the metered-use, semi-open plan to be introduced in 2008, or will Verizon offer Android to its walled-in masses?  If the former, it’s not even news.  If the latter, it may be good for customers, especially if the OS offers a compelling alternative to the iPhone.

Mashable likes the news and thinks it will encourage AT&T to join the party:

With Verizon’s move, AT&T becomes the only major US carrier that has not yet announced plans to support Android. With the variety of devices and applications the OS will eventually allow the other carriers to offer, it seems like AT&T will ultimately have its hand forced in joining the alliance. The longer they wait, the further behind they will be when devices and apps start making their way to the public next year.

As a GSM carrier, there’s little AT&T could do to stop Android, as using an Android phone on AT&T would be as simple as swapping a SIM.  It seems unlikely that AT&T would put much muscle behind Android, however.  The open source nature of the OS and ease of adding third-party applications goes against AT&T’s business model of removing features and crippling functionality to protect revenue streams like AT&T Music and TeleNav.  It would be too easy to use VOIP on Android, and the specs aren’t going to allow AT&T to remove GPS and Wi-Fi or cripple Java, like AT&T does in its other phones.  Eventually, market pressure will force AT&T to be more open, but not yet.

TechCrunch is far more skeptical:

Talk is cheap when you are trying to come across as all open on the eve of the biggest wireless spectrum auction in a decade. But if it means more support for Android and open networks in general, that is a good thing.

The BusinesWeek story is a big wet kiss that lovingly details Verizon’s seriousness about opening up its network. (The CEO keeps a list with him always of why openness is important to Verizon. Crumpled. In his pocket. The thing is practically near his heart!). Sorry, but the whole thing smells like a well-timed plant. We are still waiting for Verizon to officially join the Open Handset Alliance. And if it really were embracing openness, it wouldn’t treat open devices and open apps like second-class citizens, separate and at a safe distance from its 64 million subscribers.

That’s a lot closer to the truth.  Verizon isn’t really opening its network to new apps and devices.  The garden wall is still intact; they’ve just added a little plot of scraggly corn and pitiful tomatoes outside the wall., for which you can pay through the nose, but which allow the carrier to say “look, produce for the masses!”

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AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: Choose Us, We Suck Less!

Posted by Fred on December 3, 2007

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson doesn’t think of Verizon’s promise to (sorta) open its network:

Stephenson also used the event to scoff at Verizon’s splashy Nov. 27 announcement that it plans to open its network to hardware and software not sold by the company. AT&T, he declared, is “probably one of the most open networks in the world.””We have thousands of people developing into our architecture today. All of the handsets we sell are Java-equipped. Who doesn’t know how to develop into Java, right?” Stephenson said. “If you want to buy a handset on our network without a contract, fine. Just pay retail price for the handset. Right? The only reason we make people sign a contract is if we’re subsidizing it heavily.”

He added, “[All carriers] are all going to be open over time.”

OK, let’s count the errors and misstatements in that excerpt. All AT&T handsets are Java-equipped? Nope.  The iPhone doesn’t have Java at all.  Plus, many of the handsets AT&T sells are crippled.  My Blackjack has Java, technically.  But I can’t run two of the most popular third-party Java applications on it (Opera Mini and Gmail) because the phone asks for permission every time either application needs to send data outbound (i.e. all the time).  May as well not have Java at all.  Applications that I buy from the AT&T store work just fine, of course.

The only reason they make you sign a contract is if they are subsidizing a phone heavily?  Also nope.  The iPhone isn’t subsidized by AT&T at all and you still have to sign a contract.  It’s probably true that AT&T is more open than Verizon (not open at all) or T-mobile (less open, and even more restrictive when it comes to Java).  It’s also probably true that all networks will eventually be open, either by market dynamics or governmental fiat.  Everything else Stephenson says is just blatantly untrue, and amounts to “choose us – we suck less.”

[via Engadget Mobile]

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