US operators belatedly act to protect user location data

AT&T and Verizon announced that they will terminate all remaining commercial agreements that involve sharing customer location data, following a report exposing the country’s mobile carriers’ failure to control data sharing flow.

Jim Greer, a spokesman for AT&T, said in a standard email to media: “Last year, we stopped most location aggregation services while maintaining some that protect our customers, such as roadside assistance and fraud prevention.” Referring to the Motherboard exposé, Greer continued, “In light of recent reports about the misuse of location services, we have decided to eliminate all location aggregation services — even those with clear consumer benefits.”

This is similar to the position T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere adopted when responding to the criticism from the US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Verizon also announced that the company will sever four remaining contracts to share location data with roadside assistance services. After this Version will need to get customers’ explicit agreement to share their data with these third-party assistance companies. Sprint, which was also caught out by the Motherboard report, is the only remaining nation-wide carrier that has not announced its plan on the issue.

This is all good news for the American consumers who are concerned with the safety of their private data. On the other hand, mobile operators have hardly been the worst offenders when it comes to compromising the privacy and security of customer data. Earlier, Google was exposed to have continued tracking users’ location even after the feature had been switched off, while Facebook has been mired in endless privacy controversies.

Monetising user data is only a side and most likely insignificant “value-add” business for the mobile operators, because they live on the service fees subscrbers pay. But it is the internet heavyweights’ lifeline. This may sound fatalistic but it should not surprise anyone if the Facebooks and the Googles of the world come up with more innovative measures to finance the “free” services we have benn used to.

T-Mobile US bags another million, while AT&T makes doubles down on 5G claims

It’s been a busy day on the US side of the pond as T-Mobile US reported its full-year subscription figures, while AT&T promised a nationwide 5G rollout with few details.

Starting with the controversial and confrontational T-Mobile, the magenta army claims to have added total net customer additions of 2.4 million to the ranks over the last three months, while 2018 on the whole stood at 7 million total net adds. In the final quarter, the numbers stood at 1.4 million branded postpaid net additions, 1 million of which were branded postpaid phone net additions, making it the best quarter in four years.

“The T-Mobile team delivered our best customer results ever in Q4 2018 and we did it in a competitive climate while working hard to complete our merger with Sprint,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “That’s 23 quarters in a row where more than 1 million customers have chosen T-Mobile – along with a postpaid phone churn result that’s below 1%. These customer results speak volumes about our company, our network and our brand.”

There is no question T-Mobile US has been a success story under the leadership of Legere, but the big question is how he has done it. In short, Legere has not conformed to the status quo, as you can probably pick up from his ranting and raving on social media, but hyper-targeted marketing has also played a role.

This is a strategy which has been in the making for some time now, the team promised to address markets and demographics which are apparently underserved, or blurred together with generic marketing campaigns. It seems to be the incremental increase approach to growth, but you can’t argue with success.

“…it’s the strategy we laid out for you, going back to 2015 and 2016 is in full effect now,” said COO Mike Sievert on the earnings call. “We said we were going to expand distribution, we did that. We said we were going to expand the segments that we go after and we did that. We were going to add a very serious focus on business, we did that. So, the results have the benefit of all those things in the runway now.

“So that’s a phenomenal uptick. Our suburban market share, we think is 14% to 15%. Our rural market share, we think is sub-10%. Military and older people, 55 plus, sorry Braxton. We think we have a 10%-ish share of both those segments that we’ve been focusing on for a year right now. So, lots of runway behind the strategy left to go, but you are starting to see, as we promised you would the effects of those investments now flowing through into our results.”

One segment which is in currently in the crosshair is enterprise customers. The team might have had one of the most successful quarters to date in this area, according to Sievert, but market share is very low currently. AT&T and Verizon naturally hold the lion’s share of the business, but T-Mobile US has already shown it is perfectly capable of making a challenge to the ‘duopoly’.

Looking ahead to the 5G bonanza, the T-Mobile team has decided to sit out the initial race, or how this has been spun by the PR ‘gurus’, instead focusing on the long-term nationwide charge.

“We are the only ones that have a plan to bring 5G nationwide in 2020,” said Sievert. “And the others are focused on millimetre wave in some places. We are bringing 5G everywhere we operate, and we are doing it by next year and that’s a real differentiator.”

In the pursuit of coverage and due diligence, Sievert is not being factually correct here, making a statement which is indeed inaccurate.

Looking over at the AT&T business, the team has made its own statement, perhaps an effort to redirect attention from the misleading statements it has made concerning ‘5Ge’. This marketing ploy is of course nothing more than an attempt to pray on the un-informed, using small print to its greatest effect, though whether the latest statement is any better we’ll leave you to decide.

Similar to T-Mobile US’ commitment to 5G, AT&T has now promised ‘nationwide mobile 5G footprint’ using sub-6 GHz spectrum by early 2020. The ambitions are certainly noteworthy from both parties, but what we are struggling to stomach at the moment are a lack of details; no-one has actually stepped forward to say what a nationwide rollout actually means.

Does this mean there will be a 5G footprint in every state? What percentage of the US will be covered by 5G? Will the rural communities have a taste of the new connectivity euphoria or will it simply be limited to the busiest sections of the largest cities? What transportation hubs will become a 5G hotspot? How many 5G cell sites are forecast for the time when nationwide 5G coverage will be claimed?

While we are being particularly critical of the claims, we believe this is necessary for an industry which is not always the most honest with its customers.

Although consumers should remain apathetic, though they probably won’t, to the 5G euphoria, or at least until there are 5G-specific services launched, the new networks will become a major marketing plug for the telcos. The marketing team need something new to talk about, and the ‘bigger, better, faster’ tendencies of these departments will ensure 5G is front-page news.

All of the 5G buzz means very little to the consumer right now, but don’t tell them that. However, on a more positive note, it is quite exciting at how quickly the 5G promise is becoming a reality.

AT&T’s 5G false start backfires

The attempt by US operator AT&T to rebrand LTE-A as 5Ge has quite rightly left it open to ridicule.

It was never in any doubt that a US operator would jump the gun regarding 5G this year, it was just a matter of who. The geniuses in AT&T’s marketing department decided it should be them and, while the rest of us were opening Christmas presents and falling asleep in front of Bond films, they were plotting how to claim 5G victory without actually serving up any 5G.

Inspired, perhaps, by the best wireless technology currently available on the AT&T network, their hours of brainstorming yielded the word ‘evolution’. If you stick a little ‘e’ after 5G, they apparently reasoned, then you’re basically saying it’s nearly 5G. Closer to 5G, in fact, than 4G, so putting 5G on phones is totally justified. Essentially AT&T is saying it has the most evolved AT&T.

Not only has the entirety of the telecoms and tech press been merciless in calling bullshit on this risible move, but AT&T’s main competitors have wasted little time in taking the piss. Verizon CTO Kyle Malady was moved to publish an opportunistic piece entitled ‘When we say “5G,” we mean 5G’.

“We’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labelling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities,” he said. “Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.”

As you might expect, T-Mobile US was much less restrained in its response. CEO John Legere collated some of the media dismissals of the move and shared them on Twitter. His marketing department warmed to the theme and posted a video of someone putting ‘9G’ sticker over the top of the network notification display in the top right of an iPhone, to ridicule the cosmetic nature of this AT&T initiative.

The sad thing is that this probably won’t harm AT&T. Yes it looks ridiculous now, but if there’s no such thing as bad publicity then AT&T seems to be getting a fair bit of it. That could change, however, if this move becomes a ‘quirky’ at the end of mainstream news bulletins, and AT&T becomes synonymous with marketing incompetence and duplicity, then that old axiom will be put to the test.

AT&T rebrands LTE-A as 5Ge

AT&T customers might have noticed a new symbol appearing in the top corner of their devices and for those who aren’t paying attention, they might be duped into thinking the telco is offering 5G connectivity.

AT&T has now switched on its ‘5G Evolution’ service meaning a ‘5Ge’ symbol will appear in the corner of Samsung Galaxy S8 Active, LG V30, and LG V40 devices. For everyone else in the world, ‘5G Evolution’ is 4G LTE-Advanced, though AT&T feels the need to intentionally try to mislead customers, fooling them into believing they are receiving 5G data services.

Why AT&T feels it is appropriate to deceive its customers so blatantly is beyond us.

AT&T might well be one of the first to offer 5G services through a portable hotspot device, albeit in a very limited area, but compatible smartphones are still months away. There will of course be various different leaks and promotions over the next couple of weeks leading up to MWC, but the first devices able to make use of the 5G euphoria will not be available until Spring at the very earliest.

With this in mind, AT&T is simply taking advantage of customers who do not know any better.

While this might seem like an underhanded and putrid act from the telco, it’s all about the marketing war which is about to kick off in the US. Verizon can claim to have broken its 5G duck first with the launch of a fixed-wireless access solution, but AT&T has the bragging rights for the first 5G mobile device. This ‘5G Evolution’ deception from AT&T is just another move in the battle for the consumer’s attention.

What is worth noting is that the portion of AT&T’s network offering ‘5Ge’ or LTE-A to call it by its proper name, has received a speed boost. The telco claims speeds of 400 Mbps could be achieved with the connection, though who knows whether this is actually true. AT&T isn’t making itself out to be the most honest brand around here, and perhaps we should start questions the legitimacy of any claim the telco makes.

The long and short of it is AT&T is intentionally, directly and disgustingly misleading its customers, a move that could well blow back in its face.

It’s all go on AT&T’s 5G network

If you’re lucky enough to live or work anywhere near one of the flashy new AT&T 5G cell sites, and have won the telco lottery, you’ll only have to wait until Friday to live the dream.

On 21 December AT&T will become the first telco to cross the finish line and offer a mobile 5G service over a commercial, standards-based mobile 5G network. It’s been years getting to this point, but the green button is about to be struck for the first time in a meaningful way.

“This is the first taste of the mobile 5G era,” said Andre Fuetsch, President of AT&T Labs. “Being first, you can expect us to evolve very quickly. It’s early on the 5G journey and we’re ready to learn fast and continually iterate in the months ahead.”

But before you get too excited, the only device which will be available right now is a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot. A few customers, presumably a few narcissistic tweeters and Instagrammers, will be given a free devices and 90 days of data, but for mere mortals the hot spot will cost $499, as well as $70 a month for the service next Spring. This might just be in time for the launch of 5G compatible phones.

So, who lives in the lucky cities? Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco, will be the first to get the 5G treatment. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, will be next in early 2019.

For AT&T it’s a win. All the telcos have been in the same race, though Verizon and AT&T built an early lead from the early days. T-Mobile US might suggest it didn’t want to be the first, and is instead focusing on a genuine nationwide rollout, but don’t get too caught up in the PR spin. CEO John Legere and his magenta army would have loved to be first across the finish line, something else for him to get wild-eyed about on social media, but that prize, and the ‘first’ claims in advertising is heading over to AT&T.

What does this mean for the consumers who are lucky enough to get their hands on the 5G magic? Probably very little. It’s a marketing quirk and a claim for early adopters to proudly emblazon across their social media accounts. There aren’t many consumer services out there right now which wouldn’t work effectively on 4G, so we suggest it might not mean much at the moment.

That said, this shouldn’t take the gleam off the AT&T achievement. 5G has been in the pipeline for years and it should be recognised as a significant step forward. Now over to the wonderful creatives around the world who will think of the ideas and services which we haven’t even dreamed of today. And that’s where 5G might make a difference in the eyes of the consumer.

Qualcomm pumps Snapdragon 855 in Hawaii

The chipset company Qualcomm just unveiled the newest Snapdragon SoC product to power 5G mobile devices.

On the first day of its annual “Snapdragon Tech Summit” in Hawaii, Qualcomm introduced its first commercial 5G chipset, branded as Snapdragon 855. The system is compatible with Qualcomm’s X50 modem with antennae supporting 5G on both sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands. On a 7-nm silicon will also be its 4th-generation multi-core on-device AI engine (said to deliver 3X faster AI performance than its predecessor the Snapdragon 845), Computer Vision Image Signal Processor (CV-ISP) for new photo and video features (“true 4K HDR video capture, cinema-grade photography capabilities”), and 3D Sonic Sensor. The sonic sensor can be used for under-display fingerprint reading using ultrasonic waves (instead of the current optical under-display sensors using light), which, Qualcomm claims, is safer and more accurate.

Qualcomm expects the first smartphones using the new chipset to hit the market in the first half of next year. “The Snapdragon 855 will define the premium tier in 2019,” said Alex Katouzian, SVP and GM of Mobile for Qualcomm, who unveiled the new chipset. Earlier Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s President, said he expected to see a lot of phone announcements at CES in January and a lot of actual phone launches at MWC in February.

“Today marks a massive and exciting step forward underscoring how Qualcomm Technologies and ecosystem leaders are driving 5G commercialization, a journey that went from R&D, accelerated standardization and trials, the launch of innovative products and technologies, to the imminent launch of 5G networks and smartphones across the globe starting in early 2019,” said Amon at yesterday’s event. “Together we are demonstrating our role in transforming the mobile industry and enriching consumer experiences with 5G mobile devices on live 5G networks at this year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit.”

Executives from mobile operators including AT&T, EE, Telstra, and Verizon were present at the event, so were representatives from Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, NETGEAR, and Inseego. The 5G smartphone from Samsung to be launched by both Verizon and AT&T is likely to be the first of its kind to be built on Snapdragon 855.

“At Samsung, we have a vision of a connected world powered by 5G that will benefit consumers, communities, industries and governments,” said Justin Denison, SVP for mobile product strategy and marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “5G will fuel collaboration, connectivity and productivity worldwide, and we’re excited to be at the forefront working alongside partners like Qualcomm Technologies to make the transformation to 5G a reality.”

The event will last three days till Thursday, and Qualcomm promised more announcements and more details will be released.

AT&T won’t let Verizon have its moment in the 5G limelight

Just a day after Verizon announced plans with Verizon to launch a 5G-compatible device in the H1 2019, AT&T has romped in to steal attention with its own, pretty similar announcement.

It must sound like a bit of an echo, but during the first six months of 2019, AT&T will bolster its 5G devices line-up with a Samsung smartphone. This is the second device which will be available through the AT&T portfolio, having announced a 5G Mobile Hotspot, in partnership with Netgear back in October.

“5G is going to be about more than just a network,” said David Christopher, President of AT&T Mobility and Entertainment. “Customers will eventually be able to connect in near real-time to unforeseen possibilities. Together with Samsung, we plan to bring the best in technology and innovation to our customers. The future we imagine with 5G is just beginning, and it is a great time to be a consumer.”

For those die-hard AT&T/Samsung fans, a little bit of cold water might have to be poured onto the excitement. AT&T has claimed to have installed 5G network equipment in the 12 markets it plans to go live in before the end of 2018, though coverage is likely to be incredibly limited in the first few months. By mid-2019, AT&T plans to bring the 5G bonanza to a further seven cities across the US, though as with the original 12 take the 5G coverage claims with a pinch of salt.

The 5G race in the US is certainly heating up, and while some might complain the buzz has dimmed into more of a nauseating drone, at least there is something to actually shout about nowadays. Aside from Samsung getting into bed with two hardcore rivals, Motorola is working with Verizon for its own device, while LG has plans to launch its own 5G compatible device on Sprint’s network, also for the first half of 2019. Apple, however, is choosing to sit out the H1 2019 race, suggesting its own 5G compatible device will not be ready until 2020.

Despite the inevitable short-comings when it comes to coverage, 5G is pretty close to becoming an actual thing in the hands of the consumer.

Korea switches on 5G

All three of Korea’s major mobile operators switched on 5G networks simultaneous at midnight on 1 December, offering business FWA based on 3GPP standards.

The launches marked Korea as the first country to have more than one commercial 5G network. The largest operator SKT, launched the service in 13 cities, while LG U+ plans to expand its 5G coverage to 85 cities by the end of the year. KT, the second largest mobile operator and the leading fixed-line services provider, which recently suffered a fire damage to its cable tunnel, is said to be only covering the greater Seoul area with its 5G network.

The services offered are limited to business users on fixed-wireless access. The launch at LG U+ was signalled by a video call made from a PC by the operator’s Vice Chairman. SKT’s CEO made a call using a prototype 5G smartphone. Both the wireless router and the prototype phone were supplied by Samsung, which sent out a congratulatory tweet for the occasion:

Time Warner acquisition resistance could turn ugly for Trump

President Donald Trump’s administration certainly has been a different shade of politics for the Oval Office, though actions and alleged prejudice could come back to haunt the Commander in Chief.

Despite being proclaimed a resounding victory for the Republicans, the mid-term elections could have gone a hell of a lot better. With the House of Representatives swinging back into the hands of the Democrats, not only will Trump find passing his questionable legislation more difficult, but his actions over the first two years of the Presidency could be called into question.

In an interview with Axios, California Congressman Adam Schiff, who is also the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested an investigation into the President would now be able to make a material impact because of the swing of power across the aisle. The President’s tax records will once again become a topic of conversation, though the appropriateness of his objections to AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner will also come under scrutiny, as will his seemingly personal vendetta against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

While the President’s actions have constantly been condemned by critics and political opponents, there has been little opportunity to do anything considering Trump’s political foundations. With majorities in both Houses of Congress, the Republican party have been able to block, or at least stifle, any investigations. However, with last week’s mid-term elections swinging the House of Representatives into a Democrat majority things might be about to change.

Trump’s opposition to the AT&T and Time Warner deal has been widely publicised, dating back to the Presidential campaign trail. Some have suggested his hatred for Time Warner owned CNN is the reasoning behind the probes and appeals against the acquisition, though this will come under question through the investigations.

“We don’t know, for example, whether the effort to hold up the merger of the parent of CNN was a concern over antitrust or whether this was an effort merely to punish CNN,” said Schiff.

While the deal has been greenlight by District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon, the Department of Justice is appealing the decision, suggesting Judge Leon is ignorant to the facts and the economic implications of the deal. It has been reported the Trump administration has been pressuring the DoJ to pursue the appeal and attempt to derail the acquisition.

Looking at the spat with Jeff Bezos, this has been tackled on several fronts. Not only has President Trump constantly berated the excellent reporting by the Washington Post, privately owned by Bezos, Trump has been targeting the tax activities of Amazon. Back in March, Trump tweeted he would be tackling the tax set-up at Amazon, sending share price down 2%, while he has also been reportedly pressuring the Post Office to charge Amazon more, despite the eCommerce revolution seemingly saving the service with the vast increases in package delivery.

These are just two examples relevant to the telecoms and technology industry, but the Democrats are seemingly going for the throat. Tax records will be called into question, as well as reports the President blocked the FBI from moving its headquarters because it would negatively impact business as one of his hotels, located opposite the bureau’s offices.

For the moment, this seems to be nothing more than political posturing, as while the statements might appease those in opposition to Trump, they are nothing more than statements. The Democrats will not assume their majority in the House of Representatives for two months, a long-time in the lightly-principled world of politics. Much could change during this period.

What the change in political landscape could mean more than anything else is a bit more stability. President Trump has been praised by his supporters as a man of action, though actions are of questionable benefit to business executives who crave legislative, regulatory and policy consistency. Only with the promise of consistency can businesses made long-term strategies to conquer the world, but with Twitter a constant threat of change it is understandable some are nervous.

With the Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, Trump will find it much more difficult to force through any controversial or overly aggressive policies, though there is also the threat of legislative standstill. The US political landscape has certainly been an interesting one over the last two years, though it could become even more interesting over the next two for completely different reasons.

AT&T suggests Dish and DoJ are collaborating

With AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Dish arguing over a distribution deal, one AT&T executive has suggested Dish and the Department of Justice are collaborating to reverse the green light on the Time Warner acquisition.

The conspiracy theory is hitting new highs here. AT&T is effectively accusing Dish of actively working to create a no-deal situation in negotiations with WarnerMedia over rights to air HBO content. Although having HBO and Cinemax channels go dark on the Dish service would have a negative impact on business, it does coincidentally work well for the Justice Departments case appeal against the Time Warner merger.

WarnerMedia have been in negotiations over the right to air content, with it claiming it offered to extend the previous contract while negotiating but Dish declined. As a result, HBO content has disappeared from the Dish service.

“Dish’s proposals and actions made it clear they never intended to seriously negotiate an agreement,” said Simon Sutton, HBO President and Chief Revenue Officer, in a statement to Reuters.

With the appeal based on the grounds the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner would offer it undue control and influence in the industry, stagnant negotiations certainly add credibility to the objections from the Department of Justice. Manipulating the playing field however, as AT&T is accusing Dish of, is a serious no-no when it comes to the courts.

“This behaviour, unfortunately, is consistent with what the Department of Justice predicted would result from the merger,” said a representative of the Department of Justice. “We are hopeful the Court of Appeals will correct the errors of the District Court.”

“The Department of Justice collaborated closely with Dish in its unsuccessful lawsuit to block our merger,” WarnerMedia responded. “That collaboration continues to this day with Dish’s tactical decision to drop HBO – not the other way around. DOJ failed to prove its claims about HBO at trial and then abandoned them on appeal.”

The $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner proved to be a messy affair for AT&T. While some would have expected some resistance from the industry, the objections of President Trump seems to have encouraged the Department of Justice to chase down every lead, and make life as difficult as possible. The Department of Justice’s appeal against the approval of the deal, is effectively built on the assumption Judge Richard Leon didn’t know what he was talking about.

Publicity stunt? Monopolistic ambition? Nefarious schemes? Whatever the basis of this story, more fuel has been added onto one of the longest running sagas in the telco industry.