FCC reveals glacial progress on the resale of location data by operators

US operators have been reselling the location data they accumulate about their subscribers and have been slow to deliver on promises to stop.

This practice was already well-known by the time it was highlighted in an expose at the start of this year. At the time operators were quick to stress that they’re pulling out all the stops to protect their customers’ personal data but Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was apparently skeptical. Frustrated by their deafening silence on the matter she wrote to the four US MNOs at the start of the month to ask them what they were playing at.

Rosenworcel received relatively prompt responses from those operators and decided to publish them alongside a mea culpa that was probably directed more at other FCC Commissioners than herself. “The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

“I don’t recall consenting to this surveillance when I signed up for wireless service—and I bet neither do you. This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

You can read the contrite and exculpatory responses here, but in case you can’t be bothered here’s a summary. AT&T said it started phasing out this sort of thing in June 2018, while still making location data available in emergencies. Additionally the letter attempted to distance AT&T from the reports in question and said it had stopped sharing and data with location aggregators and LBS providers on 29 March 2019.

Sprint said it current works with just one LBS (location based services) provider but will pack that in by the end of this month. T-Mobile said it had terminated all contracts with LBS types by 9 March 2019 and went on at considerable length to correct what it considers to be flawed reporting on how it used to handle this sort of thing. Verizon said it had terminated all location deals by the end of March 2019.

So that would appear to be that. All the operators have said they don’t deal with location data aggregators anymore and presumably Rosenworcel is a happy Commissioner. But the fact that they’ve only just stopped reselling their customer’s personal data, and even then only after persistent nagging and bad publicity, is a further illustration of how cavalier the tech industry has been with personal data to date.

Focusing on 5G speed is missing the point – Verizon

5G has been promising a lot, such is the industry’s inability to keep a handle on hype, but the winners and losers of tomorrow’s connected world might well be those who are able to think a bit differently.

The focus of the morning keynote sessions at Light Reading’s Big 5G Event has had much more of a commercial focus than perhaps we are used to. The challenges of deploying a 5G network at scale and pace are intimidating, but the business model to ensure this isn’t a colossal waste of money are equally as daunting. This might be the difference between the haves and have nots of tomorrow.

“If we are at this conference next year and all 5G is for consumers is faster internet, we will have missed the boat,” said Nicki Palmer, SVP of Technology and Product Development at Verizon.

This point was echoed by Craig Sparks, Chief Innovation Officer at C Spire and Igor Glubochansky, AVP of Mobility Product Management at AT&T. It’s a simple idea, but one we suspect many will ignore; the traditional and relentless focus on speeds, the bigger, faster meaner mentality, will march telcos down the dreary road of utilitisation.

Here we have three telcos who have seemingly cottoned onto the idea. 5G is about more than speed, but we suspect there will be numerous others who do not attempt to disrupt themselves and create new value for the ecosystem.

In her keynote presentation, Palmer presented a mentality which should be the foundation of any telco making the move into the 5G world. 5G should be built on fulfilling the gaps where 4G falls short. This might be on speed in some cases, though data throughput should not be ignored, and neither should the promise of low latency or increased reliability.

“In 2010, no one predicted how the capabilities [of 4G networks] would enable whole new business models, the same thing is going to happen again [with 5G networks],” said Palmer.

Although premium add-ons for data tariffs are one way to make money, enterprise services and products open the door to entirely new revenues, and potentially a new path forward, avoiding the dreaded tag of commoditisation. Whether its healthcare, retail, manufacturing or broadcasting, industry specific applications could mean significant ROI for the telcos. However, it is critical the ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ business model which is so heavily reliant on faster internet is forgotten.

In five years’ time, the connectivity ecosystem is likely to be very different. We can imagine a split in the industry however. On one side, you have the telcos who double down on speed angle, using 5G to entice consumers onto steroid-induced tariffs. This might look attractive in the short-term, but these telcos will be led towards utilitisation.

The telcos who are taking the trickier path, exploring the unknown realms of 5G, will add value and become much more attractive companies. Hopefully there won’t be too many who fall into the short-termist trap but we suspect there will be quite a few.

Verizon continues quest to correct content car crash

The Verizon mission to conquer the content world has been anything but a smooth ride to date, and now it is reportedly searching for a buyer for Tumblr.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Verizon executives are on the search to offload the platform. The Verizon Media Group has been under considerable pressure in recent months, as the promise of value through content and diversification has eluded the telco.

Looking at the most recent earnings call, Verizon Media Group revenue was $1.8 billion, down 7.2% year-on-year for the quarter. Declines in desktop advertising were primarily blamed, with the dip continuing to more than offset growth in mobile and native advertising. Considering the effort the telco had to exert to acquire Yahoo, not to mention the headaches it had to endure, some might have hoped there would be more immediate value.

The last couple of months have seen Verizon attempt to make money from the mockery, with a particular focus on job cuts. In January, it was announced 7% of the media unit’s workforce, some 800 roles, would be sacrificed to the gods of profits, and now it seems Tumblr is being marshalled to the alter.

What is worth noting is this is a platform which has promise.

After being acquired by Yahoo during 2013 for $1.1 billion, Verizon inherited Tumblr through the much mangled $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo in 2017. Although some might struggle to understand what Tumblr does, the all-encompassing blogging platform currently has 465.4 million blogs and 172 billion posts.

Tumblr is a tricky one to understand what it actually does, but instead of trying to pigeon hole it into a definition perhaps the better approach would be to let it just be itself. Tumblr defines itself as a blank canvas, allowing users to post text, photos, GIFs, videos, live videos and audio, or pretty much anything the user wants to.

Perhaps this is why Verizon has struggled with the brand and presumably failing to realise the potential. Telcos generally cultivate traditional and relatively closed-minded cultures. With Tumblr just being itself, rather than fitting into a tidy tick-box exercise, Verizon may be struggling to communicate the value to customers or even devise an out-of-the-box business model to monetize it effectively.

This assessment is perhaps supported by where the media business has seen success. Financial news for example, or the delivery of sports content. These are not exactly complex business models to understand, more difficult to deliver however, as they are more functional. These are the areas CFO Matt Ellis was boasting about during the earnings call.

While there has not been any official commitment or denial to the rumours from Verizon so far, there does seem to be some appetite from the industry. According to Buzzfeed, Pornhub VP Corey Price is ‘extremely interested’ in potentially acquiring Tumblr, promising to re-discover the NSFW edge, one of the factors which drove the popularity of Tumblr during the early days.

The future of Tumblr might be a bit hazy for the moment, but one thing is clear. Verizon is mapping out a very effective usecase on how not to diversify into the content world.

T-Mobile/Sprint merger approval is still hanging in the balance

The US DoJ’s anti-trust chief has not made up his mind on the T-Mobile/Sprint merger case, saying the deal must meet key criteria.

Speaking on CNBC (see below) Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the US Departments of Justice’s Antitrust Division, said he has not made up his mind yet. Although he refused to comment on if his staff resisted the deal, as was reported by the media, Delrahim did allude to more data being requested from the two parties.

Delrahim also dismissed the notion that there is any magical number of competitors to deliver optimal competition in a regulated market like telecom. Any proposed deal needs to deliver efficiency, but the efficiency needs to be both merger specific, that is the efficiency cannot be achieved through other means, and verifiable.

With regard to the effects of the merger on consumers, Delrahim listed two items, price effect and coordinated effect. The first is related to the potential price move up or down after the merger. The second refers to if the merged company has the incentive to continue to compete with the existing competitors on price, in this case AT&T and Verizon. 5G will also factor in the DoJ’s decision making consideration, Delrahim said. But, instead of being positioned as a counteract against China, in this interview Delrahim was treating 5G in the framework of service offer to consumers, and the merger’s impact on it.

When being asked on the timeline, Delrahim said there is no deadline on the DoJ side, except that the deal cannot be completed before a certain date. This timeline can be extended if more deliberation is needed.

On the FCC front, another hurdle that the two carriers need to overcome before they can become one, they continued to play the offensive. Last week representatives from the two companies, including John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, and Marcelo Claure, Executive Chairman of Sprint, called on the FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and her Legal Advisor. The team presented the updated merger case, including their pledge to deploy home broadband, drive down prices, deliver more benefits to prepaid customers, and create, instead of cutting, jobs.

FCC’s unofficial 180-day consultation period was reopened early this month, after being halted three times, and is now on day 147.

Makan Delrahim’s CNBC interview is here:

 

 

Verizon expands 5G supported by Samsung 5G phone

US operator Verizon will switch on 5G in 20 more cities and has opened pre-orders of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G smartphone.

Verizon announced that it will switch on 5G Ultra Wideband service within this year in: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington DC. That will take the total number of cities to offer 5G Ultra Wideband to at least 22 by the end of the year, with the networks in Chicago and Minneapolis already live since March. Verizon stands by its plan to deploy 5G network in about 30 cities across the country during the year, so a few more cities may still join the club later.

Meanwhile, all Verizon users can start pre-ordering the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, though only those in the 22 cities and on Verizon’s Above and Beyond Unlimited plans will be able to enjoy 5G service. The S10 5G will be exclusive to Verizon for a limited period, and will arrive at Verizon stores on 16 May.

“The Galaxy S10 5G on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network will give our customers access to incredible speeds and the latest and greatest streaming, augmented-reality, gaming, and consumer and business applications that bring us into a future powered by 5G,” said Ronan Dunne, EVP of Verizon and president of Verizon’s consumer group. “With the rollout of 5G in more than 30 markets by the end of 2019 and the upcoming launch of Samsung’s first 5G Galaxy smartphone, we are pulling further ahead of the competition in 5G.”

When Verizon first launched 5G at the end of last year in four cities, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Houston, the service was limited to fixed wireless access, due to the lack of smartphones in the market. Consumers in Chicago and Minneapolis, the first two cities to go live on 5G Ultra Wideband in March were supported by the 5G Moto Mod attached to the LTE Moto Z3.

In addition to just fast internet, which Verizon promised to reach “typical” download speeds of 450 Mbps when the Chicago and Minneapolis service was switched on, Verizon’s group-level partnership with YouTube TV will also give the new 5G users plenty of content to fill the bandwidth with, similar to what SK Telecom does with its own 5G service.

AT&T will stick with 5GE after settling with Sprint

US operator Sprint has settled the case it brought against AT&T for unfair competition with the 5GE marketing gimmick with apparently little to show for it.

The legal trade publication Law360 reported that Sprint and AT&T have reached a settlement of the case Sprint brought to a federal court in New York in February. A short statement was mailed to the media, “The parties have amicably resolved this matter,” it said. A source told Law360 that AT&T will continue to use “5G Evolution” or 5GE in its marketing and ads materials. No details on the terms of settlement have been disclosed.

In the court case, Sprint complained that AT&T was conducting false advertising, therefore misleading consumers, and in turn, directly harming Sprint’s business interest. In addition to the law suit, Sprint also took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in March to warn consumers “Don’t be fooled. 5G Evolution isn’t new or true 5G. It is fake 5G.”

The other big US operators were not holding back from attacking AT&T’s antics either. Verizon’s CTO wrote an open letter calling on the industry “to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities,” as well as promised that Verizon “won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5.” T-Mobile, on the other hand, in keeping with its CEO’s maverick spirit, uploaded a video showing someone taping over the LTE indicator on the phone with a sticker labelled “9G”.

Even the OEMs would not let go the chance to mock AT&T’s shenanigans. Xiaomi, when launching its 5G smartphone before MWC in Barcelona, pointedly highlighted the 5G network by Orange it used for the demo was real 5G, “not fake 5G”.

A few days before the announcement of settlement AT&T defended itself at the court that consumers were not fooled into believing the 5GE is actually 5G. On the other hand, for the purists like the EU-backed 5G Infrastructure Association or Qualcomm, none of the 5G networks launched so far in Korea and the US can be called “real 5G”.

Verizon’s new mobile tariff for kids falls short of European equivalents

Dubbed “the first smartphone plan designed for kids,” Verizon’s new package will also come with tools for parents to track and control children’s online life, but Europe has been there for a while.

While there may still be debate over the pros and cons of early mobile phone ownership by children in certain quarters of the world, Verizon is looking beyond this and offering a new tariff package called “Just Kids” that the company says will make it “easier for families to call a technology truce”.

The package gives the child 5GB of 4G LTE data and unlimited talk time and SMS with 20 parent-approved contacts. It also includes the parental control suite called “Verizon Smart Family Premium” which would cost $9.99 of sold separately. The tools let parents set limits on children’s screen time, filter content, as well as track the whereabouts of the children. “Just Kids” also comes by default with “Safety Mode” switched on, that is when the child goes beyond the 5GB data limit, the speed will be capped at 128 Kbps without additional data charge.

“At Verizon, we take pride in being a true partner to parents by providing them with products and services designed to meet their needs in an ever-evolving and often confusing technology landscape,” said Angie Klein, vice president of marketing at Verizon. “With Just Kids, we’re leading the way on growing up with tech, providing parents with plan options and features that give them the peace of mind they need for safe and responsible phone usage.”

Prices of “Just Kids” vary depending on how many and what types of Verizon lines the family have. At the top end, with only two Verizon lines on the family account, the “Just Kids” plan would cost an additional $55 per month. On the other end, if the family account has four lines the “Just Kids” addition will cost $35 per month. To be eligible for “Just Kids”, at least one of the lines on the family account needs to be on an “Unlimited” plan. This would also mean a single parent without a family plan on Verizon will not be able to buy a “Just Kids” package for the child.

“Just Kids” is the first package designed for children offered by a major US operator, but to compare special tariffs for children in other markets, “Just Kids” is not necessarily the most generous, and by no means the most affordable offer. For example, in France, Bouygue, Orange, and SFR all have offers for children. A relatively comparable offer, Orange’s “2h 5Go” package comes at 6.99€ per month that gives the child 5GB data that can be used in France and Europe, unlimited talk time with three numbers and two hours’ talk time with other numbers in France and Europe, as well as unlimited SMS and MMS. Parents can choose to “block” the package, meaning the child will not be able to call or text premium numbers, outside of Europe, and not go beyond the data and call time limits.

The Finnish offers are probably the most generous. Out of the two leading operators, Telia Finland’s offers are cheaper, but Elisa’s come with higher data speed. Telia’s “Rajaton (“unlimited”) 2 M” priced at 19.90€ (16.90€ in the first 12 months) will give the child unlimited 4G data inside Finland and the other Nordic and Baltic countries, with the speed capped at 2Mbps. 250 minutes’ talk time and 250 text messages are also included, as well as 8GB data while roaming to other EU countries outside the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Verizon has highlighted the importance of protecting children’s online security while stressing the value of the parental control tools (“Verizon Smart Family Premium”). However, the native tools and applications from Apple and Google that come with the new versions of iOS and Android have similar functions already. And there is no additional cost for the apps.

When it comes to what is the appropriate age for children to have the first phone, Verizon is not willing to be drawn into such a discussion. “The decision of when to get a child their first phone is up to parents and varies family to family. Our role is to make sure we’ve got products and services to meet their needs when parents feel they are ready,” the company told PC World.

 

Verizon hits reset button with 2.0 launch

Verizon has announced it is now a new business, one which is customer centric and ready for the digital world of tomorrow. Smells like a polite way of announcing a restructure.

It might sound like a PR plug to stay relevant, heavily relying on friendly buzzwords such as customer centric and corporate social responsibility, but there is some pragmatism in behind the fluff. Like many telcos around the world, Verizon appears to be prepping for a restructure to refocus the business on tomorrow’s digital bonanza.

“It’s not only that we have a new operational structure from today, but it is also about the way we are thinking about our customers, the way we are thinking about our culture and leadership and society,” said Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon Communications. “We have a strategy that we are going to execute on.”

The plug itself seems to be focused on five areas. Firstly, corporate social responsibility. This will now be one of the promoted corporate values of the business, and will also factor into procurement decisions, but will also likely be included in various marketing campaigns.

While this sort of announcement might get some excited, Verizon is late to the show and, quite frankly, we’re surprised it has taken this long to include CSR in the corporate values. This is PR 101 and is a play which almost every other company on the planet is taking advantage of. Verizon might plug this as ‘innovation’, but the tiresome beast is catching up on a trend which ran wild years ago.

Secondly, the business will split into two business groups, Consumer and Business. Again, this seems like a move which should have been made some time ago.

Thirdly, Verizon 2.0 isn’t just a PR play but also symbolises progress which has been made on the network. Network virtualisation and softwarisation of the network is key here, and a critical component to ensure Verizon is a competitive force in the digital economy of tomorrow.

“We’ll also be working in new ways,” said Verizon employee Sravya Gajjala. “2.0 is our opportunity to take a look at what’s in front of us, at our existing processes and make fundamental changes across the business.”

This is the fourth point which to us sounds like corporate slang for restructure.

It might sound like a dirty word, perhaps because pain is a natural accompaniment to restructure, but it is critical. If Verizon is to maintain its lofty position of influence, it needs to be a business which is ready for the digital economy. This might mean redundancies, but it will certainly mean evolving from a Communications Service Provider (CSP) to a Digital Services Provider (DSP).

The final plug is innovation, the most overused and meaningless buzzword in the technology industry. Innovation means very little when everyone claims to be innovative because, quite frankly, only a small percentage actually are. For Verizon, this means pushing into new segments and offering new services. The imagery in the promotional video, which you can see at the foot of the article, suggest data is going to be a key aspect.

This might not sound revolutionary or new, but it is critical. The data intensive industries of tomorrow are going to rule the economy, but the telcos are not sitting in a strong position to capitalise on the gains. Trends are leading the telcos towards the role of utility, though there is still an opportunity to play a valuable role in the blossoming and disruptive segments.

This is the crux of the message; Verizon is attempting to re-model itself as a business which is relevant for the digital economy. It wants to be a partner of these innovative companies, offering services which go above and beyond the connectivity utility.