Archive for ATT

>The Future of Phone Plans, Ideally

>Gotta give it up to Apple, they know how to dominate news cycles. One of the smaller announcements they made at WWDC this week was iMessage, their iOS-only instant messaging program that is tied in with the existing messaging app. At first, attention was drawn to how it would compete with Blackberry’s existing BlackBerry Messenger app, something that has kept many a CrackBerry addict from leaving the platform. At this point, iMessage does make a lot more sense for people compared to BBM, simply because the iPhone is a crazy popular phone, the iPod Touch is an immensely popular mp3 player, and the iPad is still the tablet to beat (and no one has come close yet). BBM is on the BlackBerry PlayBook, but quite frankly, no one really bought it. BBM is one of the last things to hook current users in, it was a space where RIM really had no competition, but that now has been challenged.

Now, the launch of iMessage has brought up a very different question: Do we really need SMS at all? Its a well known fact that text messaging has been the longest, most widespread, and far most egregious instance of wireless providers overcharging for a service. Each text message sent is really only a few bites of information being sent around, and yet people pay 20 cents per without a plan. Even at $20 for unlimited, you’d have to send millions for the price to be justified. But before the dawn and success of the smartphone, it was the best way to fire off a small tidbit of conversation. Now that simply isn’t true. RIM, Apple, soon Windows Phone, and even some rumors of Android, all have or will have alternative quick messaging options built into their phones.

I am most certainly not the first person to notice how this may shake up the industry. Nilay Patel (formerly of Engadget) wrote up a great editorial on This Is My Next calling for the death of the phone number. He points out that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all getting into the position of eliminating the carriers’ plans. None have gotten to that point yet, but its definitely a possibility in the near future. I don’t think the phone number should die. Its incredibly useful and really isn’t that different from a username, and we still need them for business if nothing else. But I do propose a drastic change.

For years, the carriers have refused to admit that they are just dumb pipes, managing networks that allow the transfer of data in many different forms to various devices. The separation of voice from texting to internet data usage is ludicrous at this point because the internet can do all of these things very easily, ultimately using their existing network. All one carrier has to do is accept that role, realize that all that consumers want is for them to fulfill that role, and come up with the following plan:

Throw away your preconceived notions of plans. There will be no more set allotment of minutes and texts and internet usage. All you do is pay for a bucket of usage (metaphorically speaking, of course). The carrier merely sets a rate for how big your bucket is. What you do with that bucket is entirely up to you. Voice calls and video conferencing would be done just like existing VoIP services like Skype, and texts wouldn’t really be texts, but data sent through apps on your device. The phone number can hang around still for these purposes, although most people could easily get by using Facebook Chat these days. In areas where 3G is scarce or nonexistent, traditional calls and texts could be done, but there’s no reason to charge more for doing so. Your web browsing, app downloading, and content streaming would all come through the same usage allowance as your calls. I know many people pay for way more minutes than they actually use simply because there’s no cheaper option available. The buckets would eliminate this problem.

Beyond monthly costs, there’s one other big advantage to this system: device freedom. Right now, carriers want you to have a separate plan for a 3G connected tablet, or get a tethering plan, which costs a lot extra for using your existing data connection that you already pay for. But with the bucket system, you just pop your SIM card into a tablet or another phone, even a computer, and just keep on going. ASUS is attacking this problem head on with two different devices. The Padfone turns your phone into a tablet and there’s really no reason for the carrier to know about it. The Eee Pad MeMo 3D is a 3G-enabled Android tablet that comes with the MeMic Bluetooth handset that is the perfect size to hold up to your face to talk, or use as a remote control. A carrier using the bucket system wouldn’t care at all what device you were using since its now all the same stuff to everyone involved.

The only sacrifice that would be made for consumers would be the loss of unlimited data plans. But let’s face it, they are on their way out anyway. AT&T ditched them a while ago, and Verizon is maybe only weeks away from following suit. T-Mobile’s plans now have roofs that don’t cost extra to pass, but you’ll have your service throttled significantly down in speed. Sprint aims to be the final carrier to offer the truly unlimited data plan. But the bucket system wouldn’t need unlimited most likely anyway, under one condition: What you do when connected to Wifi does not touch your limit. This only makes sense because the wireless provider isn’t the pipe, the ISP is. AT&T’s limited data plans do this now, but talking on the phone should follow this same rule. T-Mobile is the only carrier that chooses to allow WiFi calling, but all WiFi enabled phones on all carriers are capable of it. Since the bucket system does away with minutes, they’d have no reason to continue this practice. The transition might be hard to explain to the average consumer at first, but there could easily be simple tools to convert minutes used and texts sent from their previous plans into gigabyte form.

The problem is getting the carriers on board. As far as I’m concerned, only one carrier would actually go for it at this point: Sprint. AT&T and Verizon would certainly not jump in on this until someone else did first. T-Mobile was a progressive company, but due to the potential AT&T buyout, they’d never make such a drastic change. That leaves Sprint, and they now hold the title for most progressive, as proven by their crazy move to integrate their services with Google Voice. They have a network capable of handling it and the need to attract more customers. And I know I’m not the only person attracted to this idea. Carriers could still offer contracts for those who want cheaper devices, something that would keep them very happy. This would also push a lot of people into a smartphone, meaning more sales revenue for manufacturers. I think that, if done properly, everyone involved would benefit greatly from this kind of arrangement. Now to see if it ever actually happens.

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>Summer Cell Phone Buying Guide: AT&T

>Ah Big Blue. Whether that means the ocean or AT&T, you may be getting a bit of both this summer. Check out today’s buying guide to help you figure out which phone you’re going to bring to you BBQs this summer!

The Beast of the Beach: Samsung Infuse 4G

Honestly, it’s not 4G. Don’t let the name fool you. But the Samsung Infuse is still one of AT&T’s best and there’s truly not much else like it on the market. It is currently the thinnest smartphone on the market at just .35 inches (the iPhone 4 is .37 inches) and it weighs only 4.9 ounces, which is pretty shocking considering what a beast it truly is. The Infuse rocks a massive 4.5″ Super AMOLED touchscreen, giving it killer battery life and making it really easy to see in the bright sunlight. You also get a 1.2GHz processor, 8 megapixel camera with one on the front for video calls. Inside you’ll find 13GB of internal memory plus the microSD card slot. It only comes with a 2GB card in the box, but it supports up to 32GB, giving you one of the biggest amounts of storage on any smartphone. It runs Android 2.2 and is the first AT&T Android phone to let you install apps not on the Android Market, like the Amazon App Store. It’ll set you back $200, but is definitely the most bang for your buck.

Runner Up: Motorola Atrix 4G

iCan’t NOT Mention It: Apple iPhone 4

Really, you had to have known this was coming.  Like I said in yesterday’s Verizon guide, it simply is the easiest smartphone to use and it truly does have the highest number of quality apps. The Retina Display is downright gorgeous and works well in sunlight, and the camera is still the best you’ll find on any smartphone, so you can be sure your summer memories are captured properly. As far as gaming goes, only Windows Phone can match it in quality, but the iPhone just has a massive gaming library. Definitely the best if you just want a phone with a really good out-of-the-box experience. That said, while the 3Gs for $50 can seem tempting, don’t do it. The next iPhone won’t be until until September at the earliest, meaning that come September or so, your 3Gs will be completely outdated. The iPhone 4 will set you back $200 for 16GB, 32GB for $300.

Low Budget, Highly Different: Samsung Focus

If Android and iPhone isn’t your bag, you’ll dig Windows Phone 7. It features a fair amount of customization like Android, but is still a lot more controlled like iOS. Windows Phone 7 is really known for it’s radically different interface and deep integration of various services. the Zune Pass gives you unlimited music access for $15 a month, you can play some XBOX Live on your phone and rack up more achievements, and of course you get the full Office Suite. But it integrates with itself even further. For example, my Samsung Focus has music stored on it, streams podcasts through a separate app, and streams music through the Rdio app. But all of these show up in the Zune app as well. The Samsung Focus isn’t AT&T’s most expensive WP7 phone, but it is their best. For only $50, you get a beautiful 4″ AMOLED touchscreen, a 1GHz processor, and just under 7GB of internal memory. The 5 megapixel camera in it is one of the only phones to rival the iPhone 4’s camera, and the speaker on the back is almost too loud. Definitely a great price for a really good phone.

Runner Up: BlackBerry Torch

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>AT&T Announces 4G Launch Cities, Means It This Time

>This morning, AT&T has announced the first 5 cities to get its 4G LTE services. By the end of summer, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio will have LTE up and running. AT&T also said that by year’s end 15 more markets will be up and running. While they didn’t name those 15, they said they’d be covering 70 million Americans before 2012. Does this mean the FauxG HSPA+ madness will stop? Nope. They also proudly said they’ll continue to invest in that as a “broadband alternative” and will release 20 “4G” devices by 2012 as well. Who knows how many of those devices will truly be 4G LTE, and how many will be blatant lies. We’ll keep you posted either way.

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Bombshell: AT&T to Buy T-Mobile *UPDATED*

While talks of someone buying T-Mobile is nothing new, there’s been a lot of rumors that it might be Sprint doing it the last few weeks. Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company, has been losing money on T-Mobile for years and has been looking to get rid of it to focus on their European branches.

AT&T just announced that they have agreed to buy T-Mobile to the tune of $39 billion, $25 billion of that cash, the rest stock options. AT&T says it will be using T-Mobile’s existing network to bolster the famously precarious (in certain locations) AT&T network, and will use T-Mobile assets to push it’s 4G initiative to an additional 46.5 million Americans over the next few years.

Assuming they get the green-light from the government, the acquisition will take around a year. After that time, AT&T will become the only GSM carrier on a national level (some rural carriers still use it), giving them around 130 million subscribers nationwide. This will make them the largest US carrier, passing Verizon’s 102 million (as per the final quarter of 2010).

A $39 billion acquisition that will bring the major wireless competition down to just 3 carriers will have a very hard time going through the Department of Justice and FCC, most likely though. We’re in for a very long road ahead on this one. AT&T will be hosting a conference call on this tomorrow, so keep checking back here to find out more information.

If the buy out goes through, what will this mean? T-Mobile subscribers will eventually become AT&T customers in most areas throughout the country. Often times, 3rd parties gain some small areas, like how AT&T gained some Alltel customers when they were purchased by Verizon a few years ago. WHen the dust settles, there will be a lot less competition. Even though they were a small company who wasn’t making money, T-Mobile helped keep the monthly price of wireless plans down. With Sprint being the only company that doesn’t have the mass that Big Red and Ma Bell have, you can expect costs to go up. Someone’s got to pay that $39 billion bill, right? You can check out the full press release yourself right here.

UPDATE: Got my hands on the T-Mobile press release. Looks like T-Mobile will be working to keep as much T-MObile staff as possible, which is good news, and confirms the estimated 1 year timeline for the transition. T-Mobile claims that this will reduce Deutshce Telekom’s debt by about 31%.

A lot of people are asking what this will mean for T-Mobile customers. While there haven’t been any specifics on the transfer of contracts or anything of that nature, here’s what you can expect to happen (based on previous buyouts):

– Your contract will not be cancelled. When one carrier buys another, they also buy these contracts and are required to honor them. This means you’ll keep your phone, number, and plan as is. Should they decide to not honor T-Mobile’s plans, it will a breach of contract on their part, meaning you can leave without penalty. However, when you become eligible for an upgrade, they are not required (and therefor most likely won’t) honor your old plan. This means that for as long as you don’t upgrade and get a subsidized price for the phone, you can keep your plan for as long as they let you. But if you want to buy an iPhone (the common T-Mobile question), you will most likely have to move to an AT&T plan.

– If this buyout is like the Verizon/Alltel one, then some markets will find themselves absorbed by other carriers to prevent monopoly (though it could be argued that this buyout would cause one anyway). In this case, T-Mobile subscribers in those areas will be given to Verizon, Sprint, or smaller local carriers. If this is the case (though it’s doubtful since T-Mobile is mainly just in urban areas), then the same scenario I spelled out above will most likely hold true.

Developing…

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AT&T to Start Capping Broadband Data Usage

In the past year, AT&T has become a pioneer in the arena of the internet. What’s important to know is that the word “pioneer” isn’t always a good thing. Some months ago, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans on its smartphones. This move, while apparently only affecting 2% of their customer base, was not warmly received by both customers and the media alike. And they are at it again.

Yesterday, AT&T announced its plan to start limiting the amount of usage that its home internet subscribers will be alloted. Starting May 2nd, DSL customers will be given a 150GB cap and high speed U-Verse customers will be given 250GB. AT&T again insists that it will only affect 2% of their subscribers, who account for 20% of their network traffic at times. Overages will run $10 per 50GB.

250GB sounds like a lot though, right? Netflix says their services use 1GB per hour, meaning you’ll be able to watch around 100 movies, assuming you do nothing else. This applies to other HD (or near HD) services like Hulu as well. Each minute of Skype you use runs just under a megabyte per minute, which isn’t a ton but can add up quickly. Streaming music will run around 72 megabytes an hour. World of Warcraft will use around 120 mb/h. All of this, in addition to your Facebook and email usage can add up quickly.

The main issue that most people have is that caps like this stifle innovation. It will be difficult to implement new technologies that will no doubt use significant amounts of data. People will worry about going over their limits (even if it’s not much of an issue for them) for fear of overages, regardless of how enticing of an application it might be. It’s not a good precedent to set, but unfortunately it seems to be a trend that we’ll most likely be seeing with many other operators.

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Review: HTC Inspire 4G

Today I was lucky enough to get my hands on an upcoming handset for AT&T, the HTC Inspire 4G. While the specs might be pretty similar to the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint, this phone is a whole different visual animal. It sports a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, a 4.3 inch LCD screen, runs Android 2.2, but with the newer version of HTC’s custom skin, SenseUI.

My main problem with this phone has nothing to do with the device itself. The name, and inevitable marketing, is entirely misleading. AT&T has decided to follow in the footsteps of T-Mobile, which is to confuse customers as much as possible. Let’s be clear about something: As far as I’m concerned, this phone is NOT 4G. Both T-Mobile and AT&T are now claiming their HSPA+ network to be 4G, which it really isn’t. Essentially, the “G” stands for Generation, which is a frustratingly vague term. HSPA+ is only an improvement on the existing 3G technology, whereas Verizon and Sprint have actually starting building a whole new network from the ground up. AT&T is still in the process of building a true 4G network, just like Verizon’s LTE. They dubbed this phone to be their first 4G phone despite the fact that it is not LTE compatible. This annoys me immensely.

As far as the average user is concerned, it is faster than the other smartphones AT&T has and is faster than the 3G competitors on Sprint and Verizon. We’ll get to the numbers in a little bit. For now, HSPA+ does beat up other 3G networks, but falls short in the 4G arena, making this phone far from future-proof. In a year or so, when LTE is more readily available, you’ll be missing out on quite a bit of speed. Now, back to the phone.

Hardware
This phone is just plain sexy. The unibody construction just looks gorgeous from all angles. As much as I adore my EVO 4G, it looks clunky next to the Inspire. It’s frighteningly skinny, yet in no way feels like you are going to break it. The solid metal construction is a much better build quality than many other phones out, even high end models like Samsung’s Galaxy S line. As you can see above, the phone has an 8MP camera with dual LED flash. It takes very good pictures and records in 720p. The back has a solid matte finish, and while it’s a bit heavier than an iPhone, it feels very good in your hands (cue the inappropriate jokes). I also like how the bottom part of the back pops off, allowing you access to the SIM and microSD card without taking the battery out. Big plus, but the battery still poses its own issues, which we’ll get to in a moment.

I did have a couple complaints about the hardware, most nit-picky, but one a big design flaw. I don’t like how the headphone jack (standard 3.5mm) is at the bottom of the phone, next to the charging port. It seems much less natural than the top placement that most phones and mp3 players have. I didn’t like how much the camera sticks out past the rest of the body, made me afraid to put it down face up, as I don’t want to scratch the lens. Also, the speakers are not very loud at all, nowhere near the volume of its EVO brother.

The huge design flaw of the Inspire is the battery cover. There’s a small plastic cover that fits around the volume rocker on the side that conceals the battery. Despite the little groove to place your nail in, getting it off is an absolute pain. Literally. My nail bent backwards trying to pry it off. I got to the point where I considered getting my knife out to pop it open so I could turn the thing on, but didn’t want to damage the phone. The only way I could manage to get it was to get my nail completely inside the groove and then slide it to the corner and then pull. It was painful, but I finally got it. It’s rare that HTC has such a design flaw, and especially one that will leave the sides of most people’s phones completely scratched up. The battery then slides in sideways, which is kind of cool, but totally not worth it.

Software
It’s difficult to review the software of this phone without going into large rants about Android, fragmentation, and the definition of open-source. So I’ll just focus on the SenseUI customizations. This is the first time I’ve been able to experience the newest version of Sense, and it’s even better than the versions I’ve already loved. All of the software tweaks look gorgeous, and there’s a lot more customizations than before. In addition to making the different Scenes (different “profiles” of setups for your widgets) more accessible, HTC added in additional skins, allowing you to change the color scheme and even the shape of some widgets. Some schemes had curved edges to the HTC included widgets, some had them the squared off. Some changed the colors, and my favorite gave everything a wood grain finish. All the skins look amazing and it’s a feature that would normally require some rooting to acheive.

Beyond the aesthetic changes, there are a lot of functionality oriented tweaks. Those familiar with Android are used to the pull-down notification pane for their emails and texts. While this is still there, the pane adds a row for the recently opened apps at the top as well, making it easier to switch between them. You can still hold the Home key to see the 8 most recent, like other Androids, but this is even more convenient to me, though I would like the option to put Wifi, Bluetooth, and other toggles in there as well, like Samsung’s skin. The camera interface is also changed a lot. The zoom bar is always visible on screen while not being obtrusive, and the flash and settings windows are easy to get to. The fun effects, like Distortion, Grayscale, and Negative, are also very easy to access.

Speed
I had to do some speed tests to see firsthand if the Inspire was worthy of the 4G title. I compared the Inspire to my HTC EVO side by side for the 3G test. The Inspire killed the EVO and then some. Both phones had 3 steady bars where I did the 3G tests, and the Inspire was in HSPA+. The EVO turned out an average of 400 or so kbps on the download, 200kbps upload. The Inspire rounded out around 2800kbps down, but the upload fluctuated between 120-320kbps. However, if AT&T is going to try to play the 4G name game, it will need to produce a lot more. When I popped on the 4G on my EVO, it sky rocketed to an average of 5300kbps down, 980kbps up, leaving the Inspire in the dust. So for most people in the country, AT&T’s faux-4G will work very well; I won’t down play it’s every day speed. But overall, I think it’s premature of AT&T to call anything 4G.

Wrap Up
If you’re looking for a really high-powered Android phone on AT&T, the Inspire is a great choice. It is an absolutely gorgeous device, even if it sacrifices a bit of accessibility for the sake of looks. There’s nothing cheap about this phone, except its price. Despite the fact that this hardware on most other companies would cost you $200, this guy will go for only $100 with a contract ($450 without) on AT&T and it launches this Sunday, February 13th. Definitely the phone to go for, if you don’t want to drop the $200+ for the soon-to-be released Motorola Atrix.

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