May30
Say good bye to your set top box?

stb.jpgSet top boxes have been a ubiquitous part of TV viewing since the first days of pay cable television.  High Definition, DVRs and video on demand have made it common place to have multiple STBs.  Most STBs are made by either Motorola or Scientific Atlanta.  Those 2 companies provide the set top boxes for virtually every cable company in the country.  STB glitches and shortages have been a major problem for pay TV carriers.  Well, now some of the biggest cable companies, including Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Cablevision, are trying to lose the STB all together.   Sony has signed a deal with these and other cable companies to establish a standard for STB functionality, including DVR, Interactive Programming Guides, and PPV, to be built right into your TV.  Other TV manufactures have been invited to join the agreement as well.

 

If this is successful it will be a major boon to the cable companies that now spend billions on STBs and a major blow to Motorola and Scientific Atlanta.

May29
FCC wants everyone to get broadband

wifizone.jpgThe FCC wants more people to have high speed Internet access.  The US is currently 15th out of 30 industrialized nations with respect to percentage of people with broadband Internet access.  To help boast that number, the FCC is floating a plan auction off additional airwave spectrum frequencies and require the winner to provide free wireless basic Internet access.  It’s not clear what company might be interested in offering such a service.  Building a national network would be very expensive and while the free service would generate revenue from advertising it’s not clear this would be a profitable enterprise.  Many cities have tried free wireless Internet schemes, but almost all have failed. Some of the most logical companies to try such an endeavor, particularly, AT&T and Verizon, have just bought licenses for next generation wireless services and might not be in the market for additional frequency licenses.

May27
Allergic to Technology?

Years ago, people though there might be some health risk from the first microwave ovens. More recently, there have been many studies about the potential health risks of cell phone use.   Now, a lawsuit in New Mexico is claiming that Wi-Fi radio waves are causing allergic reactions in some people, including headaches and chest pains. 

 

The lawsuit has been filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The complaint targets Wi-Fi in public spaces. The plaintiffs charge that they are sensitive to Wi-Fi electronic radio waves and that under the ADA they are entitled to live without being exposed to them.  Therefore, the presence of Wi-Fi in public spaces constitutes discrimination under the ADA.

 

I guess you can sue for just about anything.  Paying my taxes always makes me sneeze.  Perhaps, I'll file and ADA suit agaings the IRS.

Cell Phone Fees

fees.jpgLast week I told you that the FCC was working on a plan to change the way cellular phone carriers charge customers that want to cancel their contracts early.  Cell carriers have been charging up to $175 to get out of a contract.  Perhaps to keep the FCC from passing any new rules, AT&T Wireless has changed the way it calculates early termination fees.  Now, instead of a $175 flat fee, AT&T Wireless will lower the early termination fee by $5 per month, so if you have 6 months left on a two year contract you would only pay $85.  Verizon Wireless already has a similar early termination policy.

May26
Exclusive Cell Phone Contracts Being Challanged.

rca.jpgJust yesterday I wrote about how well AT&T is doing these days thanks to its exclusive deal with Apple to sell the hugely popular iPhone.  Well the members of the Rural Cellular Association don’t like that very much and have filed a petition with the FCC to ban the practice of exclusive contracts.  The RCA claims that exclusive contacts are anti-competitive and discriminatory against rural users.  The petition goes on to say that the iPhone isn’t available to rural users in 16 states because AT&T doesn’t sell service in those areas.  While AT&T does offer nationwide roaming, it does not allow subscribers to spend more then 40% of their air minutes roaming.  This makes AT&T service, and therefore the iPhone, impossible for many rural residents that are out of AT&T's direct foot print.

May25
iPhone paying off huge dividends of AT&T

iphone2.jpgIf you build it; they will come.  Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door.  Clichés to be sure, but very true in the technology world.  Research in Motion discovered this when they came out with the Blackberry and signed up users in droves.  Now AT&T is reaping the benefits of its exclusive deal with Apple to sell the iPhone domestically.  In a recent study by Rubicon Consulting, an astounding 47% of iPhone buyers had switched carriers to buy Apple’s red hot phone.  Additionally, iPhone users spent almost $20 a month more on their monthly service then other cell phone users. Taking customers away from competitors has always been difficult in the cell phone industry, but AT&T is showing that if you have the right phone people will switch in huge numbers.

Broadcast TV on your cell phone

cell%20tv.jpgWatching TV on your cell phone has become increasing popular in the past couple of years.  Selling video subscription services has also been a revenue growth area for cellular carriers.  However, some new cell phones may be able to bypass the cell phone carrier and pick up broadcast TV signals directly from the airwaves.  South Korea’s LG has already just released such a cell phone in Germany.   Transmitting video over existing cellular networks has led to bandwidth and network congestion issues and the next generation of cell phone networks is still being built.  Putting a digital TV decoder chip into a cell phone would seem to be an easy addition and may someday be as ubiquitous in cell phones as camera.  Cellular carriers may balk at being cut out of the revenue stream for cellular TV and broadcast TV has many limitations including being download only and not having any on-demand or personalized advertising capabilities.  But in the hyper competitive cell phone market, some carriers, especially smaller carriers, might be willing to forgo the additional revenue of TV subscriptions if it means offering customers something unique in order to get them to switch carriers.

May21
Cell Phone Fees

Getting out of a cell phone contract is a lot like breaking up with your spouse, messy and usually expensive.  High early termination fees have upset many customers who were unhappy with the service they received from a new cell phone carrier and decided to switch.  In response to public outcries and congressional pressure, the FCC is working with cell phone carriers to reduce these fees.

The FCC is working with the idea that the cellular industry would give consumers the up to 30 days to cancel service penalty free.  Some major carriers including Verizon Wireless and term%20fee.jpgAT&T already offer this, so they really aren’t giving up that much.

After that termination fees would be prorated depending on the length of the contract remaining,   In exchange, the cell phone carriers would be immune for lawsuits in state courts where they are currently involved in several class action lawsuits brought by angry customers. If approved by the FCC, the proposal also would eliminate the authority of states to regulate early termination fees.

 

May20
Verizon's new handset strategy

limo.jpgVerizon Wireless has made a monumental shift in its cell phone software platform strategy.  The carrier has announced that it would make a Linux-based operating system the basis of its future mobile phone software. Surprisingly,  that operating system isn’t Android, the cell phone OS being championed by Google.

Instead, Verizon is joining the board of the LiMo Foundation, a group of carriers, hardware manufactures, and software developers that are building an open-source operating system for cellular phones using the Linux kernal.

 

Considered an alternative to the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, LiMo is taking a similar approach to cell phone software by creating a multi-vendor-supported open source operating systems instead of the kind of proprietary operating system controlled by a single vendor that most cell phones use today.

 

At this point, most Verizon Wireless phones use Qualcomm’s BREW operating system. 

 

Netflix Player

netflix.jpgBringing Internet content off of your computer and onto your TV has been a major focus of many of the Internets top content producers and distributors.  Netflix has just released a major break though in Internet to TV content delivery systems.  The Netflix Player is a small box that hooks up to your TV and your broadband Internet connection and can instantly stream movies from your Netflix subscription right to your TV.  The Netflix Player is even Wi-Fi enabled.   The box is only $99 plus your monthly Netflix subscription.  Right now not every title is available via streaming download, but over 10,000 are and the list is getting bigger all the time.  There is also a rumor that the Netflix Player may even be upgraded to work with other streaming content sites in the future.

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