Dial Zero
A look at what's surprising, silly, scary or stupid in telecommunications and data

Friday, December 29, 2006

AT&T wusses out to get FCC approval for BellSouth deal

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) made consumer-friendly and business-friendly concessions in its proposed $85 billion merger with BellSouth, in an effort to get approval from the Federal Communications Commission to recreate the old Bell System.

The concessions came after negotiations with the FCC reached an impasse, with two Democrats on the five-member commission pushing for concessions, and two Republicans opposing them. The fifth commissioner, Robert McDowell, is a Republican who many thought would break the tie. He abstained because he previously lobbied for a trade group that represents smaller phone companies.

AT&T promised to:

1. Observe "network neutrality" principles to treat all Internet content equally FOR JUST TWO YEARS. (Consumer groups and some Internet companies have been pressing the FCC to make this a condition of approving the merger, but the two year guaranty may be of little lasting value.)
2. Increase the availability of high-speed Internet service.
3. Adhere to price caps for four years on "special access lines." (These are lines usually used by competitors and large businesses that connect directly to a phone company's central office.)
4. Repatriate 3,000 jobs outsourced by BellSouth outside the U.S. (At least 200 jobs would be in the New Orleans area.)
5. Offer "naked" DSL Internet service for $19.95 per month for 30 months. (This would allow people to get fast web access without buying other services, and help Internet phone companies like Vonage.)
6. Divest itself of wireless spectrum intended for broadband services. (Critics claimed that AT&T and BellSouth had so much spectrum that others couldn't compete.)

(info from The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mother Nature's revenge:
earthquake hurts Asian telecommunications

An earthquake near Taiwan on Tuesday damaged several undersea cables, disrupting communications across the Pacific region and Asia. International phone service was cut off or restricted in some countries, and Internet service slowed to a crawl in much of China. Some system redundancies designed to back up primary undersea cable networks failed to work.

Asia has some of the world's most earthquake-prone areas, and there are fewer cables connecting Asian countries to each other and the rest of the world, than link the U.S. and Europe, making Asian phone service more vulnerable. The cables damaged by the earthquake -- connecting Hong Kong and Southeast Asia with Japan and, ultimately, North America -- run between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Most businesses in the region found ways to work around Tuesday's earthquake. Among the best off were companies that use telecom carriers with redundant cables or backup satellite systems. Some telecom carriers had to scramble to find other paths for phone calls and data transmission, causing slowdowns on the alternative routes.

Telecom companies said repairs to the damaged cables could take weeks to complete, although service will improve as companies find alternative ways to deliver service. Repairing broken cables can be difficult. Special ships must be sent out to pull up the cable, find the break, and repair it.

The problem comes partly from a recent global slowdown of investment in new cables. During the telecom boom of the 1990s, companies laid huge amounts of fiber-optic cable both within and between countries in anticipation of an explosion of demand. When growth didn't happen as quickly as expected, investment in new capacity slowed sharply. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Not telecom, but important:
Give money, save money, save time

As the year ends, lots of people realize that they have only a few more days to make tax deductable donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, AmEx makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Giving Express program connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records. Plus, through December 31, 2006, you can earn double Membership Rewards points for every dollar you donate with an eligible, enrolled American Express Card.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future. CLICK

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

OOPS:
phone book shows addresses of rich and dead

Hollywood superstars, business biggies and ordinary people pay a little extra to their local phone companies to keep their personal information out of the phone book. There are lots of pissed-off people in Aspen, Colorado, who were accidentally outed in the local Yellow Book.

Not only will the book help you locate a dry cleaner or pizzeria, it also reveals the address of Oscar winner Jack Nicholson. Other listed luminaries include former Walt Disney boss Michael Eisner, musician John Oates, and Ken Lay, who died last summer while awaiting sentencing for the Enron scandal. Yellow Book also revealed addresses of women who got restraining orders to protect them against estranged lovers, and others who have been threatened or stalked.

"Yellow Book apologizes for this," said spokesman John Hartz. "The company really prides itself in the accuracy of its directories. They're doing everything they need to do to make sure this is corrected for next year's directory."

The book is filled with errors. Some ex-wives, ex-husbands and new spouses are listed as living under the same roof. A woman said her real name is listed only on her birth certificate, voter registration and driver's license, but it's now in the directory. The book shows the address of a girl who owns a cell phone, but has no landline phone service.

Yellow Book said the information came from InfoUSA, a database marketing service that claims to have the industry's most comprehensive data. (info from the Aspen Daily News)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Stupid Cingular loses 200 bucks

Your editor bought a cool silver Moto Razr from Cingular a few years ago, on the very first day it was offered for sale. Last Spring, he passed down the silver Razr to loyal wife, and got a cooler black Razr for himself, also from Cingular. Wife dropped her Razr into a puddle, and bought yet another Moto from Cingular.

A few weeks ago, the sexy, sleek and easy-to-lose black Razr disappeared. It was time to shop for a new toy. Editor has no need for keyboard-equipped Blackberries, Blackjacks or other PDA-like phones; but he did want something cool.

Editor did some research. He was quickly impressed by the new A707 "Sync" from Samsung, that takes better pictures than the Moto Razr, plays music and TV shows, works on four bands, uses 3G technology, and has a slot for a micro SD card; and he went into the local Cingular emporium to do the deal. (Note to sloppy Samsung and slapdash Cingular: the phone is much thinner than the 1.02 inches shown on both of your websites.)

Editor was told he'd have to pay $350 for the phone, because he wasn't "due" for an upgrade yet. If Editor was due for an upgrade, the phone price would have come down to $200 -- or even $50 if he paid $20 per month for a multimedia package (which he planned on doing.)

Pleading, begging, and appeals to logic did not help. The stubborn Cingularians were not impressed by Editor's promise to switch to Sprint, or his willingness to pay the $200 price, buy the high-profit multimedia package, and add two years to the contract.

Editor quickly found the phone on Ebay for $199 plus $10 for shipping, but without $12 sales tax. He took the phone (which has Cingular logos on it) to the Cingular store. The nice folks there provided a SIM card at no charge, entered the phone in their system, and will find a way to survive without the 200 bucks.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

iPhone is coming, but not from the iPeople

The geek world has been eagerly awaiting a long-rumored “iPhone” from Apple, which would be a combo cellphone and iPod-like music and video player. The wait is over, sort of. The iPhone is now available, but from network hardware maker Linksys, not from iPod maker Apple.

Apple (the iPod maker) has been sued by Apple (the Beatles' company). Now Apple lawyers may pounce on Linksys. Linksys has a good defense: its corporate parent Cisco Systems has owned the trademark "iPhone" since 2000, when it bought InfoGear, the company that originally registered the iPhone name.

Industry watchers have speculated that Apple is close to releasing an iPod/cellphone, possibly at Macworld in January. Until the Linksys announcement, the name "iPhone" was a logical guess for its name.

Seven Linksys iPhones are available, starting at under $80. They use VoIP, and also allow users to switch to traditional calling. The phones can search the web to allow users to see when friends are online and ready to accept calls. (info from The Associated Press and Linksys)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nokia reluctant to deal with corrupt Siemens

Last June, Nokia and Siemens announced plans for a $20 billion, 60,000 employee joint venture, dubbed Nokia Siemens Networks, which would combine the companies' network infrastructure businesses. The combo would be the world's second largest company in mobile infrastructure, third largest in fixed infrastructure, and the third largest in the overall telecom infrastructure market.

This week, Nokia announced that the ongoing Siemens scandal, involving a $265 million network of "black accounts" for bribery around the world, has weakened Nokia's trust in the company and hampered the merger plans.

An internal review will now be required by Nokia before it goes forward with Nokia Siemens Networks. "In light of the current investigations of Siemens, the scope of which includes the carrier-related business to be transferred to the new company," the companies intend to adjust their agreements in order to have Siemens conduct "an appropriate compliance review" prior to closing of the transaction.

Nokia Siemens Networks is now expected to start operations some time in the first three months of 2007, instead of January as previously expected. Don’t be surprised if the deal never gets done. (info from Electronic News)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

UPDATE: FCC to rule on AT&T/BellSouth deal without one commish; AT&T faces restrictions

Back on December 11, we told you that the proposed sale of BellSouth to AT&T (formerly known as SBC) had been delayed, because an FCC commissioner had not decided if he would vote on the deal. Well, Commissioner Robert McDowell has finally decided that he won't vote; and now AT&T could face unwanted restrictions.

McDowell has expressed concern about whether he could vote because he previously lobbied on behalf of CompTel, a trade group that represents smaller phone companies that opposed the deal.

The FCC's review had broken down amid partisan bickering, with the two Democrats on the five-member commission pushing for certain conditions and the two remaining Republicans opposing them. Republican McDowell's decision to step aside increases the likelihood that AT&T will be forced to accept conditions involving "net neutrality"(the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally) and on the pricing of high-volume data lines.

Even without McDowell's vote, there is little question the FCC will approve the deal, but his abstention will change what conditions might be imposed. The Justice Department approved the sale in October without any conditions. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cingular to put MySpace on YourPhone

Cingular Wireless and the MySpace social-networking website plan to announce today a service that will let Cingular subscribers access MySpace content on their cellphones for $2.99-per-month, as well as send and receive email.

The move shows how borders between the wireless Internet and the regular Internet are beginning to disappear as cellphones become mini entertainment devices, allowing users to take pictures, browse the web, watch video and play music -- in addition to making and receiving calls.

The partnership marks MySpace's first major expansion into wireless. MySpace is the most popular social networking website in the U.S., but usage in the U.S. has flattened in recent months. Until now, MySpace had only a limited presence in the wireless market, through a partnership with start-up carrier Helio. The partnership with Cingular is exclusive for several months, and is likely to roll out partnerships with the other major wireless carriers next year.

Wireless carriers are enthusiastic about social-networking services because members of those sites are more likely to use multimedia services such as picture messaging and Web browsing, generating new revenue to offset declining income from voice calls.

Facebook, the second-largest social-networking site after MySpace, has been available to Cingular, Verizon and Sprint customers since the spring. Verizon Wireless has signed an agreement to put YouTube clips on Verizon's cellphone video service. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, December 15, 2006

AT&T may go back to providing free directory assistance, but with commercials

Years ago, when "Directory Assistance" was called "Information," it was free. Over the years, the name was changed, prices went up, and human operators were replaced by voice response robots.

Now AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is testing an ad-supported assistance service that gives callers free phone numbers for specific businesses, or listings by type of business. Callers dial 1-800-YellowPages to get information, and hear short commercials related to their request.

Businesses can buy ads that promote special offers to those who request their specific number, or ads that play when listings for their category of business is requested, or which run on a general basis and say that the service is being sponsored by a specific business.

“Increasingly, our customers are calling directory assistance when they don’t have a phone book handy or can’t jump online,” said David Huntley, senior vice president of AT&T Diversified Businesses. “We’re developing AT&T 1-800-YellowPages to be the consumer’s audio Yellow Pages that gives them free access to local and nationwide business listing information from any phone, 24/7. At the same time, we want to help businesses reach consumers at a key moment — when consumers are in need of a service and are ready to make a purchasing decision.” (info from Telephony magazine)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Say goodbye to free Skype calls

Starting 1/1/07, Skype, the Internet calling service owned by eBay, will begin charging $30 a year for unlimited calls to landline and mobile phones in the U.S. and Canada.

Those calls had been free as a limited-time promotion since last spring. The new annual fee for unlimited calling, while still low, is part of a strategy by eBay to expand Skype’s product offerings and revenue. Calls from one computer to another have been and will continue to be free.

EBay, the online auction giant, paid $2.5 billion for Skype in October 2005, prompting criticism from some analysts that it had overpaid for a start-up company focused on a different market and technology.

Despite the relatively low cost of the service, industry analysts said Skype was not considered to be serious competition in the telecommunications business. Skype, unlike Vonage, cable companies and other competitors, generally requires users to download software and to make calls from the device on which it is installed.

The company has been developing and deploying technology that allows Skype to be used on other devices, including wireless phones and pocket computers. Potentially more significant innovations are planned for next year, when Skype will introduce a service that will allow Web users to click a button to call a business they have found during a search. (info from The New York Times)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Drug dealer called cops to report stolen pot

A stupid drug dealer in Wichita, Kansas was busted after he called 911 to report that he was the victim of an armed robbery.

The victim told police that a buyer pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and stole a pound of marijuana worth about $1,100 that he had been trying to sell at his home.

The cops brought in a drug-sniffing dog and located more pot, plus drug paraphernalia. The victim was booked on multiple charges, including possession with the intent to sell drugs. The robber has not been apprehended. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

AT&T: "We don't need no stinking fiber" for TV

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is building an Internet-based video service called U-Verse to compete with cable companies. But unlike Verizon, which is launching a similar service with a "fiber to the home" network, AT&T is using existing copper wiring to save money.

"Our view at this point is that we're not going to have to go 'fiber to the home.' We're pleased with the bandwidth that we're seeing over copper," Chief Financial Officer Richard Lindner said.

"On average,” he explained, “at this point, we're producing about 25 megabits (per second). But in many, many locations, we're producing substantially more than that."

Some analysts have said AT&T's method is more efficient, while others have said it would need to upgrade its network again when more consumers start to watch high-definition channels and download movies, requiring increased bandwidth. Stay tuned. (info from Reuters)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Indecision by new FCC commish delays AT&T merger with BellSouth

The Federal Communications Commission could remain deadlocked on the pending $84 billion merger of AT&T (formerly known as SBC) and BellSouth, as a new Republican commissioner decides whether or not to vote. The five-member FCC has been stuck with a two-to-two tie vote for months over conditions on the deal as newbie Robert McDowell sat out of deliberations because of conflict-of-interest concerns. Before joining the FCC, McDowell lobbied on behalf of a trade group that represents smaller phone companies, and opposed the merger.

McDowell was approved to vote by the FCC’s general counsel, but McDowell said he may decline to vote on the deal. In a statement, he "strongly" urged his colleagues to "resolve their differences" while he reviews the general counsel's decision. "In addition, I look forward to receiving a copy of (general counsel) Mr. Feder's response to Congressman John Dingell's letter of December 5." In that letter, Dingell, the Democratic incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, asked 15 pointed questions about the suitability of McDowell's involvement in the merger vote.

In a memo, FCC general counsel Sam Feder argued that the government's interest in seeing the merger deliberations move forward outweighed concerns about potential conflicts of interest. He noted that both AT&T and BellSouth had agreed to McDowell's participation and that he might be "the only person available to break the impasse."

There's been little question whether the FCC will approve the deal, just about what conditions would be required, such as antidiscrimination rules for the Internet and price controls on high-volume data lines. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Tough justice:
woman jailed for friend's phone call

Carmen Granata of Eastpointe, Michigan is serving 30 nights in jail for violating the city noise ordinance because a friend used a cellphone on her front porch at about 4 a.m. after a party last month.

Granata also got two years of probation with daily breath tests for alcohol, monthly drug tests, and twice-monthly meetings with a probation officer. She must have approval from neighbors if she wants to have a party. Any violation would get her 60 days in the slammer.

Granata hosted a barbecue for about 70 friends. Most left to attend a concert, but some returned about 2:30 a.m. to sleep.

Police were called to investigate a noise complaint, but no tickets were issued. When someone stepped out later to use a cellphone, a nearby officer ticketed Granata because she owned the house.

Some neighbors told the judge that Granata regularly caused problems in the neighborhood. Another neighbor said that there's a group of people on the block notorious for calling police to investigate noise complaints and other minor issues. (info from The Detroit Free Press)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Throwaway phone company sues the Feds

Tracfone, the US's largest provider of pay-as-you-go cellphone service, is suing the Federal government over a recent ruling that allows people to disable the software that bonds phones to a particular carrier.

Tracfone contends that a new exemption to copyright law will make it difficult to stop people who disable the software and resell the phones at a profit overseas.

Usually, Federal law bars attempting to break electronic mechanisms for enforcing copyrights. The Library of Congress recently allowed the exemption at the urging of groups that said companies like Tracfone stifle competition, and hurt the environment because many of the phones would otherwise be thrown away after use by the first owner.

Tracfone has fought a largely losing battle with brokers who buy up its cheap phones at retailers such as Wal-Mart, disable the restrictive software and repackage them for sale, particularly in Latin America and Hong Kong. (info from Excite News)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More Siemens corruption trouble:
bribes and slush fund

German electric and telecom giant Siemens faces more trouble in a fraud investigation, after an employee gave German investigators details of a bribes-for-business scheme and claimed that senior officials were involved.

Munich prosecutors are investigating allegations that officials at the Siemens telecom division diverted at least €200 million ($266.6 million) to a slush fund at banks in three countries for use as bribes.

On Friday, prosecutors ordered the release of Reinhard Sickzek, a former Siemens telecom sales official, after he provided details of a system of bribes paid to potential customers in Africa, Russia and the Middle East. Sickzek ratted-out at least one board member at Siemens as the supervisor of the scheme, and told police that a member of the Siemens Compliance Department advised him on how to prevent detection of the bribery operation. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Role reversal:
cellphone TV show heads for bigger screens

Just a few months ago, Hollywood was buzzing about TV shows like "24" producing episodes for cellphones. Now, it's the other way around. Comedy Central plans to air a show produced by wireless carrier Amp'd Mobile, the first time that a U.S. TV network will broadcast a show originally produced for cellphones.

Comedy Central has bought TV rights to the animated series, "Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States," and plans to air it beginning next summer, possibly after "South Park."

Amp'd Mobile, which launched last December and has more than 50,000 cellphone customers, offers a wide range of videos, music and games to distinguish itself from other carriers. Customers pay more than $34 a month on average for entertainment content and Web browsing on their phones, almost five times more than customers of major carriers.

The animated "Lil' Bush" series is set in the background of the first Bush presidency when today's President Bush was still in school. It features a little George character and his little White House gang, including little Condi, little Rummy and the unintelligible little Cheney. They play baseball with little John Kerry and square off against characters like little Mikey Moore. The series pilot was viewed more than one million times on Break.com in the first week of September, and has been viewed more than 237,000 times on YouTube. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Phone can stop drunks from driving

After selling about 200,000 units back home in Korea, cellphone maker LG will introduce a drunk-detector phone the US sometime soon.

After after a night of boozing, you can check your own personal Breathalyzer, to see if you're fit to get behind the wheel.

You blow into a small opening on the phone, and if you've had too much to drink, the phone issues a warning tone and displays a weaving car hitting traffic cones.

The model LP4100 also allows you to set up the phone so on certain nights and after a certain time it won’t call certain people in the dialing directory -- like your boss, parent or former lover. If you have a blood alcohol level over .08, the phone keeps you from calling that person, to stop you from saying something really stupid. (info from ABC News)

Friday, December 01, 2006

New services help end cellphone contracts

It can cost a cellphone company as much as $400 to acquire and set up a new customer, especially with a deal that includes a free or discounted phone; so carriers make customers agree to stick around for a year or more. If you want to jump ship early, for a better deal, a hotter phone or better coverage, you can pay a termination fee of up to $250.

Unhappy customers unwilling to pay the fee, can use new web-based services to ease the pain, using a loophole to sell their contracts. CelltradeUSA.com, Resellular.com, Cellswapper.com and Wirecracker.com charge from $14.99 to $50 -- well below the usual termination fees.

The companies make use of a cellphone-contract loophole that's available to nearly all customers with long-term plans: cellular carriers allow people to get out of contracts if they transfer the remaining time to someone else, once the carrier approves the new customer.

While some cellphone contracts include a phone, cellphone companies don't require it to be transferred to the new customer or returned. Many customers using the websites offer their phones as an incentive or sell them to the people taking over their contracts.

As for the contract buyers, they can avoid a registration fee, get a shorter contract than if they had signed with a cellphone company, and sometimes get a free phone and accessories from the unhappy customer. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Verizon cans hundreds of resellers, gets tough on the rest

Following its takeover of MCI, Verizon is ditching hundreds of MCI agents (independent service resellers) and requiring survivors to sign restrictive contracts that may severely limit income. All previous MCI agents -- even those offered new contracts -- risk losing the hard-won residual income from their legacy MCI customers.

Agents not offered the 2007 Verizon Solution Provider Program (VSPP) contract now stand to lose the residual income from the customer bases they built under MCI. In the short term, this group will continue to earn residual income from their MCI customers. But if a Verizon employee sells a legacy MCI customer any new service, renews an existing service, or alters the customer's contract in any way, the residual income agreement in place under MCI's old contract ends.

Because of this, there is talk among legacy MCI agents offered the VSPP contract -- many of whom transact millions of dollars in business each year -- to unite and not sign the contract at all. The aim here is to perhaps force Verizon to take the choke-hold off their ability to earn.

If a legacy MCI agent does manage to beat Verizon to a renewal, the win is worth less money that it was before. MCI renewals once paid commissions as high as 15 percent and above. Under 2007 VSPP, renewals pay less that 5 percent.

During a Nov. 17 conference call between Verizon and legacy MCI agents offered the new contract, Verizon officials gave no assurance that sales quotas would be attainable, and said MCI agents who fail to hit quotas can be terminated in 30 days, and forfeit all residuals. (info from CMP Media)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Phone company helps Wal-Mart enter India

After years of looking for a way into India's fast-growing but highly protected retail market, Wal-Mart is trying a backdoor approach -- teaming up with an Indian telecom company.

The world's largest retailer, whose sales growth has slowed in the U.S., plans a joint venture with Bharti Enterprises., owner of one of India's biggest cellphone networks. The alliance with Bharti would allow Wal-Mart to skirt Indian regulations that bar most foreign retailers from investing directly in the country's retail sector.

Bharti will operate the stores, acting as a franchisee, while Wal-Mart would manage the chain's technology, logistics and wholesale operations. Bharti's experience in building a powerful cellular business with 30 million customers in India's highly regulated telecom industry, as well as its understanding of India's consumer tastes, will be crucial to opening stores quickly and efficiently.

Wal-Mart's Indian competitors are expected to lobby regulators to apply restrictions on Wal-Mart, and politicians want to limit the number of large retailers to protect the livelihoods of local shopkeepers. Bharti executives say they hope to avoid legal problems by limiting Wal-Mart's operations and investments to areas already allowed.

The move into India is crucial for Wal-Mart because India is one of the few markets potentially big enough to significantly boost the retailer's worldwide sales, to help compensate for flagging U.S. sales and setbacks in other foreign markets. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

YouTube coming to YouPhone

Lots of people use cellphone-cams to record videos that are uploaded to YouTube. Next month, Verizon Wireless subscribers will be able to watch YouTube videos on their cellphones.

The deal between Verizon and YouTube is one of many recent efforts to increase enthusiasm for mobile video services, for which carriers typically charge at least $15 a month. Carriers are likely to turn to advertising to subsidize it, or will lower prices to about $10 a month to get more people to sign up

The relatively expensive premium for mobile video service has limited its appeal to a small but growing minority, and what began as a technical experiment has become a test of whether mainstream consumers want portable video enough to pay for it.

About 2 percent of the country's 220 million cellphone subscribers pay to receive video on their phones. HBO reformatted entire episodes of shows such as "Sex and the City for cellphones. Sprint Nextel made a deal with the NFL to broadcast football. Amp'd Mobile, a cellphone service targeting the young and hip, produces sports and comedy clips.

YouTube's mobile service will be on Verizon’s V Cast service, which was launched in early 2005 with soap operas and a spinoff of the hit TV show "24." 20 million Verizon Wireless subscribers now have video-capable phones, a significant number of whom pay $15 a month to access V Cast. (info from The Washington Post)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cingular to offer cellphone banking

Cingular plans to allow customers to check bank account balances, transfer money, and pay bills with their cellphones early next year.

Wireless banking opens up new possibilities. Travelers, for example, could pay bills they forgot to pay before they left home; or someone could see a bank balance before writing a check.

Cingular is working with Firethorn Holdings, which specializes in mobile banking. Cingular is the first U.S. carrier to use Firethorn's mobile banking system, but Firethorn expects to work with other operators in the future. Wireless banking has taken off in Europe and Asia, but Cingular's service is one of the first in the U.S.

Firethorn uses an intricate anti-hacking password and identification setup, and says its system is as secure as online banking services. Online banking is popular among bank customers who use PCs. Close to 45% of Internet users banked online in 2005, up from less than 15% in 1998.

Cingular's service requires cooperation from customers’ banks. Cingular is talking with a number of banks but so far hasn't announced any deals. The service will work with most Cingular phones. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Schoolboy makes 49 calls to 911

Police in Round Rock, Texas were stumped by the 49 emergency calls that came in from an unregistered cellphone on Nov. 14. The caller would say nothing, or giggle briefly, and hang up.

Eventually the cops found the perpetrator -- a 7-year-old calling from school. "He was just doing it for fun," said police spokesman Eric Poteet.

The phone had been deactivated and could call only 911. Dispatchers used cellphone towers to determine its approximate location.

During one call, dispatchers heard classroom chatter in the background and decided to check the elementary school. Once they found the boy, the officers confiscated the phone and called his parents. Although making silent or abusive calls to 911 is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, the boy was not charged because of his age. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

No one wants Siemens' phone business

German electronics giant Siemens has failed to find a buyer for its money-losing Enterprise Networks division, apparently because of the collapse of its cellphone business plus a corruption and bribery scandal.

Siemens had to admit failure after the last serious bidder -- a consortium of investors Permira and Apollo Management -- dropped out after months of negotiations.

The Siemens Enterprise Networks division provides telecom equipment and services to businesses.

Siemens had sold its cellphone division to Taiwan-based BenQ last year, but the operation filed for insolvency earlier this year after the Taiwan parent cut off financing. Siemens came under heavy fire for its role in the affair. (info from Financial Times Deutschland and Agence France-Presse)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Jaguar stolen? Find it online

Next month Jaguar will offer customers "JaguarWatch" internet tracking of their cars, with technology from MicroTRAKgps that uses a combination of GPS and GSM cellular technology.

Jag owners can use a PC or web-enabled cellphone to access a personal web portal to find their car, set up alerts for keyless movement, browse its speed and location history or set a "GeoFence" which will alert them when the car leaves or enters certain geographic areas. (info from Webware.com)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lucent up one cent as Bush approves merger

President Bush has approved the proposed $11.8 billion deal between Lucent Technologies and French-owned Alcatel, saying the merger of the two telecommunications equipment companies doesn't present any major national security concerns. Alcatel and Lucent agreed with U.S. government agencies to enter into "robust and far-reaching agreements designed to ensure the protection of our national security."

Following the good news, Lucent shares closed at $2.62 – up one penny! (Previously, Lucent stock has sold for as much as $84 per share.)

The merged company will become one of the world's largest telecom equipment suppliers, with about $25 billion in sales and about 18% market share. The combined company will fire about 9,000 people, saving $1.8 billion over three years.

NJ-based Lucent is the parent of Bell Labs, the legendary research organization that has generated more than 31,000 patents since 1925 and employs about 29,800 people worldwide. Alcatel employs 58,000 people and operates in more than 130 countries. Its stock went down 8 cents after Bush’s approval was announced. (info from The Associated Press and Wikipedia)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Free ISP will charge for faster service

NetZero -- probably the last large dial-up ISP in the US, and a provider of free Internet access -- will resell Verizon DSL service.

"NetZero DSL" will be available immediately in all Verizon service areas. It’s assumed that NetZero is negotiating with other carriers for similar offerings in the rest of the US.

NetZero DSL will not be cheap -- unlike NetZero dial-up, which is marketed as the cheapest way to get online. Zero is meant to evoke the concept of free, and NetZero offers a free access plan with a maximum of 10 hours use per month.

NetZero DSL will cost more than Verizon charges: 768 Kb/s service will be $14.95 for the first six months, and $19.95 thereafter, compared to the flat $14.95 Verizon charges. It looks like the one big lure NetZero can offer is the ability for users to keep their Netzero email addresses. The initial $14.95 charge is the same as NetZero currently charges for its "premium" dial-up service, so many users are expected to switch to DSL.

NetZero DSL comes with Norton AntiVirus, a pop-up blocker, email with spam protection, 5GB of email storage, DSL modem, free backup dial-up account, and free tech support. (info from Telecom Web)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Microsoft follows Google in free Web project

Microsoft will partner with MetroFi to build a free wireless Internet access network for Portland, Oregon. Rival Google is playing a similar role to Microsoft in San Francisco, working with Earthlink.

MetroFi announced it will launch the Wi-Fi service in Pioneer Courthouse Square, a popular gathering place in downtown Portland, by the end of 2006, and expand it to 95% of the city within two years. Microsoft will provide local content and advertising through its new online platform, adCenter, which allows advertisers to target users based on their browsing habits and data such as gender, age and location. The service will be supported by advertising revenue. Users can get advertising-free Web access for $20 a month.

Portland already has some free Wi-Fi spots provided by the Personal TelCo project, a volunteer group. As part of a nationwide trend, the city is eager to provide a municipal Wi-Fi service for the whole metro area. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cable TV to cellphone via Slingbox

The Slingbox is a recently developed device that connects to a cable or satellite box or DVR, and sends video over the Web to the laptops of people who are away from home.

A major European wireless provider now plans to let customers with Slingboxes watch TV on a cellphone.

3 Group will launch the new service in Britain starting Dec. 1, followed by three more markets in early 2007. New phones running on 3's next-generation wireless network will feature the Sling application, which customers can use to watch any channel available on their cable TV at home. The phones also can control a digital video recorder: pausing and rewinding live television, playing previously recorded shows, or setting up the DVR to record a program. The first phones with SlingPlayer software will be the Nokia N73 and the Sony Ericsson w950i.

3 Group didn't say where it would offer Sling next. It has upgraded its wireless network with the required broadband technology in Italy, Australia, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Hong Kong, Israel and Ireland. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New software helps Indians sound less Indian


Indian call centers increasingly provide tech support and customer service for American companies, but complaints from Americans who can’t understand the Indians’ heavily accented English are also increasing.

IBM’'s India Research Lab has developed Web-based training technology to help operators change the harsh consonants, local idioms and occasionally different grammar of Indian English.

The program evaluates grammar, pronunciation, comprehension and other language skills, using speech-recognition software to score the pronunciation of passages and the stressing of syllables.

The technology also has voice-enabled grammar evaluation tests, which identify areas for improvement by highlighting shortcomings and providing examples of correct pronunciation and grammar. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Safety first? OOPS.
AT&T truck driver didn't know he ran over cop

A spokesman for AT&T (formerly known as SBC) says "Nothing is more important to AT&T than safety at our work sites. Our employees are trained to focus on safety first."

Last Friday, in New Haven CT, an AT&T truck driver backed over policeman Eric Scott and dragged him down the street as motorists frantically tried to alert the driver. Scott had been directing traffic at a construction site, while the AT&T driver was picking up traffic cones.

Muffled screams were transmitted over the police radio, and cops were dispatched to the location. "It appears it was the officer screaming for help on the radio as he was being dragged underneath the truck," said Sgt. Marc Calafiore, one of the first officers on the scene. Officer Scott was listed in fair condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and was expected to recover. (info from The New Haven Register)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Russian cellphone scandal:

Were Motos counterfeit? Contraband? Dangerous? Destroyed? Not destroyed?

Earlier this year, the Russian Interior Ministry seized 167,000 Motorola cellphones at a Moscow airport. The ministry said first that the phones were counterfeit, then contraband and then a health hazard.

In a very public display, government officials fed thousands of the phones (but apparently not all of the phones) into a chipping machine.

Now Moscow prosecutors are investigating whether 30,000 phones that were supposedly destroyed were, in fact, eventually sold at discount prices in stores outside Moscow. The phones were tagged with electronic serial numbers which have registered for months on cellphone networks in Russia, the prosecutors said.

Apparently, in an example of corruption brazen even by Russian standards, government investigators seized the phones to sell them for personal profit. (info from The New York Times)

Friday, November 10, 2006

French fiber advantage: their sewers

Paris is offering telecommunications companies breaks on fees to run fiber-optic cable through the city's 1,120-mile sewer system.

Use of the underground sewers eliminates the need to dig up pavement and get rights of way from government authorities. The Paris sewer network is so interconnected and accessible that it reduces the cost of building a network by as much as 50%.

France Télécom and Iliad recently announced plans for networks that provide service that would be twice as fast as those planned for the U.S. by Verizon and for Germany by Deutsche Telecom.

Telecom firms in France say the Parisian sewers -- with their rat-infested caves and gothic arches -- are a resource their counterparts elsewhere don't have and are the key to curbing costs. During World War II, Nazis used Paris's sewers as air-raid shelters, and the French resistance used them to fight the Nazis. Two years ago, police discovered and closed a movie theater in a sewer, complete with installed seats and a cocktail bar. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

French phone company goes Hollywood

France Télécom, the major French phone company, announced it would help fund 10 to 15 movies a year, and plans to build a catalog of rights to movies. The company will stick to financing and “won't be setting up a studio or choosing actors."

The project is part of the company's strategy to make the distribution of media content such as music, movies, television and games a key part of France Télécom's business.

Like other big telephone companies, France Télécom is struggling to generate growth as customers abandon traditional wired phones for cellphones and free Internet phone services. The company hopes to retain customers by offering new services such as high-speed Internet, as well as movies and television delivered over the Internet and cellphones. Content can play a key role if it entices clients to stay with France Télécom and pay for new services.

France Télécom has been investing heavily in content to distinguish itself from competitors. Last year, France Télécom's customers could watch Madonna's new single "Hung Up" weeks before Warner Music released it in France. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pole chopper cuts phone service

Telephone service was disrupted in Hawaii last week, allegedly by a man who chopped down a utility pole to steal its copper wiring.

Alden Kaupiko was arrested Friday at a park in Honolulu, where a utility pole had been cut down. Police said he was attempting to steal copper wire from a transformer.

There have been several copper thefts on Oahu (the island where Honolulu is located) in the past few months, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In September, thieves made off with more than two miles of wire dug up along a freeway. The wire connected lights on the freeway, which was already dark after being hit by thieves earlier. The price of copper wire has doubled in the past year, making scrap more valuable and tempting to thieves. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

YouTube on your phone, on your tube?

Verizon is in advanced talks with YouTube to bring the popular Website's videos to cellphones and televisions. This could advance the long-expected convergence of video and cellphones, and give Verizon a marketing edge over its rivals in the wireless and cable industries.

A deal with YouTube would let Verizon showcase its new TV service, which runs on fiber-optic lines all the way to subscribers' homes and has more capacity than competing cable operators. It could also give Verizon the exclusive right to carry YouTube videos for a limited period of time.

Though many cellphones provide Internet access, it is difficult for cellphone users to watch video on the Web, in part because it typically isn't formatted for cellphone screens. But cellular operators such as Verizon Wireless have the technology to bring video, music and other entertainment options to those screens. Also, their millions of subscribers make them attractive to digital entertainment companies like YouTube, which are looking to extend their reach beyond PCs.

Verizon already offers video clips from major media companies and networks such as MTV, ESPN, and ABC News, but a YouTube deal would be its first with a company whose videos appear only on the Internet. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Can cellphones replace traffic cams and copters?

Around the world, cameras, radar, helicopters and in-road sensors are used to monitor automobile traffic. In Atlanta, two companies aim to monitor many more roads, and at a much lower cost, by tracking the signals of cellphones.

By using anonymous data from wireless providers to show how fast cellphones are moving -- and overlaying that information with location data and maps -- IntelliOne and AirSage hope to offer more detailed information than other companies.

Both systems rely on wireless companies allowing them to process data from their towers that calculate the position of each phone. Privacy advocates are concerned. "This is your personal information. Shouldn't you have the right to control whether people know where you are?" asked Melissa Ngo of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The cellphone-based tracking system has other potential flaws, one being that there's no way to determine what is backing up traffic. Also, tracking data will likely be sparse late at night and early in the morning, when few drivers are on the road. But when cell phones are sparse, so is traffic. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Vonage loses less money, but more customers

Well, the good news is that VoIP phone company Vonage reported a net loss of only $62.2 million for the third quarter, down from a loss of $66 million a year earlier.

And the bad news is that the rate of customer loss (“churn”) for Vonage rose in the quarter to 2.6% from 2.3% in the second quarter. Vonage is vulnerable to competition from cable TV providers who offer low-cost flat-rate phone service.

Vonage, however, believes the trend is improving. "Although we saw worse-than-expected degree of deterioration in churn, we also saw stabilization toward the end of the quarter, and in fact exited the quarter with September churn decreasing to 2.4%," said Chairman Jeffrey Citron.

Vonage’s share price has decreased more than 55% since the May IPO, and the company had to go after several customers who reneged on paying for shares following the rapid decline in the stock. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fingers tired?
Get a cellphone with a motorized hinge

High-end Danish consumer electronics maker Bang & Olfusen is launching its first cellphone for North America. It’s small, sleek, sexy, has a motor to flip it open, and it's yours for just $1275 (about as much as seven formerly cool Motorola Razrs).

The "Serene" is tiny clamshell phone with an elegant aluminum hinge. Normally, the LCD display and microphone are on the lower half of the shell while a circular keypad and speaker are in the upper half; a thumb-operated wheel in the middle enables access to common functions. The phone can also be flipped around for table-top use, putting the dialing ring on the bottom and the LCD display on top.

The phone offers tri-band GPRS, a VGA-resolution digital camera, SMS/EMS/MMS support plus WAP 2.0, email integration with Outlook, and Bluetooth. It weighs less than 4 ounces, and measures just 2.5 by 2.8 by 0.9 inches. The phone comes with a docking station/charger, and a motor opens the Serene automatically when it's in the charger and a call comes in. (info from Digital Trends)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cingular phones will listen to music,
then sell the song

A new Cingular service will include a feature called "Music ID," which will let a user hold a cellphone near a speaker playing a song. It will then match the song against Napster's music database and, if the song is available, allow the user to buy it. The song is sent to the user's computer, to be loaded onto the phone later.

Music ID is part of a new music service that Cingular is preparing to launch, in partnership with Napster, Yahoo Music, and eMusic. The service will work on cellphones that double as music players.

Cingular's move is the latest sign that cellphones are morphing into entertainment devices that can download and play music. The Apple iPod dominates the digital music market, and Apple is said to be working on a combined music player and cellphone.

In a first for music-enabled cellphones, Cingular customers will be able to transfer music acquired from "all you can eat" subscription services like Napster to Go, Yahoo's Y Music Unlimited or eMusic. They will also be able to transfer songs copied from CDs or downloaded in MP3 and Windows Media formats. The service initially will require transferring music from PCs to cellphones with a cable. Next year, Cingular plans to add over-the-air downloading. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New phone makes booty calls

A new cellphone marketed by Japan's NTT DoCoMo can ring to let would-be mothers know when they reach the most fertile part of their monthly reproductive cycles.

By inputting data on menstruation dates, the phone user can program it to alert her three days before ovulation and again on the day. The new phone comes to market after Japan's fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears -- fell to an all-time low in 2005, causing worries about a shrinking population. The phone was the idea of female designer Momoko Ikuta, who also provided its pastel paisley look.

The handset has a button that activates a "camouflage melody," allowing the user to avoid unwanted attention by pretending to receive a call. It also stores recipes. (info from Reuters)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Good news for paranoids:
Secure cellphone knows its owner,
and shuts down when lost or stolen

The new Panasonic P9031 cellphone marketed by NTT DoCoMo in Japan comes with a small card that acts as a security key by connecting wirelessly to the phone. If the phone’s owner keeps the card in a bag or pocket, the phone recognizes when the card is too far away and locks to prevent calls.

The phone has facial ID to prevent snoops from getting personal info from the phone. The phone's owner takes photos of him/hersef with the phone's camera. To use the phone, the owner takes another self-portrait, and the phone analyzes features such as distance between the eyes, and unlocks if the image matches the stored data.

Another function notes whether eyes are blinking -- in case someone tries to show the owner's photo to use the phone. A password can guard against an identical twin using the phone without permission. If the phone gets lost, it can be tracked with its onboard Global Positioning System. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Avaya sued for illegally blocking competition

Continuant Inc. of Fife, WA filed an antitrust suit in federal court, claiming that Avaya stops competitors from fixing or maintaining equipment sold by Avaya.

Continuant alleges that Avaya maintains “a monopolistic stranglehold on the separate market for post-warranty service and maintenance" of telecom systems, and wants to prevent customers from selecting other maintenance vendors.

Last summer Avaya sued Continuant for "irreparable injury and harm" caused by Continuant’s efforts to maintain Avaya equipment.

Continuant's suit seeks to bar Avaya "from continuing its anti-competitive conduct," including bundling service contracts with sales and not providing passwords for maintaining phone systems. "Avaya's the only company that has a policy like this," said Bruce Shelby, Continuant's sales VP. "They say a customer doesn't have the right to access their system to perform maintenance" or to hire a third party to do it."

Shelby said that is illegal, and that Avaya is overcharging customers for maintenance when its service level has declined because of layoffs. Avaya has been trying to boost continuing revenues from maintainance, rather than relying on one-time sales. (info from Channel News, Tri-City Herald, Washington Business Journal)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

AT&T wants to help you spy on your kids

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) is introducing a home monitoring service that includes live video surveillance on a cellphone or PC, plus lighting controls, and sensors for motion, temperature changes and flooding.

The service costs $9.95 per month and is compatible with any broadband Internet service. The cellular feature is limited to Cingular phones with Internet service.

A customer needs to buy a $199 equipment package with a Panasonic video camera, a motion sensor for a door or window, a router and other hardware. Users can program the system to take specific actions or send an alert via e-mail or wireless text message when a sensor detects changes. If the there's motion across the video camera's field of view or if a sensor detects that a window has been opened, the system can automatically send an alert, turn on a light, and start recording video.

The remote video monitoring is not full-motion. Viewed on a computer, the picture runs at three to seven frames per second, as compared with 24-to-30 in television and movies. Video quality on a cellphone will be lower, varying with the phone and the local wireless network.

Last year, SBC announced a similar service for businesses. People who want remote video surveillance without the AT&T service can purchase Panasonic network cameras at PanasonicNetworkCameras.com. (some info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Text message champ defeated by computer

A PC running new voice recognition software from Nuance beat Ben Cook, the world's fastest text messager.

Two other people competed, one using a cellphone with a predictive program that turns partial words into full ones, and another with a full QWERTY keyboard on a Blackberry. Neither came close to Cook, who used "3-key typing." Sending one letter of the alphabet can take multiple taps on the same key, which is shared by several letters.

The first message, "I'm on my way. I'll be there in 30 minutes," took over a minute with predictive software, 29 seconds for QWERTY, 16 seconds for Cook, and under 8 seconds for Nuance.

The final message read "The razor toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygo centrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human." Cook finished in 48 seconds (six seconds longer than his own record), but it took the Nuance program just 16 seconds.

The software is for drivers and others who want to send text messages, but don't have time to type. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Study says Blacks blab most

According to consumer research firm Telephia, Black people talked on cellphones more than other ethnic groups in the third quarter of 2005.

Latinos were in second place, using on average 979 voice minutes per month.

Asians or Pacific Islanders used 845 minutes

Whites used 632 minutes. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cellphone film festival held in Paris

The recent Pocket Films Festival in Paris exhibited nearly 100 short films and three feature-length movies -- all shot on cellphones.

"What we're seeing is the democratization of filmmaking," said festival director Laurence Herszberg. "Now, you don't need expensive equipment and years of training. All you need is your phone."

Purists complain that poor image quality makes such films virtually unwatchable, but cell filmmakers insist the advantages of shooting on cellphones far outweigh the drawbacks.

"First and foremost, it's a matter of cost," said Leonard Bourgois-Beaulieu, whose short, "Busy," won Pocket Films' audience-choice award for best film. "You save on the camera, and you also save on all the trappings that go with an expensive camera, from operators to lighting designers to makeup artists."

"Busy" took less than a week to shoot, Bourgois-Beaulieu said, for the cost of a Metro ticket and two coffees (one scene takes place in a cafe). While cellphone cameras have radically simplified shooting movies, the crux of filmmaking -- finding the right story -- remains as complicated as ever, he said. "Just because everyone has a cellphone doesn't make us all Spielbergs." (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Nokia sells more phones, makes less money

In a classic episode of sitcom "I Love Lucy," Lucy and Ethel try to sell a potion called Vitameatavegamin. Lucy explained her unorthodox business strategy as “we lose money on every bottle, but we make it up on the volume.”

It seems like folks at cellphone giant Nokia studied at the Lucy Ricardo School of Business.

In the third quarter of 2006, Nokia enjoyed a big 20% increase in sales dollars, and a 33% increase in the number of cellphones sold, but net income fell more than 4% because of strong demand for inexpensive phones.

Nokia, the world's largest cellphone maker, said it shipped 88.5 million phones in the third quarter compared with 66.6 million units a year ago. But average selling prices declined to about $117 from about $128 due to an increasing proportion of sales of low-priced phones in emerging markets. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Man really really really likes to hear
telephone operators' voices

A Japanese man was arrested recently after making 37,760 silent calls to directory assistance because he wanted to listen to the "kind" voices of female telephone operators.

The 44-year-old has admitted to obstructing the operations of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph Co. by making up to 905 calls a day from his mobile phone.

"When I made a complaint call once, the operator dealt with it very kindly, so I wanted to hear these women's voices," he told police.

Police believe the calls, made between March and July this year, caused psychological distress to more than 100 telephone operators. (info from Mainichi Shimbun via Reuters)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Phone system hack costs company thousands

A company in Australia learned last week that someone had hacked into its Nortel phone system and used its call-forwarding feature to run up bills of nearly $7,000 in one week -- about eight times their normal monthly phone bill.

The company’s finance director said “There were an enormous amount of calls made -- there were two and three hour calls made to the Arab Emirates, Somalia and other countries in Africa and South America. I thought international calls were relatively cheap these days, but when you call the Arab Emirates for three hours, it is not cheap."

The company's IT manager said that although their servers and network are relatively secure, PABX security was not well documented, and the hackers probably had technical knowledge about the specific system.

Long distance carriers initially refused to believe the PABX could have been hacked, and tried to point the finger at a possible dishonest employee. “They said we should go to the phone extension and stop the person from making the calls. It took us a day or two to figure out what was actually going on," the finance director said.

There have also been many reports about hacking Panasonic voicemail systems, particularly for calls to the Philippines. (info from ZDnet)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MVNO teams score where ESPN struck out

ESPN recently announced that it was shutting down its money-losing effort to market an ESPN-branded cellphone that carried sports scores and video highlights of games, after less than a year. The failure of “Mobile ESPN” to compete with mainstream players like Cingular, raised doubts about the prospects for other niche cellular businesses.

Globally, there are now more than 250 of these ventures, called MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators), that put their brand on another wireless company's service. Many say business is good, or very good.

A virtual carrier doesn't pay for licenses and building and maintaining a network, but pays the actual network operator for every second of call time and every bit of data transmitted. This can be especially costly in the U.S., where cellular carriers encourage customers to talk.

Companies staying in the business argue there's plenty of money to be made serving the unique interests of specific market segments, such as teens and twenties (Virgin, Amp'd and Helio), kids (Disney), immigrants (Movida and TuYo Mobile) or the rich and pampered (Voce).

Qwest became a non-niche MVNO in 2004, selling its licenses and network to Verizon Wireless, and contracting with Sprint for service. Sprint is the biggest U.S. carrier of traffic for virtual providers, serving about 20 other brands. In mid-2006, MVNOs accounted for 5.3 million users, or nearly 10 percent of people talking on Sprint's network, up from 4.6 million in mid-2005. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Phone bill pretexting not a Federal crime

Several months before the scandal erupted at Hewlett-Packard over using false pretenses to obtain people's phone records, a Federal Trade Commission investigator clicked on a Website that touted its ability to produce consumer cellphone and financial records.

When the site produced info on calls and credit-card transactions made by an FTC staff member, the agency sued the company for advertising and selling private records.

These cases were the beginning of a federal crackdown on so-called telephone pretexting, but no federal law explicitly makes pretexting for phone records a crime.

Instead, the FTC has had to use its mandate to stamp out "unfair and deceptive practices" in commerce. The agency can bring civil suits to compel companies to change their ways, but it can't levy stiff fines. (In the H-P case, former company execs and hired investigators have been charged under California laws.)

The FTC and the FCC want Congress to make pretexting for phone records a federal crime, providing enhanced enforcement power. Several bills that would criminalize pretexting for call data have been introduced in Congress, but none have been voted on. Consumer groups and the communications industry favor making pretexting for phone records illegal, but differ on the details. Private eyes and others oppose curbs on pretexting used to probe insurance claims, domestic relations and other issues. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, October 13, 2006

No time for church? Call Rome for a prayer

Busy Catholics who can’t find the time to pray, have a new alternative. A phone service in Rome’s St. Anastasia of the Palatine Church arranges for people to pray for them.

Callers make requests to volunteer staffers who write them down, and then pass the notes to people who do the actual praying.

The project was the idea of Father Alberto Pacini. He said "the idea is very simple. We just wanted to offer the possibility of prayer to people who cannot make it to church. I suppose you could say that it is a sign of the times, but if it helps people to come closer to God then it can't be bad."

Father Pacini added, "we get all sorts of requests from people who are feeling depressed or who are ill, in desperation, in pain or at a difficult crossroads of their life. We also get callers asking people to pray for others, saying that the person in question looks sad or unhappy." (info from The Daily Mail)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Amazing! a telecom merger that worked right

In contrast to the Sprint-Nextel and Siemens-BenQ disasters, the merged cellphone business of Sony and Ericsson seems to be doing quite well.

Third-quarter net profit for the joint venture nearly tripled as several hit products helped the company capture market share. Net profit rose to $373.6 million, thanks to high demand for its improved camera and music phones. Revenue jumped 42%. They shipped 19.8 million phones in the quarter, up 43% from 13.8 million a year earlier.

The company said it gained about one percentage point of market share as a result of the strong sales, bringing its global market share to 8%. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sprint-Nextel merger is in the toilet

Last year Sprint paid $35 billion to buy a hot rival, Nextel, to boost its share of the cellphone business.

• The stock price of the merged company has fallen more than 30% since the deal closed in August 2005.
• Millions of its cellphone subscribers have defected to competitors.
• Remaining customers have increasingly been switching to less profitable calling plans.
• Two months ago, Len Lauer, Sprint's chief operating officer, was canned after the release of dismal financial results.
• Yesterday former Nextel CEO Tim Donahue said he was retiring as executive chairman.
• Nextel executives say Sprint erred by downplaying the Nextel brand.
• Some top Sprint executives feel duped for buying an aging Nextel network that drops customers' calls.
• The two companies have yet to combine their cellular networks and management structures.
• Sprint was slow to catch on to important trends, such as ultra-thin phones.
• Nextel employees accused Sprint's managers of being too slow to make decisions and requiring too many layers of approval.
• Small regional affiliates of each company, which offer service under both brands, complained that the merger would violate agreements that barred the national carriers from competing in the affiliates' territories. After bitter legal fights, Sprint ended up buying out seven affiliates, costing more than $14 billion and forcing Sprint to incorporate thousands of new employees.
• Sprint had to meet an FCC mandate to resolve interference problems with emergency-services users, mostly by switching them to other bands. The expected cost was $2.8 billion, but could rise.
• In the Washington, D.C., area, Sprint has to replace or update about 35,000 radios and negotiate with counties in Maryland and Virginia, several federal law-enforcement agencies, and even the Washington metropolitan transit system.
• The reshuffling of frequencies makes it hard for Sprint to add customers on the Nextel network and is hurting phone reception in some regions because of reduced bandwidth.

The Sprint-Nextel saga shows the perils of consolidation in an intensely competitive field where technology and customer expectations keep changing quickly. Instead of each company fixing the other one's weakness, the problems have just added up. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

PC Magazine praises Cablevision for service it doesn't provide

The current issue of PC Magazine contains the second half of its annual Readers Choice survey.

PCmag says that its readers think that Cablevision provides the best VoIP service.

There's a little problem, however. Cablevision does not provide VoIP service.

The company's excellent Optimum Voice digital phone service is VoC ("voice over cable"), and is better than VoIP because phone calls use Cablevision's own network, not the public Internet.

Some Cablevision people say they use VoIP, and maybe PCmag's readers don't know the difference between VoIP and VoC; but the magazine's writer and editors should know.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Former Siemens cellphone business is busted;
employees will get $45 million from Siemens

BenQ Mobile announced last week that it will file for insolvency (almost bankruptcy), just one year after Taiwan's BenQ Corp. agreed to acquire the business from German electrical/electronic giant Siemens. Last year Siemens said it agreed to pay BenQ Corp. about $450 million to take the unit off its hands, in addition to transferring patents to BenQ and allowing it to use the Siemens brand name.

Siemens will create a fund of about $45 million to benefit workers of its former cellphone division. Siemens top management will forgo salary raises to help finance the fund, and Siemens will treat BenQ Mobile's workers like internal candidates for 2,000 job openings at Siemens.

Siemens recently exited the consumer phone market in the US – for the second time.

Siemens management came under fire last month from politicians and religious leaders for securing 30% salary raises while the company was slashing thousands of jobs. Critics had accused Siemens of handing over the cellphone business to BenQ, expecting that the unit would be shut down after job guarantees expired a year later. Siemens denied those charges. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Court allows Bush's illegal bugging to continue

A court ruled Wednesday that the Bush administration can continue its telecom surveillance program while appealing a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional. Dubya has said that the program is needed to fight terrorism. Opponents argue that it violates Constitutional guarantees of free speech and privacy, and limits on executive power.

Judges said they balanced the likelihood an appeal would succeed, the potential damage to both sides, and the public interest.

The program monitors phone calls and emails to or from the U.S. involving people the government suspects have terrorist links. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the government says it can't always wait for court approval.

A U.S. district judge ruled Aug. 17 that the program was unconstitutional because it violates the rights to free speech and privacy, and the separation of powers in the Constitution.

The Justice Department urged the appeals court to allow it to keep bugging while it argues its appeal, which is likely to take months; claiming that the nation faced "potential irreparable harm."

The ACLU filed a lawsuit to stop the program on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say it has made it difficult for them to work because they believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It's official:
Cingular has finished eating ATT Wireless

Cingular announced it has finished integrating its cellular network with AT&T Wireless, which it bought two years ago for $41 billion.

Cingular, a joint venture of AT&T (formerly known as SBC) and BellSouth, is the biggest cellphone service provider in the U.S. with 57.3 million subscribers. Cingular had trouble integrating and upgrading AT&T Wireless's old network, and there were many complaints about billing, mandatory phone changes, and bad service.

Cingular says coverage has improved significantly, and the company has added 10 million customers, and about 3,000 new cell towers. Cingular's next project is to upgrade cell towers to provide high-speed Internet connections through laptops and cellphones.

Regulators are soon expected to approve AT&T's planned $67 billion purchase of BellSouth, which would give Cingular one owner. It is likely that Cingular will begin using the AT&T brand name in the near future.(info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Game is over for ESPN sports news cell service.
It will cost $30 million to blow the whistle.

The Walt Disney Co. will spend about $30 million to shut down its Mobile ESPN cellphone service, and hopes to license the brand to others.

Mobile ESPN, launched in February on the Sprint network with a 60-second Super Bowl commercial, offered real-time sports content on a specially designed Sanyo handset, but failed to catch on. Why it will catch on when provided by other companies is a mystery.

Disney launched Disney Mobile, a service aimed at families, in June. Disney Mobile allows parents to regulate when and how their children talk on cellphones; and features a satellite tracking feature to locate the phone and, presumably, the child. (info from Reuters)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Now phones can scream at thieves

A new service from mobile device management company Synchronica aims to help victims of cellphone theft.

Synchronica's mobile phone management software Mobile Manager can remotely lock and wipe data from cellphones as soon as their owners report the loss. If the phone has been stolen, companies can also turn on the Synchronica Scream Feature, causing an annoying and embarrassing high pitched wail to be emitted from the stolen device.

"According to industry sources, it takes on average only 30 seconds for someone to notice that their phone is missing, compared to an hour for a wallet or purse", said Carsten Brinkschulte, CEO of Synchronica. "Using our service, crime victims can be reassured that their information is immediately removed from the stolen phone, along with the satisfaction of annoying the thief with a screaming handset."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Not quite a Dick Tracy wrist-radio,
Bluetooth watch vibrates and shows Caller ID

Watchmaker Fossil announced a Bluetooth wristwatch that will let you know who’s calling your cellphone without having to find your phone and look at the display.

It vibrates when a call comes in and shows the caller's name and/or number on its display. When an SMS/text message is received, the watch will vibrate and the text alert icon will appear. You can mute the phone's ringer or reject a call by simply pushing a button on the watch. It's compatible with Sony Ericsson Bluetooth enabled mobile phones, and S60 phones using Symbian OS version 7, 8, and 8.1. It should be available in November in black and silver colors. A Sony-branded version of the watch will also be marketed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Torture by telephone

The Tucker Telephone is a torture device that uses the magneto generator from an old crank telephone to shock prisoners. The device was invented by a trustee acting as the "resident physician" at Tucker State Prison Farm in Arkansas, in the 1960s.

At the "Tucker Hospital", an inmate was strapped down and electrodes attached to toes and genitals. When the crank was turned, a charge was shot through the body. “Long-distance calls” referred to several such charges, used until just before the point of losing consciousness. Effects sometimes included permanent organ damage and insanity. It was used until 1968.

The Tucker Telephone is also sometimes referred to as Radio Moscow. There are reports from American Vietnam war veterans that field phones were occasionally converted into Tucker telephones and used to torture Viet Cong prisoners. They're also used in sadomasochistic sex. (info from Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Nokia boss: "don't call phone a phone"

Finnish cellphone maker Nokia is making more phones that allow users to play music, take photos and watch video. Just don't call them phones, insists Anssi Vanjoki, head of the Nokia division that makes the non-phones. He wants people to call them “multimedia computers.”

After Nokia was late on some big design trends -- like clamshell shapes and super-thin phones -- Vanjoki's quest is central to Nokia’s ability to reclaim the high ground in handset design and to spur sales in saturated markets.

Nokia already sells more non-phones with music capability than any of its rivals, in part because basic music players come as standard in many of its non-phones and it sells almost twice as many non-phones as its closest competitor. But it faces stiff competition in higher-end non-phones with more music functions.

On Tuesday the company unveiled its latest non-phones, including the N95 high-end camera non-phone with keys for playing and pausing music and a sliding cover. Nokia also unveiled an updated N91 music non-phone that now holds about 6,000 songs. Nokia recently moved to enter the content-distribution business by agreeing to buy digital-music distrib Loudeye for $60 million. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Big demand for expensive dot-mobi websites

More than 75,000 dot-mobi (“companyname.mobi”) websites were registered yesterday, on the first day registration was open to everyone. About 13,000 dot-mobi domain names were claimed previously, when registration was opened in May for wireless companies and in June for trademarked names. Dot-mobi is the suffix for web pages that are formatted for cellphones and other wireless devices.

In the next two weeks, anybody willing to pay a premium can register a website with a dot-mobi domain name. GoDaddy.com, one of the world's largest domain name registrars, charges $29.99 a year for a dot-mobi domain name. The registration fee will drop drastically later, but many "good" and unique domain names won't be available. ”Dot-com” web addresses are commonly available for under $10 per year.

The dot-mobi domain name was created to make it easier to use the Internet with wireless devices. People often receive error messages when trying to access regular dot-com websites on cellphones.

Some content providers and companies with trademarks are skeptical that it is necessary to create a separate domain name for mobile devices. They argue it could cause confusion among consumers. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

People urged to use cellphones during concert

In a major shift from normal concert policies that insist that phones be turned off, jazz composer David Baker is encouraging people to use their cellphones during the debut of "Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra" in Chicago next month.

Members of the audience and the orchestra will be asked to use their cell phones at various points throughout the piece with red and green lights telling them when to turn phones on and off.

Baker said this was first time in his career that he had finished a piece but did not know what the result would be. “I think some people would think it is insane to even think about trying to combine the cacophony of cell phones with the pristine purity… of an orchestra," he added.

People will also be encouraged to randomly increase and decrease the volume of their rings. Baker said he hoped the contrast of chaos and structure in a constantly shifting orchestral scheme would replicate how cell phones create both order and chaos in our society. (info from Reuters)

Monday, September 25, 2006

H-P sponsors privacy award.
Yeah, right.

Hewlett-Packard, being investigated for spying on board members and journalists, sponsors an award for "privacy innovation."

Nominees are currently being accepted for the fourth annual HP/IAPP Privacy Innovation award, which H-P gives in conjunction with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. The prize was created to honor "strong and unique contributions to the privacy industry."

HP is being investigated for surveillance of directors, employees and journalists as it sought the source of boardroom leaks to the media. HP investigators posed as other people to obtain their phone records. An HP director quit in protest of the methods and another resigned after being outed as a leaker. Questions about HP's methods led board chair Patricia Dunn to quit her post. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Insert 760 quarters, two dimes and a penny."
Vending machine now sell cellphones

Vending machine fans who are bored with the usual offerings of snacks, cigarettes and soda, can now get cellphones and accessories.

Motorola’s new "Instantmoto" will go into 20 malls and airports nationwide as part of a pilot program which started with San Francisco Airport and Macys in Chicago.

The vending machines will carry about 30 different products, including cellphones (with or without a service plan) plus cordless phones, and accessories including headsets and chargers.

Unlike traditional vending machines, Instantmotos (which Motorola calls “robotic retail stores”) don't just drop products to the bottom; purchased items are gently delivered to customers by a robotic arm. We don’t know if it will shake your hand at the end of the transaction.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In Africa, phones can reach God

The South African division of the International Bible Society, which translates and distributes the bible, will help people to download the entire bible and a search engine onto their cellphones.

The society hopes the service, which costs about $5, will appeal to young people in mobile-mad South Africa, where most people are Christian. 80 percent of South African phones have the 1.2 megs of memory needed to receive the bible.

Cellphone users can download the bible in English or Afrikaans using text messaging. Customers can choose between the traditional King James version or newer versions. Zulu and Xhosa translations will be available soon, and other languages will follow. (info from Reuters)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lost cellphone helps cops find crook

An Italian thief lost his cellphone while robbing an elderly lady, called his own phone number to try to locate the phone, and actually arranged to meet the cops.

The crook dropped his phone while stealing a pocketbook, and the victim gave the phone to the police, who lured the thief to a meeting where he was arrested. The man had been recently freed from prison in an Italian mass pardon program meant to reduce jail crowding.

By the time of the meeting with the police, the robber had already mugged another woman, and he drove to see the police on a stolen motor scooter. (info from Agi news agency via Reuters)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Can't get lucky?
A cellphone can help improve your moves.

Virgin Mobile, a cellphone operator concentrating on young users, is expected to debut a text message game that allows customers to test if they have the right moves in approaching others for romance.

The game puts players on a virtual date where they respond to questions and react to situations. For example, if a female player is losing momentum, the response might be, "C'mon, throw him a bone once in a while -- the poor guy can't tell if u like him or NOT."

Then she will receive a message with several choices. Each text message choice brings the player one step closer to getting a virtual date, or striking out.

Text messaging is the second most popular communication form among cellphone users behind calling and it's the cheapest data service. U.S. phone users sent 64.8 billion text messages in the first six months of 2006, almost doubling the number in the same period of 2005. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, September 18, 2006

French forced to to use cellphones when cable was stolen

Residents of two villages in eastern France couldn’t make or receive conventional phone calls last Thursday after crooks stole nearly 2,000 feet of underground telephone cable.

France Telecom said that the thieves snatched the cable that had been dug up and left exposed for repair.

Theft of the copper cable has become increasingly common in France as thieves try to take advantage of soaring copper prices, which have more than doubled in the past year. The day before the phone cable heist, thieves disrupted train traffic between Bordeaux and Paris by stealing railroad signal cable. (info from Reuters, with help from Nick Santiago)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Woman rented phones for 42 years;
paid about $14,000

An Ohio woman started renting two black rotary dial phones from AT&T in the 1960s, and had paid rent for them – recently $29.10 per month – for 42 years. Phones of this type are commonly available for $5 apiece.

Ester Strogen, 82, of Canton, has paid an estimated $14,000 to use the old-fashioned phones. Strogen's granddaughters, Melissa Howell and Barb Gordon, ended the arrangement when they discovered the bills.

"I'm outraged," Gordon said. "It made me so mad. It's ridiculous. How many other people are doing it?" She believes most renters are elderly and may not realize they are paying thousands of dollars for a telephone.

A spokesman for AT&T spinoff Lucent Technologies that manages the rental service, said customers were given the choice to opt out of renting in 1985. The number of customers renting phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, he said. (from The Associated Press) (Editor's Note: I don't believe the $29.10 monthly charge. It was probably about $10 for the two phones.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Tyco trouble: hid $170 mil capital gains.
IRS wants $50 mil tax.

The IRS said that Tyco International hasn't paid millions in income taxes due from an allegedly false tax return filed in 1999.

Tyco is a huge conglomerate that makes a wide range of products used in manufacturing and installing telecom equipment. The potential $50 million tax was revealed as former tax VP Raymond Stevenson was charged with failing to report more than $170 million in capital gains on Tyco's 1999 tax return.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Stevenson directed a "series of transactions" designed to reduce Tyco's state liability, and in doing so triggered $170 million in federal capital gains. On Tyco's tax return, Stevenson left off the $170 million.

Stevenson was hired under Tyco management led by former CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted with former CFO Mark Swartz of stealing more than $150 million from Tyco. Both men are in in the can. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Feds say state can't make telcos talk

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control, saying it can’t force AT&T and Verizon to answer questions about whether they provided customer records to the Feds.

The American Civil Liberties Union petitioned the DPUC to investigate whether the telcos disclosed customer phone records without a court order, warrant or subpoena since Sept. 11, 2001. The ACLU called the disclosures illegal government spying, and launched a nationwide campaign to determine which phone companies complied with government requests for records. The ACLU submitted questions to AT&T and Verizon on Aug. 10, but the companies didn't respond.

At the ACLU’s request, the DPUC, which regulates telecommunication companies in CT, issued a ruling Aug. 23 ordering them to answer by Sept. 7. The federal lawsuit says the DPUC does not have the authority to force the phone companies to answer the ACLU’s questions, and claims a response by the companies could cause "exceptionally grave harm to national security." (from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

School kids may get fined for cellphone rings

Students in Connecticut’s Derby High School have been annoying their teachers by using cellphones in class, and the teachers have been confiscating the phones.

School principal Michael Novia has proposed fining the kids $3 to $10 for ringing phones. Students would have to pay the fines to retrieve their phones, and the fines would be used to subsidize an after-prom party.

Novia said "I think it's a fun and practical way to lessen cellphone use" and "we will have a post prom party at the high school for the first time this year; the theme will be New York." (New York City does not allow students to bring cellphones to school, but we're not sure if that policy affected the choice of the party theme.)

Derby is the smallest city in a small state, but calls itself "An All American City for the new millennium" and a “Proud Partner in the Electronic Valley;” so this may be the beginning of a national trend. (from The Associated Press and other sources)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Phone guy is new champion tax cheat

In the largest individual income-tax evasion case ever, Walter C. Anderson, the telecom mogul who used a scheme to hide proceeds from the sale of Mid-Atlantic Telecom Inc., pleaded guilty to evading more than $200 million in federal and local taxes.

Anderson pleaded guilty in U.S. District to two counts of tax evasion and one count of failing to report $365 million of personal income in 1998 and 1999. He faces up to 10 years in prison and payment of restitution to both the federal government and the District of Columbia.

Between 1992 and 1996 Anderson transferred his ownership interests in three companies that provided telephone service, to two offshore companies. The government said that Anderson used an alias to control the offshore companies and hired other trust companies to create the appearance that he was not directly involved in the companies. The two offshore companies increased in value, and Mr. Anderson used the money to invest in other ventures that generated more than $450 million in earnings. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, September 08, 2006

AOL's VoIP service a flop, will be killed soon.

AOL announced that it will discontinue its residential VoIP service in the US and Canada.

The company’s TotalTalk plan will be shut down at the end of November. The service had signed up just 2,000 US subscribers since its October 2005 launch.

AOL promoted it, saying "The TotalTalk™ service is easy-to-use and easy to set up! You can count on AOL® to make everything simple and user-friendly." PC World magazine gave it a good review: "...in many ways I like it better than other VOIP services I have looked at. Set-up is simple and AOL brings some unique extras to a crowded field."

The company will continue to promote its Instant Messenger-based calling platform, AIM Phoneline, which gives AIM users a free, local phone number to receive unlimited incoming calls online and free online voicemail. (from AOL and This Week in Consumer Electronics)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Whatever happened to ethnic pride?


For several decades, advertisers in the United States have recognized that all people do not have white faces and blonde hair.

American ads, catalogs and commercials show a wide range of faces; but if you look at the websites of non-US telecom companies, it's hard to find a local.

  • The picture above was at the top of the home page of the Singapore branch of a Japanese manufacturer; but the people look like Kansas.
  • A Chinese headset maker's website features a Basic American Blonde, and the company won't allow Asian faces in its advertising.
  • Telecom Egypt's website shows a brown-haired girl wearing Oshkosh-type overalls, who would not be noticed in any American town or mall.
  • A website in Turkey has faces that look more like Norway.
  • The website of Telekom in South Africa does show a woman with brown skin... and a very blonde wig.
  • Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Vonage faces tough competition and shrinking market share

    VoIP leader Vonage went public in May at $17 per share, and its stock price dropped 13% on opening day. It bottomed out at $6.30 in July, but the stock has stabilized since then and climbed slightly. It closed on Friday at $8.90. In its second-quarter earnings report, released Aug. 1, the company said it lost $74 million, or $1.16 a share.

    Competitors, particularly deep-pocket cable companies who offer low-priced, easy-to-use flat-rate phone service, are taking customers away from Vonage. Smaller companies are making inroads too. Competitor SunRocket sells unlimited VoIP phone service for $199 a year, or less than $17 a month, compared with the $25 Vonage charges.

    Vonage is losing 2.3 percent of its customers each month. After the first quarter, Vonage had 29.7 percent of the market for Internet phone service. That’s down from 31 percent at the end of 2005 and 34 percent at the end of 2004, according to research by Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. (from The New York Times)