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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

OOPS! Again.
AT&T helps crooks grab credit card info

Fraudsters called AT&T (formerly known as SBC) and claimed that phones were not working in pizza restaurants, and persuaded a customer service rep to forward calls to a different phone number.

Calls for pizzas reached crooks, who made believe they were taking orders, and collected credit card information that was then used to make fraudulent internet purchases under the names of unsuspecting pizza customers.

Two incidents of the scam have been reported in California, but it's unclear if the ruse has been replicated elsewhere. The trouble became apparent when pizzerias complained that their phones had stopped ringing. AT&T failed to make any checks before forwarding the calls, but says it has instituted extra precautions and that subsequent attempts to pull off the con have failed. (from TheRegister.com)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Do as we say; don't do as we do.
AT&T sells data security, but gets hacked

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) says the company "delivers a suite of security... services to help assess vulnerabilities, protect your infrastructure, detect attacks, respond to suspicious activities and events. AT&T utlitizes its depth of knowledge, experience, process, platforms and investments to assist you in securing your enterprise networking environment with ...skilled security and business continuity professionals, proven processes and leading-edge platforms to extend your security."

Last weekend, hackers broke into an AT&T computer system and stole credit-card numbers and other personal information relating to nearly 20,000 customers. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chinese gov't has hotline for oversexed funerals

Reacting to an apparent increasing trend to have strippers perform at funerals, the village government of Donghai county in China’s Jiangsu province has established a telephone hotline for residents to report “funeral misdeeds.”

Police invaded a farmer's funeral last week where two groups of strippers gave "obscene performances." Local villagers believe that the more people who attend the funeral, the more the dead person is honored, so strippers are used to boost attendance.

Two hundred showed up at last week's funeral. Five strippers were detained and local officials issued notices concerning "funeral management." (from Reuters and Xinhua News Agency)

Monday, August 28, 2006

New world champion cellphone toss

The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship was just held in Finland, home of Nokia and wacky contests. Old phones were supplied for contestants who were allowed to pick which kind of phone they wanted to throw.

The men's winner was Lassi Etelatalo, who threw a Nokia 292 feet. The women's winner tossed her phone 167 feet, a new world record according to the organizers. One contestant said three things were needed to compete: technical skills, power, and a sense of humor.

There were four competition categories: men, women, juniors and freestyle. In the freestyle event, Dutchman Elie Rugthoven's phone landed outside the designated area, but he still won a silver medal because of a phone juggling performance that impressed the judges. (from Reuters and the Associated Press)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cellphones fight cellulite.

Nutrax is a free online diet service that lets people use their camera phones to take pictures of meals, send them to an online account, and receive a summary of calories, carbs, fat and nutritional content.

Diet and nutrition services are working with cellphone carriers and digital-device makers to provide instant, on-the-go diet info and help. Offerings include carb and calorie counters and personal advice. The services, offered by Cingular, Verizon and Sprint-Nextel, incorporate popular diet plans such as Atkins, Weight Watchers and South Beach. Also, a growing number of diet companies offer software and services that can be accessed by any cellphone or PDA.

Dietitians say cellular diet applications can help, but a photo can't provide precise information on serving size, ingredients or preparation. For cellphone companies, putting diet applications into their phones helps attract more customers by offering devices that go far beyond phone calls. For dietitians and nutritionists, making these diet plans available on cellphones means more sales of their products. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

New PizzaPhone automatically calls pizzerias

PizzaPhone combines an automatic-dial phone with a custom sign, that customers can use to make free calls for delivery, carryout or advance seating at pizzerias.

PizzaPhone is pre-programmed with the pizzeria’s phone number, so callers just
pick up the handset to make the call. It is designed for easy installation and
can be connected to a standard analog phone line, VoIP, or business phone system.

Installation sites include motels, dormitories, fraternities, clubs, campgrounds, office buildings, firehouses, pools, parks, marinas, resorts, construction sites, military bases, recreation halls, etc.

The sign “window” is available in a pizza-slice shape or a rectangle. The pizza shape is more dramatic. The rectangle can hold more information, and is suitable for do-it-yourself computer printing.

See www.PizzaPhones.com

Editor's Note: this is a plug for my own company

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Government drops DSL tax.
Verizon & BellSouth won't pass on savings

In 2005, the Feds decided that DSL customers won’t have to pay into a "Universal Service Fund" that subsidizes phone service in rural areas and for poor people. That move seemed likely to cut a few bucks off a typical monthly DSL bill.

Now the bad news: Verizon and BellSouth won't be passing the savings on to customers. Verizon dropped the fee as of Aug. 14 but will impose a new "supplier surcharge" of $1.20 or $2.70 a month (depending on DSL speed), which will be almost exactly what people would have saved with the government's change. BellSouth said it intends to continue charging DSL subscribers its $2.97 a month "regulatory cost recovery fee."

Verizon says it must impose the surcharge because of increased costs for providing DSL service for consumers who don't subscribe to the company's phone service.

BellSouth says it needs the money to offset "costs incurred in complying with obligations and charges imposed by regulatory agencies," along with universal-service obligations.

Qwest and AT&T discontinued USF charges and don't plan to add other surcharges. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Think cell towers are ugly?
How about a nice blimp?

Former NASA manager Bob Jones wants to float robotic airships above the Earth as an alternative to unsightly telecom towers on the ground and expensive satellites in space.

Jones hopes to have a fleet of unmanned "Stratellites" hovering in the stratosphere to provide high-speed data and voice communications. Because of its altitude, one airship could cover an area the size of Texas.

He envisions the airships will rise to about 13 miles, and stay up for 18 months. They might prove most useful in niche markets -- hard-to-wire rural areas, for example -- or during natural disasters when terrestrial towers fail. (from The Associated Press)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Free extra cheese for cellphone users?

LaRosa's Pizza and Cincinnati Bell's wireless division will use text messages to give special offers to cellphone customers, according to The Cicinnati Enquirer.

The deals will be advertised with in-store posters, check inserts, billboards and box toppers. Ads will display a special number which subscribers can use to send a text message for a code to get the special offers.

They can use the code when paying their check in the restaurant or when ordering by phone. This program is the first of its kind in the U.S., the newspaper said.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Boeing shoots down inflight internet

Boeing will discontinue its unprofitable “Connexion” inflight Internet service, at the end of 2006. The satellite-based service has been available for six years on a few airlines and on Air Force One.

Boeing boss Jim McNerney said: "Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialized as had been expected.” A spokesman said that the usage rate was "in the low single digits."

Boeing's experience underscores how difficult it has been to find a profitable way to keep passengers connected to the ground, even though such ability would enable business travelers to be more productive. Many airlines that might have been customers for Boeing appear to be leaning toward cheaper technology with less capacity that relies on traditional cellular networks.

Annual revenue for Connexion is less than $25 million, according to industry officials. Connexion has about 560 employees, and Boeing is said to have invested about $1 billion in the service. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Want fiber to your house?
Move to Scottsdale AZ

If Web access via Wi-Fi, DSL or cable isn't fast enough for you, your bytes can flow through a fiber-optic pipeline if you buy a Toll Brothers house at Windgate Ranch in Scottsdale. Prices start at about $800K, with Cat5e wiring included.

Qwest Communications has partnered with the builder of the high-end community to provide 10 Mbps Internet service, digital phone service, digital TV service with over 200 channels, HDTV and video recorders.

“By working with Toll Brothers the question is: Do they want to use technology to differentiate themselves from the thousands of homes that are sold every year?” said Qwest's Scott Simanson. “The answer in some cases is yes, and in some cases it's no. We take fiber to the neighborhood or in a node, so going all the way to the home is really up to the builder and who they are trying to attract.” (from Telecommunications Magazine)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Want free high-speed web access?
Move to Googleville, CA

Google plans to offer free high-speed Internet access to everyone in Mountain View, CA., its Silicon Valley hometown.

The wireless ("Wi-Fi") network will probably make the city the largest American municipality with free Internet access. Mountain View, about 35 miles south of San Francisco, has about 72,000 residents. That's about three times the population of St. Cloud, FL, which had been the free Wi-Fi champ.

Google has about $10 billion in cash, and spent about $1 million to build the Wi-Fi system, which can save Mountain View households hundreds of dollars each per year. The network uses about 380 antennas, and will provide web access at speeds similar to DSL, but slightly slower than cable.

Google has teamed up with Internet service provider Earthlink to build a Wi-Fi network in San Francisco, where many of its employees live. It should be ready in 2007. (from AP)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Prepaid cellphone companies lose millions
because of gray market bulk purchases

Cellphone businesses including large service providers like Cingular and Sprint, and smaller specialized operations like TracPhone and Virgin Mobile, sell prepaid "pay as you go" phones, mostly to people with low income and bad credit. Phones are sold for less than they cost, because the cellphone companies assume they'll make money when customers purchase minutes of service time.

Customers don't sign contracts, and can easily cancel service without paying a fee. Some buyers never activate the phones or spend very little money, so the sellers lose money.

Gray marketeers are buying inexpensive phones from one carrier, and selling them to be used with other carriers. The problem is growing as the prepaid phone business is growing as a percentage of the cellphone business.

Middlemen have been buying dozens or hundreds of prepaid phones for as little as $20 each in stores like Wal-Mart, and then doubling their money when they re-sell them. Some purchasers have been arrested when store clerks suspected that they were terrorists who would use the phones to activate bombs. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Phone company finances new businesses
to encourage employees to quit

France Telecom, the major French telephone service provider, used to be a monopoly owned by the French government. Two thirds of its employees have civil-servant status with guaranteed lifetime employment, and the others are protected from layoffs by strict French labor laws.

This may be good for the workers, but it hurts a company that's trying to become more efficient to compete globally in new areas such as television, internet and cellphones.

Since France Telecom can't simply fire people, it has come up with a novel way of encouraging voluntary departures -- by subsidizing new business ventures, and even guaranteeing jobs to workers whose new ventures don't work out.

The phone company has provided business guidance and financing for about a thousand new businesses, including a lot of pizza shops. (from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mysterious SOS signals from cordless phone
baffle coast guard

Japanese Coast Guard officials received 279 false emergency signals from a cordless phone in a house, but don't know what caused the signals to be sent.

Officials said the SOS signals, usually sent by ships or planes via satellite when they become stranded, were detected off the coast of Choshi in June and July. Japan Coast Guard officials sent out rescue workers more than 20 times but they found nothing, leading them to consider the possibility of pranks or terrorism.

The Kanto Bureau of Telecommunications, which monitors illegal radio signals, conducted an inspection with the Coast Guard, and found that strong signals matching the SOS signals were being sent from a cordless phone produced in 1991.

The reason the signals were being sent, however, remains a mystery. The telecommunications bureau asked the phone's manufacturer to investigate the reason, but, perhaps because the phone was reset when it was switched off, the false signals stopped being sent.

"If we can't reproduce the signals, we'll never know the reason," a perplexed official said. (From Mainichi Shimbun)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Phone service helps cable TV fight satellite

The satellite TV business is slipping, thanks to increased offerings by cable TV business.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "the nation's two leading satellite companies, DirecTV Group Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. are seeing a sharp slowdown in the number of new subscribers. In the last year, their gains have shrunk to half of what they were during the industry's heyday early in this decade, and they are projected to decline further."

"Meanwhile, the cable-TV industry, after years of seeing satellite steal market share and customers by pitching better service and more variety, is regaining ground. Companies like Time Warner Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. are wooing customers by providing video, telephone and high-speed Internet services in an attractively priced "triple play" bundle."

"Cable's comprehensive offerings are "stealing good customers away from us," EchoStar Chief Executive Charles Ergen told analysts."

Your editor subscribed to DirecTV five years ago, because it was the only way to get High Def. Now I have HDTV coming through CableVision's cable, along with high speed internet access and a great phone service package. I gradually reduced our DirecTV service from four TVs to one. Yesterday I realized that I can't remember the last time I used the satellite dish, and today I will cancel my service.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It may get easier
to leave the phone tree

Responding to widespread dislike for frustrating automated attendant "phone trees" that make it difficult to reach a human being, website GetHuman.com offers shortcuts for hundreds of corporate and government agency phone systems.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the site has a program encouraging businesses to lessen suffering by incorporating standardized escape procedures.

The proposed "GetHuman Standard" allows callers to press "0" or say "operator" to reach a live person, and to press "#" or say "repeat" to replay a menu. Automated call processors will play a special tone to confirm that the system complies with the new standard.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Shoe guy needs a phone guy.

In an episode of long-running sitcom "Married With Children," Al Bundy is at work at Gary's Shoes, and talks on a Panasonic phone.

Unfortunately, the handset cord is plugged into the jack where the line cord is supposed to go. (Picture from TVacres.com)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Nigerian business mogul

(email received by a telecom dealer in the US)

Dear ,
I'm mrs naomi jean by name a us based business mogul, i have problem in ordering items from your website , i need your helps in sending these items to my branch office in nigeria, the items are 5 sony ericsson p910i,5plantronics headset and 5 sony ericson k750i i will pay you through my HSBC account. The address of my office in nigeria is p.o.box 903 ile ife osun state, the name of my manager there is mr akinfolayan kayode i want you to use register mail in transfering these items to nigeria,in your reply i want you to send your bank accunt to me in for my manager to see these goods within 48 hrs.
Thanks for your coperation,
regard,
naomi jean.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Cingular says buy new phone or pay more money

Nearly five million Cingular Wireless customers with old phones will pay an extra $5 each month starting in September, if they refuse to upgrade to newer phones.

The company wants all of its customers to use the GSM technology that 92% of its 57.3 million customers now use. The others have phones that use older analog or TDMA transmission.

Having to handle three different kinds of signals leaves less capacity for GSM calls and data services. Network capacity is crucial because Cingular is trying to shake a reputation for poor service, advertising that its customers have the fewest dropped calls.

Like other U.S. cellular carriers, Cingular is required by the FCC to keep providing analog service until early 2008 so long as it still has customers with those phones. Although the company is not required to continue providing TDMA service, it has no plans to turn off that service until the analog phaseout because both use the same portion of Cingular's network.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Qwest's Nachio seeks fairer trial in New Jersey.

Joseph Nacchio, former CEO of Qwest Communications, wants to move his insider-trading trial from Denver, where Qwest is based, to New Jersey. Qwest is the fourth largest US local phone company.

"Nacchio has become among the most reviled figures in recent Denver history and, therefore, there are great obstacles to Mr. Nacchio receiving a fair and impartial trial," Nacchio’s lawyer wrote.

The Justice Department charged Nacchio in a criminal complaint for selling $101 million in Qwest shares in 2001 while knowing revenue targets were unattainable. The Securities and Exchange Commission claimed in a related civil lawsuit that Nacchio directed a fraud that led Qwest to erase $2.5 billion in revenue. (From Rocky Mountain News)