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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Ring tone sales decreasing

A couple of years ago, there seemed to be no upper limit to the sale — for $3 to $4 — of snippets of music that blast out of cellphones. Billboard magazine created a “hot ring tones” chart in 2004 to track their popularity, and at one point in 2005, analysts predicted an $11 billion ring tone business by 2010.

But the market changed in unexpected ways. For one, more phones were being made with the ability to create or record their own tunes. For another, record labels promoted so-called master ring tones — excerpts from the original pop recordings — for about the same price as the knockoffs but with higher royalty fees. And digital music stores like iTunes began packaging and selling ring tones alongside their 99-cent singles.

All three trends lessened the profitability of ring tone aggregators, like Jamba, the Berlin-based marketer behind the popular “Crazy Frog” melody. Jamba, known as Jamster in the US, is still selling ring tones, but it has expanded into music, video and information services as well as graphics and games.

Cheap chirps remain on the ascent in non-Western countries, said Paul Goode with M:Metrics, a market research company. But in most of the countries that M:Metrics tracks — Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy — the percentage of mobile phone subscribers buying a ring tone has fallen consistently.

Ring tones still get the occasional headline, as when the Dave Matthews Band finally authorized digital ring tone sales of its music, or when fans downloaded the “Why don’t you shut up?” retort from the prime minister of Spain to the president of Venezuela last month. (info from The New York Times)

Friday, December 28, 2007

GOP jammed Dems' phones in 2002 election

Prosecutors say the New Hampshire Republican Party paid telemarketing firm GOP Marketplace "to make repeated hang-up phone calls to overwhelm the phone banks in New Hampshire and prevent them from getting Democratic voters to the polls" on Election Day, November 5, 2002.

Six phone lines that were being run by Democratic campaign offices, as well as phones in the offices of the Manchester firefighters union -- which was also doing a get-out-the-vote campaign that morning -- were jammed by computer-generated hang-up calls that tied up the lines for 1-1/2 hours.

Voters' rights were violated as the "computer-generated calls went to lines set up for voters who needed rides to the polls in Manchester, Nashua, Rochester and Claremont." The calls were "stopped after then-Republican State Committee Chairman John Dowd ordered a halt because of concerns about their legality."

Charles McGee, former executive director of the state Republican Party, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and served seven months. He also was fined $2,000 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

Allen Raymond, who was president GOP Marketplace LLC at the time, pleaded guilty to hiring a firm from Idaho to make the calls. He was sentenced to five months in prison.

The New Hampshire Republican State Committee, Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee settled a lawsuit brought against them by the Democratic party on December 2, 2006. They paid a $135,000 settlement. Democrats had originally sued for more than $4 million in damages. The NHRSC will pay $125,000 over five years and the RNC and NRSCC will each pay $5,000.

(info from The Washington Post & SourceWatch.com)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Man hospitalized after being attacked
for calling wrong number

A man in India was injured and admitted to a hospital when another person attacked him by hurling a big stone at his head.

According to Bhatkal rural police, Ram Naik lodged a complaint against Sateesh Devadiga who attacked him.

Naik was trying to call a friend, but by mistake his call got connected to the Devadiga house, where a woman answered and told him that he had reached the wrong number. Naik once again called the same number, and the call was answered by Sateesh Devadiga. Naik apologized and hung up.

Devadiga got angry and went to Naik's house, and pretending to be his friend, asked him to come outside, and hit him with a big stone. Police are investigating. (info & photo from SahilOnline)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Alcatel-Lucent fined for corruption

Money-losing telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent will pay a $1 million fine to resolve US Justice Department allegations it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The agreement marks the conclusion of a probe into whether Lucent Technologies (once the phone equipment side of AT&T) violated the law before its merger with French manufacturer Alcatel, when it provided travel and other items to Chinese officials and improperly accounted for certain expenditures.

The company will pay $1.5 million as part of a separate settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Competitors learn from Boeing internet failure

Airlines and service providers seeking to deliver Internet services to air passengers say they've learned from Boeing's 2006 decision to cancel its program.

Boeing's failed Connexion service was costly to install and operate, resulting in large expenditures before getting a single paying customer. An industrywide downturn triggered by the 2001 terrorist attacks made the system an even tougher sell to struggling airlines.

JetBlue Airways, American Airlines and Virgin America are today turning to air-to-ground connections to avoid Boeing's expensive satellite fees. The air-to-ground approach has its limits, though. It's useless for many international flights because of long stretches over oceans. And it hasn't been approved outside North America.

That is why Alaska Airlines, which has over-the-ocean flights to Alaska and Hawaii, is using a satellite-based system through Row 44 using an existing Hughes network, rather trying to assemble its own as Boeing had.

Panasonic Avionics took a similar approach in developing a service for Qantas and other airlines. Boeing leased satellite transponders from various providers whether it needed the capacity or not. Under its deal with Intelsat Ltd., Panasonic can buy capacity in smaller units until it needs more. Technology also has improved. Airplanes using Row 44's or Panasonic's systems don't need to carry as much weight as Boeing required, saving fuel costs.

OnAir, which recently started service on one Air France aircraft, is taking another approach: using existing cellular systems, including their technical and billing infrastructure. With an on-board cell "tower" certified by European regulators, phones won't emit strong signals and potentially interfere with the aircraft's navigational equipment trying to connect with a terrestrial tower.

Boeing had deals with major international carriers such as Germany's Lufthansa AG and Japan Airlines Corp., but large US carriers balked at investing in extra services. Boeing, which did not disclose how much it invested in the service, took a pretax accounting charge of $320 million in 2006. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Man calls 911 when wife shoots TV

A woman in Washington Township, Mich, was angry because her husband wanted her to turn up the heat and pulled out a gun and shot their flat-screen TV while he cowered behind a pillow.

Joseph Grucz called 911 Sunday night from their basement, and said, "My wife's got a gun. She's shooting at me." He told the operator that his wife Cheryl Grucz was angry because he wanted the heat turned up. She fired a round while he hid his head in a pillow, striking the plasma TV, then went upstairs.

"She's all excited about it because she's so cheap," the husband said. The wife, who had picked up another phone, told the operator she wanted to tell her side.

"I'm not going to hurt him. He has pushed me over the edge, that was all," Cheryl Grucz said, "He has had a stroke, and he's taking it all out on me."

"No I'm not," her husband said.

"Yes, he is," she told the dispatcher.

Cheryl Grucz was arraigned Monday on a charge of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, with a potential penalty of 10 years in prison. She also faces a felony firearms charge. The judge also ordered her to enroll in a domestic violence counseling program. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Google's cellphone software is buggy

Google claims its Android cellphone software will usher in a new era of wireless communications. But for developers like Adam MacBeth, Android has so far brought headaches and frustration.

MacBeth said he spent weeks trying to write programs for Google's much hyped mobile-phone software, but he found the developers' tool kit full of bugs. "Functionality is not there, is poorly documented or just doesn't work. It's clearly not ready for prime time."

Complaints about new software aren't unusual, but a sizable number of developers -- the very people Google hopes will add the bells and whistles to its software -- are complaining that the tool kit is plagued by errors. Google, they said, has been largely unresponsive. Google said the software kit it released last month amounts to an "early look" designed specifically to get developers started as soon as possible and to elicit feedback. The company said it is incorporating suggestions into new versions.

Android is at the heart of Google's attempt to develop inexpensive cellphones that can easily access the Internet. The company hopes these next-generation phones will significantly boost mobile Web usage and increase its ad revenue as a result.

Google released software tools to help developers write programs for Android, and the company said it would pay $10 million in prize money for the best programs. Rick Genter, a software engineer who is writing an Android application, said that while Google's mobile software is buggy, it isn't necessarily any worse than any other software at such an early stage. He said there should be plenty of time for Google to tidy things up before Android handsets hit the market next year. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Now it's Nortel's turn to sue Vonage

Earlier this year, telecom industry observers anticipated the demise of Internet phone service provider Vonage, as it got sued by Verizon, AT&T and Sprint Nextel.

In October, Vonage surprised everyone by settling the last of the lawsuits and it seemed to gain a second life. There was more bad news last Friday, however, as Canadian phone equipment maker Nortel Networks sued Vonage, claiming that it violated nine patents.

A Nortel spokesman said the lawsuit countered claims made by Vonage that Nortel had violated three of its patents.

Vonage was dragged into a legal battle after it acquired three patents from Digital Packet Licensing last year, according to Vonage spokesman Charles Sahner. DPL had filed a suit against Nortel in 2004 alleging violation of those three patents, so Vonage continued with the lawsuit. "Litigation is ongoing, and both parties have filed - and will continue to file - papers supporting their case," Sahner said. On the possibility of a settlement, he said: "We always prefer to settle disputes amicably whenever possible."

In this particular case, Vonage is pursuing the legal action, rather than getting sued. Sahner said Nortel's countersuit was a defensive move. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cellphone spending likely to exceed wired lines

2007 is likely to be the first calendar year in which US households spend more on cellphone services than on landline telecommunications. The most recent government data show that households spent $524, on average, on cellphone bills in 2006, compared with $542 for residential and pay-phone services. By now, though, consumers almost certainly spend more on their cell phone bills, several telecom industry analysts and officials said.

"There's a huge move of people giving up their land line service altogether and using cellphones exclusively," said Allyn Hall, consumer research director for market research firm In-Stat.

As recently as 2001, US households spent three times as much on residential phone services as they did on cellphones. But the expansion of wireless networks has made cellphones more convenient, and a wider menu of services, including text messaging, video and music, has made it easier for consumers to spend money with a cellphone.

When corporate cellphone use is counted, overall US spending surpassed land line spending several years ago. While there are roughly 170 million land lines in use nationwide, industry officials estimate there are close to 250 million cell phones. (These figures include residential and corporate use.)

Eric Rabe, senior vice president for media relations at Verizon, said the company's wireless revenue has grown between 15 percent and 20 percent annually for the last five years, whereas its traditional land line business has been flat year to year, in large part because more than 90 percent of US households already have them.

"As a company that once made the vast, vast majority of its revenue on phone calls, for 10 years we've been moving away from that and trying to re-establish ourselves in other businesses because we could see the traditional telephone was a mature business, it was not going to grow and indeed might even shrink," he said. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cellphone feature turns voicemail into text

Alltel is unveiling a new feature that uses voice-recognition software to allow cellphone customers to read their voicemail messages as text messages. Monthly fees for the Voice2TXT service start at $4.99, and users will still have the option to listen to the messages.

"It'll appeal to a broad customer base ... people who are in meetings quite regularly and can't take a phone call - it's very useful in those settings," said Wade McGill, Alltel's senior vice president of product management.

Alltel uses technology from Britain-based SpinVox. It will work on any Alltel wireless phone that can receive text messages, McGill said. "It was one of those services that once you get it, you don't want to give it up," he said, describing the reaction of a test group.

Alltel began offering the service in a soft launch Friday. To access it, customers need to reset their voicemail and greeting. After that, the voicemail text option will be available, McGill said.

SpinVox said its system -- which converts messages in English, French, Spanish and German -- eliminates the need to search for a pen to write down the details of a message or navigate through a voicemail service. (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Phone problem affects
Minnesota schools & cops

On Tuesday and Wednesday, many callers to the Southwest Minnesota State University, the Marshall Law Enforcement Center, Marshall Public Schools and the city of Marshall received a recorded message that said the number was disconnected or no longer in service.

Calls from cellphones and outside of the city of Marshall were connected normally.

(info from The Marshall Independent)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Jackass movie to debut as download

In an experiment that tests consumer appetite for online movies, Paramount's movie, Jackass 2.5 is skipping traditional theatrical release in favor of online distribution. The movie is the second sequel in a franchise based on the MTV program that features violent, often stomach-churning stunts.

On Dec. 19, it will be available exclusively on Blockbuster's Website for free streaming, meaning viewers can watch but not keep the movie. Starting Dec. 26, the movie will be available for purchase on DVD at major DVD retailers, but rentals will be available only at Blockbuster. Starting Dec. 26, it will also become available for sale online at other outlets like iTunes. From Jan. 1, downloadable rentals of the movie will be available exclusively at Movielink, which Blockbuster bought earlier this year.

The move comes as the studios explore new media in the face of lackluster revenue in traditional outlets. Box-office sales are down about 7% for the holiday season. DVD sales are down for the year, dropping 1% so far in the fourth quarter.

If Paramount can show this tactic brings in revenue, it could become a template for movies aimed at young, Internet-savvy viewers. The movie will be promoted heavily online, including on Facebook. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bush has wrong number,
and uses phone upside down

Homeowners with crippling mortgage payments will have trouble getting help if they call a telephone number President Bush recommended last Thursday. He announced the wrong number.

“I have a message for every homeowner worried about rising mortgage payments: The best you can do for your family is to call 1-800-995-HOPE,” Bush said.

The correct number is 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).

The wrong number Bush gave out belongs to the Freedom Christian Academy in Texas.

Of course, if "Dubyah" called either number, he would find it difficult to communicate, because the photo shows him holding the telephone handset upside down. He probably won't hear much by listening to the microphone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hearing the "call of nature?"
Cellphones can find a loo in London

A new service promises Londoners they'll save time looking for the loo. Westminster City Council, which covers London's bustling Oxford Street, the West End, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, launched "SatLav" - a toilet-finding service for cellphone users.

Tourists, theatergoers, shoppers and pub patrons in London's West End can now text the word "toilet" - and receive a text back with the address of the nearest public facility.

The system, which covers 40 public toilets, pinpoints the caller's position by measuring the strength of the phone signal. The texts cost about 50 cents, and most of Westminster's toilets are free.

The council said it hopes the service will stop people from urinating in alleyways, saying some 10,000 gallons of urine ends up in Westminster streets each year.

Companies such as Vindigo Inc. in the US offers similar cellphone searches but SatLav is being touted as the first text-based toilet-finder in Britain. "It's the first fully managed service that we're aware of," British Toilet Association director Richard Chisnell said, praising the council. "Thank heavens for Westminster's public toilets," he said. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Criminals "confess" with phone photos

Last year, Morgan Kipper was booked on charges of stealing cars and reselling their parts. He declared his innocence, but his cellphone screensaver pictured Mr. Kipper behind the wheel of a stolen yellow Ferrari. Kipper joined a growing group of camera-phone owners who can't resist showing themselves breaking the law. "As a criminal defense attorney, it's very difficult when a client proclaims his innocence but incriminates himself by taking photos of the stolen items," says William Korman, the attorney who represented Kipper.

Cellphones, which often contain personal information like contact lists and call histories, have long served as a valuable police tool in criminal investigations. But the spread of built-in cameras is providing investigators with new ammunition, thanks to simple human behavior. Even criminals like taking photos of themselves, and the result in many police precincts is an unexpected windfall. In Nashua, N.H., one prosecutor estimates that cellphone photos provide useful evidence 40 or 50 times a year.

"We pray for those kinds of cases," says Debra Collins, an assistant state attorney in CT. Last spring, Ms. Collins obtained guilty pleas from two men who had used a friend's camera phone to record one of them igniting a car by tossing fireworks into an open window.

Camera-phone images frequently help win convictions in sexual-assault cases. "Once defense attorneys see them, they no longer quibble about the charges," says Gary Kessler, who teaches digital forensics in VT and consults for state police. University of Cincinnati criminal-law professor Mark Godsey says suspects give up their constitutional protection against self-incrimination when their own camera phones show them breaking the law. Mike Schirling, deputy police chief in Burlington, VT helped convict a juvenile on weapons charges based on cellphone images of him brandishing a rifle. "Drug dealers just naturally take pictures of their drugs and their money and their significant others," he adds.

Some criminals are nabbed for distributing their camera-phone shots over the Internet. Collins says she obtained restitution payments for dozens of residents whose mailboxes had been destroyed with baseball bats. The perpetrators -- local high school students -- had posted camera-phone pictures of the crime on MySpace.

Pamela Rogers, a Tennessee teacher went to jail for having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student. She was released on probation after six months and ordered to avoid contact with her victim. But within weeks, she sent the boy a camera-phone video of herself dancing in a bikini.

The boy sent it to friends, and eventually it wound up in the hands of Bob Reno, a Michigan man who operates a Website called "Badjocks.com" that documents athletes' foibles. Reno, who had been covering Rogers's case, posted the video on his Website. After prosecutors learned of the video, Rogers's probation was revoked and she returned to jail. (info from William M. Bulkeley in The Wall Street Journal

Friday, December 07, 2007

In-flight email & IM coming to JetBlue

JetBlue Airways will start offering limited e-mail and instant messaging services for free on laptops and handhelds with Wi-Fi on one plane next week as airlines renew efforts to offer in-flight Internet access. Web surfing and e-mail attachments won't be permitted because of bandwidth constraints, and services will be limited to e-mail and messaging from Yahoo. Passengers can check other personal and work e-mail - but only on two BlackBerry models.

The JetBlue system is scheduled to make its debut Tuesday on Flight 641 from New York to San Francisco. The aircraft, an Airbus A320, is specially designated "BetaBlue" as it is used to test new entertainment services offered through JetBlue's subsidiary, LiveTV.

JetBlue will be using a wireless spectrum that LiveTV bought last year for $7 million. Because Internet access will use Wi-Fi and not cellular signals, the company said it does not violate federal regulations. Use of laptops and BlackBerry devices will still be barred during takeoff and landing. And the cellular portion of the permitted BlackBerry devices - the 8820 and the Curve 8320 - must be turned off during the flight.

American Airlines is among the carriers planning to test broader, fee-based in-flight Internet services in coming months. Some international carriers had started offering in-flight Internet service through Boeing, but the aircraft maker decided about a year ago to pull the plug on its Connexion service after it failed to sign on enough airlines. First announced in April 2000, Connexion suffered a major setback with potential US airlines after the 2001 terrorist attacks triggered an industrywide downturn. Boeing had deals with major international carriers such as Germany's Lufthansa AG, Japan Airlines Corp., Korean Air Co., and Singapore Airlines, but large US. carriers were reluctant to invest in the service. The Boeing system connected to the Internet via satellites. The JetBlue system will use about 100 ground towers - cheaper, but with less capacity.

Brad Garlinghouse, Yahoo's senior vice president for communications and communities, said the company built special, lightweight versions of its services to work on JetBlue. Chris McGinnis, editor Expedia Travel Trendwatch, said business travelers want in-flight access. He said the restriction to Yahoo e-mail could limit the system's usefulness, but passengers can forward their e-mail to a Yahoo account when traveling. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

AT&T hanging up on payphone business

After 130 years, AT&T will get out of the payphone business in 2008.

Most Americans, rich or poor, have iPhones, cellphones and BlackBerrys; and payphones have become increasingly scarce. AT&T operates 65,000 pay phones in the 13 states formerly served by SBC, which acquired AT&T in 2005 and took its name. Since 1998, the number of payphones in service has shrunk to about one million from 2.6 million. Not every major phone company has left the payphone market. Verizon still operates them in the Northeast, particularly in busy urban markets such as New York and Boston.

The first public pay telephone station was set up in 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone. The first coin-operated payphone was installed in Hartford in 1889.

For decades, many Americans relied on them because of the expense and difficulty in obtaining reliable home service. Only after World War II did the telephone become a household necessity. For many years, AT&T was the dominant manufacturer of payphones. AT&T spun off its equipment-making division as Lucent Technologies in 1996, and in 1997 Lucent sold its payphone business to Elcotel.

Payphones found a place in popular culture. Clark Kent, alter ego of Superman, often changed into his Superman uniform in phone booths. Older movies showed reporters rushing into phone booths to report breaking stories. A movie called "Phone Booth" took place in a phone booth, with a man trapped inside by a sniper.

In the late 1950s, college students competed to see how many could cram into a booth. (The record is 25, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.)

AT&T will continue to sell wholesale payphone service to independent operators, and it expects them to pick up some of its business. (info from The Wall Street Journal, photo from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

T-Mobile will not sell unlocked iPhones

T-Mobile can sell Apple's iPhone exclusively locked to its own service, a German court ruled Tuesday, reversing an injunction last month requiring the company to sell an unlocked version in Europe's biggest economy.

The Hamburg District Court said Tuesday that T-Mobile could indeed sell the phone, coupled with a two-year contract, that could not be used on networks provided by rival wireless companies. The arrangement is similar to those Apple has with other carriers around the world. In the United States, AT&T is Apple's exclusive partner.

The company will stop selling an unlocked version but said that after customers' contracts expire, it will unlock their iPhone at no charge.

The iPhone made its German debut on Nov. 9 - available only with the two-year contract from T-Mobile. The German unit of rival Vodafone Group PLC (VOD) protested that at the Hamburg court. That court agreed, issuing an injunction barring T-Mobile from offering the iPhone tied to the minimum 24-month contract and from selling it only with a so-called SIM lock that prevents users from switching the device to any other operator's network.

T-Mobile had appealed, but in the meantime offered an unlocked version of the phone priced at 999 euros, or nearly $1,500, more than twice the 399 euro ($585) price of a phone sold in combination with the contract. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Comcast, Cablevision & Skype
sued for patent violation

VoIP technology firm Klausner Technologies launched a legal broadside against three of the VoIP industry’s largest firms — Comcast, Cablevision, and Skype.

Klausner claims the companies’ voicemail-to-email systems infringe on Klausner’s visual voicemail patents. The company has already successfully litigated against Time Warner (for its AOL Voicemail) and Vonage. Both companies currently license Klausner’s voicemail technology.

According to Klausner, damages and future royalties from the suit are estimated at $300 million. The suit has been filed in a federal court in the Eastern District of Texas. (info from TWICE)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cellphone not guilty in death; human being is

A death originally thought to have been caused by an exploding cellphone is now being blamed on a co-worker, who confessed to making up the story after accidentally striking the victim with a drilling vehicle, South Korean police said Friday.

The quarry worker, only identified by his family name Seo, was found dead Wednesday with a melted phone battery in his shirt pocket. Police and a local doctor who examined his body said a malfunctioning battery may have killed the man.

However, after an autopsy suggested damage to Seo's internal organs was too great to be caused by a cellphone explosion, police questioned the colleague who first reported Seo's death.

The man, identified only by his surname Kwon, told police that he accidentally killed Seo while backing up a drilling vehicle, acknowledging that the exploding cellphone story was fiction.

Kwon told investigators after the accident that he moved his vehicle to throw off police, but did not say he set the phone on fire.

Police said the phone was made by LG Electronics, the world's fifth-largest handset maker. LG said it knew all along that its cellphone was not the killer. "LG rigorously tests all the products not only for functionality and design, but safety as well," the company said. (info from The Associated Press)