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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Two die in Canada telephone tunnel

Two men died in an underground telecommunications tunnel, apparently because of a lack of oxygen. The men had descended about 12 feet into a Bell Canada cable vault to perform maintenance in the tunnel, which holds telecommunications wiring.

When a supervisor called down and got no response, he called 911. Once firefighters arrived, they had to put on air tanks to enter the vault. They found the two workers who "were overcome, likely by a deficiency in oxygen" unconscious in a pool of water. The men were removed from the tunnel within 10 minutes, but they had no vital signs, and were pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police said both men had worked in the industry for many years, and were employees of a subcontractor for Bell Canada.

A Police spokesman said the investigation will take some time because the air quality tested at the site was "not safe for [investigators] to go below the surface." (info from Toronto Globe and Mail)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone won't work with non-Apple headphones

The iPhone’s design will limit choices of compatible headsets for phone calls, and headphones for music, to Apple's own products. Apparently no aftermarket headsets or headphones are available with a plastic base ("overmold") small enough to fit inside the narrow, recessed opening that provides access to the iPhone’s 3.5mm stereo headset jack.

Apple isn’t requiring headset and headphone makers to get a “made for iPhone” license similar to its made-for-iPod license, but the iPhone design quirk is requiring headphone and headset makers to develop new tooling if they want to offer compatible products.

The new tooling is necessary because the iPhone’s jack is recessed about 6mm from its exterior, and the opening around the jack is about 6mm in diameter. The narrow opening blocks existing headphone/headset plugs from making proper contact with the iPhone jack because of the plugs’ wider overmolds. The overmolds range up to 10mm in diameter to make it easier for people to grasp when they pull out the plug.

The iPhone's restrictive design comes at a time when there is a boom in accessory headphones for portable music players from such companies as Bose, Sennheiser, Panasonic and Grado, selling for as much as $1000. (Info from TWICE and Advertising Age)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

People line up days in advance for iPhone

On Tuesday, Jessica Rodriguez became the fourth person to line up outside Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York. The 24-year-old college student wants to get a belated birthday gift for her sister as soon as the iPhone starts selling Friday evening.

The three people ahead of her all joined the queue Monday, braving temperatures that reached 90 degrees. Their spirits weren't dampened by forecasts for thunderstorms later in the week and remarks such as "Crazy, people are just absolutely crazy" by one passer-by.

David Clayman, 21, on vacation from Chicago, happened to walk by and decided to change his travel plans on the spot, extending his trip by a day. He hopes to buy three phones: One to raise money for charity; one as a birthday gift for his father, and a third for himself.

The iPhone goes on sale Friday at 6 pm in each time zone. Besides Apple's retail stores nationwide, the phones will be available through some AT&T stores and through Apple's Web site. Apple isn't saying how many units it will have at launch, nor has it announced any per-person limit.

People have queued-up at stores in several cities. Getting in line days in advance is common for concert tickets, movie premieres and video games, but the iPhone is probably the first phone to be considered worthy of the wait. (info from The Associated Press, photo from The New York Times)

iPhone is super, despite slow web service

(This review was written by Walt Mossberg and Katherine Boehret and published in the Wall Street Journal; Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company)

One of the most important trends in personal technology over the past few years has been the evolution of the humble cellphone into a true handheld computer, a device able to replicate many of the key functions of a laptop. But most of these "smart phones" have had lousy software, confusing user interfaces and clumsy music, video and photo playback. And their designers have struggled to balance screen size, keyboard usability and battery life.

Now, Apple Inc., whose digital products are hailed for their design and innovation, is jumping into this smart-phone market with the iPhone, which goes on sale in a few days after months of the most frenzied hype and speculation we have ever seen for a single technology product. Even though the phone's minimum price is a hefty $499, people are already lining up outside Apple stores to be among the first to snag one when they go on sale Friday evening.

We have been testing the iPhone for two weeks, in multiple usage scenarios, in cities across the country. Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.

The Apple phone combines intelligent voice calling, and a full-blown iPod, with a beautiful new interface for music and video playback. It offers the best Web browser we have seen on a smart phone, and robust email software. And it synchronizes easily and well with both Windows and Macintosh computers using Apple's iTunes software.

It has the largest and highest-resolution screen of any smart phone we've seen, and the most internal memory by far. Yet it is one of the thinnest smart phones available and offers impressive battery life, better than its key competitors claim.

The phone is thinner than many smart phones. It feels solid and comfortable in the hand and the way it displays photos, videos and Web pages on its gorgeous screen makes other smart phones look primitive.

The iPhone's most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt -- who did most of the testing for this review -- was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.

But the iPhone has a major drawback: the cellphone network it uses. It only works with AT&T (formerly Cingular), won't come in models that use Verizon or Sprint and can't use the digital cards (called SIM cards) that would allow it to run on T-Mobile's network. So, the phone can be a poor choice unless you are in areas where AT&T's coverage is good. It does work overseas, but only via an AT&T roaming plan.

In addition, even when you have great AT&T coverage, the iPhone can't run on AT&T's fastest cellular data network. Instead, it uses a pokey network called EDGE, which is far slower than the fastest networks from Verizon or Sprint that power many other smart phones. And the initial iPhone model cannot be upgraded to use the faster networks.

The iPhone compensates by being one of the few smart phones that can also use Wi-Fi wireless networks. When you have access to Wi-Fi, the iPhone flies on the Web. Not only that, but the iPhone automatically switches from EDGE to known Wi-Fi networks when it finds them, and pops up a list of new Wi-Fi networks it encounters as you move. Walt was able to log onto paid Wi-Fi networks at Starbucks and airports, and even used a free Wi-Fi network at Fenway Park in Boston to email pictures taken during a Red Sox game.

AT&T is offering special monthly calling plans for the iPhone, all of which include unlimited Internet and email usage. They range from $60 to $220, depending on the number of voice minutes included. In an unusual twist, iPhone buyers won't choose their plans and activate their phones in the store. Instead, they will do so when they first connect the iPhone to the iTunes software.

Despite its simple interface, with just four rows of colorful icons on a black background, the iPhone has too many features and functions to detail completely in this space. But here's a rundown of the key features, with pros and cons based on our testing.

Hardware: The iPhone is simply beautiful. It is thinner than the skinny Samsung BlackJack, yet almost its entire surface is covered by a huge, vivid 3.5-inch display. There's no physical keyboard, just a single button that takes you to the home screen. The phone is about as long as the Treo 700, the BlackBerry 8800 or the BlackJack, but it's slightly wider than the BlackJack or Treo, and heavier than the BlackBerry and BlackJack.

The display is made of a sturdy glass, not plastic, and while it did pick up smudges, it didn't acquire a single scratch, even though it was tossed into Walt's pocket or briefcase, or Katie's purse, without any protective case or holster. No scratches appeared on the rest of the body either.

There are only three buttons along the edges. On the top, there's one that puts the phone to sleep and wakes it up. And, on the left edge, there's a volume control and a mute switch.

One downside: Some accessories for iPods may not work properly on the iPhone. The headphone jack, which supports both stereo music and phone calls, is deeply recessed, so you may need an adapter for existing headphones. And, while the iPhone uses the standard iPod port on the bottom edge, it doesn't recognize all car adapters for playing music, only for charging. Apple is considering a software update to fix this.

Touch-screen interface: To go through long lists of emails, contacts, or songs, you just "flick" with your finger. To select items, you tap. To enlarge photos, you "pinch" them by placing two fingers on their corners and dragging them in or out. To zoom in on portions of Web pages, you double-tap with your fingers. You cannot use a stylus for any of this. In the Web browser and photo program, if you turn the phone from a vertical to a horizontal position, the image on the screen turns as well and resizes itself to fit.

In general, we found this interface, called "multi-touch," to be effective, practical and fun. But there's no overall search on the iPhone (except Web searching), and no quick way to move to the top or bottom of pages (except in the Web browser). The only aid is an alphabetical scale on the right in tiny type.

There's also no way to cut, copy, or paste text.

And the lack of dedicated hardware buttons for functions like phone, email and contacts means extra taps are needed to start using features. Also, if you are playing music while doing something else, the lack of hardware playback buttons forces you to return to the iPod program to stop the music or change a song.

Keyboard: The virtual keys are large and get larger as you touch them. Software tries to guess what you're typing, and fix errors. Overall, it works. But the error-correction system didn't seem as clever as the one on the BlackBerry, and you have to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma, which is annoying.

Web browsing: The iPhone is the first smart phone we've tested with a real, computer-grade Web browser, a version of Apple's Safari. It displays entire Web pages, in their real layouts, and allows you to zoom in quickly by either tapping or pinching with your finger. Multiple pages can be open at the same time, and you can conduct Google or Yahoo searches from a built-in search box.

Email: The iPhone can connect with most popular consumer email services, including Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, EarthLink and others. It can also handle corporate email using Microsoft's Exchange system, if your IT department cooperates by enabling a setting on the server.

BlackBerry email services can't be used on an iPhone, but Yahoo Mail supplies free BlackBerry-style "push" email to iPhone users. In our test, this worked fine.

Unlike most phone email software, the iPhone's shows a preview of each message, so you don't have to open it. And, if there is a photo attached, it shows the photo automatically, without requiring you to click on a link to see it. It can also receive and open Microsoft Word and Excel documents and Adobe PDF files. But it doesn't allow you to edit or save these files.

Memory: The $499 base model comes with four gigabytes of memory, and the $599 model has eight gigabytes. That's far more than on any other smart phone, but much less than on full-size iPods. Also, there's no slot for memory-expansion cards. Our test $599 model held 1,325 songs; a dozen videos (including a full-length movie); over 100 photos; and over 100 emails, including some attachments, and still had room left over.

Battery life: Like the iPod, but unlike most cellphones, the iPhone lacks a removable battery. So you can't carry a spare. But its battery life is excellent. In our tests, it got seven hours and 18 minutes of continuous talk time, while the Wi-Fi was on and email was constantly being fetched in the background. That's close to Apple's claim of a maximum of eight hours, and far exceeds the talk time claims of other smart phones, which usually top out at five and a half hours.

For continuous music playback, again with Wi-Fi on and email being fetched, we got over 22 hours, shy of Apple's claim of up to 24 hours, but still huge. For video playback, under the same conditions, we got just under Apple's claim of seven hours, enough to watch four average-length movies. And, for Web browsing and other Internet functions, including sending and receiving emails, viewing Google maps and YouTube videos, we got over nine hours, well above Apple's claim of up to six hours.

In real life, of course, you will do a mix of these things, so the best gauge might be that, in our two-week test, the iPhone generally lasted all day with a typical mix of tasks.

Phone calls: The phone interface is clean and simple, but takes more taps to reach than on many other smart phones, because there are no dedicated hardware phone buttons. You also cannot just start typing a name or number, but must scroll through a list of favorites, through your recent call list, or your entire contact list. You can also use a virtual keypad.

One great phone feature is called "visual voice mail." It shows you the names or at least the phone numbers of people who have left you voicemail, so you can quickly listen to those you want. It's also very easy to turn the speakerphone on and off, or to establish conference calls.

Voice call quality was good, but not great. In some places, especially in weak coverage areas, there was some muffling or garbling. But most calls were perfectly audible. The iPhone can use Bluetooth wireless headsets and it comes with wired iPod-style earbuds that include a microphone.

A downside -- there's no easy way to transfer phone numbers, via AT&T, directly from an existing phone. The iPhone is meant to sync with an address book (and calendar) on a PC.

Contacts and calendars: These are pretty straightforward and work well. The calendar lacks a week view, though a list view helps fill that gap. Contacts can be gathered into groups, but the groups can't be used as email distribution lists.

Syncing: The iPhone syncs with both Macs and Windows PCs using iTunes, which handles not only the transfer of music and video, but also photos, contacts, calendar items and browser bookmarks. In our tests, this worked well, even on a Windows Vista machine using the latest version of Outlook as the source for contacts and appointments.

iPod: The built-in iPod handles music and video perfectly, and has all the features of a regular iPod. But the interface is entirely new. The famed scroll wheel is gone, and instead finger taps and flicking move you through your collection and virtual controls appear on the screen. There's also a version of the "cover flow" interface which allows you to select music by flipping through album covers.

Other features: There are widgets, or small programs, for accessing weather, stock prices and Google Maps, which includes route directions, but no real-time navigation. Another widget allows you to stream videos from YouTube, and yet another serves as a notepad. There's a photo program that displays individual pictures or slideshows.

The only add-on software Apple is allowing will be Web-based programs that must be accessed through the on-board Web browser. The company says these can be made to look just like built-in programs, but the few we tried weren't impressive.

Missing features: The iPhone is missing some features common on some competitors. There's no instant messaging, only standard text messaging. While its two-megapixel camera took excellent pictures in our tests, it can't record video. Its otherwise excellent Web browser can't fully utilize some Web sites, because it doesn't yet support Adobe's Flash technology. Although the phone contains a complete iPod, you can't use your songs as ringtones. There aren't any games, nor is there any way to directly access Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Apple says it plans to add features to the phone over time, via free downloads, and hints that some of these holes may be filled.

Expectations for the iPhone have been so high that it can't possibly meet them all. It isn't for the average person who just wants a cheap, small phone for calling and texting. But, despite its network limitations, the iPhone is a whole new experience and a pleasure to use.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

FBI may have broken law about phone call info

An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited congressional criticism.

The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews.

Between 2002 and 2006, the FBI identified 26 potential violations in its use of National Security Letters to gather phone, Internet and bank records without traditional warrants. A 2007 Justice Department report that sampled a small number of cases found 22 additional violations, raising the total to 48. That report prompted the FBI to review 10 percent of the cases since 2002. The number of potential violations found has now grown to more than 1,000 as a result of that review.

The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files, which mostly concerned suspected terrorist or espionage activities.

But two dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents' requests for information that US law did not allow them to have. Only two such examples were identified earlier in the smaller sample.

Of the more than 1,000 violations uncovered by the new audit, about 700 involved telephone companies and other communications firms providing information that exceeded what the FBI's national security letters had sought. But rather than destroying the unsolicited data, agents in some instances issued new national security letters to ensure that they could keep the mistakenly provided information. Officials cited as an example the retention of an extra month's phone records, beyond the period specified by the agents. (info from The Washington Post)

Monday, June 25, 2007

New York prison phone call overcharges to end

The New York State Senate and Assembly reached agreement at the end of this year’s legislative session on legislation that would treat prison telephone service as a right, not as a revenue generator.

For more than ten years, families of inmates have had no choice but to pay phone rates 630 percent higher than normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones in New York State correctional facilities. In January, Governor Spitzer announced that New York State would forego its nearly 60 percent share of the mark-up, but the corporate mark-up on the contract remained, still more than 200 percent higher than regular consumer rates.

In March, the contract was extended for one year as advocates continued discussions with elected officials and staff to ensure that future telephone systems focus on keeping families together, not on turning a profit. The new contract will take place on April 1, 2008.

The agreed-upon bill centers on one common theme: “that when determining the best value of such telephone service, the lowest possible cost to the telephone user shall be emphasized.”

“Today, New York provided strong leadership by setting an example that every other state needs to follow,” said Annette Warren Dickerson, campaign coordinator for the NY Campaign for Telephone Justice on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “Telephone companies have to stop considering the families of prisoners as if they were captive customers. We thank the bill sponsors for passing this legislation and we thank the Governor for his continuous support.”

More than 80 percent of the State’s prisoners come from poor New York City neighborhoods, according to the Albany-based Center for Law and Justice. With two-thirds of the prison facilities located three hours or more from New York City, telephone calls become a critical means for families to keep in touch.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Analog cellphone service to end after Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day 2008 will be the last holiday when people can use analog cellphones to call their loved ones. Cellular carriers will be able to end analog service next Feb. 18 as planned, because the FCC denied a petition by the home security industry for a two-year extension.

The alarm industry had “sufficient time and equipment to replace all analog alarm radios that are used as a primary communications path before the analog sunset date,” the FCC contended.

The FCC also said its 2002 decision to adopt a five-year analog-service sunset rule achieved its goal of accelerating the migration of emergency-only analog-cellular users to digital, and it spurred the cellular industry to develop hearing-aid-compatible digital handsets.

The FCC also noted that analog handsets are not available with location capability and that requiring carriers to continue offering analog service “could adversely impact deployment of E911 location capable digital handsets to all wireless consumers.”

Commissioner Michael Copps said the sunset would also enable 850MHz cellular carriers to “redeploy spectrum from analog to digital use, much to the enhancement of carriers’ ability to provide wireless broadband services.”

Cellular licensees must notify, at specified intervals, all of their analog-only subscribers of their plans. The FCC also directed its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to initiate a public outreach campaign to ensure that consumers, public safety groups, and other interested parties are prepared for the analog sunset. (info from TWICE)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Verizon Wireless sues companies
for faking Caller ID

Verizon Wireless filed a lawsuit against several Miami-based companies and people conducted an illegal telemarketing campaign targeting the carrier's customers. The campaign involved pre-recorded messages in Spanish as well as techniques and technology to mask the origin of the call.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Mega Travel Inc., Mega Travel, All Star Market Corp. and Chile Insider Corp. and several employees of the companies.

The Caller ID that appeared for the nearly 900,000 calls made to Verizon Wireless accounts indicated the call was from the 859 area code serving Kentucky. The lawsuit alleges Mega Travel and Mega Travel Inc. are using Voice over IP (VoIP) or some other technology to make it appear that the calls are coming from the 859 area code, when in fact they are coming from South Florida.

"We've seen increasingly sophisticated ways that these companies try to reach our customers," says Steven E. Zipperstein, vice president and general counsel at Verizon Wireless. "Whatever the method, these unlawful telemarketing calls invade the privacy of Verizon Wireless' customers, and we will continue to use every weapon in our legal arsenal to protect our customers."

The lawsuit also alleges Verizon Wireless customers received calls on their cellphones beginning in April, each with a pre-recorded voice message in Spanish saying the recipient had won a vacation package. The message then asked the customer to press "1" to be connected to a live operator. If the caller spoke English, the operator usually disconnected the call; however, if the caller spoke Spanish, the call continued, with the operator offering to secure a vacation package to Orlando or Las Vegas with a credit-card number or a call back to a number with a 305 (South Florida) area code.

In addition, the suit cites violations of the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which makes it illegal to use an auto-dialer to make calls to wireless phones, as well as state fraud and privacy laws. (info from Telecom Web)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

AT&T cellphone customers can share live video, but not on iPhones

AT&T (formerly known as Cingular, or SBC, or Ma Bell) on Tuesday launched what it said is the first service that lets callers share live video between cellphones. The new Video Share service won't work with the almost-here iPhone, which uses an older network.

Video Share was introduced in three markets - Atlanta, Dallas and San Antonio - to start with, and will be available elsewhere in late July. It works only on 3G (third-generation) wireless network and requires a Video Share-capable phone. The company said it will offer Video Share service packs for $4.99 and $9.99 a month, depending on included minutes. Without a plan, the service costs 35 cents a minute.

AT&T envisions the service as a way to instantly share personal moments: distant grandparents can see a baby's first steps, or friends can cheer long distance as a bride tosses her bouquet. Eventually AT&T hopes Video Share will become a useful tool for on-the-go deal makers or real-estate brokers who want to conduct face-to-face meetings or show off products to clients in real-time on the road.

To operate Video Share, users first place a regular cellphone call with a camera-equipped phone. During the conversation, the caller presses a button on the cellphone to activate a video feed.

The recipient then presses a button on his or her cellphone to accept the feed, and gets immediate real time video images on the phone's screen. The recipient can see whatever the caller's cellphone camera is pointed at. The feed is also reversible. (info from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AT&T DSL down to $10 per month, but they're not bragging about it

AT&T (formerly known as SBC) has started quietly offering high-speed Internet service for just $10 a month, less than any advertised plan. The plan was introduced Saturday is part of concessions made by AT&T to the FCC to get its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth approved last December.

The $10 DSL offer is available in the 22-state AT&T service region, which includes former BellSouth areas, who have never had AT&T or BellSouth broadband. Local phone service and a one-year contract are required. The modem is free.

The plan was not mentioned in a Friday news release about AT&T's DSL plans, and is slightly hidden on the AT&T Web site. A page describing DSL options doesn't mention it, but clicking a link for "Term contract plans" reveals it.

The service provides download speeds of up to 768 kilobits per second and upload speeds of up to 128 kbps, matching the speeds of the cheapest advertised AT&T plan, which costs $19.95 per month in the nine-state former BellSouth area and $14.99 in the 13 states covered by AT&T before the acquisition.

BellSouth generally had higher prices for DSL before it was acquired, and the price difference persists, though AT&T did cut the price of the cheapest advertised plan in the Southeast region by $5 from $24.95 on Saturday.

The agreement with the FCC required the company to offer the plan for at least 2 1/2 years. Another concession to the FCC is yet to come: a plan for DSL that doesn't require local phone service. AT&T has another six months to introduce that option, which should cost at most $19.95 per month. Consumer advocates have fought for this so-called "naked DSL plan," because DSL can carry Internet-based phone calls for less than the price of local phone service. However, at 768 kbps, the download speed may be too low to appeal to the relatively sophisticated customers who use the Internet for phone calls. (info from the Associated Press)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cellphone thief becomes check forger, too

Earler this year in Overland Park, Kansas, a man's cellphone was stolen while he was in a restaurant.

When he discovered the loss, the victim called his cell number and someone answered. The person who answered said that he would give the phone back and the two agreed to meet at a gas station. When the victim arrived he met not one but three people. One of the men had the phone and demanded to be paid to return it.

After some discussion over the return price, the victim wrote a check for $100 and gave it to one of the men and his phone was returned. Later the victim discovered his check was altered from $100 to $900, and cashed.

An Overland Park detective investigated the crime and police arrested a 26-year-old Grandview man for forgery. (info from the Kansas City Star)

Friday, June 15, 2007

People delay buying cellphones to check out iPhone

12% of survery respondents said they have postponed cellphone purchases to wait for Apple's iPhone; and AT&T (formerly Cingular) has a good chance of stealing customers away from other cellphone companies by selling Apple's highly-anticipated iPhone, surveys show.

Two-thirds of cellphone users who are interested in purchasing the iPhone aren't AT&T customers but would be willing to switch carriers to obtain the device, according to a survey by M:Metrics.

The carrier with the most to be concerned about is T-Mobile, with 12.5% of its customers expressing a high interest in the phone; followed by 8.1% for Sprint Nextel; and 6.7% for Verizon Wireless. T-Mobile is seen as especially vulnerable because it has a high share of users in the 18-to-24 age group.

Overall demand for the iPhone is massive. About 19 million people in the US, or roughly 9% of cellphone users, are highly interested in purchasing it, even with the knowledge they'll need to pay $499 or $599, and will need to be an AT&T subscriber.

In a separate survey, Compete Inc. polled consumers on attitudes that might affect their purchase of the iPhone. 12% of respondents said they have postponed cellphone purchases to wait for the iPhone, and an equal percentage said they had postponed their purchase of an MP3 player. Compete said 15% of respondents were likely to purchase an iPhone. A quarter of the people interviewed said they were likely to switch to AT&T to get the iPhone.

Apple hasn't had to do much to generate awareness of the device. More than half of phone subscribers in the US and Britain know about it. That's why Apple is focusing its advertising on features and capabilities of the device. Apple has sold more than 100 million iPod music players and is hoping it can sell 10 million iPhones by the end of next year.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jury duty phone scammers grab personal info

People in the US are reporting calls from "jury coordinators" who tell the called person that he or she skipped out on jury duty and an arrest warrant has been issued.

If the person who is called protests about never receiving a notice for jury duty, the caller requests verification of personal information in order to "clear up the situation." The caller asks for the person's birth date, social security number and sometimes a credit card number to pay a fine. That information is enough for the "jury coordinator" to steal the person's identity and use it to drain bank accounts, open new accounts or sell the information.

Be cautious when someone calls you to "verify" or "confirm" information, especially if the information is your social security number, bank account information or credit card number. It is also a good idea to review your bank account and credit card statements each month for unauthorized transactions.

If you have already been contacted and given out personal information to one of these callers, please contact your local FBI office. Local FBI field office telephone numbers can be found in the front of your local telephone directory or on www.fbi.gov. (info from El Defensor Chieftain, New Mexico)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Lawyers always win: Nokia sues Qualcomm after Qualcomm sues Nokia

Nokia on Monday said it had filed a counter-lawsuit against chipmaker Qualcomm seeking damages and an injunction, alleging that Qualcomm illegally used six Nokia patents in its Brew smartphone and MediaFlo mobile TV chipset products.

Qualcomm and Nokia have been embroiled in a long-running legal spat over how much Nokia should pay San Diego-based Qualcomm for using its CDMA and WCDMA mobile technology in phones.

In May, Nokia filed its first lawsuit against Qualcomm, claiming that Qualcomm infringed six other patents in their mobile phone chipsets. Part of the two companies' cross-licensing contract expired April 9.

"This is another example where Qualcomm has effectively copied Nokia's innovations. We believe that, for MediaFlo to evolve and for Brew to remain viable, Qualcomm needs access to these and many other patented Nokia inventions," said Nokia's Chief Technology Officer Tero Ojanpera, in a prepared statement. Nokia said that the patent counter claims are in response to a Qualcomm lawsuit filed on April 2. In that suit, Qualcomm claimed that Nokia had infringed three patents. Nokia claims that these patents are invalid. Qualcomm's European president, Andrew Gilbert, disputed Nokia's claims, calling them "disappointing" and "predictable."

"Nokia might try and paint a picture that it's about the evolution of the industry, but it's more to do with them trying to maintain their 40% to 50% margins on handsets and stifle competition in the industry," said Gilbert. "We will continue to fight for a model that we believe gives greater competition in the market."

Last week, Qualcomm was dealt a blow after the International Trade Commission imposed a partial ban on its import of third-generation, or 3G, phones using its microchips. This followed a separate patent dispute with rival chipset maker Broadcom Corp. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sprint offers cellphone/GPS shopping searches

Sprint Nextel today begins offering a search service from GPShopper that uses global-positioning-system technology, enabling consumers to use cellphones to find products in stores.

The service allows shoppers to learn where they can buy a specific product based on their GPS location signal. Previously, users of the "Slifter" service needed to punch in a ZIP code along with product-search terms. Not knowing a ZIP code was a roadblock for people in unfamiliar locations.

Slifter saves items to a shopping list, which can be shared with friends via text messages. The service costs $1.99 a month for Sprint subscribers with data plans, which typically cost from $15 to $25 a month.

GPShopper said GPS technology opens the door to wider adoption of Slifter. GPS has become available in many cellphone models and is increasingly familiar to consumers because of its use in automobile navigation systems.

Slifter has been used by several hundred thousand people, most of whom learned about the service from friends through Slifter's sharing feature. Slifter draws on retailer inventory data on 65 million products at 30,000 store locations, including Best Buy, Staples and Toys 'R' Us. Retailers provide the data to GPShopper and pay a fee whenever consumers click on a link to a product listings.

Slifter should get a boost from Sprint, which has 53 million subscribers and has shown more willingness than competitors to give its customers access to mobile software from third parties. Sprint offers customers an array of services that take advantage of GPS technology, including a search service which lets consumers do things such as search for tickets sold by Ticketmaster, and a mapping service that provides turn-by-turn driving directions. Such services help separate Sprint from competitors and give customers reasons to pay for data plans, which are key to wireless carriers' growth strategies. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wireless networking on a cell-cam chip

Eye-Fi Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., has squeezed wireless-networking circuitry as well as memory into the same small card that now stores data in many phones and cameras. A camera or photo-capable cellphone equipped with an Eye-Fi card that comes near a designated wireless network, automatically transfers stored photos to the user's computer -- or through the Internet to a photo-sharing site, such as Flickr.

Manufacurers already build Wi-Fi wireless technology into some models. Eye-Fi hopes to differentiate itself by upgrading the tens of millions of phones and cameras that have already been sold that use the stamp-sized card format called SD. It also plans to make the photo-transfer process easy.

The company plans to begin selling the cards for around $100 this fall, said Yuval Koren, chief executive.

Koren got the idea for the venture when he attended a wedding, at which many of his friends took pictures. "Everybody promised to share them," he said. "A year went by and I still never saw (them)."

Eye-Fi's technology is designed to work with Apple Macintosh computers as well as PCs running Windows. Besides testing its cards to make sure they work with most SD-equipped cameras, Eye-Fi is working to make sure the technology works with many popular photo sites by the time it is launched. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Vietnamese fishermen catch undersea cable

Fishermen who were allowed to take unused war-era undersea copper cables have been "salvaging" fiber-optic lines providing some of Vietnam's Internet service and phone calls.

The Ministry of Posts and Telematics urged authorities to prevent the theft of cable, vital to underdeveloped Vietnam. "The general assessment is that most fishermen, and in some cases even the local authorities, had a very simple understanding of the consequences of the theft of under-sea fiber optic cable," a Ministry report said.

A seven-mile section of stolen cable will be replaced at a cost of $5.8 million. It was part of the circuit that transmits data from Vietnam to Thailand and Hong Kong. In all, about 27 miles of fiber-optic cable is missing. Now just one undersea cable connects Vietnam with the outside world.

The theft began after the government in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau last year allowed fishermen and soldiers to salvage undersea copper cable laid before 1975 to sell as scrap. The Vietnam war, in which the US backed the South Vietnam government, ended in April 1975 when communist North Vietnam troops captured Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

Permission to salvage the cable has been withdrawn, the Ministry has asked the Coast Guard to increase patrols and inspections, and officials have started a public relations campaign to educate fishermen about the importance of the cables. (info from Reuters)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Indians use ringtones to trap hungry leopards

Those ubiquitous ringtones have reached the forests of western India, where leopards are answering their call.

So far six leopards that have strayed too close to villages have been lured into traps by ringtones playing the calls of roosters, goats and cows, said H.S. Singh, chief conservation research officer in the state of Gujarat.

"Now instead of using live bait, sounds of animals have been downloaded as ringtones on mobiles, which are attached to speakers kept behind cages and then played at regular intervals," Singh said Tuesday.

"The leopard drawn by the sound is an unsuspecting victim," Singh said, adding that the trick only worked at night. All the leopards were later released unharmed in forests away from the villages, Singh said.

Thousands of leopards roam the Indian countryside, but continued loss of habitat has forced them into more frequent contact with villagers, resulting in the deaths of both humans and leopards. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Avaya, another Bell System remnant, gets sold

Silver Lake and TPG Capital last night agreed to purchase telecom equipment maker Avaya for about $8.2 billion, marking the second big buyout in the industry in two weeks. Avaya has a market capitalization of more than $7 billion, with $829 million of cash and no debt. The deal is expected to close in the fall.

Avaya was once part of Lucent, which was once part of AT&T (the old AT&T -- not the new AT&T, which is really SBC, which used to be part of the old AT&T). Lucent was absorbed by French phone equipment maker Alcatel last year.

The Avaya deal signals the increased interest of private-equity firms in telecom equipment, an area in which many companies, like Avaya, generate steady cash flow while taking on little debt. It follows the $27.5 billion buyout of wireless carrier Alltel Corp. in May.

The Avaya buyers will pay $17.50 a share for the company, a 28% premium to where the stock was trading before the Wall Street Journal reported a week ago that Avaya was in acquisition talks.

There were at least two industry players expressing interest in Avaya, including Nortel and Cisco. That may have helped Avaya get a richer premium than some analysts had anticipated for a stock that had already been buoyed by weeks of takeover rumors.

For its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Avaya posted net income of $201 million on revenue of $5.2 billion, with 4.2% profit margin.

Avaya's equipment is used in large and small businesses. About half of Avaya's revenue comes from long-term service contracts, one reason it is an attractive target to buyout firms. (info from The Wall Street Journal and other sources)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Noisy protesters disrupt Lucent-Alcatel meeting

Dozens of whistling and singing protesters forced Alcatel-Lucent Chairman Serge Tchuruk to suspend his opening speech at the shareholders' meeting Friday.

Labor unions have staged regular protests against the telecommunications-equipment company's planned restructuring, which calls for thousands of job cuts.

After several minutes of alternate chanting and whistling by the protesters, Mr. Tchuruk paused and asked them to make a statement before he resumed his address.

One protester, representing various labor unions, stepped up to criticize management after the merger that created Alcatel-Lucent last year and the pay and severance packages of Mr. Tchuruk and Chief Executive Patricia Russo. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Palm hires ex-Applers to remake company

Treo-maker Palm Inc., facing mounting competition in the smart-phone market, is selling a 25% stake to a private-equity partner that will bring in former Apple executives to help.

Under the transaction, which is expected to be announced today, private-equity firm Elevation Partners will invest $325 million for a 25% stake in Palm, to give Palm a new long-term investor that will bring in new talent.

Palm will pay $940 million in cash, or about $9 a share, to existing shareholders whose ownership of the company will drop to 75% under the deal's terms. The company will fund the restructuring with the $325 million from Elevation, $400 million in new debt and more than $200 million of cash on its balance sheet to complete the transaction.

The deal brings important new personnel to Palm, including several top executives who worked at Apple in the late 1990s and earlier this decade. Jon Rubinstein, Apple's former head of hardware who helped pioneer the iPod, will join Palm as executive chairman and head up product development.

Fred Anderson, a partner at Elevation and a former Apple chief financial officer, will join Palm's board, as will another Elevation partner, Roger McNamee.

The complex deal is unlikely to solve many of Palm's immediate challenges, such as its smaller size compared with competitors. Palm, a pioneer in hand-held computing , faces stiff competition from companies such as Nokia and Research In Motion, which have introduced their own smart phones. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, June 01, 2007

South Korea declares war on American VoIP

Starting today, American servicemen in South Korea can't sign up for Vonage or any other US-based VoIP provider. The South Koreans have decided VoIP is a form of telephony and carriers must be licensed just like any other phone company. Vonage is believed to be the dominant VoIP service used by GIs in Korea.

Although the Korean War ended 54 years ago, there are still thousands of US soldiers on duty there to protect South Korea from a possible invasion by North Korean wacko Kim Jong-il.

Civilians, including South Koreans and foreigners, already are banned from using non-South Korean VoIP providers. Seven local companies can provide VoIP service, but it's not clear if the South Koreans are willing to allow outsiders to offer VoIP service.

The trouble over the use of VoIP by American servicemen has been brewing for almost a year. In 2006, LG DACOM, which contracts its Internet backbone to Samsung Rental and Telecommunications, which in turn sells broadband via the Army and Air Force Exchange Service ("PX"), suddenly notified the PX that calls made using American VoIP carriers would be blocked.

Soldiers in the US Forces Korea (USFK) were told that they would have to switch to South Korean VoIP carriers, but they were charging about the same for VoIP calls as for standard calls.

USFK commander Gen. Burwell Baxter Bell III protested that the situation would result in a "reduction in the quality of life for many USFK personnel who rely on VoIP to connect them with their family and friends while they are serving in Korea." He got a delay while negotiations were held. In January, Bell said he finally had deal - but it was dependent on the Koreans coming up with a VoIP service priced at roughly the same level as the US services. Bell also convinced the South Koreans to let those who already have service from a non-South Korean VoIP company to continue to use their service. (info from Telecom Web)