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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

time out

I need to re-charge my battery. I should be back the first week in June.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Man busted for using cellphone on plane

A Southwest Airlines passenger who refused to stop using his his cellphone during a flight found Dallas police waiting for him earlier this month. Southwest officials had summoned police, who met the jet when it arrived on a flight from Austin. Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said flight attendants had repeatedly asked the man to get off the phone while airborne.

Police said Joe David Jones, of Austin, was cited for disorderly conduct. The Federal Aviation Administration bars use of cellphones when planes are flying due to concerns about interference with navigation systems. King said airlines can be fined up to $25,000 for allowing cellphone use, and passengers also can be fined. (info from the Associated Press)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

US cellphone sales falling

US purchases of new cellphones declined in the first quarter for the first time in several years, according to two new studies.

The drop was concentrated among poorer customers using prepaid plans and among households earning $75,000 to $99,000 a year. The upper end of the market -- phones with QWERTY keyboards for email and text messaging, and extra features for music downloads and video viewing -- continued to grow.

The overall decline in phone sales also comes amid findings that growth in subscriptions is slowing as the market reaches saturation, with 83% of the US population owning a cellphone.

A study from Strategy Analytics showed a 5% drop in the quarter compared with a year earlier, while a separate report from NPD, showed a 22% drop in purchases of new phones in the quarter.

The studies are the latest piece of bad news for cellphone makers, particularly Motorola, the market leader that is particularly exposed to the lower end. Motorola cellphone sales slid 39% in the first quarter, and the company attributed much of that loss to the US, where it sells half of its phones.

The evidence of slowing wireless-service subscriptions came from a report Monday by Bernstein Research estimating that the US wireless industry added 23% fewer subscribers in the first quarter, compared with the year-earlier period. The research on sales reached a similar conclusion. "When money is tight or expected to be tight, many consumers tend to delay upgrading to a new phone and hang on to the one they already own for a little while longer," said Neil Mawston, wireless analyst for Strategy Analytics.

As the market plateaus, carriers and phone makers both look for growth in phones with full keyboards for the boom in text messaging and extra features for multimedia applications. Phone makers charge more for them phones while carriers generate extra revenue from customers who use the phone's enhanced features.

Already there is evidence that the market is shifting toward these high-end phones. NPD estimated that such phones comprised 17% of all mobile phone sales in the first quarter, an increase of 10 percentage points since the same period a year ago. Also in the quarter 79% of phones purchased had Bluetooth wireless technology (up from 65% from the year-ago quarter), and 60% of phones purchased in the first quarter were music enabled (versus 41% the year-ago quarter).

This trend benefits makers of feature-rich handsets such as Samsung, LG, BlackBerry and Apple. Motorola has struggled to add high-end phones and has lost market share as a result.

At the end of the first quarter, Motorola held 25% of the US cellphone market, compared to 34% at the end of the first quarter of 2006. During the same period, Korean competitors Samsung had increased its share of the US market to 22% from 15% and LG rose to 21% from 16%. RIM's BlackBerry devices comprised 8% of the market, enabling the company to take the No. 4 slot from Nokia, the global market leader.

The slowing growth in wireless subscription sales appears to be hurting the No. 3 player, Sprint Nextel, more than its bigger rivals. Verizon Wireless's net subscriber additions in the first quarter were 1.5 million, just 200,000 lower than a year earlier. AT&T. increased its quarterly net additions to 1.3 million, up from 1.2 million in 2007. Analysts say much of the growth for those companies is coming from signing up customers who have defected from Sprint Nextel, which lost nearly 1.1 million customers in the first quarter alone. (info from the Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just what the world needs: $5,000 phones

Today French luxury-goods company Christian Dior is set to unveil a line of cellphones starting at $5,000, after competitors such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana have turned their fashion-branded phones into significant businesses.

The phones will be made by French manufacturer, ModeLabs Group. Dior expects to sell at least 10,000 of them a year at the beginning and hopes to reach annual sales of over $300 million eventually. That revenue target is high, considering Dior's overall sales last year were about $1.2 billion, but is in line with rivals. Last year, Dolce & Gabbana and its partner Motorola sold $313 million worth of the designer label's gold Razr phone.

Dior's move comes as high-end fashion houses are crossing the boundaries of traditional fashion items to boost sales. After the licensing heyday of the 1980s, which cheapened the names of many fashion houses by putting them on items ranging from lighters to toilet-seat covers, labels cut back their branding efforts during the 1990s. In recent years, many companies have branched out again, this time with a pledge to be more selective about how they use their name.

With phones, fashion brands have insisted on taking part in both design and marketing. Last year, when Italian fashion house Prada launched a phone with LG Electronics, Prada tinkered with the touch screen and preloaded content in addition to working on the phone's basic design. A Dior exec said, "What really convinced us was seeing the attention people in emerging markets pay to buying a phone, by selecting the color and design." In Europe and the US, in contrast, phones are seen as more disposable commodities.

Dior's new phones -- which will work worldwide, except in Japan and Korea, where they aren't compatible with local networks -- are priced higher than rival fashion phones, closer to the price range of Nokia's premium line Vertu, which also starts in the $5,000 range. Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Giorgio Armani SpA all have phones out that cost around $600.

In addition to all the regular features of a cellphone, the Dior phone offers a new gimmick: a miniature phone barely bigger than a USB thumb drive. Dior says the mini "My Dior" is handy for women who don't want to rummage through their bags to find their phones. Instead, the mini version of the phone clips to the outside of a bag for easier access. It communicates with the main phone, so people can pick up or make calls with My Dior and use the main phone for more complicated functions. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Screw AT&T.
Screw Wal-mart.
Screw LetsTalk.
Screw Verizon.

A few weeks ago I smashed the outer display screen on my Samsung Sync cellphone -- a phone I had grown to dislike over the year I've owned it. It's a PITA to open with one hand, activate the speakerphone and take pictures, but the displays are gorgeous.

I went to AT&T and paid them $150 (with a stupid mail-in rebate that the first Postmaster General Ben Franklin would have liked) to go backward a generation for a Moto Razr V3xx flipper, with a less-vibrant display, but easier-to-use camera and speakerphone. Even the AT&T salesman said the phone was over-priced. Screw me.

Then I discovered that the Wal-mart website was offering the same phone for just $50, or the much more advanced Motorazr2 V9 for just $100, with the same two-year contract renewal I had to agree to, to get the dumber V3xx for $150 from AT&T. Screw me, again.

I had an easy decision to make.

I went back to the AT&T store, but they would not meet the Wal-mart price. If Wal-mart's low price is based on a kickback they get from AT&T, why can't AT&T just give me the same deal and avoid the bookkeeping expense? However, they were very nice about giving my money back and putting the SIM chip back in my old Samsung phone. Now they have my used phone, they'll have to reduce its price by a hundred bucks and sell it as a refurb.

Yesterday I tried to buy the new Moto, and it ScrewMe #3.

It turns out that LetsTalk, Inc., the scumbags who operate the cellphone operation for Wal-mart, who call themselves "the smarter way to buy wireless," "helpful" and "consumer advocates," would not allow me to renew my perfectly adequate $39.99 AT&T monthly plan. I would have to agree to a 50% increase to $59.99 to get the phone I wanted. ScrewMe #4.

Thomas, the less-than-helpful consumer advocate at LetsTalk, advised me to get the phone directly from AT&T. Unfortunately AT&T doesn't sell the V9 in their stores. It has to be ordered online, for $200. A less attractive version is in Verizon stores for $50 more. Wal-mart and Sam's don't have the V9, and Costco doesn't have any Razrs at all. ScrewMe #5 through 9.

So, for the moment, I will continue to use the hated Samsung with the cracked screen until there's no blood left to drip out of my fingers when I grasp the phone.

Motorola's cellphone business is in deep trouble. Why should it be so damned hard to just go into a store and buy the Moto phone I want to buy for 200 hundred bucks?

Screw everybody!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Telcos and cablecos sue to block municipal internet projects. Protest echoes early fight against "socialist" electricity

Internet traffic is growing faster than at any time since the boom of the late-1990s. Some 60 towns and small cities have built state-of-the-art fiber networks, capable of speeds many times faster than most existing connections from cable and telecom companies. An additional two dozen municipalities have launched or are considering similar initiatives.

The efforts highlight a battle over Internet policy in the US. Once the undisputed leader in the technological revolution, the US now lags a growing number of countries in the speed, cost and availability of high-speed Internet. While cable and telecom companies are spending billions to upgrade their service, they're now focusing their efforts mostly on larger cities.

Smaller ones such as Chattanooga say they need to fill the vacuum themselves or risk falling further behind and losing highly-paid jobs. Chattanooga's city-owned electric utility began offering ultrafast Internet service to downtown business customers five years ago. Now it plans to roll out a fiber network to deliver TV, high-speed Internet and phone service to some 170,000 customers. The city has no choice but to foot the bill itself for a high-speed network -- expected to cost $230 million -- if it wants to remain competitive in today's global economy, says Harold DePriest, the utility's chief executive officer.

It's a risky bet. Some municipal Internet efforts, including wireless projects known as Wi-Fi, have failed in recent months. EarthLink confirmed last week it was pulling the plug on its wireless partnership with Philadelphia.

The latest efforts have aroused intense opposition from private-sector providers. Cable and telecom companies have successfully lobbied 15 state legislatures to pass laws preventing municipalities from entering the broadband business. Comcast, Cox and other cable and telecom providers have also filed lawsuits against existing projects, arguing they're an improper use of taxpayer money and are unfair competition. In Chattanooga, Comcast sued the city's utility.

Such disputes take on greater significance as the Internet enters a new phase of explosive growth, much of it driven by user-generated video and images. More network and cable TV shows are also being shown online, and Web-enabled cellphones are bringing the Internet to new users in places like Africa.

According to a recent report by Cisco Systems, total annual Internet traffic will quadruple by 2011, reaching a size of more than 342 exabytes (one exabyte is the equivalent of one trillion books of about 400 pages each).

In the US, where most of the critical infrastructure that led to the creation of the Internet originated, questions persist about how well-positioned the country is today. South Korea, for example, now generates about the same amount of Internet traffic as the US, with just one-sixth the population.

In terms of the percentage of households using broadband, the US ranks 10th out of the 30 leading industrialized countries. The US was among the leaders in this category at the beginning of the decade. The US fares only slightly better in affordability, ranking 11th most affordable, behind countries such as Italy and Norway.

The US has fallen behind in speed, too. The US ranked 15th in the average advertised download speed, at 4.9 megabits a second. That's slower than the 17.6 megabits a second in France and the 63.6 megabits a second in Japan, which ranks No. 1. It takes a little over two minutes to download a movie on iTunes in Japan, compared with almost half an hour in the US. The average US download speed is even slower.

Chattanooga's DePriest compares his agency's plan for high-speed Internet to the rollout of electricity, which came to many parts of Tennessee only in the 1930s as a result of the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. That was three decades after major urban areas like New York were electrified.

The country's electricity at the time was largely provided by private companies, which denounced any government efforts to get into the business as "socialist" -- previewing the debate over municipal fiber networks today. Against this opposition, many public utilities, including Chattanooga's Electric Power Board, or EPB, were formed to help bring electricity to their towns and surrounding countryside. (info from The Wall Stree Journal)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Earthlink unplugs Philly Wi-Fi

EarthLink is pulling the plug on its troubled wireless high-speed Internet network in Philadelphia, once touted as a model for how big cities should deploy Wi-Fi.

EarthLink had hoped for business from municipal networks such as Philadelphia's following rapid decline in its dial-up Internet access business. The company said Tuesday that it could not find a buyer for the $17 million network and that talks to give it to the city or a nonprofit organization had failed. City officials have said it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year to operate the network.

"It's been an unfortunate situation," Chief Executive Officer Rolla Huff said. "It was a great idea a few years ago, ... but it's an idea that simply didn't make it." A few weeks earlier, Earthlink announced it would shut down a similar network in New Orleans. EarthLink has reached agreements with Corpus Christi, Texas, and Milpitas, Calif., which are taking over ownership of their networks. EarthLink also has been running a network in Anaheim, Calif.

EarthLink, which will give current customers until June 12 to switch to another provider, said it even offered to donate the Wi-Fi equipment to someone and give them an additional $1 million. EarthLink filed a federal suit that seeks to remove equipment from city light poles and cap its potential liability at $1 million.

Four years ago, Philadelphia announced the EarthLink deal with great fanfare that attracted attention from around the world. But the technology proved to be difficult to deploy and, at times, unreliable. EarthLink later admitted that its Wi-Fi business model had not panned out. In Philadelphia, EarthLink built the network at no cost to the city. It also pledged to pay rent for light poles to hang equipment. EarthLink wanted a direct Internet pipeline into homes so it would not have to buy capacity from phone companies.

Philadelphia officials recently said they want EarthLink to abide by the contract, but would rather not go to court to enforce it. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sprint affiliate sues to block WiMax project

IPCS Inc. filed a lawsuit against Sprint Nextel claiming Sprint's new joint venture with Clearwire violates an agreement that gives IPCS exclusive rights to provide wireless service in its territory.

The suit rehashes the argument that IPCS's Sprint affiliate status preserves its exclusivity despite any mergers or deals - one which IPCS has successfully argued before. The affiliate program was one of many problems Sprint inherited when it acquired Nextel in 2005.

In March, an Appeals Court in Illinois upheld a decision in favor of IPCS and its exclusivity. Sprint has filed another appeal seeking a review by the state's supreme court. IPCS said on Monday that the same argument applies to the Clearwire joint venture, which will offer high-speed WiMax wireless service.

Last week, Sprint went to a Delaware Court to ensure the joint venture - in which Sprint is the largest shareholder - would be cleared of legal entanglements. IPCS claims the move is designed to bypass the Illinois court decision. IPCS is seeking a permanent injunction restricting the completion of the WiMax transaction until it is changed to meet the existing terms. Such a move would complicate the Clearwire deal, which also includes investments from giants in the cable, semiconductor and Internet industries. The deal was lauded as a victory for Sprint in getting the massive capital investment required to deploy the network off of its books.

IPCS is the last major independent affiliate of Sprint and the most contentious. Sprint has already acquired six affiliates, as well as Nextel Partners, and has reached agreements with smaller players Shenandoah and Swiftel. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

off-topic medical warning

A Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, order is a written order from a doctor that resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. Such an order may be instituted on the basis of an advance directive from a person, or from someone entitled to make decisions on their behalf, such as a health care proxy; in some jurisdictions, such orders can also be instituted on the basis of a physician's own initiative, usually when resuscitation would not alter the ultimate outcome of a disease, and is designed to prevent unnecessary suffering.

Any person who does not wish to undergo lifesaving treatment in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest can get a DNR order, although DNR is more commonly done when a person who has an inevitably fatal illness wishes to have a more natural death without painful or invasive medical procedures.

(Above from Wikipedia)

My wife's cousin Barbara has had a DNR order for years. She thought it made sense. She "didn't want to live like a vegetable."

She was recently hospitalized. Her heart stopped. Her regular doctor was not at the hospital, and no one at the hospital knew that there was a DNR order. She was resuscitated and is doing fine and will be coming home soon.

DNR orders may make sense in some cases, but if it was is followed in this case, our cousin would be dead. If you or a loved one has a DNR order, you should review it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Virgin Mobile and Helio considering merger

I'll be away on Monday, so I'm doing the Monday blog on Saturday.
Virgin Mobile USA and Helio, two cellphone companies that re-sell service from Sprint Nextel, are in advanced merger discussions and could announce a deal in coming weeks.

The discussions reflect consolidation pressure among mobile virtual-network operators, ("MVNOs") as the cellphone market nears saturation. While the market's slowing growth has hurt some big players, such as Sprint, resellers have particularly struggled, with some failing. Walt Disney Co. shuttered its Disney Mobile service in September, and Amp'd Mobile, a Verizon Wireless re-seller, declared bankruptcy last year.

Both Virgin and Helio have faced difficulties. Virgin, which markets prepaid plans popular with lower-income customers, is being squeezed by increasing competition from other low-end providers such as Leap Wireless and MetroPCS, as well as the economic downturn, which has hit less affluent customers especially hard.

Helio, which sells high-end phones and services that tend to be more expensive and data-intensive, appeals to younger, tech-savvy consumers. It has relatively high average revenue per user of more than $85 per month, but only a few hundred thousand subscribers. That has hurt its bottom line. A venture between SK Telecom and EarthLink, Helio said in September that it expected a full-year net loss of $340 million to $360 million. EarthLink reduced its stake after Helio's weak performance hurt its own finances last year.

A merger would help both companies diversify the types of customers they target. Since they both use Sprint's network, it would also be relatively easy to merge them from an operational standpoint; but serving Virgin's prepaid customers and deeper-pocketed Helio subscribers could present marketing challenges. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Cablevision to offer free WiFi to customers

Metro-NY TV, phone and internet provider Cablevision plans to dramatically expand its Wi-Fi service beyond 15 metropolitan area communities where it is now offered, company officials said yesterday. They hope to complete the project in about two years. The service will be available without charge to Cablevision customers who have Optimum Online service.

Cablevision's announcement comes a few days after Comcast and Time Warner announced a partnership with Sprint Nextel and Clearwire to build a similar nationwide broadband wireless network. Verizon has been offering WiFi service for more than a year.

Cablevision presently provides WiFi in several communities on Long Island, in New Jersey, the Bronx, Westchester, Connecticut, and on the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry across Long Island Sound.

Cablevision said Optimum Online customers will be able to access the Internet using laptops, phones or other devices when in a WiFi zone, including beaches, parks or suburban streets. It will cost the company approximately $100 per customer to build the system. Cablevision services about 3 million homes. (info from Newsday)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Apple changes iPhone strategy:
sells through two carriers in Italy

Apple is adopting a more open strategy for selling its iPhone, allowing two carriers to offer it in Italy, as it expands the number of countries where the popular device is available.

Apple has been selling the iPhone since June through deals that call for one operator per country to sell the phone. On Tuesday, Apple said its iPhone will be offered in Italy this year by both Telecom Italia and Vodafone. This will be the first time two operators in the same country will be selling the iPhone simultaneously. Vodafone plans to sell the iPhone in nine other countries, including Australia, India and Egypt.

Some analysts have been calling for Apple to both end the exclusive deals and to cut the iPhone's price in half to about $200, to boost sales in 2009 and beyond. Apple's exclusive arrangements haven't stood in the way of selling about 5.7 million iPhones as of the end of March, and posing one of the first major challenges to the dominance of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. and handset maker Nokia Corp. on the market for more advanced cellphones.

Telefónica offered $200 off the price of an iPhone for signing a two-year service contract. The promotion came after T-Mobile slashed the price of the iPhone to about $153, with a two-year contract. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New high speed wireless data net coming

Perhaps later today, an alliance of major players from the cable, Internet and chip industries will disclose they are investing $3.2 billion in a company that will deliver Web access for cellphones and laptops at speeds much faster than what is available using WiMax.

Analysts say the venture, valued at more than $12 billion, will have a two year head-start on rivals Verizon and which are just beginning to sketch out plans for their next-generation wireless networks. The venture includes Sprint Nextel and Clearwire Corp., a start-up backed by cellphone pioneer Craig McCaw. Other big-name backers include cable-TV giants Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, Google and Intel.

The deal gives the cable operators and Google prominent roles in shaping the future of mobile Internet access and a new outlet as growth begins to slow in their traditional content businesses. Intel gains new support for WiMax, a technology standard the company has championed and that will be used in the venture's high-speed network. The venture must still be approved by federal regulators.

The deal is most of all a coup for Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, who four months ago was charged with rescuing Sprint from near-disaster. This alliance resolves one of the major issues that confronted him and now allows him to put full attention on problems in Sprint's core cellphone business, which has been hemorrhaging Nextel customers for a year and a half. Hesse next must consider a spinoff or sale of Nextel, acquired just three years ago.

Hesse was under pressure to find partners to help defray costs of the company's $5 billion bet on WiMax. He early on identified Clearwire as a potential ally and sought to involve the cable operators and Google. But the cable companies were skeptical, because a prior cellphone partnership with Sprint, called Pivot, was a failure and essentially dissolved last year.

Last January,Hesse called Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts to explore a deal. Roberts was receptive, partly because he thought the new Sprint CEO might be easier to work with, and partly because he was beginning to see WiMax as an opportunity to confront his own strategic dilemma. Phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T are encroaching on cable companies' turf by offering video, data and voice services. Their ability to bundle these services with wireless phone service is seen as a key advantage, and cable companies had struggled to respond with their own wireless strategy.

In early February, Roberts took a trip to Portland, Ore., to test Clearwire's nascent WiMax service and meet with McCaw. He came away impressed with the technology.

Hesse leaned on Roberts to round up other cable operators, including Time Warner and a regional provider, Bright House. In late February, the two executives orchestrated a meeting of all the principals. Reeling in Google proved especially difficult. The Internet company wanted an easier way to distribute its software on mobile devices, but wasn't convinced the WiMax partnership was the right move. Google CEO Eric Schmidt wouldn't return Hesse's phone calls. Roberts, who had developed a close relationship with the Google CEO, stepped in. He made a pitch on Hesse's behalf, then connected the two via email to get a discussion going. Hesse promised to make Google the preferred software developer on the WiMax network, meaning its search service would be the default.

By mid-March, the outlines of a deal were in place, though it would take two more months to iron out details. The new company secured $1.05 billion from Comcast, $1 billion from Intel, $500 million from Google, $550 million from Time Warner and $100 million from Bright House. Sprint will hold a majority stake in the new venture. But to appease concerns that Sprint might try to quash the new company's ability to compete with Sprint, Hesse agreed to give up day-to-day control to Clearwire's Wolff, who is slated to be CEO. McCaw is expected to be named chairman. The new company will take on Clearwire's name.

There are still big hurdles ahead. Diverging corporate interests pose another set of challenges. Few big technology collaborations deliver on their founders' goals.

But neither Hesse nor McCaw is allowing any doubts. During an April phone meeting the two marveled at their accomplishment, particularly their agreement to pool their vast radio-spectrum resources. "Has any company ever had a spectrum position like this? It's absolutely perfect for this technology," raved Hesse. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

AT&T has one foot stuck in the 18th century

AT&T brags about their iPhones, TV shows on cellphones, digital TV, wireless internet service, worldwide corporate networks, and more than half a million miles of fiber-optic cables; and if you try to pay a bill with old-fashioned cash, they'll make you pay a two-dollar penalty fee for slowing down the system.

Yesterday I went into my local AT&T store to replace a cellphone with a cracked display. I quickly picked a new phone I liked that had a hundred-buck rebate.

I was shocked, horrified, dismayed and amazed to learn that I'd have to apply for the rebate through the old-fashioned US mail, and could not do it online as I could with Staples and other modern businesses.

Benjamin Franklin would have been quite comfortable with the process.

AT&T is pathetic.

I am once again reminded of a scene from around 1980 when I was selling business phone systems, competing with AT&T who was then renting phone systems. AT&T then announced that they would start selling, not just renting. I was horrified that the mighty AT&T would quickly put smaller competitors like me out of business.

I was comforted by industry onbserver Harry Newton who said, "Don't worry; it will take them ten years just to find the men's room."

Nearly 30 years later, the "new" AT&T is still wandering down the hallway, frantically trying every doorknob while peeing in their pants.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Man with arms stuck used toe to call 911

Firefighters in Fort Walton Beach, Florida freed a man who had both arms stuck in a piece of machinery early Thursday. He called 911 with his big toe, said Fire Capt. Terry Kline.

“We started thinking, ‘OK, how is he making a phone call’” if both of his arms are stuck? Kline said after the rescue. “We didn’t want to question him to death about it because we were more worried about what was going on.”

The man was airlifted to a hospital after firefighters used a thick metal bar to pry the machinery off his arms. The “industrial accident” happened after 2AM Thursday at the DRS Technologies building Kline said. He said the man, an employee, was trapped to his forearms in a press-like machine that resembled an elevator.

While stuck, Kline said the man shook his flip-open cellphone off his belt, kicked off one shoe, stepped on a sock to pull it off and used his big toe to dial 911. info from Northwest Florida Daily News)

Friday, May 02, 2008

911 delay death reveals perils of VoIP

An ambulance was dispatched in response to a 911 call about a toddler in distress, but the Internet phone service said paramedics went to the address it had on file – a home in Mississauga, Canada – not the new home in Calgary where the distraught family waited in vain for help. The child died before an ambulance later sent to the right place could get him to a hospital Tuesday night.

The family of 18-month-old Elijah Luck spoke out Thursday about their ordeal accessing 911 emergency services with their telephone company Comwave, which uses VoIP technology.

“We lost our little baby,” Elijah's aunt, Sylvia Luck, said. “We can't get him back. But we want to give this awareness to people so this doesn't happen to them.”

VoIP has similar features to phone service from a conventional provider, but 911 on VoIP works differently. The “basic 911” service that many VoIP customers have puts them in touch with a call center that takes down their address and contacts the closest emergency response centre. That's because subscribers are identified by an IP number rather than geographic location. If calls are disconnected, the VoIP provider gives the customer's last known address, which, in the case of the Luck family, was in Mississauga. Traditional phone providers' enhanced 911 service sends location information on customers directly to emergency services.

Elijah was born prematurely in October of 2006. He had a history of heart and lung problems and underwent surgical procedures, but was “perfectly healthy” up until the incident on Tuesday night, according to his family. Their nightmare began when Elijah woke up crying. His aunt went in to check on him and noticed that his left leg and hand were quivering. She called his mother into the room.

The aunt called 911, but when nobody answered after five rings, she hung up and sought the help of a neighbor. Then she received a call from what she believed was 911 asking if she had called. She provided the Calgary address, and the person on phone replied: “Okay, we are arranging it right away, so stay on the phone.” The line got disconnected, but Ms. Luck believed an ambulance was on the way.

Meanwhile, a neighbor administered CPR, and as time passed and no ambulance appeared, another neighbour called 911 on his home telephone service from cable firm Shaw Communications.

Five minutes and 43 seconds later, an ambulance was at the residence and paramedics administered advanced life support on the way to hospital on Elijah, who was already in cardiac arrest. But it was too late and he was pronounced dead.

The Lucks say that up to 40 minutes may have elapsed before help arrived, but that nobody was watching the clock. The family is wondering whether the toddler would still be alive if an ambulance had arrived sooner. Comwave is still trying to sort out that night's events. The Luck family's call was routed to a third-party call center. Comwave had 10 staff members handling 911 calls.

The worker at the call center had a hard time understanding the caller because of a language barrier, and relied on the Mississauga address on file and dispatched an ambulance there. He added that customers are encouraged to stay on the phone, but in this case, the caller hung up.

Elijah's mother said the family moved to Calgary from Mississauga in March of 2006. They changed their mailing address and receive bills in Calgary, but were never told they needed a separate 911 address change. A spokesman for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said Thursday that it is following the incident and examining whether the 911 rules were followed. (info from Toronto Globe and Mail)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

AT&T's delayed cellphone TV service starts Sunday

AT&T, formerly known as Michigan Bell and a bunch of other things, is planning to launch its new cellphone video service Sunday. The service will be available in 58 markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. AT&T will charge $15 per month for 10 channels. Eight are shared with Verizon, and two are exclusive.

AT&T Mobile TV is similar to Verizon's V Cast Mobile TV, and is operated by the same company, Qualcomm. AT&T already has a mobile video service called CV, which is based on different technology. It works like Internet video, providing short clips on demand. Qualcomm's MediaFLO service is more like regular TV broadcasts, constantly streaming shows. Quality is said to much higher than on-demand cellphone clips.

The only AT&T phones that will initially work with the service are are going on sale Sunday: the LG Vu ($299.99) and the Samsung Access ($199.99). The prices apply with two-year contracts and are after $100 mail-in rebates. Other TV-capable phones will be available later.

The eight channels shared with Verizon Wireless are CBS Mobile, Comedy Central, ESPN Mobile TV, Fox Mobile, MTV, NBC 2Go, NBC News 2Go and Nickelodeon. The two exclusive channels are PIX, which screens movies from Sony Pictures, and CNN Mobile Live.

AT&T was initially planning to launch MediaFLO phones last year.

Verizon Wireless has been quiet about how many people subscribe to V Cast Mobile TV, which costs the same as AT&T's service. Some analysts are skeptical that consumers are eager to pay $15 per month to watch TV on small screens.

But Qualcomm is confident in MediaFLO's prospects, putting down $554.6 million in a government spectrum auction in March for the right to use old UHF channel 56 in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco regions. That would allow it to broadcast several more MediaFLO channels in those areas. Meanwhile, TV stations are planning to introduce their own broadcasts for mobile phones and other gadgets. The first such broadcasts, and the gadgets that will be able to tune to them, could be available next year. Unlike MediaFLO, these broadcasts may not require a subscription. (info from The Associated Press)