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

Friday, January 30, 2009

Call me on the Dellophone

A Dell smart phone could be released as soon as next month, running Windows Mobile or Google Android.

Dell is focusing on so-called smartphones, higher-end devices that include features like Web browsing and email. One model includes a touchscreen but no physical keyboard, like Apple's iPhone. Another is a slider-style phone with a keypad and that slides from beneath the screen, an insider said.

Dell hasn't finalized its plans and may still abandon the effort, which would pit it against such powerhouses as Apple and Research In Motion. A Dell spokesman said the company hasn't disclosed plans to offer phones, adding: "We haven't committed to anything."

Dell has probed new markets since founder Michael Dell returned as chief executive in 2007, but it has moved cautiously in earlier situations. A smartphone push would come as the company tries to remake itself following its plunge from its perch as the world's biggest PC maker two years ago. While Mr. Dell has sought new growth through consumer PC products and tech services, the turnaround has been uneven. Dell has suffered layoffs and hiring freezes, and last month announced a management reorganization in which two top executives left the company. Dell has also continued to lose PC market share. Its stock is off about 60% since August.

Mr. Dell has seen smartphones as an opportunity since early 2007, when he returned to the compan. At the time, he announced a plan to move deeper into the consumer market by developing sleek new notebook PCs and selling them in retail stores.

The smartphone development team spent much of last year meeting with suppliers of phone components, several phone software companies, and Asian manufacturers of phones.

If Dell moves forward with a phone, it would become the latest computer company to follow Apple into the handset market in the hopes of finding new growth. In recent years, smartphones have spurred consumers to use phones for functions they had performed on PCs.

In 2008, 157 million smartphones were sold worldwide, up 26.9% from 2007. Smartphone shipments are expected to almost double to 301 million by 2012. That growth rate is in stark contrast to the PC business. Last quarter, PC unit shipments slipped 0.4% from a year earlier.

Smartphones are particularly attractive to PC makers because they can be bundled with existing PC software. The iPhone, for example, is linked to Apple's iTunes Store. Similarly, Hewlett-Packard, which began selling phones mainly in Europe last year, has a feature that seamlessly backs up data on a phone and laptop PC.

Dell has been exploring ways to tie its smartphones in with software from Zing, a company it acquired in 2007 that develops technology to move content like music and movies between mobile devices and PCs.

Dell has moved cautiously in the phone arena because computer makers face obstacles in entering the phone market, including reaching a distribution deal with a cellular carrier. And the smartphone market is crowded, with RIM's BlackBerry and the iPhone dominating 70% of the US market. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

House of Reps voted to extend analog TV, but vote didn't count. They'll vote again next week.

On Monday the US Senate voted to delay until June the date when television stations must broadcast digital signals only.

On Wednesday, the House voted 258-168 to delay the digital transition. The bill didn't pass because it was debated under rules requiring a two-thirds vote, a procedure usually reserved for noncontroversial bills.

The House will vote against next week under rules that will ensure the bill will pass. A majority of House members support putting off the digital shift to June 12. Then the measure will go to the White House for President Obama's signature.

Without the bill, all TV stations must stop broadcasting their programs in analog format on Feb. 17. Once TV stations turn off their analog broadcasts, people who rely on over-the-air TV won't receive signals unless they buy a digital television, a converter box, or subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service.

House Republicans are protesting the delay, saying a new analog shut-off date will confuse consumers, harm public safety groups waiting to use the freed-up channels and create havoc for TV stations that have been preparing for the shift for years.

Democrats and consumer advocates say the country isn't prepared for the transition. Among other things, people now must go on a waiting list at the Commerce Department to apply for $40 coupons that offset the cost of digital converter boxes. With several weeks of wait time once the coupons are approved, it is now impossible for applicants to get them in time for a Feb. 17 transition.

As of Wednesday, the Commerce Department had requests for more than 3 million converter box coupons on the waiting list. The Commerce Department is currently sending coupons to people on the waiting list as older, unused coupons expire. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cox Cable not Net-Neutral, will try selective web speeds

Cox Communications, the third-largest cable company in the US, will be trying out a new way to keep its subscribers' Internet traffic from jamming up. Starting on Feb. 9 in parts of Kansas and Arkansas, Cox will give priority to Internet traffic it judges to be time-sensitive, like Web pages, streaming video and online games. File downloads, software updates and other non-time sensitive data may be slowed if there is congestion on the local network.

The news will likely revive the debate about "Net Neutrality," or the question of how much Internet service providers like Cox can interfere with subscriber traffic. Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, was sanctioned by the FCC last year for its method of traffic management, which involved secretly stifling file sharing, a type of Internet traffic.

It was the first time regulators waded into the issue. Comcast is fighting the FCC's ruling in court, but has abandoned its congestion management system in favor of one that doesn't discriminate between different types of traffic. It has also abandoned secrecy and revealed details on how the new system works.

Tests conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany indicated last year that Cox was using the same discriminatory network management system that Comcast employed then. Cox never revealed the details of its system but said it used "protocol filtering," a principle also used by Comcast.

Further testing by the Institute indicated that Cox cut back sharply on its use of the old congestion system in August, and that it was shut down by January. Cox spokesman David Grabert said the company began evaluating its old system after the FCC order on Comcast. This new technique is based on the time-sensitive nature of the Internet traffic itself, and we believe it will lead to a smoother Internet experience with fewer delays," the company said.

Cox expects to apply the new technology to all of its Internet subscribers later this year if it proves successful in Kansas and Arkansas. It has 4 million subscribers, but that figure includes business users who would not be affected. (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Senate wants to delay analog TV end until June

The Senate voted on Monday to delay next month’s transition to digital television until June 12 because some viewers would not be ready for the switch.

The voice vote followed a call by President Obama’s administration to postpone the Feb. 17 date for major TV stations to stop sending traditional analog signals. Similar legislation awaits action in the House today.

Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, of West Virginia who leads the commerce committee, said last week that he had reached agreement with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, on the legislation. Some Republicans had opposed a delay, saying it would cause confusion by changing a long-planned date.

A federal program to subsidize digital equipment that some viewers will need has fallen short of money, and last week the government reported a waiting list of 1.4 million households.

More than 6.5 million homes are not able to receive digital TV programming, the Nielsen Company said last week. The figure is a decrease from last month, when Nielsen said almost 8 million could not receive it. (info from The New York Times)

Friday, January 23, 2009

House of Reps approved Internet improvements

Yesterday the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved rules for billions in government funds to spur high-speed Internet networks in unserved and underserved areas. House Democrats have proposed $6 billion in Internet investments as part of a sweeping economic stimulus bill that the full House is expected to vote on next week.

The Internet funding portion of the stimulus bill -- a potential huge boon to phone, cable, and wireless companies -- is approved byPresident Obama, who wants to blanket the country with high-speed connections. The $6 billion is considered a down payment on efforts Obama will make in this area over the next several years. The Internet grants will be doled out by the Commerce Department and the Department of Agriculture.

The Energy and Commerce Committee approved rules for just the Commerce Department grants, which total more than $2.8 billion. The USDA grants carry few criteria and appear to be aimed at ensuring that some type of mobile voice or basic Internet service is available even in the most remote areas.

The Commerce Department's Internet buildout grants carry several conditions, including a contentious requirement that Internet networks built with the government grants be open to all devices like cellphones and laptops, regardless of the manufacturer or provider. CTIA, an association of wireless companies, sent a letter to committee leaders Wednesday asking that the "vague, undefined, and unnecessary 'open access' obligation" be removed. CTIA said carriers will be reluctant to apply for the grants if they are uncertain of their open access obligations. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), an ardent proponent of an open Internet principle called "net neutrality," brushed aside the carriers' concerns. "These are public dollars. Networks built with this funding should be open," Eshoo said.

The Commerce Department grants also dictate minimum speeds for basic Internet connections and set a goal that 75% of the money be allotted for deluxe link-ups that would support video-conferencing.

The stimulus bill contains $350 million to fund an Internet mapping program that was enacted last year. The project will zero in on specific areas that have little or no options for wiring up. Several committee members worried that the terms "unserved" and "underserved" in the bill are too vague to target new Internet networks to regions that need them the most.

Responding to those concerns, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.), requiring the FCC to revise its definitions of "unserved" and "underserved" once the Internet mapping project is completed. Without better information about Internet availability in specific areas, Stupak said the grants will be given in the same haphazard manner as in the past. Earlier grants "quite honestly, have been based on political influence and earmarks," he said.

Under the bill, $1 billion of the Internet grant funds will be set aside solely for wireless carriers to bolster their infrastructure for mobile phone and laptop connections. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

FCC's Martin made last-minute attack on Comcast

Just a few hours before he officially lost his job, Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced an investigation into whether Comcast is deliberately degrading its rivals' Internet phone services, suggested fines of upwards of $500,000 against cable companies in another dispute, and released a flurry of long-delayed reports.

Since the FCC will now be in Democratic hands, little of what Martin proposed in his last days in office may actually come to pass. The Obama administration has not yet formally announced its candidate for FCC chairman.

In recent weeks, Martin's attention appeared to focus on his legacy at the agency. On Friday, the FCC released a report entitled, "Moving Forward: Driving Investment and Innovation While Protecting Consumers," which documented Martin's four years as chairman.

Late Monday night, Martin announced his decision to levy about $500,000 in fines against several cable operators for not providing enough information in response to the agency's investigation into potential price gouging when moving channels from analog to digital tiers. Those fines followed Martin's decision on Sunday to launch a formal investigation into Comcast's Internet phone practices.

Concerns have been raised by consumer groups over whether Comcast is giving preferential treatment to its Digital Voice Internet phone service over competing Internet phone services. Consumers using rival Internet phone services could experience degraded phone quality, consumer groups worry. A Comcast spokeswoman said the company has "fully complied" with the FCC's order regarding so-called congestion-management practices. "We are reviewing the FCC staff's letter," she said.

Comcast was also one of the cable operators -- along with Time Warner and Cablevision and others -- hit with the proposed fines for failing to provide enough information to the agency for its investigation into whether cable companies are improperly moving channels from analog to digital tiers -- leaving the analog customers without access to those channels -- without lowering the analog subscribers' monthly bills accordingly. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Want to save money? Negotiate with your phone company.

Frustrated with his hefty and mounting monthly bill for TV, Internet and phone service, a Texan called his provider, AT&T, last month to ask for a discount. He hoped for a reduction of about 10% to his $159 monthly bill. To his surprise, AT&T reduced his bill to $94 a month, a drop of almost 50%, for a one-year period. An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on the specific bill but said that "we work hard to give our customers the services they need at the best price."

While times are tough for consumers, they are also tough for cable and phone companies. Under intense pressure from Wall Street to keep subscribers as the economy sags and competition intensifies, many carriers are bent on retaining customers even if it means offering big price breaks.

"The key is to hang on to every possible customer right now," says Alex Dudley, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. "They are our lifeblood." Dudley says that Time Warner Cable is also more receptive to giving stretched customers a discount during these tough times.

On the surface of it, the country's biggest carriers continue to boost prices despite the downturn. AT&T recently increased the price of high-end services, such as bundled movie channels, by 30%. Behind the scenes, however, the companies are much more accommodating. Many are offering steep discounts to keep, win or win back customers. Consumers, reeling from the recession, are crafting novel ways to cut costs, including switching to cheaper prepaid cellphone plans and using Web-enabled mobile devices to connect to the Internet instead of buying home broadband connections.

Negotiating with cable and phone companies may present a more direct route to saving on communications services costs. And companies are often happy to make deals with customers -- particularly if that allows them to poach them from rivals.

One New Yorker left Cablevision for Verizon's FiOS TV, broadband and phone service. But after his introductory offer from Verizon expired and his initial price shot up, a representative of Cablevision knocked on his door to persuade him to come back. The customer now pays Cablevision about $120 a month, down from the $226 a month he was paying Verizon for the three services.

Carriers' quest for customers is heightened by the battered housing market, since providers often target new customers when they move. That is leading to a slew of new deals for customers, some of which the carriers aren't marketing aggressively. Many of the steepest breaks tend to be for triple-play bundles of TV, Internet and voice service, since customers pay the most for subscribing to all three. Comcast now offers economy bundles that include scaled-down versions of all the services for lower prices.

Phone companies like Verizon and AT&T, meanwhile, are allowing customers to substitute cellphones for land lines in these bundles and still receive discounts. The move encourages customers to cut their land lines -- acknowledging that redundant phone connections are among the first services to go in tough times.

But discounts also include individual products. Last week, Verizon launched a new offer for a lower speed DSL service priced at $17.99 a month. For under $20 in some areas, Verizon and AT&T allow customers to sign up for "naked DSL," which allows customers to have a broadband connection without subscribing to a land line.

"If a customer calls to disconnect, we are not going to just let them go," says William Kula, a Verizon spokesman. "Our representatives try very hard in these times to keep customers rather than have them peel away to rival companies." (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sprint to offer $50 unlimited cellphone service

Sprint Nextel's youth-oriented Boost Mobile service plans to offer an unlimited nationwide calling plan for $50 a month, in a move to severely undercut rivals.

With the new plan, which is half the cost of the $99 unlimited plans offered by the major carriers and roughly $10 cheaper than similar unlimited prepay services offered by MetroPCS and Leap Wireless, Boost is hoping to go after budget-conscious consumers. It represents an aggressive move by Sprint to attract customers even as its own core wireless service continues to lose subscribers.

In addition to unlimited calling, customers will get unlimited text messages, mobile Web surfing, and a walkie-talkie feature. Customers aren't locked into a contract, and can leave anytime.

The major carriers offer unlimited calling for $99, as does Sprint's own "Simply Everything" plan, with unlimited calls, texts, faster mobile Web surfing and other bells and whistles. But those plans typically require a one- or two-year contract. Leap and MetroPCS offer similar flat-rate services without a contract, but the calls are limited by region. While some of Leap and MetroPCS's basic plans are cheaper, extra services such as text messages and roaming charges add to the bill, so a comparable plan would run around $60.

People looking to join Boost Mobile will have to switch to the Nextel network, which means buying a new phone not compatible with other networks. There are a limited number of phone choices, all from Motorola. More phones are in the works. The Boost plan is part of Sprint's decision to back the Nextel network after failing to find a buyer for the business.

Phones run between $20 and $100. Because there are no contracts, there are no subsidies for the phones. The mobile Web access is comparable to slower dial-up speeds. In addition to the monthly flat rate, Boost offers the option to pay $1 a day, which includes a charge of 10 cents a minute during the day, and unlimited night and weekend minutes. Both rates will be available on Jan. 22.
(info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

As expected, Nortel files for bankruptcy, but still has a few billion

Nortel Networks sought protection from creditors in the US and Canada, falling victim to the economic downturn and years of struggle to turn around what was once Canada's largest company. On July 26, 2000, its shares were trading for as much as $124.50. That's equivalent, on a split-adjusted basis, to $1,245 in today's market. At one time Nortel stock accounted for more than a third of the value of the benchmark index of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Now the share price is seven cents.

The Chapter 11 filing further weakened the ranks of major telecom-equipment makers and sent chills through suppliers already coping with declining sales of network gear and handsets. Phone carriers more than ever are seeking suppliers with good products and better balance sheets.

A $107 million interest payment due today may have hastened Nortel's decision to seek protection from creditors. The company is entering bankruptcy court with $2.4 billion in cash to fund day-to-day operations, at a time when financing is drying up for companies reorganizing under bankruptcy protection.

Analysts and industry executives said at the least Nortel could be forced to shed assets at rock-bottom prices. Nortel would likely retain its corporate-networking business, where it competes against Cisco, the leader in the sector.

Mike Zafirovski, Nortel's chief exec, said the credit crisis swamped the company as it struggled with swings in the US dollar, weak sales and rising pension costs. He said Nortel can emerge as a respected technology supplier. "We have made some technology bets to take Nortel from being a legacy company to one that can be relevant today," he said.

Once a technology star valued at $250 billion during the dot-com boom, Nortel saw its value collapse after being racked by accounting restatements, price cutting, and a merger wave that made its rivals more formidable. Nortel failed to find a merger partner, despite talks with rivals including Alcatel, Nokia, and Avaya.

A government agency that provides credit to Canadian exporters, Wednesday agreed to provide $30 million in short-term financing. Trading in Nortel shares was suspended Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. But in premarket electronic trading, shares were off 25 cents, or 77%, to seven cents.

The company had lost half of its market value in September after disclosing plans to sell a promising business to raise cash to weather the downturn. The move, meant to restore confidence in the company's future, instead shattered it.

The bankruptcy filing means Nortel will be able to renegotiate its liabilities, which include $4.5 billion of long-term debt and pension liabilities that have increased as the value of its pension fund has declined. Nortel said subsidiaries are expected to make similar filings in Europe. The company reported in court filings consolidated assets of $11.6 billion and liabilities of $11.8 billion. (info from The Wall Street Journal & CBC )

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Big increase in reported data thefts. But it may just be an increase in reports, not thefts

The number of reported data breaches climbed substantially in 2008.

Businesses and other organizations disclosed 656 breaches last year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization that helps victims of identity theft. That’s up 47% from the 446 breaches reported in 2007.

It isn’t necessarily a sign that the frequency of breaches is increasing. “I think we’re learning about more breaches,” says Linda Foley, founder of the ITRC. She cites laws in 44 states that require organizations to notify people whose personal information they lose. Some states require organizations to report breaches to the attorney general’s office and make these reports publicly available.

These laws were intended to shame organizations into better protecting the information like social security and credit card numbers they collect. But despite these efforts, malicious insiders and computer hackers accounted for 29.6% of all breaches. The number of inside jobs more than doubled from 2007. Human error was the root cause of 35.2% of breaches.

Businesses suffered 240 reported breaches, or 37%, which is a higher percentage than past years. Educational organizations were hit in 20% of the breaches, while the government accounted for 17% of them, healthcare organizations for 15% and financial institutions for 12%.

The ITRC, which has made the details of all reported breaches it tracked available on its Web site, says at least 35.7 million records that were exposed in these breaches, but cautions that the number is most likely substantially more than that because many organizations didn’t disclose how many people’s information they lost. *info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Proposed new FCC head backs net neutrality

President-elect Barack Obama intends to nominate his technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, to head the FCC, according to a source close to the Obama transition team.

Genachowski is a former Harvard Law School classmate of Obama. He previously worked at the FCC during the Clinton administration. More recently, he co-founded LaunchBox Digital, a venture capital firm. He worked at Barry Diller's IAC/InterActive Corp. in various executive positions for eight years after leaving the FCC.

During the campaign, Genachowski served as the top technology adviser, putting together a detailed technology and innovation plan that expressed support for open Internet or "net neutrality" protections; media-ownership rules that encourage more diversity; and expansion of affordable broadband access across the country.

If confirmed, Genachowski will take over an agency that has had rocky relations with Congress and major companies in the telecommunications industry under current Chairman Kevin Martin. The agency may also still be coping with the transition to digital-only television, which is scheduled to take place Feb. 17 but could be pushed back to the summer. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Safety group wants total ban on cellphone use by drivers

The National Safety Council is advocating a total ban on cellphone use while driving, saying the practice is clearly dangerous and leads to fatalities.

The organization says States should ban drivers from using both handheld and hands-free phones, and businesses should prohibit employees from using cellphones while driving on the job.

The group's president Janet Froetscher likened talking on cellphones to drunken driving, saying cellphone use increases the risk of a crash fourfold. "When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It's time to take the cellphone away," Froetscher said.

No state currently bans all cellphone use while driving. Six states -- California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Washington -- and the District of Columbia ban the use of handheld cellphones behind the wheel. Also, 17 states and the District restrict or ban cellphone use by novice drivers.

The Council acknowledged a total ban could take years. "Public awareness and the laws haven't caught up with what the scientists are telling us," Froetscher said. "There is no dispute that driving while talking on your cellphone, or texting while driving, is dangerous."

Froetscher said the council examined more than 50 scientific studies before reaching its decision. One was a study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis that estimates 6% of vehicle crashes -- the equivalent of 2,600 deaths and 12,000 serious injuries a year -- are attributable to cellphone use. Hands-free cellphones are just as risky as hand-held phones, she added. "It's not just what you're doing with your hands -- it's that your head is in the conversation and so your eyes are not on the road."

John Walls, vice president of CTIA, a cellphone trade group, objected to a complete ban. He said there are many instances where the ability to make a phone call while driving enhances safety.

What makes cellphone use distinct from other risky driving behaviors, Froetscher said, is the magnitude -- there are 270 million cellphone users in the US and 80% of them talk while driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association agreed that cellphone use while driving is dangerous, but said it would be difficult to enforce a ban. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is funded by auto insurers, said banning all cellphone use "makes sense based on the research," but agreed that enforcement will be difficult. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Obama wants to delay end of analog TV

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team asked Congress Thursday to consider delaying the planned Feb. 17 switch to digital-only television, citing concerns about consumer readiness for the transition.

"We have discovered major difficulties in the preparation for the February 17 conversion," wrote John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama transition team in a letter to congressional leaders Thursday. "In addition, the government's programs to assist consumers through the upheaval of the conversion are inadequately funded."

The Obama team asked Congress to reconsider the Feb. 17 analog cut-off date and push it back further into 2009.

On Monday, Bush administration officials announced that a $1.5 billion coupon program to help consumers buy digital boxes needed to keep older TVs working after the switch is running out of money. Consumers who apply for coupons now are being put on a waiting list, but administration officials acknowledged there was no assurance that consumers who apply now would get the $40 coupons before the switch. They urged consumers to buy at least one set-top converter box, which retail around $50 to $80, without a coupon.

Congressional leaders were already considering pushing back the digital conversion date by three or four months. They're also looking at how to add more money to the troubled government coupon program quickly.

"Considering the federal treasury is going to book nearly $20 billion in revenue from the DTV spectrum auction, we think this is the right move. Consumers shouldn't have to pay for this transition they didn't ask for," said Chris Murray, senior attorney at Consumers Union, which recommended a delay on Wednesday. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

DUMB NAME AWARD:
to Toshiba for "Cell Television"

At the International Consumer Electronics Sjow in Las Vegas, Toshiba is demonstrating a prototype television that uses the powerful Cell processor, the chip that powers Sony’s PlayStation 3. (Toshiba, Sony and IBM collaborated in developing the chip).

Cell television is a bit of misnomer. It has nothing to do with cellphones.
The chip will actually be inside a set-top box that functions like a computer server, processing various video signals at once.
That box will come with a display that Toshiba says can handle video quality four times sharper than the current high-definition displays. The Cell box will convert regular high-definition video (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) into a “Quad HDTV” (3,840 by 2,160 pixels. The Cell TV box will come with a hard drive and can handle up to 48 video streams at once. It can also boost Internet video to higher quality video.
Toshiba said it expects the cell televisions (set-top box plus accompanying display) to sell for between $5,000 to $10,000. At that price, they could throw in a freebie cellphone. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Greener Motorola makes new phone from old water bottles

At the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Motorola is showing their new MOTO™ W233 Renew, said to be the world’s first cellphone made with plastic from recycled water bottles.

Motorola says Renew is also the world’s first carbon neutral phone. Through an alliance with Carbonfund.org, Motorola offsets the carbon dioxide required to manufacture, distribute and operate the phone through investments in renewable energy sources and reforestation. The phone has earned Carbonfund.org’s CarbonFree® Product Certification after an extensive product life-cycle assessment.

When designing the packaging, Motorola was able to reduce its size by 22 percent and the box and all of the materials inside are printed on 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. In addition, a postage-paid recycling envelope in the box makes it easy to return your previous cellphone for recycling at no cost.

Renew was designed for eco-conscious consumers as well as the millions of people who put making phone calls as their number one priority in a phone. It provides nine hours of talk time, CrystalTalk technology and messaging capabilities. Renew will first be available at T-Mobile USA in in the first quarter of this year.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cubans save money by not answering cell calls

Since taking over as Cuba's president from his ailing older brother Fidel, Raúl Castro has decided that Cubans can now legally purchase once-forbidden fruit, such as DVD players, microwave ovens, desktop computers and cellphones.

Cubans are crazy for them. But it's tough to buy them. The manager of medical records in a hospital earns $21.44 a month and figures it will take a year to save enough money to buy a very basic $58 Nokia.

Everyone agrees a microwave oven is a useful tool, but a cellphone is the icon of modernity. Since Castro began allowing the purchases in April of 2008, and then slashed prices in half in December, cellphones have become the new status symbol in proletarian Havana, but with a twist. Cubans don't actually talk on their cellphones -- They use them as pagers.

When Cubans get a call, they rarely answer. Instead, they look at the number, find a land-line telephone, which is ubiquitous and very inexpensive to use, and return the call. If they're feeling flush, they might type a message.

The Cuban government has not released official tallies of cellphone users, though a person who works in the technology field estimated that there were no more than 250,000 users in a nation of 11.2 million.

Even so, the obstacles to entering the cellular world are almost impossibly high for most Cubans. First, there is getting the phone. Most Cubans appear to have worked a deal for a used phone on the gray market -- or more likely, were given one by a relative living abroad. The old, outdated phones that were gathering dust in Miami or Madrid have gone to Cuba.

To open a mobile phone account with the state telephone monopoly, ETECSA, a user must go, with a cellphone, to one of the few offices in Havana, stand in line for an hour and then pay $65 to activate the service -- a bargain compared with the $130 the government used to charge. This money is not paid in Cuban pesos but in the parallel currency used by foreigners, Cuban "convertible pesos," known as CUCs and pronounced "kooks." These are huge sums for Cubans, whose average monthly salary is around $20.

The price of minutes in Cuba is cruel. Local calls between cellphones cost 65 cents a minute. Cellphone calls to a land-line are slightly more. Dialing the United States costs $2.70 a minute. A call to Europe will cost $5.85.

To use their cellphones, Cubans purchase prepaid cards; the most common denomination is 10 convertible pesos. Some Cubans limit their calls by buying only one prepaid card a month. There is no credit in Cuba.

And although some plugged-in sophisticates in Havana have BlackBerrys, there is no Web surfing, no YouTube watching, no e-mailing on cellphones. The bandwidth is not available for them. Cuba connects to the digital world via Italian satellite. Because of the US trade embargo, there is no undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Cuba to Florida.

Until the changes announced by Raúl Castro last year, ordinary Cubans were not permitted to open cellphone accounts. But foreigners could -- so many of the first Cubans to have and use them were government officials, workers for foreign companies, and hotel hustlers and street prostitutes, girlfriends and boyfriends of foreign visitors, who were given or sometimes sold a phone and an account number.

Cubans speak some of the highest-speed Spanish in Latin America, but even that cannot save them from the ticking clock and cost of cell minutes. Many Cubans don't like to give out their cellphone numbers, for fear they will be called -- and have to answer a number they don't recognize. They never use voice mail.

A Cuban with a BlackBerry explained that like the United States and Europe, Cuban society will be changed by the cellphone. "We will be reachable, but we don't want to answer." (info from The Washington Post)

Monday, January 05, 2009

iPhone unlocking software available

A group of independent programmers says it has "unlocked" the latest generation of Apple iPhones so they can be used on unauthorized wireless networks, in a move that could threaten Apple's carrier partners. Since the original iPhone was launched in June 2007, Apple has struck partnerships with carriers such as AT&T. Under the agreements, the iPhone can generally be used only by subscribers to those carriers.

Last Wednesday, a group called the iPhone Dev Team released a free piece of software called "yellowsn0w" that unlocks the iPhone 3G. The software lets users reprogram the phones so they can work on any wireless network based on the same technical standard. Several users said they successfully installed the software on their iPhone 3Gs and were able to make calls on non-authorized networks.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the iPhone Dev Team's work, only saying that Apple doesn't support unlocked iPhones in the US. Apple offers such phones in Germany and Hong Kong where government regulation requires it but they usually come at a steep price.

Software programmers have been trying to unlock the iPhone 3G since it came out last July.

The development could lead to a loss in revenue for Apple's wireless partners. International travelers would be able to buy airtime for their iPhones on local wireless networks when they travel abroad, so they don't have to incur steep roaming charges. People in markets where Apple hasn't yet launched the iPhone could also buy the device elsewhere and use it in their home countries. In China, for example, consumers can already buy previous generation iPhones that have been smuggled in unlocked.

In the US, "the iPhone is meant to be used exclusively on the AT&T network. Any other use of the device is inappropriate and would void the warranty," said an AT&T spokesman. The iPhone Dev Team is the same group that unlocked the original iPhone model more than a year earlier. (info from The Wall Street Journal)