Monthly Archives August 2015

AT&T Willingly Helped NSA Spy on Users

att logoAccording to the New York Times, newly disclosed NSA documents reveal AT&T willingly helped the National Security Agency (NSA) conduct surveillance on large volumes of Internet traffic in the United States. The documents revealing AT&T helped the spy agency in a broad range of classified activities – dated from 2003 to 2013 – were leaked by Edward Snowden.

The telecommunications giant reportedly provided extensive assistance to the NSA in carrying out a secret court order allowing wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations Headquarters.

AT&T demonstrated “extreme willingness” to participate in this surveillance. The company reportedly installed equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs, which far exceeds those installed by Verizon Communications Inc. Its engineers were also among the first to use newly invented NSA surveillance technologies.

One NSA document described its links with AT&T as, “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.” Another document stated AT&T’s “corporate relationships provide unique accesses to other telecoms and I.S.P.s,” or Internet service providers.

The NSA’s partnership with AT&T has been extremely important, as the United Nations is an AT&T customer. This enabled the agency to conduct surveillance of international and foreign-to-foreign Internet communications that passed through network hubs in the United States, while operating under various legal rules.

When asked for a comment, AT&T spokesman Brad Burns told Reuters: “We do not voluntarily provide information to any investigating authorities other than if a person’s life is in danger and time is of the essence. For example, in a kidnapping situation we could provide help tracking down called numbers to assist law enforcement.”


Sprint Introduces Free Calls, Texts to Canada and Mexico

Sprint logoAccording to a recent announcement, Sprint is updating its Open World international calling program to include free mobile calls and texts to and from Canada and Mexico. This will be included in monthly customer cellular plans without additional roaming charges. Customers will also receive up to 1GB of free 3G data when traveling in Canada and Mexico.

Sprint’s Open World program already offers roaming in 34 countries, as well as five cents per minute domestic calls to Latin America, the Dominican Republic and over 180 other countries when added to a domestic service plan. Customers also get 1GB of free data when traveling to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay. Sprint anticipates additional countries in South America will be added in the future.

Outside of Latin America, Open World participants pay 20 cents per minute for voice calls, and texts are free. Use of 3G data is billed at $30 per GB.

“We’re opening up the world and breaking down borders so more Sprint customers can stay in touch with the people who are important to them,” said CEO Marcelo Claure in a statement. “Sprint is making it easier for our customers to connect without roaming charges or excessive fees for calls or texts.”

According to T-Mobile – who have also added free calls and texts to Canada and Mexico under their “Mobile without Borders” program – 35 percent of all international calls and 55 percent of all international travel from the United States involved Canada and Mexico. In 2014, this led to $10 billion in global roaming charges.

Microsoft Launches Skype for Business Preview

Skype-for-Business-logo-FIMicrosoft has released a preview of the new Skype for Business app on iOS and Android, following the release of Skype’s initial app in April. This version of the popular video-calling app includes a new dashboard for easy navigation of contacts, calls and meetings.

A new search bar included in the app lets users search their Global Address List by first name, last name, email alias or phone number. A panel displays upcoming appointments and allows future meetings to be saved on a calendar. There is even a Quick Join icon which allows users to immediately join a meeting.

Skype has rebuilt the In-Call and In-Meeting experience, making it easier to use and navigate. The updates include larger buttons to mute, add participants and manage calls.

“We’ve seen great momentum in the first few months since the arrival of Skype for Business” said Jack Goralnick, principal group program manager for Skype for Business, in a blog post.

Although Skype for Business is still in the preview phase, the update will be available later this year. It works for anyone using Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business 2015 or Skype Business Online.

Bell Launches Fibre-Based Broadband Service

bell Bell Canada recently announced the first-phase launch of its 1Gbps-capable direct fibre-based broadband service called Gigabit Fibe. The service is now available across 1.3 million homes in Ontario and Quebec, and will enable access speed tiers of 15Mbps, 25Mbps, 50Mbps, 150Mbps, 300Mbps and 940Mbps.

In a press release, Bell’s CTO Stephen Howe announced Gigabit Fibe will be made available to a further 650,000 residences in Atlantic Canada by September, and 250,000 more in Ontario and Quebec throughout the year. Bell hopes to cover 2.2 million homes by 2016.

Customers in Ontario and Quebec who subscribe to a multi-service bundle can upgrade to Gigabit Fibe speeds for an additional $10 per month.

In Ontario, Gigabit Fibe is available in parts of Brampton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, Milton, Ottawa and Peterborough, as well as the Regent Park, Distillery District, Harbourfront and Willowdale neighbourhoods of Toronto.

Quebec City is the first city to be fully covered by fibre, but other locations in the province include Beloeil, Blainville, Chambly, Chateauguay, Gatineau, Joliette, La Prairie, Laval, Levis, Magog, Repentigny, Saint-Constant, Saint-Eustache, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Saint-Jerome, Saint-Luc, Sherbrooke, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Sorel-Tracy, Terrebonne and Vaudreuil-Dorion, along with more than 85,000 homes in Montreal.

AT&T Offers $500 Credit to DirectTV Customers

att logoAT&T has announced a limited time offer that will allow DirectTV customers to save $500 on their wireless bills when switching to AT&T.

This deal makes use of AT&T’s $49 billion buyout of DirectTV. Since DirectTV is now under its umbrella, AT&T is able to offer pay-TV service subscribers up to a $500 credit per line if they switch wireless service. Families of four, therefore, could be eligible for $2000 in credits.

AT&T will issue $300 in credits to the account holder for each line ported over to the company’s Next program. Additionally, AT&T will offer up to $200 if customers trade in their handsets, provided they are in “good working” order.

“This is a unique offer and unlike anything we’ve ever done – all to celebrate DirecTV now being part of the AT&T family,” says David Christopher, chief marketing officer for AT&T Mobility. “This is another way we’re making it better when you choose TV and wireless from AT&T.”

If customers combine their wireless and U-Verse bills, AT&T will also provide a $10 monthly bill credit, for a total of $120 off annually.

This offer is only available to customers in the continental United States and ends October 4.

Verizon Gets Rid of Contracts and Simplifies Plans

verizon logoVerizon recently announced it will be doing away with traditional phone plans and ditching contracts in favor of four simplified data plans ranging from 1GB to 12GB.

These new phone plans represent a shift away from the way Verizon has traditionally operated, as they will require users to pay for their smartphones in monthly installments or buy them outright from the beginning. Instead of locking users into contracts by offering subsidies on their handsets, this new trend set by T-Mobile two years ago offers lower service fees in exchange for users purchasing their devices themselves.

Verizon’s four new data plans will see the end of single lines and family plans. Instead, users will have a choice of the following amounts of data:

  • Small – 1GB of data for $30 per month
  • Medium – 3GB of data for $45 per month
  • Large – 6GB of data for $60 per month
  • X-Large –12GB of data for $80 per month

Since users will no longer be locked into specific plans, they will be able to modify their data plans on a monthly basis to suit their needs. This data can also be shared between different devices and accounts.

Some additional monthly fees will also be applied. An “access fee” will cost $20 per month for smartphones, $10 per month for a tablet and $5 per month for a connected device like a smartwatch.

“Choosing a wireless plan is now easier than ever. Customers said they don’t want to have to do a lot of math to figure out their best options, and we heard them,” said vice president of consumer pricing Rob Miller, in a statement. “A plan with small, medium, large and x-large choices makes sense for the way people actually use their wireless service.”

Only offering four main plans could prove problematic for heavy data users, and could lead to significant charges for exceeding the monthly 12GB cap. To remedy this situation, Verizon will offer additional large data plans in-store.

Samsung to Update Android Security Monthly

Samsung-BIG-LogoSamsung recently announced its new security update process for Android that will provide up-to-date protection from mobile security vulnerabilities. The company is promising regular over-the-air security patches “about once per month.”

In their announcement, the world’s largest smartphone maker made mention of Stagefright, an Android vulnerability revealed last week that affected approximately 95 percent of devices running Google’s operating system. The hole in security had the potential to allow a hacker to remotely access a user’s Android smartphone using only their telephone number.

Samsung stated they worked with carriers to provide security patches to Galaxy devices affected by Stagefright. The South Korean company is addressing the importance of quickly remedying major vulnerabilities and, therefore, is turning this process into a “timely security update practice.”

“With the recent security issues, we have been rethinking the approach to getting security updates to our devices in a timely manner,” said Dong Jin Koh, executive vice president and head of Samsung Mobile R&D. “Because bugs in software are constantly exploited in new ways, developing a fast response process to deliver security patches to our devices is critical in keeping our customers protected. We believe that this new process will vastly improve the security and best mobile experience possible of our devices.”

While Samsung has yet to share a date for these updates to begin, they are currently in talks with carriers and partners, and expect to release timelines for specific models in the near future.

Message Pages via Facebook Ads

facebook_2015_logo_detailA new “Send Message” button attached to the bottom right corner of Facebook ads allows users start a conversation with business pages. Now, if an ad pops up in your News Feed that catches your attention there is a quicker, easier way to act.

“Over a billion people visit Pages every month looking for more information from businesses,” Facebook posted on its blog, stating users will now have “a personal way to connect with businesses directly from ads.”

After a user sends a message to the business, the page administrators will receive the message along with an attachment displaying the advert that prompted the exchange. This will help page admins respond appropriately.

In another update, page admins can also respond to users via private message after a comment is left on the page. Previously, they could only reply back using comments. For users who do not want to communicate through this manner, Facebook has added the option of blocking certain pages.

Advertisers interested in taking advantage of this feature can create a new local awareness ad and select “Send Message” in the “Call to Action” field. Responsiveness to this feature will be tracked and highlighted, so admins can see their response rates and times. Pages that meet the 90 percent response rate and less-than-five-minute response time will earn a green “Very responsive to messages” badge.

Apple Not Planning to Create Wireless Network

apple logoThis week Apple shut down rumors it was planning to create its own virtual network service to provide mobile communications. It claims, as reported by Reuters, that it has never been part of the company’s plan to offer mobile communications.

Rumors began after industry-wide reports claimed Apple was privately testing a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service. This led to the suggestion that Apple was in talks with telecom companies to launch its cellular service throughout the United States and Europe.

“We have not discussed nor do we have any plans to launch an MVNO,” said an Apple spokesperson in a statement.

An MVNO pays a cellular carrier for access to its networks, and then packages and resells the services. American examples of this practice include TracFone and Cricket Wireless. If Apple was planning on creating an MVNO, customers would be able to purchase cellular service directly from Apple in addition to devices.

Apple’s history suggests launching an MVNO is not as unlikely as it would have the public believe. In 2006, before the release of the iPhone, Apple filed a patent for an MVNO offering. The patent was extended in 2011, giving it the capability to work with additional carriers.

Comcast Speeds Up Discounted Internet Services

comcast1Philadelphia-based telecom giant Comcast is working on speeding up and expanding its discounted Internet services designed to help get low-income users online.

The program, called Internet Essentials, was created four years ago as part of the conditions for government approval on its purchase of NBCUniversal. The service costs $10 per month, a mere quarter of the promotional price for Comcast’s slightly faster Internet package.

Internet Essentials, while designed with good intentions, has been criticized as being too slow with limited reach. As a result, Comcast has decided to upgrade speeds to 10 megabits per second – double its original speed – which will allow for basic video streaming.

“The increasing of the speed is a step in the right direction,” said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, a Latino advocacy group that fought the failed Comcast-Time Warner merger. “The real test will be in assuring that actual families will benefit from this.”

The Internet Essentials program is currently limited to families whose children would qualify for the government’s discounted school lunch program. However, Comcast is now also testing a program for low-income seniors.

Last year, the non-profit California Emerging Technology fund said that signing up for Internet Essentials was a “long and cumbersome” process that can take up to three months. Comcast said it will be increasing the number of schools whose families are eligible for faster approval, and approved families will be sent a self-installation kit in three to five days.

Comcast recently said more than 500,000 households have become Internet Essentials customers. This means about 20 percent of the total number of eligible households have signed up for the program.