This week in wireless

There is never a dull moment when it comes to the ever-changing world of wireless. Here’s a quick Friday digest of some of the stories making headlines this week.

Verizon

Plenty of news on the Verizon front this week. First, the carrier announced a new prepaid feature phone plan. For $35 a month, you get 500 anytime minutes, unlimited text and unlimited Internet. Any overages will set you back 25 cents per minute. The plan works with feature phones only – smartphone users are out of luck – and Verizon is offering four different discounted devices: LG Cosmos 2, Samsung Gusto 2, Samsung Intensity and LG Extravert. Customers can also reactivate their old feature phones for use with the plan. Beware! Verizon mobile-to-mobile calling is not included, so that activity will eat up some of your minutes.

In addition to the feature phone plan, Verizon also announced changes to its device upgrade schedule. Instead of being eligible for upgrade after 20 months, you’ll have to wait until the end of your 24-month contract. It will impact those with contracts that expire in January 2014 or later. Verizon is selling it as an easy way to help subscribers plan for their upgrades but it’s unlikely to scratch the itch for those longing for the newest technology. Then again, if you want it that badly you could always opt to pay full market price.

The upgrade changes also impact multi-line accounts, which can still share upgrades within the same device category. However, there will no longer be an option to transfer a hotspot or tablet upgrade. Anyone who has been holding onto New Every Two credits will also want to use them – they expire forever on Monday, April 15.

T-Mobile

The Apple revolution has finally hit T-Mobile, which began selling the coveted iPhone5 today. Its flagship store in midtown Manhattan attracted a line-up of about a dozen people eager to get their hands on the device despite it being several months old. You can scoop up an iPhone5 for just $99 under T-Mobile’s new “Uncarrier” plans, paying off the remainder of the device with $20 monthly payments over a two-year period, or pay it off early if you prefer. There’s also the option of trading in an old iPhone 4 or 4S to receive credit toward the new device. Overall, it’s good news. Now that T-Mobile has a slice of Apple’s pie, it will likely expand its subscriber base and it won’t be left out of future device launches. In turn, it may help with Apple’s quest for U.S. market dominance. And customers have the chance to buy an iPhone5 on the cheap.

BlackBerry

BlackBerry may have surprised critics by posting a fourth quarter profit, but that doesn’t mean the Canadian smartphone maker is out of the woods just yet. Every week seems to be a new battle, and this week the company is taking on Boston-based financial services firm Detwiler Fenton & Co. More specifically, BlackBerry is taking issue with the firm’s report that claims U.S. retailers are experiencing an increasing rate of return for Z10 handsets, in some cases with returns exceeding sales. The reason? Users claim the interface is unintuitive and difficult to use. The news proved devastating to BlackBerry stock, sending it plummeting 7.8 percent on Thursday, the biggest one-day drop in the previous eight weeks.

BlackBerry officials are calling the report bunk, asking both Canadian and American officials to review the report, calling it “a gross misreading of the data or a willful manipulation.” It claims sales are on track and return rates are not higher than those of other companies.

“We call upon the appropriate authorities in Canada and the United States to conduct an immediate investigation,” Chief Legal Officer Steve Zipperstein said in a statement. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the merits of the many competing products in the smartphone industry, but when false statements of material fact are deliberately purveyed for the purpose of influencing the markets a red line has been crossed.”

Another bummer this week – though slightly amusing – is a Raymond James study that found 71.4 percent of those surveyed would never purchase a BlackBerry. Compared to the 31.3 percent who would never purchase an Android, and 19.7 percent who would never purchase an iPhone, the number is pretty grim. Only 250 people were polled, so it isn’t the most reliable report. But it sure is interesting.

BlackBerry’s bright spot this week? An public affirmation from board member Prem Watsa – who owns 10 percent of the company – that he has no plans to pull out his money any time soon.

Global View

Analysys Mason forecasts that telecom revenue will increase 1.7 per cent annually through 2017. Though two-thirds of revenue current comes from North America, Europe and Asia – global revenue was $1.5 trillion in 2012 – it is expected that emerging markets will account for the biggest growth in coming years. Mobile will continue to grow and fixed connections will continue to decline. It’s possible that established markets will flat line, or even decrease. China, India and Brazil are expected to lead the way with the most substantial growth, also being pointed to in a recent International Data Corporation smartphone report.