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In late 2013 Motorola, then under the Google umbrella, unveiled plans
for a modular smartphone by the name of Ara. The idea is to allow users to buy a base platform for their smartphone, then buy, mix and match a variety of upgrades for the device they can switch in and out depending what they need. Want a bigger battery? You can include a less powerful camera or no camera at all to make room.
Thought impractical by many when announced, Google now says they're on the precipice of launching an Ara trial in Puerto Rico. Speaking at the second annual Project Ara developer's conference
, Google said it chose Puerto Rico because of its high mobile phone penetration rates (75% initial broadband access comes via phone).
The company is currently working with local Puerto Rican carrier Open Mobile and Claro, a subsidiary of América Móvil. Google says the company is worried about overwhelming potential owners with choices, so they want to test out a variety of different marketing messages. They also say they want a "flexible retail experience," and are planning to use a modular food truck to sell the devices.
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reports that Samsung recently approached Blackberry with a buy out offer that topped out at $7.5 billion. Executives from both companies met last week to discuss a potential transaction, though neither side is obviously commenting on the rumor.
As we've been noting
, Comcast is one of several cable operators that has been very quickly increasing monthly modem rental fees, something it's estimated brings Comcast around $300 million in additional revenue -- per quarter
. On the heels of Comcast recently bumping their modem rental fee from $8 to $10
, one Boston Comcast customer complained to the FCC.
Speaking at CES this week, Netflix has announced a new "Recommended TV" program the company says will "help consumers identify televisions built for a superior Internet TV experience." According to the company's press release
, TVs that feature the Netflix Recommended TV logo on it "will provide an excellent Netflix experience, based on criteria our members tell us matter most.’’" It's unclear from the press release if Netflix is just slapping a sticker on televisions made by companies that pay Netflix, or if there's an actual detailed criteria for inclusion in the program. The company says TVs by Sony Electronics, LG Electronics, Sharp Electronics, and VIZIO will be the first to don the new classification sometime this Spring.
Speaking at CES, Charter Communications this week unveiled a new cloud-based TV platform and set top box the company hopes will bring customers a more "state of the art" TV viewing experience. According to the company's press release
, Cisco's providing the cloud-based security suite, DRM, and downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) for the company's next-gen video platform.
Broadcom this week announced at CES that the company has announced their first "system on a chip" design based on the freshly-built DOCSIS 3.1 standard, paving the way for 1 Gbps cable service to the home. According to the company announcement
, these 1 Gbps offering should start arriving this year, though most deployments aren't expected to ramp up in scale until 2016.
Rather unsurprisingly, Roku has announced their support for 4K streaming via a number of solutions that should be unveiled this week at CES. According to a company announcement
(pdf), the company has prepared a Roku TV reference design for 4K smart TVs for license to TV OEM partners. Out of the gate the first two Roku 4K-supported TVs will be coming from the Haier and Best Buy Insignia brands, the latter arriving sometime in the Spring and the former arriving sometime later this year. There's no word yet on an official date for their set top devices getting 4K integration, but it's something the company acknowledges is in the works.
Back in October we noted that Marriott agreed to pay a $600,000 fine to the FCC
for blocking user access to their own tethered phones or mobile hotspots, instead forcing convention center attendees to use Marriott's pricey Wi-Fi. At the time we noted how this was a pretty clear example of Marriott simply using technology in an uncompetitive fashion, though in filings since Marriott has attempted to argue they were only looking out for the welfare and security of their customers.
CableLabs continues to push the DOCSIS 3.1 standard to completion, which means that significantly faster cable speeds are just over the horizon. According to a CableLabs announcement
, six unnamed hardware vendors have completed the first round of interoperability tests for new DOCSIS 3.1 products, gear that will someday be capable of offering 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream.
You might recall that back in February Blackberry CEO John Chen insisted he was "outraged
" that T-Mobile was running a promotion aimed at selling discounted iPhones to Blackberry users. A few months of subsequent snark resulted in Blackberry stating they wouldn't be renewing an expiring licensing arrangement with T-Mobile. Comments made by both T-Mobile and Blackberry
suggest that the companies are healing any rifts made by the verbal scuffle, even though it remains entirely unclear when exactly an actual deal could emerge:
Answering media questions after T-Mobile's Uncarrier 8.0 launch on Tuesday, Legere said that he's open to finding a way for T-Mobile customers to have BlackBerry phones, provided the handset maker cooperates. Chen then told CNet today at its BlackBerry Classic event that he was also open to it and should connect with Legere (although I imagine he'd like to do it in person and not over Twitter).
Chen's move was curious given that after the last few years, Blackberry still needs all the friends it can get.
HBO Go this week announced
that the streaming service has been made available to Amazon Fire TV owners today, with Fire Stick customers having access to the app sometime in the Spring. Of course if you head to activate your device
, you'll find that Comcast and Charter aren't supported.
At the beginning of the month, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai sent Netflix a curious letter
(pdf). In it, Pai politely accused Netflix of being a hypocrite on net neutrality, strongly hinting that because Netflix operates a free CDN (Open Connect, which ISPs can and have refused to use), they're violating net neutrality by advocating for "fast lanes." Both sides of the net neutrality debate have repeatedly used "fast lanes" as a sort of dirty word without functional context, and Pai's letter was no exception.
This week roughly sixty hardware vendors including Cisco, Intel, Pace, Sandvine and Broadcom joined the incumbent broadband providers in opposing tougher Title-II based net neutrality rules. In a letter sent to Congress and FCC Commissioners
(pdf), the companies bring out some familiar arguments against Title II -- namely that it will stall innovation and harm investment (though even ISPs themselves this week admitted that isn't the case
In fact, the vendors up the ante -- insisting that Title II will damage the entire economy:
While many experts have noted the damage Title II could do to network investment, the harm would cascade out far beyond the provision of broadband service because the Internet is now so entwined with our entire economy...Reversing course now by shifting to Title II means that instead of billions of broadband investment driving other sectors of the economy forward, any reduction in this spending will stifle growth across the entire economy.
Except in reality, plenty of folks (including Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper) have argued that Title II really will only impact ISPs if they engage in bad behavior
(like use the lack of competition to impose arbitrary tolls or prioritization), and other wise any additional regulatory burden would be light.
Of course should the AT&T, Comcast and Verizon's of the world not face meaningful net neutrality rules, one guess who gets paid to build the intelligent devices that will power these brave, new, neutrality-infringing efforts? In that case, why would gear makers want tougher net neutrality rules if it shoots revenue growth right in the foot?
The Pirate Bay website
was taken offline yesterday after a raid by Swedish police confiscated servers and site hardware from a Mountain-side data center in Nacka
(pdf). Two years ago the remaining, un-arrested Pirate Bay members proclaimed
that they'd moved the website entirely to the cloud, making it raid proof.
Comcast is facing a new class action over the company's push to turn customer routers into publicly available Xfinity hotspots. In June of last year Comcast announced
that the company was launching a new, Fon-like effort that involved new router firmware that turns your gateway into a publicly-accessible hotspot.
After recently taking a $170 million hit for poor sales of their Fire smartphone, Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices David Limp has acknowledged the company screwed up the pricing
of the device -- which initially cost $200 with a new two-year contract. Omitted from that admission is the fact that Amazon also made the device an AT&T exclusive, which only worked to compound lackluster sales.
While Amazon previously admitted their errors, this week the company made it clear that their experimentation with Fire phones is far from over. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos this week kind of backtracked on those admissions, indicating that the company is cooking up some additional Fire phone versions
Bezos said on Tuesday at Business Insider’s conference in New York that “it’s going to take several iterations” before he’ll be able to judge the Fire phone, the device that led to Amazon taking a $170 million write-down. "Ask me in some number of years,” he told interviewer Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, in which Bezos is an investor.
It's certainly possible Amazon could make headway in the smartphone market, but it would certainly be wise if for their next act they ditched the AT&T exclusive and offered a better spec'd phone with less of a heavy reliance on gimmick.
The International Telecom Union has put their final stamp of approval on the "G Fast" standard, which may usher the delivery of 1 Gbps speeds over older copper networks. Like many similar fiber to the node (FTTN) efforts before it, G Fast is heavily distance constrained. An ITU announcement
declares the standard "combines the best aspects of fibre and DSL" -- assuming you're within 400 meters of a distribution point. In short most users won't have the loop lengths to ever see anything close to 1 Gbps from this product, but like similar FTTN implementations it's cheaper than running fiber all the way to the home.
In June of last year Comcast announced
that the company was launching a new, Fon-like effort that involved new router firmware that turns your gateway into a publicly-accessible hotspot. More specifically, updated routers would now offer two signals: one being yours, and the other being a "xfinitywifi" SSID signal providing free Wi-Fi to other Comcast users in your general area.
Austin's not only getting Google Fiber, they're first in line to check out some of the updated second generation set top box hardware that Google has been cooking up for some time
. According to a product primer
(pdf) sent to me by Google, the company has consolidated their previous network and storage boxes into one device.
AT&T has had their wrist slapped by the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau for not being entirely honest when it comes to the availability of the company's 45 Mbps U-Verse tier. While AT&T started offering a 45 Mbps U-Verse tier last year, as we noted at the time it's not available to all U-Verse subscribers
, depending on your loop length, the availability of an extra copper pair, or the quality of local copper.
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