Tag Archives: t-mobile

The biggest tech turkeys of 2015

The year’s most notable embarrassments in technology run the gamut from the industry’s inability to secure our personal data to the blunders of Airbnb, Twitter and Tinder.

Thanksgiving is almost here, but a look at this year’s list of tech turkeys may stir up memories of Halloween.

It’s scary just how vulnerable we are.

In 2015, hackers went to town with seemingly nonstop breaches. Anthem, the big health insurer, fell victim to the theft of personal information of 80 million customers and employees. That’s one out of every four Americans. Meanwhile, the identities of 30 million would-be adulterers were revealed after hackers got into Ashley Madison, the cheat-on-your-spouse website.

Companies also had a frightening habit of tripping over themselves. Airbnb insulted its hometown of San Franciscowith a billboard campaign that appeared to gripe about paying the taxes it owed for short-term rentals in the city. Sean Rad, CEO of dating-app maker Tinder, meanwhile, demonstrated surprisingly poor knowledge of the English language.

Volkswagen gets a special mention for gaming fuel-emission tests via the software in its cars. And BlackBerry, long proud of going its own way, finds itself pinning its comeback hopes on a phone that leans heavily on software from another company, Alphabet’s Google.

Lastly, all of Silicon Valley gets a turkey this year because the tech industry still can’t figure out how to hire, retain and promote more women and minorities.

Since innovation apparently can mean figuring out new ways to screw up, we’ve rounded up a supersized 17 examples of the most cringe-inducing tech turkeys for your holiday entertainment.

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Is T-Mobile’s unlimited video streaming actually good for consumers?

Consumer advocates warn that while Binge On offers the short-term benefit of letting you gorge on the go, it could hurt innovation in the long run.

T-Mobile’s new offer of unlimited video streaming could be a great deal for Netflix and HBO Go fanatics. It may also set a bad precedent.

The nation’s third-largest wireless carrier on Tuesday took the wraps off Binge On, a program that lets some customers stream an unlimited amount of video from certain services to their smartphones without busting their monthly data caps. The program, which is similar to T-Mobile’s Music Freedom service, launches Sunday with access to video from 24 popular sources, including Netflix, Hulu and ESPN.

The Bellevue, Washington, company is billing Binge On as a win for consumers. But it also raises the question of whether this sets up wireless service providers as app gatekeepers, which could in the long run inhibit the creation of new services and limit consumer choices.

“In the short term, it might be benefiting some consumers,” said Matt Wood, policy director at the consumer advocacy group Free Press. “But the fact that they’re willing to do this at all calls into question why there’s a data cap if T-Mobile can give exemptions to whole categories of applications.”

It’s the control over which applications are exempt from data caps and which are not that troubles Wood and other critics, many of whom question whether the practice also violates the Federal Communication Commission’s Net neutrality rules. These rules, adopted in February, are based on the principle that traffic on the Internet should be treated equally and that Internet service providers should have no say in which services and applications consumers use.

T-Mobile’s new offer is an example of a practice known as “zero rating,” which allows Internet service providers, such as wireless companies, not to count data usage for certain applications against a customer’s monthly cap. The FCC has not taken a strong stand on this practice. Its Net neutrality rules deliberately don’t prohibit such deals, allowing instead the FCC to review complaints case by case.

“There are ways that zero rating can be done badly and ways it can be done well,” said Doug Brake, telecom policy analyst for the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank that has encouraged the FCC to remain open to alternative business models. “I think the way T-Mobile has structured this is smart.”

T-Mobile CEO John Legere described Binge On as “completely compliant” with Net neutrality rules. The company will allow any legal streaming service to join the program, Legere said in an interview, as long as these services meet its technical standards.

“The same people that raise that issue think that breathing the air is a violation of Net neutrality,” Legere quipped.

One of his key arguments is that neither the consumer nor the services are paying to be part of Binge On. Consumers can also turn the feature off.

“How can consumer choice be bigger than yes or no?” he said.

The T-Mobile service works by using proprietary technology to downgrade the resolution of the streaming service to “DVD quality,” less than one would expect on a large-screen TV. Industry watchers generally agree that customers viewing video on smartphones won’t notice a difference in resolution because the screens are so small.

Critics say the fact that streaming companies need to adapt their service or seek permission from T-Mobile to be included in its program is itself a barrier to competition and ultimately will lead to fewer choices for consumers.

“One of the key principles of the Internet is that it offers innovation without permission,” said Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford University. This means developers can create applications and those applications just work, but T-Mobile’s program interferes with that principle because new entrants must meet the company’s technical requirements, she said.

“The program has the effect of making certain video apps more attractive than others,” she said.

Legere said these fears are overblown, but T-Mobile has not released details of how its technology works or what requirements need to be met.

“You know who I think can meet the technical requirements? Anyone who wants to,” Legere said. “If it’s proven not to be [easy], we’d adapt.”

Still, Wood questioned why T-Mobile is singling out streaming video rather than including other data-intensive services like online video games. In other words, why does T-Mobile need to offer unlimited data for particular applications when it already offers a data plan that provides unlimited access to all applications? (T-Mobile increased the cost of its unlimited data plan by $15 a month on the day it announced Binge On.)

“What is the point of a cap if certain uses are exempt?” Wood said. “We don’t see the rationale for a cap if you magically lift it depending on what kind of service you’re using.”

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T-Mobile will let you stream video without eating up your data

“Binge On,” which incorporates services like Netflix, WatchESPN and even Verizon’s Go90, is the company’s latest move designed to shake up the industry.

T-Mobile customers will get a chance to clear through their backlog of “Scandal” or “Veep” on their smartphone.

The company’s new “Binge On” program, unveiled Tuesday, will let you stream videos from Netflix, HBO Go and more than 20 other services. T-Mobile will work to add more streaming services over time.

The video is optimized at a lower quality so it won’t use unnecessary data, CEO John Legere said here Tuesday, at the company’s Uncarrier X event. He added that the service is a free addition for T-Mobile customers on the higher-end 3GB data tier. Customers on the 1GB plan won’t get unlimited video viewing, but they’ll get access to the optimized stream, which should give them three times as many videos as normal. Binge On goes into effect Sunday.

This latest of T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier” moves, which are designed to shake up the industry, eliminates one of the most pressing issues for customers with a limited allocation of data. The biggest culprit for data usage is video, the streaming of which is projected to rise 400 percent by 2020. An hour of video a day — an episode of “Game of Thrones,” say — would bring your monthly total to 14 gigabytes of data, way past the standard plan of 5GB a month, according to T-Mobile’s own site.

“Embracing free video is the riskiest Uncarrier move T-Mobile has launched yet, but it’s also potentially the most disruptive,” Jan Dawson, analyst for Jackdaw Research, said in a blog post.

The announcement comes as services such as Netflix and YouTube gobble up more data and carriers clamp down on usage. Verizon and AT&T no longer offer unlimited data plans, and T-Mobile and Sprint are also slowing down their heaviest users.

The program is possible because under Binge On, T-Mobile customers won’t get the high-quality stream that would appear on a big-screen television. The optimized stream delivers video at a resolution of 480 pixels, lower quality than high definition. The quality is comparable to DVD, Legere said. “Just try it,” he added.

The technology that lets T-Mobile optimize its video, which can identify that the data is video and treat it accordingly, is proprietary to the company, Legere said.

One notable exception to the announced services is YouTube. Legere said Google’s video service didn’t meet the technical qualifications for the optimized stream in time but that he’d be happy to add it when possible. Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said the process for meeting the technical requirements is relatively simple.

T-Mobile has been able to drum up a wave of excitement for its services in other ways beyond simply cutting prices. Past Uncarrier moves have included the elimination of wireless service contracts, free international text messages and data, and access to streaming music that doesn’t eat into a subscriber’s data plan.

Legere calls Binge On an extension of the music plan, but with video. In addition to key services like Netflix, he noted that he will allow rival AT&T’s DirecTV and Verizon’s Go90 video services to stream for free “just because we can.”

The Uncarrier campaign has been an unqualified success, with T-Mobile consistently signing up more customers than its rivals. In the third quarter, the carrier added 843,000 customers who pay at the end of the month, more than all its rivals combined.

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T-Mobile customer data stolen from Experian is already for sale on the dark web

The consequences of 15m customer records for sale could be far larger than just financial theft – watch out for your health data

It’s easy to dismiss the recent theft of 15m T-Mobile customers’ personal data from credit checking organisation Experian’s servers, and turn away. After all, large scale data theft is becoming almost commonplace now. Just recently, the US government’s personnel office was hacked, leaking the highly personal information of 22m government employees.

But records stolen from the servers of credit bureau Experian are already showing up for sale on the dark web, alleges Irish security startup Trustev.

“This morning they saw listings go up for “FULLZ” data that matches the same types of information that just came out of the Experian hack,” the security firm’s spokesperson wrote in an email to tech website VentureBeat.

“Fullz” is a slang term used by hackers and data brokers to refer to a full package of an individual’s personal identifying information. Such data sets typically include an individual’s name, social security number, birth date, account numbers, and other data.

This matches exactly the data stolen from Experian last week: for each of 15m people who applied for a T-Mobile contract between September 1, 2013 and September 16, 2015, data accessed by hackers included their name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, identification number (typically a driver’s license, military ID, or passport number) and additional information used in T- Mobile’s own credit assessment (the nature of this information remains undisclosed).

Experian said no payment card or banking information was obtained – but that’s not necessarily the most sensitive data that you own.

Experian is more than just a credit-checking agency, it is also one of the world’s largest data brokers – companies that track, collect and compile realms of personalised data about individuals around the world and package it as a saleable product for the highest bidder.

Customers for this sort of anonymised but ultra-accurate personal data package range from retailers to employers, hospitals, universities and insurance companies.

The danger here is not just identity theft (although that will be straightforward with the type and sensitivity of the data stolen from Experian) – there is also the possibility that this could be cross-referenced with more sensitive datasets like health records or genetic information, which usually don’t have names attached to them.

In the UK, for instance the NHS has a “pseudonymised” set of records called the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) database that it shares with commercial organisations, including Experian. This contains every instance of a patient in England using a hospital-based service since 2001, covering 47 million patients, identified by date of birth, gender and address – but not name.

If a hacker can gain access to these health records, or any anonymised health datasets made available to commercial and academic research organisations, they can easily cross-reference the date of birth or address records from, say, the T-Mobile dataset (which does contain names), and find a person’s entire health record within minutes.

The result of having your health or genetic data stolen has far more wide-ranging consequences than your financial identity, starting with simple blackmail. And it is also irreversible and permanent, unlike your financial data.

The theft of T-Mobile’s customer details is not the first time hackers have hit a data broker – after all they are centralized founts of personal information, gathered from diverse sources ranging from credit card purchases to public voter registration records. Experian itself was hacked by a Vietnamese identity theft service, which stole more than 200 million customers’ data just last year. And the year before, hackers hit credit agency Equifax and tried to sell the credit history data of celebrities, politicians, and even first lady Michelle Obama.

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T-Mobile will now punish customers who abuse unlimited data

T-Mobile is today issuing a warning to customers: stop taking unlimited data to ridiculous extremes. In a post on T-Mobile’s blog, CEO John Legere has publicly called out “a fraction of a percent” of users who’ve been sucking down hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes of data each month.

But these customers aren’t using all of that data on their smartphones alone; instead, T-Mobile claims they’ve come up with ways to conceal mobile tethering and hotspot usage. Tethering allows customers to get other devices (PCs, tablets, etc.) online using their smartphone data plan.


With its $80 unlimited data plan, T-Mobile already offers a generous 7GB limit for tethering purposes. Once customers exceed that, their hotspot speeds are slowed down considerably. But there are many apps — particularly on Android — that promise to hide tethering activity from wireless carriers, making it hard to distinguish what data is actually being used for.

By going this route, T-Mobile’s hungriest data users can blow past the 7GB ceiling and keep tethering at full speed. Legere claims some people are doing exactly that, and he’s not happy about it. In the most extreme cases, these customers are eating up as much as 2TB (yes, terabytes) per month, so they’re using T-Mobile’s network for way more than checking Facebook or streaming Spotify. “If their activities are left unchecked their actions could eventually have a negative effect on the experience of honest T-Mobile customers,” he said. “Not on my watch.”

“We are going after a small group of users who are stealing data so blatantly and extremely that it is ridiculous,” Legere wrote. T-Mobile says it has developed technology that can now detect when customers who’ve reached the tethering limit are “stealing” extra gigabytes from their phone’s plan. Starting today, those users will receive a warning from the Uncarrier imploring them to stop immediately. Failing to heed that warning will result in customers being permanently kicked off of T-Mobile’s unlimited data planand moved onto the company’s entry-level (and tiered) package.

The full details can be found in a FAQ here. If you need more than 7GB of data for tethering, T-Mobile’s message is pretty clear: call your local internet company. “Broadband services would be a better solution for customers who need more high-speed for tethered devices.” John Legere is no longer willing to let you download torrents or power your home Wi-Fi with his network — however “Data Strong” it may be.

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So did T-Mobile really surpass Sprint as the No. 3 wireless carrier?

The answer is a little complicated, but T-Mobile will almost certainly officially eclipse Sprint in the current quarter.

T-Mobile is making the case that it’s already the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier by subscriber base.

T-Mobile John Legere makes his case that it is the No. 3 wireless carrier in the nation.Josh Miller/CNET

The crux of T-Mobile’s argument lies in a line in Sprint’s financial filings with the Securities Exchange Commission that counts 1.7 million customers through resale partners that have been inactive “for at least six months.” T-Mobile CEO John Legere believes those customers shouldn’t be counted, and suggested Sprint meddled with the numbers to put it on top.

Sprint, however, maintained that it has used this accounting method for years, following a policy to not remove a customer from its records until its resale partner officially notifies the company. The company declined to comment further on T-Mobile’s comments.

Sprint is hanging on to its No. 3 position, as long as you follow its accounting rules.Troy Thomas/Sprint

That there’s even a debate shows how statistically close the two carriers were to end the year, a testament to the progress T-Mobile has made over the past two years and, conversely, the struggles that Sprint has dealt with. Sprint officially ended the quarter with 55.9 million customers, while T-Mobile ended up with a little more than 55 million.

Legere had previously projected passing Sprint by the end of the year. In his own way, he’s keeping to his word.

There’s little at stake in this debate beyond bragging rights, and it may end up being a footnote in the ongoing wireless wars. Given the different trajectories at T-Mobile and Sprint, T-Mobile will almost certainly surpass its rival.

“We expect to surpass them, shenanigans included,” said Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert.

T-Mobile earlier Thursday reported fourth-quarter results, which included a surprisingly strong profit and the addition of 2.3 million customers and 1.3 million customers who pay at the end of the month, also known as post-paid customers.

Sprint added 900,000 net new customers, but only 30,000 post-paid subscribers, seen in the industry as the most valuable segment of the market.

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Super Bowl blitz: T-Mobile, Sprint aim to hit hard with buzzy ads

There’s no better way to make a good impression than with a memorable Super Bowl ad, and the two carriers figure to make headway against bigger spenders Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

It may be the big game, but it’s the smaller wireless carriers that are hoping to make a splash with Super Bowl commercials.

For a second year in a row, Sprint and T-Mobile have commercials airing Sunday during the game. T-Mobile has already released its two spots, one featuring a self-parodying Kim Kardashian bemoaning all of the unused data that gets taken back by carriers, and one with comedians Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler one-upping each other over where they’re able to get reception through T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling service.

Sprint has only a teaser for its spot up on YouTube, hinting at an “apology” that it will make to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Its commercial will air in the game’s third quarter.

A steady drumbeat of wireless commercials air on a daily basis, but Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers, respectively, spend significantly less than their larger rivals on advertising. With the Super Bowl, though, the two companies get a chance to maximize their audience and get their message out.

“The Super Bowl has obviously one of the biggest audiences out there for advertising and is a great way for both the smaller operators to make a big splash,” said Jan Dawson, an analyst for Jackdaw Research.

Verizon, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, won’t have any ads during the game, but as the official sponsor of the National Football League, its presence will still be visible. No. 2 AT&T won’t have any ads during the Super Bowl either.

For Sprint and T-Mobile, these ads represent a significant investment, with television network NBC charging companies up to $4.5 million for a 30-second spot. But there’s no better place to guarantee eyeballs: Last year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched television program in US history, with 111.5 million viewers.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to generate a lot of awareness quickly,” said Sprint Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Hallock.

T-Mobile has also commissioned a separate commercial starring comedian Rob Riggle specifically for the online broadcast of the Super Bowl. For the first time, the Super Bowl will be made available online to anyone, streamed by NBC alongside its television broadcast.

“We get outgunned in spending by the duopoly,” said T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert. “We have to enter our media events with a lot more creativity, speed and nimbleness.”

A socially savvy approach

T-Mobile’s Kardashian ad is already drumming up early buzz, thanks in part to her own massive social following. Kardashian has 28.3 million followers on Twitter and 25.3 million followers on Instagram.

She plays up that fact by lamenting that the unused data the carrier takes away could have been utilized to see more selfies of her “tennis backhand” and “outfits.” The commercial will have a social media “call to action” allowing people to tweet at her during the game, Sievert said.

Love or hate her, she’s been able to generate a lot of attention for her commercial and T-Mobile. The YouTube video has already been viewed 10 million times.

“If you look at the Kim Kardashian ad, she is a social-media powerhouse,” Sievert said.

T-Mobile follows up another buzzworthy set of commercials from last year, featuring a self-deprecating Tim Tebow trying out different careers in the wake of his mixed success as a quarterback in the NFL. Sievert joked that Tebow had a better Super Bowl than Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who was on the losing end of a 43-8 rout at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.

“T-Mobile in particular has been really smart about its marketing over the past couple of years, and I’d argue it’s really been able to overcome a lot of the disadvantage in total ad-spend versus AT&T and Verizon,” Dawson said.

Looking to bounce back

Sprint, meanwhile, will need to step up its game from last year’s forgettable spot touting its Framily friends and family program. The offer, which saw its discounts increase with each additional member, was scrapped over the summer when new CEO Marcelo Claure took over.

The company has been more active and has been vocal about its promotion to halve the phone bills of AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers who switch. One ad in the fall called the two larger carriers “sheep,” and Sprint now apparently wants to made amends with its rivals. While the company hasn’t shown off the commercial, the teaser suggests Sprint has more shenanigans in store.

“We’re trying to keep it light,” Hallock said. “It’s an apology of sorts we’ll provide to our competition.”

Sprint has shown a flicker of life. Last month, the company said it added nearly 1 million customers in the critical fourth quarter, reversing several quarters of customer defections. Sprint has been pinned down by the perception that its network still lags far behind those of its competitors.

Though Sprint’s network has improved over the last year, Hallock acknowledged the negative perception. He’s hoping the promotions will get customers to choose Sprint, and that word of mouth will help rejuvenate its reputation.

Beyond the lower rates, Sprint said that for customers looking to leave AT&T, it would match the data rollover plan offered by that company. The program doesn’t apply to defecting T-Mobile customers, who are eligible for a different kind of rollover plan.

Sprint will have to go the extra mile to surprise, given the buzz that other ads have already generated.

“There’s a risk that it’s just seen as a me-too participant in the Super Bowl,” Dawson said, “unless it can really do something unexpected.”

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AT&T brings back the rollover — but this time, it’s all about data

First came the news of T-Mobile’s Data Stash program. Now AT&T has an offer to let customers carry unused data from one month to the next.

Wireless carriers in the US are on a roll — or more precisely, a rollover.

In December, T-Mobile unveiled a program called Data Stash that lets customers carry unused mobile data from one month into the following months.

And now AT&T has announced that it will offer rollover data to its own Mobile Share Value customers, the newcomers as well as the existing ones.

AT&T’s program, announced Wednesday, allows for any unused data a customer has paid for during the month to roll over to the next, at no additional charge. For instance, if a family pays for four lines and 15GB of monthly data and then in a given month uses 12GB, the 3GB of unused data will be added to the next month’s services — in effect, giving that family 18GB of data for the price of 15GB. All of the data is shareable, meaning all lines can use the additional storage.

But the deal, which goes into effect January 25, has its limits. According to AT&T, “unused data expires after one billing period or with any plan change.” In other words, if the unused data is still not used during the rollover month, it goes away with the next billing period.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile’s rollover program also goes into effect this month. The Data Stash offering allows any customer with plans featuring 3GB of monthly data or more to roll over unused data to the next month. That rolled-over data gets stored for the following 12 months. In addition, new and existing customers get an initial 10GB of free data for the “stash” to kick things off, and that bonus data lasts through 2015.

“If you buy data, it’s yours,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said on a webcast after the announcement last month.

With the dueling rollover programs, AT&T and T-Mobile are stoking an already hot trend among carriers looking for new ways to entice subscribers. That’s been good news for deal-savvy consumers, but not so good for the carriers’ finances.

AT&T’s new offer should “increase pressure on Verizon to offer a similar deal,” Jackdaw Research chief analyst Jan Dawson wrote in a statement Wednesday morning, “though Verizon has resisted recent moves to a greater extent than competitors, preferring to target discounts at individual users it considers at risk rather than sweeping discounts or widely-available offers.”

The rollover concept has deep roots at AT&T, which in an earlier incarnation let customers take unused calling minutes from one month and add them atop their next month’s plan to limit the chance of incurring overage charges. AT&T eventually abandoned the feature when the industry turned to unlimited talk time as data became the new expensive component in wireless plans.

In fact, AT&T owns the rights to use the term “rollover.”

On Wednesday, Legere took to Twitter to taunt AT&T, saying that it’s “only day 7 of 2015 and my predictions are coming true.” The outspoken CEO previously said that T-Mobile was breaking ground by offering its Data Stash and that it expected competitors to follow its lead.

However, an AT&T spokesman said in an emailed statement that his company “always planned to announce this at the Consumer Electronics Show to start the year with a great new benefit for our customers.”

That was corroborated by analyst Dawson, who also noted some key differences between the offerings from the two carriers:

AT&T’s version differs significantly from T-Mobile’s version. It’s less generous, with a single month of rollover rather than twelve months, but that should make it both easier for customers to keep track of and more manageable from a network load perspective. T-Mobile’s plan risks creating a situation similar to airline miles, where customers have a hard time keeping track of which miles (or Gigabytes of data) expire when.

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