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AT&T and T-Mobile team up to fight scam robocalls

AT&T and T-Mobile team up to fight scam robocalls

August 14, 2019

Two major U.S. carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile, announced this morning a plan to team up to protect their respective customer bases from the scourge of scam robocalls. The two companies will today begin to roll out new cross-network call authentication technology based on the STIR/SHAKEN standards — a sort of universal caller ID system designed to stop illegal caller ID spoofing.

Robocalls have become a national epidemic. In 2018, U.S. mobile users received nearly 48 million robocalls — or more than 150 calls per adult, the carriers noted.

A huge part of the problem is that these calls now often come in with a spoofed phone number, making it hard for consumers to screen out unwanted calls on their own. That’s led to a rise in robocall blocking and screening apps. Even technology companies have gotten involved, with Google introducing a new AI call screener in Android and Apple rolling out Siri-powered spam call detection with iOS 13.

To help fight the call spoofing problem, the industry put together a set of standards called STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited / Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs), which effectively signs calls as “legitimate” as they travel through the interconnected phone networks.

However, the industry has been slow to roll out the system, which prompted the FCC to finally step in.

In November 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote to U.S. mobile operators, asking them to outline their plans around the implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN standards. The regulator also said that it would step in to mandate the implementation if the carriers didn’t meet an end-of-2019 deadline to get their call authentication systems in place.

Today’s news from AT&T and T-Mobile explains how the two will work together to authenticate calls across their networks. By implementing STIR/SHAKEN, calls will …

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Oregon joins lawsuit opposing T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Oregon joins lawsuit opposing T-Mobile/Sprint merger

August 13, 2019

Oregon this week became the 15th state (plus the District of Columbia) to sign onto a lawsuit seeking to stop a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. The suit, co-signed by 16 attorneys general, argues that a merger between the country’s third and fourth largest carriers would greatly reduce competition in the wireless industry.

“It’s important that Oregon join other states in opposing the Sprint -T-Mobile merger,” said Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. “If left unchallenged, the current plan will result in reduced access to affordable wireless service in Oregon — and higher prices. Neither is acceptable.”

Texas joined the suit earlier this month, marking one of only two Republican AGs who have signed onto the deal. Conservative voices have largely come out in favor of a merger, suggesting that by joining forces the new company (also named T-Mobile) would increase competition for AT&T and Verizon by getting a leg up in the race to implement 5G.

New York State AG Letitia James says the signee has added “momentum” to push against the merger, which was greenlit by the U.S. Department of Justice in late July.

“Oregon’s addition to our lawsuit keeps our momentum going, and ensures that there isn’t a single region of this country that doesn’t oppose this anticompetitive megamerger,” said James. “We welcome Attorney General Rosenblum to our 16-member coalition that now includes states representing almost half of the U.S. population. We remain committed to blocking the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint because it would bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation.”

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Texas joins growing list of AGs looking to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Texas joins growing list of AGs looking to block T-Mobile/Sprint merger

August 2, 2019

Late last week, the DOJ greenlit T-Mobile and Sprint’s $26 billion deal to become the nation’s No. 3 carrier. The deal isn’t officially official just yet, with some prominent opposition facing the merger. A growing list of attorneys general have sued to block the merger, and another big name just came on board.

With the addition of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the number moves to 15, including the District of Columbia. California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Virginia and Wisconsin filed the initial suit in June and were soon joined by Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada.

Notably, Paxton is one of only two Republicans on the list — probably not surprising, as many conservative lawmakers have suggested that a merger of the third and fourth largest carriers might actually promote competition. Trump-appointed DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim agreed with carrier suggestions that a merger would help a larger T-Mobile accelerate 5G growth.

Paxton disagreed with the sentiments.

“After careful evaluation of the proposed merger and the settlement, we do not anticipate that the proposed new entrant will replace the competitive role of Sprint anytime soon,” Paxton said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to preserve free market competition, which has proven to result in lower prices and better quality for consumers. The bargain struck by the U.S. Department of Justice is not in the best interest of working Texans, who need affordable mobile wireless telecommunication services that are fit to match the speed and technological innovation demands of Texas’ growing economy.”

T-Mobile has also come under scrutiny for intense lobbying, including $195,000 spent at Trump’s D.C. hotel since last April.

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Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo

Week in Review: Regulation boogaloo

July 28, 2019

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I talked about how services like Instagram had moved beyond letting their algorithms take over the curation process as they tested minimizing key user metrics such as “like” counts on the platform.


John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The big story

The big news stories this week intimately involved the government poking its head into the tech industry. What was clear between the two biggest stories, the DoJ approving the Sprint/T -Mobile merger and the FTC giving Facebook a $5 billion slap on the wrist, is that big tech has little to worry about its inertia being contained.

It seems the argument from Spring and T-Mobile that it was better to have three big telecom companies in the U.S. rather than two contenders and two pretenders, seems to have stuck. Similarly, Facebook seems to have done a worthy job of indicating that it will handle the complicated privacy stuff but that they’ll let the government orgs see what they’re up to.

Fundamentally, none of these orgs seem to want to harm the growth of these American tech companies and I have a tough time believing that perspective is going to magically get more toothy in some of these early antitrust investigations. The government might be making a more concerted effort to understand how these businesses are structured, but even focusing solely on something like the cloud businesses of Microsoft, Google and Amazon, I have little doubt that the government is going to spend an awfully long time in …

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T-Mobile and Sprint get DOJ approval for $26 billion merger deal

T-Mobile and Sprint get DOJ approval for $26 billion merger deal

July 26, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice this morning gave the green light to T-Mobile US and Sprint for their proposed $26 billion merger. The deal, which would combine the nation’s third and fourth largest carriers (by subscriber number) has been green lit on the condition that Sprint sell its prepaid assets (including Boost Mobile) to Dish Network.

As part of the deal, some nine million prepaid subscribers will move over to Dish, which will also have access to T-Mobile/Sprint’s network for a period of seven years.

The proposed merger has been under regulatory scrutiny for some time now, as the deal will leave three major wireless carriers accounting for more than 95% of U.S. mobile phone customers. Last month, a group of attorneys general led by New York and California sued to block the deal over concerns that limiting competition would ultimately drive up prices for consumers.

“The promises made by Dish and T-Mobile in this deal are the kinds of promises only robust competition can guarantee,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “We have serious concerns that cobbling together this new fourth mobile player, with the government picking winners and losers, will not address the merger’s harm to consumers, workers, and innovation.”

A spokesperson for California’s AG tells TechCrunch that the office is currently reviewing the settlement. As it stands, the lawsuit could still present a hurdle for the deal.

“The reported deal would eliminate Sprint, an established competitor in the wireless marketplace, and replace it with Dish, an unproven newcomer that has no experience in building its own wireless network, which it will need to build essentially from scratch,” George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports said in a statement. “The deal reportedly gives DISH some of the building blocks it …

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Google says it doubled Pixel sales year-over-year

Google says it doubled Pixel sales year-over-year

July 25, 2019

It looks like the mid-range Pixel 3a is the hit Google surely hoped it would be.

Alphabet reported some pretty good earnings today, but the company’s report tends to be pretty generic, given that it doesn’t provide details for its different business units inside of Google and its other segments. That’s not to say there isn’t good news there for Google. On today’s call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared some new stats for the company’s phone line.

“With the launch of Pixel 3a in May, overall Pixel unit sales in Q2 grew more than 2x year-over-year,” Pichai announced. Part of this growth, he noted, is due to Google greatly expanded its distribution network beyond its own store and Verizon to also include T Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular, Spectrum Mobile and others. He also stressed that the Pixel 3a received Google’s highest Net Promotor Score rating yet.

We don’t, of course, know, what the baseline for Pichai’s claim here is, since Google never shared any actual sales numbers, but it surely helps that the Pixel 3a is relatively affordable and compares well to flagship phones without any major trade-offs. When it launched, reviews were generally very positive, too, which surely helped as well. Unlike previous Pixel launches, the first batch of Pixel 3a phones also didn’t face any major hardware problems, something that regularly plagued Google’s earlier efforts.

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Microsoft in talks to invest in SoftBank’s second Vision Fund

Microsoft in talks to invest in SoftBank’s second Vision Fund

July 24, 2019

SoftBank is said to be preparing the announcement of a $40 billion investment in its second Vision Fund, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. News of the mammoth investment comes after weeks of rumors the Japanese telecom giant was struggling to secure capital for its second fund, citing lukewarm reception from investors of the firm’s initial Vision Fund.

SoftBank declined to comment.

Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered are amongst the first confirmed investors in the second Vision Fund. SoftBank is reportedly in talks with Microsoft to invest in the fund under the condition that SoftBank encourage its portfolio companies to transition away from Amazon Web Services to Microsoft’s Azure, the company’s cloud platform. Microsoft declined to comment.

The Department of Justice is set to announce its approval of T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint, majority-owned by SoftBank, as soon as this week. Once the merger is confirmed, SoftBank is expected to deploy additional capital to its sophomore Vision Fund.

The debut SoftBank Vision Fund, led by SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, has been making headlines since plans for the massive vehicle were announced in late 2016. In May 2017, the firm held a first close on $93 billion, later increasing the fund’s size to $98 billion. The fund has a general focus on global tech companies across industries including IoT, AI, robotics, mobile applications & computing, cloud technologies & software, consumer tech and fintech. To date, it’s invested large sums in Brandless, WeWork, Ola, Grab, Didi Chuxing, Uber, Lemonade and several others.

The debut fund’s largest investors are Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and Abu Dhabi’s national wealth fund, a fact that’s ignited a debate across Silicon Valley on the ethics of accepting capital from Saudi Arabia, a country responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Apple, Qualcomm and Foxconn …

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How US national security agencies hold the internet hostage

How US national security agencies hold the internet hostage

July 18, 2019

Team Telecom, a shadowy US national security unit tasked with protecting America’s telecommunications systems, is delaying plans by Google, Facebook and other tech companies for the next generation of international fiber optic cables.

Team Telecom comprises representatives from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice (including the FBI), who assess foreign investments in American telecom infrastructure, with a focus on cybersecurity and surveillance vulnerabilities.

Team Telecom works at a notoriously sluggish pace, taking over seven years to decide that letting China Mobile operate in the US would “raise substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks,” for instance. And while Team Telecom is working, applications are stalled at the FCC.

The on-going delays to submarine cable projects, which can cost nearly half a billion dollars each, come with significant financial impacts. They also cede advantage to connectivity projects that have not attracted Team Telecom’s attention – such as the nascent internet satellite mega-constellations from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon .

Team Telecom’s investigations have long been a source of tension within Silicon Valley. Google’s subsidiary GU Holdings Inc has been building a network of international submarine fiber-optic cables for over a decade. Every cable that lands on US soil is subject to Team Telecom review, and each one has faced delays and restrictions.

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T-Mobile quietly reported a sharp rise in police demands for cell tower data

T-Mobile quietly reported a sharp rise in police demands for cell tower data

July 12, 2019

T-Mobile has reported a small decline in the number of government data requests it receives, according to its latest transparency report, quietly published this week.

The third-largest cell giant in the U.S. reported 459,989 requests during 2018, down by a little over 1% on the year earlier. That includes an overall drop in subpoenas, court orders and pen registers and trap and trace devices used to record the incoming and outgoing callers; however, the number of search warrants issued went up by 27% and wiretaps increased by almost 3%.

The company rejected 85,201 requests, an increase of 7% on the year prior.

But the number of requests for historical call detail records and cell site information, which can be used to infer a subscriber’s location, has risen significantly.

For 2018, the company received 70,224 demands for historical call data, up by more than 9% on the year earlier.

Historical cell site location data allows law enforcement to understand which cell towers carried a call, text message or data, and therefore a subscriber’s historical real-time location at any given particular time. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this data was protected and required a warrant before a company is forced to turn it over. The so-called “Carpenter” decision was expected to result in a fall in the number of requests made because the bar to obtaining the records is far higher.

T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request asking what caused the increase.

Call records requests by police. (2017 above, 2018 below). Source: T-Mobile.

The cell giant also reported that the number of tower dumps went up from 4,855 requests in 2017 to 6,184 requests in 2018, an increase of 27%.

Tower dumps are particularly controversial because these include information for all subscribers whose calls, messages …

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