Something Else To Be Considered Before AT&T Swallows T-Mobile

How can employment implications not be part of what’s considered in mergers and acquisitions? How will more people out-of-work benefit our nation?

I am an AT&T landline and cell subscriber. I am not a fan of AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile. Like the Department of Justice I think

the proposed $39 billion transaction would substantially lessen competition for mobile wireless telecommunications services across the United States, resulting in higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and fewer innovative products for the millions of American consumers who rely on mobile wireless services in their everyday lives.

There’s another problem I see. It’s one that’s not looked at by the government when mergers and acquisitions are proposed. How many jobs will be lost?

No one expects the new(er) AT&T to absorb all of T-Mobile’s employees. These out-of-work casualties will provide additional savings/profit to AT&T, but at the expense of the rest of us who will now have to provide benefits and services to them.

How can employment implications not be part of what’s considered in mergers and acquisitions? How will more people out-of-work benefit our nation?

AT&T Plus T-Mobile Is Subtraction Not Addition

Without T-Mobile in the mix I expect prices will rise and cellular contracts will become more restrictive. Great.

Confession first: This will be a mostly emotional blog post. After it’s up on the web opposing views in the comments are encouraged. I’ve just looked at the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile combo platter. I am not pleased!

T-Mobile is ‘small’ by cellular carrier standards. However, it plays a huge roll in the American cellular universe. T-Mobile is the low cost nationwide carrier and others respect its pricing in much the same way the legacy airlines respect Southwest and JetBlue.

Without T-Mobile in the mix I expect prices will rise and cellular contracts will become more restrictive. Great.

T-Mobile allows cellular customers to freely tether their computers to cellphones for data. AT&T does not. What incentive is there for AT&T to adopt this T-mobile policy? None!

AT&T is getting the best of all worlds. While reducing downward pricing pressure they’re also swallowing this country’s only other nationwide GSM carrier. Nearly everything they acquire will be compatible with what they already have. That allows them to expand their infrastructure very quickly and at a reasonable price.

What do you think? Will AT&T’s prices fall to what T-Mobile’s were or will T-Mobile customers see their bills rise? I’m betting on the latter!

This is a federally regulated business and the purchase will be subject to government approval on a number of levels, but I suspect nothing can/will stop it. Comcast/NBC went through, didn’t it?

And then there’s the question of what will happen to Carly Foulkes? I’ll miss her.

The More Things Change The More Money Talks

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

There is a quote attributed to Andrew Lewis (who sells t-shirts emblazoned with it):

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Keep that in mind. Things are changing in the tech world. They’re probably not changing for your benefit. As products evolve the user is more-and-more the product being delivered to others. You are less lkely to be in control of your digital fate.

The Times had a big article this weekend about HTML5 the new iteration of the language that runs the Worldwide Web.

In the next few years, a powerful new suite of capabilities will become available to Web developers that could give marketers and advertisers access to many more details about computer users’ online activities. Nearly everyone who uses the Internet will face the privacy risks that come with those capabilities, which are an integral part of the Web language that will soon power the Internet: HTML 5.

Marketers and advertisers are paying for access and they’ll call the shots! You are more valuable to them when they’ve probed into things you might consider private.

The same goes with your cellphone. My iPhone is jailbroken which means I’m not limited to installing programs Apple approves of and profits from. Jailbreaking is to my benefit not the benefit of the cell providers or operators of app stores.

A cautionary story circulating this weekend told the tale of T-mobile’s new tact to stop jailbreaking of its Android phones. Basically the phone will ‘cleanse’ itself of unapproved files you’ve loaded at regular intervals.

… when unsuspecting members of the public buy The “T-Mobile G2 with Google” phone at a T-Mobile store, they aren’t getting a customizable mobile computer or phone but are instead getting a device where the hardware itself dramatically limits users’ right to make changes to their computers and install the operating system of their choice.

Some tech sites have taken to calling the G2’s hidden program a ‘rootkit.’ That’s a scare tactic. However, to say this ‘feature’ acts the same way a difficult to cleanse computer virus acts isn’t far off point.

I saw early signs of this trend when I bought this Dell 640m with Windows Vista a few years ago. The ability to record audio that’s being sent to the speakers had been removed. The hardware to do it was still in the laptop (since it does it in its Windows XP version) but the functionality had been stripped from the operating system. This wasn’t done for end users but for content producers who are Microsoft’s more important customers.

If you’re used to surfing to anything on the Internet or fast forwarding your DVR through commercials be prepared to see those features fade! You’re benefitting to the detriment of those who really pay the freight.

The digital golden age might already be over.

Berry Confused

A friend with a Blackberry 8320 smashed its pretty face against something. Cracked lens! By the time I told him he could fix it, he’d replaced it! Now it’s mine. Fixing the lens was easy–and I’m a major klutz.

It was originally on T-Mobile. It’s been unlocked, so it can go on AT&T and the phone and texting works fine.

It mostly works OK for Twitter and Facebook and some other apps, but when I go to use the browser I’m told: “This is a Wi-Fi service. Please ensure your device has an active Wi-Fi connection and try again.”

I have a plan from AT&T which includes data, though I haven’t moved this to their Blackberry plan yet (for my daughter, there was no cost differential). I see “edge” not “EDGE” which I believe enters into this.

Anyone know how to fix this?

It’s No iPhone–Should It Be?

Open source! It’s the reason I expect nerdy geeky boys to write killer apps for the G1–because they can.

google-phone.jpgTo quote Jimmy Carter (out of context), I have lust in my heart. I’ve been looking at pictures of the new T-Mobile Googlephone and lusting.

Open source! It’s the reason I expect nerdy geeky boys to write killer apps for the G1–because they can.

OK, I know, that’s not the real name but close enough.

There hasn’t been a buzz in the mainstream media like for the iPhone or iPod. It’s only Google, not Apple producing the software and HTC, a Taiwanese company you’ve probably never heard of, behind the hardware. My editor at PC Magazine IM’ed the headline on another editor’s story this afternoon: “The T-Mobile G1 Is No iPhone.”

And yet there’s still lust in my heart. Why?

Actually, it’s simple and it’s summarized in this short paragraph from Sascha Segan writing on Gearlog (where I also write).

“I found out today that forget video recording (which the G1 doesn’t do) – the G1 doesn’t even have a video player. No fear, HTC reps said, there’s already a third-party video player in the App Market, and it plays iPhone formatted videos beautifully!”

Open source! It’s the reason I expect nerdy geeky boys to write killer apps for the G1–because they can. If Google and T-Mobile don’t stand in their way (I expect Google to be more open to this than T-Mobile) this phone and others like it will create their own excitement and market. T-Mobile, don’t stand in their way.

Right now there’s a lot of grousing in the dev community as Apple stands in the way of perfectly good iPhone apps because… well, just because. That shouldn’t happen on an open platform like Android, the open source operating system under the G1’s skin.

This past weekend Helaine asked about a Verizon commercial we saw. They were selling some overpriced music service. “Why,” she asked? Probably because the deal was formulated according to marketing potential instead of user desire.

Open source answers to user desire.

I still have a year on my at&t contract (it’s officially all lower case letters even though it looks wrong). I have a year to lust after everything new. Then, I have to curb my lust and become practical.

Which Commerical Was Best?

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: “It was a bad year for commercials.” It was. There were few to like in the Super Bowl (though the game itself was unusually entertaining).

I have two favorites – and one isn’t really a commercial. It was a very short CBS promo featuring David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey. If you blinked, it was gone.

It was totally nuance. You had to concentrate. Did you recognize Oprah? Did you think about their back story? Did you realize he was from Indianapolis, she lives in Chicago?

Unless you connected all these on a visceral level, it was gone before you could think about it.

My other favorite was more in your face… and animated. It was the Blockbuster commercial featuring a mouse portraying a mouse. It was clever and really well animated.

Unfortunately, when I went to type this blog entry, I wasn’t able to remember who paid for it!

Among my other favorites were the Budweiser faux dalmatian (including animated blink) and the T-Mobile spot with Dwayne Wade and Charles Barkley.

So, to summarize. It was a good year for the game and a bad year for what came in between the plays.

Here’s how visitors rated the first quarter (where the Blockbuster ad first ran).

Blockbuster: Mouse.............46%

Bud Light: Faceoff...............15%

Snickers: Mechanic.............11%

Doritos: Crash.....................9%

Bud Light: Wedding..............7%

Chevrolet: Singers...............5%

Sierra Mist: Combover.........3%

FedEx: Moon Office..............2%

Toyota: Tundra...................1%

Sierra Mist: Karate..............1%

Schick: Quattro...................0%

Total Votes: 67,823

How would you like being the creative head for an ad agency that produced anything lower than Chevy? Must have been tough to come in to work this morning. Ouch!

The Customer Is Always Wrong

If you’ve read this for any length of time, you know I have been frustrated with the policies of Cingular, my cell phone provider. Maybe Cingular’s actions are just part of the prevailing attitude of cell companies in general.

Here are some snippets from an interview with Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg as conducted by the San Fransisco Chronicle.

“Why in the world would you think your (cell) phone would work in your house?” he said. “The customer has come to expect so much. They want it to work in the elevator; they want it to work in the basement.”

Seidenberg said it’s not Verizon’s responsibility to correct the misconception by giving out statistics on how often Verizon’s service works inside homes or by distributing more detailed coverage maps, showing all the possible dead zones. He pointed out that there are five major wireless networks, none of which works perfectly everywhere.

The fact that he thinks this is not surprising. The fact that he’s actually said it in public (as opposed to having it dispatched to lawmakers through a lobbyist) is astounding. Somewhere within Verizon, some PR person is suffering cardiac arrest.

This is hubris. Ivan, can you hear me now? Good.

Blogger’s note – T-Mobile now provides high resolution coverage maps from their website.

Being Stranded Is Different

Friday, while waiting in Las Vegas for our delayed flight to Hartford, I tracked the plane using my laptop computer. Las Vegas, like many airports has wireless Internet access&#185.

As our 737 made its way from Reno, I wondered how this access to up-to-date knowledge affects the airlines?

Years ago they could, and did, lie about flight status. That was especially true during the days when they were more worried about passengers retreating to another carrier for an earlier departure. With severe penalties for itinerary changes, we can’t do that anymore.

Not only can I find the actual airplane, I can also see the latest aviation weather (forecast and observed) and any air traffic control delays or ground stops.

Today, there’s no need to suffer in silence at the airport. With a PC or cameraphone you can get the word out to the world. I know this as a fact because I’ve just heard from my friend Bob.

Bob is flying to Talahassee, FL from Penn State. Well, he was flying. Awful weather has stranded him, and others, at the Atlanta Airport. He’s not sleeping yet, but his sneakers are off.

Are passsengers forced to sleep on the floor in the terminal? Judge for yourself. The image isn’t the best, but it makes the point.

In case you’re wondering, at 3:30 AM on a night like this with passengers all over the floor of the terminal, the PA announcements still get made, loudly apologizing every twenty minutes that the hotels are sold out!

Of course with wireless Internet access it’s possible to check and make sure they’re not lying about the hotel situation. Sleep tight.

&#185 – Access was free in Hartford and Las Vegas, but $9.95 for the day from “T-Mobile” at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

More ChoicePoint

MSNBC has more on the ChoicePoint story. I’m using their link because they’ve really been in the lead with this one.

This gives me an opportunity to add what I think is the irony in this whole sordid mess. ChoicePoint didn’t get hacked&#185, they sold this information within the normal course of their business. They were scammed into believing they were dealing with legitimate businesses by people who used techniques that ChoicePoint’s data is often sold to prevent! Oops.

Though this information, the most personal of data on all of us, was sold to criminals, I’m just as upset that it can be aggregated and sold at all.

Expect a lot of smoke but little fire as congressional hearings get underway. As a matter of political realism, strict reform in the data mining and sales business would seem to be an unlikely outcome right now.

&#185 – Speaking of not getting hacked, there’s a rumor at Motley Fool that Paris Hilton’s Blackberry wasn’t hacked… someone just guessed the password.

It is unclear exactly how Paris’ bejeweled electronic organizer was compromised — whether T-Mobile’s servers, where information is stored, were breached or whether someone accessed her actual device using her password (“Tinkerbell,” her Chihuahua’s name, perhaps?). The latter is what those in the technology field call an “end user error.” Or in non-techie parlance: shooting yourself in the foot.

Matt Drudge, reporting on a new theft of Fred Durst’s home video, writes:

A site hosting the hack reads: ‘I’M SORRY, U SELLOUT :)’

“The previous information was obtained using social engineering tactics.”

Law enforcement officials believe the video comes from the same source who presented Paris’s Sidekick diary.

“Social engineering” means someone got in through guile, not technology.

Cell Phone Deal – The Final Chapter

This is the (hopefully) last in a series of entries about my cell service. If you’d rather read the whole series from the beginning, click here.

Hold your calls, we’ve got a winner… or more succinctly, we’ve eliminated most of the losers. I re-signed yesterday with Cingular for National GSM service.

A couple of notes and observations are in order. This took an unbelievably long time. I’m not talking about yesterday at the store – which did take forever – but my decision making process. The cellular carriers make this maddeningly difficult.

First and foremost, you have to read each and every thing that you’re being offered and not offered. The cell companies know what they’re offering (well, sort of) but most of us don’t. While I was in the cell phone store yesterday, I watched customer after customer move up to the desk, like lambs to the slaughter. The salespeople offered and sold plans and conditions that weren’t understood by the customers. And, the customers, with little choice, signed on without much thought.

In my case, this is a $2,000 commitment – 2 years of service for the three of us – and I wanted to be sure everything was acceptable… or as acceptable as possible.

Most customers don’t know the difference between GSM or TDMA or CDMA, but these distinctions can be very important in deciding what you’re getting. The companies offer beautifully named national or regional networks, and then never disclose what these networks are… or are not. The maps I’ve seen continue to paint a nearly seamless blanket of coverage, which isn’t true.

The company that actually runs the Cingular store needs to reconsider the paper flow through the store. Forms had to be filled out by hand and multiple phone calls made to get my account set up. It’s 2003 – these forms should be computer generated and authorizations automated. I was in the store for nearly 2 hours. Some people, who waited in line while I was being taking care of, left.

As I wrote earlier, when a plan says no roaming fees, that still doesn’t mean you can use any signal your phone can hear. It used to be, if you were out of range of your plan, your phone would latch on to whatever it heard, and you’d pay for that privilege. But “no roaming” doesn’t necessarily mean that call is now free. It often means that call can no longer be made!

The best example is here at home. My phone shows a very, very strong signal (probably from T-Mobile or AT&T). If I try to make a call, the phone says “Emergency Only” and spits me back to the main menu.

As far as I can tell, I now have a comparable number of minutes, nights beginning at 7:00 PM, some sort of national coverage (though still no coverage here at home) and three new phones for a little less than I was paying. And, I extracted 3 free months of service, 2 of the 3 phones, and a waiver of the activation charge by getting on the phone with the Cingular company agent (thanks Kendrick Alexander) and asking for it (the folks in the Cingular store don’t really work for Cingular).

Helaine and I got LG G4010 phones. They are incredibly small with a stubby, fixed antenna. I have been pouring through the manual, looking for a way to use my company’s voicemail with this phone. That means adding a pause during the dialing sequence. As far as I can tell, you can’t do it. If that’s true, this would be the first cell phone I’ve ever seen that can’t perform this function.

If the manual wasn’t translated from some other language into English, the person who did write it should be ashamed. It is disorganized and confusing.

Steffie got a much fancier Samsung S307. It has a color display and more toys. I was proud because she wanted it and was willing to part with her own (hard earned) money to get it.

There was another company I had considered going with. Oh heck – it was Sprint. I didn’t go because of what I considered the very high cost of the phones and higher cost for monthly service. But really, the clincher was their move a few years ago (quickly rescinded) to charge for calls to customer service! To me, that showed a corporate culture that didn’t value the end user the way I want to be valued.

I would be 100% happy with Cingular but for one small problem. There’s no service here at home. Judging by the folks at their store, Cingular thinks it has coverage here. They recently put a cell site at Quinnipiac College, less than 2 miles away. But, it is blocked to me, and most of my neighbors because of Sleeping Giant Mountain. If they would have moved the site off campus, they could have killed two birds with one stone – putting coverage on campus and into this area and I’d be really smiling.

Weird Cell Phone Ad

As you might have read, I continue to anguish about who will win my cell phone business. As of yesterday, Cingular has turned on a new “GSM only” tower at a college about 1.5 miles away. There’s a chance it’s blocked by a hill, but probably not. I can get a pretty good deal with Cingular, though I’m unsure of its current GSM coverage. Without coverage here in my house, there’s no deal.

But, I digress.

I was watching TV and a T-Mobile cell spot came. They were selling phones with built-in cameras (someday in the future, I will look back at this blog entry and find it quaint), which of course is the current big deal. But, the two locations used for photos were a locker room and a concert hall!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but should we be encouraging people to take pictures in locker rooms? Even concert halls usually ban any kind of photography.

Of course, maybe this is their point. to try and build the market by giving us fresh idea in how to be invasive.

The Cell Phone Quandary

In my years as a cell phone customer, I have used Lynx (owned by local phone company SNET before they were bought by SBC, and before Cingular), BellAtlantic (pre-Verizon), AT&T and now Cingular.

They all have their strengths and weaknesses (except AT&T, which in my opinion only had weaknesses). Unfortunately, none of them provides a signal here, where I live. After last month’s landline phone outage (four days without 911, among other things), cell service here seemed like a necessity.

It’s a suburban neighborhood with a rural feel. There’s plenty of population density with spendable income. There’s certainly a place to put towers (the company I work for has a site on a hilltop, with a TV antenna already there).

As far as I know, there are only two companies with a signal that covers my house, Sprint and T-Mobile. I know T-Mobile’s coverage through the rest of this area is awful, so they’re out.

Today, I borrowed a phone from Sprint. They lent me a high end Samsung with color web browser and camera. As far as I can see, having the web browser is close to worthless. The camera might have some application, but it’s pretty rudimentary with 640×480 resolution.

Here’s the real breakthrough. For the first time ever, I made a cell call from home while walking around! Signal strength was 1-3 bars and the call quality was fine. Using the phone while driving my normal route produced a workable signal everywhere except the final 3/4 mile hill to my house… and then it came back.

I’d sign with Sprint in a second, except, they have the world’s worst reputation for customer service. There was a time when they attempted to charge their customers to call and speak to them!

In order to get what I want, I’ll probably have to sign a two year deal. I’m scared to do it if they’re the devil.

Meanwhile, with cellular number portability about a month away, I will hang tight and wait for what I consider an inevitable price war. My contract with Cingular is up October 26th and for the first time in my cellular career, I’ll be in the drivers seat.