Data Hogs Beware!

Verizon is gunning for users of its legacy Unlimited Plan…

If there’s one thing that I know, and I know well, it’s that mobile carriers get their undies in a bunch when it comes to customers using what they consider to be “too much” bandwidth. In fact, Verizon has been, it seems, on a mission to get users of its legacy unlimited data plan to move to a current plan.

Back in 2011, Verizon killed their unlimited data plans, requiring everyone on those plans to move to a different, shared data plan. However, some users weren’t affected, and were able to remain on a legacy, unlimited data plan. Verizon has been on a mission ever since to remove remaining users from those legacy plans so they can finally be retired in favor of more lucrative data plans that limit customer bandwidth.

Recently, Verizon sent a notice to users on those plans who were using at least 200Gb a month that they would be required to choose a different data plan by 2016-02-16, or risk having their service terminated. Terminated clients will have 50 days to get with the program and get a new service plan. Clients failing to do this will be hit with contract termination fees and will have their lines of service/ accounts closed.

Back in August of 2016, Verizon targeted users consuming 500GB or more of data a month and gave them the same message – find a newer data plan or be terminated. Verizon no longer offers unlimited data on any device. They have a 100GB plan that costs $450 per month, before line and access fees. The legacy, unlimited data plan costs $100 per month.

Verizon has made a number of different changes to its service plans over recent months. At the beginning of 2017, Verizon raised its line upgrade fee from $20 to $30 per line. Every line that is upgraded to a new device will be charged this fee going forward. Verizon has also stopped offering two year subsidized phone contracts as of 2015.

Verizon has historically been an expensive mobile carrier. Individuals who use Verizon do so under one of just a few key conditions, in my experience:

  1. It’s the only carrier in town
    Verizon is often the only carrier in many rural areas. Their mobile network was built out first and in some cases, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint either haven’t gotten there or don’t intend to.
  2. It’s the only carrier in town with a decent signal
    In some (rural) areas, there’s carrier choice, but service from other mobile carriers is SO bad, that it’s not worth using them. Folks in this category may also travel for business and need to have a reliable signal that can be reached in the devil’s basement.

I used to be a Verizon customer. However, shortly after AT&T started offering the iPhone – and before I switched – I moved from Verizon to AT&T simply because I was able to cut my monthly spend nearly in half. Back in the day, the family and I were spending nearly $500 a month on cellular service for just three lines. Switching to AT&T drastically dropped our monthly spend.

However, their legacy unlimited data plan, popular with many iPhone and smartphone users offered access to Verizon’s fast 4G and LTE network at a reasonable cost. Now, according to Verizon, those folks are costing the company too much money and clogging up the pipe.

If you’re still a Verizon Unlimited Data user, if not now, you’re going to be targeted by the organization in the very near future. Verizon wants you off that data plan and on something else that provides them with better revenues. Let’s be clear about this – regardless of how Verizon tries to spin this to you, this is about their bottom line, not the service quality on their network.

According to VzW spokesperson Kelly Crummey, speaking with Ars Technica,

“Because our network is a shared resource and we need to ensure all customers have a great mobile experience with Verizon, we are notifying a small group of customers on unlimited plans who use more than 200GB a month that they must move to a [different] Verizon [data] Plan by February 16, 2017.”

Are you a Verizon customer? Do you still have their legacy Unlimited Data Plan? Have you received any kind of notice from Verizon that you’ll have to pick a new data plan or risk losing your line/ lines of service? If so, which data plan(s) look attractive to you? Would you consider a change or move to a different carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile who are both offering unlimited data plans again (albeit, with a few prerequisites)..?

If you fall into one of these categories, I’d love to hear from you and get your opinion on what is happening with Verizon and more importantly, how you’re treated by the company when you call them and have a customer service issue to resolve. Do they hound you to switch data plans? Have they in the past tried to force you out of your existing plan and on to another? Are they offering any kind of incentive to make the move early (I haven’ t seen any evidence of any kind of incentive…). I’d also love to know which data plan you end up choosing, if you decide to stay, and how that new data plan effects your bill.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area below and give me your details? If enough people respond, I’ll do a follow up article on your experiences and put you in the lime light!

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Upgrading an HTC One (M8) to Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Why Verizon makes life so difficult is beyond me…

android marshmallow

About 12 years ago, I wrote a couple of reviews for pocketnow  related to very early PocketPC phones – the Samsung i700 and the hands free kit that went with it.  The i700 itself was about $500 – $600 depending on the length of the contract that your got with the phone. The hands free kit (read: car it), which in today’s much more advanced Bluetooth enabled world would be handled by your car radio and some kind of universal mounting kit, made it safe and easy to make and place calls on the go. It was $200. (I paid a combined total of $700, which translates to $987 in today’s dollars when you factor in inflation.)

The point in heading down memory lane is that back in the day, when anyone at Verizon Wireless saw a PocketPC phone coming, the store associates ran the other way. None of them understood it, and knew that their company made working with the devices very difficult.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed much…

If you remember, I spent a great deal of time with the HTC One (M8) about two years ago.  Thankfully, I was able to keep the M8 on an “extended loan;” and I’ve been covering Android using this device ever since.  If you’re interested, you can see the unboxing video I did of the device, here.

The M8 came with Kit Kat (Android 4.4.2). It got an upgrade to Lollipop (Android 5.0 and Android 5.0.1) in 2015.  The upgrade for Marshmallow (Android 6.0) for the M8 was announced in late 2015. It was actually expected in December 2015, but was (obviously) delayed.  The device finally got its upgrade on 2016-03-07; and in order for me to get it on this device, I had to jump through some pretty big and complicated hoops.

In the process, I learned some very interesting things about Verizon.  I’ll get to all of them as I run through this; but suffice it to say… I’m very glad they are no longer my carrier of choice.  If I had to do crap like this for every smartphone OS update, I’d probably dump them all over again.

Anyway, here’s what I learned:

  1. There’s no direct download for the upgrade
    The upgrade for Marshmallow for this phone is OTA (over the air) only. You used to be able to download device updates to a PC and then flip a couple of settings on the phone, connect it to your PC via USB cable and then push the device to the phone.  Not so much anymore…
  2. You MUST have an Active SIM
    The HTC One (M8), unlike many traditional Verizon Wireless devices, actually has a SIM card.  However, that SIM card is tied to one number and one number ONLY (it can’t be recycled like AT&T or T-Mobile SIM’s can after 3-6 months of inactivity), and its tied to ONE specific device. Period.Over and above that, I found that if you want any kind of device update from VzW, you have to have an active SIM card, which means that you have to have an active account, with that device on that account; or have to have had an active account, and a SIM card that is still able to communicate with VzW Towers as a “valid” SIM card.If your SIM card/ device has been out of service for more than 3 months, you’re kinda hosed. An active Wi-Fi connection and internet access is not enough to pull down the upgrade to the device.

Given these restrictions, the only way I was able to upgrade my M8 to Android 6.0 Marshmallow is to try to activate the device.

Long story short, I opened and closed a VzW account for that phone over a 24 hour period.  After getting the SIM recognized by the local Verizon towers, the upgrade and its associated pre-requisites were quickly installed on my M8.

Please note that I had three updates waiting for me after my device was back on the VzW network. One of them was an Android 5.01 related update.  It should have been installed months ago and didn’t due to my SIM card going inactive.

I’ll have a write up on Android 6.0 Marshmallow next month. At this point, I’m still playing with the device, trying to figure out the ins and outs of the update (and I’m also still arguing with Verizon about getting the $84 bill vacated for less than 24 hours of active service without ANY data, TXT or voice call usage).

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Verizon and T-Mobile Rolling out Marshmallow to HTC One M8 Users

I’ve been looking for it since December…

verizon and t-mobile

Back in December of last year (2015), HTC released Android 6.0 Marshmallow for its One M9 and M8 products. I began looking for it to hit my Verizon powered One M8 in January (as originally promised) but up to now, it hasn’t hit. I began to think that may have something to do with the fact that the VzW SIM I have in my One M8 is expired.

Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

On Thursday,2016-03-03, Mo Versi, HTC’s VP of Product Management, announced that Marshmallow would be coming to M8 owners on the Verizon and T-Mobile networks on 2016-03-07.

HTC’s 2014 flagship the HTC One (M8) will begin its OTA rollout Monday 07, March 2016. Most OTA upgrades are staggered and delivered in waves, so while this update is limited to both the largest and third largest mobile carrier in the US, don’t be surprised if it takes a week or two for your device to actually receive the update notification and bits.

For those that get this or any other major OS update – REGARDLESS of platform – the best thing you can do for yourself is to blow the device and reinstall the new OS from scratch.

Most device upgrades – despite the extensive testing done by both the OEM and the mobile carrier – don’t always go well. Nine times out of ten, it leaves legacy information and configuration files on the device that negatively impact or effect how well the device functions, post upgrade. The only way to insure that you have everything working right – AFTER – the initial upgrade finishes, is to insure that everything is backed up and then perform a factory (or hard) reset on the device, and then do NOT restore that backup, but instead set the device up as a new device (or as if you had just gotten it from your carrier as brand new).

While some may see this as a defeat of the purpose of the backup you took just before the upgrade – and in some ways it is – what you’re really doing is making certain that your devices runs the new OS without any misconfigurations.

In short, don’t fear the hard reset.

Back in the days of Windows Mobile in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s I found myself doing that all the time. Really more often than I wanted to because, well, Windows Mobile was a total piece of crap. The thing never worked right, and often would function differently each and every time you either upgraded or rebuilt your device from the ground up. While things aren’t that drastic now a days – mobile device OS’ are much more sophisticated and better engineered in the 15-20 years since I started all of this stuff – being able to rebuild everything without worrying about or getting too attached to anything, is the best way to go.

Most devices have some level of configuration backup – what apps you installed, a cloud driven file system for all your data – email contacts and calendar all synchronized, etc. – so getting back to where you were BEFORE the hard reset is much easier than it used to be.

After I get the update, and have performed my hard reset, I will post a brief article on how the Marshmallow implementation looks and functions on my Verizon powered HTC One M8.

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‘K… Unlock ‘Em if You Got ‘Em!

Major US carriers agree to unlocking principles.  Story at 11pm…

shutterstock_129802106I’ve been following this particular story for the past few weeks or so.  Quite honestly, this particular issue is near and dear to my heart as I cut my journalistic teeth on mobility – all forms of mobile computing to be precise – and its probably the one computing issue I really know the most about.  Today’s development is significant, as it brings the US closer to parity with other countries in the world when it comes to interoperability (but the true form of that is a whole other ball of wax for a later date…)

Anywho… the four major wireless carriers in the US – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as fellow CTIA member US Cellular, have all agreed to the following:
1.    To post their device unlocking policies on their websites
2.    To notify customers once their devices are eligible for unlocking
3.    To unlock mobile devices for customers after their service contract has expired
4.    To unlock prepaid mobile devices no later than 1 year after their initial activation
5.    To respond to unlock requests within 2 business days
6.    Military customers who become deployed can have their devices immediately unlocked upon providing the appropriate deployment paperwork

According to former NFL wide receiver and current CTIA President and CEO, Steve Largent, “…this agreement will continue to foster the world-leading range of devices and offerings that Americans enjoy today.”

While I applaud not only the wireless carriers and the CTIA for coming together on this, let’s not forget that carriers in the European Union have had similar policies in place for a while now.  Technologically, the US is behind the curve. This is a catch up move.

However, it is a significant and important development; and its one that I’m very glad came about. While this doesn’t supersede the restrictions in the DMCA that prevents cell phone owners from unlocking phones on their own, it will give cell phone users a clear understanding of when and how they can get their phones unlocked and if they will have to purchase what is commonly called a “burner phone” if and when they travel internationally before they’re eligible to unlock their current phone with their home-based carrier.  (that still doesn’t sit well with me, but its much better than what we had before).

The six, adopted unlocking principles, in their entirety, are:

1. Disclosure. Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.

2. Postpaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.

3. Prepaid Unlocking Policy. Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.

4. Notice. Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former customers a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of the policy on the carrier’s website.

5. Response Time. Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.

6. Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy. Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers

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Do Your Homework – T-Mobile Uncarrier Plans are NOT Harmful to Consumers

I can understand being confused by these new plans, but public figures, like an Attorney General, need to be informed before they make this kind of mistake.

Working and living without a smartphone in the United States is becoming harder and harder.  Nearly everyone that I know has one, and they are a huge convenience for getting in touch with someone.  The biggest problem, however, is usually the costs involved.

Unlocked phones can be very expensive, and even though many carriers offer subsidized prices for smartphones.  What isn’t very well known, however, is that even though you end up paying a little now, you end up covering not only the price of the device, you end up paying a higher price for the service plan over the life of your 2 year contract.

t-mobile-logo-huge

T-Mobile’s new “uncarrier plans” attempt to address this inequity.  You can either bring your own compatible device to the party, or you can purchase one from T-Mo.  If you purchase one from T-Mobile, they’re going to charge you full price for the device.  You make a down payment at the initiation of the contract and then pay it off in monthly installments or in dedicated payments, your choice.  However, once the phone is paid off, your overall monthly bill with T-Mobile’s Uncarrier Plans drops.  After the phone is paid off, you stop paying for it.

There’s been a lot of hubbub in the news lately about T-Mobile’s new plans. They buck the system and unfortunately many people are so used to the subsidy model of purchasing a smartphone they don’t understand how these new plans are structured.

Case in point, after reading a press release from the Washington State Attorney General, I hung my head and nearly cried.  The guy just doesn’t get it.

When you buy a phone for service at T-Mo, you buy the phone. Period. You can buy the device out right or pay for it over time. If you cancel your service, you don’t get to return the phone. You have to pay it off. T-Mo won’t allow you to “return” the device.  This seems like standard practice to me. You buy something, you have to pay for it.

The WA AG accused T-Mobile of deceptive practices and filed an injunction against them, stating the following:

“After an investigation of the company’s practices, the Attorney General’s Office learned that the company failed to adequately disclose that customers who purchase a phone using the 24-month payment plan must carry a wireless service agreement with T-Mobile for the entire 24 months— or pay the full balance owed on phone if they cancel earlier.”

Here’s the kicker –

“Consumers who cancel their wireless service face an unanticipated balloon payment for the phone equipment – in some cases higher than termination fees for other wireless carriers depending on how early they cancel. Instead of a “two-year sentence” for wireless service, consumers face a different two-year “sentence” to avoid a lump-sum balloon payment for the phone.”

Right. Hello!  You still have to pay for the phone you bought. It’s not a subsidized phone. The phone was purchased at full retail price and got you reduced SERVICE pricing.

It’s clear that the WA AG just doesn’t understand how this “new” pricing plan works, and T-Mobile did the wise thing and just signed whatever the AG put in front of them to make the issue go away. Otherwise, the AG would have been totally embarrassed.

I’m embarrassed; and I wasn’t even involved!

T-Mobile later released a response –

“As America’s Un-carrier, our goal is to increase transparency with our customers, unleashing them from restrictive long-term service contracts – this kind of simple, straight forward approach is core to the new company we are building,” T-Mobile said in a statement. “While we believe our advertising was truthful and appropriate, we voluntarily agreed to this arrangement with the Washington AG in this spirit.”

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The iPhone Cometh to T-Mobile

I saw an article today that indicated that T-Mobile USA would finally start selling Apple products in 2013. This makes a great deal of sense considering that T-Mobile has been doing a great deal of spectrum refarming, moving support for their HSPA+ network to include the iPhone compatible, 1900mHz band.

A short while ago, I wrote an article for BYTE indicating that despite the spectrum refarming, T-Mo USA would never, ever, EVER carry the iPhone. The big reason wasn’t frequency compatibility like everyone thought, especially with the spectrum refarming. The problem for tiny T-Mo was the huge device subsidy fees, as well as the device quotas that Apple would require of them. Sprint paid well over $1.0B USD to carry the iDevice.

In order to eliminate the need for a subsidy, T-Mo will carry the device, but charge the customer full price for it. Meaning that the T-Mo branded iPhone will likely cost between $650 to $850, depending on the amount of onboard storage. The voice and data plans will cost the customer a lot less as a result; and will be classified under T-Mo’s Value program.

The iPhone isn’t the only device that will go full price on T-Mo. All of their devices will go that way in 2013. Many T-Mo customers may choke on that, but in order to soften the blow, T-Mo will setup installment payments over 20 months if users can’t handle the full down stroke at contract start. While this may look like a device subsidy, it isn’t, and will still save users money over the 20 month installment period, according to T-Mobile USA.

The only thing really up in the air is when T-Mo will actually offer the device. T-Mo’s spectrum refarming should be completed by May 2013; and they may roll the device out nationally then. Apple tests the iPhone on every carrier LTE network before they allow the carrier to enable LTE support. T-Mobile won’t launch their LTE network until the second half of 2013; and as such, I’m guessing that Apple and T-Mobile USA will likely support the iPhone 5S (or 7th generation iPhone), making their inaugural announcement on stage, with Apple in September or October of 2013.

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I’m having a Bad Apple Day

You’d be surprised at how Apple’s integrated online services into its products…

I’m a T-Mobile USA customer living and working in Chicago, IL.  Earlier this week, Gigaom’s Kevin Fitchard reported on a seemingly nationwide, T-Mobile outage.  While no official statement has come out from the number four US-based carrier, both he and I seem to think that the brief service interruptions are due to the company’s network refarming and upgrades.  T-Mobile is in the process of moving its HSPA+ service from 1700mHz AWS to 1900mHz UMTS. Kevin put it very well, “…You can’t move that much hardware around without experiencing some problems…”

Kevin is right.

This morning I’m beside myself and I’ve got issues with my iPhone that can’t get resolved because I can’t get a 3G/4G signal through my T-Mobile Sonic 4G Mobile Hot Spot.  All I’ve got is EDGE (2G).

This is a problem for me, because I’m running iOS 6.0 Beta 2 on my iPhone 4S, and its misbehaving.  Specifically, regardless of whether or not you have songs stored on your iPhone, Music appears to want to play songs from iCloud.  Unfortunately, it seems to have issues playing any audio through iCloud.  Having a decent connection helps, but currently, in Beta 2, just because you’ve got a decent 3G/HSPA+/LTE signal, doesn’t mean the song will play.  It may… or it may not.  Currently, having the content on your iOS 6 powered iDevice just seems to confuse it.  It may not play the local content either.

I was able to determine that if you turn on Airplane mode (so all wireless radios  – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular – are turned off), local content can play without any issues…but who wants to go the whole time you’re listening to music with your cellular radio/phone turned off?

At times, I can coax the phone into playing content with the cell radio on by turning it on and off a few times and trying to play music. Today, that’s not working.  The recommended troubleshooting step to correct a misbehaving iDevice is to restore it from a backup and letting all of your content sync back over.

Did I mention that Apple requires an internet connection in order to make that happen..??  Yeah… iTunes requires an internet connection to repeatedly verify that the file you’re using to restore your iDevice with, is an actual, verifiable (literally…) Apple sanctioned and certified iDevice ROM. Verification of the image takes place EACH and EVERY time you restore your iDevice.

Which Cupertino-based Braniac thought THAT one up?

What happens when you don’t have internet access??  Well… THAT’S easy.  You don’t get to restore your iDevice, and it stays screwed up until you GET internet access.

That’s just awesome.

So without a reliable 3G/4G HSPA+ signal through my Sonic 4G Hotspot, I’m outta luck until I can get home LATE tonight. Unfortunately for me, I’ve got a lot of desk work today, and will be without my music unless and until I get a reliable cell/data service signal, which again… is just awesome.

However, I really think it’s amazing how tightly Apple has integrated its online services, specifically iCloud, into all of its products.  It’s also amazing how those products don’t function as designed when a critical piece of infrastructure malfunctions.

I’m kinda stuck until T-Mobile’s network and my 4G hotspot decide to behave, or I buckle and turn on Airplane mode and turn my iPhone into an iPod Touch.

I’m certain the programmatic issues will get resolved in future betas of iOS 6, but right now, it’s really stinking up the joint…

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Google’s Biggest Problem – Focus Part 3

Last time (read article Google’s Biggest Problem – Focus, Google’s Biggest Problem – Focus Part 2), I spelled out what Google was doing with Android. Today, I’m going to wrap it up and bring it home, providing a recommendation that I hope Google will listen to.  Unfortunately, given their track record, I’m not getting my hopes up. Unfortunately, neither should you.

Android is attacking the market en masse. It’s the only way the fragmented OS is capturing share. Its lack of focus provides for a quick product introduction cycle by its 3rd party supporters. For example,

T-Mobile USA currently offers 16 Android smartphones from 6 different manufacturers.
AT&T offers 22 Android smartphones from 7 different manufacturers.
Verizon offers 34 smartphones from 6 different manufacturers.

Most of these phones are either running FroYo (Android 2.2.x), or Gingerbread (Android 2.3.x). Very few of them will run or officially support Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.x). Each manufacturer has added their own launcher and customizations on top of the OS. Nearly all have provided customized versions of some system level apps or components, originally developed by Google.  This has unfortunately created a bigger divide between stock Android and what end users actually use on their devices.

What does this mean, exactly?  In many cases, Google provides the shell and relies on the 3rd party developer to complete the structure. Until recently, and by recently I mean the last 12-18 months, Google resisted the development of an ecosystem. It provided an operating system that would allow users to organize their lives, communicate with the outside world, run apps, listen to music, watch video and read books.  However, it failed to provide a way for users to purchase, organize and manage that content on those devices. Their philosophy – we provide the means, YOU (meaning the hardware OEM or 3rd party developer) provide the way. In the process they’ve lost out on potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and royalties.

It finally recognized this when it introduced Google Music.  From there, you could buy and then stream music directly to your Android phone.  It also modified its Android Market allowing for the sale of not only music, but books, movies as well the standard and familiar device apps.  Music purchased there could be copied to your device and your PC and then synchronized with Google Music’s online music locker.

While this signifies a move in the proper direction, not only for Google and its partners, but for users as well, it doesn’t completely solve the problem. Google needs to further lock down the platform – hardware manufacturers and OEM’s shouldn’t be allowed to have devices with up to three different revisions of the OS in active support at the same time, and shouldn’t be allowed to introduce new products with outdated OS revisions, as they have in the past.

Google is developing focus, but it’s taken approximately 4 years to get here. Frankly, I think Google’s gotten very lucky. Hopefully, they’ve seen the error of their ways, have seen the success their major competitors have in their own ecosystems, and continue to stay focused.

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