AT&T, CWA Negotiations Stall
By Maisie Ramsay
Negotiations stalled Sunday between AT&T and union workers as the two groups failed to reach a deal following a 24-hour extension of the union’s contract, which covers 20,000 AT&T Mobility employees across the country.
Employees with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are currently working under an expired contract. There have been no calls for a strike.
The union requested a 30-day contract extension under a 2005 labor agreement, arguing that AT&T had underestimated the amount of time required to comb through the company’s final offer.
“There are a lot of really complicated issues,” says CWA representative Candice Johnson. “They came to the table at the last minute with a huge package that they want as their final offer.”
The offer is reasonable given current economic conditions, argues AT&T representative Walt Sharp. “Companies are folding, laying off employees. We believe that 9.14 percent [cumulative wage increase] over four years is reasonable,” Sharp says.
Wages, job security and working conditions are workers’ primary concerns, with 85 percent of union members at AT&T Mobility voting to authorize a strike if a “fair and equitable” contract agreement is not reached.
Though no strike has been announced, Sharp told The Associated Press that AT&T is ready if there is one: “We prepare for earthquakes, we prepare for tornadoes, and we prepare for work stoppages. We have a business-continuity plan in place that will ensure our customers have the service they need.”
Amazon Unveils Kindle 2, Stephen King Exclusive
By Luke Simpson
Amazon today announced the release of the Kindle 2, an updated version of its wireless e-book reading device. Accompanying the announcement was news that best-selling author Stephen King will release his next novella exclusively through Kindle.
The Kindle reader uses Sprint’s national 3G data network to download any of the 230,000 books, 1,200 blogs and various magazines and newspapers available from the Kindle Store. There are no wireless access fees, but each book will cost around $10. Blog, magazine and newspaper subscriptions cost between 99 cents and $14.99 per month. Users can also search the Web, Wikipeadia.org, Kindle Store and Your Kindle Library, where purchases are stored and can be re-downloaded.
The new model is slimmer, lighter and has a 2 GB memory capable of storing more than 1,500 books. The display remains grayscale, but uses 16 shades of gray compared to four on the previous model. Battery life is 25 percent longer, for a reading time of more than two weeks with the wireless turned off; running it with the wireless on reduces the battery life by about half.
The first version of the Kindle reader exceeded Amazon’s sales expectations after being featured on Oprah and has not been available since it sold out in November. Competition for the new Kindle comes from Google Book Search, which makes copyright-expired classics and various other publications available via the Web and on Android or iPhone handsets.
Amazon’s deal with King will see the release of Ur exclusively through Kindle. In what can surely be no coincidence, the blurb for the book describes the story’s main character, Wesley Smith, who buys a Kindle that subsequently “unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine.”
The Kindle 2 is available on Feb. 24 and can be pre-ordered at amazon.com/kindle2.
Microsoft Syncs with My Phone
By Monica Alleven
Microsoft is jumping into the mobile cloud business with My Phone, which syncs contact and other information on a user’s mobile phone to a password-protected Web site where users can back up and restore phone data.
The My Phone site went live last week before its scheduled debut, and more information is expected at Mobile World Congress next week. In a statement, the company said My Phone will be available as a limited, invite-only beta. “This is a significant milestone for Microsoft as it connects the phone to the PC and Web,” the statement said.
According to Microsoft, My Phone helps people keep their information backed up if they lose or break their phones; transition information if they switch to new phones; and access the same information from their phone or PC. My Phone works only on phones that run the Windows Mobile 6+ operating system.
Microsoft says it does not charge a fee for the My Phone service “at this time.” But depending on a user’s data plan, he or she may be required to pay data-transfer fees.
Comparisons already are being made to Apple’s Mobile Me service, which generated more attention about mobile sync.
Broadband’s Role in Stimulus Plan Sparks Debate
By Joelle Tessler, AP Technology Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Among the economic stimulus proposals moving through Congress is one that fulfills an old dream of broadband boosters. It would offer substantial funding for high-speed Internet networks in corners of the country that still rely on dial-up connections or have only one broadband option.
The hope is that construction of these networks will create jobs, and that better access to broadband will spur all sorts of new economic activity. Yet not everyone agrees that broadband funding belongs in a stimulus plan.
Some critics of the idea wonder how many people will actually sign up for the new networks once they are built. Others question how many jobs broadband investments will really create. Even supporters debate whether Congress is going about funding broadband expansion the right way.
Recent surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project have found that 57 percent of Americans subscribe to broadband at home, while 9 percent rely on dial-up service. Others go online elsewhere — but 25 percent simply don’t use the Internet at all.
Those holdouts are the hardest to reach. They include many poor and elderly people, as well as residents of rural areas that the big broadband providers have abandoned as too costly to serve — an issue that Congress is trying to address.
The broadband proposals are still taking shape as Congress debates the broader stimulus plan. But the bill that ultimately emerges is likely to contain $6 billion to $9 billion to help fund landline and wireless broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas. It also is likely to give tax incentives to encourage companies to invest in new or faster broadband networks.
These investments will create new jobs up and down the economic food chain, said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. His group estimates that a $10 billion investment in broadband would produce as many as 498,000 new jobs.
Those include the construction workers and telecommunications technicians who must dig up streets, lay down fiber-optic lines and install wireless towers, as well as the engineers and factory workers at companies that make the fiber, electronics and computer equipment needed to build the networks. Much of that equipment is made overseas now, but Atkinson’s projections exclude jobs that would go abroad.
Broadband also produces what Atkinson calls a “network effect” that creates many more indirect jobs. People who sign up for broadband, for instance, are more likely to purchase a new computer and buy services online, he said. Broadband also serves as a foundation for businesses that otherwise might not exist — from Internet retailers to online entertainment services to social networking sites.
In addition, broadband makes it possible for doctors to consult with patients hundreds of miles away, for students to take online classes at universities across the country and for governments to deliver services more efficiently, said Jeff Campbell, a senior policy and government affairs director at Cisco Systems Inc., a leading maker of networking equipment.
However, Scott Wallsten, senior fellow with the Technology Policy Institute, is dubious that those indirect benefits really produce the vast number of new jobs that supporters presume. And he questions whether the broadband proposals in the stimulus plan could simply reward telecommunications companies for making network investments that they would have made anyway.
John Horrigan, associate director for research at the Pew Internet project, also points out that just because more Americans are given access to broadband doesn’t guarantee that they will subscribe.
A Pew study found that 14 percent of today’s dial-up and non-Internet users say they don’t subscribe to broadband because it is not available where they live. But far more — 51 percent — say they are just not interested.
Senate Democrats have been seeking $250 million to promote broadband adoption. Proponents say those efforts could include helping poor people buy computers and teaching people how to navigate the Web. But if the goal is to increase broadband adoption, “does that belong in a stimulus package?” Horrigan said. “I don’t know.”
For his part, Atkinson, head of the technology foundation, has a different worry: that Congress is attaching too many strings to the broadband grants.
While private companies, state and municipal governments, nonprofits and public-private partnerships would all be eligible for federal support, it remains unclear whether big broadband providers would actually apply.
That is because some proposals being debated would give a significant amount of their grant money to networks that can deliver Internet connection speeds that might be difficult for most broadband providers to offer in the next 12 to 18 months, Atkinson said.
What’s more, Congress appears likely to require many of the grant recipients to comply with “open access” or “nondiscrimination” mandates. While those terms would be left to the Federal Communications Commission to define, some technology-policy analysts believe the rules could end up imposing “network neutrality” rules that would officially bar broadband providers from prioritizing certain kinds of Internet traffic.
Those details aside, this is a crucial moment for supporters of a big government investment in broadband. Much as the rollout of the electrical grid and the U.S. highway system helped spark economic growth in rural areas during earlier generations, they say, more widespread and affordable broadband today could spur benefits that otherwise might not occur.
“This is an important recognition by the government that broadband is the infrastructure for the 21st century,” said Cisco’s Campbell. “It’s not just about roads and bridges anymore.”
LiMo Touts Operator Support
By Andrew Berg
The LiMo Foundation today announced commitments from six major operator members to specify and deliver handsets using LiMo Platform implementations in 2009.
The major operators planning deployment of LiMo devices include NTT DoCoMo, Orange, SK Telecom, Telefónica, Verizon Wireless and Vodafone, all of which have a role in shaping the LiMo Platform roadmap. Further active operator participants within LiMo Foundation include KTF, SFR, Softbank Mobile Corp., Swisscom and Telecom Italia.
To date, 33 commercial handset models have been certified as LiMo compliant, including 10 being displayed at Mobile World Congress by NEC and Panasonic, together with new prototype models from LG Electronics and Samsung.
The foundation also said that all technologies specified for the R2 release of the LiMo Platform have been contributed on time and that LiMo members are introducing reference implementations that will ease the deployment of sophisticated and differentiated LiMo devices.
Continuous Computing Offers Hand to Network Vendors
By Monica Alleven
In the last big downturn for telecom, Continuous Computing was on the receiving side of business as big infrastructure companies cut back on R&D and laid off engineers. The same thing could happen again.
Mike Coward, CTO and co-founder at Continuous, isn’t banking on it. “I don’t think anybody is confident in this market,” but if it happens, the company is ready with the latest it has to offer in LTE and femtocells, two of the biggest buzzwords in the industry.
To help network equipment providers keep up with market demands, Continuous Computing is offering two solution suites for the wireless and deep packet inspection (DPI) markets as part of its new “Solutions & Services” business practice, which launches today. The company’s wireless and DPI solutions enable equipment vendors to accelerate the delivery of carrier-class systems to market by upwards of 12 to 24 months, according to Continuous.
Coward says the speed at which LTE is progressing is probably faster than any other technology he’s seen; the standard isn’t even completely ratified and Verizon Wireless is planning trials this year. That’s putting heat on vendors to get their gear up to snuff.
The trend for equipment providers to move into the managed services space also provides opportunities for Continuous, because the vendors are moving resources from R&D over to the services sector. (During the last downturn, the company grew 90 percent from 2000 to 2003.)
Coward says the future is in LTE, though he credits WiMAX for pushing the LTE community to move faster. LTE is generally the technology pursued by incumbent carriers, while WiMAX is geared for new entrants or new markets, and with dwindling capital, many new entrants can’t raise the financing they need to operate. “We’re seeing the demand for LTE grow very, very quickly,” he says.
The growth area for DPI in wireless lies in the need to manage data traffic. Cellular systems were not built for the laptops that now have embedded modems. DPI can be used in wireless to look at traffic and make decisions about how to prioritize packets. For example, an operator might give higher priority to an e-mail than a YouTube video.
VeriSign Eases VoIP, Wireless Bridge
By Brian Santo, CED Magazine
VeriSign Communications Services has created a service that will make it far easier – and potentially less expensive – for MSOs and other VoIP service providers to connect with any other telephony provider without having to route calls through the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
VeriSign announced that it has certified NetNumber’s Titan addressing and routing servers work with its ENUM registry service to deliver end-to-end carrier ENUM services to network operators.
The combination makes it far easier for cable VoIP providers to connect directly with, for example, other MSOs or with wireless network operators, provided there is a direct IP or TDM connection between the networks, explained VeriSign vice president of Network Services Paul Florack.
Florack said the NetNumber Titan already has significant penetration in both the cable and wireless industries, so there is little that many network operators have to do to implement the capability beyond signing up for the service and downloading some data into the VeriSign registry.
Florack said VeriSign expects to certify equipment from companies other than NetNumber. He said he could not comment on whether any MSOs are using the service already.
FirstNews Briefs for Feb. 9, 2009
Companies in the news: Qualcomm, Linktop Technology, Vringo, Texas Instruments, Siano Mobile Silicon, VeriSign, NetNumber, Blueslice Networks, BroadSoft.
• Qualcomm and China’s Linktop Technology entered into a subscriber unit and modem card/module license agreement. Under the terms, Qualcomm has granted Linktop a worldwide patent license to develop, manufacture and sell subscriber units and modem cards/modules using the CDMA2000 standard. The royalties payable by Linktop are at Qualcomm’s standard worldwide rates.
• Vringo announced version 2.0 of its video ringtone platform for Symbian- and J2ME-enabled phones. Vringo says the application makes it simple for users to record and share their own original ringtone via their phones’ cameras. The VringForward technology lets users select the ringtones their friends will see when they call.
• Texas Instruments says it has developed the 1.2 GHz TMS320TCI6487, a three core digital signal processor running at 3.6 GHz coupled with a software library that delivers the performance necessary to support LTE’s complex algorithms. With TI’s new LTE solution, OEMs can extend their current base station platforms to include new features and more complex algorithms without designing a new board.
• Mobile TV chip maker Siano Mobile Silicon announced that its multi-standard MDTV receiver chip is powering the newly launched iPhone 3G accessory in Japan, supporting ISDB-T One Seg television broadcasting. SoftBank BB and SoftBank Mobile officially launched the iPhone 3G TV and Battery on Dec. 31 in Japan.
• Blueslice Networks and BroadSoft have completed interoperability testing between the Blueslice HSS 3000 and BroadWorks, BroadSoft’s VoIP application platform.