Google Announces Plans to Dip its Toes Deeper into Wireless

Google this week indicated its plans to enter the wireless service market, but hedged expectations that its foray would be limited, emphasizing that the company has no current plans to take powerhouse wireless service providers on in a head-to-head competition.

Google has wireless experience in its line of Nexus devices, which are billed as pure Android: they bear little, if any, manufacturer or carrier modification, including changes to the GUI. In return, Google manages design and development of the products, as well as marketing and post-purchase support.

In remarks at the 2015 Mobile World Congress, Google was coy about its plans, leading to speculation in trade press that it will aim to use both cell and WiFi. U.S. variants of the service are expected to rely upon existing networks, but overseas iterations may utilize Google use of balloons and drones. A launch is expected in several months. Read more

A Valuation of Twenty Time Earnings, and Other Notable Facts

Wireless towers owned by rural carriers are currently worth up to 20 times EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes and amortization). This number, plus the fact that towers can generate revenue from leasing space as well as providing them with fiber feeds, can make tower building an interesting proposition even for those rural carriers that are not in the wireless space. This valuable insight was gained by attendees at the NTCA-RWA Wireless Symposium and Wi-Expo, co-located again this year with the Consumer Electronics Show (International CES) in Las Vegas last week.

Before the session on towers wrapped up the Symposium, attendees also heard from NetAmerica about managing change in a rapidly evolving market, and from Ericsson on the next generation of wireless services. Other sessions the first morning covered unlicensed spectrum, 600 MHz auctions, and wireless roaming, as well as a very poignant and personal discussion from TJ Kennedy, acting executive director of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) on the need to ensure rural consumer’s access to emergency services, and how rural carriers can help accomplish that mission. Sessions covering topics such as new regulations, changing carrier culture, leveraging the Internet of Things, pricing bundles, real-world retail experiences and technological issues involving small cells, macro sites and distributed antenna systems rounded out the day. Read more

Survey: NTCA Members Face Challenges in Providing Wireless Service

More of the nation’s small, independent telecommunications providers are planning to begin offering wireless service as part of continuing efforts to round out their communications offerings to consumers, but competition and negotiating roaming agreements with large national carriers continues to pose significant challenges, according to a new survey by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

The association’s “2014 Wireless Survey Report” found that 66% of respondents are providing wireless service to their customers. Eighty percent of those providing wireless service offer fixed broadband, 48% mobile voice, 41% mobile broadband and 23% fixed voice. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents indicated that they hold at least one wireless license below 2.3 GHz; 20% hold at least one license above 2.3 GHz. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents not currently offering wireless service are considering doing so.

However, survey respondents indicated that the pressures created by national carriers and the ability to negotiate roaming agreements with such carriers are among the most significant challenges affecting smaller competitors. Specifically, 73% of all respondents indicated that competition from nationwide carriers was their greatest concern, with 45% also citing the ability to negotiate roaming agreements.

Small wireless providers have little leverage in negotiating roaming agreements with larger carriers, as nearly half of survey respondents indicated that obtaining roaming agreements remains an ongoing concern. Many of those who are able to enter into an agreement end up paying the price—approximately one-third of survey respondents indicated they pay more for roaming than they themselves are paid.

NTCA’s wireless survey was conducted in the fall of 2014. More than 100 NTCA member companies participated.

A Wi-Fi Field of Dreams

“If you build it, he will come,” a disembodied voice told Kevin Costner in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

That same voice—communicating wirelessly—might today advise, “If you build it better, many more will come.”

That message was also delivered by a recent Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) survey of the Wi-Fi hotspot market. Seventy percent of survey respondents indicated that a key motivation for deploying carrier-grade Wi-Fi in their systems would be to improve customer experience and thus increase subscriber retention.

The survey also found that 56.7% of respondents were more confident about investing in public Wi-Fi than a year prior, up from 52% in 2013, and 43% in 2012.

“Carrier Wi-Fi has experienced a revolution over the past year and is now being embraced by an ever growing number of carriers,” said WBA CEO Shrikant Shenwai. “This research underlies the growing momentum behind Wi-Fi that is increasing year-on-year, driven by the ecosystem coming together to develop the technology and promote its wide ranging benefits.”

Approximately half of all survey respondents indicated that stadiums and shopping malls would be significant drivers of Wi-Fi traffic growth, followed by travel hubs such as airports (48%) and connectivity on board transportation (41%.)

The survey was conducted in the third quarter of 2014, and had a total of 210 respondents. Just under half of those were operators. Other significant respondent groups were Wi-Fi equipment and device vendors (25%) and consultants/integrators (19%).

Wireless Symposium at CES Offers Unique Overview for Rural Carriers   

Wireless services, including those based on both licensed and unlicensed spectrum (such as Wi-Fi), have a profound effect on the telecommunications marketplace. Therefore, even carriers that do not provide traditional fixed or mobile wireless services have a stake in the wireless sector. The annual Wireless Symposium & WiExpo, jointly produced by NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and the Rural Wireless Association, takes place January 4–6, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. The event explores all aspects of wireless services, offerings and technologies, and examines how they influence rural carriers’ businesses. The event is colocated with the 2015International CES®, which expects 150,000 attendees and more than 3,200 exhibitors showcasing the latest high-tech innovations coming to consumers.

The Wireless Symposium will cover topics such as the transition to an all-IP environment, the economic impacts of wireless services, upcoming spectrum auctions, and new business and technology developments—to name just a few. It will also feature TJ Kennedy, acting general manager of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), who will discuss the role of small carriers in the public safety network. The symposium’s WiExpo will feature the latest products and services offered by a variety of vendors that can help carriers maximize revenue while bringing new products and services to the communities they serve.

Wireless Symposium attendees who register by December 1 will receive a complimentary CES badge. The Wireless Symposium will be held at the Tropicana Las Vegas. The room block is available until December 14. Register today to ensure that you’ll receive your complimentary CES badge.

Timing is Everything

At almost the exact same time that Apple debuted its new Apple Pay service, reports have emerged that yet another retailer has likely been affected by a large scale data breach.

Although details are still emerging, office supply store Staples is investigating “a potential issue” with its customers’ credit card data. Previously, Home Depot, Target, Michael’s and Kmart, among others, were hit, with large numbers of their customers impacted.

The long-anticipated Apple Pay service is now available to iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users once they download Apple’s iOS 8.1. According to Apple, Apple Pay will allow customers to use their iPhone to pay for retail transactions in a simple, secure and private manner.

To make payment, the customer will simply hold his or her iPhone near the store’s contactless reader. The customer’s ID is verified by a fingerprint reader on the iPhone. The actual credit card number is stored in a secure, dedicated chip in the phone. When a purchase is made, the Device account number—rather than the actual credit card number—and a transaction-specific dynamic security code is shared with the merchant, who never receives the actual credit card number itself. If the phone is ever lost or stolen, Find My iPhone can be used to suspend Apple Pay. Apple does not retain any records of customer transactions.

Apple Pay supports credit and debit cards from American Express, Visa and MasterCard, as well as 500 financial institutions from across the country. Nearly three dozen nationwide merchants—including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, McDonald’s, Subway and Walgreens–currently accept Apple Pay, with more scheduled to come onboard in the coming months.

Will the recent well-publicized data breaches drive customers toward Apple Pay in a quest for greater data security? It certainly seems likely, at least until retail merchants are able to figure out a better way to protect their customers’ sensitive information.

And, in case you were wondering—Staples is among those merchants accepting Apple Pay, through its mobile app

“Beacon” Mobile Marketing 

Investing your money in building retail stores is probably not viewed as the best bet these days. Shopping malls are not being built, and in fact, a large number are going out of business. Yet, that doesn’t mean that retailers and product manufactures are surrendering to online shopping. After all, 90% of retail sales are still made in brick-and-mortar retail stores. And, about two-thirds of shoppers use their mobile devices while shopping in retail stores.

Retailers are boosting sales in retail stores by tapping into mobile devices through the use of “Beacon Marketing.” Beacons use Bluetooth Low-Energy technology to send a signal to customers’ mobile devices when they come within range of a beacon. They can send information on sales or other promotional offers to customers in a brick-and-mortar retail store. A recently released study found that shoppers who received these messages were 19 times more likely to take a look at the product.

The technology has some promise, but it also has some limits. In most cases, customers must have the store-specific app open on their phone. However, if you have an iPhone with updated iOS 7 software on it, that isn’t necessary, though a customer needs to keep their Bluetooth function turned on and must allow any apps access to their location data. Read more

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