Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse announced last week that high definition (HD) wireless voice service will expand beyond limited markets and be available nationwide this July. In order to function, HD voice must be supported from one end of a call to another, and at all points in between. With other wireless carriers working on their own HD voice and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services, the underlying network support (in addition to compatible handsets) needed to deliver HD voice in the marketplace appear to be on the verge of materializing.
For many years, it has been widely accepted that wireless consumers are willing to sacrifice voice quality in exchange for mobility, and that landline calls were generally clearer and more reliable. However, if wireless HD voice does become commonplace, that notion could be turned on its head. Properly executed, and depending on the path a call takes, HD voice calls can be of such high quality that it can nearly sound as if the person you are speaking with is in the same room. Consumers, who today are accustomed to a generally lower quality experience from wireless calls, may soon find that wireless HD voice service can sound better than traditional landline calls.
As mentioned last fall, landline HD voice also is feasible. Landline HD voice faces the same barriers as wireless HD voice in terms of the need for consistent quality and end-to-end support. Depending on how well the nationwide rollout of wireless HD voice goes this summer, it could be another competitive factor facing terrestrial voice providers.
For the last few years, you may have heard about (or you may have already used) a “digital wallet,” which is basically a smartphone designed to replace your credit/debit card. A consumer uses their digital wallet by simply tapping their phone or waiving it near a mobile payment-enabled terminal at a checkout counter. One example you may be familiar with is using your iPhone as a boarding pass, that is, instead of printing out a hard copy of this official document, you wave an image of your boarding pass bar code under a scanner at the gate. Credit cards, debit cards, gift cards and store loyalty cards can all be accessed via a digital wallet.
This article has a great discussion of all the different versions of the digital wallet, including the benefits and limitations of each. Unfortunately, only a limited number of stores accept this new form of payment. As for benefits, a digital wallet, like a chip-enabled credit or debit card, is designed to be counterfeit-resistant. Read more
When my older son was in middle school, my wife and I found out that he had a “girlfriend.” (I put the word girlfriend in quotes because, apparently, having a significant other at that age does not involve partaking in social events together such as movies or trips to the ice cream shop, or even carrying books or sitting together at lunchtime. As best I could tell, it was strictly an honorary title. Also, I say that “we found out,” because this information did not come from our son, but from other parents. It does indeed take a village…)
Not long afterwards, we found out that he and the young lady in question had broken up. Much to my horror, I learned that he had broken up with her…. via e-mail. We had an immediate father-son chat, about respecting the feelings of other people, about the importance of being up front and direct in those circumstances where emotions are involved, and about when it is appropriate to make use of modern technology and when the old-fashioned ways are best. I think he understood—and didn’t have another “girlfriend” (that we were aware of, anyway) until his senior year in high school.
I thought of this story when I read that T-Mobile is offering new customers the equivalent of a quick and easy—if not necessarily well-mannered—means of ending a relationship. The company has offered to pay off the early termination fees of incoming customers, and will even help “to write the break up letter.” Read more
Last week Venture Beat reported that the New York City Police Department is beta testing Google Glass. For those of you who have not heard of this emerging hardware, Google Glass offers an Android-powered wearable computer built into a set of eye glasses, which, frankly, look and function a lot like the specs warn by Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
The glasses offer a heads-up display, allowing the user to interact with the Internet and his surroundings at the same time. In other words, information is displayed in the user’s eye-line which saves the user from having to stop what he is doing to access a radio, smartphone, tablet, laptop or other device. The glasses also offer wireless facial recognition software and the ability to record audio and video, and complete commands via vocal queues.
For the police department, Google Glass offers new and innovative applications, such as enabling officers to match a suspect’s name and face with information contained in various databases, such as the National Crime Information Center, and then display this information in front of their eyes, hands free, as they interrogate and question a suspect. Read more
Small rural carriers are providing high-quality wireless service to the nation’s hardest-to-serve areas, but must face serious ongoing challenges to do so, according a recently-conducted NTCA survey of its member companies’ wireless operations.
NTCA’s 2013 Wireless Survey Report collects the results of the survey, which was distributed to member companies in the fall of 2013. More than 100 NTCA member companies participated.
Eighty percent of survey respondents provide wireless service to their customers. Of those, 82% offer fixed broadband, 49% mobile voice, 43% mobile broadband and 29% fixed voice service.
Among the challenges cited by survey respondents was obtaining financing for wireless operations, obtaining access to spectrum and competing with nationwide carriers. More than 40% of survey respondents described the process of obtaining financing for their wireless projects as “very difficult” or “virtually impossible.”
Forty-six percent of survey respondents reported utilizing unlicensed spectrum to provide some wireless services, despite interference and line-of-sight problems.
NTCA member companies are rewarded for their efforts by customer loyalty: 41% of survey respondents experience annual customer churn of less than 10%, and 50% reported average churn rates between 10 and 25%, well below the FCC’s most recent estimate of an industry-wide churn rate of 24 to 35% annually.
I am a fan of Shark Tank, which airs on ABC on Friday evenings. The quirky entrepreneurs, the business strategy, even the Sharks themselves are entertaining. For those of you who have not seen the show, small-time entrepreneurs present their various start-up businesses to a panel of venture capitalists, a.k.a. the Sharks, and request the financial investment and brainpower of the successful panel.
A couple of weeks ago, the show featured Scan.me, a QR code application available on various mobile operating systems for a nominal fee. Despite more than 50 million downloads attributed to the app, I was struggling to see the compelling and unique value proposition or a long-term business case. Will anyone use QR codes in the future? Mark Cubin, one of the Sharks, offered a concise and, surprisingly insightful reason for refusing to invest in the business. Mark had these words for the entrepreneurs:
I’m a big fan of the sensor business. I think that’s the future of technology. The fundamental problem I have [with investing in your QR code business] is scans versus sensors. In a sensor-driven world, the information is accumulated and gathered everywhere with no action by the user. Whereas, in your world, whether it’s Google Glass where you have to talk, or where have to take your phone and scan, in a sensor-driven world, these [QR codes] don’t exist. For that reason, I’m out.
I too am a big fan of sensors. Already if I can attach a wireless device to an everyday item, or purchase an upgraded Internet-connected model — sign me up. Read more
Speaking at an investor conference last week, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that wireless carriers can no longer afford to subsidize their customers’ phones. Instead, he said that carriers need to focus on increasing customer use of their networks.
“When you’re growing the business initially, you have to do aggressive device subsidies to get people on the network,” Stephenson told attendees. “But as you approach 90% penetration, you move into maintenance mode. That means more device upgrades. And the model has to change. You can’t afford to subsidize devices like that.” Read more