Might Apple buy Sprint?

Okay, it sounds wild, but let’s look at this for a bit…

Sprint has committed $15B to Apple in connection with securing rights to market the iPhone to Sprint’s subscribers (let’s not talk about the newest Apple product, the iHeatingPad). That’s a lot of cash, and I’ll bet that Apple’s contract leave virtually no room for Sprint to get out from under the weight of an 800 pound Apple.

At the same time, the $9B Sprint was expecting from LightSquared seems to drifted away. This raises very serious questions about the future of Sprint’s touted Network Vision upgrade. As a result, Sprint’s plans to shutter some 30,000 cell sites, relying on the Network Vision project to make it possible…must have dropped to ‘maybe’ status, too.

Clearwire. That word has turned into a blackhole of cash for Sprint, and Google just helped further devalue Sprint’s, ah, majority investment by dumping the Google-held shares at a 90% write off. WiMax is not Sprint’s path forward–LTE is. Clearwire may be too late to Sprint’s party.

Sprint’s Board of Directors last month vetoed Dan Hesse’s plan to buy MetroPCS (for a 30% premium, no less). That puts Dan Hesse’s future outlook at Sprint at a 30% deficit (others say that number is even worse). Will there be new blood on the head of the pin, much less new confusions over the direction the pin is pointing? Hey, how about T-Mobile buying MetroPCS?

This month, Sprint seems to have tried…and failed…to get a network sharing agreement with T-Mobile, according to the Wall Street Journal. I guess that shots a hole in my idea about a SprinT-Mobile merger.

Let’s not forget the grandest of Sprint’s Grand Experiments: Nextel. Oh, you want to forget about that? Likely Sprint does, too.

With research firm Sanford Bernstein dropping its rating on Sprint, citing that Sprint might visit BK land, the Bad News Band keeps marching on. For a thoughtful look at this particular issue, see the SeekingAlpha story of March 20th by clicking here.

Now let’s consider Apple.

Apple has attained the status of a ‘mythical creature’ that can seemingly devour all that blocks it path.

Apple has been fanatical about controlling, to the n-th degree, every element of its users experiences with all of the Apple devices. It controls the look and feel of the user experience, and via the App Store all of the applications on iPhones that have not been subject to a jailbreak, as well as iPads of various operating temperatures.

It must peeve Apple that it decided to confine its iPhone and iPad devices originally on an exclusive basis to AT&T to run on that carrier’s less-than-robust and less-than-adequate-capacity network, and one that actually gave up spectrum in the failed T-Mobile love affair.

Now, at least, Verizon subscribers have a better chance at being able to enjoy close to 3G speeds with their iSomethings.

Oh, yes, there’s that cash reserve thing for Apple. It’s sitting on more cash than the U.S. Treasury, and since last Summer it has been the most valuable company you’ll find in the U.S., and maybe anywhere in the entire galaxy.

If Apple thinks about it, it can have its cake and eat it, too: Buy Sprint, fund and complete Network Vision, deploy 4G at real 4G speed, and dump all of the Sprint phones save for Apple iSomethings. Using the software defined radios of Network Vision, Apple can actually build a wireless network that is optimized for data (but still including the voice app that defines LTE). Siri may be the first step to Skynet, albeit with a programmed sense of humor. (How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? See here.)

For Apple, a Sprint purchase would yield it monthly cash flow that can be put back into expanding and optimizing the “Apple Wireless” Network Vision. And given Sprint’s majority ownership in Clearwire (and the 106ish MHz Clearwire controls in the U.S.), Apple would have a real playground to expand data capacity and speeds.

Maybe Apple might make apply the principles of the iTunes Store to Sprint to shift the marketing of Sprint services to the faceless online monolith. Buy a phone and activate service online. Forget about pins dropping.

It just seems right for Apple to continue its quest to control everything its users see and do with the iSomethings now and in the future by controlling its own data delivery network. At the same time, it can keep feeding iSomethings to Verizon, AT&T, and any other carrier that can’t afford to be left in Apple’s iDust.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the direct minutia-level control he seemed to exert on Apple (at least according to Isaacson) has also passed. This may free up the current management of Apple to take the leap (no, not Leap Wireless) to controlling even more of the user experience, but from a new distance, all without asking “WWSD?”

Of course, Apple might buy T-Mobile instead–or as well–and do more or less the same thing, but that’s a thought best left for a future post.


Text the U.S.A. From (the Backseat of) Your Chevrolet

Not only can OnStar (the in-vehicle mobile phone system) unlock your car doors, tell you where to go, help you deliver a baby, and propose to your girlfriend, soon, OnStar will also pull up your favorite movies as well as text your mother, all at the same time.

OnStar is showing off its new navigation and entertainment system called CUE, which will consist of a large touch screen in the center of the dash, in the backseat, or maybe even embedded as a heads-up display in the windshield (no, not really – as far as I know the technology is only available in the movies).

CUE is being positioned to work much like an iPhone or any other touch screen SmartPhone.  In fact, OnStar has plans to open up its application programming interface (API) software so that third-party developers can create new apps for CUE.  (When visiting the ‘CUE Store’ does one need to actually drive there?)  In the same vein, CUE will be built on a software upgradeable platform that will use soft keys on-screen to access apps, movies, maps, your cup of java (well, at least order it, anyway).

How great would it be to turn your car into an iPhone?  Let’s not worry about drivers playing Angry Birds on their way to work, for now anyway.

As all early iPhone adopters have learned, a great device needs a fast and reliable network (thanks to AT&T for that often frustrating lesson). OnStar is NOT going down that same road.

In a vote of confidence to both its speed and overage, OnStar is heading to a deal with Verizon to use Verizon’s shiny new, if still not completely reliable, LTE network (see http://gigaom.com/broadband/verizon-explains-its-string-of-lte-outages/).

The speed of Verizon’s LTE network will be important for the navigation functionality of CUE to deliver real time high resolution maps that will make the DVD driven and stand alone navigation systems obsolete.

Expect CUE to also provide destination photos, and linked web content.  Going to a restaurant? See their menu on the way, and order your appetizers before you arrive.

Coming soon to a new Cadillac near you!

In a couple of years, it’ll migrate down to your Chevrolet.


lightRadio? Really?!

Bell Labs has unveiled its lightRadio cell site in a cube system.  It’s received a lot of press from around the world over the past few weeks about it being ‘THE NEXT BIG THINK TO KILL OFF TRADITIONAL CELL SITES.’

Well,  maybe not.

Digging a bit deeper into the apparent technology underpinning the system produces some interesting things to ponder.   To set the stage for what I think this lightRadio thing is all about, and how it fits into the grand scheme, first watch the video below of Tod Sizer, the head of the wireless group at Bell Labs, as he talks about developing the lightRadio antenna module. Then look at the chart below the video. When you’ve done that, then I’ll ‘resume’ this conversation.











As they say on TV, “Okay, we’re back…”

So what’s Mr. Sizer’s video tell us, and what does the chart mean?

Let’s start with Mr. Sizer’s video…  He talks about how the cubes can be stacked to provide directional signal control, similar to a macrocell site.  What’s not too clear is that each cube requires a backhaul connection using Internet Protocol (IP) back to…somewhere.  See the chart just above.

The deployment scheme is not too clear, but it sure looks like it has elements of DAS within it, or at least it seems closer to a DAS than it is to a self-contained macrocell or even a microcell.

Attention NextG, competition cleanup on aisle 5…

Given NextG’s history of suing where they believe someone is infringing on any shred of their DAS patents for network technology and deployment, I’ll just wait to see if they also think along the same lines I do regarding the possibility that the cube is really a micro DAS implementation.

This should be interesting, but it doesn’t appear to be the game-changer that the manufacturer would have us believe.

With apologies to Mr. Clemens, ‘Reports of macrocells’ deaths are greatly exaggerated.’



‘Mr. Gorbachev tear down this NextG pole!’

On January 10, Lori and Michael DiMarco of the Long Island Town of Brookhaven, New York found that they had a new neighbor in front of their home; a 40 foot tall black wireless antenna pole.

Who would perpetrate such a dastardly deed?  Who’s construction crew allegedly lied to the homeowner about what was being installed, and who authorized it?

According to published reports, NextG Networks (a distributed antenna system provider based here in California) admitted it erected the pole without a town permit on Jan. 10.

WBST TV reports that “[i]n a statement, NextG admitted they installed the tower without the proper permits, saying in effect that the town was taking too long to review their application.”

In the same report, WBST noted that “[a]fter the DiMarco’s complained about this cell tower on their front lawn, the town found out that 9 others had also popped up in the area, literally over night.”

What kind of fertilizer is NextG using to make these poles grow so quickly?  Hubris, perhaps?

WCBS Radio has a blog page and audio on this story, as well as a photograph by Mrs. DiMarco of the pole.

The North Shore Sun has its own story and photo regarding this usually ‘in-your-face’ event.

Here’s a link to a WCBS TV page about this event. The video, below, is from the WCBS page. (Sorry, but you’ll just have to watch the commercial before viewing the report.)

What I’d like to know is who is NextG’s customer (or customers) that prompted the installation of the DAS poles.


Verizon’s iPHONE is here, sort of…

Today, as expected, Verizon announced the imminent availability of the super-duper Verizon iPhone.

(Pssssst….Don’t tell anyone, but…) The first generation of VZW iPhones won’t be able to access Verizon’s 4G-ish Long Term Evolution (“LTE”) network.

Essentially, the early adopters of Verizon’s iPhones will have a three-speed transmission.

Fast at three speeds?

Yeah, sort of, but not as fast as the follow-on versions of the Verizon iPhone that will include access to the optimized 700 MHz LTE band.  The next generation will have the 5-speed transmission with overdrive, and will have access to the carpool lanes.

Me? I think I’ll wait for the real zoomer when it’s announced in 4 or 5 months.

Let others buy the first generation of VZW iPhones and pay to replace them later.  I’ll shell out my money only after the V.1 beta-testers have done their thing.



2011 Prediction: AT&T Data Network to Speed Up

I predict that AT&T’s data network will experience a noticeable increase in throughput speed throughout 2011.  That’s great news for AT&T, and they can thank Verizon for helping to achieve that goal.

Of course, while AT&T struggles to deploy its LTE network, it’s goal of speeding its network will be aided in no small part by Verizon’s expected announcement, on Tuesday 1/11/11 (perhaps at 11:11:11?) that Verizon will finally offer its subscribers an Apple iPhone.

Verizon’s recent announcement that it, too, now calls its data network “4G” just like T-Mobile (…who knew?) sets the stage for heightened expectations, discovery of data holes in Verizon’s network, and other fun stuff.

Years ago I switched to Verizon from AT&T because AT&T’s voice network was inferior in terms of reliability.  Until a couple of years ago I wasn’t a data user, but I switched to a VZW Crackberry.  Last year I dumped the Crackberry Curve for a Motorola Droid 2 (it’s a good firmware/software platform in a fat, clunky body with a battery demanding nightly recharges…look at HTC, instead of Motorola).

Yeah, when VZW does offer the iPhone, it’s virtually certain that I’ll join the million or so other users switching from AT&T and upgrading from within Verizon.  Yes, I’ll be part of the problem; not part of the solution.

As a tip for you unhappy AT&T iPhone users: You can always use your existing GSM iPhone on T-Mobile’s new “4G” network.  If you jailbreak your phone and go to T-Mobile, you DO NOT  have to buy an expensive new iPhone like you would if you want to go to VZW’s sysetm.  That’ll make all of us existing Verizon users very happy, too!


PS: I also predict that 2011 will see (1) huge subscriber churn and net subscriber loses for AT&T, and (2)  someone in a wireless marketing department deciding that it’s time to call their network 5G!  I’m waiting for 9G, myself. -jlk


Verizon Hub So Much More Than A Terminal

Verizon’s new “HUB” device (pictured below) is starting to get some wings.  Specifically, Verizon has inked a deal with Time Inc. so that “Verizon Hub users can now view short-form videos from brands like People.com®, TIME.com®, and RealSimple.com® from Time Inc. brands by simply touching the screen on the Verizon Hub.”

verizonhub1This move make sense from a bandwidth perspective since the video download will occur via the customer’s broadband connection required by the HUB, rather than across the Verizon Wireless network.

Verizon is positioning the HUB as a every-data terminal, rather than just a femtocell.

Very, very smart.


Kramer: Ahhh-uhhhh-ahhhh-da-da-da

Yes, that’s your host imitating the sound you hear in an A.M. radio when your cell phone is on and is near the radio.

I was interviewed last year by O’Reilly Media’s James Turner.  He has an Apple I-Phone which he’s not too happy with.  He interviewed me regarding that buzzing you hear when you place a cell phone near a radio.

Look, I do a lot of interviews, and frankly, I forgot about my interview by James.

Recently while Googling my name (admit it…you do, too!), I ran across James’s article, which ran at the O’Rielly web site (this is the link).

The neat part of the interview, which also featured Jeff Rodman, CTO and co-founder of Polycom (you know them for their world famous ‘starfish’ business grade speakerphones), is that you listen to the entire 10 minute broadcast by clicking here (opens a new window to play an MP3).



Does your cell phone give away your location?

That’s a common question, and the simple answer is, ‘sometimes yes; sometime no.’

Cell phones regularly transmit update information back to the mobile telephone switching office (MTSO).  This data is sent when you turn on your phone, at regular intervals while the phone is turned on but not in use, and when you turn off your phone.

So why would your phone silently transmit information on a regular basis?  Quite simply, when you turn your phone on, the phone transmits a handshake to let the cell system know that the phone is turned on, and where in the world you are. This is necessary so that the network will (a) stop automatically routing your incoming calls to voicemail, and (b) to let the network know where to find you to complete incoming phone calls.

If you’re roaming outside of your home area, this turn-on handshake will also sometimes initiate a validity check with your home area carrier to see whether you’re authorized to roam.  If you are, then you’ll be able to make and receive calls without interruption.  If not, when you try to make a call, you’ll be forwarded to an automated or manual system to collect credit card data for billing calls while roaming.

Once you’re ‘logged in’ to the network, the phone will regularly transmit a small snippit of data letting the network know that your phone is still turned on and within range.

When you turn off your phone, you’ll notice that it doesn’t immediately go blank.  In the few seconds between the time you press and hold the turn off button, the phone is communicating the shut-down request with the network so that incoming calls will be routed to voice mail.  This is why a caller will immediately go to voice mail when your phone is off, but if your phone is on it will ring a preset number of times before switching to voicemail.

The network technicians can also manually ‘ping’ your phone.  If it responds, the network tech will also be able to identify the cell site receiving your phone, and sometimes the general direction of the signal coming in from your cell phone.   This function is sometimes used to locate missing hikers. The cell phone is pinged, and the return data is used to estimate the location of the phone (and hopefully the location of the hiker).

The accuracy of the location data provided by your phone will depend on several things. The FCC generally requires cell phone operators to provide location information down to about 100 meters when you call 911, but that accuracy can be improved if your cell phone is equipped with a GPS receiver chip and antenna, and the network recognizes that data.

The use of cell phone records in court proceedings is a related discussion, and one that I’ll cover in a separate posting.