Amazon Announces Voice Activated Personal Assistant

Amazon is building a speaker that’s controlled with your voice called Echo. It will start shipping in the coming weeks.

Echo is always connected to the cloud and will provide information, music, news, weather, and more whenever you ask for it. It’s essentially a Siri-like personal assistant — but inside a speaker. The built-in voice recognition can hear users from across the room.

Seven microphones use beam-forming to pinpoint your voice and filter out background noise, including background music, in order to better understand requests. The speaker also produces 360-degree audio. It can play music from Amazon Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn Plus. And it’s fully Bluetooth compatible, making playback from Spotify and Pandora possible. The device comes to life when you say the wake word, “Alexa.”

Features include:

  • News, weather, and information: Hear up-to-the-minute weather and news from a variety of sources, including local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn.
  • Music: Listen to your Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
  • Alarms, timers, and lists: Stay on time and organized with voice-controlled alarms, timers, shopping and to-do lists.
  • Questions and answers: Get information from Wikipedia, definitions, answers to common questions, and more.

It’s $199, but Prime members will be able to buy it for $99 for a limited time.

AT&T & Verizon Work Toward VoLTE Interoperability

Verizon and AT&T are working to enable Voice over LTE interoperability, reports Fierce Wireless. The two carriers said they are going to enable VoLTE-to-VoLTE connections in 2015. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) was devised to standardise a method for transferring voice over LTE data networks.

According to a Verizon blog post, engineers from both companies will start with lab testing and then move to field trials next year. Verizon said customers will have a seamless experience making VoLTE HD Voice calls between the two networks as well as other Rich Communications Services (RCS) such as video calls, rich messaging and more.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, has VoLTE available in more than a dozen cities (with the proper phone), and has been testing interoperability, with interop agreements with VerizonWireless and Sprint since May, notes John Legere.

AT&T introduced VoLTE services in its initial markets earlier this year, and will continue to expand to more devices and more markets across the United States. “Interoperability of VoLTE between wireless carriers is crucial to a positive customer experience,” said Krish Prabhu, president, AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer, AT&T.

Currently, to experience Verizon’s VoLTE service both parties on a call need to be using a VoLTE-enabled Verizon smartphone. AT&T’s VoLTE-enabled HD Voice service lets customers only make HD Voice calls with other AT&T customers using AT&T HD Voice-capable devices within AT&T HD Voice coverage areas.

An additional requirement for VoLTE enabled networks is to have a means to handing back to circuit switched legacy networks in a seamless manner, while only having one transmitting radio in the handset to preserve battery life. A system known as Single Radio Voice Call Continuity (SRVCC) is required for this. Handover from LTE to the legacy network is required when the user moves out of the LTE coverage area.

The benefit to wireless operators is more-efficient use of their network resources, explains C/Net’s Maggie Reardon. VoLTE benefits for consumers include faster call setup times (twice as fast as a non-VoLTE call setup), LTE data speeds while you are on a call, and HD Voice service with greater call quality.

70 Companies Qualified for AWS-3 Auction

The FCC has qualified 70 companies (pdf) to bid on AWS-3 spectrum (pdf). The auction starts Nov. 13 and will be the country’s largest spectrum auction since the $19 billion 700 MHz auction in 2008. That auction was before Apple’s iPhone became a huge hit and the extraordinary growth of data-hungry smartphones. The FCC has set a total reserve price of $10.587 billion for the AWS-3 auction.

The AWS-3 auction is not as straightforward as previous auctions because two chunks of spectrum are currently used by federal agencies, including the Department of Defense. In most cases, federal spectrum users will have to exit the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz bands or geographically share them with commercial users.

The Report and Order sets flexible-use regulatory, licensing, and technical rules for 65 megahertz of spectrum in the AWS-3 band, which includes the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands.

The FCC adopted rules to allocate and license the 1695-1710 MHz band for uplink/mobile operations on an unpaired shared basis with incumbent Federal meteorological-satellite (MetSat) data users.

The other 40 MHz block is more traditional. They will assign AWS-3 licenses by competitive bidding, offering 5 megahertz and 10 megahertz blocks that can be aggregated using Economic Areas (EAs). The FCC’s decision to license only one paired 5×5 MHz block in smaller Cellular Market Areas (CMAs) was disappointing for most competitive carriers. The FCC also left it up to carriers to voluntarily have AWS-3 be interoperable with AWS-4 (MSS) spectrum, which Dish Network controls.

The Order will make 40 megahertz (of the total 65 megahertz) of the AWS-3 spectrum available for commercial use. The 15 MHz chunk will be available on a shared basis with federal incumbents. The 1695-1710 MHz band will be unpaired spectrum used for low-power uplink operations. The 1755-1780 MHz band will be licensed for low-power uplink operations and will be paired with the 2155-2180 MHz band, which is unencumbered by federal users, for downlink operations.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T will likely be major bidders of AWS-3 spectrum, but the two dominate carriers did not get their wish to have two chunks of 10Mhz X 2. Instead, the auction will include three 5×5 megahertz options, and just a single 10×10 megahertz license covering the country, notes RCR Wireless. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US as well as Dish Network are qualified to bid, along with dozens of smaller carriers, investment firms and private entities. Sprint said in September that it will sit out the AWS-3 auction.

Steve Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association was not impressed. “The use of the larger Economic Areas (EAs) will likely curtail participation among smaller carriers, who have neither the resources nor the scale to bid on license areas of that size.”

Congress has mandated the AWS-3 spectrum be auctioned by February 2015.

The FCC also chose to require that AWS-3 spectrum be interoperable with AWS-1 spectrum, which many carriers already use for LTE services. AWS-1 runs from 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz, notes Fierce Wireless, but left it up to carriers to voluntarily have AWS-3 be interoperable with AWS-4 (MSS) spectrum, which Dish Network controls. That will likely mean phone sold by the big carriers will shut out Dish.

Dish controls more than 50 MHz of spectrum, including 40 MHz in the AWS-4 band and 10 MHz of the 1900 MHz PCS H Block, part of which is adjacent to AWS-4. It also owns a large block of unpaired 700MHz “E-Block”, which was originally planned for MediaFLO broadcast-type service. That 700 MHz spectrum (adjacent to the “A block” downlink), would now likely be used for LTE – potentially causing less interference to “A block” licensees.

The FCC also recently announced they will delay the start of the 600 MHz broadcast TV auction from mid-2015 to early 2016, due to broadcasters’ court action. The 600 MHz auction will be the big one, with lots of valuable spectrum likely to be available between TV channels 52-69. Unlike cellular carriers, broadcasters do not pay the government for use of spectrum. That’s because they’re still considered a “public service” by the federal government even though only 5-10% of the population still depend on over the air broadcast television. Broadcasters would get paid off to move off (our) public airwaves in the 600 MHz band.

If fully realized, the 600 MHz auction could bring in $45 billion. From that sum, the FCC will deduct $7 billion: $250 million to run the auction; $1.75 billion to reimburse broadcasters for expenses during the repacking of spectrum assignments; $5 billion to establish the “FirstNet” high-speed public safety network for first responders.

The FCC established an outlay of up to $38 billion to broadcasters, based on the recovery of 126 MHz of spectrum and AT&T’s pledge to spend $9 billion in the auction if its acquisition of DirecTV is approved. If, as some observers expect, only two- thirds of that goal (about 84 MHz of airwaves) is relinquished, the pay-out would be about $26 billion at top valuations. A portion of the reclaimed airwaves will not be sold to wireless carriers; about 26 MHz will be retained for use as guard bands and buffers between broadcast and wireless services sharing the bands. Those may be used for unlicensed White Space data transmission.

The AWS 3 auction could reveal disruption in the comfortable 4 carrier status quo in the United States. Dish Network is “cautiously optimistic” that its fixed-mobile broadband trials, currently running with Sprint and nTelos, will turn into a “real business.” For example, Google and Dish could acquire AWS-3 (for roaming compatibility) and launch a 5th nationwide wireless service. Perhaps Google Wireless could deliver cable-like services with enough spectrum.

Related Dailywireless articles include; FCC Sets AWS-3 Auction Rules, AWS-3 Auction Rules: Who Benefits?, Dish Wins Everything in H-Block PCS Auction, Verizon Activates AWS Band , DOJ Sets Conditions for Verizon AWS, Verizon Getting AWS Spectrum Says WSJ, T-Mobile Okayed to Test Spectrum Sharing, Verizon’s Spectrum Deal: Tough Nut, AT&T Buys 2.3 GHz from NextWave, AT&T Wants 2.3 GHz for LTE, FCC to Okay Verizon/Cable Spectrum Buy, 700MHz: Money Talks

Amazon: $115 in Paid Apps Free this Halloween

Amazon is promoting some $115 in paid apps this Halloween for Android devices at the Amazon Appstore. You’ll first need to install Amazon’s Appstore Android app. The offer is good through November 1.

Here are some of the highlights, including their usual price:

You’ll first need to install Amazon’s Appstore Android app on your Android device, however. The offer is good through November 1.

Greenbot also has roundup of the best Halloween apps and spooky games from Humble Bundle.

McDonald’s Gets Softcard

Softcard (formerly Isis), a mobile payment system that competes with Apple Pay and Google Wallet, announced today that it is accepted at more than 14,000 McDonald’s locations around the country beginning today. Smartphone owners can make NFC-based mobile payments at the register and the drive-thru at all McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s will also accept Apple Pay.

Last month, Subway also announced a partnership with Softcard to support mobile payments.

Softcard is free to download and is compatible with more than 80 Android handsets sold by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Softcard combines payments, offers and loyalty in one app. Softcard uses the EMV Contactless specification and SmartTap technology to enable payments, offers and loyalty redemption through one tap.

Apple Pay saw more than one million card activations within 72 hours of launch, reports NFC World, and is already the leading NFC payments player in the US, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook outlined future growth plans for the service at the WS Journal D Live conference this week, including a potential partnership with Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba.

US pharmacy chains Rite Aid and CVS plan to launch their own CurrentC mobile payment service in 2015, and have stopped accepting NFC payments, blocking mobile payments services like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Softcard.

Unfortunately, CurrentC is now warning people that hackers have already swiped some of the beta tester’s email addresses.

Mobile proximity payments have to date proven lacklustre despite the hundreds of millions spent on developing these platforms. But loyalty rewards and benefits of the digital wallet is now seen by many as potentially the killer app that will help to finally ignite the long simmering mobile proximity payment market.

Ovum’s research indicates that 53% of consumers globally report they’ve either used or are interested in redeeming offers and coupons with their handsets, while 44% have used or are interested using their mobile device to pay for things in store and restaurants, explains Gilles Ubaghs, Senior Analyst, Financial Services Technology at Ovum.

FTC Sues AT&T Over “Unlimited” Plan

The U.S. government sued AT&T Inc on Tuesday, alleging the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier sold consumers unlimited data plans but would reduce their Internet speeds once they exceeded a certain amount of data. More than 3.5 million customers with legacy unlimited data plans had their Internet speeds slowed more than 25 million times by AT&T’s practice, which began in October 2011, the FTC said.

The Federal Trade Commission said this throttling of Internet feeds was deceptive and that in some cases data speeds were slowed by nearly 90 percent.

FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said that AT&T wanted to retain longtime customers and so allowed them to buy unlimited data plans, in some cases after new customers were no longer offered unlimited plans. Then they unilaterally changed the terms, she said.

“They stopped providing the service that customers understood they had purchased when they entered into their contract,” she said. “Customers would be subject to an early termination fee if they wanted to get out of their existing contract.”

AT&T called the allegations “baseless” and said the practice was needed to manage network resources.

“We have been completely transparent with customers since the very beginning,” said Wayne Watts, AT&T’s general counsel. “This program has affected only about 3 percent of our customers, and before any customer is affected, they are also notified by text message.”

AT&T is now offering additional data for its $40 and $70 Mobile Share Value Plan, offering 3GB of data for $40 per month (up from 2GB of data) and 6GB of data for $70 per month (up from 4GB of data).

The mobile industry in the United States has commonly used the term “unlimited” to mean whatever they want. Today, “unlimited” often means LTE speed is limited to around 4GB/month, then throttled down to 3G speeds or below.

Prepaid data plans now offer LTE services and a broad range of plans — with no 2 year committment.

Verizon Wireless, a predominately postpaid company, offers a prepaid brand, AllSet, but offers only one smartphone plan, a couple of feature phone plans, and different tablet and mobile hotspot options, reports Fierce Wireless.

At the other end of the spectrum TracFone, a subsidiary of América Móvil, operates as an MVNO, buying wholesale voice and data from all four Tier 1 carriers. TracFone is 100 percent prepaid with over seven brands, including Telcel America, Simple Mobile, Page Plus, Net10, and Straight Talk, all with multiple plan levels. Straight Talk’s hotspot service plans offers 1 GB $15 (30-day), 2 GB $25 (30-day), 4 GB $40 (60-day), 5 GB $50 (60-day) and 7 GB $75 (60-day).

Sprint prepaid brands include Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Sprint’s MVNO Karma dual mode LTE + 3G EVDO hotspot charges $14 for 1GB, $59 for 5GB and $99 for 10GB for a bucket of data (no 30/60 day cap on use). FreedomPop has a variety of phones and hotspots using Sprint’s WiMax and LTE networks. T-Mobile has MetroPCS and GoSmart Mobile monthly plans. The AT&T-branded GoPhone includes Leap Wireless‘ 4.5 million Cricket customers which compete directly against MetroPCS, Boost and Virgin Mobile without using its brand.