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#TBT: Call quality improves; Online video prompts industry introspection; Analog sunset hits OnStar … this week in 2007

Editor’s Note: RCR Wireless News goes all in for “Throwback Thursdays,” tapping into our archives to resuscitate the top headlines from the past. Fire up the time machine, put on the sepia-tinted shades, set the date for #TBT and enjoy the memories!

Wireless customers report improved call quality

Wireless customers are experiencing fewer call problems than in the past several years, according to the most recent survey of mobile call quality by J.D. Power and Associates–and the change is at least in part due to the industry evolution to 3G networks. The semi-annual study found that since the last two reporting periods in 2006, the number of consumers who report making calls with at least one problem has declined by 14 percent.
J.D. Power said that “considerable improvements have been made with regard to interference/static, voice distortion and echoes,” with the first two problems down 33 percent from the last reporting period in 2006, while the incidence of echoes has decreased 20 percent. “Wireless providers have clearly made great strides in improving call quality,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. “Carriers that offer superior network quality are more likely to attract new customers and increase customer retention. In fact, improving network quality is a beneficial financial incentive for wireless carriers, as customers experiencing at least one call quality problem are almost four times more likely to definitely switch carriers in the future.” Parsons added that the move to 3G networks has in part contributed to the improvement in network quality and that users who make calls from 3G-enabled mobile devices have only about half the problems of subscribers using phones with older technology. … Read more

Online video prompts industry introspection

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.-Online video is here in a big way. If it wasn’t validated by Google Inc.’s $1.6 billion purchase of YouTube last October, it sure was last week when media conglomerate Viacom Inc. sued Google and YouTube for $1 billion, claiming rampant, unauthorized use of its programming online. Old has become new again. With the recent influx of online video-sharing sites, cult classics and content from yesteryears is finding new and old fans in a medium that has no shelf life and no expiration date. It’s clear that the players, new and old, want a piece of the expanding pie, but is there really any money to be made in this new distribution model? Sure, Viacom contends that almost 160,000 clips of its programming have been uploaded illegally onto YouTube’s site and viewed more than 1.5 billion times, but did Viacom really stand to profit handsomely from all of this re-hashed content? Even still, perhaps Viacom is better off perpetuating the lifespan of its content through and exploiting the opportunity to further promote its brand. These questions and more were addressed at the Digital Media Summit in Hollywood, Calif., last week as members of the music, movie, television, Internet and mobile industries converged for two days of often-tense discussion on the future of media in the digital and mobile age.
“Anytime there’s a new technology. There’s going to be conflict,” Handheld Entertainment CEO Jeff Oscodar said during a show panel. “Traditional Hollywood distributors need to start thinking about things differently” much like the music business had to do when Napster hit the scene, he said. “We’re going to mix all of this together and give our users the entertainment they want to see.” … Read more

Trying to make LBS happen

It’s only March, but 2007 appears to be shaping up as the year of location-based mobile services. No, really, it might be true this time. Honest. Loopt Inc. this week is set to announce a major partner win, unveiling a deal to integrate its friend-finding application with AOL L.L.C.’s instant messaging service. Loopt users will be able to message each other on their phones via AIM, adding “presence”-the ability to know whether buddies are available, busy or away from a phone-to the increasingly popular mobile application. “It’s been part of our go-to-market strategy for some time to pull in some world-class partners to pull in awareness and adoption,” said Mark Jacobstein, Loopt’s executive vice president of corporate development and marketing. “We believe the AIM deal helps cement our position as the leader in the space.” The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s GPS-enabled application appears to gaining traction as quickly as it is attracting attention. Loopt, which is available only through Sprint Nextel Corp.’s iDEN-based Boost service, allows users to see where their friends are, send location-sensitive messages and set alerts based on the proximity of their buddies. The company has garnered attention from nationwide media outlets and is plugging the offering with a high-profile TV commercial campaign featuring wireless users asking each other “Where you at?” Perhaps more importantly, the application is being used by more than 100,000 Boost subscribers, and will be embedded on every one of the carrier’s handsets beginning in a few weeks. The company claims that the average user invites “between five and six” friends to join the service, and plans to strike more carrier deals in the coming weeks. … Read more

Tracking flights via free texts

Global flight information firm OAG has tapped mBlox to deliver text alerts to travelers in the Star Alliance network.The pact, which will be announced this week, allows OAG customers to use their phones to track the flights of the Star Alliance’s 17 member airlines. The service includes alerts of flight delays, terminal changes and a confirmation of flight status prior to take-off, and is free aside from carrier messaging charges. The news marks yet another win for mBlox, which claims to have processed more than 1.4 billion messages valued at $500 million last year. And it underscores a growing trend among consumer-facing businesses: offering free text services in an effort to increase stickiness and attract new customers. Financial institutions, delivery services and healthcare providers are just a few of the industries that are working to expand their offerings via free mobile services. … Read more

Senate approves public safety comms, wireless 911 bills

The Senate last week approved legislation to improve public-safety communications interoperability and location-based wireless 911, two vital homeland security components that remain weak links more than five years after the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the deadly, destructive hurricanes of 2005. The bill, which enacts remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, represents a potential boon for wireless public-safety vendors because of the infusion of an additional $3.3 billion for public-safety interoperability grants and the immediate availability of $43.5 million for enhanced 911 upgrades. Whether the funding levels in the Senate bill will remain intact depends on the outcome of negotiations with the House, which passed a similar 9/11 measure earlier this year. “Providing vital communications equipment for our first responders that is interoperable in emergencies and establishing a strategic reserve to restore communications in the immediate aftermath of a disaster are essential to protecting the physical and economic welfare of the American people,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). Inouye championed a bill section providing guidance on a $1 billion grant program for interoperable public-safety communications assigned to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The NTIA, which contracted with the Department of Homeland Security to administer the grant program, insists it will retain control over the process. The law requires the public-safety interoperability grants to be awarded by Sept. 30, but in reality states likely will not see any money until 2008. … Read more

Analog to digital transition impacts OnStar service

General Motors must dump 10 percent of its OnStar subscribers-about 500,000 users-because OnStar must cut off service to vehicles equipped with outdated analog telematics equipment. Next year, cellular phone service companies–which provide OnStar with its communications link to customers–are completing the transition from analog to digital service. When the switch occurs on Jan. 1, OnStar risks losing customers who purchased a GM vehicle before the 2003 model year. That’s when OnStar introduced digital telematics service. OnStar is sending letters to those subscribers offering a year of free service. What’s the catch? They must buy or lease a new GM vehicle to take advantage of the offer. OnStar provides a range of telematics services, including the basic Safe & Sound plan for $199 a year. Subscribers get 24-hour roadside assistance, stolen-vehicle tracking, remote door unlocking, vehicle diagnostics and other services. Ninety percent of OnStar’s 4.5 million subscribers own vehicles that already operate on the digital network or can be retrofitted. Customers with older vehicles that can be retrofitted can buy a $15 equipment upgrade at a dealership. For OnStar, eliminating analog service will cause a significant loss of revenue. If all subscribers who own older cars and trucks do not buy new vehicles, OnStar will lose at least $100 million in annual revenue. “It’s a frustrating situation for us and our subscribers,” says Bill Ball, OnStar’s vice president of public policy. “We are hopeful and confident that some of these subscribers will take the offer of an additional year of free service and buy or lease a new GM vehicle.” … Read more

Check out the RCR Wireless News Archives for more stories from the past.


Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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