FCC Questions U.S. Carriers on Phone Location Data Sales Practices

The United States Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday sent out letters to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint questioning the carriers about their data selling practices, reports Motherboard.

The carriers have been found selling real-time location information from customer devices to data aggregators, leading the location data to end up in the hands of private investigators, bounty hunters, law enforcement, credit companies, and more.


Companies like LocationSmart and Zumigo obtained location information from U.S.-based cellular carriers and passed that data on to dozens of other companies, putting real-time customer location information in the hands of those who should not have it.

After coming under scrutiny for their location sharing practices, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, pledged to stop doing so, but many had not actually stopped entirely as of January.

The FCC is now demanding answers from the four carriers. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel asked the heads of each company to provide details on whether the data aggregators were allowed to save phone location data and what steps carriers are going to take to make sure shared data has been deleted. From the letter to AT&T:
Real-time location information is sensitive data deserving the highest level of privacy protection. But it is evident from press reports that this data may have been sold without the explicit consent of consumers and without appropriate safeguards in place.

Accordingly, I appreciate your decision to end these location aggregation services by March of this year. To that end, I kindly request that you provide an update on your efforts and confirm by what date AT&T ended its arrangements to sell the location data of its customers. Please also confirm whether and by what date the company ended arrangements to sell assisted or augmented GPS data.

Finally, the public still has very little detail about how much geolocation data is being saved and stored-including in ways that may be far too accessible to others. Even de-anonymized location data may be combined with other information in ways that could make it personally identifiable again. Accordingly, please explain whether AT&T's agreements permitted aggregators or others to save and store location data they received from your company. If so, please confirm what steps your company is taking to ensure that these companies delete or destroy previously shared data and any derivative data. Alternatively, please explain what steps AT&T is taking to safeguard such data from use or onward sale that is inconsistent with consumers' original content.
Similar letters were also sent to Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile, and all four carriers have been asked to provide responses to the FCC by May 15, 2019.


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AT&T CEO Believe 5G Phone Plans Could Be Tiered and Priced on Data Speed

The next couple of years will see the rollout of 5G cellular phone networks from companies like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and it sounds like 5G smartphone plans might not be priced in the same way as current 4G LTE plans.

During today's AT&T earnings call, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said (via The Verge) that he believes the pricing for 5G connectivity could resemble home broadband pricing with different prices for different speed tiers rather than one set price for the fastest connectivity available.

"I will be very surprised if, as we move into wireless, the pricing regime in wireless doesn't look something like the pricing regime you see in fixed line. If you can offer a gig speed, there are some customers that are willing to pay a premium for 500 meg to a gig speed, and so forth. So I expect that to be the case. We're two to three years away from seeing that play out."
5G networks are still in the early days, so how pricing will ultimately work out remains to be seen. It's also not clear how variable pricing for tiered speeds would work given the fact that 5G connections speeds are going to vary depending on whether you're in a city or in a more rural area.

The fastest 5G speeds, available through mmWave technology, will be limited to urban areas. Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg this week explained that millimeter wave high-frequency spectrum isn't suitable for widespread coverage, a sentiment shared by T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray, who wrote a blog post on the subject earlier this week.
Some of this is physics - millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum has great potential in terms of speed and capacity, but it doesn't travel far from the cell site and doesn't penetrate materials at all. It will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban environments.
AT&T has launched its 5G network in a handful of markets across the United States, and other carriers, like Verizon, have also been starting their 5G network rollouts.

There are few smartphones that are able to take advantage of 5G networks at the current time, but additional 5G smartphones are expected later in 2019.

Rumors suggest Apple's first 5G iPhone will come out in 2020, when 5G networks are more mature and more widely available. Apple is planning to use chips from Qualcomm and perhaps Samsung now that Intel is out of the 5G smartphone modem chip business.

Tags: AT&T, 5G, 5G iPhone

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AT&T and Sprint Settle Lawsuit Over Misleading ‘5GE’ Label for AT&T’s 4G Network

AT&T and Sprint have settled a lawsuit that Sprint levied against AT&T for its misleading "5G Evolution" or "5GE" branding that AT&T uses for its upgraded 4G LTE network.

A spokesperson for AT&T today told Law360 that the matter has been "amicably settled." Details on the terms of the settlement have not been shared, but AT&T is planning to continue to use its 5GE branding.


AT&T earlier this year began displaying a 5GE icon on some iPhone and Android smartphones. 5GE is AT&T's misleading name for an enhanced 4G LTE network and is not actual 5G connectivity, which incensed Sprint.

After AT&T rolled out the 5GE terminology, Sprint filed a lawsuit in federal court against AT&T in an attempt to prevent AT&T from using 5GE labeling. Sprint accused AT&T of damaging the consumer reputation and understanding of true 5G and potentially hurting Sprint's planned 5G rollout this summer.

Sprint also took out a full page ad in The New York Times to call AT&T out for the misleading labeling, calling 5GE "fake 5G." From Sprint's ad:
While Sprint is working hard to deliver mobile 5G and the first 5G smartphone in the U.S., AT&T is hard at work trying to convince you that they already won the race to 5G with something they call "5G Evolution." That is simply untrue.

Don't be fooled. 5G Evolution isn't new or true 5G. It is fake 5G.

They would love for you to believe they are different ... better. The truth is AT&T is simply offering customers a nationwide 4G LTE network just like Sprint and all the other major wireless carriers. It's not 5G.
AT&T uses 5GE for its 4G LTE networks that offer features like three-way carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4x4 MIMO to provide faster connection speeds to consumers. These features are in no way limited to AT&T and are offered by other carriers, but no other carrier is using fake 5G branding.

Unsurprisingly, speed tests have confirmed that AT&T's 5GE service is no faster than LTE from Verizon and T-Mobile.

AT&T has defended its 5GE branding by calling 5G Evolution "first step on the road to 5G" and by claiming that customers "love" the 5GE branding because they "want and deserve to know" when "better speeds" are available.
"We understand why our competitors don't like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.
Smartphones that support true 5G connectivity are only now just beginning to trickle out, and Apple isn't expected to launch one until 2020. No existing iPhone will be able to connect to a 5G network because it requires new hardware.

5G networks from the four major carriers in the United States are going to be available starting in 2019, but expanded coverage and full rollouts will take some time.


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Deals Spotlight: AT&T Offering iPhone XR at No Cost When You Buy a New iPhone on AT&T Next

AT&T this week is offering customers the chance to buy one iPhone and get another at no extra cost, as long as both are purchased on an AT&T Next installment plan with an eligible wireless line. iPhones eligible for the offer include: iPhone 8, 8 Plus, X, XR, XS, or XS Max (priced up to $1,449.99).

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with AT&T. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

With the deal, if you buy one of these iPhones then AT&T will give you up to $750 in credits, which will cover the entire cost of an iPhone 8, 64GB iPhone 8 Plus, or 64GB iPhone XR. You can also choose to put the $750 credit towards a 256GB iPhone 8 Plus, 128GB or 512GB iPhone XR, iPhone X, iPhone XS, or iPhone XS Max.

The credit will start within three bill cycles, and AT&T will send catch-up credits once it starts. The credit will be applied monthly over the entire agreement term. This includes either AT&T Next for 30 months or AT&T Next Every Year for 24 months.

AT&T's offer ends on Sunday, March 31, so if you're interested head to the carrier's website to browse for a new iPhone. More deals and discounts can be found in our full Deals Roundup.

Related Roundup: Apple Deals
Tag: AT&T

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AT&T’s ‘5GE’ Service No Faster Than LTE From Verizon and T-Mobile

Starting with the iOS 12.2 beta, AT&T began displaying a 5G Evolution or 5GE icon on iPhones, misleading AT&T subscribers into thinking they're getting 5G transfer speeds when in fact, 5G on iPhone is not supported and AT&T has no 5G network as of yet.

AT&T uses the 5GE labeling to describe its 4G LTE networks that offer features like three-way carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4x4 MIMO. These options are in no way limited to AT&T and are offered by other carriers, but no other carrier has chosen to use fake 5G branding.


As should come as no surprise, a recent test from OpenSignal has proven that AT&T's 5GE network is no faster than 4G networks from Verizon and AT&T that have the same speed upgrades.

AT&T users that have a 5GE capable smartphone, which includes modern iPhones and some Android devices, receive a "better experience" than other AT&T users with less capable smartphone models, but those same iPhones and Android devices get similar speeds on other carriers. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are all offering the same LTE advancements on iPhones with the newest LTE technology, but only AT&T is confusing customers with 5G branding.
What Opensignal's data shows is the extent to which LTE, or 4G, networks have improved since LTE's original launch. Technologies like carrier aggregation -- where two or more bands are used to simultaneously connect a user's smartphone -- 256 QAM or 4x4 MIMO, which together are normally called LTE Advanced Pro, offer a much faster experience than the initial version of 4G that was launched back in 2009-2011.
AT&T's fake branding has struck a nerve with other carriers, especially Sprint. Sprint has launched a full anti-AT&T campaign, filing a lawsuit against AT&T for its misleading branding and taking out ads in The New York Times.

Sprint rightly claims that AT&T is confusing customers and damaging the understanding of true 5G, which has the potential to impact Sprint's own 5G launch.

5G smartphones are only now just beginning to trickle out, and Apple isn't expected to launch one until 2020. No existing iPhone will be able to connect to a 5G network because it requires new hardware. 5G networks from the four major carriers in the United States will become available starting in 2019, but the technology is still new and there will be many bugs and coverage issues to work out.

Tag: AT&T

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Sprint Takes Out Full Page NYT Ad Calling Out AT&T for Misleading 5GE Branding

Sprint on Sunday took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to call out AT&T for its "5GE" network labeling, which actually offers 4G speeds rather than 5G speeds.

In the letter [PDF], Sprint calls AT&T's 5G Evolution "fake 5G" and clarifies that AT&T is not, in fact, offering faster speeds than other carriers who deliver the same 4G LTE advancements that AT&T has enabled such as three-way carrier aggregation, 256 QAM, and 4x4 MIMO.

While Sprint is working hard to deliver mobile 5G and the first 5G smartphone in the U.S., AT&T is hard at work trying to convince you that they already won the race to 5G with something they call "5G Evolution." That is simply untrue.

Don't be fooled. 5G Evolution isn't new or true 5G. It is fake 5G.

They would love for you to believe they are different ... better. The truth is AT&T is simply offering customers a nationwide 4G LTE network just like Sprint and all the other major wireless carriers. It's not 5G.
AT&T first started upgrading customer iPhones to read "5GE" in the iOS 12.2 beta, and the misleading branding will become much more widespread when iOS 12.2 sees a public release.

Devices in areas with AT&T's "upgraded" LTE will display "5GE" instead of LTE, but it's not real 5G. There is no iPhone that exists right now that is capable of connecting to a 5G network, nor does AT&T offer a true 5G network at this time.

AT&T has defended itself by claiming that 5G Evolution is the "first step on the road to 5G," but customers and other carriers are not impressed with its misleading branding that has the potential to confuse customers when actual 5G networks become available. AT&T has, however, claimed that customers "love" the 5GE branding because they "want and deserve to know" when "better speeds" are available.
"We understand why our competitors don't like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.
Sprint has done more than just take out an ad against AT&T. In early February, Sprint filed a lawsuit in federal court against AT&T in an attempt to prevent AT&T from using the 5GE labeling on AT&T smartphones. Sprint says AT&T is damaging the consumer reputation and understanding of true 5G and potentially hurting Sprint's 5G launch this summer in nine metro areas.

True 5G smartphones won't be coming until later in 2019, and the 5G networks to support them also won't be available until later in the year. Rumors suggest Apple isn't planning to introduce 5G connectivity on its iPhones until 2020 at the earliest, so 5G is not a technology iPhone users will be able to take advantage of in 2019.

Tags: Sprint, AT&T, 5G, 5GE

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DirecTV Now Gains Apple TV App Integration

AT&T today announced that its DirecTV Now service has been updated with support for Apple's TV app.

With TV app integration, DirecTV Now users can take advantage of cross-device episode and movie tracking with the Up Next feature along with tailored content recommendations available on the DirecTV Now service using the Watch Now feature on the Apple TV.

There's so much on-demand content and live sports channels included with your DIRECTV NOW subscription, so the Apple TV app is a great place to help you find something new or jump back into your favorite on-demand show as new episodes arrive or quickly tune to a national sports broadcast.
The integration also means that Siri voice searches can be used to find TV shows and movies on DirecTV Now, which is useful for finding specific content. Siri searches work with the entire DirecTV on-demand library.


Siri also supports live tune-in with DirecTV Now so you can access specific live channels with a command like "Siri, tune in to [your favorite channel]" to open up the DirecTV Now app and turn on the channel.


The final feature included in the integration is single sign-on, which allows DirecTV customers to sign in once with their username and login to access available content across any supported third-party app.

Apple TV users with a DirecTV Now subscription will see a prompt to integrate their data with the TV app after playing a DVR show for the first time. AT&T says that the updates enabling TV app support will be pushed out to DirecTV customers automatically.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 12
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Don't Buy)

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Disney in Talks to Acquire WarnerMedia’s 10% Stake in Hulu, Resulting in 70% Ownership After Fox Acquisition

Disney is in active discussions with AT&T in an effort to acquire the 10 percent ownership stake that WarnerMedia has in Hulu, according to a report by Variety. Disney already owns a 30 percent stake in Hulu, and is soon to gain Fox's 30 percent stake once regulatory approvals for the Disney/20th Century Fox acquisition go through.


This means that if Disney does end up with both AT&T and Fox's stakes, it will own a 70 percent majority of the Hulu streaming service. The last remaining company with a stake is Comcast/NBCUniversal, and in a statement last month NBCU CEO Steve Burke said that "Disney would like to buy us out...I don't think anything's going to happen in the near term."

At this point, it's believed that even with a 70 percent control of Hulu, Disney would leave the platform as it is, focused on general entertainment with TV shows and films for subscribers to watch. In contrast, the upcoming Disney+ streaming service will be the platform where customers can get Disney-focused content in a more family-friendly environment.

For AT&T, the company is said to be looking to sell its minority stake in Hulu as it prepares to launch its own streaming service in late 2019. This service will be divided into three tiers: "one focused on movies; one with movies plus original programming; and a third tier comprising content from the first two along with WarnerMedia library content and licensed programming."

Apple's own entry into the streaming service market will happen soon, as the company plans to introduce its TV service at an event on March 25. While we will likely gain a lot of information about the service at that time, it's not expected to launch until the summer or fall of 2019.

Tags: AT&T, Disney, Hulu

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Deals Spotlight: AT&T Offering Apple TV 4K At No Cost When Signing Up for Fiber Internet

AT&T has kicked off a new Apple TV 4K promotion, this one tied to the company's Fiber Internet service. For the month of February, anyone who signs up for AT&T Fiber Internet 300 or Fiber Internet 1000 will have the chance to get a 32GB Apple TV 4K at no cost. Shoppers should note that the deal is contingent upon AT&T Fiber being available in your area.

Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with AT&T. When you click a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small payment, which helps us keep the site running.

AT&T Fiber Internet 300 costs $70/month and Fiber Internet 1000 costs $90/month, and both plans require customers to sign up for a twelve-month agreement. For Fiber Internet 300, customers will have a 1TB monthly data cap, and a $10 charge for each additional 50GB of data they need if they exceed their cap. Fiber Internet 1000 has no data cap.

To get the new deal, head to ATT.com, click "Check Availability," and enter your address. Those eligible for the deal and in an area supported by AT&T Fiber will then see the plans available to purchase. Choose either the 300 Mbps or 1000 Mbps tier, and during the checkout screen enter the promo code GET4KTV to add the Apple TV 4K to your order at no additional cost.


If you've been planning to switch to Fiber Internet, AT&T's new promo is a great chance to save a lot of money on a brand-new Apple TV 4K. At 32GB, these models currently sell for around $170 at places like B&H Photo.

AT&T previously offered a notable discount on the 32GB Apple TV 4K during a DirecTV Now promotion, which required customers to prepay for 3 months of DirecTV Now at $105 to get an Apple TV at no cost. The company has since ended this offer, and during a recent earnings report AT&T stated that DirecTV Now saw a large decline in subscribers after the deal ended.

Anyone interested in the new offer should visit AT&T's website to browse Fiber Internet packages, and be sure to head to our full Deals Roundup to check out more sales happening this week.

Related Roundup: Apple Deals
Tag: AT&T

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AT&T Sued by Sprint for Misleading ‘5GE’ Branding

Sprint has filed a lawsuit in federal court against AT&T for its false "5G Evolution" claims that appeared on some iPhones in iOS 12.2 beta 2 earlier this week, and on Android phones in January (via Engadget). AT&T says that this "5GE" label indicates to customers when they are in an area where 5G Evolution "may be available," but it's really just an upgraded version of 4G LTE, because any form of 5G on an iPhone is impossible at this point.


Apple will have to release new hardware to support 5G services, a launch that isn't expected until 2020. Because of this, Sprint has filed an injunction to prevent AT&T from using 5GE tags on its devices or in advertising, claiming that AT&T is damaging the consumer reputation and understanding of true 5G, and potentially hurting Sprint's upcoming launch of 5G in the process.

In the claim, Sprint explains that it commissioned a survey and found that 54 percent of consumers believed that the "5GE" networks were the same as, or even better, than true 5G. Forty-three percent thought that if they purchased an AT&T smartphone today it will be 5G capable, both of which are not true.

Now, Sprint wants to stop AT&T from damaging the 5G brand while it builds a "legitimate early entry into the 5G network space." Like every other network carrier, Sprint has been working on a wide-scale 5G network that has previously been said to launch in late 2019. True 5G networks will grant users faster data speeds and lower latency on compatible smartphones and other cellular devices.

For Apple, the company won't release an iPhone that can connect to 5G data networks until at least 2020. While other companies will begin supporting 5G in smartphones in 2019, Apple is delaying support due to expected issues with early 5G launches, like poor coverage. Apple took the same strategy during the launch of 3G and 4G, the two previous generations of high-speed mobile services.

Tags: Sprint, AT&T, 5GE

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