Thursday, March 31, 2011

Verizon's 4G LTE network is the real thing...and it's really fast, too

While we wait to see what AT&T has up its wireless sleeve locally tomorrow, Verion Wireless is already off to a big start in true 4G.

You'll see T-Mobile and AT&T advertising their current services as 4G. Think of them as a slightly faster 3G variant. They are not what you should think of as 4G. I think AT&T will announce its 4G LTE (long term evolution) plans for Charlotte tomorrow.

Verizon has been going here for a few months and last week announced support for most major cities in the Carolinas.

Recently, I was able to test the 4G LTE network courtesy of one of the company's 4G USB mobile modems, which run $50 to $100 with a two-year contract. And boy is it fast.

I got a consistent 4G connection all over Charlotte and the speed blew me away. I got faster download speeds via this USB than on my Windstream DSL which gives me about 13 Mbps download. With Verizon I got 18 down and about 10 Mbps upload, or five times as fast as my home network.

YouTube HD screamed, streaming anything screamed.

If all you do is email and check a few web pages, I'm not sure 4G is for you, but if you really like to work and send attachments and heavy surf on the move, this is the way to go.

It's night and day versus any 3G modem I've tried.

OK, so what does all this 4G goodness cost you? It's $50 per month for 5 gigs or $80 for 10 gigs. That's a lot of streaming and surfing and downloading. Go past those limits and you pay $10 per gig.

That's the same price Verizon charges for its 3G mobile plans, though it offers a couple cheaper options that aren't available with 4G: $35 for 3 gigs and $20 for one gig.

Here's why your next umbrella should be a golf umbrella

On this dreary rainy Wednesday in Charlotte -- with prospects of another dreary rainy Thursday in the Queen City -- many of us are digging up our umbrellas.

As I walked uptown this morning, I was quite dry underneath TaylorMade Golf's new Auto Open Double Canopy umbrella.

First thing you notice is the gel handle. Instead of being pre-molded to fit some generic hand, this thing conforms to yours and is quite comfortable. When you let it go, like PlayDough or TempurPedic beds, the gel returns to form.

It's got a 68-inch footprint -- so your back side and your pants legs won't get wet unless you plop in a puddle -- and the company said this model can withstand hurricane force winds.

I don't know about that, but I had it out a few weeks ago when we had that run of really bad wind. To test the theory, I walked down the street -- in dead sunlight. One of my neighbors came outside and busted up laughing at me.

The wind didn't bother this model a'tall. It kept its shape.

Then I took a very popular large model umbrella that I keep in the back of my car and walked down the same neighborhood street. It folded inward, snapped and yours truly was out $50. Wasn't too happy about that either.

If you're a golfer, you know that golf companies, like TaylorMade and Nike and Callaway, have done some downright ingenious things like creating apparel that is thin and light yet keeps you awful warm in the cold or keeps the sweat off your body and keeps your cooler (even wearing dark colors) in summer.

Their rain gear is second-to-none in terms of keeping you dry. Even if you don't play golf, it's worth a visit to a local golf store to check out this technology. Those little yellow raincoats you buy have nothing on this.

And as far as umbrellas go, I won't think about getting anything else anymore.

No more inward-folding, snapping expensive umbrellas for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why bill H129 is bad for cable internet....and you

-- Image Source: IndyWeek

Our state is not looking so good this week.

A bill called H129 ("the Level Playing Field/Local Gov't Competition" act) passed the N.C. House of Representatives Monday by a count of 81-37. The bill's sponsor, Marilyn Avila, a Republican from Wake County told a Raleigh TV station that the bill protect businesses from what she called "predatory" local governments that want to build their own ISPs.

Excuse me?

This bill will make it really hard to provide competition to the big cable company and make it really hard for customers to have choice and make it really easy for the big cable company to set prices where they want.

Put simply, the bill says that the local government-owned cable company is unfairly competing against the big guys. Here's the catch. The local guy often offers better service at a cheaper price.

What's wrong with a little competition? That's good for consumers.

Orange County democrat Bill Faison told a Raleigh TV station that "this bill will make it practically impossible for cities to provide a fundamental service. Where's the bill to govern Time Warner? Let's be clear about whose bill this is. This is Time Warner's bill. You need to know who you're doing this for."

Ding. Ding. Ding.

Some of these smaller cable broadband networks run by locals offer faster speeds than the big boys for cheaper prices. And at a time when some behemoths like AT&T DSL are placing broadband data caps on some customers, the locals are lowering prices and telling your to surf and download to your heart's content.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., the city-owned EPB Fiber Optics will deliver uber-fast 30 Mbps internet, plus 194 channels of standard and HD plus video on demand services for $105 per month. Want to add phone? That'll be $120. And if you want, you can get delirious internet speeds, up to 1,000 Mbps.

Sound good to anyone out there?

In Wilson, NC, the Greenlight Community Network offers upload and download speeds of 100 Mpbs for $149 (most cable companies that even offer 100 down, only give you 5 up). In fact, all of Greenlight's options offer the same speeds up and down, meaning when you're sending email attachments or big picture or movie files, they move faster.

Greenlight offers tons of bundle packages running from $99 to $169 for "the ultimate" bundle of phone, TV with movie channels and internet. Locally in Charlotte, Time Warner cable offers 100 Mbps internet for $99 per month and has a "Signature Home Bundle" of its premier phone, internet and TV service for $199 for the first 12 months. The price increases after that and it does not include movie channels.

TWC has cheaper options, but going through Greenlight and TWC's offerings, I think given the choice here, which I don't have, I'd get Greenlight.

And as you wonder about this bill passing through our state government, also consider a study by GigaOM recently that showed our state holding seven of 10 places among the 10 most expensive broadband cities in the United States.

H129 has a lot of specifics -- requiring public hearings for cities that want to build their own networks and opportunities for private companies to offer proposals -- and has been so controversial that Raleigh, the state capitol, has come out against it.

Now, the state senate will decide whether to pass H129 and move the bill to the governor's desk. It's getting close to law.

Let's hope someone stops it before it gets there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amazon's new cloud drive gives PC and Android users music anywhere

Amazon debuted its new cloud-based music streaming service Tuesday. It's called "Amazon Cloud Drive."

What's "the cloud"? It's basically digital storage on an Amazon hard drive and you can access this drive from any PC, laptop or Android mobile device.

So instead of having to load your music, videos and files onto all three, you free up that space and pull it down when you want to. If your computer crashes, all your music files and videos and photos are not lost with it. And even if you have a backup hard drive on site, here's a third backup for extra, extra security.

iPhone customers won't be able to use the service on their portable devices, though Apple is expected to launch its own streaming service later this year.

Downside to Amazon Cloud? On your portable devices, if you're using your data plan from your cellular provider, you can run up some expensive charges by always streaming music or especially watching videos (read: don't let your kids have at it all the time).

Also, if you don't have a great connection, you could be singing along with Janet Jackson or Lady Gaga or the Black Eyed Peas and kind of feel like I used to when my 45 records used to scratch. That is, the song will go in and out.

And I guess some folks will feel like Big Brother is watching -- or snooping around to see what you might be loading up in your digital locker.

Amazon will offer users 5 gigs for free. That's plenty for most folks. You can buy more starting at 20 gigs for $20 per year. You can get 1,000 gigs for $1,000. And if you buy an album through Amazon's MP3 store before Dec. 31, you get a one-time free updrade to the 20 gig storage level.

Users will access content through a web player that is compatible with most web browsers on PCs and Macs and there's a downloadable Android app that I pulled down and works easily.

As I said earlier, iPhone users can't use it and you can't access it through the web browser either.

If nothing else, it's a neat backup for files and a great reason to never buy a portable device with a huge hard drive and a huge price tag again. Just wish it worked with all mobile devices, including Blackberry and Windows mobile.

Wal Mart offering trade-ins for new 3D Nintendo hand held

Want that new shiny Nintendo 3DS hand-held device that dropped this week (it does 3D images, kind of, without glasses)?

N.C. and S.C. Walmart customers can receive up to $100 credit towards the 3DS by trading in their old Nintendo DS units.

The credit amount will be based on the model traded in and customers can trade in up to two old DS units at a time for a total maximum credit of $200. The 3DS is $250. Trade-ins must include the AC adapter.

The program runs through April 30 or while supplies last.

IDC: Smart phone growth exploding; Android growing the fastest

The International Data Corporation (IDC) released an interesting report on smartphone usage today.

It forecasts smartphone users to grow by nearly 50 percent this year and says manufacturers will ship 450 million smartphones in 2011 compared to 303.4 million last year.

Currently, Android has 39.5 percent market share for smartphones according to IDC with Symbian second at 20.9, Apple third at 15.7 and BlackBerry fourth at 14.9

By 2015, it expects Android to have captured 45.4 percent of the smartphone base, followed by Windows at 20.9 percent, Apple at 15.3 and BlackBerry at 13.7.

Windows growth, IDC projects, will boosted by its partnership with Nokia who will abandon its Symbian system for Windows. Those new devices will launch next year.

No iPhone 5 until fall?

The blogosphere -- and many national news outlets -- are buzzing about reports from trustworthy sources like the Loop's Jim Dalrymple that we won't see an Apple iPhone 5 in June like we've seen the last several years.

Apple sent out invitations to its June 6-10 Worldwide Developers Conference Monday and the event -- which costs $1,600 per pass -- sold out in less than 12 hours. But Apple made it clear on the invitations that the event was to talk about the future of its mobile operating system, iOS, and the future of its computer operating system, MacOSX.

Apple is expected to ship its new desktop and laptop operating system, to be called Lion, in the summer. Analysts are now expecting the new mobile operating system -- and the new phone hardware -- to come in the fall.


Assuming these rumors are true -- and we could still see Steve Jobs on stage with a new iPhone come June -- I could only guess that Apple wants to get into the 4G universe and wants to make sure its device isn't as battery hungry as some of the early 4G handsets have been, and not as buggy.

Remember, Apple execs said when the Verizon phone dropped in February that to make it a 4G model would've forced 'design challenges'.

That probably meant that they couldn't make a thin enough phone with a big enough battery, or something along those lines.

Again, if true, this could be a gamble as people who have waited on the sidelines for iPhone 5, like Verizon customers who have already waited for years, would just grab a Thunderbolt or other Android offering.

We'll know more come June.

AT&T plans to introduce "4G" to Charlotte Friday

Last week, Verizon added several Carolinas cities to its expanded 4G LTE network. Friday, AT&T will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. in Marshall Park to announce what it calls "key network improvements planned for Charlotte this year." The release also says it will bring 4G speeds here.

AT&T says those upgrades will focus on faster data speeds and extra mobile broadband capacity at key venues.

Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx and Moira Quinn of Charlotte Center City Partners are expected to attend the event.

AT&T has said it plans to deploy its 4G LTE network later this year and into next year. Here's the confusing part: AT&T and T-Mobile are already telling customers they offer 4G, when what is being offered is, well, 3G.5. Technically it's called HSPA+ and the 3G variant does allow for speeds well above what you think of as 3G.

But it's not what you should think of as 4G.


Hopefully we'll find out more Friday, but I'd bet this is real 4G coming here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Verizon expands its 4G LTE network in North Carolina

Early in the week, AT&T made news with its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile that would significantly bolster its coverage map in the state over the next few years.

Verizon apparently doesn't want to make its local customers wait.

It announced today an additional 59 markets that would benefit from its 4G LTE network that is currently deployed in Charlotte. Joining the Queen City with 4G today are Asheville, Fayetteville, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, Raleigh-Durham and Wilmington.

After today's announcement, Verizon claims at least 147 cities in the country will have access to 4G.

Currently, only the HTC Thunderbolt, released last Thursday, is the only consumer smartphone to take advantage of the new network. Previously, Verizon released two USB modems from Pantech and LG that use the 4G network.

Here are all the cities that now has some 4G goodness:

· Phoenix, Ariz.

· Los Angeles, Calif.

· Oakland, Calif.

· San Diego, Calif.

· San Francisco, Calif.

· San Jose, Calif.

· Denver, Colo.

· Washington, D.C.

· Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

· Jacksonville, Fla.

· Miami, Fla.

· Orlando, Fla.

· Tampa, Fla.

· West Palm Beach, Fla.

· Athens, Ga.

· Atlanta, Ga.

· Chicago, Ill.

· West Lafayette, Ind.

· New Orleans, La.

· Baltimore, Md.

· Boston, Mass.

· Detroit, Mich.

· Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.

· St. Louis, Mo.

· Las Vegas, Nev.

· New York, N.Y.

· Rochester, N.Y.

· Charlotte, N.C.

· Akron, Ohio

· Cincinnati, Ohio

· Cleveland, Ohio

· Columbus, Ohio

· Oklahoma City, Okla.

· Philadelphia, Pa.

· Pittsburgh, Pa.

· Nashville, Tenn.

· Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas

· Houston, Texas

· San Antonio, Texas

· Seattle/Tacoma, Wash.

Additional areas to be covered by Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network in 2011 include:

· Decatur, Ala.

· Huntsville, Ala.*

· Mobile, Ala.*

· Montgomery, Ala.*

· Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Ark.

· Fort Smith, Ark.

· Little Rock, Ark.*

· Tucson, Ariz.

· Bakersfield, Calif.

· Fresno, Calif.

· Modesto, Calif.

· Sacramento, Calif.

· Salinas-Monterey, Calif.

· San Luis Obispo, Calif.

· Santa Barbara, Calif.

· Stockton, Calif.

· Colorado Springs, Colo.*

· Fort Collins, Colo.

· Fairfield, Conn.

· Hartford, Conn.

· New Haven, Conn.

· Daytona Beach, Fla.

· Fort Myers, Fla.

· Gainesville, Fla.*

· Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.*

· Pensacola, Fla.*

· Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.*

· Tallahassee, Fla.*

· Augusta, Ga.*

· Hilo, Hawaii

· Honolulu, Hawaii*

· Kahului-Wailuku, Hawaii*

· Lahaina, Hawaii*

· Davenport, Iowa

· Iowa City, Iowa

· Boise-Nampa, Idaho*

· Bloomington/Normal, Ill.

· Carbondale, Ill.*

· Champaign, Ill.

· Rockford, Ill.

· Springfield, Ill.

· Fort Wayne, Ind.

· Indianapolis, Ind.

· Lafayette, Ind.

· Wichita, Kan.*

· Louisville, Ky.

· Baton Rouge, La.*

· Hammond, La.*

· Springfield, Mass.

· Worcester, Mass.

· Hagerstown, Md.

· Flint, Mich.*

· Grand Rapids, Mich.

· Lansing, Mich.

· Saginaw-Bay City, Mich.

· Starkville, Miss.

· Asheville-Henderson, N.C.

· Fayetteville-Lumberton, N.C.*

· Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point, N.C.*

· Raleigh-Durham, N.C.*

· Wilmington, N.C.*

· Fargo, N.D.

· Omaha, Neb.

· Albuquerque, N.M.

· Las Cruces, N.M.

· Santa Fe, N.M.

· Reno, Nev.

· Albany, N.Y.

· Ithaca, N.Y.

· Syracuse, N.Y.

· Dayton-Springfield, Ohio*

· Lima, Ohio

· Toledo, Ohio

· Tulsa, Okla.*

· Portland, Ore.

· Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pa.

· Erie, Pa.*

· Harrisburg, Pa.

· Johnstown, Pa.

· Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Pa.

· State College, Pa.*

· Charleston, S.C.*

· Columbia, S.C.*

· Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.*

· Hilton Head, S.C.*

· Sioux Falls, S.D.*

· Chattanooga, Tenn.*

· Clarksville, Tenn.*

· Cleveland, Tenn.*

· Dyersburg-Union City, Tenn.

· Jackson, Tenn.

· Kingsport-Johnson City, Tenn.-Bristol, Va.*

· Knoxville, Tenn.*

· Memphis, Tenn.*

· Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas*

· Bryan-College Station, Texas*

· El Paso, Texas

· Temple-Killeen, Texas

· Provo-Orem, Utah*

· Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah*

· Olympia, Wash.*

· Centralia, Wash.*

· Spokane, Wash.

· Charleston, W.Va.*

· Madison, Wis.*

· Milwaukee, Wis.*

* Indicates a metro area previously announced in 2011

Apple removes controversial anti-gay app from App Store

Under pressure from several gay rights groups, including Truth Wins Out, Apple has removed a controversial app from its App Store called "Exodus International."

Created by an organization of the same name, the app was billed as something for people looking to cure themselves or someone else of homosexuality. The app claimed to provide a chance of "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus” and released last month.
Now, Exodus has been exodus-ed.

Truth Wins Out had started a petition that had reached 150,000 signatures denouncing the application. Truth Wins Out claimed the app used bad science and research as it claimed that homosexuality was curable.

Exodus International president Alan Chambers tweeted, "It’s official, the @ExodusInl App is no longer in the @AppStore. Incredibly disappointing. Watch out, it could happen to you."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TW Cable adding more HD channels

Continuing on a year of constant innovations, Time Warner Cable is adding a few more HD channels for its customers beginning tomorrow.

WMAX (Cinemax) HD
@MAX (Cinemax) HD
OuterMax HD
Starz Edge HD
Starz Kids & Family HD
Starz Comedy HD

Time Warner Cable is also launching Brigham Young University TV (BYU TV) on digital channel 287.

Time Warner Cable says it now offers more than 130 HD channels in the Carolinas.

New Samsung tablet thinner than iPad 2, priced similarly

Back when Apple announced its razor thin iPad 2, some Samsung execs felt they needed to go back to the drawing board with their new tablet.

Looks like they came up with something pretty special.

The company plans to release a 10.1 inch version and an 8.9. Both measure .33 inches thick, slightly thinner than the .34 inch iPad2. The comapny also said both models are lighter than iPad 2: the 10.1 weighs 1.31 pounds and the 8.9 just 1.03.

Pricing is also aggressive.

A WiFi 10.1 model arrives June 8. The 16 gig version will match iPad 2 at $499 and the 32 gig is $599. The 8.9 inch model will cost $469 and $569 for 16 or 32 gigs.

The WiFi 10.1 will hit on June 8th -- the 16GB version will cost you $499 and the 32GB $599. The 8.9 is $469 and $569 for 16GB and 32GB, respectively.

Both models are packed with features: 3 megapixel camera with LED flash on the back; 2 meg shooter on the front for video chat; 1 gig dual-core processors and battery life good for up to 10 hours of video playback.

The Samsung tablets will use the Android Honeycomb operating system that is in the Motorola Xoom and its own TouchWhiz system overtop of that.

Does this whet your appetite or are you sticking with Xoom or iPad 2?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Could Panther Jordan Gross be on the cover of Madden 12?

EA Sports is allowing fans to select the next cover athlete for its upcoming Madden NFL 12 videogame.

Beginning today and running through April 27, fans can use the bracket-style voting campain at and choose among 32 candidates, one from each team.

Offensive lineman Jordan Gross is the Carolina Panthers candidate.

The winner will be revealed on ESPN's SportsNation April 27

Candidates from each NFL team were selected and seeded based on a variety of criteria including on-the-field performance during the 2010 NFL season, their visibility within their franchise and community, and their personal career journey.

How AT&T's T-Mobile acquisition could affect N.C. coverage

After the big announcement that AT&T plans to swallow T-Mobile USA (click here to read more), the company has sent out some images to help show what it might mean for customers.

The “before” map shows AT&T's projected LTE 4G coverage in Nouth Carolina at the end of 2013 without T-Mobile. The “after” shows the total area covered by LTE with the combined company in 2017.

AT&T plans to acquire T-Mobile, improve cell coverage

It's been a bit of a long running (if sometimes flawed) joke in the cell business that AT&T Wireless service is the pits.

That joke could be getting really old fast now that AT&T has officially announced plans to acquire T-Mobile USA in a $39 billion cash and stock deal. The agreement, which needs federal approval, was OK'd by both companies board of directors.

The acquisition should be complete within 12 months and make the combined company the nation's largest wireless group. AT&T currently has about 96 million subscribers and T-Mobile nearly 34 million. The combined company would capture 42 percent of all U.S. wireless subscribers. Verizon has 31 percent, according to industry analysts.

AT&T says the potential merger would allow it to bring true 4G (LTE) mobile broadband speeds to 95 percent of the U.S. population, reaching 46.5 million more Americans than AT&T's current plan will allow for. Current T-Mobile subscribers will get access to the true LTE 4G network when it's deployed. T-Mobile currently advertises its network as 4G, but it's really more of a 3.5 G network, operating on current 3G technology, technically called HSPA+.

AT&T -- which could be on the hook for a $3 billion breakup fee to T-Mobile if the deal doesn't go through -- said the new spectrum it gains will help improve signal strength and voice quality in existing markets and help it grow. It says its mobile data grew 8,000 percent over the past four years. In four years, AT&T said it will take six or seven weeks to reach the amount of data its networks carried in all of last year.

What will this mean for the consumer? Hopefully better cell coverage via the new AT&T, hopefully super fast and reliable 4G speeds, but hopefully not at significantly higher costs. T-Mobile's forum page about the changes is already lighting up.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Jailbroken Verizon iPhone 4 on Cricket

Appears it's possible to have a pay as you go iPhone already, even as rumors of Apple releasing a new cheaper version in June continue to bubble.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Steve Jobs makes suprising appearance to introduce iPad 2

Despite being out of work on medical leave, Apple's Steve Jobs took the stage at a San Francisco news conference to introduce the new iPad 2 Wednesday.

The new device hits store March 11.

Jobs said Apple has sold more than 15 million iPads in 2010, from April to December accounting for nearly $10 billion in revenue.

"More than every Tablet PC ever sold," Jobs said.

The new iPad will be, Jobs said, up to twice as fast on CPU performance. He said graphics are nine times faster while not increasing power consumption from the first iPad. Battery life remains at 10 hours.

It will use a dual-core processor (Apple's new A5 chip). It comes in white and black. It's got front and rear facing cameras. It's got the same gyroscope that is in iPod and iPhone. It's also 33 percent thinner than the first iPad, thinner than the iPhone 4. The device -- which weighs 1.3 pounds, down from 1.5 -- will work on AT&T and Verizon's networks.

There's also HDMI out with 1080P video support. And iPad will do mirror video so you can see what's on the TV screen and the iPad at the same time. A special $39 cable will be needed for HDMI usage.

Pricing will remain the same as the current iPad: $499 for 16 gig Wifi, $599 for 32 gig Wifi and $699 for 64 gig Wifi. The 3G models add a $130 price premium on top of that.


--Apple is designing what it calls "Smart Covers" for the iPad. They will use magnetism to cover the front of the device and will also prop it up for reading and light typing.

A microfiber lining will clean the screen when in use and the iPad will go to sleep when covered and wake up when uncovered.

There will be five poly and five leather versions, in multiple colors, for $39 (poly) or $69 (leather).

-- Apple also released its latest mobile software, iOS 4.3. Releasing March 11, it allows home sharing of iTunes content via WiFi and faster browser performance. Ir will also bring the Wifi hotspot capabilities to all iPhone 4s. Currently, Verizon iPhones can do the hotspot, turning the phone into a internet connection for up to five devices.

-- The new iPad 2 cameras will take advantage of a photo software called PhotoBooth that allows users to manipulate images, and they will allow FaceTime video calls between iPhone 4, iPad 2 and Mac users.

-- Apple also is bringing its popular GarageBand music app and its iMovie editing suite to iPad as $4.99 apps.

-- Jobs said Random House will bring 17,000 books to Apple's iBooks store today and that makes more than 2,500 publishers distributing through the e-retailer.

-- Jobs said more than 200 million people have iTunes accounts used to buy music, videos and books through Apple's e-stores.

-- He said Apple recently shipped its 100 millionth iPhone.