The UpStream

Xbox contributed to Microsoft's huge quarter, will continue all year

posted Sunday Jul 26, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Xbox contributed to Microsoft's huge quarter, will continue all year

With the world in a state of change, some companies have found ways to address the new issues. Microsoft has found two fronts on which to focus to make life easier for those who are now finding themselves at home nearly constantly. On one side, Microsoft Teams has addressed a large percentage of business communication issues. It combines the best of Slack and Zoom into a single product in a service that is part of the Microsoft 365 subscription that most companies already have. However, the entertainment division has also addressed an aspect of lockdown life with Xbox.

It's no surprise that gaming has seen a rise in usage while people are forced to be at home all day. But, Microsoft's Xbox division was accidentally prepared for this increase already care of Xbox Game Pass. With the service, you get access to hundreds of games on console or PC for a single price. This gives subscribers the ability to play different games on a whim, which can be a huge benefit when you're trying to stave off boredom. On the company's quarterly earning report, the company specifically called out Xbox revenue as significant.

But, it might just be the beginning for Xbox. With the newest member of the family, Xbox Series X, coming later this year, Microsoft is revealing more information. This week, the company revealed first looks at a large collection of new titles, all of which will be available on the Xbox Game Pass at launch. These titles range from Psychonauts 2 to a new Fable game, bringing titles for nearly any player. And, with the game being part of the Game Pass service, none of thse new titles will cost subscribers anything additional to play.

Adding to the information revealed last week that Project xCloud will be included as part of Game Pass Ultimate, even mobile game streaming will be part of this service in the near future. Microsoft is going all-in on subscription services, which will regulate corporate revenue and provide huge benefits for most users.

AT&T and T-Mobile are taking a different approach to network upgrades

posted Saturday Jul 25, 2020 by Scott Ertz

AT&T and T-Mobile are taking a different approach to network upgrades

This week, AT&T created concern with its customer base when an email was sent out informing users that their phone would not work following an upcoming network upgrade. The solution to their problem was simply to purchase a new phone. Easy, right? Obviously not. The price of a phone can be incredibly high, especially if you're purchasing more feature-rich devices. Plus, the process of changing devices can be a challenge, either because of the transition of data or because of our general comfort level with what we already know.

However, there's a bigger problem here. While AT&T says that users should purchase a new phone soon to avoid service interruption, the network upgrade will not be happening until 2022. That means that the phone replacements, according to the company's own email, should not be required until that time. Yet, the email that was sent out doesn't reveal that information directly. Instead, you needed to click a link and read further before this important information was revealed. AT&T claims that this was an accidental omission from the email, but how many people had to vet that email before it was released? And, through that process, no one noticed that they forgot to give a time table?

On the other side of the coin is T-Mobile. Both companies are planning on shutting down their 3G networks, requiring some users to replace phones. However, T-Mobile has been very open with its information. The company's network transition will take place in January 2021, and will require users without Voice Over LTE capability to replace their devices. The company has already discontinued all incompatible devices, and will not allow customers to activate existing incompatible devices after August 4.

But, let's take a look at the major device families and where their cutoff lines are. For Apple, iPhone 6 and newer are all compatible (that's 7 generations of iPhone). For Samsung, the Galaxy S7 and newer are all compatible (5 generations), and the Galaxy Note 3 and newer are compatible. So, as you can see, it requires a very old device to be in trouble - at least in regards to the flagships. If your device is incompatible, you'll soon be receiving a text message informing you of the issue.

Peacock's launch has been confusing for both viewers and Comcast

posted Sunday Jul 19, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Peacock's launch has been confusing for both viewers and Comcast

This week, the much anticipated Peacock streaming service finally launched to a mostly positive reception. While some have complained about the number of ads, anyone who has used the NBC-branded streaming website or app knows it's still less than on that platform. However, the amount of on-demand content available for free is staggering: from modern favorites like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, to classic shows like The Carol Burnett Show and Murder She Wrote, there's a lot to watch.

But, there's been a lot of confusion involved in the launch as well. For example, users were surprised to find they can watch the Fox series Hell's Kitchen on the NBCUniversal-owned platform. While it's nice to see non-Universal series available on the platform, the show is missing a lot of its content. Of the 10 episodes in the first season, there are only 7 available on Peacock, while all 10 are available on the Disney-owned Hulu (Disney now owns Fox). If a series is going to skip episodes, including seasons finales, why even offer it at all?

The service seemingly has also been confusing for NBC itself. The company had to take a new approach to its upfront presentation this year. This presentation is usually a big event held in New York to present the newest slate of shows to advertisers, but this year a big gathering wasn't possible. To compensate, they created a 30 Rock special that served as the presentation. In it, they talked a lot about Peacock, because it's a place where advertisers can buy ad space.

Like we have become familiar with Hulu, the next morning (usually around 5 am Eastern), the show or special appears on streaming platforms. Since Peacock was brand new and highly featured in the special, it was reasonable to see the same behavior for Peacock. Unfortunately, it didn't appear on Peacock until 9 pm Eastern. However, it appeared on NBC's app and website in the morning. This goes to show that NBC still isn't sure exactly how or if these two platforms will live together, and which is more important to the business.

Before Peacock can really emerge as a top-tier freemium subscription service, NBC is going to need to work out what service is the priority and make consumers aware of that move.

Twitter's massive hack and the poor response from the company

posted Saturday Jul 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Twitter's massive hack and the poor response from the company

Twitter's public perception has been dropping rapidly over the past few months, with many users abandoning the platform for alternatives. But, their public perception took its biggest hit this week when a collection of high profile accounts tweeted nearly identical Bitcoin scam posts. The affected accounts included Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and more. In total, 130 accounts were affected, of which 45 were fully hijacked. The hack generated at least $120k for the hackers.

While the hack itself was newsworthy, the real story was in the way it happened and how the company responded. While the incident was happening, the company and its CEO Jack Dorsey were surprisingly quiet. It was hours after the incident became news before Dorsey addressed it in any way. This has led people to wonder just how involved in the company the CEO actually is. The company itself was equally not existent in the early hours of the hack.

While no public interaction was happening, private interaction was also quiet. This was surprising, as the company was making some big changes to the way verified accounts worked. In fact, they were making them not work. For many high profile users, the ability to tweet and access private messages was completely disabled. This was obviously done in an attempt to stop the spread of the scam, but without explanation, it produced confusion and concern about their own account's safety. Some even created new accounts to let their fans know they were unable to tweet.

However, no information of value came from the company for days. In fact, the first real information came in a blog post 3 days after the hack. In the post, it was explained that the hackers used sophisticated social engineering tactics to get the credentials for employees. Social engineering involves creating scenarios wherein those being targeted believe you are part of their circle. For some great examples, check out the song Social Engineering by nerdcore rapper ytcracker.

Once the hackers got access to the employees' credentials, they used them to access tools intended specifically for employees. Through those tools, they were able to access the affected accounts and post the scam tweets. While the company was trying to fix the problem, when they would reclaim access to an account, it would be lost again within minutes. That is what led to the shutdown of verified accounts.

As of now, the assault seems to be over, but not all functionality has been restored for all users.

Microsoft clears out the old and announces the new for Xbox's future

posted Saturday Jul 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft clears out the old and announces the new for Xbox's future

While the rest of the world seems to be melting down, 2020 is going to be a big year for the major gaming brands. Both PlayStation and Xbox will be launching new hardware in the coming months, and Microsoft is already preparing for that transition to the new generation of console. They also announced some of how Project xCloud will work once it comes out of beta and releases to the public.

The first and most immediate move has been for several of the current generation of Xbox consoles to be discontinued. This includes all variants of the Xbox One X and Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. Despite the fact that the Xbox Series X is not slated to release until the 2020 Holiday season, the availability of the current consoles is already depleted. The Microsoft Store and Amazon already show limited or no availability on both devices, while Best Buy shows all consoles out of stock and Wal-Mart only has them from third-party sellers for a massive markup. Some of the availability issues could be related to increased demand during the lockdown, but it could also become permanent if production has ended.

On a more positive note, the company also gave us some further clarification on the future of Project xCloud, Microsoft's Xbox game streaming service. In November, the company announced that the service would be integrated into the Game Pass family, but gave no real details about what that meant. This week, we learned that the feature will be a free addition to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which has been called the best deal in gaming.

The Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service currently offers a combination of Xbox Game Pass Console ($9.99), Xbox Game Pass PC ($9.99), and Xbox Live Gold ($9.99) for one price of $14.99 per month. Adding the ability to use Project xCloud (or whatever it ends up being called) will make this deal even harder to pass up. However, for those not interested in subscribing to Ultimate, there is no word what the standalone price will be, assuming it will be offered as a standalone service.

Project xCloud will be generally available and be added to the service starting in September. It promises access to "over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles." While this is a smaller selection than the available games on the other platforms, streaming rights can be difficult to secure, so it's an expected situation. The title count still exceeds the current game selection in beta and the selection available from Google's Stadia.

FCC and mobile carriers are taking on scourge of scam phone calls

posted Saturday Jul 18, 2020 by Scott Ertz

FCC and mobile carriers are taking on scourge of scam phone calls

While everyone agrees on how annoying robocalls, especially scam calls, really are, it has long seemed that there was nothing that could be done about it. However, over the last couple of years, the FCC has figured out that this scourge is within their purview and decided to try to alleviate it. The problem has been that enforcing these new rules has been difficult. The biggest fine ever levied against a medical scam ring is likely to never be collected. So, the FCC is giving more control to the carriers.

The biggest move has been the implementation of a safe harbor within the Telephone

Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act enforcement. This will allow telecom companies to block all calls "from bad-actor upstream voice service providers that pass illegal or unwanted calls along to other providers, when those upstream providers have been notified but fail to take action to stop these calls."

The safe harbor aspect refers to protection for the companies from unintended consequences from the decision. In the past, a lack of such safe harbor protection has prevented many carriers from implementing a robust approach to protecting their subscribers from illegal calls. By extending these protections, the FCC hopes that telecoms will begin to implement more stringent policies against these "bad actors" which have been identified and contacted by the FCC.

But, not all illegal calls come from these "bad actor" services. In an attempt to deal with those calls that come through larger services, such as through automated calls on standard SIM cards or VoIP services, the combined T-Mobile and Sprint have begun to roll out protections for their subscribers. T-Mobile subscribers will not get free access to the Scam Shield service, which was previously a subscription service.

The service offers some common features available through other services, such as identifying and blocking spam and scam calls and getting full caller ID information. In addition, the service gives you a proxy number. This works similarly to Google Voice, in that you get an additional phone number that you can give out that will also ring to your device. You can then dump that number if it becomes a problem. These features will go live starting on July 24, 2020. Unfortunately, Sprint customers will not get access to all of the T-Mobile capabilities just yet, but can still access the Sprint equivalent.

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