The UpStream (Page 118)

Sprint Forced to Delay WiMAX Cutoff by Court

posted Saturday Nov 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Sprint Forced to Delay WiMAX Cutoff by Court

As the US carriers began implementing 4G technologies, Sprint was first to market, but took a different path from the rest of the pack. While Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all decided to go the GSM route with LTE, Sprint decided to stick with the technology that had served them well since the beginning, CDMA, opting for WiMAX technology. That choice ended up not sticking, and the company transitioned to LTE as well. Two years ago, though, Sprint purchased Clearwire (their WiMAX provider) in an attempt to keep their WiMAX network operational long enough to fulfill outstanding contracts.

In October of last year the company announced their intentions to shut down the WiMAX network on November 6, 2015. They gave everyone with a dog in the fight 13 months to make arrangements to transition off of the older technology onto LTE. The date was chosen because it put everyone with a WiMAX phone out of contract and eligible for a new device. It also gave larger network partners time to transition as well.

As it turns out, some organizations did not take the opportunity to prepare for the shutdown. In fact, a group of nonprofit organizations were caught so off-guard that they sued Sprint to prevent the shutdown. The group claimed that the technology shutdown violated their contract with Clearwire and they asked for an injunction to prevent the shutdown.

A Massachusetts Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction, preventing Sprint from ending service on their WiMAX network in certain areas used by the plaintiffs, Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen. The judge said the "plaintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits," leading to the injunction. It gives those involved an extra 90 days to try and solve the problem or further the lawsuit.

In this instance, they do seem to have a case. Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen have a 30 year contract with Clearwire for WiMAX coverage with unlimited data, but Sprint wants to enhance their LTE coverage using the current WiMAX spectrum and wants to throttle the speeds after 6GB. The groups said,

(It's a) near lethal blow to plaintiffs' non-profit users whether they be educational institutions, which educate children in traditional brick and mortar schools, or children who attend cyber schools because they do not have access to brick and mortar schools, or the senior or disabled person whose lifeline to medical care and other benefits is through the Internet.

Sprint responded saying,

We do hope that Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen will take this time to work cooperatively with Sprint to resolve the contract dispute. Our goal is to ensure that our EBS partners and our subscribers can use Sprint's best 4G LTE advanced broadband services as soon as possible.

It's likely that this will be resolved quickly one way or another, as Sprint's near- and long-term network upgrades depend on recapturing this spectrum, and will likely not let this sit for long.

Microsoft Cuts Storage Options, Free Storage on OneDrive

posted Wednesday Nov 4, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Cuts Storage Options, Free Storage on OneDrive

Almost exactly a year ago, Microsoft announced that they would be offering unlimited OneDrive storage to subscribers of Office 365. The feature rolled out fairly quickly to Office 365 Business customers, but it took a while to roll out to the consumer-level subscribers. As you would expect, offering unlimited storage to users resulted in some users storing A LOT of stuff in the cloud. The company said,

Since we started to roll out unlimited cloud storage to Office 365 consumer subscribers, a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings. In some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average.

That's a lot of data, but that's why it's unlimited, right? Wrong, apparently. When Microsoft saw that some users were using so much storage of their advertised unlimited storage, the company panicked. In fact, they panicked A LOT.

We're no longer planning to offer unlimited storage to Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscribers. Starting now, those subscriptions will include 1 TB of OneDrive storage.

100 GB and 200 GB paid plans are going away as an option for new users and will be replaced with a 50 GB plan for $1.99 per month in early 2016.

Free OneDrive storage will decrease from 15 GB to 5 GB for all users, current and new. The 15 GB camera roll storage bonus will also be discontinued. These changes will start rolling out in early 2016.

What this means is that a few bad apples ruined it for all of us. An average user who syncs their photos to OneDrive will lose 25GB of storage because of the unrelated actions of other people. The good news is that there are some options to help keep you afloat. If you are a free user who is currently using more than 5GB of storage, you can take advantage of a promotion to get a free year of Office 365 Personal, giving you a full year to figure out how to get under quota, or keep it past the year and continue to get 1TB of storage. You can also purchase an additional 50GB of storage for $1.99 per month.

For those who had their Office 365 Personal account mostly for the unlimited storage, you have the ability to cancel your subscription with a prorated refund. For the rest of us, though, 5GB is enough to store all of our pictures, and probably a ton of documents, as well.

Activision Blizzard Purchases King for $5.9 Billion

posted Wednesday Nov 4, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Activision Blizzard Purchases King for $5.9 Billion

The world of casual games has changed a lot in the past few years. While not long ago companies like PopCap and Yahoo! Games ruled the marketplace, today the landscape is dominated by companies like Zynga and King. But, while Zynga has had trouble keeping on top, losing that position to King in 2013, the latter has continued to see successes. In fact, 2014 saw $1.4 billion in revenue from their Candy Crush franchise.

In 2009, Electronic Arts saw the writing on the wall and purchased Playfish for $300 million, and PopCap 2 years later for $750 million (base). 2 years later, though, EA shut down Playfish, upsetting many with the loss of games like SimCity Social. While many saw this as an attempt by EA to exit the casual space, it actually turned out that they were attempting to focus their efforts into the more popular and profitable PopCap.

In an attempt to compete with the more established EA in the social marketplace, Activision Blizzard announced this week that they have acquired King Digital for an astounding $5.9 billion. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said of the acquisition,

The combined revenues and profits solidify our position as the largest, most profitable standalone company in interactive entertainment. With a combined global network of more than half a billion monthly active users, our potential to reach audiences around the world on the device of their choosing enables us to deliver great games to even bigger audiences than ever before.

Riccardo, Sebastian, and Stephane are some of the best minds in the business, and we have long-admired King for consistently creating incredibly fun, deeply engaging free-to-play games that capture the imaginations of players across ages and demographics. Activision Blizzard will provide King with experience, support and investment to continue to build on their tremendous legacy and reach new potential. We share an unwavering commitment to attracting and developing the best talent in the business, and we are excited about what we will be able to accomplish together.

King CEO Riccardo Zacconi added,

We are excited to be entering into this Acquisition with Activision Blizzard. Since 2003, we have built one of the largest player networks on mobile and Facebook, with 474 million monthly active users in the third quarter 2015, and our talented team has created some of the most successful mobile game franchises. We believe that the Acquisition will position us very well for the next phase of our company's evolution and will bring clear benefits to our players and employees. We will combine our expertise in mobile and free-to-play with Activision Blizzard's world-class brands and proven track record of building and sustaining the most successful franchises, to bring the best games in the world to millions of players worldwide. We are very much looking forward to working with Activision Blizzard. We have two teams that, together, will have an amazing footprint, innovative technology, and leadership across platforms, and unique, established IPs to delight one of the largest networks of players in the world.

What will this newly combined company be able to accomplish? There is no real telling, but they are adding a group of incredibly talented developers, designers and game creators to the family. Perhaps it will breathe some creative life into the company - something that is desperately needed as they trudge down the road of annual iterations as opposed to creating new, exciting content.

What do you think? Is this massive purchase good for Activision and King? Let us know in the comments.

A New Era for IBM Starts Today

posted Monday Oct 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

A New Era for IBM Starts Today

IBM is a company that everyone knows. Everyone has an impression of who the company is and what they represent, and that vision is based on when they were introduced to the company. If you were introduced to the company in the early 1900s, you know them as the company that manufactured time punch machines. If your introduction came in the mid 1900s, you likely think of them as the company that made other machines you used in your daily life, such as typewriters and tabulators. If you learned of the company in the late 1900s, you likely knew them mostly as the term "IBM compatible" when it came to computers. Microsoft hadn't quite made its own name, so instead of a Windows computer or PC, you had Apple, Tandy and IBM-compatible computers. That brand dilution led to the impression of the first 10+ years of the 2000s, that of the company that made antique looking computers, likely the ones you used in school.

If you were to learn about the company today, though, your association is probably with artificial intelligence and machine learning, likely because of Watson. What most people don't know, however, is that IBM has always had a massive interest in artificial intelligence of all sorts. In fact, the first practical usage of AI was demonstrated by Watson's namesake, CEO Thomas Watson Jr. in 1956. That demonstration was of an IBM machine playing checkers against a human player, and learning about the game the more it played. Obviously that technology eventually evolved into Deep Blue, which famously beat a chess master at the game repeatedly. While there were other chess-playing computers, the difference with Deep Blue was it learned lessons about opponents merely by playing.

Today, Deep Blue has evolved into Watson, which famously beat Jeopardy master Ken Jennings. This was done by adding Natural Language Processing to the system, allowing Watson to listen to Alex Trebek and understand the question being asked even though it is posed as a statement. From there, Watson was able to answer in the form of a question. That was about all Watson could do at the time, though, meaning it had no real world application. The point of the outing was to prove the technology, and that they did. Since then, Watson has grown up, learning through machine learning, and enhanced with new APIs.

Today, Watson is capable of analyzing just about any data with Watson Analytics, including powering all of the data for The Weather Company. In fact, because of Watson, TWC has changed their modeling from a 6 hour cycle in 2 million locations to a 15 minute cycle in 2.3 billion locations. This has created a scenario where they can provide hyper localized weather data and forecasts that are up-to-date on mobile. On their previous data model and processing system this would never have been possible. The data is so accurate and localized that both Android and iOS use it as their native data provider.

The problem that IBM has to overcome is the damages of their past. The consumer computer industry tainted the view of a whole generation against IBM. Unfortunately, that is the generation that is leading the charge for the insight economy, and they are currently choosing Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services over the offerings of IBM and Watson. This week's event, IBM Insight 2015, is trying to change that perception. Rather than using Watson as the spokesperson for the company, they are putting real people in front of the attendees who can speak on what choosing Watson has done for their business. In today's technology industry, there is nothing better than a heartfelt success story in selling a product or service.

The question is, can IBM use this event to jump-start a new era of perception for the company and its technology? If the general tone of this event is any indication of the culture change inside of IBM, I think they can pull it off.

Microsoft Moves the Needle With Surface Again

posted Wednesday Oct 7, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Moves the Needle With Surface Again

When Microsoft announced the first Surface devices, they changed the PC industry in several ways. First, this was Microsoft's entrance into a new paradigm: competing head-to-head with their own partners. Some saw this as a mistake for Microsoft, feeling it could drive manufacturers to adopt Chrome OS. Microsoft saw it as an opportunity to push the industry in new and interesting directions. As it turns out, that was the second change: a whole collection of new hardware types and styles emerged.

The Surface was part tablet, part laptop, part Ultrabook and all powerful. Microsoft's aspirations for the new device family was not what most journalists believed. Microsoft wasn't trying to hurt their OEMs, but instead wanted to create a technical specification for other manufacturers to get behind. Because of the Surface, HP, Lenovo and even Apple are chasing the successes Microsoft has had in the space. Since then, Microsoft has done this with other product categories, most specifically the Microsoft Band.

The Product

This week, at Microsoft's #Windows10Devices event, the company unveiled a new entry in the Surface family, the Surface Book. With this product, Microsoft is making more changes to the industry. First is, again, their relationship with OEMs. While the Surface pushed manufacturers to try new things with hardware, with the Surface Book, Microsoft is telling OEMs, "If you're not interested in innovating in traditional PCs, we will."

The result was astounding. In a room filled with tech journalists that have proven several times that, no matter how exciting an announcement is, they will remain silent in the room, people were cheering and saying "I want one of those!" When was the last time a laptop actually got people excited, save for the rare gaming laptop? To my recollection, it has been many, many years, and yet Microsoft managed to do it with their first device.

The Intent

The good news for existing hardware companies like HP and Lenovo is, there is only one Surface Book. That means retailers will only need a single display position to carry the device. This leaves plenty of space for everyone else to design and launch products that can compete with the likes of the Surface Book, while separating themselves from the rest. This is a shot across the bow of many companies, some of which will respond, some will cease to exist - it is up to them which way they go.

The Result

The likely result is a culling of the herd. There will be some second tier laptop companies that will not survive because they are incapable of adapting. The rest will adapt and begin to produce exciting hardware, trying to fill the gaps left by the Surface Book. For example, not everyone will be happy with a laptop whose lid does not close 100%, no matter how cool the device is. That would be a perfect place for HP or Lenovo to swoop in and save the day. On the other hand, not everyone wants a premium piece of hardware, giving Acer a perfect place to swoop in and offer a budget-friendly competitor.

On the other hand, we have seen something like this before with very different results. When Google purchased Motorola's mobile division, Samsung's response was not to compete, but instead to develop Tizen. Most of us didn't think Tizen was going to be anything of any success, but Google decided not to risk the exposure and, instead, sold the division off to Lenovo. The problem is that productivity is a different marketplace from mobile. It is unlikely HP would try for their own operating system, especially considering they already sold a viable one to LG.

The thing that makes a laptop useful is productivity, which in the real world means access to Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and development tools. The likelihood of a company, even as big as HP, getting the support of productivity companies behind a new, limited-reach operating system is slim at best. There is little hope for any of the OEMs to magically succeed with Chrome OS, partially for the same reason and partially because they have yet to have any notable success to date. Linux is also not really a viable option for a myriad of reasons too numerous to discuss here.

The End Game

Personally, as someone who replaced a laptop with a Surface Pro since near launch without ever considering replacing it, even I am excited about this new device. In fact, it is likely you could see one appear in the studio shortly after its launch. I am excited about the insane hinge, the discrete graphics card and the blazing fast data transfer speeds. Why it took so long for someone to realize that laptops can still be sexy is unimaginable, but I think we can all be glad that it has finally happened.

Songwriter Claims Minor Income from Massive Pandora Streaming Count

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Songwriter Claims Minor Income from Massive Pandora Streaming Count

It's official: streaming is an important part of the music industry. In fact, it recently overtook CDs in overall revenue making it the business model to beat. However, not everyone is happy with this change in the way business is done. Take, for example, Taylor Swift, who very publicly removed her music from streaming services with an annoying message, and attacked Apple when they re-launched Beats Music as Apple Music.

This week, a new voice in the debate was revealed. You have likely never heard of Kevin Kadish, but you were unable to avoid his 2014 megahit All About That Bass, which he co-wrote with author Meghan Trainor. He said at a roundtable discussion at Belmont University and led by the House Judiciary Committee, that he received just $5,679 for 178 million streams of the song. That works out to about $32 per million streams.

So, why was Kadish there, speaking to members of the US Congress? Because, for reasons beyond any rational comprehension, they set the rates for what is paid per play. Yes, you read that right - the rate is not negotiated with the artist or with the publisher as it is for Netflix or Hulu, but instead is a set rate decided upon by the federal government. As a result, for the height of this guy's career, he was paid essentially nothing.

These laws date back to 1911, when music was distributed on piano rolls, and in fact the industry term is still "mechanical licenses" in reference to those automated pianos. Kadish, along with others, believes that a law like this is not only outdated but ridiculous, and has urged Congress to do away with it. In its place, he is asking for the Songwriter Equity Act to be passed, that would establish a "fair rate standard" for these licenses.

It seems surprising that these musicians are still asking that their rate be regulated, as opposed to allowing their representatives to negotiate on their behalf. I guess the musicians believe that they are worth more than $32 per million plays, but not enough that they should have a say. No wonder Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have no issues with their business and music services seem to be under constant fire.

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