The UpStream

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

posted Friday Jul 26, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Sprint's spiral is almost over as DoJ approves T-Mobile merger

The story of Sprint has been long and often tragic. That saga could be coming to an end, however, as the Department of Justice has approved the purchase of Sprint by T-Mobile USA. The FCC has already approved the merger. At this point, the only thing standing in the way of the $26.5 billion deal is a lawsuit filed by a dozen attorneys general claiming that the merger would reduce competition and raise prices.

The agreement with the DoJ will likely help alleviate some of the fears of these state representatives. While the combination of the #3 and #4 would reduce the number of current carriers, a new challenger has appeared in the form of DISH Network. The company has purchased spectrum in several auctions, with rumors circulating that the company planned to launch its own wireless network, but that has never come to fruition. This deal, however, brings the rumors to fruition, with DISH purchasing Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint prepaid from Sprint.

In addition to purchasing existing customers, in the form of the prepaid brands, DISH has also made some promises of their own. Between now and 2023, the company has promised to build out a 5G network that will cover 70 percent of the population. They will also gain access to T-Mobile's networks for 7 years, which will allow them to continue to operate the existing prepaid business, and even begin building out their own service in the short term. T-Mobile has also made promises, including holding pricing for both the Sprint and T-Mobile sides of the merger steady for at least 3 years. In addition, everyone involved promises to allow phone unlocking following a pretty liberal set of rules.

Ironically, this merger will leave T-Mobile in a familiar position, and one that began the downfall of the Sprint brand nearly 15 years ago. T-Mobile's current network is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on GSM, while Sprint's network structure is 5G, 4G LTE, and 3G and voice on CDMA. This means that T-Mobile will have to maintain two competing networks for many of Sprint's existing users, while some Sprint phones (like iPhone) will be able to be migrated seamlessly. T-Mobile has experience with this, as their purchase of MetroPCS came along with CDMA technology (the PCS in MetroPCS), which they eventually retired.

Sprint's similar situation did not go as well. In 2005, the company purchased Nextel. Calling it a merger of equals, the two companies became Sprint Nextel, and both networks were maintained. At the time, Sprint was running entirely on CDMA, while Nextel was running on a completely incompatible system called iDEN. Sprint was an entirely digital network, while Nextel was entirely analog. This mistake cost the company dearly, causing network quality issues for both networks, ultimately damaging the brand image of Sprint, from which it never really recovered. The Nextel network was eventually retired, dinging the image even more.

At the dawn of 4G technology, the company wanted to get out ahead of the trend. Since the current network was based on CDMA, they decided to continue down that path, supporting the 4G WiMax standard. While Sprint was first with 4G, they bet on the wrong horse, meaning that they couldn't make any agreements with the other network for 4G roaming, nor could they participate in shared towers and repeaters. Eventually, they had to abandon the WiMax network and build a second 4G infrastructure, this time supporting the LTE standard, based on GSM technology.

So, while dueling networks caused Sprint's current troubles, T-Mobile's experience supporting and retiring Metro's CDMA network suggests that this could ultimately work in everyone's favor. However, it is far from a sure thing, and could still be shot down by the collection of states still fighting.

Netflix saw slow subscriber growth, believes they have a turnaround plan

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Netflix saw slow subscriber growth, believes they have a turnaround plan

Over the past year or so, the number of streaming video services has expanded dramatically. Not long ago, we had Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Today we've got new services like CBS All Access, DC Universe, and more. In the near future, we'll see the addition of Disney+, NBC's new service, AT&T's new service, and more.

More choice means more decisions to be made, and customers are making those decisions to the detriment of Netflix's subscriber growth. The company added 2.7 million paid subscribers, which is a far cry from their expected 5 million growth for the quarter. The company attributes some of this to their recent price increase but also sees a way forward.

Addressing two issues at once, Netflix pointed to the recent announcement that NBC would be reclaiming the rights to The Office and Friends as a good thing. According to their research, when Netflix loses licensed content, subscribers tend to simply gravitate to other available programming, often focusing on original programming. With that, it tracks that the loss of The Office will encourage subscribers to check out original programming from the company. In addition, it will free up a ton of financial resources to allow for new Netflix Originals.

The company has also committed to subscribers and investors to make better decisions about their Originals. Netflix has had a very open policy with its green light, approving some real bombs. For every Stranger Things there's at least one Girlboss. For every Bird Box there's a Gypsy. Going forward, they plan to be more careful with the money they spend on Originals. That move will be good for everyone, because it means that sifting through the Originals category should return far fewer disasters like Chealsea and more hits like Big Mouth, plus they won't be wasting money. A win-win situation.

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Google has canceled controversial censored Chinese search engine

Since word broke on Google's censored search engine Dragonfly, intended for China, the response has been incredibly negative. The product, which has been in development for over a year, immediately began raising questions about user privacy, government censorship, and corporate culture. China has demanded that search engines remove results about human rights, democracy, peaceful protest, and more. Years ago, Google pulled out of China over censorship concerns, and Dragonfly indicated a change in corporate responsibility.

This week, during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Karan Bhatia, Google's vice president of public policy, said,

We have terminated Project Dragonfly.

The company claims that this is not a new development, pointing to a statement from March that said that the company was not actively working on the project and employees have been moved to other projects. However, testifying before the Senate and the word "terminated" are significantly more firm. Not currently working on a project is not the end of the project, but termination indicates a certain finality.

As the battle between the West and China heats up, confirming the end of this project is a smart move. As it was, policymakers and employees have expressed their dislike of the project. A letter was sent to Google, encouraging the company to reconsider the project, while unhappy employees resigned over the human rights implications. Things heated up when privacy concerns were exposed, ending with even veteran executives leaving.

Google's China ties have already become a problem for the company when exports to Huawei were recently banned. This meant that Google could not provide updates for Android devices produced by the company. While the ban is partially suspended, the uncertainty could definitely have played a role in this decision. Hopefully, however, the decision was made after reconsidering the human rights, privacy, and censorship concerns.

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

posted Saturday Jul 20, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Switch has longer battery model coming with Switch Lite

The past 2 weeks have been big for Nintendo announcements. It started last week with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch Lite, a smaller version of the existing Switch. The new model has been anticipated for months and hit all of the expected notes. The most important change is the price, dropping $100 off of the standard model, coming in at $199. A 33% price reduction is a big benefit for many who have held off on the current generation Nintendo console.

Unfortunately, the company has made a lot of sacrifices to reduce the price. The Lite model does not feature the iconic Joy-Con controllers, meaning that multiplayer games will require purchasing additional hardware. With a retail price of $79 for Joy-Con controllers, just adding this capability will bring the price in line with the standard hardware. However, you will also be sacrificing two other major features of the Switch: the TV mode and the tabletop mode. The Switch Lite does not have the kickstand of the original, nor does it have the docking capability, allowing you to use it on the television.

This means that the Switch Lite is far less like its bigger cousin, and more like the Nintendo 3DS. What this means for the 3DS family is unknown, as the company affirmed its commitment to the hardware earlier in the year, but this launch could change that. It has been expected that 2019 would be the final year of sales for the 3DS family, and a direct replacement more than adds credence to the expectations.

Not to be outdone, however, Nintendo also confirmed a new model (HAC-001-01) of their flagship Switch hardware. The new model will be essentially unchanged from an external perspective but will feature altered internals that will deliver up to 80% additional battery life. The new model could see as much as 9 hours compared to the maximum of 6.5 hours of the current model. This new model is expected to hit the street in August, and will directly replace the existing HAC-001 device.

Please stop helping Russia create deep fake photos and videos

posted Wednesday Jul 17, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Please stop helping Russia create deep fake photos and videos

Every week, there is a trend on the internet. Whether it be memes of moths or eating Tide pods, almost everyone is exposed to these short-lived trends. Normally they are harmless, including the Tide pod thing, as long as you didn't swallow the detergent. Sometimes the trends are beneficial, such as the fundraising campaign that was the Ice Bucket Challenge.

But, what if the trend is specifically designed to be harmful? The trend of the week involves an app called FaceApp, which allows you to upload a photo and have it age your face, theoretically showing you what you might look like in 50 years. However, this process was not designed to be just a fun viral trend but is designed to be a data collection and AI training method. The app was designed by a Russian company called Wireless Lab, and the photos that you are uploading are being sent to servers in the country. From the company's privacy policy, uploading a photo grants,

a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable, sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, creative derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content, and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you.

These images and the permission you give the company provide everything that is needed to train artificial intelligence to create better and more believable fake images and videos. The more you use the app, the more help you could potentially be giving Russian organizations to create these photos and videos.

Just like with the personality quizzes on Facebook that became the basis for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the problem comes down to users carelessly and willfully giving away their data. Before you use these types of gimmicks, think about the information involved and how it can and will be used by others.

MoviePass temporarily shuts down while Regal Cinemas ramps up

posted Saturday Jul 6, 2019 by Scott Ertz

MoviePass temporarily shuts down while Regal Cinemas ramps up

The past year has not been kind to independent unlimited movie passes. The European brand Sinemia that came to the US in 2018, shut down operations, citing their inability to find profitability. This followed the nearly constant disaster that has been MoviePass, which has struggled for over a year to keep its lights on. The company has changed its offering several times, reducing the unlimited movies, changing prices, and canceling the one-year prepaid subscriptions.

This week, the company made another big move for the worse, temporarily shutting down operations. At 5 AM Eastern, the MoviePass mobile app ceased functioning, making it impossible for subscribers to purchase movie tickets, making the service completely unavailable. according to a statement, the company said that the move is only temporary, and is being done to improve the mobile app. According to CEO Mitch Lowe,

There's never a good time to have to do this. But to complete the improved version of our app, one that we believe will provide a much better experience for our subscribers, it has to be done.
We have listened and we understand the frustrations of our subscribers. To provide the level of service you deserve and we can be proud of, we need to improve our mobile app. We plan to make this improvement by utilizing an enhanced technology platform, which is in the final stages of completion.

However, this explanation has been met with skepticism. Updating a mobile app does not require the developer or publisher to terminate operation of the existing version to complete a new version unless the team is completely incompetent. While some aspects of the way the app works have suggested some incompetence on the part of the development team, this is a bold and stupid move for a company already on the verge of collapse.

The most likely scenario here is that the company is actually making a big business move behind the scenes and cannot have the brand fully active to complete. With rumors of Regal Cinemas planning to launch its own in-house competitor, with details leaking this week, it's possible that MoviePass is analyzing the market to decide whether or not to continue operations at all.

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