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Verizon to buy TracFone, expanding big carriers control of prepaid industry

Enlarge / A monitor displaying a Verizon logo and share prices at the New York Stock Exchange on Sep..

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Enlarge / A monitor displaying a Verizon logo and share prices at the New York Stock Exchange on September 4, 2018.Getty Images | Bloomberg

Verizon today announced it has struck a deal to buy TracFone in a further consolidation of the US cellular industry.

Verizon is one of three major carriers that operate nationwide wireless networks, along with AT&T and T-Mobile (which recently bought Sprint). TracFone is the country's largest reseller of mobile service and already relies primarily on Verizon's network to provide connectivity. More than 13 million of TracFone's 21 million customers "currently rely on Verizon's wireless network through an existing wholesale agreement," Verizon's announcement said.

After the sale is completed, "all TracFone customers will have access" to the Verizon network, a Verizon fact sheet on the deal said. Verizon could try to shift existing TracFone customers to Verizon plans, as Verizon said the deal will bring "enhanced access to its industry-leading wireless network and comprehensive suite of mobility products and services to a new customer base."

The deal could also increase the number of phone models that can be purchased directly from TracFone. "Verizon consumer chief Ronan Dunne said TracFone will remain a distinct business that will benefit from access to a wider range of cellphones, smart devices and connected home products through the carrier's ownership," The Wall Street Journal wrote today.

TracFone is a subsidiary of América Móvil, the Mexican telecom founded by Carlos Slim. TracFone had about $8.1 billion in revenue in 2019, while Verizon reported $94.2 billion in wireless revenue for the year. (Verizon's total revenue including non-wireless business lines was $131.9 billion.)

The Verizon/TracFone merger needs regulatory approval, and Verizon said it expects to complete the deal in the second half of 2021. The sale price is potentially almost $7 billion, consisting of $3.125 billion in cash, $3.125 billion in Verizon stock, and "up to an additional $650 million in future cash consideration related to the achievement of certain performance measures and other commercial arrangements."

TracFone and other resellers generally provide cheaper data plans than facilities-based carriers like Verizon and do so via prepaid plans instead of the postpaid ones that make up the bulk of the big carriers' businesses. The big carriers often own the prepaid-reseller brands themselves—for example, AT&T owns Cricket Wireless, T-Mobile owns the former MetroPCS brand, and Verizon owns Visible Wireless.

Dish also entered the prepaid market by purchasing Boost Mobile from T-Mobile, which agreed to sell the former Sprint division in order to win Department of Justice approval of its merger with Sprint. Cable companies have been launching their own reseller services, providing some new competition in that part of the wireless market.

Verizon to vault past AT&T and T-Mobile in prepaid

Verizon's prepaid business had about 4 million connections as of mid-2020, down from 4.3 million a year earlier. That's a dRead More – Source

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China surveillance of journalists to use ‘traffic-light’ system

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bbc– The Chinese province of Henan is building a surveillance system with face-scanning technology that can detect journalists and other “people of concern”.

Documents seen by BBC News describe a system that classifies journalists into a “traffic-light” system – green, amber and red.

Journalists in the “red” category would be “dealt with accordingly”, they say.

The Henan Public Security Bureau has not responded to a request for comment.

The documents, discovered by the surveillance analyst firm IPVM, also outline plans to surveil other “people of concern”, including foreign students and migrant women.

Human Rights Watch said: “This is not a government that needs more power to track more people… especially those who might be trying to peacefully hold it accountable.”

‘Thematic libraries’

The documents, published on 29 July, are part of a tendering process, encouraging Chinese companies to bid for a contract to build the new system, won, on 17 September, by NeuSoft.

NeuSoft has not responded to BBC News request for comment.

The system includes facial-recognition technology linked to thousands of cameras in Henan, to alert authorities when a “person of concern” is located.

“People of concern” would be categorised into “thematic libraries” – in an already existing database of information about and images of people in the province.

The system would also connect with China’s national database.

‘Key concern’

One of the groups of interest to the Henan Public Security Bureau is journalists, including foreign journalists.

“The preliminary proposal is to classify key concerned journalists into three levels,” the documents say.

“People marked in red are the key concern.

“The second level, marked in yellow, are people of general concern.

“Level three, marked in green – are for journalists who aren’t harmful.”

And an alert would be triggered as soon as “journalists of concern”, marked as “red” – or “yellow”, if they had previous criminal charges – booked a ticket to travel into the province.

The system would also assess foreign students and divide them into three categories of risk – “excellent foreign students, general personnel, and key people and unstable personnel”.

“The safety assessment is made by focusing on the daily attendance of foreign students, exam results, whether they come from key countries, and school-discipline compliance,” the documents say.

The schools themselves would need to notify the authorities of students with security concerns.

And those considered to be of concern would be tracked.

During politically sensitive periods, such as the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, “a wartime alarm mechanism” would be activated and tracking of “key concern” students stepped up, including tracking their cell phones.

The documents outline a desire for the system to contain information taken from:

  • cell phones
  • social media – such as WeChat and Weibo
  • vehicle details
  • hotel stays
  • travel tickets
  • property ownership
  • photos (from existing databases)

It should also focus on “stranded women”, or non-Chinese migrant women who do not have the right to live in China.

A large number of women enter China to find work.

Others have been trafficked from neighbouring countries.

And the system would “dock” with the National Immigration Bureau, the Ministry of Public Security and Henan police, among others.

The documents were published around the time the Chinese government criticised foreign media outlets for their coverage of the Henan floods.

Conor Healy, Government Director of IPVM, said: “The technical architecture of mass surveillance in China remains poorly understood… but building custom surveillance technology to streamline state suppression of journalists is new.

“These documents shed light on what China’s public-security officials want from mass surveillance.”

China’s facial-recognition system is thought to already be in use across the country.

And last year, the Washington Post reported Huawei had tested artificial-intelligence software that could recognise people belonging to the Uighur ethnic minority and alert police.

Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said: “The goal is chilling, ensuring that everyone knows they can and will be monitored – and that they never know what might trigger hostile interest.”

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QUALCOMM REBRANDS SNAPDRAGON CHIPS THAT POWER MANY OF THE WORLD’S PHONES IN ATTEMPT TO BE LESS CONFUSING

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independent– Qualcomm has announce a major rebrand of its Snapdragon chips, in a move that could make choosing a phone vastly more simple.

The company sells its Snapdragon chips to a vast range of other companies – such as Samsung, HP and OnePlus – which use them to power devices including mobile phones, watches and laptops.

But comparing those devices can often be difficult, because of the confusing name of those Snapdragon processors, which are marked by a host of complex numbers. Since processors are at the heart of the devices, it can therefore be difficult to know whether a given phone is better than another.

But Qualcomm now says that it will simplify its branding in a host of ways, most of which bring new branding to the line.

The most obvious one is that the Qualcomm and Snapdragon brands will be separated. While they will still be owned by the same company as before, the Qualcomm will be removed from the chips itself.

More usefully, however, those complicated names will be changed.

Until now, Snapdragon products have come with three different names. Each of the numbers was intended to show where it was in the line-up: the first indicating the power, the second what generation, and the third used to separate different products within those generations.

But that was difficult to know and to compare. It also led to struggles with Snapdragon running out of names – it has a Snapdragon 695, for instance, and so only space for four more chips in that line-up.

Instead, it will move to a “new simplified and consistent naming structure for our platforms makes it easier for our customers to discover and choose devices powered by Snapdragon”, it says. “This means our mobile platforms will transition to a single-digit series and generation number, aligning with other product categories — starting with our newest flagship Snapdragon 8-series platform.”

It did not give information on what that new naming system would be, and promised more information would be revealed at another event on 30 November.

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Gigabit broadband: Internet seen as top homebuyer priority

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bbc– A fast internet connection is now one of the most important factors for homebuyers, according to a survey of 294 estate agents across the UK.

Questions about connectivity, usually “full fibre” broadband, are up 69% since the pandemic began, the research, by Omdia for telecoms equipment maker Huawei, suggests.

Speeds of more than 300Mbps are being sought by 34% of buyers – and, according to 33% of the estate agents, can add £5,000 to the sale price of a home – while 23% want 1Gbps.

Asked to name the single most important factor is for homebuyers:

  • 23% said the size of the property
  • 20% said broadband quality
  • 18% said the number of bedrooms
  • 10% said the age of the property is
  • 9% said transport links

“In many cases, customers feel that good internet is a ‘must have’,” James Hummerstone-Pope, from Purple Bricks, said.

“And poor wi-fi and a bad mobile signal can be a deal breaker.

“Fibre broadband definitely makes properties more appealing.

“And people will sometimes walk away from a property if they feel the broadband and phone signals aren’t good enough.”

  • Vodafone to offer full fibre broadband to millions
  • Half-a-million homes to get broadband boost

The government has promised to “bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”.

And research from telecoms regulator Ofcom suggests 18.2 million homes (62%) already have access to 300Mbps or faster.

But only a fraction pay for such high speeds.

And the average UK speed is actually 50.4Mbps.

Critical factors

In Scotland and the South West, good broadband is the most important factor for homebuyers, the survey suggests.

But London-based estate agent Foxtons said while buyers considered the internet important – “particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic” – it was usually outweighed by other factors.

“Choosing which property to purchase is an incredibly complex decision that depends on numerous different factors,” a representative said.

“In our experience, the price and perceived value for money, the size and type of property, provision of outside space, as well as proximity to local amenities and schools are some of the most critical factors in the decision-making process.”

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