MediaFile

Tech wrap: AT&T, T-Mobile deal less likely than ever

The chances of AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile USA succeeding rapidly diminshed after AT&T said it would take a $4 billion charge in case its takeover fails. The telecommunications group and T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom, said they would continue to pursue anti-trust approval for the $39 billion takeover from the Department of Justice, but withdrew for now applications to the industry regulator.

Both the DOJ and the FCC oppose the deal. FCC approval would be meaningless if the DOJ blocked the transaction, and AT&T and Deutsche Telekom said they would return to the FCC process if they secured approval from the DOJ. Analysts said the merger, badly needed by sub-scale T-Mobile USA , looked less likely than ever to succeed.

Microsoft is planning the first beta of its Office 15 software in January, techblog WinRumors writes.

Microsoft will provide a Technology Preview of the software initially, expected at CES 2012 alongside the Windows 8 beta. Office 15 will be designed with touch at the heart of the applications. Microsoft has redesigned the general look and feel of its popular Outlook email client to make it usable by touch, pen and mouse.

Internet service providers cannot be forced to block their users from downloading songs illegally, as such an order would breach EU rules, Europe’s highest court said. The Luxembourg-based EU Court of Justice (ECJ) issued its verdict in a case involving Belgian music royalty collecting society SABAM and Belgian telecom operator Belgacom unit Scarlet. European consumer organization BEUC said the ruling should get authorities and companies thinking about a fairer way to provide easily accessible legal digital content for consumers.

Tech wrap: Google+ now open to the masses

Google has opened up its Google+ social network to anyone who’d like to give it a whirl, after a successful three-month run as an invite-only service. The company also rolled out a slew of new features for Google+, including integration of its flagship search engine into the platform, and expanded its Hangouts video-chatting feature to enable mobile use on its own Android-based smartphones. Support for Hangouts on Apple’s iOS mobile software is “coming soon”, Google promised in a blog post. Users will soon have the option to broadcast their Hangouts sessions beyond the nine allowed participants as well by opening them up to live viewing by anyone. Want to record a chat for posterity? Well, that’s coming soon too.

Google+ rival Facebook also unveiled new tweaks to its service on Tuesday, introducing a new “ticker” on its users’ home pages and providing real-time notifications of what friends are doing on the service. Facebook also revamped the service’s main news feed to flag important items — such as a new baby announcement — for Facebook users who have not logged on for a few days. Facebook also changed the way photos are displayed on the site, increasing the size of pictures that appear in a users’ news feed.

U.S. prosecutors accused poker website Full Tilt Poker on Tuesday of running a Ponzi scheme in which the company’s owners and board members paid themselves nearly half a billion dollars while defrauding players. That indictment accused three Internet poker companies — Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and PokerStars — and 11 people, including Full Tilt director Raymond Bitar, of bank fraud, illegal gambling and money laundering offenses. Read the complaint in full here.

Tech wrap: RIM profit tanks

Research In Motion quarterly adjusted net profit fell 47 percent to $419 million, on revenue of $4.2 billion, hurt by an aging lineup of BlackBerry smartphones that was only refreshed very late in the quarter and tepid sales of its PlayBook tablet. RIM shipped 10.6 million smartphones and 200,000 PlayBook tablet computers in the three months to August 27, sharply below the average estimate of analysts.

Fifteen Democratic lawmakers asked the Obama administration to approve AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile USA. Representative Heath Shuler and 14 other Democrats sent a letter to President Obama arguing that the deal would reduce joblessness and encourage investment.

A proposed update of the U.S. online privacy rule for children would revise definitions of personal information and beef up parental consent mechanisms to reflect technological changes. The Federal Trade Commission plan would modify its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule that gives parents a say over what information websites and other online providers can collect about children under the age of 13.

Tech wrap: Groupon rethinks IPO

Groupon called off an IPO roadshow slated for next week because of market volatility, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Internet coupons site is reassessing the timing for an offering on a week-by-week basis, the newspaper added, citing an unidentified source. Some on Wall Street have questioned Groupon’s financial disclosures, while others are concerned the company’s rapid growth is starting to slow in North America. Groupon CEO Andrew Mason sent a memo to employees recently that was widely reported in the media, in which he blasted critics in the press and on Wall Street.

Sprint filed a lawsuit to stop AT&T’s $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile USA in the same federal court that is to hear the Department of Justice’s case opposing the buyout. Sprint said the combination would lead to higher prices for consumers and create a duopoly between AT&T and Verizon Communications. Also, Sprint argued that if the deal goes through, a combined AT&T and T-Mobile would have the ability to use its control over roaming and spectrum, and its increased market position to exclude competitors.

Dell and China’s top search engine Baidu plan to jointly develop tablet computers and mobile phones, targeting the Chinese market dominated by Apple and Lenovo. Dell declined to give a timeline for the launch of the devices, but local media quoted sources saying that it may be as early as November. Baidu launched a new mobile application platform last week and offered a glimpse of its upcoming mobile operating system, which it hopes will serve a growing number of users accessing the Internet from smartphones and tablet computers.

Tech wrap: AT&T preps plan to salvage T-Mobile deal

AT&T was expected to soon present a two-track plan that allows the company to try to find a settlement before the government lawsuit to block its planned $39 billion acquisition of smaller rival T-Mobile USA reaches the court. Details of AT&T’s proposed settlement were not available, but it is expected to include pledges to maintain T-Mobile’s relatively cheap mobile subscription plans, and asset sales.

TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington created a venture capital fund to invest in promising start-ups, sparking controversy over possible conflicts of interest involving the fund and questions about the integrity of the blog. Included in the debate was Arrington’s employment status, with one AOL spokesperson claiming that Arrington was no longer employed by the owners TechCrunch, and another claiming he was. Arrington’s creation of the “CrunchFund” comes months after he publicly announced that he had begun to actively invest in start-up companies, which also triggered a lively debate within the industry.

A senior exec from Acer said Microsoft will be the winner in Google’s buy of Motorola Mobility as the deal makes Google a direct rival to its phone-making clients. “They work against some of their clients,” said Walter Deppeler, president of Acer’s operations in Europe, Middle East and Africa. “It was a good gift to Microsoft,” he told Reuters.  Acer uses operating software from both Microsoft and Google in its smartphones and tablets. Deppeler said Acer would consider the implications of the deal before deciding on future platform choices.

AT&T/T-Mobile: Will consumer intuition prove correct?

By Eleanor M. Fox
The opinions expressed are her own.

Just as I was bracing for the headline, “U.S. approves AT&T’s acquisition of its fiercest competitor subject to a few conditions,” I had a happy surprise. “U.S. Files Lawsuit to Block Merger of Phone Rivals.” In another era, this would not have been a surprise. The surprise would have been that AT&T would have had the audacity to propose a merger with T-Mobile and confidently predict that it will close (betting a 6 billion dollar break-up fee that it will). After all, US antitrust law prohibits mergers where “the effect … may be substantially to lessen competition.”

AT&T accounts for about 32 percent of the wireless mobile service market, Verizon has 34 percent, and T-Mobile nearly 12 percent. The only other possibly significant national player is Sprint Nextel, whose survival is unassured.  Thus, the merger would create the nation’s largest wireless carrier and in the post-merger world the top two would have more than 75 percent and possibly more than 90 percent of the market in the near future.   Immediately after the merger, in more than half of the Cellular Market Areas (areas used by the FCC to license mobile wireless services), AT&T-Mobile would occupy more than 50 percent.

T-Mobile is a maverick. According to the DOJ complaint, “T-Mobile has positioned itself as the value option for wireless services, focusing on aggressive pricing, value, leadership, and innovation.” T-Mobile viewed itself as “the No. 1 value challenger of the established big guys in the market.” It designed a “disruptive” rate plan. It provided the first Android handset, Blackberry wireless e-mail, national hot spot access, and a nation-wide network based on advanced 4G technology. AT&T innovated in response to T-Mobile’s “threat.”

The future is calling, AT&T, and it’s not T-Mobile

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger is shaping up to be an iconic business case saga and a judicial milestone. Who would have thought that nearly 40 years after the U.S. Department of Justice convinced a judge to break up “Ma Bell” that the DoJ might be able to convince another judge to tell that same company you can’t get too big again?

But of course AT&T can get big again, and become so dominant again that it is a feared monopoly that must be dealt with — if it should be so lucky. But getting there will take build, not buy.

Getting so large that you could control a market to the real or potential peril of the consuming public happened a lot in the industrial age, with railroads and oil, and even the movie business, which was ordered in 1948 to divest itself of theaters. But that was at a snail’s pace. These days eyebrows are raised by the Microsofts and Apples and Googles of the world who manage, in what seems like a blink of an eye, to provide goods or services so many people want that competitors have a hard time keeping up.

Tech wrap: Is the DoJ right to oppose the AT&T, T-Mobile deal?

The Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s $39 billion deal to buy T-Mobile USA because eliminating T-Mobile as a competitor would be disastrous for consumers and would raise prices, particularly because the smaller provider offers low prices, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit is a serious attempt to halt a “fundamentally flawed” deal, not a tactic to wring out-sized concessions from AT&T, a source familiar with the lawsuit said.

Dan Frommer says blocking the deal won’t help make service quality any better. A merger would create more spectrum to offer better, faster, more reliable service, Frommer writes. Also, its shortsighted to look at today’s pricing and market and use them as strict guides for the future, as voice and SMS service are disrupted by Internet technology, and as carriers try to charge more for 4G LTE access than they did for 3G access, Frommer added.

Breakingviews columnists Robert Cox, Robert Cyran and Richard Beales say the wireless industry in the U.S. is essentially a duopoly and that the DoJ suit against the AT&T, T-Mobile deal protects smaller providers.

Why consumers still lose if AT&T can’t buy T-Mobile

By Dan Frommer
The opinions expressed are his own.

The government’s opposition to AT&T’s takeover of T-Mobile seems to be about competition and price: It’s not comfortable with the idea of three carriers (instead of four) representing 90% of wireless connections, and it doesn’t want T-Mobile’s low-cost strategy being removed from the market.

Perhaps that’s worth fighting for. But here are the problems with those lines of thinking:

First, the Feds aren’t necessarily helping consumers at all when it comes to service quality.

Sony: Our tablets are coming… eventually

Sony teased out a few more details about its new Android tablets — codenamed S1 and S2 — and let reporters briefly handle prototypes.

AT&T will be the exclusive U.S. carrier for the S2, a double-screened device that bears a close resemblance to Nintendo’s DS  handheld gaming device. Sony showed off how users could turn it into a book.

Executives stressed that the tablets can connect to other Sony products, such as Blu-Ray players, TVs and PlayStation content, something Apple can’t offer. Like the Sony Ericsson Experia Play AKA, “the PlayStation phone,” the Adobe-Flash enabled tablets will come pre-loaded with the retro game“Crash Bandicoot”.