FCC Commits to Public Auction of C Band for 5G

FCC Chair Ajit Pai this week announced a decision on how to auction new radio spectrum for 5G that will be reclaimed from satellite operators. The FCC will conduct a public auction of spectrum licenses, as it has done with most bands used for mobile services to date. A group of satellite operators that currently have rights to the band had been lobbying for permission to conduct their own private auction instead. The spectrum in question is called the C Band, and it’s near 4 GHz, a higher frequency than most bands used for mobile networks today, but much lower than the mmWave bands that some carriers have deployed for 5G in the US. The part of the C Band that is planned to be auctioned for 5G in the US is 280 MHz wide, spanning 3.7 GHz – 4.2 GHz.

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Verizon Lights up 5G in Boston, Houston, Sioux Falls

Verizon has launched 5G service in three new cities, bringing the number of cities with Verizon 5G to 18. The service is uses mmWave frequencies, which generally offer high speeds but limited coverage. It’s available in “parts of” Boston, Houston, and Sioux Falls. In Boston, initial 5G coverage is concentrated in Fenway, along Brookline Avenue near Beth Israel Hospital, and several university campuses. In Houston, initial 5G coverage is concentrated in East Downtown, Uptown, Greenway Plaza, Museum District, Rice Village, and around select major stadiums and malls. In Sioux Falls, initial 5G coverage is concentrated around Levitt at the Falls, Orpheum Theatre, Washington Pavilion, State Theatre, and the US Federal Courthouse. Verizon has already launched 5G in Dallas, Omaha, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Providence, St. Paul, Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Washington DC, Phoenix, Boise, Panama City, and New York City. Verizon plans to bring its 5G city count to 30 by the end of the year, with planned launches in Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Des Moines, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, San Diego, Salt Lake City, and more.

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Google Maps Can Now Speak Aloud Places in Foreign Languages

Google has updated its Maps app with the ability to speak aloud the name and/or address of your destination in the local language when traveling abroad. The feature is designed to be used when hailing a taxi or asking a local for directions. The feature appears automatically when in a country where the local language doesn’t match your device’s language setting. A speaker icon appears next to the place name in each listing. Tapping it brings up a new box with the option to speak the place name in the local language, speak the address in the local language, or jump to Google Translate to continue a conversation with a local. The new feature will be rolling out this month on Android and iOS with support for 50 languages and more on the way.

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Google Launches RCS for Everyone in US

Google today announced the US rollout of Google-operated RCS for its Messages app for Android, making RCS “broadly” available to Android users in the US by the end of the year. RCS is the new industry standard for messaging designed to replace SMS and MMS. It brings advanced features similar to iMessage, including the ability to send and receive high-resolution photos and videos, and see if people have received your messages. Although the Messages app has supported RCS for some time, it has relied on carrier support on a phone-by-phone basis, which has been slow to roll out. Google’s new service announced today side-steps carrier infrastructure and gives Android users RCS without waiting for carrier support. Google launched a similar service in the UK, France, and Mexico earlier this year. Just three weeks ago, the top four US carriers announced a joint venture to accelerate the launch of carrier-run RCS in the US in 2020. It’s unclear if these two efforts might conflict in the coming months, but Google says it is “committed to working with our partners, including carriers and device makers, to provide a consistent and interoperable experience for everyone on Android.”

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The Motorola RAZR is Back with a Folding Screen

Motorola today unveiled its new razr phone for 2020. In line with a long-running stream of teases and leaks, plus today’s FCC approval, the phone matches the design of the original RAZR V3, but with an inner surface that is one continuous 6.2″ HD touchscreen that bends at the hinge, like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. The new razr will be exclusive to Verizon in the US and cost $1500. Like the original RAZR V3, it has a “chin” that sticks out from the bottom half, and side keys located in the top half. The top half also contains a large outer display and a 16-megapixel camera. The 2.7″ outer display is a touchscreen that lets users respond to notifications, take selfies, play music, use Google Assistant, and more. The flexible OLED main display has curved top and bottom edges, with a notch in the top. The phone is powered by a Snapdragon 710 chip. It has 6 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, 2,510 mAh battery, NFC, and dual-band Wi-Fi. It has a 5-megapixel selfie camera, although the main camera can also be used to take selfies using the outer display. To keep the phone thin, the phone lacks a 3.5mm audio jack or memory card slot. It also relies on an eSIM instead of a physical SIM card. It does have a USB-C port centered on the bottom that supports fast charging. USB-C razr earbuds are included, which are “professionally tuned” by Denon. Verizon is accepting pre-orders starting December 26th, with full availability on January 9th, 2020.

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Motorola Foldable RAZR Revealed in FCC Filing

The unannounced new Motorola RAZR with a foldable display has been revealed in public documents for its FCC approval. Photos in the documents match previous leaks, including a very tall, narrow screen that folds in half, inside a body very much like the original RAZR, including a “chin” at the bottom. The outside sports a camera and large outer display in the top half. The chin section houses an oval button and/or fingerprint reader on the front, and a USB-C connector on the bottom. The draft user manual submitted to the FCC mentions Verizon, that the phone has an eSIM instead of a physical SIM card, and a fingerprint security option. The back includes “razr” branding. Photos of the internal components confirm that the RAZR is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 chipset. A battery rated 1185 mAh is also shown, although the phone may have two batteries, one in each half. The approval in question is not for the US version, as it supports neither LTE band 12 nor hearing-aid compatibility. But Motorola usually offers multiple versions of each model for different parts of the world, so a separate US version seems likely.

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Minecraft Earth Launches in US

Minecraft Earth is now available in the US in an “Early Access” version. Users can walk around to explore a Minecraft version of the real-world map, collect virtual resources scattered around the map, and start building with Minecraft blocks on “buildplates”, which can be placed on a tabletop like a virtual AR diorama. Buildplates can also be placed in the world using life-size AR. Both modes allow multi-player collaboration. The map also includes interactive Adventures at set locations on the map. Like Pokemon Go, the map is based on Open Street Map data.

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Border Agents Can't Search Your Phone Without Reason, Judge Rules

A federal judge today ruled that US border agents can’t search travelers devices without “reasonable suspicion”. Although they can still search devices without a warrant, they now need a specific reason to do so. Previous searches by CPB and ICE without reason violated the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, according to the new ruling by US District Judge Denise Casper in Boston. The ACLU and EFF filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of 10 US citizens and one lawful resident whose devices were searched without a warrant. Over 30,000 devices were searched at the border in 2018, according to the ACLU.

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Sprint Offers Discount to People in Select Fields

Sprint recently launched Sprint Perks, a collection of plan discounts available to certain groups. The main offer is Sprint’s top plan (Unlimited Premium) for the price of its middle plan (Unlimited Plus), a discount of $10/month/line. The discount is available to anyone employed in government, education, military, or healthcare. It’s also available to small business owners and employees of specific other companies that have partnered with Sprint. In total, 130 million Americans are eligible. Sprint Unlimited Premium includes Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Tidal. It also offers 100 GB of mobile hotspot data and unlimited roaming in Canada and Mexico. The mid-tier Unlimited Plus plan does not include Amazon Prime and has less hotspot data. Unlimited Premium, normally $80/month, is $70/month with this offer. A second line runs $50/month. For lines 3-5 on a family plan, Sprint is running limited-time special pricing of just $10/month/line through January 2021. The special, limited-time discount on lines 3-5 is open to everyone, and varies by plan. Lines 3-5 are free for those on the cheaper Unlimited Basic plan, and $20/month/line for those paying full price for the Unlimited Premium plan (those not eligible for Sprint Perks.) Sprint Perks includes several other discounts and special offers, such as 50% off for military families, and special offers for members of AAA, American Airlines AAdvantage, Walgreens Balance Rewards, and credit unions.

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New Alcatel 3V Offers Huge Screen and Battery

Alcatel has revealed the 2019 edition of its 3V affordable Android phone for the US market, which will launch soon on Metro by T-Mobile. The phone has a large 6.7-inch HD screen and a large 4,000 mAh battery with fast charging via USB-C. It also has a 16-megapixel main camera aided by a depth camera for portrait effects, and an 8-megapixel selfie camera. It’s powered by a MediaTek P22 processor paired with 3 GB of RAM. Its 32 GB of storage is expandable via microSD memory cards. Other features include a standalone fingerprint reader on the back, 3.5mm headset jack, stereo speakers, Google Assistant, and Google Lens. Pricing and launch date were not announced.

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