Viaero Wireless testing LTE service after Verizon rolls out XLTE in rural markets.

Employees at the regional carrier Viaero Wireless have confirmed to me that the network is either currently testing or soon will be testing LTE service, initially in the Colorado market.

I had previously speculated that the carrier might make such a move after moving to kill unlimited data, but ultimately dismissed it. However, with Verizon already nearing completion of its XLTE rollout, (XLTE is essentially LTE using separate frequencies for uplink and downlink), Viaero had everything to lose and nothing to gain by remaining on an outdated system. After all, Viaero only complete the move from 2G to 4G last year. For perspective, AT&T was already implementing 4G when the iPhone 3GS was launched around 6 years again, and Android and Windows Phone flagships were supporting LTE more often than not by 2012, with Apple waiting until the iPhone 5 to add an LTE radio to its fruit phones.

Viaero will likely add LTE service to cities and large towns first, to alleviate congestion of the 4G GSM network in those areas, and then upgrade its other towers afterwards.

Of course, there is a catch to this news. Not every device sold by the carrier supports LTE; just eight of the smartphones sold by the carrier have LTE radios, leaving a majority of their current offerings, and customers, on 4G.

And then there’s this to consider: Once unlimited data is gone, you’ll have a much faster connection on your phone to make up for it, therefore you’re much more likely to purchase data in 1GB increments as you chew through your allotted data.

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Viaero Wireless testing LTE service after Verizon rolls out XLTE in rural markets.

Windows 10 ROMs for Android handsets could be the perfect Trojan horse for Microsoft.

Microsoft and the world’s third largest smartphone manufacturer, Xiaomi, have announced an upcoming program which will allow current owners of the Mi 4, which runs Android KitKat, to try Windows 10 on their handsets via a ROM which will replace Android. Microsoft will be running this program independently of Xiaomi, which implies that other phones from other companies could be on Microsoft’s conversion list.

Microsoft did not announce that the ROM will be available to more than one specific phone, but it is impossible for me to imagine this ROM staying put for long. Hackers will get this ROM into any phone with similar hardware pretty quickly I imagine. Microsoft and OEMs can already drop the OS onto Android phones (HTC M8), so this move shouldn’t come as a real surprise.

But what if Microsoft itself releases a generic ROM for Android users to flash onto their handsets? The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are off the table due to the Samsung CPU, but the LG Flex 2 and HTC One M9 could run the ROM with ease, as could basically any other Qualcomm based handset. This opens up a whole new user base for Microsoft.

Releasing a ROM for most Android handsets has several implications, not the least of which being that anyone who flashes this onto their phones will be voiding their warranty and potentially losing support for custom hardware features, such as fingerprint scanners and heart rate monitors.

On the flipside, many modding enthusiasts would likely leap at the chance to put Windows on their Android phone, and people feeling disheartened with Android could leap to Microsoft’s OS while keeping their existing handset.

Microsoft could also buy flagships in bulk and flash Windows 10 onto them itself and sell the phones in its own stores, or offer free conversion services for select phones.

Cyanogenmod likely won’t be happy with this news, but I imagine Google is even more upset. Here is Microsoft, with its scrappy third place OS, already sneaking itself onto Android phones with Office, OneDrive and a host of other apps, soon including Cortana, making a play to grab the entire phone away from Google. It could go nowhere, or it could be a very clever move to steal more market share from Google.

Windows 10 ROMs for Android handsets could be the perfect Trojan horse for Microsoft.

Regional carrier Viaero Wireless quietly ends unlimited data. LTE inbound? Unlikely.

viaero-logoIf you live in Nebraska, you likely have heard of Cell One of Northeast Colorado, aka, Viaero Wireless. They have not yet publicly announced a recent change to their wireless plans, but they have been informing new and existing customers whose contracts are up for renewal of the impending change.

This change entails the upcoming termination of their unlimited data plans. Nearly all existing customers enjoy unlimited data on Viaero’s 4G (enhanced 3G or HSDPA) network, but this is changing for all customers in January 2016. Voice and text services are to remain as they currently are.

Current contract customers are being ushered onto Viaero’s new plan if they wish to retain unlimited data, which is basically the same as AT&T’s Next plan. You pay for your plan while renting a handset for an extra fee. You are free to upgrade once a year, and as a reward for renting a phone, your data remains unlimited. This may be a very expensive solution for customers who already own a phone, or wish to use a handset which the small carrier does not sell, such as a Blackberry Passport or a Windows Phone. (I had to buy a Lumia 1520 and have AT&T unlock it for me to use it on this carrier.)

If customers choose to use a handset which they own, buy one on contract, or don’t need much data, they may remain on the existing standard two year contract. Once you hit your data cap, you can purchase additional data or be throttled.

Viaero to Go customers, prepaid, will see unlimited data go away too, in January 2016. It’s currently unknown if these customers can pay for extra data once they hit their cap, or if they will face throttling or a complete loss of HTTP connectivity. Viaero Wireless does not go out of its way to cater to prepaid customers nor retain them. Most carriers don’t.

When the big four (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) rolled out LTE, they largely eliminated unlimited data, so it’s possible that the owner of Viaero’s towers (a company in Massachusetts from what I can tell via cell tower databases), or Viaero itself, may be preparing to add LTE to existing towers. Currently, Viaero Wireless does not offer LTE service, nor have they indicated that they are remotely interested in offering it. Viaero only completed an upgrade to HSDPA in 2014. Like all other carriers, they call HSDPA “4G” which I personally find to be misleading to consumers.

I don’t think we will be seeing LTE appear on Viaero’s towers anytime soon, but now that they are shifting gears away from stealing away Verizon’s LTE loving customers with unlimited data, it’s likely that generating a nice profit is taking priority over anything else. Perhaps they are hoping to become a lucrative takeover target for AT&T or T-Mobile in the nearterm.

Regional carrier Viaero Wireless quietly ends unlimited data. LTE inbound? Unlikely.

Microsoft, for the love of all things holy, please add an NFC wallet to Windows 10!

NFC wallets on mobile devices can hold your credit cards, debit cards, transit passes, loyalty cards, and other items as well. They are pretty handy, assuming there is an NFC terminal present when you make a transaction, and of course have an NFC enabled phone.

The NFC wallet was unleashed to the masses with Google Wallet in 2011. Initially just an NFC wallet which contained debit and credit cards, it expanded into a payment service shortly after.

Apple appeared to be late to the game, making their own NFC wallet, Apple Pay, public in 2014. The Apple approach is more secure than Google’s, generating single use codes for transactions. Apple Pay debuted both as an NFC wallet and a payment service.

Microsoft on the other hand has left the implementation of an NFC wallet up to individual carriers. There has been an app called Wallet in the OS since Windows Phone 8, but it’s just that – a wallet used for Store and in app purchases. It also has some Apple Passbook compatibility, though I am unfamiliar with the full extent of this functionality.

Under the NFC settings on Windows Phone, there’s a toggle for turning NFC on or off, and another toggle for NFC payments, with a disclaimer that an Enhanced SIM is required to use this feature. A third party app, SoftCard, is required to act as an NFC wallet, further complicating and hobbling this feature.

I live in a rural area, and I use a regional carrier. An Enhanced SIM is impossible for me to obtain from my carrier, and the carrier only recently completed its upgrade to “4G” (enhanced 3G) and has no plans for LTE, let alone VoLTE which also requires an Enhanced SIM. I have a feeling that most of Microsoft’s target markets, developing nations, are in a boat not too different from my own, so only a small subset of Windows Phone users even have a chance to use SoftCard, or a similar app.

A good friend of mine is fortunate enough to have SoftCard and an Enhanced SIM too, in a Lumia 925. However, he has not been able to make it work properly for a single purchase. That experience, in addition to the extended wait for the Lumia Denim update, helped prod him over to iOS this month.

I have tweeted to a few Microsoft employees and the Lumia US handle as well for comment about the possibility of adding a native NFC wallet to Windows Phone or Windows 10 on phones, but have not received a response.

With Apple Pay now being okayed for National Park admission fees and the depositing of Social Security benefits, I hope Microsoft sits up and takes notice of the NFC wallet phenomena soon, or I too might be migrating to an iPhone.

Microsoft, for the love of all things holy, please add an NFC wallet to Windows 10!

History of bungled updates and dropped features for Windows Phone as Windows 10 nears

Lumia Camera on Lumia Denim.
Lumia Camera on Lumia Denim.

Microsoft, its OEM partners, and carriers have a history of stiffing Windows Phone users.

Overly eager to please carriers, Microsoft remains largely hands off with the delivery of updates, while carriers show little to no interest in delivering said updates.

Abandoning devices when updates ship, removing features from the OS and hardware, and leaving NFC wallets completely in the hands of carriers who have no interest in Windows Phone. Maybe this is starting to change, however.

Verizon has done something unusual. It actually is very out of character for them – they released an update provided by Microsoft for the Lumia Icon. This was supposed to occur in January, but better late than never, right? Last year, in December, Verizon also pushed the Denim update to two older Lumia handsets. Verizon did not bother issuing the Cyan update however, so other Lumias were left stagnating on the Black firmware.

AT&T has usually lead the pack in the US when it comes to delivering updates to devices running Microsoft’s operating system, albeit not in a timely fashion, but as of yet, not a single device on AT&T has been updated to Denim. In a recent tweet, AT&T said they’d push the update “soon” but that could mean tomorrow or April. And of course, AT&T has demanded custom versions of Lumia phones, halving storage and stripping out Qi wireless charging.

Verizon remains the only US carrier to have pushed the Denim update to Lumia devices. T-Mobile has only committed to applying the update to the 521 and newer devices, leaving the HTC 8X, which debuted with the 920, on Windows Phone 8. (Lumia Denim only applies to Nokia and Microsoft made devices by the way – it’s a firmware update bundled with an OS update.)

Meanwhile, there has been much speculation that Microsoft will launch the beta testing program for Windows 10 on phones this week, perhaps on Friday.

Lumia Denim is of course not required for devices to run the newer OS – indeed, many Windows Phone users have been marooned on Lumia Amber, or Windows Phone 8 after their device was abandoned by their carrier or phone manufacture, leaving them at the mercy of the Preview for Developers program for OS updates – however, should the Denim update ship after Windows 10 Preview, those devices may have to be flashed via the Lumia Recovery app to grab the newest firmware, forcing users to load the Preview onto their device again, assuming they want the device enhancements, of course.

I happen to want the camera enhancements very badly, and I also would like to be able to use Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 on my 1520. I even bought a new charger in preparation for Denim.

Microsoft is not going to be shipping Denim alongside the Preview – by stating that Denim is not needed for it, they have left the delivery of Denim totally in the hands of the carriers. While it’ll be great to be testing out a new OS, it will suck to not have 4k recording and a better Glance Screen.

I hope Microsoft stops letting the carriers hold users hostage based either on sales numbers or lack of interest on their part for Microsoft’s OS. Apple issues all OS updates directly to their devices, without any input from carriers. If Apple says iOS 9 ships on June 30th, that is when it ships, even if AT&T raises hell. Why can’t Microsoft be more like that?

Apple Pay was not blocked for any carriers either, and they are powerless to remove it. Google’s OEMs on the other hand have allowed carriers to strip out Google Wallet and Microsoft went even further, bending over backwards to leave NFC wallets completely in the hands of the carriers, which I might add have only recently begun to materialize, and SoftCard is horribly buggy, in addition to requiring a special SIM card. It’s 2015, so why can’t I use my Lumia to pay for my coffee? I used my Nexus 7 to pay for my coffee in 2012!

With all of this in mind, I am left to wonder just when the RTM version of Windows 10 will arrive on phones, and whether devices like the Lumia 620 will even see it, due to some carriers opting to leave it on Amber thus far. Will there even be an NFC wallet in the OS? I am hopeful that Microsoft will take steps to correct some of the wrongs that have been inflicted by the carriers, and also by their eagerness to please the carriers.

We will likely find out much more in the coming months.

History of bungled updates and dropped features for Windows Phone as Windows 10 nears

T-Mobile’s free 200MB SIM for Tablets, in a Phone

I happened to be in Denver this last Saturday when I spotted a T-Mobile store. I was using a Viaero Wireless SIM on a prepaid plan, so I only had voice and SMS services. Finding open WiFi in Denver was proving to be much harder than it had been in Baltimore, so I decided to venture into the T-Mobile store, recalling that they offer 200MB of data for free on a monthly basis if you bring in a tablet. I didn’t think a Lumia 1520 was quite a tablet, but what the hell, at six inches, why not try?

I walked into the store, it was fairly busy, but the manager was free to help me. He’s clearly one of those tech savvy guys, complete with a beard and thick rimmed glasses. I asked him if T-Mobile is still offering that free data plan for tablets that I’d heard about, and he actually has to check on the computer, which shows me that not too many people actually are taking this offer up. When he says yes, I supply nothing more than my birthday and a desired PIN number. No, not even an ID. When he sees my phone, he expresses enthusiasm for my choice, but tells me to get the IMEI off an in-store tablet for him instead, to make sure the SIM will work in my cell.

What kind of SIM does your phone use? Nano. Is it unlocked? Yes. Okay, just a minute.

The total is $15, but $16.92 with taxes, which covers the SIM. My name is no where on the account, so I basically got a rogue SIM in this post 9/11 world. I know, I was amazed too. I ask if I can add voice service to the card in the future. Yes, I can. Cool, very nice.

I pop the SIM into my Lumia 1520, power it on, and, voila, I have LTE service. Didn’t change any settings, the phone just had them. Can’t beat that. I used my newfound data connection it to navigate to another part of Denver and check a few emails before swapping my old SIM card back in so I wouldn’t miss any calls. My $16.92 experiment had worked, and now I will have data next time I desperately need it outside of my regional carrier’s coverage area.

T-Mobile’s free 200MB SIM for Tablets, in a Phone