FreedomPop Steps Into Phone Biz with HTC EVO Design

Los Angeles-based wireless Internet provider FreedomPop on Tuesday launched its own phone deal, placing the HTC EVO Design handset as the phone brand for sale along with a free monthly service plan. This is a decisive step for the company and for all consumers taking a harder look at their monthly fees for smartphones.

FreedomPop essentially is stepping into the mobile phone business with its phone plus phone service offering, complete with voice and messaging communications services.

The smartphone launch program is in beta. The company intends to roll it out to more consumers if the beta proves successful, at which point the company will ramp it up. FreedomPop is using a pricing model that gives away 200 "anytime" voice minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of data every month for free. You pay for anything additional. Heavier users will be allowed unlimited voice and unlimited texting for $10.99 per month with no contract.

The wireless Internet company is starting with a WiMAX-powered, refurbished HTC EVO Design, as its first Android handset, priced at $99. FreedomPop service runs on the Sprint network. The service will appear to the consumer as another regular mobile voice and messaging service; FreedomPop is able to provide a disruptive price system in running voice calls over data networks, keeping costs low.

CEO on a Mission

Obviously, FreedomPop's phone launch will not resonate with smartphone owners who believe their wads of cash are well spent on high-end phones with sophisticated features and conventional service plans. For other light call and light messaging users with no such next-gen prestige dreams, a $99, refurbished smartphone is difficult to ignore.

"FreedomPop's mission is to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, convenient and essential communication services," said Stephen Stokols, FreedomPop's CEO and co-founder. "With this launch, we've just taken our...

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Symantec Takes Down Mega Botnet

ZeroAccess, one of the largest-known botnets in existence today with more than 1.9 million computers in its network, is becoming a big problem for security teams. The botnet relies on peer-to-peer (P2P) and command-and-control (C&C) communications architecture to give it a high degree of availability and redundancy.

Symantec just took it down.

Given its construction and behavior, Symantec reports that ZeroAccess appears to be primarily designed to deliver payloads to infected computers. In a ZeroAccess botnet, the productive activity -- from an attacker's point of view -- is performed by the payloads downloaded to compromised computers, which boil down to two basic types, both aimed at revenue generating activities.

"One type of payload we've seen is the click fraud Trojan," Symantec wrote in a blog post. "The Trojan downloads online advertisements onto the computer and then generates artificial clicks on the ads as if they were generated by legitimate users. These false clicks count for pay-outs in pay-per-click (PPC) affiliate schemes."

Proactive and Realistic

Ken Pickering, director of engineering at CORE Security, told us botnets are fairly common and can be largely financially successful for their owners -- and that's part of the reason criminals continue to innovate around their C&C elements and the malware used to grow them.

"The real interesting part of the botnet is how it distributes tasks to the slave machines it controls. The malware itself is usually fairly straightforward, but it's the obfuscation techniques used to conceal the control servers and the actions the botnet owners take to avoid being shutdown that's the real trick," Pickering said.

"I think Symantec's attack was proactive and a realistic response to this fairly large cybercrime industry. There's not a whole lot of other ways to combat these guys. But, realistically, disabling the botnet only puts a temporary financial speed bump for these guys....

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Samsung Launches App Exchange for Businesses

Can a business-focused apps marketplace make a big difference for a mobile device maker? Samsung is trying to find out with its Samsung Solutions Exchange, a mobile app store that is oriented to businesses.

However, it is not just an aggregation of existing business apps, but the result of Samsung's assessment of needs after discussions with business customers. The device maker also worked with developers to provide apps that build on features found in Samsung devices, such as its S Pen or specific gestural interaction. Devices include tablets, smartphones, and the new Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

In support of this development effort, the technology giant has provided a software development kit and more than 1000 APIs. It is working with large companies such as Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and SAP, as well as smaller firms, such as Citrix, AccuCode, Belkin, clickSoftware, and DecisionPoint. In addition to apps, the Solutions Exchange also offers access to developer partners for creating customized software using Samsung devices.

SAFE, Knox

Tim Wagner, VP and general manager of Samsung Mobile's enterprise business, told news media that, instead of creating a desktop app first and then some version of that for mobile later, Samsung was looking for developers to create the apps with "full functionality on mobile devices," with mobile coming first. He added that Samsung has the ambitious goal of becoming the top mobile device provider to businesses within the next 18 months.

The new Exchange is only the latest effort by the company, now the world's largest smartphone marker, to woo business users. In 2011, for instance, Samsung launched its Samsung for Enterprise (SAFE) effort, which labeled devices as being enterprise-ready by providing them with encryption, virtual private networks, and IT-pleasing remote wipe, among other mobile device management functions. Last year, the company released its Knox security platform, which offers the ability...

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Alibaba’s Woes Could Speed Twitter IPO

Events playing out in Hong Kong suggest that any initial public offering of Twitter shares in the U.S. will come sooner, rather than later.

As noted in this column in July, the biggest Internet IPO on the horizon will come not from the San Francisco-based social media start-up but from Alibaba Group Holding, a fast-growing e-commerce company with headquarters on mainland China.

Earlier this year, Alibaba signaled it would offer its shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which last month celebrated 20 years of accepting such listings from mainland companies.

But Alibaba's plans for a listing in the former British colony have hit a major snag, as exchange officials there rejected its proposed ownership structure, saying it violates rules that protect the rights of ordinary shareholders.

The company's failure to get the rules exemption it asked for in Hong Kong makes it more likely Alibaba will list its IPO shares in New York instead.

Such a move would very likely push a U.S. listing by Alibaba into the first or second quarter of next year, as it would take time for the company to clear regulatory hurdles and adjust its accounting to conform to U.S. rules.

It would also put the offering in competition with Twitter's -- if the U.S.-based firm hasn't executed its IPO by then.

Alibaba is at least several times the size of Twitter, as measured by revenue.

According to figures made public in July by Yahoo, which owns approximately 24% of Alibaba, revenue for the China-based firm soared 71% to $1.38 billion for the quarter ended in March.

That size and rate of growth suggest the company will post 2013 revenue of more than $5 billion, though we won't know for sure until Alibaba discloses its financial statements.

Twitter also hasn't yet disclosed details of its business, choosing instead to file its initial registration statement...

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Airlines Crunch Passenger Data for Customized Offers

U.S. airlines are introducing a new bevy of fees, but this time passengers might actually like them. Unlike the first generation of charges which dinged fliers for once-free services like checking a bag, these new fees promise a taste of the good life, or at least a more civil flight.

Extra legroom, early boarding and access to quiet lounges were just the beginning. Airlines are now renting Apple iPads preloaded with movies, selling hot first class meals in coach and letting passengers pay to have an empty seat next to them. Once on the ground, they can skip baggage claim, having their luggage delivered directly to their home or office.

In the near future, airlines plan to go one step further, using massive amounts of personal data to customize new offers for each flier.

"We've moved from takeaways to enhancements," says John F. Thomas of L.E.K. Consulting. "It's all about personalizing the travel experience."

Carriers have struggled to raise airfares enough to cover costs. Fees bring in more than $15 billion a year and are the reason the airlines are profitable. But the amount of money coming in from older charges like baggage and reservation change fees has plateaued. So the airlines are selling new extras and copying marketing methods honed by retailers.

Technological upgrades allow airlines to sell products directly to passengers at booking, in follow-up emails as trips approach, at check-in and on mobile phones minutes before boarding. Delta Air Lines recently gave its flight attendants wireless devices, allowing them to sell passengers last-second upgrades to seats with more legroom.

And just like Amazon.com offers suggested readings based on each buyer's past purchases, airlines soon will be able to use past behavior to target fliers.

"We have massive amounts of data," says Delta CEO Richard Anderson. "We know who you are. We know what your history...

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NASA To Launch 3-D Printer into Space

NASA is preparing to launch a 3-D printer into space next year, a toaster-sized game changer that greatly reduces the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need.

The printers would serve as a flying factory of infinite designs, creating objects by extruding layer upon layer of plastic from long strands coiled around large spools. Doctors use them to make replacement joints and artists use them to build exquisite jewelry.

In NASA labs, engineers are 3-D printing small satellites that could shoot out of the Space Station and transmit data to earth, as well as replacement parts and rocket pieces that can survive extreme temperatures.

"Any time we realize we can 3-D print something in space, it's like Christmas," said inventor Andrew Filo, who is consulting with NASA on the project. "You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable."

The spools of plastic could eventually replace racks of extra instruments and hardware, although the upcoming mission is just a demonstration printing job.

"If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that's where 3-D printing in space comes in," said Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, about 35 miles south of San Francisco.

For the first 3-D printer in space test slated for fall 2014, NASA had more than a dozen machines to choose from, ranging from $300 desktop models to $500,000 warehouse builders.

All of them, however, were built for use on Earth, and space travel presented challenges, from the loads and vibrations of launch to the stresses of working in orbit, including microgravity, differing air pressures, limited power and variable temperatures.

As a result, NASA hired Silicon Valley startup Made In Space to build something entirely...

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Battle of the Fiber Internet: AT&T GigaPower vs. Google Fiber

Look out Google, AT&T isn't taking your gigabit broadband onslaught lying down. The company has already started deploying a 100 percent fiber Internet broadband network in Austin that promises speeds up to 1 gigabit per second.

In December, AT&T plans to begin delivering U-verse with GigaPower, along with more advanced TV services and features. Initially reaching tens of thousands of customers in the Austin area, the company is planning to roll out the service more broadly in 2014.

"Austin embodies innovation and social consciousness, and is the heart of a vibrant, ever-evolving tech culture and entrepreneurial spirit," said Dave Nichols, president of AT&T Texas. "With our all-fiber U-verse services, we are building the foundation for a new wave of innovation for Austin's consumers, businesses, and civic and educational institutions. It's about engaging the full community and empowering the city and its people with all that technology can offer us. This investment will help attract new business and new jobs to Austin."

AT&T's Big Bid

AT&T plans to reach speeds up to 1 gigabit per second by mid-2014. In April, Google announced that its Google Fiber gigabit Internet service would roll out in Austin at speeds up to 1GBps by mid-2014. And so the race is on.

Google started its campaign in Kansas City, but AT&T chose Texas for its first bid. The December launch will feature speeds of up to 300 Mbps, the fastest upstream and downstream Internet speeds available in the Austin market. AT&T is also promising faster Wi-Fi speeds and the ability to schedule DVR recordings and watch hit TV shows on more than 30 smartphones and tablets, as well as PCs, among other perks.

U-verse with GigaPower complements AT&T's three-year Project Velocity IP investment plan to expand and enhance its wireless and wireline IP broadband networks to support growing customer demand...

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Microsoft Surface 2 Tablets Go Flying with Delta

Pilots lead difficult lives between the stress of flying a plane and keeping hundreds of people safe everyday, not to mention the relatively low income they earn. In addition, pilots are generally required to haul around pounds upon pounds of manuals and maps, everywhere they go. Delta Airlines recognizes the added burden of hauling paper, and has decided to give its pilots a break by ordering more than 11,000 of Microsoft's just released Surface 2 tablets, to be distributed to its workforce.

The Surface tablets will allow the flight crew to have easy access to essential tools and the most up-to-date, flight-related resources, including navigational charts, reference documents, and checklists. At the same time, Delta estimates that carrying tablets rather than pounds of manuals will save the airline roughly $13 million per year in fuel and associated costs.

Surface to the Rescue

For starters, Delta pilots who fly its Boeing 757s and 767s will be receiving the Surface tablets. However, Delta stated that it hopes to expand the program soon, to provide tablets to its other pilots, as well. The airline is also trying to get approval from the FAA to use the new Surface tablets during actual flights and not just before takeoff.

Delta says that providing Surface tablets to pilots is just one of the many ways that the company has been coming up with technologically savvy ways to improve its services and makes its employees' lives easier.

The Delta Electronic Flight Bag -- as the company has decided to call it -- will include the Surface 2 tablets running on Windows 8.1 and will also include an application called 'FliteDeck Pro' that should help pilots plan for their flights.

A Better, Faster, Lighter Solution

In theory, the tablets should give pilots easy access to the most up-to-date information regarding routes and because of that,...

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Facebook, Twitter Battle for TV Network Ad Dollars

Social media giant Facebook is breaking a sweat to break into the advertising schemes of major television networks. The company is officially providing data to CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox to win their advertising dollars. So says a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal cited Facebook officials in a story that reveals the social networking company will also share relevant data via weekly reports with a few other television networks as it strives to drive new revenue opportunities.

Among the data Facebook will serve up are how many "actions," such as likes, comments and shares, various television episodes generate on Facebook. Other data will show how many members participated in an action, according to the Journal.

Twitter's Big Move

We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the Wall Street Journal report. He told us Facebook and Twitter are competing hard to be the TV advertisers digital platform of choice.

"This data should be seen in the larger context of Facebook trying a wide range of methodologies to prove value to marketers," he said. "By showing a direct relationship, as Twitter has, between TV and social media Facebook hopes to lure more brand and TV ad dollars to the site."

Twitter isn't taking Facebook's moves lying down. The microblogging service just rolled out Nielsen Twitter TV Rating. The companies announced their exclusive, multi-year agreement in Dec. 2012. Essentially, Nielsen and Twitter will deliver a syndicated-standard metric around the reach of the TV conversation on Twitter.

"The Nielsen Twitter TV Rating is a significant step forward for the industry, particularly as programmers develop increasingly captivating live TV and new second-screen experiences, and advertisers create integrated ad campaigns that combine paid and earned media," said Steve Hasker, president of Global Media Products and Advertiser Solutions...

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John McAfee Building Gadget To Fake Out NSA

He is best known for developing software that helps thwart hackers who would steal our passwords and other valuable information. Now, John McAfee has come up with a way to thwart the biggest hacker of all -- the National Security Agency (NSA).

It's a $100 gadget called the "D-Central" because of the decentralized network it creates, a dynamic local-area wireless network. McAfee has called his new device "revolutionary," and has told news media that he "cannot imagine any college student not standing in line to buy one of these."

McAfee said he's been working on the project for some years, although with increasing urgency in recent months. Given that the NSA has "created every single encryption algorithm that we use," he said that the agency has access to whatever encoded communication it wants.

Anonymous Connectivity

The LAN created with the D-Central would be a constantly changing, mobile environment with a range of about three blocks in the city and a mile in rural areas, with users joining or leaving as they wish, on their smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices. Files would be shared anonymously, and the D-Central's connectivity to the Internet would be anonymous. McAfee has indicated that, in addition to being a small, mobile LAN, his D-Central uses a completely new encryption method.

Of course, the NSA is not the only organization that might be concerned about anonymous users exchanging files. Book publishers, music companies and movie studios, among others, do not want users sharing copyright-protected files without a trace. So, if the pressure from the NSA and the intellectual property industries is too great for the D-Central to be openly sold in the U.S., McAfee said he would sell the device from other countries.

McAfee has acknowledged that his D-Central could be used for such purposes as terrorist cells, but noted that phones...

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