Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–April 20, 2015

Sprint Unit Launches Prepaid Cell-Phone Service to Cuba
Boost Mobile, part of Sprint Corp, on Thursday launched a prepaid plan for U.S. consumers calling and texting Cuba, taking advantage of new, relaxed U.S. commercial regulations with the Communist-run island nation. The Obama administration’s new Cuban policy regulations approved by the Treasury and Commerce departments have opened the door for U.S.-based telecommunications firms to start potentially lucrative services to Cuba. Boost Mobile offers prepaid wireless service to consumers with no need for long-term subscription contracts. The company announced a $50 monthly plan, allowing customers to pay about $0.30 per minute, which it described as the lowest introductory rate per minute among prepaid carriers to call Cuba. The plan includes unlimited texting. Story by David Adams and Francisco Alvarado for Reuters.

Cellphones Drive Surge in New Bank Accounts Around the Globe
Africans using cellphones, older Chinese, and Indians getting a push from their government have fueled an unprecedented surge of people opening their first bank accounts. The number of people with an account–on mobile phones or at bank branches–jumped by 700 million between 2011 and 2014, the World Bank said Wednesday. The rise in new worldwide accounts has been driven by the spread of cellphones throughout areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where a bank could be miles away, and by strong economic growth in Asia. A bank or payment account is a gateway for people to integrate into modern society. Story by the Associated Press.

Sprint Now Makes House Calls to Upgrade Your Cell Phone
Where are you? Sprint will drive there and deliver a new cell phone if you’re eligible for an upgrade. The new program, called Direct 2 You, launched in Kansas City, Missouri. Sprint plans to provide the service in the 30 largest U.S. cities by the end of September, starting with Miami and Chicago next. Here’s how it works: Instead of going to a Sprint store or ordering a new phone online, eligible customers who live in these cities can request a Sprint service rep to come to their home, office, or favorite coffee shop to swap out their old phones for new ones. The on-call assistants will show up in a Fiat 500, wrapped in Sprint signage, and set up the new phone. This includes transferring files from a previous handset, and resetting old phones so they can be reused by other family members. Customers can also trade-in their cell phones through a buyback program. Story by Hope King for CNN Money.

Consumers Can Now Opt Out of Verizon’s Supercookie Tracking
Verizon announced recently that consumers finally have a way to opt out its supercookie. The supercookies from Verizon have been tracking everything you do on your Verizon phone. The practice allows the phone provider the ability to build a comprehensive file on a consumer, and then sell that file to marketers. Marketers use that information to target specific ads to you based on the information in your supercookie file. AT&T employed that practice but received a mountain of criticism, and agreed to quit their program. Verizon has also felt the wrath of consumers and journalists concerned about privacy, and will now provide two ways for consumers to opt out of the program. Story by John Oldshue for SaveOnPhone.com.

The History of Mobile Phones From 1973 To 2008
A lot can happen in 40 years. But when it comes to technology, 40-years is like going back to the days of Moses or the Roman Empire. Case in point: the mobile phone–and, more recently, the rise of mobile internet communications, social networks and super-fast internet. But what were the phones that made it happen; who were the pioneering brands that made today’s handsets possible; and which phone, out of the thousands launched since the 1980s, was the most important? Story by Richard Goodwin for Know Your Mobile.

Mobile Contracts Dupe Britons into Overspending on Handsets
British consumers collectively waste £355 million a year shelling out for mobile handsets they have already paid off, it has emerged. New research by consumer watchdog Which? reveals that nearly half of people (46 per cent) do not switch immediately when they reach the end of their mobile contract, but continue to pay the same monthly tariff. As a result, British consumers are collectively overpaying by a total of £355 million per year – an average of an extra £92 each towards each handset. Story by Sophie Curtis for The Telegraph.

Facebook Brings Back the Away Message in a New Mobile Experiment
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, before Facebook created the world’s first billion-person social network, many of us stayed in touch through instant messaging. Services like AIM and ICQ let us stay in touch not just through chat, but through away messages–tiny fragments letting friends know what you were up to while away from your keyboard. Today, Facebook is bringing those fragments back with what it’s calling the “sidebar status”–a kind of away message you can post in the sidebar of its mobile apps for iOS and Android. Story by Casey Newton for The Verge.

How to Stop Telemarketers from Calling your Cell Phone
Telemarketers have had a much harder time of it in recent years. Millions of consumers have registered their home phones on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call list. Perhaps more significantly, more households no longer have landlines, whose numbers are accessible through a directory assistance database. So many telemarketers have simply started collecting wireless numbers and calling them night and day, pitching all manner of products and services–some legitimate and some scams. Story by Mark Huffman for Consumer Affairs.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of SaveOnPhone.com. He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.