Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–December 28, 2015

People are Ditching Broadband, Relying on Their Smartphones’ LTE for Internet Access
We hear an increasing number of stories about cord cutters, people who ditch cable in favor of on-demand and Internet streaming. Well, some people are taking it one step beyond that and cutting home broadband entirely in favor of mobile connections. A survey from the Pew Research Center found 80% of U.S. adults had Internet access this year, either through a smartphone or a home Internet connection, up from 78% two years ago. But the percentage of people who got Internet access via a cable or home phone provider fell from 70% in 2013 to 67% this year. Meanwhile, the percentage of people relying on cellphones alone for Internet rose to 13% this year, up from 8% in 2013. Story by Andy Patrizio for Network World.

As Polls Gain Power, Cell Phones Pose Challenges
If that poll you see in the newspaper turns out to be inaccurate, it just might be your fault. Do you have a cell phone? Screen your calls before picking up? Let all your calls go to voice mail or an answering machine? That growing use of technology is making it harder and more expensive for pollsters to get in touch with people they need to talk with. It’s not a minor concern. Polls and surveys today are used for everything from determining which candidate takes the debate stage and what ballot language would be most inviting to deciding where a corporate headquarters should be built and which ad campaign works best. Every year, billions of dollars–and the country’s political direction–ride on decisions based on surveys and polling. The falling response rate for pollsters isn’t a new problem. A study done by Pew Research found that while 36 percent of the households surveyed in 1997 yielded an interview, by 2012 that number had fallen to 9 percent. It’s probably lower today. The problems are both technological and cultural. Story by John Wildermuth for the San Francisco Chronicle.

California Rethinks High-Tech Drive to Bar Prison Cell Phones
California’s high-tech solution to rid prisons of illegal cell phones may be unable to keep up with advances in technology quickly enough, so state officials have stopped plans to expand it to more prisons, officials said. Inmates are not allowed to have cell phones because authorities say they can be used to coordinate attacks, and harass victims and witnesses. California began installing devices four years ago to prevent unauthorized cell phone signals from reaching their destination, effectively turning contraband phones into paperweights. The problem is the switch by cellular service providers to what is commonly known as 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology, which uses new frequency bands. Carriers also are transmitting voice calls over what amounts to a Wi-Fi network. The prisons’ system doesn’t capture Wi-Fi, Skype or satellite transmissions, unless Skype and other social media applications are attempted through a cellular connection. Story by Don Thompson for the Associated Press.

‘Waze for Skiing’ Uses Cell Phones, Cameras to Track Wait Times at Vail
Skiers and snowboarders are now using the same technology as drivers to find the best routes back up the mountains of the country’s biggest ski resort operator. Vail Resorts has rolled out new technology to check wait times at the company’s 55 chairlifts and gondolas in Colorado. The system anonymously tracks the progress of patrons’ smartphones and GoPro cameras through the lift lines to build a realtime map of wait times. Patrons using the company’s EPIC Mix app can then check lift lines from anywhere on the mountain, including from the comfort of their slopeside lodge. Story by Trevor Hughes for USA Today.

The 7 Scariest Gadgets the NSA Uses to Spy on Cellphones
The Intercept published an extensive catalog detailing the innumerable gadgets and technologies used by the military, law enforcement authorities, and U.S. governmental agencies like the NSA to track down and spy on targeted users via their cellphones. The entire product listing is eye-opening, but given how extensive it is (53 items in total), we’ve compiled a list of some of the scariest and more worrisome devices on the list. Note: when compiling this list, we didn’t include tracking devices and technologies typically affixed to UAVs. Instead, we opted to focus on devices that enable local law enforcement authorities to conduct surveillance, listen in on phone calls, track user location, jam cellphones, obtain deleted text messages, and even zap up data from seized laptops or smartphones. Story by Yoni Heisler for BGR.

Older Cellphones Still Have Fans
Between splashy launches, lavish new-phone offers (get a free HDTV on activation!) and frequent software updates that slow down your old handset, it sometimes feels like the entire technology industry is pushing you to buy the latest smartphone. Yet some holdouts resist. Overall smartphone sales are slowing down–particularly in industrialized markets such as the U.S., where most people who want a smartphone already have one. IDC forecasts a 10 percent increase in worldwide smartphone sales this year, but that’s slowed considerably from 27 percent growth in 2014. Some manufacturers have turned to emerging markets for new sales, but many customers there can afford only cheaper–and less profitable–devices. To keep making money on premium phones, Apple, Samsung and their rivals are counting on regular upgrades. Story by Mae Anderson for the Associated Press.

Cell Phones are Improving Search and Rescue Responses
Something that most of us carry with us everywhere is helping to save lives when it comes to disasters like an avalanche. Improvements in cell phone technology are helping search and rescue get to people quicker. With more cell phone towers being put up across Montana, people are getting better coverage in more back country areas. Also, batteries last longer and more people in general are carrying phones. Story by Kaitlin Bane for ABC Fox Montana.

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.