Weekly Cell Phone News in Review–May 18, 2015

Berkeley Says Cell Phones Cause Tumors
Cell phones. You can’t live without them, but can you live–and stay healthy–with them? This week the question gained new urgency when Berkeley, California became the first city to pass an ordinance banning phone retailers from selling their products without a warning about potential exposure to radiation. At least six other states have tried to pass a “Right to Know,” bill like this one, which will require a message be attached to each phone with language such as: “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation. This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.” Story by Dr. Anand Veeravagu for The Daily Beast.

Why Earthquake-Resistant Cell Phone Towers Are Worth the Money
Last week, Los Angeles became the first American city to require that new cell phone towers be built to withstand an earthquake. Previously, cell towers only needed to be able to resist falling (and killing people) during a quake, the Los Angeles Times reports. This new law is a reflection of changing times. After a magnitude 8.8 earthquake rocked Chile in 2010, more than 90 percent of the populace experienced problems with their landline phone, cell phone, or Internet service. In Christchurch, New Zealand, cell service went down for about five days after a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011. More than 2,300 cell phone towers fell during the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit Sichuan, China, in 2008. As a result, cell service outages lasted weeks. Story by Francie Diep for Pacific Standard.

Free Mobile Phone Service FreedomPop to Launch in UK
FreedomPop, the free mobile phone service founded in the US by a former BT executive, has announced plans to launch in the UK. The four-year-old company has teamed up with Three to offer customers the ability to send and receive calls, texts and internet data free of charge. A deal with a second, unknown UK mobile network is expected to be announced soon. FreedomPop–led by Stephen Stokols, a former vice-president of strategy and business development at BT–makes its money by offering a basic package for free and hoping customers subsequently pay for more minutes and data. Story by Andrew Trotman for The Telegraph.

Verizon, Sprint to Pay $158 Million for Illegal Cramming of Customers’ Mobile Phones
It’s Verizon and Sprint’s turn to pay refunds and penalties for illegally “cramming” their mobile customers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says the companies will pay $120 million in redress to wireless customers who were illegally billed hundreds of millions of dollars in unauthorized third-party charges and will pay $38 million in fines. AT&T and T-Mobile reached similar settlements earlier, paying $105 million and $90 million respectively. The CFPB alleges that the companies operated billing systems that allowed third parties to “cram” unauthorized charges on customers’ mobile-phone accounts and ignored complaints about the charges. The charges were such things as apps, games, books, movies, and music. The purchases appeared as charges on consumers’ phone bills even though many consumers had not actually ordered the products. Story by James. R. Hood for Consumer Affairs.

Phablets Claim 21% of Smartphone Sales in First Quarter
New research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech shows that phablets made up 21% of smartphone sales for the first quarter of 2015, up from just 6% during the same period in 2014. Phones like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and almost every device on the Samsung Galaxy and Samsung Note lines, are gaining tremendous ground in the United States, changing consumer expectations in a shift toward larger, more capable smartphones. Phablets are defined as smartphones with a display screen of 5.5+ inches. The trend toward phablets comes largely from Asian markets, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. In these countries, 5.5+ inch displays account for 50% of smartphone users, according to Flurry Analytics. Story by John Oldshue for SaveOnPhone.com.

Walmart Taps Alipay to Bring Mobile Payments to 25 China Stores
The world of mobile payments in China keeps heating up. Walmart said Wednesday that it’s teaming with Alipay, Alibaba’s financial partner, to bring mobile payments to 25 Walmart-owned stores in Shenzhen. Customers at those stores can now make purchases using the Alipay Wallet app, a leading mobile-payment tool in China that’s similar to Apple Pay or Google Wallet. A Walmart representative said the company expects to expand the service to more of its roughly 400 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in the country. Story by Ben Fox Rubin for CNet.

Following Google’s Lead, Microsoft’s Bing To Favor Mobile-Friendly Sites
Microsoft Relevant Products/Services is changing its search algorithm with mobile in mind. Like Google, which is now highlighting more mobile-friendly Web sites and more relevant app content in its search results, the software Relevant Products/Services giant recognizes the surge in mobile search. Of course, mobile advertising is tied to mobile search so search engines are racing to morph. The global mobile advertising market will hit two significant milestones in 2015, according to new eMarketer figures. First, it will pass the $100 billion spending mark. Second, it will make up over half of all digital ad expenditures. Story by Jennifer LeClaire for CIO Today.

10 Ways to Cut Your Mobile Phone Data Usage
It’s one modern convenience most of us can’t live without: our mobile phone. These touchscreen devices have evolved into pocket-sized computers, capable of messaging, Web surfing, video conferencing, gaming, photography, GPS navigation, social networking, fitness tracking and the handling of work documents. Oh, and they let you make calls, too. But many of the fun things you can do on a smartphone today require “data,” therefore you likely have a monthly plan with your carrier that gives you a certain number of megabytes or gigabytes to use up by the end of the month. If you find yourself nearing your limit or going over–and paying the price for doing so–the following are some tips and tricks to using less data. Story by Marc Saltzman for USA Today.

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.