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LTE coverage getting better for the four U.S. major carriers

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April 1, 2014

For the past few months, it appears that, on average, LTE coverage may be improving somewhat for the 4 major U.S. carriers. However, data transfer speeds on 4G networks are on their way down over the last year, according to data collected from subscribers. OpenSignal, whose app users can track to monitor their own coverage, shows that T-Mobile has the fastest data transfer speeds over the last three months, averaging at about 11.5 mbps.

Overall, AT&T was placed a near second at 9.1 mbps, Verizon was in third at 7.8 mbps, and Sprint was the slowest at 4.3 mbps. But those network speeds dropped over the last year, as measured by the 103,025 OpenSignal users that reported the data in the first place.

Verizon customers are most likely to have an LTE network available, judging by data gathered by OpenSignal over the last three months.

"Mobile service operators are constantly upgrading their technologies and rolling out to new areas, while increased user load on LTE networks combats these improvements," OpenSignal said. "Consequently it can be seen that all four networks trend downwards over the past year."

The United States has leapfrogged Europe in adopting 4G, but the benefits for consumers are counterbalanced by high expenses for wireless carriers. Verizon said it'll spend between $16.5 billion and $17 billion on capital expenditures in 2014, for example.

That type of spending, along with steep fees to license wireless radio spectrum, is driving consolidation efforts such as AT&T's failed bid to acquire T-Mobile and Sprint's current push to acquire T-Mobile.

The percentage of time users could get LTE networks has steadily increased over the last year. By the percentage of time LTE is available, Verizon is at the top of the list at 83 percent.

Next comes AT&T at 71 percent, then T-Mobile at 61 percent, and Sprint again is in last place at 57 percent, OpenSignal said.

In other mobile news

Google said earlier today that it's planning a minor update to its Android platform, according to a number of sources.

It should arrive as the 4.4.3 release of Android, and the new version is expected to be all about bug fixes and minor tweaks. Suggesting the 4.4.3 build would address a known camera issue, an observer in the blogosphere say that it would debut within the next few weeks.

A source close to Android Police most recently said that there could be upward of two dozen bug fixes in the next OS release.

As it stands today, many of these features may not even be noticeable to the average user. With that in mind, we could anticipate fixes for features such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, the camera itself, data usage and some USB debugging.

To be sure, the KitKat versions of Android were recently found to be the most stable of all mobile platforms. According to the first Mobile Experience Benchmark report from Crittercism, Android 4.4+ crashes roughly 0.7 percent of the time.

Tossing in a few dozen bug fixes should even see that number further drop. We'll keep you poeted on this and other stories as they happen.

In other mobile news

Sony said earlier this morning that it simply can't meet the strong demand for its new Xperia Z2 flagship phone, while preorders should go out sometime in April, the general public won't see the device until mid-May or even a bit later.

The company says it's working tirelessly to maximize stock levels of the new waterproof smartphone, but one online retailer is warning customers not to expect stock until May 1st at the very earliest.

The phone had previously been expected to go on sale in mid-April. "The Sony Xperia Z2 will be available in Britain during April and we are expecting to deliver to all consumers who have placed a pre-order through our key partners," a Sony spokesperson said in a statement.

"We are working tirelessly to maximise stock levels in April but currently we do not expect to meet the high demand across all our sales channels," he added.

Sony was unable to clarify who its key partners are, but we would expect high-street retailers such as Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4U in Britain, as well as the major networks. Vodafone is offering a free 32-inch Sony Bravia TV with the Xperia Z2.

The cause of the delay seems to be a small issue in the supply line. "Sony advises that they had a component manufacturing problem from a third party who make a part for the phone," according to a spokesperson for British retailer Unlocked Mobiles.

The Xperia Z2's key selling points are its new ability to record 4K-resolution video with its 20-megapixel camera, its waterproof glass and aluminium body, and a fast 2.3 GHz quad-core processor.

It's not to be confused with the similarly powerful, identically waterproof Xperia Z2 Tablet, a ten inch iPad rival. Sony hasn't announced whether the Z2 will go on sale in the United States, at least not yet anyway.

In other mobile news

Apple has launched a lower cost and smaller version of its iconic iPhone dubbed the 5C and brought the 4th-generation iPad back from the abyss.

Sales of the colorful iPhone 5C have been below the company's expectations, and CEO Tim Cook acknowledged in January that Apple misjudged the demand for it.

As a direct result, Apple unveiled an 8 GB version of its iPhone 5C this morning, in an attempt to increase consumer interest.

For now, the 8 GB edition is only available in European Apple Stores, but the company is expected to introduce the smaller iPhone 5C in its U.S. stores later today.

In Britain, the 8 GB version was selling for 429, ($711), slightly less than the 16 GB version, which sells for 469, or $778. Brits are unable to purchase a subsidized iPhone from Apple.

The 16 GB iPhone 5C sells for just $100 with a two-year contract in the United States. An unsubsidized 16 GB iPhone 5C purchased directly sells for $549.

Apple also sells an 8 GB version of the two-year old iPhone 4S in the U.S. for free with a new two-year contract.

Many wireless industry analysts had expected the iPhone 5C to be a lower-cost smartphone aimed at the Chinese market. In fact, its price was consistent with previous last-generation smartphones that Apple has sold, and its plastic shell was designed to help Apple improve its declining profit margins.

But the higher-than-expected price has scared off many potential Chinese customers. For now, it's still unclear just how much demand Apple can muster up for a smartphone that hasn't proven particularly popular at any price point. In an attempt to clear out inventory, Wal-Mart recently cut the 16 GB iPhone 5C price to just $27 with a new two-year contract.

Also today, Apple brought back the 4th generation iPad with Retina display, a tablet that was replaced by the thinner iPad Air in October.

While bringing back the fourth-generation iPad, Apple finally stopped selling the iPad 2-- a tablet that has been on the market since 2011.

The 4th generation iPad will only be available with 16 GB of storage, but it will start at $399-- the same price for which Apple was selling the less-capable iPad 2.

In other mobile news

Late Friday, Samsung said that it is planning on releasing an updated S Band activity tracker as a direct accessory to its flagship Galaxy S5 smartphone.

However, Samsung is vague on when the S Band will launch or what it will cost. To be sure, the band has no display, much like the Nike Fuel band and other fitness trackers on the market.

It will be able to track activity, calories burned, as well as sleep cycles, and it also features a simple call and message notification.

Additionally, the band will have interchangeable straps in white, yellow, orange, and grey, Samsung said.

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If Samsung follows its wearables naming strategy, the device could have "Gear" in there. The company declined to comment.

Samsung did unveil an S Band at last year's launch event for the Galaxy S4, but the device never made it to market. Instead, the South Korean electronics giant introduced its Galaxy Gear smartwatch in September 2013. Then in February of this year, Samsung updated Gear with some hardware design tweaks and its own open source software, dubbed Tizen, instead of Android.

Along with that product, the Gear 2, Samsung plans to release the Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit fitness band in the coming weeks.

For Samsung, both devices are a lot more than just gadgets, they also mark an important shift in the company's position in technology.

Long known as a fast follower that's able to pick up almost everything in a matter of just a few days, emulate whatever it sees, and even improve upon existing industry trends, Samsung is now cutting its own path with its wearables lineup.

The release of several different wearables designs is in line with Samsung's longtime strategy of trying as many devices as possible until one really takes off. After all, it is Korean engineering at its best.

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Source: OpenSignal.

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