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Time Warner and Comcast to boost their broadband speeds in Kansas City

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August 4, 2014

Earlier this morning, Time Warner and Comcast have said they will soon boost their broadband speeds in Kansas City, which happens to be the first town in the U.S. that Google Fiber will be rolled out later this year.

They added that this will happen without any price increase. Kansas City is one of the few U.S. markets where Comcast and Time Warner have real broadband competition beyond phone company DSL.

The mid-west metropolis is the home of Google's first Fiber broadband project, and was announced last year.

Google launched the new service in 2012, offering citizens gigabit speeds with plans to increase bandwidth up to 10 Gbps.

Understandably, the service has become a hot commodity, with cities offering Google concessions such as discounts on network access to launch Fiber.

Google didn't return a request for comment on the news. That the cable giants are upgrading their services in the face of increased competition is ammunition for opponents of the planned Comcast-Time Warner merger.

The two companies have conceded that they have little overlap in their coverage and rarely compete against one another.

A 2013 study by the FCC found that about 19 percent of Americans have only one provider offering 10 Mbps or faster broadband and just 48 percent are able to choose from three or more broadband wireless carriers.

For those that own condos or that rent apartments with restrictions on drilling holes or laying cable, the choices can be even more limited.

Today's decision could also provide fresh ammunition for net neutrality advocates, who point to the uncertain state of broadband competition in the United States as an indicator that protections are needed to prevent service providers from throttling traffic and implementing extra charges.

Overall, cable companies have various arguments up their sleeves for why broadband availability is lagging in the U.S.

With a growing but dispersed population and wide stretches of uninhabited land, laying cables to bring broadband service to remote parts of the country can be very costly, they claim, and investments may not translate to big financial returns in areas with few potential customers.

However, microwave relays could be an answer that could be analyzed down to road. The matter has been among the key points of the Obama administration's infrastructure policies.

The White House has already pledged billions of dollars to improve broadband access in rural and ill-served areas, along with public facilities such as schools and libraries.

In other wireless news

Executives from Samsung say that the company will launch two new high-end smartphones later this year. The new devices will have a new and larger screen that uses new materials.

Samsung will likely introduce the new devices to the Galaxy Note 3 series in the fall. Samsung also said during its earnings report yesterday that it would introduce "a more diverse product portfolio" in wearables, but without providing any specifics.

Samsung typically introduces its newest phone-tablet hybrids in the fall. The other premium device could be Samsung's much-anticipated metal smartphone that has been called everything from the Galaxy Alpha to the Galaxy S5 Prime.

We've contacted Samsung and will update this report when we have more information. The news about the devices came as Samsung posted a 25 percent drop in second-quarter operating profits, marking the third straight quarter of profit declines as competition heats up in the smartphone market segment.

Samsung also warned that its second half would remain a challenge as competition in the mobile phone market leads to lower device prices and severely hurts its results.

"Prospects for growth still remain unclear as competition over global market share intensifies in the mobile industry," the company said in a press release.

"Samsung expects to see its sales of mobile devices increase with the rollout of flagship products and of newer models, but profitability may suffer due to a heated race over price and product specifications," the report added.

The period marked the first quarter of sales for Samsung's newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5. The company vowed the device, which it unveiled in late February and started selling in April, would sell better than its predecessor, the Galaxy S4.

In May, Samsung revealed that it sold about eleven million Galaxy S5s in the first month of sales, outpacing the Galaxy S4 by about one million units.

There have been worries lately that sales of the Galaxy S5 are weaker than hoped, and Samsung hasn't released any updated shipment figures. But now we all know.

There also have been calls for Samsung to use more premium materials in its devices, such as metal, although the company still has not responded to that yet.

In other mobile news

Samsung is apparently planning to launch a new high-end smartphone in August. The new device will be designed to take on the iPhone 6, according to various reports out of South Korea.

Over the weekend, Korean publication ET News reported that Samsung is working on a new device known as the Galaxy Alpha that it plans to launch next month.

Samsung wants to get the mobile handset out to store shelves before Apple has had a chance to announce the rumored iPhone 6, the report said, citing sources who claim to have knowledge of the matter.

Overall, the Galaxy Alpha is the latest in a long line of potential names for a new rumored Samsung phone.

It's believed that the Galaxy Alpha could be the same device with another name that's been bandied about the blogosphere over the last several months. Some rumors have suggested Samsung is working on a Galaxy S5 Prime or a Galaxy F, both coming with the same high-end features mentioned in the Korean news story.

However, this is the first time the Alpha name has come out. Both Samsung and Apple are waging an ongoing battle in the mobile segment as both companies continue to sell millions of devices each quarter.

Combined together, the two are doing quite well, generating over 100 percent of the smartphone industry's profits, after losses from other firms are taken into account.

Details on the new smartphone mobile handset are sketchy at this point, and the ET News article didn't provide much as was also the case with other reports about the device.

And it's a similar story on Apple's case, where the company is expected in the coming months to unveil maybe two new iPhones. We are still waiting for news directly from Apple.

We contacted Samsung for comment on the report. We will update this story when we have more information.

In other mobile news

Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez put in all the effort and glamor she could hope in the May 2013 launch of her new retail chain Viva Movil, which specializes in selling Verizon Wireless products to the Hispanic community.

But a little over a year later, her stores are not doing so good, however. Lopez unveiled Viva along with then-Verizon Wireless Chief Operating Officer Marni Walden in May of last year at the end of a painfully uneventful wireless trade show.

Draped in a chic and slinky white dress, Lopez stood in front of a giant display and flashing lights talking about the opportunity she saw in catering to the Hispanic market with family-friendly stores, more attentive services and 'J-Lo-inspired' smartphone cases.

Then in June 2013, Lopez, who serves as chief creative officer for Viva, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first Viva store in Brooklyn, New York.

But any hype garnered at the launch has since long faded. While Viva did manage to expand to 15 stores in the Hispanic-heavy markets of New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, awareness of the brand remains low.

We visited two Viva stores, one in the Los Angeles area and the original Brooklyn flagship location, where employees acknowledge some people walk in not even realizing it's a wireless store.

"More than one customer has come in asking for coffee," said a Viva employee who wished not to be named.

That Viva remains under the radar for consumers appears to be a missed opportunity for both Lopez and Verizon, which is eager to search for new areas of customer growth at a time when the industry is starting to slow.

Overall, Hispanics make up the fastest-growing demographic group of people in the United States and are a bunch of consumers very ripe for a more personalized experience when it comes to technology products and services.

Hispanic data usage is sixteen percent higher than the national average, according to a Nielsen survey, with 49 percent of Latino respondents saying they planned to replace or upgrade their smartphone within the next six months.

Members of the group are also twice as likely to upgrade their tablets within the next six months.

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And of course, Verizon and Lopez aren't the only ones who have taken notice. In May of this year, T-Mobile partnered with Univision to create a Hispanic-centric wireless service, Univision Mobile, sold through Walmart and dealer stores.

"There's just certain things I get because I am one of those people, that maybe other people don't get," Lopez said in an interview last year. "I think being in the entertainment business, and that combined with building my own brand and being who I am, I come at it from a creative perspective that's a little bit different," she added.

Viva's campaign has largely been online, and is part of Verizon's "omnichannel" strategy of being able to sell services and products both at physical stores and online, according to Kim Collins, director of multicultural marketing for Verizon.

"The brand has been sustained by social media, and is very targeted," Collins said in an interview.

Now despite the big launch and high-profile face of Viva, Verizon treats it like any other indirect retailer. That also means when a high-profile device such as the iPhone 5S launches, Viva won't get the device for a week, with priority given to Verizon-owned stores.

The iPhone 5C, however, was there on Day 1, and that's interesting. It's not that Verizon Wireless actually ignores Viva. The employees were universally pleased with the support provided by Verizon, which certainly helps with sales training.

"Any issues that we could potentially have get fixed immediately," said Amed Gaitan, manager of the Viva store in Baldwin Park, California.

Overall, many of the Viva stores have actually flipped their logos so the Verizon name takes precedence over Viva.

"When we first started, people asked us if this was a clothing store," Gaitan said.

Located in a strip mall, the store does get decent traffic after work, Gaitan said, and he'll sometimes keep it running after the 8 p.m. closing time to accommodate some late customers.

Customers who do take the time to learn about Viva appreciate the different touches, Gaitan said.

"And we also get a lot of regulars," he said, noting that some people will come in monthly to pay their bills.

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Source: Comcast and Time Warner

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