New mobile browser blocks ads automatically

CNN Money, 5/21/15

Adblock Plus, maker of the world’s most downloaded ad-blocking browser extension, launched its own mobile browser on Wednesday.

The German company says it wants to give people a way to block ads automatically when they surf the Web on their phones. As an added benefit, the company says users may see improved battery life and save on data costs because less digital content loads.

The new Adblock Browser is in “Beta” preview mode, and it’s only available for Android devices at the moment. But an iOS version will become available in the near future.

The desktop Adblock Plus browser extension, which works with Chrome and Firefox, has been downloaded more than 400 million times since its debut in 2006. Over the past four years, the number of people who have used ad blocking software has increased steadily to more than 144 million, or about 5% of global internet users, according to a recent study from Adobe.

But smartphones don’t allow for extensions, which is why the company released its own browser.

“A complete Android browser app is a natural progression for us,” Adblock Plus co-founder Till Faida said in a statement.

Digital businesses which depend on ad revenue will not see this as welcome news. But Adblock defended its browser, noting that it doesn’t block all ads. In fact, its mission is to promote non-intrusive advertising.

“Annoying” ads, such as pop-ups and pre-roll video ads, will always be blocked. “Acceptable” ads — ones without animation or sound, that do not block a page’s content, or are marked clearly as ads — will be allowed, and this is the default setting for the new browser.

There’s also a group of ads that will always be displayed. These ads comply with Adblock Plus’ criteria for acceptability, or the ad networks have paid the company to be unblocked.

New mobile technology companies have also been looking at ways to block ads on a larger scale. Shine, an Israeli startup, for example, has been working with wireless carriers around the world to design ways to control the amount of ads that flow through their services.

The message to ad tech companies and ad-driven websites is clear — find better ways of engaging with people without disturbing their online experience.

But beware. There’s a tech solution for every tech problem, even if you’re an advertiser facing this issue. One French company, Secret Media, has built software to override ad blockers, and it works on both desktops and mobile phones.

 

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Posted on May 21, 2015 at 11:40 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone

Microsoft Office for Android phones gets a new look and features

Tom Warren, The Verge, 5/21/15

Microsoft is bringing a new look and features to its Office mobile apps for Android phones today. After launching an Android tablet version in January, the new Office apps for Android phones look very similar. They’re also nearly identical to the iOS version available on the iPhone, and designed with the same features in mind.

While the tablet versions allow you to get a fair amount of editing done without a keyboard and mouse, the phone editions are really for basic and quick edits. Microsoft is using the same editing interface at the bottom of the display, with options to easily change fonts and styling in Word. For Excel those options are designed for quick cell changes, and PowerPoint is largely optimized for simple changes to slide transitions. Just like iOS, all three apps offer native Dropbox integration to store and open documents, or Microsoft’s own OneDrive cloud storage.

Microsoft is allowing Android users to preview Office for phones today, with a full release expected later this year. With this new preview, Microsoft has now successfully updated iOS and Android users to a new version of Office ahead of a release on Windows Phone. The software maker only just started previewing a phone version of Office for Windows 10 last week, but it requires device owners to upgrade their entire OS to a largely unstable preview version of Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft is aiming to release Office for Windows 10 Mobile by the end of the year, just in time for new Lumia devices and the holiday season.

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Posted on May 21, 2015 at 11:36 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone, Mobile Technology

Windows Phone is now officially Windows Mobile again

Tom Warren, The Verge, 5/18/15

Microsoft started dropping the Windows Phone brand back in September, and now we have its official replacement. The software maker has revealed today that the equivalent to Windows Phone for the Windows 10 era is simply “Windows 10 Mobile.” If you’ve been paying attention to Microsoft’s mobile efforts over the years, then you’ll know that’s a straight return to the Windows Mobile days. Microsoft used a variety of names for Windows Mobile, including Windows Mobile 2003, Windows Mobile 5, and Windows Mobile 6 before switching to Windows Phone for version 7.

While the new name isn’t simply Windows Mobile, thanks to the 10 numbering, it’s still a return to the old days of Windows Mobile especially if Microsoft does choose to ship a Windows 11 or Windows 12 in the future. After a confusing mix of names over more than 15 years, Microsoft has finally settled on the name it used the most. Windows Mobile makes a lot more sense than Windows Phone these days, especially as the operating system will span across phones and tablets, but it’s still not really the Windows as we know it today. Microsoft is trying to change that with universal apps across all devices, but for most Windows is still Windows on PCs and laptops.

Either way, welcome back old Windows Mobile friend, the circle is complete.

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Posted on May 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology, WinPhone

Google says mobile now dominates search

, ComputerWorld, 5/11/15

Google now gets more search queries from mobile devices than it does from PCs.

The company noted this milestone in mobile computing in a blog post on Tuesday.

“Billions of times per day, consumers turn to Google for I want-to-know, I want-to-go, I want-to-do, and I want-to-buy moments,” wrote Jerry Dischler, Google’s vice president of product management. “And at these times, consumers are increasingly picking up their smartphones for answers. In fact, more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries including the U.S. and Japan.”

That, he added, presents what he calls a “tremendous opportunity” for businesses to reach people through this new touchpoint.

The news about mobile search overshadowing desktop searches means we’ve officially entered a “mobile-first” world, according to Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research.

“Instead of using our PCs at home and augmenting them with mobile, we are mobile first, so no matter where we are or what we are doing we can find the information we need right then and there,” he added. “The phrases “I’ll take care of that when I get back to the office,” or “I’ll take care of that when I get home,” have been eradicated from our vocabulary.”

This week’s announcement puts Google’s recent mobile search changes into context.

Early last month, Google announced it was changing the algorithm it uses for mobile searches to give websites designed to be mobile friendly better positioning in search results.

Websites that aren’t designed to run well and look good on mobile devices simply won’t get good placement in search results — neither on mobile devices nor on desktops.

“The fact that Google is prioritizing mobile sites means Google’s ads need to be oriented around mobile,” said Kerravala. “I think it is changing what Google does with ads, meaning ads are going to need to become more localized. So if I search for “fast food,” don’t put a Wendy’s ad up if there are no Wendy’s within 10 miles.”

That idea of local advertising for mobile users is going to be critical, according to Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. “This switch to mobile is pretty big. Advertisers, especially local advertisers, will start to pay attention.”

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Posted on May 11, 2015 at 8:51 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology

FCC asks how LTE can share the airwaves with Wi-Fi

, ComputerWorld, 5/11/15

A way to let cellular operators share Wi-Fi frequencies without jamming up Internet service is now in the spotlight at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

On Tuesday, the agency asked for public comments on LTE-U (LTE-Unlicensed), which Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA, SK Telecom and other operators are exploring as a way to get more spectrum for better service. The FCC wants to know how LTE-U might affect Wi-Fi and other services. Comments are due June 11.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other technologies run over unlicensed frequencies that are open to any device approved by the FCC, while mobile operators’ LTE networks use frequency bands licensed exclusively for the carrier’s use. But licensed spectrum is expensive — bids in the latest U.S. mobile auction topped $40 billion — and may not always be enough to serve a lot of subscribers in one area. So some operators want to send part of their LTE traffic over the unlicensed frequencies.

If the prospect of cell subscribers streaming data, video and music over frequencies that Wi-Fi users depend on sounds like a recipe for a traffic jam, well, that’s what the FCC is concerned about, too. The two technologies use different methods to deal with other users nearby.

The FCC says it has been approached by a number of organizations about LTE-U. Among other things, the agency wants to know how things are going between the main standards groups that regulate cellular and Wi-Fi and are supposed to be working out ways to make sure LTE-U doesn’t unfairly hog all the frequencies. It also wants to know how the technology will work and how soon it’s likely to be here, including deployments that may come out before a standard is finished.

With the extra bandwidth, carriers could head off slowdowns in busy places or just give subscribers a faster connection than they can get on LTE. But the idea has proved controversial.

For now, LTE-U development is focused mainly on using a carrier’s regular licensed spectrum as an “anchor” and just using unlicensed frequencies for downloads, which typically need a fatter pipe than upstream traffic. LTE-U might use the unlicensed 5GHz band, where Wi-Fi has most of its channels, and the 3.5GHz band, where the FCC is working on frequency sharing with the military and other users.

Carriers are expected to start rolling out LTE-U first in the U.S., and possibly South Korea, because regulations are more lax in those countries. T-Mobile USA has said it expects to use the technology in the 5GHz band starting next year.

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Posted on May 11, 2015 at 8:47 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , , , , ,

Android tool catches apps silently pumping hundreds of ad, tracking servers red-handed

Shaun Nichols, The Register, 5/11/15

Security researchers have developed an Android application that’s capable of alerting when other apps on a phone or tablet are covertly tracking users and connecting to ad networks.

The team at France’s Eurecom and Technicolor Research – explained in a paper published in the Cornell University Library archive that their prototype NoSuchApp application* functions as an on-board proxy: it monitors traffic and compares URLs silently requested by apps to a list of known ad-serving and user-tracking domains.

The aim of the project is to give users a way to be warned of the behavior of their apps and remove “bad actor” apps that might have otherwise gone undetected.

“The lack of oversight in Android Play Store makes it all too easy for end-users to install applications of dubious origin, or those which silently carry out activity that might not be seen favorably by the user,” researchers Luigi Vigneri, Jaideep Chandrashekar, Ioannis Pefkianakis and Olivier Heen wrote in the paper.

Bad actors abound

The researchers began by testing 2,146 applications with internet-access permissions from 25 different categories in the Play Store to observe how each would behave on an unrooted Android 4.1.2 device.

They ran the apps through a series of 10,000 scripted user input events, such as screen touches and scrolls. Any network connections made by the apps were then tested against the AdBlock EasyList ad and privacy URL depositories, as well as the VirusTotal and Webutation scanning services. HTTPS traffic was not analyzed.

In total, 1,710 of the tested applications were found to generate network traffic, requesting some 250,000 URLs on 1,985 top-level domains. The study found that some applications would connect to as many as 2,000 separate URLs within minutes of launching, while others generated more than 1,000 HTTP requests.

Of the tested apps, 67 per cent connected to a known ad domain, with each requesting about 40 different URLs, on average. Another 26.8 per cent of the tested apps connected with tracking URLs, in some cases requesting more than 800 URLs per app.

Some 5.6 per cent of the requested URLs showed up as “suspicious” on the VirusTotal scan, while Webutation marked 2.9 per cent of the domains as “malicious.”

“The results presented thus far clearly indicate that applications on the Google Play Store often connect to destinations that are not essential for the operation of the app itself,” the researchers wrote. “Furthermore, much of this communication is completely hidden from users.”

Call in the NSA

With that data in hand, the researchers set out to construct their watchdog app: NoSuchApp (NSA). NSA sets itself up as a local proxy to examine all traffic before it leaves the handset.

With the proxy established, NSA is then able to use the researchers’ matching process to check the URLs being accessed. To reduce errors and save on hardware drain, NSA matches apps to sockets and collects multiple requested URLs, only checking them for matches in bundles.

Users are then presented with a picture of what and how frequently those URLs are communicating with their devices and which are known to be associated with ad networks, tracking tools, and possible malware activity that bypasses the proxy.

The researchers hope to eventually flesh out the list of known bad actors and allow users a clearer picture of what each of their Android apps are really doing. One possibility, they suggested, would be to set up a crowdsourced “app reputation system” where individuals can inspect the traffic being generated by the apps they use and tag it as normal, unexpected, or suspicious.

“Such individual signals could be aggregated at a back end and fed back into the application,” the research paper explains. “This would enable easy blacklisting of applications (and their traffic) based on what other users have observed and reacted to.”

NoSuchApp is currently Android-only, with the researchers noting that Apple’s iron-fisted hold on the iOS App Store has the beneficial effect of catching bad behavior prior to release. ®

* Earlier, the researchers linked to a Dropbox-hosted download of the app, but it now seems to have been pulled due to excessive traffic. The developers say they plan to make it publicly available in the Google Play store “in the near future,” so keep your eyes peeled for it there.

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Posted on May 11, 2015 at 8:44 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone, Mobile Technology

Sony makes it easier to put new operating systems on its phones

Sony’s Android smartphones haven’t been tinkerer-friendly to date — since you couldn’t boot from a recovery partition, you couldn’t install CyanogenMod and other unofficial operating systems without jumping through hoops. It should be much easier to mess with your software from now on, though. Sony is quietly releasing bootloaders that let you boot from that recovery space, which opens the door to installing both custom Android ROMs as well as very different platforms, like Firefox OS or Ubuntu Touch. The catch? Right now, the only devices that support these bootloaders are lower-end models you probably don’t use, like the Xperia E3, M2, T2 Ultra and T3. You won’t be modifying the heck out of your Xperia Z3 just yet, then, but that’s no longer a far-fetched idea.

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Posted on May 11, 2015 at 8:40 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, Mobile Technology

Huge news: Windows 10 can run reworked Android and iOS apps

Tom Warren, The Verge, 5/1/15

After months of rumors, Microsoft is revealing its plans to get mobile apps on Windows 10 today. While the company has been investigating emulating Android apps, it has settled on a different solution, or set of solutions, that will allow developers to bring their existing code to Windows 10.

iOS and Android developers will be able to port their apps and games directly to Windows universal apps, and Microsoft is enabling this with two new software development kits. On the Android side, Microsoft is enabling developers to use Java and C++ code on Windows 10, and for iOS developers they’ll be able to take advantage of their existing Objective C code. “We want to enable developers to leverage their current code and current skills to start building those Windows applications in the Store, and to be able to extend those applications,” explained Microsoft’s Terry Myerson during an interview with The Verge this morning.

The idea is simple, the execution is a little more complex

The idea is simple, get apps on Windows 10 without the need for developers to rebuild them fully for Windows. While it sounds simple, the actual process will be a little more complicated than just pushing a few buttons to recompile apps. “Initially it will be analogous to what Amazon offers,” notes Myerson, referring to the Android work Microsoft is doing. “If they’re using some Google API… we have created Microsoft replacements for those APIs.” Microsoft’s pitch to developers is to bring their code across without many changes, and then eventually leverage the capabilities of Windows like Cortana, Xbox Live, Holograms, Live Tiles, and more. Microsoft has been testing its new tools with some key developers like King, the maker of Candy Crush Saga, to get games ported across to Windows. Candy Crush Saga as it exists today on Windows Phone has been converted from iOS code using Microsoft’s tools without many modifications.

During Microsoft’s planning for bringing iOS and Android apps to Windows, Myerson admits it wasn’t always an obvious choice to have both. “At times we’ve thought, let’s just do iOS,” Myerson explains. “But when we think of Windows we really think of everyone on the planet. There’s countries where iOS devices aren’t available.” Supporting both Android and iOS developers allows Microsoft to capture everyone who is developing for mobile platforms right now, even if most companies still continue to target iOS first and port their apps to Android at the same time or shortly afterward. By supporting iOS developers, Microsoft wants to be third in line for these ported apps, and that’s a better situation than it faces today.

Alongside the iOS and Android SDKs, Microsoft is also revealing ways for websites and Windows desktop apps to make their way over to Windows universal apps. Microsoft has created a way for websites to run inside a Windows universal app, and use system services like notifications and in-app purchases. This should allow website owners to easily create web apps without much effort, and list those apps in the Windows Store. It’s not the best alternative to a native app for a lot of scenarios, but for simple websites it offers up a new way to create an app without its developers having to learn new code languages. Microsoft is also looking toward existing Windows desktop app developers with Windows 10. Developers will be able to leverage their .NET and Win32 work and bring this to Windows universal apps. “Sixteen million .NET and Win32 apps are still being used every month on Windows 7 and Windows 8,” explains Myerson, so it’s clear Microsoft needs to get these into Windows 10.

Microsoft is using some of its HyperV work to virtualize these existing desktop apps on Windows 10. Adobe is one particular test case where Microsoft has been working closely with the firm to package its apps ready for Windows 10. Adobe Photoshop Elements is coming to the Windows Store as a universal app, using this virtualization technology. Performance is key for many desktop apps, so it will be interesting to see if Microsoft has managed to maintain a fluid app experience with this virtualization.

“A set of bridges to Windows 10″

Collectively, Microsoft is referring to these four new SDKs as bridges or ramps to get developers interested in Windows 10. It’s a key moment for the company to really win back developers and prove that Windows is still relevant in a world that continues to be dominated by Android and iOS. The aim, as Myerson puts it, is to get Windows 10 on 1 billion devices within the next two to three years. That’s a big goal, and the company will need the support of developers and apps to help it get there.

These SDKs will generate questions among Microsoft’s core development community, especially those who invested heavily in the company’s Metro-style design and the unique features of Windows apps in the past. The end result for consumers is, hopefully, more apps, but for developers it’s a question of whether to simply port their existing iOS and Android work across and leave it at that, or extend those apps to use Windows features or even some design elements. “We want to structure the platform so it’s not an all or nothing,” says Myerson. “If you use everything together it’s beautiful, but that’s not required to get started.”

Microsoft still has the tricky mix of ported apps to contend with, and that could result in an app store similar to Amazon’s, or even one where developers still aren’t interested in porting. This is just the beginning, and Windows universal apps, while promising, still face a rocky and uncertain future.

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Posted on May 1, 2015 at 8:20 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: ,

Google’s Project Fi aims to combine the best of LTE, Wi-Fi

, FierceWireless, 4/24/15

Finally and officially, Google has unwrapped its “Project Fi” MVNO in partnership with Sprint and T-Mobile US.

Currently, the service work only with a special SIM card for Google’s Nexus 6 smartphone, which was designed by Motorola Mobility, and the service is by invitation-only at this stage.

But it’s got some snazzy technology that the industry has talked about for years but struggled to take mainstream. Google said its technology intelligently connects customers to the fastest available network at their location, whether it’s Wi-Fi or an LTE network. Project Fi automatically connects users to more than 1 million free, open Wi-Fi hotspots that Google says it has verified as fast and reliable and that Google will encrypt once a user is connected, reports DroidLive. The system uses a virtual private network (VPN)–no password required, which is a key part of making the service consumer-friendly.

If a customer leaves an area of Wi-Fi coverage, Google says calls will seamlessly transition from Wi-Fi to cellular, and the customer’s phone number lives in the cloud.

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Posted on April 24, 2015 at 8:27 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , , , ,

What you need to know about Wi-Fi calling

, CNET news, 4/23/15

Curious about Wi-Fi calling and what it entails? CNET has the rundown on what you need to know

In addition to offering customers a cheaper alternative to their phone plans, one of the main draws of Google’s newly launched Project Fi service is that it will seamlessly switch a user’s phone service from cellular to Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi calling is nothing new; apps like Skype, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp make it easier for smartphone users to place calls over the Internet and forgo mobile networks altogether. But as this option becomes increasingly more beneficial to users, carriers have shown increasing interest in adopting Wi-Fi calling themselves. Whether it’s because they want to bolster their network coverage or improve user experience, some US carriers already provide the service, and now Google has jumped into the ring as well.

To help you make sense of what Wi-Fi calling is, why it’s important, and what you can use it for, CNET put together a handy guide to walk you through everything you need to know.

Editors’ Note: This piece has been updated on April 22, 2015 with clarification from T-Mobile and information about Google’s Project Fi initiative.

What is Wi-Fi calling?

Instead of using your carrier’s network connection, users can make voice calls through a Wi-Fi network. That can include a Wi-Fi connection you have set up at home, or whatever Wi-Fi hotspot you happen to be on when you’re out and about, such as a cafe or library. In most ways, it’s like any other normal call, and you still use regular phone numbers.

Why would I want that?

Wi-Fi calling is especially useful when you’re in an area with weak carrier coverage. For example, when you’re traveling to the residential countryside, or you’re in a building with spotty reception. You may already be familiar with using Wi-Fi to send messages when SMS texting is unavailable (apps like Kik and Facebook Messenger provide these services) — and the same applies for when you’re trying to place a call. With Wi-Fi, you can call a friend up even if you’re in a dingy, underground bar (assuming you can connect to the bar’s Wi-Fi, that is.)

Isn’t that what Skype does?


Built-in Wi-Fi calling has some advantages over third-party services like Skype. Nicole Cozma/CNET

In a way, yes. There are various services including Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that provide what’s known under the umbrella term as “voice over Internet” to make calls with either a Wi-Fi or data connection.

Carrier-branded Wi-Fi calling is a bit different, however. It’s baked directly into the phone’s dialer, so you don’t need to fire up an app or connect to a service to use it. You can set it as your default way of placing a call, or if you lose phone signal, it will automatically switch to Wi-Fi calling.

Because the service is built-in, that also means you don’t need to add contacts to a service as you do with Skype. You’ll have access to your existing phone book, and your friends can receive your Wi-Fi call without needing to download a third-party app. With no contacts to add, carrier Wi-Fi calling requires little effort to set up.

What carriers and phones support this service?

Of the four major US carriers, only T-Mobile and Sprint provide built-in Wi-Fi calling. Though no official timeline has been set, Verizon and AT&T have confirmed plans to offer the service, with the latter stating it will launch sometime in 2015. In addition, Republic Wireless provides Wi-Fi calling by default on its handsets, and users get support from Sprint’s network if connection is unavailable.

Currently, T-Mobile has 18 smartphones that support this option, including the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Edge; the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, 6, 5S, and 5C; the HTC One M9; the LG G3, G2, and Optimus L90; and the Microsoft Lumia 640.

As for Sprint, Wi-Fi calling is available on the iPhone 6 Plus, 6, 5S and 5C only if its iOS software is updated to v8.3. A number of Android devices have the service as well, but to see if yours has it, you’ll need to check through the handset’s Settings menu.

t-mobile-and-sprint.jpg
Of the four major carriers, only T-Mobile and Sprint support the service. Josh Miller/CNET

Does it cost more?

It doesn’t cost any extra as such, but making calls over Wi-Fi can come out of your regular minutes allowance depending on your carrier, your phone plan and which country you’re calling to/from. Under T-Mobile’s specific “Simple Choice Plan,” for example, Wi-Fi calling does not impact minutes. But be sure to check with T-Mobile and Sprint’s policies to see if any of their potential restrictions and charges relate to your situation.

If you’re running out of minutes, then using services like Skype or WhatsApp will help you avoid incurring any additional charges.

Can I use it overseas without paying huge amounts?

Again, that depends. T-Mobile lets you make and receive Wi-Fi calls for free between 120 countries. Sprint customers won’t be charged for calls made to, from, or between the US, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but they will be charged “international calling plan rates” for other countries. Republic Wireless only supports Wi-Fi calling for the US and Canada. Other than that, the carrier has no international support, which includes no support for Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

If you’re going abroad and want to keep in touch, its best to stick with Skype and WhatsApp when you’re connected to a building or hotel’s Wi-Fi. You can use data, but remember that it will cost you a lot if you’re roaming on cellular networks. If you don’t have a roaming plan, make sure you only use Wi-Fi and turn off data roaming in your Settings before heading out.

Do I need a fast Wi-Fi connection?

Though the higher throughput you have the better your connection will be, a minimum of 1Mbps should be enough to patch a solid call through. Republic Wireless reports that it can hold a call with 80kbps, but the quality may decrease and you’ll experience more dropped calls as well.

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Posted on April 23, 2015 at 8:26 am by lesliemanzara · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Android, iPhone, Mobile Technology · Tagged with: , , , ,