AT&T’s Q1 Losses Tempered by Wireless Gains

By some measures, AT&T’s Q1 earnings report was lackluster, at best. The company reported a nearly 10 percent profit decline for the quarter ending March 31, compared with the same period a year ago. However, the drop was not as steep as analysts had expected.

Furthermore, certain segments of AT&T’s business lines — namely its wireless and data operations — picked up significant momentum.

In this economy, that registers as a win for Wall Street, which was quick to show its appreciation. Shares of AT&T were up 80 US cents to $26.08 and hit session highs of $26.43 Wednesday after the telecom reported its quarterly earnings.

“Overall, the reaction to the news was somewhat positive as, outside of the weaker-than-expected revenue number, there were no real negative items in the report,” Frederic Ruffy, the senior options strategist at WhatsTrading.com, told the E-Commerce Times.

Disappearing Landlines

AT&T’s landline operations did not do well in Q1 — a showing that would not have come as a surprise, even if the economy were stable.

Strong performance in its wireless operations and data business line, however, allowed AT&T to report quarterly earnings of 53 cents per share — beating Wall Street analyst estimates by a nickel.

Total revenue for the quarter came in at $30.57 billion — down less than 1 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Analysts had been expecting $31.1 billion, Ruffy noted. Net income was $3.1 billion, a 9.7 percent fall from the $3.5 billion registered a year ago.

Revenue for wireless, though, was up 9.8 percent to $11.64 billion, compared with a year ago. There was also a 38.6 percent increase in wireless data revenue to $3.2 billion — more than double the total for the first quarter two years earlier. This growth was driven by messaging, Internet access, email, access to applications, and related services.

Wireless Subscribers

AT&T’s earnings report was also telling in that it showed how dependent the company has become on its exclusive Apple iPhone franchise in the U.S. AT&T had a net gain of 1.2 million wireless subscribers, bringing the number of AT&T wireless customers to 78.2 million.

Much of that growth was tied to the iPhone 3G — about 1.6 million signed on this past quarter. Forty percent of them were new customers, Ruffy noted.

“Organic wireless subscriber gains were solid and helped by a significant increase in retail postpaid subscribers, which increased 24 percent from a year ago,” he pointed out.

Like many tech companies, AT&T did not offer any guidance for the current quarter, Ruffy observed. “Investor attention now turns to AT&T’s shareholder meeting on April 24.”

Apple to the Rescue

The Q1 earnings will no doubt strengthen AT&T’s resolve to close a deal with Apple to extend its exclusive contract for the iPhone until 2011, Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, told the E-Commerce Times.

“I think AT&T will have to offer Apple some fairly aggressive incentives for it to stick around,” he added.

However, that might not be a smart move for Apple.

One of the few sectors bound to grow despite the recession is the smartphone market, said Sterling. Carriers have long taken note of consumers’ love affair with these gadgets, and several rivals to the iPhone — such as the Palm Pre — are coming out.

“There will be more options for consumers, and many of these new smartphones will offer the samefeatures and functions that the iPhone does,” Sterling noted. “So, that is why it is important for Apple to get its device out in front of consumers” who may not want to spend the termination fees in order to jump to AT&T to get the iPhone.

If Apple does decide to expand its universe of carriers, AT&T is bound to suffer, but Sterling thinks such a blow would be diffuse. “Yes, its legacy voice business is suffering, but AT&T has done a good job of diversifying its operations.”

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License Change May Spark New Pricing Trend for Open-Source Projects

software license

Cloud-native microservices platform Lightbend wants open-source licensing to better meet developers’ needs and is doing something to make that happen. However, the replacement fix is not a traditional open-source license. Rather, it transitions there in time.

The company, whose user base includes some of the world’s largest brands, on Wednesday announced significant changes to the licensing model for its Akka technology. The platform is used extensively by industry leaders in financial services, e-commerce, automotive, web services, cloud infrastructure, and gaming.

Akka offers devs the ability to deliver concurrent, distributed, and resilient event-driven applications for Java and Scala. Lightbend is changing the license on all Akka modules from Apache 2.0 to Business Source License (BSL) v1.1, starting with Akka v2.7 which will be delivered in October.

That change will bring hefty licensing costs to high-end users. But Lightbend expects it to bring no major problems on open-source projects.

“The goal is to have as little impact on the open-source community and projects as possible. Open-source projects using Akka can contact Lightbend and apply for a license to use Akka within the realms of the open-source project. We have already called about the Play Framework in the Additional Usage Grant in the license itself,” Jonas Bonér, Lightbend’s founder and CEO and the creator of Akka, told LinuxInsider.

The new license will ensure a healthy balance between all parties, shared responsibility, and by extension, contribute to Akka’s future development, he explained.

Addresses Broken Business Model

The “open core” business model on which Akka is based has shown its limitations for Lightbend and many other organizations in similar circumstances, he offered. The toolkit’s licensing changes will ensure its future development.

Once an OSS project becomes so critical to an organization’s daily operation, many larger enterprises turn to self-supporting this software, without contributing anything more to its development or the community at large, Bonér observed. In many instances, these organizations are generating significant profits leveraging this “free” technology.

Under Akka’s new licensing model, any organization with less than $25 million in annual revenue will not require license fees for production usage of the software. However, Lightbend must still grant those users a $0 commercial license.

Larger businesses with more than $25 million annual revenue must now acquire a paid license plus a subscription for production usage. The BSL is available with several options. The new license does not permit back-porting of any software released.

“I think it is a viable path toward sustainable open source. I expect more companies that are building a business around open source to go down this path,” Bonér noted about the impact the BSL license switch will have on open-source projects.

How It Works

MariaDB Corporation crafted the BSL v1.1 now used by Cockroach Labs and other organizations. The BSL is not an open-source license.

In short, the difference is slight between the BSL 1.0 and BSL 1.1, explained Bonér. Version 1.1 fixed the loophole where a company could opt to never convert to a “change license” by now making it explicit that it could not be more than four years. A full discussion of the version change is available at MariaDB.

Akka’s new license works in two stages. First it has commercial overtones. Then it becomes “customizable.”

Under the commercial stage, users can view the source code of the software they obtain for the $0 license. They can download and use it in non-production environments. However, production usage requires users to obtain an upgraded software license from Lightbend.

The second stage kicks in under an open-source license after three years. That version then is released under the current Apache 2.0 license. It offers a customizable “Additional Use Grant” that will be used to grant usage for other OSS projects such as the Play Framework.

Pricing and Versioning Matters

Each new minor version of the software will have its own change date. A “minor version” is defined as a release that changes the second digit of the version number.

For example, a change from Akka 2.7.19 to 2.8.0 would reset the change date. A patch build change from 2.7.19 to 2.7.20 would not, according to Bonér.

Based on this license revision, here is Lightbend’s revised pricing and packaging for the Akka software:

Lightbend's Akka platform, packaging and pricing options

Organizations seeking more information about the implementation of BSL licensing can explore Bonér’s blog.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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OPINION

How Not To Do CX, Lenovo Style

Sometimes the world of smart technology innovations collides with the planet of dumb customer service provisions. That collision usually does not bode well for the customer.

In my case, that scenario is particularly true. I bought Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 5 for an attractive price from a major national electronics store. In hindsight, that was a purchase I wish I could undo.

The Duet 5 is regarded in numerous reliable reviews as the best overall ChromeOS tablet/detachable computer available this year. Its larger screen and detachable full-size keyboard make a usable and fun tablet experience not available with pure Android devices.

For me, that accolade falls far short of reaching that mark. In fact, if your primary need for a Chromebook is to run Linux apps, think again about not buying Lenovo’s Duet 5. You might get a unit like mine that does not do Linux even though it is supposed to work. That failure is not considered a valid claim under Lenovo’s warranty.

I have become quite fond of Chromebooks. ChromeOS devices supplement my home office cadre of Linux computers. They link to my Android phone and its apps. I can run the same productivity apps and access their data directly on the Chromebook.

What fed my attraction to the Duet 5 is its logical follow-up to the very popular 10.1″ original Duet I bought a few years ago. The Duet line has a detachable keyboard and is a stand-alone ChromeOS tablet.

Putting want versus need aside, I debated the prospect of more productivity and convenience with a bigger screen at 400 nits, larger keyboard, and 8GB of RAM. I knew the manufacturer and the retail store as well as the product line. Or so I thought.

What could go wrong? Three things: a failed product, no support, and a warranty that also did not work!

Maybe One Too Many

The last thing I needed to buy was yet another Chromebook. Over the last few years, I have used four or five models from HP, Lenovo, and Asus.

The Duet 5 seemed to check all the boxes. As it turned out, the check mark fell out of the box for reliable tech support and customer service.

Nope, I could not return the computer. By the time I discovered its defective nature the undo window had closed.

I suppose this incident will nudge me to buy expensive add-on store warranties for less expensive electronic devices. Adding insult to injury, Lenovo tech support said the malfunction was “beyond the scope of the manufacturer’s one-year warranty.”

A final correspondence from Lenovo’s tech support told me that if I shipped the device to its repair facility, all the technicians would do is reset the unit to its original OS status and remove Linux.

Heck, I had already done the same thing twice.

Lenovo Buyers Beware

This account is not intended to be a product review. Rather, it tells what happens when corporate arrogance destroys the customer experience.

I usually write about business technology issues and open-source developments impacting the Linux OS. My reporting beat overlaps with e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) issues.

As a tech writer and product reviewer, I am used to manufacturers sending me top-of-their-line products in hopes of showing off their best wares. Marketing marvels often offer high-end configurations to curry consumers’ attention. They go out of their way to make sure the reviewer is fully satisfied.

Too bad that mentality does not always exist when lowly consumers are on the receiving end. But I was not using a loaner unit I would send back anyway, satisfied or not. I bought this model with no plans to review it. I just wanted to use it.

My personal experience hardened my resolve to not buy a Lenovo product going forward. Not because of a bad product encounter. Lenovo lost my customer loyalty because of shoddy customer service and no dedication to resolving my issue with a malfunctioning computer that they built.

The Gory Details

According to Lenovo’s ill-conceived logic, the warranty on Chromebooks does not cover user modifications. Since I activated the Linux partition, ran into a problem, removed the partition, and reinstalled Linux apps not there when I bought it, I was guilty of modifying the device.

To clarify, all Chromebooks require the user to turn on the Linux partition and install Linux apps. That is the same process for using Android apps on Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are built to run the ChromeOS and optionally to run in separate built-in containers Android and Linux software. Google certifies the hardware to ensure the software works.

The ChromeOS similarly enables users to access websites in a browser environment. An added option lets users access those web destinations to run application services within tabbed browser windows or as progressive web apps (PWAs) in their own isolated windows.

That is what Chromebooks are designed to do on any manufacturer’s hardware. Turning these built-in features on/off should not be construed as “modifying” the device.

Tech Support Hell

A few weeks after receiving the Duet 5, I experienced only an intermittent screen flickering issue. That cleared up after a system update. No worries. No concerns.

At that point I turned on the Linux partition and installed the same Linux apps that I use on my other lesser-endowed Chromebooks. Those devices worked fine with the same apps installed.

But the Lenovo Duet 5 froze after loading the Linux apps and running for a few minutes. Glitchy installations happen. So I did what is standard troubleshooting. I reset the ChromeOS to its original status. I then set up the Linux partition and sized it well beyond the Google-recommended minimum size.

Problem NOT solved. So I wiped the Linux partition again. This time, I installed a single Linux app one at a time looking for the culprit throwing the others out of whack. Every Linux app in isolation froze.

Lenovo tech support declined to investigate or test the hardware. The agents suggested finding an affiliated tech center to pursue a solution.

Stuck With No Options

I gladly would have done that. But the nearest such Lenovo repair center was across state lines some 150 miles away.

I reached out to the Google Chromebook support community for an alternative solution. A support person there had me run the “df command” in a Linux terminal to determine the physical health of the partition.

The readout from that diagnostic confirmed the device has a valid and working Linux container. That partially settled the question about the hardware. It did not, however, identify what other hardware issues might be involved.

The Google support forum tech then suggested I look for one or more dud packages by following the procedure outlined above. But, of course, I already did that several times.

Lousy Lessons Learned

If you plan to buy a Chromebook just to have easy access to selected Linux apps, seriously consider my experience. Maybe look elsewhere instead of the Duet 5. Numerous Chromebook alternatives exist.

Who knows? Maybe the Linux apps will work fine for you on your Duet 5. As I said, I have not had this situation on any other Chromebook product I use.

No doubt my experience was a gross anomaly. The aggravating part in all of this is that I will never know the cause.

But if you buy a Duet 5 from a retail outlet instead of directly from the manufacturer, be sure to confirm how that store honors the warranty. You now know how Lenovo honors its warranty.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.
Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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