T-Mobile hit by phone calling, text message outage

T-Mobile appears to be having problems.

Customers are reporting that they can’t make or receive phone calls, although data appears to be unaffected. Some customers say that text messaging is also affected.

DownDetector, which collects outage reports from users, indicates that a major outage is underway. It’s not clear how widespread the issue is, but at the time of writing T-Mobile was trending across the United States on Twitter.

The outage appears to have started around 10am PT (1pm ET) on Monday.

DownDetector reporting outages across the U.S.

In our own tests in New York and Seattle, we found that making calls from a T-Mobile phone would fail almost immediately after placing the call. We also found that the cell service on our phones were intermittent, with bars occasionally dropping to zero or losing access to high-speed data.

In April, Sprint and T-Mobile completed its merger, valued at $26 billion, making the combined cell network the third largest carrier in the United States behind AT&T and Verizon.

A spokesperson for T-Mobile also did not immediately comment on the outage.

Other networks may also be experiencing downtime, per customer reports. But so far Verizon (which owns TechCrunch) and Sprint have not responded to a request for comment. An AT&T spokesperson said that the network is operating normally.

Widespread cell networks are rare but do happen. In 2017, CenturyLink had a network failure that affected all major U.S. carriers and 911 emergency services that rely on the fiber network to route calls. In some U.S. counties, officials sent out emergency alerts to cell phone users to warn that 911 services had been disrupted.

Updated to note that carrier-dependent text messaging also appears to be affected.

Sinch to buy India’s ACL Mobile for $70 million

Sinch said on Monday it has agreed to buy Indian firm ACL Mobile for £56 million (roughly $70 million) in what is the third acquisition deal the Swedish mobile voice and messaging firm has entered into at the height of a global pandemic.

The Swedish firm said acquiring ACL Mobile will enable it to leverage the Indian firm’s connections with local mobile operators in the world’s second largest internet market as well as in Malaysia, and UAE to expand its end-to-end connectivity without working with a third-party firm.

20-year-old ACL Mobile, which has headquarters in Delhi, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur, enables businesses to interact with their customers through SMS, email, WhatsApp and other channels. In a press statement, the Indian firm said it serves more than 500 enterprise customers including Flipkart, OLX, MakeMyTrip, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

“With ACL we gain critical scale in the world’s second-largest mobile market. We gain customers, expertise and technology and we further strengthen our global messaging product for discerning businesses with global needs,” said Sinch chief executive Oscar Werner.

The Indian firm, which employs 288 people, reported gross profits of $14.2 million on sales of about $65 million in the financial year that ended in March. During the same period, ACL Mobile claims it delivered 47 billion messages on behalf of its enterprise customers.

“Although the long-term growth outlook is favorable, lower commercial activity in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that the near-term growth outlook is less predictable,” Sinch said of ACL Mobile’s future outlook.

ACL Mobile is the third acquisition Sinch has unveiled since March this year. Last month the company said it was buying SAP’s Digital Interconnect for $250 million. In March, it announced a deal to buy Wavy.

Sinch, founded in 2008, employs more than 70 people in over 40 locations worldwide and is increasingly expanding to more markets. Last month it said acquiring SAP’s Digital Interconnect will help it expand in the US market. The company says it is profitable.

“Together with Sinch we are scaling up to become one of the leading global players in our industry. I’m excited about this next chapter and the many new opportunities that we can pursue together,” said Sanjay K Goyal, founder and chief executive of ACL Mobile.

SoftBank reportedly plans to sell about $20 billion of its T-Mobile shares

SoftBank Group Corp. is currently seeking buyers for about $20 billion of its shares in T-Mobile US, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. If the proposed sale goes through, its proceeds could help offset SoftBank’s heavy investment losses over the past year.

According to its first-quarter earnings report yesterday, SoftBank’s Vision Fund lost $17.4 billion in value for the year ended March 31, obliterating the $12.8 billion gain the fund recorded a year ago. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to sell up to $41 billion of its assets to increase its share buyback program.

T-Mobile’s merger with SoftBank-controlled Sprint, which was officially completed last month, gave SoftBank ownership of about 25% of T-Mobile’s shares.

Bloomberg reports that under the proposed deal, which could be announced this week, SoftBank would sell part of its stake to Deutsche Telekom AG, T-Mobile’s parent company. Deutsche Telekom currently owns about 44% of T-Mobile’s shares, but would achieve majority ownership if the deal with SoftBank goes through. Softbank would then sell some of its remaining stake to other investors in a secondary offering.

T-Mobile is the United States’ third-largest wireless carrier, after AT&T and Verizon Wireless*, and it has a current market capitalization of about $126 billion, which means SoftBank’s stake is worth about $31 billion, while Deutsche Telekom’s is about $55 billion.

According to the Wall Street Journal, banks including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sach Group are currently seeking investors for the proposed sale.

TechCrunch has contacted SoftBank Group and T-Mobile for comment.

*Disclosure: Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company.

With lower bandwidth, Disney+ opens streaming service in UK, Ireland, 5 other European countries, France to come online April 7

Disney+, the streaming service from the Walt Disney Company, has been rapidly ramping up in the last several weeks. But while some of that expansion has seen some hiccups, other regions are basically on track. Today, as expected, Disney announced that it is officially launching in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland; it also reconfirmed the delayed debut in France will be coming online on April 7.

Seven is the operative number here, it seems: it’s the largest multi-country launch so far for the service.

“Launching in seven markets simultaneously marks a new milestone for Disney+,“ said Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in a statement. “As the streaming home for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and National Geographic, Disney+ delivers high-quality, optimistic storytelling that fans expect from our brands, now available broadly, conveniently, and permanently on Disney+. We humbly hope that this service can bring some much-needed moments of respite for families during these difficult times.”

Pricing is £5.99/€6.99 per month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription. Belgium, the Nordics, and Portugal, will follow in summer 2020.

The service being rolled out will feature 26 Disney+ Originals plus an “extensive collection” of titles (some 500 films, 26 exclusive original movies and series and thousands of TV episodes to start with) from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and other content producers owned by the entertainment giant, in what has been one of the boldest moves yet from a content company to go head-to-head with OTT streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

The expansion of Disney+ has been caught a bit in the crossfire of world events. The new service is launching at what has become an unprecedented time for streaming: because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of of the world is being told to stay home.

That means huge demand for new services to entertain and distract people who are now sheltering in place. But it has also been putting a huge strain on broadband networks, and to be a responsible streamer (and to make sure quality is not too impacted), Disney confirmed (as it previously said it would) it would be launching the service with “lower overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25%.

Titles in the mix debuting today include “The Mandalorian” live-action Star Wars series; a live-action “Lady and the Tramp,” “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,”; “The World According to Jeff Goldblum” docuseries from National Geographic; “Marvel’s Hero Project,” which celebrates extraordinary kids making a difference in their communities; “Encore!,” executive produced by the multi-talented Kristen Bell; “The Imagineering Story” a 6-part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Leslie Iwerks and animated short film collections “SparkShorts” and “Forky Asks A Question” from Pixar Animation Studios.

Some 600 episodes of “The Simpsons” is also included (with the latest season 31 coming later this year).

With entire households now being told to stay together and stay inside, we’re seeing a huge amount of pressure being put on to broadband networks and a true test of the multiscreen approach that streaming services have been building over the years. In this case, you can use all the usuals: mobile phones, streaming media players, smart TVs and gaming consoles to watch the Disney+ service (including Amazon devices, Apple devices, Google devices, LG Smart TVs with webOS, Microsoft’s Xbox Ones, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Sony / Sony Interactive Entertainment, with the ability to use four concurrent streams per subscription, or up to 10 devices with unlimited downloads. As you would expect, there is also the ability to set up parental controls and individual profiles.

Carriers with paid-TV services that are also on board so far include Deutsche Telekom, O2 in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, TIM in Italy and Canal+ in France when the country comes online. No BT in the UK, which is too bad for me (sniff). Sky and NOW TV are also on board.

Loon and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile team with Airbus, China Telecom and more on stratospheric cell networks

A new industry alliance led by Alphabet’s Loon high-altitude balloon technology company and SoftBank’s HAPSMobile stratospheric glider subsidiary aims to work together on standards and tech related to deploying network connectivity using high-altitude delivery mechanisms.

This extends the existing partnership between HAPSMobile and Loon, which began with a strategic alliance between the two announced last April, and which recently resulted in Loon adapting the network hardware it uses on its stratospheric balloons to work with the HAPSMobile stratospheric long-winged drone. Now, they two are welcoming more members, including AeroVironment, Airbus Defence and Space, Bharti Airtel, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Intelsat, Nokia, HAPSMobile parent SoftBank and Telefonica.

The new HAPS Alliance, as it’s being called (HAPS just stands for ‘High Altitude Platform Station’) will be working together to promote use of the technology, as well as work with regulators in the markets where they operate on enabling its use. They’ll work towards developing a set of common industry standards for network interoperability, and also figure how to essentially carve up the or stake out the stratosphere so that participating industry players can work together without stepping on each other’s toes.

This new combined group is no slouch: It includes some of the most powerful network operators in the world, as well as key network infrastructure players and aerospace companies. Which could mean big things for stratospheric networks, which have the advantages of being closer to Earth than satellite-based internet offerings, but also avoid the disadvantages of ground-based cell towers like having to deal with difficult terrain or more limited range.

Is this the first step towards a future where our connected devices rely on high-flying, autonomous cell towers for connectivity? It’s too early to say how ubiquitous this will get, but this new group of heavyweights definitely lends more credence to the idea.

Flip raises $4M to pounce on the growing sector of employee messaging

By now we’re all familiar with text messaging groups for multi-person co-ordination. I’ve lost count of how many WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook messenger groups I’m on! Other apps like Threema have started to be used in a business context and startups like Staffbase have decided to become full-blown ‘workforce messaging’ platforms. The thinking now amongst investors is that messaging is about to explode in all sorts of verticals and that it’s a rich seam to mine.

In that vein, Flip, a Stuttgart, Germany-based employee messenger app, has now raised €3.6M ($4M) from LEA Partners and Cavalry Ventures, together with Plug and Play Ventures and Business Angels such as Jürgen Hambrecht (Chairman of the Supervisory Board BASF), Prof. Dr. Kurt Lauk (Chairman of the Supervisory Board Magna International), Florian Buzin (Founder Starface) and Andreas Burike (HR Business Angel). The capital raised will be invested primarily in the expansion of the team and the development of further markets.

Founded in 2018, the start-up offers companies a platform that connects and informs employees across all levels in a legally compliant manner.

That last part is important. The application is based on a GDPR-compliant data and employee protection concept, which was validated jointly with experts and works councils of several DAX companies. It also integrates with many existing corporate IT infrastructures.

The startup has now secured customers including Porsche, Bauhaus, Edeka, Junge IG Metall and Wüstenrot & Württembergische. Parts of the Sparkasse and Volksbank are also among the customer base. It also counts Deutsche Telekom as a partner.

Flip founder and CEO, Benedikt Ilg, said in a statement: “Flip is the easiest solution for internal communication in companies of all sizes.”

Bernhard Janke from LEA Partners said: “As a young company, Flip has been able to attract prestigious clients. The lean solution can be integrated into existing IT systems and existing communication processes, even in large organizations. With the financing round, we want to further expand the team and product and thus support the founders in their vision of making digital workforce engagement accessible to all companies.”

Claude Ritter of Cavalry Ventures said: “We are convinced that Flip is setting new standards in this still young market with its safe, lightweight and extremely powerful product”.

Flip raises $4M to pounce on the growing sector of employee messaging

By now we’re all familiar with text messaging groups for multi-person co-ordination. I’ve lost count of how many WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook messenger groups I’m on! Other apps like Threema have started to be used in a business context and startups like Staffbase have decided to become full-blown ‘workforce messaging’ platforms. The thinking now amongst investors is that messaging is about to explode in all sorts of verticals and that it’s a rich seam to mine.

In that vein, Flip, a Stuttgart, Germany-based employee messenger app, has now raised €3.6M ($4M) from LEA Partners and Cavalry Ventures, together with Plug and Play Ventures and Business Angels such as Jürgen Hambrecht (Chairman of the Supervisory Board BASF), Prof. Dr. Kurt Lauk (Chairman of the Supervisory Board Magna International), Florian Buzin (Founder Starface) and Andreas Burike (HR Business Angel). The capital raised will be invested primarily in the expansion of the team and the development of further markets.

Founded in 2018, the start-up offers companies a platform that connects and informs employees across all levels in a legally compliant manner.

That last part is important. The application is based on a GDPR-compliant data and employee protection concept, which was validated jointly with experts and works councils of several DAX companies. It also integrates with many existing corporate IT infrastructures.

The startup has now secured customers including Porsche, Bauhaus, Edeka, Junge IG Metall and Wüstenrot & Württembergische. Parts of the Sparkasse and Volksbank are also among the customer base. It also counts Deutsche Telekom as a partner.

Flip founder and CEO, Benedikt Ilg, said in a statement: “Flip is the easiest solution for internal communication in companies of all sizes.”

Bernhard Janke from LEA Partners said: “As a young company, Flip has been able to attract prestigious clients. The lean solution can be integrated into existing IT systems and existing communication processes, even in large organizations. With the financing round, we want to further expand the team and product and thus support the founders in their vision of making digital workforce engagement accessible to all companies.”

Claude Ritter of Cavalry Ventures said: “We are convinced that Flip is setting new standards in this still young market with its safe, lightweight and extremely powerful product”.

MoEngage lands $25M for its mobile-first customer engagement platform

MoEngage, a San Francisco and Bangalore-based startup that helps firms better understand their customers and improve their engagement, has raised $25 million in a new financing round as it looks to grow its network in North America and Europe.

The new financing round, Series C, was led by Eight Roads Ventures . F-Prime Capital, Matrix Partners India, and Ventureast also participated in the round. The six-year-old startup, which is an Alchemist alum, has raised about $40 million to date.

MoEngage offers a product that allows clients to get deeper insight about the way their customers — or users — are engaging with their apps and websites. “We can, for instance, tell at what time a customer is using the app,” said Raviteja Dodda, founder and chief executive of MoEngage, in an interview with TechCrunch.

These insights, all displayed on one dashboard, could be very useful for firms to retain their existing customers or find optimized ways to attempt to sell more to them.

“Based on your understanding about the customer, you can send them personalized notifications. Say you’re using a ride-hailing app. The firm would now know how often you use their app and at what time you tend to avail their service. Based on these learnings, they can offer you deals or reminders that could help them improve their conversion rate,” he said.

MoEngage today works with a number of major firms in North America, Europe, and Asia. Some of its clients include Deutsche Telekom, CIMB Bank, Travelodge, Samsung, McAfee, Vodafone, retail chain Future Retail, ride-hailing service Ola, budget-hotel operator OYO, grocery delivery startup Bigbasket, and music streaming service Gaana.

In total, Dodda said his startup has amassed “hundreds of clients” in over 35 countries and is serving more than 400 million active users for them each month.

“MoEngage, with its differentiated offering, scalable platform and a customer-first approach, will play an important role in enabling us to deliver contextual and relevant communications to our customers and drive higher customer lifetime value,” said Arun Srinivas, chief operating officer at Indian ride-hailing startup Ola, in a statement.

MoEngage, which competes with a handful of startups including India-based Clevertap, will infuse the fresh capital to find more customers in North America and Europe, and scale its product operations, said Dodda.

“What differentiates MoEngage from other engagement platforms is the combination of their ever-evolving AI-enabled customer journey capabilities, industry-best channel reachability and top-notch customer support. We are thrilled to partner with Raviteja and his team as they look to expand globally,” said Shweta Bhatia, Partner at Eight Roads Ventures.

John Legere is stepping down as CEO of T-Mobile, succeeded by deputy Mike Sievert on May 1

He’s reportedly not going to take over WeWork, but John Legere is definitely on his way out of the CEO role at T-Mobile, the carrier that is currently merging with SoftBank-controlled Sprint. Today the carrier and Legere confirmed that Mike Sievert — currently T-Mobile’s COO — will succeed Legere as CEO on May 1 of 2020. Legere will stay on the board.

Neither Legere nor T-Mobile commented on what his next move will be, and specifically if this will pave the way for him to take over the top job at WeWork. There had been reports that Legere — something of a turnaround specialist — was being lined up for the job at the very troubled office-space startup, which had to shelve its IPO earlier this year after showing poor financials amid questionable management that not only led to the departure of its founder Adam Neumann as CEO, but a strong devaluation of the company that resulted in SoftBank, as a major creditor, taking control.

The reports of Legere coming in to fix things at WeWork seemed to get refuted quite swiftly. However, the same “sources” that quashed that story also insisted he had “no plans” to leave T-Mobile. With elements of the report in doubt, that could put the WeWork rumors (or thoughts of other SoftBank roles, for that matter) back on the table. We’ve asked Legere directly and will update this post if he replies.

Legere has been with T-Mobile since 2012, where he used his irreverent personality to directly spar with the industry while at the same time position the carrier — which has long trailed bigger competitors like AT&T and Verizon (which owns us) in size — as a growth story and different from the pack (hence the “un-carrier” marketing strategy). The stock price has over that time gone up, and the carrier is currently valued at around $65 billion. (Notably, the stock is down about 1.5% today on the back of this news.)

Sievert will be tasked with continuing the route that Legere set, T-Mobile said, “demonstrating that T-Mobile will remain a disruptive force in US wireless marketplace to benefit consumers.”

“I hired Mike in 2012 and I have great confidence in him. I have mentored him as he took on increasingly broad responsibilities, and he is absolutely the right choice as T-Mobile’s next CEO,” said Legere in a statement. “Mike is well prepared to lead T-Mobile into the future. He has a deep understanding of where T-Mobile has been and where it needs to go to remain the most innovative company in the industry. I am extremely proud of the culture and enthusiasm we have built around challenging the status quo and our ongoing commitment to putting customers first.”

“The Un-carrier culture, which all our employees live every day, will not change,” Sievert said in a separate statement. “T-Mobile is not just about one individual. Our company is built around an extraordinarily capable management team and thousands of talented, committed, and customer-obsessed employees. Going forward, my mission is to build on T-Mobile’s industry-leading reputation for empowering employees to deliver an outstanding customer experience and to position T-Mobile not only as the leading mobile carrier, but as one of the most admired companies in America.”

Regardless of whether this is a sign that SoftBank indeed has a job lined up for Legere at one of its other portfolio companies, such as WeWork, the changing of the guard makes some sense, since the merger with Sprint would leave a question mark over who would lead the combined business. The two companies were reportedly close to releasing a management line-up for the merged business earlier this year, but that has yet to happen. The merger is due to be completed early next year.

HTC’s new CEO discusses the phonemaker’s future

On September 17, HTC announced that cofounder Cher Wang would be stepping down as CEO. In her place, Yves Maitre stepped into the role of Chief Executive, after more than a decade at French telecom giant, Orange.

It’s a tough job at an even tougher time. The move comes on the tail of five consecutive quarterly losses and major layoffs, including a quarter of the company’s staff, which were let go in July of last year.

It’s a far fall for a company that comprised roughly 11 percent of global smartphone sales, some eight years ago. These days, HTC is routinely relegated to the “other” column when these figures are published.

All of this is not to say that the company doesn’t have some interesting irons in the fire. With Vive, HTC has demonstrated its ability to offer a cutting edge VR platform, while Exodus has tapped into an interest in exploring the use of blockchain technologies for mobile devices.

Of course, neither of these examples show any sign of displacing HTC’s once-booming mobile device sales. And this January’s $1.1 billion sale of a significant portion of its hardware division to Google has left many wondering whether it has much gas left in the mobile tank.

With Wang initially scheduled to appear on stage at Disrupt this week, the company ultimately opted to have Maitre sit in on the panel instead. In preparation for the conversation, we sat down with the executive to discuss his new role and future of the struggling Taiwanese hardware company.

5G, XR and the future of the HTC brand