This time of year is so tech frantic it's kind of fun to watch. The rise in tech gifts is so intense that toy retailers are bummed that the hot new "toy" this year may be the iPad. We're all becoming tech geeks in one form or another and for those of us who have always been here, we welcome you newcomers.
We're hearing plenty of tech news and its interesting what pops up this time of year. USA Today reports that online holiday sales topped $31 billion so far this year - a 15% jump over last year. It's not that big a surprise if you've been paying attention - all that free shipping and the time saved.
I don't have access to any data that says where all that shopping is coming from, but I can bet that a few of our loyal farm readers are very happy to shop online rather than trek into town and battle the crowds. Remember it was farmers that helped build Sears & Roebuck with catalogs all those years ago. Today the new "Sears" is shaping up to be Amazon (you can buy anything there) or eBay (same deal) and it changes how you think. I've been an Amazon Prime member for a couple of years, which means I pay no shipping if I'm willing to use two-day service and there are other benefits including access to a streaming library of movies.
So the idea that online sales would rise isn't really a surprise. Of course, the fact that Best Buy and other big box retailers also push their online products (with in-store delivery) muddies the definition of an "online retailer" but you can see the value here. In fact, just 5 days before Christmas you can still get stuff delivered to your home in time for the holidays.
I've spoken positively about the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, I like the free market it's a wonder free-for-all place where the strong and smart survive and the weak (well we don't talk about that). Anyway, it appears regulators couldn't get their head around the idea of a merger - ignoring things like better cell phone coverage and perhaps improved high-speed data access nationwide.
The worries were that fewer competitors would push up prices (I think they're plenty high right now). It was a concern that regulators couldn't get past, and it was the first big merger the Obama Administration put a stop too (it didn't stop the Comcast/NBCUniversal merger).
I didn't see much conversation about network types in all the hype and hoopla bandied about when talking about the merger. AT&T and T-Mobile use the international standard GSM for their signals, while everyone else in the United States - Verizon, Sprint, MobilePCS, US Cellular and others - use CDMA. As someone who travels outside the country from time to time, it's nice to have a phone that works everywhere (not a big deal for farmers I know).
The only good news is that in the dissolution of the merger, AT&T and T-Mobile are entering into a 7-year roaming agreement - so customers will still get access to that broader network, which couldn’t hurt.
Last week the initial reports emerged on the continued testing of the LightSquared Network, with continued concerns about interference with GPS. LightSquared continues to assert that your GPS receiver is the problem and that its network is sticking to the spectrum it has owned for more than five years. The Department of Defense and the coalition of GPS providers at saveourgps.org remain concerned.
Farmers will benefit from the enhanced broadband service that LightSquared is offering. The company continues to sign up partners for its 4G LTE service. Keep in mind that getting better high-speed data access could come at a cost if this GPS issue isn't figured out.
The final details on that report - which has been widely leaked in some form or other - will be available in a few weeks. We're keeping an eye on it for 2012.