THE BROWSER: Truth and rumors from the tech world
Alltel may not be all that
A blogger challenges Alltel's claims of having the largest cell-phone network. Plus: Skype hits 100 million users.
By Owen Thomas, Business 2.0 Magazine online editor and Oliver Ryan, Fortune reporter

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) - Alltel, the fifth-largest U.S. wireless carrier, is loudly proclaiming itself "America's largest network." That bit of braggadocio has gotten Engadget Mobile blogger Ryan Block curious enough to quiz some PR reps and download coverage maps. It turns out that Alltel (Research) is basing its claim on the square footage covered by its network. But a close look at Alltel's wireless network, which covers entire states, shows a surprising lack of detail compared to maps from competitors like Verizon (Research) and Sprint Nextel (Research). Block points out that unlike most carriers, Alltel doesn't distinguish between regions that have current or planned coverage. That means there's no way of knowing if its map truly indicates where you can get a cell-phone signal, or just where Alltel owns rights to wireless spectrum. Says Block: "Alltel has some explaining to do." One clear signal: Wireless users lose out when carriers spend more time arguing about who's got the bigger network than building more cell-phone towers.

Skype hits 100 million users

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The buzz in the Internet telephony world today is that Skype has hit 100 million users. That's welcome news for Skype's parent company, eBay (Research), which paid $2.6 billion for the company last year. It might also cheer the company's co-founders, Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who are otherwise up to their necks in a lawsuit relating to file-sharing technology they created before getting into the phone business. It may also be good news for Vonage, which is looking for a valuation as high as Skype's in a forthcoming IPO. But statistics can be deceiving: Jean Mercier at Skype Journal notes that Skype's self-reported numbers count "registered usernames," which aren't the same thing as paying customers. Says Mercier, "The discussion can go on: How many real users does Skype have now?"

Steal this company

Even in a world accustomed to rampant product counterfeiting by overseas factories, the story of NEC's recent troubles stands out. The International Herald Tribune reports today that Chinese pirates had successfully faked an entire division of the Japanese consumer electronics giant. It seems the entrepreneurial crooks had saved on the cost of building a brand, but had otherwise built a fully functional business. The pirates created a mini-manufacturing empire with links to 50 factories in China and Taiwan, and even went so far "as developing their own range of consumer electronic products." One impressed Slashdot reader suggests that "These guys should get a criminal Nobel or something!" While another simply wonders, given all the effort, "why they didn't go legit."

PDA market continues to shrink

The handheld market dropped again in the first quarter, shrinking 22 percent from the same period last year, according to a report from research firm IDC. Palm (Research) stayed on top of the dwindling market, with Hewlett-Packard (Research) in second place. Some good news, however, for Palm and HP: Sales of smartphones are expected to double to 123 million units this year, taking 15 percent of the mobile-phone market. IDC analyst Ramon Llamas notes that there will likely continue to be a small core of devoted PDA users -- an observation that's borne out by comments on the Gizmodo blog, where several readers noted that they'd rather carry a PDA and a phone, because the simple devices are smaller and have longer-lasting batteries than do-it-all smartphones. Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.