Verizon is laying down 400 tiny cells in SF to boost LTE capacity

In the coming months, workers and visitors along San Francisco’s major tech corridors may notice some very big improvement in Verizon’s 4G network speeds in some very specific places. The carrier plans to blanket the city’s SOMA, Financial District, Market Street and North Beach neighborhoods with 400 pint-sized transmitters called small cells.

You can think of small cells as a big tower-mounted macro cell shrunken down to size of your dorm-room space heater. They’re mounted on utility and light poles, and while they carry the exact same amount of capacity as a big macro cell, that capacity is concentrated in a much smaller area — in [company]Verizon[/company]’s case, a 250 to 500-foot radius.

Small cells are intended to be surgical tools in the network: Carriers use them to layer significant amounts of capacity in high-traffic and high-demand places. And in the case of San Francisco, there’s probably no more high-demand area than downtown, where the city’s tech industry is concentrated and everyone always seems to be surfing on smartphone or tablet, said Eric Reed, VP of entertainment and tech policy at Verizon.

A rendering of what two small cells (on different frequencies) would look like on an SF light pole.

A rendering of what two small cells (on different frequencies) would look like on an SF light pole.

Verizon is using small cells in other cities — New York, Chicago and Phoenix to name a few — but the San Francisco network in particular is an apt proving-ground for the technology because Verizon’s customers scarf down mobile data there like few other places in the country, Reed said. Specifically, Verizon anticipates a three-fold boost in capacity in the areas covered by these [company]Ericsson[/company]-designed transmitters, and customers should also notice some big increases in average speed as tinier cells split their capacity among fewer users.

There have been other small cell deployments in the U.S. — [company]AT&T[/company] is in the middle of a big one — but Verizon’s is particularly notable because of its extent. It’s packing a lot of cells into a limited area to create a very dense network, rather than just plopping cells down here or there to fill a coverage or capacity hole. While these cells won’t be in a massive single cluster, they’ll be spaced near enough that Verizon has to be careful they aren’t too close, otherwise their signals might interfere with one another, Verizon’s director of network engineering and operations Jake Hamilton told me.

What Verizon is building is what is known as a heterogeneous network, or HetNet, a kind of multi-layered system, which reuses the same spectrum over multiple radio technologies. Both the small and large cells will transmit over the same frequencies, which normally would result in a murky soup of cross-interference, but Verizon and Ericsson are taking a lot of steps to make sure that doesn’t happen. According to Hamilton, they’re shaping the radio patterns from Verizon’s towers so they wrap around the small cells where possible, and they’re also using an LTE-Advanced technique called enhanced Inter-Cell Interference Coordination (eICIC) to make the two networks behave as one.

Verizon is working with the city of San Francisco to use its utility infrastructure, and it’s currently getting all of its paperwork in order so its installation crews can get to work in the second quarter, Hamilton said. Verizon expects to have all 400 cells up and running by the end of the year.

Indian rape victim sues Uber in US court

The Indian woman whose alleged rape by an Uber driver led to the service being shut down in New Delhi has now sued the car-hailing platform in San Francisco, according to Reuters. The woman, who asked the federal court to protect her identity, said Uber’s service was the “modern day equivalent of electronic hitchhiking”. Uber, which recently reopened its Delhi services after applying for a taxi license, has repeatedly promised to improve its driver-vetting procedures in India. The woman wants unspecified damages from Uber, as well as the installation of in-car cameras and the creation of local customer support centers. The driver, who denies the attack, is currently on trial for rape and kidnapping.

Uber’s raking in money in SF, but the story is complicated

Uber is now on a pace to make $500 million a year in revenue in the San Francisco market alone, according to CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick spoke on the matter over the weekend at a conference in Munich, and Business Insider reported the news Monday, making the argument that Uber is far larger than the taxi industry, which Kalanick claims only brings in $140 million a year in SF. I’ve reached out to the SFMTA to confirm that number and will update this if I hear back.

Prior to today, the most recent SF revenue stats from Uber surfaced last November, also via Business Insider. At that point, the leaked Uber presentation showed the company’s run rate in SF was $212.4 million based on its December 2013 revenue. Roughly a year later, it’s at $500 million — so the company has doubled in size in the city.

Originally, there was a significant, missing piece of information from Kalanick’s remarks. As Kevin Roose pointed out on Twitter, Kalanick didn’t explain whether $500 million includes the money Uber has to pay drivers.

The company later told me that it does. Uber takes a roughly 20 percent cut of each transaction, giving the rest of the money to its independent driving partners. Including the full booking fee in its revenue statistics is the difference between gross revenue (all money transacted) and net revenue (considering certain basic deductions).

Uber is touting its gross revenue to demonstrate its size, but some have questioned whether that number accurately represents the size of Uber’s business. $100 million — Uber’s cut after it pays out drivers — is a far cry from $500 million, after all.

For the time being, Uber can’t markedly shrink the cut drivers are taking, so its real business is arguably its 20 percent cut, not the full amount of booking revenue. Either way, the stats show the company is still growing at a rapid, staggering rate.


This story has been updated to include Uber’s confirmation that $500 million is its gross yearly revenue in SF, not net yearly revenue.

Here’s how Sidecar took the lead in the carpool race

It’s been four months since Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar officially launched their carpool features. And although all three rideshare companies have marketed their new carpool feature to the masses, one of them is pulling ahead: Sidecar.

It has expanded its carpool option to the most cities and seen record-breaking use in the process. The company trotted out a host of statistics and facts during a recent interview with me. The overall picture was clear: Sidecar’s carpooling feature is now its main source of growth, and a welcome injection.

Sidecar’s Shared Rides feature is now available in five cities, compared to three for both Lyft and Uber. In the cities where it launched the feature, 40 percent of the rides Sidecar offers are carpool. Uber wouldn’t disclose its percentage of UberPool rides. Lyft told me that as of a few months ago, 30 percent of its rides in San Francisco were Lyft Line, but it declined to share more up-to-date figures or the percentages of other cities.

It’s worth noting that since Lyft does a higher volume of rides than Sidecar, 30 percent of its total is likely far greater in absolute number of rides than 40 percent of Sidecar’s total.

For those who don’t track every change in the transportation industry: This carpooling option is different from these companies’ original “ridesharing” services. Instead of traveling alone with a driver (as with original ridesharing), in carpooling you get matched with another passenger going the same direction, making it cheaper to get across town than if you were traveling solo.

You might be surprised to hear that Sidecar has expanded its carpooling feature more quickly than Uber or Lyft. After all, it’s the company which I have previously referred to as the forgotten stepsister of ridesharing. It’s the smallest, with far less passengers and far less venture capital funding ($35 million) than Uber ($3.3 billion) and Lyft ($332.5 million).

But the company’s smaller size may actually be the reason for its fast carpool expansion. It has been able to focus its resources on the carpooling part of the business, making it a priority above all else. The company raised its latest round, a comparably paltry $15 million, solely on the premise of expanding Shared Rides.

Since introducing Shared Rides, Sidecar’s business has grown in multiples. It had a record week last week, with rides up 60 percent from the average prior weeks, despite the fact that there wasn’t a holiday like New Years or Halloween to propel the growth. The number of rides it offered in Chicago increased 10 times since it launched Shared Rides there in early November.

Contrary to outward appearances, Sidecar was first to market with the carpool feature, giving it a head start on Uber and Lyft. The media narrative around carpooling originally went: Lyft was the creatorUber upstaged Lyft’s big launch with a preemptive release, and Sidecar belatedly chased the pack.

But as this June article shows, Sidecar had actually been doing shared rides months before its competitors — it just hadn’t made much fanfare announcing it. The company claims it started testing Shared Rides in May. It had months of time to hone its operations, and as Uber and Lyft were just launching their SF markets, Sidecar had already tried out its feature with 13,000 passengers.

It has by no means won that war though. Sidecar may have gotten a head start, but its rivals are still far better funded. All it takes is Lyft or Uber placing a priority on carpooling — making it their main raison d’être — for them to take over.

The Tinder for crime-fighting might just be Tinder

Well this is unusual.

Buildzoom, an application for finding home contractors, is turning to the crowds to ID a woman who has robbed it multiple times. Specifically, the crowds on Tinder.

The Tinder profile Buildzoom created for its burglar, using an image from the security camera

The Tinder profile Buildzoom created for its burglar, using an image from the security camera

Camera footage caught a pretty good shot of the woman’s face, so Buildzoom turned her into a Tinder profile. Founder David Petersen photoshopped a reward message on top of the image that said “I rob offices in SF. $5000 reward for identifying me.” He told me police gave him permission to do so after their other leads went dead. Although he only created the Tinder profile yesterday, he said it has already generated a few leads.

When asked where the idea to use Tinder came from, Petersen said, “I was trying to figure out, ‘How can we get this face in front of people?'” Most might turn to Twitter for that, but Petersen had already tapped the Twitter mob. He thought a face-focused app, like Tinder, might be another solution.

Other businesses in the area had been robbed by the same woman. The companies shared a similar digital lock for the door, which this person figured out how to hack. Petersen estimates that ten of them have been hit, and the robber has walked out with tablets and Apple computers. “She left behind the PCs, which we all felt was funny,” Petersen says.

This isn’t the first time that the crowds have been used to identify a criminal. In September Twitter users crowdsourced the identification of suspects who attacked a gay couple in Philadelphia. Crowdsourcing criminals can also go awry: Reddit users famously “exposed” the wrong Boston bombers and the picture went viral.

But this might be the first time anyone’s attempted to find a criminal via Tinder. I couldn’t find any other examples online of this happening. I reached out to the dating app company to fact-check if this is the first.

Here’s why Sidecar wasn’t named in the DAs’ ridesharing lawsuit

If you missed the news, the Los Angeles and San Francisco District Attorneys’ Offices are jointly suing Uber for misleading the public about its background checks, among other reasons. San Francisco DA George Gascón explained that they settled with Lyft for $500,000.

But missing from all the hubbub was one prominent name: Sidecar. The DAs didn’t mention the third company in the ridesharing trifecta, which left people wondering why. When the DAs threatened legal action back in September, Sidecar was one of the companies they named.

It turns out Sidecar wasn’t overlooked. The DAs didn’t name it because they’re still in legal negotiations. A Sidecar spokesperson told me, “We applaud the prosecutors for deciding to let the CPUC define regulations for this innovative new category of Shared Rides and we will continue to operate Sidecar Shared Rides in California. However, we disagree with The San Francisco and Los Angeles County District Attorneys’ Office on other issues and will continue to work with them until there is a resolution.”

In other words, Uber wouldn’t comply with the DAs’ requirements, Lyft agreed to, and Sidecar is still haggling. Gascón told Reuters Sidecar could still be sued if it doesn’t reach a peaceful settlement.

Los Angeles and San Francisco sue Uber, settle with Lyft

Uber’s week from hell continued Tuesday, as the offices of the Los Angeles and San Francisco district attorneys filed lawsuits suing the company for unlawful business practices. The entities settled with Lyft for similar grievances.

There’s no news on where Sidecar stands with the DA offices, despite the fact that Sidecar was also threatened with legal action from the city governments back in September.

The DAs news release, as tweeted by New York Times’ Mike Isaac, says that the two offices are filing a civil consumer protection action lawsuit against Uber “for making false or misleading statements to consumers and for engaging in a variety of business practices which violate California law.” The DAs want multiple product and marketing changes from Uber related to how it describes its background checks, charges consumers, and tracks mileage, according to the filing, which was obtained by Re/Code.

Here are the DAs’ major grievances:

  1. Uber misleads customers about its safety procedures, especially in regards to background checks and the “Safe Rides” fee it charges consumers.
  2. Uber hasn’t submitted its mileage tracking technology for review, so the government can ensure it’s not ripping off passengers.
  3. Uber drops off and picks up passengers at the airport without airport approval. Further more, the fee it charges consumers to do so is “misleading.”

The DAs reportedly want Uber to pay restitution to customers for its $1 “Safe Rides” fee, which covers the cost of Uber’s background checks. Since Uber’s background checks aren’t as rigorous as the ones taxis are required to do, the city governments believe the Safe Rides charge misleads customers.

The DAs also want the ridesharing companies to submit their mileage to state government to ensure accurate tracking.

Lyft was amenable to the DAs’ requests, which is why it settled for $500,000, according to Forbes reporter Ellen Huet. In a statement, Lyft spokeswoman Erin Simpson said, “After months of productive conversations, Lyft has entered into an agreement with District Attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles that demonstrates our shared commitment to consumers and innovation.”

Uber, it appears, was not. When reached for comment, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrand said:

Californians and California lawmakers all agree–Uber is an integral, safe, and established part of the transportation ecosystem in the Golden State. Uber has met with the District Attorneys to address their concerns regarding airport operations, the uberPOOL product, background checks, and operation of the app. We will continue to engage in discussions with the District Attorneys.

The SF and LA DA offices have been considering such action for months now after raising concerns about ridesharing companies’ background check practices. The two institutions threatened Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar in September with legal action if they didn’t change the way they described their background checks to the public. Since transportation networking companies aren’t held to the same rigorous background check standards as cab companies in California, they miss some drivers’ criminal records.

This post was updated several times Tuesday afternoon as more information became available.