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Tech News: Icahn Presents a New Challenge to Dell Buyout; Android Is Stomping the Competition

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Plus, the State Department orders a website to take down blueprints for a 3D printed gun, YouTube's paid subscriptions begin, and the FCC is looking to optimize in-flight Wi-Fi.

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Carl Icahn Is Still Challenging the Dell Buyout

The activist investor Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management have joined forces to propose an alternative to Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake's plan to take Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) private. Dell and Silver Lake have proposed a $24.4 billion buyout, or $13.65 per share, to purchase the world's third largest computer maker. Today, news surfaced that Icahn and Southeastern, who together own about 13% of the company, have a plan wherein shareholders get $12 for every share they own and are able to retain their stock. The cash portion of this approach to privatization would be $21 billion.

To help finance such a deal, Icahn told Reuters he would personally contribute from his own wealth to come up with the $5.2 billion bridge loan the arrangement would require. Later, he told CNBC he had talked with several investment banks about the loan, one of them being Jeffries.

This continues Icahn's saga to get a Dell buyout on his terms; he had previously offered to buy 58% of the company at $15 per share. Additionally, in April, Icahn joined forces with The Blackstone Group LP (NYSE:BX) to challenge Michael Dell's buyout plan. Blackstone has since abandoned the cause.

State Department Orders Website to Take Down Blueprints for 3D Printed Gun

Yesterday, the website Defense Distributed, a kind of Wikipedia for weapons, was ordered by the Department of Defense Trade Controls to take down blueprints for a gun called "The Liberator," which is a weapon that can be fully manufactured with a 3D printer. Here is the page where the blueprints were posted, replaced now by the logo for the US Department of State and a notice reading, "Until further notice, the United States government claims control of the information."

The State Department has said that the blueprints may be in violation of US export controls. Since the blueprints could be downloaded by anyone, they could be printed abroad; in the eyes of the government, this could pose a potential risk.

Before Defense Distributed removed the blueprints, over 100,000 users had downloaded them. Through file sharing networks, the file has certainly reached many more people than that. That being said, the vast majority of people won't have the equipment necessary to manufacture The Liberator; Defense Distributed used an $8,000 3D printer, which is still a rare device.

Companies with 3D printing endeavors like 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD), Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), as well as their investors, ought to be paying attention.

As Defense Distributed's founder Cody Wilson tweeted yesterday, "Some shapes are more dangerous than others."

A New Report on Android's Dominance Over Apple and Microsoft... What's Next?

Yesterday, the the tech research firm Canalys released a Q1 2013 report on the sale of smart mobile devices during the quarter: Global shipments grew an impressive 37.4%, and leading the pack were devices powered by Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, with a 59.5% share of the market. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) came in second place with 19.3%, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was in a close third with 18.1%.

Leading sales growth in smart mobile devices were tablets, which saw a huge 106.1% growth since Q1 2012. Despite Android's overall market share dominance, Apple's iPad continues to lead in tablets, with 46.4% of total market share.

Smartphones and tablets saw big growth in sales, but only 50.5 million laptops were sold, accounting for a 13.1% drop since Q1 2012. Though laptops and desktops are being superseded by smartphones and tablets, the possibility of Google moving its Android OS to computers could potentially be profitable for the company. Although it was only launched in 2007, Android has handily become the smart device leader. Are laptops next? Google's Chrome OS already runs on the new, cheap Chromebooks, made predominantly by Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), and many have speculated already about the possible combination of Chrome and Android.

YouTube's Paid Subscription Pilot Program Begins

Yesterday, YouTube launched a pilot program that lets video makers on the site charge users to subscribe to their their channels; they can charge as low as $0.99 per month. All of the new paid channels, including offerings from HDNet, UFC, and the PGA Digital Golf Academy, offer a 14-day free trial and discounts for users who subscribe for at least one year. SmartTV.com plans to offer a network of seven channels from its Entertainment Studios Networks for $10 per month, which is a full $2 more per month than Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). In total, the pilot program includes 53 paid channels.

This program is the newest addition to YouTube's growing revenue stream, which includes the sales of movies, episodes of TV shows, and pay-per-view events. If the program catches on with users, YouTube could help Google be competitive with Apple should the much rumored Apple TV ever materialize.

FCC Has Plans to Make In-Flight Wi-Fi Faster

Seeking to lower the cost and quicken the speed of Internet service on commercial planes, the FCC yesterday proposed the auction of rights to use newly available wireless spectrum. This would be the first step in the agency's plans to guarantee that in-flight Internet service is as fast as Internet speeds on the ground. Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC, said of the proposal, "This will enable business and leisure travelers aboard aircraft in the United States to be more productive and have more choices in entertainment, communications and social media, and it could lower prices."

It could probably also increase sales, and benefit broadband providers with airline relationships.

As of now, about 25% of domestic flights offer Wi-Fi, according to Routehappy.com, and it is generally limited to 3 megabits per second per plane, which is half the speed of the average household connection.

The new proposed system would work with a 500-megahertz bandwidth, which is far wider than the current 4-megahertz bandwidth for transmitting data from ground to land. That system could transmit 300 gigabits per second to all aircraft in the sky.

For more on the question of freeing up more wireless spectrum, read:

It's Not Super WiFi, but It's Still Important: The Debate Over 'Unlicensed Spectrum'

Google Leads Recycling of TV White Space for Wireless Broadband


Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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