The USA’s Naive Mobile Standings

I don’t need to look at my mobile bill to know that there is something of a misnomer being applied to the notion that I live in a culture that is advanced, innovative, or forward thinking when it comes to mobile. There are just so many aspects of mobility in the USA that just don’t make sense – in fact, there’s an ignorance to the entire thing that I’ve long since stopped berating about. And yet, there were two items that crossed my reading paths which lent me to come back to this meme. Perhaps, we just haven’t figred it out yet – or maybe this is another one of those if sense were common, we’d all be rich moments.

The first item came from Forum Oxford. There, at least the old there (its been redesigned), a person from the USA posted about the problem, or context, of subsidized mobiles:

We all know that phones live and die by the subsidies carriers give them here in the United States, but I wasn’t expecting just how far this went.

When I checked out T-Mobile for pricing, they basically add $5 or $10 for each subsidized phone on the account, for the duration of the contract. Logically thinking, this would carry to AT&T, right?

Nope. Apparently, they don’t offer lower pricing for those not on contract, and neither does Verizon. (Haven’t checked with Sprint.) It’s like the only cost for a steep discount in phone pricing is a two-year contract This doesn’t make much sense to me, but to be frank, most of the US carrier business practices don’t.

Then again, maybe every subscriber is already subsidizing every other subscriber’s phones and the network itself with the basic subscription charges.

At the time of this writing, I could only offer a simple reply: what he observes is correct. And there’s no inclination on the part of carriers or consumers to change it. Its sad really, because unless you do go the pre-paid route, there’s a good chance that you are wasting a ton of money on your mobile & service (no matter what pieces of it you need or use).

Yea, you could go to T-Mobile, with your own mobile, and (at least for now) get a lower rate on service than if you bought the mobile from them. That’s not just fair on their part, but makes a lot of sense. And if you did your homework, there’s a good chance you could get a pretty decent mobile, and use it quite efficiently, despite any isgivings on their data policies. You can’t do that with any other carrier (major or minor) in the USA. There’s nothing competitive about that (ahem, FCC), and the limits to what a company has a right to charge for, versus how they lock folks into paying more for it is just plain greedy.

I kind of liken it to purchasing a car and then being told that despite the fact that any gas provider or road will do, that you are now contractually limited to using just BP’s fuel, and just interstates. Sure, you can purchase any car you want, but the nature of the regulations and market means that you always purchase something more limited than the technologies allow. And then you’ve got to deal with the service charges brough on by the [probable] myth of (bandwidth) scarcity. Yea, we indeed have a very advance use of mobile.

Chances are though, if you are reading my blog, you probably know this kind of thing already. And you have probably relented to the state of things here in some measure. There was a discussion the other day on Twitter (and somewhere else), asking if it made sense that carriers would offer longer contracts with more flexible mobile options. The idea being thrown out was something like: you sign up for a 3-5 year contract and at the annual anniversary of that contract, you would be granted a new mobile. Because you are already paying for the mobile as a part of your contract costs, and there was probably some up-front payment that you made on the mobile, this would allow you to have the latest mobile, which made the carrier look better, for less of an apparent financial hit to you, with an added bonus of you having the latest/greatest.

I don’t like that one either. Not in the least because I don’t believe in having the latest/greatest mobile (that only makes sense when you can use all of the features without restriction). In the USA, carriers and exclusivity agreements with manufacturers are such that it doesn’t matter to have such deals if the same (or simlar) mobiles aren’t available or able to go back and forth between rival carriers. Yes, I’m using the term “rival.” AT&T and Verizon are rival carriers… you can’t use the same mobiles between them. As a matter of fact, if you call up one and say you are leaving for the otther, they laugh at you (unless you are truly one of those folks in great standing that they want to keep [milking]). You have to have new hardware to go between both of them. That isn’t competition, its regression.

Which leads me to my second article (and thousandth point). There’s nothing advanced about our networks, at least compared to much of what the rest of the world has, because we made crappier decisions for network technologies earlier. For example, where the CDMA network technologies made a lot of sense for voice communications (which, if you looked at the 1980s and 90s made sense), they can’t make as much sense now in these data centric times because frankly its not a strong enoguh technology to service the bandwidth or service [marketing] needs of current mobile consumers.

Take a look at what Martin Sauter from WirelessMoves has to say (he knows this radio/comms tech much better than I):

In the US, carriers like Verizon and Sprint have a problem with their CDMA networks: They are quite limited in terms of performance and capacity in their current deployment state to a few hundred kilobits up to perhaps a megabit or two per second per user. The development on this radio technology has come to an end, quite to the contrary to W-CDMA (UMTS) which goes from strength to strength with its HSPA evolution path. Verizon’s and Sprint’s networks have become crowded and they had to resort to introduce LTE as quickly as possible to get further capacity and also higher speeds per user. The downside of this is that current Verizon phones run two radio chips simultaneously, one for LTE data and one for CDMA over which voice services are handled. As a result the smartphones are bulky and battery performance is an issue. For details see here.

Ok, there’s that refrain again, we aren’t using real 4G, and the method of implementing LTE to those carriers that are doing it basically makes up for the technical steps that they cannot make with the choices they made two decades ago. Mobile in the USA is a product of this kind of lack of forsight, lack of changing course in light of better (more efficient, not necessarly cheaper) options. That’s not to say that AT&T and other GSM carriers did right either. From a reading (of which I cannot remember the source), it was noted that while there was the choosing of the world standard (GSM) for comms, the way that it was implemented meant for continual service to the basic layers oof the technology, making future upgrades and policy adjustments harder than they need to be. We see that now… because much of what folks like Nokia-Siemens and others have done to make base stations more efficient takes forever to be implemented – and usually with the marketing stick of consumers needing to by newer chains…. er mobiles and contracts.

There ends up being these two contexts to mobile. On one side is what’s being produced because mobile is enabling, but then there is this other side where things aren’t what they seem (here) because we aren’t looking at what mobile isn’t doing, but are simply piling more and more on top of it, making excess the cloak of innovaiton, rather than actual abilities from the most general of users.

I think Tomi said it nicest when he published his rankings of countries according to mobile late last year:

…It is clear that the USA is waking up to mobile, and is slowly climbing up that chart. But it is, literally, a year behind Finland and almost two years behind Japan, in mobile. Lets be very real about this…

If you are the ‘Chief Mobilista’ of your company, you should try to schedule a pilgrimage to Japan (and visit South Korea on your visit too, while Japan leads the world in mobile – and South Korea is second – in ‘digital convergence’ it is the other way around – South Korea leads the world and Japan comes second. These two countries form a kind of Digital Nirvana and it is where our future already exists)…

Its not to say that there aren’t some neat things happening in mobile. Nor that there is no chance to see a change in consumer behavior in the near-future. I think that with the right, and hearable, voices speaking these truths, we can probably get to a point with mobile here where we can stop relying on propaganda to sell devices and services and speak more to the point of enabling real life transformations here.

Its a naive thought I know. And my wallet suffers because I don’t live these thoughts. But, it is where mobile has to be seen if we are going to take it to the places where it actually does everyone some good.

As for me, these thoughts make me reconsider my current carrier (once again), and mine more into thoughts about trutly being advanced with my mobile. I owe my country at least that much to explore these things more fully.

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