Of cell phones and freedom [telecom]

Perhaps others can set me straight. Maybe the situation in the US isn't quite as bad as I'm making it out to be. But when I see articles like this one:

Study: U.S. Cell Phone Rates The World's Highest

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I tend to think I'm right.

I bought my first cell phone in 1995. I was your typical American cell phone consumer who didn't think twice about the technology behind it. I was happy as a clam to take the free phone, or slightly nicer phone at a drastically reduced price, and pay my monthly bill.

I started to hear from others how much better the situation was in Europe. They didn't settle for cheap low-quality phones. Consumers there bought the phone outright and owned it. They then could take it to any wireless company in the country and if they weren't happy could go across the street and get service from a competitor. Sounded too good to be true.

It was only last year when I was living in Malaysia that I saw what was going on. Much like Europe, Malaysia has a single standard. Because they use what is the closest thing we have to a a global standard, they have a HUGE selection of phones. Handset manufacturers can do this because they can easily sell these products on five of the six inhabited continents. Yes, they are pricey thanks to Malaysia's steep import duties. A Samsung Galaxy S Android handset was running close to USD $800. But service is far less. I had a pre-paid SIM and was paying approximately USD $33 per month for 3 GB of data, a lot of talking, and SMS. I paid $200 for my Samsung Captivate (i.e. Galaxy S) but I am paying more for service and have a two-year contract. While I'm quite happy with my provider, if I weren't it'd be very expensive for me to switch. And I'd likely have to get a new phone. And I like my phone, I wouldn't want to switch.

Is this a case of the grass is always greener? Or am I on to something? When I was getting my SIM card over there the employee was surprised that as an American I knew to unlock my phone first and talked to me about how messed up things are in the US. This is a sentiment I heard from my co-workers over there. Over here attitudes seem to be anything that is good for the consumer is bad for capitalism and will cost jobs.


Reply to
John Mayson
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Comparing phone usage in the US to other countries is complicated since we are mobile-pays and everyone else is caller-pays, i.e., inbound calls are "free" to the mobile user.

The last time I checked, if you talk a whole lot, US phones are pretty cheap, like $45/mo for unlimited talk and data from America Movil's Straighttalk. If you talk less, or you want a fancier phone, not so cheap.

I agree that it was a mistake not to mandate a common digital standard, but in fairness it wasn't totally evident at the time how dominant GSM would be.

R's, John

Reply to
John Levine


Just a word of caution on this particular example, be very wary of some Asian countries where a lot of the telco infrastructure is owned by a narrow oligarchy - usually with family links to whoever is in power.

I seriously doubt that the billions made by these virtual monopolies - and the corruption essentially underlying them - comes from anywhere else but over the top charges for using their networks.

That's not the technology's fault, just the "free market" thinking of those who line their pockets via endemic government crony-ism being ahead of the curve.

Reply to
David Clayton

Thanks for the feedback on this thread. I was wondering if there was something I wasn't getting.

While I've been to Europe, I've never dealt with phones there. I'm just going by what others have told me. Frequent travelers I know are also "GSM bigots" like me and they rant as much as I do about our system. My personal experience is limited to Malaysia and I'm still amazed at the number of handset choices they have and what they pay for service.

I do realize it's hard to make an apples to apples comparison. The US has free mobile-to-mobile calling while other countries do not. In Malaysia the rule is caller pays and all calls to mobile phones are billed as long distance. In the US someone can call me from their landline and it'll most likely be free for them. The US also has very inexpensive international calling options (pre-paid cards, Google Voice, Skype, etc.) while other countries do not.

For people in my circumstances, heavy data usage, light calling, wants a good phone that I outright own that'll last for years, then the European model is better. For others perhaps not.

Reply to
John Mayson

It varies hugely from one country to another. I can tell you about the UK where I lived for a year. I had a month-to-month plan for 20 pounds (about $30, and that was actually 20 pounds, the quoted price includes the tax.) They offered me a variety of "bolt-ons" such as unlimited calling to landlines or to other mobiles on the same network, along with my bundle of more minutes than I ever used. For international calls I used a dialaround service with a London landline access number which charged 1 or 2 pence per minute to call the US. That was from O2 (Telefonica), but T-Mo and Orange had similar offers.

When I left I switched to an Orange prepaid plan which gives me an hour of free international calls with every 10 pound top up. Domestic calls cost 20p. They have other plans with free mobile-to-mobile, or texts or movie tickets, or an endless variety of other junk. In my experience, everyone has a bundle of minutes on their mobile and/or free calls to mobiles, so even though it's caller pays, the caller pays little enough not to worry about it.

Regards, John Levine, snipped-for-privacy@iecc.com, Primary Perpetrator of "The Internet for Dummies", Please consider the environment before reading this e-mail.

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Reply to
John Levine

It's not all cut and dried. In many countries it's expensive to use voice minutes which is why the culture of text messaging developed in a big way a lot sooner than it did in North America.

But when you got that "free" or reduced cost phone the actual price was being subsidized by the carrier to encourage you to use their service.

In theory. The truth is that in many countries the handsets were locked and were subsidy driven because people didn't want to pay a huge amount of money up front.

People like to point out that in Europe and Asia it "doesn't cost anything to receive calls" which is of course right. What they don't say is with a caller pays system someone pays for the call and it's the person making the call. Very often they pay dearly for that free call to you. They also don't have any control over what tariff they pay either. They pay the rate that the called company has negotiated with your company as compared to the called party pays system where the receiving party can negotiate for a rate plan that suits their need so if they need a lot of minutes they'll get that plan and if they don't they'll get a plan with less minutes and pay less for calls.

Reply to
Joseph Singer
+--------------- | People like to point out that in Europe and Asia it "doesn't cost | anything to receive calls" which is of course right. What they don't | say is with a caller pays system someone pays for the call and it's | the person making the call. Very often they pay dearly for that free | call to you. +---------------

Personally, for me this would be a very *GOOD* system for the U.S. to shift to!! Despite my cell phone being on the federal "Do Not Call" list and the FCC policy against unsolicited calls to cell phones, I frequently get more than *twice* the number of spam calls as legitimate incoming personal calls. Charging the caller would help a lot towards wiping out the !&@%$!#^!% telemarketers!


p.s. For some reason, with AT&T even if you explicitly add a number to your cell phone's incoming "reject" list, it *still* forwards the call to voicemail. (*grumph*)

+--------------------------------------------------------------+ Rob Warnock 627 26th Avenue San Mateo, CA 94403 (650)572-2607
Reply to
Rob Warnock

In Europe there is a lot of SMS spam. The spammers typically use technical tricks to avoid paying for the SMS they send. They don't have much mobile phone spam because mobiles have different phone numbers from landlines, so it's easy to exclude them.

The typical cost to call a mobile in Europe from a landline is about

25 cents/minute, so I expect you'd be getting a lot fewer calls from people you did want to hear from, too. Or the junk callers would evade paying for calls and call anyway.

R's, John

PS: I hear that you can get rid of a junk call really fast if you ask in a breathy voice what kind of underpants they're wearing.

Reply to
John Levine

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