Friday, September 15, 2006

Mobile Opportunity: European vs. American mobile phone use

Michael Mace writes a very interesting post about the differences between
European vs. American mobile phone use.

Here's my comment to the post:

Thanks for the excellent post, Michael, and all commenters for an excellent discussion. A few comments about the American cellphone usage and industry from a European users perspective.

Having lived a few years in the US the biggest surprises to me have been
- coverage,
- paying for incoming calls and the impact that I think that has had to the phone usage culture,
- the ignorance of technical issues concerning the phones and the networks of BOTH users as well as the people working for the industry (phone sales & carriers' personnel).


As everyone knows the coverage in the US is not nearly as good as in Europe. And as noted here it's often blamed on the smaller population densities or the mere size of the country. This is only a tip of the iceberg, I'd say. I think it's more of an issue about the general mentality of I presume just about all parties involved. I'll give you two examples.

The CEO of Verizon Wireless criticized the customers of Verizon quite harshly some two or three years ago for wanting cell coverage in unbelievable places such as garages etc. I could still probably find the article I saved someplace about his outburst. But anyway, this showed and unbelievable attitude from the number 1 carrier in the US that advertises to have the best coverage in the country.

Interestingly the other (practical) example about coverage concerns Verizon, too, but also the authorities. The example is DC metro system. I find it funny that in this free market-economy bosting country the mobile coverage in all of the DC metro system tunnels has been given solely to one company, Verizon. And guess what: it doesn't work! You usually get a decent signal at the stations but don't dream about talking in the metro throughout your ride. I had a Verizon phone only for the metro 'connectivity' for almost a year but gave it up in frustation.
Who's to blame? Not only Verizon Wireless but just as much the DC officials for making such a monopoly deal in the first place and then not beeing able to even get good coverage with that. In all European cities that I've visited you get good signal of various mobile operators throughout the metro systems.


This was commented already, but I just wanted to add that I've gotten quite strongly the impression that this has been a major issue for people not to get addicted to their cell phones or even use them.

Tomi mentioned connectivity. Not sure how he defines it but I feel that because it's the same price to call to all numbers, fixed or mobile, the general public hasn't understood the value of connectivity.

Also the people who have had cell phones have seen an additional downside of connectivity (there are number of downsides as we all now) compared to the Europeans - losing their minutes, that is. To this date I haven't understood why should the cell phone owner pay for incoming calls when in fact the caller has something so important in mind that s/he wants to reach the person.

The result of all this: at least two-three years ago people were simply not giving out their mobile numbers, where not keeping the phones with them, had them turned off, or were simply not answering them because they didn't want to loose their minutes. Cell phones were, and partially are still seen as simply pagers. Listen to the voicemail whereever and return to the call from a fixed line. I've seen this be more or less the behaviour of surprisingly many.


For final comment I just want to say how surprised I've been about level of technical knowledge related to cellphones, not of the users which is understanable, but of pretty much all the people working for the industry.

It seems that most of the cell phone sales personnel that I've talked with - and I've talked with quite a few - haven't even known if their network is GSM, CDMA or TDMA. It seems that it's changed a bit in a year or so, but I think it's quite stunning that not even the T-mobile or AT&T sales personnel knew that they where selling GSM phones. No wonder people don't understand what liberties GSM gives them!

Too bad the ignorance doesn't stop at sales personnel. It's really not much better with the carriers' staff. I understand that the generalists in the customer care can't know everything. But when they've never heard of MMS, don't know if their phones can be unlocked, don't have a slightest idea what are the technical differences of their data packages, just to mention a few, I'm giving up.

It's naturally an egg and a chicken dilemma. The customers don't ask about the technical issues because they haven't ever been told any. And the carriers don't tell pretty much any technical details because the customers don't ask for any.

But in a country that uses a number of different technologies which all have their special features it gets everybody into trouble.

Thanks again for the excellent post and discussion!


I forgot to mention that another great problem in my opinion in the US mobile industry is the way they're packaging services. The pricing plans are very often not that good for people who'd either want to just try out the service or use it only every once in a while.

Like with T-mobile data service: it's either $30/month unlimited - or nothing! There's no way to just enable the service, without or with a low monthly price, and only pay for the data transferred. The same mentality is seen in many other areas and other carriers, too.

Like with Cingular if you want to be priviliged to make dirt expensive phone calls with your GSM phone while you travel you have to pay a monthly fee for that.
Now, how much does it make sense to pay even twenty bucks a year to have the privilige to pay shitloads more for the calls - especially in the time of various VoIP services.

It's really no wonder that Europe is ahead of US in innovation and how users are learning to use new services.

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