carriers

While Microsoft already has a feedback website dedicated to Windows Phone owners providing suggestions on features in the OS, what was missing was an official location to allow users to voice their apparent frustration when it comes to marketing and promoting the mobile platform. We've all had issues with the lack of 'umph!', until Nokia came on board and blew everyone away with tripling marketing expenditure when their family of Windows Phones were announced at Nokia World 2011 in London.

We've now come across a UserVoice page set up by the Windows Phone team that allows users to submit suggestions on how the software giant could improve marketing, and vote on other submissions.

"Just like with your suggestions on features to add to future versions of the product, we'd like your suggestions on how we can spread the word about Windows Phone itself via advertising campaigns, community or social media involvement and other types of promotions. Creativity highly encouraged, let us know what your ideas are!"

Be sure to head on over to UserVoice and input your ideas (or ensure that your favourite suggestions get bumped up by voting). We know a good number of our readers have some thoughts on how Microsoft can improve in this area.

Source: UserVoice

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O2 has come under fire as reports are coming through of the network sharing mobile numbers with websites when browsing the web via 3G. Whenever you connect to a website from a mobile device you provide information detailing what model the phone is as well as the web browser. This data enables that website to be displayed more effectively for your handset (taking into account different screen resolutions as an example).

It seems O2 is going one step further by providing actual phone numbers in with this data, which would unacceptable as malicious websites could use this information to contact the user, and it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act. Check out the below capture of an O2 number being sent with the header data.

Twitter user @lewispeckover has set up a webpage (seen above) that displays HTTP header information sent by the connecting device, so you can check for yourself whether your carrier is sending your number to every website you visit. Scary stuff. We checked on Three UK and everything seems normal. Let us know in the comments or in the WPCentral Forum's discussion if you try out the script (your number will be displayed after "x-up-calling-line-id" if it's being sent) and can see your number displayed.

Data Protection Watchdog has since issued a statement on the situation:

"When people visit a website via their mobile phone they would not expect their number to be made available to that website. We will now speak to O2 to remind them of their data breach notification obligations, and to better understand what has happened, before we decide how to proceed."

Source: Sky News, via: WPCentral Forum, Android Central

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While the HTC Titan and Samsung Focus S are both proving to be fairly popular in the U.S., we've heard analysts down Nokia for Lumia 800 sales and the manufacturer bouncing back with positive statements. MyNokiaBlog have compiled some feedback (published at Nokia Connections) from carriers and retailers in Europe, which all show positive signs on how well the Lumia 800 is selling. Nokia (and Microsoft) have the daunting task to help train sales staff in stores to push out Windows Phone handsets and is needed after reports we've received from those who reside in the U.S., Europe and (more recently) Australia. We're going to leave this to the employees at UK carriers and retailers to explain how things are going.

Joe Moody, Orange:

"This phone is the best phone out there by far. I have managed to switch 15 customers within a week to pre order the Lumia, I love the device so much I can’t wait to get one when I’m due a new phone, the customers that are interested in apple iPhones or galaxy s 2 I manage to persuade some to go for a Lumia."

Ian McLaren, Carphone Warehouse:

"The Lumia is flying off the shelves, especially from one who has really taken the training on board and pitching them to everyone. The main things that are selling the phone are the design, superb screen and the way the social networks are integrated into the phone OS so don’t need to keep switching apps and all the messages are compiled into one thread.

From a standing start, Nokia have really grabbed people’s attention with the Lumia and the advertising is starting to pay off as people are coming in and asking about the handset, and asking to upgrade to it."

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On CNET, Roger Chen has written an article pointing at Nokia and Stephen Elop regarding the U.S. market and how the manufacturer should step up their game. He went into talk about customisation, carriers, handsets and more with how Nokia has failed in the past with global products being stocked by all carriers.

"One of the biggest mistakes Nokia made in the past was to stick with its strategy of building one global device and forcing it onto every carrier in the world, with only minor adjustments to the radio and frequency. From a business perspective it made a lot of sense, allowing it to generate massive economies of scale and, accordingly, higher profit margins. Among smaller carriers around the world, that works just fine."

Chen finished the post with the question, "Are you game?" Elop has since published a tweet stating, "Roger, we're game." It would seem as though the handset maker is set to not only create a successful marketing campaign in Europe, but in the U.S. at some point too.

Via: AllAboutWindowsPhone; Thanks, aubreyq, for the heads up!

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We know a few things about about Android: they're ubiquitous, have fragmentation, range from super cheaper to top of the line and now evidently they cost carriers a lot of money in service calls and repairs. Up to $2 billion a year, at least according to a white paper by Wireless Dat Service.

The study looked at over 600,000 support calls to carriers over the last 12 months. The results highlight that 14% of support calls dealing with Android related to hardware repairs whereas Windows Phone 7 came in at 11%. By comparison, BlackBerry was at 5.5% and the iPhone at 7%.

The results are clear: the tighter the grip the OS developer has on the hardware, the more reliable it is. RIM and Apple control their hardware in every which way since they literally design the OS and hardware together. Microsoft certainly has more control with their chassis requirements but ultimately it is up to OEMs like Samsung and HTC to make the device. Google is even more lax with Android, allowing anything and everything to go, hence a little more chaotic.

However, Tim Deluca-Smith, vice president of marketing at WDS does point out that it is because of Android's wild and uninhibited nature that it now commands much of the market, albeit at a price to customers--more hardware failures due to rush to market and less frequent OS updates. On that latter point, the report cites a 2010 study which notes "of 18 Android devices from the US, 10 were at least two major versions behind within their two-year contract period."

Microsoft truly has a middle of the road approach which is giving them more stable hardware and consistent user experience across devices. In addition, major OS updates like Mango seem to be going very well with nearly 50% of current phones already upgraded just five weeks after a slowly expanding rollout.

Perhaps the report will get carriers to reconsider betting everything on Android and look for a more cost-effective and reliable OS like Windows Phone.

Source: WDS (registration req); via Fierce Wireless, After Dawn

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Progressive cellular company CREDO Mobile (web site) told Kevyn, over at Glance and Go Radio, that they will be adding a WP7 handset to their lineup later this year.  While they did not specify exactly what models they will be offering, the HTC Arrive is a likely candidate, as CREDO is a reseller of Sprint's network, and not a carrier themselves. Still, we could see the CDMA Trophy or even perhaps a new Mango device as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with CREDO Mobile, they are a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) who donates a portion of their proceeds to non-profit groups such as Rainforest Action Network, Project Vote, Human Rights Watch, and the American Foundation for Equal Rights.  Every year, members nominate what groups they would like to support and then vote on how much funding each group gets.  You can see a list of organizations that they currently support here.

In addition to supporting social change groups, CREDO also plants 100 trees per ton of recycled paper they use, offer solar chargers, recycle old phones, and work with Carbonfund.org to offset their own electricity usage.  And if doing good for the world weren't enough, they also offer contract buyout credits and phone number porting for prospective customers.

Being that Sprint seems to be giving up on the Windows Phone for the time being, it's wonderful to see that the HTC Arrive could get put to some good use.

Source: Glance and Go Radio; Thanks, Kevyn, for the tip!

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We've been covering the seeming anti-Windows Phone/Microsoft bias that local carrier stores have been exhibiting for awhile now--namely that sales reps are giving the shaft to WP7 and instead are pushing Android or the iPhone, sometimes even with falsehoods or misinformation.

To validate the issue further, tech-guru and Gartner industry analyst Michael Gartenberg has recently experienced this behavior first hand. From Twitter (1, 2):

"At VZW and ATT stores to compare plans, both steered me to iPhone and Android devices...In both stores when asked about #WP7 was told "you don't want that". In one instance was "corrected" & told it was called Windows Mobile"

Yikes. Seems it's not too hard to get a bad sell on Windows Phone these days, despite the promise of "Mango". In reaction, Apple guru John Gruber of 'Daring Fireball' fame, sympathetically noted "This sort of dismissive treatment can be devastating to a platform. This was the problem facing the Mac during the ’90s.". Indeed. There's a certain irony here.

However, there is some good news here, namely that all of this attention and the website Windows Phone Tattletale has perked Microsoft's ears. The creator of 'Tattletale, Robert McLaws. Tweeted this just recently: 

"Just had a fantastic conversation with someone at Microsoft about #wp7 #retailfail. Great things are happening. Stay tuned!"

Followed by

"By the way, Microsoft has heard all your reviews loud and clear. You *are* making a difference, so please, keep secret shopping!"

Perhaps Microsoft will start using some leverage on their carrier partners for better results? Clearly these aren't isolated cases, but signs of a larger problem that Microsoft will have to battle. At least the giant appears to be finally flinching. All we know is Microsoft better have a serious game plan for this fall and "Mango", after all, it deserves it.

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A few days ago we reported on PC Mag's "study" (we use that terms loosely since the sample was so small) on carriers and how they are pushing/not-pushing Windows Phone 7 in the stores, specifically if retail associates were supporting the platform or undermining it. Unfortunately, between their report and your user reports in comments (something we've heard from months too in forums), it seems that the retail associates are far from endorsing the new OS, even to those who are directly asking for it.

Now, two more reporters have run the same tests (more or less) and have had the same results. Jessica Van Sack of the Boston Herald shares her story doing the same experiment:

"I tested that theory at several Verizon, AT&T and Sprint wireless stores in downtown Boston on Friday, every sales rep, without fail, tried to sell me an iPhone or an Android phone while inevitably dismissing WP7 with vague phrases like “In terms of productivity, it’s just not there yet,” or “I’m not really sure about that one. I haven’t really used it.”

Likewise, Joe Romaine of International Business Times relates his story going back a few months ago to a T-Mobile store in Manhattan. The salesperson stated: "Windows Phone 7 is very unreliable. Its has many problems. We get complaints all the time from people who bought them from us." and proceeded to try and talk him out of the device.

All of this, while still anecdotal, seems to back up readers' experiences in the stores as well. However, Microsoft has responded to the matter to PC Mag directly. Greg Sullivan, Windows Phone product manager noted:

"It's true that there's work to do from a marketing standpoint, and we have teams in place that are doing retail salesperson training, providing them with evaluation devices so they can use it and become more familiar...There's a whole host of efforts that are being undertaken to help get the work out, and it does take a little time."

Sullivan finally concludes with hope that the Nokia deal helps in this regard, noting Nokia's strong retail presence. Also, perhaps disappointingly, Microsoft is not yet prepared to offer cash-incentives for retail associates who successfully push Windows Phone. For us, we're still convinced that we won't see any real 'breaking point' in Windows Phone in terms of marketshare till late 2011. By that time, we hope to see such reports of retail sabotaging on the decline.

For now, you can document your experiences by using this website, Windows Phone Tattletale, started by Robert McLaws (This replaces the earlier OneNote method that we reported on).

Source: PCMag, Boston Herald, International Business Times; Thanks, Brianna, for the heads up on 'Tattletale'

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Some carriers blame MS for NoDo delays

Tired of waiting for NoDo to hit your device?  Well, despite some reports that the carriers are to blame for the hold-up, it could in fact be Microsoft's doing.  Two European carriers have said that they have approved the NoDo update and are waiting on Microsoft to roll it out.

Vodaphone UK was quoted on the record today that updates for the LG Optimus 7 and HTC 7 Trophy have “been approved by Vodafone and will be distributed by Microsoft in due course.”  They did not have any information on when the rollout would begin, but did say they would notify their customers via eForum as soon as they knew.

Orange, another UK carrier, also said that they were waiting on Microsoft to initiate the NoDo push.  A representative stated that, “the current plan is for Microsoft to roll out our approved version on the 29th March."  WinRumors has written that an third European carrier, who asked not to be named, told them that they, too, have approved the update, but that Microsoft was “treading slowly” in the wake of their recent mishaps.

Hopefully, these delays are Microsoft doing extensive testing to avoid further problems.

Source: WinRumors

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Five Windows Phone 7 devices from HTC are rumored to have found homes with various wireless carriers.

Conflipper is reporting that the HTC Gold_W is headed to Sprint (the "_W" refers to "World phone" i.e. CDMA & GSM, like the Touch Pro 2), the HTC Schubert and Mondrian are headed to Telus (Mondrian going to Rogers as well), and the HTC Spark_W is being picked up by Bell Mobility and Verizon. Finally, another device, HTC Scorpio aka HTC Olympian is also going to Verizon/Bell Mobility.

The speculation on the carriers is likely based on carrier codes much like our earlier report that the Moderian was headed to AT&T.  While we are familiar with the Mondrian, the other phones are a bit of a mystery.  As we pick up more on these phones, we'll pass it on.

 

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In a leaked document, evidently found by Tweakers.net, some more information has emerged on the internal design, some limitations and drivers in Windows Phone 7.

Most the information seems to work in favor of a stable, consistent and consumer friendly mobile OS, but one cannot deny the big role Microsoft is now playing in overseeing their new OS (though it's still much less than Apple's grip on the iPhone and iPad, but is that really saying much?).

Some things worth noting are the following:

  • Windows LiveID will be used to sync data services and enter the Marketplace, much like the current setup, so no real changes there
  • Carrier and OS upgrades will be handled, approved and distributed only by Microsoft via Over-the-Air (OTA) and/or Zune sync (desktop)
  • No changes to the home screen are allowed by OEMs or carriers (not news) but either can customize certain tiles, ring tones and wallpapers
  • Carriers can include their own software but with very strict requirements including being limited to six applications (at a total 60MB storage), no trial-ware (hurray!) and all apps must be approved by Microsoft
  • There is support for external storage cards, though it remains to be seen if they will be initially allowed on devices
  • Microsoft will supply the 2D graphics and DirectX 10-based Direct3D 11 runtimes (good); OEMs will develop and distribute the drivers for both the 2D and 3D graphics (bad?)
  • Support for Bluetooth 2.1 but not 3.0 (yet)
  • 480x320 support, though not fully endorsed? May be good for front-qwerty...

Other details related to the memory architecture, which is more or less interesting for programmers and the tech savy.  In short, it's a 32-bit OS with a dual layer architecture. The kernel and application processes are allowed 2GB of memory each and programs are allowed 1GB of virtual memory (up from a measly 32MB in WM6.x). The file systems are based IMGFS for system files, and TexFAT for user files, with the later being "...best suited for non-removable media, such as NAND and NOR flash memory".

Overall the news is a bit mixed, though we're a bit happy Microsoft is putting the handcuffs on carriers, especially regarding the addition of their own software/services and blocking the addition of trial-ware. Likewise for ROM updates, which will now be centralized. However, we're a bit worried about the 2D/3D driver situation as that has been a problem in the past.

What say you? Read the original article here (Google Translated).

[via SlashGear]

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So you're sitting back, enjoying your the new Windows phone you received over the holidays. Downloading apps, emails, and sending text messages to your hearts content on that "unlimited" data plan? Did you know that there may be a restriction on your "unlimited" plan? Restrictions, if violated, could result in your service being terminated?

We checked the fine print with the four major carriers in the U.S. market and found some interesting language as it relates to unlimited packages. Language that many may not be aware of and we felt it important to pass it on. A public service announcement of sorts. Ease on past the break to see what limits are in place.

 

 

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This should come as a surprise to no one, given that it was painfully obvious in the Marketplace screenshots Malatesta broke over the weekend, but Microsoft apparently is in talks with carriers to have their own customizations in the Windows Marketplace.

As you can see above, it looks like AT&T will have its own little corner, and talks are under way overseas, too, according to Tweakers.net: (Apologies for the translation)

Microsoft wants to close deals with the major providers to the 'branded' versions. "Then about O2, Telefonica and Vodafone, large telco's," says Maarten Sonneveld, business group lead for Microsoft Mobile Netherlands. The providers may 'branded' versions use own ROMs of Windows Mobile devices.

Questions still remain as to what will actually be in the Marketplace upon launch. (For that matter, we still have no idea when the Marketplace and Windows Mobile 6.5 will launch.) We know of a bunch of developers who plan to be there from the outset, but the list of prohibited apps we found over the weekend has a lot of people scratching their heads. We'll just have to wait and see.

Via Unwired View

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How To: Buy a Windows Mobile Phone

PCWorld has just posted a general overview of the basic issues that face somebody interested in buying a Smartphone. For those of us in the mobile world, there's no new information here, but it's a nice one-stop article for new people who don't know the difference between UMTS and IMAP (mixed categories.. shudder):

There is no single greatest handset for all users, but with a little bit of forethought, you can easily choose the best phone and service plan for your own business needs.

Read: PC World - How to: Buy a Mobile Phone

I link it for two reasons: 1) the above mentioned "save this link for the next time somebody asks you about mobile phones" and, more importantly, 2) I think the article is exactly backwards when it comes to buying a mobile phone. Let's assume you're interested in buying a smartphone and, naturally, you think that you're going to want a very powerful device -- so you've settled on Windows Mobile as your platform of choice. What next?.

If you're not careful, you'll let the gadgetlust tail wag the smartphone dog. So read on for the "default advice" I give to friends, family, and even enemies (turn the other cheek, right?) about how to buy a Smartphone.

Step One: Pick Your Carrier

Seriously, this is step one and failing to make this step one is, I think, most often the biggest pitfall for a new smartphone buyer. It's very easy to be taken in by the gadget lust, but let me speak from long, personal experience:

Paying cancellation fees sucks. Getting stuck with a carrier whose coverage and plans don't fit your needs sucks a lot. I've paid 4 cancellation fees in the past two years. If I'd followed my own advice, I would have paid just one and been happier in the long run.

Really, there are stupendous Windows Mobile devices available now on every single carrier in the US. Even with the new stuff coming out soon, you'll be much happier in the long run sticking with the one carrier that best fits your needs instead of switching around to get the latest and greatest. So, how do you pick your carrier? There's no one way, but this is what I recommend:

  1. First, coverage. If you don't have good signal at home and in your office, find the carrier that has the best signal. Invite friends over who are on other carriers and check their bars. Check with your coworkers. Heck, waltz into a store and ask to borrow a test device for an hour. You might think you can "get by," but I promise you: if you have horrible signal in the places you live and work at, you'll end up switching again.
  2. Second, plans. If you're lucky enough to have several carrier options when it comes to coverage in your area, the next step is to delve into the mysterious and hateful world of cell phone plans. Here's a fair warning: this step will depress you. Nearly every carrier has overpriced data plans, overpriced text messaging, and confusing-as-all-get-out choices. Generally: assume that you'll need slightly more minutes than you think; Get unlimited data, period; get more text messages than you think you'll need, too -- as every single carrier is milking text message costs these day as a part of their master plan to be as evil as possible.
  3. Third, the little things. Maybe your family uses a certain carrier. Maybe your friends do. Maybe, like me, it's important to be able to switch up devices by swapping your SIM card out. Maybe you need a phone that will work in Europe. Maybe you think the customer service at certain carrier is better. I should say, though, that in the mobile space, the grass always seems greener on the other side. Take it from me, with the possible exception of T-Mobile, every carrier's customer service is slightly worse than you'll get from the most offensive fast food employee you can imagine. Maybe you prefer a certain 3G technology, or believe that a certain carrier will have better 4G tech.
    ...Maybe, just maybe, you're loyal to a certain carrier. ...Ok, scratch that last.

Step Two: Pick Your Moment

This step is tricky. If you're caught in a contract, it might be worth it to wait it out and avoid the cancellation fee. If you're not, it might be worth it to wait for the latest and greatest smartphone that's coming out soon. Or heck, your life is a little hectic right now, you can afford to stop hitting refresh on your favorite gadget blogs for a few hours and go outside. Go Fishing or something: HobbesIsReal swears by it. :)

The point is don't act hastily. Let the decision sit in the back of your mind for a bit. Let it stew (or fester, if that's your style). Eventually you'll feel that, yes, now is the time.

Step Three: Pick your Smartphone

FINALLY, you get to the good part. Reading reviews. Fondling the device at the store. Going through a spec breakdown device by device. Oohing and Aahing. Still, I advise caution here. I oohed and aahed at the Vox, only to find it wasn't for me.

We're assuming, of course, that you want the power, work-friendliness, and customization you can only get on Windows Mobile. That basically means your decision tree is very simple.

Decision One: Pro or Standard?

With Windows Mobile 6, the Touchscreen devices are "Pro" and the non-touchscreen devices are "Standard." On windows Mobile 5, the nomenclature is "PocketPC Edition" and "Smartphone Edition." At this stage in the game, anything you're considering will either be WM6 or will be upgraded to it very soon. So relax.

The real question is whether or not you need the extra power and ease of use of the touchscreen. Nobody can answer that for you but you - so you'll really need to get the gadgets in your hands and play around. Generally speaking, the Pro editions are slightly faster and slightly easier to use because you can interact directly with the screen instead of navigating around with the 5-way pad. Also, generally speaking, the Standard editions are slimmer, sexier, and have slightly better battery life.

So it's power or pocketability, basically.

Decision Two: Which one?

Well, we've finally come to it, you've already done your due diligence, having:

  • Picked a Carrier and a Plan
  • Waited to be sure you made the right decision
  • Picked your platform

...here's the good news / bad news - once you've made those decisions, it's highly likely that you'll only have 2, or at the most three, devices to choose from. The only exception is if you're considering importing some unlocked GSM phone, but let's leave that out of the picture for now.

When you're choosing between the devices that are available for your carrier and your platform, you basically just go with your gut. Maybe one-handed use is important so you go with a Treo 750. Or maybe you want a super-powered device, so you wait for the HTC Tilt. Or maybe you think the MotoQ9 is ugly as sin so you get the Blackjack. The best thing to do is get ahold of an actual phone and play around with it, plus read as many reviews as you can.

Here's a teaser: WMExperts is currently working on a comprehensive buyer's guide that you can use to compare specs, comment on phones, and generally figure it all out. Coming in September, Web Gods Willing.

Wrapping Up

Sad but true, nearly every point I've made here comes from personal experience. More specifically, personal experience doing the wrong thing. I've switched carriers out of a desire for a different phone, only to find that my signal was unacceptable. I've left carriers in a huff over customer service only to find it was worse with the new guys. Most often, though, I've snapped up too many new phones to count only to find they didn't fit my needs.

So slow down, chill out, and follow my easy three step plan to smartphone bliss. I know I will from now... OHH, SHINY! Where's my credit card!?

Did I get something wrong? Let us know in the comments!

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Verizon did it, Sprint did it, and Cingular did it, now T-Mobile has too: raised the per-message cost of SMS messages. I guess they were just feeling left out. I'm still bothered by the fact that as the infrastructure costs of this data goes does that the price is going up, but oh well. I recently switched to an unlimited text plan, so I'm not sure I'll be able to use this technical breach of contract to break my contract, but if you're itching to leave T-Mo, here's your chance.

As has been the case when other carriers have made similar moves, this constitutes a material breach of contract on T-Mobile's part, allowing customers to jump ship without paying the hefty $200-per line ETF

Read: T-Mobile increasing SMS rates, get out while you still can : The Boy Genius Report

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You really want to check out a couple of posts over at the Consumerist: "7 Confessions of a Cingular Sales Rep" and "8 Confessions of a Former Verizon Sales Rep". Both are chock-full of tips and tricks for getting the most out of these blood-suckers (the carriers, not the reps) when it comes time to upgrade your phone or change your plan. The gist: use the reps' incentives to your advantage. They get a big boost from text message plans, so offering to sign up for one of those should net you savings elsewhere. And with carriers constantly raising the costs of non-plan text messages, you probably should be getting one of those unlimited plans anyway (and the unlimited data plan too, lest you end up with a $8,677.29 phone bill).

Update: Add confessions from a Sprint rep to the mix.

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Bully to Skype, who recently used Tim Wu's stirring (though academic, in both senses of the word) call for Mobile Net Neutrality as support for a petition to the FCC. At issue is that carriers are deliberately blocking their software, and Skype believes that current laws on the books say that's not so. I don't have a lot of confidence this will go anywhere (neither does the linked Ars Technica article), but it's nice to see people lining up.

Whether the carriers are blocking me from updating my WM phone to the latest ROM because they're overcautious, trying to get me to pay for walled-garden-style services I should be able to access for free elsewhere, or hiking SMS prices even as the cost to them is dropping, US carriers are really getting on my nerves lately.

Skype yesterday petitioned the FCC to lay the smack down on wireless phone carriers who "limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing" (read: Skype software). Skype wants the agency to more stringently apply the famous 1968 Carterfone decision that allowed consumers to hook any device up to the phone network, so long as it did not harm the network. In Skype's eyes, that means allowing any software or applications to run on any devices that access the network.

Read: Skype asks FCC to open up cellular networks

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A week ago I wrote a long rant about the wireless carrier business model after the news that a few carriers were plotting a walled-garden-style rival to Google and Yahoo. Well, it looks like I'm not alone in that hope, BoingBoing.net points us to a great new paper from Colubmia University's Tim Wu which calls for a new model of wireless service.

Most interesting (from my initial skim, anyway) are the parallels the paper draws between the current state of the wireless industry and the monopolistic practices of AT&T in the mid 20th-century. Seriously, folks, go get the pdf and read it over your lunchbreak sometime.

Over the next decade, regulators will spend increasing time on the conflicts between the private interests of the wireless industry and the public's interest in the best uses of its spectrum. This report examines the practices of the wireless industry with an eye toward understanding their influence on innovation and consumer welfare.

This report finds a mixed picture. The wireless industry, over the last decade, has succeeded in bringing wireless telephony at competitive prices to the American public. Yet at the same time we also find the wireless carriers aggressively controlling product design and innovation in the equipment and application markets, to the detriment of consumers. Their policies, in the wired world, would be considered outrageous, in some cases illegal, and in some cases simply misguided.

Read: SSRN-Wireless Network Neutrality by Tim Wu

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A new rumor, that a group of companies wants to create a walled-garden-style search engine for mobile devices, is just the latest in a long string of abuses heaped upon the consumer by mobile carriers. Read on for a good old fashioned rant about the state of mobile data services in the US.

Let's take a look at the latest travesty to come across my newsreader: "Mobile giants plot secret rival to Google."

Europe's biggest telecoms groups are aiming to create a mobile phone search engine that could challenge Yahoo! and Google, the US giants.Vodafone, France Telecom, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Hutchison Whampoa, Telecom Italia and one American network, Cingular, are among the companies that will come together for secret, high-level talks at the mobile industry's biggest annual trade show in Barcelona next week.

Here we go again. At next week's 3GSM conference a cabal of telcoms are planning on figuring out a way to make you pay for mobile searches by erecting walled-garden-style searches for your phone. It's not enough, apparently, for them to try to nickel and dime us for Ringtones, SMS, music services, etc. Frankly, I'm getting sick and tired of this sort of garbage.

The upshot, basically, is that these companies are unhappy that we're using sites like Google and Yahoo on our phones for free (forgetting about data costs for the moment). The very idea of getting free access to content that's unfettered and open is apparently anathema to these companies.

I wish I could say that my indignation in the above paragraphs is as powerful as it seems. Sadly, like most US consumers, I'm just plain beaten-down by our mobile carriers. It's not difficult to come up with a list of outrages that they visit upon us -- outrages which most consumers accept as par for the course:

  • Increasing the price of text messages. This despite the fact that the infrastructure to send them is not only already built, but is mature. As ars technica put it, "Only in the world of mobile phones can you expect to find companies trying to charge 20 cents for less than 1Kb of data."
  • Cingular and Helio create for-pay services just to use MySpace. More on this in a bit, but for now let's just point out that this is a manufactured need, if MySpace would just clean up their flash-ad-addicted act, using MySpace from a regular old browser would be fine.
  • Creating network-specific music services that, in effect, ask you to pay for your music twice.
  • Having byzantine, kafkaesque, and ever-changing cost structures.
  • Let's not even discuss the 'subsidize your phone with a 2-year contract' business plan, I don't want to punch my monitor.
  • Literally breaking devices by turning off functionality like OBEX Bluetooth built-into phones (I'm looking at you, Verizon).
  • One Word: Ringtones.

Let's stick with ringtones for a second. Most feature-phone users don't blink twice at paying $2 or so for a cute little ringtone. Why do people pay for these? Simplicity, mostly. The carriers have created a service that's relatively easy to use and doesn't require much technical skill. So what's the problem with that? The "technical skill" part. Creating ringtones from your own music library and loading them onto your phone should be a simple, painless process. Yet I challenge you to find 1 person in 10 who has done this, or even knows how to do it with their phone. Purchasing ringtones is a manufactured market.

Why do we pay for ringtones? Is it the licensing fee? It shouldn't be. In this author's opinion a short ringtone falls pretty safely into the Fair Use category of copyright law. No, we pay because the technology to easily load ringtones onto your phone is obfuscated either by deliberately breaking your phone's ability to load them or (more charitably) by spending time on creating the service instead of spending time enabling the consumer.

At this year's CES, I attended a panel of executives from various carriers and device manufacturers - the topic was finding ways to increase and expanded data services offered by carriers. During this panel there was a general consensus that ringtone services were far and away the biggest success in this field. The carriers are very happy with the ringtone business model, so happy they want to apply it to other areas--like using a search engine on your mobile device.

Here's where things get sticky for the carriers, however. Because we already have perfectly good search engines available to us on our phones - search engines we don't need to pay to use. Mobile carriers are desperate to find ways to manufacture a market out of this situation, to wit:

A UK executive at one of the companies involved said: "There is a big play in mobile search that we need to be part of, and we are exploring those options at a very high level."

The term here is "walled garden", and if you haven't guessed by now I'm against them. So are most consumers - at least when it comes to the internet as we typically think of it. Many internet users are fighting tooth and nail to keep the internet open - to maintain net neutrality; yet many of these same users often don't think twice about paying two bucks for a ringtone, or 15 cents for a text message, or a subscription service for maps and directions from telenav, and so on. Somehow, these carriers have managed to pull the wool over our eyes.

We need to disrupt this business model, break out of these manufactured markets. Sadly, I don't know how just yet. Perhaps when WiMax covers more areas we'll be able to just switch over to some sort of Skype-like system that can work anywhere there's an internet connection. I wish I had the answer. Instead, all I have is an anecdote:

I'm reminded of the situation many users (myself included!) were in 5 or 10 years ago. We were paying a premium to use AOL. AOL was, for many folks, the internet. I still remember when the scales fell from my eyes and I realized I didn't need AOL, I could just get myself a connection to the internet directly, so to speak. After that, I looked down on those 'AOL Newbies" who blindly paid extra every month for practically non-existent services, not recognizing that there were plenty of free alternatives elsewhere.

When it comes to mobile data services, we are all AOL Newbies. I only hope that technology advances enough in the near future for me to have the scales dropped from my eyes once again.

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