Benlog

crypto and public policy

Cell Phone Insanity: the FCC to the rescue?

Filed under: General October 27, 2003 @ 3:45 pm

My friend Dan says to me today “I can’t help but feel that the cell phone industry has failed humanity. They don’t even have the right intentions.” I can’t help but agree with Dan.

At a mall this weekend, a customer argues with a sales person: “they give you a discount on the phone if you’re a new customer, but not if you’re an existing, loyal customer? That’s backwards!” For the customer, yes it is.

My contract with T-mobile just expired, and I’m getting calls from the store that sold me the phone trying to convince me to sign on for another year (there’s some kind of cash incentive). A t-mobile store rep tells me that I cannot get a new phone with a new contract because I am “already a t-mobile customer.” So I’m not allowed to pay t-mobile two monthly fees even if I ask nicely? He backtracks. “Ummm, no I guess that’s okay.”

My friend Eric has the T616 from Sony Ericsson with AT&T and I want the same with T-Mobile, but they don’t carry that one, they carry the T610 which looks the same, acts the same, but has a different name. I think. There may be a feature difference, but the Sony Ericsson site isn’t telling.

My sister is told by her peers that “AT&T is the best network on campus.” I write to her asking “is that the TDMA or GSM network?” She says “huh?”. Siemens now makes a phone that does both TDMA and GSM for AT&T (no other provider has both). They call it dual-band. But if you see a tri-band phone, that actually means tri-band GSM, no TDMA. You’d think tri-band is better than dual-band, but you’d be wrong, or at least not quite right.

I once got a call from Sprint PCS implying that, having gone past the expiration of my contract, it was very unstable for me to stay “month-to-month” and I should sign on to one of their year-long contracts “very soon.” Yes, I can imagine that it’s indeed unstable for Sprint’s revenue predictions.

Is anyone confused yet? Whatever happened to keeping things simple for the customer? How many graduate degrees does it take to figure out this mess? Is cell service taking a page from air travel’s voodoo pricing book?

In a few days, FCC-mandated Number Portability goes live. This means you can move any phone number you have, land-line or mobile, to any other service. It’s the best thing in the telecom market since the early 1990s advent of spread-spectrum cell phone service. And it’s coming from a government regulatory agency.

I never thought I’d say it, but thank you, FCC. Thank you, Michael Powell. You’re the sanest force in the cell service market today. What a testament to everyone else’s complete insanity.

7 Comments

  1. Herschel Krustofsky:

    1) You don’t expect that you know every model of car or computer, so why expect to know every phone? As they say at Syms, an informed consumer is the best consumer. Check out the phone comparison tool at http://www.phonescoop.com to see the difference between the T610 and the T616. Also, read the forums at http://www.howardforums.com to find the early adopter point of view.

    If you are too lazy to go to PhoneScoop , the difference is that the T616 supports the US-only 850 MHZ GSM, dropping the original GSM 900 MHZ band used in old Euro networks. It also supports 1800 (recent Euro GSM) and 1900 MHZ (North American GSM from T-Mobile, ATT, Cingular, Fido, etc).

    Only ATT and Cingular support 850 MHZ GSM in the US. Due to the lower frequency it will penetrate buildings much better than the high frequency PCS phones.

    2) If your T-Mobile contract is up, you have a lot of leverage with them. Call and ask for “retention” and they will likely offer you a Nokia 3650 (a lovely 900/1800/1900 GSM cameraphone with the Symbian Series 60 Smartphone OS & Bluetooth) for $95. You can also get the Nokia 6610, a 900/1800/1900 GSM w/ a built in FM-radio and a nice color screen. You can also ask for the unlock code for your current phone and go take it over to another carrier or use it in Europe pre-paid.

  2. Ben Adida:

    I don’t expect to know every phone, but I expect the phone companies to work at packaging their products in a way that is related to my needs, not their hyper-complicated financial model. A complicated offering like this is a clear sign of lack of true competition. Hopefully, number portability will force the offerings to become simpler.

  3. steven vore:

    “Siemens now makes a phone that does both TDMA and GSM for AT&T (no other provider has both).”

    How does this relate to the “GAIT” phones*, of which my son has one with Cingluar?

    * http://www.phonescoop.com/glossary/term.php?gid=2

  4. Simon:

    Number portability has been around for quite a while in the UK.

    It hasn’t produced the effect you’re looking for.

    The reason? Because operators force an artificial delay in porting a number. They are alllowed (under the legislation) to introduce a two week delay as a ‘cooling off’ period, during which time they are allowed a number of ‘persuasion’ calls to try and get you to change your mind…..

    I won’t go on, but in essence there’s never been a problem porting numbers (I wrote the original T-Mobile number port system), the problem has always been the business.

    Simplification comes when you have either

    a) a monopoly (Japan is a good example)
    b) a long time to settle down.

    The confusion is part business, part the newness of the technologies and part the demands of the consumers themselves….

    And without it you squeeze the room for diversity and innovation.

  5. Simon:

    Number portability has been around for quite a while in the UK.

    It hasn’t produced the effect you’re looking for.

    The reason? Because operators force an artificial delay in porting a number. They are alllowed (under the legislation) to introduce a two week delay as a ‘cooling off’ period, during which time they are allowed a number of ‘persuasion’ calls to try and get you to change your mind…..

    I won’t go on, but in essence there’s never been a problem porting numbers (I wrote the original T-Mobile number port system), the problem has always been the business.

    Simplification comes when you have either

    a) a monopoly (Japan is a good example)
    b) a long time to settle down.

    The confusion is part business, part the newness of the technologies and part the demands of the consumers themselves….

    And without it you squeeze the room for diversity and innovation.

  6. mobile phone queen:

    Reading this article in 08, it seems that much of the shoddy services that cell phone companies offer, are still alive and kicking today. It would seem that technolgy is moving faster than plain old customer service which seems to be regressing!

  7. james johnson:

    I agree, the entire industry is a little crazy when it comes to a bait and switch mentality, its only a matter of time before churn rate (The rate at which customers leave and enter a new carrier) settles and they focus on their current customers needs. I write about it allow at Cellubration – Cell Phone Reviews and Cellular News and I seem to be writing about it alot more recently.

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