Will your phone ever be free?

Will your phone ever be free?

Summary: Walt Mossberg nails the consensus sentiment about wireless connectivity--we all want our phones freed from their carriers.Mossberg writes:It’s intolerable that the same country that produced all this has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.

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Walt Mossberg nails the consensus sentiment about wireless connectivity--we all want our phones freed from their carriers.

Mossberg writes:

It’s intolerable that the same country that produced all this has trapped its citizens in a backward, stifling system when it comes to the next great technology platform, the cellphone.

A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Whether you are a consumer, a hardware maker, a software developer or a provider of cool new services, it’s hard to make a move in the American cellphone world without the permission of the companies that own the pipes. While power in other technology sectors flows to consumers and nimble entrepreneurs, in the cellphone arena it remains squarely in the hands of the giant carriers.

Mossberg likens the wireless carriers to a bunch of Soviet-era bureaucracies. He also strikes a nice balance: Wireless carriers can do whatever they want with their networks, but they shouldn't be allowed to pick your phone.

Amen to that view.

Mossberg concludes with a optimistic view:

We’ve been through this before in the U.S., though many younger readers may not recall it.

Up until the 1970s, when the federal government intervened, you weren’t allowed to buy your own landline phone, and companies weren’t able to innovate, on price or features, in making and selling phones to the public. All Americans were forced to rent clumsy phones made by a subsidiary of the monopoly phone company, AT&T, which claimed that, unless it controlled what was connected to its network, the network might suffer.

Well, the government pried that market open, and the wired phone network not only didn’t collapse, it became more useful and versatile, allowing, among other things, cheap connections to online data services.

I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.

Over the long term, wireless will be opened up. The big question is when. Decades? Should we have to wait forever? What will it take to open up the carriers? That happy ending may be a long time coming.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Networking, Telcos, Wi-Fi

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4 comments
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  • I'm almost free!!

    It's so nice to see more and more articles about this subject. I for one will not have a cell phone contract again until I have a choice and can change providers when ever I want. Right now I use an unlocked pocket pc and buy minutes on E-bay. I sure hope people in this country will say enough is enough. Spread the word!!
    mca123
  • yes, but....

    that was back in the good old days. You remember, the days when the government worked for the PEOPLE not the CORPORATIONS.

    You struck upon the absolute BEST example of how the U.S. government has migrated from being "of the people, by the people, and for the people" to being "of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations".

    I'm not that old, only my early 40s, but I feel like my grandmother when I wax philosophic about how this country and it's government have changed in the last 20-30 years.

    Don't get me wrong, I still believe this is the best country in the world (these 2 Bush terms notwithstanding), but I do pine for it's former glory.

    I doubt this government will ever exercise the kind of bravery it did with the break up of AT&T-- too much money at stake.

    So sad, so very sad....
    jmelnik
  • RE: Will your phone ever be free?

    Yes! The I-Phone to be sold in France is open-ended per the contract with Orange Telecommunications. I see many Americans buying those open-ended I-Phones from abroad. That will be the first step in the evolution of the free mobile phone. The next step is the ad-supported free mobile phone service.

    Shannon McPherson is a Bryn Mawr College student social activist that is campaigning for the use of ad-supported free mobile phone and Internet services to decrease the digital divide.
    Shannon Michael
  • It's the other way around

    We should be sas the telcos are *only* in charge for the cell nets.
    See my small cartoon:
    http://geekandpoke.typepad.com/geekandpoke/2007/10/too-bad-the-tel.html

    Bye,
    Oliver
    oliver.widder