Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Cell Phone Mania.... Man, the USA is way behind.

I bought my first cell in Ukraine in 98. I was a late bloomer in some sense since all the investment bankers there had them a year or two earlier. (I still have this Ericsson phone; a real solid performer, and not too much of a 'brick').

Then I moved to Greece. Wow, what an eye opener for the phone age. It was there that I realized how behind the States was (still is) as regards the usage of mobiles. (In Europe and Australia, as well as Asia -HK, Singapore, Jakarta- the most often used word is 'mobile. Sometimes the Germans say 'my handy'. I would have thought the USA would catch up. )

There I learned about SMS (text messages for you State-siders), vibrating phones, infrared data transfer, the pains of calls wherever you are... and my addiction to it.

But one thing really made sense. I was, at the time, also selling Greek stocks to foreign investors and learned a lot about the two main mobile phone providers, OTE and Telestet. The main thing is that in a place like Greece, the infrastructure is on par with Yugoslavia .. (after, one might joke, the 98 -99 Nato bombing campaign). So the coverage of land lines is really quite bad. Mobiles were more easily distributed. Even grandmothers in the villages were getting them from their children. (Note: I am now amused that a local Czech company is selling a mobile handset that looks like a normal desk phone targeting the grandparent crowd who don't like the small buttons. Jablotron, based in Jabonec, of all places. Amusingly this region is etter known for its manufacture of clothing buttons in the days gone by.)

Thus the advantage of the states in land line coverage, really made them backwards in mobile telephony. And, the problems with all the operators in the states, the poor reach of the broadcasting towers, and even the lower tech phones, is so perplexing to me. (my goodness, I laugh every time I see a movie of the USA where they still have cell phones with antennae!).

Sure we still have some rare roaming problems, and the rates are sometimes as confusing as the fine print in an insurance contract. But still, the service is really reliable. I mean really, in Germany, Greece, Itally, Romania, Austria, all places where I have owned mobile phone sim cards or have 'roamed' through, the service is good. On a journey to the states a few years back I bought a 900 gsm compatible phone that accepted my card, but was surprised at the lack of coverage in the states. (Yes, I had an antenna).

This CNN article brings up some of the issues about the receiver being forced to pay and the fact that many 20-30 year olds have no land line. So the surprising thing for me is that this is like an article written here 5 years ago! And I am in Czech Republic!


Anonymous said...

You know that your phone is now probably been bugged by the KGB

Anonymous said...


A few reasons why the US is behind:

1) NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard): Getting a cell phone tower erected in the US can often run into issues when nearby residents hear about it, then go to court to stop it (worried about getting cooked by the microwaves). So coverage is not all it could be even in the cities. Ironically, it's often the high rent districts that have the worst coverage, because they can afford the best lawyers to prevent erection of a tower!

2)Widespread email access: You and I have discussed this before. People in the US don't us SMS text messaging very much because they can send emails from work or home computers, without the thumb strain issues.

3)Brain Cancer: Is anyone in Europe concerned about the link between cell phones and brain tumors? While not definitively proven, more and more people are using earsets (with attached mics) and not holding the cell phone to their ears. I know that, whenever I have a choice, I use a landline, just to be on the safe side.

4)Landlines don't drop out and every home or business has one.

5) Distance: Ever try using a landline when you are 100 km away from the nearest population center of ANY kind? That doesn't happen in Europe much does it? It does in the US, and the signal is usually one (out of five) bars. [Also, what power of microwave has to be aimed at your head to cover that distance? See above about brain tumors.]

6)Lifestyle choice: Many people resent the intrusion and consider a cell phone a form of "electronic leash". I only use mine for work or when I know I'm going to be moving around alot during the day.


Anonymous said...

On 5 above I meant mobile not landline.

Oh, and many (if not most) US phones don't have antennas any more. I recently bought the lowest end Nokia phone I could and it doesn't have one.