Friday, December 4, 2009

Mobile phone networks greediness

If there is something I hate more than Microsoft and Apple, it is mobile phone networks. I am not surprised anymore by what they come up with. Let's start with some background. Since I had a phone, and now it is getting close to 10 years, I have always been used to paying for sending short text messages. Maybe during the last decade it made a little bit of sense. After all, there is an infrastructure to pay. If I remember correctly, the price was about 15c per SMS. Now, in the United States, the price is about 20c to send and 20c to receive, so overall 40c. At the same time, you can buy data plans which allow you to download MB of data on your phone for a reasonable price. How does that make sense?

There is more. For how long have you been able to call internationally for as little as 2c per minute all over the civilized world? It must have been at least ten years. Still, ATT would charge me more than a dollar per minute if I dare calling internationally to Italy from my phone and they sell a special package which lowers the price to 9c per minute. It is like going to a diner and being told that the eggs are salmonella free, you are just going to have a mild diarrhea. Why is that?

Now I read that Verizon has put a special button on their phones which is very easy to press by mistake and which connects the internet and it would immediately charge you 2 dollars in the case you are not enrolled in a flat data plan. According to a Verizon employee this was not an accident. Yes Verizon, I already hate you for promoting phones without SIM cards, which give the power to the customer to choose the operator they prefer. Now you lost any chance of forgiveness.

While all of this is happening, Google is introducing a new service, Google Voice, which allows you to send SMSs for free, call in the United States for free, call internationally for 2c, and much more. I can clearly see where this is going. What would be optimal is that the only bill you have to pay is the one to access the internet, either at home, or through the mobile network, and then what you do with it should be your own business, be that sending an SMS, sending an email, making an international call or whatever. All these stupid rules about paying for things which don't reflect how much you use the network is just hindering technological advancement. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to pay less for cellphone, after all the service they provide is quite useful to me and worth it the $45 a month I spend for it, but I am tired of all the technical issues I have to deal with. For example, to call in Italy I have to call my Google Voice number, dial my PIN, dial 011 and then the number which I have to remember by heart since I cannot call from the phonebook at that point. Isn't this retarded? Well, yes.

I think someone at Google is even more angry than I am and is actually doing something about it. I can just praise the effort and hope that this nonsense will come to an end soon. Exploiting people stupidity and inability to get organized should be unlawful, like gambling, but this seems exactly what mobile phone companies have been doing. Why is it that I cannot use the internet to answer my calls when I am at home? If phone companies really want to minimize the usage of their network, why don't they make it easy to switch to a different network for people using their service? Because then they have no explanation for charging you. Well, this is very counterproductive for both customers and carriers. Guess what though, with Google Voice you can do that.

You don't need to read this to understand that different services with conflict of interest should not being in the hands of the same company. Do you think it would make sense for a Tobacco company to own the business of nicotine patches? Well, in the same way I think it makes no sense for companies selling the ability to connect to a network to try to control what phone you use to connect to it and in which way you access it. These three things should be decoupled. There is no doubt this will happen in the end, but looking back, if we put some laws, we would have realized that this would have just happened faster and sooner.

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