Saturday, April 09, 2005

Don't Let Cellular Carriers Bully Manufacturers

A recent recent opinion piece in the Straits Times suggested that it was a good thing for cellular carriers to be able to dictate how phones should be made and released, and that this shift of power from the manufacturers to the carriers would be a good thing.

The reality is quite different. GSM has become the success it has precisely because the Nokia's and Ericsson's of the world refused to be bullied by the carriers. The carriers are only interested in "lock-in"- they want you to buy your phone from them and then make sure you have no choice by ensuring that the firmware in the phone is unique to their network.

If the world worked as suggested, there would be an end to innovation and an increase in prices. New services work because they are ubiquitous and follow open standards. Closed, proprietary systems rarely gain traction.

To see the kind of abuse that follows carrier modified phones, look at the experience of Treo 650 users in the US. If you buy a Treo off the shelf, it has Bluetooth. If you buy it from Verizon, it has Bluetooth turned off. Why? They want you to use their network to move information, not an off-net technology like Bluetooth for which they cannot charge.

Singapore has been relatively "clean" in that you can buy phones from any manufacturer and use them on a local network. The SIM cards are locked to prevent local roaming, but otherwise do not suffer from restriction present in other markets.

It would be a huge step backward to argue for an end to the healthy and innovative competition that has delivered benefits to device customers in favour of giving further power to the telecom oligopoly.

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