Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Come out of the cage - GSM in North America

Like animals kept in a cage so long they are scared to come out when the door is left open, North American cellular users seem unable to grasp the concept of a standards-based cellular network.

There has been a lot of press calling for open networks recently, kicked off in an op-ed piece by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal demanding cellphone perestroika. American cellcos have adopted a business model in which they tightly control which handsets are sold, and heavily discount the equipment by locking subscribers into long term contracts.

Whenever choice is limited,
the result is rather predictable. The range of handsets available in the most technologically advanced country in the world is tiny compared to places like China, Hong Kong and Singapore, where hundreds of handsets are available at retail shops and from the cellcos directly.

Verizon, one of the main cellcos in America, and famously the one that passed on the iPhone, has now announced that it will "open" its network to external devices. In a bizarre twist, AT&T, which operates using the GSM standard, has announced that it is open too. I say bizarre, because by definition, GSM is open. People all over the world move between carriers everyday, with any device certified as GSM compliant.

It's called roaming. And no, you don't have to have permission to activate.

In an article in Infoworld, an AT&T spokesman is quoted as warning "
We can't guarantee the performance of the device, of course."

Which is nonsense. If a GSM-certified handset fails to perform on AT&T's GSM network, the problem is with a non-compliant AT&T.

Knowing that the situation in the US and Canada was not competitive, I equipped eldest daughter with the latest Nokia handset purchased in Singapore before sending her off to university in Canada.

Like AT&T, Rogers, the operator of the GSM network in Canada, has kept a stranglehold over handsets. Unlike other countries with GSM coverage, it is almost impossible and certainly uneconomic to purchase a prepay SIM card for use while in Canada. The staff at the shops don't seem to even understand the concept. You can however, sign up for a normal post-pay account.

And guess what. That foreign, unlocked, non-tested, unblessed handset works perfectly.

Who knew.

No comments: