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Entries in Technology (77)


Surviving Mobile Number Portability

mobile phoneRead a great article at BusinessWeek online today called Portability: Survival Tips for Cell-Phone Outfits. The article talks about US mobile phone carriers requirement to deal with mobile phone number portability on November 24th, 2003 and gives the big carriers some ideas on making the best of the situation.

In a nutshell, the article argues that mobile phone carriers would do well to go with the flow of number portability and make it easy. They should treat their customers as people rather than "units" by providing the excellent service their customers deserve. Lastly, carriers should make their pricing plans decipherable by mere mortals and hold off on the hidden fees.

An interesting statistic from the article:

"A recent survey by Management Network Group, a communications research firm, revealed that 6% of cell-phone users -- some 8.7 million people -- would switch carriers within a day if they could take their phone numbers with them. Some 27%, or 39 million customers, said they would switch providers as soon as they received a better offer. Better than 50% of those who experienced service issues in the past year said they would at some point switch carriers."

I for one will be looking to switch carriers, possibly to Virgin Mobile, since they offer an easy to comprehend pay-as-you-go service that suits my phone use patterns perfectly.

I hope that this shift in the US mobile market will improve options of the consumer -- mobile phone carriers already have way too much power, which makes number portability seem like a perfect way to give some power back to the consumer, where it belongs.


Would You Like Linux with Your Weisswurst?

At lunchtime today I came across an article called Linux took on Microsoft, and won big in Munich, in USA Today online. Byron Acohido's well-written article by details the timeline of the Microsoft vs. Linux decision in Munich (the home of Weisswurst), along with behind the scenes information gathered after the decision.

Some of the more interesting tidbits from the documents USA Today uncovered, indicate that Microsoft was willing to let Munich extend their Windows XP "upgrade-free-zone" to 6 years -- a big concession compared to the normal 3 to 4 year span. Here's a great quote from Munich council member Christine Strobl:

"Microsoft's philosophy is to change our software every five years," Strobl says. "With open-source, it is possible for us to make our own decision as to when to change our software."

Microsoft also agreed to let Munich buy copies of MS Word without having to buy Office in cases where workstations didn't need anything more. In other words, unbundling. This is another big and very unusual concession, since Microsoft uses the sale of Office as a big stranglehold on business.

My Austrian friend Andy suggested that Munich is known as Europe's "Silicon Valley", which means this win for Linux is a very strategic one. It could have a huge impact on Europe, the US and the world. Should be interesting to see how this one shakes out in the next few years.

A final takeaway quote:

"Microsoft came too late," says Wolowicz, Ude's chief of staff. "The perception of the majority of the city council was now (Microsoft) wants to put pressure on the decision. Psychologically it was not good."

Read the whole article... I highly recommend it.


Surprise! Complex Gadgets & High-Tech Lingo Confuses People

Today's tidbit link (via Hal) is to the BBC story High-tech babble baffles many, on how high tech gadgetry is baffling potential buyers out of buying.

I've always had the feeling this was true, so it's good to see a story confirming my beliefs. This is what happens when engineers and marketers promote a boatload of glitzy "features" and related buzzwords and acronyms rather than offering easy to use and simple to understand solutions.


Waiting for Number Portability

Nokia 3360Came across this helpful David Coursey article Switching cell phone carriers? Read this first! at ZDNet (via Gizmodo) and it reminded me that Mobile Phone Number Portability is set to arrive sometime in November... unless the carriers manage to delay it again.

I for one hope that number portability becomes reality, and I think many other mobile phone users probably feel the same way. Right now my wife and I are nearing the end of a long 2 year contract with Cingular that's due to expire in September. Why did we agree to a 2 year deal? I think it was a deal for two Nokia 3360 phones, but honestly, I think I was just a bit brain dead the day we made the deal. :-)

Anyway, Cingular's service is decent and we've been generally happy with them. However, their pricing plans seem a little limiting especially compared to some of the $30 per month all-you-can-eat plans with data included from carriers like Sprint. Cingular offers Internet services, but it's a slow connection and adds another $10 per month to the bill, per phone. That's doesn't even include minutes used.

As for number portability, I just want to have some kind of choice in the carrier I choose. I dislike the idea of losing our mobile phone numbers, since I have mine printed on my business cards and my wife and I would both have to dole out our new numbers to family and friends if we were to switch carriers.

I'm hoping that number portability will encourage more competition between carriers and hopefully break the stranglehold they have on wireless service. I'd love to see even more battles for lower prices and more features and more importantly, better customer service.

Unfortunately, as David Coursey points out, carriers will likely make it harder to switch services with other rules, once the biggest "hook" they have now (number portability) is settled. Right now we have a $200 per line cancellation fee with Cingular, which strongly encourages us to wait until September to even consider a switch. I can imagine these fees are going to rise and become even more restrictive in the short term.

So we'll see. In reality we're probably going to trim down to a single phone come September, so hopefully this time next year our one remaining mobile phone number will be the same, with better plan, maybe from a different carrier. That'd work for us.


Mobile Phone Tidbits

Nokia 3360I'm not exactly the poster boy for mobile phone use, at least as the mobile phone companies probably look at it. I have a Nokia 3360 on Cingular and I like it, more or less. The truth is, I hardly use the thing. Of course it's handy when traveling, but on a daily basis it's turned off, since I'm generally near a stationery phone at home or the office.

For a little while I used the mobile package on my Nokia, to connect my Clié via InfraRed but because I am always near an Internet cable connection, I didn't find it a great value for the additional $5 per month it cost me. However, for travel, the mobile phone is invaluable, since I can call my wife and have her return the call on her Nokia for free (her plan includes free long distance). On my Palm DevCon California trip, our bill for a few hours of talk time was a measly $1.50!

Even with travel usage figured in, I hardly use my mobile phone. I've decided that I'm just not a typical mobile phone user.

Still, I am a mobile-oriented person, so I am interested in the role mobile phones play in our culture, even if I don't use mine very much. Over the past few weeks I've gathered a few interesting articles on mobile phones to share with you:

Mobile Phones Enslave Brits
First is the article Britons are enslaved by the mobile telephone from the Times Online (UK) about studies done in Britain showing everyday Britons are enslaved by their mobile phones, rather than freed by them. I found it interesting to read that dependence on the mobile phone was extrapolated as a form of control, and gave users a sense of power over situations. Some respondents even felt their mobile improved their self identity. Older users felt some of this but it seems that the younger generation say their mobile phones are "an extension of their physical being". Wow.

Kids Need SMS for Self Esteem
Related to the Times article was this one from NewMediaAge, suggesting that school kids get self esteem boosts from receiving SMS messages. Key quote:

"Children are so obsessed that they are unable to communicate verbally uninterrupted, are constantly checking their phones for messages, and become irritable if they have to be away from their phone for any period of time."

Yikes! I don't know about you, but this sounds a little disturbing.

Mobiles vs. Non-Mobiles
Here's another story along the same lines from Wired, which reports that kids are now breaking into two social groups: mobiles and non-mobiles. The article describes the "mobiles" group this way:

"The people who had become a part of the mobiles group had a hard time doing deprivation at all," Blinkoff said. "They couldn't do it at all."

Whoa. This is sounding more and more like addiction, eh?

I should be clear that I'm not against the mobile phone, but as with all technology, I do think we must be aware of how mobile phones integrate into our lives. I think it's wise to set boundaries to make sure our technology (in this case the mobile phone) doesn't control us, but that we maintain control over it.

To avoid ending this post on a down note, I must share this hilarious James Lileks response to the idea of un-inventing mobile phones:

"I have one. It's always off. If you turn it on, people call you, and there's really only one message you need to know right away: I am a trucker in the car behind you and there is an axe murderer hiding in your back seat. And you would, of course, say "how did you know my number?" Followed by "AAAAIIEEEE!"

Hee hee. Exactly! :-)