Despatch from the USA

June 13th, 2008 | by Aaron Tan

Singaporeans have it good when it comes to mobile services. As we read about the rivalry going on among the three telcos in the run-up to full number portability, my American counterparts do not know what they’re missing. It’s partly to do with the infrastructure providers getting cozy with the legislators, a history that goes back to the early days of the railroad.

Not only are handsets at least 6 months before what you get in Asia, you’re charged for both incoming and outgoing text messages. No wonder SMS isn’t such a big hit here. People prefer to talk on the phone than send text messages.

What amuses me is that the media created such a big fuss when AT&T and T-Mobile said they were opening up their networks to “unsupported” devices not too long ago. In case you’re unaware, all the phones here are locked by service providers. Things we take for granted like swapping SIM cards from one phone to another just doesn’t happen here, unless of course you get yourself an unlocked phone overseas.

The operator’s rational for the phone-locking is so that they can provide you with better service, and to avoid security problems. They’ll tell you that if you use an unsupported phone, there is no guarantee that it will work as well as a supported one. Unsavvy consumers have been tricked into believing this was really the case. Isn’t GSM supposed to be a global standard? A GSM phone should work on a GSM network. Even the so-called operator specific services are really just ringtone and wallpaper downloads, and my case, the T-Mobile Web service which lets me surf on a couple of WAP sites for free at GPRS speeds.


One Comment

  1. PaperD says:

    Yo Aaron! Great to hear from you man!

    I’ve always felt that IDA does some things right, even though we whack them quite often (and sometimes rightly so). Beyond mobile, we do have a reasonable choice in broadband services (SingTel’s ADSL, StarHub’s HFC, M1’s 3G broadband, WiFi). Many other countries seriously don’t have that choice at all. Of course, it could be better (e.g. Hong Kong, Korea markets are potentially interesting examples), but at least IDA does try to drive things that benefit consumers, like LLU (local loop unbundling)with the iN2015 masterplan.

    There are lots of countries that still struggle with getting their legislation right.

    E.g. Thailand is a mess, according to my company’s regulatory folks. 18 months to clear a business license, etc. Indonesia? Good luck. Even in countries like Australia, the consumers have far less choice than we have.

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