Is your phone Born Free?

Nokia Nseries - Open to Anything

Walt Mossberg has a great piece (Free My Phone!) up on All Things D, which is a must read for anyone even remotely interested in the mobile industry.

While he’s not saying anything that we (you gentle reader) have not heard or discussed, to hear it from someone with as much consumer clout as Walt Mossberg is something worth noting.

A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.

Whether you are a consumer, a hardware maker, a software developer or a provider of cool new services, it’s hard to make a move in the American cellphone world without the permission of the companies that own the pipes. While power in other technology sectors flows to consumers and nimble entrepreneurs, in the cellphone arena it remains squarely in the hands of the giant carriers. [All Things D]

Interestingly there’s no mention of Nokia in the piece, just that Apple was able to sell the iPhone without the carrier getting inside. This is not entirely correct, there are no ATT apps or services, but there are limitations in what the iPhone can really do…. VOIP anyone? We can argue there are no applications later.

When I was in San Francisco last week the topic of unlocked phones came up and Bill Plummer suggested the phrase Born Free instead of unlocked. The term unlocked implies that the device was actually locked at one point and is now no longer that way. The Nokia N-Series devices are largely sold direct in the US – without a carrier contract and without carrier involvement on any level.

It took me a moment to appreciate that this is not just semantics, but truly an important difference. There are not too many manufacturers offering open devices… Palm has previously sold a GSM Treo without a carrier and I believe Motorola is starting to offer a device or two.

Clearly buying an open device is not something the average consumer seeks today. Devices are not subsidized so they cost more on the surface and you typically cannot use carrier services like music and video. Since I don’t use any of those services anyway. I literally just want open access to the network.

Without a carrier getting in your way, it’s easy to add your own content, browse and customize the device the way you want AND most importantly use things that were intended to be used in full. You simply pick a GSM carrier add your SIM and are all set. Should you choose to switch carriers, you are free to do so (outside of any contract term of course) and use the same device with another carrier.

The carrier BS has progressed to a point that goes well beyond reason and basic business and can only be seen as driven by greed. It hurts the consumer and I think will start to hurt the carriers as people become more savvy to the experience they could be having. There’s absolutely no reason for matters to be as locked as they are and I will advise those who ask to buy open to keep the as much of the power in the hands of the consumer.

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6 Replies to “Is your phone Born Free?”

  1. fyi: there is no contradiction between having a “born free” phone, and having a subsidized phone. for example, here in switzerland, it is completely normal, that you get a totally unlocked/uncrippled (i.e. born free) phone together with a, lets say 12, 18, or 24 mth. contract, if you want to commit to a fixed-lenght contract at all. example: i’m signing a contract that runs for 12 month, and in return, i get a free nokia 6300 (for example). i then can use this phone within this contract, or, if i want to, can immediately resell this new phone for a good price on the market, and therefore get the whole 12 month for free, as, in this example, both amounts are about the same (contract vs. phone). at the end, its a win/win situation. i can keep the phone, or i can have a free contract, without a new phone. in all this, there is no reason to cripple or sim-lock the phone at all, because the carrier does not make the money with a sim-locked phone, but rather with the usage of the sim itself (phonecalls, data, etc).

  2. Well – Welcome to the USA! Cell carriers suck in general and force you to use value added services or pay even more to do basic things… generally speaking of course.

    That said, we do have access to unlimited data plans at a reasonable rate compared to the rest of the world. I have a $20/month plan (on top of voice) that gives me unlimited 3.5G (HSDPA) service when in range… the other kicker. I have to head like 40 miles to get that because where I live is still EDGE only for now.

  3. that’s indeed very cheap for a flat rate. in comparison, we would pay about 40$ to 50$ for a 2GB flat, or for what i currently use, about 15$ for 100MB/mt.

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