WHEN INTERNATIONAL reader Sean P. Barry returns from Japan, I expect he will pose the same question about the iPhone as some on SlashDot raise in the most literate thread of 2007. "What's keeping US phones in the Stone Age?" (A: Lack of competition.) From the thread: "Looks aren't enough. Finally, the price is ridiculous. The device is an order of magnitude more expensive than my now year-old Keitai even with a two-year contract. After returning to the US from Japan, I've come to realize the horrible truth behind iPhone's buzz. Over the year I was gone, US phones haven't really done anything. Providers push a minuscule lineup of uninspiring designs and then charge unbelievable prices for even basic things like text messages. I was greeted at every kiosk by more tired clamshells built to last until obsolescence, and money can't buy a replacement for my W41CA." When I return to the States on my annual shopping expeditions, I walk among the mall rats and see how all the US providers are stuck with yesteryear's designs, tied to extortionate multi-year contracts. And I'm happy for the options availed in Ireland. I can get mobile phones to do as little as text and voice for less than $40 month. For those charges, I can download an unlimited amount of video that lines-out from my Nokia N95's 4GB removeable data card to my television. I'm just saying, not trying to articulate a feature set here.
Americans who visit us in Ireland had no idea how Europeans manage their phone contracts. I have lived in Germany and Ireland and operated my mobile phones in Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Kenya, Spain, Tunisia, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Turkey. The same phone works without anything special except for the hefty roaming charges outside of the European Community. To avoid those charges, I use a Roam4Free SIM.
Visitors from the States don't seem to know about the power consumers have when they unlock their phones. I normally take friends to boot sales where talented technicians unlock their phones for them for a nominal charge. The phone surgeons I trust in Thurles provide over-the-counter service too. You can jump from operator to operator since Europe abides by the GSM standard.
Irish citizens enjoy full number portability. We can keep our phone numbers even when changing providers but this facility works only in the same country.
Somehow, Americans have come to expect to pay a high level of interest on their phones. American consumers seem to think that their service providers have to add more capability to their local cell phone structure to accommodate new customers. They don't know that most of the cell phone infrastructure is built and paid for already. The money extracted from customers as part of the monthly contract fees is part of the profit picture of a mobile phone company.
Get a SIM-free phone, number portability and a feature set that works for you and like me, you can cut your monthly bills to below $40 a month for each phone. I use one $40 phone for primarily for voice and another $40 SIM for laptop data. When I have the need, I switch on a smartphone and its cameraphone uploads to Twitter, group texting and normal business usage runs me an average of $110 monthly. But I have cut that line item to zero when required.
Ireland's digital data landscape has developed a mobile dimension that works elegantly on trains, buses, and throughout all major cities. Mobile broadband, on phones and with laptop dongles, is a Skype-friendly service. When my brother visits from the States in August, I think he will be disappointed to return to the lesser-developed US cellular telephony landscape.