The Gap in U.S. Mobile Phone Service

David Pogue: That’s a really interesting question. We [i.e. the USA] are behind Asia and Europe on cell phones in large part because of the way these networks were built originally. So in Europe for example, the government decided where to put the towers in such a way that everybody would have coverage.

In this country, there is no government telling us where to put the towers; it’s a neighborhood by neighborhood fight between the cell phone companies and the people of Greenwich, Connecticut or whatever. “You’re not putting a tower where we can see it.” So coverage remains lousy because it’s a not in my backyard thing.

Also we have the horrible problem of two competing network standards. AT&T and T-Mobile use one kind and Sprint and Verizon use the other kind, and the phones don’t inter-operate and the networks don’t inter-operate. And again, it’s just because there was never a standard; there was never an organizing body. And also the country geographically is much bigger than say Japan or a European country; so we have much more area to cover.

And the last factor is the calcified conservativeness of the carriers--up until the iPhone came out--that they wanted to control and micromanage the development of the phones themselves, which was not conducive to innovation. So everything took longer to arrive here than it did overseas.

But that is going to change. It will change starting this year [2008] because of what the iPhone unleashed; this idea that you can make a lot of money if you embrace creativity and innovation in the design of your cell phone and if you permit people to add and customize their own programs on their own cell phones instead of taking the same hand-me-downs from the cell company every month.

 

Recorded on May 15, 2008

There aren't enough towers. That will change.

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