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Monday, July 30, 2007 

The wireless industry is stuck in 1994

Using data services on a mobile phone is an extremely frustrating experience today and it looks like both Skype and Google are determined to change it. Why is it frustrating you ask? Here is an answer by Amol Sarva, a co-founder of Virgin Mobile USA:

"The wireless industry is stuck in 1994," said Amol Sarva, a co-founder of Virgin Mobile USA and chief executive of Txtbl. "Back then, AOL controlled how people surfed the Internet and what content they could access. And that's what the current wireless market is like today under the control of mobile operators." (taken from Unlock the Cell phone it's a high stakes debate by CNET)

The same article further suggests:

"The problem is simple. Today most of the 220 million American cell phone users are forced to buy handsets provided and controlled by their service provider. In some cases, mobile operators are actually turning off features or disabling applications so consumers cannot access them."

The USA TODAY had also published an article about this same topic:
New rules could rock wireless world (by Leslie Cauley, USA TODAY)

I always felt that something has to change with the cell phone world and that the current state of affairs is shameful, when it comes to consumer freedom. My biggest hope was Wimax, which was positioned as a long range Wifi technology that could finally bring us a true always connected mobile broadband. That is until the current major wireless players (such as Sprint, Motorola and Nokia) took over the major Wimax companies or the Wimax spetcrum and turned it into 4G, meaning that Wimax is going to be the technology used by next generation networks for data but the business is going to stay the same as before.

Needless to say, I was happy to see Skype attempting to do something about it earlier this year. I am thrilled about the possibility that the FCC may try to improve things with the 700 Mhz spectrum auction, but most of all I am delighted to see Google taking a stand. It is obvious that both Skype and Google are doing it for very selfish reasons but as long as their interests are aligned with consumers freedom and open mobile broadband, this is fine.

I am telling you all this now of all days, because tomorrow the FCC will set the rules governing the wireless auction and I want to do my share in raising awareness for this important topic.


The FCC voted for the new rules and the results are mixed. They essentially voted for openness in terms of devices and in terms of applications, which is a huge step forward, however they left out the requirement that the winner be obliged to sell in wholesale prices use of the network. It is worthwhile mentioning that this does not have any effect on the existing networks and so it remains to be seen if the winner of the auction will indeed build a new wireless network that will change the rules of the game, spur a new wave of innovation and force the existing networks to follow suit or not.

More details are at ars technica.