Many recent developments in the mobile phone industry have had one thing in common and that is Europe, a place we left some 300 years ago and have largely forgot about except when they need help stopping Germany from from taking over and making everyone wear really tight leather pants.
Case in point the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition SmartPhone that has recently been gracing our televisions sets in Verizon adverts featuring the ‘can you hear me now guy’ speaking French and handing off the phone to some actor at a fake airport. The odd thing about the ad is that it is essentially advertising the companies massive flaw and that is their phones only work in the U.S. Why is this the case? Well gather around the campfire kids and let me spin ya a story about telecommunications in the good old USA.
You see in the late 80’s when U.S. cellular companies were starting to build out their networks they realized that analog networks (AMPS) had the potential to provide greater coverage area with less towers due to the basic technology involved. But as with everything in the US no one could agree on a single technology and each individual company developed their own version of the cellular network. The thinking behind this was that the individual companies thought they would dominate the market and then the other companies would have to eventually abandon their own technology and pay them for the use of theirs.
Of course this never happened as all these companies were too stubborn to consider what was best for the consumer and that is why we ended up with CDMA (Verizon) TDMA (Sprint) AMPS (McCaw Cellular). At this same time the European Union was having the same problem so they decided that they needed one standard and mandated that efforts would be put into a system that would be universal in all countries. This led to the GSM technology being implemented along side the old analog system and the two worked seamlessly together. They could travel virtually anywhere and their phones would work as well as when they switched carriers.
This certainly wasnt the case for any Americans traveling overseas when their only options was to rent a phone at their destination. This continued into the late 90’s until Voicestream Wireless used Hawaii as a test market for the first US GSM service and after that success, launched in a few western states promoting features and prices that were unheard of elsewhere in the country. The technology used data stored in a SIM card that could be moved from phone to phone and with it allowed a virtual phone book of personal numbers to be moved as well. The company grew rapidly and now for the first time Americans could take a phone from stateside and use it in Europe and Asia.
The others companies grew nervous of this development and it even caused AT&T to convert, at considerable cost, to the GSM technology. This caused a ripple effect and soon all these companies were gobbling up smaller ones, merging with larger ones, and even terminating roaming contracts that made it easier for customers to piggyback onto other networks. It seemed the battle had just escalated and with Nextel’s success another technology was thrown into the mix. All the while Europe was developing high speed data networks that would be years away in the U.S. all because they had focused on one technology and advancements benefited all the companies, not just one.
This is why technology developed in North America is now launching in Europe, simply for the reason that the U.S. market is just too slow to develop a high speed GSM data network that actually is available in more than a handful of cities. Case in point is T-Mobile whom was ahead of the curve on WAP, BlackBerry Server implementation, and data tethering. But for reasons that defied logic simply stopped developing anything after their GPRS network was launched and as a result fell behind in virtually every aspect of the industry. They are now paying for their mistake with a massive outlay of cash to build a UMTS network that if ever launched will be so late in the coming that it will nearly obsolete when it does.
And all this is why we see the perfect Blackberry 8820 being launched in the U.K. and the 8310 showing up in those oh so tight leather pants in Germany. So while we might have the iPhone before the rest of the world, we still have to settle for dial up speeds unless we want a phone that will only work if you never leave the cozy confines of a large metropolitan area and if you ever decide to leave that company for another you will have a very expensive paperweight mocking you for not having been born in London, Barcelona or even Tokyo.