Fresh from my trip back from Italy, I want to use this opportunity to share my little experiment in cell phone mobility. My experiences can be summed up in this way: Don’t be fooled by the advertising -your cell phone is not as mobile as you think!
My experiment began about two months before I left for my trip. I currently own a Blackberry Pearl and have GSM service through Rogers Communications in Canada. While Rogers continually advertises that the phone will work seamlessly overseas, I balked at the $2.00/minute charges to make a phone call from Italy back to Canada and 20ish cents per kb of data downloads with my Rogers connected phone. Strike one: enormous high cost to communicate out of local country.
To avoid this high cost, I decided that I would simply buy a SIM card from a local cell phone provider and stick it into my Blackberry. Good intentions but there was a problem – my Blackberry was locked! Rogers is trying to keep me from using anyone else’s service on the smart phone they sold me. When I called them to get them to unlock my phone, they refused. I’m not really sure why they lock the phones anyway because Rogers is the only Canadian provider that maintains a GSM network. I couldn’t switch over to another provider with my Blackberry even if I wanted to. Then again, that’s the case with local service but there are plenty of international GSM providers. I guess Rogers locks their phones so that they can continue to overcharge their customers $2.00/minutes if they make calls outside of North America. The Rogers representative told me that I could try using a third-party to unlock my phone but if I did that, my warranty would be voided. Fortunately for me, I have my old quad-band Motorola that I don’t use any longer sitting in a drawer just waiting to be utilized once again. I got that phone unlocked for $20. Strike two: Providers trying to maintain control of and limit access to, a product that their consumer purchased and owns.
With my Motorola unlocked and ready to be used, I went onto the websites of the three major cell phone providers in Italy: Vodaphone, TIM and Wind. As far as I could tell, none allow the purchase of a SIM Card from their website so I had to wait until I actually arrived in Italy to get a SIM card. I chose to purchase service on the Wind network. I bought the SIM card, set up a prepaid long distance plan and topped up my credit. At this point, I would be paying 35 Euro cents, about 45-50 Canadian cents, per minute to call back to Canada instead of the $2.00 per minute I would be paying with Rogers. However, all I could do was talk as SMS and data required a separate setup. Did I mention that they would not set me up unless they had a photocopy of my passport? Apparently, it’s a requirement under Italian anti-terrorism legislation. Strike three: even international providers minimize access and maximize control.
All was well while I was in Italy, making calls at a quarter of the price I would have paid if I didn’t jump through all the above hoops. That is, while I was in Italy. Now that I am back in Canada, Wind will not allow me to use my phone with their SIM card here. When I try to make a call with my Motorola that contains the Wind SIM card, I get a message from Rogers (the local provider) that states, “You provider has not authorized us to provide service. Please contact your service provider”. Back to the same story again, but this time in the reverse. While previously, when wanted to use my Rogers phone internationally, I had to pay extremely high rates, now, if I want to use my Wind service in Canada, I am restricted. Strike four: service providers don’t play nice with each other to the detriment of their customers.
In this current world of tight restrictions and high costs, how mobile are mobile devices? I guess that depends on what mobility means. If mobility meams access in a constricted and predefined area such as a city, province or country, then our current model of mobility seems to work just fine. However if, as I believe, mobility means global accessibility, then we certainty have a very long way to go. My experience has shown me that so long as one is playing within the playing field of a particular provider, then all is well. Once one moves beyond that playing field and tries to coss into the realm of another provider, accessibility begins to collapse and costs begin to soar. Current technology makes true mobility possible – it’s the human institutions that are resticting mobility for their own selfish ends.