Margot Wallström EU Blogger
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Phones get blocked

UNDERWAY -- There is a reason that most of the direct mail I receive about items on this weblog concern the Nokia 9500. Some mobile phone operators--in Africa, Ireland and the States--have blocked the Nokia 9500 from their subsidy plans. They go as far as refusing to certify the phone for operation on their networks. I have used the Nokia 9500 Communicator on O2 in Ireland every week since August 2004 to the disbelief of at least three companies who weren't going to buy the phone for their sales staff since O2 hadn't certified it. And why not certify it? That's the call of the carrier. To understand how they make that call, you need to know that some phones can be too smart for their own good.

In my case, I can do web browsing and email by connecting the Nokia 9500 to easily discoverable nodes. Every time I browse with the Nokia 9500 on O2, I run up at least €2 in charges. I browse using Wi-Fi for free in many Dublin hotspots. My daily e-mail cost with the GPRS mode of the phone is €3 when underway in Ireland. When parked near a Wi-Fi hotspot in Tipperary or Kilkenny, that service costs nothing. Said another way, when I use my Nokia 9500 to browse and check e-mail my preferred way, O2 loses at least €5 a day in revenue. A profitable mobile phone network cannot certify a phone that costs revenue opportunities.

This is a trend that cuts across the continents. Walt Mossberg spotlights the issue in his Wall Street Journal column, saying users have "been blocked by huge, powerful middlemen. In the U.S., the wireless phone carriers have used their ownership of networks to sharply restrict what technologies can actually reach users". Ditto for other continents.

The only hope many Africans have of obtaining Nokia 9500 telephones is through an Irish middleman. When you spend millions of euro to build a sub-Saharan wireless network, you have to manage your resource carefully and return dividends to shareholders. The Nokia 9500 does not fit that strategic interest since it can quickly detect and use alternative wireless networks for its data connectivity.

When you want to get a mobile phone, you go to a mobile phone shop. The high street shops are subsidised by the networks. In Ireland, this means that the carriers decide what technologies get into users' hands. During the past four years, I have tested, profiled and used products from Nokia and Motorola that never made it into the shops. They often included features like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that didn't fit the needs of O2 or Vodafone. The Irish public never knew what they missed and things ticked over.

It's a long sales and technical process to obtain network operator approval to sell hardware that runs on Irish phone networks. Most of the time, the Irish mobile carriers do not permit the manufacturer to sell phones with pre-installed software. They want their customers to download (and pay for) software coming off the network. Mossberg wonders, "Why shouldn't the market decide whether a device is a good phone?" Because it's not smart to let the customers find their way to innovative when that innovation does not require the use of a network mast. In Verizon's case, the Motorola V710 comes with its Bluetooth clipped, meaning hundreds of people each day come here looking for a hack to remove the limitation. When the Bluetooth mode is crippled, the V710 cannot be used as a laptop modem and it's also difficult to sync the phone with either a PC or a car's sound system. The phone companies have told Nokia to park its television viewing system well outside the consumer market because there's no way the mobile phone operators want punters to watch TV shows directly from a local broadcaster. They want to charge for the broadcasts over 3G themselves.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs registered the domain name "" months ago but now tells Mossberg "he was wary of producing an Apple cellphone because, instead of selling it directly to the public, he would have to offer it through what he called the 'four orifices' -- the four big U.S. cellphone carriers".

The status quo will have to change for the good of Irish consumers. Years ago, you could not plug your own handset into a Telecom Eireann jack. You had to rent phones from the mother company. Today, you have a choice and that works better for all parties. Consumers need to know that they can get and use phones that do not come with the mobile phone operators' seal of approval. In fact, they should search them out because sometimes the absence of approval means less expensive running costs. That has been my experience with the Nokia 9500 Communicator and an experience that anyone with a mobile phone bill above €200 a month should consider. The money you save is yours to keep if you get a phone smart enough to make several different kinds of connections to the internet and your e-mail services.

Walt Mossberg -- "Wireless Phone Carriers' Veto Hampers Innovation"
Previously seen by IrishEyes -- "Motorola V710 Bluetooth Hack" and Nokia 9500.
On 3 June 2005, 138 people landed here looking for "Motorola V710 hack".