A short while ago, Apple blocked an iPhone app called Google Voice1 from getting into the App Store.2 If you don’t know what Google Voice is, it basically gives you a single phone number which you can answer from any of your phones, set up timing so only certain phones ring at certain times, listen in on calls before you join in, get voice mail transcribed, and a ton of other useful things.

Apple and AT&T are quite tightly linked in the States and so quite likely AT&T had something to do with this app being blocked. Cell phone companies are of the most despised companies I can think of. Their insane monopolies over the airwaves are ridiculous and the way they bully people into contracts and charge people for slight overuse is absurd. The markup on the data packets is probably the craziest thing they do. For a couple of years I’ve wanted to start my own cellular provider just to give cell phone users a choice that wasn’t evil, but not only do I not have the capital, I don’t quite know where to start, especially since all these carriers own the cellular frequency spectrum and I would have to play ball with them to a certain extent anyway.

Despite Apple’s poor decision in cutting Google Voice from the App Store, this may turn out to be a good thing for consumers.3 They, and AT&T, are under investigation by the FCC which will hopefully lead to new rules that carriers will have to abide by which should make the options available much better for everyone.

I just read an article on the Wall Street Journal website discussing this whole event and agree with the author’s suggestions for making the cellular network better (copied below).

End phone exclusivity. Any device should work on any network. Data flows freely.

Transition away from “owning” airwaves. As we’ve seen with license-free bandwidth via Wi-Fi networking, we can share the airwaves without interfering with each other. Let new carriers emerge based on quality of service rather than spectrum owned. Cellphone coverage from huge cell towers will naturally migrate seamlessly into offices and even homes via Wi-Fi networking. No more dropped calls in the bathroom.

End municipal exclusivity deals for cable companies. TV channels are like voice pipes, part of an era that is about to pass. A little competition for cable will help the transition to paying for shows instead of overpaying for little-watched networks. Competition brings de facto network neutrality and open access (if you don’t like one service blocking apps, use another), thus one less set of artificial rules to be gamed.

Encourage faster and faster data connections to our homes and phones. It should more than double every two years. To homes, five megabits today should be 10 megabits in 2011, 25 megabits in 2013 and 100 megabits in 2017. These data-connection speeds are technically doable today, with obsolete voice and video policy holding it back.

His first point is one that has often made me feel quite strange. We don’t really experience device exclusivity in other areas of our lives like we do with cell phones (think iPhone or HTC Dream and how they are only available on one provider each yet are desired by people who use other networks). Some people have this exclusivity and lock in with their cable boxes and high-speed modems, but they aren’t devices that people tend to think about, where as cell phones can be like a social status symbol.

Obviously any changes the FCC enforce will not immediately affect us in Canada, but eventually we should reap the benefits as well. As I have not been able to bring about this change myself, I am glad to see the folly of a big corporation potentially bringing this around themselves.

  1. I have been waiting for Google Voice for about a  year and when they finally opened to the public, they were US only and I was quite disappointed. They even sent me an invite email and when I signed up they said “Sorry, Google Voice is not available in your country” and I was sad. []
  2. Apple’s crazy approval process is one of the key reasons I don’t want an iPhone, but I’ll save that rant for another post. []
  3. I hate the term “consumer” []

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