Walt Mossberg Takes on Mobile Phones

Mossberg is the tech writer for the Wall Street Journal and has a good post on his blog today about the control that providers in the U.S. exert over the mobile phones used in the U.S. One interesting thing to note here in the U.K. is the sheer number of stores selling mobile phones and accessories. Besides the providers, like Virgin, O2, T-Mobile and 3, there are chain stores like Carphone Warehouse and others that offer plans and phones from multiple carriers. It’s hard to say for certain, because I’m not sure how much this type of technology is subsidized here in the U.K., but the advertised deals seem better than they are in the U.S. Broadband access via mobile devices in particular seems a cheaper. I actually saw one store that was offering a free laptop as an incentive if you signed up for their service.

The Soviet Ministry Model

That’s why I refer to the big cellphone carriers as the “Soviet ministries.” Like the old bureaucracies of communism, they sit athwart the market, breaking the link between the producers of goods and services and the people who use them.

To some extent, they try to replace the market system, and, like the real Soviet ministries, they are a lousy substitute. They decide what phones can be used on their networks and what software and services can be offered on those phones. They require the hardware and software makers to tailor their products to meet the carriers’ specifications, not just so they work properly on the network, but so they promote the carriers’ brands and their various add-on services.

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