The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Imagine a world where your cellphone provider never drops calls, you don't have to worry about network coverage, and you can get all kinds of Web and multimedia content right on your mobile phone. That world is called Europe and East Asia, which, we are reminded, are both still lightyears ahead of the U.S. in wireless services.

The reliability factor of a data network is a key factor in getting people to adopt more than just standard phone service. That's probably what's holding back mass adoption of other features in the U.S.:
If a cell phone customer is ticked off at his phone for losing calls, he is probably less likely to view that same wireless service as a reliable means to surf the Web, download a music file, swap photos or perform any of the other advanced functions that carriers are hoping will make them more money.
But aside from an overabundance of competing standards, it's important to keep in mind some fundamental differences in capabilities:
For starters, two-thirds of U.S. households access the Internet via a home computer, compared with 43 percent of homes in Japan, 42 percent in Britain and 28 percent in France, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. In addition, most Americans pay a flat fee for unlimited local calling on their home telephones, while per-minute billing for local calls is more common overseas. Because Americans have attractive nonwireless communications alternatives more readily available, they have less incentive to use their cell phones as heavily as their overseas counterparts.

In addition, the vast majority of Americans drive a car to get anywhere, while a higher proportion of Europeans and Asians take public transportation. What does that have to do with your cell phone? People who don't drive have more time to text-message their friends and surf the Web. "For mobile Internet to take off, it helps to have people on mass transit," said Neil Strother, a senior wireless analyst for In-Stat/MDR, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research company.
So it's all about lifestyle, too. It strikes me that American kids, generally, have some things in common with the on-the-go lifestyle that's standard in Europe and Asia: They've often got lots of downtime while being driven from one spot to another, and when hanging out between classes and after school. Small wonder they're such heavy text-messaging users.