Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'm somewhat of a mobile network junkie. I'm on my third one now, and this is only my fourth month in the UK. This last move is due to a unfortunate situation where we had to take out another contract to get a stolen phone replaced, but that's another story.

I could never have done this back in NZ. Aside from the fact that there were only two networks when I left, they were both completely incompatible with each other. So, if I wanted to jump ship, I had to get a whole new phone.

In the UK, all the networks use GSM or one of its successors. This means that as long as I'm not tied into a lengthy contract, I can flit around them and choose whoever has the best deal. And there are plenty of deals out there; you can pay £10 and get a rolling contract that will give you 100 mins and 300 texts (you can get slightly more of one and slightly less of the other depending on which network you choose).

I can't help but wonder what the mobile situation would have been like in NZ if the networks were compatible with each other. A rumour I've heard was that when Telecom NZ were setting up their network, the government of the time forced them to use CDMA because they thought it would be better for consumers if there was more competition -- ie if they used a different technology to BellSouth's GSM.

Unfortunately, that reasoning has been shown to be wrong. The most competition occurs when there is a level playing field, as players must differentiate themselves on other grounds. This is actually a better situation for companies; they are flexible, innovative, and up for a challenge. If consumers don't like what they get from you, they can always jump to a competitor.

What I'd like you to remember is that standards, and a homogeneous culture, is a very good thing for consumers. It lowers the barrier of entry for you, the producer, and for you, the consumer. The World Wide Web is another pertinent example; it's difficult to see how it could have taken off if everyone wasn't speaking HTTP and HTML, and if consumers couldn't easily switch between browsers.

There are risks; some people like to complain about the Microsoft culture: in particular, how having a massive install base of Windows is harmful as it is easier to attack. Companies may also see locking consumers into their own proprietary technology is an advantage. While these are both true to some extent, I would argue that the benefits of standards outweigh these. Please use standards. They're good for you!

PS Some of you may be thinking "why, CDMA is a standard just like GSM". This is true; but perhaps GSM was just a little more standard than CDMA :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What is a Browser?

When you work in technology, it's sometimes hard to remember that most people don't speak the same language as you. This is a good reminder of what regular people think a browser is.

Via Mauricio Freitas