European vs. American mobile phone use

In last week's post about Palm's phone plans, I made a passing comment about the right way to display your mobile phone at dinner in Europe. It turned out to be the most popular part of the post, and produced a couple of requests that I say more comparing European and American attitudes toward mobile phones. I don't pretend to the world's expert on the subject, but I'll summarize what I've seen. Here goes:

In the US, a cellphone is a tool. In Europe, a mobile phone is a lifestyle.

I guess I ought to give a few details. Let me start with a disclaimer: It's very dangerous to talk about "Europeans" as if they're some sort of unified cultural group. Europe is a continent of many nationalities, and each one has a different culture and history. National regulations on phones also differ dramatically within Europe, which has an important impact on mobile use.

I saw a good example of this in the responses to my last post. I said all Europeans put their mobile phones on the table during a meal. I got replies from some countries agreeing with me, and others saying I was completely wrong. It turns out the table thing differs from country to country.

It's only slightly less hazardous to talk about a "typical" American mobile phone user. The culture in the US is more uniform than it is in Europe, but there are profound differences between various market segments. The average 16-year-old in the US views a mobile phone very differently than the average 40-year-old. (Come to think of it, I suspect average 40-year-old mobile users in Berlin and Chicago probably have more in common with each other than either of them have with the 16-year-old.)

Now that I've hedged thoroughly, here are those details:


The differences start with the words we use to talk about the industry. In Europe, a mobile phone is usually called (in English-speaking countries) a "mobile." As in, "I'll ring your mobile." In the US, mobile phones are most often called "cellphones," and that's sometimes shortened: "I'll call your cell."

The term differs in other European countries, of course (for example, Hermann on Brighthand says the term in Germany is "handy.") I do know that if you say "cellphone" pretty much anywhere in Europe, people will look at you like you're a dork. Found that out the hard way.

Occasionally young people in the US use the term "mobile," but it's not very widespread. I try to use the term "mobile phone" in this website because it's understood on both continents.

There are also differences in the terms used to describe the companies that sell mobile phone services. In the US they are generally called "carriers." But the second easiest way to piss off a European mobile exec is to call his or her company a carrier. They are "operators." As the distinction was explained to me, an operator actively runs a network, while a carrier merely delivers something passively.

(In case you're wondering, the first easiest way to piss off a European mobile exec is to ask how his MMS revenues are doing.)

The operator vs. carrier thing is very confusing in the US, because to most Americans an "operator" is a person who runs a switchboard. The archetypal operator is Ernestine, a character created by actress Lily Tomlin. She snorted annoyingly, was rude, and reveled in her ability to manipulate customers:

"Here at the Phone Company we handle eighty-four billion calls a year. Serving everyone from presidents and kings to scum of the earth. (snort) We realize that every so often you can't get an operator, for no apparent reason your phone goes out of order [snatches plug out of switchboard], or perhaps you get charged for a call you didn't make. We don't care. Watch this [bangs on a switch panel like a cheap piano] just lost Peoria. (snort) You see, this phone system consists of a multibillion-dollar matrix of space-age technology that is so sophisticated, even we can't handle it. But that's your problem, isn't it? Next time you complain about your phone service, why don't you try using two Dixie cups with a string. We don't care. We don't have to. (snort) We're the Phone Company!"

Some people might say that's a good metaphor for a mobile phone company, but it's hard for an American to understand why any company would want to apply the term to itself.

The mobile phone culture

To me, one of the most pronounced differences between mobile use in the US and Europe is that Europe has a more developed mobile phone culture. There are huge variations in attitude from person to person, but on average, people in Europe expect the mobile to play a more prominent, recognized role in the structure of society, and many people look to the mobile as a central source of new innovations. The belief is almost that the mobile phone has a manifest destiny to subsume everything else. This love affair with the mobile phone is far more common in Europe than it is in America.

You can find a good example of this attitude in an essay about the future, on the website of the Club of Amsterdam, a think tank based in the Netherlands:

"Every machine will be a mobile phone, talking to their owner but mainly to other machines.... In 2020 the world is one big video screen, one big video camera, one big mobile phone.... The mobile will act as a "trust machine". It will be our most important lifestyle instrument. It will probably be decomposed with its core elements scattered all over and inside our body."

People in the US can be just as enthusiastic about mobilizing technology, but they often think in terms of shrinking and mobilizing the PC and Internet, rather than growing the cellphone. In the US, the cellphone is often viewed as a necessary tool rather than something to love. For example, an MIT survey in 2004 found that Americans rated the cellphone number one in the list of inventions they hate but can't live without, edging out the dreaded alarm clock.

If you're still having trouble picturing the difference in attitudes, look at it this way – many people in Europe feel about their mobiles the way that Californians feel about their cars.

Okay? Got it now?

The European love of the mobile phone has several facets to it...

Fashion. To many people in Europe, their mobile phone seems to be a fashion statement. It says something about you, much like your clothing. Americans also care about the look of their phones (just take a look at my daughter's Razr, covered in stick-on jewels and shiny dangling beady things). But in general I don't think Americans identify with the phone as deeply.

It seems much more common for someone in Europe to change phones than it is for someone in the US. All phones in Europe are GSM, and people generally understand that you can pop out your SIM card and pop it into a new phone anytime you want. The mobile is just a skin that you wrap around your phone contract. Major retail chains, like Carphone Warehouse, sell large numbers of mobile phones independent of any operator.

Although you can do the same sort of phone swap in the US if you have a GSM phone, it seems like relatively few people do it, and very few phones are sold outside of the carriers' stores. I'm not sure why. I think awareness of the capability is lower (I'll bet a majority of American GSM users couldn't even find their SIM card). And of course many mobile phone users in the US are on CDMA, forcing them to go through the carrier if they want to switch phones. But also, I think there's just less desire to constantly update your phone in the US, because people don't pay as much attention to it.

Design. This is related to the fashion topic, but it deserves a separate discussion because it's so surprising, at least to me. In most consumer goods, there's an approximate consensus on design between the US and Europe. You can find exceptions, but in general clothing, pop music, cars, and furniture considered to be cool in one continent are admired in the other. In fact, a lot of Americans think of "European design" as automatically stylish. But mobile phone styling and features often polarize people in the US and Europe. In Europe, people generally hate external antennas on a phone. In the US, most people don't notice the antenna, and if they do notice it they may well like it because they assume it'll give better coverage.

Many people in Europe love candybar phones. Most Americans think they look cheap and dislike them. Instead, many Americans love flip phones. I think they feel the flip cover prevents accidental calls, and keeps the screen from getting scratched. Maybe they also feel a bit like Captain Kirk when they flip open the phone.

Many Europeans hate flip phones. I don't know why (although I'll speculate that the flip cover makes it inconvenient to send and receive a lot of SMS messages).

SMS vs. IM. Speaking of SMS, it's vastly more popular in Europe than it is in the US. Some of this difference is generational – young people in the US are much more likely to use SMS, whereas it's extremely rare among older Americans. Some of the difference is also training – most Americans don't have a clue how to enter text on a keypad. But even among young Americans, who do the most texting, I think PC-based instant messaging is still the king, now often tied to webcams.

History helps to explain the difference. The US started with a more PC-centric culture, and then IM was pushed aggressively by AOL in the United States, years before many mobile phones here were SMS-capable. There was no great champion for instant messaging in Europe, and besides PCs with Internet connections were less common there in the early days of IM. So SMS had a lot less competition.

Because of differences in mobile phone billing plans, I'm told that sending an SMS was often much cheaper than making a voice call in Europe. US mobile plans, with their large blocks of monthly minutes, supposedly create less of an incentive to use SMS. (In fact, many American mobile plans don't by default include any pre-paid text messages; you pay separately for each one. There's an amusing television commercial by one of the US mobile carriers showing a father relentlessly pursuing his teenage daughter around town – not to keep her out of trouble with her boyfriend, but to keep her from sending text messages on her phone.)

I did a quick spot check of Orange (UK) and Cingular (US) mobile plan charges, to look at the current price differential between voice and text. The main difference was actually that everything in the UK cost more than it does in the US, perhaps due to the horrific dollar-pound exchange rate. The difference between the US and UK in treatment of text messages was not as dramatic as I expected, but it was there. Today the US and UK both charge more for voice than text, but the plans I looked at in the UK almost all either bundled text messages in the base plan, or had options to get a lot of text messages for free if you spent a certain amount on your voice calls. In the US, text messages were always an option that you had to purchase separately, and there was no opportunity to get free text messages. Basically, you have to plan on spending extra if you want to do texting in the US.

(The details: Using a prepaid plan, Cingular in the US will sell you 900 minutes a month for $60, but you'll have to pay $5 extra per month to get 200 text messages. That same $60 spent with Orange in the UK will get you just 325 voice minutes, but 150 text messages are included in the base price. The UK plan creates a strong incentive to substitute text for a voice call when you can.

(If you look at pay as you go plans, Orange charges 38-76 cents a minute for voice calls [depending on whether the call is to a mobile or a land line], and 19 cents for each text message. So a text message is half to a quarter the price of a voice call. However, Orange also gives you 1,000 free text messages if you spend more than $19 a month. Most people would end up getting the free texting, so their effective price for text messaging drops to almost zero. Cingular charges you about 25 cents a minute for voice calls, and five cents per text message. Texting is one fifth the price of a voice call, actually a better ratio than Orange. However, there's no option to get free text messages, so you know you're paying for them no matter what.)

Differences in market structure

Operator power. In general, the US carriers have more power over their customers than the European operators do, for several reasons. The first is that pay as you go plans are much more popular in Europe than they are in the US. In some countries (Italy, for example), almost everyone was on pay as you go the last time I checked. In other places in Europe, users are split between pay as you go and contracts. But I don't know of any place in Europe where as many people are on contracts as they are in the US (please speak up if I've got that wrong – it's hard to find numbers on the percent of users on each type of payment program).

The second difference is mobile phone number portability (which lets you keep your number if you switch mobile operators). Many countries in Europe had it years before it came into the United States. For example, the UK got portability in 1998, Spain and Sweden in 2000, and Italy in 2001. Americans didn't get it until the end of 2003.

Another important difference is that in parts of Europe phone subsidies are illegal. I know about this one because at Palm I used to track the sales prices of mobile phones, and they varied wildly from country to country. I finally figured out that the subsidies were skewing the numbers. The subsidy laws are changing, and they may be allowed in most countries by now.

I think the relatively weaker customer control of European operators has driven faster innovation in Europe, because the operators have to do more to attract customers. They also can't lock a phone vendor out of the market completely, the way the US carriers have been strangling SonyEricsson.

Mobile versus fixed. Fixed-line phone companies in Europe are often monopolies, legendary for high costs and poor service. I have been told by many friends in Europe that it was faster and cheaper to get a mobile phone there than to wait for a land line, which drove very rapid movement toward mobiles. In the US, land line phone service is generally reliable, quick to install, and cheap, so there's much less incentive to get away from it. Some younger people in the US are starting to get rid of their land lines, but the movement is much slower than in Europe.

Reliability of coverage. In much of Europe, mobile phone coverage is more or less ubiquitous. There are always exceptions, of course, but generally you can make a voice call anytime you want to.

This really came home to me recently when I had the good fortune of taking a driving vacation in the fjords of western Norway. That's some of the most mountainous landscape in Europe, but I never noticed a spot where I was out of coverage (check out this coverage map). Contrast that to a driving vacation in the western US, where once you get out of the cities it is almost impossible to get a signal anywhere. For example, when I was in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona a couple of years ago, I couldn't get a mobile phone signal anywhere in the park.

The usual American excuse for its poor coverage is that US population densities are low. That doesn't hold up to close examination – Norway has about 15 people per square kilometer, the same density as Arizona, which is not exactly crowded. The US overall has about 33, more than double Norway's density. I think Europe is just more dedicated to universal mobile coverage.

Brands. The prominence of mobile phone brands varies tremendously from continent to continent, and even from country to country in Europe. In general, Nokia is much better known and respected in Europe. Motorola is much better known and respected in the US (although it doesn't have the rock star status that Nokia has in Europe). And there are national champions like Siemens, which is heavily respected in Germany but nowhere else I know of. Samsung's brand awareness has been steadily rising in both the US and Europe, and LG is trying to tail along after it.

The differences over Nokia are the most surprising to my friends in Europe. Throughout Europe, and actually most of the world, Nokia is one of the top elite brands, like Nike in sports or Microsoft in computers. It produces an immediate aura of respectability. In the US, Nokia is lost in the crowd of semi-anonymous Euro-brands -- names like Saab or Peugeot that you've heard of but have never experienced personally.

I think Nokia recently compounded this problem with its "It's your life in there" television commercials in the US. The commercial that stuck in my mind was about "Jill," who praises the phone's ability to delete an ex-boyfriend from her phone's address book:

"It is so great because when you go to the phone and you delete and your phone asks 'Are you sure?' You look at your phone and you're like, 'oh yeah, I'm sure.'"

She then gives one of the most annoying, braying laughs I've heard on TV since...well. Ernestine.

I understand what Nokia was trying to do – it was making a sophisticated effort to tap into the mobile phone culture in the US. You can read a detailed ethnographic analysis of the ad campaign here. The problem for me was that, first, the mobile phone culture Nokia's trying to tap into is pretty weak in the US; and second, that Jill has just a whiff of trailer trash about her.

(Nokia has pulled the website for the campaign, which perhaps tells you how well it was received, but you can still find the commercial on the site of the agency that created it. Just follow this link and move your mouse around on the slider at the bottom of the page until you find Jill. You can also check out the other losers Nokia featured in the series.)

Americans tend to respond best to aspirational ads that make them feel good about themselves for buying a product. So buying a Mac will give you kinship with Einstein and Gandhi, which is outrageous but Steve Jobs can pull that off. Nokia's unintended message was that a Nokia phone will turn you into "a sniveling Sex in the City wannabe," as Gizmodo put it.

I think this is typical of Nokia's inability to connect with the American public.

What about the rest of the world?

There are even bigger variations in the mobile market in other parts of the world, but I didn't have the time (or the knowledge) to discuss all of them here. Mobile phone services and features in Japan and Korea make both Americans and Europeans look like techno-hicks. In Japan, the operators have so much power that phones are sold virtually unbranded, and Japanese phone manufacturers struggle to operate anywhere else in the world because the required reflexes are so different. It will be interesting to see what happens in Japan when number portability is implemented there, in late October. Surveys have said that large numbers of Japanese mobile phone users, especially those on Vodafone, would switch operators if the could.

The market worldwide is so complex that I think it's impossible for any one person to understand it all. So please help me out -- if I missed your country, or if you'd like to add to or correct something I said above, please post a comment.

Thanks to Steve at 3-Lib for including my post from last week in the latest Carnival of the Mobilists. Check it out here for a collection of some of the week's best writing about the mobile industry.


Anonymous said...

South East Asian phone use:
In the Philippines, Nokia has been the top dog since the mid 90's but Sony Ericsson (SE) has muscled in the market a few years ago. Currently, I'm not even sure between Nokia or SE being the top brand here.
I've seen Motorola phones on shops, but I don't really know anyone with a Motorola phone. The Razr's are cute, but they're a bit technically delayed.
For the PDA phones, users are usually businessmen.
Most of people I know don't really care if the phone is clamshell/candybar/slide. People usually compare the phones' specs & features (camera, radio, video, bluetooth, etc)
SMS is important so all post-paid plans have free SMS. Most people here buy pre-paid cards and load a consumable amount of the card to the phone. Prepaid cards also contain a small amount of free SMS.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, anonymous! So the usage there is mostly pre-paid cards. Do the operators in the Philippines subsidize the phone purchase if you sign up for a contract?

I hope we'll get comments from folks in other parts of the world...

Anonymous said...

Interestings information. Also i feel traditional ways of Synchronizing mobile phone with PC are now being replaced with web services like which is hassle free.

Anonymous said...

In your pricing cmparisons, you need to remember that US operators charge for incoming calls (and hence take them out of your bundle) and European operators do not (except when you're roaming abroad). So you really need to halve the size of the US bundle to get a like for like comparison
-Benedict Evans

Ian Wood. Principal Wireless Foundry LLP said...

Micheal what I would say is this is a great start but I would have a few questions.

Do you think that the differing standards between Europe and America mean that we will always have differences in adoption and use?

Will the introduction of more Pre-Paid services by the networks in America see a difference in how mobile is used?

Is there such a thing as a "Killer Ap" for mobile other than VOICE?

Anonymous said...

Good reasons for SMS
With most contract and (guess) half pre-paid plans in Europe sending of a SMS costs the same no matter where on Earth the recipient is, while international voice calls from mobiles are horribly expensive. When I have to make an international call, which happens more often in Europe than in the US, I'll wait until I get home and pay 2 instead of 60 cents per minute.
Might be specific for Austria, where I live: People just don't leave voice messages, as nobody seems to bother to retrieve them - sending an SMS is a far more certain way to reach someone not answering.
Also, SMSing is not always cheaper, in Austria, with the price war going on, prices came down to 7 cents/minute with e.g. YESSS prepaid or BOB post-paid (but w/o contract) while an SMS costs 15 - 20 cents with such operators.
On the other hand, having a contract with the most expensive operator (in Austria) A1 is a bit of a status symbol.

Admin said...

"The main difference was actually that everything in the UK cost more than it does in the US, perhaps due to the horrific dollar-pound exchange rate."

What does that have to do with anything?

Admin said...

Overall excellent note though. I still wonder how you found all this out.

Antoine said...

Mike, this is a great article that you put together and in many ways just equates with my mind as I think about how cultural/personal that mobile phones are. As it is the area that i work in (web dev, mobiles, and ministry) have an even larger disparate set of views on mobiles, but there is a tipping point that I believe that the US is fast appraching, and that in other ways the rest of the world is approaching. So in that respect, I see this article as a nice bookmark at this point, because things will surely soon change.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Great piece. Could the greater prevalence of public transportation in Europe play a role? How do you send an SMS or take advantage of mobile data services when you're sitting at the wheel of your car, as most people in the US are when they are on the go?

Anonymous said...

Two countries, Britain and Finland:

Mobile phones in Britain only really took off when phones became cheap and prepaid, it meant there were no contracts or long term commitments, and a lot of people found this attractive. It made the phone into a universal tool rather than an elitist status symbol.

Interestingly the same thing has happened recently with digital television in the UK, it was a minority pursuit until a subscription-free model was introduced when it took off and is now approaching universal acceptance. It seems a lot of British people don't like the idea of signing up to a long-term commitment and prefer to pay as they go, even if it works out more expensive in the long term.

In Finland, phone locking is illegal and consequently everyone buys their phone at full price the same way they'd buy a television or a DVD player. Because they're paying full price for the hardware they pay attention to the features and value for money.

Conversely, because the hardware is totally detached from the operators the prices of phone calls has nosedived over the past couple of years. In 2003 a phone call might have cost about 16 eurocents a minute, but in 2006 the same call could cost 4 eurocents or even less if you get a package deal. There's a heck of a lot of competition because you can easily move your phone and number to any phone network you choose, and the incumbent networks are compelled by law to let smaller startups offer services over their equipment.

In that sense the consumer is king in Finland, because they're far more aware of the true cost of what they buy, both hardware and service. In other countries, especially America, the phone networks have put up many opaque layers between what they pay and what they actually get, which stifles competition as it makes comparisons difficult.

Anonymous said...

Australia is, as always, a mix of Europe, America, and Asia.

Our coverage is pretty good, although a lot of Australia is both reception and human free. That's mostly due to only having three GSM, one CDMA and two 3G networks (which all try for universal coverage, and are actually owned by only four operators).

Voice rates are fairly competitive, and structured similarly to Europe. Pre-pay plans are popular for kids. Handsets are often paid off along with the contract (contracts range from none to 24 months), but the minimum cost is always disclosed (as required by law). SMS is often bundled for free in plans, and is hugely popular with almost everyone under 25 years of age (and far less popular with those above).

Nokia is by far the biggest brand here, followed by Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, LG, and then the rest (mostly European). Candybar form is more popular that clamshell (though clamshell is undergoing a resurgence at the moment, mostly thanks to the [horrible IMHO] RAZR). American smartphones are strangely popular here -- Aussie business is more American-influenced than consumers are in this area -- so Treo's, Blackberrys, and Windows Mobile handsets are quite common (though still far less common than S60 devices, of course).

Handsets are viewed both as fashion statements and as mere tools (and every combination between), depending on the individual. However, almost everyone carries one around everywhere -- even school kids.

They're a huge influence on society here. Working practices have changed with the increased mobility they allow, social interaction has changed with more spontaneous gatherings, etc. Just a couple of days ago a news report revealed that school students are videoing acts of bullying with their phones and sharing the video around as a way of further ridiculing the victim.

Mobiles (yes, that's what we call them, too), are now an integral part of Aussie society.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Personal observations from Sweden.

Sony-Ericsson is a big deal here, with the latest phones getting a lot of press. Samsung and LG have a big presence. Phones are mostly a fashion statement, with smartphones mostly used by the usual suspects, geeks and biz people.

Public transport is a big enabler, at least for me personally. I surf bloglines and IRC on my commute.

SMS is also big for the under-25 set. My dad, interestingly. uses it a lot as he works overseas in the Third World. Pre-paid cards and SMS enable him to keep in touch inexpensively.

Anonymous said...

I'm just so happy we have the GSM standard. It just makes life so much easier. And well, the facts about Germany you mentioned seem to be perfectly correct to me. And I have to aggree with my austrian neighbor that voice messages are generally ignored over here, so people are sending a lot more of sms.

Michael Mace said...

Wow! Thanks everybody for all the extremely interesting comments. Please keep it up.

I'm sorry I can't respond to every comment individually, but I'll try to touch on a few of the comments and questions...

Digital Evangelist wrote:

>>Do you think that the differing standards between Europe and America mean that we will always have differences in adoption and use?

Yes. I think the differences may decrease in the very long term, but that'll happen only after the technology stabilizes. There's still a ton of technological change coming, so if anything I suspect the markets may diverge further. That's what makes the mobile market fun – it's like the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle.

>>Will the introduction of more Pre-Paid services by the networks in America see a difference in how mobile is used?

I don't know. In Europe, pre-paid services made it a lot easier to sell mobiles to lower-income parts of the population, because it's easier to manage your budget – when you run out of money on your SIM card, you stop making phone calls.

>>Is there such a thing as a "Killer Ap" for mobile other than VOICE?

Ahh, my favorite question! If by "killer app" you mean a feature or application that almost everyone will use, then SMS is a killer app in Europe. But because peoples' interests in mobile data are so diverse, I think the only other killer app will be the mobile software store that lets a user easily find the software and services that are right for them. The killer app is easy customization.

For more of my blathering on this subject, read this post and this one.

Anonymous wrote

>>Might be specific for Austria, where I live: People just don't leave voice messages, as nobody seems to bother to retrieve them - sending an SMS is a far more certain way to reach someone not answering.

Aha! I've heard the same sort of thing about China – although there the issue is supposedly that people feel leaving a voice message is rude. Anybody from China want to comment on that?

HowL wrote

>>May be your know somebody able to describe situation on Japanese and China market? Will be really interesting to read about.

I will see if I can think of some tidbits, but unfortunately I don't know the situations there in as much detail as I do Europe. So I don't have as much to say.

I will say this – the situation in Asia differs even more from country to country than it does in Europe. There is no Asian mobile market, just a series of country markets.

Anders wrote

>>"The main difference was actually that everything in the UK cost more than it does in the US, perhaps due to the horrific dollar-pound exchange rate."....What does that have to do with anything?

Sorry for the confusion. I was anticipating that people would wonder about the large difference in the basic price of service between the US and the UK, and I was trying to explain it. Just got back from a trip to England, and almost everything there cost about 80% more than it does in the US. It's an exchange rate imbalance of some sort.

>>I still wonder how you found all this out.

Six years of being patiently educated by a bunch of nice Palm OS developers in Europe.

Antoine wrote:

>> there is a tipping point that I believe that the US is fast appraching, and that in other ways the rest of the world is approaching. So in that respect, I see this article as a nice bookmark at this point, because things will surely soon change.

Are you saying that the markets are converging, or are you talking about the Singularity? ;-) Either way, I agree that big changes are coming. (Although the US mobile market is not evolving as fast as I'd like it to.)

Anonymous wrote:

>>Could the greater prevalence of public transportation in Europe play a role?

Sure could. In both Europe and Asia, you have people who spend a lot of dead time on public transit and in desperation turn to their mobiles to entertain them. Americans in the same situation, stuck in their cars, either listen to the radio or practice cutting one-another off.

>>How do you send an SMS or take advantage of mobile data services when you're sitting at the wheel of your car, as most people in the US are when they are on the go?

In general I agree with you, but I've done market research on mobile phone users, and you would not believe how many people do incredibly dangerous things like looking up a phone number while driving (without voice recognition). I have an ugly feeling that if SMS were popular in the US, you'd get a lot of people doing it while driving (at least until they die in accidents and remove themselves from the gene pool).

Krissee wrote:

>>Mobile phones in Britain only really took off when phones became cheap and prepaid, it meant there were no contracts or long term commitments, and a lot of people found this attractive. It made the phone into a universal tool rather than an elitist status symbol.

US carriers are just now starting to push prepaid phones. It will be very interesting to see if that changes the US market.

>>In Finland, phone locking is illegal and consequently everyone buys their phone at full price the same way they'd buy a television or a DVD player.

How interesting that the home of Nokia doesn't have subsidies!

>>Because they're paying full price for the hardware they pay attention to the features and value for money.

That raises a really interesting point. The heavy use of subsidies in the US has trained people to think of a mobile phone as something you should get for free (or very cheap). As a result, people don't really value their phones. This kills the market for phones not tied to a contract (nobody wants to pay a lot extra for a phone), and gives the carriers huge control over the US market. The result is much slower innovation in phone hardware in the US, because the carriers will only let you buy the phones they like. It's a very ugly situation for phone manufacturers.

Mounir wrote:

>>at least back home in Norway...operators are required to obtain 98% (or something like that) coverage within certain amount of years.

Cool! That explains why the coverage was so good when I was in Norway.

The ironic thing about the coverage situation in the US was that we did once have much broader coverage. It was analog, not digital, so the sound quality was often poor. But it worked, and service was dirt cheap (about half the monthly cost of digital).

>>my guess is that carriers in this country are far to busy trying to avoid becoming the "dumb pipe" like the landline carriers. And this leads to the carrier trying to block out any content or service that the carrier can't (or don't know how to) make money on.

Which in turn stifles innovation and makes it all the more likely that the carriers will end up being bypassed and turn into big dumb pipes in the long run. DoCoMo in Japan has it right – the best way to make sure you stay in control is to put yourself at the center of a self-perpetuating ecosystem of developers.

Good luck with your startup!

Anonymous said...

Great post and every word of it is true. I worked for a mobile operator in Europe for five years and still can't call my mobile a cellphone (and never will)! You have really captured the differences and distinctions very well

Michael Mace said...

Andrew Orlowski posted this on the thread about where to put your mobile phone in a restaurant. It also touches on the discussion here, so I took the liberty of cross-posting it:


If I may add one aspect to the phone mania in Europe and Asia which mystifies North Americans. Fashion is secondary. It's easier to socialize spontaneously in Europe here while under the influence of ... something, usually alcohol. Physically, the countries
are small, there's good (or good enough) public transport, and so the scope for spontaneity is greater. This needs more impromptu organizing, hence the need for the phone. The phone increases in value.

And once the phone is visible, it assumes a social status in its own right - it's a shorthand for "who are you", and "how did you get here". Compare this to the US where you know how you'll be getting from A to B and back again, when, and how you'll be getting there - by car. (After-work, all-welcome drinks is very rare in the US, beer-busts excepted, while commonplace social drugs in Europe carry heavy penalties in the US).

This is a bit of a generalization: London is so big and dysfunctional, that to see friends you often have to plan it 2 weeks in advance. But I think it's broadly true that there's a lot more spontaneity and informal contact here around early evening time.

(While in Asia, which is status obsessed, the phone is simply a status symbol in its own right - even for people who never use theirs.)

Your car analogy is spot-on. To an American, the car is the engine for spontaneity in the same way a phone is to a European. Just compare the cheap phone tariffs and bundles in Europe to the low gas prices in the US. And in the US, you can get a car for less than than cost of a Nokia 6230 on eBay :) Europeans can't really understand American psychology unless they've loaded up a car with cheap gas, the trunk with cheap beer (and fill in X, where X is a hobby, a drug or a combination of the two), and set off on the open road.

Our technologies simply adapt to what we want them to do.

Just look at the thirst for spontaneous fun. Or parties, as we used to call them ;-) ...


Back to Mike: Andrew, your comment about the "engine for spontaneity" really resonates with me. If someone wants to understand the US (or at least Californian) car culture, the thing to do is rent a Mustang (preferably a convertible), pack a picnic lunch, and drive some of Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway).

What I want to know is, what's the equivalent activity that a traveling American should undertake to experience the European mobile culture?

Anonymous said...

Mike, excellent article -- I knew it would be a good one if you decided to follow it up. I find these differences in culture and technology quite interesting and like some other commenters, would love to hear about China, Korea, Japan and also about Africa and South America.

I happen to use pre-pay Virgin Mobile and I receive SMS free but pay 10 cents/min to send... still with minutes up to the 1st 10 at 25 cents each it's often more practical to SMS than to call, depending on the subject.

Now Virgin Mobile has 2 other plans I;ve not checked into, which I suppose might fit my needs better now, but I have been happy with my pre-pay service and small candybar el-cheapo mobile phone with great battery life. :-)

Anonymous said...

At one point you point out that you could not get any service at the Grand canyon. I was told by a representative that it is against the law to have cellphone towers in national parks and forests.

Anonymous said...

I can only speak for "pay as you go" service in the US and the UK (I go back and forth between university and home), but the US is a rip-off compared to the UK. The reason I wont text over here is because it uses an entire minute of phone call time to send one SMS, while in the UK with O2, I get 300 free texts monthly just for topping up once a month.
The UK may seem more expensive (and it is for contracts) BUT, their pay as you go is much much much better. I get free incoming calls (T-Mobile in the US charges me), and free texting, and I paid a one-off fee of £5 ($9) and now can call the US nights and weekends for 10p (18cents)a minute. Bargain. Not only this, but ever 4 months O2 gives me 10% of my total top up money back (so I get usually £4 of free top-up) AND I get to sign up for "treats"... a few free minutes every month (usually 25).
T-Mobile in the states needs to get a clue.

Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity to go to China two years ago, so it's been some time and this may be inaccurate now. But when I went then, cell phone service was government-owned, which meant there weren't competing services, just competing phone companies. And the service was excellent everywhere that I travelled, including rural areas in the south.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Just wanted to mention that here in Norway, Nokia has been getting a worse reputation than before. The word is that their phones fall apart pretty quickly, and that people are fed up with it. I know that Sony Ericsson is viewed as cooler than Nokia nowadays.

Anonymous said...

In Mexico...

There are more or less up to 50 million cellphones. 70% use GSM and the rest CDMA.

Quite similar to the case of the US and Europe; Mexicans call their mobile phones "celular" (cell) as Spanish call them "móvil" (mobile).

And more similar to the European case. Mexicans also try to catch every opportunity to show their cellphones since it will show your social status too. And not only by the cellphone itself, but by the ornaments you put on it (stickers, chains, even jewerly and fancy things).

So, if you go to a restaurant you will also see people putting their cellphones over the table and waiting for their mate's approval.

But beware! Those superphones with lots of buttons as Treo's, SE P990 or HP's Communicator-like will make look as a nerdy geeky anti-fashion person.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention.

Beginning next october, Mexicans will be able to pay whatever they want (taxi, restaurant, groceries, etc) through SMS with an amount of up to 25USD.

4 banks and the 3 main cellphone carriers (GSM and CDMA) are impulsing this project.

Anonymous said...

For the European-cellphone equivalent of having your Chevy loaded with booze and a sunny week-end to spend:

Your friend Fred just texted you there is this fantastic, wild opne-bar party nearby that tube station (but he doesn't know exactly where from there) and you have to warn three dozens of friends; and you can phone or text as much as you want (tomorrow you monthly cell plan is out, or your provider as a "Full night" program, whatever).

What you do? Forward the message, hoping your terminal handles multiples SMS, try to reach that friend of Fred that has details, struggle with the answers ("I just sent this to 35 people, couldn't you answer by SMS, and only if it is a yes?")---and try to be there before your mates are all worked up because the party is nowhere to find.

About the situation in France:

* Carriers (providers) are big (three; shares are 45%, 40%, 35%); main one is trying to change his image (brand merged with the internet branch, should offer a terminal with a VoIP switch within one call, etc.);
* Some MVNOs have tried their way---not always with great success, and generally by tie-brnding with the actual provider;
* People tend to know what brand phone they have, but not the exact number;
* Subsidies are big, but people know they can buy another terminal, and that it is expensive; they know because a friend got his phone stolen;
* SMS are widely used by youngsters, and some others, generally for four reasons:
- reachability: you don't call someone whom you know cannot hang up (meeting, class, in the movie, dinner, etc.); looking at your screen is fairly accepted (and not understod as "This is boring, what time is it?");
- bulk message to friends (as described) or from (on your birthday--ususal message is "You must be with your family; I'll call you tomorrow");
- credit is low---though this is considered midely rude not to call when you could;
- inter-European or international exchange: most people text down from the plane.

I doubt the national barrier is the highest, and will stay relevant: e.g. friends with Blackberries tend to prefer emails for emergency; it's more the plan their have that makes them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I'm from Holland and I would like to fill you in about the state of events here in The Netherlands. We've got five operators (we call them providers). From biggest to smallest: KPN, Vodafone, Telfort, T-Mobile and Orange. With Telfort being the most experimental of them all. Telfort has been taken over by KPN a year ago and is being used as a lab for research on how to break open the mobile market in Holland.
That's because the Dutch mobile user is pretty conservative. Most of the dutch absolutely don't use MMS, GPRS/EDGE or UMTS/CDMA/HSDPA. We do have got it all, but eventhough all the marketing the dutch user doesn't pick up these new services. I do, but I'm a mobile world enthusiastic with a love for technology.

This situation puts providers in a difficult position, because they've got the gouvernement in the blue corner wanting complete coverage and introduction of new technologies. And in the red corner they've got the unwilling dutch consumer. The only solution they've got is cutting down the prices for old and even new services.

We've got T-mobile offering unlimited internet access through GPRS, HSDPA and WIFI for 9,50 euro in a month (about $11, I think). KPN offering MMS for the price of an MMS. All providers offer the newest phones for free in combination with a 1 or 2 year contract. And we get free stuff with a contract like computers, iPods, laptops, an extra phone, PSP's. You name it!

We've got the most weird contract construction, I think. The self named "You-got-to-pay-us-more-to-pay-less-construction". Let me explain myself. For about 20 euro you've got 200 minutes on a contract and if you exceed it you pay 0,20 euro per minute. They call this a bundle. But when you pay 100 euro you'll have about 1200 minutes and every minute called more costs about 0,05 euro. And that's the way the providers advertise their service. 'Wanna pay less? Pay us more!' Not in the exact same words of course.

Like the rest of Europe the most populair phone brand is Nokia, with Samsung close on its tail. LG won some market space with their "Chocolate". And Pocket PC's and Smartphones are getting more populair. SMSing is extremely populair here with millions send every day and we only have got 16 million citizens. We've got shows like Idols (american idol) where a single show is good for 6 million sms votes.

Mobile content is populair with ringtones, wallpapers and screensavers on top. Costumisation is important. Kids call it "pimping".

That's about it I think! Bye

Michael Mace said...

Wow, yet more cool comments. Thanks, everybody! It's hard to know where to start...

Mike Rohde wrote:

>>would love to hear about China, Korea, Japan and also about Africa and South America.

You forgot New Guinea.

I'll see what I can pull together after CTIA. It won't be as complete as the info on Europe.

Anonymous wrote:

>>I was told by a representative that it is against the law to have cellphone towers in national parks and forests.

I don't know if it's a law or just the policy of the Park Service, but they definitely don't allow cell towers. An operator could have put a tower just outside of the park, though. But as far as I could tell, there weren't any towers in Arizona north of Flagstaff.

Overall message: mobile phones just aren't as important to Americans as they are to many Europeans.

cymraeg_american wrote:

>>The reason I wont text over here is because it uses an entire minute of phone call time to send one SMS.

Wow. Is that in addition to the charge for the SMS itself?

>>Ever 4 months O2 gives me 10% of my total top up money back (so I get usually £4 of free top-up) AND I get to sign up for "treats"... a few free minutes every month (usually 25).

Nice! Thanks for all the details.

Anonymous wrote:

>>I had the opportunity to go to China two years ago, so it's been some time and this may be inaccurate now. But when I went then, cell phone service was government-owned, which meant there weren't competing services, just competing phone companies.

This is going to sound strange, but sometimes it's hard to figure out which companies in China are government-controlled and which ones aren't. I'll try to explain when I write about mobile phone use in Asia.

Tomi wrote:

>>Prepaid vs contract you observed correctly that throughout Europe prepaid is much more prevalent than in America. The one exception you've missed (and its a tiny country on the periphery) is Finland, where contracts form almost the whole market.

Interesting. As I recall they have one of the highest mobile phone ownership rates in Europe...

>> I have argued in my books and around the world that all markets should work to abandoning handset subsidies completely

No argument from me.

>>An operator cannot stop subsidising alone, a classic "prisoner's dilemma" situatoin.

When Palm started talking with the carriers in the US, they all told us not to worry about the subsidies – they were going to phase them out in the next 12 months. That was about five years ago.

>>In America I believe its about 9% of households that have abandoned a fixed landline and only uses cellular phones, by the CTIA stats.

About 12% of the Internet-using population in the US has removed their traditional land lines – but most of them have done it because they got Skype or Vonage or some other VOIP service.

>>The European penetration rate is 105% and growing.

Is that the number of active phone accounts, or the number of mobile phones?

>>They WILL rate the mobile phone ahead of anything else, ahead of the new Nikes, ahead of the Playstation or iPod or Tivo or whatever is on offer.

You think kids in the US will generally want a phone rather than a Playstation? Really? The girls I could see, but the boys...

>>One last point. I think - and I have lots of evidence to suggest this to be true - that in reality, Americans are behaving EXACTLY like Europeans, but with a 5 year delay.

Tomi, you have lots more data on this than I do, and I respect that. But for what it's worth, in my opinion the trend is a mix of convergence and divergence between the various regions of the world. Because of differences in the US like higher penetration of instant messaging, more cultural dependence on e-mail, and different market structures, I'm not persuaded that the US market will follow Europe, just as I don't expect the European markets to look just like Japan five years from now.

>>So look at your teenager daughter, wonder at her tapping away at the keypad, and then five years from now return to this blogsite and admit - you too are hooked - AND CANNOT IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT SMS.

I'll take that bet, Tomi. I am very confident that I won't be hooked on SMS five years from now. My daughter isn't hooked either, by the way – she and her friends are much more interested in MySpace and IM (in that order).

Stian Martinsen wrote:

>>here in Norway, Nokia has been getting a worse reputation than before....I know that Sony Ericsson is viewed as cooler than Nokia nowadays.

Thanks, Stian. I'm impressed at the comeback SonyEricsson has been making.

Jorge wrote:

>> Mexicans also try to catch every opportunity to show their cellphones since it will show your social status too.

Thanks for the interesting info! It's fascinating to me that the trends in Mexico are sort of a mix of trends in the US and Europe. Every country is unique.

>>Beginning next october, Mexicans will be able to pay whatever they want (taxi, restaurant, groceries, etc) through SMS with an amount of up to 25USD.

Ahhh, very interesting. I hope the service works out well.

Bertil wrote:

>>Your friend Fred just texted you there is this fantastic, wild opne-bar party nearby that tube station (but he doesn't know exactly where from there) and you have to warn three dozens of friends;

Thanks for the info. I would have loved that in college (although I was more the kind of person everyone tried to ditch so they could have fun at the open-bar party). ;-)

Scott Beijn wrote:

>>I'm from Holland and I would like to fill you in about the state of events here in The Netherlands. We've got five operators (we call them providers).

Aagh! Another term I have to remember!

Although actually, "provider" makes more senst to me than either "operator" or "carrier."

>>That's because the Dutch mobile user is pretty conservative. Most of the dutch absolutely don't use MMS, GPRS/EDGE or UMTS/CDMA/HSDPA.

I'm not sure the usage rates for that stuff are really high anywhere outside of Asia.

>>We've got T-mobile offering unlimited internet access through GPRS, HSDPA and WIFI for 9,50 euro in a month (about $11, I think).

Oh, baby! That would make T-mobile really popular over here.

>>And we get free stuff with a contract like computers, iPods, laptops, an extra phone, PSP's. You name it!

Hey, Tomi, if the mobile phone came with a PSP my son would be a lot more interested in it.

>>Costumisation is important. Kids call it "pimping".

That would make a good TV show – "Pimp my Phone." (The MTV network here has a show called "Pimp my Ride," which is about getting your car customized. I don't know if the show plays outside the US.)

Anonymous said...

"So the usage there is mostly pre-paid cards. Do the operators in the Philippines subsidize the phone purchase if you sign up for a contract?"

Yes, the lock-in period for a post-paid with a subsidized or free phone is 2 years. After 2 years, the company entices you with another new phone to keep you locked in to their service for another 2 years.

Open-line (unlocked) phones are cheaper in the gray market than the subsidized price from operators. Some have multiple phones (personal & work phones are separate) usually using different operators. Prepaid Sim cards are virtually disposable -- a sim card is around USD 3.00 loaded with USD 2.00 worth of credits. Although, we don't have number portability.

For services, you can pay in accredited stores using your call credits, transfer credits to other phones, send money from overseas, vote on tv shows, enter contests, report criminal activity, register for college classes, etc.

For etiquette, anything goes, except in solemn occassions -- like church. You will see people texting away while walking, talking with someone, eating dinner, before sleeping, while driving, in the office, during movies, crossing the street...political rallies are organized using SMS.

Here, email is not as widely accepted as SMS. Some local companies even prefer inquiries sent via fax rather than email.

One thing I noticed with Japan, they loooove their clamshells. All the phones I saw being sold there were the clamshell-type. Our boss is Japanese and I notice that he keeps his phone with him even during meetings & he takes the call even in the middle of a meeting. I don't know if it's inherently Japanese or just him.

. said...

there is another fenomenon in Europe, now that almost everyone has a mobile, it's common to see people with 2 mobiles, from different operators.
There are countries with more than 100% mobiles/habitant, like luxembourg, Portugal, and others.

And then there are the other services like 3G call's or 3,5G communication.

Almost all portugal is covered with 3G (about 3,6 mbps speed connection), and big cities are covered with 3,5G that allows ,for example, TV on the phone.

Anonymous said...

Michael - on the bet, you're on. Lets revisit this in Sept 2011 :-)

Jeremix - great point on multiple phones. A survey just out by UK recruitment firm Office Angels, found that 45% of young employment age British adults feel that cool people have two phones.

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Dimitar Vesselinov said...

Superb post! Why don't we start a wiki? Something like the the European blogosphere?

The European blogosphere

Anonymous said...

This difference in phone culture has been the case for a very long time now, since the mid ninetees at least. If palm had understood this 5 years or more ago (Michael), we might have some palm phones to be proud of by now. I even remember the pitch at PalmSource (2000, or 2001?), along the lines of 'we don't know what the optimal form factor is going to be yet'. Blah. Everyone from europe knew already that it wasn't going to be multiple clunky devices hoping to communicate over bluetooth, but moores-law enhanced versions of the elegant, fashionable communicators some of us were carrying around.

Sabine said...

Really interesting to read your article and the comments and very informative for me about some of the structural reasons for the lack of a mobile phone culture in the US.

However, what really struck me was the perspective you and some of the other contributors are adopting. We work very regularly as a market researches on global mobile phone projects (including the US) and as far as I’m concerned there is no US vs Europe divide. Instead there is a global set of attitudes to mobile phones which the US (and Canada) don't share in!

So mobile phones work as status symbols and express personalities (whether me as techno-savvy or me as fashionable) ALL OVER THE WORLD (to name some of the countries we've been to on this subject - Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, India, Egypt, Tunesia, Iran (!), Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, plus all sorts of Western and Eastern European countries…).

North America is the odd one out - for all sorts of reasons that you've mentioned but also, I'm convinced, because of a misguided lack of benefit-led marketing by the US carriers who encourage rather than counteract commoditisation of the whole sector. My colleague Sofia has written on this on our blog hl a 'global' view of the American market and possibly a counterpart to your article if necessarily a bit less detailed!

Anonymous said...


Here's the Spanish translation of your post:

I'm trying to find some data about the contract/prepaid rata in Spain.


aijoovai said...

Thanks for the excellent post, Michael, and all commenters for an excellent discussion. A few comments about the American cellphone usage and industry from a European users perspective.

Having lived a few years in the US the biggest surprises to me have been
- coverage,
- paying for incoming calls and the impact that I think that has had to the phone usage culture,
- the ignorance of technical issues concerning the phones and the networks of BOTH users as well as the people working for the industry (phone sales & carriers' personnel).


As everyone knows the coverage in the US is not nearly as good as in Europe. And as noted here it's often blamed on the smaller population densities or the mere size of the country. This is only a tip of the iceberg, I'd say. I think it's more of an issue about the general mentality of I presume just about all parties involved. I'll give you two examples.

The CEO of Verizon Wireless criticized the customers of Verizon quite harshly some two or three years ago for wanting cell coverage in unbelievable places such as garages etc. I could still probably find the article I saved someplace about his outburst. But anyway, this showed and unbelievable attitude from the number 1 carrier in the US that advertises to have the best coverage in the country.

Interestingly the other (practical) example about coverage concerns Verizon, too, but also the authorities. The example is DC metro system. I find it funny that in this free market-economy bosting country the mobile coverage in all of the DC metro system tunnels has been given solely to one company, Verizon. And guess what: it doesn't work! You usually get a decent signal at the stations but don't dream about talking in the metro throughout your ride. I had a Verizon phone only for the metro 'connectivity' for almost a year but gave it up in frustation.
Who's to blame? Not only Verizon Wireless but just as much the DC officials for making such a monopoly deal in the first place and then not beeing able to even get good coverage with that. In all European cities that I've visited you get good signal of various mobile operators throughout the metro systems.


This was commented already, but I just wanted to add that I've gotten quite strongly the impression that this has been a major issue for people not to get addicted to their cell phones or even use them.

Tomi mentioned connectivity. Not sure how he defines it but I feel that because it's the same price to call to all numbers, fixed or mobile, the general public hasn't understood the value of connectivity.

Also the people who have had cell phones have seen an additional downside of connectivity (there are number of downsides as we all now) compared to the Europeans - losing their minutes, that is. To this date I haven't understood why should the cell phone owner pay for incoming calls when in fact the caller has something so important in mind that s/he wants to reach the person.

The result of all this: at least two-three years ago people were simply not giving out their mobile numbers, where not keeping the phones with them, had them turned off, or were simply not answering them because they didn't want to loose their minutes. Cell phones were, and partially are still seen as simply pagers. Listen to the voicemail whereever and return to the call from a fixed line. I've seen this be more or less the behaviour of surprisingly many.


For final comment I just want to say how surprised I've been about level of technical knowledge related to cellphones, not of the users which is understanable, but of pretty much all the people working for the industry.

It seems that most of the cell phone sales personnel that I've talked with - and I've talked with quite a few - haven't even known if their network is GSM, CDMA or TDMA. It seems that it's changed a bit in a year or so, but I think it's quite stunning that not even the T-mobile or AT&T sales personnel knew that they where selling GSM phones. No wonder people don't understand what liberties GSM gives them!

Too bad the ignorance doesn't stop at sales personnel. It's really not much better with the carriers' staff. I understand that the generalists in the customer care can't know everything. But when they've never heard of MMS, don't know if their phones can be unlocked, don't have a slightest idea what are the technical differences of their data packages, just to mention a few, I'm giving up.

It's naturally an egg and a chicken dilemma. The customers don't ask about the technical issues because they haven't ever been told any. And the carriers don't tell pretty much any technical details because the customers don't ask for any.

But in a country that uses a number of different technologies which all have their special features it gets everybody into trouble.

Thanks again for the excellent post and discussion!

aijoovai said...

I forgot to mention that another great problem in my opinion in the US mobile industry is the way they're packaging services. The pricing plans are very often not that good for people who'd either want to just try out the service or use it only every once in a while.

Like with T-mobile data service: it's either $30/month unlimited - or nothing! There's no way to just enable the service, without or with a low monthly price, and only pay for the data transferred. The same mentality is seen in many other areas and other carriers, too.

Like with Cingular if you want to be priviliged to make dirt expensive phone calls with your GSM phone while you travel you have to pay a monthly fee for that.
Now, how much does it make sense to pay even twenty bucks a year to have the privilige to pay shitloads more for the calls - especially in the time of various VoIP services.

It's really no wonder that Europe is ahead of US in innovation and how users are learning to use new services.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed that you missed another big hub for mobile phone market ... INDIA. Mobile in India is used very similar to in Europe. You should probably consider reading about Mobile culture in India.

Unknown said...

Hi Mike,

Awesome article, like the previous commenter, i would like to add that India is an awesome market to study.

Some pointers on the mobile market in India, one of the fastest growing in the world and soon will have more subscribers than Europe's population.

Firstly Lifestyle changes : getting a landline till a decade ago was impossible in our extremely red taped culture and waits of a few years were not uncommon . Owning a landline was status.
Enter the mobile era - GSM and CDMA operators are active and fight hard for the market, though migration towards GSm has started off late, massive adoption was set up by Reliance a large CDMA operator who offered mobile phones for rs 501 ( Approx 12$) with some monthly charges to boot.
People from all walks of life queued up , close to 25 million subscribers today the operator had more than he could chew, defaults were high and service levels dropped, but the population had tasted blood, and they wanted more.

What mobiles could do to one's business was magic, carpenters, autowala's (Auto - Tuk Tuk's like in thailand) all of them owned a mobile and business improved.

Off late plans have moved towards the very Indian act of giving missed calls, so everyone from your neighbourhood vegetable vendor to the plumber would give you a missed call and you could call him back, so lifetime incoming free plans are very common. Use of musical ring tones and gifts are also unique to this market , have not seen anythign like it during my travel in Europe.

Massive market, and still its just the surface that has been scratched. Ericsson, Nokia et al manufacture in India. Equipment is top draw. Leading GSM players are Nokia with Sony ericcson close.

CDMA phones are considered low quality with LG and Samsung playing a major role there. I personally would'nt touch a korean phone. Motorola with Razr and Pebble has been gaining market share of late.


Michael Mace said...

Venks and anonymous,

PLEASE do not take offense at the omission of India from my post. I'm completely fascinated by the development of the Indian market, but the sad fact is that Palm and PalmSource didn't have as much presence in India as they did in Japan and Europe, so I haven't had the same opportunity to learn.

Fortunately, because English is broadly spoken in India, there's a lot of very good blog and newspaper information available on the Web, in a language I can read. I just need to find the time to sort through it.

Although I know there are lots of cultural concerns around the world about the growth of English, it's fascinating to watch the person-to-person communication ties that are developing on the Web between Europe, India, Australia, South Africa, the US, and other places where English is taught or spoken broadly. I wish we had the same easy person-to-person communication with folks in places like China and Japan, but it's much less common.

Venks, I appreciate the info you posted. It's interesting to hear that SonyEricsson is gaining ground -- I had always heard that Nokia was the dominant mobile brand in India, towering over all others.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. My only comment is that I think the gap between Europe and the US is closer than you suggest. I do agree that Europeans are more likely to treat mobiles as a fashion accessory while Americans will treat it more as a utility. (It is noteworthy that many Americans wear their phones on their belt much like a carpenter would a hammer.) However, I think the bulk of the difference is the 2-3 year lead that Europeans have on the US in this space. This lead is rapidly diminishing however as ever hungry US consumers rapidly mature their mobile awareness. Some would say that the tides will turn in the not too distant future. How this awareness develops from here has entirely to do with what services the consumers are exposed to.

In that respect US operators have a distinct advantage of not being the first in that they can easily navigate the roadmap European operators have already traversed. If they were smart (and I am not necessarily saying they are) they will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls and consumer atrophy that have plagued European operators for just about everything other than SMS (noteworthy examples include MMS, off portal, 3G services, etc, etc).

I do believe that some US operators and maybe even some of the MVNOs will be able to attract customers to more advanced data service opportunities that European operators are still only now figuring out how to take mainstream.

Remember that for the most part European consumers still only make calls and send texts. And if the analysts are correct it will stay this this way for some time more. Its the same for the US but if I had to bet, it will be the US consumer that first adopts new mobile service for everyday use. Hopefully the US operators/MVNOs will be able to deliver on the opportunity.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments, Ian.

>>I think the bulk of the difference is the 2-3 year lead that Europeans have on the US in this space. This lead is rapidly diminishing however

It's interesting how varied the opinions are on this one. Some folks are convinced the markets are converging, some say they won't.

You can find evidence to support either view. I watched a panel of young adults this evening talking about their technology use. It was striking how heavily they're using texting on their mobile phones, which supports the convergence view. But they're also rabid consumers of instant messaging on their PCs, which is not the European pattern.

>>If they were smart (and I am not necessarily saying they are) they will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls and consumer atrophy that have plagued European operators

You mean like not paying billions of dollars for licenses to additional bandwidth? Oh, wait, too late...

>>I do believe that some US operators and maybe even some of the MVNOs will be able to attract customers to more advanced data service opportunities

Right now Helio looks the most promising to me. They're really telling a great story. But I'm not sure if they're actually driving a lot of new data use, or just skimming off the most active young mobile users. They said recently that their average revenue per user is about $100 a month. That's not the average young adult.

Anonymous said...

The only country that doesn't allow handset subsidy is Belgium now -- probably. They could have allowed handset subsidies but since nobody speaks flemish --- everybody is relying on old information.

Plenty of internet coverage on Hutchison 3 Italia suing everybody (unlockers and even other carriers) for unlocking their phones. So Italy has handset subsidies.

Finland has allowed 3G handset subsidies since April 2006 (i.e. no GSM handset subsidy).

South Korea has returned to allow handset subsidies this year.

With respect to "low" mobile penetration in the US -- that's all BS. Even though North America (US and Canada) has only 70% penetration rate, 80-90% of their mobile subscriber base are in contract postpaid --- you can't fake those numbers. Europe's penetration rate is overstated by a lot because of much higher prepaid subscriber base and multiple SIM card counting. Take out the overstated numbers, the penetration rate doesn't differ much in the US vs. Europe.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article Michael, but I can't believe that there is still so much focus on the handset debate. It's what you actually DO with the handset that matters. SMS is a red herring - we all loved typewriters until the PC came along and it's the same with SMS. MMS is where it will be at but today it's easier, quicker and cheaper on laptops or PCs. Mobile TV in its current form is not exactly a life-enhancing experience so I will stick with my 28 inch screen in the lounge room for now. Music and games are fine for the youngsters (and young at heart) but isn't the experience just that much better on an iPod or a GameBoy? All-you-can-eat sport doesn't work (and the company that did that and that is now closing down refused to recognise when I spoke to them that actually delivering specific sports-related stuff to fans of that sport delivers more value than all that generic content). I could go on but won't.

Now when someone finally works out that pushing content or functionality at users over networks that don't do the coverage properly onto devices that are cute but clumsy isn't a sustainable business model, then maybe we'll see some real innovation in the market.

Personally I believe that the winners - whether in the US, Europe or wherever- will be the ones that really get inside users' heads and figure out a way to enable users to 'pull' all the content they want onto an appropriate device. Users will pay for that. I for one would love to be able to get, on a single device, the latest ski technology information, look at the piste maps of my next destination, book the accommodation in the resort, order up my ski equipment and lift pass, view some videos of some cool moves, slaloms etc, share tips and experiences with other professional and amateur skiers, send a picture of my latest run, and order the take-away (take-out to you) from the last lift of the day. That is user-centric mobility and not network- or device-centric mobility as it is today. And that is real innovation.

To be honest, I don't think the MNOs (carriers or operators or whatever you call them) or the content owners can do this yet. They are innovating on their own terms, not on their users' terms.

Anonymous said...

In INDIA NOKIA is the market leader.Razr and Walkman fones r slowly picking up.India is a price sensitive u get a handset with 2 yrs free incoming for less than 25$. and the call rate is less than
2 cents(US)a minute.Candy bar fones r popular here coz flip fones r costlier.Incoming is free.SMS r included in prepaid many plans its free.
70% use GSM and rest CDMA.gsm players r trying to out CDMA players.govt. policies r also helping gsm.CDMA fones r cheaper.90% of the cdma fones sold r sub 30$ fones.
changing carrier is very much common among gsm.gsm fones r sold in electronics shope and cdma fones r sold by carriers itself.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I'm a 38 year old male American residing in Chicago. Old X'er who has never left the country. This is a very interesting post. I don’t think text messaging will ever take off here amongst adults. Maybe because the phones keep getting smaller as our fingers keep getting fatter. Also, for some reason, it seems so informal. "Pick up the frickin phone and call me", seems to be our general attitude. We Americans are probably getting totally screwed with our contracts, but we're not sitting around worrying about our usage either. We also seem to be a very gabby nation. Everybody is talking on the phone. Not sure how this rates outside the country. Cell phones will remain a tool for pretty much just verbal communication (imho). And if we don't get the phone for free (or practically free), we are going elsewhere.
My 13 year old niece loves to text message, but she would also rather be on myspace or communicating via an IM. My nephew just received a cell phone for his 10th birthday. But if he had the choice, he would dump the phone in a heartbeat over his xbox. What is the current status with carpal tunnel and text messaging? We have been hearing negative reports on this issue for years. Could be another reason keeping us away. Or could be that Verizon is funding the reports.
But we are a nation of convenience. Going through our mobile phonebook to find a contact is about the extent of the work we wish to do with this device. Press send and let you mouth and ears do the rest.

ps.. The cost to have wireless internet for a laptop in America is ridiculous. I think the last I checked, Verizon wanted $60 - $70 US bucks a month and told me I probably would not get much of a signal in my home (since my cell phone does not work well in my home). Beautiful, let me jump all over that offer.
How does the rest of the world compare with the cost and signal strength of wireless internet?

Anonymous said...

The only european county, where name 'cellphone' or 'cell' is commonnly used is Poland. No one uses phrase 'mobile phone', even in commercials, or manufacturers' owners manuals.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my english aint that great but I, will try. I just had a Question! Consumers from both continents have different demands, because of the cultural infrastructure but like many others have said. Do you think the biggest problem is that companies in different continents have different goals? I read an interested article called ''Made in USA'' where the autor stated that most of the American goods are made at fast pace to have the job done quick, where this is unthinkable in Europe or Japan.
Also, dont you think the ratio of mobile service in the USA, would increase much quicker, if big Companies such as Cingular gave realistic options & opportunities in all the plans for costumers to save money (with free incoming calls)?

Thanks, Michael


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was just trying to post once!

Michael Mace said...

Jaime wrote:

>>Sorry, I was just trying to post once!

No problem, that's easy for me to fix.

>>Do you think the biggest problem is that companies in different continents have different goals?

I don't know what the biggest problem is, but that's definitely one of them.

>>I read an interested article called ''Made in USA'' where the autor stated that most of the American goods are made at fast pace to have the job done quick, where this is unthinkable in Europe or Japan.

In some areas I do think Americans are more impatient than people in many other countries. But wouldn't that make Americans use mobile phones more heavily, since they let you get more work done? Instead Americans use mobiles less than most other countries. So the situation is more complex...

>>Also, dont you think the ratio of mobile service in the USA, would increase much quicker, if big Companies such as Cingular gave realistic options & opportunities in all the plans for costumers to save money (with free incoming calls)?

Definitely! I don't want to pick on Cingular in particular, but there's less direct competition among the US carriers than there is among the European operators, and that has a huge impact.

Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

Another thing you are forgetting is that in the US you often get to pay to receive SMS (and often also phonecalls).
After moving to the US I more rarely text to people, because I know that they will pay for it (which is kinda rude), whereas calling them is often free for them.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Belgium for almost eight years, as an American ex-pat.

I remember the days when I carried a pager and a cellphone, but I left the cellphone turned off all the time -- if people wanted to talk to me, they could page me, and then I would choose when and where I called them back.

In Belgium, I noticed that everyone gave our their GSM number freely (and they call them "GSMs", not "handys" or "mobiles"), because they didn't have to worry about paying the cost of the call. When travelling internationally, they'd encourage people to send them SMS messages, because that was *so* much cheaper than paying the roaming voice charges.

Here in the US, I find that many people don't want to talk *on* the phone, they want to talk *at* the phone -- as in walkie-talkie style. Fortunately, the Nextel network is going away, and the walkie-talkie method seems to be dying down a bit.

But they still want to yell and scream at the phone, because the coverage is so bad and so many phone makers (like Palm) turn down the volume so much that they can't hear the person on the other end, and vice-versa. Imagine if the most of the entire country needed hearing aids, but then the hearing aid makers reduced the maximum volume that they were allowed to operate at.

Personally, I hope that we get Reachability before the Singularity. I'm not counting on that, however.

Anonymous said...

My 2 cents:
I've been in the US for 6 years now ... and have seen the cellphone market grow quite a bit. But whenever I go to India on vacation I'm mightily impressed by the ways in which mobiles are used.
I tried my hand at mobile phone in India 4 years ago and at that time, I think, SMS was free across all GSM providers inside India. Though I was there for only a month it got me hooked to texting.
Another aspect is the "missed call" phenomenon. People call and hang up after a ring or two implying "call me back" or "are u free" or "I'm here" and a whole lot of things. It is illegal to talk on your mobile while driving so when you reach ur destination give a missed call!
I've seen people from all walk of life including the roadside flower/fruit/vegetable vendor having mobiles and they state its improving their business since this helps them coordinate purchasing and delivering with their customers! (Again SMS accompanied with a missed call from the customer to the vendor).

As far as cellphone usage in US is concerned, I guess talking is a lot cheaper that SMS especially when u talk a lot during nights/weekends. "Answer the fricikin phone" as someone posted here is quite true and maybe - just maybe - talking gets the job done faster than texting I would guess.

Anonymous said...

You are not entirely correct about 'mobile' v. 'cellphone' in Europe. In Italy, the country with the highest penetration, mobile phones are called 'cellulare' (or 'telefonino', but that's more slang). You should have done a bit of research for at least the top 4/5 markets before making a sweeping statement like that!

Apart for that, interesting article, haven't read all of it yet though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike

First of all i want to congratulate you on this wonderful article and at the same time i would like to thank all readers from across the world for very informative inputs.

I will post my views here for the Indian Mobile market which, as has been very rightly pointed out is perhaps the fastest growing market in the world and in next 4-5 years may even overtake the whole european subscriber base in terms of number of customers.

In India, the mobile phone market is very young but one of the fastest growing segments. Last year there were around 10 million subscription(GSM+CDMA) in a year(My figures might be wrong as I have forgotten the exact number but I think close to that). And still the market is growing.

Some interesting facts are as follows:

1) 70% of subscriber base is through GSM network and remaining through CDMA.

2) There is no definite mobile culture in India though it may be more like a european market.

3) In India, both segments of people exist for whom a mobile phone is a social status and for whom it is a necessity. It is not uncommon to see people with 2-3 mobile phones in their hands with different service providers. Their use may vary from managing their calls(and thus their business)or to Flaunt.

4) Both the terms are used here - Mobile as well as Cellphone - Though mobile may be more common.

5) No mobile phone is locked except CDMA phones which are provided only by the company and are hence locked.

6) Since mid 90s Nokia has been the key player and has been treated as the bread and butter mobile phone provider company.

Sony Ericsson is a fast growing brand now esp with its Walkman series. It is giving Nokia a run for money.

Motorola, was infact the first company to enter Indian market but failed badly because of its heavy bulky phones and short battery back up.

7) Motorola has succeeded in carving out a niche for itself again after introducing MOTO RAZR series and other sleek phones. It is slowing catching up though faces a very stiff competition from Nokia(which still enjoys the lions share)and Sony Ericsson.

8) Here people are budget conscious but at the same time with increasing awareness and knowledge about the technology people are very particular in buying their cell phones. The aim is to get the best featured phone at the best affordable price.

If you check the websites for Nokia/Sony Ericsson/Motorola, you will be surprised to find that a new model is probably launched in India at the same time or may be sooner as compared to European or American market(eg Nokia N76 is being launched in India around June/July 2007 while it has recently been launched in USA. The Official Nokia site gives no clue for the time being of this model being launched in Europe or Australia. I appologise for hurting anybody's sentiments. I intend no harm to anybody).

9) Candy bar phones have been the most common types. Clamshells are fast catching up. Sliders are not very common.

10) Like the European market pay as you go(Pre-paid connections as we call them) are more popular. However there are no fixed term periods for contract phones(or Post Paid connections as we call them). You can stay on a post paid connection with one service provider for life with or without having to change your tariff plan depending upon your needs.

11) SMSing like a contagious disease here. Though it is very popular with the young and young at heart, it is not very uncommon to see middle aged people using this service. Not only SMS is getting cheaper and cheaper but people also find it more and more convenient. I personally use both text and voice services where appropriate.

[Just to give you an example of how popular SMS is in India - 2 years ago there was an exchange of 1 billion SMS across the country in 1 day(On the day of an auspicious festival called DIPAVALI - the festival of lights). It is no surprise that the networks get jammed on such occassions(eg Valentine's Day, New Year or festivals etc)].

Inspite of such a heavy use, SMS are not totally free though there are numerous options available for free SMS ranging anywhere from 300 to 1500 depending upon the tariff plan.

12) In India Customer is the king. The demand for new technologies and new provisions from providers(yes we call them service providers) does not ever cease.

13) The latest services like MMS, GPRS, Internet and Email access on the phone are being provided though relatively new. Hence costly. The subscriber base for these services is slowing rising esp with youngsters.

14) PDAs or Smart phones are not very common. Though Camera and Music phones esp phones with Integrated FM radio are quite a hit.

15) People prefer SMS over IM. Use of internet and internet based technology is in very young stages of its growth.

16) The incoming calls and incoming SMS are free for most tariff plans(Both Pre and Post Connections). Of course we have to pay for incoming calls while on roaming(nationally or internationally) though incoming SMS are still free even while on roaming.

17) Subsidies on mobile phones have been greatly reduced. Hence the cost for handsets has gone down a lot. In India there is also a facilty available for buying handsets on installmaents.

18) It is punishable by court of law to be SMSIng/Talking/Fiddling with your mobile while driving. Hands free technology is already in and more and more people are going in for bluetooth compatible handsets and Bluetooth headsets.

Michael Mace said...

That's an incredibly useful comment, Sameer. Thanks very much!

Rik said...

I am somewhat overwhelmed by the diversity of the cell phonomenon in (just) the USA. I guess this is the price we pay for a free market where competition extends from handset design to communication protocols. The global perspective of your article and those who have posted has shown me that mobile communications is a technological and cultural change of great magnitude. The best part for me is the diversity of options that are available. Hopefully the monopolists and regulators will not be able to diminish this wonderful freedom of choice and expression.

Anonymous said...

One reason Europeans and Africans can switch phones so easily is that their SIM cards and mobile phones are sold unlocked. In the U.S. virtually all cell phones come locked to a Network. You cannot use a T-Mobile SIM card on a Cingular phone and Vice-versa. So, if you're a T-Mobile customer that find a nice looking phone elsewhere you cannot buy it.

Anonymous said...


What an interesting article and lots of useful comments. I can only write a bit about the situation in Finland and in France as a mobile phone user. I've been now living in France for two years and I've noticed that between France and Finland the use of mobile phones is not that similar. In Finland I used to only send SMS, I hardly did any phone calls. So I used to send hundreds of SMS a month to relatives, family and friends. Then, when I came to France, after the first phone bills I realized that I needed to start calling people instead of sending textos. Here in France it's just more expensive. Other difference is that in France it's mostly the young people that send SMS and have mobile phones, as in Finland it's almost everyone, with my parents and relatives I stay in contact mostly by SMS. Lately, some operators have started to offer the possibility to send e-mail via mobile phones and I've noticed that it's becoming popular as you don't pay for the e-mail messages that you send, like you do for the SMS. So, instead of sending SMS I send e-mail messages to my friends, although it takes more time that typing with the computer!

Srinivas DMS said...

really good

Anonymous said...

wow, this was SUCH an awesome article, especially because i live in europe (denmark to be exact) & i'm moving to america in august. i had no idea there were so many differences. i mean, i was looking forward to cooler phones, cheaper service & the most important one of all, killer designs! lol i'm not 16, but 21. ;) & the whole carrier thing confused me, but i think i got the most important part, you gotta stick with one company, which wow SUCKS! in denmark, if you wanna buy a cheap phone for like a dime, you agree to use one company for six months, but then after that, you're free to choose whatever company you want or get whatever phone you want and just pop in the sim-card, just like you said. i cannot believe americans can live without that, i practically change my phone every six months! and getting a whole new phone number & sim-card, that would make the process slow & boring, & probably keep me from changing my phone so much. the whole coverage thing, like where you can get service, i just cannot imagine ever being without a signal?! that's like going 50 years back in time!! if you have a cell phone, you should be able to use it ANYWHERE, that's the whole point! :o poor americans, i feel for you. :( anyway, about the whole nokia super star thing. i think it's because in the beginning, nokia was pretty much it. like you couldn't get anything else if you didn't want a BRICK! & since people are loyal and afraid of change?! (i dunno, not one of them, i LOOOOOOVE motorola, mostly 'cause of their designs! :D) also the whole flip-phone thing, definitely a plus, but pretty much EVERYONE i know, all have candybar? phones (sounds so delicious), so that's sad, but true! & wow, i can't imagine not getting texting with your phone, that's SO weird, like what would you do then? just call all the time? how boring! anyway, great article, gave me something to think about when i move to america, although i’m still gonna see if i can get a phone without the whole carrier thing, because it sounds uhm like it’s a con or something! because they can pretty much raise their prices as they please, if they know none of the customers are gonna leave!

have a great summer, :)


Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comment, Maja.

Don't worry, several of the US operators now offer pay-as-you-go plans that don't tie you to a contract. So you can buy whatever phone you want, and switch operators when you want to. But you won't get a free phone (sorry).

You'll find that most people in the US who are your age use texting, although there's also a lot of instant messaging from PCs.

The old people like me just use e-mail ;-)

Depending on where you live, the thing that may surprise you the most is the gaps in wireless coverage.

I hope you'll enjoy living in the US, despite the limitations of the wireless industry here.

Anonymous said...

Coming over the pond from the UK, I think the biggest problem is the pricing structure of contracts.

What you failed to mention when comparing US (Cinguar) /UK (Orange) prices is that, in the UK you get top-of-the-range phones for FREE on a 1 year contract.

Also in the UK, you don't pay to receive calls, just to send them. So the comparison of minutes you get on contracts isn't exact either.

The big difference in the market is that UK operators empower many people with the latest technology to use their advanced services - making more money for them in the long term. In the US they want you to to pay for everything up front and therefore stifle innovative services due to the fact many people cannot afford to buy top-of-the-range phones.

Anonymous said...

Hi mike, I am Tanding
It is a very interesting and longlife article. Well i come from Indonesia, and we, in Indonesia have two system of GSM and CDMA which currently introduced as the fix mobile (hehehehe)
Top brand definitely Nokia, but the age of the cellphone owner really influence the brand choice. SE also win the market for their youth thing. Siemens still hold a large market share. for the high end gadget, funny to see that young people hold it without knowing the purpose of the gadget. the y just merely refer it as expensive and looks cool.
It is funny about the antenne you wrote. Yes antenne in Indonesia considered as not in at all. the smaller the better. Well since i have to follow that general agreement, I sometimes get trouble punching the keyboard for sms.
As Europe, we have the prepaid and Post-paid system which enable us to call and to send message. only Post paid the operator show different billing of text and calling.

Hmm I started to think that the operators in Indonesia try to adopt all the practice. In inner Indonesia we are free from roaming, but when we are on abroad, we have to pay the roaming abd sadly it is more expensive to receive the call from foreign country than to make the phone call.
By the way, for text message, we only have to pay 2 cent (160 character, it`s really disspirited for me to find that in europe i have to pay 19 cents for one text. I love Indonesia for that.
We have the bundle offering, aka. subsidy for the handset by the CDMA operator. but the buyer much clever, they usually try to unplug and the nreplace it with a cheaper card from other operator. It is illegal but the practice goes on.

I use to think i can live without it, but now i just know, i can`t live without it
Hopefully it is helfulp for you to know about Indonesia

Schöne Gruße

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the interesting info, Tanding!

bird's eye view said...

I'm froma consulting firm in India and we've been doing some data crunching on the Indian mobile industry. As of 2007, the base of cellphone subscribers was 150 million in January, and growing by 6 million a month. I also read this interesting theory that there are 3 regions in the world: the first where the internet came first, e.g. the US. The second is where the internet and cellphones came together, e.g. Europe. the third is where cellphones are way ahead of the Internet, e.g. Asia. In India, you can see the mobile phone being used as a substitute/ medium to access the net and do many of the things one would normally do through the net. It really has become one of the greatest enablers for people from all walks of life.

Michael Mace said...

Hi, Bird's Eye.

That is an excellent insight -- the market's shaped by which technology matured there first. I had played with that idea a little bit, but it never really crystallized for me before.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that you may find the US "antenna fixation" due to that fact that many areas have spotty coverage (it's a big country) - to the point that all of us here, other than confirmed city dwellers, have run into it. Anything that proclaims "I can connect better" is going to be attractive.
My own experience is that some phones do indeed have better radios/antennas.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Due to the length of this blog I did not read it all and therefore apoligise in advance if I am repeating someone. I am american but lived in europe for fifteen years in several countries. As for the popularity of prepaid: Many people who never had landlines(even down and out homeless people) are able to buy a used very cheap phone and than insert a prepaid card. They esentially never again have to pay a single cent and can continue recieving phone calls on the assigned number. Because the prepaid tarif tends to be high it is not at all unusual for a person to have a cell for recieving calls and make most of their outgoing calls from payphones.

I was often disappointed that I would meet someone who would immediatly give me there cell number yet keep there home number closely quarded secret even after a relationship had been around for a while(they would say they only use it for outgoing calls.) It is much much more expensive in most cases to place a call to a cell number than a landline one so you cost your friend lots of money with this additude.

Europeans tend to have much shorter conversations than do americans. I would put it at least an average 5 to 1 minute ratio with the american conversation lasting 5 times as long. The european will say 'hey lets meet at the pub or cafe and talk about that' the american will simply talk about on the phone.

The root of this is that up until the mid 90's phone calls of all kinds were quite expensive in most european countries. I remeber in germany that the cost of a local call was about twice per minute what I paid for long distance in the US and long distance, international, and calls to cell phones were outraguos. This changed dramitically in the late 90's when the monoplies were broken in the EU; some calls instantly fell to 1/20 the cost. The huge drops were in local and international calls.

The legacy of these high prices has set the stage for a very different type of calling habit. One that involves shorter calls; also the history of pricey calls has made the still expensive cost of mobile terminated calls acceptable. Your typical american would be outraged if a friend gave them a new phone number that suddenly cost 25 to 50 cents a minute to call; the whole premuim rate area code for cell phone thing i find is very confusing when I try to explain to americans. I explain that if they call the cell phone # they will pay 40 cents but 2 cents if they call the landline; as often as not they insist that that is impossible they pay one rate to call italy and of course If their friend has a cell phone they would be the one paying the airtime; that is the only thing that makes sense. Then when they get their phone bill they truely believe they were somehow ripped off. Our long distance companies are partly to pblame for this since they often only list landline rates in there adds.

I have to say though that europeans are just as confused when I try to explain they do not pay anything extra to call me on my cell. it is not untill I point out that the area code belongs to a specific city that they finally get it.

Anonymous said...

About different classes of phones. I ussually suspect major carrier.handset manufature influence on media opinion. The choice phones for everyone in europe, especially young people have also been so called 'bussiness class' phones. Yet the phone companies are always talking about how plastic phone with changable faceplate or whatever is attracing the young people. The ONLY REASON these phones are more popular than the classy and sturdier 'bussiness' phones is price.

Anonymous said...

I lived on europe for a while and used prepaid calling from a few different operators. When I moved back home to the US I noticed that everyone seemed to refer to prepaid phones as being for 'people with bad credit unable to get a contract.' This seemed like a bit of an insulting attitude. My reason had nothing to do with credit but leaving my options open.

I recently check some website to see what has happened to pricing in europe. It has gone donwn substantially. But I am very interested in something. Some operators are now offering free in network calls. There is also now number portability. Can anyone explain to me what happens when someone ports there number. I was always able to determnie to cost of a call by the area code. Calls to competing networks were much more expensive than in network. sometimes as much as 7 times the price. Do you still pay based on area code? If not is there an easy way to research a number to see what network it currently belongs too?

This is much more significant in europe since people tend not to have buckets of minutes but pay for each call and often determine how long they are willing to talk based on the advance knowledge of call cost. Plans that offer flat rates just tend to be expensive for all calls. I used to switch out SIM cards to get the best rate depending on the network that I was calling.

Anonymous said...

In the UK the cost of a Mobile phone call does not differ depending on your location due to the small size of the country. A mobile phone number begins with 07, in France a mobile number begins with 06, there is no geographic link to mobile phone numbers. As far as I know this is the same across Europe.

However international roaming is expensive! The problem arises at country borders as you may find you phone is connected to an operator in another country. Even in places like Dover in the UK, you can accidentally make a call via a French network and get charged up to 60p ($1.20) a minute! The EU is bringing in legislation to stop this.

Anonymous said...


Is it still possible to tell the network(and therefore calling charge) of the mobile number that you are calling? It seems to me that number portability creates a problem here. In the US it is not possible to tell and you might begin to get charged for call that were previously in-network(and free) after a friend changes network and ports their number. But for most of us here in the US we do not time our calls depending if it is in-network or not. When I lived in germany a few years ago it was a pretty big deal(and potentially creating a huge phone bill) with callers between networks keeping calls really short and mabye switching to a landline connection after confirming a location to call.

Anonymous said...

The part about calle phone vs moble phone is soo funny and so true!!

Anonymous said...

In the US, a cell phone is a tool. In Europe, a mobile phone is a lifestyle.

A major factor in this is that mobile phones were introduced in Europe years after cell phone in the US; but once introduced were launched nationwide with huge marketing efforts. The result is that Europe went from no mobile to everyone having a mobile virtually overnight; in the US they started in segments (salespeople, business execs) and over many years spread to the mainstream. By the time the average guy got a cell phone it was nothing new or special. In 1993 you could have walked around all day in European capitol without seeing a single mobile used; by 1996 you could not step outside 2 minutes without seeing a dozen.

SMS vs. IM. Speaking of SMS, it's vastly more popular in Europe than it is in the US

For many years mobile operators in Europe did not charge anything for SMS; yet voice calls were quite expensive. By the time the operators lowered voice call costs and started charging for SMS the culture was well established. In the US most carriers charged for SMS from the start yet IM is often much cheaper.

The first is that pay as you go plans are much more popular in Europe than they are in the US.

Prepaid is more popular in Europe but the numbers can be very misleading. Lots of Europeans have a postpaid plan they use most of the time and maybe up to 10 prepaid SIM’s for foreign countries and alternate networks. Of course things will look 90% prepaid. Also people sometimes buy replacement phones with prepaid cards as part of the package. They activate the SIM to use the free included minutes; the SIM is than active for the next 18 months or so. In the US if you buy a similar type of package you usually need to pay an activation charge and even if you the account goes dead a short time (30 - 90 days)

Many Europeans hate flip phones
In Europe, people generally hate external antennas on a phone

There has been some really silly example that set the stage for this. When a Motorola model started to catch on in Europe in the early 90's that had a flip the big European makers all followed suit. The thing was the flips had no electronic whatever in them and would easily break off; once they broke off these phones would sometimes actually perform better since the open flip would block the microphone if you did not hold the phone perfectly. Also I think Europeans are less likely to put phones in their pockets and more likely to wear on their belt. Therefore they care less about a small clamshell. About the external antennas some phone with internal antennas were sold in the US with fake external antennas; when Europeans found out about this they thought it was really dumb.

I did a quick spot check of Orange (UK) and Cingular (US) mobile plan charges,

I think Europeans tend to be much more in to comparing plans from operators and doing the homework to find the best deal. Therefore the research is tricky since a lot more Europeans are on unadvertised plans. Americans tend to pick out a phone and than go with the plan the salesperson pushes on them or looks good in the advertisement. Young people in Europe love to talk about there plans as well this is 50 % the conversation concerning mobiles. In America the talk is all about the device.

The second difference is mobile phone number portability (which lets you keep your number if you switch mobile operators).

I believe this is more popular in the US than most European countries. Maybe this is due to more prepaid in Europe and people changing number a lot for seemingly no reason. The most significant issue here is whether the carriers/operators will buy out your current contract. This is more common in the US. I also think this question is sometimes confused with SIM card swapping; defiantly more popular in Europe.

Another important difference is that in parts of Europe phone subsidies are illegal.

It is not just the subsidies they can’t deal in phones at all; the shops buy from direct. These countries have been way ahead in innovations. They do not compete on phones so they need to have first class networks. This will become increasingly insignificant as very inexpensive phones become available that are cheap without subsidies. I found it interesting that used phones that were operator neutral had a premium value compared to the same model that would display the home operator’s logo on warm up, etc.

Reliability of coverage

Coverage maps in the US tend to be very misleading to the point of out right deception. In most European countries coverage that is roaming is not allowed on your map with out be designated as such even if roaming is free. Therefore each operator needs to cover the entire country to have a good looking map to promote. This is not the case in the US; look at a verizon map most of what is depicted is roaming.

I have always found the coverage issue interesting. People really care about coverage in place they have no intention of ever going. They want to be served by the carrier that covers the most square miles even if another carrier has better coverage in the places they travel. It seems that square miles of coverage gives people a sense of power.

Anonymous said...

If we look closely we will find that in places that people spend more time using the phone for tradtional voice other services are less popular. Also we find peop[le have less of a personal conection to their phones.

Could it be that americans spend so much time talking on their cell phones that they want to put them away the rest of the time.

In europe and asia people talk much less; therefore they are looking for other reasons to justify owning a device that sit idle in their pockets most of the time.

Anonymous said...

My observation is that in both europe and asia but unlike america people are not only interested in what they can do with their phones but also the underling technologies. This is much like the early days of personal computers.

My speculative theory is that americans use there phones much more both in number of calls and more so in duration. With all this talking on the phones is becomes a basic tool of life. Europeans on the other hand talk much less and asians even less. So they start to look at what else they can do with this device that is always in their pocket.

Unknown said...

Your comments about the effect of the car are spot on. When the phone becomes bluetoothed to the car will we Americans catch up.

You should also consider that Americans are considerably overworked in comparison to the average European standard vacation--therefore we value a moment to disconnect. Hence the popularity of the rural escape in America. Americans largely don't want their cellphones to ring, because then we'll just have to deal with yet another thing. When we're on vacation we sometimes leave the phones behind.

Also consider that Europeans live in generally smaller countries with only so much 'noise' in their own language they have to deal with. When 3/4 of the landmass of your continent speaks the same language, there is the desire to tune a large degree if it out.

Anonymous said...

Many people said they'd be interested in how the system works in China. I lived in China a couple years ago and their system is pretty much the exact opposite of the American network system. They have one state-sponsored network and the coverage is, as other posters have stated, extremely good. Even in many rural areas you can get very reliable service.

Since there's only one provider, the basics of a phone can be purchased separately. For example, you can buy your phone from any store, and then purchase a phone number/sim card separately. You can buy a new sim card or phone whenever you want. The reason for this is most people don't subscribe to a monthly service but instead buy prepaid cards which you then call in and activate to your sim card/phone number. You can buy them in a number of increments and you can also apply multiple cards to the same sim card.

The ratio of SMS to actually talk-time is flip-flopped from American usage. Most people text message like crazy because it is extremely cheap. When I was there, I would typically buy a 50 yuan prepaid card. A yuan is sort like a US dollar and then each text message cost a jiao, which is basically equivelent to a US penny. So, calculating that out, for about 50 yuan (when i was there 1 dollar converted to about 8.5 yuan, so like 6 bucks) you got about 5000 text messages. Talking however is extremely expensive and eats up your prepaid card like lightnening.

Despite only having one provider in China, I found the system to be extremely refreshing. I got off the plane with my unlocked international cell phone from the US and within 10 minutes had a chinese sim card for about 2 US dollars, a 6 dollar prepaid card, and was ready to text 5000 chinese friends.

And for those of you wondering how people text in China, it works much the same as predictive text on American cell phones, with just a few keystrokes, the phone's dictionary is able to predict the most likely chinese character and in many cases is actually faster than texting in english.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, Anonymous. Very interesting info. on China. The price structure of a mobile market when it first grows up seems to have a long-lasting impact on usage patterns. For example, in places where texting was a lot cheaper than calling, SMS usage took off much more quickly.

Unknown said...

You forgot about latin america.
Here in latin america most of the people use pre-paid sim-cards, because we only pay for the calls and sms we make, not like in U.S. where you also pay for the calls and sms you received, which I consider a rob, we are use to change sim-cards from phone to phone like in europe, we don't like phones with antennas like americans, I think most of the cdma phones are ugly, Here in Colombia even poor people hate that kind of phones.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, mobile phones are big here in Greece too. We have 11.000.000 population and more than 12.000.000 mobile phone connections at the moment. This happens because the majority of us have more than one mobile carrier, and this happens because every carrier has a different offer so you get the Vodafone one to call your vodafone buddies on the cheap and Cosmote (greek carrier) for the cosmote guys. some of them have offers like 10 hours of talk time for 6 euros. So, a lot of us have to carry around 2 devices (or 2 sims and switch). Sms costs about 5 or 6 cents. Nokia and Sony ericsson are dominant here, especially those sony ericsson walkman phones.
You are right, we think of our mobile phones as lifestyle statement, that's why we tend to get a new one every 2 years.

Anonymous said...

oh and one more thing.
We don't care that much about iphone. lol

Anonymous said...

This thing about incoming calls also being charged in the States is a bit of a misnomer. Don't forget that calling a mobile phone in the States is the same cost as calling a landline, which nowadays is pretty much nil. So you are more likely to call a friend on his mobile in the States than you are in Europe. And don't forget in the States carriers provided unlimited calling during nights and weekends. I can spend 80-100 hours a week on the phone and it'll still cost me my $29.99 monthly charge, if I use my minutes during off-peak hours. I haven't seen the concept of peak and off-peak in Europe yet. I also do not like the fact that in Europe (and most all of the world), if I want to call a mobile number it's going to cost me an arm and a leg.

On the negative side of American GSM carriers is the fact that, even though we are required to commit to one or two-year contracts, they still won't unlock our phones (at least AT&T doesn't; T-Mobile being German will unlock the phone after 3 months). Their excuse is that because the phone is subsidized, they don't unlock it. So what's the two-year contract all about, then???

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very good article.

Talking about pre-paid deals in europe. In Denmark there are pre-paid operators, that bill you directly by credit-card payment online. Their pricing is as cheap or cheaper than post-paid. So why would you be a post-paid customer ?

In Sweden one of the operators (ComvIQ) even gives you 1c/min when people call you against your prepaid credit. You get money to receive calls !!!!

Incentives like this beat post-paid cellphones or landlines by miles.

Anonymous said...

I loved your article! While I was reading the comments, I wondered if another reason why Americans (especially young adults, teens and children) choose instant messaging and networking sites like MySpace and Facebook over text messaging is because there are a greater number of households in the States that have 1 or more personal computers and access to high speed (wireless) internet.

Once the household has purchased the internet service anyone can access the internet for free and personal computers are becoming a necessity for American students.

In American schools, teachers often require them to be locked away to reduce distractions or cheating and parents sometimes confiscate cell phones during homework time, which can account (in part) for lower usage, but wherever there is internet access kids are still able to talk to each other.

Is this the case in other countries? Are computers mostly used for business or also personal use? Do others students rely upon computers as much as they do in the States? Is inexpensive, reliable internet coverage available in homes?

I have a feeling the usage statistics would be more similar if this were the case.

chernobyl said...

Hello Anonymous,

Internet access is cheap, reliable and widespread in Europe. However, 10 or 15 years ago this wasn't the case, and that's when SMS messaging really caught on. By force of habit, people still text a lot. I sometimes catch myself sending a 10-cent SMS instead of making a 5-cent call. :)

Anonymous said...


Michael Mace said...

In Ireland, apparently the Caps Lock is also very popular. ;-)

Anonymous said...

GOOG BLOG Europe rocks-I liked the Irish reply. Come on blogger move with the times the usa is years behind us over here. 3g /3.5g networks in all over europe . Tell me why on usa tv shows do the always use crappy filp phones? and their mostly motorola ones. the must have a deal with them or something it makes no sense, the use the so mid 90s motorola startac phone sure thats discontiued. and why do you have them pull up attennas that doesnt improve the reception at all. its up to the phone to power boost its signal to the mast cell range. its all based the phones transmiter not a peice of steel wraped in rubber. The reason we hate flip phones here is simple because THEY ARE CRAP TO TEXT ON thats it mainly you can use a phone better without having to open it plus the flips get loose after awhile. Motorola dont sell good here becase its a usa company and the itap is too slow for texting and the layout of the menue is too sloppy and again slow to respond. Nokia are the best + a Europeen company support our own here. I hate the way you say 'I will text message me later' over their god just say I will text you later'. How can u use a mobile their if u pay to recieve a call or text? stupid as we say over here 'them mad americans'blame your talkshows and your constant use of the fraze 'i feel' for that. usa is carried off a good bit mad by tv shows aka Dr Phil and mad i 'feel so inspired' Oprah. Have to say i love it over their its the best place to travel too and your all very nice but flase too. pity the mobile networks are shit. Iv noticed last time i was their that alot of people are now saying mobile instead of cell its not as popular as you would believe on tv . sorry 4 some spellin and typos im so use to typing in shorthand text speak on my mobile.

Anonymous said...

A very good blog im from europe so i have to say i agree with some posted replys i liked the last two the features of the networks are up to date with my network. Texting is the biggest thing here thats why Nokia sell better and they last longer on drop of the phone wont break it. The filp phones like the reply said are too hard to text on with them silly flips also i agree the motorola phones are too slow .the stick up attenna never took off here we never had the pull up one much here just the stump on top. All the attenna is built into the phones now. Nokia phones sell the best here but sony ericsson are sell good to nothing to what nokia sell. The walk man brand is ok but the filp ones dont sell really at all the shops take tend to take them off the shelves. Their harder to text on cos when your typing out a text and you recive one at the same time your phone stops you typeing until you read or ignor the incomming text. On nokia phones a tiny envelope appears on the top cornor of your screen and you can carry on texting. I like most others here get free texts to my home network when i top up with 20 euro for i month. Unlike the states i can without pay incomming charges can make video calls, vioce calls, send voice mail, video mail, watch live tv ,skype , google, windows, get music videos , im, email,text. and surf the web 3.6 mbps on the three network and thats going to get faster shortly. kids from the age of 5 have mobiles here up 80yo people. The thing about more mobiles that people isnot true its everyone as a phone but alot have two sim cards. you can buy a phone here with no id just go to tour local video store. But on the great three network you have to register and you need id to prove your age to use some parts of the internet on your phone. Every one intercts with tv shows radio stations here more that email on the pc. mms messages on the mobiles can send a email quicker its more handy without having to use your laptop when you outside.Dentist even text you to remind you of appoitments now the use to call years ago. I send on a slow day about 150 texts im so use to nokia phones i can text without looking at the screen. on a busy day 600 be easy to fire out. Its great here cos their free. i pay 5c to text a different network. but i buy a bundle of text i get 200 texts for 9euros and use them only for other networks + i buy 75 international texts 4euro. But i call international numbers its only 35c amin but billed on prepay and billpay per second so if i call for 1m and 10 seconds pay around 37c thats the way it roughly works out.I can call all over europe usa canda austraila loads op places for 35c to landlines mobiles . three is the best 2g /3.5g network.

Anonymous said...

just after posting a reply i noticed alot of mistakes on it im sorry lol i was texting on my phone while doing this. Please dont give a bitchy reply to this, like you did to the irish post a good few mobile network features was pointed out well in it. I really enjoyed your blog. again sorry about the mistakes just take your time reading it.

Anonymous said...

wkhEnjoyed your blog. Im in Europe and most people here use Nokia mobiles. Their used so much because the very easy to text on. The mobiles last longer even when roughly handled. Filp phones dont really sell that good. The staff in the shops dont display them modles the just use up space on the shelve. I slide mobiles would sell better than them but it would be roughly 5% of the market between them both. The flip phones are to impractial to use. Opening the flip on a call and every text is annoying. For a standared phone to sell it needs a camera basic 1.3mp , mp3player, radio, bluetooth, expandable memory, and would have to be a 'candy bar' style. We are text mad here alot of networks offer 100% free text and you need a phone to be able to fire out as many as the user can. I was in la a few weeks ago 'crazy place ' and your networks are very poor , years behind us. The standered of the line quality is a joke. Have you not heard of 'efr' enhanced full rate?. It makes the line crystal clear over here. When i called a number it took ages for the call to connect and ring, even to a landline number. The network did not support 2.5g or 3g or 3.5g. I noticed you pay to recieve a cll or text, thats so stupid i pay that when in a different country only and with the new e law its now cheap to run. I like most in europe just buy a sim card in the country we are on hoilday in. chuck it away when your going home. its cheaper that way. I seen you all their with you crappy flip phones their really old fashion looking and the pull up attenna 'pointless'.your network features are behind more than the handsets in some cases 10years.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments, Anonymous. I won't critique typos; a lot of the visitors here speak English as a second language, and I think it's nice of them to post at all.

But whatever your native language, I think the caps lock key works the same way.

Four comments in a row referenced pull-up antennas on mobile phones in the US. I don't know what parts of the US you all have been visiting, but I haven't seen a pull-up antenna on a mobile phone in a long, long time. But I agree with you that the network coverage here is pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

You said:
Norway has about 15 people per square kilometer, the same density as Arizona, which is not exactly crowded. The US overall has about 33, more than double Norway's density. I think Europe is just more dedicated to universal mobile coverage.

Rather than due to a lack of dedication, wouldn't this be more likely due to the fact it costs more to cover 3,794,066 sq. miles of the United States than the 148,746 sq miles of Norway.

Michael Mace said...

>>wouldn't this be more likely due to the fact it costs more to cover 3,794,066 sq. miles of the United States than the 148,746 sq miles of Norway

No, because my comparison was people per square mile. If you assume that Americans and Norwegians have roughly the same income levels, and similar inclination to use mobile phones, it should be twice as profitable to build out a network in the US compared to Norway.

The comparison is not that easy, of course. Norwegians use mobile phones more than Americans on average. But on the other hand, Norway's terrain is some of the most rugged I've ever seen, tailor made to block wireless signals.

Probably the biggest difference is that in the US we have created two incompatible wireless networks. Basically, we have to build out the whole country twice.

But if the US were more dedicated to making wireless work, I think it would have set a single wireless standard. So I come back to the dedication issue.

Anonymous said...

For SMS vs. IM, how to explain that the first IM app IRC was invented by Finns, but they also have Nokia? IRC is so popular in Finland that nowadays Finns still prefer to use it for chatting than other IMs.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your Blog

People over here in europe use 'Candy Bar' Mobiles because they as it's been stated faster to text on. Most networks offer free texts to your own and other networks on contract/postpay and topup/prepaid all you need is to top up/recharge you account with E20.00 . This amount credited to your account activates the offer for 30 days. You can spend the E20.00 euro on voice calls and videocalls or skype calls with my Network. Or use it on mms , mobile internet or buy music and videos whatever. 100% free texts no catches. Most people I know send around 300 2 500 texts a day . When you can text without looking at your phone it helps. The flip phones dont sell here the to much of a pain to use when your always using your phone. The shops dont order them now let alone display them . No offence to anyone but a man using a flip phone is deem Gay looking to be honest over here . Their more of a girls phone. Nokia is the biggest seller here but Iv noticed the sony ericsson phones selling very well too . All the non flip ones of course. The standard are good on them phones FMRadio ,mp3 ,camera ,bluetooth even the cheap ones for E59.00 on prepaid have this, altho the are a bitch to text on but not as bad as the stupid itap on motorola phones.If someone reading this could post back and explain why do the use such old phones on usa tv shows even if the show is bang up to date? and why mainly motorola? also Why are you saying Mobile instead of Cellphone over their in the last few years I mean you dont say lift for elevator. Why the sudden crush on the English frazes?. I was watching one of them talkshows a upto date one and a person made a remark about a text message most of the people in the studio watching it sceamed 'A what message'? I know america is Years behind us but I believed text took off their?

We have moved one over here while your stuck with 2g and 2.5g networks and their not even compatible in some cases . silly.

We can now see each other in real time with no delay on our mobiles even on a international call quailty is better than skype thats why I dont bother to use skype on my phone to much crap to it having to log in . This we i dial and press and call/ring button.

We can even watch live tv and Movies/films on our mobiles.

Unknown said...

In India, SMS started free (!!) when call rates were Rs 20/minute (!!!). That translates to 50 cents US, but was LOT of money for a call. (Call rates now are between 10-50 paise (0.25-1.25 cents))
By the time they started charging for SMS, the population was HOOKED on to SMS and even with the cheapest call rates in the world, people just can't stop messaging.

Anonymous said...


so i can tell you sth. about cellphone usage in germany.
Since about a year, prices are falling. We are now at 9 Euro-Cent or less for one minute or for one sms. SMS Price will fall in the next months due regulations through EU.

Yes, Nokia is generally the No.1 brand here, because in almost every Top10, there 7-8 Nokia phones and 2-3 SonyEricsson phones.

Motorala was successful with the RAZR, but other phones from Motorola are almost not bought.

Samsung and LG have some quite nice phones, but in mid-price-segment, they have no chance against Nokia or SE.

Siemens dont produce and sell phones anymore btw.

There is also a trend to abolish landline phones, because they have a basic fee and with 9 Cent or Less per Minute, most people only use one phone - their mobile phone.

Yes, People pay an attention to what mobile phone they buy, because it is not used only for phoning but also as Replacement for digital camera and for mp3 player. And for me, i also use the calendar, the alarm clock and use it for audio books.

3G is available almost everywhere, with 3,6mbit/its almost everywhere (>90%). 384kbit/s in some very rural areas and 7,2mbit/s in bigger cities.
At least 3,6mbit/s everywhere and up to 14,4mbit/s in bigger cities is planned.
mobile internet is also offered by flatrate and so competing with landline internet, when the speed isn't so important. (Landline internet for consumers is available up to 50mbit/s)

Because of this, i also think Intel has no chance with its wimax-strategy. HSDPA is available from multiple carriers almost everywhere in europe and wimax in my city for example only for 10% of the people here with big problems.

Back to the cell phones: Another interessant thing is, that almost everone has a cellphone here. Number of mobile plans exceed the number of people. Everyone in my family has a mobile phone, even my grandparents who are 70+. And yes, you take your phone always with you and you never power off it. At least at night, i turn it silent.

And because of this, europeans are more interested in growthing the functions of the mobile phone (not the size), insted of smaller notebooks. Because nobody wants to carry sth. which weights more than 150gramm ;). And also nobody wants to carry an extra digital camera or mp3 player, but wants this functions to be integrated in the phone.

Anonymous said...

I am in the US and i own a Rzr. Yes, it is spelled Rzr. I really don't know why i got it, it only sends SMS and calls. It's really more of a status symbol. Everyone here knows what a Rzr is and anyone that doesn't have one wants one. It can go on the Internet, which I was suprised wasn't mentioned in your article. I don't have the extra 60$ a month to pay for this though. The only other really big phone in the US is the envy. It is the one will the full keyboard.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Blog
Im in europe most people here use nokia but sony ericsson is selling almost as good. Samsung is slightly behind. Motorola is at the bottom. Flip phonts dont sell here well the slide phones have taking off well instead. We text like crazy here all the prepaid networks offer free texts and calls to your own networks if you put e20 in your account. That activates the offer for 30 day you can still use the e20 on making calls and sending texts to the other networks. NO charge to recieve a call or text thats a silly american set up to make more money which is stupid cos i would imagin less people would bother to buy a mobile/cell if its too costly to run .they should take note of how their run here.

Anonymous said...

Im a prepaid customer in ireland and over here we get as its been stated in other post free calls and texts to our home network, if you top up with 20 euro.Yeah nokia was the best seller here but sony ericsson seems to be out selling them. The basic features of the phone is far better tha nokia. Bluetooth 1.3 or 2mp is the basic camera .mp3 player with a decent memory card comes free . Built in radios too. you get a free dvd when you buy a phone here their as cheap as 39euro . Their is 127 text messages a second sent on one of the 5 networks and thats the chargable texts the free texts been sent are not in these stats. The phone companys dont keep recordes of your texts on your account records that you can view online because their systems can handle it to display them. If you apply for them they will give them to you. the polish and other eu people working here are mad about their phones and use them as much as the irish. even the people from africa who are here building a life for themselfs text and call like crazy.only 50 c a min to call anywhere in the world on some networks , eu calls are 25 c a min. 5 year olds to 90 year olds have a mobile. This thing about more phones in the country than people is missleading . everyone has a phone but alot have two or three sim cards not two or three phones. We dont pay for incomming calls of texts thats 100% free.

Anonymous said...

youre an idiot thinking americans dont like their cell phones as much as europeans. you mustve gotten all of your info from old people.

Anonymous said...

Good blog. Im in Ireland and I have to say in my opinion the American Market is years behind, even the most basic 2.5g networks.I think its a bit of a messed up system you have over their. The networks are not compatable in some cases and the pricing and billing systems are not justifed based on the Networks reception.Pre min billing we are charged per second over here Its been that way since 1999/2000 Paying for incomming calls and text is silly and unheard of here apart from roaming in a different Country, But what most people do is unlock their phones and buy a sim card in the country your suppose to be roaming in. Use up the free credit or top it up once and bin it when your going home. Common sense would tell you people would and are using their phones less to stop incuring unwanted charges.Ditch the incomming charges and Id imagine Customers would use their mobiles/cells more often. One point I would like to agree with is the points reguardin "flip Phones" Its true your are deemed gay "not that their anything wrong with it, it doesnt bother flip phone users" if your male and use a flip phone. Mosts men use the slide phones or a "candy Bar" phone instead. Their easy to use when your texting. Sony ericsson are now selling more than Nokia here Nokia are bringing out phones with pointless features and they are overhyped and overpriced. Texting here is like breathing All the Networks offer 100% free texts and calls on your own Network. But here's what was not pointed out by the other posters .A fair usr policy applies you can only send 5000 texts and make 5000 hours of voice calls per month. 5000texts not alot to most people here so thats why alot of people have two simcards.

Anonymous said...

So true texting is like breathing here too also I agree with the Flip phone thing its does look gay. Touchscreen phones are selling very well to in europe.
America is years behind.
2.5g networks yeah years ago.
crazy paying to recive a text or as over their "receiving a text message ". very prim and proper, on my cell phone, O MY GOD I "FEEL" SO GOOD . They make a big deal out of very old network services. Only in America "cookoo " as we say in europe.

Anonymous said...

>>Could the greater prevalence of public transportation in Europe play a role?

Sure could. In both Europe and Asia, you have people who spend a lot of dead time on public transit and in desperation turn to their mobiles to entertain them. Americans in the same situation, stuck in their cars, either listen to the radio or practice cutting one-another off.

---Kind of tangent, but this seems like a really good lobbying tactic to try and encourage better mass transportation in the US. Get the mobile phone companies to put pressure on the issue, because they have everything to gain from people using mass transit.hmmm.....then the US rebuilds economy by building mass transit...cuts pollution, cuts phone-related auto crashes, etc etc. phone companies win. And i can get out of my home town by rail.

Anonymous said...

Over in Europe its 100% free to recieve a call and text in your home country. I dont understand how you could manage to run a Cell Phone or Mobile as you are starting to say now in the states now to mimic Europe.
A shake up of the Network/ Operators or Carriers as you say is needed.
I was over their a few months ago and the speed of the service even to connect a voice call is a disaster.
Why do most americans use them filp phones?, their annoying to text on.
Your deemed gay if your male and use one overhere.
Your service is years behind us and the billing setup should be challanged.
Great Country tho really loved it. Would love to move their.

Eimear said...

Thank you for the interesting article.

Just wanted to share some detaiils on the Irish phone market from my experiences.

SMS or text messages are very popular here, especially amongst young people, but they are becoming just as important with older generations. My parents would often text me and their friends if they wanted to give a quick message!

With regards the costs. There is a lot of competition in the Irish market even though there is only 3/4 main operaters.

For example, I'm with Meteor as a pay as you go customer. But as part of the incentive when I joined the network, I got free texts and free calls to all meteor customers for life as long as I top up with 20 euro a month. Other networks offer similar incentives. The majority of my friends are on meteor so I don't think twice about calling them! I just about spend 20 euro's a month on my phone.

The coverage here has also greatly improved in the last 5 years. Most networks in Ireland provide 99.5% coverage in the country and that includes many of the small islands off the coast.

The cost of handsets differs greatly here and often depends on if you're pay as you go or a contract customer. Most contract phones can be got for free or very cheap. While you can pay anything from €30-€400 for a pay as you go phone.

GSM is also standard in Ireland and it is also very easy to change operators without having to change your number. Changing networks is so easy that most people I know have at least changed network once to avail of the best offers.

Most people in Ireland from about the age of 12 + own a phone in Ireland and the country has a penetration rate of at least over 100% +! I'd definately be lost without my mobile phone. Its the easiest way to stay in contact with people and to arrange anything!

Anonymous said...

Great Blog

I agree with namely the european Comments their more too the point than the La La OMG I "feel" Like bla bla bla americans. The flip phone cell gay thing is very true in europe in Poland Ireland France Italy Uk and Germany from what I have seen.
Texting is the mostly use service then voice and video calls.
Im so ashamed the usa is years behind since im spending so much time over here. Its really a pity.

Anonymous said...

Not much has changed in the 3+ years since this article was written. I just stumble upon it an thought I'd add my own two cents. Europeans are elitist assholes and Americans are self-absorbed assholes. I still hate the fricking iPhone and I wish that there were some Symbian phones available on this side of the Atlantic.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks, Anonymous.

Usually I delete comments with that sort of language (because it can eventually lead to flame wars between people posting comments). But in this case you're criticizing everyone equally, and besides I think there's a nugget of truth in what you said.

You might be surprised at how much traffic this post still gets. If you think of it as an article rather than a blog post, then it doesn't seem all that old.

Anonymous said...

If you use a filp phone in the germany you will be deemed gay and you will get the living crap beat out of you. If you american try not to use your flip phone namly Motorola in public areas. Interesting blog.

James said...

I live in the united kingdom and personally I feel that in the US the mobile technology is a few years behind than Europe. (Maybe due to the different mobile network standards within the united states.) Whereas in Europe it's gsm. The majority of the mobile phones also use 3G and often these mobiles have HSDPA.

Speaking personally about my phone usage I use my phone a lot to text and call less frequently. Each month I get unlimited texts (3000 due to the fair use policy), unlimited data and 200 minutes for £20 per month.

Within the UK I believe that the 'slide' mobiles are the most popular form factor unlike clamshell (flip) mobiles. Personally I prefer the slide design.

When it comes to the make of the mobiles, Sony ericcson, nokia and samsung are the most popular with motorola unheard of these days.

My current phone is a samsung pixon, has HSDPA, 8 mega pixel camera and a 3.2inch screen. I don't think I could live without it.

Btw is the iPhone popular in the US?

Anonymous said...

Very good blog.
Im in Europe and most people I know use "Candy Bar" phones Nokia Sony Ericssion Sagem Samsung Lg. Flip phones dont sell well, MOTOROLA PHONES ARNT STOCKED IN STORES ANY MORE. "the gay thing is true too a degree". Texting is like breathing for us. Most networks offer free texts to any network now if you top up by 20 in one go . you get 100% free texts or free texts and calls to your home network. A fair usage catch applyes which is you can send 15.000 texts in 30 days , its 5.000 on some networks, that why most people have 2 or 3 sim cards. The slide type phones and flip phone are too annoying to use for texters. Most dont use voicemail anymore if people cant reach you they send a text and know when your phone is turned on by their text delivery report. Voice call are as strong as ever due to free calls and video call are picking up pace with all users.


Anonymous said...

America is years behind us in europe Texting wise it's at least 10 years behind. Incoming call charges thats stupid, all the networks have to pay to each other is the termation rates . Must be easy to take americans for a ride.
Them full quart keyboards mobiles are a completly useless. I can text with out looking at my mobile and could easly outtext an american . I seen videos on utube their not one bit impressive. T9 people.

Anonymous said...

Nokia is the best phone for texting that why their so popular in europe. Filpphones are no longer stocked in shops no more because the never sell good. Sony ericsson are getting more popular but one thing that texters hate is if your writing a message and a text comes to your phone it flashes up onscreen , on a Nokia a small evenlope appears on the top of your screen and u can carry on with your text.
People here say Texting or ill text u later not Ill text message you later.

Anonymous said...

Sony Ericsson holds more than 20 per cent of the Irish handset market, which is estimated to be worth in excess of €210 million. The largest mobile maker, Nokia, holds almost 60 per cent of the Irish market. After Nokia and Sony Ericsson, Samsung holds the largest market share, with about 15 per cent. The remainder of the market consists of new entrants such as LG and Apple, and ailing incumbents such as Motorola no longer a player due to unpopular American styled flip phone, a huge issue for texters.


Unknown said...

I just got back into the United States from China. And, oh do I miss the Chinese cellphone system. I was able to buy a phone in a week of being there and there were multiple choices unlike the US where you only have a few choices. I was able to get a dual sim card phone so that I could have two numbers on one phone. Not only that, but the phones are cheaper and no one has a plan. They just buy a prepaid card and put time on their phone. It is much simpler and easier to use. Right now I'm looking for a new phone in the US and am annoyed that I don't have the choices I do in China.

Anonymous said...

Can you have a decent internet connection in Europe? Yes, you can. Where? In Romania!!! Unbeliveble... I just got back from a fried who lives in Romania and he has an internet connection of 100 mbps upload and download with Only 27eur/month !!! He told me about his ISP ( Ilink Telecom ) that they revolutionized internet in Romania!
You can download a DVD in 4-5 minutes!!!!!!!!!

rigario said...

how about chinesse mobile phone?
but they still growing up

ETN said...

I'm wondering if you could post a 2009/2010 version of your original post. I'm doing a project on HTC and mobile culture and would be interested in the changes since 2006, particularly the potential in the Chinese Market.

Your post has been so helpful already, so thanks!

Michael Mace said...

Hi, Elisa.

Thanks for asking, but unfortunately I don't have enough hands-on personal experience with those countries today. When I wrote that post, it was very soon after I'd been traveling around the world doing conferences for PalmSource, so I could write about what I had personally seen. I haven't been doing that sort of travel lately, so if I updated the post I'd have to base it on things other people have written online. I don't want to be that kind of blogger, if you know what I mean.


Anonymous said...

Americans make such a big deal about standard services Europe has for years. Video calling mms mobile tv ect ect.
America has been so slow to catch up.
Texting is a standard service since the 90s America catches on late 2000s?
I blame them camp flip phones, a nightmare when your texting.

Good blog but people dont bother them that much with them its time to move to video bloging and twitter.

Also display your comments from recent to old not old to recent, people loose interest on a blog if the see comments that a over a year old.

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments and suggestion, Anonymous. Unfortunately, I don't think Blogger lets me change the ordering of comments. But I'll check...

Armil@phone companies said...

It just proved how nationalities, countries, color, culture differ in many ways. So there's no right for us to discriminate because we have different ways and lifestyle.

Thanks for sharing this topic!

Anonymous said...

Very good Blog*. I'm surprised at how long Europe has embraced Cell phones . We are starting to use services they have been availing of for years. Its laughable that way still pay for incoming calls in America. They should have the Service more like Europe .
As for reception , most of America is flat their should be no issue with reception. Cheap investment in crappy Motorola Technology I Guess.
The Flip Phone comments do hold up in Europe and the reason you see Flip Phones on American TV is because we Product place homegrown products. Very few people use them now their annoying for text messaging or Texting as people say in Europe.

Europe simplified everything . America has to make a big deal and cash in over the top on this Service.

Ohio Poster.

*Set up a facebook page for this cos blogs are so mid 00s.

Anonymous said...

In India, which is considered as the fastest growing mobile phone user country, culture is mixed of what you have discussed for US and Europe. Mostly GSM based services. Nokia is still the no. 1 according to the people's choice. Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola are also there. Recently some Indian company like Micromax, Max, Lava are giving good fight to these well known brands. cell phones in India are considered as style statement and one feels very proud if he/she owns a high end cell phone. Regarding the charges, it is probably cheapest in the World. In 1 dollar recharge, one can have 2000 free sms in a month. In 1 dollar, one can make 150 minutes of calling. Mobile number portability is still not introduced in the country. Network coverage is not bad but still has scope to improve.

Anonymous said...

cell phone service in sweden is amazing compared to the usa. In Sweden, cell phones cost like 1/10th of the cost in the USA