Sunday, November 03, 2002

T-Mobile -- when will the US think globally?

I have been a T-Mobile customer since Friday and I am already frustrated with them. And I haven't even made a call yet. But the problem I am having with T-Mobile is also a problem with every other carrier in the US. There are smart people at T-Mobile, but when it comes to thinking Globally, despite being a division of a German company, they get mired in the same bad logic that slows down the rest of the US mobile market.

Here is what happened: On Friday I set up a new T-Mobile account so that I could test the new Microsoft "Pocket PC Phone Edition" and compare it to Nokia's and Sony-Ericsson's Symbian based phones (more on that later). On Saturday I boarded a plane for Munich, where I am now -- for the Nokia Mobile Internet Conference. So I arrive in Munich on Sunday night (local time) and turn on my new phone. But I am unable to get a service provider connection. After I arrive at my hotel, I call T-Mobile's customer support in the US.

It turns out that, even though T-Mobile is a German company and even though the phone they sold me was a dual-band GSM phone, I can't use my US T-Mobile account in Europe. In fact I can't even call Europe from the US.

You see, if you are a US citizen and you want to call internationally, they assume that you must be a criminal. This is the only explanation that I can come up with. I had the same problem a few years ago when I was a Sprint PCS customer, and again when I set up my Cingular account (which I use for work). By default when you get a phone in the US you can only use that account in the US and you can only call people in the US. In order to get this changed, you have to petition an International department which, after an investigation, will decide whether or not an account can be approved for international use.

I guess the theory is that the US is such a large country and market that we can grow up and live out our entire lives without ever needing or wanting to call someone outside the US and without ever needing to use our mobile phones from outside the US.

Unfortunately isolationism leads again and again to a rude awakening when some external event provides a reminder that we are part of a global economy and a worldwide society. Not activating mobile phones for international use is just a symptom of the larger problem. Eventually we are going to have to start training our children to look at the world outside our borders -- and to think about themselves as part of a global civilization.

1 comment:

R Danner said...

It's hard to figure out what's going on, save for one thing: The international-calling barring isn't just US-based. (Read a report that international-call barring was also common in the UK as well.)

One big issue I have with all mobile-phone carriers is the ridiculous cost of any call. I mean, when was the last time you spent 35¢ a minute on a landline call that was local? Yet, that is common on mobile phones, unless you're calling within their network (which isn't always free of airtime charges either).

I don't think it's necessarily the US not thinking globally in this case. For one, it would be terrifyingly easy to be a victim of fraud (as I've read reports of) if one of your phones went missing if no barring of international calling was done. Now, I've also read that TMobile has clandestinely enabled international calling (esp. on the 4-band GSM phones) and that really concerns me. Whilst I know where both of the phones on my account are (one's at my mom's, one's to my right as I type this), the idea that hers could be stolen and used for international calling chills me to the core. True, we'd know if/when it was stolen and I'd report it quickly, but the sad fact is that no known carrier has usage-pattern monitoring yet (unlike credit card companies), and this is a concern. I mean, if it were in effect, they could detect the fact a change in call-pattern was happening and alert the master-account holder of it, just as the credit-card companies all do.

Accountability is necessary on both ends of the street here, at the customer's end and the carrier's, and the carriers are currently not doing what they could to ensure fraud doesn't occur. They just bill the account holder for the calls.