On locked vs unlocked phones January 30, 2007Posted by fukumimi in IT, Japan, Mobile.
From the CNET article cited in Michael’s piece:
In Asia, about 80 percent of cell phones are sold independently of a carrier. And in Europe, roughly 70 percent of cell phones are sold unlocked. But in the U.S., between 90 percent and 95 percent of cell phones are sold through a mobile service provider.
This of course has resulted in a market that offers far greater array of wireless software and services in overseas wireless markets as compared to ours.
The problem with the analysis?
In Japan, 99%+ of phones are locked to a carrier. (Nokia has started selling an unlocked phone recently)
Yet, Japan’s wireless services are as advanced as any overseas market. Devices, network speed, sites optimised for mobile phones. By any metric, Japan is a top tier cellular wireless market.
Software (apart from maybe games) for wireless devices isn’t a very big market, but that is due to the fact that most phones have closed operating systems.
The thing is, with an ubiquitous high speed network, the goal is towards web services/SaaS, as touted for the PC in the US. I think the Japanese mobile market is pretty much there already. For example, I only have a basic calendar application on my phone, but I never use it because at work we have a web based calendaring app, which also has optimised mobile phone access. Virtually all mobile internet services are accessible from any of the major carriers.
With 3/3.5G networks covering the whole nation, including all underground stations, I can’t think of many places where I would need wireless service but couldn’t get it, apart from vacations on mountains and ininhabited islands where I would actually rather not being a phone call away from work related stress.
One more thing. Japanese phones have moved from SMS to real email years ago. Isn’t it time everyone else did the same? That would be a real killer app.
I don’t mean to support the strategy of locking phones to carriers, rather I just want to point out that services innovation (at least of the kind which is useful to the masses) and locking phones to carriers are not linked in the way that some people think (or would like people to think).