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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Sunday, June 19, 2005

BobF at 4:56 PM [url]:

No way to run a Cellco (or Telco)

I was recently in Spain and of course wanted to use a cell phone. In the United States I used Verizon's CDMA service because of the coverage (even as I complain about the company). When I travel I use my GSM phone, in this case, an HP-6315. Yes, it's a pain keeping phones in sync but the carriers (AKA, Orifices) don't give me the ability keep things simple.

For an extended stay I buy a local SIM card but for a short visit it's easier to just use the phone. Once I got past the annoyance of having to manually change the phone bands (why can't it figure that it itself) it worked. But whenever I tried to place a call I get a voice message and an SMS message from Vodafone telling me that I had to dial a�00 1� prefix for International calls! (and why the space between the 00 and the 1 � to avoid looking like the 001 in the US?)

I'm very careful about placing a �+� in front of a phone number so that I don't have to worry about the local conventions for placing international calls but Vodafone seems to ignore the place and gives me a warning message and then guesses it must be a call to the US (for +1).

Finally someone at the conference told me to manually switch to Movistar which accepted the �+�.

I feel as if I'm being penalized by knowing too much. It's similar to the situation in the US where it took decades to allow me to dial a call without worrying about where I am. In most places I can dial 1 followed by a ten digit number (1-aaa-xxx-nnnn). Not too long ago I got a hotel bill listing all my local calls as �long distance� because their computer assumed any number dialed with an area code is nonlocal.

I use Pocket PC phones because, in theory, they are smarter than your average phone and I can add my own software. The contact manger knows the country associated with each phone number. So why doesn't it automatically add the proper prefix, namely �+� followed by the country code. It could even be clever enough to know the level of stupidity of each carrier and compensate by adding a �00 1� in Spain in place of the �+� but I'd rather someone teach Vodafone about telephony.

The ignorance is endemic � I've even had Verizon give me an error message telling me I should be dialing a 7 digit number for a local call from my cell phone � it was a mistake but exposed ancient software festering in the nooks and crannies and sloppy protocols. Maybe sloppy isn't the right term � just lots of escape clauses to support rotary dial emulation for compatibility with that ancient software.

Of course my Verizon CDMA cell phone make it hard to enter the �+�. Unlike my GSM phone the i700 doesn't enter a �+� when I hold down the �0� key but at least I can paste it from the clipboard which means the address book can still generate the �+�.

Supporting uniform dialing is just about the simplest aspect of telephony.

The mystery is not how they can make these mistakes; it is how come they don't get corrected. Is there anyone in any position of responsibility at these companies who has a smattering of understanding of technology and usability? It doesn't take much to do a mediocre job rather than a bad job � especially with something that should be as simple as a phone number.

Could it be that these �errors� are rewarded? After all, if I place a local call in Spain I should just pay for a local call but instead I'm charged for one or two international calls (if I get charged for the round trip). If the phone number were handled intelligently it should just be a local call.

But I'm being silly, the purpose of a phone company is to create billable entities, not to make my life simpler. Never mind �

PS: I have some recent posts about cellular telephony at http://www.frankston.com/public/writings.asp

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