Americans, our mobile phones cost way too much

So it’s no secret that we’re moving back to the US in April. As can be expected, I’m starting to think about all the logistical things that we’ll need when we get there, particularly mobile phones.

Right now, Bex and I both have unlocked iPhones. We are prepaid customers with Blau.de, a German MVNO of E-Plus. We spend probably something like a combined €40 a month for prepaid access on our phones. It costs us €0.09 for outgoing calls to any German number, €0.09 a text to any German mobile, and €10/month for 1GB of 3G data. This is fantastic. (Don’t want to go with Blau? Here’s a handy chart easily comparing the 14 different options.)

So, in the US, what are our options?

If we want to keep our iPhones, our choices are pretty limited.

We can either go with AT&T (and sign a new two-year contract). For two people (family plan), 550 minutes/month, unlimited texting and Internet on both phones: $170/month.

Or, we can keep my existing T-Mobile plan. In that case, we’re looking at $80/month for unlimited everything for one line, nearly double that (about $150) with another line. And, of course, because T-Mobile and AT&T use different 3G frequencies, we’re limited to EDGE speeds in the US.

Another possibility is H20 Wireless, the only AT&T MVNO in the US, which offers unlimited text/minutes and 1GB of 3G data at $120/month for two phones. They don’t get stellar reviews, but as far as I can tell this largely has to do with their terrible customer service and the fact that they claim to offer unlimited (which turns out not actually to be unlimited).

$120/month is obviously better than $170/month, but it’s obviously not as good as what we’ve been paying here in Europe (€40 or $53/month prepaid for two phones, including 3G.)

Of course, if we sell our iPhones and get something else, like an Android phone, then we can get better speeds on T-Mobile and their MVNO, Simple Mobile.

The worst part, in the US, we get charged for incoming calls as well! As far as I know, this is the only country in the world that does thing. Why can’t we have Blau.de-like service in the US?

CTIA, I’m sorry, but you’re just ripping us off.

Photo credit: Yutaka Tsutano

Update (March 6, 2012): I just found out about Straight Talk, an AT&T MVNO that offers $45/mo for unlimited min/text/data. Recently, the company started offering a SIM-only plan (BYO phone), which can be used with the iPhone. Some folks like it so far. Very interesting.

Nokia: Four new handsets for developing world, bike charger

So it’s a holiday here in Germany, it’s a beautiful day outside and I’m still in my PJs, scrolling through my RSS reader, and two Reuters headlines scream out at me: “Nokia unveils 4 cheap phones” and “Nokia unveils bicycle mobile charger“.

Sadly, Reuters doesn’t provide any details, but CNET’s Crave blog does:

C1 phone (far left): Two SIM slots, only one line active at a time, six-week standby time (longest by far of any Nokia handset). Built-in LED flashlight! Available Q3 for €30.

C2 (far right): Two SIM slots (hot-swappable), both lines can be active simultaneously, microSD card slot (up to 32GB). Available Q4 for €45.

Nokia’s got more details on the other two models on its blog.

As for the bicycle charging device, CNET reports that “the dynamo starts charging when the speed of the bicycle reaches 6 kph and stops when it hits 50 kph”. Reuters adds that it’ll cost €15 and will be available “later this year.”

I think what’s really interesting about these new products is that they seem to be designed for the developing world but I think would actually be quite popular in the developed world too. I know lots of people that would love a cheap phone that includes six-week standby time, a built-in flashlight (who doesn’t use their phone as a flashlight?). Plus, for those of us who are globetrotters, dual-SIM slots is pretty sweet.

Now here’s my only question: why not combine the functions of the C1 and C2? Or does the simultaneous dual-SIM use suck up a lot of battery?

EU: Mobile use up, consumer prices down: Europe’s telecoms sector weathering economic downturn, says Commission report

Europe’s Information Society:

Europe leads the world in mobile phone services with the number of subscriptions in 2008 at 119% of the EU population (up 7 percentage points from 2007), well ahead of the US (87%) and Japan (84%). This is a finding of today’s Commission progress report on the single telecoms market. Despite the economic crisis, the EU’s telecoms sector (worth about 3% of EU GDP) continued to grow in 2008 with revenues estimated at above €300 billion, up 1.3% compared to 2007 and outperforming the rest of the economy (up by 1% only).

Financial Mail (South Africa): MTN’s Iran problem

Financial Mail (South Africa), February 6 2009:

Trading looks set to become more difficult in Iran for SA-based emerging markets cellular network operator MTN. The telecommunications group is about to face a spirited new competitor in the Islamic republic in the form of Etisalat.

United Arab Emirates-based Etisalat, which claims it has 74m customers, mainly in the Middle East, plans to invest billions of dollars in the next few years building a network to rival Irancell. MTN holds a 49% stake of Irancell (the remaining 51% is held by the Iran Electronic Development Company).

MTN Irancell had signed up 11,6m customers by mid-2008, in a country with an estimated population of 73m. Its June 2008 market share was 32% — up from 23% in December 2007 — with the rest controlled by state-owned Iran Telecom.

. . .

It is worrying news for MTN investors that the Etisalat consortium is the only one in Iran licensed to provide high-speed Internet access using 3G. This exclusivity lasts until 2011. MTN and Iran Telecom have built mobile networks using the older and more expensive 2G technology. 3G networks not only offer high-speed Internet access, they make better use of radio frequency spectrum and can carry voice calls at a lower cost to the operator, giving it greater pricing flexibility.

Updated: Estonia approves voting via mobile phone. (Not exactly.)

The Estonian parliament (pictured) has just approved a bill to let Estonian citizens vote via their mobile phone. This makes the country the first country in the world to do so, and comes about 20 months after Estonia held its first nation-wide election where the electorate could cast their ballots online.

Mobile phone voting, which likely will come via a new secure SIM card to be used in conjunction with the country’s digital ID card system, will take effect in the 2011 parliamentary elections.

[via Russian News and Information Agency]

Update: Kris Haamer points me to a TV ad previewing EMT’s mobile voting system that aired about 20 months ago.

Update (Dec 17.): I spoke with Silver Meikar, an Estonian MP, who told me that this actually isn’t quite mobile phone voting. In fact, this is using Estonia’s digital ID card infrastructure to use your phone as an ID tool instead of your ID card and reader. You still need a computer and an Internet connection to vote online, but you now can just have your phone instead of your ID card. So, not as sexy.

IDG News Service has more.