U.S. Vs. European Mobile Phone Use

I was going to title this "Americans just don't get it" but decided that was a bit strong, but here's a comment left on my American SMS post from yesterday:

No one I know worries about the cost of mobile phone calls. The only time I use SMS is to send a message in a crowd when I don't want anyone to overhear me.

I just don't think cost is the issue here. Unless it's that US calling plans are cheap enough that we don't need the less expensive option of text messages.

Posted by Todd Smith

Sorry, Todd, but I have to tell you how amazingly off base you are. But because I figured there's probably a lot of people who think the same thing, I wanted to promote the thought here instead of in my comments.

"I just don't think cost is the issue here."... Todd, I assume you're not 13 year old, right? How much money does your average teen have? Not much.

You can't imagine it and will think I'm exaggerating, but EVERY SINGLE PERSON OVER THE AGE OF 13 has a mobile phone here, and most of those younger have them too. EVERY ONE. Teens specifically are not people with a lot of extra money, either to buy the phone or pay for minutes. Nor do they have bank accounts or credit. It's all cheap pre-pay phones for them, and that's fine with the telecoms.

There were 30 BILLION SMS messages sent last MONTH here in Europe. That's over 100 messages per man, woman and child in Western Europe. Those weren't sent by old-fogeys like me, they were sent by teens and young adults. That's SERIOUS cash for the telecoms which the American telecoms see and want to mimic, but can't because they're stuck using old business models based on "only the rich have cellphones."

In the U.S. the level of penetration that you see in Europe hasn't happened. Not even close. How many people do you know who DON'T have a mobile phone? Do your parents, all you friends? The clerk at the store? With contracts, and minutes, and airtime, and general high costs only the generally well-to-do people/kids have phones and the rest (like everything in the U.S.) don't have the option. Or even if some teen does have a phone, he won't use it much because he's afraid of the costs. I know so many people who leave their phones off because they don't want to pay for incoming calls. Or they make any conversation on the cellphone short and quick.

Over Christmas here there was a sale on mobile phones from all the operators. $59 for a pre-paid phone and $12 ready to be used and receiving calls/messages is free, even if you don't have a dime charged up on the phone. That's a great deal... and they ended up selling out all over the place. This makes great gifts: You open the box, turn on the phone and you're ready to make and receive calls. Every teen in Spain got one.

Check out Steph's breakdown of costs on Alltell's new "cheap and easy" cellphones:

My pre-pay Tele2 mobile service minutes expire after one year. And there's a minimum of EUR 10 per year. I used an old phone I already had that wasn't simlocked. If I don't use the phone, I keep the number, and am on all the time, etc for less than the price of one new music CD. (and some months I use almost nothing and some months I use EUR 20)

If you check out http://www.simplefreedom.net, it looks like you have to 1)buy/use their phone 2) you have to pay activation 3) minutes start at $20 and 4) they expire after two months. All told, you're out over $200 the first year, and $120/year after that.

So, they still don't get it.

Posted by steph mandell

I agree. I hadn't seen that the minutes expire so soon... My pre-pay minutes expire also, but in a year I think. Incredible.

Todd also says, "The only time I use SMS is..." This is another American misunderstanding. You have no idea how much SMS is used here in Europe and would be used in the U.S. if it was cheaper. Everything you can imagine having a short conversation for or just to "chat". To one or several people at once. Being with my 26-year-old sister in law over the holidays drives me a bit nuts because every 5 minutes she's receiving or sending a message. EVERY 5 MINUTES. ALL DAY. EVERY DAY.

So my point is that you don't care about cash and you don't use SMS, but that's about as far away from how things are in Europe and for most Americans as possible. Just in the U.S., people don't have the options for cheap/easy mobile phone use whereas here they do.

I hope that explains it.


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