Now that you can e-mail anyone, anytime, anywhere, run significant applications from within an ordinary Web browser, and run your life from your laptop, it's worth taking a step back to think about some of the more frustrating networking problems that remain unsolved. Here are the top five things that get me steamed:
Why can't American cell phones work as well as the rest of the world's?
For those of you who travel overseas, you probably already know this: The United States has the worst cell phone service on the planet. Can you hear me now?
Not only that, but we pay a lot more for our cell calls, and we've blown several opportunities to become more competitive, more standardized, and more in-line with the rest of the world.
Yes, at least some U.S.-based cellular networks make use of the same GSM standard as the Europeans. But our phones run on different frequencies, which means that you have to have dual (or tri-mode, or quad-mode) band radios in your phone.
As a result, our phones can be more expensive to make, and they're more liable to break. Plus, U.S. phones are often sold locked to a specific carrier, which limits their markets and keeps prices high, forcing most of us to sign up for two-year service contracts when we want new phones. With the unlocked phones that are available outside the United States, you can easily add features from a variety of third-party providers.
And speaking of lockouts, remember when 300-baud modems were first invented and the phone companies tried to block their use, claiming that they would damage their networks? How quaint that seems. Sadly, we still have some of the same attitudes today with newer devices that are on the phone networks. Skype is trying to get the FCC to unlock its IP phones for American users so that any phone can be used with any VOIP provider.
And to make matters worse, the latest efforts by cell companies to provide high-speed data service are rewriting history once again, with incompatible systems between Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T networks. When will these guys come together with one single data technology?
Finally, for those of you who travel to Canada with your cell phones, don't forget that you're now making international calls at ridiculously high rates, even though Canada uses three-digit area codes. A short call to my wife from Vancouver ended up being a $50 mistake that I hope to avoid the next time I travel there. There ought to be a better way.