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TEXTing in the US


The Economist has an interesting article this week about why TEXTing hasn't taken off in the US. The article states:

[...] although texting has become commonplace in Europe and Asia, it has failed to take off in [...] America. Globally, the average number of messages sent or received each month by a mobile subscriber is now around 30, or one message per day. Each message costs an average of $0.10 to send. In some parts of Asia, such as Singapore and the Philippines, where large numbers of free messages are thrown in with monthly pricing plans, the number of messages sent per subscriber per month is as high as 200. But the figure for America is just over seven, according to the Cellular Telecommunications Internet Association, an industry body. Why is such a high-tech nation eschewing texting?

The short answer is that, in America, talk is cheap. Because local calls on land lines are usually free, wireless operators have to offer big “bundles” of minutes—up to 5,000 minutes per month—as part of their monthly pricing plans to persuade subscribers to use mobile phones instead. Texting first took off in other parts of the world among cost-conscious teenagers who found that it was cheaper to text than to call, notes Jessica Sandin, an analyst at Baskerville. But in America, you might as well make a voice call.

That's really only part of the story. There are many uses for texting for short communications, and it has nothing to do with the call cost. Making a call in those situations is simply more cumbersome and generally unnecessary.

Example: I am going to a meeting, but running late. A co-worker, who is already at the meeting, is stalling for time while I arrive. Now, in this situation, you don't want to interrupt the other person. So sending a message that says "Stuck in traffic. Be there in 10 minutes" is much better than calling. All the necessary information is in the message. My co-worker can get it without having to interrupt his conversation, and if necessary he can give me a call. Sending a text message is clearly better in that situation, but there are many other cases. Anything that requires specific, short communications is better served by messages (another example: wife, while bathing the baby, sends a text to her husband, who is at the supermarket "Remember to buy lettuce!" or whatever).

The bigger factor to me, then, is implementation: since the networks in the US are generally incompatible for cross-sending of text messages, people can't really use them efficiently. I think that once that's solved, it will take off, just like everything else. For proof, look at the success of the BlackBerry, which has been mainly in the US, and which is a more expensive (and fancier, true, with more features) version of the same concept.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 5 2003 at 2:50 PM

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