Cell Phones Are Just Terrible


DrPeering –

Do the mobile cell-phone networks peer?

Nomophobic Nancy Noonan


Nancy -

They say we don’t a landline anymore. They ask “Who wants to be tethered to a wall phone?” They say “That is so 20th century?” (The question mark is added for an inclination in tone at the end of the sentence for valley girl effect.)

I think these guys are crazy.

I have written this peering blog for a few years now, so I now ask for your indulgence to allow me time for my personal tirade.

The call quality that I have experience using cell phones is barely adequate, and often so bad that I want to get off the call right away.

We have not evolved the telecommunications sector in terms of voice communication.

Cell phones really SUCK!!!!!!:

1)Empty Air Drops Sucks. Occasionally there are empty air drops that is indistinguishable from the other person’s pause in conversation. This causes me to have the other person repeat what they said or I live with the potential of misunderstanding. Either way, the artifacts of this medium negatively impact the communication.

2)Dropped Calls Suck. At my house I get a lot of dropped call, forcing me or the other person to redial and resynchronize before continuing the call. When we drive along 101 in the silicon valley area we all know where these cell phone service drops will occur so we actually adjust our lives to deal with these cellular network failures.

3) Call Quality Sucks. The call quality is awful on cell phones. Between the delay and the garbling, it doesn't sound like the person is speaking to you across the table, it sounds like they are on the other side of the earth talking through a cheap microphone quantized by the service provider to minimize their costs for cell phone call. I never leave a cell phone call feeling like I was closer to the person afterwards - I leave the phone call feeling like I just want that experience to be over. Again, the medium negatively impacts the communications.

4)No Service Sucks. Sometimes my phone doesn't ring and I find out that somebody called and left a voicemail message for me. Doesn’t this happen to you?

5)Cost Sucks. It costs too much and I am required to have it to be reachable. Why am I paying $80 per month per phone for service that barely works?

6)Fragility Sucks. They are portable but remain too fragile to carry it everywhere. If the glass doesn't break when you dropped it, then condensation from the Gatorade in your gym bag leads to  limited functionality. This happened to me and I had to pay Apple another couple of hundred dollars or continue to pay my cell phone provider for a service I can’t use. There is no choice, since you have to remain reachable. Now who is tethered?

7)Service Terms Suck. The service contract terms are onerous. You have to commit to a two-year service agreement, something I object to for even a car lease. Yes, you have the alternative of buying the phone outright but there is a hassle factor and the end cost isn’t that much different. I bet if they got rid of the term agreement and they provided better cell phone service, few people would bail before two years were up.

8)International travel with cell phones is cumbersome and expensive. No matter how you slice it, if you use your cell phone provider internationally when you travel, there is a non-zero probability that you will get a terrible surprise on your next monthly bill. Good luck trying to resolve that billing dispute. Maybe it is just us Americans’ reluctance to muck with switching SIM cards on phones, but I rather have the cell phone service provider handle this seamlessly over the air handle this for me rather than searching downtown Nigeria for the cell phone store to sell me a SIM card.

9)I'm tired of the cycle of cell phone replacements every two years. There is always a next generation device that makes the old one obsolete. This “tech–envy" causes us to wait in a line outside the Apple store to spend hundreds of dollars for a cell phone that provides the same basic cell phone service that we already have. We just have to show it off to our friends as if we were Steve Jobs, and the applause will come to us as we show off our shiny new toy. So we continue to upgrade our phone and accumulate boxes of old cell phones. Hats off to the marketing hypnotist that accomplished this, but we should recognize that we have been conditioned to lust for these shiny new boxes every two years.

10)There remains a vast chasm between computers and cell phones that make it difficult to do automation integration. I would like all of my devices to complement each other when in each others presence. My cell phone proximity to my computer should seamlessly allow me to make calls using my computer. I would like to have my address book automatically be updated with the time and duration of phone contacts with people. This will help with client management, and the inevitable pruning all old contacts that I have spoken with in years. I would like Siri to listen in on my phone calls and after the call is over have it say “It sounds like you have agreed to an appointment at 10AM tomorrow, would you like me to put it in your calendar?” I would like to invoke Siri on the call and ask if the day is booked, or when my flight leaves tomorrow. I want to be able to have Siri tell my computer to print out my boarding pass at 10AM so I get the early SouthWest airline boarding time. I would also like to automatically handle mileage tracking for business purposes and put it into QuickBooks. At the same time, at the end of the day I would like to know where my hours were spent.

For security reasons we are told, each of these iPhone apps run in its own isolated “sandbox” which crippled the ability for these apps to interact and update information on my other computer devices.  Sure, there are apps that will do pieces of these things and I know I will get recommendations now, but I what I want is for all of these functions to be integrated into my computer as seamlessly as Pages, Numbers, Address Book and Photo Album work together. We are not there yet.

We need High Definition Phone Service for the 21st Century

I am a consultant for living, and I am highly paid for my phone consultations. I want no artifacts that cause either party to limit the amount of time we spend on the phone. So I want and I am willing to pay for great phone service because:

Today’s phone services lead to user fatigue.

My friends from Nokia say part of the problem is that I am using an iPhone: “This is what you get when a computer company designs a cell phone: a cool little computer but a lousy cell phone.”

My friends from T-Mobile tell me that “all cell services suck, the question is, which one sucks less for your area?”

My friends from AT&T point to todays’ phone system as a “mish mash of random manufactures poorly executed encoders and decoders that have never provided anything better than “acceptable” in the best conditions.” Ah, the old days when the phones were made to last centuries and provided consistent albeit expensive service.

I challenge anyone to have a quality (no drop, no garble, no artifacts of any kind) contiguous 1 hour cell phone call from my basement. This is where I had to work with Comcast to debug my Internet service. Up and down the stairs, drive around the block to get reliable signal and try and make it through the menus to speak to a human to send a signal to the cable modem. Arghhh! It’s not like I like in the sticks - I live in the heart of silicon valley in Palo Alto.

Ideally, I want to feel like I'm talking to the person right in front of me so I can pick up subtle voice articulations like sighs, hesitation, or rustling of papers. I'm talking about picking up cues from interpersonal interactions that will help me affectively teach without the visual cues of understanding. I don't care if it costs five cents per minute or $.50 per minute if it helps improve the quality of the call because that will extend the quality of the consulting engagement and therefore lead to a longer duration call.

There. Thanks. That feels better now.