Why we need to call time on long mobile contracts

Phones should be sold just like any other piece of tech kit


Speaking as a happy iPhone user, I don't think my annoyance at not yet being able to upgrade to the new iPhone 3GS has anything to do with entitlement.

It's simply the first step towards what should already be the case – widespread annoyance at the status quo foisted on us by mobile phone companies.

Seriously, let's recap. They want you to sign contracts of up to two years, at usually phenomenal monthly costs, under the expectation that you'll still be happy with the handset that you pretty much just bought sight-unseen.

Do you know what you'll want or be doing in two years? Nor do I.

In that time, you have pretty much no comeback if the service degrades, if you move somewhere that the network doesn't cover, or anything else that a sane system would allow for.

Never mind the march of technology, never mind the growth of new services and uses for the things, nor the simple fact that you might want a change and don't consider your phone a direct manifestation of your soul.

Right to complain

How in the seven hells did they persuade anyone that all this was a good idea? Worse, how did we reach the point where anyone complaining about this miserable treatment is accused of being a whiner?

Is it whining to point out the obvious: that on a product with a yearly release cycle, the stupidity is on the part of the company that wanted everyone to sign up for 18-month contracts this time last year, when it graciously let everyone give it more money to upgrade on time?

The whole mobile phone industry needs to be put in its place. As far as I'm concerned, a phone is just a tool. They're not lifestyle devices, they're not fashion accessories, they're not reflections of our innermost souls; they're devices to make calls, receive calls, access the internet and take a few pictures on the move.

If I had my way, the whole system would be completely overhauled. Forget heavily subsidised handsets, at least as the default business model. Enough of nonsense like 'Sign up with us for two years and we'll give you a PS3/netbook/ingot of solid gold'.

Perfect world

In my perfect world, every phone would be bought like any other piece of kit: right off the shelf. Pick up a new device, pop in your SIM card – Pay As You Go or contract as you choose – and enjoy.

As for the networks, they would no longer be the sole guardians of the mystical technology. Instead, their only responsibility would be making sure those handsets connected properly and, if they must, flogging some ringtones.

But wait! What about the extra cost in paying for the handset up front? Well, that's simple. If you can't afford the latest, shiniest piece of techno-love, that's too bad. Welcome to Real Life.

On the plus side, this system would make it so much easier for you to buy a cheap handset now, still getting the benefits of being on contract rather than PAYG, while letting you upgrade without any fuss later.

Isn't that better than the current system, where you usually end up having to settle for some plastic rubbish you don't really want for the next year, or being locked in over some gimmicky feature that turns out to be pretty useless once the shine has worn off it?

A good start

I hate to splash around words like 'utopia', but this wouldn't be a bad start. Try the chocolate fountain while you're here. You'll find some marshmallows under the pile of murdered bankers, next to the Pepsi river.

I appreciate that this 'no more free ride' policy might sound harsh, but let's be honest – it wouldn't be as big a deal as some people would love us to think.

The cost of mobile phones would drop pretty damn fast if the companies making them were competing on the open market, instead of selling to the networks and throwing us a bone if we're willing to drop hundreds and hundreds of pounds on some unlocked one. Just look at Apple.

The iPod touch and iPhone aren't physically identical, but are we really meant to believe that there's some £300 technical difference between them? No, of course not.

The difference between them is that the iPod resides in a market where people actually buy their hardware, and the iPhone lives in a land where the provider wields all the power in the business relationship. That situation has to change.

Apple has brought us a model where people want to upgrade on a yearly basis and where the mobile phone's status as a platform makes the idea of hanging onto the same outdated kit for years nothing short of ridiculous. Never mind what your contract says. Never mind if iPhone owners are asking for more than you currently get.

That's not the problem. What we need to be asking is how we deserve to be treated, and on this one, we iPhone users are correct. Victory here is a victory for everyone. But especially us, because our phone is best.

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