International Disconnect

Long-fragmented U.S. wireless networks have created a chasm in the global business network.

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Differing SMS Cultures

Short Messaging Service (SMS) texting is one service whose usage is geographically out of sync; it is far more prevalent in Europe and Asia than it is in the U.S. For example, Domino's is poised to roll out a service that will enable customers in the U.K. to text pizza orders from mobile phones. But the company isn't trying that yet in the States.

"SMS seems to be only just starting to take off in the U.S. It is not a regular part of everyday life in the same way that it is in Europe," Kimberlin observes.

That's true in part because interoperable SMS services, which allow text messages to be sent between users of different operators' networks, have been available in the U.S. for only three or four years. Prior to that, only people who subscribed to the same operator's service could text one another.

Europe, however, has had interoperable SMS for about 15 years, so texting has penetrated the culture, according to David Kerr, an analyst at Strategy Analytics Inc. in Boston. "SMS is the dominant way of communicating for the sales force in Europe," he says. "You report to your line manager or vice president of sales after a meeting using text. In the U.S., you make a phone call."

Strategy Analytics pegs worldwide SMS revenue for 2006 at $53 billion, which is more than 10 times the $4 billion in U.S. SMS revenue last year.

Another reason why texting is more popular in the rest of the world than it is in the U.S. is because development of international cellular packet-switched data networks lagged behind development of such networks in the U.S. So SMS, which uses the network-signaling channel of cellular voice networks, became a default, pseudo-data-networking service that worked everywhere voice networks reached in Europe and Asia.

Network Mismatches and 'Walled Gardens'

While Western Europe and Asia have boasted higher-speed mobile networks, the U.S. is beginning to catch up with pockets of multimegabit-speed GSM-based High-Speed Downlink Packet Access services, notes Kerr. HSDPA network services are available in 165 U.S. cities from AT&T Inc./Cingular Wireless LLC, as well as in 41 European countries and nine Asia-Pacific nations.

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