Competition As A Discovery Process Holds For Cell Phones, Too

I love this Tech Central Station article by Steven Den Beste. He describes in great detail the evolution of competing standards for cellular phones in the US, versus the “harmonization” and settling on GSM as THE standard in the EU. Punch line: North American cellular networks and phones are more technically sound, and are updating to changes more easily. This is an important point: competition of standards enables a better standard, or set of standards, to evolve because they adapt better to the unknown. Here are some excerpts, but I recommend reading the whole thing:

If the U.S. had followed the same policy as Europe and mandated a standard, the CDMA air interface would never have been given the chance to prove itself. We in the U.S. now have just as good of nationwide systems and just as much roaming ability as the Europeans do, only our best systems are fundamentally better on a technical level than the best European systems, and are upgrading sooner with less pain. I can use my Verizon handset nearly anywhere in the U.S. or Canada that has cellular coverage at all (which is an area much larger than the EU), either directly on Verizon or roaming on a compatible system (such as Canada’s Bell Mobility). …

This kind of thing has played out much the same way hundreds of times before between Europe and the U.S., and nearly always it’s had the same result. And as Europe increasingly centralizes and “harmonizes” and moves more and more authority to Brussels, it’s going to keep happening. Decisions will be made from the center, and a lot of the time they’ll be made wrongly because the “center” is not the infinite repository of all knowledge and wisdom. The “center” chose GSM (and thus TDMA) to be the winner; America decided to let the market pick the winner, and it didn’t turn out to be TDMA. And now Europe is switching to the superior CDMA air interface which could never have been developed in Europe because of government regulation.

European centralization turned out to be a competitive advantage – for the U.S. And that’s going to keep happening. If I was vicious and wanted to wish commercial failure and misery on Europe, I could think of nothing better to inflict on it than the process going on now whereby more and more authority will move to Brussels to be used by unelected bureaucrats who answer to no one, and will make binding technological decisions based on politics and ideology.