Cell phones, those great "timesavers," have dumped upon an unwitting public one of the most time-wasteful tasks ever invented. In order to be in constant touch, at the beck and call of all and sundry, you have to invest what seems like endless hours in figuring out which phone to buy and which plan to choose.
Indeed, Orange, Cellcom and Pelephone give us a lot of choice in phones - but they're all extremely expensive choices. We're paying excessive amounts of money for phones that are often outdated, and even up-to-date phones are very expensive compared to their true costs.
For example: The Nokia N73 phone is sold by Orange for NIS 2,844 - about $650 at today's exchange rate, with a three year contract. But that phone is available for $629 from http://tinyurl.com/jdepw - unlocked, meaning you can sign up for any plan with any GSM service provider.
Almost everywhere else in the world, cell phone service providers give customers a significant discount on the device for signing up. The Nokia N73 is not the only phone Orange customers are paying full fare for: The Motorola L6 costs NIS 1,044 from Orange, while the comparable (actually, more advanced) Motorola SLVR 7 is $150 (less than half price) for customers of Cingular in the US. The Motorola V3 costs NIS 900 with Orange - but if you're a T-mobile subscriber in the US, they'll give you the phone for free - and throw in a $50 rebate! For lack of space, I won't go into what Pelephone and Cellcom customers are paying; let's just say that Orange isn't the worst offender in this area!
And so on. Now, I know what you're going to say; the phones and networks aren't the same, there are import duties to be paid, the Americans aren't giving anything away because they make it up in the service pricing structure, etc. I could debate each one of those points - but this is not a column about how much we are overpaying for cell phones.
We all know we're overpaying, and there's little, if anything, we can do about it. At least they "let" you pay these phones off in 36 installments!
So what's my gripe? Well, if the cell phone companies are going to charge us premium prices for their phones, they should be providing us with premium service. I regret to inform you, though, that in the area of cell phone messaging, the cell phone companies are refusing to provide us with a basic service available to customers of other companies everywhere around the world - just so they can make another couple of "grushim" on us!
It all started when I came across this post at the Google Tutor site (http://tinyurl.com/khrfo), which tells you how to adjust your Gmail settings in order to forward messages directly to your cell phone.
Gmail, as you know, is the free mail service offered by Google that gives you gobs and gobs of storage space, so you never have to erase a message if you're too lazy to click the delete key. Why would one want to forward Gmail e-mail to a phone? It's the kind of thing that interests me, of course, because it gives me stuff to write about - but it also sounds like a cool thing to do, if one were so inclined.
And apparently, there is no great technical feat involved. E-mail forwarding to cell phones - essentially an expansion of SMS services - is a service millions of cell phone customers around the world can access without blinking.
Not in Israel, though, if you're an Orange customer - and I'm betting customers of other cell phone service providers will have the same experience if they call up their companies and ask for this service as well. According to the Google Tutor site, all it takes is a mail exchange set up by the cell phone service provider and a forwarding address directly to a phone that can accept text messages (in other words, almost every cell phone in use nowadays). Note that we are not talking about anything as fancy as text to voice translation, etc. - just plain, old text forwarding. Sounds easy, and since Israel adopted the 10-digit cell phone numbering system, our phones comply with the Gmail rules for forwarding such messages (10 digit phone number@mail exchange).
Na ve me, of course, assumed that something this simple would be a no-brainer for the superior Israeli hi-tech mind, so I experimented with various permutations of what the correct sounding address would be (firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.). No dice. After about an hour of this, I called up Orange customer service.
After finding someone who even understood what I was talking about (the third rep!), I was told that it couldn't be done - for phony, "technical" reasons, which I of course shot down with little effort. After all, Orange has its own Web site from where you can send SMS messages to phones. And you can send messages from ICQ to Orange numbers. What, Orange has a "private Internet" where messages can only go from select servers to its phones? Yes, the guy said; that's it - a "private Internet."
Bad answer; now I was really mad! After about 10 minutes, the rep finally admitted that the concepts surrounding public IP addresses and DNS applied to Orange's Web site, just like it applied to Gmail's - but that freely sending SMS messages from any other site was against Orange Israel's "policy."
Of course - if you could use a free service to send unlimited numbers of SMS messages, why would you pay their charges to send more messages than the 20 or so you're allotted under most of their plans? You wouldn't, of course - but then Orange would lose what must be an important income stream for them. It's a "policy," all right - like the one where they charge us excessive prices for their phones!