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What Are Carrier Customizations?

Darla Mack asked a question in response to my last post about what carrier customizations were.  I will do my best to explain and not get myself into troube in the process. This is based on my experience with Nokia handsets and what I’ve heard from others.

When you buy a phone from a mobile carrier, the phone will contain branding–both in the software and on the external packaging–that will let you know the phone was customized for that carrier. Some of the more innocuous customizations are things like:

  • Default background or “theme” contains carrier-specific elements (for example, the “Cingular splat island” on the Nokia 6102).
  • A certain default carrier-specific ringtone. Both Cingular and T-Mobile have their own special ringtones that are, in my opinion, downright awful.
  • The carrier’s homepage as the default setting for the web browser.
  • Special carrier-specific menus, for example a way to get to the carrier’s download pages for games, ringtones, etc, or a prepaid service menu (e.g. Tracfone).

Those are fairly easy customizations to make. Some of these are a little more difficult, and in my opinion, do not improve the end user’s experience.

  • For a while, and maybe even today, Cingular was hiding the fact that you might be on another carrier’s network (e.g. T-Mobile). GSM phones have an area where the carrier you are connected to is displayed on the screen. For all US carriers, Cingular would always show Cingular, even when you were on, say, T-Mobile’s network. So when you get that notice from Cingular that you’ve been roaming excessively, how were you supposed to know this was happening, exactly?
  • Many of T-Mobile’s phones had the service provider settings related to GPRS/EDGE locked in a way that the settings could not be changed, even if you unlocked the handset. I lent a co-worker a Nokia 6610 a while back so he could take it to India for me and get different firmware flashed on it so the data settings could be changed. Wonder if that’s still the case?
  • Most handsets have the ability to do a “network selection” whereby you can scan for available networks and “connect” to the one you choose–assuming there was a roaming agreement in place. Cingular, in their infinite wisdom, disabled this feature on many of their handsets.
  • Just after Cingular had acquired AT&T Wireless, but before the integration of the two networks happened, Cingular had the device manufacturers put in some software on the handset to allow Cingular to change the “preferred network” for the device by sending a message to the handset.
  • I’ve heard rumors, but I’ve never actually seen for myself, that handsets from some manufacturers (e.g. Motorola) are set up in such a way as to prevent the non-voice features of the handset from being used if the handset is unlocked and used with another carrier.

These customizations actually caused me service issues. Since I get the vast majority of my handsets direct from the good ship Nokia and not from the carriers, the lack of these customizations have caused service issues, as I have documented numerous times in the past.

I do recall talking to the folks at EQO specifically regarding carrier customizations in Cingular’s version of the Nokia E62.  What they end up recommending to people who want to use their IM application on a Cingular-based Nokia E62 is to basically unbrand the phone, which is now a lot easier to do on the higher-end Nokia handsets than it is, say, on my wife’s Nokia 6102, which has Cingular branding all over it, but she’s using it with a T-Mobile SIM in it.

That, my friends, is carrier customizations in a nutshell. I’m sure there is a lot more types of carrier customizations out there, but that’s what I’ve personally seen or heard about. If you are aware of other types of customizations, feel free to leave them in the comments. Needless to say, I am happy to have unbranded Nokia handsets. I hope it remains that way for a long time to come.


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