Chapter 14 – CSD Is History

Up until June, 2002 I had enjoyed mobile data service from Fido for a mere five dollars a month. Yup, five bucks. And I’m pretty sure that was just an administrative fee; this was circuit-switched data after all, so in addition to that charge I was also on the hook for the minutes I used while “dialled in” to the mobile Internet. Having been on the Internet since 1995 I was well-versed in the dial-up routine  — get in, get what you want, get out — but like broadband Internet for desktop computers, an always-on Internet for mobile phones was inevitable.

When Fido introduced their packet-based GPRS data service they yanked the CSD option at the same time. While the minutes from my calling plan would no longer take a hit from data there was now a data transmission charge, 5¢ per kilobit sent or received. Even on small WAP pages that could add up, and exponentially so if you were roaming abroad and needed valuable information at your fingertips. It should be noted that by this point in my life I didn’t just have a travel bug; a parasitic host had set up a permanent residence, relentlessly steering my career and cash flow towards the next overseas flight and hotel booking. My actor friends couldn’t afford to go or weren’t interested, but the mobile Internet proved to be a dependable and compliant travel companion.

Thus this new pay-per-use mobile Internet simply would not do. I called Fido and threatened to cancel my account — an obvious bluff, since there was no other GSM carrier in Canada at the time. I got to speak to someone in their retentions department, who offered me a $400 handset for $50 if I would stay on with them through the summer. Being the device whore that I am I could hardly say no, and the $400 phone I got was the Nokia 8390.

Like the 3390 before it, the 8390 had Xpress-On covers and could dance. But this newer, smaller Nokia also had a GPRS radio and onboard WAP browser. And yet I was entirely underwhelmed by it, never even gave it a chance, really. Maybe it was the small monochrome screen, maybe it was the constant, painful reminder that the mobile Internet would never again be as cheap as it once was. Whatever the reason… meh.  I seem to remember taking it to a bar that was open all night to broadcast a World Cup game from South Korea, but that’s about it. The phone would go up for auction on eBay the very next month.

What replaced it, however, would prove to be quite epic…