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A bunch of letters

27/9/09

I’m not sure how I know about lace, maybe it’s from spending too much time shopping for underwear and friends wedding dresses, but I do know that the Nottingham lace industry uses unpronounceable acronyms for security.

No one company does the whole production process. Lace is made in huge sheets with some threads made of a plastic that dissolves in acetate. A separate company will dip the sheets to get the strands of lace and a third will dye it.

The network of competing and allied companies is almost as intricate as the patterns on the lace itself and it’s a horribly protective industry. No-one wants outsiders to understand who is doing what part of the production process so while the companies all have proper established names they are all referred to by those in the know by initials. Done to shut out customers, like the dress manufacturers, who might get too good a price if they knew who did what.

But what is the excuse for the mobile world? Why do we use acronyms which even when you spell out the terms don’t give a clue as to what they mean. Group Special Mobile begat GSM, which then became translated to Global System for Mobile communications. It’s ironic that while the acronym doesn’t fit, today you could say “Global System for Mobiles” and it would mean something to the vast majority of people, as mobile has come to mean a device much as video has.

Very few of the acronyms mean anything. GPRS? EDGE – which is an acronym including an acronym and best of all LTE. Long Term Enhanced. How long is a long term? It’s 3G LTE because the committee which defines it wasn’t allowed look at anything other than 3G technologies, so while it might happily have been called 4G it had to pretend to be 3G. It uses a different type of radio, which of course comes with its own acronym  (ODFM), different cell planning and will require very different devices. The relationship to 3G is only through the people and the name.

Of course it’s not just the mobile industry which hides behind acronyms, all industries do it but at least the others, when you spell them out have some semblance of common sense to the name. They also do a better job of making them colloquial, the use of ‘sequel”  for SQL.
But of all the mispronunciations it’s the name of the dominant phone manufacturer which most riles. You only have to listen to a Finn to hear the correct version. Nokia is pronounced by Americans  like a refusal at a South Korean branch of Avis, when they have run out of Kia cars to rent. No Kia. To get it right it should sound like someone tapping on a wooden lughole: Knock Ear. Maybe that’s why the biggest phone manufacturer in the world has such little success in the USA. American’s can’t pronounce it. Perhaps they should create a sub-brand, but they’d only choose a acronym that no-one could decode or pronounce.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.

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