Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Avoid Outrageous Data Roaming Bills

If you’ve travelled overseas with a smart phone, you know that you have to turn off international data roaming, otherwise your telco will own your house. That’s barely an exaggeration given the cost of data roaming – here’s Telecom’s, for example – ranges from $8 per megabyte to $30 per megabyte. Yes, that megabytes. As one wag put it: I didn’t know they still made megabytes. Typically in New Zealand we pay $30-50 for a gigabyte, sometimes less than that, and our smartphones and our lifestyles are geared to use that data. These prices are thousand times higher than that.

From time to time, telcos drop these charges, often by quite a large margin, then pat themselves on the back. Just try working out what the charges are in gigabytes, not the megabytes they always quote, and see how they stack up against what you pay at home.

Why should you have to pay more when you go overseas? When you take your mobile to the UK, say, and use data, the mobile telco you are connected to in the UK ships that data back to New Zealand for your home telco to put it onto the Internet here. That’s bonkers, and its part of the reason why its all so expensive. What *should* happen is that local mobile companies wherever you are should just connect you to the Internet for a decent price, i.e. whatever they charge their own customers plus a percentage to reflect the cost of billing it back. I’m not holding my breath on this.

Anyway, that’s not what this article is about. It’s about how to avoid paying these insane charges.

posted by colin at 12:01 pm  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The new Windows Mobile – A teenager’s perspective

A guest entry today – I lent the HTC Trophy running Windows Mobile 7 to my teenage son. Here’s his take on it.

One 17 year old’s opinion on this phone may be somewhat redundant, I don’t pretend to be the target market for a phone this expensive (possibly attributing to my ogling when being handed this for a play by my father?). But from the perspective of one who’s owned many Nokias and an iPod Touch, this phone seems to be a mix of the two with money thrown at it. So I’ll assume that you, reader of this post, who almost certainly spends more than $10 a month on their phone don’t really mind about spending a bit of money on some data. Not that I pretend to be an expert on data pricing.

Seeing as I have just spent 114 words outlining why I am completely unsuited to providing my opinion on this phone, I will now proceed to give it. In terms of hardware I can find no fault with it. It has a few buttons that are easy to grasp, but relies predominantly on its touch screen as an interface. The screen seems to be as good, if not better than my iPod, and it has a 4.1 megapixel camera. The Windows-driven interface is also easily manageable, their ‘tiles’ approach seems to work effectively, and maneuvering between the phone’s functions is easy and efficient.

The Internet user will also find that their address book is integrated with Facebook, and I would guess heaps of other stuff which my teenage phone experience has warranted little exposure to.

However, I still find myself maintaining my initial judgement of this phone, that the software, after a harsh upbringing in an orphanage, has been adopted into the hardware’s family, unlike with an iPhone where the components seem to be blood brothers. Oh please, elaborate on your confusing comparison I hear you ask. Very well. (i’m drunk on power by this stage.) Many of the phone’s menus and titles don’t fit, or are just a little too small for the screen, with seemingly random areas of blank screen space for no apparent reason. Stupid. Also, this may sound typical of someone who has grown up on Macs [the computers, not the beer -Ed], but the ‘Windows’ factor becomes apparent sooner rather than later. I have found myself turning to Google far too often to solve my problems, with a depressing rate of success. In this way (and many others) the phone seems more restrictive than the iPhone, and indeed it would be hard to not view the iPhone as more varied.

Thanks for taking the time to read this uncomprehensive (and in hindsight shockingly pretentious) report on my time with this phone. In conclusion, This phone seems to be good at being a phone, and I’m sure if you wanted to fork out around $900 for it, it could make your telephonic experience easy and simple. Comparing it to an iPhone seems harsh, despite them being in the same price bracket, and my Mac experience makes me question why you would buy one over an iPhone, but i’m sure Windows users will quite justifiably belittle this opinion. Whatever, man.

posted by colin at 12:10 pm  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That Windows phone

I’m on record as saying that Microsoft really needs its new phone platform, called Windows Phone 7, to succeed. It’s not that the loss of revenue from the declining sales of its old Windows Mobile phones hurts Microsoft much, but rather that it needs to be seen to be competent in a really important market.

Since the first iPhone, smartphones have come to challenge laptops for complexity and, in some cases, capability. Ten years ago, Windows on the desktop faced a small challenge from Linux and a larger (but still relatively small) one from Mac OS X. Now, despite the rise of the easy-to-install and use Ubuntu distribution, Linux is still very small on the desktop, but OS X is increasing strongly, up to about ten percent of total PC sales. But the interesting change is in the hardware: starting with the iPad, we are seeing devices using phone operating systems which are expanding into the space normally occupied by laptops. That’s a threat to Windows, not because of the iOS operating system, but because of Android – which is, of course, a version of Linux – becoming available in large numbers on slate-type devices and challenging Microsoft’s hold on the desktop and laptop operating system market. So, the question for Windows Phone 7 has got to be – not “is it good enough to sell?” but “is it good enough to keep Android out of the market, or at least out of the slate and tablet market?”.

posted by colin at 10:51 am  

Friday, August 20, 2010

iPhone: Getting back to 3

I’ve always kept my iPhone pretty much up to date with Apple software. After all, upgrades are free, and they often deliver exciting new stuff. Over the two years I’ve had my iPhone 3G, it has got more and more capable due to improving software.

Then Apple pushed iPhone OS 4 – or iOS4, as it’s now called – and the trouble began. Programs on my phone kept crashing, the sound kept getting interrupted and it became glacially slow. My phone went from being a thing of beauty and a joy to use to being a clunky machine to be endured and cursed. Using Wellington’s helpful text-to-park feature became nearly impossible because the parking machine would time out in the time it took me to send it a text message. And, in what was the last straw, it started ignoring incoming calls and going straight to voicemail.

This is the story of how I fixed all that by going back to iPhone OS 3.

posted by colin at 1:29 pm  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the radio today: the tribulations of Telecom mobile

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll be talking primarily about the recent failures of Telecom’s XT mobile network. I’ll be trying to uncover just what a radio network controller is, and how Telecom managed to ballyhoo a network which then kept failing.

After that, if there’s any time, we’ll have a brief look at a new theory of physics that may integrate gravity and quantum theory. Gosh. And, of course, steam cars.

I’ll be on air after the 11am news. If you don;t want to listen live, shortly after the programme, you’ll be able to get it as a podcast or just download the audio as ogg or mp3.

posted by colin at 8:18 pm  

Friday, January 29, 2010

Today on the Radio

I talked about Apple’s latest launch, the state of Telecom’s XT network, Google being hacked in China and ACTA. I didn’t get time for Lieutenant Uhura, but she’s here.

No speaker notes for today – most of it was done off the cuff after the Apple launch. But if you missed it live, you can download the audio as ogg or mp3.

posted by colin at 12:58 am  

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is this the strangest looking aeroplane?


This is a Lockheed SR71 “Blackbird”, displayed on public view at the air museum in Duxford, England. The Blackbird was a high-altitude supersonic spyplane used in the later part of the cold war. The Americans started using the Blackbird after Gary Powers was shot down over the USSR in his U2 – the SR71 flew higher and faster – but pensioned it off after it became clear that advances in missile technology meant it was at risk of shooting down from the installations it was sent to observe. Now, of course, we all use satellite technology thanks to Google Earth. As a kind of postscript, the U2 is still flying over Iraq and other hot spots, long after the aircraft designed to replace it has gone to the museums.

The Blackbird flew at over Mach 3, at heights of over 75,000 ft. It took off and landed – of course – at sea level, so its engines and airframe needed to be able to deal with low speeds as well as its cruising altitude. The engines would only burn subsonic air, so the inlets of the engines had to be complex and vary in shape to slow the air enough when the plane was going fast. That’s the purpose of the cones pointing forward out of the engines – the cones moved in and out depending on the aircraft speed. Even so, the SR71 would sometimes suffers what the US military quaintly called an “unstart” while at cruising speed and altitude. Both engines would go out, meaning that the aircraft would have to descend and decelerate while trying to restart the engines nearer sea level. That’s not something you would want to have to do over enemy territory!

Even so, not a single Blackbird was lost to enemy action. But 12 out of the 32 that were made crashed in accidents. It’s not technology that you’d want to use in airliners.

But I still think it’s a wonderful, if strange, looking aircraft.

posted by colin at 9:42 pm  

Monday, August 10, 2009

iPhone in XT-land

As I said on the radio last week, I recently changed my iPhone from Vodafone service to Telecom’s XT network.

I did it primarily because Vodafone’s coverage at my house in Wellington was so poor. Every time the mobile rang I would have to run upstairs with it and get out onto the deck to hear the caller. Vodafone say they are going to do some more “infill” of their urban Wellington coverage next year; I can’t wait that long.

posted by colin at 7:30 am  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Let’s take it for a spin

OK, so I went to the Telecom XT launch in Auckland today. I’ll blog about what went on tomorrow. But for now: Telecom are very proud of the technical quality of their network. Test-drive it for a month, they said. And they showed us some upcoming TV ads of people doing just that. Then they lent me a phone and a SIM to try it out with.

I’m keen to give this thing a blast. I’d love suggestions on what to try. Anything goes provided it doesn’t damage the phone (or me!), and I can do it in and around Wellington. The phone is a Nokia 6120. I’ll post results on the site.

Suggestions, please?

posted by colin at 8:51 pm  

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today on the radio

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll talk about a whole list of things – not sure if I’ll get time for them all. I’m going to mention the rumours that IBM will buy Sun, talk about why you can’t use your mobile on the London Underground, how you can tell if your computer is infected, and about where the value lies in software, which is based on a blog post I made a few days ago. I’ll put some of my speaker notes and the links for the program behind the “more…” below.

Listen live at 11:05 or download the audio as ogg or mp3. (more…)

posted by colin at 9:00 am  
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