Sunday, 31 August 2008

CommonCraft videos in Plain English

I love the videos from CommonCraft that explain technology in simple terms. My favourites are Twitter in Plain English and Social Networking in Plain English.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Jaiku invitations

Now that Jaiku is back with unlimited invitations, if anyone would like an invitation please email me at the following temporary email address and I'll send one over.

Tough times ahead for mobile users

It's getting increasing tough for UK mobile users. All the operators seem to be raising prices for out of bundle calls and now 3 has moved to per minute billing and brought in charges for non direct debit payments and itemised paper bills. Although I have a certain sympathy with providers charging for non direct debit payments and paper bills (understanding the economics here), these price rises all add to the pressure on consumers.

Ofcom also indicated this week they are open to the idea of consumers being charged to receive calls, as our friends in the USA and Canada do. This would allow termination charges to come down (the charges that mobile operators impose on other operators to carry their calls). So if we do start paying to receive calls, in theory we'll pay less to make them. We'll see ... Anyway, the current pricing regime runs until 2011 so a lot can happen between now and then.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday - Championing consumer choice and value

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.
O2 Germany’s recent move to block Rebtel’s access numbers looks like yet another attempt by the big operators to preserve ‘their world’ at the expense of competition and customer choice. Other recent examples include Truphone’s interconnect issues, disabled VoIP clients on operator branded Nokia handsets and specific 07 number ranges excluded from call bundles.
It reminds me of the early days of Orange and operators like First Telecom taking advantage of Orange correctly treating 0800 numbers as freephone numbers (charging for 0800 numbers is another mobile ‘feature’ in need of corrective action!). As Orange blocked access to First Telecom’s access numbers, First Telecom would open new ones in an ongoing game of ‘cat and mouse’.

Sadly, for the consumer, it seems the big mobile operators have learnt nothing. It’s much easier to squeeze the competition than to compete with it. If Truphone, Rebtel and others can strike deals to offer low international rates, then the big multi country mobile operators could offer even better rates - if they wanted to. But that’s the nub, they don’t want to. Why cannibalise existing revenues when plenty of customers are ‘happy’ to pay more?

Instinctively I’ve never been a big fan of business regulation. I prefer to let the market deliver products and services that consumers want to buy; and let the providers live or die by the results. However sometimes regulatory intervention is a necessity to create the right environment to allow all the players to compete. I think we need clear action from OFCOM and the EU to prevent the big mobile operators from marginalising the new competition.

Despite all this I am actually a big fan of the mobile operators! We’ve got Vodafone and O2 (neé Cellnet) to thank for bringing us cellular comms in the first place. Orange delivered per second billing and transformed tariffs. 3 brought us mobile data at sensible rates. The big operators have delivered lots of good stuff over the years but sometimes the mobile market feels a bit like an oligopoly. We need the new guys to drive innovation and deliver a competitive marketplace for us all to enjoy so let’s ensure they are given the opportunity to compete and live or die on the results.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Rebtel & O2 Germany

So O2 Germany has decided to block Rebtel's access numbers. When will the mobile operators learn they have to develop and adapt to meet the new competition?

How about doing something really radical like cutting their international rates and competing head-to-head with people like Rebtel and Truphone? Ah! But that would mean cannibalising too much existing revenue.

Not a good time to be seen to be making life more expensive for customers. I'm sure Viviane Reding and the EU will take a keen interest ...

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Mobile user feedback

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.

Recently I asked readers for their comments on what they think about the mobile service they receive and what they’d like to change. I received some interesting feedback and would like to thank everyone who responded.

There’s no doubt that mobiles have changed peoples’ lives and we all take increased contactability as a fact of life now. However whilst the concept of mobile contact is hugely popular, what about the reality of the services on offer from the operators?

Nor surprisingly, a recurrent theme was tariffs. There’s a strong perception among many people that it’s too difficult to find the right tariff. Either you end up with loads of minutes and SMS left unused at the end of the month or you don’t have enough in your bundle and end up being charged extortionate rates for your additional usage. This leaves users feeling they’re not getting real value for money from their operator. Plus lots of usage is excluded from tariff bundles – in the UK the usual 08 and some 07 numbers plus roaming calls for most users. My suggestion that the other operators should emulate 3 Like Home was certainly a popular one! Whilst people feel the operators could be more customer focused in designing their tariffs, there’s also support for regulation to create a fairer approach to charging, for example in the handling of calls that are currently charged as extra.

The tariff concerns form part of an overall impression that the operators have too much market power and therefore don’t need to respond to customer concerns about pricing or availability of handset functionality, like the ability to make VoIP calls. Is this operator power or a ‘perfect market’ in operation?

Whilst there is a degree of confusion about the profusion of mobile handsets on the market, users welcome the advance of technology and the additional functionality it brings to handsets. More intelligent market segmentation to help customers choose the right handset would help here.

There’s still a lot of support for subsidised handsets because of the perception that it gives you a new handset every 12 or 18 months at no or little charge. Most users seem to overlook the fact that these subsidised handsets are keeping tariffs artificially high. Although handset subsidies have driven customer numbers they have also allowed the operators to lock in customers via long contracts and SIM locking and stifled competition. So long as users are hooked on a dependency culture of a free handset every year there seems little incentive for the market to change. Those of us who source SIM free handsets are still a tiny minority.

Network coverage was seen as less of an issue than I expected (apart from by Annie, my Australian reader!), with most users seeing the networks as broadly similar. People who have used several networks tend to be more aware of the differences between them.

To summarise the feedback for the operators in four words – still work to do!

Friday, 15 August 2008

Spam and malware

This week I've received a spate of spam messages purporting to be delivering links to online greetings cards. Seems timely to remember not to open any message or attachment from senders you don't recognise and never click on links in emails. Nothing new there but important to remember.

Although most spam email purporting to come from a bank or similar is easily recognised as bogus, an additional check I use is to use a unique email address for every organisation I deal with, for example the name of said organisation @ my domain name. It's not 100% foolproof but the likelihood of receiving a bogus email from your bank, addressed to the unique address is slim. One interesting spin-off from this system is you can whose been lax with the email address you've given them. Surprisingly how often a unique email address suddenly pops up in unrelated spam!

Personally I tend to delete many attachments and ignore greetings card links even from people I know because of the possibility their email address may have been compromised and is being used for malware spam.

Remember all is not as it seems online.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Devicescape on your mobile

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.

I’ve been using Devicescape for a while now on my Nokia E51 and it dramatically improves the WiFi user experience. So what is Devicescape? It’s a free application that runs on your mobile device and automatically logs you in to WiFi networks without the need to enter ID and security credentials each time. This includes your own WiFi networks, free hotspots, your subscription hotspots and your friends’ networks, where they’ve agreed to share their network with you. Free networks are automatically available with no need to open a Devicescape account.

The ability to share networks is a unique feature that lets your friends (buddies) use your network without you having to give them your network’s WPA or WEP security details. The risk with handing this information over directly is that you never know where it might end up but Devicescape ensures that you know exactly who has access to your network and you can easily restrict access in the future if you want to. The one thing to remember here is that you must share your network details whilst your friend is connected to the Internet elsewhere so Devicescape can update the authorised networks ready for when the connection is made to your network. By sharing networks with each other you build up a community of networks.

All the family’s PCs use Devicescape to connect to our home network and others. My principal use of Devicescape on my Nokia E51 is to login to WiFi networks for Truphone. I’ve got a number of private WiFi networks plus a subscription service and automatic access to free networks set up in my Devicescape profile. When I move into an available hotspot, Truphone triggers an automatic Devicescape WiFi logon and then Truphone connects. The whole process is seamless and avoids the need to type in security keys on the handset or go through browser logins.

The Devicescape web portal provides a simple dashboard for managing your networks, your devices and your buddies. Changes made via the portal are propagated out to the devices when they update their networks.

There are two acid tests for software for me. Does it do what it says and what’s the support like for technical issues? Devicescape certainly does what it says it will do and better still it does it seamlessly. Devicescape provides support via online forums and when I’ve raised queries via the forums they’ve always been picked up fairly swiftly. The quality of support has been excellent and included new versions of the software to resolve specific issues.

Is there anything missing? I’ve had a number of discussions around the ability to prioritise connections to personal networks. I sometimes have more than one wireless SSID available at home and would like to be able to manage access without removing one from Devicescape. However, because Devicescape is all about providing seamless and cost effective WiFi access, where there are two or more free personal networks available there is no facility to prioritise connections. I’d like to see this implemented in a future release, as an option for users who regularly have simultaneous access to multiple personal networks.

Devicescape currently has versions of the software for the following platforms – Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X, iPhone and iPod Touch, Windows Mobile, Nokia Tablet, Nokia S60 and Linksys WIP300.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – What’s on your mind?

Last Thursday's post from Mobile Industry Review - the new name for SMS Text News.
Over the past few months I’ve written about areas and issues that intrigue and sometimes irritate me. This week I’m going to ask you some questions.
What is it that you like about the mobile industry and what do you hate? I’ve written about what mobiles mean to me and to Normobs but what do they mean to you, whether you’re a geek or a Normob?
Overall, are you satisfied with the deal you get from your operator? Is the tariff good value? What about their billing? Are your bills simple, clear and accurate? Do you receive a combined landline, broadband and mobile bill? 
What about the service itself? Is coverage good or do you perceive your friends on other networks as having better coverage? Do you use 3G or GSM coverage & do you manually select one or other, depending on where you are and what you’re doing, to get a more consistent service?
How do you feel about handsets? Are they reliable? How often do you buy a new one? Are you a Nokia fan? Were you over or underwhelmed by the launch of the iPhone and did it really change the market? In my view it made smartphones ‘Normob ready’ but is that a little unfair?
Moving to roaming, most people would agree the operators have been having a good time at our expense for too long. With the honourable exception of 3 Like Home, it’s taken EU intervention to start to bring prices down but there’s a long way to go. What about a Vodafone or an Orange or a T-Mobile ‘Like Home’ offering? They each have multi country networks. Should there be more regulation or should the market be allowed to determine pricing?
How well does the mobile web work for you? If you’re a social networker does it help you connect with your friends and family? Do you shop from your handset?
Will mobile VoIP make a difference to you or will it remain of marginal interest for the foreseeable future? How successful will the big operators be in keeping it niche by disabling the functionality in their locked handsets? Does VoIP really have the potential to change the mobile market in terms of price and functionality?
And lastly, if you had one mobile wish, what is the top thing you would like to change?
A lot of questions but I’m very keen to hear what you think!
Please comment below or if you prefer you can email me - jonathan at (replace the at with @).

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Wordle - generate your own word clouds

Wordle is a site that generates word clouds from text you provide, maybe your blog or a document. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the original text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and colour schemes. The images can be printed out or saved to the Wordle gallery for sharing.

It's fascinating to see how much you've blogged about particularly subjects!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Truphone Anywhere custom filter tricks

The more I use Truphone Anywhere the more impressed I am with it. I've been checking out custom filters and come up with some neat money saving tricks. I've set up filters to direct calls to 08 numbers & other Truphone numbers via Truphone Anywhere when I'm not directly connected to Truphone (usually away from my WiFi router).

My mobile operator 3, like most operators, charges extra for calls to 08 numbers and Truphone numbers. However, by using Truphone Anywhere these calls are directed via a 01 number so come out of my mobile call bundle. As I never use the whole bundle this effectively makes them free on my mobile tariff. Truphone then charge me for 0845 or 0870 calls but at a lower rate than 3. 0800 calls and Truphone to Truphone calls are free via Truphone.

International calls are already routed via Truphone Anywhere so all my mobile calls via 3 are now 'in bundle'.

One point to note is to set up the filters in both '08' and '+448' formats to ensure calls are trapped whichever way they are dialled.

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Reducing call costs on your mobile

Reposting this week's piece from SMS Text News.
I’m on holiday this week so even more dependent on my mobile than usual! Here are some neat tricks for saving money on calls that invariably cost extra …

If you’re on a mobile contract the chances are you will have a bundle of minutes that covers calls to landline (01 & 02) numbers plus mobiles. However the problem with bundles is that they almost always exclude calls to 08 numbers and international destinations. With the huge number of businesses that use 08 numbers this can get very expensive. However there are some tricks to include calls to these destinations in your regular minutes bundle.

A previous post on SMS Text News commented on 08 numbers and suggested finding the 01 or 02 equivalents on SayNoTo0870. This is a great option where there’s a 08 number you call regularly. An alternative is to look for the number that the business you want to call quotes for calling from overseas – have a look at the back of your credit card for an example. This is often a 01 or 02 number and works fine in the UK, as well as from overseas.

Being charged for calls to 0800 freephone numbers is particularly outrageous, so the trick I really like is to include these in your bundle. Call 023 800 30 800 (a Southampton number) and when you hear a continuous tone, enter the 0800 number you want to call (don’t press send again). The call is billed by your mobile operator as a call to a 023 number and included within the bundle. There are also some other 01 and 02 numbers that do the same thing.

When it comes to international numbers, my solution is to use Truphone Anywhere (you do need a compatible handset). You dial the international number as normal, the Truphone software intercepts the call, dials a 01 number and makes the international call via Truphone. The UK leg of the call is included in your mobile bundle. The international leg incurs a small charge from Truphone but it’s a fraction of what mobile operators charge for international calls.

An alternative to Truphone is Rebtel which is 100% compatible with any mobile or landline phone. With Rebtel you register the destination number with Rebtel and receive a UK number to call. The UK number comes out of your bundle and the international leg is charged to your Rebtel account. Similar to Truphone except you need to set up the destination numbers first, whereas Truphone works for any number on the fly. Rebtel also has a system for making calls without incurring a charge to your Rebtel account – they call this a smart call. When the call connects, the other party hangs up & dials the local number that appears as your CLI on their phone while you stay on the call. You’re both then reconnected. Not very user friendly, although probably works okay when both parties are used to it.

As with all numbers you call from your mobile, do check your bills to ensure you’re not being charged for anything you think is ‘in bundle’. The mobile operators do regularly review what’s included and what isn’t.

Anyone got any other tricks to get out of bundle calls into your call bundle?

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