Monday, 30 June 2008

Tips for using your mobile abroad

Some good tips from Ofcom on how to save money when using your mobile abroad this Summer. I've got a few of my own which you'll be able to read about on Thursday on SMS Text News.

Ten tips to keep mobile bills down whilst abroad:

  1. Enable your mobile phone: Check with your mobile provider that your phone has been enabled to use abroad. Operators are obliged to provide this information to customers.
  2. Check your handset: Check with your mobile provider that your handset will work in the country you are travelling to.
  3. Check the prices before you leave: Contact your mobile provider to check your tariff before you travel to help avoid unexpectedly high bills.
  4. Ensure you are getting the best deal: Check international packages offered by operators before you travel to ensure you are getting the best deal.
  5. The pan European tariff only applies to voice calls: Remember that the pan European tariff (Eurotariff) which has helped to reduce the cost of calls, only applies to voice calls, not to texting and data downloads. It is available from all operators, across most European countries but is not available in Switzerland, Turkey or Croatia.
  6. Check your bundles: Don’t assume that the price of calls made abroad are included in your bundled package.
  7. Don’t forget voicemail: Remember that calling your voicemail from abroad can cost the same as making a call to the UK – check with your provider if in doubt. Unlike at home, you may be charged every time someone leaves a message on your voicemail . I f you want to avoid these charges, you can switch off your voicemail before you leave the UK.
  8. Using mobile internet abroad: Be aware that when connecting to the internet via a mobile handset, dongle or data card (a portable modem which provides internet access via the 3G network) whilst abroad could cost significantly more than when using them at home.
  9. The local SIM option: If you are out of the country for a long period time, it could be cheaper to buy a local SIM card that can be used in your handset or a local dongle.
  10. Alert your operator immediately if your phone is lost or stolen: If your phone is lost or stolen when you are abroad remember that you could be liable for the cost of the calls made in that country. Make a note of the contact details of your operator before you travel to ensure that you can get in touch with them as soon as possible to report the loss.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Update on national roaming for 999/112 emergency calls

I've just had some more info from Ofcom on the implementation of national roaming in the UK.

National roaming for mobile 999/112 was available in the UK in the early days of GSM but was switched off at the request of the emergency authorities because of the volume of hoax calls. Therefore there is a wariness around switching it on again without safeguards.

There is no overall authority in the UK with responsibility for delivering emergency services so the planning process has to involve all the separate stakeholders, for example the Ambulance Service and the Police Service come under separate government departments. This means that Ofcom can't simply order it to happen but has to work towards a consensus approach.

However the good news is that Ofcom hopes that national roaming will be available within the next nine months.

National roaming for 999/112 emergency calls from your mobile?

This week's article from SMS Text News, looking at the 999/112 emergency number service.

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – National roaming for 999/112 emergency calls from your mobile?

Back in 1991 the EU mandated 112 as a pan European emergency service number and since then its availability has spread across Europe so that now only Bulgaria, among EU countries, has yet to implement it. The idea behind 112 is that it operates alongside existing national emergency numbers and provides a single, easily recognisable, number that travellers can use anywhere. The EU is keen to raise awareness of 112 and has recently launched a website that sets out its aims and the position in each country. According to EU research, awareness of 112 as a pan Europe emergency number is only 6% in the UK so there’s certainly work to do here, although 96% do recognise it as a UK emergency number, alongside 999. Across Europe, 112 recognition stands at 22%.

One point that caught my eye on the new website is national roaming. In accordance with EU best practice, national roaming has now been implemented in 21 countries, for example France and Germany. What this means is that if there’s no coverage on your own mobile network, you can call 112 on another network that does have coverage. In some countries, including Denmark and Spain you can even call from a handset without a SIM card. National roaming clearly improves mobile availability of access to the emergency services and benefit consumers. However neither has yet been implemented in the UK. Ofcom is keen to see national roaming for 999/112 calls and is working with the mobile networks to achieve this. Because all emergency calls are initially handled by BT and Cable & Wireless they also have to be involved in establishing the process. The overriding consideration for all parties is to ensure that extending the availability of 999/112 via national roaming does not have a detrimental impact on the quality of the overall service, for example in call handling times (where the UK represents best practice with 98.1% of calls answered within 20 seconds) and location data. The mobile operators support the concept of national roaming however there is currently no timescale for implementation. Two issues that have apparently delayed implementation are the availability of location data and systems in place for identifying and rejecting persistent hoax callers; nearly half of all mobile 999 calls are ‘silent’, not made by malicious callers but inadvertently as keypads get pressed in pockets or handbags.

The UK is unlikely to also implement calling from handsets without SIM cards because of the risk of increasing the number of hoax calls. In Sweden 98% of 112 calls from handsets without SIM cards were hoax calls and both France and Germany are in the process of disabling this functionality for the same reason.

I’m going to continue to pursue national roaming with Ofcom because it’s long overdue in the UK and hard to see why implementation should be more difficult than elsewhere.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Roaming frustrations

Here's this week's article from SMS Text News.

This week Jonathan looks at the old issue of mobile coverage and asks what the networks are doing to improve it.

It’s been a busy week with Nokia’s launch of the new S60 E71 and E66 handsets. However I’m not going to be covering them here as Ben Smith is already doing them justice elsewhere for SMS Text News.

Something that’s been bugging me recently is the question of coverage. I’m increasingly frustrated that we’re not seeing anything dramatic from the networks to tackle the problem of patchy and inadequate coverage. At home, despite living about half a mile from the M25, coverage is flaky and my handset jumps from cell to cell. I can see the signal strength indicator going up and down and switching between 3G and GSM. Having discussed it with my operator they accept that in building coverage is poor here and yes they do have plans to improve it, but not for a couple of years! Great, but that really isn’t good enough! My wife recently stayed at Center Parcs in Wiltshire and was unable to use her handset in most of the village. Standing on one leg on top of the wardrobe improved things marginally but proved less than practical! Even Victoria station in London suffers from poor coverage on some of the platforms.

So what are the networks doing to create a step change in coverage improvement (and I don’t mean installing the odd new cell site here and there)? 3 and T-Mobile, and Vodafone and Orange have announced infrastructure sharing agreements. These are designed to make it easier and cheaper to improve coverage by giving access to each others cell sites, thereby sharing costs and reducing the need for planning applications for new masts. To be fair it’s early days for these agreements but it seems likely that over time this will improve coverage for customers of these networks (not sure what happens to O2 here!).

There’s been a lot written about femotocells which provide localised in building coverage and route the mobile service via a broadband connection back to the operator’s network. This means the call or data traffic does not use the radio portion of the operator’s network. Benefits here are much better in building coverage and freeing up capacity in the radio portion of the network. These devices are currently undergoing test and it remains to be seen whether they will become a viable proposition for regular users, in terms of simplicity and cost.

Something I’d like to see would be roaming agreements between the operators to provide coverage where individual operators have gaps. Currently the only national roaming agreement is between 3 and Orange (previously with O2) where Orange’s GSM coverage fills gaps in 3’s 3G coverage. Maybe this is an area that OFCOM should look at? Whilst I generally don’t favour more regulation, I think 26 years is quite long enough to wait for ubiquitous, or even just better, coverage!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Skype caller display

The Skype caller identification (caller ID) option lets you set up an existing mobile number as a presentation number that people see when you call them. This is a great step forward in integrating Skype into your existing comms set-up. An issue that is a pain when using an additional telephony service for outbound calls is that it either doesn't present a caller ID at all or it presents some strange number that will either confuse people or prompt them to try to call you on a number you don't want to receive calls on.

I've set my Skype caller ID to display my Truphone number which is my preferred number to receive calls on.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

112 emergency access from mobiles in the UK

The EU has launched a website to promote 112 as the pan Europe emergency number. One interesting point it highlights is that unlike some other countries, including France and Germany, the UK does not allow national roaming for 112. National 112 roaming would mean that if there's no coverage on your mobile network you would be able to call 112 on another network that did have coverage. Also, in the UK you cannot call 112 from a handset without a SIM card, unlike others, including Denmark and Spain. Addressing both areas would enhance the 112 service and improve personal safety in some circumstances.

Wonder what OFCOM's view is on these issues. I'll ask the question.

Firefox 3 download link for the UK

Here is the link to the British English version of Firefox 3. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Nokia E71 - first impressions

There have been many excellent, in-depth reviews posted about the E71 so rather than go over everything again I've aimed to highlight the features that have really caught my eye. So, after yesterday's launch event of the E71 and having had the opportunity to now use the handset, what are my initial impressions?

I love the form factor - considering the handset has a qwerty keypad, the size is excellent. Still fits in a shirt pocket which works for me! The build quality is also fantastic. The steel construction makes the handset feel very solid when sitting in your hand.

Moving to the software, what's new and innovative? Nokia's email setup wizard makes configuring an email service very simple. All you need to do is enter your email address and the handset uses a database of ISPs to automatically configure the settings. Switch mode is a very neat facility that allows you to differentiate between two different user modes, typically business and home. You can have two separate sets of settings, e.g. home screen, email, ring tones, with a single menu selection - very simple but also innovative. This recognises the fact that many people use their handsets in two distinct environments.

The distinction between consumer focussed handsets (N Series) and business focussed handsets (E Series) is starting to blur, with the incorporation of Switch Mode, a better camera (3.2MP), Share on Ovi and Nokia Maps. This is a sensible recognition of the fact that many people use handsets in both environments.

Firefox 3 Download Day

Don't forget you can download Firefox 3 from 18.00 UK time today. If you download in the first 24 hours, you can help Firefox set a world record for the number of software downloads in a single day. I'll post the download link when it updates to Firefox 3.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Nokia E Series product launch in London

I'm reporting live from the Nokia launch event on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower in London. Nokia has announced the launch of two new E Series handsets. The E66 and the E71. S60 handsets aimed at the business market, they offer full enterprise functionality plus consumer support via OVI.

More to come ...

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Nokia N81 8GB

The guys at WOM World kindly loaned me the N81 8GB to play with. The usual S60 functionality is excellent and the handset has a nice solid feel to it. The handset is aimed at the music market, hence the huge memory, and my device came bundled with a superb pair of Bose headphones. As a music player combination they are fantastic but the handset doesn't really work for me.
Nokia has clearly focussed on the music aspects of the handset, perhaps to the exclusion of other features. The handset only has a 2MP camera and whilst this is adequate it's less than you'd expect on a premium device like this.

The keypad takes a lot of getting used to. It uses a curious rocker key that extends across the whole width of the handset. I'd much prefer to see separate keys. The Navi wheel is a nice idea but I couldn't get on with it. It's too inconsistent in operation.

Like other N Series devices the N81 is missing the Active Standby plug-ins function that the E Series devices have. This is a really useful facility that allows the status of multiple applications to be listed on the home screen. It's something you need to use to understand just how useful it is and a key reason why I love my E51.

In summary, the N81 is a great idea but somewhat flawed in implementation.

Thank you to WOM World for the loan of the handset.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

One voice mailbox for all

This week's post on SMS Text News.

The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get by my inability to tie all my voice messages together in one place. I have several fixed lines, including home and home office, a couple of VoIP services and several mobiles. Whilst I don’t dish out all the numbers to callers, I still receive inbound calls on a variety of lines, each with its own mailbox. To minimise the places where messages get left, I withhold the caller ID on several numbers to stop callers using those numbers, however that’s very unsatisfactory because withheld numbers are an irritation for many of us.

I’ve thought of using a standard operator mailbox on one number and then diverting calls on no answer to that number but it’s messy to manage and really doesn’t do what I’m looking for. It also suffers from lack of options in message alerts and delivery.

My favourite voice mail provider is Spinvox. I use this on my primary mobile and it replaces the mobile operator’s generic voice mail service. Spinvox converts my messages to text and delivers them to my handset - I’ll be coming back to Spinvox in a future report. However the major problem I have with every voice mail provider I use is that they only support a single number and deliver messages or alerts to that number. What I need is one voice mail provider that will support all my fixed, mobile and VoIP numbers with a single mailbox that will deliver messages and alerts by SMS, speech to text or email, wherever I choose. I want to be able to add numbers to the mailbox so the system recognises them and then set up a simple divert on each number for when I’m unavailable. Fixed and mobile numbers would support this but VoIP adds a further complication. None of the VoIP services I’ve been using support call diversion using the standard codes – 21, 61, 62 etc – so that adds another complication. VoIP seems to be stuck in its own world as far as voice messaging goes.

I don’t want a service that means having a new number and I don’t want a service that generates a new outbound call to whatever destination number I choose. I’m not looking for an enterprise solution - my solution needs to be consumer oriented, inexpensive and simple to use. I’m convinced there would be demand for such a product as so many of us use multiple lines, numbers and devices. Does such a product already exist? And, it has to support UK numbers!

Sevendotzero blog

Since I started writing a regular piece for SMS Text News I haven't had as much time as I would like to write for my own blog. However, writing for SMS Text News ensures my thoughts about the mobile world reach a wider audience, which is good news.

Another way to tune in to my thoughts and tips is to follow me on Twitter. You can sign up for Twitter direct or alternatively follow my Twitter feed on the right side of this page.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Curious claims from Rebtel

Just picked up a press release from Rebtel. They claim that Truphone (incorrectly spelt as Truephone!) no longer offers free calling. Currently calls to non Truphone numbers attract a small charge but Truphone to Truphone calls are still (and guaranteed to be) free. That's great when your colleagues or friends have Truphone numbers and can potentially save you a fortune.

Also, whilst the Rebtel 'bit' of the call is free, you still have to make a PSTN or mobile call to connect to Rebtel which in many instances will attract a charge, so suggesting Rebtel is free is a bit disingenuous.

I really like Rebtel, even if the call setup can be a little complicated, and I've blogged about them before but I do prefer to see the whole story represented.

The press release can be found here.

New look and feel for Sevendotzero

Just testing out a new look and feel for the blog. Let me know what you think.

0800 calls from UK mobiles

It's always annoyed me that UK mobile operators charge for calling 0800 freephone numbers and don't include them in any call bundle. They're supposed to be free to call but somehow the mobile operators choose to ignore this fact.

However, I've discovered a way to get the calls included 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. The call is billed by your mobile operator as a call to a 023 number and included within the bundle. Neat trick!

It works on my mobile package, although I guess the mobile operators may decide to bar it if too many people start using it so beware ....

I've also discovered some other 01 and 020 numbers that do the same trick.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Billing & Information Management Systems 2008

Yesterday I participated in an interview session on the future of billing at BIMS in Amsterdam. We discussed how billing is changing & what this means for customers & communications providers.

Areas we discussed included:

  • The change from a product centric, systems silo, world to a converged billing architecture.
  • Billing convergence creating the opportunity to offer customers increased value via converged propositions with a single price point.
  • The move to autopayment so the bill ceases to be a demand for payment & can evolve into a value statement.
  • The scope for new bill delivery methods including a customer centric online portal & push email with secure bill attachments.
  • The impact of billing on the propensity of customers to call, with queries.
  • The value to both the business and the customer of quarterly billing & regular monthly payments.
  • The impact of regulation on billing - service separation of the retail business from the local loop & the lessons for other markets.
  • Differentiating between property (fixed line & broadband) & personal products (mobile) on the bill.
  • Customer choice by allowing customers to build their own service bundles & customise the way the bill data is displayed.
Overall, a very good debate with excellent delegate feedback.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Vodafone billing

Finally got my bill straightened out and a proper explanation of the problem. With thanks to Amy and Lee from the forum intervention team for resolving this. The team is a real asset to the business. I'd like to see other businesses tracking online customer satisfaction and proactively picking up problems.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The meaning of mobile customer service

A flashback to when the mobile operators knew the meaning of customer service ...

This week's post on SMS Text News.

Looking back at customer service in the early 1990’s.

The other day I was talking to Ewan about customer service and it made me realise just how much this aspect of the mobile world has changed. The move from providing a niche service to going mass market inevitably removed the personal service that the operators offered back in the early days of the market. So a little bit of mobile history …

The specific instance that Ewan & I discussed was how Orange used to offer two hour replacement handsets when they launched back in 1994. I guess handsets were perhaps less reliable back then and I certainly had several replacements over the following few years. However the one occasion that really stood out was when a two hour replacement handset was shipped to me on the Isle of Wight. I phoned the fault in early evening and a couple of hours later was in possession of a courier delivered brand new handset – how cool was that!

Back in 1992 I bought my first handset, a Nokia 101, from Vodafone’s service provider arm, Vodac (in those days the networks were not allowed to sell direct). A very nice lady turned up at the house to show me the range of handsets that Vodac sold, I chose one and it was delivered a few days later. That’s what I call pre-sales service! The handset was of course analogue, not GSM, and used TACS technology. TACS stood for Total Access Communications System. By today’s standards I’m not sure ‘Total Access’ would stand up to scrutiny! But back then any mobile phone was something special! GSM roaming was only a glint in the EU eye, however my TACS Vodafone could roam in Malta (Vodafone ran the network) should I have found myself there – I didn’t!

The analogue networks suffered from very variable coverage – nothing much changes does it! After pushing to have a coverage complaint escalated, Vodafone despatched a team to check things out and look at the coverage ‘on site’. A car, bristling with antennae arrived; readings were taken and fed back into network planning. I was left in no doubt that my complaint had been taken seriously!

The other side of all this great service was of course, call costs. In the early days of mobile, a second mortgage was pretty much essential to deal with the bills! Now, although standard call charges are pretty good, you still need that second mortgage to deal with roaming bills, and sometimes data, as Ewan knows to his cost!

All this reminiscing got me thinking about the handsets I’ve had since 1992. Well, here’s the list - the ones I can remember! How many do you recognise?

Nokia 101
Nokia 2140 Orange
Nokia Orange 5.1
Ericsson GH198
Nokia 2110
Nokia 8110
Nokia 3110
Nokia 5110
Nokia 6130
Nokia 9110
Nokia 6150
Ericsson T28s
Nokia 8210
Ericson T68
Nokia 6310i
Nokia 7210
Nokia 7250
Nokia 7250i
Nokia 6230
Nokia 6230i
Nokia 1600
Nokia E65
Nokia 6120C
Nokia 2310
Nokia E51
Nokia 1208

It’s a mixture of high and low spec handsets. Some I bought myself and some issued by employers. Some bought for a very specific purpose - like the Nokia 1208 that cost £3 last month which I take when I go running.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Download Day 2008

Help Mozilla set a Guinness World Record by downloading Firefox 3 on launch day. Firefox 2 is great so Firefox 3 is going to be awesome. Pledge your support here now.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Your wife called ...

If you read SMS Text News you'll have already seen this but I couldn't resist reposting.

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