Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Google’s wireless vision

Interesting to read about Google's wireless vision. They see an open wireless future where your mobile device or smartphone will use the best available wireless connection, based on a combination of price and availability. Devices will no longer be tethered to one network. This would include 3G, GSM, WiFi, WIMAX, LTE and anything else that comes along. So at home my smartphone would use WiFi (actually I'm doing that now with Truphone), when I'm mobile 3G (got that now on 3), when 3G isn't available GSM (doing that as well). So it is starting but there's a long way to go until we have seamless roaming across all wireless technologies and networks. Devicescape, DeFi and Truphone are starting to build aspects of that seamless layer so it is coming.

3 and Skype

The Sunday Times picked up the story that 3 is planning to add SkypeOut to their Skypephone package, on top of the existing Skype to Skype and Skype Chat offering. However, buried away in the detail, I noticed that SkypeOut is only supported for international calls. Calls to UK destinations can only be made via the regular 3 service - not the full SkypeOut deal. So, although 3 are provding a way to make cheaper international calls, they're not letting it cannibalise their existing UK calling revenue. It will be interesting to see what the next iteration of 3 Skype looks like and whether it embraces the whole Skype service. There's still no mention of support for SkypeIn numbers to your 3 mobile.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Mobile VoIP as a 'fix' for flaky GSM and 3G coverage

In-building GSM and 3G coverage can still be very flaky despite years of 'investment' by the mobile operators. Switching operators sometimes improves the situation but then you may not get the tariff or handset you want and can lead to coverage issues elsewhere.

I've found having a mobile handset that also supports WiFi solves this problem neatly. Increasingly I give people my Truphone number, rather than my 3 number, so I can receive high quality calls at home, irrespective of 3's flaky in-building 3G coverage. At home my Nokia E51 jumps between 3's own 3G network and their roaming partner Orange's GSM network with the result that call quality can be unpredictable. But a call on my Truphone number is consistently good quality.

Mobile VoIP operators like Truphone and DeFi that have their own numbers for inbound calls and forward to your GSM/3G number when you're outside WiFi coverage are now be a vital part of your mobile tool-kit, not just to save money but also to deliver quality of service.

Now all I need is a flat rate tariff ... DeFi has just launched Global Access which I'll be testing shortly and I'm waiting for Truphone to refresh their tariffs.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Bizarre Barclaycard

Consolidation continues apace in the UK credit card market. Recently the issuer behind one of my cards was acquired by Barclaycard. I already manage my existing Barclaycard online so thought I'd add the new one to my existing online account. Should be easy as there's an option to add another card. However, to add a second card they have to be 'linked' and to 'link' two cards for on-line servicing you have to ... wait for it ... phone Barclaycard. This is despite both cards having identical names and addresses. And if that wasn't bad enough, the agent I spoke to said that 'linking' doesn't always work and I might have to call them back again anyway!

What is it with companies that just don't understand the online customer experience?

Friday, 26 September 2008

Nokia Email Service - a 'must have' app?

I've been running the Nokia Email Service on my E51 for a couple of months now. It's definitely the best email client I've tried on the handset - slicker than the native S60 email client. 
Rather than having to set up yet another email account and forward your email to it, the Nokia Email Service collects and sends email using your existing email account. It's currently in beta and seems to work well. I use it to collect personal email from my Gmail account. 

A couple of points worth noting about the software. I started with the sync set to email push and that killed the battery. I've now got it set to 1 hour and get much better battery life. Nokia E Series handsets support Active standby plug-ins where you can have multiple applications displayed concurrently on the home screen - e.g. Missed calls, New message, Calendar, Inbox. One disadvantage of Active standby plug-ins is that only one Inbox can be displayed - SMS or email. However the Nokia Email Service creates a separate Active standby plug-in on the home screen so I have both my SMS Inbox and my email Inbox displayed. A nice enhancement.

Currently the software is a free download and is available for most N and E Series handsets. Nokia has yet to announce what will happen when it comes out of beta, in terms of handset support and whether it will continue to be free.

Nokia Email Service is definitely on my list of 'must have' S60 apps.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – DeFi Mobile launches Global Access

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.

Yesterday I met with Jeff Rice the CEO of DeFi Mobile to discuss the launch of DeFi Global Access. DeFi offers carrier grade VoIP via your mobile handset with flat rate subscription pricing.
What really struck me about DeFi is that in a single service it addresses a number of the gaps in existing VoIP propositions - simple user experience, call expenditure predictability, all inclusive pricing and worldwide in-country numbers.
You keep your existing mobile phone, mobile number and SIM card and use DeFi when in range of a WiFi access point to make calls out of your flat rate package. DeFi is currently compatible with Nokia S60 WiFi handsets with more platform compatibility on the way – BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile. Installation is via a simple SMS download that auto configures the handset with your personal DeFi settings. The only thing you need to change on your existing mobile service is to downgrade the package to a cheaper one because you won’t need to make as many calls using it! As well as using your home and office WiFi you have automatic access to over 50 global WiFi networks in more than 75 countries included in the monthly service charge. The hotspot network also provides email and Internet access via your handset. Any calls that DeFi cannot include in the flat rate subscription, like premium rate calls, are barred, to maintain the simple tariff.
The proposition is aimed both at mobile roamers who are fed up receiving extortionate bills after overseas trips and regular mobile users who just make lots of calls. Current customers include both consumers and businesses that are looking to reduce their mobile bills.
Quick summary of the key features:
• Single flat rate tariff for all calls worldwide - wherever you are your calls are included in your monthly service charge
• Geographic number for inbound calls in your home country
• Full inbound and outbound CLI
• Call forwarding to your GSM/3G number when out of WiFi coverage
• Voicemail–to-email service with handset message alert
• Service and account management via the web
What does it cost? In the UK the DeFi Global Access monthly subscription charge is £25 (US$ equivalent) per month. The only additional charge is for upgrading to Global Access+ which gives you three geographic numbers in the countries of your choice for an additional £5 per month. Global Access+ is great if you have friends or colleagues in other countries and want to give them a cheap local number to call you on.
DeFi has invested time and money in building a carrier grade platform with the call quality and reliability you’d expect from a serious player and I’ll be checking this out when I test the service.
My DeFi account will be up and running shortly and I’ll be writing a full review on my experiences using the service.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – The curse of consumerism!

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.
A few days ago my son dropped into the conversation that he’d like the new iPod Touch for his birthday. Great, I thought, as I’d been looking for ideas (although a little pricy!). However last year he had an iPod Classic and already that’s ancient history (although my wife is going to have it, so it will be recycled!). The 80GB disk was meant to last him ‘ages’ but of course a year on it’s yesterday’s technology and all his friends are getting the latest iPods! His iPod Classic was a replacement for a Motorola RAZR with iTunes (sorry Ewan, and I wouldn’t let it happen again!). So, in the relentless march of consumerism my son has upgraded his music player every year to something newer and slicker.
What’s all this got to do with mobiles? Well, I think many will identify with the annual upgrade cycle and the mobile industry used to reflect this with 12 month contracts but now it’s getting increasingly hard to find a competitive deal on a 12 month contract. 18 months has become the norm. Not only does this mean we’re stuck with our handsets for longer but our needs change and we’re trapped in contracts that may no longer suit us. As an example, my wife would like a 3G iPhone but she still has 6 months to run on her contract with 3 and not surprisingly doesn’t want to incur two sets of contract charges or have to pay for one on PAYG.
Whilst I can understand that the networks want to lock us in for longer to boost their margins, longer contracts run contrary to consumer behaviour and choice. More than ever, phones get a daily battering. Now they’re not just phones but music players, cameras, web browsers, sat nav devices as well. Expecting them to last 18 months is a big ask. You can go and buy SIM free but that’s a minority interest and you end up paying for both the contract and the handset.
So what’s the answer? A completely flexible tariff that let’s you choose exactly what minutes, texts, data, contract length, handset (with or without subsidy), international pricing and other options you want. As well as generating a monthly tariff price based on the criteria you select, the sign-up process would generate a handset price. If neither of those is right for you, you juggle the options to get the right price. Alternatively, pick the price that suits you and see what you get for your money.
I know times are tough for the operators but this would be a real USP for someone in the market. And it would deliver real consumer choice - so who’s going to step up to the mark?

Monday, 15 September 2008

Next Generation Billing 2008 conference

If you’re interested in billing then you might want to attend Next Generation Billing 2008 in Budapest.
I’ll be taking part in a discussion on developing a customer-centric approach to billing.
Next Generation Billing 2008, 24 – 26 November 2008, Corinthia Grand Royal Hotel, Budapest
You can find out more details here.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday - My favourite Twitter tools

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.

Last week I wrote about Twitter, why I’m a fan and how I use it. This week I’m going to look at some of the applications I use to improve the Twitter experience and make it easier to use. The Twitter API has generated a vast number of Twitter related applications and these are just a few that I find useful. There are many others I’ve dipped into in the past but these are the ones I’ve found useful enough to stick with.
The simplest way to use Twitter from your PC is via Twitter’s website but this misses out on apps that create a richer user experience via multiple communications media to both read and post to Twitter. My favourite tool for following people on Twitter, reading their posts and posting new tweets is Twhirl. Twhirl runs on your desktop and new posts appear as pop ups for easy reading. Twhirl has a very clear interface and has become my default Twitter app.
When I want to post to multiple social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku and others, I usePing.fm. It’s not always appropriate to post the same message to multiple sites but when it is Ping.fm makes the process very simple.
My mobile usage falls into three categories – browser, email and phone. To access Twitter on my Nokia E51 I prefer Slandr to the mobile Twitter site. Twitter’s own mobile site needs a significant update as the functionality is very limited. Slandr offers more Twitter functionality than Twitter’s own mobile site with a simple and clear interface. I have used the Java app Twibble in the past but still prefer Slandr.
TwitterMail gives you a unique email address for posting tweets. Just fire off a quick email from your phone and your tweet appears in your timeline - great for quick tweets from my BlackBerry.
Sometimes it’s fun to post tweets via the phone, particularly when it’s not convenient to use your phone’s browser. I’ve used both TwitterFone and Spinvox here. Once registered, both apps allow you to call an access number, speak your message and have it transcribed into a tweet that appears in your Twitter timeline. TwitterFone has some nice features – a link to listen to the original voice message and the ability to listen to and reply to tweets over the phone.
Recently I discovered TwitterCard. TwitterCard creates a small ‘card’ for your blog or website which shows your Twitter avatar, your last tweet and your location. It’s a handy way to promote your Twitter feed on your blog.
Twitter contains a wealth of data and is a neat way to keep up with feedback and news on different subjects and products. Recently Twitter acquired the Twitter search tool Summize and rebranded it Twitter Search. Twitter Search is great for mining Twitter to find tweets on key subjects. Each set of results for a Twitter search has a unique RSS feed which you can subscribe to for future posts containing the search term. I’ve created a set of feeds for my favourite products and Twitter users.
There’re a lot of links here but these apps give a flavour of the diversity of Twitter. The Twitter world changes fast so do share the Twitter applications you’ve found useful.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

30 Days 50 people 120,000 spam emails

A recent experiment by McAfee underlines just how serious the malware threat is, if you don't take sensible precautions online.
In May 2008, 50 individuals around the world embarked upon The McAfee S.P.A.M. Experiment. McAfee armed these brave volunteers with new laptops and email addresses then invited them to surf the web unprotected for 30 days to discover how much spam they would attract and what the effects would be, both short lived and long term.
Each day, these intrepid participants opened their email with no idea of what they would encounter—and then they recorded their experiences.
How much did they get spammed and how drastic were the effects?
Read what they discovered in the The Global SPAM Diaries.
The report ends with some good tips for avoiding spam:
1. Do not post your email address on the Internet.
2. Check to see if your email address is visible to spammers by typing it into a Web search engine such as Google. If your email address is posted to any Web sites or newsgroups, remove it if possible to help reduce how much spam you receive.
3. Many ISPs also offer free spam filtering. If this is available, enable it. Report missed spam to your ISP, as it helps reduce how much spam you and other members of the same ISP receive. If your ISP does not offer spam filtering, use anti-spam software to reduce the amount of spam delivered to your inbox.
4. When filling in Web forms, check the site’s privacy policy to ensure it will not be sold or passed on to other companies. There may be a checkbox to opt out of third party mailings. Consider opting out to receive less opt-in email.
5. Never respond to spam. If you reply, even to request removing your email address from the mailing list, you are confirming that your email address is valid and the spam has been successfully delivered to your inbox, not filtered by a spam filter, that you opened the message, read the contents, and responded to the spammer. Lists of confirmed email addresses are more valuable to spammers than unconfirmed lists, and they are frequently bought and sold by spammers.
6. Do not open spam messages wherever possible. Frequently spam messages include “Web beacons” enabling the spammer to determine how many, or which email addresses have received and opened the message. Or use an email client that does not automatically load remote graphic images, such as the most recent versions of Outlook® and Thunderbird.
7. Do not click on the links in spam messages, including unsubscribe links. These frequently contain a code that identifies the email address of the recipient, and can confirm the spam has been delivered and that you responded.
8. Never buy any goods from spammers. The spammers rely on very small percentages of people responding to spam and buying goods. If spamming becomes unprofitable and takes lots of effort for little return, spammers have less incentive to continue spamming. Would you risk giving your credit card details to an unknown, unreputable source?
9. Make sure that your anti-virus software is up to date. Many viruses and trojans scan the hard disk for email addresses to send spam and viruses. Avoid spamming your colleagues by keeping your anti-virus software up to date.
10. Never respond to email requests to validate or confirm any of your account details. Your bank, credit card company, eBay, Paypal, etc., already have your account details, so would not need you to validate them. If you are unsure if a request for personal information from a company is legitimate, contact the company directly or type the Web site URL directly into your browser. Do not click on the links in the email, as they may be links to phishing Web sites.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday - Twitter and why it’s relevant to me

This week's post on Mobile Industry Review.

Twitter cropped up in the news recently here in the UK with the announcement that it could no longer justify the cost of delivering Twitter messages by SMS outside the US, Canada & India. Whilst this was a useful feature, the announcement was hardly surprising given that it was costing Twitter up to $1,000 per user! If this helps to prolong the longevity of the Twitter business model then it’s probably good news. In any case a number of alternatives have now appeared in the guise of companies offering SMS delivery with a per message cost - although this could get expensive!

So what is Twitter all about and why is it relevant? Twitter falls into the social networking and micro blogging family. Twitter is all about simple communication using a maximum of 140 characters on a one to one or one to many basis. This can be as simple as letting people know what you’re doing at a point in time or imparting a useful piece of information or news, quite often tech related.
I use Twitter because it’s simple, concise, happens in real time and keeps me in touch with what’s happening elsewhere. It’s a great way to connect with other people and build relationships with people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet. I use it at my desk as well as when I’m out and about. Sometimes it’s a gap filler when travelling - quick look and see what others are up to; sometimes a dissemination mechanism for random thoughts, ideas & updates. It also complements Facebook by automatically updating your Facebook status, if you so choose.
My use of Twitter falls into a whole range of categories which is why I’m a big fan.
  • Direct messages for quick one to one contact
  • Reading breaking news alerts
  • Fun - reading and writing random comments that brighten up the day
  • Tech information - both from users and from tech companies themselves
  • Networking - building and developing my personal network of contacts
  • Blogging - both to pick up other blog comments and disseminate my own
The key features that make Twitter different to the myriad other micro social networking services out there are the API, reach and direct messaging. The Twitter API encourages developers to produce applications that enhance the Twitter experience in terms of contributing, reading, analysing and using Twitter messages. I’ll return to these in a future article. As one of the earliest micro blogging services, Twitter still has the edge in terms of users although others are catching up. As well as offering an alternative to instant messaging or email, direct messages allow public discussions to be taken offline if they cease to be relevant to a wider audience.
Any negatives? Twitter still seems to be a bit geek focussed. I’ve struggled to encourage close friends and family to sign up. They ‘get’ Facebook but Twitter is a step too far! I will be interested to see if Twitter remains the preserve of the geek community or broadens out into something the Normob community embrace. The essential simplicity of Twitter makes it an ideal service for Normobs but it is taking time to get the message out there.
You can follow me on Twitter at Sevendotzero.
My favourite explanation of Twitter is Twitter in Plain English on the CommonCraft Show.

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