Friday, 18 December 2009

Freerunner - an evolving WiFi business


Earlier today I had a chat with Owen Geddes, CEO of WiFi hotspot provider Freerunner. 2010 is going to be a big year for Freerunner with the the launch of a number of new products and services. Freerunner is aiming to continue to drive the agenda of free WiFi access for consumers in a growing number of locations.

Next year will see the launch of a Freerunner MVNO aimed at optimising wireless data connectivity using both WiFi and 3G, based on an intriguing business model that promises to deliver great value for money. Plus, Freerunner will move into the hardware space with a couple of different Freerunner branded devices; a phone and a WiFi ready handheld device.

Meanwhile, the Freerunner community projects and UK and international hotspot expansion programmes continue to ramp up. These hotspots are supported by 3G and satellite connectivity, as well as regular broadband, depending on the location. Freerunner is also starting to install 802.11n compliant routers to provide enhanced coverage to the increasing number of users with N compatible devices.

It's great to see not just a new entrant into the UK WiFi market but one with new and innovative ideas.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

iNum: one global phone number

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

This week I had a chat with Tim Behrsin, who heads up the iNum division at Voxbone. iNum (which stands for ‘international number’)  launched in 2008 and has been busy building interconnect agreements and signing service providers over the last year.

inumThe concept behind iNum is a single global phone number that isn’t tied to a specific geographical location. It uses the global ‘country code’ 883 to give users a number that will reach them wherever they are, regardless of geographical location. iNum numbers can also provide PSTN connectivity to VoIP services that hitherto have been isolated from the PSTN world.
An example of iNum in action is the recently launched Veep Mobile which uses iNum numbers as part of its VoIP over 3G data service.
In 2010 iNum will rollout support for SMS, in addition to voice, enhancing the mobile compatibility of the service. The proposition will also focus on identity, with functionality allowing service providers and users to determine where and how calls and messages should be delivered.
iNum is also looking at opportunities to provide connectivity in regions that are poorly served by existing technology. At the Burning Man event in the Nevada desert, attendees were assigned an iNum so they could be contacted from networks such as Skype and Google Talk, in the absence of cellular coverage.
Top priority for iNum at the moment is extending interconnect agreements with fixed and mobile telcos to allow users to call iNum numbers at standard rates so users can promote them as the best way to be contacted. Within the iNum world, iNum to iNum calls are free.
The concept of a single global number for people who travel, rather than having multiple local numbers, certainly has appeal and with the right pricing stands to catch on. Not having to change service providers when moving between countries could make life much easier for many people. How about Truphone Local Anywhere with an iNum!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Reflections on mobile stuff in Berlin


Last week I attended IIR's Next Generation Billing 2009 conference in Berlin. An excellent conference which provided the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

It's interesting to reflect how my usage of mobile devices changes from trip to trip. Last week's visit to Berlin was my first trip overseas since I acquired an iPhone. Previously I had tended to make extensive use of my laptop for checking emails but this time I only fired up my laptop once. The rest of the time I relied on my iPhone for sending and receiving emails. The iPhone handles emails so well that it made my laptop redundant for the three days I was away. Previously I had used a BlackBerry but much prefer using the iPhone, in part because of the way it renders emails.

The conference hotel had excellent WiFi coverage despite being charged at an extortionate EUR 25 per day. Although I was armed with an iPass account, courtesy of AxiCom, unfortunately I wasn't able to use it because the hotel decided that charging outrageous rates for WiFi was better business than joining a WiFi aggregator! However the combination of hotel WiFi and iPhone was brilliant and did save on 3G data roaming costs.

I had been hoping that the guys at Truphone would be able to let me have a Truphone Local Anywhere SIM to try out. Unfortunately the product is not quite ready for launch; however I was able to use their SIM4travel product. SIM4travel has a number of benefits, including no charge to receive calls in about 40 countries worldwide and competitive calling rates. SMS rates in the EU are less competitive now the EU has capped rates but for anyone travelling between multiple countries it's a handy tool to have. Although Truphone has yet to announce pricing for Local Anywhere, I'm expecting it to be a great product for anyone spending time in more than one country.

When I visited the Netherlands back in the Summer I made a lot of use of my Nokia E63 on Vodafone because their Passport promotion meant that calls and SMS on their partner networks overseas were treated as 'in-bundle'. However sadly that was just a promotion and now regular roaming rates apply, so with every call and text chargeable, my Nokia E72 had a quiet couple of days!

So overall, the winners this trip were my iPhone & WiFi!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Nokia E72 - shows Nokia is still in the game



I've been using the new Nokia E72 for a couple of weeks now and overall I'm impressed. The hardware is excellent - the handset form factor feels just right and apart from a couple of Nokia creaks the build quality is good. The metal surround and battery cover means the handset has a solid feel to it.

The qwerty keypad is a big draw for me and as much as I love my iPhone, a touch screen qwerty keypad just isn't as good as 'proper' keys (in my opinion!). The 5MP camera is significantly better than previous E Series cameras, although not in the same league as some N Series devices.

The Optical NaviKey is an interesting new feature for navigating the screen. It takes a bit of getting used to but with some practice it's a nice enhancement to the usual 'click to scroll' function.

The S60 software does seem a bit dated after using the iPhone but it does the job, suitably enhanced with Handy Taskman. The faster processor seems to make a difference, with much speedier performance than on my previous E Series devices.

A couple of nice E63 features (that weren't on the E71) have been carried through - the 3.5 mm headset socket (of course!) and the space bar torch feature.

Overall, I think the E72 is a worthy successor to the E71, especially if a decent qwerty keypad is a must for you.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Monday, 16 November 2009

Yamaha PSG-01S Speakerphone for Skype

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
Last week a nice surprise arrived via courier - the new Yamaha PSG-01S speakerphone for Skype. Described by Yamaha as a ‘Sound Gadget’, the idea behind this device is that it acts as a speakerphone for Skype calls when upright and doubles as stereo speakers when lying on its side.
The Yamaha PSG-01S Speakerphone
The Yamaha PSG-01S Speakerphone
It’s a highly portable device and perfect for packing in your laptop case. The speakerphone has several clever features. When on a Skype call you can lay the device on its side to mute the microphone. The device chimes to warn you when switching from phone to speaker mode. If the device is being used as stereo speakers (listening mode) and a Skype call comes in, turning the device upright allows the call to be answered. The speakerphone has a series of LEDs around the top which indicate the current status; nice idea but not obvious what they mean without referring to the user guide! Everything you’d expect from a quality speakerphone is there - echo cancellation, background noise reduction and support for super wideband audio. The build quality is excellent; it has a solid feel to it and is finished in brushed metal. Connectivity is standard USB2.

Making a call is simple and uses both the Skype client on your PC and the on-hook / off-hook hardware buttons on the speakerphone. Call quality is outstanding and it’s a great enhancement to Skype, especially as an alternative to a headset. However, the one bizarre thing about the Yamaha is the price. The Skype store is selling it for £199.90 and I can’t work out who would pay that price for a speakerphone. It’s undeniably a great bit of kit but that price point seems too high. The quality may well justify the price but I don’t see users paying that sort of premium which is a shame because anyone using the ‘Sound Gadget’ will love it!

The Yamaha PSG-01S is available from the Skype store.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Be Broadband


I've been using Be Broadband for a few months now. They caught my eye as one of only two ISPs offering 'unbundled' ADSL 2+ broadband in my home area and I was keen to see how much difference ADSL2+ makes. ADSL 2+ is marketed as an 'up to 24MB' broadband service but as with all these 'up to' services very, very few people get anywhere near the theoretical maximum.
I have an ADSL Max ('up to 8MB') service on another phone line here and get about 5-6 MB download speed. The Be service gives me 8-10 MB depending on time of day. If I connect my PC directly to the router I can push that up to 12 MB at certain times of the day - using WiFi does have an impact on speed, even when I'm close to the router. At the top end this is not far off the estimated speed for the line and is no doubt influenced by other factors.
A frustrating issue with ADSL broadband is the number of factors that can impact on performance - distance from the telephone exchange, quality of the copper wire between your house and the exchange, internal wiring, other phones and devices plugged into the line, ISP contention ratios, router, ISP line settings. The list sometimes feels like it's endless!
A key quality check with an ISP is their technical support and Be has been very good here. I've discussed a number of points with technical support agents and they have a good understanding of broadband issues and resolutions. Call hold time is negligible; another plus point and the number is freephone.
The broadband provisioning process was excellent, considering it operates within an overall industry framework. The router arrived next day and the service was up and running on the due date a few days later. Order progress is trackable via the customer portal and via SMS.
The router is fairly typical of routers included by ISPs in their broadband packages. It does the job although not surprisingly doesn't give the impression of being in the same league as the sort of router I've bought myself in the past.
Overall I'm a big fan of Be. ADSL2+ does make a difference (for me) and the overall quality of service is excellent (which is not the case for some ISPs). Based on my experiences I would definitely recommend them if you're in the market for broadband.
For anyone who wonders who Be is; they're owned by O2 and also run the O2 fixed line broadband service.

The perils of working at home

With thanks to Sony and Tim Donnelly Smith.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

FREETALK Everyman headset for Skype

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

I’ve used a number of headsets over the years with variable results and recently I’ve been using the FREETALK Everyman headset. The headset has been optimised for Skype which means it supports Skype’s SILK codec and makes it a great choice if you’re a Skype fan.

Freetalk Everyman Headset

The FREETALK Everyman: A portable Skype-capable headset that impresses

The headset is designed to be used when travelling - the earpieces pivot and fold flat, making it reasonably compact so you can slip it in your laptop case. Call quality is excellent and I experienced no problems using the headset. Skype is selling the Everyman for £19.98 in the UK which seems excellent value to me. At that price you can afford to carry it round and if it gets damaged it’s not a complete disaster! Build quality and comfort are good, considering the price point of the headset. I was amazed how light it is and would happily wear it for a couple of hours at a time.

As well as a USB connector, the Everyman has a 3.5 mm connector. I’ve been using this with my iPhone and it works perfectly. Music fades out for calls and it’s a lot more comfortable than using the regular iPhone headset.

So, my verdict is if you’re in the market for an inexpensive headset take a look at the FREETALK Everyman which is available through Skype’s own shop.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ninite - time saving way to download & install multiple apps



Setting up a new PC is always a time consuming experience, especially finding and downloading all those great free apps you used on your old PC.

Ninite offers a time saving way to download at least some of your favourite apps. On the Ninite web page you select the apps you want and Ninite creates a single download and installation file.

I used Ninite to download a couple of small apps as a test and all worked well. Always great to find something simple that just does what it says it will.

Friday, 30 October 2009

How to Date a Nurse with .TEL

This caught my eye. Wish I'd had my .tel in similar circumstances. Had to make do with a business card - but it did work!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Next Generation Billing conference - Berlin


In December I'm heading over to Berlin for the IIR Next Generation Billing conference. I'll be discussing a couple of themes in the billing and payments space - 'Understanding how to effectively monetise the content being delivered via your platform' and 'Strategies to encourage preferred customer behaviour via ebilling and auto payment'.

I've enjoyed participating in previous Next Generation Billing conferences and made some great contacts in the billing and payments business. A key area for me is how to improve the customer experience when transacting online and the impact this will have on the future of payments. The conference is a great place to exchange ideas with others who face similar challenges. Look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

iPass exploits a WiFi opportunity



Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
The increasing number of WiFi enabled smartphones in large organisations presents an opportunity for WiFi service providers to leverage that capability with products that seek to address deficiencies with 3G data, including roaming costs, poor in-building coverage and variable download speeds. iPass is one of the companies exploiting that market opportunity with their Mobile Office enterprise product. The Mobile Office client is compatible with iPhone, BlackBerry, S60 and Windows Mobile devices as well as Windows and Mac. iPass provides access to 140,000 WiFi hotspots in 83 countries and removes the need to sign up with individual WiFi providers in each location you visit.
In my experience, coverage is good in the usual places you expect to find WiFi; hotels, coffee shops, airports, railway stations etc and shows that iPass has signed extensive roaming agreements with the key WiFi providers. I’ve used the S60 client in Europe and the service worked well. I experienced occasional glitches but that seemed to be down to issues with a local hotspot. As well as regular data access I used Truphone over iPass to save money on voice calls and this combination worked exceptionally well. Knowing how much money I was saving on roaming costs did make for a very satisfying experience.
I’ve now got the iPhone client installed although the benefits are not so apparent in the UK because the iPhone already roams with The Cloud & BT Openzone. The S60 client delivers a better mobile experience because it seamlessly runs in the background whereas the iPhone client suffers from Apple’s bar on background running. I’ll be keeping the iPhone client installed for my next trip abroad to give it a thorough ‘road test’.
Since getting an iPhone I’ve become increasingly dependent on WiFi because the combination of private WiFi at home & in the office plus the bundled public WiFi provides a much better experience when available, than the O2 network with 3G, EDGE & GPRS. The big opportunity for WiFi is to increase coverage in towns and cities plus other places that suffer from poor cellular data coverage, like trains. There’s some interesting innovation appearing in this market with service providers like Freerunner emerging and I’ll be returning to this in a future article.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Another look at Truphone




Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
I've been using Truphone on various Nokia S60 handsets for about 2 ½ years now, both for low cost international calls and because it delivered great quality mobile WiFi coverage for me at home when my main mobile service provider didn’t (I have now moved MNO to Vodafone to solve the home coverage issue). Truphone call quality has been consistently good in my experience and much less variable than other VoIP services I’ve tried. I’ve used it via my home WiFi and via commercial hotspots in both the UK & elsewhere in Europe. The savings when travelling have been significant when set against roaming charges, both for outbound and inbound calls (no charge to receive roaming calls when in WiFi coverage!).
I recently acquired an iPhone and immediately installed Truphone to take advantage of the service on that device. Truphone has done a great job rolling out service across multiple handset operating systems – Nokia S60, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and BlackBerry. Truphone on each device delivers a different user experience because of the constraints of each operating system. I like the Nokia S60 implementation because it integrates with the standard handset functionality, runs in the background and offers full outbound and inbound calling. Having a unique Truphone mobile number which forwards to my regular mobile number when I’m out of WiFi coverage is a nice feature. The iPhone implementation offers outbound calling but because of the iPhone’s constraints on background apps it can only receive calls when the Truphone app is open. For this reason Truphone decided not to provide a unique Truphone number for each handset but use the existing mobile number so inbound calls are delivered via your regular mobile service, unless the caller is also on Truphone.
Both the S60 and iPhone versions support Truphone Anywhere which is a neat way to call international numbers when outside WiFi coverage. Your handset makes a call to a local number which is then onward connected to your destination number. The local call is typically ‘free’ because it comes out of bundled minutes and the onward leg is charged as a standard Truphone call. I’ve set up Truphone Anywhere rules on my Nokia E63 to routes calls to 08 numbers (charged by my mobile provider out of bundle) via Truphone so the calls are made at lower rates (free for 0800 numbers).
It’s not yet possible to have one Truphone account across multiple devices so it’s necessary to manage each handset separately which isn’t ideal but I’m expecting to see some changes there before long.
The big enhancement coming to Truphone later in the year is the launch of Truphone Local Anywhere. This will provide a Truphone SIM card with multiple inbound numbers in countries of your choice and competitive calling and SMS rates in all those countries. No more SIM swapping for regular travellers, no more extortionate roaming charges. Truphone has not yet announced tariffs but Truphone Local Anywhere has the potential to be the first competitive global mobile operator. One point I noticed which could be key to success is the ability to port your existing mobile number to Truphone. I’m also hoping that an iNum will be standard with all Truphone Local Anywhere accounts, matching a single international phone number with an international phone service. I’ll return to the subject of iNums in a future post.
Multiple contact numbers brings its own challenges – lots of contact numbers to give out and which do people use, when? However, combine Truphone Local Anywhere with a .tel address and anyone can find the best number to reach you on, wherever you are. Manage your contactability via .tel profiles and the right number is always available.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Reckless Ambition playing in Oxted

George's band Reckless Ambition played last night at Oxted School. Another fine performance by the band.



Monday, 13 July 2009

Apple, I never thought I’d say it …


Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.

I never thought I’d say it but I much prefer my iPhone to my Nokia E63. I’ve played with the iPhone on a number of occasions and always been impressed by the user experience but felt it was lacking in a number of areas, for example the ability to customise it in the way you can with a S60 device and the lack of a ‘proper’ keypad. I also resented the ‘Apple tax’ and the closed nature of the way Apple operates, for example offering the device through one UK operator (who incidentally has the weakest 3G coverage, we learned this week) on expensive tariffs.

However all that changed when I received an iPhone (not the 3GS sadly) for business purposes. Using the iPhone every day made me realise just what a game changer it is. Much as I love the qwerty keypad on my E63, the iPhone makes Nokia’s S60 interface seem so dated by comparison. The App Store ecosystem changed the mobile marketplace forever and when compared to the Ovi Store … well let’s not even go there. From a business perspective, the Exchange integration for mail, contacts and calendar is excellent and very easy to set up.

I’ve been a staunch Nokia user, supporter and campaigner since 1994 when Orange launched in the UK and Nokia still produces some great devices in the E and N Series. However the user experience is in drastic need of an overhaul. Although I’ve yet to try the N97, Nokia’s latest flagship device, nothing I’ve read so far leads me to believe I’d change my mind about Nokia.

Where the iPhone really scores is in simplicity for the user. I’ve already mentioned the App Store with its wealth of compelling applications but other areas like WiFi with pre-configured hotspot coverage, SMS message threading, hardware switch to silence the device, to name a few, just make it easy for users. Not everyone is a mobile geek!

The iPhone certainly has some drawbacks. The battery life is rubbish - I don’t even get a day with a bit of use but maybe that will improve in the next firmware release. The inability to remove and replace the battery is ridiculous, unless you’re Apple who makes money out of it! The camera resolution, even on the 3GS, is low, although the photos are surprisingly good for the resolution. No option to expand the memory via a memory card is a limitation for some users. But on balance I can work round these issues.

Everyone has their own personal preferences but for me the iPhone has changed the way I see my handset. Over to you Nokia – surprise me!

Friday, 3 July 2009

The new way to communicate

A while back I posted the very entertaining .tel promotional video. Just come across this version on Telnic's website with an alternate ending!



Friday, 26 June 2009

Enterprise mobile VoIP from Agito Networks

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
Last week I had a chat with the guys at Agito Networks. Agito has developed a mobile VoIP solution for enterprises that deals with the issues of poor in‑building coverage, ever increasing mobile costs, enterprise integration and the complex user experience of juggling multiple devices. Agito’s RoamAnywhere product uses the available wireless coverage at any point in time to deliver the best quality service at the lowest available cost. So in a user’s home or office environments WiFi may be used but in the car 3G or GSM. With the client installed on a handset, the handset provides both deskphone and mobile functionality, tightly integrated into the handset user interface using the standard dialler, so the user doesn’t have to learn how to use their handset again or need to load a separate app. The advantage of tight PBX integration is being able to optimise call routing, for example avoiding international call charges.
Last week Agito announced support for BlackBerry which takes their handset coverage to over 40 handsets across S60, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry platforms. iPhone support will arrive later this year. Agito also works with the usual operator provided handsets so there’s no requirement for an enterprise to buy SIM free handsets at huge expense. The client software uses standard APIs so no hacking or unlocking is required.
I especially like Agito because it addresses some key issues with mobile technology. The coverage deficiencies of both WiFi and 3G are addressed, the user does not have to make a choice about which wireless connectivity to use and cost control is central to the platform. There are some great mobile VoIP apps in the market but generally they involve the user making decisions about usage. Agito’s solution is designed to be used by anyone who uses a regular mobile phone in exactly the same way they already use their mobile phone. My only disappointment is there’s no consumer version!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Protection for an external hard disk - the LaCie Coat

If like me you regularly carry round an external hard drive with you then it's good to know it's well protected. Having recently acquired a new external drive I needed a case to protect it and got hold of the new Coat from LaCie. In common with a number of LaCie products it's been designed by Sam Hecht which makes the styling a bit more interesting than the average case.

The case is reversible with what looks like neoprene on one side and a suede finish on the other. The neoprene is finished with a bubble effect (I guess Sam Hecht had a hand in this!). It's very well padded and offers good protection for your drive.

The LaCie website has a useful compatibility chart covering all their hard drive cases to ensure you select the right case for your drive. This includes other hard drive manufacturers which is a nice touch from LaCie and shows they're after all external hard drive users and not just people with a LaCie drive.

I have to confess that I'm actually keeping a Western Digital hard drive in it at the moment but of course I am now in the market for a LaCie drive!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Reflections on mobile stuff in Amsterdam

Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
Last week I spent a few days at the BSS Summit in Amsterdam and just wanted to share some thoughts on the ‘roaming experience’.
The Vodafone Passport promotion whereby calls and SMS come out of your regular price plan bundle is excellent.  For the first time you can use your mobile abroad just as you would in the UK without giving any thought to a nasty bill racking up in the background. It’s worth just signing up for a Vodafone SIM for the Summer if you’re going to be travelling where Vodafone has a partner network.
I made a lot of use of WiFi, both in my hotel and at the conference venue, however yet again the user experience was marred by the challenges of using WiFi. When WiFi works, it’s fast and cheap (cheap compared to 3G roaming), however getting connected can be a real issue. Coverage at both locations was via Swisscom and using the iPass trial on my Nokia E63 I was able to make calls via Truphone and browse the web (including Twitter, of course) … some of the time. On some occasions the handset connected instantly but at other times I got a variety of connection errors. The conference venue seemed to be better than the hotel, despite both being Swisscom – why? I also experienced variable connectivity using Swisscom on my laptop so don’t believe iPass was to blame here. I think what it shows is that however comprehensive WiFi roaming coverage is; you never know what state the local network or local hotspot is in. One neat feature with iPass is the ability to enable or disable fallback to 3G, so when roaming disabling 3G is a must to avoid nasty surprises back home. Long calls via Truphone and iPass were a very satisfying experience knowing there were no big bills at the end of it!
I’ve used a number of WiFi services and good as they are, they only deliver a part of the wireless connectivity jigsaw. Wireless connectivity must be a transparent user experience; users should not need to make choices based on price and coverage, the technology should do that. Yesterday I had a chat with the guys at Agito Networks who are doing some clever stuff in this area and I’ll be blogging about them shortly.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Some mobile stuff for BSS Summit in Amsterdam


Originally posted on The Really Mobile Project.
Next week I’m heading over to Amsterdam for BSS Summit 2009. This is a key European billing event and worth attending if you’re involved in billing or payments. I’m speaking about ways for telcos to monetise the delivery of content over their networks.
Anyway, back to mobile! Vodafone’s recent announcement that Passport users will benefit from no roaming charges for voice and SMS on partner networks in June, July and August is great news. This means I can use my Nokia E63 on Vodafone’s Dutch network without incurring any additional charges. I was planning to use my SIM4travel SIM again but won’t need to this trip – I’ll be getting that out again when the Passport promotion has expired!
Unfortunately Vodafone decided not to include data charges in the Passport promotion so any usage will rack up charges at an alarming rate. However the team at Axicom has kindly organised a trial account with iPass which will definitely minimise my 3G bill. iPass is a WiFi connectivity app which has roaming agreements with a large number of WiFi networks and automates the whole process of access. Installing the iPass client creates a new access point which I’ve set as my default access point for handset apps that use data. Now all my apps use my home WiFi or commercial hotspots with a fall-back to 3G when WiFi is not available. When I’m in Amsterdam I’ll probably disable 3G fall-back to minimise the risk of nasty surprises when I get my next Vodafone bill! iPass will be great for web browsing, plus of course Twitter and Truphone. Truphone has always been a great alternative to pricey roaming calls but even with the Passport promotion will still be useful for international calls. The combination of Truphone and iPass could be a killer!
Also key for conferences is my .tel – being able to give new contacts a card with my .tel address on it or just tell them to check my .tel is so simple. It’s a business card in the ‘cloud’ with far more contact data than I could fit on a regular card. Nothing else I’ve found matches it for simplicity. I’ve tried various ID services but they tend to involve sharing data with third party sites, spamming contacts or installing annoying plug-ins; plus you never know how long they’ll be around for.
Let me know if you’re planning to attend BSS Summit and perhaps we can meet up.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Roaming with SIM4travel


This week's post from The Really Mobile Project - for readers who don't follow that site.

Vodafone’s recent announcement about scrapping roaming charges over the Summer for users on the Passport tariff is a bold step in delivering simpler and fairer charging to customers when they’re roaming (in a country with a Vodafone partner network).

When I travel abroad I try to avoid using my personal mobile as much as possible. It’s almost a matter of principle not to use it because charges are so much higher than in the UK. At home I’m in control of my spend because I have a decent bundle of minutes and texts and unlimited data. But roaming - anything can happen! A case in point was last week in France. Despite disabling all data features I still managed to run up around £5 of data charges in one day when launching apps and switching them over to WiFi. Puzzled how - but as many apps have a life of their own, anything’s possible and it does go to show the shocking price of data roaming!

I took a travel SIM with me to France from SIM4travel (part of Truphone) because I wanted to assess it in terms of delivering certainty and clarity of spend – essential components of a Normob user experience. The appeal of a travel SIM is that you don’t pay to receive calls in Europe (plus a few other countries) and charges for calls and texts are reasonably competitive and come off a prepaid balance; so no nasty surprises when you get home. Overall I was fairly happy with SIM4travel; my only hesitation is around the way you have to make outbound calls. You call the destination number and get the slightly confusing message ‘call not allowed’; the call is then dropped. Next you receive a call which when answered gives you a ringing tone for the person you’re calling. This sequence of calls allows SIM4travel to route calls using the most cost effective routing and once I got used to it, it wasn’t too unfriendly an experience. The other point to be aware of is that the SIM uses a Jersey number so friends calling you from UK mobiles will probably find the calls charged outside of their call bundle.

So what are the savings? SIM4travel charges 25p per minute to call the UK and Vodafone charges me 38p per minute. A text to the UK is 39p on SIM4travel and 25p plus 1 text from my bundle on Vodafone. Receiving a call is free on SIM4travel and 19p per minute on Vodafone. Note that if you're on an operator international tariff like Vodafone Passport then different rates apply so you need to check your own tariff. This shows that there are real savings to be made using SIM4travel and the pricing clarity is another benefit. Whilst I was using Sim4travel in France, the savings outside Europe can be much bigger - see these numbers from Ben quoted in a review he wrote last year comparing costs with Three’s prices:

Calling between Dubai / UK
  1. Make call to UK from Dubai: 49p per minute with SIM4Travel / 180p per minute with Three (contract)
  2. Receive call from UK in Dubai: Free with SIM4Travel / 80p per minute with Three
Calling between China / UK
  1. Make call to UK from China: 69p per minute with SIM4Travel / 180p per minute with Three (contract)
  2. Receive call from UK in China: 39p with SIM4Travel / 80p per minute with Three
If Vodafone’s new Passport pricing becomes the norm it will be interesting to see what the travel SIM operators do to compete. Travel SIMs are a feature of the high cost of roaming but with more competitive deals from the big operators plus continued EU pressure maybe we won’t need them, at least in Europe, in the future?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

What’s on your handset?


This week's post from The Really Mobile Project - for readers who don't follow that site.
Flicking through the apps on my handset the other day made me realise that the key apps I use haven’t changed that much over the past year or so. The big change for me has been swapping from a handset with a regular keypad (Nokia E51) to a handset with a qwerty keypad; my Nokia E63. The E63 has transformed the way I use my handset. Now I find myself sending many more texts and emails because it’s so easy. And it’s not just contacting friends and family that easier; updating Twitter and Facebook is a much quicker and less painful experience. This week I’m going to look at some communications apps on my E63. I’ll take a look at the other apps I use in a future article.
I tend to use the Ping.fm SMS number for simultaneous updates to Twitter and Facebook and the Vodafone SMS number for Twitter only. Top marks to Ping.fm for using a regular Vodafone number for their UK SMS service as it’s included in operator bundles, unlike many other innovative services that use numbers from Manx Telecom or Jersey Telecom. When I check in with Twitter I either use Gravity or Dabr.co.uk via the handset’s browser. Gravity has a fantastic user interface, although I find the app a bit limiting because it only displays the last hour’s tweets and doesn’t always update when it’s running in the background (I’m not convinced this is normal behaviour so your experience may differ). Dabr.co.uk is a much better browser based option than mobile Twitter and has the advantage of allowing me to scroll back through several hours of tweets.
I’ve tried different email applications for accessing my personal email including the default email client on the E63, Nokia Messaging, Seven and Emoze. Having switched between them several times I’ve settled on Emoze as being the best one. Emoze is the fastest to update with new emails and seamlessly handles both text and HTML emails plus multiple mailboxes. Emoze is free for one mailbox and you can buy the Pro version if you want to download from multiple mailboxes. I’ve tried hard to like Nokia Messaging but two issues have stopped me using it; first it’s not possible to change the sender email address to my own domain name and secondly it has a habit of stopping receiving emails which necessitates a manual sync to pick them up. If Nokia can fix these issues I’d take another look.
Moving to the calling side, the main additional app I use is Truphone. Truphone is great for cheap international calls over home WiFi; plus Truphone Anywhere gives me the same prices via a UK access number when I’m out. I’ve set up custom filters in Truphone Anywhere so calls to 0800, 0870 etc numbers get routed via Truphone. So instead of the calls being charged at out of bundle rates by Vodafone, I pay Truphone for the call to the 0800 number and nothing to Vodafone for the call to the access number as it comes out of my call bundle.
The other calling service I sometimes use is Skype and currently I’m using it via Nimbuzz. Nimbuzz allows me to access my Skype unlimited UK landline calls package for which I pay the tiny sum of £1.95 per month (I also get a UK landline number for inbound calls included in the £1.95). I’m continuing to look at the options for mobile Skype and will come back to this in the future.
Let me know what’s on your handset to improve your communications experience!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Calling 0800 numbers for free from mobiles

This week's post from The Really Mobile Project - for readers who don't follow that site.
One of the ‘features’ that annoys me the most about UK mobile phones is the policy of all the big operators of charging to call 0800 numbers (with the exception of a few helplines). 0800 numbers are free from landlines and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect them to be free from mobiles. I know there are issues around interconnect rates but that’s not the consumer’s problem and is the bad publicity for the mobile operators really worth it? From a customer experience perspective, the calls are free on landlines so they should be free on mobiles (they were on Orange in the early days). In fact the issue is even worse because not only are they chargeable but they aren’t included in call bundles so they always appear as an extra charge on your bill. If you make a lot of calls to 0800 numbers the costs soon mount up. Consumer Focus the UK organisation that campaigns on behalf of consumers is pushing for calls to all 0800 numbers to be free from mobiles but while we wait to see what happens here there is a simple way to avoid the cost.
Several service providers have sprung up recently that route calls to 0800 numbers via a 01 or 02 access number. As 01 and 02 calls come out of mobile call bundles, this effectively makes 0800 calls free (as long as you don’t exceed your call bundle). I’ve been using 0800Buster and have stored the access number in my handset so it's easily available. If there are 0800 numbers that you call regularly you can store them in your mobile using a pause between the access number and the 0800 number.
For example, to store 0800 123 4567 using 0800Buster, save the following number in your mobile:
01255840800p08001234567#
The 'p' represents a pause and is obtained by pressing + three times on a Nokia handset.
There’s always the risk that the mobile operators will bar the access numbers but if they do check back to the provider’s website and there’s bound to be a replacement. 0800Buster cycle through a series of numbers; if you clear your cookies you’ll probably see a different one on their site. I’ve found ten so far and I’ve only reached 012!
This 0800 tip is great because it’s simple and Normob friendly – you don’t have to be a mobile geek to use it!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Telco conference in Nice

This week I'm going to (the strangely named) Management World 2009 conference in Nice. Despite it's name the conference covers telco issues including billing.

On Thursday I'm taking part in a discussion panel looking at the future of billing. I'm especially interested in the opportunity to leverage more value from telco billing account relationships.

I'll be posting updates from the conference on Twitter. You can follow me here.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The iPhone: making life easy for Normobs

Last week's post from The Really Mobile Project.
Returning to my favourite theme of ‘Normobs‘, I’m intrigued by the way the iPhone has changed my wife Jo’s approach, not just to mobile telephony, but also to using her laptop.
Since buying an iPhone she’s tended to use it for most of her emails and much of her web browsing. For Internet use the laptop is very much a fall-back device rather than her first choice. A few days ago Apple COO Tim Cook suggested that if you want a netbook, buy an iPhone. Bias aside - Tim clearly doesn’t fall into the category of an independent observer and Apple doesn’t yet have a netbook offering - he does have a point. Jo’s use of the iPhone indicates that for some users and some activities an iPhone can be a PC replacement.
We all know the App Store has been a game changer and is being copied by Nokia, BlackBerry and Android and yes it’s great fun for us mobile geeks to dig up new stuff. However it’s also changed the way Jo uses mobile technology. She certainly never bothered to look for apps for her Nokia S60 handset. Who would unless you’re a serious mobile geek but now she’s customised her iPhone with loads of extra stuff from the App Store. Why? Because it’s so easy and it’s Normob friendly. Plus Apple’s accreditation process ensures that applications do what they’re supposed to do and don’t screw up your phone.
The way the iPhone manages connectivity is again perfect for Normobs. Why should users have to decide when and whether to use WiFi rather than 3G or GPRS? All they want is the best connectivity available and the iPhone’s seamless management of WiFi and 3G, plus bundled hotspot access to commercial access points, makes this an invisible process to users.
As a mobile geek it’s easy to criticise the iPhone spec; 2MP camera without flash, applications can’t run in the background, limited Bluetooth connectivity, no cut and paste, no user replaceable battery and so on. But users love it because it makes technology simple and the user interface is aesthetically pleasing. How often can we really say that technology is simple? Technology providers invariably make products and services over complex for their customers but Apple (and hands up I do criticise them for other transgressions) makes it easy.
Now where did I put my S60 handset …!

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Really Mobile Project launched this week




The Really Mobile Project launched this week with news and information about what's going on in ‘mobile’. It will be providing the style of content that many of us have been missing since MIR went subscription only. The team behind The Really Mobile Project includes several faces familiar to those of you who used to follow MIR – Ben Smith, James Whatley, Dan Lane and Vikki Chowney. I'll also be contributing on a (fairly) regular basis.
The team put a lot of work into launching the project and it's great news it's come to fruition. There’s already a lot to read on the site so head over and take a look.

Monday, 13 April 2009

BSS Summit 2009 - Amsterdam

In June I'm speaking at IIR's BSS Summit 2009 in Amsterdam. For me the principle attraction of IIR billing events is the opportunity to discuss the future of billing and payments and look at some of the trends in the market. These events always attract people who share this interest and it's good to catch up with some of the 'usual suspects' as well as meet many new faces.

This year I'll be sharing my ideas on the opportunity for telcos to extract more value from the billing relationship with their customers and looking at the unique opportunities that telcos have via their customer billing accounts. The current economic challenges make it more imperative than ever that telcos maximise the benefits of the relationships they have with their huge customer bases; and increase the value of those relationships to their customers.


Some background on the event from IIR:
IIR’s BSS Summit 2009 will mark the 16th anniversary of the flagship event in our Telecoms Billing, Customer Care and Revenue Management portfolio. Previously known as BIMS and Billing Systems, the event has earned its credentials as the essential meeting place for billing and IT professionals in the EMEA region.
The event delivers a comprehensive conference with an Operator-only speaker panel, interactive masterclass and discussion sessions, networking events and the leading exhibition of BSS suppliers. Attendees will benefit from a full update on how to effectively develop billing, IT, customer care and revenue management strategies and how it should evolve in the future.
The aim of the event is to discuss and define best practice and share experiences of achieving innovation in billing and BSS.
In addition to pre and post conference seminars and tutorials, the main conference will examine issues across the following topic streams:
· Driving Efficiency And Best Practice In Billing
· Strategy and Transformation In Billing And BSS
· Revenue Assurance and Collections Strategies
· BSS Strategies for Convergence
· CRM and Customer Experience
· New Business Models /  Mobile Broadband
· Real Time Charging
· Business Process Management
· Business Intelligence
The event will be held 8-11 June, Hotel Okura, Amsterdam. 

Monday, 6 April 2009

Using .tel in the real world

I've been using my .tel address for a few weeks now and have found it a great way to share my contact details. Before looking at the ways I've found .tel useful, just a reminder about what .tel is. A .tel address is a location where you store your personal or corporate contact data in a format that's easily accessible from any Internet enabled device. This data can also be accessed via applications to remove th need to even visit the .tel page. .tel data is stored in the web's DNS which means it doesn't require web hosting, isn't HTML heavy and can be updated and accessed instantly.

Today most of us have many contact methods and .tel is the ideal way to bring these together in one place. My .tel address means that my contact info is always up to date and available. No more second guessing the most appropriate contact data to give people. No more decisions about what to put on a business card. I've just had some Moo cards printed that just have my .tel address on them; lets people decide how to contact me. If I want to restrict contact methods at any point in time I can just hide them. Some of my contact data is hidden and only available to people who request it, although I've tried not to do this with too much data because it's less user friendly. Access via a mobile device is great because you just click on the number to call or SMS it. No need to re-key and you know it's a current number.

I believe we have only just started to scratch the surface here. As an example, .tel addresses use a common data structure, so in the future it will be possible to just enter someone's .tel address into your handset and call or email them without even knowing their number or email address! A .tel will become a universal contact method whether you're emailing, calling, instant messaging or using a social networking application.

If you want to register your own .tel address have a look at Domainmonster.com.

You can find me at jonathanjensen.tel

Friday, 3 April 2009

Bill shock and why the mobile operators need to be proactive

We often read about people who have experienced bill shock issues when they open their mobile bill and discover huge, unexpected charges, often from using data services when roaming. 

Currently the issue of unexpected charges is something that is generally very poorly handled by the mobile operators - I have first hand experience of children running up substantial bills because there were no warnings or alerts about expenditure. Where are the hooks that pick up unusual spending patterns? It's no good expecting customers to dig around your website looking for unbilled usage data - you need to push the information out to customers so that they remain in control. When a customer starts using data when roaming, warn them by SMS of the consequences, when usage hits a 'dangerous level' temporarily suspend usage until they confirm it's okay. When a customer approaches their call or text bundle limit, warn them they will start incurring extra charges. Help customers to help themselves. 

And don't do what one of the big UK mobile operators does, not make unbilled data available to customers until after the customer has received the first bill - by then it might be too late!

Monday, 30 March 2009

TruUnlimited flat rate calling plans from Truphone



Truphone has just announced new tariffs which deliver the flat rate unlimited calling plans that many of us have been waiting for. TruUnlimited offers flat rate calling for a fixed monthly fee. For £10 per month you get unlimited calls to landlines in 38 countries and for £25 you get unlimited calling to landlines and mobile phones in 64 countries. The landline tariff also includes calls to mobiles in the USA, Canada, China, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Geraldine Wilson, Truphone CEO, commented:
Many of our customers have asked us to help simplify their lives by providing the peace of mind that comes with the ability to make unlimited calls to landlines and mobiles and not have to worry about checking balances or fearing bill shock when they receive their statement.
Flat rate calling has for me been the missing piece in the Truphone line-up. Per call charging is fine for people who make a limited number of calls but flat rate calling is essential to get real benefit out of a telephony product. As you'd expect there are no contractual tie-ins with TruUnlimited and it can be cancelled at any time. It's also available to customers across all the handset platforms that Truphone support. Truphone appears to have decided against an in-country unlimited plan and gone with two simple tariffs that support their ethos of being the provider of choice for people with an 'international lifestyle'. As with all unlimited plans there will be a fair use policy.
Truphone's existing tariffs continue to be available alongside the new unlimited plans.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Mobile coverage - more important than tariffs?

Recently I switched mobile operators from 3 to Vodafone. In the past I tended to switch to take advantage of the most appropriate package for my usage. However this time the key driver was better coverage. I'm fed up with flaky (and seemingly getting worse) coverage from 3 in my house - despite promises of improvements. This location is flagged by 3 as 'excellent coverage' but of course that applies outside and in-building coverage is variable at best. I switched to Vodafone because I know it works well here and generally I haven't been disappointed so far. The only big coverage problem with Vodafone, as with all the operators, is coverage on railways. This is still terrible on the line I use, across all operators.
Real world coverage is for me a more important consideration than the specific tariff deal. The mobile operators all 'appear' to offer fairly similar coverage, certainly if their marketing is to be believed. However in reality there are huge differences, even in cities. The problem for consumers is that until you test the network coverage in your home or wherever coverage is important to you, you never know what the reality will be because operator coverage claims just can't be believed. Borrowing a friend's phone on your desired network, pre-purchase, is a absolute must but I think often overlooked.
It never ceases to amaze me how variable coverage still is, so many years after launch. I hope that the operator network infrastructure sharing deals will do something to address this but in this age of cost cutting I wonder ...
Just one request to Vodafone - please fix your online billing system. It's been broken for weeks and doesn't show accurate data.

Entertaining video about .tel from Domainmonster.com

Captures the essential simplicity of .tel

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Some thoughts on the Nokia E75


Those friendly people over at WOM World have loaned me the new Nokia E75. When I first saw this handset announced I thought - 'that's the one for me' - and I haven't been disappointed so far. The E75 form factor is excellent and the build quality, in common with other E Series devices, is reassuringly solid. I love the 'clunk' the keypad makes when it slides in and out. One feature that caught my eye is the ability to set an application to open when the keypad slides out. I've set mine to launch the web browser which, with dabr.co.uk as my homepage, means to browse Twitter I just slide open the keypad.

In order to slide in and out seamlessley the qwerty keypad needs to be completely flat. So whilst the keys are a reasonable size, they are not as tactile as my E63 and I miss the feel of the raised keys that I've got used to.

Would I buy a E75? Very tempting as I think I could overcome my hesitation about the qwerty keypad!

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