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?

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