Why Do FaceTime Audio, WhatsApp and Viber Sound Better? It's HD Audio!

Running in 4G/LTE and being a big "latch on" user of Wi-Fi as I wander around Europe, and for the next while, Lisbon has me staying in touch more and more by voice vs. email and text messaging with friends far and wide. Depending on the person, some still use their mobile number, but more and more of my travel buddies, those other nomadic types I know from Australia and the UK are far more reachable using other means.

For starters I'm finding some like Viber while others like WhatsApp. Still others are massive users of FaceTime, and a few holdouts are still on Skype and the uber-geeky crowd is on Wire. But what is common to all the services being used is one thing that separates them all from the mobile phone. Each and every call is in glorious HD quality voice. When I'm on with someone on Viber or WhatsApp it's like a T-Mobile to T-Mobile call back home. Clear, crisp, rich and robust audio.

The more I use HD, the less I like regular calls, but alas until the entire telco world goes HD, thankfully we have those alternatives available to us.


Why Not Enough Wi-Fi Over European Skies

Here in Europe, other than Norwegian Air, Wi-Fi on flights is a missing link to my travel. It seems according to the recent Skift report, others feel in-flight connectivity is important too.

Let's face it, I love to fly on Wi-Fi equipped planes in the USA because it keeps me "connected" and when I get off the plane my inbox isn't jammed, and I know more of what is going on around me where I land. That's why, when Virgin America first launched their service with Wi-Fi on every plane I pretty much stopped flying Southwest where I was an 30+ flight a year "A" lister. As other US based airlines added Wi-Fi their flights with Wi-Fi became my chosen carriers, which meant Delta right behind Virgin America.

Wi-Fi on European airlines right now is best summarized in this report. Though it's "coming" it is still a ways off.

 


Working Anywhere Isn't Hard. It Just Takes Planning

Over the past five weeks I've gone from living in beach community of Solana Beach, just outside of San Diego, to go on a quest to be a truly global nomad, working from anywhere and functioning, time zones aside, as if I was still there. This working elsewhere mode includes traveling through nine airports in seven countries and staying in 12 different "residences" or hotels, including three AirBnBs, two winery hotels, and seven traditional hotels.

I can safely say that with planning and research, it's not hard to be working anywhere, but having experience sure helps. By experience, I mean traveling to the places you know well enough, but more importantly have the broadband infrastructure and other essential services in place to make sure that "working anywhere" is possible. But after ten years of being a global road warrior so much is changing I figured it is time again for a refresher and some tips on "living like a local" are now more timely than ever.

Here are a few observations:

1. Hotel broadband is never as good as residential broadband except in certain circumstances. Case in point. The Conrad St. James prior life as an Intercontinental provided Royal Ambassadors with 100/100 in-room Wi-Fi and Wired connectivity. Now the best I could get was 50/20. It was still very good, but a shock to have been "slowed" down. Still this is far better than most hotels.

On the other hand, whatever MamaShelter in Paris has been doing with Wi-Fi since I started staying there years ago continues to get better. I don't remember what my speeds were, but an in-room iMacs serving as an access point and entertainment center makes life easy. Speeds are awesome, and the bandwidth is always stable.

As for my experience in Prague, the Courtyard by Marriott was far better than the Four Seasons where the speeds even when upgraded were never more that 6/6 while the Courtyard was 20/20 or greater. In Vienna, the new Renaissance was fine with speeds at 10/10 but the Intercontinental in Vienna the Internet was far better and more stable, all over the hotel using a very solid Swisscom installation.

But this is where AirBnB for the business traveler wins hands down. In the three AirBnB apartments, I have been in so far my speeds have been 100/15, 10/2 (for a one-night weekend stay) and 100/12 consistently. Why? I'm asking each owner if they have fiber or ADSL. If it's fiber, and right to the dwelling it's going to rock, and it does.

Rule of thumb is thus, put yourself on a fiber (broadband) diet where you can. In every case so far, I've been able to get AirBnB hosts to verify their broadband connectivity and where it's available, have them switch to a Fiber connection from ADSL. This type of broadband means a world of difference, as working from apartments, is the same almost as if I was working from my own home.

2. Mobile Devices, Data, Voice, and Text.

Rule number one. Never roam. Rule number two. Have an unlocked phone. Rule number three. Have enough credit on your last country SIM that lets you log on when you land. Rule number four-buy local SIMs.

This is where it can get complicated so follow along closely. If you're simply making a series of one-day visits to countries, then none of this likely applies to you. In those situations the time involved will be costly, but if you are spending three or more days in a country, or visiting the same countries over and over again in short duration and live a data intensive life like me, consuming over 100 megs of data a day when not on Wi-Fi (which is essential to use) you will need a local SIM on your smartphone and tablets or you will pay the price.

For many this is where Truphone will help as their plans work in 66 countries but its not LTE/4G (yet) in many, and it doesn't matter, though I have a need for speed as I use data side communications services more and more for calls over WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, Wire for voice and Google Voice, WhatsApp and iMessage for text. Those apps/services and 4G/LTE makes communications often as good or better than wired broadband in some places.

To use mobile broadband like a local, or to get as much speed and high-grade connectivity, you do need the latest models of iPhones, iPads and Android devices, but when you buy them, make sure they are not "operator editions" but are truly "world phones."

My iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, along with my iPad Air2 have all the radio bands needed to work around the globe at the highest speeds available (with China being a slight exception). Buying these saves hassles, and prevents being on slower networks. For example, the T-Mobile USA unlocked editions lack the 4G radios that work at 4G in Europe except in a few situations. Once you have the real global devices, the speeds you expect all become available. Android devices require you to read and see what they have, but the OnePlus One is my chosen Android mobile solution.

When choosing a wireless operator you have to take in two network factors-speeds and coverage. To do this use Google Search and enter the mobile operator's URL and the words "coverage map." That will show you where they offer coverage and what speeds (GPRS, EDGE, 3G, 4G/LTE)

This means as time goes on things change. For example, in the Czech Republic my initial research showed that T-Mobile would be my best choice. Then as I did more reading, I learned how Vodafone, when they came into the market, went LTE, and sure enough Prague speeds and network were super reliable.

In Vienna Austria, I quickly learned that no one sold 4G mobile phone service for smartphones on pre-paid, but that Telekom Austria sold 4G/LTE for tablets. That meant my iPad was going on A1. What I also found out from the research was that the best network outside the major cities was also going to be A1 from Telekom Austria. Where again I thought either T-Mobile or 3 (Drei) would have been good for me, I would have been on 3G on the iPad and given I was in the wine country half the time I was in Austria, and where the wineries are not always as tech savvy, the LTE/4G on the iPad more than a few times saved my bacon when it came to conference calls and one on one calls using Skype or a variety of Voice over IP providers.

In France, I was a fan of SFR for many years, but the winner these days is Bouygues Telecom. For starters in Paris, they have really good coverage but in Bordeaux I never didn't have 4G/LTE. I've got a SIM from Orange also but while they have the biggest network, much of it is still EDGE in the wine regions. The bottom line for me in France is you have to look at the coverage maps and decide which carrier is for you where you will be. In my case, I hedge and have SIMs with both Orange and Bouygues in my SIM pack.

In Portugal, Vodafone has gone from number 3 to number 1 in speeds on 4G. It used to be Optimus (now NOS) on my iPad but the past year my two trips have shown that research pays off, and the coverage in Cascais has been improved and all along the train ride. That said, if I end up in the Alentejo or Algarve and coverage falters I'll just grab SIMs from MEO (Portugal Telecom) if the Vodafone coverage is sparse and pre-paid SIM's are available everywhere.

In London, 3 used to be my favorite and they remain my steady choice as they started from an all 3G network, however with the merger of Orange and T-Mobile into EE and EE's commitment to LTE-A (a for what they sell as Double Speed, their service has become my first choice. Both provide easy online management, with the key being to buy what you need and not oversubscribe to more than will do the job. Even Vodafone has improved their coverage, so when it comes to the UK, look at the coverage maps and drill down on what speeds are offered where, and then decide who has what you need.

While many may think that T-Mobile USA's global roaming is a good deal, the speeds are variable across the globe. For a quick email check in, and simply map usage it does the job, but if you are heavy app user or plan on making VoIP or Skype calls, forget it, and go local. 3 in London has a "feels like home" program with free roaming. That is enough of a reason to grab a few SIMs and keep them topped up with credit and use them in countries when I first land if I'm not sure I can roam with others before buying local SIM's and I need to check email.

As far as staying connected to the folks back home, pointing a Google Voice number to your Skype In and then forwarding Skype Out to your local number works well. So does Switch.co. And since both offer Do Not Disturb modes you can turn them off when you're sleeping.

3. You Gotta Have Wi-Fi and you need Boingo

Finding Wi-Fi access these days is pretty much like locating running water, but like running water, you need to locate it, and sometimes, even pay for it. That's where Boingo comes in. Having a Boingo Mobile account is a very useful addition to the mobile arsenal. For $9.95 a month (first month is only $4.95) you can connect two mobile devices. Boingo also provides an instant log-on feature called PassPoint in the USA, and a free VPN service as well. All in all for the price the amount of access around the globe, especially at International airports, makes Boingo a very good option. On top of that there's a global plan, a North American one, and specific offers for different parts of the world.

4. Make The Network Yours

In my AirBnB apartments, I've made them "mine." At least when it comes to technology. Given I'm on extended stays I brought along my Apple Time Capsule which has 802.11ac in it. While I also carry an Apple Airport Express, which lacks 802.11ac (as of now) so while that's good for hotels, given properties can get speeds up to a Gigabit, it makes sense to have the gear that works that fast. What you need to do usually is either wire in directly to the router or if you don't have hardwired access, extend the existing wireless network. Be sure to use DHCP to the cable or fiber modem, and then go into bridge mode, that way you avoid IP address and NAT conflict issues.

5. Make Your Place Feel More Like Home

I love Apple TV and the ability to watch the programs I want, and honestly, TV in foreign countries other than news is often lacking. Connect the Apple TV to your wireless or wired network and the content you already have is with you everywhere. To get around geographic restrictions on content from Hulu and Netflix, use MediaHint. What's great about this is you change your DNS settings on your devices and then it opens up your universe to the content you're already paying for anywhere you are. This is far better than a VPN as it doesn't slow down the traffic to your devices either plus it works as either a browser plug-in or a setting. Another great gadget in your bag to carry along is a Google ChromeCast. This lets you have a big monitor wherever you so don't forget the HDMI cable. In some cases, hotels lock down the ports and the ability to add on your devices but here is where being in an AirBnB location changes the game. It's more "open", and you don't have to Hack the House like you often have to "Hack the Hotel."

My favorite "gadget" along for the ride is the Amazon "Echo." It has become my virtual assistant. I use it as an alarm, as a temperature and weather reporter and most of all as a music source. You see, like using MediaHint, Amazon has it configured in such a way as it still thinks it's back home in California. Once you overcome the fact that you can't use any time zones outside the USA, it all becomes easy. For example, just add or subtract the time zone differences when you ask what time it is. But if you ask "specifically" what time it is in your current city by name and country, or make a similar request for weather, you get your local information. What I like is the ability for the Echo to provide me a verbal overview of my calendar for the day, plus to add things to my ToDo List. And with an IFTTT recipe, I can easily have entries populated onto my ToDoIst To Do list. I can also create similar "recipes" to add to my "shopping" list and then have that emailed to me as well or simply review it on my mobile ToDoIst apps.

6. You Have to Have an Office Address

If you're going to be residing somewhere for more than a few days and it's not a hotel, don't get in the trap of the post office being confused. In my case in Lisbon I'm in a security guard/concierge building, so I have someone who can receive packages (and provide local advice as needed) but delivery people and postmen are not always up to date on things. For that reason, I took a "local" office address in one of the Regus locations. I had my Luggage Forward shipped baggage sent there, and knew from both Regus and Luggage Forward when it was received, thus not burdening the AirBnB hosts or worse, my bags not being delivered because someone wasn't home or worse, a different guest was in the property that would have been very confused, and possibly declined the delivery.

7. Credit Cards and Your Addresses

Nothing is more challenging than being out of your hometown and using credit cards these days as the banks are all getting more security attentive. Visa is deploying its Mobile Location Confirmation technology powered by Comuncano client Finsphere which uses your mobile phone as the validator that you're where your card is, but that's just getting rolled out by Visa member banks so it will be a few more months before that is the salvation. For now here are a few tips that are very helpful:

Notify your card issuing and online banks of your travel plans. Most now have (finally) an online form to do that. Provide dates and countries of your travel plans. In the case of American Express, you can provide "alternate addresses." This is a big boon as some service providers locally in theory won't accept foreign country issued credit cards, but what it seems to be is the "lookup" that occurs. I've found using a local address on file with Amex works around some, but not all of those situations. Plus it lets AMEX know where you will be.

8. Getting Around

Being spoiled by Uber in the USA isn't just a hometown thing. In most cities I've been in of late I've used Uber far more than local cabs, but when there's no Uber using the taxi or metro is a good thing. Buying local bus, rail and train passes or local rechargeable cards for transportation is far easier than fishing for cash or fumbling with a credit card, plus it makes you less vulnerable to pickpockets which in tourist areas is always a problem.

Uber can sometimes be a challenge so remember to do the following:

  • Make sure you have your local mobile number up to date. You can do this from the app or the Uber website. If you can't just email their support team.
  • Don't expect the maps to be accurate.
  • I make a point of calling the drivers or sending them a text with specific details on where they can find me or what I am wearing.
  • Surge pricing. In some markets when UberX is in Surge Uber XL or Black isn't. For about the same price you can get a better ride.
  • If at an airport, confirm where the pickup location is with the driver. Often it's not the same place as the taxi's or Limos for UberX. I like to use the "departure" level as there's usually less chaos and confusion.

There are also local apps usually for taxi services. Just know that your costs are higher than Uber but in most cases outside the USA the fares are far better (Paris is a challenge as the fare starts when the driver goes to pick you up.)

9. Living Local

I miss Amazon Fresh. Seriously. Order what you want and the next day, or even the same day it's at your door. Well, in Lisbon El Cortes des Ingles' SuperMercado which happens to be the best market in the city delivers. And while I'm not residing that far from the store, carrying bags of groceries without a shopping cart in 88-degree heat isn't my idea of fun.

Enter their app and web shopping page and their delivery. I'm finding this type of grocery shopping, and delivery service is available in more places like London, and there are a rising number of multi-merchant services like Hubbub that are spawning globally. But just as I've found home delivery in Lisbon it's thriving as well across France with Intermarche and in the UK with Waitrose amongst others.

10. Staying Connected to The Team

It doesn't matter anymore where you are. Crossing time zones is the same as crossing the street. Using services like Slack, HipChat, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, UberConference, Yammer, Skype keeps me connected.

Having a great headset is a key for calls. Invest in NOCS or a high-quality brand. Don't go cheap.

Using music services like Pandora on the Amazon Echo, Spotify, Apple iTunes and even YouTube music keeps me jamming along. Operating the business on Google Apps for Work or Office 365 solves the "I need the file now" problem when everyone else is asleep. You can also make great use of workforce collaboration tools like DropBox, Box, BaseCamp and others. Automating processes with Zapier and IFTTT makes things faster and eliminates manual labor. Services like 99 Designs and Fiverr, plus FancyHands give you a virtual workforce army allowing you to get work done while your team back home is asleep.

12. The Work Day

You're out of the usual time zone, so setting up your day with your calendar focused on maximizing the day is key. I take my dinner 8 hours later than the west coast is at lunch. So 130 there is 930 in Lisbon and London. When I'm in Paris or anywhere on CET, I work it 8 or 9 hours apart. If I know I've got a call scheduled for after dinner, I just eat a bit earlier. Living in an AirBnB apartment means cooking in or having a delivery for those times. The mornings are my writing time and then around 11 or so I split for a few hours. Grab a workout, go for a walk, run errands (laundry) or just grab an early lunch or late breakfast.

Working across time zone is never easy. Add in Daylight Savings Time and when that arrives and ends in different parts of the globe is confusing to even the most experienced traveler. I make extensive use of the paid version of World Time Buddy. It helps me know what time it is where and allows me to easily suggest times for calls. You can also add time zones to Google Calendar and set up your smartphone or tablets with clocks for the more frequently looked up time zones but by having all the times in front of you in World Time Buddy life is simpler.

I'm also making great use of Assistant.To to get one on one meetings set up for either face to face or via a conferencing service. By choosing times that work for you, it then sends out the options and loops into Google Calendar, notifying everyone that the meeting is set up.

13. Gear Up to Go To Work

Recently I bought a new 12" MacBook, choosing the CTO edition with the biggest and fastest solid-state drive, memory and processor. It was the best move I could have made. It's as light or lighter than my iPad, fits in my snug and functional mini Tumi shoulder bag with the iPad, cables, chargers and backup battery for my iPhone, and more importantly has enough horsepower to get me through the work day, The 12 inch screen is bright and the audio is amazing. The key is the weight and power combination. It's fast and light and for people on the go, it is the best Mac out there and since I don't work on heavy graphics or any complex spreadsheets, what this has is more than enough.

14. Airports, Airlines, and Lounges

I am not anti-EasyJet or RyanAir, but I do admit that cutting costs has its challenges, but in reality the best United or American Airlines experience isn't much different than flying the discount airlines of Europe. But there are options so using SkyScanner.com or their mobile apps has given me all kinds of visibility into local routes and flights, plus the airlines own websites. The key is to find the routes and days they fly, and where they go head to head, often the mainline carriers are only a few dollars more, much like Southwest and JetBlue force in the USA.

As for getting work done, investing in Priority Pass is a given. While some lounges are accessible via the American Express Priority Pass relationship, not all are. Armed with their card and the app on your smartphone puts you in striking distance of lounges all over the world. Just learn what it means to be airside or pre-security side as the difference can mean a made or missed flight. Inside you'll find the usual amenities like hot coffee, snacks, drinks and of course Wi-Fi, and often it's better than the airport's own.

Signing up for programs like the UK's new Registered Traveler programme means getting into the country faster. While in the EU a USA chip passport carriers no sway, it will now in the UK with the start of Registered Traveller. Much like Global Entry in the USA, getting in the program takes more time than getting in the country. But once you're in, you're getting in much faster, without any long lines making this an essential for the frequent flyer into the UK.

Apps like TriptIt and FlightBoard as well as FlightStats keep me sane with alerts and flight options. There's no worse feeling when you're flights late, and you have a connection. With these apps you not only know what's going on, you end up finding your options faster, allowing you to go to the gate not wait for some customer service person to get to you in line.

Wrapping It All Up

The bottom line is that it's not really that hard to be working from anywhere. And as the on-demand economy, the app economy and the virtual workforce all merge, being local in a foreign land won't be as hard in the near future as it was as recent as ....yesterday.

 


T-Mobile, Comcast and An Ignorant Media

Maybe it's me, but when I first heard the rumor of  T-Mobile and Comcast getting together I had to look sideways and wonder how short the memories are of the reporters and editors who were quick to toss Comcast into the ring. Today, we're seeing Comcast do what they have to do. Stand down and stay away.

And the why is Verizon and the sale of spectrum back in 2011, and with it, some rights and responsibilities tied to the sale that they and the other cable operators all agreed to as CNN's Money reported back in 2011.

Beyond the cash infusion, the deal makes long-term sense for the cable companies. As part of the deal, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House can become wholesale providers using Verizon's network. That means they can bundle wireless service with their "triple play" cable, Internet and land-line phone options.

But what this also likely means is there are some non-competition clauses in the deal also which would cost Comcast additional cash to get out of as well as the FCC, DOJ and SEC matters all relating to competition.

Comcast stepping back was the right move, and the only move. But I have to wonder why no one asked the question how buying T-Mobile would affect the 2011 deal with Verizon and all the less public aspects of that which keeps things in check between the two companies who at best don't really like each other, but who know they need one another on a variety of levels.