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Posts from February 24, 2013 - March 2, 2013

Om Bitches About Data Rates-He's Not Alone

Pal Om bitched about high international data rates when he's on the road in his weekly "7 stories for the weekend" post, and he's right. But honestly, between my Boingo accounts, Truphone and a variety of local SIMs, I've pretty much got it figure out, but I'll admit, for the infrequent traveler, or someone saddled with a locked phone, working around the aggregious data rates from AT&T, Verizon and others when you're on a long trip isn't always what you want to do, nor is finding the solutions easy for the novice, uninitiated traveler.

My Truphone SIM is an awesome answer in Truphone countries, and with it when I'm in other roaming countries it becomes a very easy solution to avoid the hassles of having to find a local SIM, and do all the things necessary to get one, let alone keep one.

Unlike Om though, I visit many of the same countries on a regular basis (UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy) and I don't toss the odd SIM away from others, as there's money in those cards. I actually also record the details (Backpack from Basecamp is a lifesaver here with PUK and PIN codes if you don't change them) so when I land I pop the SIM in. For countries I visit rarely, well, those SIM's do run out, but in the countries I regularly visit, longer term retention of value seems to have increased to as much as a year or more now.

For example, in the UK, with SIMs from 3, T-Mobile and Vodafone, nothing has run out in the past year, and my assigned mobile numbers all have remained intact. In France the Orange SIM I use in my Androids--Nexus S or Galaxy Note keeps its data plan, but deducts credit each month. I just top up and make sure I have enough for my next trip. Sure, its a cost but the avoidance of a hassle of getting a new one, and knowing I'm conneced and reachable when I land is well worth it. For my SIMs from SFR I keep some top-up vouchers in my travel wallet. When I land, I just top up and check or change my APN settings and I'm off and running. Beyond that I have a 5 euro a month no use SIM from Transatel that's my emergency back up in France. Trust me, when I needed it, it worked and was a lifesaver when all else was out of credit and the shops were closed.

Last week in Italy, I used a nearly one year old SIM from TIM. It worked flawlessly, and I walked into the Milan Malpensa airport shop and added some credit. I also grabbed a Vodafone SIM for my iPad and was off to the races. Once I got to where I was going, I found the TIM shop and added credit to the TIM SIM, bought some others for my iPhones and tablets. It wasn't hard just remember to avoid the first few days of any month. 

In Spain I topped up my Vodafone tablet SIM for my iPad, added more credit to my Yoigo SIMs and my iPhone and Galaxy Note, as well as Nexus 7 are all connected and should I find myself back in Portugal, the Vodafone SIMs in my travel wallet are ready for a quick recharge at the airport.

What you have to know--

In the UK, Austria, Netherlands and Portugal buying a SIM is as easy as walking into the mobile operator's shop. No ID needed.

In France, Spain and Italy take your passport along and they'll register you.

In Italy you have a limit of 5 SIM's with TIM. I've used both TIM and 3 in Italy, both require registration, but the process is all done in the stores. You're up and running within minutes. In Portugal, activation of data varies by operator, but usually you're up and running in an hour or so. France is usually same day but I've seen it with SFR and Orange where it can take up to the next day. Netherlands with T-Mobile is a dream, but Vodafone offers more options.

My trip to Hong Kong was a snap. My hotel VIP desk sold SIMs on 3 but a walk around town made it easy to find data and voice SIMs from CSL and a few other brands. The staff in the shops all speak English and there's no delay in getting up and running. 

Bottom line--if you visit somewhere regularly, take the time to get a SIM on a prepaid basis. Leave credit on it so it doesn't expire, and know you're able and ready to talk or surf the next time you land.

Now comes SMS--What's App is awesome, but iMessage and BBM are also in the same vein. No costs to the user as all work over the top, or as Dean Bubley may say, under the floor. Regardess if it's over or under, "if its free it's me, and like many, if I gotta pay, it's no way..."

Of course there is Skype and VoIP also works well when you travel. Lastly, is Boingo. Their mobile plan for $7.95 is working worldwide, and may be the best value around. For checking in at airports, it works, and what's more, if their mobile clients fail, just log on via the walled garden via the browser. 

So while Om suffers from high international data rates, it's more because he's a much less infrequent traveler, while as a regular citizen of the world, I simply use all the tools at our disposal to ...STAY CONNECTED.

AT&T: I Expected Better

AT&T and T-Mobile are in a war of words, using stats to confound and confuse and basically fighting a battle of whose is bigger...the most recent ads though by AT&T seem to go into the sewer after T-Mobile sought to keep the fight on the street. As a longstanding customer of both companies, it hurts to see wasted efforts like these when they both should be pouring their money into making for a better customer experience, not having a war of words, which in reality, don't solve the problems.

When it comes to mobile operators in the USA, I'm a customer of all four mobile operators. The reason? Coverage, or the lack of it in many places. Where I live, and where I travel means I need the flexibility and reliability that none of them really can deliver. In the USA coverage is huge issue and while there's a steady battle on about dropped calls, speeds and failed calls, the reality is that tower locations are getting harder to find, in building coverage is a challenge and backhaul for data is getting deeply constrained.

Over the past year my primary mobile device has become the iPhone, and while I started using it more than my BlackBerry on T-Mobile becuase of the apps, and no other reason, I still used my BlackBerry on T-Mobile heavily for two things. Email and BlackBerry Messenger. Up until the arrival of the iPhone 5, the iPhone on AT&T was my lead phone and carrier for calls, not because the network was better, but simply because it was the phone that worked best in the car with the least distraction to make or take calls. When the iPhone 5 arrived, I bought two of them. One each on Verizon Wireless, and another on AT&T-both unlocked.

Since its arrival, the Verizon phone has seen the bulk of the voice minutes which previously used to go to AT&T, and the reason is simple. Coverage but certainly not call quality. What happened recently in San Diego, and likely elsewhere is as AT&T "upgraded" their networks to LTE the voice coverage patterns changed, with places like my favorite breakfast joint losing coverage and other places like the freeway, adding better coverage. A long talk with folks inside AT&T Network determined that the changes to the network coverage in San Diego County caused this and what's more I was offered to be let out of any contracts.

But, as someone who travels, leaving AT&T wasn't the answer. Being polyamourous was. And, I'm not talking about using both circuit switched cellular and VOIP or Skype. I'm referring to using multiple carriers.

My issue with Verizon though is different. The vagaries of call quality are very evident, especially when calls to me originate on Skype, go through GoogleVoice or come from or go to another mobile operator. The transcoding, and network hopping of voice calls today in the USA is so bad that its not about dropped calls, speeds and failed calls. No, its about quality.

My guess is that Sprint wins on quality, not because they have a bigger footprint. They don't. Simply because they have less people on their network. You don't see Sprint playing in this game of gutter ball. Nor Verizon. Both are taking the high road, and I hope they stay there, because, gutter ball marketing has a way of coming back to bite you, and customers have a long memory.

What's really going on here is the new T-Mobile model of no contracts is going to hurt AT&T the most, because they are playing the accounting game, and have been for many years, not the sales and marketing game, where the customer is who matters. T-Mobile is, and in doing so, the strategic level battles that are going on began before merger was begun. If I was a betting man, T-Mobile was hoping for a DoJ rejection of the sale, as the strategy that has unfolded ever since --Metro PCS merger, switch to LTE, getting spectrum as part of the breakup fee, etc., all seems to pat.

AT&T-your legacy demands you do better. Getting into a gutter war, is not what I would have expected. There are other ways to win back your customers. It starts with being a different kind of company, not a gutter ball war.


Has Google Given Up On GoogleVoice?

googlevoice fluid app icongooglevoice fluid app icon (Photo credit: benlundquist)

When one thinks about GoogleVoice one has to wonder if the team at Google has given up on it.

Let's face the facts, not much is really new with it, and what has been new has been more iterative post GrandCentral (my agency was one of two agencies that helped make it what it was and I was a founding option-holder.)

While there are now apps to do things with GoogleVoice on smartphones and tablets, no real easy to implement smarts have found their way into the service that millions of people love to use. For example, we're still stuck with manually setting up do not disturb, even if it can be a timed DND. But while calls get blocked, SMS notifications of calls still come through. Transcription is still very mechanical, and often error prone, while tighter integration with GoogleApps and Gmail seems to be missing. Sure you can send your messages to your GMAIL, but texting with threading isn't there, you have to go to the GoogleVoice web page to see that, or be using a mobile app on your smartphone. There's also been no enterprise oriented efforts to beef up the service to do more between groups of users within the same company nor has any conferencing or group messaging been added to the mix. Even something as obvious as a GoogleVoice integration with Hangouts is lacking, where an SMS could go from a Hangout organizer or scheduled Hangout from the Google Calendar using GoogleVoice is absent. About the only integration we've seen is either with contacts, or with Sprint as a GoogleVoice customer's mobile operator, with number porting. Nice, but that's more than a year old news.

The bottom line is most of what we have today with GoogleVoice we had when GrandCentral was its name. As a loyal GoogleVoice user I look forward to the day when there's more to it than we have now, but sadly, I won't be holding my breath.

Truphone Benefits from UK Trade and Investment Presence at Mobile World Congress

On one of my trips to London last fall I lobbied on behalf of long-standing client Truphone to be a part of the UK Trade and Investment's pavillion inside the massive and heavily trafficked 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. We were successful and Truphone was one of 10 companies chosen to represent the United Kingdom.

Over the past two days, the Truphone stand, located in Hall 7, Aisle E, 100 has been steadily visited by the likes of journalists, bloggers, customers, potential partners and even the UK's Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, a member of Parlaiment.

Given the prominant position and recognition by the UK Government's trade arm, Truphone formally launched both Truphone+ and announced the updates to their iOS and Android applications to version 5.1.

The update to their apps includes a call cost indicator that informs users how much a call will cost per minute even before you dial a call as well as encrypted internet calling and a new "reactive voice engine" that ensures users always receive the best possible sound quality, no matter where they are. Truphone also introduced market-leading calling rates to 150 countries and the elimination of call connection fees.

Truphone+, which comes live later in Q2 of this year, brings together the companies apps and SIM products, allowing one number, on SIM and and one service for all your mobile calling needs.