Real life information on travelling abroad

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

A lot of us will be thinking of booking holidays for 2011, and many of us will then plan to take our mobile phone with us when travelling abroad, as we’ve all grown more accustomed to having 24×7 access to friends and the internet on our phones.  However, there are many costs associated with travelling abroad especially in terms of data roaming charges.  Andrew Grill has complied, over 2 posts, a list of sensible and real world advice on what’s worth considering in advance of travelling to minimise your costs, whilst still allowing connectivity and the ability to use your phone.

Andrew’s posts are here (part one) and here (part two), and are well worth a read.


Vodafone improve data roaming deals

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Although some details are still a little sketchy, it appears Vodafone has now launched some much better data roaming rates, and if you are a frequent traveller, then the rates appear to be even better.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that the data roaming rates only apply to certain countries (most, but not all of Western Europe); if you want to know more, then access this map which shows all the details of which countries (and which rates apply).

So, in many countries (including France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Austria) you can benefit from 25MB of internet data per day for just £2 per day.  In most other European countries (including Isle of Mann, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) that same £2 per day gets you 5MB of data per day.  If you are a frequent traveller, then you can pay £10 per month to get the same amount of data per month.

You’ll need to opt in to the Vodafone Data Traveller, although if you are a PAYG customer, you can utilise it for free.  Equally, if you are on a recent price plan that costs £40 or more and get at least 900 minutes, then you can automatically get 25MB of data roaming per day at no extra cost.  For others, you’ll need to call 40062 from your phone to opt in.

These rates and deals will apply from 1 December 2010, and only apply to using your phone to access the Internet; they do not apply Mobile Broadband or using your laptop.

With the proliferation of people using their phones for data, and travelling abroad, it’s nice to see Vodafone offering some inclusive data allowance whilst roaming, which will benefit many people.  Of course, last year we saw 3UK remove their “3 Like Home” offer, so it’ll be interesting to see how they respond…


Vodafone changing data allowances

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Vodafone square logo

Although I suspect this only applies to new mobile phone contracts, Vodafone is changing the amount of internet data allowance on certain tariffs.  First of all, they continue to offer some tariffs without any Internet allowance at all, so it’s not as simple as 3UK, who provide an amount of internet for all new contracts. In simplistic terms, the lower tariffs will have 250MB of data per month, most mid-range will have 500MB, some higher tariffs will have 750MB plus 5MB of roaming data per month, and a couple will have 1GB (but only a couple).

In more detail:

  • Contracts for £25 or below (per month, 18 month contracts) will have 250MB per month
  • Contracts for £20 or below (per month, 24 month contracts) will have 250MB per month
  • Contracts for £30 or above (per month, 18 month contracts) will have 500MB per month (however, see below)
  • Contracts for £25 or above (per month, 24 month contracts) will have 500MB per month (however, see below)

Some tariffs will have more than 500MB per month (although I think some of these would have previously had 1GB per month):

  • Premium phone tariffs with data at £45 or £50 per month (18 month contracts) and £40 or £45 per month (24 month contracts) will now get 750MB of data per month, plus 5MB of roaming data per month.
  • Premium phone tariffs with data at £65 per month (18 month contract) and £60 per month (24 month contract) will continue to have 1GB of data per month, plus 5MB of roaming data per month.

This results in many new contracts having less bundled data than last month.  Although it’s difficult to provide an exact list of “Premium” phones to confirm which ones have the ability to have 1GB of data, I believe that the Samsung Galaxy S is a Premium phone, for example.

It’s nice to see Vodafone including a small amount of roaming data; there’s a well known, though little publicised issue with the Apple iPhone that can cause it to consume data whilst roaming, even when the roaming option is disabled, so I do wonder whether this little allowance is to help prevent charges appearing on customer’s bills.

These tariff will apply from today (1st October), and are live on the Vodafone website now.


Data roaming bill shock should happen less

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Last week (on 1st July), new maximum roaming data rates were set by the EU.  Although you can still negotiate with your operator for a high limit, the default limit now is that the operator must cut off your data whilst roaming when you reach €50 (excluding VAT) to prevent the “Bill Shock” of going well beyond this limit.  In fact, your operator must also alert you when you reach 80% of the limit.

Alongside this, roaming rates have fallen, now with a maximum of 68p per MB (For EURO 1 zone), and calls must cost less than 33 pence per minute (excluding VAT, for the same zone), and receiving a call 13 pence per minute (excluding VAT, for the same zone). Interestingly, receiving a voicemail message must now be free (although listening to the message will still be charge); the interesting point being that some networks used to class this as your handset receiving a call, and you then making a call back to the UK, granting them the ability to charge a massive amount for the call despite the fact the call actually never left the UK.

This is a good thing, although it is still not enough; the EU has stated it expects the difference between roaming and home-country call cost to approach zero by 2015, although of course whether the networks achieve this by increasing their home-country call costs (easily done by increasing the out of bundle call costs which wouldn’t actually impact many people).


Remember the PeekFON?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

At the back of last year, FON talked about launching a €99 Peek to the European market (via a deal with Spotnik, a new Europe wide mobile network), which we covered here.  Except everything then went very quiet.  Then, when discussing it with Ben Smith of The Really Mobile Project a few weeks back, we realised it was no longer on the FON website anymore.

Well, Peek and Spotnik have announced it’s finally available, and still at that €99 initial price.  This includes 6-months of European wide GSM roaming (ie no roaming data fees for anywhere in Europe), and will then cost €19.99 per month (or €49.99 if you pay per quarter, or best value €159.99 per year if you pay annually).  You’ll be able to link it to 5 email accounts and it’s available now in either Charcoal (Grey) or Pink (Red).

The website says “Buy Now”, although we should point out that the original plan was to charge around €12.90 a month for the service, but this appears to now be €19.99.

Please note although there may be some similar investments / directors behind Spotnik and FON, it appears that at this stage, it’s only available from Spotnik, and not from FON themselves.

For an email only device, but with the ability to handle 5 email accounts, and have no additional costs over the initial 6 month period, I still think that the €99 device is an interesting one.  As I said before; hand one to your child about to go travelling for the summer and you can keep in touch without costing them anything; use it on business to keep up with your email without incurring massive mobile roaming data bills (in fact, if you use the Pibbix voicemail service, you could leave your “normal” phone turned off, and receive your voicemails on this device for free whilst travelling…)

For (some) more information, head to the Spotnik Peek website, and see here for our article on Pibbix.


Amazon remove $2 wireless delivery charge for UK

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Although it’s not unique to the UK, it looks like Amazon may have recently removed the $2 surcharge for the wireless delivery of eBooks to the International Kindle.  This means that, for example, many public domain books that would cost $2 are now free, as they are in the US.  This is a good move, and brings the pricing of their eBooks back inline with what we would expect; it’s also nice that they have done this across the board, and not created an updated Kindle (or even a “UK Kindle“) and upset early adopters.

We should clarify it looks like the delivery charge is removed but only whilst you are in your home country, so, for example, a UK registered International Kindle would not see the charge in the UK, but would in France.  This however, is a good start (although quite why there’s no charge for data usage of a US SIM roaming in the UK, but there is for the same US SIM roaming in France I’m not sure, beyond a marketing decision…)

Now of course, Amazon just need to open up the browser to offer more than free browsing of Wikipedia, and the device really will reach it’s full potential (although there are rumours this has changed too…)


3UK PAYG Updates and more

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

3 logo

INQ £15 Texter 18month contract

A day or two ago, I got a nice SMS from 3UK:

From 3: On Apr 22 some prices change. You still get free texts, internet & 3-to-3 calls. New: free Twitter &

It finishes with a 3UK web page for more details.

Wow, I thought; 3UK are just making the existing free twitter browsing permanent, and adding support for the new website (which provides a mobile text only interface to Facebook; ie access to news and information, but no photos, keeping the data usage down); what a nice bunch of people, providing these extra services for all their customers.

However, curiosity got the better of me, so off I went to the website to see the finer details of the changes, and boy did I get a shock…

So, here are the full details of the PAYG changes coming next month:

  • Voicemail is no longer free; it is now 15p/minute.
  • Calls to landlines and Mobiles goes up from 20p/minute to 25p/minute.
  • Sending a picture message goes up from 25p each to 30p each.
  • Making International calls from the UK goes up roughly 5p/minute for the majority of countries.
  • Making roaming calls whilst in some countries goes up 4p/minute (Band 0 countries).
  • Receiving calls whilst roaming in some countries goes up 9p/minute (Band 1) or 25p/minute (Band 2).
  • Calls to 084x and 087x numbers increase by 5p/minute, 5p/call, or both.
  • Calls to 090x numbers increase too.

“Some prices change” really doesn’t seem to cover it, and I think 3UK should be making more of these changes before people wonder where all their credit has gone.

I do note that 3UK are promoting both Twitter and being free and don’t need a TopUp, which implies (maybe incorrectly), that these, like Skype and Windows Live Messenger, continue to work even if your credit runs out, which is one small positive to come out of all these changes.

In other news, Sylvia Chind has confirmed the following handset information (see here for full details):

This is generally good news for 3UK in terms of their handsets, and it’s unfortunate it’s come at the same time as all these PAYG price increases, but for many 3UK customers, now might be the right time for a new phone, and a move to a contract to soften the impact of these PAYG price changes.


Truphone add Australia to Truphone Local Anywhere

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Truphone Local Anywhere

Having launched Truphone Local Anywhere (see here for our details) with support for US and UK phone numbers, Truphone have announced that in mid-2010 they will be adding Australia to those first two countries.  This will allow frequent travellers to have a single SIM with country specific numbers that all route back to the same SIM now covering three countries, and Truphone have already hinted that this is the first of many additional countries to be supported by this service.

The Truphone Local Anywhere gives benefits on both sides; it allows callers in those countries to reach you for the price of a standard mobile call, yet when you are visiting these countries, you pay rates closer to in country rates, as opposed to roaming rates, and when you are roaming, Truphone are trying to get those rates as low as possible too.

Having already announced the UK network is provided by Vodafone, the Australian network being used will be Optus.

In my opinion, as someone who has been keeping an eye on Truphone for some while now, as the list of countries expands further throughout 2010 (and beyond), Truphone is going to become a major player in the mobile space, especially for the frequent traveller, who will be able to use his Truphone SIM (and Truphone local numbers) as his main (and often, only) mobile phone SIM.


Possible alternative to using Google Maps on Nokia

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Maps Booster

I’ve always liked Google Maps, not for the quality of the maps, nor the fact that everything is repeatedly downloaded (but at least the mapping is as up to date as possible), but because it does Cell ID and WiFi location as well as pure GPS location.  Towards the end of a long day, when the battery is starting to run out (or I am nervous it soon will), one nice option is to use Google Maps (instead of Ovi Maps), and my location will be pretty accurately found on the map without the need to enable the battery-draining GPS.

This single feature of having access to a rough location without needed to fire up (or wait for) the GPS has made Google Maps a shortcut on my Nokia homescreen, whereas Ovi Maps is simply left dormant in the main menu.  Well, could I have found a solution for this…?

Something I missed when it launched last year was that Skyhook Wireless (the company behind the Cell ID and WiFi location information on the iPhone) have released a little application called Maps Booster for Symbian.  What this does is add an additional positioning server option deep within the positioning subsystem of the Symbian OS, which, when turned on, will provide, through the standard positioning interface, a rough location to all GPS-aware apps (so Ovi Maps, but also things like Garmin’s SatNav software, or even third party apps).  Now, for most scenarios, I set Google Maps to work without enabling the GPS, and by configuring your Nokia device in the same way, you could, once Maps Booster is installed, do the same thing.  The only downside would be you would need to go deep into the Symbian menu structure to turn on the GPS (it’s easier to get to within Google Maps).

In terms of phones supported, it looks like most S60 3rd Edition FP1 and FP2 devices are supported, along with S60 5th Edition devices, including devices such as the Nokia E63, which doesn’t have a built in GPS, thereby providing a nice rough location service to this device in the same way Google Maps does.

Oh, and if you were wondering where it appears on the menu, on newer devices it’s Applications->Location->Positioning->Positioning Methods, whereas for elder devices it’s Tools->Settings->General->Positioning->Positioning Methods.

I’m looking to install this app, and see whether it allows me to convert from Google Maps to Ovi Maps.  However, as with all things, it’s not that easy…

  • Maps Booster can only be installed from the Ovi Store, and costs £3 (although that seems perfectly acceptable for the functionality)
  • Of course, that’s £3 per Symbian device due to the way the Ovi Store works (purchases are by device, not by user account)
  • Moving away from Google Maps will lose access to Google Latitude, and with Nokia’s FriendView service now shut down, Latitude is a well used feature on my phone.
  • There are rumours that there is a small incompatibility between the latest firmware on some Symbian devices and Maps Booster, which prevent it from appearing in the Positioning Method list, preventing it from working.  Ironically, that’s the same firmware that is needed to get the new free Ovi Maps working…
  • Also, don’t forget to keep a copy of the install file once downloaded from the Ovi Store, else you might end up paying again if you need to hard reset your device, although we understand the Ovi Store should offer you a re-download option for this software now.
  • Ironically, by enabling the feature, it can cause some minor problems with Google Maps, which doesn’t seem to like the “inaccurate” GPS positions; of course, leaving GPS turned on should produce a good solid fix in time (or leave the GPS option within Google Maps turned off, and then it will use it’s own database for the rough location).
  • Is Google Search actually better than the Ovi Maps search function, and hence apart from when I plan in advance, will I end up back with Google Maps anyway?
  • It’s been suggested it’s not best used when driving, where GPS support is really needed, as it has a delay on updating the position; however, it should excel whilst walking in cities (where the GPS may struggle due to tall buildings and where they are loads of WiFi networks to locate you).
  • Finally, it’s not clear how much data the app uses, and whether it has any local caching, or whether it always needs a data connection; if so, don’t forget to turn it off (along with so many other applications) when roaming, where, ironically, again, it could be the most useful…

If you head to Skyhook’s Coverage page here, and scroll across to the UK, you can see there are whole areas of the country which are pretty accurately mapped with Cell Towers and WiFi, which should ensure this software offers a nice alternative to GPS, especially when the dreaded battery is running out…

I’ll hopefully report back in a month or so and let you know how I get on (now, if only Nokia would give me free Ovi Maps navigation for my main everyday device)…


Breaking news – Nokia to provide GPS Navigation for free

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Nokia Maps 3.0 with Ovi

This is only just been announced, so I’ll provide more comment later, but if you own, or are planning to buy one of these Nokia models:

then as from today, you should be able to download a new version of Ovi Maps, which not just offers free GPS Navigation in over 70 countries, but offers more too…

  • Free Drive navigation
  • Free Walk navigation
  • Free maps and map updates
  • Free Events guides
  • Free Lonely Planet guides
  • Free Michelin guides
  • Free Weather updates

That’s an impressive list, especially the guides and weather being free too.  This is obviously a reaction to Google announcing plans to make navigation free for all, but with Nokia supporting offline navigation (with all the maps and routing being stored on the device) this is likely to be a much preferred solution for many (especially those travelling abroad where roaming data charges would make Google’s solution impractical for many).

We’re also hearing that traffic and safety camera information will be free too!

Nokia have stated they plan to increase the range of devices further in the future (I, like many others have already commented on the lack of the original Nokia N97).

For more information, head to the Free Navigation Forever page from Nokia.

Update: We understand the Nokia N97 is likely to need a firmware update first to be able to support the new version of the Ovi Maps (this is more about a lack of free space on the C: drive than anything in particular within the firmware), and it’s possible that the new Ovi Maps will be included within the firmware itself, and that we may see that firmware before the end of the month.

Update: We have seen a number of comments from Nokia that imply more of their “older” devices will soon be included within this Free Navigation programme, and we hope it covers the majority of S60 3rd Edition FP1 devices, especially those like the Nokia E71 which are still on sale today as brand new devices.

Update: It appears there will be a Free version for the Nokia N900 Maemo device, but this is some way off.