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February 15, 2017
THE END OF YEAR LISTS
2016 is in the books, and as another year closes, we are inundated with hundreds of lists. The top 10 best movies of the year, the 20 worst posts on Facebook, etc, etc. For the most part, these are a light look back on the last 52 weeks, but there are sometimes some very useful nuggets of information to be found, if you can be bothered sifting through it all. We've done some of that work for you, bringing together some of the more useful lists for international travelers.
It's impossible to get an official figure for how many hotels there are in the world, but an educated guestimate made in 2012 put the figure at approximately 187,000 worldwide. Assuming that this figure has only grown in the last 5 years, there will now be more than 17.5 million guest rooms on offer. Making an informed choice about where you should stay would be an almost impossible task, were it not for the internet and the rises in user-reviewed sites. Having had their reviewers do all the legwork, it's simply a case of listing the top 10 or 20 reviews by popularity, and even easier for us to gather all of them together. So, here are the best rated hotels in the USA, Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and the UK.
It’s fine when you're sending journalists out to review a luxurious 5-star hotel experience. Curiously enough, there is less enthusiasm when it comes to reviewing the worst hotels. There is, however, no such thing as bad publicity, and one enterprising company with hostels in Amsterdam and Lisbon is proudly claiming the title of the worst hotel in the world. Hans Brinker Hostels make a joke out of their somewhat questionable quality levels, but they know that their clientele isn't looking for 100% Egyptian cotton sheets and perfect room service. Just as long as they’ve got somewhere vaguely secure to pass out in, they're happy - something that cannot be said of a certain other high-profile hotel owner who has been in the news recently. Things were bad for him last year - they seem destined to only get worse.
Even the best hotel's efforts can be missed if you've had a miserable time getting there. It's not just the destination that is reviewed, but also the airline that gets you there. The best and worst airlines, as well as the best and worst airports, of the last year are also reviewed. If you're looking for inspiration, these are the top 20 travel books of the last year, and of course there is a list for the best travel-based apps available.
There were also some fun lists, a selection of which we provide here: the most bizarre requests made to airline workers, the weird things people have asked staff to leave in their hotel rooms, the 10 strangest things people have tried to smuggle through US customs over the past 12 months, and 2016's most ridiculous failed Kickstarter travel campaigns. Enjoy!
February 8, 2017
SUPERBOWL SUPERSTAR SUPER-ADS
The Superbowl took place last weekend in the USA, the annual showcase of America’s best advertising efforts, where you can also watch a live Football game during the breaks. While some sporting purists might argue that it's supposed to be the other way around, the statistics don't lie - 16 minutes of gameplay over a four hour period, compared with over an hour of commercials, each costing an estimated $5 million to produce. And then, Batman's latest nemesis/Lady Gaga jumped off the roof.
One of the brands to make headlines due to their Superbowl adverts was T-Mobile. It wasn't for the advert featuring a tuxedo'd Justin Beiber. Nor was it the one that featured real-life odd couple Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. No, it was this pair of '50 Shades of Grey' themed commercials featuring comedian Kristen Schaal taking aim squarely at Verizon. As soon as the commercials aired, reps from Verizon headed straight to Twitter for some attempts at damage limitation. But T-Mobile's rogue CEO, John Legere was, as always, already waiting for them and once again got the better of the exchange. It's a testament to T-Mobile's attacking tactics that they've done so well in such a short space of time, taking the fight directly to their competitors, whose efforts seemed tame by comparison, choosing to focus on loyalty perks, the horrors of billshock and the lengths that people would go to to avoid it.
Phone companies leveraging star power to sell their products is nothing new. In fact, in the UK, it's been happening for some time. Kevin Bacon stars in a long-running campaign for EE (Everything Everywhere), which has been (mostly) well-received. The star of Footloose is one thing, but for A-List stars, you'll need to turn to BT (British Telecom) who have splashed the cash to invite over big-name stars such as Bruce Willis, Ryan Reynolds, Alec Baldwin and, most recently, Jeremy Renner to publicise their brand.
So there's no shortage of stars willing to travel to the UK to make a quick buck, but is there much traffic going the other way? Well we've yet to see Dame Judi Dench appear in an advert for Geiko, but there is plenty of work for one of Britain's more controversial performers. Well, we say 'work'; the truth is, Ricky Gervais didn't put a whole lot of effort into this pair of commercials for Verizon a few years ago. But at least these ones have props, and mention the product - which is more than can be said for the two commercials he made for Australian operator Optus.
As with all types of advertising, things can quickly take a dark turn. Feast your eyes, if you dare, on this horrendous reimagining by smartphone manufacturers LG of a world in which we are all Jason Statham. Or perhaps this nightmarish alternate reality is more your speed, in which your smartphone has been replaced by comedian TJ Miller. The worst is saved for rapper Lil' Wayne, who begins his smartphone journey in wide-eyed innocence as he discovers Samsung's Galaxy S7 is champagne-proof. But then we see him, presumably some time later, stuck in an endless loop. It is heart-breaking.
As competition between network operators and phone manufacturers heats up, it wouldn't be a surprise to see even more A-List stars appearing in commercials. Not all of them are going to be successful, of course, but it’s important to remember that we've come such a long way since the early days.
January 29, 2017
LONG-DISTANCE FOR THE FUN OF IT
Calling long-distance used to be something we only did on an occasional basis. A short call in the middle of a trip to parents or children used to be enough to make sure everyone knew you were okay and were having an appropriately wonderful time (or an appropriately horrible/busy time if it's a business trip). Now that we have international SIM cards, better domestic roaming deals that are improving all the time and VOIP, it's easier than ever before to call long distance. Now we don't need to do it out of obligation or security, we can, if we want, just do it for fun. So here are a few ways to talk to people in other countries that don't require any reason whatsoever.
Unfortunately, for the moment, you can't call the Swedish Number any more. Partly as a way to boost tourist interest, and partly to commemorate the abolition of censorship in the country in 1766, the Swedish Tourist Board set up a phone line that would connect callers from around the world with a random Swedish person. British comedy panel show, QI, recently tried this out for themselves, in front of a live studio audience. The result was a brief but charming encounter with a Swedish man who was, at the time, shopping for groceries. For the 79 days that the line was open, a whole year’s worth of calls were logged, with most interest being shown by callers from the USA. The project was a huge success and hopefully, it will return soon.
This does not mean you've missed your chance to speak to a random European. Impressed by the success of their northern neighbor, France has launched the French Number, their version of the same thing. Don't worry if you don't speak French, as anyone who signs up to receive random calls has committed to speaking English. Alternately, you could talk to a random person in a number of different countries, determined not by their location, but by religion – at least, that's what the Jewish Number promises. There are people from all over the world registered and ready to take your random calls, including Buenos Ares, Berlin and Kiev.
Of course, the internet is tailor-made for chatting with random strangers. There have been thousands of chat rooms and video chat sites over the years that have offered a way for strangers to connect with each other. Inevitably, of course, this being the internet, things are often, shall we say, corrupted, and made less enjoyable on account of the increasing likelihood of someone saying, or worse, showing something inappropriate. Really, the safest option is a voice chat, as you can't see anything, and it's harder to troll someone when you're speaking out loud. One of the most successful and frankly, strangest, of these apps is called Wakie.
When it was first launched in 2014, Wakie seemed counter-intuitive. Combining a call with an alarm clock doesn't seem like something that would take off. After all, if you're anything like me, words of more than one syllable first thing in the morning is a bit of a struggle. However, based on the results collated by its predecessor, a Russian app called Budist, it makes more sense than at first glance. The theory is that despite not being fully operational when it wakes up, a person's brain is at its most creative. In addition, a conversation is a far more effective method of fully regaining consciousness after sleeping, and users reported that it was far more effective than a bleeping alarm. Within its first year of operation, the Budist app boasted 700,000 users.
When it started, Wakie worked in the same way. Using VOIP and hiding both connected numbers for security reasons, people could set an alarm or offer themselves up as 'wakers'. The original call length was set to just one minute, which led to some amusing and bizarre situations. Now, however, the app has evolved. Not only are conversations capped at 10 minutes, you can choose a subject that you want to talk about, and someone can call you at any time you want. There are still the usual problems with talking to anyone random – occasional bad and/or creepy behavior, for example – but with two million users in 80 countries, it's one of the few social network apps that is genuinely social.
January 17, 2017
FINDING ADVENTURE IN A CONVENIENT WORLD
When The Mayflower left Plymouth in England in 1620, it took the first pilgrims 66 days to reach Cape Cod, a journey that now takes approximately 7 hours. The fictitious adventurer Phileas Fogg just about managed to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, whereas the current record-holder, a Gulfstream G650, made it in under two days. Travelling long distances is becoming quicker, easier and cheaper than ever before, but for some people, this convenience is taking the adventure out of travelling. So they've decided to do something a little different, and have made their own adventures.
People have many reasons for going on a life-changing, time-consuming adventure, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to learn that drunken bets comprise more than a few of them. That's exactly what happened to Ty Dalitz, a former farmer from Melbourne, Australia. As he himself says, - I first planned the trip a few years ago, it started off as a joke on some drunk nights. I spoke about it too much and committed myself. -What was it he had spoken too much about? An attempt to travel from Sydney, Australia to London, England without using a plane. Flying would have taken him just over 23 hours; Ty’s method took two years and just under four months. By his own admission, he could have finished his travelling much earlier, having arrived in Europe in July 2015, but 'got distracted', and spent a further year and a half exploring Europe, having several adventures and close shaves along the way.
Of course, Ty was 'only' trying to get from one side of the world to the other, something that Danish explorer Thor Pedersen might consider a bit too easy. After all, Thor's own challenge to himself is similar, but with a much expanded scope, as he is also attempting to travel without using a plane %u2013 but he's going to every country in the world. This is an epic journey that started three years ago, and isn't likely to end for another three, as at present, Thor still has 82 countries to visit. He's been using container ships for most of his sea-crossings, something which seems to have been an overwhelmingly positive experience for him, even if the crossings are a little slow (averaging at about two weeks per ocean).
Of course, this is all well and good if you can afford to save the amount it takes to implement a plan such as this. Ty's journey from Sydney to London cost him $30,000 in total, and even with a strict budget of only $20 per day for food, accommodation and other expenses, Thor Pedersen's journey will cost him over $43,000. The ideal thing would be to travel the world and be paid for the privilege of doing so. An impossible dream? Not at all. For example, you could get yourself a job as an intern aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise line, and be paid the equivalent of $70,000 to take photos and post them to Instagram.
Alternately, you could take up the job offer recently posted by this family, who are looking for a nanny to help out while they travel the world. And this isn't a case of staying at home with the kids while the adults are off having fun %u2013 the kids, and the nanny, are coming too. While some on social media have commented that the salary offered ($1200-1500 per month) seems a bit low, it's got to be difficult to find something to compare it too. Whatever their thoughts on how the job pays, the family have been inundated with offers.
There's more out there than the hotel, beach and bar. You've just got to be willing to take the risk and explore the world in the ways that interest you. And just because we've made it quicker and easier to cover vast distances, it's worth remembering that there is plenty to see in all those miles that are eaten up when you're cruising at fifty thousand feet. So why not take your time and have an adventure?
January 10, 2017
As the year draws to a close, there are the usual round-up of reviews and lists in the media. One such list out of the UK caught our eye - a weekly consumer advice column reviewed the worst customer service stories from the past year. What stood out was the amount of travel or travel-related companies that made the list: there are two travel agencies, a cruise line, a car hire company and an airline. When we took a look across the Atlantic to see if there were similar issues in the USA, the answer came quickly. Yes, there very definitely are.
There are subtle differences. While the UK says that the travel industry sector is the worst for customer service, American companies seem to do better. In their annual list of the worst performing companies for customer service, a travel company doesn't appear until 30th place, with Americans preferring to complain about banks and insurance companies, with the winners by a huge distance being telecoms companies and internet service providers. In fact, the view from outside the USA suggests that customer service is something that the USA does right, with 67% of respondents in a survey believing that America could show the UK how to do customer service right.
There are two main reasons why we travel - either we're on vacation, or it's a business trip. For people attempting the former, this might be something that they've been working towards all year, their one opportunity to be served by other people rather than the other way around. For the latter, having to travel to other countries for work is viewed by many as the opposite of fun, and anything that gets in the way of getting there, getting the job done and coming home again is a major problem. So when things go wrong, such as a flight being cancelled or delayed, an incorrect booking or even bad service from hotel staff, the level of anger and frustration is much higher than it might be at other times of the year. It's surprising what a huge difference this can make. Two recent stories out of Africa, for example, illustrate this.
The first story comes out of Cape Town in South Africa this week is sure to please any boss or industry professional - nothing but good things to say about a people who have embraced the concept of customer service. Contrast this with a complaint from the State Minister for Tourism in Uganda, who claims poor customer service is one of the biggest reasons why their tourism industry is floundering. Another country that is seeing some results from adopting a strong attitude to customer service is China - to an extent. It seems that the one hold-out to providing a good service are the most expensive hotel chains.
AI and automation are the buzzwords of the tech industry, with many believing that robots will replace many jobs currently done by humans. The truth is that this is already happening, particularly in the customer service sector. They are already working at airlines and in airports, and providing room and other services in hotels. Is removing the human element the answer to the perfect holiday? It certainly seems to be getting results.
With the web now in our hands wherever we go, doing something about bad service is only a few clicks away. Online reviews can mean life or death for a business, depending on how well they treat their customers. Now that a new law has been passed protecting online reviews, we can now be fearless in our reviews, and bring businesses that provide a bad service into the light, forcing them to change their ways. At least, that's the idea...
December 19, 2016
GOING THE DISTANCE 2016 is coming to an end, so it's time for a review of the travel trends and habits that will shape the coming year. So far, one thing is clear - we're getting really good at choosing vacations that suit us. If there's one thing the internet is good for, it's giving you options. So if you're the sort of person who is happy to select a package deal that includes your flights, hotel, car hire and even meals, you can do that. But increasingly, we're taking a closer look, selecting each individual option ourselves, selecting them for convenience, cost or for any other reason we might have. So we're picking a different airline for our flights home than the one we picked to fly out, but more interestingly, we're flying to new places and further than ever before. This is because nations and businesses are falling over themselves to make life easier for travellers. Norwegian Airlines, for example, has pledged to increase its transatlantic flights from the US to Europe by 55% next year. The country of Iceland has seen an epic rise in tourist visitors (a 38% increase in total, with 11 times more US visitors than last year) after cleverly positioning itself as a stop-off between the US and Europe. Travel to Europe is up in several key destinations, with savvy travelers taking advantage of the weak pound and coming to the UK, while steering clear of some places on the European mainland that have been the target of terrorist attacks. It’s not just traditional destinations that are doing well. In our search for adventure and authentic experiences free of the normal tourist traps, we are headed to new places. You would not necessarily expect Kazakhstan to make the list of highest-rising tourist destinations for 2017, but this is another country that has gone to great lengths to make itself more attractive to travelers. In Kazakhstan's case, this means improving the country's air safety records, cracking down on terrorism and offering visa-free entry to visitors from 48 countries. 2016 was also the year that Cuba opened its doors to the US after over 50 years of stalemate. The question for many would-be visitors to the island now is whether they want to see it before anything changes too much, or whether they'll wait for modernization. Whatever your plans are for your next vacation, don't be afraid to be bold. Go off the beaten track, have new adventures and life-changing experiences. Wherever it is you're thinking of heading, the chances are that it's a lot easier to achieve your goals now than ever before.
November 22, 2016
BUYING AND CELLING With Black Friday coming at the end of the week and Christmas just around the corner, this is a great time not only to find the best bargains, but also to get a snapshot of current consumer trends. One thing that experts are expecting to see this year is huge increase in how much we use our smartphones during this period. While this information will be tremendously important when looking to the future to see how we might move toward a cashless economy, it's in India where the real changes are happening, for better or worse. And while the better is slowly beginning to gain ground, it's the worse it still very much in evidence. On November 8th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled and unexpected appearance on national television to tell the population that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes (with a value of approximately $7 and $14 respectively) would be demonetized. This move was as massive as it was unexpected. At the stroke of midnight that night, 86% of all the cash in India was declared invalid in a country that uses cash for 90% of all transactions. And all of this happened overnight with only 4 hours' warning for the world's second most populated country - 1.2 billion people. There are, of course, several incredibly good reasons for this. The first is that India has a problem with tax, in that people just haven't been paying it. According to a 2013 report, only 1% of Indian citizens paid any income tax at all, and just 2% filed a tax return. The official figures showed just six individuals paying the highest rate of tax, but in a country that boasts over 80 billionaires, something seemed wrong. People can go to banks to change their old money for new, but anyone wanting to change amounts of a certain size will draw the attention of tax inspectors. Secondly, there's the issue of ‘black money' - the untaxed, untraced and unknown amounts of Indian currency that some experts estimate makes up 20% of Indian GDP. Swiss banks are said to have anywhere between $1 trillion to $2 billion (depending on who you ask) of untaxed Indian cash sitting in their accounts, which this demonetization is squarely aimed at. However, it's not just the ultra-rich that are having problems now but ordinary people, who prefer to stash their savings away at home, rather than put it in a bank. There is a recycling scheme in place - a way to change the old, worthless bills for new ones - but the sheer amount of hidden money that is suddenly coming to light is causing unexpected issues. The cash coming in is so dirty, that they may have to literally launder money. The final aim of the demonetization process is to disrupt terrorist activities in the volatile Kashmir region, an act that is already showing some success. Obviously, such a seismic change to such a large country with a huge population is causing problems both in the long- and short-term. Banks are overstretched and ATMs run out on a daily basis. Not enough of the new 2,000 rupee bills have been printed yet, and many traders are unable to change them because they don't have anything smaller. (It also doesn't help that the new notes are bigger than the notes they replace, and therefore don't fit ATMs.) However, travelers are finding themselves caught up in the middle of things, and they're not having a great time. Many people are finding themselves with money they can't spend and are unable to change at the nearest bank as they don't have an account. Foreign travelers are more likely to have credit cards, but not everywhere in India takes a credit card, especially restaurants and bars. Early advice to bring dollars has not worked out, because local vendors don't have the cash to make change either. It's even causing huge problems at currency exchanges out of the country. Necessity, as the proverb goes, is the mother of invention, to which we can now add adoption. After all, mobile wallets and e-commerce are nothing new, but with this crisis unfolding across India, more and more people are turning to their smartphones for a way to help. Things have progressed so quickly that demand for items such as credit or debit card swipers has outstripped supply, so what other options are there? The various mobile wallet companies across the country are already seeing huge results, with one company seeing over 7 million transactions over the last weekend. Earlier reports suggested that digital transactions would not exceed cash until at least 2023 - in India, this figure may well need to be revised. For now, no one is sure whether Modi's reforms are sustainable, or whether this will prove to be a stroke of genius or a huge misstep. Either way, it seems that we'll start to rely on our smartphones just that little bit more in the future.
November 7, 2016
+ 1 NUMBERS NOW AVAILABLE FOR INTERNATIONAL SIM Telestial are pleased to announce that it is now possible to add a 1 US number to your International SIM card! All International SIMs come with a 44 British Isles phone number, but now there is the extra option to add a 1 US number to your SIM for just $2 per month. This gives friends and family in the US the ability to call your international SIM card at the cost of a local call. To add a US number to your SIM card, simply select the option after you have purchased and activated your SIM.
October 12, 2016
FASTER AND SLOWER A new report out this week has some interesting findings, especially for US cellular networks: they are slowing down while at the same time speeding up. If this doesn’t make a lot of sense, don’t worry. We can explain everything. The use of mobile data is increasing at a massive rate. In the last year, the amount of mobile data traffic over LTE (the standard method of wireless transmission via mobile devices) has increased in the US by 20%. This vast increase in users has put additional strain on the networks, leading to a drop in performance speeds. In some US cities, the network is performing as much as 50% slower than it used to. New York, for example, sat at the top of the Best LTE leaderboard for 2014. This year it is in seventh place, having suffered a 44% drop. You might have thought that having your wireless data speed drop by a half might prompt outrage among users in those locations - but the truth is that most people won’t have noticed. This is because latency speeds have been improving. ‘Latency’ is the name given to the slight delay that information takes to get from one place to another. If you’ve ever seen a news item where a reporter is broadcasting live from one county to another, you’ll have noticed that there’s often a delay after one person has finished talking. This is a good example of latency, as the signal is being broadcast through the cameras, into a broadcasting center, bouncing off a couple of satellites and being fed through into the studio. While most phone calls are not routed via satellite, there are fractional delays when connecting calls across country, or between a smartphone and a router feeding information from the internet. Thanks to better technology and upgraded networks, cellular networks have cut even these tiny delays down even further, to the extent that it counters the slowdown caused by network overload%u2026 for now. There are likely to be problems in the future, however, as the rate of increase in mobile data traffic is only set to continue to rise. Networks will need to invest heavily in new technology and network improvement. Another reason why there has been little outrage in the drop in performance speeds is because most people use WIFI, and WIFI has been getting faster even as LTE is getting slower. In most US cities, WIFI is twice as fast as LTE and while it may have dropped almost 50% in LTE speed, New York’s WIFI speed is three times faster. Networks will have to invest heavily in continuing to improve their network performance if they’re going to keep up. The rise in use of mobile data is set to continue to rise for at least the next five years. The development of national 4G networks and other technologies will help with this, but they won’t be cheap. Given that networks will be seeing an approximate $50 billion increase in revenue from all this mobile data use, they should be able to afford it. In the meantime, if you were wondering who comes out on top, Verizon has the best national coverage, but T-Mobile has the best speeds. And if you want to use mobile data while you’re in the USA, a Telestial data SIM card and JT Hotspot are the right combination to get the very best performance. So now you know!
September 19, 2016
EU ROAMING - ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK In under a year, the European Union's plan to eliminate mobile roaming charges across the whole of Europe will be in place. There has been a bit of movement over the last few weeks, and while it was thought that some advances had been made, the EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker, stepped in to slow things down. Here's a breakdown of what happened. On the 6th September, plans were announced to introduce a 90-day Fair Use Policy for Europe-wide roaming. Users would be limited to 90 days of European roaming per year, and for 30 consecutive days at a time. These provisions were added to safeguard the interests of local telecoms operators in the individual states. If, for example, the operators in a large and populous European country offered rates that were lower than an operator in a smaller country, domestic users in that smaller country could use a SIM from the larger company. This would cause huge problems for the telecoms providers in that smaller country, who would already be hurting from the loss of any European roaming revenue that they would have previously received - this would potentially put them out of business. However, there was an immediate backlash from consumers, particularly pensioners, many of whom take cruise tours of Europe that last significantly longer than 30 days at a time. Many believed that when the EU said they were abolishing roaming across Europe, they should do so without time limits - including President Juncker who immediately sent the proposals back to the drawing board. While the new proposals are expected to be revealed later this week (we’ll keep you updated), that wasn’t the only thing the EU President had to say. He went on to make a range of further promises, including free WIFI in public places, a working 5G network in at least one city in each EU member state, and a reform of the EU’s digital copyright rules. While his proposals are both generous to consumers and ambitious, some of them have been received incredibly poorly. For example, his digital copyright reform is being seen as protection for traditional publishers (ie newspapers) at the expense of innovators such as Google by forcing them to pay to replicate content online. In addition, the removal of the Fair Use Policy from the roaming plans is not going to make telecoms operators happy %u2013 a fact that could come back to bite the EU Commission when it comes to implementation of their plans for 5G connectivity. 5G doesn’t currently exist, but will be ready by 2018, at which point there will be an auction of the available spectrum. Traditionally, these auctions have brought in billions in bids for home nations. But if operators feel like they’ve been harshly treated over the loss of roaming revenue (which in some countries is over $2.5 billion per year), they might be less inclined to spend huge amounts of money for a 5G license - something that has traditionally provided a huge boost to a country’s annual revenue. Whatever the EU Commission decides, it’s clear that many eyes will be watching with interest to see whether they can come up with a deal that satisfies everyone - or whether their quest to bring huge multinationals to heel will cause bigger problems further down the line.
August 22, 2016
BILLSHOCK IN 2016 Huge steps have been taken over the last few years to eliminate the threat of billshock for traveling cell phone users. People are far more aware of the risks and take steps to ensure that they check their cell plans more carefully to see what the rates are - and companies are reducing roaming rates, adding more options and countries and putting in place caps on data use. But we’re still seeing stories of billshock in the papers, sometimes because of the customer’s negligence, but also and more disturbingly, sometimes for reasons completely outside the user’s control. We take a look at some of the latest stories here, a collection of cautionary tales. Robbed, Twice We start with the sad story of a British couple who were robbed at knifepoint in Athens, earlier this year. Among the items taken were the couple’s phone, which was then used to run up charges of over $7,500 in a very short space of time. The cellphone company involved, Vodafone, insisted that these charges should be paid even when they knew that they were the result of crime, and it was not until both the press and telecoms regulator got involved that they decided to drop the charges. At the heart of this issue is the increase in something known as SIM-box fraud. A SIM-box is a device that houses multiple SIM cards and was at first, a method by which fraudsters could avoid international call charges by making it appear as if a call was local when in fact it was international. However, this scam has become more sophisticated due to the introduction of premium rate telephone numbers. Set up by the fraudsters, these numbers would be charged at the highest regular rate for a normal call, with part of the cost being paid to the person leasing the line. But by filling a SIM box with stolen SIM cards, a SIM box can be used to make hundreds of calls to these premium rate numbers in a very short space of time. Another case involving a theft in Spain led to almost $20,000 being spent on an account in one night. This is only the expense for the customer - because the SIM-box fools the network into thinking a call is local rather than international, the network is also losing out - which is why networks are reluctant to waive these charges. This type of fraud is on the rise in Europe and will soon start costing telecoms operators and countries huge amounts of money, as is already happening in Africa. It’s a difficult thing for consumers to prepare for. With an increasing awareness of roaming costs and better deals for travelers, many people feel confident roaming on their domestic contract SIM, but these are the SIMs that can accrue thousands of dollars in costs overnight. A pre-paid local or international SIM card only has the credit that is already on the card to spend. Roaming In Rio One of the biggest stories to come out of this year’s Olympic Games in Rio, as it turns out, was not actually true. But the galactically stupid Ryan Lochte’s tall tales have overshadowed several entirely true stories of theft, either from the Olympic Village or at knife or gunpoint in the streets. While it’s not a story of billshock, Great British track athlete Greg Rutherford had his mobile phone stolen shortly after winning a bronze medal in the long jump. The upsetting aspect of this story is that the phone was full of photos and videos of Rutherford’s young son Milo - memories that he’ll likely never see again. It’s a warning to phone users everywhere - you should regularly back-up your phone’s files to the cloud or to another storage device. Meanwhile, a rookie error from Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura almost saw him having to pay up to $5,000 in roaming charges for playing Pokemon Go in Rio. The gymnast did not check the rates for Rio, and thought he was paying a flat roaming fee for data, when he most assuredly was not. Once again, press interest in the story meant that his carrier was prepared to dramatically lower the fee, but others might not be so lucky. At Least They’re Trying (Some of them) With roaming now being in the international consciousness, various companies around the world are taking steps to ensure that customers don’t overspend. They introduce caps on daily mobile data usage, warning texts and are widening the range of countries that people can visit on their domestic SIM. For operators moving into new markets, dealing with potential billshock issues can generate a lot of goodwill, which is exactly the case in India. Vodafone have just launched there, and have announced that they waive any excessive data charges experienced by first time customers. Meanwhile, some users from the UK on O2’s network are unhappy with their service - not because they’ve spent too much, but because they’ve used too little. Many operators offer a flat daily fee for mobile use abroad, usually in the form of a ‘bolt-on’ (although only JT can claim that they managed to get Michael Bolt-on to advertise their deals). However, many customers are finding that this is not what they want - especially with people being charged more than $2.50 per day for a single text message. North of the border, things have reached breaking point. Sick of suffering some of the worst roaming rates in the world, customers in Quebec, Canada have launched a class-action lawsuit against telecoms operators there. We will be keeping a close eye on this lawsuit as it develops and will bring you the latest updates.
August 9, 2016
RIO 2016 - THE TECH OLYMPICS If you’re a resident, visitor or competitor involved in the 2016 Olympic Games, the influence of technology is being felt more keenly than ever before. From enhancements to training or competition, viewing the games in person or via media or just someone hoping to take advantage of the attention the Olympics will bring, there is something new that technology has to offer across the board, together with associated benefits and pitfalls. In this post, we take a look at some of the bigger changes. Competitors For the athletes, technology has allowed them to make huge advances, both in training and in competition. For the US team, a range of wearable deviceshas transformed their training regimes, allowing more data to be collected than ever before. From heads-up displays for track cyclists to movement trackers in boxing gloves, more information than ever before is available to help athletes reach their dreams of Olympic Gold. The events themselves are subject to change bought about by technological advances. Underwater lap counters have been built into the bottom of the pools, so that competitors taking part in long-distance swimming events can which lap they are on without having to keep count themselves. The Archery and Shooting competitions will have laser-based scoring systems, meaning almost real-time updates for scores (previously, everyone had to wait for targets to be checked manually before a score was compiled). And in the Volleyball, video replays will be used to decide on close-call balls that land on or near the line. Unfortunately, there is another side to this particular Olympics, and that is related to protection. After a sailor in a pre-Olympic test Sailing competition was diagnosed with the flesh-eating MRSA virus, there has been a great deal of concern about water pollution. Fears for the safety of rowers, sailors and swimmers competing have led to contributions from engineers and scientists as they try to make things safer for their teams. One such example is the ‘second skin’ suits being prepared for the US rowing team. Broadcasters/Sponsors It’s not just athletes that are concerned by conditions in Rio. With average worldwide viewing figures for an Olympic event reaching 3.5 billion people, a vast army of broadcasters and journalists will be descending upon Rio to help bring the spectacle to a global audience. Concerns about the Zika Virus have caused many athletes to pull out, including four of the world’s best golfers. It’s a concern that is shared by many of the tech workers who will be travelling to Brazil this year. Those that do make the trip to Rio will be busier than ever before. Comcast, for example, is ramping up its coverage to include live streaming of every single event, an undertaking that is expected to surpass 4,500 hours of viewing. This will also be the first ‘VR’ Olympics, as NBC have partnered with Samsung to bring several events in Virtual Reality, including the opening and closing ceremonies. Samsung, the official smartphone sponsor of the Olympics, has also brought out a special version of its S7 Edge phone. Other sponsors have used the event to showcase their technological advances, including Nissan, who have provided a fleet of clean-energy cars, and Visa, who have created an Olympic ring (I see what you did there) for 45 athletes to trial during their stay. Locals/Visitors If you’d looked at the city of Rio on Google Maps just two years ago, you might be mistaken in thinking that there seemed to be far more open spaces than there actually were. This is because prior to 2014, Google had not been able to figure out a way to safely map Rio’s infamous favelas. They are able to do so now, thanks to an army of workers armed with smartphones who have been going around the areas, tagging small businesses and other places of interest. Given that one in five inhabitants of Rio lives in a Favela, this has had a massive and transformative effect upon their lives. Thousands of small businesses, including stalls, restaurants and other stores can be found, both online and off, giving them access to new audiences and customers. Local Brazilians have leapt at this new opportunity, and are capitalizing upon it. The economic crisis gripping Brazil has proven to be a boon to Airbnb, the home-sharing business. Renting out your spare room for the Olympics has proven to be a great source of income for cash-strapped homeowners, with the site claiming that over 50,000 guests are scheduled to be using the service during the Games. Google has also provided training to many service workers, including bus and taxi drivers, waiting staff and store owners in how to use their Translate app. Despite all these advances, there are still plenty of reasons to be careful while in Rio. Levels of crime remain very high, and there are plenty who are planning on taking advantage of the influx of visitors. A recent report discovered that while there were plenty of WIFI hotspots springing up around the Olympic areas of Rio, a quarter of them were not secure. You should make your WIFI choices very carefully (although bringing your own remains one of the safest methods to avoid trouble), ensure your phone is secured and password protected, and take heed of any other travel advisory warnings.
July 15, 2016
HOW POKÉMON GO IS ALREADY CHANGING THE WORLD
The original Pokémon craze in the late 1990s was an international cultural phenomenon. There were card games, computer games, cartoons, TV shows, movies… the ‘gotta catch them all!’ bug-chasing game captured the world’s imagination. It was hoped that a new game, Pokémon Go, launched on the 6th of July in the US, Australia and New Zealand, would ride a wave of nostalgia to success and profit. In a short space of time and just three countries, it has already achieved that and so much more. In the last seven days:
- Pokémon Go has shot to the top of the app charts, reaching the top grossing app spot in just 14 hours, with 15 million downloads and users already spending $1.6 million via iOS on in-app purchases per day.
- It already has more active daily users than both Tinder and Twitter.
- Nintendo, the company that owns Pokémon, added $7 billion to its market stock cap, with shares rising up to 23% in a single day.
- There are already scams, rip-offs and concerns about data collection.
- People (including children) are flocking to inappropriate locations, and people are being asked to take care near government buildings and be respectful elsewhere.
- There are news stories appearing every day that are connected with the app, including robberies, injuries, infidelities, the discovery of dead bodies and international incidents.
It’s worth repeating that this has all happened within a week, and because of an app released in just three countries. What, for Pikachu’s sake, is going on!?
It has been clear right from the start that Pokémon Go is not merely a game or an app, but rather the start of something entirely different - although that’s not strictly true. The app can be classified as an augmented reality game – a concept which has been in existence for quite some time now. It is an application which superimposes a digital display onto a real-world view through your smartphone’s camera in real time (see, for example, Snapchat’s filters or earlier versions of the game concept). What makes Pokémon Go so different is that it puts two giants together –Nintendo and Google (who own Niantic Inc., the company that made the app) to bring the monster-hunting concept (which many fans are already very familiar with) to life. The app uses your phone’s maps, GPS and camera to allow you to find, locate and catch your own monsters and gear – just like the characters in the original story. But instead of moving a character around a computer-generated game world, this all takes place in the real world. Environment-specific monsters can be found in certain areas, such as parks, lakes, deserts, shady corners… and so on.
So, in order to play the game, you need to get out and about. Some believe that there could be unintended health benefits to this, as people have been walking long distances to try to find specific creatures. But this also means a good deal of blundering about, with distracted people glued to their smartphone screens rather than looking where they are going. Because certain items and monsters appear at locations that everyone nearby can see, it’s a tool that could be used by muggers or other criminals to trap the unwary. And of course, because it’s a game where the aim is to ‘catch them all’, it will no doubt lead to conflict and crime – just like it did the first time around.
Despite the sheer number of stories appearing due to this new phenomenon, it’s clear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The game will eventually be released worldwide. Currently, there are 128 monsters available to catch – from a list of 729. When the game was card-based, the rarest cards priced at $100,000 – what lengths will collectors be forced to go to in order to find the rarest examples in this game? Will we see people travelling to remote international locations just to find a computer generated creature? How will locals react to international travelers wanting to play the game? What effect will such a massively popular game have on the world’s already overloaded phone networks? The answers remain to be seen. What is undeniable, however, is that this is something new, something huge, and something that we could very well look back upon and say – this was the moment things changed.
UPDATE: In the two days since this article was written, the game has launched in Germany and the UK, T-Mobile have offered free unlimited data for US players, two players have fallen down a 50ft cliff, a SECOND dead body has been found, a man has crashed his car into a tree, and Donald Trump has said he wishes he had time to play it.
July 10, 2016
Mobile Travel Trends 2016
Hotels.com, an online booking site, has produced a very interesting survey about mobile phones and travel habits. Compiled by 9,200 travelers across 31 countries, the Hotels.com Travel Tracker survey reveals that smartphones have changed the behavior of many travelers, and not always for the better. One particularly damning statistic is that people would much rather travel with their phone than a friend or relative, with 76% of US travelers saying that their phone is their number one travel accessory, more than twice the amount that picked a human (although, in fairness to the human race, this is probably because people don’t usually consider their friends and family ‘travel accessories’).
Other findings are broadly in line with our increased interest and use of smartphones generally. Holidaymakers spent an average of three hours per day on their phones while they were on vacation (though 10% said they used their phone for a staggering 10 hours per day!) and these were mostly used to connect on social media. Checking the news and looking up travel information came in close behind. Fast and reliable WIFI remains the number one thing people look for when booking a hotel, but there are couple of surprises here. For example, offering reliable customer reviews and the right range of payment methods are now more important to people than the price of the room. Many respondents said that their smartphone had made them more spontaneous, with far more people booking their hotels on the same day they intend to check-in, and 14% of people now leave it until they are in the departure lounge before their flight to pick a hotel.
Because of the increasing importance of our phones, you need to make sure that you have the best rates when roaming abroad so it’s important to research the places you are visiting before you travel. Our new trip planner clearly lays out your options and what everything will cost – and because (thanks to surveys such as this) we know that people plan their trips either in bed (27%) or in some cases, in the bathroom (10%), you can do all this on your smartphone!
June 14, 2016
INTRODUCING OUR NEW ‘TRAVELER’ INTERNATIONAL SIM CARD
The summer is here, and as people’s thoughts turn to where they might want to go on vacation this year, Telestial’s thoughts turn to how we can best save you money on your calls if you do. With this in mind, we are pleased to announce the launch of our new Traveler International SIM card. There are a number of changes important changes that we’re really excited about.
Direct Calling in 80 Countries
Our SIMs used to work using Callback technology (you can see an overview of how this works here). Now you can make direct calls in 80 countries from the most popular tourist destinations including Europe, the USA and Australia. Direct calling offers a more natural, seamless experience like you would encounter with your domestic provider. We will be adding more countries to the direct calling list as they become available, but you won’t need to buy a new SIM to keep up to date – it will automatically update, meaning you can keep using your SIM for longer.
Over half of all internet connections now come from mobile phones. The applications that a modern phone is capable of running – from Facebook to Netflix and everywhere in between – make it an affordable and convenient replacement for tech that was previously only available on desktops or tablets. But all these things require a data connection, and for many people, the prohibitively high price of mobile data can mean that they stop using such apps while they’re traveling. Telestial believe that nothing should get in the way of your enjoyment while you’re away, so we have launched a range of data plans that can save you up to 300% on your mobile data costs. Broken down into two global regions, you can buy a plan of up to 2GB of data, more than enough for all your online needs.
We’ve made it significantly easier to plan your trip and figure out what rates are available in the countries you are visiting. Instead of having to look up each country individually for a multi-country trip, we’ve created a trip planner, which will show you the rates for multiple destinations on the same page. Data Plans are split into two regions, and we’ve made topping up clearer and easier so that you can see exactly which options are available and work best for you.
Access to the Best Networks
The new Traveler SIM covers over 190 countries, but also gives you access to over 380 networks, which is twice as many. This gives you numerous options that you wouldn’t necessarily get by roaming on your domestic SIM. Most domestic operators make deals with a few partners in other countries, usually one or two. However, since making deals with operators is the core of our business, our roaming SIM cards give us access to significantly more networks. If you find yourself traveling through an area where the coverage is patchy or your signal breaks up, the SIM will switch to a stronger network.
Family and Friends Call Free
Saving money on calls is great, but free calls? Even better! This is why we’ve set up a toll-free number for your friends and family to use to get in touch with you. It’s not completely free – you will have to pay a small surcharge to receive a call, but if you’re a long way away from home and don’t want your family to pay out for an international call, this option will cut costs for everyone. Right now, it’s only available if someone calls you from the USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the UK, but we’re planning on adding new countries soon.
As we’ve already detailed, the Traveler SIM will update automatically when new direct calling countries are added. But there are even more features that we’ve got planned that will be added to the SIM in a similar way – you won’t need to do anything to take advantage of them. We will soon be offering the option to add a +1 US number, for example, and while you can currently receive fast LTE data in 20+ countries, we’ll be adding more as soon as they become available.
We think that these changes will help make your traveling experience that much more enjoyable as you won’t have to leave your phone locked up in your hotel or back at home. So if you’re headed overseas this summer, grab yourself a new Traveler SIM ($19, with $10 of included credit) before you travel and start saving now!
May 25, 2016
OUR GUIDE TO THE RIO OLYMPICS
In just a few months, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Having already picked up a Brazil SIM card, you’ll need to know where to go next. There are four regions of the city where events will take place, so here’s a guide to all the things you can do in those places while you’re not cheering on your national team.
In the west of the city, on the coast, is the region known as Maracanã, which is already home to one of the world’s greatest sporting icons. Rebuilt and renovated for the 2014 Football World Cup, the Maracanã Stadium has played host some legendary football, and several footballing legends. These athletes were so adored and recognisable that many of them only need a single name – Pelé, Rivaldo, Zico, Ronaldinho, Zico, Neymar… the list goes on and on. As well as guided tours, there is a museum, where you can relive some amazing goals and check out some exclusive memorabilia. This is a must for any serious football fan. As well as hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, the stadium will also play host to – what else? – the Olympic football tournament.
It is well-known that Rio loves to party, especially during Carnavale season in the period leading up to the Catholic observance of Lent. But where else in the world would they purpose-build a stadium to better show off the skills of competing Samba Schools? The Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí is exactly that, a half-mile runway, flanked on either side by stands for spectators, where the remarkable displays of exotically-costumed dancers can parade to best effect. While the Olympics takes place at the wrong time of year for the Carnavale, you can be sure that the Samba Schools will put on something special for the opening ceremony. Because of its long shape, it’s a perfect venue for the Olympic archery tournament, and will also be the start and finish point of the marathon.
Just a little to the South of Maracanã, is the more famous Copacabana, immortalised in cheesy song (as is the borough of Ipanema). This legendary beach front region will play host to the volleyball competition on the beach, and the coastal road is a perfect venue for road-cycling, the marathon and triathlon events. As well as the white sands of the beach, this has proved to be an ideal venue for concerts, including a 1994 New Year’s concert by Rod Stewart that drew a crowd of 3.5 million and remains the biggest ever.
Flamengo Park is the unofficial name of Parque Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes, a 300 acre area of urban parkland. This is one of the best places to be on a sunny weekend, with Brazilian families flocking to enjoy the green space. There are football pitches, tennis and basketball courts, and even an area for model plane enthusiasts to practice. For those looking for a bit of culture amongst the agriculture, you’ll also find an open-air theatre, the Rio museum of modern art and a sculpture park dedicated to those that died during World War 2. The wonderful backdrop of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christo Redentor will make it a perfect venue for the cycling and walking road races.
You wouldn’t have thought that Barra da Tijuca would be selected to host the majority of the Olympic events taking place in Rio, not when its name translates as ‘swampy sandbank’. Thirty years ago, the area barely existed, then being a huge beach adjoining a series of lakes and swamps. Now, however, the area has been transformed into one of the most metropolitan and luxurious parts of Rio, so it’s no wonder Olympic organisers were happy for most of the attention to be centred on it. Here you’ll find the Olympic Arena, the Velodrome, the official Hockey and Tennis Centres and Riocentro, which at all other times is the largest convention centre in Latin America, but this summer will host the weightlifting and boxing.
Outside the events, there’s plenty to see and do in this neighbourhood, particularly if you fancy a bit of shopping. There are several malls here, including the biggest in Brazil, with a wealth of entertainment and dining options as well as stores. In a region so young, there’s not much history to speak of, with one notable exception – Barra da Tijuca is the birthplace of Gracie Barra Ju-Jitsu. The martial art of Ju-Jitsu has existed since the 17th Century in Japan, but it thrives today not only on its own merits but also as a key component to the sport of MMA, mainly down to the influence of one family – the Gracie dynasty. Now with thousands of schools around the world, Gracie Barra MMA is one of Brazil’s most famous exports.
Deodoro is the Olympic area that is furthest from the city centre, but also hosts the most eclectic mix of events. Surrounded by rolling hills, traditional events such as equestrianism and shooting will be held here; alongside some of the newer, more exciting events such as BMX biking, white-water rafting and, for the first time in Olympic history, rugby sevens. The extreme sports park will remain after the event is over, offering the young people of Rio a lasting legacy.
Here you’ll find the Aerospace Museum, with over 50 planes from various eras to explore and learn about. Part of the National Air Force’s university, and with a couple of real squadrons based at the site, the museum is a great place to tour. It’s also the home of the Smoke Squadron, Brazil’s version of the Red Arrows or Blue Angels, who will no doubt be making an appearance at either the opening or closing ceremony.
May 22, 2016
Is Internet Censorship on the Rise?
Social media is considered an increasing problem by some governments around the world. Its ability to bring people together, to allow them to communicate and organize, can be a real problem for some governments, to the extent that they would rather turn the entire internet off rather than risk people using it. While this is upsetting, inconvenient and expensive for the citizens of these countries, it can be a real surprise for travelers. While the world is becoming more and more connected, it would be a mistake to rely on this when you are abroad. While you can rely on hotel WIFI and messaging apps to communicate with the folks back home, it would be a mistake to do so without a back-up plan that involves calls and texts. In the last week, there have been several instances where the internet, or aspects of social media, have been shut down by government officials. Let’s look at some of these:
It’s exam season in Iraq, and in this modern age of smartphones, technology and connectivity, cheating is becoming a serious concern. However, many people have criticized the government’s decision to completely shut down the entire internet for short periods as something of an overreaction. This is something that happened last year, but without much explanation. The outages have been running for three consecutive days so far, and look set to continue until the exams are over.
For many people, particularly in Asia, Facebook may as well be the internet as far as they are concerned. So when Facebook (and Instagram) is blocked, as happened in Vietnam last weekend, it can be a jarring and unnerving experience. It is precisely because the social media giant is such an effective tool for connecting people with similar viewpoints that puts it at risk of closure, as the government can take exception to large groups of people organizing protests. In this case, people are deeply unhappy at about an environmental disaster caused by a Taiwanese plastics corporation and have been using social media to express this.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was sworn into office for a fifth term, after an election that was considered questionable by international observers and human rights groups. Social media sites Facebook and Twitter were blocked for four days while the election took place, only being restored once it was over. Sites were also blocked back in February for similar reasons.
Over the last six months, the Indian government has had a somewhat trigger-happy approach to internet shutdowns, with ten events in the last few months. The current outages are happening in the city of Azamgarh, where there are tensions between two community groups. The government has shut the internet down in order to stop the spread of rumours and also to monitor social media postings over the last few days. Among those affected are banks, which have lost up to 33 million dollars’ worth of e-commerce revenue as a result of the shutdowns.
While there is currently a good service in Brazil, many citizens have suffered recently due to a court order to shut down WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app used by millions in Brazil. In one of her last acts before being suspended from office, former President Dilma Rousseff passed a decree related to net neutrality which also included an attempt to stave off further attempts to shut down social media. However, the decree is not expected to take effect until next month, and with Rousseff now impeached, it is unclear whether this will become law or not. With the Olympics coming this summer, some clarity on this issue is urgently needed.
Back in February, Moroccan telecoms companies blocked all VOIP services throughout the country, including Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It is believed that this has been done to protect telecoms companies’ revenues, but it has not been a popular decision. Today, Maroc Telecom, one of the biggest ISPs in the country, has begun blocking online gaming, in a move that is likely to further infuriate people. Despite an increasing number of people signing petitions against these moves, the government has not stepped in to help.
May 2, 2016
WORLD YOUTH DAY COMES TO POLAND – THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU’RE THERE! World Youth Day was started in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, and has grown into one of the world’s biggest events. It definitely draws the world’s biggest crowds; the world record for the greatest attendance of a religious festival was won by WYD in 1995 when 5 million gathered in the Philippines for the final mass (a record only surpassed last year, when the current Pope gave another mass, also in the Philippines). Young people from all around the world come to celebrate their faith, share in their diversity and generally have a great time. This year, the event returns to Poland for the first time since 1991. This year, the theme is ‘mercy’, and the event will feature a special tribute to the recently canonized founder, St John Paul II, himself a polish citizen. If you are headed to Poland this summer for World Youth Day (or for any other reason), there is a vast array of things to do. We’ve made a small list from some of the huge amount of options available to you. Eat, Drink and Be Merry One of the first things you’ll want to do when you arrive in Poland is grab yourself something to eat. Some Polish foods are famous the world over, such as kielbasa pork sausage or pierogi dumplings, and you should definitely waste no time before sampling these. But there are dozens of other treats, including an amazing array of desserts including makowiec, a traditional poppy-seed and piernik, a version of gingerbread served with a chocolate glaze. However, our favourite food from Poland has to be the amazing oscypek. Served on its own, or grilled with bacon, apple and cranberry sauce, you might have a hard time finding this salted sheep’s cheese. It’s native to the Tatra Mountain region, but the real problem is you might find yourself looking at oscypek and think it’s something else entirely. This is because the cheese is cured for two weeks, giving it a light brown colour on the outside, and also because it is pressed into an intricate spindle that gives it the appearance of carved wood. Once you’ve filled your belly (or even while you’re doing it), you’ll want to wash your food down with a drink. This being Poland, the most obvious choice is vodka. But unlike some other vodka-drinking nations, it’s not simply enough to knock back shot after shot of the pure stuff – in Poland, they prefer to blend it with other flavours. From the cherry-infused Wi%u015Bniówka to Goldwasser, which combines a plethora of herbs and spices with flakes of real gold, there’s plenty on offer. But the most famous Polish vodka these days is probably Zubrówka, which comes with a blade of bison grass from the Bialowieza Forest. Why bison, you ask? Well… Enjoy the Great Outdoors Poland has a huge array of environments and areas to satisfy even the most adventurous traveler, but two areas stand out. First, there is the aforementioned Bialowieza Forest, a last remnant of the vast, primeval forest that once covered the whole of Europe. It is here that you’ll find (if you’re lucky) the European Bison. While most of us think of Bison as an American icon, roaming the great plains of the Midwest, the European Bison is primarily a forest-dwelling beast. And they have a wonderful forest to dwell in. Some of the oak trees are so vast and old that they have individual names, such as Emperor of the North, the Dominator Oak and The Guardian of Zwierzyniec. With some of these great trees being over 400 years old, they are well worth tracking down. When you think of Poland, you don’t think ‘desert’ – but that’s exactly what you’d be thinking after a visit to Slowinski National Park. On the coast of the Baltic Sea, there are several acres of shifting sand dunes. There are also several large lakes, seven rivers and 87 miles of tourist tracks around the park, giving you ample opportunity to enjoy the beach, the dunes or the wildlife. Castles and other sights to see With a long and tumultuous history both internally and with its neighbours, it’s no surprise that there are hundreds of castles in Poland. From the vast edifices of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, to the ruins of Ogrodzieniec, built in the 13th Century to help fend off the invading Mongol Hordes, there are castles of every kind to be found all over the country. One that truly cannot be missed is Malbork, the largest (and most imposing?) Gothic castle in Europe. The towns are no less charming, including the old town of Krawkow which was one of the few that escaped the devastation of the Second World War. There is also Olsztyn, which has been painstakingly reconstructed. Of course, to truly bring home the awful horror of World War II, one must visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. Another of Poland’s great visitor attractions is the Wieliczka Salt Mines. As well as tours of the mines themselves (which have been in operation since the 14th Century), concerts and plays are often held there, and there is a hotel and spa that offers you the opportunity to spend a night 135m below sea level. Enjoy the Festivities Poland is host to several key outdoor music festivals this year (including Open’er and Przystanek Woodstock 2016), but sadly none are running during the week of WYD. However, there are a couple of other festivals going on, including the 21st Open Air Jazz Festival in Warsaw’s old town. Running for almost two full months between July and August, this event attracts the biggest name in jazz from all over the world. Meanwhile, in Gda%u0144sk, another long-running festival will be taking place for three weeks between July and August. St Dominic’s Fair was first established by papal decree in 1260 and was very soon one of the key dates in any European trader’s calendar. It was not long before hundreds of ships were arriving at the port of Gda%u0144sk to trade, make deals and be entertained. Some 750 years later, it is still one of the largest market festivals on the European mainland. Stay in Touch With so much going on and so much to see in Poland, you’ll want to have a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home, to make sure they know you’re okay, and to share your experiences. The best way to do this is with our Europe SIM card. Everything is priced at 25c (17p); calls are 25c per minute, texts cost 25c to send, and data is priced at 25c per MB. With $10 free credit, this gives you more than enough to upload photos, check maps and send videos. If you’ve travelled from further afield, calling back home isn’t too expensive either, with calls to the rest of the world priced at 59c per minute. Whatever your plans, we hope that you have an amazing time at WYD 2016!
April 28, 2016
DON’T FORGET TO PACK THESE – THE BEST TRAVEL APPS
With over 1.5 million apps available on app stores, it can be easy to get lost in all the options. We’ve curated a list of some of the best apps that make life easier for travelers.
FLIGHTTRACK (Android/iOS, $4.99)
With over 100,000 commercial flights taking off around the world per day, you would need to be an air traffic controller to keep track of them all. Alternatively, you can get the Flightrack app and keep tabs on your flight from the comfort of your smartphone. Search for flights by airport, route, flight number or destination, and receive real-time updates of how things are going. You’ll receive push notifications as soon as your flight is allocated a departure gate, and the status of your aircraft is updated with helpful color-codes – green for early, blue for on-time, amber for delayed and red for cancelled. You can even coordinate with groups of friends or family coming into a destination on different flights from different parts of the world; the app will keep you updated about when they left, where they are and when they’re due to arrive.
PACKPOINT (Android/iOS, $2.99)
I’ll never forget the day my family and I were waiting in line at the check-in desk, and my Dad, with a weary sigh, said that he’d wished we’d bought the television with us. My Mom asked him why that was, and he replied: “Because I left our passports on top of it.” Fortunately, Packpoint is here to make things right. Just enter your destination and how long you’ll be staying, and this fully customizable app will prompt you to gather the right number of socks and shoes. Delve deeper into things, and you’ll find suggested lists for various activities, such as business meetings, spending time at the beach or more robust outdoor activities. It will even suggest an umbrella after having checked the forecast to see if one is necessary.
ENTRAIN (Android/iOS, free)
Finding yourself in an unfamiliar country, surrounded by strangers and in a culture very different to your own can be an exciting, but also very disorienting, experience. Jetlag increases this disorientation dramatically and can be a real problem, eating into your vacation time or causing stress because you need to be alert for a business meeting. Developed by the University of Michigan, Entrain is designed to help you manage your sleep patterns between time zones by incrementally changing your sleep schedule until you are in synch with the new time zone. With graphs and user-shared information, it’s a truly crowd-sourced solution to an awkward problem.
WORLDMATE (Android/iOS, free)
Worldmate is a one-stop-shop for travelers on the go. With flight tracking and alerts, hotel recommendations and car reservations, every aspect of your journey can be planned out in advance, right down to a detailed map of directions from the airport to your hotel. It will even inform you if there’s a hotel offering a better deal than the one you are currently considering. This is a must-have for business travelers, 10 million of whom have downloaded and use the app at present.
GOOGLE MAPS (Android/iOS, free)
Having mapped the world from just about every conceivable angle – from the sky, satellite and streets – Google Maps are one of the best-used resources that can be found online. Get up-to-the-minute travel updates, information on businesses (from opening hours to contact numbers), detailed directions and a host of other information. And thanks to a recent update, you can now access Google Maps without a data connection. Just download the map for the region you are visiting, and you’ll have all that information available offline (with the exception of satellite images and traffic reports).
ACCUWEATHER (Android/iOS, free)
The weather used to be a much simpler thing. Someone on the television would display a map of a country or region with half a dozen county-sized icons displaying sunshine, cloud or (worst of all) a mixture of both. And that was all you got for the day. Fortunately, things have changed dramatically since then. Now, not only can you get up-to-the-minute weather reports, you can help create them yourself. This is the work of Accuweather, which provides a huge amount of information, including humidity levels, visibility, wind speed and sunrise/sunset times. It even has a feature that cuts through the sterile facts and figures, cross-checks temperature and wind speeds to tell you what the weather feels like. All this, and the ability to tell someone that the rain will stop in the next two minutes, will make you feel more in control.
GOOGLE TRANSLATE (Android/iOS, free)
Back to Google for another of their excellent innovations. Google Translate will deal with all of your language issues, detecting languages automatically, two-way translated conversations and the ability to recognise pictograms that you draw with a finger. If you take a photo of a sign or notice that you can’t read, the app will superimpose the translated text over the top of it.
XE CURRENCY (Android/iOS, free)
With over 20 million downloads, the XE Currency converter is a must-have tool for anyone abroad. See live rates for every currency on earth, and historic charts of currency movements so you can see how things have moved recently. You can calculate prices in real time and if you’re not online, it will store the latest dates until you are connected again. You can even check the prices of all precious metals around the world, just in case you want to pick up some platinum while you’re buying postcards.
JT TRAVEL APP ( Android/iOS, free)
If you’re using one of our prepaid international SIM cards (and why wouldn’t you?), the JT Travel App is the perfect companion. Access your phone records to see exactly what you’ve been spending and when, use the app to top-up your account and check your phone numbers. You can also find local weather details and a currency converter.
April 20, 2016
WHAT IS CALL BACK AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
If you’ve been researching which type of Telestial SIM you need for your vacation or travel plans, you may have seen reference to the phrase “call back”. This is not some vague promise to get back to you, but rather a clever bit of technology that helps you save even more money on your international calls.
Traditional calls are pretty simple – you dial the number, and the signal travels in one direction via your phone to the phone of the person you are calling. Since you are the person who started the call, you are the one who pays for it. But when you are in another country, the cost of these calls can start to get expensive. It’s much cheaper to receive a call, but then that leaves you with two problems: firstly, the person on the other end will be charged more for an international call, and secondly, they are probably not psychic and won’t know that you want to speak to them.
Call back makes it so that both of you are receiving the call. Here’s how it works: you dial the number as normal. Instead of giving you a ringing tone and connecting you straight away, your phone hangs up and calls you back. When you answer, you’ll hear the ringing tone just as if you’d made a regular call, and as soon as it is answered, your call can continue as normal.
It does take a little bit of getting used to. Because phones don’t traditionally work this way, our natural instinct is to hold the phone to our ear when we’ve dialed a number. It can be a bit of a shock (and a bit annoying) when your phone starts ringing while you’ve got it held to your ear, but any irritation is soothed right away when you realize that this is all in aid of saving you money.
April 14, 2016
TRAVELING TO THE USA? CHECK OUT OUR NEW USA SIM PLANS
With over 10 years in the international SIM card business, we at Telestial like to think we know a bit about what you want and how to give you it. We have the connections (both business and digital) to find you the best deals and the lowest rates when you’re traveling, and we have a much better feel for our customers’ requirements than some of these newer companies.
Travel to the USA is at an all-time high, with 191 million visitors to North America in 2015. That figure is set to be even higher for 2016. And whether they’re visiting family, working at a summer camp, coming for a sporting event or just to drive down Route 66, we know what our customers want. We know that calls and texts have taken a back seat to the need for mobile data, and that we’re using more of it than ever before. That’s why we’ve just announced an overhaul of our prepaid USA SIM card plans.
The new SIM is unlimited in just about every respect. Domestic talk and texts are unlimited, as is data (albeit at reduced speeds once your high-speed allocation is exhausted). We’ve made it cheaper and easier to call the folks back home, with international calls at 19c and texts at 9c to over 80 destinations worldwide. And we’ve created some bundles to suit your needs, and to give you a little extra power on your data connection when you need it. The plans break down as follows:
The Starter plan is for anyone looking to try the SIM on for size. As well as unlimited talk, texts and LTE data, you get $2.50 of free international credit and 250MB of high-speed 4G data. Because it’s a trial plan, the expiry terms are a bit shorter – two weeks – but the price is also much lower – just $29.
The Unlimited plan costs $49 and comes with $10 of international calling credit, and 1GB of high-speed data access. This is enough for most users, giving you the ability to access maps or websites if you need them on the go.
The Unlimited plan is for heavier data users, offering a huge 2GB of high-speed LTE data. The SIM comes with $10 of international credit and costs $79.
March 10, 2016
FLY DIRECT TO CUBA – AND WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET THERE
On 21st March this year, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting president to visit the island of Cuba since 1928. This comes as part of a series of measures intended to ease the restrictions that have been placed on the island since the 1960s, including allowing American travelers to once again visit. With a number of restrictions already lifted, several airlines are already looking at potential direct flight routes to Cuba, so we thought we would take this opportunity to show you what this amazing place has to offer.
Cocktails and classic dishes
Cuba is famous for many exports, but close to the top of the list rum. A favorite of the Spanish court since the 16th Century, Cuban rum comes in a variety of forms. White rum is usually used as a mixer for cocktails, another of Cuba’s great gifts to the world. There is the Mojito, a refreshing infusion of sugar cane syrup, lime and mint leaves, the Cuba Libre (rum and cola) and the Daiquiri, which is named after a beach near Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city.
February 29, 2016
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL OF YOUR CELL PHONE
There is some confusion over whether you should unlock your phone, how this can be done, and even whether it’s legal or not. So we’ve put together a handy guide to make things as clear as possible.
The very first thing to point out is that there are two very different meanings to the phrase ‘phone unlocking’. The first is the kind that is currently in the news regarding Apple and the FBI, and is a legal and technical issue regarding security, privacy and encryption. Apple CEO Tim Cook’s response to the FBI on this issue explains why they are so reluctant to help the FBI out in this case. That is essentially all you need to know about that type of unlocking.
The other kind of phone unlocking is to do with SIM cards and carriers. As most smartphones are sold by a network operator, they are ‘locked’ so that you can only use SIM cards from that carrier. This is because the price of the phone is often subsidized by the carrier, and in order to make that money back, they want you to use that service for as long as possible. It is possible to have this lock removed so that your phone can use any SIM, on any network, in any country. Achieving this is sometimes a frustrating and confusing experience.
Nevertheless, it is a legal requirement for US operators to allow customers to unlock their handsets, and while there is sometimes a waiting period or charge for this, they must make their unlock procedures clear on their websites. You can find a recap of what phone unlocking is, why it’s useful and some links to websites here.
February 9, 2016
There has been a lot of talk about apps in recent weeks. A study of 2015’s app habits, for example, revealed a highly competitive and disposable marketplace for app developers, with users spending almost all of their phone-time using these programs. By all accounts, people are spending more time with them than they do watching TV. And as the results from last year’s Superbowl show, we use them while we’re watching TV too.
With the lifespan of the average app lasting about a month (if they’re lucky), there has been increased focus on the apps that you can’t get rid of. For example, iPhones come with no less than 32 ‘native apps’ that, until recently, you were stuck with for life. However, Apple has recently released a way of removing them should you wish to – though be aware, the process is quite complex.
Meanwhile, there is only one true king in terms of app usage – Facebook. With the app itself taking the number one spot and its dedicated messaging app in second place, Facebook is the undisputed master of the app world. However, while its certainly the app that most people are using, it’s far from perfect, as recently discovered by blogger Russell Holly. It turns out that uninstalling the app not only makes almost all the other apps on your phone run faster, but it saves you up to 20% of your battery life on Android handsets, and 15% on iPhones. These are huge figures, and the fact that a single app can be responsible for such variation is currently being investigated further. Certainly, it’s something you should keep in mind when traveling.
January 11, 2016
All the ways we saved you money in 2016
Happy New Year from all of us at Telestial!
It’s been another great year, and we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have. As always, we’ve been working hard to ensure you get the best deals and the lowest possible roaming rates. During the last year, our team has been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to make sure we pass on these savings to our customers. We’ve lowered rates for calls and texts, cut the price of mobile data and added new territories to our roaming plans in an amazing 57 territories worldwide. We have concentrated on adding popular travel destinations in the Caribbean and South America in the last year, but whenever an opportunity arises to lower rates in countries we already cover, we take it.
We’ll be doing the same for 2016 (in fact, our amazing team has already started), but for now, here’s the list of newly added or improved territories:
Antigua & Barbuda
British Virgin Islands
Isle of Man
Papua New Guinea
St Kitts & Nevis
St Vincent & The Grenadines
US Virgin Islands
November 26, 2015
How Smartphones Will Change In Future
With the amount we use our smartphones and their associated bandwidth, manufacturers are racing to make more efficient systems and innovations. In the coming months and years, there are a number of very interesting developments in the field of smartphone technology.
The first of these to appear will be new chipsets from both Apple and Android manufacturers. These new devices will have features such as improved processing power, 4K graphics, surround sound, better battery life and faster, more efficient WIFI. With these chipsets appearing in phones from next year, high-end smartphones will be even more powerful, and ready to take the next step in personal entertainment – VR.
Virtual Reality has been around for many years but had, until recently, been subject to the limitations of other technologies. Now, however, all the big players are experimenting with VR headsets, from Facebook’s high-end Oculus Rift to Google’s low-fi offering, named (and made out of) Cardboard. Most of these aim to be powered by smartphones, adding a new dimension to gaming, videos and many other applications. There are even applications for virtual tourism, a sort of ‘try before you buy’ for travel. Simply put on a headset and in moments, you can be walking around Abbey Road Studios in London.
If we’re going to be using our phones for these new technologies, then it’s not just the processors that require an upgrade. Short battery life is a major issue for these power-hungry applications, and new innovations can suffer if they haven’t tackled this problem (such as the Apple Watch, for example). Change is coming, whether it is ways of extending the life and capacity of current battery models, new types of battery that charge faster or new technology that uses less power and therefore extend battery life up to a week.
We also need to tackle the issue of bandwidth. With LTE and WIFI being clogged by the vast amounts of streaming video that we consume, innovators have been looking at ways to make this more efficient as well. A new technology known as LI-FI has been tested this month, using light. The speed and capacity of this has been recorded as being a staggering 100 times faster than current WIFI.
Whether we use these new advances on smartphones or not remains a mystery. The wearables market is increasing and evolving just as much as the phone market, and while there are some ideas that fall behind (such as Google’s Glass and their Star Trek-inspired communicator), it’s clear that people are already thinking of smartphones as being too bulky and old-fashioned. Who knows, in the future, we might not need a device at all – we could simply wear the technology on our skin.
November 15, 2015
Making it easier to keep in touch with your family and friends whilst in France Following the events that have taken place in Paris, we want to help you stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues. With this in mind, the following changes to the European SIM Card are to take immediate effect for the next two weeks: - Receive free incoming calls in France - Call home from France at the cost of a local call To access call rates, view the Rate Finder. As always, incoming calls are free with your International SIM Card. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragic events in Paris.
November 11, 2015
GOOGLE MAPS NOW AVAILABLE OFFLINE
Google, our online overlords and rulers of the Interwebs, have updated Google Maps in an entirely wonderful way – it’s now all available offline. This means that searching for specific destinations and getting turn-by-turn directions can now be done without an internet connection. This is fantastic news for roaming travelers, but you’ll need to remember to download the information for the region you are visiting before you travel. Once that’s done, however, you are good to go. The only information that won’t be available are real-time traffic updates and user-added photos – but these can be added seamlessly to the map as soon as you go online again.
The updated version of Google Maps is now available for Android handsets (such as the Smart range of unlocked handsets that Telestial provides), and will be coming to iOS soon.
November 6, 2015
FUN WAYS TO KILL A SMARTPHONE
Smartphones are ruining everything. No one talks to each other any more, kids are spending more time on their phones than they do sleeping, and they are permanently damaging our spines. Clearly, something must be done and the only sensible course of action is that we immediately destroy them all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun doing it.
Take the latest trend in holiday activities, for example, extreme phone-pinching. Not to be mistaken for phone theft, phone-pinching is a two-player activity that involves one participant filming while another holds their smartphone between finger and thumb. The smartphone is then dangled over something that you really shouldn’t dangle your phone over, such as a great height, river or sewer grate. Naturally, as this video demonstrates, things sometimes go a bit wrong.
Taking risks without reward is fun enough, but risks with reward? So much better. That’s where a new app called ‘Send Me To Heaven’ comes in – or at least, it would if Apple hadn’t just pulled it from their store. The idea is very simple: reach the top of the leaderboard by throwing your phone as high into the air as you can. You can catch it on the way down of course, if you’re boring. Surely it’s far more fun to see several hundred dollars of cutting-edge technology shatter all over the floor. Also in development is an app inspiringly entitled ‘Send Me To Hell’, whereby you win by dropping your phone the furthest. Oh goody.
The pinnacle of any challenge is to become so good at it that you turn professional. We’re not sure whether there are any professional phone-destroyers, but there’s certainly a few world champion phone-throwers. That’s because mobile phone throwing has become a sport in Finland (the country that also gave us the wife-carrying event). There does not seem to be anything happening next year unfortunately, but you can use that time to practice because registration is open for the March 2017 event.
Of course, you don’t need to rely on gravity to kill a smartphone. There are thousands of ways to dispose of the dreadful things. You could torture one to death in the name of consumer reviews, or, and this is my personal favorite, throw it into a volcano and then poke it with a stick, all in the name of science.
November 3, 2015
Hotels in trouble for dirty WIFI tricks
The FCC has this week slapped Hilton Hotels with a fine for blocking their customers from using their own WIFI hotspots. While this is a very welcome development, perhaps the bigger crime is that Hilton were charging $500 for the use of their own network. The fine is relatively small, only $25,000 (which means that if they can con another 50 customers into paying for their WIFI, they’ll have paid it back), but Hilton are not helping their own case. This fine is in part due to the fact that the FCC requested information from Hilton about their practices almost a year ago, and have still had no response. If this continues, so will the fines.
About the only thing Hilton Hotels have going for them in this case is that their WIFI is generally regarded as very good. In a recent New York Times article, it was revealed that the New York Hilton Midtown had the best and most reliable connection according to hotelwifitest.com. This is a very useful site for travelers looking to do some homework on the availability of WIFI in the country they are headed to.
Meanwhile, the FCC are to be applauded for continuing to monitor the occasionally sketchy behavior of some hotel chains. Marriot were fined $600,000 in 2014 for similar practices, and their attempts to lobby the FCC for the right to block customers’ hotspots have failed so utterly that they have given up trying.
WIFI hotspots are a very useful resource, for travelers and domestic users alike. The ability to share a signal with several devices means that you don’t have to take turns using the web. For more information on how to get hold of a WIFI hotspot, take a look here.
October 23, 2015
How Phones, Apps and Religion Come Together
There’s almost nothing that a smartphone can’t make more of in our connected world, and it seems that religion is no exception. A study by AT&T shows that increasingly, people are turning to technology either to connect with people in their local or religious community, or to provide spiritual comfort or encouragement. While it is still frowned upon by some, 20% of people say that they have used their smartphone in church (though be sure to follow the correct etiquette). Whether this is to read along with holy texts as part of the service, or tweeting poignant comments from the pastor, social media is by far the most important way for people to connect with their religion.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during Pope Francis’s recent visit to the USA, with smartphones providing an easy way to follow and interact with the pontiff on his tour. The Pope himself is no stranger to social media – Pope Francis has no less than nine Twitter accounts, all in different languages, with over 20 million followers. Twitter even gave him his own emoji. But it’s not just His Holiness that inspires people to reach for their smartphone. Almost all aspects of Catholicism are represented in the digital age. For example, the Bible App has been installed on very nearly 200 million devices worldwide – the same sort of numbers that tech powerhouses such as Facebook and Instagram command.
It’s not just the Christian world that is making the most of the smartphone revolution. Muslims around the world are taking advantage of technology to make their lives easier and to connect with their religion. There are apps to help tourists find halal food, Islamic dating apps, guides for religious observance during Ramadan and even a compass that points toward Mecca. Some aspects of the Jewish faith are more restrictive when it comes to technology, but that does not stop people from making their own brand of smartphone, nor connecting and coming together via social media for global events.
No matter what your religion – Sikh, Hindu, Buddhism – or even if you’re not religious at all, it seems that there is an app for that.
October 20, 2015
WIFI Assist – clarification
We reported last month that Apple’s new WIFI Assist feature might be causing people to spend more than they were expecting on their mobile data bill – and warned that it could potentially get very expensive indeed if you were using it abroad. However, in the wake of a small outcry about this, Apple have released a clarification, stating that WIFI Assist will not activate if you are roaming. The press release goes on to state that certain apps, especially those that use large amounts of data, will not cause the feature to activate. This is great news for roaming travelers, who now have one less thing to worry about.
October 14, 2015
Data Usage = Unhappy Networks
If you’re a mobile phone user in the US, the chances are you’ve come across the term ‘data cap’ over the last few months, even if you’re on an unlimited plan. The good news is that you’re not the only ones – mobile operators and consumers all over the world are coming to terms that there has to be a limit.
We are using more mobile data than ever before. In the US, users are getting through 2.5GB per month on average, just fractionally ahead of the rest of the western world. It’s worth noting that this is purely mobile data – when you factor in WIFI, the figures jump to between 7GB and 9GB per month. But even these figures are set to rise dramatically, with some experts expecting this to reach 11GB by 2019. This puts an incredible strain on the networks, slowing things down for everyone. The same amount of data that accounted for an entire year in 2007 is now being used in under 75 hours in 2015.
There are two major factors for why this is becoming a problem. First of all, while most major cities are well-connected, there are vast rural areas of the USA without a fast broadband connection. Laying fiber-optic cable to service these regions is an expensive undertaking – one farmer in Nebraska was quoted a price of $383,000 for 36 months of broadband fiber internet. Users found that they could achieve the same result just by tethering a smartphone on an unlimited data plan and using it as a WIFI hotspot. This caused problems for the smaller operators such as Sprint and T-Mobile because they don’t have national coverage like the bigger carriers, and have to rent space on their networks. With customers using far more data than anyone expected, the associated cost to the network was much higher, leading John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile, to brand some of his customers ‘data thieves’.
The other major factor are streaming sites such as Netflix. With 40 million users in the US alone, watching an average of 10 billion hours of video per month, it’s no wonder that our data consumption has sky-rocketed. Netflix is far from the only service of this kind – there is also HBO Now, Hulu and others. It is a dilemma for mobile companies, who know that their bandwidth is going to be affected by this, but who realize that this is what customers really, really want. It is said that in order to convince these companies to come on board their iPhones and iPads, Apple reduced the cut that they normally receive from App Store purchases from 30% to 15%. If Apple are offering a price cut, then you know it’s serious.
The problem for mobile operators is that they have a large number of users still on ‘unlimited’ data plans. These plans were created long before anyone realized just how much mobile data we were going to be using in the future, and had they known this, operators would never have created them. Only two operators still offer them, T-Mobile and Sprint. Unfortunately for the operators, many consumers still have these plans and the ‘unlimited’ nature of them is protected by law, as AT&T recently discovered when the FCC fined them $100 million. The only option for operators is to keep them running, and either make them as unlimited as they can (as in the case of AT&T who have increased the amount of data their unlimited users can use before their supply is ‘managed’), or by trying to price their unlimited users out of the market (in the case of Verizon, who have raised the cost of their plans by $20 per month).
Using these sort of streaming services abroad can be expensive, assuming that you can get them where you are. While Netflix is launching services across Europe as it continues its domination of the world (it already accounts for 20% of UK and Irish total web traffic), it’s not guaranteed that the show you want to watch is available in that country. However, geo-blocking is something that the European Union is looking at, and as well as abolishing roaming charges in EU Member States, they plan to create a single digital market that will allow users to watch what they want no matter where they are.
October 9, 2015
Google’s plan to combat ad-blockers and save the web
With the news that ad-blockers were being deployed on Apple’s browsers and by other telecoms operators across their entire network, it seemed possible that the entire landscape of the world wide web was in heading for some seismic changes. The method by which the vast majority of websites were funded (namely, advertising) was in danger, and the entity at greatest risk from this was Google itself. But Google didn’t become the vast company they are today by being stupid or falling asleep at the wheel, and this week they announced steps to safeguard their investment (and a great many websites as well).
The problem, as has been outlined on this blog before, was a question of page-bloat. The New York Times ran a series of experiments on 50 of the web’s top news sites to see how much of any given page was content, and how much was advertising. More than half the data received from these pages was in the form of advertising, and with more than half of all search queries being carried out on mobile, this was adding strain to both mobile networks and users’ mobile data budgets. Pages were slow to load, and people were beginning to turn to mobile apps, which were both faster and cheaper. Something needed to be done, and if that something was detrimental to Google’s profits, then so much the better for their competitors.
This week, Google have announced a new project, AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages. The idea is to change the structure of web pages so that they are optimized for mobile viewing. It’s sort of like having someone make you a house. Currently, you have to wait until absolutely everything is done before you can move in: building work, decorating, furnishings – even stocking the refrigerator with groceries. Only once all these things are done will the door open. With AMP, the theory is that you’ll be able to move straight in once the walls are up and the roof is on. Everything else is added around you. However, the important question, at least from Telestial’s perspective, is not a question of whether (to continue the analogy) you can move into your house quicker, it’s whether it costs the same.
It’s not entirely clear yet how AMP will impact on the size of web pages, though it does seem that there will be some significant slimming down. Much of the code that third-party publishers use (ie not Google) will not be allowed, and you may find that pages themselves aren’t as interactive as they used to be. Google themselves say that their mission is to only allow adverts that “don’t detract from the user experience”. Whether the data cost of a bloated page figures into their definition of user experience or not is unknown, but it’s a great start that companies as influential and huge as Google are acknowledging that the mobile web is now their biggest market. It also means that the sites we all use on a regular basis probably won’t need to change too much to survive. We will keep you posted on the latest developments as the project gets closer to launch, some time next year.
September 29, 2015
Apple’s WIFI Assist could cost you money
Hot off the back of the launch of their latest iPhone, Apple have released a new operating system, iOS 9. Among the new features are updates to the Maps App (featuring public transport information for a select few cities) and a very welcome ‘low power mode’, which will disable some features to lengthen the life of your battery. However, there’s one new feature that you will want to disable almost immediately – WIFI Assist.
In principle, WIFI Assist seems like a good idea. Previously, if you found yourself in an area where the WIFI signal was a bit patchy in places, web pages would fail to load and would get stuck until you closed the page down and tried again. WIFI Assist is an attempt to fix this problem, by turning on your cellular data connection when it detects that the WIFI is struggling. However, initial trials have shown that it determines that you need a great deal of assistance. Even people using their home WIFI have found that, at the end of the month, the amount they have spent on mobile data has risen dramatically, up to a third more than usual. Irritating when in your home country – potentially ruinous if you are abroad.
Perhaps the least helpful part of this new feature is that it is enabled as standard the moment you download the update, without telling you that it has done so. Fortunately, it is quite easy to disable: go to SETTINGS > CELLULAR and scroll to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find a slider for WIFI Assist. Simply turn this off, and your phone will behave like it used to.
August 28, 2015
The Pew Research Center released an exhaustive study this week of US smartphone user habits, with a particular emphasis on etiquette. The findings are interesting, particularly when compared to a similar study from two years ago. Comparing the two, it’s clear to see what the trends are, and how things that we have previously found unacceptable are now creeping their way toward legitimacy.
For example, the amount of people who feel that using your phone while waiting in line is rude has fallen by approximately 15% in the last two years. This is broadly the same with people using their phone in a meeting or during dinner. Using your phone while walking the street, on public transport or while driving a car has also become more acceptable (though the Mythbusters have recently provided evidence that talking while driving, no matter how you do it, is really unsafe).
There are a few areas where we have become more intolerant. Using your phone in church, for example, has become a huge no-no. Of those asked, 95% agreed that it should not be done, which is another 15% rise on two years ago. Using your phone at the movie theater has also become less acceptable – though it’s not quite as bad as using your phone at the stage theatre, an issue raised by Benedict Cumberbatch in London recently.
This study was carried out in the USA and only reflects US habits, and travelers might find that what is acceptable in one country is frowned upon in another – and vice versa. An experienced traveler (such as one who has taken advantage of Telestial’s excellent rates) will take the time to check these unspoken rules in the countries they are visiting, so as to avoid embarrassment or discomfort.
August 25, 2015
Increased competition for smartphone makers shrinks the market
There are an awful lot of smartphones out there. As well as numerous handset manufacturers, there are dozens of different operating systems too. But in terms of market share and popularity, there are two names that keep coming up, over and over again: Apple and Android. The key differences between these two brands are to do with exclusivity and usability, and it is this which is responsible for both their huge success, and the problems that they are to face in the near future.
Apple have become the world’s largest brand in recent years, due to the extraordinary success of the iPhone. Despite only controlling 20% of the smartphone market, Apple reaps an extraordinary 92% of the profits. This is partially because Apple control almost everything about their own products. They make their own phones, which run on their own operating system, and they jealously guard their innovations. For Apple, this is very much a closed system that begins and ends with them. Their focus on stylish design and interesting new features are part of the reason why they are able to charge higher prices for their products and still succeed (despite the occasional embarrassing misstep). It is for this reason that there have been only 10 iterations of the iPhone (with another two due to be announced next month).
Android, on the other hand, is happy to share itself with other phone makers. First released by Google in 2008, the Android operating system has surpassed Windows, Blackberry and others to become Apple’s only true competition in the market. It is not, however, restricted to one single handset manufacturer, and therein, as the Bard would tell you, lies the rub. You can buy, at present, well over a thousand different types of Android handset, from manufacturers such as Lenovo, Motorola, Sony and Google itself. Telestial’s own smartphone handsets run on the Android system.
While this proliferation may seem like a good thing for competiton on the surface, it is starting to become apparent that this highly fragmented market will cause problems in the future. Take HTC, for example. Voted ‘Device Manufacturer of the Year’ in 2011, HTC used to occupy third place behind Apple and Samsung in terms of market share. Just four years later, HTC’s stock is basically worthless, because they failed to innovate sufficiently in this incredibly fast-moving market.
This is a problem for consumers, for if you’ve bought a mid-range or specialist Android handset from a small manufacturer who gets into financial difficulty; there may suddenly be no one available to help if you run into a technical problem. There is an additional problem, one that has been illustrated by the recent upheaval on the global stock markets – not only is China currently the world’s biggest smartphone market, it is also where all but a few manufacturers make their phones (though some are moving into India). If the Chinese economy gets into further trouble, as seems likely, not only will the Chinese consumer appetite for smartphones wane, but it could also cause problems for the makers as wages for factory workers may rise and the cheap resources that made China the place to have these things built become more expensive. If life wasn’t already hard enough for a small smartphone manufacturer, it’s about to get a good deal worse.
August 13, 2015
When is a phone not a phone? When it’s a smartphone
In a few years from now, kids are going to have a whole set of new and surprising questions. Imagine a child playing with a smartphone. Some of the icons make sense. There’s the clock, which is for telling the time, and the calendar is obviously an event planner. That little shopping bag icon is for buying things, and the great big ‘F’ against a blue background – well, everyone knows that one. But what’s this strange green icon for making phone calls, the one that has what looks like a tilted smile?* And while we’re on the subject, why do we call it ‘hanging up’?
Like so many other things – the Walkman, the personal organizer, even the good old wristwatch – Smartphones have replaced almost all other types of phone. With employers starting to get rid of voicemail because it’s no longer necessary, and the FCC suggesting that getting rid of your landline is the best way to avoid robo-calls from politicians, even the desk or home phone at work is on borrowed time. But it would be a mistake to think that because it has replaced these other options, we’re all just yakking away on our mobiles. The truth is, we’re talking less than ever before.
It’s not a question of saving money, either. While there are a bewildering array of VOIP messaging apps, regular text messages are still the most popular choice. This is because not everyone has the same configuration of apps, or the same access to WIFI – or even a Smartphone. Text messages are efficient and reliable.
Why is this happening? Are we becoming more antisocial? After all, there have never been more opportunities to talk to people now that people can be gotten hold of just about anywhere at any time. We can even talk face-to-face! But that’s certainly not something I do on a regular basis, and nor does anyone else I know. Perhaps it’s a question of design. Smartphones are designed to be carried, not to be talked into like that old-fashioned receiver. With touchscreen technology dictating everything from phone navigation to dialing, perhaps it just feels more natural to continue using the screen to type a message rather than holding it to your face. Either way, the Smartphone, possibly the most impactful piece of technology in human history, is continuing to change our habits. If we’re not careful, it will even change the way we walk.
* No need to look so smug, text message icon – after all, you look like a handwritten letter, and we haven't seen one of those in forever.
July 30, 2015
THE TELESTIAL DATA DIET – TIPS FOR DEALING WITH A HUNGRY SMARTPHONE
After many years of horror stories about billshock, people are slowly opening their eyes to the dangers of unchecked data use while roaming. The idea that a few hours of unchecked browsing could lead to thousands of dollars in charges was so horrific to some people, they refused to even use their phone while travelling. In recent years, domestic providers have loosened their iron grip on roaming rates and have started (slowly) to lower their rates in other countries. But there are still places in the world where roaming charges are prohibitively expensive, so it is worth keeping an eye on things.
However, it is not just roaming that is becoming the issue. As we have mentioned in previous posts, there are traps for the unwary at home as well as abroad – autoplaying videos, page bloat, malware – all these things can slow the browsing experience, eat through data allowances and drain battery life. Our smartphones are close to as powerful as a desktop computer these days, but we still take far more care over the security and performance of the latter than we do the former. It doesn’t have to be this way. You’ll need to put your smartphone on a bit of a diet, restricting it from certain temptations that don’t do it any good at all. But if you follow some of the tips in this post, both you and your smartphone will feel a great deal healthier as a consequence.
SMARTPHONE USER, KNOW THYSELF
For the most part, there’s only one person who uses your smartphone, and that’s you. Ten years ago, looking something up online on your phone might have been enough of a novelty for you to remember exactly what you were doing, but these days, it is as much a part of life as anything else, and it’s easy when you have a wifi connection to switch off. Knowing your own habits is a vital piece of the data use puzzle. Use a data calculator to estimate your daily, weekly or monthly mobile internet usage. The important information here is the amount of data you use, not the price – after all, you will be travelling, and will be subject to different rates. You can use past bills to see whether your calculations match up to the estimates. If you are using a Telestial SIM (and because you’re very sensible, of course you are), use the JT Travel App to see what things cost and check your usage is in line with expectations.
DISABLE GREEDY APPS AND FEATURES
Most smartphones also have a data usage tracker these days – simply navigate to Settings > Data Use. This will show how much data you’ve used in a graph, and for an extra line of defense against unexpected costs, you can set a limit on your phone here too. If you scroll down, you will also see exactly which parts of your phone have been using data. This is an excellent way of identifying and disabling apps that you don’t need or don’t want using all that data.
Just because you are not using an App, does not automatically mean that it won’t use any data. Apps are regularly updated, some as frequently as two or three times a week. This can use up several MB of precious data allocation on something you are not planning on using anyway. Limit their access to the web by setting them to only update over WIFI – again, something that can be found under Settings > Data Use. You can also tell your smartphone to cease some or all background data use – that is to say, things such as your location tracker that run in the background even if you are not specifically using them. There is an option to turn this off across the board, but it is better to go through your apps individually, as some of them can still be incredibly useful. There are other third-party apps that you can download which manage these apps in different ways, and giving you even more control. Alternately, you can download a data killswitch, a very simple App that turns absolutely everything off – similar to the difference between switching off the water supply at the mains instead of a tap.
LOSE THE BAD APP(LES)
There have been stories recently about a huge number of Apps in the Apple and Android app stores that are riddled with malware. It is estimated that 5000 apps have infected 20 million phones around the world. While the main goal of these apps is to make it look like the user is clicking on ads (at a rate of 7 per minute), the side effect is that your data allocation is used up very quickly without you ever knowing it, as this malware runs even when the app itself is closed, and could easily eat through 2GB of data in a 24 hour period. Go through your apps and check their reputation online. If it seems like it might be a problem or if it is an App you haven’t used in some time, get rid of it. There are always alternatives.
NO TIME TO PLAY
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have begun to implement a policy of allowing videos to play automatically – and they are far from the only website that likes to do this. This is fine from the safety of a cable or WIFI connection, but for mobile users, it slows things down and can eat through your data loading videos that you don’t necessarily want to watch. Make sure these videos are not allowed to play automatically, either through the site’s homepage or app settings.
Now that it has been established that visiting an average page from one of the top 1000 websites costs you up to 2MB, it’s time to take greater control of your browsing. Not all sites will cost you that much, but there are many that will cost you significantly more, up to from between 9-12MB for the worst offenders. News sites are amongst the worst offenders, but really, any site with a lot of content that is regularly updated usually suffers from page bloat because of the amount of deals they need to make with advertisers to keep making money. While this is an issue that will become more important in the future, we are focussing on your vacation here, and so action needs to be taken. Consider looking at an alternative browser for your mobile device. The ones that come as standard work well enough, but they are not designed for a smartphone diet. Take a look at some of the others, taking note of the ones that are faster, lighter and optimized for mobile use. If you really want to slim down, consider a browser that takes out everything but the text.
Installing an ad-blocker on your device is also a very wise precaution. While ad-blockers and their use is becoming a moral issue, it does not change the fact that online advertising is, at its best, seriously inconvenient. Getting rid of ads while you are browsing abroad just makes good sense and will save you money on your data allowance. If you feel guilty about denying web publishers their revenue, download or purchase an app for that site, if there is one. Apps also have adverts, but they are under tighter control than with mobile browsing. Also, if you have paid for the app, you have paid the publisher and can rest easy that you are not putting them out of a job.
ALWAYS CARRY CACHE
Many of the things we do online don’t actually need to be done online. With a bit of time and planning, it’s possible to pre-load important, useful or other information onto your phone before you travel. Smartphones come with a decent amount of storage as standard, but higher-end models can come with as much as 32GB of storage space – enough room for several movies or a TV series, and plenty more besides. Maps can be pre-downloaded and stored. Unless you are streaming, music playlists can be prepared and added, as well as web pages that you might want to read later. The list goes on – so the biggest problem that a carefully curated mobile web cache could cause would be whether you actually have time to look at all this extra stuff!
By taking a bit of time to follow these steps and looking closely at your own mobile data habits, you can very quickly identify and eliminate problems, while at the same time giving you more power over your devices. Pretty soon, you’ll see that using data on your smartphone isn’t something to be despised or scared of, and you’ll be able to take control… without taking out a loan.
July 20, 2015
CARRIERS, MANUFACTURERS AND THE FUTURE OF THE SIM CARD
The internet is abuzz with stories this week about a new technology called e-SIMs and the coming death of the SIM card (again). Smartphone manufacturers are in discussion with the GSMA, a trade association representing network operators from around the world, to come up with a new standard in SIM cards – the e-SIM. Instead of a physical SIM card, these new electronic SIM cards come hard-wired into the device itself. The spin behind this is that it will be far easier to switch carriers and plans in the future(in a way not dissimilar to the Apple SIM that now comes with iPad Air 2 tablets), doing away with phone locking and giving consumers more choice over which plan they choose to use. The reality is, of course, a little more complicated.
First, it’s important to understand why this is happening. A good deal of it is to do with how US phone contracts and plans have changed in the last few years. Phones used to be sold at a subsidized cost as part of an arrangement with the carrier. In return for a two-year contract that locked the phone and the user into using only that carrier’s network, networks sold phones at a lower price. This money was reclaimed by way of higher service fees throughout the life of the contract, but as the price of smartphones continued to rise, they found themselves occasionally making a loss. At the same time, a new player came onto the scene with the intention of making a lot of noise, taking customers away from the big players and changing the game completely.
In March 2013, T-Mobile started launching deals which did not subsidize the cost of the handset. Handsets were sold at their full price, with the offer of financing if it was needed. The subsequently lower rates for calls and data proved very popular, and T-Mobile’s increasing market share (gained at the expense of the bigger players) could no longer be ignored. It was not long before everyone else had followed suite. Now, there are significantly better options available in terms of smartphones. Customers can buy them as new from the carrier for the full price, or they can bring their old or second-hand handset with them. Carriers are no longer making a loss from subsidizing handsets, and are now in fact starting to turn a profit from handset sales. It is estimated that carriers will have up to $35 billion in handset financing to sell, further boosting their bottom line.
So why is it important that manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung are involving themselves in this new SIM technology? After all, on the surface, very little has changed – consumers still get their handsets from carriers, and the full cost of these handsets is still passed on to the manufacturers. But now that consumers are paying these costs themselves, the prices are too high for things to continue as they have been. A brand-new iPhone 6, for example, costs $649; a top-spec Samsung S6 without a contract costs just under $1000. Under these circumstances, people are upgrading their handsets far less frequently than they used to. They are also looking at alternatives, such as second-hand phones. Industry figures suggest that the habits of consumers have changed, leading to a rise in the period between handset upgrades from once every 15 months to once every 2 years. Shipment forecasts of handsets to the US will rise at a much lower rate for the next few years, down to 5.3% from 8.9% last year.
If people are not buying the latest handsets, they aren’t taking advantage of the latest technology and this was always one of the biggest selling points for new smartphone handsets. They are looking for a way to regain control, and they may have just found it. After all, if the SIM card is hardwired into the phone handset, then there’s really no need to purchase your phone from the carrier at all; you can just get it directly from the manufacturer, no doubt with a similar financing plan. It also gives the manufacturer the power to decide which networks they allow on their e-SIM. Given these considerations, it is no wonder that industry experts are expecting a push-back from networks. That said, many operators are already on board, including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom (who own T-Mobile), Telefonica and others have all signed up to the talks.
It paints a very bleak picture for travelers. You currently have several options while abroad – you can roam using your domestic operator, or you can swap out your SIM for a local or roaming SIM card. In the future, it is your phone handset that will dictate your choice (singular) for you. There are other potential issues. Apple is an incredibly profit-hungry business – it provides 20% of the global smartphone market, but pockets a staggering 92% of the profits - and it has never been one to play well with others. One hypothetical situation that could come about would be in a country with two providers, one bigger than the other (in the same way that AT&T is bigger than T-Mobile). Apple could decide that it is working exclusively with the larger company and, even if the smaller company is cheaper, more competitive or offers better coverage in certain areas, the iPhone user won’t have any opportunity to switch to a better service. Also, it’s entirely possible that if Apple makes a deal with one operator, Samsung will make a deal with the other. And it could be that some companies do not wish to make a deal with either, and therefore their service will not be available at all.
These new SIMs, which are expected to arrive by 2016 (and it is rumored will be in the iPhone 7) will, at the very least, add a new dimension to the current wrangling over the abolishment of international roaming within the EU Member States. Last week, European politicians only had every telecoms operator in the Union to deal with; now, at the very least, the must tackle the looming giants Samsung and Apple as well.
Meanwhile, in case you were wondering whether any of this is actually new or not, rest assured: it is not. The technology is a bit different, but the concept has been around a good while. It’s already possible to get a SIM card that works in multiple destinations, that automatically switches to the best deal or strongest connection, and with a choice of network operator in each country. There is also a place where you can find affordable, unlocked Android handsets that don’t require a finance plan to purchase. And the name of this remarkable, cutting-edge website? Telestial.com.
July 16, 2015
How smartphones are changing human behavior
We are living in the data age – not simply because of the increasingly important role that technology is playing in our lives, but also because of the vast amounts of information being collated about our habits. While the wholesale interception of data and information by various governmental security services makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons, there are a number of studies that have recently been produced that have far-ranging implications. A surprising amount of them are to do with our relationship with our smartphones.
For example, there is a huge amount of information about what we do with our phones when we use them. For most Americans, their smartphone is the first thing they look at in the morning, and the last thing they check at night. During the day, most people check their phone on an hourly basis. People devote up to 85% of the time they spend using a smartphone on apps. Given the vast array of apps, from games to social networks to mapping and other useful tools, you might be forgiven for thinking that this time would be spread over dozens of different apps. In reality, we only use about 5 apps per person (though of course, one of them is bound to be the JT Travel App).
In terms of apps, we’re really only now starting to realize what our phones are capable of, and we are taking several steps closer toward making a reality out of what had before only been possible in science fiction. From using smartphone alerts to double the amount of lives saved from cardiac arrests, to helping manage epilepsy treatment, your phone will soon be able to tell if you are pregnant. Recent studies of usage habits show that the amount of time you spend with your handset might be an indicator that they might be suffering from depression. It won’t be long before the smartphone becomes more useful than Stark Trek’s tricorder – after all, if they can both diagnose any illness or injury within seconds, then surely the device that can do all that and play the latest Taylor Swift single is better. Unfortunately, it is not all good news – because smartphones are so useful for accessing information, lab results and other studies, doctors have been using them in surgeries and hospitals, but not treating them with the same level of hygiene as they do other devices – this is leading to the spread of disease.
There’s other bad news too. Smartphones are making us more forgetful, they are affecting our concentration, making us dumber in general, and making us more forgetful (and did I mention that they are making us more forgetful?). They are also being blamed for the decline of the traditional family unit. Not surprising, when studies have revealed that one in eight of us are addicted to our phones.
There are some surprisingly positive findings too. Millennials, the name given to the generation born after the 1980s, are cooking more than ever before thanks to the ease with which smartphones can make recipes available. We can use them to find lost dogs. We are even able to study issues of human morality.
One of the places where smartphones are having the greatest impact is Africa. This is a country where the number of people who have landlines is almost non-existent. In just 10 years, they have gone from having very few cellphones and minimal access to the internet to leading the world in terms of mobile banking. It has become a hugely important resource that is drastically changing normal life.
There are a vast array of smartphones out there, from no-frills handsets to gold-plated, diamond-studded pieces of technological art. But you don’t need the very latest models, nor do you need to go for a particular brand. Cheap, unbranded handsets have just as much capability and processing power as the very newest models. So even if you are not going on holiday, grab an affordable Telestial smartphone today, and see how it can begin to change your life.
July 16, 2015
How ads have changed the internet – and how users are fighting back
The television was invented in the 1920s, but it was not until 20 years later that the first advert aired on American TV (for a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies). Compare this with the internet, which was first made public in 1991. It took only three years before the first banner ad appeared online. It’s fair to say that the internet and advertising are inextricably linked. The largest and most popular search engine in the world, Google, is also the largest and most popular advertising platform in the world. But in their attempts to keep us engaged with their creations, advertisers risk damaging the internet in a way they never considered.
To some extent, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. While we accept in principle that they are a useful and necessary tool for companies to offer their products, we would rather not have to deal with them in practice. This has led to things such as banner blindness, where we train ourselves to subconsciously ignore the squares of bright colors and urgent text around a particular web page. Seeing that we were ignoring all but the content, advertisers then tried to make the advert the content itself (similar to an infomercial). Web-users are getting wise to this trick too, and are developing a similar method known as content blindness, where they switch off the second they suspect that there is a sales pitch hidden in an otherwise innocuous-looking article. Others use ad-blocking software to get rid of as many online adverts as possible, and have a far more pleasant browsing experience as a consequence.
The problem with this practice is this: excluding the price you pay to your network provider to use the bandwidth necessary to browse the internet, the vast majority of the rest of the world wide web is provided for free. And while a few people are not looking to monetize their blog or website, everyone else is wondering how they will get paid for all their work. Unless you’re selling a product or service, there is no income available, except via selling the empty spaces on your page to advertisers. By and large, this is a harmless exchange – advertisers pay for the space, website owners are remunerated for their time and effort, and the user, while they may not be thrilled by the occasional pop-up window or self-starting video, can browse in peace.
The difficulty we are now facing up to is the fact that things have gotten out of hand. Compare a page from Wikipedia, a non-profit website that does not host adverts and is funded by user contributions. A 2000 word article will load in under a second and “cost”, in terms of bandwidth, under 1MB to load. But as this study shows, a similar sized page from the New York Times takes 5 times as long to load, and while the actual content and photos of the page are visible pretty quickly, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background that will, if you remain on the page, take 4 minutes to fully appear and cost 2MB. This too, has a name: page bloat.
Now that half the world is accessing the internet via their mobile device, page bloat is becoming a problem, not merely for roaming users, for whom 2MB of data per page can very quickly turn into a real expense and a massive drain on battery life. With thousands of users using the web not via cables or fiber but using a network connection over the air, page sizes like these slow the browsing experience down for everyone. Which is why it is not just users who find themselves turning to ad-blocker software, but increasingly, mobile phone manufacturers as well. The problem that we will find ourselves facing in the future is this: if no one can see their adverts, advertisers will stop paying sites to display them – so how will these sites keep running?
July 7, 2015
FEELING THE HEAT
This summer is proving to be a hot one. All across the US, temperature records are being broken. It’s the same story in Europe, with all-time records being broken on a daily basis, and in India and Pakistan, the heat is so intense that it is melting roads and claiming lives. While it is vital that we monitor the health and temperature of people and pets under such circumstances, perhaps spare a thought for your smartphone as well.
Smartphones are a marvel of modern engineering. They have the same processing power as most desktop PCs and are capable of the same things, only they fit in your pocket. But while a desktop system has numerous fans and vents to cool the processor down, the design and size of a smartphone means that it’s just not possible to include cooling systems, and in temperatures such as these, this can become a problem.
Without fans, your smartphone already produces a good deal of heat, especially when under pressure. Playing games, streaming video and running high-performing apps such as maps and GPS heat the processor and this can cause your handset’s performance to dramatically slow. High temperatures magnify this problem, and as well slowing your phone’s performance to a virtual crawl, it can lead to permanent damage that is neither easy nor cheap to fix.
Batteries do not fare much better – the more you use them, the more heat they create, meaning that there is a second heat source causing problems inside your smartphone. As well as helping to slow down your phone’s systems, an overheated battery charges much slower and can shorten its lifespan. Heat can also damage the screen. The liquid crystal display (LCD) can overheat, pixels can die permanently, and excessive heat could also warp or even crack your screen.
There’s no need to panic. You won’t need to start carrying a bucket of ice around with you everywhere you go if you want to make a phone call. There are plenty of ways to soothe your overheated handset and keep an eye on the temperature. There are plenty of apps, for example, that can monitor the heat your phone is producing, and help you adjust accordingly. Several of these solutions are good practice in general even without excessive temperatures – such as adjusting the brightness of your display and managing your apps more carefully. Having your smartphone in a case can add to the problem, so if you’re seeing things slow down, taking it out will usually help reduce the heat. You can also get specifically designed cases that will help keep your phone cool. And if your battery is draining faster than you would like, a power bank is an excellent resource for extending its useful life when you don’t have access to a charger.
July 2, 2015
TOP 10 TRAVEL APPS – 2015
Here at Telestial, we try to do everything we can to make your travels as convenient and hassle-free as possible. This is why we created the JT Travel App, giving you complete control over your spending and all the information about your SIM that you could need.
However, there’s only so far that we can go – after all, it’s not like we can come with you (no really, I keep asking and they keep telling me to get back to work and take off the board shorts). However, there are a host of apps available to download that can make your life easier and more convenient, and we’ve collated a list of some of the best for you here.
AMOUNT (iOS only)
Currency converters are incredibly useful in all sorts of travel situations. But when people go away, they often don’t realise that there are many other things that you may need to convert into something you can make sense of. Road signs, for example, can be displayed in miles or kilometres, weights can be imperial or metric, and the differences in how various countries quantify clothing or shoe sizes can cause even the most experienced shopper a headache. AMOUNT illustrates these differences quickly and clearly, displaying not only the unit of measurement you want, but all the others as well. So now you can see the distance from A to B in kilometres or miles… but also inches, fathoms, leagues, light years and every other option as well.
GAS BUDDY (iOS/Android)
We covered GAS BUDDY when it first launched a while ago, but it is worth revisiting now that the app is a little more established. Using crowd-sourced, real-time reporting, users report on their local gas station’s gasoline prices, collating the information and displaying the best deals in your locale. Users are encouraged to join in the reporting by earning points, achievements and by entering the daily draw to win $100 worth of free fuel. If you are driving in the US, this is an excellent resource you won’t want to be without.
This one is pretty simple, but incredibly useful nonetheless. There are plenty of map apps available, but the vast majority of them require an internet connection. MAPS.ME downloads your selected map to your phone, making it available without an internet connection. There’s no need to be concerned that you’re downloaded outdated information – the data comes from OpenStreetMap.org, a Wikipedia-style mapping resource that is updated by users) and their information updates every minute.
There have always been methods for giving your location based on something other than a map. Say for example that you’re meeting friends in London near the iconic Big Ben. Locals might know that it can be found at its given address of Elizabeth Tower, near Westminster Bridge. Former eagle scouts or experienced explorers could show off a bit and say that it’s at latitude 51.500912 and longitude -0.12440000 – but really, if that’s your method of giving directions, it’s not too likely that you’ve got any friends to meet. GPS coordinates are easy – you don’t need to understand the information you’re given, you just follow the pin on your map until you’re standing right on top of it, but again, this requires a data connection that is costing you money. WHAT3WORDS has done something incredibly clever. It has divided the entire world into 3m by 3m sections (a total of 57 trillion squares) and assigned each one a random three word code. This provides an easy, accurate and foolproof location that you can find, share and meet at without the need of a calculator, sextant or abacus.
The last of the three map apps in this section, CITYMAPPER collates and concentrates all the information you could possibly need for 23 major cities (with more added all the time). Look up how to get from one place to another and receive all the options at the same time, with route-planning for cars, bikes and pedestrians, disruption or traffic updates and prices for the various public transport choices available. An incredible wealth of useful tools are bundled into this app, including a calorie counter if you’re walking long distances, or an alarm to remind you which train station to get off at.
This app sits between two worlds: the old - where people on holiday seek out and send a picturesque postcard from that location to the folks back home – and the new – the online world, where a photo can be taken, uploaded and shared within seconds. When you upload a photo and message to POSTAGRAM, they print it out and send it to the desired recipient. The photo can then be popped out from the postcard and kept as a regular photo.
We move now to two apps for the business traveller, for whom life is very far from the glamour of postcards and beaches. People are often expected to leap on an overnight flight for 8 hours, find and arrive at a location able to intelligently hold a meeting and then return as soon as possible, ready to report on the meeting at 9am the next morning. This sort of thing can have a brutal effect on the body, with jetlag and stress taking an extreme toll. That’s why researchers came up with ENTRAIN, an app that helps you prepare for and adjust to different time zones by regulating the amount of light your body encounters. Controlling this before, during and after a business trip can help get you in and out of synch with different time zones a lot easier.
This is an app for anyone who has ever stared at a mound of crumpled, random receipts and wondered whether the effort of sorting through them all is worth the amount of personal money you’d claim back. EXPENSIFY takes control of your expenses reporting, managing your spending, logging your billable hours, automatically making currency adjustments and even scanning and logging your receipts for you. There’s even a cost-splitter, taking the pain out of figuring out who owes what from that business lunch.
Really simple and really brilliant – POCKET is an app that allows you to store articles, videos and whatever else you can find online and then access later, offline. Perfect for long journeys or situations where you want to browse online without actually being connected.
DARK SKY (iOS/Android)
Let’s face it, the standard weather tools on most smartphones really aren’t very good, especially if it gets boiled down to a single icon (the ‘sun/cloud’ icon is particularly frustrating). What if you had all the facilities of a professional weather station at your fingertips? DARK SKY basically does exactly that, giving you access to weather maps on a global scale, up to the minute notifications and information, and a wealth of other information such as wind speed, humidity and barometric pressure.
June 16, 2015
EU ROAMING REPORT UPDATE – NOTHING TO SEE HERE
With the US implementing Net Neutrality at the end of last week, attention has turned to the European Union who are attempting to come up with something similar for their 28 Member States. The amount of countries involved has the unfortunate result of making the EU’s plans that much harder to implement – 28 times harder, to be precise.
It’s a good news/bad news situation at present. The good news is that a framework for data regulation across the whole EU has been agreed upon, and it only took 3 years. The next steps are for the three sections of the European Union – the Commission, the Parliament and the Council – to discuss the specific amendments put forward by each country. Early estimates hinted that this could take up to 2 years, so let’s call it at least 4. That is, assuming they are able to reach an agreement, which does not seem to be the case when it comes to roaming charges.
At a breakfast meeting last Friday, the outgoing Latvian President of the European Council urged the few representatives who had bothered to show up to come to an agreement on the issue of roaming charges in Europe. After all, the latest figures suggest that a vast amount of money is being spent on roaming even within the EU. Last year, for example, travelers from the UK spent £573 million ($891 million) on roaming fees alone in Europe. German visitors spent €375 million ($422 million), and with only two of the 28 Member States counted so far, this already adds up to over a billion dollars. And of course, this is what is causing the hold-up.
Telecoms operators, and the countries that they work in, do not want to give up on this income. Others have concerns about fairness. Polish telecoms operators, as an example, feel that they’re losing out because of their geography – relatively few travelers want to go on vacation to Northern Europe as compared to the sunnier parts of the Mediterranean, and would be much more in favor of the proposals. Countries like Greece, already in a financially precarious position, feel that losing this very lucrative revenue stream would leave them in even more trouble. So while data regulation is something that everyone can (in theory) agree on, abolishing roaming charges seems at this stage to still be an impossible dream.
May 6, 2015
TRAVEL TRENDS 2015
It’s the time of year when people’s thoughts turn to what they want to do and where they want to go for the summer, and as always, we’re keen to find out just what that means. Surveys such as this one from provide a wealth of information and inspiration.
As always, world events have a huge influence on these factors and can be both beneficial and detrimental to the desires of travelers. For example, recent unrest and terrorist activities in Egypt and Tunisia respectively have led to a steep decline in the amount of holidaymakers who want to visit. The relaxation by the US government of embargoes against Cuba together with new travel options from the US, however, have made a huge difference – searches for travel information have increased 185% in the last quarter.
There is also a wealth of information about when people choose to take their vacations, and how long they plan on staying away. In North America, for example, an average stay of one week is the most popular choice, and usually takes place in August. For travelers from the Middle East or Africa, one week just is not enough, with 56% of those surveyed saying that they would be away for 14 days or more.
Despite the strength of the dollar compared to other currencies around the world this year, many US travelers are looking north of the border. Search queries for Canada have increased 45% on last year. This may partly be due to people looking to attend specific events, such as the Pan Am Games being held in Toronto, or the Women’s Soccer World Cup in Vancouver.
One travel trend that sadly doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is the tendency for phone operators to continue to charge sky-high rates on roaming fees. But we knew all about that one already.
April 16, 2015
How much do you rely on your smartphone?
We knew that people were spending increasing amounts of time using their smartphones, but the fact that many Americans are wholly dependent on their smartphones for a high-speed internet connection came as a bit of a surprise. These are the findings of a new report by the Pew Institute.
For example, we did not know that of the 64% of Americans that use smartphones, 15% have limited access to any other form of internet. 10% have no broadband at home, and for 7%, their smartphone is their only access to data.
If you’re still in the mood for some facts and figures, don’t forget to check out CNet’s reaction to the results of Telestial’s survey.
April 7, 2015
Congratulations to our sweepstakes winners. All winners will receive their gift codes via e-mail in the coming days.
Grand Prize: Wesley P., CA
iTunes runners up: Sandra Rebecca M., TX; Lisa A., TN; Kathy T., NY; Lindsay S., WI
February 16, 2015
The benefits of a dual-SIM phone
There’s a familiar trend for technological advances. Once an initial product is created, designers always try to ensure that subsequent iterations of that product are tighter, sleeker, more efficiently put together. Smaller, in other words. The first computers, for example, could have comfortably housed a family of four. Now, they’re small enough to fit inside a mouse. The first mobile phones were chunky, clunky pieces of kit that required long antennae. Now they fit comfortably into your pocket. And while the trend for ‘smaller and smaller’ continues (as with the burgeoning wearables market), most modern smartphones have stopped shrinking, and are in fact growing again. The latest iPhone, for example, is the company’s biggest to date.
The irony is that the smartphones are once again growing in size because we’ve made all the other stuff so much smaller. There’s no point in your phone being capable of high-definition video playback if the screen is too small for you to appreciate it. So while the handset may be skinnier (perhaps a little too thin at times), the screen size seems to be on the increase. This puts the humble SIM card in an awkward position. After all, it was because there was no room for a standard SIM that the Micro and eventually the Nano SIM were invented. Now, many modern smartphones have some extra space, enough for a second SIM slot.
A dual-SIM handset makes a lot of sense, for a number of reasons. All our phones have always been dual-SIM for the extra flexibility that it offers travelers. There’s space for your Telestial SIM and your regular SIM, so that any calls you get come straight through to you no matter which number you’ve given out. However, there are many other reasons for the sudden popularity of dual-SIM phones, as indicated in this report from OpenSignal.com. One of the strangest findings is that the sudden upswing in dual-SIM’s popularity is wholly unexpected: “What is clear is that dual SIM devices are a significant part of the mobile ecosystem, and despite building signal apps for years: this was news to us.”
As can be seen from the top 20 dual-SIM using countries, signal strength is clearly an issue. In developing nations particularly, differing regions may still be serviced by different operators, and making calls to competitor companies could essentially mean roaming charges, only without the roaming. If you’re unable to make a call on one service, having another option right there in your handset already makes a great deal of sense.
Of course, why stop at just two SIMs? Why not three? Or four?
January 22, 2015
THE TELESTIAL TIMELINE
Picture the scene: you’re on vacation. You’ve spent the last four hours on an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ trek, most of it uphill. The first hour was lovely. A gentle walk among the rolling hills in a place you’ve never been before. You marvel at the strange plants, waving or talking to the friendly locals as they make their way past you, with most of a small forest piled precariously onto their shoulders. The second hour is a bit less enjoyable. The incline has increased, and you’re just not used to this tropical afternoon sun beating down on you. You’re also wondering whether flip-flops were the best choice of for this adventure. By the third hour, you’re absolutely certain that flip-flops were in fact a terrible idea, and vow to immediately burn them on your return to sea level. Now the descending locals seem a little less chipper and more like they’re mocking the out-of-shape westerners, struggling to complete a climb empty-handed that they’ve already done twice before breakfast with a goat under each arm. You barely have the energy to raise a hand in acknowledgement, let alone stop for a chat. By the time you’re into the fourth hour, you are a mass of aches, pains and resentment, mostly toward the tour guide who told you that it was only a gentle walk. You vow that you’ll put up with it and get there, just to throw the miserable swine off the top. You have to remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun, mostly by chanting a mantra through gritted teeth, something along the lines of “I. Am. Having. FUN.”
But then you get to the summit, and suddenly, the pain and exhaustion melt away. There is no need for words, even if you weren’t too exhausted to speak. You, and the rest of your small group, sit upon the rocks with the dazed surprise of people who were told that it would be worth it, but somehow forgot this along the way. But yes, it was worth it. So worth it. You’re looking at the best, most impressive sunset you’ve ever seen in your life. The light reflects off the water of the bay, turning the whole sea gold. You stare in awe at the trees swaying gently in an afternoon breeze, the poor fools stuck on that lowly beach in the distance, and you remember that this, exactly this, is why you chose to come here in the first place. It was to see and experience things that you never would back home... which is when you remember a friend or family member. How they would love this. In fact, after a quick look at your watch and some gentle mental arithmetic, you realize that it’s only just 10am there. You could give them a call. So your hand reaches for your pocket… and time stops.
Time has stopped because there are three distinct timelines you could go down, depending on the decisions you made before you set off. Each timeline is very different.
In the first timeline, you reach into your pocket and pull out your phone. Up here, you’ve got a nice strong signal, and the person you want to call is on speed-dial. But just as you’re about to hit the dial button, you stop. If you make this call now, you have no idea how much it’s going to cost you. It could be as much as $20 per minute, and while you’d really like to spend five minutes describing the scene from your mountain-top, it’s not really worth the $100 you’d be spending. I guess they’ll like the photos, but it’s not the same. Maybe next time, you think, and the phone goes back in your pocket, unused.
In the second timeline, you’ve taken precautions about such things. For a start, you have ensured that your handset is unlocked (after all, you don’t want to spend four hours climbing just to discover that it won’t work anyway). You also purchased a local SIM at the airport to ensure the best quality service and the lowest rates, and you have plenty of credit. You could spend the next hour up here, gabbing happily away, and it wouldn’t cost you a cent since you’ve already bought the credit. Patting yourself on the back, you dial the number, and wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. After the third attempt you give up, a bit downcast. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You wonder what you’ve done to upset your friend back home.
Of course, your friend isn’t upset. It could be that they’re at work, where taking personal calls on office time is strongly discouraged, no matter who you are. Or it could be that they didn’t recognize the number. In a poll from 2012, it was found that the overwhelming majority of cellphone users do not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize, period. Given that you just bought your SIM card a couple of days ago, there’s no way that the person you’re calling will know it’s you. They’re especially unlikely to answer a call with an international dialing code that they don’t recognize. You could leave them a message and tell them of this wonderful moment that you wanted to share, but that’s not quite the same thing, and besides, it’s beginning to get dark.
The third timeline is the one in which you went online and visited Telestial before your trip. You received your SIM card, which came with a US and UK number (so no unexpected mystery country dialing codes), before you travelled, giving you time to share the number with your family and friends before you travel. You have some free credit on the SIM and the rates are much lower than they would be with your regular SIM, so you can still talk as long as you want. If you want, you can wait until the person on the other end fires up Facebook and takes a look at your Travel Journal. They’ll see you right there, a little red location tag on top of the mountain. They can also take a look at the photos you’ve uploaded. It’s the next best thing to them being with you.
Disclaimer – Telestial.com nor any of its affiliates can do anything about your blisters. Sorry about that.