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November 22, 2016


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


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


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


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.

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