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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.

August 22, 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


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.

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.


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.


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


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.

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