Home > News - Updates, Rate Changes And Travel Tips
September 29, 2015
DESIST THE ASSIST
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
THE SMARTPHONE WARS – WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
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
RIP, HUMBLE TELEPHONE
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
SMARTPHONES – IS THERE ANYTHING THEY CAN’T DO?
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
THE AD-BLOCKER DILEMMA
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
SMARTPHONE DEPENDANCY – SOME SURPRISING FINDINGS
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
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.
December 17, 2014
‘TIS THE SEASON!
Yes, it really ‘tis! And just like many of you, we are a little preoccupied at the moment thinking about what gifts to get people. Fortunately, we have just launched a new range of products that will make your Christmas vacation easier, cheaper and hassle-free.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on the site (and I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t be), you’ll already know that we have just launched a new European SIM card. With excellent savings on calls, SMS and data for 30 European territories (plus a further 6 global destinations), we might be forgiven for resting on our laurels. But we just don’t operate that way. There’s always more we can do. That’s why we’ve launched a brand new Smartphone, the Smart 3. With a 4” touchscreen, dual SIM slots and running the latest Android OS, KitKat, it’s our best Smartphone yet.
We’re also very pleased to announce the launch of our first tablet system, the JT Tab. This also has dual SIM slots and runs KitKat, and offers all the same features as other, higher priced tablets such as a 7” colour LCD touchscreen, 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 8GB of internal memory. At $119 (with an Explorer SIM card and $10 free credit) we think it’s one of the best, most affordable devices on the market.
As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got a couple of special offers available, because we know that many of you are headed overseas for the holidays. These include our Smart 2 handset (3.5” touchscreen, dual-SIM slots, 4GB of internal memory), a choice of either Explorer or Europe SIM card, $10 credit and a travel adapter.
No matter where you are spending the holiday season, we’ve got your calling and data needs covered. The only thing that remains is to wish all of our customers happy holidays and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2015!
December 10, 2014
THE ROAMING REPORT – DECEMBER 2014 EDITION
2014 has been a big year in terms of roaming. Faced with the rise in popularity of free VOIP apps such as Skype, WhatsApp and many more, the major operators have realized that they stand to lose out if they don’t get in the roaming game. But have things changed enough that you can just use your regular SIM anywhere, or are you still better off with an international SIM card? Let’s take a look…
Here in the States, the debate over Net Neutrality has dominated the conversation for some time. Hardly surprising, when 4 million petitioners and The President have a personal opinion on the subject. Behind the scenes, the major operators are fighting with each other over the cost of data roaming in the US. On one side, you have the new kids, led by T-Mobile, who have complained to the FCC about the cost to other providers for roaming on AT&T’s network. AT&T (with the backing of Verizon) have responded that since they put in the work creating the larger network, they should reap the benefits. T-Mobile (with the backing of Sprint) want the FCC to set a standard rate for data roaming across the country.
This suggested system would be similar to the one adopted by 31 countries in the European Union. As previously reported in this blog, they had planned to phase out roaming charges altogether by the end of 2015. However, telecoms operators have pushed back, claiming that the loss of revenue would render them unable to continue expanding their networks. While they have complied with current legislation that caps roaming rates across the board in Europe, some operators have been raising the cost of roaming elsewhere in the world. In some cases, prices have doubled.
Elsewhere around the world, the outcry over high data roaming rates and unexpected bills (which still make the news) have caused many other global players to reconsider their strategy. From Canada to Australia, Zimbabwe to Russia, telcos are slowly (very slowly in some cases) lowering their roaming rates. The news looks good. But is it really?
As indicated by the raising of non-EU roaming rates by Irish Telecoms operators, perhaps we’re not quite there yet. While it makes sense to lower the rates in countries close to your homeland, the further away you travel, the higher the rates will remain, and for as long as possible. Given that telecoms operators stand to make $50 billion from data roaming revenue alone by 2019 (and that’s just over half of the total roaming revenue at stake), it’s no surprise that they would be reluctant to give it up. It’s possible that these projected figures will be dented by frustrated customers either turning to free VOIP and WIFI services, or turning their cellphones off altogether while they are out of the country. One thing is clear – for truly global rates and freedom from billshock, usage caps and other hidden surprises, your best bet is still a Telestial SIM card.
November 21, 2014
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? NO, IT’S BILLSHOCK
Another day, another story of Billshock. However, this one is a little different: a Canadian man flying from London to Singapore last week accrued charges of $1,171 by using – or rather overusing – the airline’s WIFI.
There are of course two sides to the story. The WIFI provider, OnAir, claim that their usage and rate policies are absolutely clear, both before and during the data session. Certainly, it has never been easier to see what data you are using, with most devices featuring graphs that track usage in real time, and break down what types of data you have viewed. They also claimed that once the customer reached the end of his allotted 30MB, he was given a choice to end the session or continue at a higher rate. The customer, of course, has a different view. He claims that he was not using the WIFI too heavily, looked at maybe 150 pages and uploaded one small spreadsheet. It’s possible that he pressed the wrong button when his allocation ran out, and mistakenly chose to continue using data when in fact he was planning on going to sleep. The bottom line is that you always need to be aware of what you’re doing when you go online with your phone, so here’s a quick guide:
- Always read the small print – well, not all of it. After all, these things run as long or even longer than some of Shakespeare’s plays. But you should make sure you’re aware of all the charges and costs that you could incur. If there is a limit to the amount of data you are buying, make sure you know what that limit is, and adjust your browsing time accordingly.
- Be aware of what you are browsing – take a look at our handy chart, which breaks down how you can use an average data bundle. Pages comprised of just text and no images (such as emails) will cost you less than pages with images, which cost less than pages with videos, and so on. While this seems obvious and intuitive, it is not always as clear-cut. Take Facebook, for example. You could visit a Facebook page with the intention of just reading text, only to find that you are downloading videos as well. Check your phone’s settings to keep control of this.
- Check your apps – in the same way that websites may be doing more to your data allocation than you exepct, apps can also do the same. Push notifications, location services and automatic updates – these are all things that can accrue data charges without you even being aware that it is happening. You can find some great tips for taking control of your apps here.
- End your session when you are done – this sounds more obvious than you think. If you were using a laptop or PC, ending a data session is as simple as turning off your browser or computer. It’s not necessarily as simple with a smartphone, which usually stays on and may be doing other things in the background. Go to your handset’s settings screen and turn off mobile data to end the session with certainty.
- Ask yourself if you need to be online right now – this is less about being patronizing and more to do with awareness. The man in the story could easily have uploaded his spreadsheet either before or after he had landed. Most airports and hotels have WIFI facilities that were no doubt much cheaper than in-flight WIFI. After all, at 30,000 feet, you are not in a country but rather ‘international airspace’. This means that there are no designated providers and no cell towers. Companies providing data can charge whatever they want, and if stories like these are to be believed, they certainly will. If there’s the risk that you could go over your allocation and start using data at vastly inflated rates, consider whether it is worth the risk. It could mean the difference between $30 and $1,000.
November 19, 2014
Without mentioning a certain high-profile company’s reported high-profile design flaw, there are plenty of other ways to damage your Smartphone. Insurers Squaretrade have compiled a survey showing which US states are the clumsiest when it comes to looking after their handsets. Utah, take a – careful – bow.
Of course, dropping your phone into the sea, a hole in the ground or even a large animal is not a solely American pastime. Squaretrade have done their due diligence and surveyed Europe as well. The winners here are Greece, Italy and Spain. Congratulations, guys!
Of course, if you do find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you’re watching your phone disappear from view, it’s not just your phone that’s gone – it’s your SIM card too. Fortunately, you can insure your Telestial roaming SIM card against damage or loss with lifetime protection – just select the option at the checkout!
November 19, 2014
INTRODUCING THE NEW EUROPE SIM CARD
Here at Telestial, we are committed to providing the best roaming experience possible for our customers, which is why we are proud to announce the launch of our new Europe SIM card! We know that you want low, consistent rates for calls, SMS and data while you are away, which is why we offer just 25c per call, message or MB of data. We also know that you may want to call elsewhere, which is why we have added reduced rates to an additional six territories, including the USA, Australia and South Africa.
Whether you are visiting one of the major tourist centres such as London, Paris or Barcelona, or going off the beaten track to explore some of the continent's less-visited countries, the Europe SIM card is just what you need. All rates and charges are detailed on the product page and if you have any other questions, our customer service team is on hand to answer any questions you might have.
November 7, 2014
WORLD WAR WEB
It has been 25 years since the World Wide Web was developed, and no one could have predicted the vast impact it has had on our lives. Had they been able to so, it seems unlikely that it could have been allowed to grow and evolve unimpeded in the way that it has. It has now come of age, and is proving, to some, to be an unwieldy and complex creature, in need of taming. For every benefit, we are finding a hidden threat. The list of disturbing news stories related to the web in recent years is almost endless: Net Neutrality, Edward Snowden and the NSA, Wikileaks, hacked celebrity photos, cyber-bullying, Anonymous and other hacker groups, internet piracy, rick-rolling… the list goes on and on. Faced with a constant barrage of these issues, governments, tech giants and consumers are having to fight for control of the internet – and usually against each other. Make no mistake about it – this is war.
Nowhere was this clearer than Hungary last week, when Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a plan to introduce an internet tax to help bolster the country’s ailing finances. The proposal involved charging Internet Service Providers for each gigabyte of data that they processed at a cost of 150 forints, or 60c per GB. To put this in perspective, a digital download of a new computer game would cost each user approximately $30. To say this was an unpopular decision is an understatement – this last weekend, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets, and consequently the decision was reversed.
If you think this sort of draconian behaviour is limited to former Soviet States of Europe, think again. In the USA, one of the hottest political topics (one that doesn’t involve actual politicians, sadly) at the moment concerns ‘Net Neutrality’. This is the principle that all data on the web is accessible by all people without discrimination in terms of cost, content or anything else. In May, the FCC approved a proposal that would allow ‘internet fast lanes’ for those that paid a higher premium. As part of the process, the public were allowed to air their views, which they did, and in great numbers. Over a million US consumers commented on the issue, far more than any proposal ever had before. While most ISPs seem to be interested in keeping the web open, Verizon is set to pursue litigation.
The internet’s global reach is both a blessing and a curse. The fact that it is a vast, online community, without borders, means that activists are able to organise themselves much more easily than many other groups. But it is also the means by which hackers from one country can disrupt websites of other countries and global mega-corporations can take advantage. The revelations last year about the NSA’s widespread data collection methods caused a great deal of concern around the world, and governments are now working to protect themselves. For example, from 2015, any data collected by cloud storage facilities must remain in Russia, and such services must be physically located on Russian soil. This has huge implications for Apple’s iCloud and anyone already using or reliant upon such technology in Russia. Germany is also looking at introducing new safeguards to protect themselves, by demanding that US sites reveal their source code to prevent sensitive information from being passed on.
In Spain, the issue is slightly different, but no less contentious. Here, the goal is not so much to protect people from intrusive spying by foreign governments, but more to protect local businesses from the influence of globally dominant companies. A copyright law has just been passed to prevent Google and other news aggregator sites from posting links or snippets from domestic Spanish newspapers. Other sites that host links to Spanish papers will be at risk of a €600,000 ($750,000) fine if they do not remove them. Opponents say that the government could abuse this law, which could allow them to censor anything they don’t like. However, the downside of this is that websites lose out if they are not featured by Google. For proof of this it’s back to Germany, where powerhouse publisher Axel Springer, who had also opted out of the Google snippets, are asking to be let back in because of an 80% drop in visitor numbers.
The web may be world-wide at the moment, but increasingly it seems that individual states are exercising more and more control, while networks and ISPs struggle to keep the power they currently exert. Governments, corporations and citizens are squaring off against each other, in a battle royale for the soul of the internet, and early indications are that things may end up working differently depending on where you are, and will be of great importance to international travelers. Be sure to check back here for the latest developments.
November 4, 2014
I SAY YOUR GRACE, DO STOP TWEETING AT THE DINNER TABLE
The world is a very different place to what it was just five years ago. For example, we really don’t need to remember things any more. Say you are watching television and there’s an actress you recognise but can’t name. In the time it takes you to say “oh her, I know her, what was she in? Wait, I’ll remember in a seco…” – someone has pulled out their phone, connected to the IMDB via a web search and is reeling off their entire filmography. Information about anything, from instructions for changing a light bulb, to a detailed history of the light bulb’s development or even full biographies of the light bulb’s inventors (Swan and Edison, thank you Google) is available at the touch of a button.
Things were very different in 18th Century Britain. There were of course books, but this mostly contained historical information. If you wanted current, up-to-date facts about people, you had to hope that someone else could fill you in, but this could be sensitive information and if one was not of an appropriate social rank, then one was up a certain creek without a certain wooden implement. For example, what if you had a dinner engagement with Prince Henry Scot, Duke of Buccleugh and (shock, horror) you couldn’t recognize his coat of arms? What if you were (perish the thought) unaware that The Earl of Wandesford and the Viscount Castlecomer were in fact the same individual? Getting something like this wrong could be disastrous for a chap attempting to gain standing in Georgian high society. Fortunately, John Debrett, a Piccadilly book seller, was on hand to help.
The first three editions of The New Peerage were in fact published by Debrett’s boss at the time, John Almon. These contained an exhaustive amount of information on each and every titled family in the British Isles. Family histories traced back to the Norman Conquest of 1066, the locations of stately homes and a breakdown of the composition and meaning of every part of each coat of arms. In short, an 18th Century Wikipedia for the 1%. Debrett continued Almon’s work in the two volume publications The Correct Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland that followed. These guides were so useful that they became an indispensable part of life to those with titles and lands. Looking yourself up in Debrett’s must be considered the very earliest incarnation of what is now known as ‘Googling yourself’. It is referenced in many literary works, from Vanity Fair to Sherlock Holmes, as well as by authors such as Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell and PG Wodehouse. More recently, it has appeared in TV episodes of Absolutely Fabulous and Downton Abbey.
In the middle of the 20th Century, with the aristocracy on the decline, Debrett’s began to publish guides to etiquette: Debrett’s Manners and Correct Form in the Middle East or Debrett’s Guide for the English Gentleman, for example. Even now, the Debrett’s guide is still going strong, albeit under the slightly less distinguished title of People Of Today. They also continue to publish guides to good behaviour – including, this week, how to behave on both mobile and smartphones.
The advice is a mix of common and uncommon sense, wrapped up in the gloriously snooty format that you would expect of such a publication. We are advised to remove both headphones when at the cash register, as “the fact that it's a mundane transaction does not justify a refusal to engage properly with another human being.” It should be clear to anyone that “messages of condolence sent by text are the ultimate faux-pas”, but you might be surprised to learn that “formal handwritten thank you letters should never be replaced by a text”. I certainly was – I shall have to check with the butler to make sure he’s not slacking off. That is, assuming I can tear him away from taking selfies with the gameskeeper.
October 28, 2014
I HATE TO SAY ‘I TOLD YOU SO’, BUT…
Predicting the future is a funny thing. Sometimes, I am entirely useless at it (I’m looking at you, lottery picks and sporting events), and sometimes I’m right in a way that is so unusual, I may as well have been wrong. In the last post, I suggested that reports of the SIM card’s death at the hands of Apple might be a bit premature, and in fact that they might have a bit of a struggle on their hands in the coming months. Well, I was incorrect - they couldn’t even make it a week without things starting to go wrong.
First to break was the news that AT&T have decided not to play nice with Apple’s network-hopping SIM. The SIM is designed to allow users to change networks whenever they want. So, say for example, a customer on T-Mobile in the US is headed to a region where coverage is not that great, or is travelling across the Atlantic to the UK (where providers EE have signed up as well). Not a problem for the Apple SIM, you can just switch networks. A fantastic idea in theory, but it seems that the US providers were not quite as on board as everyone thought. For example, if you register on AT&T with the Apple SIM, you immediately receive a message that states: “Once activation completes, this Apple SIM can only be used with AT&T. You will need a new Apple SIM if you change carriers in the future.” Oh dear.
Controversial T-Mobile CEO John Legere provided further evidence that all was not quite as it should be with the new SIM. His victorious tweet this weekend showed evidence that AT&T were locking SIMs so that they could only be used on AT&T, attempts to contact on Sprint were leading to an error message, and Verizon were missing altogether – leaving T-Mobile as the only network able to demonstrate that things were working as they should. It is, however, a small victory – if the Apple SIM only works as advertised with one provider, then you may as well just use that one provider’s SIM in the first place. (UPDATE: Legere has gone on to explain further in one of his 'tweetstorms')
There was more bad news to come. Back in September, Apple announced another revolutionary feature, Apple Pay. Using NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, users could store credit card details on their phone and use it to make payments. Once you are at the till with your purchase, you simply wave your iPhone at the scanner, and the payment is processed. It’s attractive to customers because it makes life easier, and attractive to retailers because it avoids the extra fees that credit card companies levy on purchases using their cards. This sort of advancement that makes so much sense, you start to wonder why no one else had thought of it until now. It turns out that actually, they had.
Several major retailers in the US are already starting to disable the NFC features on their terminals, including Wal-Mart and Best Buy, in a deliberate attempt to stop Apple Pay. This is because they, along with over 100,000 other US retailers, are already signed up to a similar initiative known as CurrentC, and there are other such payment systems planned and appearing all over the world. Unfortunately for the US, CurrentC is not due to be launched until 2015, which means that everyone loses out in the meantime.
So what does it all mean? Have Apple underestimated the market, or are they so confident in their brand and market power that they believe that the other guys will blink first in this epic game of corporate chicken? Do Apple care that a few US companies are resisting them (after all, they have twice the number of retailers happy to use their systems), or do they have greater global ambitions? I’m certainly ruling myself out of the prediction game after this, but I think attempting to guess at how things will pan out is missing the point. What we should be asking are questions like: do we really need to be tied to SIM cards for mobile calls, or is this merely the networks attempting to retain control? And is it right that credit card companies charge 2% to retailers per transaction, or is there a better way of doing things? This is part of why Apple are as successful as they are – they ask the hard questions and their innovations force all of us to consider the future.
October 22, 2014
THE END OF THE SIM CARD?
If you have been paying attention to the online tech news, there’s one story that everyone is talking about: how Apple just killed the SIM card. The news broke at the launch of their new iPad, the Air 2, which they announced would ship with an ‘Apple SIM’ pre-installed. This SIM can switch between providers, giving the user a choice of which service to use without them having to swap the SIM out each time. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have all signed up in the USA, and more will follow around the world following the Air 2’s launch. It’s believed that this innovation will eventually lead to the SIM becoming obsolete. After all, if you no longer need a separate SIM card to pick up a signal from any given network, then you may as well take the microchip off the SIM card altogether and just make it part of the device.
People seem to be taking this possibility very seriously. Gemalto, one of the world’s largest SIM card manufacturers, saw their shares drop in price by a fifth since Apple’s demonstration last week. Here at Telestial, however, we’re not ready to pack up our things and go home just yet. This technology is not exactly new, after all. Our SIM cards offer a choice of provider and will switch automatically when you cross a border. It’s the result of years of hard work, including our own technical innovation and countless agreements with network providers. And this is where we think Apple may run into a few problems on their way to world SIM domination.
First of all, the people with the most to lose from this new innovation, namely the network operators that currently provide their own SIM cards, are also Apple’s biggest distributors. Very few people can afford to buy a brand new iPhone direct; they would much rather spread the cost over a period of months or years as part of a phone contract. It’s a model that has worked well for both parties so far, with customers getting access to the most modern smartphones for a relatively cheap upfront sum. If Apple do plan to get rid of SIM cards altogether, they may find themselves at war with the very people who have helped them get this far in the first place.
Apple have skirmished with providers already, and for the same reason. In 2011, they were fighting operators on several fronts, including how the App Store would be managed and whether they could remove SIMs altogether in order to make more space inside the handset for functionality. Back then, the networks all came together to gently suggest that doing away with SIM cards was not something they were particularly interested in. Even Apple’s compromise, a smaller SIM (known now as the microSIM) was very slow to be adopted. It was not until it was clear that the iPhones were a hit and in huge demand that networks relented and began to manufacture smaller SIMs. This success carried over into Apple’s next change, the nano-SIM, which was adopted by the network operators with very little fuss at all.
It is not just network operators that need to be wary. Customers should also be on their guard, and for one very simple reason: Apple have never done anything that could be described as ‘cheap’. Being expensive is a part of their brand attraction (and part of what has made it the most recognisable brand in the world). You know that when you buy an Apple product, it has been designed to the highest possible standards and the price reflects that. If Apple are looking to cut network operators out of the SIM equation, it seems very likely that they will step in to take their place in some way. How they plant to monetize this opportunity remains to be seen. They might levy a small fee each time a user switches operators. They could charge for access to certain networks in certain areas, or even add a fractional amount to each data session you start on their SIM card (the SIM is currently for data only, but this may also change). Whatever they decide to do, there is a huge difference in paying a premium for your device, and paying a premium every time you want to use it.
However this saga unfolds during the coming weeks and months, we at Telestial are confident that the humble SIM card isn’t going anywhere just yet.
October 9, 2014
There are 7.2 billion people in the world, and more are being added at the rate of two per second. That’s pretty impressive, though not quite as impressive as what we’ve been able to achieve recently. After all, it’s taken us 200,000 years to get here. Mobile phones have been around for only 30 years, and yet in the time it takes us to make a new person, we’re making 5 mobile phones. And for the first time ever, the amount of active mobile phones in the world has overtaken the amount of people. We have just been outnumbered: all hail our new Android (or IOS) overlords!
It’s not surprising that attitudes are changing. We have moved from a world where your phone was static, fixed in place either in your home, on your desk or outside on the street, to a world where everything is portable. The latest advancements seem set to move an object that sits in your bag or pocket (assuming it doesn’t, ahem, bend) to one that you wear about your person in the form of a watch or a pair of glasses. And while it used to be the domain of spies, criminals or cheating spouses to own a second or third device, there are now plenty of reasons why you might want to own another phone.
Take travel, for example. If you’re headed overseas, you might feel that the fee charged by your provider to unlock your current smartphone handset is too expensive when compared with the price of standard cellphones these days. You may wish to travel with something ordinary to deflect attention from potential thieves, or it may be that you’re traveling to a place where recharging your power-hungry smartphone may not be possible every two days, and you want something that will last a little longer. You may even wish to upgrade your phone in order to travel, taking advantage of all the useful apps that are now available, such as maps, online restaurant reviews or translation software.
Here at Telestial, we are happy to be contributing to the world’s overpopulation of mobile phones. We believe in offering the greatest possible choice of options to our customers, at affordable prices.
October 2, 2014
EU ROAMING CHARGES - GLIDING TOWARD A CHANGE In April this year, consumers in the European Union received some welcome news – lawmakers announced that they would abolish roaming fees in all 28 states of the EU by December 2015. This would mean that a traveler from France going to Spain, for example, would pay the same for making calls in either country, an initiative known as RLAH (roam like you’re at home). However, a new proposal revealed in Italy last week makes things a little less clear. For one, there’s no longer any mention of a fixed date for the removal of these charges, and instead, a desire to create what they’re calling a ‘glidepath’. While we’re not entirely sure what a ‘glidepath’ is, it brings to mind network operators as a flock of majestic swans, drifting downstream toward the sea in their own sweet time. Ironically, the reasons behind the push to scrap these charges and operating networks’ reluctance to do so are exactly the same. Former EU telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes wanted to use the change to encourage operators to invest in faster networks – but the operators are now saying that this expected loss of income would mean that they’re not able to make such investments. So what does this mean for consumers? It’s too early to tell, as nothing has yet been agreed. It does seem that there may be a move to a gradual phasing out of roaming costs rather than abolishment as initially proposed. There may also be a ‘fair use’ calculation, based upon average annual domestic consumption. Under these proposals, an amount of roaming would be permissible under this ‘fair use’ tariff, but once that is used up, higher charges will apply. Discussions are ongoing, but we will be keeping a close eye on them. Don’t forget to check back here for all the latest news.
October 2, 2014
THE SAME STORY THE WORLD OVER
If you’ve ever felt your blood pressure rise upon discovering just how much you are being charged in roaming fees while you’re abroad, then don’t worry. You’re not alone. In fact, it seems to be the same everywhere you go. It’s certainly the case in South Africa, with 92% of respondents in a recent survey by travel company Travelstart saying that the roaming fees charged by their domestic providers are too high.
There’s a good deal of additional information about South African travel habits, such as the types of handset they use and what they use them for, and whether they switch their cellphones off when they fly (spoiler: 2% of them are very naughty indeed). Check out the article here.
August 18, 2014
Mobile Data Update: Data is now available in Laos with our international SIM cards. Also, data rates in Pakistan have been reduced.
August 8, 2014
New country added! We now provide coverage in Laos for calling and texting with our international SIM cards.
August 4, 2014
Cyprus (South) has been added to the coverage of the Data SIM, bringing the number of popular travel destinations covered to over 55.
August 4, 2014
Honduras and Nicaragua are now also available for the data bundles of our international SIM cards.
July 21, 2014
Data rates in Saudi Arabia and Iceland have been reduced. Saudi Arabia is now also available for the data bundles of our international SIM cards.
July 18, 2014
We have expanded the coverage of our international SIM cards. Calling and texts are now available in Tajikistan and Equatorial Guinea. Data coverage has been added to Equatorial Guinea and Malawi.
July 7, 2014
*IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS TO THE USA* In response to new information from the Department of Homeland Security, the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) has announced new security measures for passengers carrying electronic devices. Effective immediately, any passenger flying into the US from certain airports may be asked to switch on their smartphone, tablet, laptop or similar device to prove that it works. If the device does not have power, it will not be allowed on the flight, and its owner may be subject to additional screening. While the TSA have not said which departure destinations are listed as of particular concern, passengers from both Britain and Belgium have reported being subjected to these measures. Other reports suggest that iPhone and Galaxy devices have come under specific scrutiny. If you are flying to the US from any destination, we suggest you ensure that you check ALL electronic devices to ensure that they can power up and down, and remember to pack your charger. In the event that your device does not power up as expected, you still have a number of options. You can go back to the airline and place the item in a checked bag, and some airports have postal facilities that will allow you to post the item home to yourself. Additionally, you can keep it in your car (if you are parked at the airport) or give it to a family member (if they are there to see you off). Please note: if you do not take advantage of these options and the device is confiscated, it will be considered excess government property and you will probably not see it again.
July 4, 2014
New data country! Zimbabwe now has data coverage with our international SIM cards, also available with data bundles for even lower rates.
July 3, 2014
Russia has been added to the coverage of the Data SIM, bringing the number of popular travel destinations covered to 54.
July 2, 2014
Data rates in Russia and the Ivory Coast have been reduced. Both countries are also available for the data bundles with our international SIM cards.
June 19, 2014
Data rates in Thailand have been reduced for our range of international SIM cards .
June 18, 2014
China has been added to the coverage of the Data SIM, bringing the number of popular travel destinations covered to over 50.
June 3, 2014
Going to Brazil for the World Cup? Get a Telestial Passport SIM and pay just 79c for calls and 99c per MB for data. Our research has shown that this is the best available offer on the market!
May 28, 2014
Data rates in Costa Rica and Macau have been reduced for our range of international SIM cards .
May 19, 2014
Lower data rates for Israel, Faroe Islands, Rwanda and Uzbekistan announced! Our data SIM now covers 47 countries, with more being added all the time.
May 7, 2014
Data usage rates have been reduced in El Salvador and Guatemala for the current range of our international SIM cards.
April 17, 2014
New countries have been added to the coverage of the Data SIM, bringing the number of popular travel destinations covered to over 40.
January 14, 2014
The rate to send text messages has been lowered from $0.69 to $0.39 in 29 countries for the Telestial Passport SIM.
January 7, 2014
Data usage rates have been reduced in France and Anguilla for the current range of Telestial international SIM cards.
November 22, 2013
Data usage rates have been reduced in Luxembourg for the current range of Telestial international SIM cards.
November 19, 2013
Calling, text and data rates have been reduced for the UK SIMple Calling SIM.
November 12, 2013
Lower data rates in Costa Rica! Data rates in Costa Rica have been lowered significantly for the current range of Telestial's international SIM cards.