I’ve grumbled before about how hard it is to do GPRS on prepaid cards. For those who haven’t done this, it’s simply a way to turn your smartphone into an Internet ready machine when you’re on the road (removing you from some of the pain of roaming GPRS charges, in the rare times they’re available. )
The problem is that as far as I can work out there are no flat-rate plans for prepaid GPRS users. Instead, you’re charged per kilobyte transferred, and just downloading a dozen or so email headers (not the contents; just the headers) will quickly drain your credit. I emptied 20 pounds of credit on UK’s T-Mobile this month after checking my email twice and making a couple of local calls. The price per kilobyte is given as 2 pence but that doesn’t sound right. GPRS on prepaid seems a quick route to bankruptcy. No wonder there’s no useful information about the pricing on their website.
Sadly it’s not just Rip-Off Britain that’s emptying pockets with what are beguilingly called Top-Ups. Singapore and Hong Kong, when they offer GPRS at all, do so at rates that are usurious.
Anyone had similar or contrasting experiences? Or tips for getting around this problem? Here are some from Syd Low of Alien Camel. My only ones are these:
use one email account for vital stuff when you’re travelling so the number of emails you need to sync is manageable;
download only headers on sync. You can always download the whole email if you need to;
eep your inbox folder as empty as possible if you’re using IMAP. This reduces sync time and cost.
Wikipedia is now available on mobile phones. The interactive media platform JOCA allows immediate, continuous and free access to the famous online encyclopedia via GPRS. With more than 1.6 million articles (about 678.000 in English and 275.000 in German), Wikipedia offers the largest free accessible knowledge pool worldwide. Via JOCA, a Java program developed by Interactiv, the German specialist for interactive services, mobile phone users are able to screen the entire Wikipedia encyclopedia within a few seconds. JOCA quickly displays the Wikipedia answers on research requests in English or German and offers additional links recommended by the community’s authors.
I haven’t tried it out but it sounds excellent. Particularly if this kind of thing were integrated with sound technology so one could just say to one’s phone, say, ‘Heidelberg, Philosopher’s Walk (Philosophenweg), English’, while walking along that path, and get the appropriate page delivered to one’s cellphone. (I don’t know why I thought of that particular place, and actually there’s no separate reference to the path there. Sorry. Still, it’s a nice path. Really.)
I’m amazed by how hard it is to get GPRS when you’re traveling. Prepaid GSM cards don’t seem to support it unless you subscribe to some special service, and even then it’s crippingly expensive (altho not as expensive as roaming). I know 3G is going to replace this intermediate technology sometime, but given the popularity of the BlackBerry, wouldn’t you have thought that some of these operators would be trying to sell a bit of extra airtime to users keen to stay in touch on the road?
I’ve tried four different Hong Kong operators now and only one of them says they support prepaid GPRS. Even then, it’s not been possible for people to send me straight SMS messages on their network. Agh. I’m going back to smoke signals.
The frustrations of tech travel. Some things are easy, some things you think are going to be easy are hard. Like in-room Internet. The last Hong Kong hotel I stayed in had free Internet, but you had to enter a fiddly name and password to get a connection, and even if the account said it was valid for 1000s of hours, it would usually expire after about 24 of them, and you had to troop down to the lobby to get some more.
The hotel I’m now staying in has a much easier setup — just plug and play, no accounts or anything — but you still need an ethernet cable. I usually carry one of these around, but as they took an hour to bring me my luggage I had to hunt around the room for a cable, eventually calling up the concierge.
And then there’s GPRS. Why don’t prepaid cards support GPRS? They support MMS, but the carrier I’m using in Hong Kong doesn’t support it unless you’re a postpaid customer. Why is this? It seems daft to me. Or am I missing something?
Taiwan has launched what it’s calling the “world’s first dual-network application service”, according to today’s Taipei Times (which charmingly, and perhaps accurately, calls it a Duel Network in its headline).
The network combines wireless local area networks (WLANs) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). In a demo set up in Taipei’s Nankang Science Park, workers have access to “various functions, including access to personal e-mails and instant messages or connection to any printer in the park through wireless transmission. Other services allow parents to view their children in the park’s daycare center through a surveillance system.” From what I can understand in the piece, the government plans to spend NT$7 billion to build the same thing across the whole country over seven years. Taiwan Cellular, the paper says, will roll out dual-network service packages after the Lunar New Year (early next month).
It’s not clear, and I’m not clear, about how exactly this works, and what it’s for. The point of dual-network devices makes sense — you can use them for VoIP on WLAN hotspots, and switch to cellular in cellular-only areas, but why have both technologies in the same place? I guess, as it implies above, the idea is to offer more options and services atop the existing structure. So you might prefer to have one data connection via GPRS, but print locally via Wi-Fi. Or is there more to it that I’m missing?