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Travel without tears, Pt 2: Bill-beaters

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In the second part of a guide to reducing the stress of travel , ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK offers practical tools for avoiding cellphone bill-shock on return.

One of the most traumatic moments in overseas travel is the cellphone bill that arrives well after the trip is over. ‚”Bill-shock‚” is the term that’s emerged to describe the effect of exorbitant roaming charges on data. The costs are based on ‚”reciprocal‚” agreements between networks, but that is really a euphemism for mutually exploiting customers.

The European Union has clamped down on this abuse. In July 2012, it mandated a price cap on roaming charges within member countries. But, because its jurisdiction does not extend beyond its members, it allows them to continue ripping off foreign visitors.

The typical cost of international roaming for Vodacom customers is R128 per Megabyte (MB) of data downloaded. For MTN customers, it is a relative bargain at a ‚”mere‚” R108 per MB.

The roaming rates for MTN are quoted in increments of R2,70 per 25kb. Multiply that by 40 to get the real rate.

Vodacom’s website, under a heading that reads ‚”Why should I use data roaming?‚”, blithely soothes the customer with this line: ‚”You will receive real-time Data Roaming notifications which will be sent to you at every R5000 of data spent.‚”

Talk about ‚”ouch‚”. The question is, what to do about it?

The previous column in this series looked at how to make travel more convenient. This time, it’s about how to save as much as the cost of the plane ticket.

The most obvious advice, but not always the easiest to follow, is to buy a local SIM card. This is not ideal for business travellers who need to be contactable on their normal numbers, or if they have to spend so much time trying to find the appropriate SIM deal and a store – that they lose valuable productive time.

The solution to keeping your number is to obtain a portable WiFi router, such as the Vodafone R205 WiFi Router (R879) or Huawei E5331 (R998) or E585 Router. These are usually available on contract, but can also be bought upfront. Then, a local SIM card with data included can be inserted into the router, and both phone and tablet or laptop can be connected to the router simultaneously.

In some cases, you can insert the SIM into a phone and set it up as a WiFI hotspot. It’s called tethering, and many networks specifically don’t allow it on their pre-paid SIMs.

The best pre-paid data deals I’ve come across for key travel destinations are:

United Kingdom: the 3 network (three.co.uk) offers a pre-paid SIM for ‚Ǩ15, which includes 300 voice minutes, 3000 SMSs and ‚Ķ unlimited data. You can buy the SIM card from a vending machine at Heathrow airport when you land. The price there is ‚Ǩ20, but it comes with adaptors for the three main sizes of SIM slots on smartphones. The 3 SIM won’t work as a hotspot on a phone, but provides unlimited data when used in a portable WiFi router.

United States: T-Mobile (t-mobile.com) offers a Pay By the Day option, which provides unlimited data for $3 a day. It’s paid upfront in multiples of $10, $25 and $50, and credit is only used on days the service is used. Only the first 200MB used per day is accessed at 4G speed, though: after that, the user is throttled down to a lower speed. The package includes unlimited talk and SMSs if you’re using it in a phone.

The beauty of both the UK and US options is that there is no hassle about topping up or going back to the beginning when you reach a cap.

If getting a SIM card in every country is too much for you, a locally-originated option is offered by execMobile (execmobile.co.za). It isn’t cheap, but it isn’t bill-shock either. It provides an online account management portal and a post-paid roaming service that uses global partners who’ve negotiated ‚”near local rates‚” in various countries. That translates into R8.50 per MB for ad hoc use in the USA, but opting for a large bundle upfront can bring it down to as little as 26c below ad hoc charges in South Africa.

A package called GigaZONE offers bundles starting from R2.49 per MB for Europe and R4.99 for most other countries, including 21 in Africa. Still expensive? Not for the time-stretched executive, says execMobile founder Craig Lowe.

‚”For corporate travellers who travel with multiple devices and may do multiple countries on a trip or make several trips in a year, the convenience outweighs the costs.‚”

* Readers are invited to make their own suggestions for sites, resources and options to reduce the cost of international data roaming.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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