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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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‘Mom, I want to be a shoutcaster’

Video gaming as a career is still far-fetched for many. How much more so, then, for live commentators of gaming? asks ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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We all know that many of the job descriptions of tomorrow did not exist just five years ago. But we are almost comfortable with the idea of a solar energy engineer or robot supervisor or body part printer. Now, how about a shoutcaster?

That’s someone who provides live commentary of a video game being streamed or displayed live. The name comes from having to shout over the sounds of gunfire, explosions and monsters screaming as they’re being shredded. And, of course, from sheer excitement as the action reaches climactic moments.

At the recent rAge gaming expo at the Dome north of Johannesburg, one could barely move without coming across a video game being fought on a huge cinema-style screen. If that were not sensory overload in itself, the cacophony of shoutcasters keeping the audience up to speed on the strategies being played out made sure of it.

Often, the shoutcaster is something like a sports commentator, merely providing an additional soundtrack to the main action. Sometimes, though, they become one of the attractions. Top shoutcasters are in demand across the world, and are able to build entire careers on this very particular skill.

Enter Sam Wright, South Africa’s first woman to become a full-time professional shoutcaster. She goes by the name Tech Girl, also the title of her tech blog for women. She is both shoutcaster and host – a presenter in the “old-fashioned” sense of someone who introduces teams, interviews players, and chats with experts while the game is on.

Read more about Sam Wright and her experience of being a shoutcaster.

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SA’s wildlife YouTube channel breaks a billion

Latest Sightings, the pioneering wildlife community started by a schoolboy, this week became the first South African YouTube channel to reach a billion views. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK speaks to its founder.

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When he was just 15, Nadav Ossendryver’s passion for wildlife convinced him there was a need for a dedicated online community. Eight years later, managing that community has become not only a full-time business, but also the single most popular YouTube channel run from South Africa.

This week, it reached a billion views, a landmark that only the world’s elite YouTubers can claim. It has 1.44-million subscribers, also placing Ossendryver among the global leaders on the platform.

Yet, for the first few years, he was happy to have just a few hundred followers.

“When I first started, I really only focussed on the Kruger National Park,” he said in an interview this week. “Right now, we are starting to establish communities in various reserves. But at the time, I didn’t think anyone else was as obsessed with Kruger as me, let alone obsessed enough to follow other complete strangers’ sightings.

“So the last thing I expected was to get an audience of over 1-million people. In the first year, we only gained around 100 subscribers. The next year was very similar. So it was very much about perseverance and the fact that I loved what I was doing.

“However, as soon as I went to the park and used the sightings from the community, I had a feeling that this idea could really grow.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest motivation for starting Latest Sightings was his own need for such a service.

“I really wanted to see more animals. I was sick and tired of stopping people to ask them what they have seen and wanted a more real-time way of doing that.

“My motivation for starting on YouTube was the fact that we were getting lots of amazing sightings. The best place to share photos was Instagram, so we shared the best of the best there. The best place to share videos was YouTube, so we started our YouTube channel.”

Ossendryver is not the first South African to post wildlife videos on YouTube, nor the first to discover the power of serving an online community via the platform. What, then, is the secret of his success?

Click here to read Ossendryver’s secret to success.

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