Got a 3G Dongle? Know your limit!

July 29, 2009

So have you got a 3G dongle?

Do you know your limit?

Do you know how much you will be charged if you go over that limit?

If you’re on O2 and go over by just 1GB you would be facing a £100 bill!

The BBC reports on the issue of 3G bandwidth caps on mobile broadband services.

Mobile broadband users face stiff penalties for exceeding their download limits even though most aren’t aware of what those limits are.

I use a Vodafone 3G dongle and though the Windows software (on a single computer) does measure how much data use the Mac connection software (in other words what I normally use) doesn’t. Generally I guess that my usage is fine as I don’t use the dongle everyday and rely on my home and work internet connections and not just the mobile broadband connection.

However I know some people and some learners have a 3G dongle for their internet and that’s it! Using a 3G dongle everyday would be getting close to their limits if they were downloading podcasts and watching online video.

Do you have a 3G dongle? Do you know your limit?

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Likewise

July 23, 2009

Bill Thompson in his BBC column covers a couple of issues I have discussed before on this blog, lack of 3G and conference wifi.

Firstly Bill has been on holiday and has been “suffering” from a lack of connectivity.

I have just endured a week of limited connectivity and it has given me a salutary lesson in what life is like for the digitally dispossessed here in the UK and around the world.

I have been driven to searching for open wireless access points so that I can download my e-mail, sometimes wandering the beach looking for elusive 3G signals just to get my Facebook status updated.

He was on the Norfolk coast and it reminded me of my holiday last November on the Suffolk coast which I blogged about.

Lovely place, however connectivity was seriously lacking. The place we were staying at had no internet which generally isn’t an issue for me as I have a 3G USB stick (or I use my phone as a tethered modem or using JoikuSpot as a wireless hotspot).

However despite the area being very trendy and popular could I get a mobile phone signal? No I could not! No signal from T-Mobile or Vodafone…

As a result I had no connectivity apart from when we travelled to an area with a mobile phone signal or at a place with wifi.

boat

My similar experiences to Bill should remind us that we should never take connectivity for granted and that though 3G is great it still does not cover all of the UK. We when designing websites and e-learning content need to remember that not all our learners will have fast broadband speeds or good 3G connections.Using video and audio is great (you can even now have HD video on the web as seen in this video I put up recently).

As I summarised in my blog post:

It did make me think about those learners who don’t have easy access to the internet, and despite falling costs of both broadband and 3G it can still be sometimes impossible to get online as the area itself does not have broadband or 3G coverage. Rural and coastal areas are often places with minimal 3G coverage and broadband access. Using 3G at 7.2Mbps in the centre of London streaming video and browsing really fast makes you sometimes forget that in some areas this is an impossibility.

As well as having issues with 3G in Norfolk, Bill also had problems with wifi at a conference he was at.

We had wifi access inside the theatre as the conference included tutorials on social networks and online engagement, and the audience were encouraged to contribute questions online so they could be displayed on the screen behind the speakers.

Unfortunately the wifi stopped working about half-way through the first session of the day, and those of us with smartphones and laptop dongles were forced to resort to slower 3G connections.

The reason given was:

It appeared that we had overwhelmed the capacity of the wireless network that the venue had set up for us..I talked to the IT support engineer and he asked me how many of us were trying to connect, and I told him I estimated that thirty to forty people were using laptops and probably the same number had wifi-enabled smartphones. After he had recovered from the shock he explained that the wifi router they had installed could only support twenty simultaneous connections and had crashed when we all tried to log on.

This is now happening too often at events I go to; I blogged about this back in October last year.

One thing I have noticed attending a few events recently is that the wireless networks have been unable to cope with the large number of delegates wanting to use it.

A few years (or even just a year ago) if you attended an event with free wireless, there were probably just a few of you who used it with their laptops. Today if you attend an event, you may find that everyone (virtualy everyone) has a laptop and if not a laptop then a PDA or a phone or an entertainment device with wifi capability.

As a result the wireless networks can not cope… Generally this happens because most wireless routers can only deal with a limited number of wireless clients.

With many more people with laptops, netbooks, wifi enabled phones conference venues need to have a much better infrastructure to cope with the wireless. Likewise if we are to be encouraged to amplify the conference through social media and social networking then we need decent connectivity. If we are also going to live stream video and audio from the conference then we need more than decent connectivity we need excellent connectivity.

I recall an Apple Keynote at WWDC in 2007 when video iChat was demonstrated I believe that due to issues with the entire audience using the 802.11g network, they used 802.11a to ensure that the demo worked.

Sometimes it can work. At the MoleNET Conference at the Emirates stadium which was awash with mobile wireless kit and the LSN had ensured that a robust infrastructure was in place and it worked really well.

Of course it is not just wifi, if everyone has an iPhone at the conference, then there will be issues with 3G connectivity as happened at SXSW in Texas this year. 3G does not work as well inside as it does outside which is one factor, but as happened at SXSW too many people using 3G devices means that there is insufficient bandwidth for everyone. The solution at SXSW was bringing in extra capacity to meet the demand.

Demand is another issue with ADSL and contention ratios. Despite the hype and advertising, for some (me included) it is impossible to get more than 1Mb download speed on ADSL due to not only distance from the exchange but also the contention ratio as more and more consumers sign up for broadband.

What Bill’s column and my blog articles show is that we can’t take (at this time) connectivity for granted, for some it will be restricted because of geography and for others because of excess demand, we need to remember that.


Wifi – Venetian Style

July 6, 2009

venicewifi

BBC reports on Venice’s new wifi network.

The Italian city of Venice has launched what is believed to be the most extensive, wireless internet system anywhere in Europe.

Ten thousand kilometres of cables have been laid, establishing wi-fi hotspots just about everywhere in the city.

So now when in Venice you will be able to use your laptop, UMPC, micro-laptop, wifi phone,  iPhone, even an iPod touch to connect to the internet over wifi.

Here in the UK we have Norwich however not much else seems to be happening with city wide wireless networks. Gloucester doesn’t have one, neither does Bristol; my two big local towns. Even finding free wifi is problematic with most wifi hotspots are charging, sometimes silly amounts of money.

If we are serious about personalisation of learning, mobile learning and enhancing e-learning, we need to allow our learners to be able to communicate, collaborate and reflect anywhere, anytime and at a pace to suit the learner. This more often then not, means that the learner needs to be connected. If they are using the VLE, Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, blogs, e-portfolios, or whatever; all these tools generally need an internet connection.

3G which isn’t available on all devices: is too expensive for most, not reliable enough for all, patchy for some and leads to digital exclusion.

City wide wireless networks like in Venice and Norwich would allow learners to access learning when and where they wanted to.

Photo source.


Increase in mobile internet

March 20, 2009

The Guardian reports on the surge in mobile internet use:

Google UK today revealed that mobile internet use was surging thanks to the Apple iPhone.

The head of Google UK, Matt Brittin, said iPhone owners search online 30 times more than those who use rival smartphones.

Increase in mobile internet

With the imminent release of the Palm Pre and the Nokia N97 I think we can expect a further increase in mobile internet use.

Just under a year ago I blogged about the increase in the use of 3G because of the increase in the number of 3G dongles. More and more of these dongles were been bought and used, partly I would suspect to availability but also falling costs of 3G.

If you take that increase and combine it with the increase in mobile internet use (over 3G), add in 3G prices falling, you do wonder if the 3G network can cope with all this traffic?

Spread over a city and a town, probably will be okay, however what happens if you concentrate the use of 3G in one space (such as a college or a conference).

Well the SXSW Conference in American suffered 3G failure due to the sheer number of iPhone users at the conference. As Wired reports

AT&T’s 3G coverage map for Austin may look rock solid, but turns out there wasn’t enough connectivity goodness to sate the hordes of iPhone-wielding geeks who descended on this artsy Texas town for the South by Southwest conference this weekend. Was the Verizon and Sprint crowd, usually consigned to the kid’s table at these hip mob scenes, having the last laugh?

Attendees with their beloved iPhone 3G handsets hoping to hook up with friends, find the next party or access Twitter to announce their location are encountering dropped calls, unavailable service or molasses-slow web access from the mobile service provider.

If every student in your college is using a 3G device, an iPhone, another smartphone or a 3G dongle, will the 3G network be able to cope? If the 3G is spread across the different networks, then this may not be a problem. However what happens if all those 3G phone are provided by the college (or only one network works on the college site) suddenly you could find that the 3G network can not cope with the traffic.

We already know wifi can be problematic it’s now looking like that 3G network coverage may also be less than perfect. Something to think about when planning the use of mobile devices and mobile internet in a college or university environment.


4G

February 20, 2009

BBC reports on the battle for 4G.

A number of companies at the Mobile World Congress are demonstrating hardware they think will make up so-called fourth generation or 4G solutions to succeed the current 3G technology.

The explosion of interest in mobile broadband – and consumers’ insatiable craving for faster connections – means that this more forward-looking part of the industry is filled with contenders.

In the UK, the highest mobile broadband speed available is 7.2 megabits per second (Mbps), and Vodafone has successfully trialled a 3G network in Spain providing 20Mbps.

It makes for interesting reading, and also makes you realise how far we have come in the last five years and how far we will probably go in the next five years.

When I first used 3G back in 2004, it was a £100 a month and I got 0.3Mbps (as in 384Kbps). Today I pay £10 per month and get (rarely) 7.2Mbps, though on average it is about 3Mbps. Ten times the speed for one tenth of the price.

If we go back to 2001, I was then using GPRS and getting about 40Kbps.

Personally for me, having a 3G connection makes my life and my job so much easier. I can do things and stuff at events and conferences, on visits to other institutions, in coffee shops and on the train. It allows me to get information, entertainment and to communicate whilst I am mobile. If our learners have 3G this makes it even easier to allow their learning not just to take place anywhere, but with 3G they can communicate and collaborate with other learners without the constraints of geography and time.

So though LTE quotes 100Mbps, I do expect in five years to see 30Mbps mobile internet connections. The question you do have to ask though is will it cost only a £1 per month?

4G

Photo source.


QR Codes on your Computer

February 10, 2009

I have been looking at QR Codes for a while now, though apart from the odd presentation or handout, I haven’t made great use of them across my college.

Recently though I have been thinking about using them more, partly down to their use as part of MoLeNET and in the main as Gloucestershire College is part of a JISC Innovation project with the University of Bath looking at QR Codes.

In case you don’t recall, QR Codes allow information to be sent to a mobile phone via the camera. Simply put the information or link is encoded into a barcode type graphic.

This is a QR Code.

QR Codes on your Computer

You then take a photograph of the barcode, and with special reader software you are able to convert the barcode into information, which could be a link to a website or just plain information.

Back in 2007 when I was looking at them, very few of our students had cameraphones (that has changed) and most phones did not have the right software (that has also changed).

Today it is very easy to find software for a range of phones that allow the phone to read QR Codes.

However one of the BIG constraints on the use of QR Codes is the need to access the web on your phone when reading QR Codes. Though the cost of 3G has fallen considerably generally it is not something you will find on many pay as you go phones and is often an extra on monthly contract phones. Very few modern phones have wifi, so though we have a student wireless network, few of our students would be able to access that network over their phone.

Yesterday at a QR Codes Workshop ran at Gloucestershire College by Andy Ramsden from Bath, we were discussing QR Codes and he mentioned that Quickmark had a QR Code reader for a webcam.

I went to the site, downloaded and installed the software on my Samsung Q1 which has a built in camera.

The software works very well and I was impressed with how easy it was to use.

QR Codes on your Computer

To me this makes it very easy to start rolling out the use of QR Codes has if you have a computer then it is very likely that either it has a webcam, or you can get a webcam quite cheaply for it. As a result you will be able to scan in QR Codes using your computer as well as your phone.

This means that lecturers can add QR Codes to handouts that link directly into the appropriate part of the VLE or to another website.  There are other uses as well.

Now just need to find a QR Code reader that runs on Linux so I can use it on an EeePC and one that runs on OS X for my MacBook Pro.


Top Ten Technologies of 2008

December 20, 2008

This is a list of technologies which I have used extensively over the last twelve months. The reason for the list was partly down to the lists Steve Wheeler has been posting on his blog, and a prompt from him on Twitter. This is not an exact copy of Steve’s format I have also worked on a list of web tools as well. I do quite like this format which gives an opportunity to review and share the tools which have made a difference to the way I work and have enhanced what I do.

Here are my top ten technologies in reverse order.

10.    PSP

So it’s not the best selling portable gaming machine of 2008, that goes to the Ninetendo DS, and yes the text entry is awful. However from an e-learning perspective, the most successful device I have demonstrated, used, and also used by learners has to be the PlayStation Portable, the PSP. Unlike the iPod touch,  the PSP does not require iTunes and can be connected to a PC via a simple USB cable. With extras you can use Skype, record video and audio, and use GPS. The PSP also has built in speakers which means you don’t always have to use headphones. However it comes with no onboard storage, so you will also need to buy a Memory Stick Duo for it. The wireless browser is okay, but nowhere near the level of usability or sophistication of the iPod touch browser. If you do have a PSP or get a PSP, make sure you get the camera. The camera which as digital cameras go is pretty poor quality at 1.3MP and a poor lens, does capture images and video. The key why it works (and works well with learners) is that reviewing the images and video is easy on the big screen (well for a mobile device) and certainly much easier than small pocket digital cameras.

9.    Asus EeePC

It was announced in 2007, but didn’t really start shipping until 2008. I got an early 2GB model and was impressed as were lots of other people. We did go out and buy a bundle of 4GB models with webcams and were impressed even more. Yes the screen is small at 7″, the keyboard is small, the onboard storage is small, the battery life is low. However the smallness is one of the EeePC’s strengths and the price, well you couldn’t grumble about the price. For the price you get a machine which is entirely suitable for surfing the web, e-mail and the odd bit of creating documents, presentations, audio and video recordings. Probably the biggest impact of the Asus EeePC has been on the market and we have seen every major manufacturer jump on the bandwagon and produce their own versions. Some are bigger, most are more expensive, but the market now has a wide choice of small netbooks (as we are calling them) to choose from.

8.    iMovie ’08

I didn’t like iMovie ’08 when it first came out in July 2007, so much so that I didn’t go out and buy iLife ’08 for my home Macs. At work when I got my new 24″ iMac it came with iMovie ’08 so I asked for iMovie HD ’06 to also be installed. However due to using some HD cameras (see below) I was “forced” to use iMovie ’08. The more I used iMovie ’08 the more I grew to like it. I like it so much now that it is my movie editor of choice. It does take some getting use to, and the desktop layout is totally different to the ’06 version. Once you get pass that (and on the basis you don’t need special effects) iMovie ’08 is a very sophisticated program which allows me to create quite complex videos, such as this one I created for the JISC Online Conference.

7.    Sony HDR-SR8

So you want to shoot HD footage? To be honest there are a plethora of HD video cameras out there at a range of prices. This is at the high end of the consumer market, though you do get a lot of features. Key ones for me are, a decent lens, full 1080i resolution, a 100GB on board hard drive, and I also had a selection of microphones as well. I used it a lot for taking video this year and very pleased with the end results. Easy to import the video into iMovie ’08, edit and export.

Top Ten Technologies of 2008

This bloopers tape from the JISC Online Conference uses a lot of footage take by the HDR-SR8.

The HDR-SR8 is also quite good at taking still photographs too. The SR8 model is now no longer available, but other Sony HDR Cameras are.

6. Panasonic HDC-SD5

There are two HD cameras on my list, the Panasonic HDC-SD5 is cheaper than the Sony HDR-SR8, it does not have the capability for external microphones and only has an SD slot for capturing video and images. However it is a lot lighter and smaller than the HDR-SR8 and this was it’s main strength, I could drop it in my pocket and then be able to take footage very quickly and easily. As the footage was on an SD card, cards could be swapped over, so as footage was imported and edited, the camera with another card could be used to shoot new footage  – a real asset in a college with limited resources. The classic ALT-C videos I did, the Digital Divide Slam and the Dinner video were both recorded using the HDC-SD5 and I was impressed with the quality of the footage and even the audio capture on the Slam video.

Like most HD cameras, it has been replaced by a newer model, the Panasonic HDC-SD9 but you can still buy the SD5 if you want.

5.    Edirol R09

So my phone can record audio, as can my PDA; however when it comes to recording audio quickly and easily but at a quality that is good enough to listen to, the Edirol R-09 is for a me a must have device. Recording as either WAV or MP3 direct to an SD card, the audio quality is excellent. Very easy after recording to connect a USB cable and copy the recordings over to edit in Audacity or Garageband. It is very portable and the fact it uses AA batteries means if they run out, they are easy to replace. Main downside is cost, but in this case I do believe it is very much you get what you pay for.

4.    3G USB Stick

I have been using 3G for years, but my Vodafone 3G USB Stick has been fantastic this year. In metropolitan areas I have been getting very fast download speeds, almost as much as the advertised 7.2Mbps! When there is no wifi, or the wifi is patchy, or the wifi costs too much, the 3G has provided access to the internet quickly and easily. It works well across most of the country (well where I have travelled to) and has enabled me to stay in touch via the web and e-mail.

3.    JoikuSpot

A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. Usually I am using my iPod touch or my MacBook Pro. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

2.    iPod touch

So it’s not an iPhone, but the iPod touch can pretty well do a lot of what the iPhone can do. It is cheaper and there is no monthly charge. Yes there is not SMS, no phone capability, no GPS, no camera and no 3G; however pretty much it can do everything else an iPhone can do. Of all the mobile devices I have used (and as you might expect I have used a lot) the iPod touch has provided for me, through its wifi connection, the best mobile browsing experience. Whereas on the Nokia N95 I will use the browser to find traffic or train information, on the iPod touch I will use the browser to browse the web and browse for some time. It makes browsing on a mobile device not only a usable experience but a pleasurable experience. The screen on the iPod touch is really nice and as a result video looks great. The touch interface is the best I have ever used, very intuitive and easy to pick up, oh and it works. You will need to consider that the touch interface does mean the screen gets grubby pretty quickly and the included cloth will need to be used on a regular basis. Another key advantage for me is the wealth of applications available and there are some really good ones out there. I have found that I am using the ones which interact with Web 2.0 services the most such as Evernote, Twitterfon and Facebook. One feature which works really for me is the ActivSync integration with Exchange, this means for work e-mail and calendars I can access them anywhere with a wifi connection. As it is a live connection, there is no need to sync and that is what sets the device apart from Windows PDAs I have used in the past. I do find typing on the iPod touch very simple and much nicer than using a phone keypad, but I know for some it’s not their cup of tea. Overall I really like the iPod touch, it exceeded my expectations, I use it on a daily basis and I can’t even really imagine what the next generation version will be like.

1.    Nokia N95

My number one device for 2008 is the Nokia N95 8GB
mobile phone. For me the Nokia N95 is much more than a phone, it is a device which allows me to create upload and connect. Like the iPod touch I use it on a daily basis, though to be honest rarely as a phone or for SMS. The 5MP camera has an excellent lens and can be used to take some nice photographs. I use Shozu to automatically upload my photographs to Flickr or Facebook over the phone’s 3G connection or if in the right place over wifi. The phone also takes some nice video as well and I can use Shozu to upload that as well automatically. The Nokia N95 does come with a web browser, which is usable, but nowhere near as nice as Safari on the iPod touch. However all is not lost, using JokiuSpot (see above) I can turn the N95 into a wifi hotspot and use the N95’s 3G connection and the iPod touch for browsing, job done. Video works well on the N95 and simple MP4 files work well, though the screen is small, the phone comes with a composite video cable which allows you to show what is on the phone on a video screen or through a projector. The onboard speaker is okay, though the one on the Nokia smaller N73 seems louder! The s60 operating system does allow you to install third party applications and I do like the Jaiku application over the mobile Jaiku interface and there is also an s60 Twitter application too. Qik on the N95 turns it into a broadcast device, Qik is a service which allows you to stream live video from your phone to the internet and it can be very effective. I also use the phone to read QR codes which it does quite well. The N95 also has built in GPS and though routing software is extra, for checking where you are using Nokia Maps the phone works great. I also like how Shozu geo-tags the photographs I upload to Flickr too. It’s not all perfect, the device is very chunky and very thick, if you like thin phones, then you won’t like the N95. I am not a great fan of the keypad, but it’s better than some I have used, and to be honest I don’t like phone keypads anyhow!

Overall though, on the basis of how I use the N95, how often I use the N95 and how annoyed I get when it runs out of battery, the Nokia N95 is my number one technology of 2008.

Top Ten Technologies of 2008

What is yours?