Category Archives: Technology

Mobile phones overseas

I was chatting with some friends over dinner last night and realised I had forgotten to share a little tip I learnt when last overseas.

Nokia E71Anyone who has travelled abroad with global roaming will recognise there’s a large cost for convenience. If you’re an Australian who is travelling in say, Singapore, and one of your mates in Australia calls your mobile, and you answer, your mate will be charged for the Australian portion of the call while you’ll be charged for the international (Australia to Singapore) portion of the call. This means taking calls overseas can be an expensive past time, especially if it’s your mate who talks and talks and talks, before you can even tell her you’re overseas!

It’s a slightly different story for text messages (SMS). In most countries, it’s free to receive a text message on a foreign phone so texting has been the communication method of choice for travellers. The catch, of course, is the cost of texting on your Aussie phone while on foreign soil. The last time I checked with my Australian carrier, it cost 75 cents to send a text message while overseas, which is a good three times the cost of a text message in Australia.

After a day of sending about fifteen text messages to a friend while I was on foreign soil, I realised I blew through more than ten dollars very quickly. I then remembered I could email! While the cost of data while roaming overseas is much more than when back home, it’s much cheaper than texting. If memory serves me correctly, I pay around 1 cent per kilobyte and given the 160 characters you can type into a text is much less than 1kb, the data rate can go a long way. (Obviously there’s a communications overhead and you could get in trouble if you decide to download that 2 megabyte attachment from the office.)

So there’s my tip. If you’ve got a BlackBerry or email-enabled phone, it can be much cheaper sending emails overseas than texting. (Oh, and if you’ve got a GPS-enabled phone, the A-GPS feature that uses the data network helps you find your way around really quickly!)

Man, it feels good

Kenneth taking a swing at The Baseball Center NYC
Kenneth taking a swing (in skinny jeans) at The Baseball Center NYC

I’ve been spending the last few days in New York City, enjoying the great summer they’ve been having here. When I was here earlier in the year, one of my friends suggested I visit The Baseball Center NYC to try my hand at batting against their automatic pitcher. Unfortunately I ran out of time so the much-anticipated visit had to be delayed until my next trip to New York.

Earlier this week, with view to escape the warmth and humidity outside, my brother and I decided to see if we had what it took to be baseball stars. We arrived at the centre, paid up for a one hour session, and headed downstairs to the cages. I wasn’t sure what to expect. When they mentioned cages, I immediately thought of chicken cages, so I was much relieved when I saw they were about five metres wide and eighteen metres long. At one end was a large green machine housing a basket of balls and an automated pitching arm; at the other end was a triangular marker on the floor.

Here's what happens when you get too enthusiastic
Here's what happens when you get too enthusiastic

My brother went first, adjusting his helmet before entering the cage. Boom. The machine threw a ball and it hit the padding attached to the fence. Boom. The machine threw another ball and it hit the fence again. Kenneth was determined to properly hit the ball. The next time he connected, and connected, and connected. After about twenty balls, he had got the swing of things, connecting most balls, and now trying to work out how to direct the ball. Some went way up, others hit the side fence, a few hit the ground before bouncing up. Oh, and that sound. That metallic ping when the bat connected with the ball!

After about twenty minutes, it was my turn and I was nervous. Kenneth got the hang of this so quickly and I didn’t want to be shown up by his natural ability with racquet sports. It took me a few more goes than him before I connected but found the feeling fantastic when I did. Gee, it was good; seeing the ball move towards you, taking a swing, connecting, hearing the ping, and seeing the ball get air.

I want to do it again!

Will the NBN be really that fast?

Earlier last month, the Federal Government announced it would establish a new company to build a “new super fast” National Broadband Network (NBN). The NBN is meant to provide 90% of Australian homes, schools, and workplaces with a 100 megabits per second connection to the internet. Taking eight years to build, it’s meant to create over 25,000 new jobs and cost a total of $43 billion that’ll be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the private sector. Some analysts later worked out, based on providing a reasonable return to the private sector investors, the cost per subscriber for access to the NBN would be around AUD200/month.

I got pretty excited about this: I currently pay around AUD70/month for a cable modem connection at home that gives me about 8 megabits so we’re talking about a pipe that’s 12 times larger for around triple the price. (My cable provider advertises download speeds of 8 megabits but I’ve been assured by my more technical friends in reality I actually receive a fraction of this.)

That was until I read this week’s edition of The Economist. In an article about internet television, the correspondent explains how, in Japan, he currently pays USD60/month for a 160 megabits a second connection from his local cable company. Yes, you read that correctly. Today, in Japan, you can get a 160 megabit connection to the internet for USD60/month, and in the US, there are a bunch of cable companies who charge USD140/month for a 50 megabits a second connection.

Now we Australians are being told it could take up to eight years to build a massive network that’ll only provide 100 megabits. Am I missing something?

While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of the Federal Government, if we really want this to be a ground-breaking Snowy Mountains-like scheme, maybe we need to aim for something higher. The idea of simply providing double the capacity of our American friends over eight years doesn’t sound that appealing, much less so the idea of getting 60% of what our Japanese friends can receive today for a fraction of the price.