3G on the go - in Australia, NZ and the UK

During December and January I had the occasion to visit three countries in which I wanted to use my unlocked Huawei E220 UMTS dongle for prepaid UMTS ("3G") Internet. Here are my experiences, in brief.


Australia was the only real success of my trip. Although it takes about 20 minutes to buy a SIM card in Australia, it is not expensive (around AU$10). I bought two cards for data, one of which I could net get to work, but the second of which - from 3 Australia - worked just fine. Data usage is not expensive - a $20 voucher bought me 2GB of traffic. Another nice experience in Australia was my hotel in Melbourne, which offered - again, inexpensive - prepaid ADSL usernames and passwords and a connection to an DSL access point over the hotel's Ethernet network.

The reason it takes long to buy a SIM card in Australia is the requirement that one should fill in a standard registration form - even for prepaid - from the Australian federal government. Needless to say, I ended up "accidentally" giving incorrect details all three times (once for voice and twice for data) that I purchased a SIM card and it seems that two different credit cards are considered sufficient verification of identity for these purposes.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, it was very easy to buy a SIM card for voice but at NZ$35 it was a bit expensive. I could not work out how to activate it for data and I was unwilling to purchase another one for further experimentation. If I remember correctly, there was no paperwork involved. Most of the places where I stayed, all at the lower end of the market, did offer free or inexpensive Internet for guests. New Zealand has the curious situation where there are really just two cellphone networks, using incompatible technologies (CDMA and GSM), so the competition is somewhat restricted.

United Kingdom

The UK was, in some sense, the most frustrating experience of all. I had purchased a SIM card from T-Mobile over the Internet before going and after working out how to activate and recharge it, it worked just fine for voice. A nice feature about the UK card was that it had a different magnetic card in the starter pack that can be swiped in many stores to identify the number when one adds credit. This dispenses with the entering of silly voucher numbers etc.

In spite of the fact that one sees wireless data plans advertised widely in the UK, at very attractive prices, I was unable to find anyone prepared to sell me a SIM card to work with my own modem. All the shops that I visited, claimed that it was necessary to buy a modem as well - whether on a prepaid or on a contract service. The supposed 3G service on the SIM card is supposed to work for WAP browsing on the phone only, although it is not clear to me whether it is technically possible to limit it, and I could not even get that working, anyway. One of the best experiences was visiting an Orange shop in the large and fashionable Bullring centre in Birmingham, full of phones and people, where I asked to buy a SIM card after the shop assistant (accurately) reported that she did know whether it could work. She came back after 5 minutes to tell me that they "did not have SIM cards in stock". I know when to give up.


Zimbabwe telcos start billing in US dollar

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reports from Windhoek that the cellphone companies of Zimbabwe have been given permission by the government to start billing customers in foreign currency, mainly US dollars. The MISA report is somewhat hysterical about the right to communicate being under threat and the people of Zimbabwe being increasingly repressed - the latter being, no doubt, true - but I recall Zimbabwe imposing severe restrictions on the availability of the local currency. I mean, how many 100 trillion (that is one neel in the Sanskrit numbering system) Zim dollar notes does one actually need to tip the parking attendant? Using US dollars seems a practical solution and a small step towards eventual liberalisation of the economy. I would prefer to be using President Obama's money myself.

Source: Zimbabwe: Foreign Currency Billing System, Deprivation of Right to Communicate And Free Expression


Kaarte vir Suid-Afrika

Die kaartdienste van Google en Yahoo, met hul lieflike satellietfoto's van die aarde, is natuurlik 'n plesier om te gebruik. Veral indien 'n mens in die buiteland is waar baie stede - waaronder selfs die sekondêre stede van Australië en Nieu-Seeland - nou straatvlak-beelde het. Kyk byvoorbeeld na die beeld hier onder van Madrasstraat in Christchurch. Hierdie beeld is dinamies gekoppel aan die Google-webwerf en mag later nie meer beskikbaar wees nie.

Die kaarte van Suid-Afrika is ongelukkig pateties. Nie eers die belangrikste strate is almal aangebring nie en hoewel ek dit geniet om, veral in Pretoria, na die satellietbeelde in hoë resolusie te kyk, is dit nie van baie nut in stede wat ek minder goed ken, nie. Die volgende beeld wys hoe Google se kaart van Kaapstad se middestad teenswoordig lyk.

Dít is nie van baie hulp indien 'n mens herinner wil word aan die presiese ligging van Kerkstraat, waar die teikenrestaurant van die aand is, nie. Nou, ek is bewus dat daar webwerwe is met beter kaarte van SA en ek het hulle al gebruik maar hulle name is vir my moeilik om te onthou. Gelukkig kom ek toe vanmiddag af, deur 'n websoektoeg, op die uitstekende maps.yellowpages.co.za wat nog 'n lieflike bykomende diens bied vir Suid-Afrikaanse gebruikers: hulle stuur 'n skakel per SMS na 'n mens se selfoon sodat jy op pad weer die kaart kan oproep deur middel van die selfoon se Internet-verbinding. Die kaarte van die Geelbladsye word verskaf deur AfriGIS. Met die detailkaart hier onder, weergegee sonder toestemming en met dien verstande dat dít op regmatige redelike gebruik neerkom, gaan dit baie maklik wees op die plek te vind!

Die vier straatblokke op die kaart van die Geelbladsye stem ooreen met vier blokke sigbaar op die kaart van Google.