Data hungry tourist in Australia? Optus $2 Days to the rescue

A couple of months back there were articles about mobile phone roaming charges and I feel the best way to prevent such a problem is to just use a local SIM card. So on my short trip to Melbourne, a couple of months back, I was lucky to have my brother’s Optus prepaid SIM which he had used the Optus $2 Days Prepaid plan which offers:

  • Unlimited National Voice Calls
  • Unlimited Standard SMS/MMS
  • Unlimited Mobile Internet Browsing

This trifecta makes is perfect for practically anybody! The last time I was in Melbourne, I tried Vodafone and the data prices were horrendous (most prepaid plans seem pretty expensive in Australia), so I was very surprised to see unlimited data for $2/day. I’ve tried M1’s and Singtel’s offerings in Singapore and both only offered data: no voice or text.

As with all mobile data, coverage is important: there is no use having unlimited data if there is no reception! Check out any coverage maps to ensure that the place you go indeed has 3G reception (Optus coverage map). Also if there network is congested and saturated with people, it can be a frustrating experience. Thankfully, this was not the case with Optus in the CBD area, where I was most of the time.I manged to get consistent 6Mbps download speeds while downloading my podcasts.

Also do remember to read the fine print when signing up for these plans so that you don’t get charge unexpectedly (by wrongly assuming something is free or counted in the deal when it is not). Sadly when you do read the Optus fine print in the Terms & Conditions it says the $2 charges exclude "mobile handset tethering and use of non mobile voice devices" which I made sure I didn’t do just in case. Also their Optus Mobile Fair Go Policy applies to your usage which is basically guarding against ‘excessive usage’ which would probably be detrimental to the general network (i.e. causes congestion for other users)

All in all, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to use my phone without worrying about any caps or running out of credit. I would highly recommend this plan for all those data hungry Twitter / Facebook / Foursquare / Instagram / WhatsApp / Viber / other text alternative apps / general web addicted people out there. Heck if you need a SIM card before you go, I (or you) could ask my brother to borrow the SIM card.

Terms & Conditions of Optus $2 Days (via Optus website)

  • Daily usage fee is $2 and includes unlimited standard national calls, SMS & MMS to Australian GSM mobiles (excluding Pivotel); standard national calls to Australian fixed lines; voicemail retrieval and mobile internet browsing on your handset within Australia. Includes free voicemail deposits within Australia.
  • Excludes premium SMS and content, international and satellite calling and text, international roaming charges, Zoo content usage charges, video calling, 966 calls, mobile handset tethering and use of non mobile voice devices. Optus Mobile Fair Go Policy applies.
  • Timing is based on AEST (the time in Sydney, NSW) regardless of your location. Please adjust your usage to allow for time differences.
  • The usage fee is charged on the first outbound standard national call, SMS, MMS or mobile internet access each day after 12.00.00am AEST. Usage fee is not charged on days when no outbound standard national call, SMS, MMS, voicemail or mobile internet access is made.
  • Unlimited standard national daily calls maximum duration is 24 hours.
  • International calls are charged in increments of up to 10 minutes.
  • Daily usage fee inclusions expire on the earlier of: 1. 11:59:59pm AEST each day; or 2. the time on which you select another offer.
  • If you change from $2 Days to another offer after you have paid your daily usage fee, you will forfeit the benefits available under the Dollar Days offer.
  • Me2U is not available with these offers.
  • Recharge voucher expiry : $10 is 10 days, $15 is 15 days, $20 is 20 days, $30 is 30 days, $40 is 40 days and $50 is 50 days, $70 is 70 days and $100 is 100 days
  • Unused credit rolls over when your next recharge is before your credit expiry.
  • Options for $5, $10, $15 & $20 top-ups are not available. Some handsets are set to seek data automatically (eg email or other apps). This will use the internet and, in some cases, charges will apply.
  • Mobile Internet access requires a compatible handset. Optus may in the future require customers to change their Internet connection settings to be able to access the Internet while on the Dollar Days offers.
  • ^Rollover credit: You must recharge a minimum of 24 hours before your credit expires for rollover to apply.

Corner Geeks 9: Live Streaming setup for Ran8adidas

Corner Geeks Logo beta 2
MP3 link (right click > Save Link As…)

Show Notes

What we wanted

  • Live streaming of the event
  • Video
    • multiple cameras if possible
    • perhaps one overview shot
    • one on-the-go camera following events like the Twitter hunt. Follow contestants around “Amazing Race” style
  • Sound
    • clean sound from the mixer for opening ceremony / speeches
    • also want to capture atmosphere/sound around the camera
  • Internet
    • need for streaming
    • simplest of them all. 3G dongle
  • Master control at the laptop controllilng the stream / switching audio and video accordingly

Mobile video

  • DSLR / camcorder approach:
    • Possible but need wireless transmitters making it cumbersome
    • DSLR sensor limited time
  • Keep-it-Simple-Stupid approach:
    • Use smartphones with Wifi and cameras
    • Small, simple, only need wireless access point if needed
    • Possible to attach external microphone to device for interviews
    • Advantages
      • Can move around freely
      • Requires no additional hardware for video capture hardware on computer.
      • Fairly cheap and easy to setup if you already have the devices (more people have smartphones now)
    • Disadvantages
      • Latency
      • Lower quality?
      • Potentially unreliable connection vs wires? Wireless inteference. Network going down?
      • No zoom!
    • Mobile Video apps
      • IP Webcam
        • Android
        • Free
        • Starts a webserver on camera device. Accessible from any computer on the network. View and listen in a browser
      • PocketCam (Desktop software)
        • iOS / Android
        • US$4.99 / BND$6
        • Windows or OS X software to be installed on the host
        • Creates video and audio device driver on host. Once connected access like a webcamera and USB mircophone
        • Audio lag!
      • WebCamera
        • iOS / Blackbery / WinMo / Symbian
        • US$2.99 / US$19.95 / US$19.95 / US$9.95
        • Works similar to PocketCam: Windows or OS X software to be installed on the host
        • Used iOS version that can take video and photo from camera and it will send it to host computer
      • There are other apps for Android and iOS but many do not provide audio which is what we wanted
    • Multiple Camera feasibility study
      • IP Camera: separate VLC instance for each video and each audio for each camera. Gets complicated very fast
      • Pocket Camera / WebCamera: only one PocketCamera / Webcamera host software allowed to run at one time on one machine
      • Not possible to use multiple cameras using only one app. Mixer and match is possible
      • Needed proper communication between in-the-field camera user and master control

Sound

  • Input from mixer via line-in on laptop (not don’t have get a USB sound card)
  • LadioCast for audio mixing and piping of audio. Can even monitor sound without sending it to live stream

Internet

  • Needed wireless coverage
  • Used iPod Touch as a WiFi signal monitor. Activated voice control, tap the wireless signal to hear the strength level (probably there is an app for this but did not explore)
  • To forgoe a 3G router: OS X Internet sharing (Connetify.me for Windows)

Other things we used

  • Phone holder to tripod mount
  • Tripod: can place camera in certain places. Can extend tripod to get different angles
  • Charging cables! Must remember to charge mobile devices. iPod Touch 4G lasted about 2 hours of streaming

Final Setup

  • iOS Webcamera easiest to work with
  • CamTwist to add overlays
  • Ladiocast to pipe audio. Connected to mixer when needed. Add microphone from the mobile cameras when interviewing / asking questions
  • Tripod to place camera so no need to be there
  • uStream to send out stream and record it

Other Considerations

  • Phone upgrades:
  • Have a sign that says, “we’re streaming live”. While recording I was thinking of the implications of this for privacy
  • Have a dedicated chat room to interact with the viewers. At least had a screen of some hashtag that we could sometimes show on twitter.
  • Get better upstream for better video and audio
  • Have a dedicated screen / projector / laptop on our booth showing what’s streaming.

Podcasting Setup in OS X – Version 1

Podcast Setup v1
This is the first version of my podcasting setup that I’m relatively happy with as it is clean without too much things going on. I’ve used this for Corner Geeks and some Tech Talk Coffee Shop episodes.

If you’re curious of what podcasting is, it is the production of podcasts. Podcasts are basically recorded shows that are downloadable off the Internet. Do listen to Simply Geek #8 – Podcasting where they discuss it in further detail. Those interested in podcast production check out Simply Geek #17.1: Podcast Production Part 1 and Part 2 that I had to opportunity to play guest in

I explain the process of my setup in the Youtube video below

Setup includes the following:

  • Zoom H1 – bought off Ebay for about US$100
  • Steel Series Mobile Devie Adapter – bought at Chong Hock in Kiulap for about B$26. This is needed as the MacBook Pro has a headset jack instead of individual stereo out and microphone in jacks
  • A regular headset
  • LineIn – a free software utility of OS X

An alternative to LineIn is Audacity (enable “Software Playthrough” in the Transport menu and click “Start Monitoring” in the input device) or LadioCast but LineIn is the simplest method for this setup. For Windows and Linux users, the Audacity method should work just fine.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @thewheat and in the mean time listen to some Brunei-made podcasts: Corner Geeks and Talking Aloud

Live Stream Setup for Ran8adidas

So a couple of weeks back we had the honour of live streaming of Ran8adidas (the 8th year anniversary celebrations of Ranoadidas.com) at the International Convention Center (ICC). We share with you how we managed to get mobile video in the field with the ability to add overlays and mix the audio source with any audio source while at the same time live streaming and recording it.

Watch the recorded video from this setup at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ran8adidas

Our Setup:

  1. WebCamera for iOS (US$2.99) running on an iPod Touch or iPhone to act as video and audio sources out in the field
  2. Mobiola WebCamera (free) on the streaming computer to retrieve video and audio from the iOS device (they show up as webcam video and microphone audio devices)
  3. 3G modem used as an Internet connection
  4. OS X’s Internet sharing to ensure the iOS device and the computer are on the same network
  5. CamTwist (free) to add overlays and text
  6. MacBook Pro line-in port to receive sound from the mixer
  7. A USB sound card to be used as audio out for monitoring
  8. Soundflower was used as extra audio devices to aid the transfer of audio from audio sources to audio outputs
  9. LadioCast (free) for audio mixer/switching between mixer and iOS device audio
  10. uStream.tv (free) to stream and record the live video and audio

Other notes:

  • The video quality wasn’t great and it was a trade-off between faster frame rates vs better image quality and resolution which were limited factors of the WebCamera application (192×144 vs 480×360, but I’m not sure to measure the frame rate). We decided on better image quality as it would be made worse by the spotty 3G connection
  • We tried using uStream Producer (free) but it was inconsistent as it dropped after 30 seconds. I wonder if this could be due to the 3G reception.
  • If you have an Android device you can use IP WebCam (free) to stream the video and audio from the device to a computer. I used 2 different instances of VLC (free) to play the video and audio. The video could then be captured using CamTwist and the audio controlled with LadioCast
  • We experimented with PocketCam for iOS ($4.99) paried together with the PocketControl (free) client software but the delay in video and audio was too great, ~10 seconds.
  • Alternatives to CamTwist (OSX) are ManyCam (Windows / OSX) and WebCam Studio for GNU/Linux (Linux) but CamTwist has quite a few nifty features and would recommend it

Mobile Phone UMTS Frequency Bands

So the few weeks/months back I saw that the Samsung Galaxy Tab was going for AU$299 and there were a few things I wanted to know about the device before I got it:

  • Could they ship it overseas?
  • Was it locked? if so what is the unlocking fee
  • Will it work here in Brunei?

Sadly in the process of finding my answers to these 2 simple questions, it sadly went out of stock but I did learn some important information with regards to mobile phone frequency bands and also of the ‘quality’ of phones on the market. This is something I’ve never really took into account when buying a phone because I bought phones and they worked, but since I was buying this from overseas I had to make sure. Stumbled upon this comment stating that there are typically to different UMTS/HSDPA frequency band chips: 850/1900/2100 for the US market and 900/1900/2100 for everyone else.

So turn research mode on to see I found out from the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page that Brunei uses UMTS 2100 for 3G on both carriers b-mobile and DSTCom (DSTCom also supports GSM 900). Data-wise, UMTS is basically 3G or mobile broadband while GSM is the slower GPRS/EDGE mobile Internet. Now just because a carrier has multiple frequencies that it broadcasts on, it doesn’t mean that it will always work with any device as the tower may communicate at a frequency the device does not support e.g. device supports 900/2100, carrier supports 850/2100 but the tower in range communicates on 850MHz. From Wikipedia “The 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands provide greater coverage compared to equivalent 1700/1900/2100 MHz networks, and are best suited to regional areas where greater distances separate subscriber and base station” so I would think telcos would most likely use 850MHz towers to save costs and it seems that is the case with Telstra’s Next G Network for the exact same reason (Telstra’s Mobile Networks)

I’ve compiled some data on phones and tablets from different companies that are currently on the market. I only noted UMTS support as GSM is generally all the same. The results are as follows (full listing of data used at the end of this post).

Results

  1. Nokia: penta-band supported on their high end devices. cheaper phones support tri-band
  2. Apple / Samsung: quad-band support on their latest/higher end devices, previous generation / other devices : tri-band
  3. Sony Ericsson: all models have quad and dual-band models, but not sure which is more common
  4. Motorola: tri-band supported but Xoom only has single-band (possible error?)
  5. Huawei & LG: tri-band support for higher end, the rest dual-band
  6. HTC: mostly dual band with only the Sensation 4G and Flyer having tri-band

Based on the Mobile Network Code Wikipedia page I did a quick search (using the Find tool in Chrome) to find the number of entries that each UMTS band has

  • UMTS 850: 56 entries
  • UMTS 900: 26 entries
  • UMTS 1700: 10 entries
  • UMTS 1900: 35 entries
  • UMTS 2100: 344 entries

So it seems logical that most quad band phones leave out 1700 as it has the least entries and that most (if not all) phones support 2100. I think it’s rather sad that HTC has the worst band support considering they make a lot of phones and they are the very mainstream. At the end of the day the multiple band support is only important for frequent travelers and if you want faster 3G speeds. If your device doesn’t support the appropriate UMTS band, as long as it supports GSM band of the carrier you will still get reception to text and make calls but you will be hindered by slower mobile Internet via GPRS / EDGE. So for the quest for faster data speeds and usability anywhere and everywhere do take note of this when you choose your next phone.

======================
Data Compiled and Used
======================
Full Listing of devices with information taken from GSM Arena. Link to the compiled data (Google Docs). This only shows UMTS / HSDPA support as GSM support is similar.

Apple

Samsung

HTC

Sony Ericsson

Huawei

LG

Motorola

Nokia

Brunei Finally has Unlimited Prepaid 3G/Mobile Broadband catering for Tourists

So during my travels I found out about prepaid broadband SIM cards that let you have unlimited mobile broadband (e.g. 3G) while on the go. The ones that I’ve used are fromM1 (Singapore) and Digi (Malaysia). I stumbled upon this poster advertising Zoom! (bmobile’s mobile broadband) while visiting Telbru. This is a perfect opportunity for people to test Zoom! to see how well it works in their area: remember it is a shared Internet connection so it can be slow if the area is saturated. Speed also depends on the modem you are using.

Amount Days of Unlimited Usage
$4 1 day
$8 3 days
$20 9 days
$35 18 days

Note: Just realised my titled was wrong. I forgot to put the word ‘Unlimited’. This is important as DST Go! and bmobile Zoom! already have prepaid options but they are not unlimited. This new unlimited option is a great option for tourist who are here for a short period of time and need not worry about the amount of data they use.

Prepaid Zoom Broadband Poster

Prepaid Zoom Broadband Poster

BDFone and their Brunei made mobile phones

When I read about BDFone creating their own mobile phones that run Android and that they were at the Halal Expo I had to pay them a visit and check out their devices.

Basically they have 2 phones that should be coming to the market in the coming months (estimated at 4-6 weeks). These phones are the LC203 and the LC303 are have basic features. Both phones are 2G and the LC303 has extra features such as a camera. These 2 phones are not running Android but a custom OS from their partners. They have prototypes that are running Android and Windows Mobile but those phones will only be seen in the future.

Aiming at the B$400-B$600 price point they could make a market for themselves as typical Android handsets are targeting the more premium market at the moment. Looking at QQeStores Android phone listing there is only the Samsung Galaxy Spica I5700 and LG GW620 in this price range. My only concerns would be support for firmware updates to an Android phone. The HTC Hero has yet still get any 2.0+ firmware here in Asia and I wonder if this could be an issue with a new manufacturer. The prototype is running Donut (Android 1.6) but as it is not coming out any time soon, they may be running a newer version of Android so nothing much to comment yet.

Zahid, the managing director of BDFone, informed me that they have partnerships with Alcatel, Motorola and Nokia; and that they are targeting low cost but functional phones. I’m not too sure about lower end feature/dumb phones as I think Nokia has pretty functional phones at the low end but aiming for the lower end of Android may be beneficial. There is a void here as almost all Android phones are trying to be an iPhone killer and fetches top dollar. I’m thinking a non-touch Android phone with a keypad (1-9) would be an interesting form factor like the Nokia E52. Either way I wish them all the best and will try update on any developments on this Brunei phone.

Bmobile’s 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA Modem in Ubuntu/Linux

bmobile's 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA modem

bmobile's 1st Generation 3.5G HSDPA modem

Ever since I had the opportunity of using bmobile‘s 3.5G modem to get mobile broadband (via Zoom!) I was curious to see whether it would work in Linux. After much testing, I did manage to get it to work but it wasn’t consistent (it only seemed to work when the modem was tied to /dev/ttyUSB0, so I kepted plugging it in and out and redialed to see if it worked).

For the newer bmobile modem check out this page courtesy of @jikam

Test system: Running Ubuntu 9.04.

  1. Get usb_modeswitch (in Ubuntu / Debian you can “apt-get install usb_modeswitch” which makes things much easier)
  2. Get the usb_modeswitch.conf file and put it in /etc/
  3. The modem is identified an Alcatel One Touch X020 / X030 / MDB-100HU / Nuton 3.5G (lsusb will show ) so search usb_modeswitch.conf and uncomment the section for DefaultVendor, DefaultProduct, TargetVendor, TargetProduct and MessageContent

    ########################################################
    # Alcatel One Touch X020 (aka OT-X020, aka MBD-100HU, aka Nuton 3.5G), works with Emobile D11LC
    # Alcatel One Touch X030 (aka OT-X030, aka Nuton NT36HD)
    #
    # Contributor: Aleksandar Samardzic, Marcelo Fernandez

    ;DefaultVendor= 0x1c9e
    ;DefaultProduct= 0x1001

    ;TargetVendor= 0x1c9e
    ;TargetProduct= 0x6061

    # only for reference and 0.x versions
    # MessageEndpoint=0x05

    ;MessageContent="55534243123456780000000000000606f50402527000000000000000000000"

    ########################################################

    to

    ########################################################
    # Alcatel One Touch X020 (aka OT-X020, aka MBD-100HU, aka Nuton 3.5G), works with Emobile D11LC
    # Alcatel One Touch X030 (aka OT-X030, aka Nuton NT36HD)
    #
    # Contributor: Aleksandar Samardzic, Marcelo Fernandez

    DefaultVendor= 0x1c9e
    DefaultProduct= 0x1001

    TargetVendor= 0x1c9e
    TargetProduct= 0x6061

    # only for reference and 0.x versions
    # MessageEndpoint=0x05

    MessageContent="55534243123456780000000000000606f50402527000000000000000000000"

    ########################################################

  4. Do the actual mode switch for the modem to change the device from USB storage to modem mode:
    sudo usb_modeswitch
  5. Create the USB serial device for dial up:
    sudo modprobe usbserial vendor=0x1c9e product=0x6061
    This step created 3 devices (/dev/ttyUSB0, /dev/ttyUSB1, /dev/ttyUSB2) on my system.
  6. Use the Network Manager Applet to configure a new broadband modem connection with the B-Mobile configuration (APN: bmobilewap)

As mentioned this does not work consistently, so if it doesn’t seem to connection try plugging the USB modem out and back in and retry. I will try find a way to get this more consistent, but hopefully this will help those who are trying to get it to work

Mobile Internet (DST) in Ubuntu with a Nokia E51

I heard about Ubuntu’s 3G support quite a while back, but yesterday was the first time I actually tried it out. This was done using a Nokia E51 connected via USB with a DST Easi card with Ubuntu 9.04. Please note of the importable troubleshooting note below

  1. Connect the phone and set connectivity mode to “PC Suite”
  2. A configuration wizard should pop up as shown below:

    New Mobile Broadband Connection - Welcome screen 

    If the wizard does not show, start it manually by following these steps:

    1. Go to the Ubuntu Menu: System > Preferences > Network Connections
    2. Go to the “Mobile Broadband” tab and click the “Add” button
      Network Connections - Add a new Mobile Broadband Connection
  3. Select the any setting as they will be manually edited later. For this example I chose Albania and Vodafone as the country and provider respectively as it has minimal configuration changes
    New Mobile Broadband Connection - Select Service Provider
  4. Give the connection a name: “dst.internet”
    New Mobile Broadband Connection - Name it / Summary
  5. Go to Network connections (System > Preferences > Network Connections) and edit the newly created connection
    Network Connections - Edit new connection
  6. Ensure the configuration is as follows:
    • Number: *99#
    • APN: dst.internet
    • Username and password can be left blank
    • If the Albania > Vodafone settings were used, only the APN needs to be changed

    Edit connection - Mobile Broadband Tab

    Edit connection - PPP Settings Tab

    Edit connection - PPP Settings Tab - Configure Methods...

    Edit connection - IPv4 Settings Tab

    Edit connection - IPv4 Settings Tab - Routes 

  7. Left click the network manager applet and connect to the newly created “dst.internet” connection

    Connect to dst.internet via Network Manager applet

  8. Enjoy your mobile broadband =)
    Connection Information 

Now I wonder if this works for the DST Go! and bmobile Zoom! modems….

Troubleshooting Note

If you have a problem connecting please note this bug that causes the connection to timeout if there is a shell running as root. So close all terminals open. It took me 2 hours to figure this out so I hope you won’t have to suffer the same.