For many professionals, telecommuting can be unreliable at best. As more and more people utilise the existing 3G networks around the world for both work and play, they are becoming less and less reliable for any kind of use.
Take for example New York City post-iPhone, where dropped calls and no data is an everyday occurrence. 3G networks have been swamped by devices drawing data and can’t cope with the load.
By contrast, LTE 4G networks use an (incompatible) evolution of the 3G technology to provide lower latency and faster data throughput, but more importantly allow more devices to simultaneously connect to the same network. The idea is that these networks will be able to handle more connections from more customers, while keeping the network stable and responsive.
In the US Verizon and AT&T amongst many others are offering LTE in these areas where it performs brilliantly. Some reporters have compared it to going from dial-up to broadband for the first time, and once converted not many data users will go back.
4G LTE is rolling out throughout the world. It’s already popular in many countries and is only expected to get bigger over the next few years. If your current phone doesn’t support LTE, chances are your next one will, because the technological benefits of LTE are too great to ignore.
A number of manufacturers have released 4G modems that can connect to a wide range of the world’s LTE frequencies, and most recently Qualcomm released a new chipset with the aim to allow handsets and tablets to roam globally on both third and fourth generation networks. It looks like connectivity of the future will be lit up with LTE, but how does that translate to the telecommuter?
For technological reasons, the most reliable connection is always going to be through the wall, but for the worker roaming the globe LTE is going to be the connection of the truly mobile future. With the right device, you’ll be able to work and play almost anywhere in the world if you’ve got deep enough pockets to pay for it.
Presently coverage is limited to specific countries and even specific cities within them, but as networks roll out across the globe you’ll have more choice and range available to you.
The trick is whether the technological trickery designed to make LTE more resilient to congestion will be enough to keep fourth gen data flowing smoothly as more and more subscribers jump on. In the short term things are looking bright, but hopefully in the long term we'll have even better solutions at our disposal.
With an iPhone as a travel companion, navigating strange places can be a breeze. Just open up the maps application of your choice and, through the magic of GPS and GLONASS, you instantly know where you are. Detailed directions to your destination are only a few taps away—if you have a data plan, that is. But sometimes there's just no coverage. And when traveling abroad, cellular data can be really expensive.
Ars Tecnhica's Iljitsch van Beijnum wrote a good article on some of the best ways to score free Wi-Fi, offline maps, and navigate foreign cities on your iPhone without access to cell data.
The article is iPhone specific but if you're after some Android apps to help you get by we like the offline mode in Google Maps, and OsmAnd is also good for larger areas.
Kogan Mobile is one of the newest mobile offerings in Australia and is notable for being the only provider to resell Telstra Wholesale 3G at prices rivalling other budget providers.
Telstra's NextG network is known as the best of the bunch in terms of speed and performance, but how does Kogan stand up against it?
To start with, Telstra Wholesale is not the same as Telstra's NextG network. The NextG network is both faster and far more expansive, and Telstra's wholesale offerings don't include access to the newer 4G network.
Kogan Mobile is limited to up to 7.2 Mbps on the wholesale network, whereas NextG is advertised as up to 40 Mbps. While this sounds like a major difference, in practise it's not likely to be an issue unless you're in a hurry to download some very large files.
In terms of coverage, Telstra seems to have the upper hand still, with Kogan appearing on par with Optus in terms of signal reach. The coverage maps paint a bleak picture for those wanting the benefits of Telstra without the price but the real competition is with the other budget providers rather than Telstra itself, against which it does very well.
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Speaking of the price, Kogan has refreshingly chosen a one-size-fits-all option. There's only two plan choices available, phone or broadband, but you can opt to pre-pay longer periods to get cheaper rates if you'd like.
On a 3 month or 12 month pre-paid amount you're looking at around $25/month for unlimited calls & text, with 6 GB of data for your handset. Compared to Telstra's bottom-tier of $50/month this is exceptional value, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anything this reasonable elsewhere either.
Kogan's pre-paid plans sit in a sweet spot between pre and post-paid. Instead of pre-paying for a quantity of data for instance, you're pre-paying a monthly allocation. This means you don't get more than the allocated amount per month which may be a blessing or a hindrance depending on your usage.
There's also the option of adding a "bolt-on" pack which enables premium services and overseas calling for an extra cost monthly.
In order to sign up you'll need to buy a Kogan SIM online, which will cost you $5.00 including postage. Mine arrived within a couple of days, and was a combined SIM/micro-SIM with perforations so you can choose whichever form of SIM card you need.
The actual registration process is online and straightforward, although you will need to use another connection to access the online activation as the SIM can't be used to activate itself. Registration requires only requires the basics including billing details, but requires either a Medicare card or drivers license to verify you. Activation took a little over 2 hours after submission, which is reasonable for the industry, and the SIM was good to go.
Postage isn't available outside of Australia, so Kogan is only really a decent choice if you're going to be here for a while, or if you're staying with a friend who can order one before you arrive.
Coming from Telstra, Kogan Mobile isn't a noticeable step down.
I have noticed reduced coverage along inner city rail corridors, with Kogan Mobile dropping to GPRS and EDGE through tunnels. This isn't far off Telstra's tendency to stay connected but not deliver any data in the same areas, so I don't consider it that much of a problem myself.
One thing I've noticed several times now in the city is that Kogan will sometimes stop pushing traffic at all, leaving you with full bars but no data. While Telstra data slows to a trickle in times of high network congestion, Kogan seems to get nothing at all. I'm not sure if these cases are actually due to congestion or other factors.
Compared to other networks, Kogan is by far superior. In terms of raw data speeds and anecdotal experience, the network is much faster and less prone to dropouts than other budget providers I've tried.
For several years now, Australian 3G connectivity has been spotty at best so if you're after a reliable network you're probably better off looking at 4G from Telstra or Optus, but for a third gen network Kogan's price and performance both look very attractive.
If you're sick of paying monthly, or want a bit more bang for your buck over your current prepaid service, definitely consider Kogan Mobile. It's cheap, and good, which is a winning combo.
Are you using Kogan Mobile? How are you finding it? Leave a comment below!
Travelling to Rangoon has never been a particularly connected affair.
While mobile communications have traditionally been available in the country, the high price of voice and data have put pressures on travellers and locals alike.
The mobile penetration in Myanmar is said to be less than 2%, with many locals unable to afford a full-time mobile service let alone mobile data. The alternative is a crippled month-long prepaid service whose temporary number expires when it the prepaid credit does, so it can be difficult to get in touch in Myanmar without a landline.
The news is looking up for Myanmar's struggling telco ecosystem, with reforms sweeping through the government.
The reforms will allegedly see up to four new licenses be granted to operate a mobile network in Myanmar, to compete with the entrenched but struggling Myanmar Post and Telecommunication. This is a massive opportunity for telcos and consumers alike, and will likely see an influx of fast, cheap communications, including 4G connectivity.
What this means for those visiting Myanmar is more choice, but particularly the opportunity to use data in the country without paying extortionate rates.
International roaming is another potential benefit. Whereas presently the incumbent MPT does not have any roaming agreements, meaning virtually everyone's cell phone goes dark stepping foot in the country, this new regulation could pave the way for international deals between telcos, giving consumers more choice.
While practical changes are a way off yet, these deals were allegedly being inked in September 2012 so we may be hearing more about this soon.
Either way, a mobile revolution would be a boon to Myanmar, allowing a digital economy to flourish, and letting people get in touch.
Despite having an oligopoly of three, Australia has traditionally been on the forefront of wireless deployment. This year that means a 4G rollout by each of the three operating network providers.
In 2006 Telstra finished rolling out it's first 3G network, and in a year it had claimed the title of both the largest network in Australia at 2.1 million square kilometres as well as the fastest in the world, operating HSPA+ at 21 Mbps.
Now, as networks crumble under the load of congestion in peak hour, and consumers with near sentient phones demand more data, the big three operators are racing each other to deliver 4G LTE to data-hungry Australians.
Telstra and Optus have already begun rolling out LTE to congested capital cities, with admirable coverage of inner Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
Telstra is also rolling out 4G progressively to regional areas like Bendigo, Tamworth and regional cities, while Optus is as yet hedging it's bets on major capitals. In capital cities like Brisbane, Optus coverage far exceeds that of Telstra, so it seems they're relying on urbanite mind-share, whereas Telstra is going for the full regional coverage to solidify its reputation as the only choice for Australians who stray often from the latte belt.
The struggling Vodafone has spent the last few years trying to make amends and put its network right after the network collapsed under load, to massive public outcry. Instead of using 4G as a crutch, Vodafone have been beefing up the specs of their existing network with DC-HSPA+ to cope with immediate demand. Vodafone has committed to a 4G LTE network in "selected areas" for 2013, which will bring it into the next generation game with Telstra and Optus.
All the networks have committed to LTE, and unlike in the past they've all agreed on the same 1800 MHz radio frequencies, so devices will work across the country giving consumers plenty of choice.
While the 1800 MHz spectrum is standard across Australia, it's unfortunately not used many places overseas meaning travellers probably won't get to enjoy the 4G revolution with their existing hardware. Regardless, some customers from Asia and Europe may have radios capable of joining the party, and we may eventually see octa-band(!) LTE hardware that remedies the problem of international travel?
Either way, with competition heating up between telecos, we're hoping to see LTE really light up Australia in 2013.