Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A G1 Problem

Tomorrow morning, if all goes well, I will become the owner of a G1, a high end cell phone built by HTC, sold by T-mobile, using software from Google. In an earlier post I described some of the things I liked about it.

There is, however, one problem. Immediately after getting the phone, I am flying to London. When I asked T-Mobile support about the use of the phone for data abroad, I was told that the charge is $15/megabyte. That for a phone with a claimed download rate of almost a megabyte a second.

It wouldn't be so bad if the issue were only web browsing. I expect to be staying mostly in hotels with WiFi, so can connect over that, from the phone or, more likely, my netbook. But I was very much looking forward to using the GPS feature of the phone, wandering around London with a magic map of the city in my pocket showing where I was.

I don't think that is going to be a practical option. The G1, unlike a dedicated GPS device, doesn't have its maps in memory, it downloads them as needed. Wandering around London at $15/megabyte could get expensive pretty fast.

The obvious solution is to get a temporary SIM card from a british carrier, such as T-Mobile's own British operations. As best I can tell, that would give me unlimited internet usage for a pound a day, which I would be more than happy to pay. But the G1 comes locked, which apparently means that not only can I not use it with a SIM card from another network, I can't even use it with a SIM card from T-Mobile's British operations. So it looks as though I am going to have to wait until I get back to the U.S. to get much use out of my new toy.


Anonymous said...

Does the G1 have wi-fi capabilities?

If so, you could use FRING (free from fring.com) to make Skype Out calls from any Wi-fi hotspot. In fact you don't even have to register with the Wi-fi hotspot or have a SIM card at all.

See fring.com

Daniel A. Nagy said...

Just like in the case of consumer electronics manufacturers and DRM, mobile phone manufacturers are not really interested in making such restrictions un-circumventable; those cellphones that are easy to unlock are both easier to make and they sell better. In particular, all HTC phones can be unlocked by entering some magic code sequence (unique for each phone, but calculated from its ID).

You can read more about unlocking your phone at http://gsmevolution.com/blog/

Jock Coats said...

First of all, you will be very welcome if you find the National Liberal Club without a GPS system and I look forward to meeting you there!

Second, I wouldn't go wandering around London with a GPS and (even an Amercian) overseas accent. Especially if you have any amount of cash, and possibly a camera on you, since British Transport Police are likely to have you in a cell in Paddington Green high-security police station in a flash....:)

But third, more practically, might you be able to get away with a pay-as-you-go service from someone like The Cloud?

Nick said...

You should talk to Michael Jennings about this if he makes it to the conference. At the Libertarian International conference in Warsaw this year, he explained this problem and why it was: state licensing of the radio spectrum which unnaturally segmented the airspace. He advocated spectrum anarchy a la Iraq pre-government.

Anonymous said...

T-Mobile is the only carrier in the US that allows you to unlock your phone after 90 days, regardless of contract length. Unfortunately that won't help you this time, but may be helpful for your next trip.

Jonathan said...

A London A-Z street atlas is low-tech but does the job well enough. If you don't know where you are, look up the name of your street in the index. I still have one here in Spain, I bought it for £5.95 in 1994, it occasionally comes in useful.

Admittedly, seeing your position indicated on the map would be quicker, and rather neat.

Jock Coats said...

But definitely do not mark the map in any way, especially near prominant public buildings or tourist venues. You will be at "Her Majesty's Pleasure" for a long time...:)

Anonymous said...

There's obviously demand for a GPS map program that uses pre-downloaded maps; and does not rely on 3G, or even any cell signal at all.

There will inevitable be such programs available; you are suffering early adopter syndrome.

Yeah, they should advertise that roaming data rate as max $15 per second. LOL. Seriously, I wonder then if you are able configure a max bandwidth rate to use and/or max download total; configure the browser to download text only (no images/flash/etc), etc...

Jock Coats said...

Presumably then it would be "just a map" and a paper one is probably easier to read in that case. Surely you must have some connectivity to talk to the machine in the sky to have any kind of GPS? What would be clever I suppose is if the phone itself could trtiangulate itself against cell masts and display that position on a pre-loaded map!

Anonymous said...

Jock Coats, err...no.

The writeups say the G1 has a "built-in GPS receiver", meaning that it gets GPS coordinates directly from GPS satellite signals (available everywhere on planet earth), not approximated from the cellular networks (limited coverage area).

So like I said, there's an obvious demand for a preloaded map GPS navigator program, that will continue to work outside the 3G coverage area.

TomTom has such an application for the iPhone, so it's probably just a matter of time before they have a version ready for the G1.

"One of the most likely advantages of TomTom's software could be a local database of maps that users can access and customize even if they don't have an internet connection (3G/EDGE, Wi-Fi, or otherwise)."

Jock Coats said...

Actually I suppose that makes sense. I don't suppose a Wi-Fi signal would be any better than a mobile signal at telling where you are!

Anonymous said...

"Actually I suppose that makes sense. I don't suppose a Wi-Fi signal would be any better than a mobile signal at telling where you are!"

My first iphone used wifi to pinpoint me within about 30 yards. Some company has driven a car around every street in London and compiled a database of every wifi network location in the city. Pointless given the advent of 3G satnav, but kind of cool.

jdgalt said...

The practice by cellular providers of locking phones, and limiting your ability to run your own software on them, is the kind of problem for consumers that is often presented to libertarians as evidence that "the free market doesn't work and needs to be regulated."

For most cellular carriers, your phone (or Blackberry, etc.) exists in order to generate billable events. Thus they cripple features such as the camera and GPS. Most people I know who use these features work around the problem by carrying redundant gear: another digital camera or another GPS. I've seen enough of this behavior myself that I'm very tempted by PublicKnowledge.com's present campaign for a "cellular Carterfone decision."

Google's Android OS is intended for carriers that don't want to impose such restrictions on us. It is "the cellular equivalent of Linux." Thus I'm surprised that T-Mobile allows you to have it, but imposes the restrictions anyway. And I'm wondering if any carrier will ever not impose them.

Can you suggest any way, that will actually work, to get the cellular companies to give their customers complete flexibility in how they use their equipment without the government having to intervene to make them allow it? The only other way I can think of would be to dramatically increase the amount of radio-band space allocated to the cellular industry.