Tag Archives: 3g

Emerged Technologies


Four years is a long time in technology, but how much has happened since 2011?

Back in November 2011 I was asked by the AoC to present at a conference with Donald Taylor on emerging technologies and how FE Colleges should be preparing for them.

My slides and Donald’s are in this slidedeck.

My notes from that presentation are here, but how much has changed since then and had education really embraced and started to embed these emerging technologies.

Continue reading Emerged Technologies

Fine, so still no wifi still on the train…

In May I wrote a blog post about internet access on the train. I talked about how in the past I had used various devices to connect to the internet while travelling on the train. A few weeks after writing the article I upgraded my Nexus One to Froyo 2.2 and now that is my main method of connecting my laptop or iPad to the internet while travelling with First Great Western. In the first article I did say:

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal! So even with a Mifi, nexus one or a dongle it’s difficult to use 3G. One suggestion that I heard from John Popham was to keep the Mifi near the door area and that may mean a better signal.

I did wonder why CrossCountry Trains didn’t put in wifi as you find on the East Coast Main Line services and Virgin Trains Pendolino. Well it appears that providing wifi was part of their Franchise agreement with the Department of Transport. CrossCountry Trains was suppose to have wifi in place by November 11th 2009. They failed to meet this deadline and the revised deadline of the end of January, according to The Telegraph that was published in a recent article.

The service was supposed to be in place by November 11 last year. The company was given until the end of January to install the service, but this date was missed as well.

The response from CrossCountry was

CrossCountry suggested that the growing use of dongles, devices which link computers to the mobile phone network, meant that WiFi was no longer necessary.

Which when you consider the problems of metallised windows is a laughable excuse, more so when CrossCountry also say in that article,

A CrossCountry spokesman said the delay was due to technical difficulties especially on the Voyager trains where the signal needed for WiFi is weakened by the high metallic content in the windows.

Yes it does do that.

However the reason wifi works on other trains is that they put the wifi on the inside of the train and the internet connection on the outside of the train.

CrossCountry said they would provide wifi and so they should provide wifi.

They have now been fined twice and if by September 30th they still haven’t installed wifi then they will be fined again.

My question though is much more, why isn’t there wifi on First Great Western services from the West Country to London and why wasn’t it in their franchise agreement? I travel with First Great Western much more than I do CrossCountry and would really like it if they had wifi.


Today I spent most of the day travelling to Athlone in Ireland for EdTech 2010 where I am delivering the opening keynote. Travelling to a different country shows how reliant we are (well how reliant I am) on connectivity and communication.

Arriving at Dublin Airport, though my iPhone connected easily to the O2 phone network and I am on O2 in the UK, I got a nice little text message from O2 to tell me how expensive it is to use the phone and data whilst in Ireland.

At £3 per MB this is very expensive for “normal” usage of the iPhone for e-mail, web browsing and using services such as Twitter and Flickr. I did consider buying a data bundle in advanced from O2 but at £50 for 50MB I decided no way.

I also did consider buying a SIM for my unlocked Nexus One, but as I am only here for a few days I didn’t think it was worth it, and what I really wanted from a local SIM was data not calls and texts.

In the end I decided that I could live without connectivity for the time I am in Ireland. Where and when I needed to use the internet I would use WiFi.

What I did quite like in Dublin was the availability of free WiFi in cafes and restaurants. I could buy a coffee and use the WiFi, whereas in the UK it is more likely these days to find that the WiFi is a BT Openzone or other costly wireless hotspot.

This is the age of the train…

About once or twice a month I find myself on a train travelling to some far flung exotic location, like London, Leeds or Birmingham! Though more often then not it is the First Great Western train to London.

As I travel I like to try and get some work done in the time I have available. One key aspect of my job is communication and for that I need a decent internet connection. First Great Western, unlike some other train operating companies does not provide wifi on their services.  So what is one to do?

I have over the last few years used different ways of getting online on the train, all of them though have involved 3G.

Well recent tests show, as reported by the BBC that:

Mobile broadband speeds are improving but coverage is getting more patchy, suggests a survey.

The survey was…

…carried out by analysts from comparison site Broadband Genie, the annual test involved using dongles from UK mobile operators during a long train journey.


T-Mobile came out top in the tests because it racked up higher speeds and proved more reliable during the tests.

So how do I use 3G on the train and with what services?

My original way of getting online was with a 3G PC Card from Vodafone, however this went once I changed jobs back in 2006.

I then had an 3G Dongle from Vodafone. This actually worked quite well, some dropped connections, but once within a 3G area, a good speed both up and down. I did notice though that more often then not, I could not get 3G speeds and the connection dropped to GPRS speeds. The main problem with the dongle is that it sticks out and on cramped trains this can be problematic.

After getting a T-Mobile contract phone (with Walk’n’Web Plus) I was able to use the phone as a tethered Bluetooth modem to connect to the internet at 3G speeds. The main disadvantage with this process was the impact that both Bluetooth and 3G had on battery life of the phone. The upside for me was a more reliable and faster connection.

Using a Nokia N95 I was able to use JoikuSpot on the Nokia, this shares the 3G connection over WiFI. This has one key advantage JoikuSpot allows more than one device to connect. A simple idea which just works. Basically it turns my Nokia N95 into a wireless hotspot, allowing me to connect multiple wireless devices to my phone’s 3G internet connection. I start JoikuSpot and once started I can then join the wireless and surf the internet. This was really useful allowing both my laptop and an iPod touch to connect to the internet using the single 3G connection. The Light version only really does internet, it doesn’t allow e-mail or https for example, whereas the Premium version does; this is the reason I upgraded to the Premium version and very pleased I am with it. The main downside is the impact it has on the battery life on the Nokia N95, down to less than four hours, often less!

I used this process for a fair amount of time, made easier when First Great Western introduced power sockets on their trains. Swapping over to the Vodafone 3G dongle if the signal failed or was weak.

I have recently tried a couple of other options, the first was not as successful as I would have hoped and that was the MiFi.

So what’s the MiFi? A battery powered 3G wireless router. Using a 3G SIM it would connect to the internet and then allow  up to five wireless clients to connect and share that 3G connection. With a four hour battery life, could be charged via USB and about the size of a credit card. Using a SIM from a Vodafone 3G USB dongle it was very simple to set up and configure and I would recommend that you use the details from Ross Barkman’s excellent website on connection settings for GPRS/3G to save having to work out where the information is on your providers’ website.

However one of the downsides for me was that though the MiFi worked a treat in stationary location (say at a conference) it was less satisfactory when travelling by train. What seemed to happen was that when the MiFi lost its 3G connection, as does happen on a train, it would switch itself off. As a result you had to check now and again and see if it needed turning back on. This also had an impact on the WiFi connection on my Mac laptop, which even when the MiFi was back on would not re-connect back to the MiFi wireless. In the end the experience was so unsatisfactory that I stopped using the MiFi on trains as a wireless router. The nice thing about the MiFi is that it will work as a USB 3G dongle, so you can use the MiFi in your event and meeting as a wireless router and revert to the dongle mode when on the train.

I have recently switched from the Nokia N95 to the Google Nexus One that runs the Android operating system. There is no JoikuSpot for the Nexus One and I am not 100% on how or even if it is possible to use it as a Bluetooth modem. One thing I have tried is PDAnet that allows me to use the Nexus One as a tethered 3G modem.

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal!

I have used various methods to get online on the train and though each have their disadvantages and advantages, I think I prefer the 3G dongle, though the wifi methods are neater.

Beware the big bill…

BBC reports that the EU cap for downloading data doesn’t come into effect until the 1st July.

The consumers’ association Which? is warning that people going abroad with smartphones can still face huge bills if they connect to the internet.

By 1 July, new rules will come into force in the European Union which will cap bills for downloading data.

But, until then, people travelling in Europe could face unlimited bills.

So beware the big mobile data bill if you travel to one of the foreign conferences…