Where I live, the mobile phone reception can be a little… patchy… at times.Â Vodafone and O2 are okay, as long as I stay upstairs and away from all of the electrical interference in my home office (not too helpful when I’m working!) but for Orange I have to go outside to get decent reception (andÂ I haven’t tried T-Mobile but the coverage map doesn’t fill me with hope).Â All of that is just for standard GSM coverage – 3G is non-existent… although Vodafone’s coverage map suggests I might be able to get a signal theÂ fields across the road!
As I spend a good chunk of my day on the phone, and VoIP becomes problematic when the local schools kicks out (as my broadband slows to a crawl), I decided to give Vodafone’s Sure Signal a try.Â Sure Signal (formerly known as Vodafone Access Gateway) is a femtocell (a tiny base station, about the size of a typical broadband router) that provides 3G reception and routes the calls over an existing broadband connection although Pocket Lint were less charitable:
“Of course the sceptics amongst us can see Vodafone’s evil plan from the get go. They get you to pay for the shortcomings of their network while at the same time boosting your phone’s capabilities in your home or office so you’ll use it more. Using it more means they get more money from you at the end of the month because you’ve found a new sense of freedom when it comes to making calls or surfing the Web.”
That’s all well and good, but this is my company mobile phoneÂ – I don’t pay the bill – and when it’s the difference between flaky call quality and a clear signal, I’ll happily give up a little bit of bandwidth (after all, this is only voice traffic).
The difference between the Sure Signal solution and a normal VoIP call over my ADSL line is that I’m still using a normal mobile handset to access the network and the portion from the femtocell back to the rest of the mobile network is managed by Vodafone – with whom I have far more trust in managing issues such as latency, jitter, and quality of service than I do in my own ability to configure a VoIP client with a third party SIP provider in a reliable manner.
Only registered mobile phone numbers can access the Sure Signal (up to 4 at a time from a maximum of 32 registered numbers), soÂ it doesn’t provide a service to the rest of the street (at least not unless their numbers are registered too); however it is pretty good to have 5 bar 3G reception in my house for Vodafone-connected 3G handsets (other networks are not supported, neither are 2G handsets).
So that’s the theory.Â Getting the Sure Signal working was not all plain sailing though… Vodafone’s Quick Start guide directs users to register their sure signal at http://vodafone.co.uk/suresignal but it was only after a couple of days of the registration site telling me that technical difficulties were preventing Vodafone from registering the device at the moment and that I should try again in a few minutes, and an unanswered support request, I Googled and found a forum thread that suggested I try http://vodafone.co.uk/businesssuresignalÂ instead.Â To be fair, that is also on the quickstart guide – butÂ in a far less prominent position, in black text on a red background.Â Lo and behold, the second URL uses a different registration form (without the troublesome and confusing interface to accept terms and conditions) and started the activation process.Â
A few minutes later, I received an e-mail from Vodafone to say that the device would be made active and that I’d be notified by text message when it was ready – but that was on Saturday… and nothing happened for a few days so, on Tuesday evening, I e-mailed to find out how much longer I might need to wait.Â I’d started to wonder if there were problems with my router’s firewall configuration but I decided not to change anything and, the next morning, I woke up to a full 3G signal and a message from Vodafone to tell me that the Sure Signal was active.
So, was it worth it? Certainly, a great mobile phone signal is what I was after – and that’s what I got.Â The device has no user interface though (it’s managed from the Vodafone website) – which is probably fine for consumers but, if I have to rely on Vodafone’s offshore support (provided by Firstsource) to deal with any problems (potentially with no phone signal!), the delays in getting the device working do not fill me with hope.
March 2010 marks Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.Â Sadly, for my family, May will be the month when we’re most aware of this illness as it will be the anniversary of my Father’s death, after a mercifully short but nevertheless agonising battle with multiple secondary cancers when we all thought his prostate cancer was under control.Â But, aside from my personal connections, why do we need to be aware of prostate cancer?Â Well:
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.
One man dies every hour in the UK.
‘Don’t let prostate cancer hide’ is this year’s campaign to help get prostate cancer out in the open. It’s a hidden cancer because not enough people talk about it. We can’t see the prostate, and many people don’t even know what it is or what it does.
Prostate cancer awareness month is all about changing that. The more we talk openly about prostate cancer, the more lives can be saved.
The Microsoft support lifecycle policy has been around since October 2002 but still seems to be a source of confusion for many.Â In effect, there are three phases of support:
Mainstream support provides full product support, including security updates, hotfixes and the ability to raise product enhancement requests.
Extended support means that a product is on its way towards retirement and, in order to open a support case on a products in its extended support phase, a Premier Support contract with Microsoft is required. There is a higher risk involved in relying on products in their extended support phase (when compared with mainstream support products) asÂ extended support is only available for business and developer products – and it does not allow product enhancement requests, or non-security updates (unless an Extended Hotfix Support Agreement is available – more on that in a moment…).
Self-help means â€œGoogle it!â€ asÂ Microsoft will not accept support requests for products in this phase.Â The Microsoft knowledge base is available, as are all the resources of the Internet, but the risks involved with of running out-of-support products is high.
For business and developer products, there is normally 5 years of mainstream support, followed by 5 years of extended support.Â Self-help via the Microsoft online support site will be available for at least 10 years.Â There are some exceptions (e.g. Windows XP) as these products predate the support lifecycle policy.Â For consumer products there is no extended support, justÂ 5 years of mainstream support, and the commitment to self-help from Microsoft is 8 years.
Microsoft does have support solutions for individual customers that are forced to stray outside mainstream support.Â Extended Hotfix Support agreements allow customers to request non-security hotfixes for products in their extended support phase and these agreements involve substantial fees (for the agreement, and for every non-security hotfix requested). Furthermore,Â there is no contractual commitment from Microsoft to agree to a hotfix request. Custom Support agreements are prohibitively expensive and designed to provide limited support during the self-help
support phase. These agreements are product- and customer-specific.
Finally,Â be aware that the support lifecycle does not just apply to product versions, but service pack and cumulative update versions too.
It’s not news that there will be a service pack for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2.Â We don’t know when it will come (and I’ve been asked not to speculate…) – and we don’t know if there will be a public beta but there will be a service pack.
Here’s what Microsoft has announced so far:
The same service pack will be applicable for Windows server and client – i.e. for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 (just as with Vista/Server 2008 service packs).
What an afternoon… for a few days now, I’ve been trying to find out what’s the big announcement from Microsoft and Citrix in theÂ desktop virtualisation hour webcast later today.Â I was keeping quiet until after the webcast but nowÂ the embargo has lifted, Microsoft has issued a press release,Â and the news is all over the web:
Microsoft and Citrix are offering a â€œRescue for VMware VDIâ€ promotion, which allows VMware View customers to trade in up to 500 licenses at no additional cost, and the â€œVDI Kick Startâ€ promotion, which offers new customers a more than 50 percent discount off the estimated retail price.
There are virtualisation licensing changes too: from July, Windows Client Software Assurance customers will no longer have to buy a separate license to access their Windows operating system in a VDI environment, as virtual desktop access rights now will be a Software Assurance (SA)Â benefit – effectively, if you have SA, you get Windows on screen, no matter what processor it is running on!Â There will also be new roaming usage rights and Windows Client Software Assurance and new Virtual Desktop Access (the new name for VECD) customers will have the right to access their virtual Windows desktop and their Microsoft Office applications hosted on VDI technology on secondary, non-corporate network devices, such as home PCs and kiosks.
Citrix will ensure that XenDesktop HDX technology will be interoperable with and will extend RemoteFX within 6 months.
Oh yes, and Windows XP Mode (i.e. Windows Virtual PC) will no longer requires hardware virtualisation technology (although, frankly, I find that piece of news a little less exciting as I’d really like to see Virtual PC replaced by a client-side hypervisor).
My organisation mandates a PIN lock on my phone.Â I couldn’t remove this using the unactivated iPhone and iTunes wouldn’t activate the phone (even though I supplied the PIN when the iPhone prompted for it).Â So I borrowed a handset from a colleague, dropped my SIM in it, turned off the PIN lock, and put it back in the iPhone to attempt activation.
I soon got fed up of activating the phone (via iTunes) every time I switched SIMs between home and work (I don’t use my work number at weekends and when I’m on holiday), so I redirected my personal number to my work number.Â Everything was good -Â I listened to a few podcasts on the drive to work, made some calls, connected to my e-mail service, got back in the car (listened to some more podcasts) and drove to meet a partner at their offices – but then my iPhone decided that it had a new SIM (it didn’t) and that it needed to be connected to iTunes.Â That caused a few problems:
I don’t have iTunes on my work PC (and nor should I have).
I don’t have an iPhone/iPod sync cable with me.
I’m working away from home… and I’m not going to drive for up to 2 hours in either direction just to get my smartphone working.
It doesn’t take took much imagination to work out that an iPhone that doesn’t make calls is not a very good phone.Â And it turns out that it’s not really a very good “anything” because, as I drove to the hotel this evening, I found a number of other things that an iPhone without a SIM is useless for:
It couldn’t work as a camera to take pictures in the late-afternoon winter sunshine.
It couldn’t work as a GPS/sat-nav device for helping me from the office to the hotel… resulting in a 30 minute drive around Reading using my sense of direction and the setting sun as a compass whilst avoiding the city centre and the motorway…
It couldn’t work as a music player to provide entertainment on the drive.
It couldn’t let me access my e-mail (not even over Wi-Fi) when the hotel had failed to read my reservation details correctly.
In short: an iPhoneÂ minus its SIMÂ might as well be an iBrick – far from the device Apple described back in 2007Â (a mobile phone, iPod and Internet device), it’s a useless piece of electronic hardware.Â And, just to be clear, this is an offocially unlocked iPhone (i.e. unlocked by my carrier) that has not been “jailbroken”.
The madness of this situation is that it doesn’t have to be this way -Â Apple’s stranglehold on iPhone activation is just part of the way in which they control the iPhone ecosystem but they seem to miss the point of having a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) – i.e. that it’s the SIMÂ that is supposed to control my identity and make it transferable between devices.Â No other phone that I’ve used has needed to be activated using software once it has a SIM installed – it checks with the network if my details are valid and, if they are, I can make calls.Â Simple!
A phone that doesn’t work is pretty useless as a business tool – even if it’s a phone as remarkable as the iPhone was when it launched a couple of years ago (in my opinion, Apple has squandered the lead it had over everything else in the market).Â TheÂ fact that it’s not possibleÂ to simply insert a valid SIM and boot up the deviceÂ is just one reason why the iPhone is not an enterprise product, although plenty of companies will be forced to support them by VIPs wielding enough power to override IT policies (just as we saw with Blackberry devicesÂ a few years ago).Â Thankfully a colleague is going to bring a sync cable with him tomorrow so I can (hopefully) get the thing working again in the morning – butÂ I won’t be trusting my iPhone next time I travel long distance.
I’ve elected to reduce my Â£35 monthly payment to Â£20 on a rolling 30-day contract, halving my minutes from 600 to 300 but keeping unlimited texts, data, and Wi-Fi.Â Alternatively I could have had a 12-month contract on the same terms for Â£15, or 600 minutes a month for Â£25 (900 for Â£30, etc.).Â There are some gotchas though (O2 did let me know about these): the account defaults to online billing (no problem); picture messages are 20p (not 4 texts from normal allowance); SMS from abroad is also chargable; and voicemail is now taken from the inclusive minutes.Â Even so, I should still be well within my limits.Â After the initial 30-day period I can switch to another O2 tariff at any time, or give 30-days notice if I decide to terminate the contract.
So, that should allow me to sit tight until either the next iPhone or a tasty Windows Mobile 7 device becomes available. And the Â£15/month saving will go some way towards the cost of my next partially-subsidised handset…