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Sunday, September 09, 2007


Back from my holiday, and slowly getting back to the world of what we think of as 'normal' communications.

How often do you switch your phone fully off? (ie not just to silent or flight-mode)

As I promised myself before I went away, I left my mobile switched off virtually the whole time, checking it once or twice daily. I left a fairly terse voicemail message suggesting that email was a better way to reach me. I charged the phone once in 3 weeks. No work calls, no mobile Internet connection, no ridiculous roaming charges - just a handful of texts with a couple of friends I wanted to meet up with. I totally recommend that everyone disconnects like this once in a while - it's hugely therapeutic.

Although I certainly wasn't looking out for them specifically, a few mobile/wireless observations caught my eye during my time in the Balkans.....

- Croatia is probably the most developed mobile market in the region at first glance, in terms of 'visible usage', retail sophistication - and I guess influence from the hordes of Italian & northern European tourist mobilistas. Serbian capital Belgrade had adverts for 3G services.
- Lots of 'hand-me-down' highish-end phones from 2005-6 pressed into service for basic prepaid: either 'remaindered' stock, or perhaps recycled second-hand ones (eg unloved Nokia 6670s)
- I saw a total of 3 BlackBerries being used while I was away, 2 of which were held by tourists in Dubrovnik
- Mostly small independent shops selling every current phone (including up-to-the-minute N-series Nokias and the latest S-Es)
- 3G phones even in places with no 3G network (eg Macedonia). Nokia even has streetside adverts specifically for the N-Series in Skopje.
- Nowhere near as many people taking photos with cameraphones as I see in the UK (eg not many 'night out with friends' snaps)
- Absolutely no sign of the oft-repeated myth that 'the new generation will first start using the Internet on mobile phones'. Total rubbish & wishful thinking, as always. Internet cafes everywhere, broadband ads everywhere, no signs of data use on low-end prepay mobiles. I don't believe there's a single individual on the planet, outside maybe Japan, whose 'first experience of the Internet has been on a mobile'.
- Lots of local networks seem to use the cell-location field, with the name of the cell/part of town you're in appearing on your cellphone screen. Not sure what this achieves, really - I generally know where I am, and if I'm lost I need something a bit more specific. Only exception I found was falling asleep in a bus/train in a foreign country & waking to be uncertain of how close you are to your destination.
- Macedonia allegedly has a countrywide WiFi network, although I suspect this is a bit of an exaggeration. I saw a grand total of 2 laptop users, both in a cafe with its own (free) WiFi. No WiFi handsets on sale in the shops either - although bizarrely one retailer did have a couple of ISDN (!) videoconferencing terminals (!!) on display. Rather than wasting money on metro-WiFi, I suspect a better investment for the country would be in the roads in the capital city, which are in shocking condition.
- typical Internet cafe price - about $3-4 an hour, more in Croatia, less in Bosnia & Serbia.

Also, just before I went away, I bought a new digital camera (a really small handset-sized Ricoh Caplio R6, which has 7x zoom & 1-sec startup time). I'd just gone past the 1000th pic I'd taken with my SonyEricsson K800i, which I'd been using as my main digicam for a year & generally rave about. But I've found that I've taken 700 great pics in just 3 weeks on the Ricoh - the mobile industry is still some way behind state-of-the-art in imaging.

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