Monday, January 14, 2008

A Note on Connectivity

Readers of this blog will note that many of them have had the "Sent from my iPhone" signature. I should point out that, while I have been composing and sending these postings from Italy from my iPhone, I have not enjoyed the always-on connectivity that I usually enjoy in the States. Instead, when sending from the iPhone, I used a paid WiFi connection from an Internet café in Radda. I should also note that, although my iPhone uses GSM (global standard for mobiles) technology for its cellular (ie, talking) connection, I did not call people while in Italy.

Mostly, this is a logistic and economic limitation, not a technological one. I did not research it much before I left the US, but my understanding is that there is no technological reason that I could not use a local cellular network (eg, Vodaphone Italy) and have both voice and data connectivity, signal permitting. Indeed, when I have the cellular radio turned on, the local cellular networks show up in a list in one of the menus. I could probably choose one of them and go from there. This is the same as most any GSM phone.

However, I did not actually do this. The real limitation is that if I actually used one of those networks, it would be international roaming, and incur tremendous costs. I did not research what it would be exactly, but probably something like dollars per minute.

Things are bad, too, for data. Where GPRS (aka EDGE in the US) is available, the iPhone is able to connect as it would for me in MN. However, international data roaming charges are as bad or worse than voice. There were annecdotes, shortly after the iPhone's introduction, of people who brought their phones abroad with them, but seemingly kept it turned off, only to find a huge bill when they got home. What had happened was that, rather than turning it off, which actually takes a special manuever, they had merely put it to sleep, which is the usual "off" people use, as it is just a flick of a switch. When asleep, however, the iPhone will still try to use the available network to update the weather, stock info, and email, so that you always have the latest stuff on your phone. This meant these customers abroad had a periodic trickle of data usage, which added up to a big bill. The iPhone now has a mode to turn off data roaming, so that this doesn't happen to people accidentally. Mostly I have kept the phone in "airplane mode" which turns both the cellular and wifi radios off, so that you can use it on an airplane. This also conserves battery life.

There is more I could talk about on this subject - about the iPhone vs other GSM phones, SIM cards, and carrier exclusivity. But, as I am already back in the States, it is largely a moot point.

Sent from my iPhone

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