Question for the telecoms techs out there

So, this Timmy in Czech thing seems to be progressing well. Obviously, slips \’tween cups and lips and all that but well.

Which leads to a little telecoms question. As we move into production I\’ll be spending some time at home, in Portugal, of course. But the bulk of the time will be split between Germany and the Czech Republic. It just happens that the minerals and mines and expertise and engineering companies and etc etc are spread across both sides of the border. We\’re deeply unineterested in what happens more than 25 km into the Czech Rep, and similarly deeply uninterested in what happens more than 30km inside Germany.

(Just as an aside, did see a pub for sale yesterday, one that just about straddles the actual border. Should I?)

This is just great and fine: except for telecoms. For standing at one mine dump, trying to talk to someone standing at another mine dump from the same deposit, becomes an international call.

And of course it gets much worse if one is using a smartphone, to keep up with email etc. The idea of having such a smartphone that is collecting data on international roaming for a week or more at a time is horrifying.

There are two theoretical solutions to this.

1) Two smartphones. One for each side of the border. This obviously means two plans (but they\’re cheap enough) and two phone numbers, which is a pain in the bum.

2) A smartphone that treats Germany and the Czech Republic as one territory. Or even, if this is possible, one that treats all of Europe as one. Including data of course. Or at very minimum, one that gives just one low tariff for phone calls across borders.

I\’ve heard that there are corporate solutions that work along the line of 2). But while it might well be a \”corporate account\” it\’s still going to be just me. So there won\’t be 500 people doing this sort of running around.

So, anyone any ideas? Is there some company out there which would offer me a deal whereby I\’m not making international calls or data roaming everytime I step across the border (which, on some days, could be three or four times!).

43 comments on “Question for the telecoms techs out there

  1. Two Google smartphones, both set up with the same Google account and both set up with the same Skype account with a phone number linked to that.

    Might be a great idea, might be a terrible idea.

  2. Silly question but which side of the border does your phone think it is?
    Had a very similar situation on the French/Belgian border, Living about 2 kliks from it & half the time not knowing which country I was in. Nor did the phone. Incidentally, my French mobile makes local calls from parts of Dover

  3. Oh & for the international calls, PAYG Lebara. Probably cheaper that calling to the same country. Works out like that for Lebara.es

  4. There are dual-sim phones out there – whether you can find one that’ll do what you want is another thing however..

    At least gives you an ‘Option 3′ to look at.

  5. If only both countries were part of some supra-national organisation, a “union” if you will, that could reduce such artificial barriers.

  6. You could get two mobile access points, one for each country, and have your smartphone talk to them via wifi. Use voip for all your calls and you avoid the two-number problem, and you won’t have to change the device you actually use – mobile APs work fine from within a briefcase.

  7. It might be cheaper to use skype. But as BiS said, it is impossible to control the way that signal bleeds across borders and it varies constantly according to local conditions. The line on the map is a frontier but the radio waves don’t see that line. If you are on a Czech transmitter you can get many miles into Germany before your handset swiches over to a German transmitter, depending on where the transmitters are sited and local conditions..

  8. BIS – your French provider must deliberately have a very strong singal in Calais – presumably for the convenience of its customers who happen to be in Dover at any time. My British phone loses signal about halfway across the Channel and doesn’t pick up a French network until practically inside the harbour at Calais. Radio waves – aren’t they wonderfully predictable things!

  9. Depending on how far network coverage extends across the border, you may be able to simply turn-off roaming. Charges are based on the network you’re connected to, not your geographical location.

    The best solution is to contact the mobile phone networks of both countries and arrange a dual-use sim. There’s no technical reason why you can’t use the same sim in two different countries, with an account in each.

  10. Matthew L I like your comment number 6…

    You might also want to see if there is something like O2 have for the UK, where you can get a country X phone number for people to dial you from country X, which connects to your country Y mobile. Country Y people use your country Y number.

  11. @ Diogenes
    The places in Dover where I’m ‘French’ are often the places where Vodaphone UK seems to agree because it’s advising me of roaming charges via a French mast.
    Which does bear on Tim’s puzzle. I know with the be/fr situation, ensuring I was logged on a frog mast, even a way into Belgium, could depend on which side of the house one was. Sometimes it takes craftiness & a few tons of concrete.

  12. Dual SIM unlocked Android phone. You can use pay as you go or contract on either SIM as needed. Dunno who the cheap PAYG players are in Czech and Germany. A suitable phone might be a Samsung Galaxy S Duos, but there are various dual-SIM androids.

  13. If the area is no more than 3 miles across then PMR446 two-way radios are a good option. The frequencies are unlicensed across Europe and radios are very cheap.

  14. For calls, does look like Lebara.de. Unlimited international/landline calls. 30€ pm. Doesn’t look like they’ve their data service up yet but I’ve a vague memory they’re partnered with another company, so it may be differently labeled.

  15. “treats Germany and the Czech Republic as one territory”

    There used to be a bloke who did that. Things went OK for him at first, but it worked out badly in the end.

    I’ll get me coat.

  16. maybe Tim, you should ask the locals. They probably get caught in the same bind of the vagaries of radio waves as described by BiS and me. How do they get round the fact that one day a phone call is local and the next, from the same place, it is a roaming call?

  17. I should have mentioned it earlier but the best exemplar of this problem is the city of Maastricht in Netherlands. belgium on one side, germany on another and yet still Dutch. Unless you exclude roaming calls , you can never tell how much the next call or text will cost.

  18. Vodafone Eurotraveller

    UK sim, contract or payg, then pay 3 quid a day to use your allowance (inc data) in U rope as if you were in the UK.

    3 quid only charged on the days you use it.

  19. You can usually tell your phone to stick to one network and not roam. Or at least you could on the old pre-smart-phones. Three UK had/have an option for EU data use for £5 a day.

  20. “treats Germany and the Czech Republic as one territory”

    There used to be a bloke who did that.

    Yes, and didn’t he write a book called something like Mine Dump?

  21. A dual SIM phone wouldn’t protect Tim from roaming charges on incoming calls, unless people called the right number for the country he’s in every time (which is unlikely when he’s crossing the border so often).

  22. There’s a company called Flextel that might help you out…

    http://www.flextel.com/

    This is the service that my business advisor uses. He gives me a single UK number and it redirects to wherever he is, be that South America, Africa or the UK.

  23. Was just about to say exactly the same as Richard (29), as soon as I get to Worth Matravers for a pint I get a message saying “Bienvenue” and O2 switches to a French network….

  24. in view of the various comments about cross border signal availability, can’t help wondering if the answer to Tim’s question lies in the phone settings.
    Just changed the ‘network selection’ on mine from ‘automatic’ to ‘manual’ & it searched & came up with the available networks. If he manually selects for his provider’s network, it should stop it acquiring another signal & ‘roaming’ via the second country’s network. No?
    Problem’s going to come when using the phone in the normal way. I presume there’s some sort of agreement between providers that lets each provider’s customers ride on other networks to facilitate coverage. (I’m thinking my third party provided SIM seems to be using whichever of the networks it can connect to, because I don’t always get the same network showing.) This may restrict usability when traveling about. But it’s not a major hassle, changing the setting back & forth.
    If this works for voice, can’t see why it wouldn’t work for data. Possible second setting for data network selection?

  25. bis (#32), he’s talking about up to 25km inside each border. Other than oddities such as my Worth Matravers drinking hole, would coverage normally extend that far?

  26. @Richard
    Probably suck it & see. Sangatte/Dover is 30km+. Isle of Purbeck/Cherbourg best part of 80 & over the horizon. But nothing but sea between. If it doesn’t work, nothing lost. It works he’s saved a packet.
    Surprising what’s possible. I’m stealing a bar’s wifi at a km by using a sat dish with a wifi dongle at the focus. Signal’s not strong enough to cross the street, otherwise.

  27. @bis
    True; worth a try, but it’s the what’s in between that will cause the problems.
    The sat dish idea is interesting; that might help me out with something, thank you.

  28. @ Richard
    The focus on a sat dish is offset. If you look at the calibrations on the mount, you’ll see they don’t agree with the inclination. If you’re using it to pick up a ground based signal, it may be better to mount it upside down

  29. In answer to some of the questions:

    30km is a long way and requires the network to make a couple of fiddly adjustments to do with timing. However it shouldn’t work across country borders because networks are supposed to control cross border pollution either by turning down the power or tilting down antennas. They don’t for obvious reasons.

    When you leave coverage your mobile starts a search algorithm: firstly looking at recent channels, then spreading it search across wider and wider frequency spectrum to cover all channels, including different frequency bands. This is time consuming and chews the battery so operators set the parameters so that the phone sleeps for ever longer periods between searches. Eventually it will start to look at non country networks ie start roaming.

    Its important to know this because in lots of areas where you think there is no coverage its because you phone hasn’t looked recently. The best thing to do when you’ve been out of coverage for while is to turn the phone off and then back on, or if you have an airplane mode toggle that off and on. This sets a new search going and you’ll find coverage must faster. It’s why you find a roaming network faster when you’ve been flying and turn the phone back on rather than crossing a land/sea border when the phone is desperate to hang on to its own network.

    If all you want is voice ditch the smart phones and go for one of the old mobiles that only did SMS. Smartphones generate so much internal noise what with all those processes running, wiki, Bluetooth and other background activities its a wonder the poor mobile receiver can hear anything. On this score the mobile operators are really pushing the phone manufacturers to improve the noise figures because it really slows down data connection speeds and (lack of) data capacity is what is killing them.

  30. I used a pair of pineapple juice cans to make a 2 km wireless link between my house and a friend’s, back when I was in an ADSL blackspot.

  31. Richard: Only in the parallel universe where all cows are spherical. But I did once make a device that transferred data (very slowly) over a piece of stretched string for a class demo.

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