24 Dec 2012

Vodacom LTE Network tips

I recently activated a Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE to try out Vodacom's next generation LTE data network - Here are a few hints and tips I picked up along the way:
  1. LTE is not available on prepaid - You need to have a Vodacom contract to activate LTE.
  2. You can activate LTE on your contract yourself by logging in to vodacom.co.za or calling 111, but...
  3. You can't activate LTE on a 32K SIM card (this is not a problem on micro SIMs)
  4. You can activate LTE on a data SIM that is linked to a primary Vodacom contract as long as your primary number is on a 64K SIM card (or higher). I had to do a SIM swap on my primary 32K SIM at a cost of R63 (and activation of the linked data SIM cost R90).
  5. It may be helpful to set the 'Network mode' to WCDMA or GSM only and then manually 'select a network operator' while you are trying to get set up. My test phone could not locate a data signal for the first time while it was in 'Auto mode'. I think it's because I didn't have LTE coverage at the time, you can check Vodacom LTE coverage here.
  6. There is a glitch with a batch of the LTE version of the Samsung Galaxy S3 where the phone will prompt your for a 'network unlock code' at first boot (unfortunately I got one of the bad batch). You need to phone Samsung SA (08607267864) and have your IMEI number handy to get this problem sorted.
  7. LTE is fast, 46% faster than HSDPA in my initial speed tests, so you might like to set your device to only update apps over WiFi if you can (under Settings in the Play Store) - Otherwise your updates could run while you are out (and all your data will be gone) before you have a chance to realise what's happened. Alternatively you can control 'Automatic updating' at an individual app level in the Play Store as well. I'd recommend a fairly strict approach as Vodacom LTE really tears through data.
  8. You can extend your battery life (and manage your data consumption quite well) by setting your 'Network mode' to 'GSM only' for day to day use as this setting is fine for most web browsing and email type tasks. Only switch over to WCDMA or LTE for specific data hungry tasks like downloads and watching YouTube, then switch back to GSM when you are done.
Hope you find my tips helpful. Please add any additional ones you may know in the comments...

23 Dec 2012

Vodacom 4G LTE data network speed test results

I have been entrusted with a gorgeous Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE handset from Vodacom to put their new LTE data network (also referred to as 4G) to the test. Here are the results of my initial speedtest.net tests conducted in the Emmarentia area, Johannesburg, South Africa....

Note that the signal strength indicator dropped to 3/4 bars during the '4G'/LTE test so I will need to find a location where I can get full strength and then retest to reveal the full potential of the Vodacom LTE network. (Update: I have since located an area with full Vodacom 4G signal and I actually achieved less impressive results than with 75% signal, but I will keep scouting...)

None the less, I am already impressed by the speed on offer by the Vodacom LTE data network in spite of not having full signal - LTE download test results are 46% faster than HSDPA and LTE upload test results are an amazing 432% faster than HSDPA (at the same location).

You can also get a feel for every day Vodacom LTE performance here or get Vodacom LTE network tips here.

Vodacom 4G/LTE speedtest.net results, Emmarentia, Johannesburg


Vodacom HSDPA/3G speedtest.net results, Emmarentia, Johannesburg

For what it's worth, I got about 2.5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload on Vodacom LTE with 1 bar of signal strength, so network performance is better on full signal HSDPA than average / low signal LTE.

27 Oct 2012

Change your name in Vodacom Please Call Mes

At it's simplest, you can send a Vodacom Please Call me by dialing *140*vodacomnumber# to send a free SMS message to a Vodacom Subscriber who hopefully has some airtime to get in touch with you.

You can customize your Please Call Me settings by dialing *140#

A USSD menu will pop up with the following options:
  1. Block/Unblock Call Me Messages
  2. Send Recharge Me
  3. Send Call Me
  4. Change Name
  5. Disable/Enable Adverts
The option to change your name will let you change your own, custom 10 character name / message once a day and the Disable/Enable Advert option will stop you from receiving adverts in Vodacom Please Call Mes that are sent to you. You can also block Vodacom Please Call Me messages entirely by selecting option 1.

29 Sep 2012

How my SMS and airtime websites make money

The promise of Free SMS and daily airtime draws are fairly decent traffic generators. Thousands of visitors hit my websites every day and while there are no dodgy subscription fees attached to my services and I do not sell user data, someone needs to foot the airtime and SMS bills at the end of the month (me).

I am surprised by how many people ask me how I pay the bills as the answer is a very simple one - Online advertising. Google AdSense provides me with an income stream that correlates to the number of visitors hitting my websites which enables me to buy more SMS and airtime as the sites get more traffic.

It's not simple to say how many people win airtime in a day or how many free SMS can be sent in a day as these numbers fluctuate each month (depending on advertising revenue) but are slowly increasing in the long term to sustain growth as traffic (and advertising revenue) increases. I do give as much advertising revenue back in the form of SMS and airtime as I can, though there are also other costs associated with running websites that need to be covered as well.

Right now the ratio of SMS to airtime spend is around 2:1 and my SMS site generally offers a better return on investment than my airtime site, but this may change in future if demand for free SMS dwindles (but hopefully it won't).

Thousands of SMS are sent from free082sms.co.za every month and visitors have way more chance of winning some airtime from ehtime.co.za than winning Vodacom millionaires or the Lotto :) You can see a list of some of the people on Twitter who have won airtime here.

1 Aug 2012

Vodacom4me doesn’t ‘exist’ anymore, but people are still searching for it…

I find it curious that in spite of the fact that vodacom4me.co.za has been offline for more than a year and a half that people are still searching for it.

Google’s keyword tool shows that the ‘Vodacom4me’ search term is still typed in to Google more than 90 000 times a month and I count this as pretty significant traffic potential. Vodacom ranks in the first position as one might expect, but this search term on Google remains the highest source of traffic for my free SMS website. Free082SMS used to rank really well in the ‘Vodacom4me’ search results, but then Vodacom introduced CAPTCHA images on their free SMS functionality, Google rolled out the Penguin algorithm update and my ranking crashed to the bottom of page 1.

It’s annoying that my competitor is still ranked at number 2 for the ‘Vodacom4me’ search term. I remember chasing this website as my primary competitor in the old days and eventually I got my site to rank for 3 separate pages, all above this competitor. But it’s like I have been time warped back to 3 years ago and suddenly I’m at the bottom of the pile again. I know I am biased towards my own website but I cannot understand this. My competitor’s website is largely neglected and should frankly be taken offline as it does not offer any value to visitors – it’s broken and has not been updated since Vodacom started blocking free SMS robot sites (though I’m not sure about the working condition of the CellC and MTN SMS functionality). 

It is ironic that I actually made content changes to my website to reflect the change in the availability of SMS from Vodacom, though I think this was not the major reason for my plummeting search position as I have since reworked a lot of the old content back with very little effect on my rankings. I have to unfortunately suspect that the primary reason for my drop is the Google Penguin update, though frustratingly I don’t really understand exactly why it is affecting me (I did not receive any warnings or recommendations in Google Webmaster tools).

I have never paid for any links and I have close to 4000 followers on Twitter (hundreds of whom are genuinely engaged); 200 Likes on one Facebook page and another 82 likes on another Facebook page; I have more than 60 genuine +1s on Google. My competitor has zero social presence and is on the same domain as a blog that was last updated in 2009 – This makes it hard for me to believe that social media is a really important factor in SEO. Never mind the fact that my site actually works, but also looks much cooler than my competitor’s, loads faster and provides a much better user experience (I have received compliments saying as much from several users over the years).

I have gone off at a tangent though. I think that people are still searching for Vodacom4me because Vodacom never really replaced the Vodacom4me brand with anything else and people are hoping to find free Vodacom SMS. Search volume for ‘Vodacom free SMS’ has increased since vodacom4me.co.za went offline and I used to actually rank number 1 for this search term on Google, but annoyingly I am now playing 2nd fiddle on this one to my competitor too! It doesn’t seem to make sense?

No matter, I will figure this out (or Google will realise that Penguin has been unfair on me), I hope…

30 May 2012

Why I stopped tweeting airtime pins #AirtimeAsseblief

I run a website that does daily airtime draws in South Africa - ehtime.co.za. I thought it would be a great idea to tweet R5 airtime pins to generate hype on Twitter and promote my website(s). I even got the okay from @Vodacom to piggy back on their #AirtimeAsseblief Twitter campaign. It seemed like an excellent idea, but in reality it wasn't so great...
  • Tweeting airtime pins generated mostly negative sentiment
  • People were accusing me of Tweeting invalid / used airtime
  • Losers were playing the guilt card and trying to make me give them airtime
  • Winners didn't even tweet a lot of the time, so this offset all the negativity even more
  • People were wasting entire days refreshing my Twitter stream and harassing me - This point by itself was enough to make me stop, I had not intended for people to sit glued to Twitter all day, rather that airtime tweets would be a nice surprise that winners might stumble across by pure chance
  • It wasn't unusual for the same people to win repeatedly - even after I started tweeting the airtime pins backwards to try and give other people more of a chance
  • This meant that it wasn't unusual for the same people to lose repeatedly and become even more unreasonable about not winning
  • My website(s) did not experience any increase in traffic as a result of the airtime tweets (and traffic is what pays the airtime bills)
  • I don't think anyone got much sustainable value out of any of the above points
So I stopped tweeting airtime pins and reallocated the entire airtime budget to my airtime draw website (I am still giving away as much airtime as before, it's just all from ehtime.co.za now).

If you would like to win airtime then please enter the draw at http://ehtime.co.za, it runs every day! Additional entries are accepted after a waiting period that the site will display to you, so people can enter more than once a day to increase their chances of winning if they would like to. This way people's involvement influences their chance to win airtime directly and it does not require them to waste their time watching @mobidk tweets all day. Instead, winners are randomly selected (without human intervention) at 4pm and their voucher pins are sent to them by SMS. Entries for all the South African cellular providers are accepted as well, so it's not just limited to Vodacom or MTN.

If you ask me this is a much better #AirtimeAsseblief deal for everyone, and that's why I'm not tweeting airtime pins any more.

24 May 2012

How I made a global Joomla! website compliant with EU cookie legislation

I have seen a lot of solutions to make UK Joomla! websites compliant with the new EU cookies laws that come into effect on 26th May 2012 (2 days time as I write this). But I have not come across any solutions for global Joomla! websites, where not all visitors are from the EU, so the cookie opt in requirements do not apply to all visitors. Here’s how to target cookie opt-in at just EU visitors, without affecting visitors from else where.

  1. Do a cookie audit of your site to figure out what cookies are set and which of them are not essential to the functioning of your website – Tabulate all your findings to describe all cookies that are set by name, lifetime and description in your privacy policy. (Joomla sets an initial session cookie, and another to keep track of authenticated sessions when users login – I judged these 2 as essential). Work from the ico.gov.uk privacy policy if you need a guide.
  2. Install the ‘MetaMod’ Joomla! module – This is a really powerful and versatile module for user experience customization, but I used it specifically for its ability to display modules to visitors based on their location (determined by IP address) in this instance.
  3. Create a ‘Cookie opt-in’ form module that sets a ‘CookiesAccepted’ cookie (for 2 years) and reloads the current page when users 'opt in'.
  4. Identify modules that are setting non-essential cookies and replace them with MetaMod modules that only load content when ‘The user is not from the EU OR the CookiesAccepted cookie has been set'. Otherwise you should insert a message to explain that ‘This content can not be loaded, unless you accept cookies from this site…’. Common examples include: Analytics, Twitter, YouTube and DISQUS*.

e.g.  where $optinCountries is an array including all 27 EU countries..
$optinCountries = array('AT','BE','BG','CY','CZ','DK','EE','FI','FR','DE','GR','HU','IE','IT','LV','LT','LU','MT','NL','PL','PT','RO','SK','SI','ES','SE','GB');

if (!(in_array($fromCountryId, $optinCountries)) || isset($_COOKIE['CookiesAccepted'])) {
//full cookie loading code goes here
} else {//you need to accept cookies message}

5. Using another MetaMod module, set the Cookie opt-in form module to load for EU users (27 country codes) who have not opted in to accept cookies from your site (the ‘CookiesAccepted’ cookie is not set yet).

Now when an EU visitor hits your site:  The cookie opt-in will display as long as they do not accept cookies from your site. If they accept cookies then the correct functionality will display in the MetaMod modules and the opt-in form will disappear. Your Joomla! site will be compliant with EU cookie legislation without affecting non-EU visitors!

*DISQUS is a Joomla! plugin, not a module but it can be toggled (hacked) to be compliant using the same logic as shown the example above. 

4 Apr 2012

Free082SMS expands its Free SMS offering to the UK

South African free SMS site, Free082SMS.co.za is now offering free text to the UK through its new sister site Free2text.co.uk.

Free082SMS receives a lot of traffic from the United Kingdom, (no doubt because of all the SAFAs over there) so there was a growth opportunity for the company to start catering to the UK more directly. Both sites are available internationally to users who want to send text or SMS messages to either of these destinations and the sites are linked to provide a seamless user experience.

Free2text.co.uk operates under the same conditions as Free082SMS in that free texts are released to users in batches on a first come first serve basis. So you may need to 'try again later' when text reserves become available again if you hit the sites at a very busy time.

Free text to the UK may be more appealing to users from outside the UK though, particularly in South Africa where the cost of an SMS to the UK is typically around R1.75 per text. Though demand for free text messages may not be as high as it once was with the prolific onset of smartphones and multiple data based instant messaging apps.

For the moment SMS and text are here to stay and now you can send free SMS to South Africa and free text to the UK.

2 Apr 2012

Vodacom blocks SMS robots with CAPTCHA

Vodacom has implemented a CAPTCHA on their SMS forms on vodacom.co.za.

The CAPTCHA (distorted 'polthed' text in the above image) is intended to make it difficult for 3rd party robots to send free SMS from vodacom.co.za. Websites that will be affected by this CAPTCHA include popular free SMS robot sites Free082SMS.co.za and defza.com. However, Free082SMS does offer several alternative options for free SMS in South Africa.

Otherwise Vodacom users are now forced to login to the desktop version of vodacom.co.za directly to access their ration of 20 free Vodacom SMS per day. I'm sure that Vodacom is hoping that this move will encourage Vodacom users to make increased use of the Vodacom website and get more involved in the new Vodacom Community.

Update: It is possible to access your 20 free SMS from the My Vodacom App on smartphones and it is also possible to login to the desktop version of the Vodacom website from certain phones - more info here.

15 Mar 2012

Android OS running on a BlackBerry device

Imagine Android running on a BlackBerry device. It’s not a new idea but I can not believe that RIM has not released a droid - it would put them back in the game.

I have always believed that BlackBerry is about the services, not the hardware, but the domination of touch only smartphones has made me change my mind. I really love physical keyboards and I have a hard time imagining more than 1 or 2 Android devices that offer a physical QWERTY. To me there is an obvious gap in the market here that could very obviously be filled by the handset maker that has always made the best physical keyboards – RIM.

But what about those services I was talking about? Yes I know, anyone without a BlackBerry is sick (to death) of hearing about how awesome BIS / BES is. But here it is again – The BlackBerry Internet Service is awesome and unlimited browsing / email would only compliment the Android offering. I know that similar data packages are on their way for non-BlackBerry devices to prove this point either way, so RIM is slow off the mark here.

BBM would come along for the ride and what better way to introduce BlackBerry messaging to the Android ecosystem than on BlackBerry devices running Android? But I think the greater messaging offering that BlackBerry could bring to Android is in email. Email is an area that BlackBerry has handled really well (historically) and where Android is lacking – “shouldn't Android have a consistent, native app that rivals the iPhone?”. I’m sure that email on Android is another gap that RIM could innovate in.

The advantages for RIM in releasing Android on BlackBerry are numerous. Android would make RIM relevant again.

In the real world, perhaps a BlackBerry /Android hybrid wouldn’t have ALL the pros of both BlackBerry and Android but when I imagine it I see synergy and I think it will be a real shame if we never see Android running on BlackBerry. 

Will it ever happen? My guess is that RIM will probably substitute BB OS for Windows phone if they do venture out into a different operating system, but who knows?