Mobile phone charges: ‘Welcome to France’? But we’re in Kent

Residents and tourists at the foot of the white cliffs of Dover regularly get charged for using French network

Visitors to the famous white cliffs of Dover are getting a nasty surprise when they want to use their mobile phones – they are picking up a French signal at higher charges.

Residents and tourists in the seaside village of St Margaret-at-Cliffe and St Margaret’s bay at the foot of the Kent cliffs – just 18 miles from France – regularly get a “Welcome to France” message and the extra costs, including data roaming charges for smartphone users, from companies such as Orange F and SFR.

Landlord of the Coastguard pub and restaurant on the beach Nigel Wydymus, 53, said: “We are a little telecommunications enclave of France here.

“It did not cause a huge amount of trouble for a few years because you got a message saying ‘Welcome to France’, but since smartphones have come in it’s more of a problem.

“Obviously people strolling along the beach in England do not expect to be on a French network and so, unlike when they get off the plane in Spain or elsewhere, they haven’t switched off their data roaming and it causes some extra bills.

“In the village the French signal is patchy depending on the atmospherics and the weather, but here on the beach the French signal is constant because we are at the foot of the cliffs and the UK signal is blocked out.”

Costs for making a call on the French network can be up to four times the cost of using a domestic one with a cost of up to 28p to make a call and nearly 8p to receive one and nearly 9p to send a text.

The signal problem has upset locals who want something to be done to stop the extra charges and inconvenience.

A spokesman for EE said: “We always recommend our customers switch off roaming while they are in this little pocket of an area to ensure that they are connecting to the correct network because we cannot control the networks from the other side of the water.”

The issue is believed to affect all UK networks.

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I can’t squeeze my £50 deposit refund out of Orange

The mobile phone provider says speak to the store… then the store manager says speak to the provider

In June 2012 I upgraded my mobile handset and contract with Orange. I was told I had to pay a £50 deposit which would be credited to my account after four months. It has still not been recredited. Orange customer services says this was an offer made exclusively by the stores, so I would need to claim from the store where I signed the contract. However, the branch manager insists that they do not have the facilities to credit the account – so I must contact customer services. EW, Northwich, Cheshire

The delay had nothing to do with incompetence (of course not). It was a “technical issue”, says Orange. Amazingly, this seven-month issue resolved itself soon after I contacted the press office, and you should now have received your refund plus a placatory goodwill gesture.

If you need help, email Anna Tims at your.problems@observer.co.uk or write to Your Problems, The Observer, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include an address and phone number. Please note: Anna will not be able to respond to letters individually.

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iPhone app ‘could have landed parents with £200 bill’

Parents warned to be vigilant as in-app advertising pulled from Talking Friends Cartoons after storm of protest

Parents are being urged to be vigilant with their iPhones and iPad, following warnings by parenting groups about “immoral” in-app advertisements that could see children unwittingly spending hundreds of pounds.

The adverts are another controversy for developers, who have previously been criticised for including expensive in-app purchases within popular children’s apps.

The latest warning followed the launch of an iPhone app that could have resulted in children signing up to a £208 a year subscription service.

The Talking Friends Cartoons app, available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices, is based on the Talking Friends apps from developer Outfit7, including Talking Tom Cat and Talking Lila the Fairy. It allows users to learn more about their favourite characters, download wallpapers for their phones as well as watch short cartoons co-produced with Disney.

The app itself is free, but at the bottom of every screen is an banner that, when the app was first launched, carried an advert directing users to a quiz to win a 64GB iPad, promoted by a company called Yamoja.

To take part in the competition, users had to sign up to a subscription service costing £4 a week, for which they received four weekly texts containing content such as “funtones, wallpapers, games, celeb news & more”.

App commentator Stuart Dredge, who wrote about the adverts on his Apps Playground blog, said: “What an advert that tries to sign you up to a £4-a-week mobile content subscription was doing inside this app is genuinely beyond me.”

The advert has been pulled from the app, but another new launch, this time from National Geographic, includes an costly in-app extra.

Dino Land app – released in mid-February 2013 – has attracted controversy for allowing users to buy extra virtual “bones” in amounts up to £69.99. The bones, used to speed up gameplay, are particularly enticing to impatient children who wish to complete the game quicker.

Dino Land follows a succession of apps aimed at children that feature expensive in-app purchases, including Playmobil Pirates, Coin Dozer and Racing Penguin. Parenting websites are reporting increasing instances of parents being charged £500 or more after their children have made in-app purchases while playing games – and advise parents to ensure their devices block the purchases.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet co-founder and CEO, said: “App-developers need to build in greater controls from the start – it’s shocking that a few click-throughs from an advert can lead to a £200 cost for unknowing parents, and it shows just how important it is to keep an eye on your child’s device settings.”

Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting site Netmums, added: “Few people mind a couple of targeted ads which are relevant to the app service, as they realise it’s the price to pay for the ‘free’ app. But bombarding children using free apps with expensive products and services they can unwittingly sign up to a couple of clicks is immoral.”

Developers regularly offer apps for free, making their money from advertising or from users making “in-app purchases” (IAPs). These buy paid-for perks that often improve a game or offer the chance to play without adverts, but are controversial in apps aimed at children and can cost parents money if the purchase itself is not password protected.

When developers create a game they often contract out the advertising within it to a specialist, which can serve adverts from hundreds of different organisations.

The adverts in the Talking Friends Cartoons app are served by Google, which allows app developers and publishers to have control over the advertising content on their apps.

Samo Login, CEO of Outfit7, said his company pulled the adverts from the app as soon as it was alerted. He explained: “We have a strict policy in place regarding what advertisements are displayed within our apps and take this issue very seriously. Unfortunately, due to a technical glitch within one of our ad networks, this advert was displayed against our advertising policy.”

Outfit7 attracted controversy when it emerged in October 2012 that its Talking Ginger app featured adverts from payday loans company Wonga. Wonga later pulled its adverts from the app.

The Talking Friends series of apps have been downloaded more than 600 million times, with 120 million people a month and 10 million people a day actively using them.

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Which mobile phone is best for roaming?

Kindratyshyn is going travelling and wants to buy local sim cards to avoid roaming charges. Which phone should he buy?

I want to travel to other countries, buying sim cards for each one. Which phone should I get?
Kindratyshyn

Different countries use different mobile phone systems, and almost always use more than one waveband. However, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications, originally Groupe Spécial Mobile) is by far the most common, and has about 85% of the global market.

GSM is a second generation (2G) system, because the first generation of mobile phones used analogue systems.

GSM was adopted by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) and became the standard for Europe. Qualcomm’s CDMA – used by Verizon and Sprint – was already running in the USA, but carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile have now moved to GSM. You can probably get a GSM signal in most if not all US cities.

Japan also used its own system, developed by NTT, the national phone company. The NTT DoCoMo standard is not used anywhere else. Today, however, you can use third-generation (3G) GSM in Japan and South Korea.

GSM networks run at different wireless frequencies, and almost all countries have two. This led to the popularity of dual-band phones. In Europe, the two bands are 900 and 1800MHz, whereas the USA (and a couple of other countries) use 850 and 1900. Covering all four frequencies requires a quad-band phone.

3G is more correctly called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) and it is supposed to use the 2100 waveband. Not every carrier complies. The American government was already using this frequency, so some carriers resorted to alternatives. For example, Cingular’s 3G network uses 850 and 1900, and T-Mobile has used 1900 and 2100. It means some 3G phones will not work with some American 3G networks, which a problem for Apple iPhones.

At the moment, many carriers are marketing fourth generation systems, which may use either WiMax or, more commonly, a version of LTE (Long Term Evolution). However, 4G is more of a marketing term than a technical term, and it looks like being an even bigger mess than 3G. It’s OK as a local system, if you need the extra speed and are willing to pay the price, but I wouldn’t recommend it for roaming.

However, I do recommend getting a phone that includes Wi-Fi, so you can use Skype and other internet services from free hot-spots. This is even cheaper than using a local sim.

To sum up, you should buy a quad-band GSM phone that supports 3G UMTS 2100 (Band 1) as a minimum. If you compare specifications, you will find some 3G phones also offer UMTS on other bands including what the Americans call Band II (1900), Band IV (1700 or AWS), and Band V (850). Yes, this is crazy.

Before you buy a phone for roaming, check the specification very carefully. What looks like the same model phone may be designed for use in a particular country or even by a particular carrier. In fact, it’s safer not to buy a carrier-branded phone at all, as these are usually locked to the carrier that has subsidised the selling price. A locked phone won’t necessarily work with a different sim card.

Sim cards

All GSM mobiles must have a sim card, and they now come in three different sizes. These are the standard mini-sim (25 x 15mm), the micro-sim (15 x 12mm), and the nano-sim (12.3 x 8.8mm) used in the Apple iPhone 5. (Mini-sims are called sims for short, because nobody remembers the original credit card-sized version.)

When buying a phone for roaming, it’s much better to go for the standard mini-sim. You should definitely not buy one that uses a nano-sim at the moment. Standard mini-sim cards are instantly available in phone shops and at many airports. You have less chance of getting a micro-sim, and almost no chance of getting a nano-sim.

You can use a standard mini-sim in a micro-sim phone by cutting it down, preferably using a punch, but this requires extra effort and is not guaranteed to work. While most carriers will swap a standard sim for a micro-sim, they usually do it by post. This is not much use if you are in a foreign country and need to make calls in a hurry.

You can often use a micro-sim card in a phone that takes standard mini-sim cards by slotting it into a small plastic carrier. However, this does not work with phones that have push-in sim slots, such as the Nokia N8 and Samsung Galaxy Note. See The Curse of Micro SIM Adapters at All About Symbian for photos and gory details.

In some phones, the sim is stowed under the battery, so it is inconvenient to change. It usually means you have to re-enter the date and time as well. Slots are handier, and some Nokia phones have an Easy Swap system that allows you to swap sims without turning off the phone.

Dual sims

Some phones can also take two sims at the same time, so you can have one for work and one for personal use. This would be particularly handy for roaming. There are not many mainstream examples, but the Samsung Galaxy S Duos S7562 is a top-brand Android 4 smartphone that should do the job for a reasonable price. Otherwise, China’s Huawei is a major mobile phone supplier with a large selection of dual-sim mobiles.

You could also look at the Free Your Mobile website, which sells more than a dozen models on its All dual sim mobile phones page.

Free Your Mobile has a £199.99 Android touch-screen phone that it describes as by far the best selling and performing Android dual sim phone currently on the market, without formally giving it a name. However, it looks like the Chinavasion CVFD-M306 (£107.95), which is also widely available as the HDMI Droid.

I’ve not actually seen or tried one, but it’s a quad-band 3G phone. You have to take the back off the HDMI Droid to get to the two sims, which sit side by side. At least they are not underneath the battery.

There are loads of similar 4.3in and 3.5in screen dual-sim phones available from Alibaba.com and the dropshippers who serve an army of eBay sellers and small traders, as well as some more adventurous consumers.

Dropshippers of tech products may be based in Hong Kong, and sell cheap products sourced from mainland China. Quality is not guaranteed, you may not get much if any after-sales service, and the ultimate price can be inflated by customs charges, so “buyer beware”. You can pick up bargains; you can also get scammed. If you use Western Union to send money to Shenzhen, I don’t see how you could get it back.

One final thought. A friend who is a permanent traveller (has a job on a large yacht) says she tries to buy data-only sims for roaming, and then makes phone calls using Skype. There’s no point in having dozens of voice numbers that rarely work, is there?

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Is Vine video a fine idea?

We’ve filmed some six-second videos of our office, and we want to see yours. What do you make of the latest Twitter feature?

What is new technology for if not to provide a distraction from work? Twitter’s Vine app allows you to film and share up to six seconds of video in tweets without any faffing around. It’s not long, but is enough to show people how busy your train is, how much it’s snowing outside, or even how to make steak tartare.

Have you had a go with it yet? My colleague Hannah Waldram tested it with a trip to the tea point (luckily she ran out of time before she was able to reveal the colour of the “tea” that comes out of our machines).

Testing out Vine: @guardian tea break #firstpost vine.co/v/b5HMA9Aee1j

— Hannah RW (@hrwaldram) January 24, 2013

She’s now put together a quick tour of the office:

.@guardian HQ hard at work – #Vine testing vine.co/v/b5t2z6ALXLu

— Hannah RW (@hrwaldram) January 25, 2013

Hannah was impressed with the design and ease of Vine. “With Tumblr reigniting the popularity of the retro animated gif, I have no doubt many will enjoy creating and sharing unique titbits of video,” she says.

“It’s an extension of twitpic and twitvid, which have been popular, and similar to other short-animation apps in vogue at the moment like Cinemagram and 1 second every day.”

My own efforts were less successful. I liked using it, but my efforts to share videos fell at an early hurdle – I failed to tick that I wanted to tweet the video as I uploaded it and can’t work out how to do so retrospectively. Does anyone know if that’s possible? (If it isn’t, you’ll have to visit Vine to enjoy the view from my desk.) And six seconds seemed far too short for anything much.

If you’ve got a spare six seconds today, and an iPhone (annoyingly it’s not yet on Android) perhaps you could do the same – show us your workplace and let us know what you think of Vine. Can you imagine this being something genuinely useful, or are you dreading having to see more of your friends’ cats?

Tweet your workplace films to @guardianmoney. If you’ve already got the hang of it and fancy winning some CDs, or sharing more artistic creations than an office panorama, my colleagues on other desks would like to hear from you.

Your Vines

@daveharte has shared this film he made yesterday of something we are probably all looking forward to:

Home time vine.co/v/b5HX9YbJ9F3

— Dave Harte (@daveharte) January 24, 2013

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Orange could not accept a Sim-ple fact

When my smartphone connections failed, they blamed everything except the obvious – Sim card malfunction

I have a two-year monthly contract with Orange for an HTC Smartphone. In June I began having problems connecting to the network, not just in Bristol where I live, but everywhere.

I could not make calls, send texts or access the internet. I would occasionally get service for a minute or two, then nothing.

Orange suggested I try various things, none of which worked. From its diagnostics it said it could not be a Sim card problem. Customer service was poor and nobody seemed to want to get to the root of the problem.

It suggested there was a problem with the phone and asked me to contact HTC, which I did. HTC was surprised. We went through some basic procedures but with no improvement. HTC thought it was an Orange problem, and Orange thought it was an HTC problem.

Exasperated as the weeks went by with repeated calls for help yet with no solutions, I suggested that it could be a Sim card problem after all.

Very reluctantly, Orange finally agreed to send me a new one – and as soon as I put this in I was connected. I had never touched the Sim and have no idea why it would malfunction.

Orange simply refused to take any responsibility, even though I had been without use of my phone for more than a month, losing me business, money and causing a great deal of frustration. MF, Bristol

Orange denies any liability for your problems. It says that when you first contacted them they asked you to try putting the Sim into another phone and when you did, it worked, leading them to conclude that this was not a Sim issue. It then suggested you contact HTC.

Orange says that it would not replace the handset because it was out of warranty and you did not have Orange Care, its insurance product. Mobile phone insurance usually turns out to be an expensive waste of money, so we can appreciate your decision not to opt for it.

Orange acknowledges it did eventually agree to send you a new Sim but cannot answer why your phone then started working. It suggested you must have got a new handset – you say you hadn’t.

We went back to Orange to suggest its customer service could have been better, and that it could have just sent you a new Sim once you told it HTC had tested the phone and found no problem. This would have, at least, demonstrated Orange’s efforts to resolve the situation by ruling out a Sim issue once and for all.

It says, however, that it will not send a Sim unless a customer specifically requests one and continues to maintain that it was not a Sim issue. Eventually, it agreed to credit your account with £40 as you are a “valued customer”.

It is difficult for us to definitely conclude what the issue was with the phone but we do understand your frustrations with Orange. The volume of complaints about Orange in our inbox relative to other network providers, suggests the company has more issues than the others.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@guardian.co.uk or write to Bachelor & Brignall, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number

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