Data usage

As those who read my blog yesterday will know, I recently had the unpleasant experience of having my iPhone stolen. This was very inconvenient in a number of ways, but most relevant to this blog post is the way your usage statistics are affected when you change handset. If you pick up an iPhone, open Settings.app and then go General → Usage → Mobile Usage, you can check out your Mobile Network Data statistics (how much data you have downloaded and uploaded using your iPhone). When a new handset arrives, this is reset (as you can probably tell from the screenshot).

When I was looking to upgrade from my iPhone 3GS, O2 had discontinued unlimited data on their new contracts, and Three had introduced The One Plan, which provides All You Can Eat data. AYCE is truly unlimited, with no hidden data caps, so that sounded good for VOIP. As such, I switched: I paid £159 for my iPhone, with a contract costing £35 a month. The contract gave me 2000 minutes, 5000 minutes to other Three users, and 5000 text messages a month, as well as unlimited data and unlimited free tethering. But how much would I have paid had I gone with a different network? Let’s find out!1 (And please do bear in mind that this entry is a little tongue-in-cheek!)

From memory, in the period of time between 15th October 2011 and 15th February 2012, I downloaded around 85GB of data through my 3G connection, with around 60GB uploaded.2 It is worth noting that these numbers are not typical — I use far more than the average user, and so most people won’t need to worry about this. If you are worried about using more than a gigabyte or two of data in a month, then I recommend you get a phone with either T-Mobile or Three, for reasons I’ll outline below.

If we assume that both download and upload count against a data limit, then that’s 145GB downloaded over a four month period, which is roughly 35GB per month. What I’m going to do is see how much that would cost on each other network. I’m only looking at twenty-four month contracts (the same as mine) in which the iPhone would have had an upfront cost of around £159, since that seems like a fair comparison. I’m also going to assume that the contracts I’m looking at include tethering at no additional cost.3

O2

I’m going to start with O2, since they’re the company I was originally with. O2 offer a contract that comes with 2GB of data per month and a handset for £169, at £41/month. This means I need to work out what it would cost to add 33GB a month to the plan. As I found out, from O2 Support, 1GB of extra data is £10:

+£10.00 The Works 1GB (You can add two of these a month)

This means I’ve reached 4GB, from 2GB, so I only need to work out how to add the remaining 31GB. Any further spending will need to be paid for on a per-megabyte basis. A further perusal of O2’s website reveals the O2 Pay Monthly Tariff Terms (PDF file), which reveal:

Data usage is measured in kilobytes (KB) and charged at £3.06 per MB. 1MB = 1024
Kilobytes (KB), 1024 MB = 1 Gigabyte (GB).

So, let’s work this out. 2GB of data come with the contract, at £41 per month. To make that 4GB, you need to buy two bolt ons, which come at £20, which make that £61 per month. To get to me actual usage, I need to add 31 GB of data at £3.06 per MB. That works out as 1024 multiplied by 31 multiplied by £3.06, giving a result of £97,136.64 in addition to the £61 a month already calculated. This means £97,162.64 extra per month.

Conclusion: £388,660.56 extra over the course of four months.

Orange

Orange comes next, since they’re the next tab I have open in Chrome. Orange’s highest monthly data limit is 2GB, just like O2, but you can get that with a phone for £139.99, at £61/month. However, I couldn’t find any data pertaining to extra data on the iPhone. The Orange Mobile Internet / Data Charges page tells you to refer to the Orange price guide (PDF file) for iPhone costs, but that doesn’t appear to contain any information on how to exceed the 2GB limit, and the closest I could find was:

£3.06 per Megabyte, up to a maximum of £1.54 a day, this too is subject to a daily fair use limit of 25MB.

As far as I can see, one of two things are true: Either the fair use limit prevents the user going above an extra 25MB/day, or there is no price cap for those exceeding the fair use limit. To get a value on how much extra it would cost, we’ll assume it’s the latter.

Conclusion: £413,718.08 extra over the course of four months.

Tesco Mobile

Tesco offers the phone for £200 on a £35/month contract which yields 1GB of data. As far as I can see, there is no way to add data to this via a bundle (although the Irish Tesco Mobile website does give a way to do this, interestingly). The Tesco pay monthly tariff terms & conditions give us this information:

Once you have used all your Inclusive Credit, any data use which would previously have been included will be charged at the current rate. Click here for details.

This means that the remaining data will be charged (according to the link above) at 60p/MB. This works out to be 1024 multiplied by 34GB multiplied by £0.60.

Conclusion: £83,558.40 extra over the course of four months.

Vodafone

Vodafone charges £139 for a handset with 1GB/month at £41/month, which is in the same area as the previous two companies. The Vodafone Pay Monthly data costs have this to say about the Premium Pack, which costs £15:

While our Premium Pack gives you a whopping 2GB extra each month – great news if you regularly watch YouTube videos or have apps that access the internet frequently.

The page doesn’t stipulate that you can buy multiples, and it might be wise to assume you can only buy one such pack. This means we have 32GB of data to find from somewhere. The same page has this to say:

If you choose not to buy a Standard or Premium Pack, we’ll automatically charge you £5 for 250MB of UK web access as soon as you go over the data allowance already included in your price plan.

This would mean that the extra data would cost £20 per gigabyte used, bumping the extra cost up to £2,644 extra over a four month period. However, to be kind to Vodafone, we’ll assume that we can just buy the extra in Premium Packs, since the page doesn’t tells us otherwise.

Conclusion: £1,044 extra over the course of four months.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile breaks the mould because they started offering unlimited data in January of this year, and their plan also comes with unlimited calls and text messages. An iPhone comparable to mine, at £139 for the handset, is £41/month. I’m rather surprised by this because T-Mobile and Orange are actually now both owned and operated by Everything Everywhere, and the difference between the two companies in this instance is absolutely staggering.

Conclusion: £24 extra over the course of four months.

The conclusions

When I started writing this blog entry, I had no idea quite how much money I’d be talking about. If you’re a heavy data user, like me, it will cost you insane amounts of money to be with O2, Orange or Tesco Mobile, and a mildly mental amount to be with Vodafone. And all the above assumes that the companies in question would put up with the amounts of data involved instead of simply cutting you off for breach of contract (an assumption which, it must be said, is probably a bad one!).

Both Three and T-Mobile offer good tariffs with reasonable upfront costs. I have recently used mobiles on both networks4 and both have good signal, in my experience (your mileage may vary). So, if you’re looking for a new phone and you need data, you need look no further than these two companies.


  1. Since I tend not to use many minutes or text messages on my iPhone, I’m not going to spend much time considering the fact that both are limited on The One Plan. If you are someone who uses more than 2000 minutes/5000 texts in a month, then feel free to disagree with my assessment of which mobile provider is best! 
  2. A combination of VOIP with video every night plus using The One Plan’s free tethering really made those numbers rocket. 
  3. This is true of O2, who allow customers to tether for free and take the data used out of the monthly data allowance. 
  4. My iPhone, which is with Three, and my Nokia 3510i, which had an Orange SIM card (T-Mobile customers and Orange customers share cell towers, since the two companies are now under the same parent company). 

Stolen iPhone

If you follow me on Twitter, or we’re friends on Facebook, then you may well be aware that my iPhone 4S got stolen on the evening of 10th April. I was with my girlfriend at a bus stop, and someone grabbed it from my hands and sprinted away. It was a surprisingly harrowing experience — given that no physical damage was done to either of us — and not one I want to repeat in the near future. I’m bringing it up here to address some of the concerns I stumbled across between it being stolen and restoring from a backup.

Dealing with the theft

A screenshot of the list of devices I can find on Apple's iCloud.
Find My iPhone

I have heard so many stories about people finding their phone’s thief via Apple’s Find my iPhone service (available as an iOS app or from the iCloud website). After calling the police, I immediately logged into the service, but my iPhone was reported as being offline. You can send a message to your handset even if it isn’t showing up, and you can ask it to send you an email next time the iPhone’s location is found. I ticked the relevant boxes and decided to hope an email came through. When the police arrived they took my Apple ID (email and password) to try and use the same service.1

As well as taking my Apple ID details, the police wrote down my statement, and also walked me through processes like cancelling the SIM card. They have a list of phone numbers for all the major British mobile networks, and so I was able to phone my provider, Three. They were able to cancel the SIM that had been in my phone, and a new one was put into the mail for me. The next step was to lodge an insurance claim, which I did the next morning. After I’d sorted all the annoying parts out (talking to the police, the phone company and the insurance company), I started to delve into the tech aspects of what I could do.

Securing the phone

The first thing I did was limit the access the phone had to various web services that I use. I started with Gmail, since it literally contains every email I’ve received over the last eight years and there’s potentially a goldmine of personal information to be found there. Fortunately, I use something called two factor authentication on my account2. This means you need a code and the password in order to access my account. This makes me a lot safer from people trying to access it online. It also means that any apps that can’t use this system (for example, the iPhone’s Mail client) have to use a specially generated password to access my account, which I was able to revoke, thus cutting off the thief’s potential access (I also cut him off from my YouTube account, which was possibly less urgent).

Another step I took with Gmail was to close any open sessions that I have, and force every computer other than my laptop to ask for my password and authentication code next time I tried to use it. This was a bit of a pain, but it meant the thief would not be able to access my email at all on my phone. I did the same with my Facebook account, and I changed the password on my work email address so that it would be inaccessible.

Losing my data

When I returned home, I looked at iPhoto and iTunes, because I wanted to see what the backup status of the phone was. I checked Photo Stream, which showed that the photographs I had taken the previous day had uploaded to iCloud, but the photographs I had taken on the day the phone was stolen had been lost. Since I uploaded a few to Instagram on my travels, they’re not totally gone, but it’s still a little irritating. I also checked the iPhone’s profile in iTunes to see when the last iCloud backup had been. It told me 4th April, about a week prior to the theft; it was roughly coincident with the last time I’d plugged my phone into my Mac to charge. That was more annoying, since a week is a lot of lost data!

A train operated by CrossCountry Trains speeding through a station.
CrossCountry Trains

The most annoying thing to lose was the Train Tickets app by CrossCountry Trains. They’ve just started charging £1 to get tickets from self-service machines in train stations, and the only free delivery option is now something called an m-ticket. This sends a barcode (which is your ticket) to the app, and you show it on the train when asked for your ticket. This is all very well, but if your phone has been stolen, it presents obvious issues. I rang CrossCountry and selected the appropriate options to talk about an existing reservation, and was put through to an overseas call centre.

I explained my situation, said I was willing to pay a surcharge for one of the non-free delivery methods, and asked whether my ticket could be resent to me. I was told no. Asking to speak to a supervisor got me nowhere, and eventually the sales rep gave me the complaints centre phone number (she couldn’t transfer me because it’s a UK-based call centre) and I hung up. Upon ringing them, I was told that there was indeed something they could do: just install the app on another device. Ring the complaints centre, and give them the new app’s Download ID, and they can transfer the ticket. If you’re ever in this situation, bear that in mind!3

Replacing the phone

A photograph of a Nokia 3510i on a desk.
Nokia 3510i.

Fast forward to today, and, after using a Nokia 3510i4 for the better part of a week, I had the conversation with my insurance company that enabled me to go and buy my replacement iPhone 4S. I plugged my new SIM card in as soon as I got home, went through the setup, and input my Apple ID details expecting to see the backup from two weeks ago show up. Instead, it reported that there were no backups.

Instantly, an icy sensation ran through me. What do you mean by no backups?

I checked iTunes to see whether there were any backups on my Mac, as opposed to on iCloud — no such luck. I then checked the iCloud panel in System Preferences, and it told me I had 1GB of space used for a backup made on 11th April, the day my phone was stolen5. Somewhat reassured that the issue should at least be a solvable one, I Googled, and found a very enlightening Apple Discussions thread. Imagine you have an iPhone running a new version of iOS, and you make a backup. If you then try to restore that backup to an iPhone running an older version, it turns out that iCloud will report you have no backups, with no further error nor explanation. This is a total travesty of user experience, and something that Apple badly need to work on.6

My iPhone 4S, before it was stolen, was running iOS 5.1, the latest version. The replacement I was given was running an older version. I selected ‘Set the iPhone up as a new phone’, selected to skip inputting my iCloud details and skipped as many steps as possible until iTunes showed the iPhone and I was able to register the handset and update the software to iOS 5.1. I then restored the iPhone to its factory settings through iTunes, followed the same steps and my iCloud backup showed up as clear as day.

Now that I’ve restored from that backup, I’ve logged into Find my iPhone and asked it to remotely wipe my iPhone next time it comes online. I also want to try to give Apple its serial number and IMEI number, in case anyone ever takes it to the Genius Bar to get it repaired.

Regardless of any teething problems I may have had, I was just happy to get my phone back up and running. Being without an iPhone was not a great experience for a host of reasons, and having a replacement lets me put this entire sorry mess behind me (as well as allowing me peace of mind regarding the train ticket situation). It could have been a lot worse, and I’m extremely grateful that it wasn’t.


  1. It almost surprised me that the police don’t have a more sophisticated method of tracking phones — something that doesn’t require the victim’s Apple ID password to work. It strikes me that anything like that would cause a huge outpouring of anti-surveillance sentiment. I think it’s good that the police cannot track random people just using their email address, but it does make me wonder whether the system could be improved to allow the police to track phones that have been stolen with the consent of a victim. Maybe that’s just the stuff of pipes. 
  2. There is also a YouTube video that explains two-factor authentication, available from Google Support. The code can be sent via telephone call, text message or smartphone app, so I recommend setting it up if you’re concerned about security. 
  3. Or restore the phone from a backup, and the app will be just as you left it — train tickets and all. 
  4. One review says “The 3510i is not highly recommended, due to software reliability problems and the fact that it’s an old phone with a limited specification: try the newer Nokia 3100 instead.” I thought this was fair enough, but then I noticed that the review was dated 2003. This phone was considered out-of-date nine years ago
  5. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that System Preferences and iTunes gave me dates for the last backup that were a week apart. It’s my theory (and I’d be glad to hear from anyone who could confirm or debunk this) that the “last backed up to iCloud” statistic in iTunes is simply the last backup before the most recent iTunes sync. This is obviously not a useful or reliable indicator of backup status. 
  6. Perhaps the app should show all iOS device backups, greyed out, with a message saying ‘your phone may require an update before being restored from a backup’. Or perhaps iCloud could look at the type of phone, look at backups made by the same type of phone, and then say, “this backup is from a more recent version of iOS, would you like to update this iPhone and then restore from this backup?”. This problem is totally not without obvious solutions, and the fact that it exists at all is not at all like Apple. 

Location location location

This evening, I went out for a meal and then some drinks with a variety of friends. Four different people have birthdays at this time of the month, and we were celebrating that. As part of this experience, we went to a restaurant and then two different bars — those bars were Hakamou and Pirates Bar Leicester1. I came away from the evening with some thoughts about the bars and wanted to write them up somewhere.

Hannah and I at Hakamou.
Hannah and I at Hakamou.

My first thought was Yelp, a website that allows people to rate and review places to eat and drink. I used Yelp to help inform my dining choices whilst holidaying on the west coast of the USA with my parents. What makes it so useful is the ease by which you can search for a certain type of restaurant and then see which of the restaurants available has the best ratings (as decided by the Yelp community). However, Yelp hasn’t really taken off in Britain properly — of the nine British venues I’ve reviewed, only one has attracted reviews from anyone else (two others, more than a year apart).2 I wrote a review for Hakamou anyway, but I have no idea whether anyone will find it useful, or whether they’ll even read it!

Where does this leave me? Well, I’ve also put the same review on Google.3 This is because the owners at Hakamou had taken the (very sensible) step of creating a verified listing for the business. Not only that, but Google was able to use my location preferences to work out I wanted to know about their Leicester branch, and not the bar in Northampton. On top of all that, Google realises that people may want to write a review for your venue, and provides a handy ‘write a review’ link under the search result. If there are already reviews for the venue available, it’ll provide a link to those, too, and you can go and peruse them at your leisure.

Hakamou's search result on Google.
Hakamou's search result on Google.

Google’s solution has one advantage over Yelp: its simplicity. Yelp requires you to answer a series of questions, on things like whether there’s a beer garden, what alcohol is available and whether children are welcome, whereas Google just wants a rating (1-5 stars) and a short review. It even removes paragraphs for you. Of course, this advantageous and concise approach to the problem is also Google’s disadvantage, since Yelp gives the user much more detail about the venue in question and also provides a higher level of analysis.

There is, of course, a third option that may not be as obvious: Foursquare. I use Foursquare a lot when I’m abroad or on holiday, since it helps remind me where I was and when. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s a significant feature to be able to offer! Foursquare isn’t really optimised for reviewing or in-depth analysis in the same way as Yelp is, but for short tips and one-line recommendations, it’s a very powerful tool. When using the service in far-away lands, the recommendations it gives can be incredible and really turn your evening around.

The company is clearly beginning to realise that it is this that is the real killer application for the network — the gamification aspect to the service is much less useful, if still a pretty fun way to operate a loyalty scheme. This is backed up by a couple of recent developments: Firstly, the radar feature in the new Foursquare apps on mobile devices. I personally don’t fancy having my GPS on permanently in order to take advantage of this, but it looks like a very good idea that would help you explore a city very efficiently. In fact, TechCrunch published an article not so long ago in which the company talks about helping people to discover and explore new things in such a way.

Location-based services, whether they’re based around networking or just providing information, are something incredibly useful. Unfortunately, in the United Kingdom they currently seem to be very much in their infancy, which is a huge shame. Screw flying cars — the thing that excites me most about the future is restaurant recommendations!4


  1. It’s a pirate-themed bar in Leicester. The name they’ve selected for the bar is not only completely unimaginative but also missing an apostrophe, which is almost as many criticisms as there are words in the name. Also, you’ll note that the link goes to Facebook, rather than a proper website; this is because they don’t have one. It’s 2012. Websites are easy. Keep up, please, people! 
  2. Chimichanga, in Peterborough, if you’re curious! 
  3. I’m still not sure what this feature is actually called. On my iPhone, when I search on Google for something, it seems to be called Google Places. However, the URL is maps.google.co.uk, which would seem to suggest it’s a feature within Google Maps — but saying I wrote a review on Google Maps would sound strange. Anyone? 
  4. Actually, that honour goes to FaceTime/iMessage, but restaurant recommendations are still fairly excellent. 

Footnotify and a site redesign

Recently I found a really cool Chrome extension called Footnotify, which takes footnotes (as you see them on Daring Fireball or Wikipedia) and renders them as a hovering box when you click them. If you are a regular reader of either site (or, indeed, a plethora of others) you too might find it handy.

The extension’s elegance and ease of use made me want to put footnotes on my website, too, and so I started fiddling with various footnote extensions for WordPress. Eventually, I got a little disillusioned, since none of them were working quite how I wanted — as a result I sought out PHP Markdown Extra, which includes footnotes and also a host of other neat ways to write online. It’s based on the syntax developed by John Gruber, who runs Daring Fireball, and so the footnotes it generates are guaranteed to work with Footnotify, right?

Wrong. The WordPress theme I was using completely screwed footnotes up, and so I went hunting for a new one. I had been using The Unstandard, which is the theme I’ve successfully implemented and used over on the Leicester Sabres website. It’s a very good theme that’s very visually powerful — for the Sabres, that means that we draw people into the site and get them reading. However, I don’t really do my website for the hits, and so I’m unsure that the very visual theme was suitable. I ended up looking for a new, simple, one-column theme1 and eventually found Blaskan, which is now in use on the site.

As a result, I’ve installed a new plugin ([Markdown Extra]) and installed a new theme (Blaskan). However, they aren’t the only changes, since Blaskan also has good support for smartphones and as a result I no longer need the plugin that enabled the mobile view I previously employed. Good news all round!

There’s one small problem — for some reason, Footnotify doesn’t work properly on the individual blog entries. If you click a footnote on the main homepage it’ll work fine, but on the page for this post, it’s broken. I installed the JavaScript that enables it on a website, in case having it on the site rather than as a Chrome extension was helpful, but that hasn’t changed anything; I’ve gotten in touch with the author and hopefully this will eventually be resolved.

Edited to add: Initially, I had a problem with Footnotify. It would work fine on the homepage, but on the entries’ pages themselves, it didn’t work correctly. After sending a missive to Michel Fortin, I was able to identify it as an issue with a plugin on my website. Something was causing the relative footnote links generated by [Markdown Extra] to become absolute links, and thus breaking the Footnotify plugin. After some trial-and-error, it turns out that it was an issue with Joost de Valk’s Google Analytics for WordPress plugin. I visited de Valk’s website, where I read:

For plugin support, please use the appropriate support forums on WordPress.org. Plugin support emails will be immediately discarded. The only reason the option in the contact form below is there, is so I can more easily filter away those emails for those who don’t bother to read this text.

As such, I couldn’t be bothered to notify him of the bug in his plugin, and am instead using a plugin called Google Analytics which is much simpler to configure and works perfectly for what I need it to do. And now, footnotes work how they should — hurray!


  1. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this theme is not one-column, since it has a sidebar. You’re entirely correct to notice that, but Blaskan can be configured to be one-column and so appears in several lists of such themes. 

Messages Beta on OS X: Return of the error

In my last post I described an issue I’d been having with iMessage, delivery confirmations and Messages on OS X. I fixed the issue by deactivating iMessage in the OS X client, and I thought that was the end of the issue, but I was wrong, because this morning, the same ‘Not Delivered’ messages came back with a vengeance. Now, I am a little obsessive-compulsive and these messages really annoy me,1 so naturally I wanted to get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Now, as you may or may not be aware, the Messages beta updates its dock badge to reflect the number of unread http://www.mindanews.com/buy-paxil/ iMessages even when it’s not running. As a result of this, I decided to run the app just to doublecheck it hadn’t done anything since I had quit it the night before.

Guess what I found?

If your guess was that the app had re-enabled iMessage with my Apple ID without my permission and thus resulted in the renaissance of the issues that I thought I had fixed, you guessed correctly – well done. If this happens again, I will be forced to uninstall the Messages beta permanently!


  1. And, given that I never delete messages on my iPhone, they will continue to do so until the end of time.