Category Archives: Travel

Getting Connected In Australia (Data/Internet)

Data is insanely expensive in Australia, especially compared to Singapore and China.  Just an Apples to Oranges comparison:

Australia(Prepaid): ~ AUD $10 /150 MB for Mobile Internet | AUD$30 / 2GB for Mobile Broadband

Singapore(Postpay): ~ SGD$30 / 12GB for Mobile Internet | SGD $15 / 30GB for Mobile Broadband

China(Prepaid): ~ SGD$2 / 60MB

#Disclaimer: Prepaid Data in Singapore is also insane.  China had their hotel wired up to provide free internet.  Australia, sadly, has nothing.

Despite the cost, the need to get internet connectivity out of office network was required, as I needed to VPN to SG and China to get some stuff done.  Of course, having a phone that depends on the cloud meant that without the cloud, the phone is pretty much junk. 

To feed my data addiction, I started to research on the various providers even before I came. 

I already have an unlocked modem from Singtel (all mobile devices in Singapore are unlocked anyway), so it doesn’t make sense to spend $80 bucks to get a new locked one here. However, only Optus and 3 seem to have BYO modem options.

3 is one of the smaller players, and they seems to be pretty helpful and upfront about what they do, for example, they have such helpful information easily available on their website, to assist those who intend to take the BYO option.

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I first went to an Optus Store along Elizabeth Street, where I was basically put off by the high rates they offered ($30 / GB prepaid).  I hopped over to the 3 store next door, and the rates were almost halved.  When the guy at the store heard that I was going for the BYO option, he was like “I’m not sure what setup you have, and some people do have problems setting up their devices on 3, and we do not necessary have the knowledge to support them.  However, if you wanna try it out first before buying anything, I could lend you a SIM to test things out to make sure they work”.

Cool! I popped the SIM card he passed me into my broadband modem, hit the connect button, and it’s connected, and on HSDPA!

Next, I swapped in the SIM onto my Nexus One.  Hmm… full signal, no 3G.  I imagepoked into the APN setting and it’s empty.  Guess I need to set it up manually…  I tried to follow the setting from some reference material I previously pulled from the web, but Nexus refuses to accept an empty MCC / MNC, and regardless of the settings I entered, nothing seems to save.  After numerous swapping of the SIM between the Nexus and Modem, trying various unsuccessful configurations, I decided to hit the “Reset to default” button from the APN menu.

2 APNs appeared. Selecting the 3netaccess one put me on 3G. Yay! Got Nexus One working on 3.

Jumping over all these hoops took close to 30 mins, and that guy was cool to let me mess with his SIM.  I bought the SIM from him, and a 50 bucks recharge (4GB worth).

Well, the thing about broadband is you shouldn’t have to worry when you use it, and I know my usage will be under 4 GB each month (I had previously done a load test on my 3G usage back in Singapore)

Before I left, I was informed that it will take up to 4 hours to come up after activation (not the 24 as indicated in the accompanying manuals).

With that done, it was time to open the kit.

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The Prepaid SIM is nicely designed, and breaks apart to yield the SIM, the holder (with necessary activation serials), and a keycard containing useful information such as your own phone number (very useful), as well as key recharge information.  A very nice and classy touch.

Activation via the web was very smooth, and the website is very polished and snappy.  Of course, the bonus of 200MB free data as a result of online activation was a welcomed surprise.  I’ll recharge only after I’m done with these 200MB.

The 4 hours came and went by as I alternated between work and clicking the connect button for my modem, but it was still no connecting.  It struck me that back at the shop, I was probably testing on a postpaid SIM and the settings had to be tweaked.  Switching the APN Name from ‘3netaccess’ to ‘3services’ on both the modem and the Nexus One allowed me to successfully connect to the Internet.image

The SIM will be resident on my Nexus while I test the signal in and around the CBD area, and so far I’m happy to report that along the entire length of Collins Street, I have constant 3G coverage, and snappy internet access and IM connection.  Facebook, Twitter, Foursquares, etc all work flawlessly.  I even get good VOIP connection over 3G via Sipdroid.

And as I’m typing this, I’m connected to my Nexus charging happily in a corner, while serving as a WIFI hotspot for the laptop.

I’ll post more of my adventure with these as things develop.

P.S. Although their fine print and customer service (yes, I emailed to check when I was still back in SG) said VPN is not supported on their network, it works nonetheless.

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Getting Connected In Australia (Mobile)

Coming to Australia meant a world of extremely expensive telecommunications, and this is a small snippet of my experience in getting connected.

Since I’ll be here for a significant period of time, and also because of the accommodation screw-up that isolates me in an apartment a block away from the rest of my team, I figured that I would need a way to be contactable, as well as to call back home.

I’m not much of a phone chatter, so am primarily looking at international calls back to Singapore, and decent call rates within Australia.  Some suggested getting pre-paid calling cards, but when I explored the fine print, the charges goes something like this:

  • $0.05 per day, every day after first use
  • $0.25 per connection
  • Some cheap per min rate (which is often the only thing advertised), e.g. $0.008 per min
  • Another $0.XX after A mins
  • And another $0.YY after B mins
  • And yet another $0.40 upon disconnection.

I hope to support something more open and honest, and with luck, Vanessa passed me a pamphlet for Lebara Australia.  Advertised rates are $0.01 per min (to Singapore), with a Flagfall (connection fee) of $0.25, without any other fine prints.  Moreover, they claim that there is no need for complex access codes and pin, just dial direct to your destination.

I decided to give them a shot, and a payment of $12 at a friendly 7-11 outlet along Elizabeth Street got me a $2 Lebara SIM card and a $10 recharge voucher.

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I made a quick call to their Activation Hotline, where some of my details were requested, and my line was activated in 10 mins.  Recharge was also done rather effortlessly through their hotline.

I made test calls to my apartment, and my Singapore Mobile.  Both rang, all seems good.  I made 2 calls home (call quality was very good) and send 2 SMS announcing my new numbers.  I logged on to check my usage some time later.

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Hmm… Interesting variant of my name… I tried poking around the website to see if that could be changed. No luck. Oh well.

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Next, call history.  Seems that Lebara sticks pretty closely to their claims .  $0.15 cents is decent for the SMS (in the context of Australia, at least), but you’ll not see me sending too many of them.

I’m still not sure how good their deal is, and I do see my phone hopping to Telstra, Vodaphone and Optus when I’m walking about, but back in the apartment where I would be making the majority of my calls, it locks on to Lebara.

I’ll update this again as I use more of their services, but so far, it looks pretty good. 

Leaving Snowy Suzhou

It’s been a white snowy day in Suzhou, with occasional glimpse of sunshine; CZH_2001indeed a very beautiful way to end my trip to Suzhou.  Only pity is that I’ve packed my cameras in preparation for the trip home and did not have them with me during the day in office to grab some shots of the snow scape.

A nice dinner after work, and a 2 hour car ride (icy roads lined with numerous car pile ups !!!) put me in Pudong airport, where I am logging this blog entry.  Will be back home in Singapore in a couple of hours!

Signing off from Pudong Airport in Shanghai, China.  – Zonghe

金鸡湖东岸 Walk

Today was a cold and wet day in Suzhou, and I spent a good half of the day shopping for warm gear to make my walkabouts more comfortable:

  • a pair of waterproof hiking shoes (Quechua Forclaz 600),
  • a hiking jacket (Quechua Forclaz 900),
  • warm innerwear
  • inner gloves
  • convertible mittens

After lunch, I took a short bus ride out to the other side of the lake, then started walking in the rain.  Here are some shots from my approx 7.5 km walk, RAW processed through Bibble 5 (finally figured it out):

A sculpture at the start of the walk, with the sky clearing a bit to give these dramatic pictures against the dark rainclouds.

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One of the many little lakes / ponds in the numerous parks that line 金鸡湖.

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Looking across 金鸡湖, with dredgers cleaning up the lake, and me with my new jacket.

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The large 久观 shopping mall, with glitzy lights and branded goods, but eerily lacking the shoppers.

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And oh, a map plotting my route along the lake

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拉面 and 苏州金鸡湖夜景

After work today, I went for dinner with Ai Guo, and we had 拉面in a little shop not too far from our hotel.  It cost 5 RMB, but had only a couple of slices of beef, but rather tasty soup.

We decided to go take a walk at 金鸡湖 to take in the night scenery since the weather was rather good, though a bit foggy.  Here’s a view across the smaller half of the lake lined with restaurants and karaoke bars.

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Maybe I’ll come catch sunrise here if I can wake up tomorrow, and it’s not too cold.

A little of 苏州 in IR

I arrived in Suzhou today after a 4+ hour flight & 2 hours road trip, and though was feeling rather drained, I headed out for a short walk with my camera after checking in to my hotel.

Here are some shots from the D70i.

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Still trying to get the hang of processing RAW IR files, but I hope you like this quick series.

Dinner @ 620 Collins Street, Melbourne

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