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Costs of using a cell phone can escalate all too quickly. Here are some hints to keep the money in your pocket and not the Cell Phone company's.

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Still using GSM for email?

For anyone still using a GSM link it is most important to minimise the time that you are connected. With GPRS, download size is the important factor. In both cases, the suggestions in the Appandix are valid.

Further actions to minimise connection time are to

  • Set up your email software not to connect automatically. You then get your mail by clicking on the relevant icon and telling it to dial your server.
  • Disconnect when you have finished. Disconnection will not happen automatically unless you choose the option to do so.


If you are using GPRS it can be better to stay connected if you may want to send more emails, perhaps send an immediate reply to one just received, are expecting a reply during your session or want to look at a web page. There is a cost to connect and, thereafter, mainly a cost on the data volume up- or down-loaded but with a small ongoing cost to stay connected as the computer keeps in touch with the GPRS server. You can use the phone for a voice call while still connected to GPRS. Putting the laptop into standby will disconnect for you. I (FS) set up Outlook Express and the Internet browser Tools, Connections to say "Never dial a connection".

  • I dial using the panel on another page.
  • I then hit Send/Receive to get my email..
  • If any need or are capable of immediate brief reply, I do that.
  • Otherwise, as any new emails are unlikely within such a short time, I usually close the connection by clicking Disconnect after the sending and receiving is finished.
  • If I do not disconnect, then I monitor the Connection display (opposite) as there will be a small cost. This can mount up insidiously

It will pay to experiment and see which procedures give the smallest total of sending and receiving as shown.. Re-connection will be cheaper than staying connected for a long time. Staying connected is cheaper than quick reconnections.

As noted earlier, GPRS might not be available is some places. It can be useful to switch from one to the other at will.

See, also, the section on Compression below.

Going Abroad

You can now dial from anywhere without having to reconfigure the phone or the PC, however you will pay for the privilege. Roaming data rates are reducing but it can still be worthwhile getting a "local" phone. Fortunately this is not that difficult, now that "SIM-only" cards with GPRS are widely available and you can use these in your own phone.

The biggest problem is selecting the right card, as very few companies advertise their GPRS charges before you have bought the thing. As noted above, you may well need a contract and language problems may make this difficult. In theory, you simply slip the foreign SIM card into the phone. The PC and phone configuration lives in the phone, not on the SIM card, so you do not have to go through that again.

A problem is likely to be the locked phone. Most phone providers "lock" their phone to their network, so you cannot use it with a rival. The provider will unlock it at a cost, but your local "railway arch" provider will usually do it for less.

A DIY unlock service for a number of types of mobile phone is at www.unlock.nokiafree.org and an online service is at http://ucables.com/remote-unlock-online.html However, some phones have to be sent away for unlocking. Check eBay for such services.

It may be best to upgrade your UK phone before you leave. The phone company will let you keep your old phone, and you can use this for "local" SIM cards (so you have two phones). You can "pair" more than one phone with the same PC.

You will need a new "profile" for every country that you have a SIM card for. (that is how the companies know a "foreign" mobile from a "local"). This increases the chances of getting the profiles on the phone confused.

One way round this is to "edit" the profile yourself on the phone. If you compare two profiles (it will be in the Settings /Data Communications menu on the phone) you will see that the only thing that usually changes is the "Access Point Name" or APN. If you edit this to the local value, it will probably work. Usually everything stays the same on the PC, although at least one country using *98# as an access number (rather than *99#) but this is rare.

As described above, if you use POP/SMTP mail, you will have to change the SMTP server to that of your local provider. Getting this out of them can be difficult sometimes as they have no idea what you are on about. One company in Sweden provided three addresses before they got the right one! A safe way is to use the MailASail service.

Email message Compression

One way of reducing costs is to use one of several compression packages such as ONSPEED .(probably best known from its advertisements in the press) or MailASail . Each offers compression services, but there are significant differences in the total packages. There is also. SmartCom, not strictly a compression service although it does reduce costs.

ONSPEED compresses both outgoing and incoming emails. Having loaded and set up the software, you just send and receive as normal using your normal email account. It pays to watch their compression display carefully and, also, to monitor your mobile phone display for the total kb transferred. I had to contact ONSPEED to optimise my settings.

The saving will depend upon your use per day and the nature of the messages that you are sending or receiving. Attachments of pictures, .pdf or .zip files are already compressed. Similarly for files of GRIB coded information.

MailASail removes all formatting from emails and attachments. It removes images and pdf files.. Hence, you need not have a size block on incoming mail. To receive an attachment with full formatting, including pictures, pdf files or an email that was sent in Rich Text Format you can still get the full version, but at a time and place of your choosing - eg using a WiFi link or in an Internet cafe. This is a major plus.

With MailASail, you set up a replacement to your existing email account. You then get a new email address eg joebloggs@mailasail.com. However, you can use your home address and account, in which case MailASail will continually search for and forward emails to you. That is a major plus. Outgoing emails are not compressed but this is not a serious problem because you can control what you send and when.

SmartCom is different again. Outgoing emails are reduced in size but not incoming. But, you can block incoming emails greater than a certain size and receive just the header. You then can decide whether to download or not.

Which service for you?

Cost is still important while the mobile phone companies make large charges for data calls, especially when roaming. However, cost is only one factor. Each service has other features that should be taken into consideration.

ONSPEED costs 25 a year. With an average monthly usage of around 10 Mb before compression, my mobile phone bill was around 40 a month roaming, less than half what it would have been without a compression service. The disadvantage with ONSPEED is that you will probably want to have a size block on incoming mail. Further, it does not always connect and can be frustrating.

There is a modest one off payment for SmartCom and no annual charge. The emphasis is on managing your connection whether by mobile or satellite phone

At 240 for two years, 140 for one year or 90 for 6 months, the cost of MailASail is, on the face of it, considerably higher than ONSPEED. The greater speed of MailASail and avoidance of the handshaking

overhead will reduce the total GPRS download size to compensate, at least in part, for the extra charge. There is no need to block large emails; that is a very real plus and one well worth considering..

The total MailASail service is very attractive. For example, there is a Web Diary link to upload information and pictures for friends and family at low cost. The latest version has GPS tracking so each time you mail in an update you create a track of where you have been. There is good treatment of virus and spam, also (importantly) free email technical support.

MailASail is certainly well worth considering for long distance cruising yachtsmen. It has many attractions for those using satellite phones or terrestrial phones with GPRS. Perhaps SmartCom plus MailASail might be the optimum. They seem to be complementary. For the casual user, perhaps cruising for short periods, ONSPEED might be sufficient. However, the speed increase might make it worthwhile using MailASail even when at home and using a dial up connection or, even, broadband.

Web Page Compression

ONSPEED can give some very good compression of web pages when these are largely in text format. One particularly good example is the DWD 3 day grid point forecast. To download this from the web without compression means a download of some 140 kb; connecting to ONSPEED and downloading the same page is about 20 kb. This is an impressive saving..

On the other hand, to download a synoptic chart - say from those listed on my Chart Page, there is no or little saving using ONSPEED. Web page

compression is really only useful when using links to pages of text, such as those on my GMDSS page . However, it is worthwhile trying, when at home, to see which types of web page are compressed and which are not.

If you know what a web page looks like and do not want the pictures the text retrieval service using Saildocs can be very effective indeed. Send an email to query@saildocs.com Subject: (anything). The message should read "send http:// www.whatever.net" The reply will come back within a minute or so.


The following is based on advice from David Hide to reduce the use of mobile telephones for email and accessing information from the Web. The original was written largely on the basis of GSM experience but the lessons are worth notin.

Little can be done to affect Internet connect times except through modified operating technique. The following are some useful guidelines for the less experienced user.

  • Always save the specific addresses of the web pages you plan to use - as "Favorites" or "Bookmarks." Forecast texts are available from my pages of INMARSAT forecasts, METAREA I & II, METAREA III, METAREA IV - XVI, and the Winlink list
  • Save pages and read or print at leisure, off line.
  • Do your 'surfing the net' research at home.
  • Generally print (if necessary) directly from the screen.
  • Avoid downloading .pdf files.
  • Avoid peak times.
  • Block pictures from browser pages, or
  • Only use pages that contain pictures that you really want eg weather charts.
  • Block and delete from the server all large email, say > about 30 kb.
  • Tell friends and relations to upload pictures of their new baby to a website for access at your convenience.
  • Use only plain text emails and educate friends to do likewise.
  • Ask contacts NOT to send your message back to you in any replies.
  • If sending a Word or similar document, consider using .zip format or, even, plain text.
  • Use text only web pages where possible. Or, cheaper,
  • Get web page texts, eg weather forecasts, using a text retrieval service (a large page of text will convert to a few kb email). For details, send a blank email, any subject, to info@saildocs.com. Or to weather@mailasail.com subject help-text.

  • For GRIB forecasts, use Saildocs emails with the repeat request facility.
  • Think carefully about high definition GRIB services which will give large amounts of data. Do you find that their usefulness is worth the cost of communications?
  • For GRIB forecasts, choose area, spatial and temporal resolution carefully.
  • Get wind and other forecasts in GRIB by using FTP eg ZyGRIB rather than on a browser page (eg PassageWeather, Windfinder XCWeather). The data will be the same. Or, cheaper, use email.
  • Block all automatic updates eg Windows, Virus, Browser, Java, other software such as printers.

All of the above significantly reduce the chances of receiving worms or viruses (both of which can have nasty affects on your computer system) as they usually come in the form of attachments with hidden macros and other software.

Examples of how file size depends upon the way in which it is coded are as follows for the same information content

Word File

42 KB


5 KB


4 KB

Choice of ISP - some of the following is probably out of date now.

Several UK ISPs provide local dial-up numbers in the Mediterranean basin. Several of these services are based on either an additional monthly subscription (either flat rate) or more usually on an hourly rate with a limited number of hours 'free' or a minimum charge. An exception is Claranet who say that "They have no limitations or extra charges for accessing your account in Spain/France and you are only charged at local rates set in the aforementioned countries. It is very similar to accessing your account from the UK, provided you dial into the correct dial-up number(s)".

Connection to a local ISP in each major country could well be the preferred option if on an extended cruise and spending extended periods in a country or countries. However, if not taking this option nor using a local dial up number with a UK ISP then it means being able to use your UK ISP over international numbers. The ISP chosen should have a 'normal' telephone number for access, i.e. a number starting with 01 or 02.

Check this out with your mobile phone operator - who will often not know the answer anyway! I have used Claranet from my mobile using 004420 etc with no problems. Also check you can access their support desks via e-mail, if you cannot get access from within the country one is visiting. While not essential, this line of backup can be of great assistance if having to sort out problems.

Most ISPs support the V34 access protocol, i.e. 34 kbytes/sec when using a land line. Some locations will not accept access at the lower rates of a mobile phone. Check that the chosen ISP will support mobile access at the lower rate of 9.6 kbits/sec at the access numbers they list for your use. [ ITT Global Network, Dial Pipex and Claranet are all accessible at mobile speeds at all their published access points.]

Some of this page is from an article in the Winter 2001 Magazine, by kind permission of David Hide. The d my own experience of using Claranet overseas at Internet Cafes and from a mobile phone.

CA members might like to see Keeping in Touch written by John Walker, a Mediterranean sailor, and Communications with particular reference to the Baltic by Ivan Andrews.

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