30 December 2009

Will my mobile operator bill me for using WiFi?

While people will often be dismissive and give answers like "of course not, you idiot", there's more to it than at first sight.

Before an answer can be given for this question, you need to ask yourself who is providing the WiFi. There are three possibilities here:

1) You!

This is probably the only case that most people think of when they're giving a dismissive answer. In this setup, you're using a wireless router or a wireless access point to distribute your home broadband internet among several devices such as your desktop computer, laptop, possibly a wireless VoIP phone, and your WiFi-enabled mobile phone.

In this instance, your mobile phone is just another device connected to your wireless home network. Any data usage is already paid for in your broadband internet bill. While we all know that mobile network operators would love to bill you even just for thinking about using the phone, they have no way of knowing that you're using your own wireless network at home. There's no way they can bill you for usage they don't even know about.

So, in this instance, the answer is an emphatic "no".

2) Your mobile operator

Some mobile network operators (T-Mobile UK for one) have a network of publicly visible WiFi hotspots in places like pubs, fast food outlets, railway stations, airports etc. While they may be visible to all and sundry, not anyone can actually use them. They're protected by a login and password that you're not given until you pay for them.

Access can be flat-rate or PAYG. In the former case you pay the same amount whether you use the service or not, regardless of how much you use it (within the limits of a fair use policy established by the operator). In the latter case you pay according to how much data you use, either as an addition to your mobile bill or in the form of pre-paid credit.

So, in this case, the answer is an emphatic "yes". Your operator will bill you for using WiFi.

3) Third-party providers

Go into any "Varsity" pub in the UK and you'll be in range of a WiFi hotspot. Best of all, it's absolutely free. You can use their wireless network for free while downing a pint. Great for photographing or filming your mates doing silly things with bottles and sticking it up on flickr, Facebook, YouTube or whatever before they have time to say "whoops!"...

Another place that offers free WiFi if you stay with them is "Premier Inn" hotels. Once you've checked in you are given the network's ESSID and preshared key enabling you to connect to the network.

Not all such third-party providers allow you to use their wireless network for free, though. Some will charge. If you do have to pay to use the WiFi network, you will be billed directly by the owner or, in some cases where the owner and your operator have billing agreements, by your mobile operator.

In this case, the answer is a rather evasive "maybe, it depends on the owner of the WLAN".

In conclusion

Don't be dismissive. The answer is not always "no". It can be "yes" in certain circumstances!

25 November 2009

Spotify on Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)

Yep. It works fine (thanks to Juhis for the invite)!

Spotify is a subscription-based streaming music network. I'll not go into all the details of what they offer here, you can read about that on their site: www.spotify.com, but I will add a little to their instructions on getting their application working under Linux, more specifically for the variant of Linux I've been working with for the past week or so, Ubuntu Linux 9.10, aka "Karmic Koala".

There are only versions of the Spotify application for MacOS 10.4 or later, or Microsoft Windows XP or later, but the fine folks at Spotify also point out that it will work on a Linux system using the WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator) Microsoft Windows Compatibility layer. See this FAQ entry on Spotify's site.

The instructions given there are for a generic Debian setup. Ubuntu is indeed based on Debian, but there are a few things built in to it that make life easier for users.

The first thing we're going to do differently is the installation of WINE itself. It's already in the main Ubuntu repositories so its installation is no more than a few clicks away.

Go in to the "Applications" menu on your desktop and select "Ubuntu Software Centre". There will be a search box at the top-right of the application window that will appear. Type "wine" in that search box. You should see something like this (click on the image to enlarge it):


Click on "Wine Microsoft Windows Compatibility Layer" (note that there's a tick on a green background in this screenshot because WINE is already installed on my system) and then on the yellow arrow to the right. You will be prompted to click on an "install" button for the software to be pulled down and installed. After a few seconds, or maybe longer depending on the speed of your internet connection and your machine, you will be informed that the installation was successful.

Next, we need to tell WINE how to use the sound hardware. The default settings do work after a fashion, but you get far better results by asking WINE to use the old OSS (Open Sound System) method to output sound. For this, press Alt-F2. In the "Run application" box that will appear, type winecfg and hit the enter key. It'll take a few seconds for WINE to fire up and show you its setup application. Click on the "Audio" tab and select just the OSS driver as illustrated here (click on the image to enlarge it):


Click on the "Test Sound" button. You should hear something in your speakers.

Click on the "OK" button to save this setting and dismiss the window.

Next, we have to download the Spotify application itself.

Right-click on the link below and choose "Save link as...". Save it on your desktop.

http://www.spotify.com/download/spotify.exe

There will now be a Windows executable file, spotify.exe, on your desktop. You should now move it to its rightful place within the filesystem set up by WINE to mimic a Windows machine's hard disk.

Go into the "Places" menu on your desktop and select "Home folder". In order to access WINE's files we need to access a hidden directory. There are many hidden objects in your home directory so we'll simply use a trick to enter a hidden directory of which we know the name. On the left hand side of the location bar you'll see an icon that looks like a pencil. Click on it. The buttons representing where you are in the machine's filesystem are replaced with a text input box containing something like:

/home/[username]

Add "/.wine" onto the end of this so that it now reads:

/home/[username]/.wine

Press enter and click on the "pencil" icon again.

Double-click on "drive_c" to enter that folder, then on "Program Files".

Right-click in this window and select "Create folder". Name the folder "Spotify". Double-click on it to enter it.

Grab that spotify.exe file on your desktop and drop it in this newly-created folder.

You can now close the file manager window.

The last thing to do is create a shortcut on the desktop that will launch Spotify.

Right-click on the desktop and select "Create launcher..."

Put "Spotify" in the "Name" field, and enter this in the "Command" field:

wine "C:/Program Files/Spotify/spotify.exe"

See screenshot (click to enlarge):

That's it, click on OK and you're done.

30 September 2009

Firmware availability and distribution

This is an area where there's a huge amount of confusion. With any luck this article will clear a certain amount of it up.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of each model of phone. It's actually far more complicated than that with regional variants, promotional offers etc., but let's keep it simple for the moment. On the one hand, you have the phone as it was originally designed by Nokia and containing Nokia's firmware. On the other hand you have phones that are distributed not directly by Nokia or their retailers but by mobile network operators. In the latter case, the firmware installed in these phones is modified by the network operator to include their logo, links to their services and a few custom features and settings. Occasionally, network operators will also deactivate features of the original phone that they don't want you using. AT&T come straight to mind with their paid-for voice dialling service − the phone already has such a feature built in but AT&T deactivate it and make users who want it pay for their own network-based version of the same thing. Firmware that has been altered in this way is called "branded" firmware because of the operator branding to which it is subjected.

With different people involved, the release date for the firmware will be different from one variant to another. Generally speaking, the original Nokia firmware will be available for release earlier (sometimes significantly so) than branded firmware. This is because network operators have to make their alterations to the "vanilla" firmware that has already been (or is about to be) released, and then test and approve their version. Also, bear in mind that ensuring its users' phones are up to date is not the primary concern of a mobile network operator. They would much rather you bought a new phone (and renewed your contract). Users sometimes therefore have to be prepared for a long wait before their operator releases a firmware update that users of unbranded phones have long since been able to install.

Note that lifting the SIM-lock on your branded phone, ie. entering the restriction code supplied by your operator so that you can use SIM cards from competing networks, will not remove the branding. You will still have a branded phone stuffed full of, for example, T-Mobile features but you will be able to use it on O2, Vodafone or whatever.

So, as a general rule, if you have an unbranded phone you'll get firmware updates within a week or two of their release, as and when they're made available around the world. If you have a phone that you obtained through your operator then the chances are that it'll be a branded phone and you'll have to wait for your operator to approve the update before you can install it.

As with all rules, there are exceptions. Here in the UK, phones sold by the Carphone Warehouse seem to have their own product codes and, as such, are more like branded phones than generic phones. I don't know why this should be because there's no apparent branding. The only indication that something is different is the unavailability of updates because Carphone Warehouse don't bother approving them. Your only course of action here is to approach the Carphone Warehouse and ask for written permission to "debrand" your phone and have generic Nokia firmware installed. With that written permission and the phone, you go to your nearest Nokia Care Point and they'll do the necessary. Ironically, more often than not, the Carphone Warehouse is the Nokia Care Point...

Another exception that comes to mind is the USA. Phones sold over there are in fact slightly different models because of the different frequency bands used, which means that Nokia USA has to become involved, and this tends to slow things down.

The UK is another exception to the rule. UK-specific, unbranded variants of recent phones are now 2 versions behind the corresponding variants of the phones for the rest of Europe and many other parts of the world. The culprit is thought to be a third party involved with Nokia Care in the UK. Some branded variants of these phones are seeing updates before the unbranded ones, which is unacceptable since customers who paid the full price for their phones (no network subsidy) are entitled to better service than this.

Anyway....

Once the new firmware for your phone is available, there are three possible ways you can install it.

Firstly, there's the classic "Nokia Software Updater". In a nutshell, you run NSU, it pulls down the firmware for your particular model and variant of phone and flashes it into the phone's ROM via a USB cable. The software for this is only available for MS-Windows XP SP2 or later, so users of MacOS and other Unix-based operating systems such as GNU/Linux and FreeBSD are left out in the cold. As usual.

Then there's the "Firmware Over The Air" (FOTA) method, whereby your phone connects to the internet and pulls down the update itself without the need for a computer at all. FOTA is quicker and much more reliable than NSU because it only downloads what's changed in the firmware since the version currently installed in your phone instead of downloading full ROM images, and because it doesn't rely on a notoriously flaky and unpredictable operating system.

The only fly in the ointment here is the fact that firmware is almost always released via one method alone, and the mechanisms behind one are not aware of what's available with the other. So, for example, if an update has been released via FOTA and you run NSU, you will be told that no updates are available because NSU is not aware of what's being distributed over-the-air. Similarly, if an update is released via NSU and you check FOTA, you will also be told that no updates are available.

Just to make things that bit more confusing, there are also discrepancies between what the "can I update" page is telling you and what NSU actually finds.

The third way to update the firmware in your phone is to take it to a Nokia Care Point and have them do it. If the phone is still within the warranty period the update will be free of charge. This said, updates are sometimes released to the public before the Nokia Care network (they use different tools to the ones made available to the public), meaning that the Care Point won't be able to help.

The whole thing is a bit shambolic, to be honest, and needs to be unified. However, as things are, it boils down to the following:

* If you have a branded phone you're in for a long wait before you get updates. Don't hold your breath.

* If you have an unbranded phone, the availability of updates is a postcode lottery.

* Once updates are available you have to look in two different locations to find them.

* Even if you're told that an update is available you might still not be able to install it due to inconsistencies in the updates database, and Nokia's Care network may not even be able to help you because they don't have the required updates.

29 September 2009

So, what's up with the flashing envelope?

Older mobile phones would store received text messages on your SIM card rather than in their own (very limited) memory. Service messages sent to you by your mobile provider are also stored on the SIM card, even today.

Modern phones store inbound text messages in their own (significantly more capacious than their predecessors') memory or even, in some cases, on a removable memory card (miniSD or microSD most of the time). Nokia phones based on S60v3 with feature pack 2 and later (N78, N96, 5800 XpressMusic, N97 etc.) detect messages on the SIM card and, if they find any, alert the user to their presence by displaying a flashing envelope on the screen.

The only way to get rid of it is to delete the messages on the SIM card. To achieve this:

Menu > Messaging > Options > SIM messages

Select all the messages visible here:

Options > Mark/unmark > Mark all

Then delete them by pressing the "C" key for phones that have it (keypad-operated phones) or by tapping "Options" and selecting "Delete" for touchscreen-driven phones.

The messages on the SIM will be deleted and the flashing envelope will be removed.

04 September 2009

My language has disappeared from my phone! How do I get it back?

A problem frequently seen on the Nokia Support Discussion forums relates to people who have just had to reset their phones or who have just updated their firmware. Upon restarting the phone, they are faced with a problem in that their language has disappeared! Actually, the problem goes much deeper than that. The language disappearing is merely the visible part of willful deceit on the part of some rogue retailers.

Nokia phones are sold all over the world. It is unreasonable to expect them all to "speak" all the languages of the world, so, depending on which part of the world each individual batch of phones is intended for, it will have a particular set of languages installed. For example, phones sold in Western Europe have English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and sometimes Dutch languages installed. Those sold in Nokia's home country, Finland, have English, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.

I'm going to use the examples of Malaysia and Arabic language below purely in order to make writing this article easier. If you lost your Russian, Chinese, Greek, Turkish or whatever language support when you reset your phone or upgraded the firmware then substitute for Arabic where necessary. By no means am I implying that cheap phones only come from Malaysia or that only retailers in Arabic-speaking countries are deceitful.

In order to remain competitive in local markets, phones are sold at different prices in different countries. It is not uncommon, for example, for phones to be sold cheaper in Eastern Europe or in parts of the Far East. Some retailers, particularly in the Middle-East, are aware of this, so instead of ordering their stock from their local representative, they order them in bulk from, for example, Malaysia.

This presents another problem. Neither Arabic nor Farsi are official languages in Malaysia, so the phones intended for that market come only with English, Chinese and Malay (and possibly an Indonesian language or two). In that state they are not fit for sale in the country where the retailer who ordered them from Malaysia is located.

There are two potential solutions to this problem. The first is to install an Arabic language pack. This language pack is composed of fonts supporting Arabic script and right-to-left text, menu labels and other files for the localization of software.

The second solution is to reflash the phone with the firmware of a version of the same phone intended for sale locally and therefore containing that language pack as part of the firmware itself.

In both cases, the phone will have support for Arabic language after the operation and will be "fit" for sale.

I put "fit" in quotes because it's not entirely true.

There may come a time when you need to reset your phone because some software you installed just isn't playing ball and you need to get rid of it and wipe the phone clean. If the retailer from whom you bought the phone opted for the first, "language pack", solution then you're in for a nasty surprise because this operation will ERASE the language pack that was installed.

You'll still be okay, though, if your phone was reflashed with local firmware.

Let's fast-forward in time now to the day you find out that there's a firmware update. Quite sensibly, you decide to update your phone in order to benefit from the latest versions of the various applications built into it and from improvements in stability and speed, and in memory and power management.

Once again, you're in for a nasty surprise. Just like a reset, a software update will wipe out any extra language packs installed independently of the firmware. If, however, the retailer opted for the second solution and installed a local firmware variant into the phone, you'll still lose your Arabic support if you update the firmware. Why? Because the software updater will look at the phone model and pull down the original firmware variant for the phone rather than the updated version of the variant for your country. Instead of the language set you were used to, the phone will revert to its original language set (English, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian).

It's unfortunate for you but this is not a fault in your phone. It was simply not intended for sale in your country.

If anyone should take responsibility for this it's the retailer who sold you the phone. They should have told you that the phone was bought from another part of the world and modified to support your language, and warned you that a reset or a firmware update would remove your language from the phone.

The thing is, you have no warranty on your phone because of the retailer's actions. The warranty on a phone intended for sale in Malaysia is not valid in the Middle-East. Not only that, but in tampering with the phone by installing a language pack or by flashing a local firmware variant, both of which can only be done with software that is only available officially to Nokia Care Points and not to retailers or the general public, the retailer has voided any warranty that there may have been on the phone anyway. Given this, Nokia are within their rights to refuse to support the phone at all regardless of any warranty issues. They may, however, be willing to help you. It's a bit of a lottery, but some Care Points will be willing to install the missing language pack for a nominal fee. They are within their rights to charge for the service because the language missing from the phone is not a fault in the phone and is therefore not covered by the warranty, which is void anyway.

On the other hand, if ever the phone needs service of any kind, you can forget Nokia Care. Your only options are independent repairs shops, do it yourself, or bin the phone. Whichever option you choose, you're going to be out of pocket and the retailer will undoubtedly refuse to pay a penny.

While the phone may have been cheaper than if you had bought it directly from Nokia in your country or from a reputable dealer, it does come with a risk and, above all, without a warranty. It's always best to buy from Nokia directly or from a reputable dealer.

Caveat emptor!

01 September 2009

PIN code, PUK code, security code, lock code, unlock code, restriction code...

Clearly, there's alot of confusion out there as to what all these codes do, what they protect, how to get them and how to manage them. I'd like to clear that confusion up a litle bit with this article.

The first thing you have to bear in mind is that your SIM card is actually the property of your network operator. SIM stands for "Subscriber Information Module". Stored in it is information that identifies you as the user of the phone in which the SIM is installed, and which ties that phone to your mobile phone number. Proof of this is if you swap SIMs with another phone and call your number it's the other phone that will ring, and if you place a call with your phone it's the other phone's owner who will be billed!

The PIN, or "Personal Identification Number" is a 4-digit code (well, actually, some phones allow up to 8 digits but it is nearly always 4 digits), stored in encrypted form in the SIM and which protects your SIM from unauthorised use. That it is the SIM being protected can be seen if you put your SIM in another phone. You'll only be able to use that phone after you've entered your PIN.

You set the PIN yourself. When you get the SIM it contains the default PIN set up by your mobile network operator or a random code that will be printed on the paperwork. Many operators in the UK will even send you a SIM that is set not to request a PIN at all, which is a bit pointless because such a SIM that is "intercepted" and falls into the wrong hands can be used straight away by anyone to place calls, on your account. Note that a PIN is still stored in the SIM even if the latter is set not to request one, and you have to enter the correct PIN in order to have the SIM activate the PIN request upon startup.

If you enter an incorrect PIN three times in succession, the SIM will lock itself and you'll have to enter the PUK (PIN Unlock Key) in order to unlock it and use the phone. Your operator can give you the PUK for your SIM. Only your operator can do this because the SIM is what is locked, not your phone, and the SIM is the property of your network operator. There's no point asking your phone manufacturer for the PUK because they can't help you. Some operators give you the PUK straight away and print it on the paperwork. Some display the PUK in your account on their website. Some will only give it over the phone or by mail. Most will charge you for it if you phone up asking for it when you can get it yourself simply by logging into your account on their website.

If the SIM has been locked, the phone will ask you for the PUK before going any further. Once you've entered the PUK correctly you are prompted for a new PIN. If you enter the PUK incorrectly ten (I think, but don't quote me on that) times in succession, the SIM is permanently deactivated and you have to request another from your operator.

The PIN does not, however, protect your phone in the event that someone steals it and uses their own SIM in it. This is where the security code (or lock code, they both refer to the same thing) comes into play. To be honest, it's not so much the phone as the data inside it that is protected by the security code. While I'm not prepared to give out that information here, someone who knows where to look on the Internet can find out how to reset the security code on a phone. The only downside is that it will also wipe clean any data that the phone contained. A thief doesn't care about your data as much as you care about other people not seeing it so, in a sense, it functions as intended in that a phone protected by a security code will not allow anyone who doesn't know that security code to access its data.

The default security code on all Nokia phones is 12345. That piece of information is widely known so there's no harm in publishing it here. You are strongly advised to change it to something more personal as soon as you have the phone.

The security code is requested whenever you attempt to clear the phone's settings (*#7780#), call timers or data meters or if you try and reformat it with a "soft reset" (*#7370#). You can also set the phone to request the security code if the SIM is changed (the first thing a thief is going to do is throw away your SIM and put a new one in so this feature will render the phone unusable by anyone but you). You can also lock the phone directly from the menu or after a certain duration of inactivity. More recent phones have a remote lock facility which will lock the phone if you send it a predefined message in a text message. This method assumes that your SIM is still in the phone by the time you get round to sending the lock message, which is not a very safe assumption to be honest.

The security code cannot be bypassed without wiping the phone clean. If there was a way to bypass it, it would be on the Internet before you'd have time to say "oops" and would render the whole concept of this security feature totally useless. This means that you only have one option if you forget the security code of your phone: take it to a service point with proof of ownership and ask them to reset the phone. This will have the effect of resetting the security code back to its default 12345, but it will also wipe everything in the phone's memory. Proof of ownership of the phone will be required so that the service point knows that it definitely is your phone and not one that you "found" or that "belongs to a friend" (hint hint, nudge nudge, you know what I mean).

The restriction code, often called "unlock code", is used to neutralise the SIM-lock. The SIM-lock is a mechanism set up by your mobile network operator to ensure that you cannot use a SIM from a competing network in a phone supplied by yours. It's pretty pointless on contract phones if you ask me because you're still tied to your network for 12, 18 or 24 months and you have to pay your line rental regardless of whether or not you use their services or someone else's for your calls. Regardless of any justification, it's what operators do.

The key phrase here is "it's what operators do". Your operator enforced the SIM-lock and, consequently, your operator is the only organisation that can supply the restriction code to neutralise it. There's no point asking Nokia or anyone else for the restriction code, they can't supply it. As for market stalls and shops that offer to unlock your phone, it might work, it might not work, it might brick your phone. There's no telling in advance. My own choice would be to spend the £15 or so and get the restriction code from the operator and unlock the phone legitimately.

So, to recap:

PIN: protects your SIM from unauthorised use.
PUK: unlocks the SIM in the event that you enter an incorrect PIN too many times in succession. Supplied by your operator.
Security/lock code: protects the data in your phone from prying eyes. Cannot be bypassed but can be reset by a service centre, in which case all data will be lost.
Restriction/unlock code: cancels the SIM-lock and lets you use SIM cards from competing networks. Supplied by your network operator and nobody else.

Should I buy a phone SIM-free and pay the full price for it, or should I get it on the cheap with a contract?

In Europe, the overwhelming majority of mobile phones in circulation are phones that were supplied to the users with a contract or pay-as-you-go SIM, up to 90% in the UK and probably similar figures elsewhere in Europe. In the Far-East, however, things are the other way round. Most people buy their phones directly from the manufacturer's outlets or from third-party retailers and get just the line and communications from the mobile network operator.

The aim of this small article is to outline the pros and cons of each method so that you can make an informed choice based on budget and on your thirst for a regular technology fix.

Initial cost:

This is about the only area where a contract phone wins hands down. Many operators will have huge flashy signs all over the place touting a "free" phone with the contract. Of course, the phone isn't free at all, you're paying for it over the duration of your contract, but you have no initial expense over the cost of your contract itself and any usage not included in your bundle. If the phone isn't "free" it is certainly at a price considerably lower than that of the SIM-free version of the phone from Nokia themselves or other retailers.

Contract cost and flexibility:

In most countries, if you take out a SIM-only contract with the operator, the monthly payments will be lower than if you took out a phone with a contract. In the UK, there's usually a £15/month or so difference.

Not only that, but you are also legally bound to stay on that contract with the operator until its expiry, which is usually 12, 18 or 24 months long. Assuming an 18-month contract that's £15/mo cheaper SIM-only, you've just saved £270 over the course of your contract, and that could pay for a pretty decent phone.

With a SIM-only subscription, you can jump ship to another operator at less than a month's notice with no penalty incurred. If you want to do so on a contract with a phone, you have to pay the full subscription up until the contract's expiry before they'll let you go.

So, in short,

Contract with phone: more expensive contract that you're locked into until its expiry 12, 18 or 24 months later.

SIM-only subscription: cheaper monthly payments that can save you enough to cover the SIM-free phone, and you can switch providers whenever you want.

Locking issues:

Most contract phones are locked to the networks that supplied them. This means that you can only use a phone locked this way with SIM cards from the operator that enforced the lock. If you want to use SIM cards from competing operators you have to obtain the restriction code from the original operator.

The policy of giving out restriction codes for locked phones varies from one operator to another. Some will give it for free once you've been with them for a certain number of months, some will make you pay for it while you're still in the contract period but will give it for free thereafter, and some will flat out refuse to give it inside the contract period.

Note that lifting the SIM-lock on a locked phone by entering the restriction code will NOT remove the network branding (see "Features and updates" below).

If you buy a SIM-free phone then that's exactly what it'll be: SIM-free. You'll be able to use SIM cards from ANY operator in it and you won't have to go through the hassle (and cost, albeit small) of getting the restriction code if you want to switch operators.

Features and updates:

Phones supplied by network operators are network-branded. This means that they alter the features of the phone to suit their marketing needs and basically turn it into a semi-functional device used to advertise to you. Features that they don't want you using are removed, their logo is plastered all over the place and links to their services are stuffed into the menus.

In some cases, they add a few features that are required to take full advantage of their subscriber services.

Given that the firmware in these phones is something based on Nokia's original firmware but subsequently modified by the network operator, any updates that the operator is planning on releasing will become available to your branded phone AFTER they've been made available to generic, SIM-free phones. You will have to wait for your network operator to modify the firmware and release it, and this can often take a very long time, if indeed the operator bothers doing it at all. You may well be left with buggy firmware while users of SIM-free phones have already updated theirs and thus eliminated the bugs. Not to mention bugs introduced by the networks themselves during the branding process.

When updating a network-branded phone, you are not "debranding" the phone, ie. turning it into a generic, SIM-free phone. You are installing a newer version that has been branded by the network operator, hence the wait for operator approval.

With a SIM-free phone, you get a phone as it was originally intended by the manufacturer and you have access to updates as soon as they are released by the manufacturer. You are no longer being told by your operator what you can do with your phone and whether you can update it (and get rid of software bugs) or not.

In conclusion:

If your only consideration is the initial cost of the phone, then by all means get one from your operator at a cut-down price. Just beware that you may end up paying more in the long run if the value of your phone SIM-free is less than the premium you're paying on your contract for the privilege of getting a phone that's been messed around with.

In all other areas, the SIM-free phone wins comprehensively. Your contract is cheaper (in most countries), you're not tied to the operator for months on end, you get a fully-featured phone without bugs added by the networks, and you get firmware bugfixes before anybody else.

Problems with caller ID

Obtaining caller ID, processing it and displaying it is actually a fairly complex process involving the caller's operator, yours, your SIM and your phone's software.

If all you see when someone calls you is "Call 1" or "Private number", no actual phone number, then you're not receiving caller ID at all. This can be because the caller is in fact concealing their number (you can do this on a GSM phone by prefixing the number to dial with #31#). In this case, there's nothing you can do.

If the caller IS sending out their caller ID but you're not receiving it, then the problem lies with your network and/or with your SIM. Give your operator a call. The chances are they can remedy this with an over-the-air update of your SIM card.

If you are now receiving caller ID but your phone isn't displaying the corresponding contact's name, it's because it can't tell whose number it is. There are many possible reasons for this, the three most common being duplicate numbers, international format and operator-branded firmware. There's also a quirk in SymbianOS that can potentially come into play.

If multiple contacts have the same number in your contacts list and one of them calls you, your phone has no way of knowing which one is actually on the other end of the line and, quite sensibly, just shows the number instead of trying to "guess" who it really is. Now, most phones can store contacts both in their own memory and on the SIM card. If you have the same contact in both locations then that counts as duplicates and you'll never see that contact's name displayed. The cure for this is to use the phone's built-in search facility and to search for the number in question. If you find it more than once then you'll have to delete all but one occurrance.

Another potential cause is storing the numbers in the "wrong" format. Always store your numbers in international format. Not only does it provide a uniform platform for number detection to work from, it also makes calling your home-country contacts easier from abroad. Assuming you live in the UK as I do and your contact's mobile number is 07890123456, don't store it in your contacts as such, use the international format instead. Prefix the number with a "+" sign (obtained by pressing the "*" key twice in rapid succession on Nokia phones) and the international prefix ("44" in the case of the UK) and strip the leading zero. You end up with:

+ 44 7890123456 (don't include the spaces, they're printed here for clarity)

In many countries, the UK included, the international dialling prefix is "00", so some people think they can get away with using "00" instead of the "+" sign because they don't know how to enter the latter.

Well, they can't.

The phone won't recognise the number as being an international number because it doesn't start with a "+" and therefore won't be able to do a certain number of automatic transformations. Also, it won't work in all countries. In the USA, for example, the international prefix is "01", not "00", so if you take your phone over to the USA and try to ring someone at home, you won't get through and you might also incur roaming charges. It has to be a "+" sign.

Also bear in mind that synchronising with Outlook tends to mess up numbers. Microsoft very helpfully add spaces and a "(0)" in the number sometimes to make it easier for humans to read. It does however mean that the number is altered and therefore incorrect.

Finally, quite a few problems of this nature are down to operators messing things up when they alter the firmware in handsets that they distribute (read here for more information). In some cases it is possible to get written permission from the network operator to remove their buggy firmware and install generic Nokia firmware in its place in order to eliminate this problem (and others besides), but it's far from easy in an industry so tightly controlled by the networks. Characteristic tell-tale signs of operator ineptitude are the phone being able to display the contact's name when that contact calls you but not when they text you, or vice-versa, depending on whether you've stored the contact's number in international format or not.

There is also a bit of silly "optimisation" in SymbianOS itself, which can rear its ugly head from time to time. The operating system only compares the last 7 digits of the caller ID number it's receiving with entries in its contacts list. The probability of two people sharing the same 7 digits at the end of their phone number is one in ten million, but it has been known to happen. In this case, the phone can't distinguish between the two. So, for example, +441204123456 and +33634123456 are percieved as being the same number when they're clearly even in different countries (the UK and France). If one of those calls you or sends you a text message then the name will not be displayed because the phone doesn't know which one it is.

Caller ID in text messages is also a bit of a problem sometimes.

Assuming the phone is clear of operator-induced problems (see above), if it can't identify the contact correctly when they're calling you, it won't be able to identify them any better when they text you. So, you fix the problem, and yet the text message you received earlier still shows a number as the sender and not the contact that the phone is now able to identify correctly. Why is that?

It's because the list of messages displayed is built as and when inbound messages arrive. It is not updated every time you look at the list (think of the overhead that would be for phones with thousands of messages in the list!). The phone was not able to identify the contact at the time the message was received, so that's how it stays.

So, in short:

1) Eliminate duplicate entries, including on the SIM card.
2) Make sure all your numbers are in international format with "+" as the international dialling prefix.
3) If problems persist then it's related to operator branding.
4) SymbianOS only looks at the last 7 digits of phone numbers.
5) SMS/MMS message lists are built as and when messages are added, not in real time.

How do I stop or silence that annoying startup animation?

While starting up, Nokia Series 60 smartphones show a short animation of two hands reaching out and grasping each other and play back a snippet of the "Nokia Tune" (which is actually an excerpt of the "Gran Vals" by Francesco Tárrega). This can be annoying or even embarrassing in some situations.

If you're quick enough you can make the phone skip the animation before it starts playing back the jingle.

On touch-screen phones: simply tap the screen.

On keypad phones: press any key.

Alternatively, if you're likely not to catch the animation quickly enough, then you can silence it altogether.

You need to edit the settings for your active profile (consult your manual for instructions how to do this). More specifically, you need to set "Warning tones" to "Off".

If you switch to another profile before switching off then you'll have to make sure THAT profile's warning tones are also deactivated.

While this will silence the animation, you will also lose other pieces of audio information. For example, you won't hear the beep that's emitted when the battery is fully charged or any other audio signal that accompanies an information box. Java applets will also be mute (this is most evident with games).

So, you can skip the animation if you're quick enough or you can silence it at the cost of silencing many notifications, but you can't deactivate it completely.

About this blog...

Nothing pretentious here. Just a few tips and tricks as and when I come up with them.

The material here is mostly going to relate to Linux on the one hand, and to SymbianOS S60 smartphones on the other. I'll obviously tag the entries accordingly in order to facilitate searches.

This will be a permanent work in progress. If you want to be informed of new posts then feel free to subscribe to the RSS feed or ask me to add you to the e-mail notification list.

As for my background and the reasons why I think I'm qualified to do this, I've been using computers for 30 years now, since even before Microsoft existed (yes, there were computers before Microsoft!). I've used many operating systems including multiple variants of Linux, several FreeBSD versions and Solaris. I've used and programmed for most versions of MS-DOS, Windows 3.x, 9x and NT, and I'm currently self-employed as a Unix systems administrator and web-based application developer, working primarily in PHP and MySQL on Unix-based systems. I am also a co-founder of a local Linux User Group in central France, where I used to live.

Aside from the world of Unix and Linux, I'm a fan of Nokia mobile phones and have used quite a few in my time. The ones I can remember are a heavily branded handset from the French operator SFR of which I don't even know the model number, a 3510i, 2650, 6280, N73, N95, N96, N97 and I own a 5800 XpressMusic right now. I also happen to be the all-time number 2 participant in the official Nokia Support Discussion forums.

I hope you find the information here useful!

Thanks in advance for reading :)