ned Productions Consulting

Technology musings by Niall Douglas
ned Productions Consulting
(an expert advice and services company based in Ireland)

Friday 7th September 2012 11.37pm

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Been playing around this past week with a pay as you go (prepaid) GSM mobile SIM called "Speakout" by 7-11 (the convenience stores) in Canada. It features a European style charging model (i.e. you don't pay when someone rings or texts you and there are no automatic monthly charges), $0.25/min flat rate call charges and all you can eat (really 2Gb monthly before they cap your speed) mobile "WAP" data for just $10/month. In other words, it's a real bargain, relative to the appallingly retrograde and anti-consumer mobile phone market in Canada which it inherits from the US. I mean, paying just to keep the SIM active and when people ring you? Paying four times as much when ringing a number outside your "local" area? Purlease!

Now, there are a few catches. Firstly, you can top up only using vouchers bought from 7-11 or a credit (not debit) card. Secondly, you can't roam outside Canada, not at all, which is like bargain basement SIMs in Europe such as Tesco Mobile. And thirdly, mobile "WAP" data is heavily restricted to just ports 80 and 443, and any images downloaded have the crap compressed out of them by a mandatory HTTP proxy server you are required to use for external access. On the other hand, I have used just 42Mb in the past five days of heavy usage, and 8Mb of that was speed testing, so the compression certainly reduces costs their end. And for web browsing/maps/navigation, "WAP" mobile data works well, and at full speed 5-7Mbit HSPDA here in Waterloo.

The biggest limitation is lack of IMAP for email, so I tried rigging up an OpenVPN over port 443 to one of my North American VPSs, with OpenVPN on Android provided by this very good free app ( And lo and behold, doesn't the Speakout (really Rogers, the Canadian telecoms incumbent) HTTP proxy permit non-HTTP traffic, and hence OpenVPN over port 443 works just fine and dandy. In short, you do get full mobile data with a bit of work and an external server.

Android can't disable Nagle's algorithm its end, so single packet outbound latency is in the one second range. Inbound latency (with Nagle's off) is much better at about 140ms, 30ms of which is the distance between Canada and my VPS. In other words, web browsing is noticeably slower with the VPS on, and besides OpenVPN won't let the connection sleep which is terrible for the battery, so I generally turn on the VPN for email only. But by golly it works, and what a bargain at $10/month! Well done Canada, you're beating Europe on this one thing definitely so far!