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Hard and Fast

At the beach

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 4-Jan-2010 17:22

This is a light article looking at Mobile Internet options for the holidaying, professional. You might think it sad that one would want to remain connected rather than swap to holiday mode – but take a minute and consider the world of today, in NZ at least.
The last decade has seen an embrace of ‘The Internet’ for providing services, information, tools and entertainment. There is so much that is now online, that only when you don’t have access do you realise how different the world is. Add some real spice and introduce two children under 10, and the weather we’ve had in the xmas/new year of 2009/10.
When was the last time you banked a cheque or used telephone banking? Or called a movie theatre to find out listings? Try going ‘internet-free’, then go on holiday… and try to manage your life. Technology may be considered a scourge of modern life. I see it as a way of making life better, easier and that much more manageable.
Babies learn to get attention by crying at a certain pitch, designed to induce response in tired parents. Pre-tweens learn two more dreaded words designed to tweak that nerve - “I’m Bored”.
I called a local movie theatre to get movie listings for the kids, which had a recorded announcement of all the movies on. The audio level was terrible – I struggled to hear anything – and there was no answer when trying to get a human. Movies were read in random order and with too much detail (rating, movie length and observations on movie) –too slow and too irrelevant for me. A quick trip to their website – sorted in 5 minutes flat (and $40 later for the tickets!). The online world, especially once it is familiar, is tough to leave.
Continuous Improvement: Product Launch’s & Compromise I’ve worked for several industries, mostly in telco and mobile. I have launched many products, and been through the subsequent after launch hangovers (when reality sets in). So I thought I would apply what I know to one of the biggest launches in 2009: the Telecom XT Mobile network.
A product launch is a series of compromises between commercial dates, technical realities, your own expectations and those of the sponsor(s). At some point, you need to go to market with whatever open bugs, missing tools, missing material are, for one simple reason: launch creates focus. It also puts the spotlight on, which means every move, success, failure, complaint or problem has huge visibility and is pored over.
No product is perfect at launch, no company is ever ready to deal with every type of usecase that gets presented – nor should they have to be. Being ready to solve all of yesterday’s problems is insanity – but you need to be ready to deal with ‘in-life’ as it crops up, and a company needs to make resources available while they work on ‘the next big thing’.
This state is sometimes referred to as ‘crossing the chasm’, between the hubris of launch and the dullness of reality. Not dealing with the chasm, or pretending it hasn’t really happened, is just crazy. A product launch is just the start – rapid response to in-life is more critical to success.
Telecom NZ has never run with GSM in NZ, although it has come close to swapping from CDMA. It took several years and a management change to sign off building a new network - WCDMA 850Mhz (same as Telstra for Australia). It’s just one technology - no legacy GSM network here – and everything is brand new, with little legacy baggage to contend with. The only real challenge is migrating the CDMA customer base to WCDMA, without having to give away 1.5m new devices.
This approach means you lose a mature, stable and reliable platform. Tools and technologies developed for the old have to be rebuilt, product enhancements and pricing plans need to be re-justified to the latest round of management, business rules need to be re-qualified… the list is endless. The recent failure of the XT network is a classic example – everything is new, which means the technology is still being stabilised.
The same conversation is happening for the PSTN network – moving to an IP Voice service forces the same discussions to be had. New technology often doesn’t have the same richness as the old - or the costs - and comes with its own foibles. Changing core technology is easy to justify in a presentation, and a lot of work to live through in practise – having been through it several times at every company I’ve worked for.
Knowing this I avoided buying an XT service for many months, waiting for the network to stabilise, for the sales channels to be trained and educated, for new propositions to be developed and refined, and for XT ‘mark 2’ to come out. Having a need for a Mobile Internet service, I took to seeing what the market offered and went from there.
The purchase Around the XT launch in May 2009, Vodafone launched a ‘$1 for 10mb a day’ offer, for any type of Mobile Internet use, with subsequent use costing $1/mb. The 10mb is reset daily, and is quite a good offer for very light use with a Smartphone, but not so hot for a datacard. 
Vodafone do have options for prebuying 100mb or 512mb, but these require the user to be on ‘Supa Prepay’ and to purchase an add-on that recurs every month. Not so good if you only need it for a few weeks (I would have preferred to purchase a once-off block as I need). I have a Supa Prepay sim, as well as a Vodafone HSDPA datacard.
Before Xmas, Telecom launched a Prepay Mobile broadband offer. For $99 (or free to existing Telecom Xtra Broadband customers) you get the MF626 USB Modem (with USB extension cable), Prepay SIM Pack with $20 usage and 512mb bundled data. Subsequent data is either $29.95 for another 512mb, or partial usage that goes something like – “climbing usage of 10c/MB to 300mb, then 212mb uncharged usage thereafter”. Telecom gets to realise the revenue faster this way, rather than spread the $29.95 over 512mb (Money stored in a prepay account can’t be classed as revenue until it’s used for a service; while in the ‘idle’ state, it’s a liability on the companies balance sheet).
The purchase experience was one of the best I’ve experienced; I went into the Leading Edge store in Palmerston North on the 28th of December, and the entire process took 7 minutes. The girl at the counter was well-briefed and answered all of the tricky stuff I threw at here around compatibility, coverage and usage. She volunteered I shouldn’t activate the SIM Card until the 1st of January (else my 512mb free usage would be lost on the 1st of the month – this is a quirk of the Telecom billing system, but a nasty one nonetheless). Kudos to the Telecom retail folk – the training and execution was superb.
The environment I am staying near the beach, and depending on where I am in the house, I get between 0-2 bars for Vodafone, and 0-1 bars for Telecom - when near the window. Despite locking the Vodafone Mobile Connect software to 3G only, the Vodafone card still spends a great deal of time swapping between the UMTS and GPRS networks – which means lengthy delays as the card cycles between technologies. This is disappointing and should not really be happening in 2009. Both Vodafone and O2 developed their mobile datacard software simultaneously in the UK around 2004 (I know this because I led the O2 side for their 3G launch), and both use the same software vendor. Five years of product enhancement and development should mean the software is pretty robust. 
To be fair, getting the Telecom software to install on my XP machine was an exercise. One only needs to insert the modem in a free USB slot, and your PC will auto-launch the installer – in theory. My machine recognised the Modem as a USB stick only and would not give me access to the embedded software – some obscure setting somewhere prevented autorun from working. I have Windows 7 on the same machine and was able to correctly install using that OS, as well as retrieve the software and copy to the local harddisk, to manually install with Windows XP.
I wasn’t interested in calling the helpdesk for support – I’m not doing a critical review of Telecom – and am lucky that I am able to self-support. No doubt driver install wobbled somewhere in the process – drivers being the biggest bugbear of Windows – and am pleased that the driver experience is better with Windows 7.
In Use What a difference new technology makes! Overall service speeds on Vodafone Mobile Internet, where I am, quite frankly suck. The card I have is not faulty, and I would not expect many other data users where I am so cell loading should be very light. My comments are subjective – I am experiencing the service as any user should – and to me, the Vodafone was just poor. When locked onto 3G for long enough, actual speeds for Internet, was disappointing. 
Telecom (which has lower signal strength according to the Connection Manager) rocketed by comparison, with average performance of a vintage 512k broadband connection – which was more than enough to let me achieve what I wanted (banking and a little web use).
What I had forgotten was how greedy Windows is with an Internet connection. The moment a tunnel was available, all manner of updaters sprang into life (Windows Update, Windows Defender Update, AntiVirus Update, Apple Update, Spybot update and so on). I switched off as much as I could find, and even then there was usage going on (some malware perhaps?). On Vodafone, 10mb gets chomped through pretty quick, although they are good enough to notify you via text when you are 2mb away from your data cap. The Vodafone portal has excellent self-management tools – another example of services moving to the web – while I struggled with the Telecom website, and don’t wish to waste my precious bucket o’ data trying to figure it out.
Using Google Chrome, the surfing was fast and I achieved what I wanted – managing money, movie tickets for bored children, and keeping up with the rest of the world, as I have always done.
Conclusion I wrote this article to explore the concept of being truly mobile anywhere, with a useful piece of kit (a laptop). I also wanted to comment on product launch’s and product evolution, using a real-world example… and I think the Telecom experience is better than Vodafone. The self-service website needs a lot of work, but for what matters – actual customer experience – Telecom Mobile broadband is great. 
Mobile is not yet at the point where it’s a true fixed substitute – the technology quality and pricing take care of that. But it’s good enough for the occasional user – and I do mean occasional – that prepay mobile internet is ok to use and fairly predictable (no bill shock either – if you run out of money, everything just stops).
Good on you Telecom for an acceptable service. Roll on the full XT Mark 2 – and then Mark 3!

Note: for clarity, I work for TelstraClear.

Other related posts:
2Degrees prepay price change
Consolidation (“and then there were fewer”)
Introducing the Hot New Social Network (updated!)

Permalink to At the beach | Add a comment (6 comments) | Main Index

Comment by grant_k, on 5-Jan-2010 00:40

It's interesting to read of your experience with Telecom's XT Mobile Broadband service Antonios.  Like you, I also bought an MF6xx data card for occasional use when away from home.

Generally, the performance has been good for me too, notwithstanding a period of frequent disconnections which Telecom (or their network supplier Alcatel-Lucent) eventually managed to fix.

I haven't had any problems at all with the "Telecom Connection Manager" software, on Windows XP, Vista and now Windows 7.  It installed itself correctly on each platform, without me having to do anything.

I agree with your comments about the shortcomings of Telecom's "self service" portal.  They call it "Your Telecom" and there are various strange things about it, that don't work as you would expect.  For example, it is impossible to Logout, even though a link is provided for this purpose.  Also, if you view Usage Details, it gives a listing showing a whole series of times and dates with each one showing a data quantity of 928kB alongside.  No explanation is provided as to why the data quantity is always 928kB.  It would have been much more useful if the total data used in each session was shown, along with connect and disconnect times.

Nevertheless, as you say, Telecom's Mobile Broadband service does work, and indeed, works pretty well in most of the places you want to use it.  The 10c per MB charging regime for prepay users is good value in my opinion, and accommodates occasional users very well.  Until Vodafone's $1 per day for 10MB offer was launched early last year, there really was nothing to cater for occasional users.  It's good to see that someone at Vodafone (and finally Telecom) decided to address this issue at last.

Comment by johnr, on 5-Jan-2010 08:02

You lock the data card to 3G only and it still drops to GPRS this is not a network issue also 3G to 2G hand down has been disabled across all RNCs when in a packet data session. I suggest you check your setup.

Comment by Foo, on 7-Jan-2010 02:26

A very interesting article - always good to know what options are out there for surfing when away from your usual connection.

One thing I did wonder though - I thought the Vodafone $1 a day for 10MB deal started middle of 2008 rather than 2009. I'm sure I was using that back in '08.

Author's note by antoniosk, on 7-Jan-2010 15:55

Foo: probably true! I only recall it in 2009

Johnr: I'd love to know how to check my setup. I used the VMC software set for 3G Only mode, and would expect the software to tell the card what to do. I also selected the 'Optimise Internet' option and expected the Bytemobile software to be available - not so.

grant_k: cheers.

Comment by johnr, on 8-Jan-2010 16:29

If you use the VMC software with the USB modem 3G only does not work. You need to use the Software on the USB modem

Author's note by antoniosk, on 10-Jan-2010 20:57

Cheers Johnr. Not clear in any documentation I've seen, and I only have a PC Card.

Unfortunately something has gone haywire, and WIndows Installer is now stuck trying to reinstall the VMC software, except file 'preinst.exe' error 2753 is not available. Laptop is now stuck in an infinite loop.

Digisoft still have some way to go.

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antoniosk's profile

Antonios Karantze
New Zealand

I'm a born and bred Wellingtonian, and have chosen IT and Telecommunications as my industry, as a Commercial Manager.

Credits include but are not limited to:
- The O2 Xda smartphone range, and O2's range of 3G Mobile Internet services
- Numerous TelstraClear Mobile and IP voice products

In my journey through the industry I have worked at
- Bellsouth NZ
- Telecom NZ
- ICO Global
- T-Mobile International (formerly One2One Communications)
- O2 Plc
- TelstraClear
- Vodafone NZ

I'm a fan of technology, and what it can do for people and business... and I enjoy bringing new things to market and seeing them grow. Enjoy the blog, take the time to think about what I write - it's not technology heavy, and is my reflection on life and the people around me.