Air New Zealand’s latest profiteering scheme – charging extra for return airfares?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Jan-2015 05:46

As a travel junkie I travel to Australia pretty frequently - often half a dozen times per year or more. While looking at flights this afternoon I noticed Air New Zealand now charge more to book a return flight to Australia on a single ticket than they do to book two one way airfares on separate tickets. The difference is only small, but the mere fact there is a difference is surprising.

What’s the logic behind that? As somebody who travels a lot and thinks they know a reasonable amount about airline booking systems, I can conclude there is no obvious reason for it – it looks like a simple case of Air New Zealand deciding they can make a few extra dollars profit as most people will be totally unaware of this.

Historically booking a one way flight from Australia to New Zealand redirected the customer to the Air New Zealand Australian booking site and quoted prices in A$ – around a year or so ago this was changed allowing customers in New Zealand to book one way fares from Australia on the New Zealand site using NZ$.

Lets look at a few examples:

(I have not included the pricing component for airfares from Wellington to Australia, as these do not differ)

If you book a one way fare from Melbourne to Auckland on the 21st June you’ll pay $277, $346 or $512 for those flights.

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   Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $286, $356 or $521.

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Want a book a trip from Wellington? Booking a one way fare from Melbourne to Wellington will set you back $275 for a direct flight, or $379 or $384 for non direct flights via Auckland and Christchurch.

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Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $284, $406 or $411

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Want a book a trip from Christchurch? Booking a one way fare from Melbourne to Christchurch will set you back $299 for a direct flight, or $382 or $384 for non direct flights via Auckland.

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Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $311, $409 or $411

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It is worth noting that if you are booking a single flight from Australia to New Zealand that specials may not be available as the screenshots above show. This is to stop Australian customers booking flights in reverse while New Zealand based promotions are on. While I chose the date above at random as a comparison, this issue isn’t restricted to this date or just to Melbourne, it also occurs on flights to other destinations. It’s also interesting to note that you’re paying even more when the flight is not direct.

It’s also interesting to note the differences in the Works Deluxe fares – with some being cheaper as part of a return ticket than a one way ticket, despite these being the same booking class.

There are no logical reason why this should occur – security and airport taxes are a fixed variable at $45.46 to leave Christchurch or Wellington, or $50.64 to leave Auckland. Security and airport taxes to leave Melbourne is $98.15, and a total of $143.15 ($45.46 + $98.13) is charged when booking a return airfare ex Christchurch or Wellington, and $159.90 ($50.64 + $98.13) ex Auckland. The appropriate charge is applied correctly for both one way and return flights.

So what’s the story Air New Zealand? Do you have a logical explanation for this? Or is this a simple case of profiteering because you think nobody will notice?



Air New Zealand’s fuel hedging

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 9-Jan-2015 21:35

With oil prices dropping we’ve seen many media in recent days ask why airfare prices aren’t dropping. Clearly they’re not smart enough to check the Air NZ annual report to see the current status of Air NZ’s fuel hedging so I’ve done this for you.

Most (but not all) airlines hedge fuel. With Air NZ’s hedging dropping to 50% it looks like somebody there took a gamble that has paid off! :)

hedging



Flight Review – Air New Zealand NZ412, Air New Zealand NZ119, Virgin Australia VA860 (AKA a guide of how to get from Wellington to Melbourne via Auckland and Sydney because it’s boring flying direct)

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 9-Jan-2015 15:15

Anybody who knows me realises I love flying. Rather than flying direct from Wellington to Melbourne to spend a week over the Christmas holidays, I decided to fly from Wellington to Melbourne via Auckland and Sydney for a change. Why you might ask? Quite simply because I could. :-) The cost was minimal over flying direct and gave me the opportunity to use a recognition upgrade to upgrade to Business Premier between Auckland and Sydney as A320 aircraft from Wellington lack a Business class offering.

Turning up at Wellington airport at 7am on Boxing Day was a strange experience – I’ve never been at the airport at this time of the morning before and seen it so quiet. I checked in at the Air New Zealand kiosk and received by boarding passes for my 3 flights and a bag tag for my bag that was checked right through to Melbourne. Air New Zealand has a partnership with Virgin Australia for both Trans-Tasman and Australian domestic flights with airline status benefits such as lounge access available across both airlines. The check-in process was super painless and took all of a few minutes, and after dropping my bag I headed to the Air New Zealand Koru lounge to wait for my flight.

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If you haven’t been to the Koru lounge in Wellington before, you’re really missing out on what is truly a great lounge. Yes there are aspects of the lounge which are getting a little tired, and yes we could argue about points such as catering, but the lounge is big, has multiple different areas for work  as well as a few quiet zones, has a fantastic view of both the airport apron and runway, it’s own barista for coffee, plenty of showers, and in all my experiences, amazing staff.

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Breakfast consisted of a range of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, muffins, cookies, toast, scrambled egg, beans and sausages. I love the bircher muesli and highly recommend this. Air New Zealand also has a brilliant new system for ordering coffee from the barista – you order using a tablet (shown in the phone above) or from the Air New Zealand app on your phone. If you order it on your phone a push notification will appear when it is ready.

After enjoying a nice breakfast I headed down to the gate for my flight. It takes about 30 seconds to get from the lounge to the gates used by Air New Zealand jet services via an escalator, but it can take another few minutes of walking to reach the gates used by non jet services. Wellington airport lacks centralised screening, so each gate still has it’s own screening point with x-ray and metal detectors. This creates a large bottleneck at busy times as people leave it until the last minute to leave the lounge and proceed to the gate, and is something that will be resolved as the airport begins expansion of the pier that Air New Zealand operates from and moves to centralised screening before the lounge and gate, as is the norm at other airports.

The flight to Auckland was on an Airbus A320. Air New Zealand operate a fleet of A320-200 and Boeing 737-300 aircraft for domestic services, with the last of the Boeing 737-300 aircraft being planned for retirement towards the end of 2015 once the remainder of the new A320 aircraft arrive. Our departure time was delayed by around 10 minutes due to minor maintenance work. Onboard all domestic flights Air New Zealand serve complimentary tea, coffee and snacks consisting of vege chips or a Cookie Time chocolate chip cookie. On regular business days, ‘'Koru Hour flights” in the morning  also serve a light snack of a muffin, and in the evening beer, wine cheese & crackers are also available.

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On arrival in Auckland I had a few hours to spare before my  flight to Sydney so decided to sit outside and enjoy some sun for a little while. Auckland Domestic and International terminals are in two separate buildings, and it’s around an 8-10 minute walk between both terminals with much (but not all) of this walkway now under cover. Free buses are also available to take passengers between terminals. 

International departures can get incredibly busy at certain times of the day, but was very quiet when I went through immigration and security. Departures are on the upper level of the airport, however if you’re a Premium customer flying on Air New Zealand you can fast track immigration and security from a lift in the Premium check-in area which takes you to a dedicated immigration area and priority queue for security screening. Whether there are any benefits of this will depend on the time of day that you’re travelling.

Air New Zealand’s International Koru lounge is located on the upper floor of the international terminal. While it’s by no means a bad lounge, I’ve had some very mixed experiences in there over the past year. The lounge can get very crowded at certain times of the day, and a lot of the furniture is now getting quite tired. The lounge also lacks any real views of the airport due to it’s location. The good news is that Air New Zealand are building a completely new lounge that due to be completed later in 2015.

A good selection of snack food and sandwiches were available, with hot options for lunch appearing just before I left the lounge for my flight.

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My flight to Sydney was on a 777-200ER. Air New Zealand operate 8 of these aircraft, and are currently in the process of refitting these with new seats and upgraded In-flight Entertainment (IFE). While Business Premier and Premium Economy customers will benefit from this upgrade, economy customer will find themselves with much less space as the seating configuration moves from a 9 abreast 3-3-3 to a 10 abreast 3-4-3 configuration. My flight was on a non refit aircraft. Boarding started a little late and the gate staff seemed a little flustered over something, but once it was underway things seemed to run smoothly. I boarded and walked left to me seat, 2A, which is right at the front of the cabin (no 1A exists due to the way the seats are numbered).

 

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Air NZ use a Virgin Atlantic designed fully lie flat seat across it’s 777 fleet (both 200 and 300) and it’s 787 Dreamliners, the later of which use the same newer generation seat that is being fitted as part of the 777 refit. The layout is a 4 abreast 1-2-1 herringbone layout that gives every passenger direct aisle access.

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Seats include an ottoman / footrest that can also be used as a seat for another passenger during meals. Each seat also features a 10.4” screen and power socket. One tip for these aircraft is to be wary of booking seats 1K or 1J – these feature the ottoman near the curtain (as shown above) which is prone to being knocked by passengers going to the bathroom, or crew when moving around trolley carts.

All Business seats come with a bottle of water and “premium” noise cancelling headphones. While the headphones are a step up from regular economy headsets, they pale in comparison to my Bose QC15’s. No amenity kit and bedding (memory foam mattress, pillow and duvet) are available on these short haul flights – these are only available for long haul flights.

I sat down and was offered a pre flight bubbly or juice. While Air New Zealand serve champagne in Business Premier, this is typically not served on the ground. Orders were also taken for a drink to the delivered once airborne.

Once airborne the crew delivered hot towels and menus followed by drinks and a nut mix. I opted for the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne.

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Not long after this the meal service began. The crew set up the tray table with a tablecloth before delivering the starter. I opted for the Proscuitto which was washed down nicely by another top up of the Charles Heidsieck. The crew followed behind with bread with several options available. It’s great to see Air New Zealand haven’t followed some other airlines who now don’t have plates for bread.

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After enjoying the delicious starter it was time to decide on the main course. I opted for the chicken which was an absolutely sensational meal and incredibly tasty – the photo doesn’t really it justice. This was all washed down with another glass of Champagne.

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To finish off was ice cream was served for dessert. New Zealand makes some fantastic ice cream so it’s good to see this on offer. Crew also distributed Express Passes for arrival into Australia to Premium Customers.

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For the rest of the journey I relaxed and caught up on a few podcasts on my phone. The ancient Rockwell Collins IFE system in my seat was totally unusable with dropouts and stuttering which meant it was impossible to listen to or watch anything on the IFE system. The Airshow system was also unwatchable, displaying noise that looked like a badly tuned RF feed on a TV (in real life it was far worse than the picture).

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Aside from the poor IFE, the aircraft was certainly showing it’s age. Air New Zealand delayed the refit of these aircraft so the cabins are now around 7-8 years old, and this really shows. The leather seats are well worn with a lot of scuff marks both on and around the seats, and right in front of me I had the insulation between the hulk head hanging down. The 2J seat sign on the overhead bin was written on with a marker pen which looked very tacky.

Cutbacks on aircraft cleaning have become really evident across the Air New Zealand fleet recently, and I’ve encountered some pretty disgusting aircraft flying around with interior cabins with dirty, greasy handprint marks (presumably from maintenance), clogged dust vents in bathrooms and sidewalls and crumbs on seats. While the odd crumb isn’t the end of the world, dust and dirty handprints are simply inexcusable in my view.

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Overall the flight was a great one. The crew were sensational – they were super friendly and had constant drink refills on offer. Empty plates and cutlery were promptly cleared, and I was asked on several occasions if I needed anything.

Arrival into Sydney was amazingly quick due to the time of the day – the flight was the only international one at that time so the customs area and baggage hall was completely deserted. From the time I left the plane I was through the Smart Gate machine, collected my bags and entered the Virgin transfer area, all within about 10 minutes.

Sydney Airport Domestic and International terminals are on different sides of the airport, meaning that passengers need to transit between the two either by bus or train. I checked my bag at the Virgin transfer counter and received a pass to use for the terminal transfer bus which turned up about 5 minutes later.

As I had no bags to check at the Domestic terminal I headed straight for the Virgin lounge. This is accessible via a Premium entry area from the kerbside with it’s own dedicated security screening for eligible premium customers, or via the terminal for all other customers.

As I didn’t have long to spend in the Virgin lounge I opted for a quick snack and a beer (Fat Yak is one of my favourite Australian beers). There was a good selection of salads, sandwiches on offer along with numerous snack options. The lounge features a good selection of beers and wine, with staff on hand to serve these. The lounge was well laid out, and had a few themed areas along with work and quiet zones.

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The only disappointing aspect for me was the lack of any real view out the windows. I’m sure I’m not the only person who could quite happily sit in an airport lounge all day just to watch the planes outside!

It was about a 5 minute walk from the Virgin lounge to my gate. Boarding commenced not long after and as it was a fairly quiet day for flying the Boeing 737-800 was only around half full and pushback was right on time. In-flight service consisted of a petite sized sandwich along with a choice of coffee, tea, water or juice and a complementary view of the baron, dry, Australian landscape.

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Arrival into Melbourne airport was smooth, with my checked-in bag appearing pretty promptly despite the airport being fairly busy.

Overall all 3 flights were great – Air New Zealand’s business class product is great in terms of service and food, but the plane was looking a little tired, and the IFE was quite simply just atrocious. The Trans-Tasman alliance between Air New Zealand and Virgin makes transfers between both airlines pretty seamless, and makes the combination of flights all the more enjoyable. It’s certainly something I’d do again if time was no obstacle.



Vodafone NZ – increasing prices because profits are low.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 6-Jan-2015 11:06

I hope Russell Stanners had a good Xmas. My new years prediction is that it will be his last one as CEO of Vodafone New Zealand. I also pick 2015 as the year Vodafone could well exit the New Zealand market.

For many years Vodafone New Zealand was the Southern Hemisphere money tree. It was the jewel in the crown of the Newbury based global empire – New Zealand was a far off country where margins were good and the profits kept flowing back to the Northern Hemisphere most years. A blind eye was turned to the operation because it delivered results. Unfortunately that money tree now has a toxic illness. Following in the footsteps of Vodafone Australia which over the course of a few years lost it’s way and has now been haemorrhaging money with no light at the end of the tunnel, Vodafone New Zealand is now following Australia into the same tunnel. Before Grahame Maher was sadly taken from this earth way too early he set up both companies on their respective paths to success. He must now turning in his grave to see what has become of both companies.

In 2012 Vodafone New Zealand purchased TelstraClear for $880 million, a deal that made sense to many, but to others started ringing alarm bells. Telstra had been very frugal in the New Zealand market and their investment had seen traditionally low capital expenditure over a number of years, even when the New Zealand operation was clearly in need of it. Internally inside Telstra many looked at the New Zealand regulatory environment and saw that making inroads was going to be difficult, and that generating a return on large capital investment would probably not occur. Even their plans to build a mobile network were scuttled, part way through the construction of the network in Tauranga the plug was pulled.

It’s safe to say many at Vodafone through the purchase of TelstraClear was a bargain. They inherited a massive nationwide fibre network that would reduce their reliance on Spark and Chorus, a huge residential customer base (TelstraClear had more residential broadband customers than Vodafone) and a relatively large number of corporate customers. Somehow throughout the due diligence process, Vodafone seemed to miss the duct tape that held TelstraClear together. To some TelstraClear was  shambolic mess of different technologies, multiple CRM systems and products and services that simply didn’t deliver or work the way they were supposed to. Vodafone did however inherit some fantastic technology – the cable network in Wellington and Christchurch, and the IPTV playout system that now forms the basis of the UFB Vodafone TV offering. They could have done a lot more with this technology, but have chosen not to. They could have done a lot with their Vodafone TV set top box (aka the former T-Box) but chose not to as well. Making the guy who knew all about this redundant during the last round of restructuring before Xmas probably wasn’t the smartest move either.

In many ways however they were too slow at achieving any synergies that should have occurred as a result of the merger, and failed to predict the ruthless cut throat competition that was about to hit the Broadband market in New Zealand. The mass introduction of unlimited plans and price cuts in 2013 and 2014 that have seen retail margins plummet, with many plans only delivering very small margins. Orcon famously said in late 2013 that it took 27 months to make a profit from a customer signed up to a residential DSL based broadband connection.

Buying TelstraClear has certainly burdened Vodafone financially - October 2014 saw Vodafone New Zealand announce a $27.9 million dollar loss – it’s first in 13 years. In the good old days before the TelstraClear merger in 2011 it made a $151 million profit, and sent $130 million back to Newbury. Cost cutting and large scale redundancies have occurred within the company in the past year, and customer service now seems to be at an all time low. Posts of social media suggest average wait times when calling their call centre are often 1hr +, with many people talking about giving up after numerous calls with long wait times.

There have been plenty of rumours over the years about Vodafone pulling out of New Zealand and plenty of mainstream media who have been sucked in by these rumours and written speculative stories. These were all laughable as there was never a reason for Vodafone to want to pull out, but times have now changed. Vodafone sold their Fiji operation in mid 2014, and with Australia showing no sign of a turnaround and New Zealand now facing tough times, it has resulted in some market analysts in the UK now calling for Vodafone to consider it’s position down under. Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao told investors in November that the company would consider selling it’s Australian operation. Logic would dictate that there would be little sense in Vodafone staying solely in New Zealand should it sell in Australia. There is however one major stumbling block – finding a buyer for one (or both) may prove incredibly challenging.

If you’re a Vodafone shareholder you’ll be happy to know Vodafone’s response to it’s financial struggles has been to announce an across the board price increase for most fixed line broadband and phone customers in New Zealand.

As you may have seen recently reported in the media, there have been changes in the industry to the costs of delivering broadband and home phone services for all providers in New Zealand. These cost changes affect the conditions that all providers operate under and unfortunately our prices will need to change to reflect these new conditions.

From 1 February 2015, most monthly fees for our broadband and home phone plans will increase by $4 per month.

People will know that over the past couple of year the price of wholesale access to the Chorus copper network and wholesale broadband services has been under review by the Commerce Commission. As of the 1st December 2014 the wholesale cost of these services was cut, but is still under review by the Commerce Commission who have recommend that the cut now not be as a great as it first recommended. Regardless of the final outcome, pricing will still be cheaper than it was prior to December 1st 2014. In the race to the bottom many ISPs claim they put pricing in the marketplace that factored in greater discounts and that the change will mean prices have to go back up. Spark have already announced some price increases across some of it’s products, but like Vodafone some of these changes are of a very dubious nature including combinations of services that have decreased, not increased in price.

The price of UFB services, and services delivered over their own cable network in Wellington, Christchurch and Kapiti are not affected by the Chorus copper price changes, yet Vodafone are increasing these prices. Adding on $4 per month to these plans and increasing data overuse charges is a pure profit making decision, and  to even subtly infer that this increased cost is a related to “industry changes” is quite frankly the biggest (excuse my English) load of bullshit I’ve ever read in a press release. If you’re a Vodafone shareholder it’s probably great news. For Vodafone customers it’s anything but.

If you’re a Vodafone customer wanting to see what your pricing will increase to, you can view it here.



Using a Mikrotik router for UFB VLAN10 802.1Q tagging

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 7-Nov-2014 08:03

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PLEASE NOTE: Unless you have very good reason for wanting to move away from the hardware your ISP supplies you should always use it. Using non ISP supplied hardware does break the terms & conditions of some ISPs and I am not responsible if they come chasing after you. You should never expect to receive any support at all from your ISP if you are planning to use non approved hardware. I will not provide support or help if you can’t get this working – I suggest you post in the Geekzone Forums if you need help and somebody may be able to help you.

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Here in New Zealand the number of UFB connections is currently increasing rapidly as the network rollout focus moves from high priority schools and business users towards residential users. While many people signing up for UFB are happy to use the router or residential gateway (RGW) supplied by their ISP, some may want to use their own hardware. There are a few obstacles to overcome to do this which I’ll explain below.

Most ISPs by default will require a 802.1Q VLAN tag of 10 to be set on the WAN interface of your router. The vast majority of Ethernet routers available on the market do not support the ability to set a VLAN on the WAN port, but this is changing quickly as vendors realise this has become the default standard on fibre networks around the world. In the fibre world this is known as a tagged UNI port.

So why does a VLAN have to be set?

To understand that requires a a basic understanding of networking. Traffic over your UFB connection is split into two categories – low priority, and high priority. The 30Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps or 200Mbps headline speeds that are available with current UFB connections are known as an Excess Information Rate (EIR) and fall into the low priority category. This speed is best effort, with absolutely no guarantee of performance or throughput. There is certainly no guarantee this headline speed will be available 24/7, and a user should not have an expectation that this will be the case.

Your UFB connection also has a Committed Information Rate (CIR) component which falls into the high priority category. The CIR value ranges from 2.5Mbps to 10Mbps on most plans and is guaranteed bandwidth for both upstream and downstream (which may have different CIR figures in each direction). You should expect be able to obtain this guaranteed bandwidth 24/7 between your router and your ISP.

The catch with the CIR is that it’s only accessible with the correct 802.1p tag on your traffic. The 802.1p tag is a value between 0 and 7 inside the 802.1Q section of an Ethernet header that specifies the priority of individual packets. By default all Ethernet traffic will typically have a 802.1q value of 0 and will be placed in the low priority EIR queue. To access the CIR component of your connection you need to tag traffic with an 802.1p value of 4 or 5 (depending on your connection type) on a UFB connection here in New Zealand.

So what use is the CIR? The High Priority CIR component is especially suited to voice or video applications where guaranteed bandwidth and low latency is important. If your ISP offers VoIP services they are most likely using this CIR component to guarantee the quality of their VoIP service as traffic in the low priority and high priority queues have different network performance targets for common network measurements such as jitter and packet loss. If you’re using your own router with VoIP it’s best practice to create QoS or firewall rules to tag voice traffic to use the CIR. As usual with any CIR you need to ensure that you have local policies in place to manage this bandwidth to handle traffic that may be generated in excess of the CIR.

It’s worth mentioning now that Chorus along with the other Local Fibre Companies (LFCs) responsible for the UFB rollout support untagged UNI ports and this is something that some ISPs do offer. An untagged UNI port means there is no requirement for a VLAN10 tag, but it also means you will have no high priority CIR component on your connection as a 802.1p tag can only be set inside a 802.1Q VLAN header.

So what solutions are there for somebody wanting to use a device that doesn’t support VLAN tagging? There are two that are simple – a switch capable of VLAN tagging that you can use to add the VLAN 10 tag to your traffic, or a Mikrotik Routerboard which can also do the same thing. I’ll describe how to do this with a Mikrotik Routerboard.

You will need to be aware with either approach that you will be unable to set any 802.1p tagging in your router with this approach as traffic leaving your router will not have a 802.1Q header. If you are using a Mikrotik it is possible to create mangle firewall rules inside your Mikrotik to set the priority of traffic inside the bridge, but this is outside the scope of this guide.

Something such as a Mikrotik RB750 device makes the perfect solution to tag your traffic. While any Mikrotik device out there with multiple Ethernet ports can be used, the RB750 is a nice low cost device that will achieve this. One thing to note is that the RB750 only supports 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports, if you have a UFB connection with a faster speed you’ll need something such as a RB750GL that supports Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The basic principle of this setup is to create a VLAN10 tag on an interface, and create a bridge to bridge together VLAN10 with another Ethernet port that you can plug your router into. The example below will create VLAN10 on Ethernet port 1, and bridge this to Ethernet port 2. You would then run a cable from Ethernet port 1 to your ONT, and plug your router into Ethernet port 2.

There are multiple ways to log into a Mikrotik router (SSH, telnet, Winbox or web browser) so I’ll leave that option up to the end user. This is not a guide to using Mikrotik hardware or RouterOS (which does have a steep learning curve) so please don’t ask me questions on this.

Once logged in ensure you delete all existing configuration in the device and either add an IP address to a port you will not be using, or use Winbox MAC address discovery to log into the Mikrotik.

From the terminal enter the following commands:

/interface vlan
add interface=ether1 l2mtu=1522 name=vlan10 vlan-id=10

/interface bridge
add name=UFB_Bridge
/interface bridge port
add bridge=UFB_Bridge interface=vlan10
add bridge=UFB_Bridge interface=ether2

Or if you want to create this from Winbox via a GUI the following screenshots will help

1) Add a VLAN with a VLAN ID of 10 to the interface you wish to use as your WAN port (in this case I’ve used ether1)

ufb vlan1 

2) Create a Bridge – you can call this whatever you like.

ufb vlan4

3) Add VLAN10 and the Ethernet port you wish to plug your router into to the Bridge

ufb vlan3

You should now connect an Ethernet cable from Ether1 (or the port you selected) of your Mikrotik device to your ONT, and plug your router into Ether2 (or the port you selected). Assuming your router is configured with the correct PPPoE or DHCP settings for your ISP, you should now be connected. Some ISPs may tie DHCP leases to a specific MAC address in which case you’ll need to clone the MAC address of your ISP supplied router into your router.



NZ Taxi Federation caught spreading yet more lies about Uber

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 3-Nov-2014 11:37

On Radio NZ National this morning Kathryn Ryan interviewed Roger Heale, the Executuve Director of the New Zealand Taxi Federation. It’s well known the Taxi federation have a strong dislike for Uber, and have been spreading plenty of FUD about Uber since their launch in New Zealand. It wasn’t long ago that they were telling drivers who belong to the Taxi Federation that Uber was operating illegally in NZ and that drivers were unlicenced - both of which are untrue.

You can listen to this interview here http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/20155699/nz-taxi-drivers-call-for-level-playing-field-with-uber

Heale claimed that Uber does not charge GST and that explains an instant 15% difference in the rates. The problem is once again the Taxi federation have been caught telling blatant lies. Uber does charge GST.

Here’s a copy of a recent Uber invoice from a ride in Auckland.

uber invoice

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post asking why Taxis in NZ aren’t interested in competing with Uber (which you can read here). If the Taxi Federation stopped spinning lies and FUD and focussed on bringing member companies and drivers together to deliver the products and service that consumers want, rather than delivering in some cases sub par experiences and hefty electronic card surcharges they’d probably find themselves in a much better place right now. I’ve got no time for companies and organisation that focus their entire resources on trying to spread negative publicity about their competitors rather than trying to make their own product better.



Want to score $50 free Airpoints Dollars with Air New Zealand?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 30-Oct-2014 07:55

If you’re an Air New Zealand Airpoints member you’ll have an Airpoints card that’s branded OneSmart. The card can be used as a regular Prepaid Mastercard and is powered by the Rêv global wallet solution backed by Mastercard and supplied to Air New Zealand by BNZ. You can top up your card with multiple currencies and use this card while overseas for regular credit card transactions and ATM withdrawals with lower fees than you may pay for using a regular ATM card or credit card for cash withdrawals.

I noticed this thread on Geekzone last night discussing a new promotion offering $50 free Airpoints Dollars, simply by spending NZ$300 on your OneSmart card by the end of February 2015.

You can sign up for this promotion on the OneSmart site - http://www.airnewzealand.co.nz/onesmart-register

While I don’t find the exchange rates on this card great for international travel (the conversion rates are worse than you’ll get with a regular credit card), it’s great for booking Air New Zealand airfares as the regular credit card booking fees are waived if you use this card as payment. This promotion is a great one however, and is a very easy way to score a free $50!



Obihai OBi 200 Analogue Telephone Adapter (ATA) Review

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 27-Oct-2014 21:19

As a VoIP guy I’d heard of Obihai Technology and seen their products online but had never had the opportunity to sit down and play with any of their range of products. While at ITExpo in Las Vegas in August I met Sherman Scholten, VP of Sales & Marketing for Obihai, and had an opportunity to look at their range of ATAs and new IP Phones and excitedly left with an OBi 200 ATA to have a play with when I got home. What’s an ATA? It’s an Analogue Telephone Adapter, a device to connect a regular analogue telephone to a VoIP provider for making and receiving calls.

Obihai Technology was formed by Jan Fandrianto and Sam Sin, both of whom are true pioneers in the VoIP space. What’s their background you might ask? Together they built the first mass market ATAs in the 90s when VoIP was in its infancy, and sold their company to Cisco who launched these as the Cisco ATA-186 and ATA-188 ATAs. Both then left Cisco and formed Sipura Technology, starting again building new voice products, and launching new Sipura branded products including the SPA2000 and SPA3000 ATAs onto the market. Like a story repeating itself, they once again sold their company to Cisco where they stayed, designing the Linksys/Cisco branded SPA2102, SPA3102 and SPA921/2 and SPA941/2 and SPA500 series IP phones which pretty much set the benchmark in the VoIP space for many years. Both left Cisco in 2010 and formed Obihai, launching their first products in the market not long after.

So what makes the Obihai products so different from others? The answer is simple – lots!

Like any ATA the basic functionality of plugging in an analogue phone and configuring a VoIP provider is there. Unlike many other products which only allow a single VoIP provider, the OBi 200 allows up to 4 individual VoIP provider accounts to be configured, all of which can be used for inbound and outbound calling. Each account can be accessed with a prefix for outbound calling, or can be integrated into the dial plan to make this fully seamless. All Obihai products also feature Google approved Google Voice support, meaning if you have a Google Voice account this device can be fully integrated for both inbound and outbound calling. Each Obi device also comes with it’s own unique OBiTALK number, which allows free calling between OBi devices without requiring an account with a VoIP provider.

The OBi 200 features a single USB port on the back which can be used for the OBiWiFi (WiFi), OBiBT (Bluetooth) or OBiLINE adapters. The WiFi adapter lets the OBi200 connect to the internet using your WiFi connection, whereas the Bluetooth adapter lets you pair your Bluetooth capable mobile phone with the OBi ATA and lets you use your mobile phone to make and receive calls via your Obihai ATA. The OBiLINE adapter allows you to connect  regular analogue POTS line to the OBi device for inbound and outbound calling. Obihai have a number of different models, each with some slightly different features and ports.

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OBi 200 featuring the OBiWiFi adapter

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If you thought having Bluetooth capabilities was great then the OBiON app for both Android and Apple iOS allows you to make calls from the app on your mobile phone and route these via your OBi device from anywhere in the world. I could stop there, but I won’t, because I haven’t yet covered the cool stuff!

The OBi 200 web interface is very extensive, allowing every aspect of the device to be configured. For somebody like myself who’s used Linksys/Cisco SPA hardware extensively, I felt at home. With a huge number of advanced SIP configuration options available this device should not suffer any incompatibility issues which can still occur in the SIP world. If you’re just configuring a single device, then the web interface may be sufficient – if you’ve got multiple devices then the remote provisioning capabilities really make the Obihai products stand out from the competition. Full XML based provisioning with support for DHCP options 66,150, 159, 160 and 161 is included, but it’s the OBiTALK portal that really makes the Obihai products stand out from the competition.

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So what exactly is the OBiTALK portal? It’s a cloud based portal that allows you to configure one or more Obihai devices from the web, and it is available for both individuals and VoIP service providers. Traditionally to manage multiple devices you’ve had to either ensure you had access to a network via a port forward (which introduces security issues), a VPN, or by creating your own server to manage provisioning files for each device. The OBiTALK portal allows you to configure the common account settings of the device and makes managing devices that may be at remote locations far easier. Changes made in the OBiTALK portal are immediately updated in the OBi device. More advanced settings such as dial tones and network settings can’t be configured from the portal, and need to be configured either via the web interface or using a XML based configuration file.

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Having a cloud based portal poses the question of what should happen if Obihai were to go bust – would the device still work? Moving configuration to the cloud is something many companies are doing, and it’s something that does need to be considered whenever you’re purchasing a device that has this sort of functionality. The good news with Obihai is that if by some chance this did happen you’d still have full control over the ATA and be able to fully configure all the settings locally or via XML provisioning, but would probably lose the ability to call directly between devices, and possibly the Google Voice functionality depending on exactly how this is integrated.

In terms of other technical features the OBi 200 supports G.711a, G711u, G729, G726-32 and iLBC voice codecs along with T.38 support for fax over VoIP. It also supports setting idle and connect polarity settings to forward or reverse which will ensure accurate call connection and disconnection if the device is being used with a PBX.

So what is their not to like about the product? The simple answer is not a lot. One minor annoyance was the advertising and OBi Amazon Affiliate links on the OBiTALK page, but that’s not something that affects the performance of the device in any way. It would be nice to to able to configure more features of the device from the OBiTALK portal, but once again this isn’t a limitation, but merely something that would be nice to have. EDIT: There is an Expert Mode setting within the OBiTALK portal that gives access to every setting in the device, which is something I missed when initially playing with the device. By default only basic settings are shown. With it’s current feature set, Obihai really have set the benchmark for an ATA.

*Obihai products are not currently distributed in NZ, but are available in Australia or from Obihai directly on Amazon. If ordering from Amazon you’ll get 12V multi voltage plug pack, but with US pins, so will need to source a 1A 12VDC plug pack locally, or use an adapter.



New Chorus copper price changes – what they mean to NZ internet users

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Oct-2014 09:18

Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last 18 months, you’ll know that the price of copper based Internet access in New Zealand had been a hot political issue. As part of the separation of Telecom into a retail company (Telecom, now Spark), and an infrastructure provider (Chorus), the Commerce Commission indicated that the cost of copper based wholesale broadband services in New Zealand delivered using the Unbundled Bitstream Access (UBA) product offering would move from a regulated price that was based off a retail minus calculation, to one that was based off a cost plus model. UBA is the regulated wholesale product used to deliver most ADSL, ADSL2+ and VDSL2 based copper broadband connections in New Zealand.

The existing UBA wholesale cost was historically set by the Commerce Commission by looking at the retail price of  internet in New Zealand and deducting a % margin from this. It was a very flawed methodology, and one that arguably resulted in New Zealanders paying too much for broadband access for a number of years and restricted the growth of higher data caps. The move to a cost plus model required the Commerce Commission to establish what it believed was a fair price a for providing a wholesale UBA service.

As of the 1st December 2014 there are some very significant changes that will occur to regulated wholesale copper based broadband pricing as a result of the pricing changes set by the Commerce Commission.  These changes have resulted in the averaging of prices for rental of copper lines between the exchange or cabinet and premises in both rural and urban areas, with an increase in urban areas to effectively subsidise rural users. It’s also meant a new lower price for the UBA component, with a price set by the Commerce Commission based solely off two other countries in the world – Denmark and Sweden. (I have my own views on the their methodology and the flaws with it, but discussing these isn’t the point of this post!)

**Note that the following prices are the wholesale price paid by your ISP or telecommunications provider and are regulated prices set by the Commerce Commission. They exclude GST, tail services, and all other costs that an ISP will have such as bandwidth, staff costs, marketing etc, all of which need to be added to these to set a retail price.**

The wholesale cost of a standalone POTS line (a regular phone line) remains at NZ$41.50 per month

The wholesale cost of a naked UBA DSL connection (naked ADSL, ADSL2+ or VDSL2) drops from $44.98 to $34.44 per month

The wholesale cost of the POTS phone service when combined with UBA (when your phone line and broadband are with the same provider) drops from $41.50 to $17.98 per month. With POTS phone and broadband from the same provider the total cost is to the provider is the UBA price of $34.44 + the POTS cost of $17.98 per month.

The wholesale cost of clothed UBA product (when UBA is combined with an existing POTS phone service from a different provider) increases from $21.46 to $34.44 per month. If you have a phone and broadband from different providers the total cost is $41.44 to the provider of the POTS phone service provider, and $34.44 per month to the UBA broadband provider.

One significant shift is that the “primary” product being delivered over a copper line is now deemed to be broadband, not voice, meaning that UBA is now deemed as the primary service. Regardless of whether you have a phone line or naked copper broadband, the access cost of the copper line has to be built in to the price. This means that if you have broadband and a phone, that the cost of the copper line will now be built into the UBA price, not the voice price, hence UBA costs are now the same regardless of whether you have a phone or not.

What do these changes mean for me? That’s going to depend on your individual setup.

If you’re a residential customer with a copper home phone line and broadband with the same provider, or you have a naked broadband offering, it’s likely that nothing will change. The wholesale cost of your connection will drop, but due to the highly competitive nature of the New Zealand broadband market and incredibly thin margins it’s unlikely that there will be any significant savings passed on to customers. As this new pricing has been known about since early in the year many providers have already said publically that they’ve factored these reductions into current pricing.

If you’re a residential customer who has a copper home phone line and broadband with a different provider, you’re going to be impacted. There are a lot of residential customers in the country who have their phone line with Spark, and their broadband with another provider. As explained above the UBA product will now be priced the same whether you have a phone line or not, however if you have a phone line and UBA with the same provider the voice service is provided at a discounted price. If you have these with different providers the cost of the UBA service will increase by approximately $13 per month.

A number of providers including Slingshot and Orcon (both owned by CallPlus) have contacted customers in recent days advising that as of the 1st December you will no longer be able to have your copper broadband and phone line with copper broadband with different providers. While this scenario is still possible, the costs of your broadband service would have to increase by at least $13 for them to recover these increased costs. Both Slingshot and Orcon have made the decision to not pass on a price increases to customers, but instead either force customers to move their phone line under their billing control, or let the customer move their broadband to their existing phone line provider, which in most instances will be Spark.

I’m sure in coming weeks we’ll see a lot more providers start to contact their customers and advise of these upcoming changes and present the options to them. There will clearly be many people unhappy about these changes, but you need to remember that these changes (and any possible price increases) are nothing to do with your provider – they are simply making changes as a result of the Commerce Commission pricing changes. As $13 significantly exceeds the profit margins that an ISP would typically make on a customer, it’s unlikely that any would want to simply absorb this increase.



Hotel review – Mercure Auckland

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Oct-2014 14:58

Anybody who follows my blog will have spotted a number of hotel and airline reviews that have crept in during the last year. While I love tech, I love travel even more. I love writing about things and getting to interact with people with similar interests, and get a lot of emails from people who have read my flight or hotel reviews asking me questions that the airline or hotel website may not have answers to.

As I sat down to write this post I stopped to think how many flights I’ve taken in the past year (somewhere around 45 it seems), and how many nights I’ve stayed in hotels (somewhere around 50). As I’ve got older my travel habits have changed -  it’s safe to say the luxuries of flying business class and staying in nice hotels is something I really enjoy, but I’m still a backpacker at heart. I’ve met some great friends while staying at backpackers, and have stayed at a number in the past year. I’m just as happy staying at a backpackers as I am a 5* hotel, and have very different expectations for both when it comes to the product on offer, and the level of service.

I’ve stayed at plenty of Auckland hotels in recent years and have found some pretty average offerings from Accor. I stayed at the Ibis Styles with a friend a year or so ago and we were both left almost in shock at the state of the rooms. Yes they’re very compact, and the beds weren’t great, but that’s OK. When you’re paying $79 for a low cost inner city hotel room from Accor’s low cost budget brand you have to expect that sort of thing and my expectations were set to that level. What you don’t expect to get is a bathroom ceiling completely covered in mould on the bathroom, a rotting door, and a handle that’s about to fall off. If you want sleep it’s not the best place to say either – when reception have earplugs on the counter to combat the noise from the nearby bar below you realise what a big issue it is.

On another visit I stayed at the Pullman which Accor pitch at the high end of the market, and had a room which had a lot of dust behind the door and a buffet breakfast experience that was absolute dreadful. A lack of food was put down to “we’re busy”, while staff seemed to be walking around with no real idea of what they were supposed to actually be doing. A complaint at check-out resulted in an offer of a 2-for-1 breakfast the next time I stayed there. I’m sorry Accor but that’s not a satisfactory solution to a problem – expecting a customer to pay full price for a bad experience in the promise it’ll be “better next time” doesn’t fit well in my world, because there probably won’t be a next time. In a competitive marketplace such as hotels I doubt I’ll ever be back.

So all of this leads me to my stay at the Mercure Auckland.  I’ve stayed there in the past and my expectations were of a fairly stock standard middle of the road hotel. The hotel is located on Customs St East and is right next door to Britomart - Auckland’s downtown train station and transport hub. Buses to the airport and trains are literally 2 minutes walk away. The hotel features 13 floor with the top floor featuring a bar and restaurant that has great views over Auckland harbour.

I checked into the hotel at around 2pm on a Saturday, the front desk staff were super friendly and efficient and all were immaculately presented.

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The 11th floor room was fairly standard in terms of layout and size. It featured good views of the Sky Tower, a good sized bathroom with a shower over the bath.

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Unfortunately that’s about the only nice things I have to say about my stay. It really does rate as one of the worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in for the price, anywhere in the world. I’ve stayed in better backpackers in Auckland for a mere fraction of the price that the Mercure charge for a room.

After arriving in the room I went to brush to teeth and found that after turning on the tap the water stopped. 15 minutes later it still wasn’t back, but hey, plumbing problems occur so that’s not something I can really fault the hotel on too much. The plumbing problems were the least of the issues however – this hotel is in such a bad need of a refurbishment that I can really only describe it as a disgrace. Is I mentioned earlier I have very different expectations depending on where I’m staying and believe my expectations are very fair. I don’t expect to visit a middle of the range hotel that I’ve paid $135 per night for and see something that I’d expect to see in a $35 per night backpackers. That’s the exact scenario I walked into.

The state of the interior of the room was terrible. Clearly the room had been given a green feature wall at some point – it’s just a shame they never took the lamp shade off the wall to paint under it. It looked so tacky I was lost for words. All other walls showed significant damage and scratches.

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The bed itself was also terrible and was certainly due for replacement. The sheets however were nice, and in line with most hotels now there was no unhygienic bedspread.

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I thought I’d check out the TV. One of my pet hates in any hotel is incorrectly configured aspect ratios when a 16:9 TV features video in a 16:9 format that’s then centre cut resulting in a 4:3 picture which is then stretched vertically resulting the picture being chopped off on the left and the right. While some channels were fine, TV2 and Maori Television weren’t and exhibited this problem.

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But at least the TV did work – it doesn’t look like whoever installed it knew how to crimp F connectors.

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And while we’re on cables – I wonder what the story is with this mess that’s hanging under the desk? Not to mention the chair which looks like it’s seen better days.

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Could the bathroom be better? Nope. The front panel was falling off.

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The door was rotten from the water.

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The silicon around the bath looked was looking pretty tired.

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And there was a great view of the dust while having a shower.

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The hotel provides free WiFI in the lobby – and is limited to 30 mins or 50 Megabytes per 24 hours. Judging by the speeds on offer you’re going to struggle to get even a basic webpage to load.

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But these speeds are also going to be impacted by the WiFi equipment on offer – a D-Link AP with –77dBm signal strength. This is very poor with best practice when installing WiFi is to aim for -70dBm or better.

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There is no WiFi coverage in rooms, instead access is via Ethernet cable. Usage is charged at 68c per minute up to $14.90 for 2 hours or 100MB, $29.90 per 24 hours or 200MB, or $115 per 7 days or 1GB. Usage in excess of this is charged at 10c per MB, or you can opt to have your connection speed shaped to continue using it at no charge.

The check-out process was quick and efficient but (un)luckily for them they never asked me how my stay was.

Writing this feels like a bit of a rant which is something I don’t aim for on my blog, but this would have to rank as one of the most disappointing hotel experiences I’ve ever had. If the Mercure where charging $35 for a room I wouldn’t be writing this, but when they’re charging $135 for a very sub standard product it deserves others to be wary of what they’re getting themselves into when booking a room. My advice is to look elsewhere – there are plenty of far better hotels in Auckland for a similar price.



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl trixbox, PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix and AsteriskNOW)
  -Polycom
  -Cisco
  -Linksys
  -Patton
  -Zyxel
  -Snom
  -Sangoma
  -Audiocodes

*Telecommunications/Broadband
  -xDSL deployments
  -WiMAX
  -GSM/WCDMA

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
   
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.


+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.


You can contact me here or by email at [email protected]

twitter.com/stevebiddle










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