Average NZ broadband usage hits 41GB/month

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Jul-2014 09:50

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that the Commerce Commission last year announced plans to cut the price of regulated xDSL based broadband products in NZ. UBA (Unbundled Bitstream Access) is the base Chorus wholesale product that every ISP uses to deliver xDSL based broadband (ADSL, ADSL2+ and VDSL2) in New Zealand.

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion within the NZ telco space about Chorus plans to offer a new commercial xDSL based product. This commercial product will offer vastly superior performance than the current regulated offering, but will come at a price premium. Opinion in the industry is split over these moves – some see it as very smart move by Chorus to offer end users an enhanced product; some see it as a cynical move by Chorus to make price cuts irrelevant and force ISPs to pay extra (in effect maintaining the current price) for Boost products to meet the growing demand from data hungry customers.

My personal view is that it’s proof the Commerce Commission are inept and lack any real understanding of the broadband space they’re currently trying to regulate. Essentially they’ve been pwned by Chorus who’s plan is to offer a commercial xDSL offering to ISPs capable of delivering an average of 5Mbps per user over a 15 minute period, while users of the Commerce Commission regulated offering are stuck with an outdated regulated product with a regulated design target of 32kbps per user delivered over a 15 minute period. The fact the Commerce Commission publically see no issue with a handover dimensioning target of 32kbps per user in 2014 shows a real lack of understanding of the industry they’re overseeing.

The Commerce Commission today released the latest Chorus submission on their Boost offerings, which you can read here.

In that submission where some very interesting stats on broadband usage and data caps in New Zealand which you can see below. Namely that:

Chorus stats now put the average NZ internet usage at 41GB per month as of mid 2014

And the following chart showing the mix of caps

 

chorus plan spread



Air New Zealand announces gate to gate use of electronic devices

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Jul-2014 11:42

I've never simply posted a press release on my blog before - but this is very exciting news. From the 16th July customer on selected Air New Zealand services will be able to use electronic devices that are switched to flight mode from gate to gate - there will be no requirement to power off these devices during takeoff and landing as is required at present.

All we need now is Air NZ inflight WiFi - which is something that has been rumored for some time with the launch last year of coverage in the South Pacific and the installation of a ground uplink station in Adelaide by Panasonic Aviation who provide Air NZ's Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system on their new aircraft.


Air New Zealand customers will be some of the first in the Asia Pacific region to be able to use their handheld portable electronic devices in non-transmitting mode for the entire duration of their flights following approval from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority. From 16 July the airline will allow the use of handheld portable electronic devices including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players during all phases of flight provided the devices are in flight mode.  Previously customers could not use their devices during the taxi, take-off and landing phases of flight.

Initially this option will be available to customers travelling on domestic and international services operated by Airbus A320 and Boeing 787-9, 777-200 and 777-300 aircraft with plans to include Air New Zealand’s regional turbo prop and Boeing 767-300 fleets over time, subject to regulatory approval.

Air New Zealand’s General Manager Customer Experience Carrie Hurihanganui says extending the use of electronic devices to all phases of flight will further enhance the customer journey.
“We are living in a digital age where the majority of our customers use electronic devices while travelling.  Today’s announcement will give customers further freedom to use their handheld devices to take photos, listen to music or watch pre-loaded movies gate to gate.

“Air New Zealand prides itself on being a leader in innovation and technology and continues to actively explore what can be done to make the travel experience easier and more enjoyable for our customers.”
Last year the US Federal Aviation Administration published guidance allowing for the expanded use of portable electronic devices following analysis by experts from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilots associations, cabin crew and mobile technology manufacturers.



Flight Review – Air New Zealand NZ90 and NZ99

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Jun-2014 20:34

I flew to Japan for a holiday for a couple of weeks late March and early April to see the cherry blossom bloom. I’d been meaning to post my Air New Zealand flight review for some time, but later is better than never! :-)

Air New Zealand fly two types of aircraft on the Auckland to Tokyo route, the 777-200ER (77E) and the 767-300ER (763). At the time of writing this the vast majority of flights are flown by the 767. The product offering between both aircraft varies quite significantly which is something that I’ll briefly discuss. I flew business class both ways on the 767.

The 767 offers two classes of travel – economy and business. The economy offering is a 7 abreast 2-3-2 configuration with most seats offering either 31” or 32” pitch as standard. Business class is a very dated product by modern standards consisting of old style non lie flat seats in a 6 abreast 2-2-2 configuration with 50” pitch. The seats are narrow and if you’re used to flying in business class with fully lie flat seats it’s safe to say you’ll be extremely disappointed. For day flights it’s an acceptable offering, but for long duration night flights it’s a pretty sub par offering for an airline in this day in age. The 763 features a Panasonic EFX inflight entertainment (IFE) system with 16:9 aspect ratio touch screens in every seat.

The 77E offers three classes of travel – economy, premium economy and business premier. The economy offering is a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with between 31” and 33” pitch as standard on most seats. Premium economy is also a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with significantly increased 41” seat pitch, better recline and upgraded food and drink offerings. The premium economy seats however are not significantly different that those in economy, you’re simply paying extra for more space and better dining. Business premier is a fully lie flat bed in a 4 abreast 1-2-1 configuration with each seat having aisle access. The 77E features a much older Rockwell Collins IFE system with 4:3 aspect ratio non touch screens.

Air New Zealand are currently in the process of upgrading it’s 77E fleet with the first aircraft due for completion in July, and the remainder by mid 2015. This will see brand new seats fitted throughout and a move to 10 abreast 3-4-3 economy (you’ll know what a sardine in a can feels like), an improved premium economy offering with better seats and new business premier seating still in the existing 1-2-1 configuration. The aircraft will also have the latest Panasonic eXLite IFE fitted.

Air New Zealand will be introducing their new new 787-900 Dreamliners onto the route as they progressively arrive from late 2014 to replace the 767 fleet which is being retired.

NZ90 Auckland to Tokyo Narita

NZ90 is a daytime flight from Auckland to Tokyo. I was seated in seat 4J for this leg. Row 4 is the last row in business class with a bulkhead behind it separating business and economy class. Having sat in this row a few times before I’m convinced that the recline in these seats is slightly less than other rows due to the bulkhead. Bassinette fitting are also at the very front of the economy cabin, so you do face some risk of noise from babies in this area.

On boarding I was welcomed by the crew and offered a pre-flight drink of orange juice or champagne. Being a champagne fan I felt it would have been rude to turn the offer down, especially as Air New Zealand serve Mumm which is a favourite of mine. Noise cancelling headsets, a bottle of water, and menus were also present on my seat. I’m not a huge fan on the noise cancelling headsets Air New Zealand offers (as I have my own headphones which are vastly superior) but they are certainly a step up from the regular headphones used throughput the plane for economy seats.

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amenity kit  

After takeoff hot towels were handed out and another round of drinks handed out. Once again I felt it would have been rude to turn down another glass of Mumm. Tablecloths were then laid out in preparation for the breakfast service.

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I opted for the smoothie, fresh fruit, muesli and yoghurt to start with, all washed down by another glass of Mumm. :-)

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This was followed by hotcakes with a rhubarb compote and cream which was very yummy.

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After the breakfast service was over it was time to relax for a few hours. There is a great selection of music, movies and games on the IFE system that will cater to most people. There is a lot to see out the window during the flight with many island and atolls on the way.

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And of course crossing the Equator – something I always like to celebrate. I was a little tired of Mumm by then so opted for a Gin & Tonic. :-)

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An afternoon tea service commenced around this time. I opted for a raspberry lamington and sandwich. I did feel however that the food loadings for this service could have been better, my seat was at the end of the service and the pickings were a little slim.

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With just over 2 hours to go before out arrival into Tokyo the table cloths were again laid out and the dinner service commenced.

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The prawn starter is a favourite for Air New Zealand that I’ve had a number of times and it always goes down well, especially with yet another Mumm! A selection of warm bread is also on offer.

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I opted for chicken for the main course, washed down with a nice Pinot Noir. I love Japanese food so loved the ingredients, however the chicken was possibly just a little on the dry side.

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Which was nicely finished off with a green panna cotta which was absolutely  delicious.

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Throughout the flight a snack bar is also available, featuring fruit, bottled water, Whittakers chocolate bars, muesli bars, pretzels and vegetable crisps.

NZ99 Tokyo Narita to Auckland

NZ99 is a night time flight from Tokyo Narita to Auckland. I was seated in seat 1A  for this leg. Row 1 offers slightly  less legroom due to the aircraft bulkhead, but I have no complaints with this and find row 1 the best seats on the plane as you’re not trapped in your seat unlike other window seats when the seat in front is fully  reclined and the IFE monitor in use.

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It wasn’t long after we’d departed that the tablecloths came out again and the tough decision (it really  is a big #firstworldproblem) of deciding what to eat from such a delicious looking menu.

nz90 dinner 001

To begin we had a Japanese style starter. This tasted delicious, however if you don’t like Japanese food you may  have second thoughts, however having visited Japan several times now I’ve become a huge fan of the food so it really hit the spot.

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And then the tough decision on what to have as a main. Yes you can eat a burger anyway, but the novelty of having a burger on a plane was just too tempting. Air New Zealand deserve a lot of credit for getting this right – the bun was perfect and the burger patty tasted amazing. It was very interesting to see how popular the burger was, I’d pick probably 50% of the cabin had it for dinner.

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And after finishing the burger and another nice glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir it was time for desert. Unfortunately  the gateau had already gone so I opted for the ice cream.

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It was then time to try and get some sleep being an overnight flight, but I struggled to get more than an hour or so, finding the seats quite uncomfortable. I instead opted to watch a few movies and spent a while chatting to the crew who had very little to do when most of the cabin was asleep. The usual snack bar was present so a couple of Whittakers chocolate bars really hit the spot.

A few hours out from Auckland the breakfast service commenced.

nz90 breakfast 001

First up was the smoothie, followed by fresh fruit, muesli and fruit yogurt accompanied by a croissant with strawberry jam.

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Followed by a delicious tasting poached eggs with perfectly crispy bacon.

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Business class isn’t just about sitting at the front of the plane with better seats – it’s also about delivering an in flight fine dining experience!

Overall both flights were very pleasant ones, however the service wasn’t without fault and to me the 767 crew (who only  fly on the 767 aircraft) didn’t seem quite as “polished” as long haul crews I’ve had on previous 777 and 747 flights. While we all accept that New Zealander’s can be very informal at times I felt both crews just seemed to lack a little in the way of professionalism that visitors to New Zealand who may not have flown business class on Air New Zealand may not be used to. Overall the food was fantastic, and the only area that is really  lacking is the aircraft – I was fully  aware I was flying on the 767, but I’m certainly aware of passengers on this route who have expressed shock at having such an old school business class offering and no lie flat seats for such a long flight.



Flight Review - NZ9

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-Jun-2014 16:26

I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging in recent months but a 10 day holiday in Hawaii has given me some motivation to get a little closer to finishing some longer posts I’d started writing. What better way to get back into things than a flight review - I love to travel, and to me getting to or from your destination is a major part of the fun!

At present Air New Zealand are operating 767-300 aircraft on the Honolulu sector. While I love flying on the 767 it’s safe to say these aircraft have seen better days and are starting to look pretty tired. Air New Zealand’s remaining 767 aircraft are all being replaced by 787 Dreamliner’s that start to arrive in the coming months, and all 767s will be retired from the fleet over the next 18 months. The 767 offers an old style Business Class offering (no lie flat) and Economy class. It does not feature any Premium Economy seating. Having flown Business Class on the 767 on a number of occasions it’s safe to say it’s a very tired offering by modern standards, particularly for night flights as it doesn’t offer lie flat seats. You do however get the great Business Class food and drink options. If you’ve got Airpoints Dollars to burn on an upgrade it’s worth it, but if you’re paying full price you’d have to question whether it’s worth it.

Check-in at Honolulu airport was a breeze. There was a separate Premium check-in queue but just over 2 hours out from the flight as there were very few people around. Once check-in was completed it was a quick walk to the TSA security screening. Anybody who flies in or to the US regularly knows how bad this can be. As a HVC with Air New Zealand (Airpoints Gold) I was able to use the Gold priority queue. From joining the queue to being screened was around 15 minutes, I’d estimate it’d probably be another 10-15 minutes for those not in the Gold queue.

Air New Zealand don’t have a Koru lounge at Honolulu airport so they share the JAL Sakura Lounge which is also used by American Airlines and all other OneWorld airlines. This is by no means the world’s best lounge, but it serves it’s purpose. It also does mean you don’t have to wait in the non air conditioned airport (which is all open air) as access to the air conditioned  gate lounge is only available once the arriving NZ10 flight has landed and all passengers offloaded which is roughly 1hr before departure. It can be quite uncomfortable sitting around in the airport in the evening if it’s humid.

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The design and styling of the lounge is nothing amazing but there is plenty of seating as there are very other flights at this time of the evening. Being a JAL lounge it’s pretty basic, as are many Japanese airport lounges. The biggest downside of the lounge for many travellers is the lack of any shower facilities, so make sure you don’t come to the airport after a day at the beach looking for one before your flight. Toilets are also not located in the lounge, but in the hallway just outside the lounge entrance.

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If you’ve come to the JAL lounge expecting a gourmet meal you’ve got the wrong lounge – but the offering is fine if you’ve just after pre flight snacks. An assortment of sandwiches, cut fruit, a vegetable platter, soup, bread, snack mix and cheese & crackers were on offer offer. You can wash this down with the usual range of juice, soft drinks, liquor and beer, with Steinlager Pure being offered in the lounge for Air New Zealand flights.

Pre-boarding was announced and it was about a 5 minute walk to the gate. I’ve flown from Honolulu several times and announcements have always been made before actual boarding has started, so you don’t necessarily need to rush off immediately.

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I was located in seat in the front of the economy cabin in 13B. The 767 features Business Class and Economy product but like other short haul Pacific flights offers the Seats to Suit options – meaning you can buy a Seat only, Seat+Bag, Works (seat+bag+meal) or Works Deluxe which also guarantees a neighbour free policy. As the 767 Economy has a 2-3-2 seat plan Works Deluxe customers are located in the middle of the forward economy cabin with the middle seat remaining free. The outer seats in this cabin are Frequent Flyer seats available to high value customers with Koru, Gold or Gold Elite status. Seats 10AB are ideal in this cabin as they offer more leg room due to the pilot rest area located in front of the cabin. Leg room is no different however to the remainder of the Economy cabin.

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The 767 features seat back IFE in every seat with a selection of music and movies. On the Seats to Suit flights movies are not available to passengers who purchase seat only fares (but can be purchased in flight if you have a credit card). The Panasonic IFE system on both the 767 and shorthaul Airbus A320 is a very unreliable system that’s prone to issues. In probably 20 flights on 767 and A320 aircraft in the past 18 months I’ve experienced at least 4 or 5 full system reboots midflight performed by the crew to resolve issues, and it’s very common for crew to have to reboot individual seats due to issues. If you experience IFE problems make sure you let the crew know as a reboot will typically fix this.

Pushback was a couple of minutes past our scheduled departure time. Our departure was runway 8R which is known locally as the reef runway. This is a long taxi (around 15 minutes) from the gate but offers fantastic views of Waikiki from the left side of the plane.

Once we had reached cruise the service began

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On offer for dinner was the chicken or the beef. Neither were particularly inspiring. I had the chicken pasta and didn’t finish it because (I’m being brutally honest here!) it just tasted terrible. The salad was nice, as was the melon ice cream. A bread roll would have been nice. Followed just behind was the drinks trolley offering the usual selection of drinks. It was interesting to see Air New Zealand now offering Moa Beer on flights but with an $8 per bottle surcharge. You’d have to be pretty stupid to pay this for a very average beer (I wouldn’t drink a Moa even if you paid me $8).

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Breakfast was scrambled egg with chicken sausage, tomato, potato wedges and a muffin. Not a bad offering.

For customers who haven’t chosen to purchase a meal a number of snacks are available for purchase. Coffee, tea and water are complementary.

Our arrival into Auckland was on time however there was a delay with bags, something that be common early morning with a number of flights from the US, China and Perth all arriving around the same time. Overall the flight was a good one with good crew with good service.

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Vodafone up the ante in the mobile market with new roaming deals

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-May-2014 12:07

NZers love to travel.. almost as much as they love their phones. As somebody who loves both things I've donated many thousands of dollars over the years to both BellSouth and Vodafone as I've travelled around the world and used global roaming.

Global roaming prices have been a pet hate for users for many years and there is no disputing that prices have been sky high, but this has quickly changed in the last couple of years with many mobile networks around the world slashing prices and allowing users to take phones with them, and not having to sorry about acquiring a foreign SIM card to avoid ending up with a mobile bill that costs more than the airfare!

In the last year or so Vodafone Group have moved to daily roaming rates across many of their networks allowing users to pay a small fixed daily charge and then all data, voice calls and SMS messages are deducted from the user's monthly plan allowance. Vodafone New Zealand are one of the last networks to launch this, but launched this today offering a $5 charge to 17 commonly visited countries.

So what does this mean?

It means you'll pay $5 every day you use your phone abroad in Australia, United Kingdom, USA, France, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Ghana, Romania, Czech Republic and India. Any SMS messages, data usage, inbound voice calls from New Zealand, or outbound voice calls to New Zealand or the country you're in will then be deducted from your monthly plan allowance. This will mean many users who roam will see massive reductions in their roaming costs - the old rates of 80c per SMS message, $1 per minute to answer a phone call, and from $1 to $6 per minute to make a phone call which abroad are now a thing of the past. You'll be able to use your phone in exactly the same as you do in NZ and pay no more than $5 for the convenience. It'll also mean significantly cheaper data - I have 3GB of data on my plan and can now use this while I'm travelling for what I consider to be a bargain price.

This offering gives Vodafone a massive advantage over Telecom or 2degrees, both of whom have roaming offers now very much pale in comparison to what Vodafone has on offer.







Thinking of joining Bigpipe? It’s a case of buyer beware.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 12-Mar-2014 08:44

As many of those who read my blog will know, I’m passionate about fast internet and truly believe that overall NZ has fantastic internet performance and infrastructure. Sure there are exceptions, but as I’ve written about in numerous blog posts such as this, Telecom spending in excess of $1 billion building a cabinetised FTTN xDSL network has meant around 85% of NZ premises have access to 10+ Mbps ADSL2+, and somewhere in the vicinity of 40% of premises have access to VDSL2+ delivering up to 70Mbps down and 10Mbps up. One of the most important contributing factors to the performance of an ADSL or VDSL connection is wiring, and statistically speaking the most common cause of slow speeds and poor performance is poor internal phone wiring within the home which impacts the xDSL sync rate and performance. People posting on Geekzone complaining of poor performance and finding their internal wiring is at fault is a pretty regular occurrence, so I wrote a blog post last year talking about such issues and explaining why your internal wiring can affect your performance, and why a master xDSL filter is so important to receive the best performance.

Lets make one thing very clear – it’s my personal opinion that a master filter should be mandatory for every ADSL, ADSL2+ or VDSL2 install. With the average NZ home consisting of 3-4 jack points, typically wired in series, typically a mix of master / secondary and 2wire jack points due to age, and often old jack points suffering from corrosion due to the damp conditions of NZ homes, it is the only way to ensure that your xDSL connection is as good as it can possibly be.

If you don’t have a phone and have a naked xDSL connection, wiring your modem directly to the incoming jack and disconnecting all internal wiring will achieve the same effect.

When VDSL2 was soft launched by Telecom Wholesale (prior to the separation and creation of Chorus) there was no requirement for a xDSL master filter to be installed, however it was recommended by most ISPs offering the service that a master filter be installed at a cost of $199. Many people chose not to pay this cost, and while some people found their VDSL2 connection ran smoothly, many found the exact opposite and required a master filter to be installed to make their connection stable.

When Chorus launched VDSL2 as a commercial offering in mid 2013 their pricing model changed to ensure that every VDSL2 connection included a master filter so that every user received the best possible connection speed without having an additional up front cost that may put them off. Rather than the home owner having to pay a $199 up front cost, it was built into a small monthly fee that was charged to the ISP to be recovered over 30 months. Every ISP simply built that cost into their VDSL2 pricing.

In early 2014 Telecom decided to launch a new low cost ISP to compete against flat rate offerings from Orcon and Slingshot. Since Telecom themselves don’t see a flat rate pricing model as sustainable, it wasn’t surprising that a new brand was created for this offering. Bigpipe was born, offering cheap internet and using a Carrier Grade NAT (CG-NAT) solution to offer service due to the looming shortage of IPV4 IP addresses. To compete on price, Big Pipe have decided to cut costs even further by not offering a master filter as standard, saving themselves a few dollars every month. This means that some customers being installed are receiving a sub standard connection.

There have been several posts in recent weeks on Geekzone from new Big Pipe customers who have had new VDSL2 installs and are suffering from poor performance. One was fixed by Big Pipe sending Chorus around to install a master filter. What is most remarkable however, is the Big Pipe attitude towards a master filter. To quote a Big Pipe representative in this thread

However, I should point out that a master splitter is not required for VDSL in most cases.  It will certainly help (in some cases help a lot), but it isn't absolutely necessary except in rare cases.

To be honest this is complete and utter bullshit and really shows a total lack of understanding of how xDSL technology works. If this is the sort of advice that Big Pipe are dishing out, I’d be recommending that they be avoided at all costs.

A xDSL master filter is not going to fix every problem, and there will be some premises close to a cabinet or exchange where performance may be fine without a master filter. To say that this is “most cases” however is just plain wrong. A master filter is the only way to eliminate reflections caused by internal wiring, and it’s also the only way to ensure that your modem isn’t unnecessarily transmitting at a higher power level than required. One thing that has been happening in increasing numbers lately has been a gradual reduction in VDSL2 sync speeds as more customers switch to the technology as a result of cross talk occurring in cable bundles between the customer and the cabinet or exchange. Poor quality connections can make this problem worse.

If you’re thinking of switching to Big Pipe it’s very much a case of buyer beware. Yes you’re getting a cheap connection,  but you’ll need to ensure your internal house wiring is up to scratch, either by sort your own internal wiring, or paying Chorus or a 3rd party to visit and do this. Any prospective users will need to weight these risks up before signing up, especially when competing offers from other ISPs typically include the professional installation of a master filter by Chorus in the price.



Fly Buys – Where security is an afterthought

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Jan-2014 22:04

In late 2012 Fly Buys launched an interactive advertising campaign with advertising company Adshel. Bus stops signs, and a much larger display that was located in Wellington Airport for some time offered customers the chance to swipe their Fly Buys card and receive a free gum ball. You can see photos of these, and read more about the campaign here.

I’d never actually seen one of these in real life, but after seeing comments on Twitter on Friday about one of these not accepting an Air NZ Airpoints card (which it is supposed to do according to both the display and a Fly Buys rep on Twitter), I thought I’d have a look at one of these machines which is currently running in an Adshel bus stop in Manners St in Wellington with a few other Geekzoners.

The machine was broken and wouldn’t give us a gum ball, no matter what card we tried.

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The Adshel sign welcomes me to swipe my Fly Buys card or my Airpoints card and receive a free gum ball. Innocent enough – until you consider the security implications of this.

A basic Fly Buys card has your 16 digit number printed on it, and the magnetic stripe on your Fly Buys card contains this number. The format of your Fly Buys number is identical to a credit card and uses the LUN10 algorithm – the initial 6 digits are a BIN range 6014 35 (unique to Fly Buys) followed by 9 digits which make up your Fly Buys number, and the last digit which is a check digit. The number is also present  on a barcode on the back of your Fly Buys card in an EAN13 format. EAN barcodes normally start with the GS1 member country code, which you can see on goods manufactured in New Zealand which will typically start with a barcode in the range of 940-949. The 264 range is not allocated specifically to Fly Buys, but is one they’re permitted to use. After the 264 your Fly Buys number is shown, and the last digit as with all EAN13 barcodes is a check digit.

If you swipe your Fly Buys card through this mag stripe reader in the hope of getting a free gum ball, the risks are minimal. If somebody has maliciously tampered with the mag stripe reader and replaced this with a skimming device to capture card numbers your Fly Buys number isn’t going to be of any real use to a fraudster. Your Airpoints card however is another matter entirely.

Air New Zealand partnered with Fly Buys several years ago allowing Air New Zealand Airpoints members to accrue Fly Buys points directly to their Airpoints account. Not long after this Air New Zealand launched a new Airpoints card that used the Rev platform to offer a prepaid Mastercard Debit card capable of storing multiple foreign currencies, your regular Airpoints card, and Fly Buys card. The card is EMV compliant and supports Mastercard PayPass NFC technology as well as a chip , and can also be used at NFC capable Air New Zealand kiosks and gates to identify the card holder. Because the magnetic strip on the card has to be used for the Mastercard component, the Fly Buys number barcode has to be scanned at retailers, it can’t be swiped through a mag stripe reader like a regular Fly Buys card.

 

airpoints card

By now you’re probably starting to realise the security implications of swiping your Airpoints card through a random mag stripe reader attached to a bus stop. Rather than simply giving your 16 digit Fly Buys number away, you’re giving away your 16 digit credit card number, your name, and your Airpoints number. Anybody who decides to maliciously tamper with the mag stripe reader and replace it with a skimming device now has access to a constant stream of credit card numbers from unsuspecting people. Of course not everybody who swipes their card will have their OneSmart card activated, or have money in their account, but the security aspect is exceptionally scary.

With the number of recent cases of ATM tampering where skimming devices have been attached to machines, Air New Zealand and BNZ (who provide the OneSmart Mastercard product) should be terrified that Fly Buys is encouraging their customers to willingly swipe their card in a public place in a mag stripe reader that would require absolutely no skills to tamper with and replace with a skimming device. It really does makes a mockery of all the security messages that banks try and send to their customers about protecting their cards.

 

EXTRA:

I had to dig out my mag stripe gear to show the data on the Airpoints/OneSmart card. I’ve PAN masked some of my personal data including my Airpoints number, expiry dates and OneSmart credit card numbers with a *.

c10B5314*********376^BIDDLE/STEVEN^****2213106060***14007****16002?3a205314*********376=****22100000310?093100

It was also pointed out to me that the billboard will not work with a Kiwibank Airpoints Card by somebody who had attempted to use one in the past thinking that the reference to “Airpoints card” would include this card. I wonder what Kiwibank think of their customers swiping their credit cards through a mag stripe reader in a public area attached to a bus stop that could so easily be tampered with?



Are you paying money for Vodafone phone insurance that doesn’t actually cover you?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 27-Nov-2013 14:06

I’ve been a Vodafone customer for a very, very, very long time. I’ve also been a customer of their phone insurance product for a very long time (around 1999 from memory, not long after the product was launched). In that time I’ve made two claims, and the whole process in both cases was extremely simple and something I was very happy with.

In December 2011 Vodafone* made some significant changes to their phone insurance policy, cleverly hidden in a letter that made no mention of the key changes. The most significant change was that handsets that were not supplied by Vodafone were not covered, something you would have only picked up on if you’d read the fine print and ignored the big bold “nothing else has changed” that was mentioned in the letter.

I blogged about this issue at the time and spent a number of hours dealing with people from Vodafone and Marsh to gain clarification on these changes and whether existing customers who did not have Vodafone supplied handsets would suddenly find their insurance was worthless should they ever attempt to lodge a claim. It became very clear to me dealing with them that the relationship between both companies could really only be described as dysfunctional, with neither really wanting to take ownership of the product or answer the tough questions. In the end Vodafone ended up adding a comment to my blog clarifying the changes

The changes indicated in the policy document do not apply to existing customers who purchased their policy before 5 December 2011

and that

For new policies purchased on or after 5 December we are no longer intending to provide cover for phones that are purchased from an unknown source.

And that was that. Everybody lived happily ever after.

Fast forward to November 2013 and I decided to change phone plan. I haven’t been on a contract with Vodafone for many years, and simply moved to a new on account plan with no contract term. Yesterday in the mail I received a letter from Vodafone welcoming me to Phone Insurance, something that struck me as strange as it was something I was already part of, and in my 14 or so years of having this insurance (and multiple plan changes) I’d never received such a letter before.

Being fully aware of the changes and conditions in December 2011 I wanted clarification as to whether I would be covered under my existing policy conditions, to which both Vodafone and Marsh have advised that I would not, and that I will be covered under the new post December 2011 terms and conditions.

As I do not have a Vodafone supplied handset this insurance is now worthless, which is something I’m extremely unhappy about through no fault of my own. I was happy to pay this monthly fee to be covered, but it seems I’m now stuck without insurance.

Vodafone did not advise me when changing plans that my insurance would be affected, and the only mention in the insurance terms and conditions that comes remotely close is the following condition:

Your insurance cover will also terminate on the date:
• The On Account contract for your mobile is
terminated for any reason;

I have never had a contract period for my existing plan, nor a handset that was purchased at a subsidised price as part of an On Account term contract so see no reason under which this would apply to my scenario.

Clearly this whole situation is something that has the potential to be affecting many others with Vodafone insurance. If you’re a long term Vodafone insurance customer who has changed plans and do not have a Vodafone supplied handset your insurance could quite likely be invalid. It’ll pay to check that you’re actually covered!

 

*While Vodafone brand and sell the insurance it’s actually a product backed by ACE Insurance and provided to Vodafone by Marsh insurance brokers.



Untangling Colin Espiner’s FUD on Stuff – why the Chorus debate is so complex.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 10-Nov-2013 09:37

Update: As of 11:30am Stuff have now updated their page with a red “OPINION” heading at the top of their article. This was not present initially.

--------------------------------

Journalist Colin Espiner has written an article today on Stuff discussing the current topical debate around Chorus. The issue with Chorus is a highly complex one, and in reality most people have very little understanding of the actual issues at stake here. The Stuff article really is all the proof you need that a) mainstream media really can’t be trusted as an accurate source of factual information and b) the issue is a very complex one.

Rather than breaking copyright and including the whole story I’ll simply correct the inaccuracies and misinformed statements in the article, which you can read in full using the link below.

http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/9378297/Unbundling-the-Chorus-saga.

Chorus has claimed it'll go broke if it can't charge as much as it does now and has asked the government to step in.

Chorus have never claimed this. I challenge Espiner to provide a source for that claim or retract it.

What is Chorus?

Chorus is a private, NZX-listed company that owns the copper lines that connect your house to the telephone exchange

There is much more to Chorus than simply copper lines. Chorus is an infrastructure provider that owns the copper cables running to your home, known as a metallic path facility (MPF) in the telco world. Chorus also own hundreds of telephone exchange buildings around New Zealand, a nationwide fibre network (some of which is shared with Telecom still), and over 4000+ fibre fed roadside cabinets used to deliver phone and broadband services across the country. Chorus don’t own the actual NEC NEAX telephone exchange hardware that delivers telephone services to most customers (these are owned by Telecom), but they do own the equipment used to deliver wholesale broadband services to customers of every Internet service provider (ISP) in the country. This piece of equipment is known as an ISAM, DSLAM or ASAM.

What the heck is local loop unbundling?

Ever had a peek inside a telephone exchange? Seen all those thousands of wires in pretty colours? That's the local loop. When Telecom owned it, it could charge what it liked to provide access to internet providers. The Government legislated to put a stop to this by allowing any provider access to the copper wires.

So what's the Commerce Commission doing setting the price Chorus can charge? Good question. The problem with local loop unbundling is internet and telephone service providers complain the price they're forced to pay Chorus for access - $45 a month - is too high. The Government threatened to intervene and regulate the charges but the Commerce Commission got in first with its own determination, setting the price at $34.44.

Great, that means I'll soon get cheaper broadband? Yes, but only if providers decided to pass the cut on to customers rather than pocketing some or all of it. And assuming the determination isn't appealed by Chorus. And always assuming the Government doesn't step in and over-rule the commission.

This is plenty of confusion generated here by Espiner. What’s important here is that the current Chorus debate does involve local loop unbundling pricing, it’s not in the way Espiner has described.

Technically speaking the local coop is a term for the copper MPF that runs from an exchange or cabinet to your premises.

Local loop unbundling allows any ISP or telecommunications company to rent space to install their own equipment in a Chorus exchange or cabinet and use a Chorus MPF to deliver broadband and/or phone services to customers. A number of companies have chosen to install their equipment into Chorus exchange buildings and at present just under 50% of the total number of customers services by Chorus have the potential to be delivered an unbundled product. At present no 3rd party has any unbundled equipment in any of the 4000+ Chorus roadside cabinets as the business case for doing this simply doesn’t stack in, in part due to equipment costs and the smaller number of customers served by a roadside cabinet, and in part by the Commerce Commission regulated cost of backhaul from the cabinet which would see any additional provider having to share backhaul costs equally with Chorus which is not viable.

The current cost of an unbundled MPF is $19.08 for an urban area and $35.20 for a non urban area. In December 2012 the Commerce Commission set in place a move to average both of these costs out and from December 2014 a price of $23.52 will apply to both urban and non urban areas.

For an ISP to deliver Internet and/or phone services over an unbundled MPF they need to install their own equipment into the exchange and pay the associated fixed prices for extras such as rent, power and backhaul.

The $45 price referred to by Espiner is the cost of an ISP delivering a wholesale Unbundled Bitstream Access (UBA) product which is currently set at $44.98 per month. This price covers the cost of the MPF and a port on a Chorus ISAM, ASAM or DSLAM that is used to deliver Internet to the premises.

An ISP has two choices to deliver Internet access to a customer. They can pay the UBA cost to Chorus for a wholesale service, or they can choose to install their own equipment into an exchange and offer an unbundled service. Providers such as Vodafone, Orcon, Callplus and Compass have chosen to install equipment in major exchanges. Most other providers (including Telecom) rely on wholesale UBA services to deliver Internet access to their customers.

The current Chorus debate revolves around the price Chorus are allowed to charge for the UBA service from December 2014. This price will consist of the cost of the MPF which will be set at $23.52 from this date, and the cost of providing the Internet access from a port on the ISAM, DSLAM or ASAM. The Commerce Commission originally believed in it’s first draft document that this cost should be set at $8.93, giving a total of $32.45. On Tuesday the Commerce Commission announced a final decision and increased this cost to $34.44

A brand new Alcatel Lucent 7302 ISAM used by Chorus costs many tens of thousands of dollars. At the end of the day there are very few of us who are aware of what the true cost of providing this post actually costs.

Was it a smart idea for the Government to contract the provider of the copper wire network to also build the new fibre-optic network?

No, it wasn't.

Without providing any evidence to back such a claim it can be viewed personally as a matter of personal opinion. My personal opinion is very different - awarding Chorus the contract to deliver UFB was a very smart move.

New Zealand already has a world class broadband network (something I recently wrote about here) with over 80% of premises having access to 10Mbps+ ADSL2+ downstream speeds, and just under 50% of premises having access to VDSL2 delivering anywhere between 30Mbps and 70Mbps, but more importantly delivering up to 10Mbps upstream (ADSL2+ is only capable of delivering up to 1Mbps upstream). Telecom spent well over $1 billion deploying over 3500 fibre to the node (FTTN) roadside cabinets around the country to deliver this. This network was designed and constructed with a full fibre to the home (FTTH) network in mind, meaning that existing pits, ducting, fibre and equipment can be utilised as part of the UFB FTTH rollout and not unnecessarily replicated. Why reinvent the wheel (and pay for it) when you’ve already got many of the components for the wheel?

Ultimately fibre will replace copper, however unlike Australia who announced plans to decommission the copper network 18 months after fibre was deployed, no such plan was put in place here. With Australia’s nationwide fibre network now possibly on hold to to a change of Government, it’s likely that by 2017 Australia will have a FTTN network delivering similar capabilities as NZ’s FTTN network which was finished in 2011.

Chorus isn't exactly incentivised to drop its copper network prices because it wants to sign more customers up to its more expensive fibre system. Which won't happen if "traditional" copper network broadband is priced too cheaply.

The $37.50 entry level price for a UFB plan was originally set to undercut existing UBA copper services meaning their would be an incentive to move away from copper to fibre as the price would be cheaper. The $37.50 cost also included a voice port in the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) meaning that both Internet and voice services could be delivered to a customer at a wholesale cost around $20 less than a traditional copper MPF delivering UBA and a POTS phone service from a NEAX.

I'm happy enough with my current broadband connection. Do I really need UFB anyway? Well, that's the problem. Not only is UFB extremely expensive to install (the Government has budgeted $1.5b) and time-consuming to roll out (it'll take another 10 years or so to finish) but only 75 per cent of homes will be covered by fibre in any case - and none in rural areas.

The loan to Chorus was nowhere near the true cost of the UFB rollout. That’s still going to be somewhere in the vicinity of $2 - $3 billion dollars, with a true cost very difficult estimate at this time. Costs associated with the UFB rollout have escalated wildly, with costs currently running as high as $3000 per premise passed to deploy the ducting. There are then the costs of installing the fibre to the home, which in some cases is still topping $2000. The loan Chorus received from the Government is less than half of the actual cost of the UFB deployment.

The UFB rollout will be complete by 2019 and will cover around 75% of premises in the country. Many areas that did not receive fibre will receive upgraded services by way of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) project delivering upgraded copper services and wireless broadband access to those where delivering fibre services is totally uneconomical.

Are there any disadvantages of going to UFB? Apart from the higher price per month, and not being in a big centre, there's likely to be higher connection fees associated with getting linked into the fibre network.

Plus, something that hasn't had much coverage - once you ditch the good old telephone lines, stuff you're used to like caller ID and using the toll provider of your choice will no longer be available. Telecom's fine print states if you're on fibre you can't use anyone else for cheap tolls.

As pointed out above the cost of fibre was set to undercut existing copper services. The argument against the Commerce Commission cutting UBA costs is that setting these below UFB costs will inhibit UFB uptake as many people will simply opt for the cheapest Internet plan available. With installs for UFB still free for most users until at least 2015, there are no “higher connection fees” associated with moving to fibre.

A user moving to fibre will find their regular phone service is replaced by a carrier grade voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service. A provider offering UFB services has two ways of delivering phone services – using the voice port on the ONT, or by using voice ports in the ISP supplied router or residential gateway (RGW). This is the approach currently being taken by providers such as Snap and Orcon who deliver voice services using their Fritz!box and Orcon Genius gateways. The good news is that usual smartphone services like CallerID and voicemail will still continue to be available. Any such fine print about “cheap tolls” is also rather meaningless. If you don’t like Telecom’s products, services or price then don’t sign up with them.

In the meantime, you can impress your friends with how much you now know about the current debacle.

You might try and impress your friends, but if it’s using information from Epiner’s story you’ll probably just make a fool of yourself, especially around others who do understand the telco space, so be careful who you try and impress..



NZ’s super competitive residential ISP market

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 30-Oct-2013 21:42

How competitive is NZ’s residential ISP market? This quote from Orcon’s recent submission to the Commerce Commission offers some insight:

Margins in the broadband world are incredibly slim. Currently, Orcon needs to retain a UBA customer for 27 months to recover setup and marketing costs, before it makes a single dollar off that customer.

A comment like that really does make a mockery of the recent claims by Axe the tax campaigners that any reduction in Chorus wholesale UBA costs would be passed through to consumers.

With margins this slim would any ISP realistically pass these through in full? Any smart business would be pocketing some (or even all) of the reduction in the hope of reducing that insane 27 month period down to something a little more realistic.



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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