If you’re a frequent flyer you’ll be used to the benefits that some with status with an airline such as lounge access, priority boarding, preferred seating and so on. Qantas are clearly keen to target New Zealand based frequent flyers by offering a status match to Qantas Gold for New Zealand residents who have Gold or higher status with any other airline.
With somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 Air New Zealand customers who are Airpoints Gold or Gold Elite, it’s certainly a great way of targeting Air New Zealand customers, many of whom are unhappy after significant changes to the Airpoints program in 2014 that slashed status point earning rates.
This offer is currently only valid until the 9th March 2015, so you’d better get in quick.
For full details check the Qantas website - http://qantasgold.qantas.com/
NZ has fantastic broadband. I’ve written about this plenty of times, and it seems that many NZers are finally beginning to accept that despite certain ISPs and political parties having bombarded us with propaganda telling us that we have “3rd world internet”, that we actually have both a world class copper network, and a fantastic future ahead with fibre currently in the process of being deployed to around 75% of premises as part of the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout. Right now well over half a million residential and business premises in New Zealand now have access to fibre, 100Mbps connectivity is quickly becoming the norm, and we’re not far away from the mass rollout of 1Gbps connections. Compared to many countries we like to compare ourselves to (such as Australia), we’re literally years ahead, and by the end of the decade will have one of the best nationwide broadband networks of any country, anywhere in the world.
The rollout of fibre fed cabinets delivered 10Mbps+ ADSL2+ connections to around 85% of the population, and VDSL2+ speeds of up to 70Mbps to around 45% of the population as part of Telecom’s cabinetisation project between 2007 and 2011. From 2011 onwards we’ve seen the rollout of UFB start, which will deliver fibre to around 75% of premises in New Zealand by 2020. The copper footprint is currently being expanded with the Chorus Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) delivering ADSL2+ and VDSL2 to tens of thousands of rural users,
While all of this is great, there are unfortunately still a small percentage of internet customers in New Zealand who are serviced by legacy equipment that will not receive the same level of broadband service as a user connected to newer xDSL equipment or fibre. The mass introduction of unlimited plans in New Zealand in recent months has seen a growing number of complaints from people in rural areas complaining about severely degraded broadband performance, particularly in the evenings where internet usage is at it’s peak. I’ll attempt to explain why this occurring, and what you can do about this.
Lets start by a history lesson. Wholesale broadband in New Zealand consists of a regulated product known as Unbundled Bitstream Access (UBA). Pricing for UBA is set by the Commerce Commission, and the product has some very detailed requirements that are set in place by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Commerce Commission. Chorus are responsible for delivering a UBA product that meets these requirements, and depending on your location your wholesale UBA connection will be delivered via one of two Chorus products - Basic Unbundled Bitstream Access (BUBA) or Enhanced Unbundled Bitstream Access (EUBA). The type of connection used will depend largely on your location and the type of equipment you’re connected to on the Chorus network.
Chorus Wholesale xDSL (ADSL,ADSL2+ and VDSL2) Internet connections in NZ are all delivered by Chorus to your ISP using two different types of backhaul products. In the early says of ADSL in New Zealand all connectivity was delivered back to your ISP over the Asynchronous Transfer Network (ATM) network, and delivered to the customer’s premises using a Chorus wholesale product known as BUBA. ATM is now a very old technology and has many limitations, but in it’s day was cutting edge technology. For the past 6-7 years or so we’ve seen a huge shift away from ATM to regular Ethernet, with most ISPs now being delivered most of their connections over a regular Ethernet connection using 1Gbps or 10Gbps fibre links, and the end service delivered to the customer using the EUBA product. The vast majority of connections in New Zealand are now EUBA, however customers who do not live in urban areas and remain on older legacy network equipment that does not support Ethernet backhaul are still on BUBA and connected via the ATM network. ATM is incapable of delivering the same level of speeds and product flexibility that Ethernet offers, but is still required due to the legacy equipment that does not support Ethernet backhaul.
One key thing to remember here is that the Commerce Commission UBA requirements (that Chorus have to meet) say that a UBA connection must deliver 32kbps to a user over a 15 minute average. For all intent purposes this means your broadband connection must be capable of delivering 32kbps to a user, a speed that is typical of a dialup connection. Up until a few years ago this this speed was enforced by traffic dimensioning between the ISP and Chorus (and prior to that, Telecom Wholesale), however with the growth of Internet traffic this speed has been increased by Chorus out of the goodness of their own heart, and right now they deliver a product offering that significantly exceeds their legal obligations. Currently BUBA connections are shaped to ensure 75kbps per user over a 15 min average, and EUBA connections are currently unshaped (any traffic dimensioning will simply be capacity constraints at 1Gbps or 10Gbps ISP handovers). At present Chorus statistics show that the average EUBA throughout is roughly 150kbps per user over a 15 min average that is expected to hit 250kbps within the next year. As part of their proposed announcement regarding new commercial Boost ADSL2+ and Boost VDSL2 product offerings in mid 2014, Chorus offered to increase the BUBA per user dimensioning from 75kbps to 150kbps (nearly 5x the regulated requirement) which would have meant a significant peak time speed improvement for many rural users. After negotiations with the Commerce Commission who deemed that there may be regulatory issues with the new Boost commercial offerings, both the new product offerings and BUBA dimensioning changes were put on hold. Many BUBA users would have benefited significantly from the increased handover speed, so it’s unfortunate for them that this will not proceed.
All of this poses a question that only the Commerce Commission can answer – why in 2015 do they continue to have a regulated product offering that was designed for the Internet of 2005, not the Internet of 2015? Many people mistakenly assume the role of the Commission is to deliver the best outcome and/or pricing for consumers, when in reality their role is to ensure that competition exists in a marketplace, that Government policy is effectively implemented, and to ensure that in monopoly situations that pricing is set that represents a fair price for both parties. None of this will necessarily guarantee the best end product for the consumer. Rather than simply focusing on the price of UBA, the Commerce Commission should be looking at the UBA product offering and reviewing the product requirements of their offering as 32kbps per user no longer meets the requirements of a modern internet. In a nutshell, if you’re in a rural area your BUBA internet is partly being crippled by the MBIE and Commerce Commission who continue to set product specifications for a sub standard regulated UBA offering. The Commission totally took a flawed approach in their recent UBA pricing decision by totally ignoring speed as an input which is something that really defies belief. As an engineer I look at their recent pricing decisions for both UBA and copper pricing and wonder about the technical knowledge that exists both in the MBIE and Commerce Commission as well as the 3rd parties that they rely on for advice.
Now that I’ve discussed the difference between the two products, we need to look at the technical difference between equipment used to deliver BUBA and EUBA services.
EUBA ADSL2+ and VDSL2 services are delivered to customers using an Alcatel Lucent Intelligent Services Access Manager (ISAM). This piece of kit sits in an exchange or cabinet and delivers broadband services to customers connected to it. Many are now fitted with ISAM-V Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) cards to deliver voice services to customers. All ISAMs have Ethernet backhaul over a fibre connection. If you’re in an urban area of New Zealand, there is probably a 99% chance you’re delivered a connection via an ISAM.
BUBA ADSL1 services are typically delivered using an Alcatel Lucent DSLAM – known as an ASAM in the tech world. These are basically “1st generation” hardware. An ASAM typically only sits in an exchange and can only deliver ADSL1 services, not ADSL2+ or VDSL2. ASAMs have both a combination of fibre and copper E1 backhaul over the ATM network. Most ASAM’s are located in non urban areas and a number are still in the process of being replaced by an ISAM as part of the RBI rollout.
Customers who are on a EUBA connection connected back to an ISAM are not going to see their speed constrained or restricted in any way within the Chorus network, while some customers who are on a BUBA connection may encounter issues with slower speeds at peak time due to congestion on both the hardware they’re connected to and the backhaul. What is important to remember however is that despite congestion occurring, your UBA connection will still meet the minimum requirements demanded by the Commerce Commission of delivering 32kbps per user over a 15 minute average. Speed issues will not occur across all UBA connections, and are primarily an issue with customers connected to a Conklin. What’s a Conklin you might ask? Lets start with another history lesson..
There are thousands of rural users who are still connected to a Conklin DSLAM, a device known by many in the industry as a “pizza box” DSLAM due to it being a small rack unit that’s around the size of a pizza box.
Conklin DSLAMs were originally designed to provide broadband service into rural areas where it was typically impossible to install the same equipment that was deployed in urban areas. A Conklin FM2000 could support 4 ADSL customers and support up up 7 expansion cards supporting 8 additional ADSL customers for a grand total of 60 ADSL customers. Some Conklin’s were in areas where the number of customers could be counted on both hands, so it was never cost effective to install the same equipment as urban areas that is designed for hundreds of users. As most cabinets or exchanges that Conklin’s are installed in don’t have any form of fibre connectivity, these units connect back into the Chorus network using copper E1 connections bonded together (a single E1 is capable of delivering 2Mbps). These units support up to 4x E1 connections delivering 8Mbps to the unit which has a maximum ADSL1 speed of 7.616Mbps. In the early days many were only provisioned with 2 or 3 E1 connections, however most now have the maximum 4 E1 connections for backhaul. They were the perfect solution to deliver ADSL broadband to pockets of rural users who would have missed out on broadband entirely had it not been for the deployment of this hardware. Large numbers of Conklin’s were deployed around the country in the mid 2000s, many have now been replaced, but around 600 or so of these still remain, typically serving between 30 and in many cases a full 60 users.
While Conklin’s were a fantastic solution for their time, they are now an unfortunate headache both for Chorus, and for customers connected to them. They only support ADSL1 and with very limited backhaul, many users are now seeing slow speeds at peak times as they all fight for that limited backhaul. While the limited backhaul has never been a major issue, it’s suddenly become one with the mass introduction of unlimited plans which has seen data usage grow significantly. All it takes is a couple of users on a Conklin on unlimited plans to decide they want to download several hundred GB per month, and all users on that Conklin will suffer from a degraded experience as that 8Mbps backhaul connection is shared across up to 60 users. Fixing the Conklin problem isn’t an easy one however – many are being replaced with fibre fed ISAMs as part of the RBI rollout, but once that is complete hundreds will still remain. Why can’t they just all be upgraded? Ultimately that comes down to price, as many of these Conklin’s are in areas where there may be no existing fibre there is simply no way to upgrade backhaul connectivity to support newer equipment. Replacing many of these would cost in the vicinity of half a million dollars each, and it should be very clear to people after recent wholesale price cuts imposed on Chorus that they’re not in a financial position to continue to invest in fixed line infrastructure to upgrade what are largely unprofitable customers – I’m not sure whether any reasonably person would expect Chorus to fully fund upwards of $500,000 to run fibre and provide an ISAM for 60 users who would generate around $2000 per month in revenue. The Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) wireless rollout was designed to target users in many locations where Conklin’s currently exist and provide them a regulated wireless offering to replace copper.
So what is RBI wireless? As part of the Government funding for improved broadband, the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) project received funding to deploy fibre into urban areas, and the RBI project received funding to improve rural broadband. Chorus are in the process of installing over 1200 fibre fed cabinets to deliver ADSL2+ and VDSL2 to rural users to whom copper will still be the primary connection, and are also involved in the delivery of fibre to hundreds of both existing and new Vodafone cellsites that are being upgraded to deliver RBI wireless services. To connect to the RBI wireless service a home owner will need an external antenna and 3G radio that will connect to the mobile network and provide WiFi and Ethernet access around the home with a standard router. At present RBI wireless supports speeds of up to 25Mbps downstream and 4Mbps upstream on a Vodafone RBI cellsite that supports Dual Carrier 3G. With the rollout of 4G services on the 1800MHz and 700MHz band in rural areas beginning to occur, new radios that supports 4G will ultimately be deployed to deliver even faster speeds to customers. While the service has not been without issues it is something that does work well, however uptake has been slower than many expected, in part because of the real world reality that many rural people seem unwilling to accept that delivering broadband to them in a rural area costs significantly more, and many are convinced that they shouldn’t have to pay more than an urban user for a broadband connection.
In many rural areas of NZ that there are many smaller providers providing wireless internet access typically using a combination of 5Ghz WiFi and licenced backhaul using carrier grade equipment. I’m going to miss names if I try and list them, but areas such as Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, Northland and the Central North Island are well covered. There are also many providers in the South Island who also provide such services. These providers will provide service by connecting an external radio on your house that connects back to their network, and will connect to a regular WiFi and Ethernet router inside your home.
If you’re in an area of the country that has service provided by a Conklin or a heavily loaded ASAM and you’re relying on ADSL, the real world reality is you’re not going to enjoy the same great end user experience that around 85% of the country that has a choice of fibre or copper services from a fibre fed ISAM has. Many (but certainly not all) rural users do have a choice of other providers and technologies but many chose to stick with their slow copper connections because they either oblivious to these other options, or quite simply unwilling to pay extra to receive a improved connection. It’s hard to have any sympathy for such users.
If you don’t have a choice of providers then I have plenty of sympathy for you, but delivering improved broadband to such a small percentage of the country doesn’t come cheaply. Many industry commentators and politicians have turned against Chorus in recent years and their financial state isn’t great. Chorus will suffer from slashed revenue due to Commerce Commission price cuts of copper services, and it’s hard to see where Chorus will find funding internally to continue to expand their copper network upgrades into highly unprofitable areas without further funding from the government. My personal view is that rural users should pay more for their services, and if this was the case many rural users would probably find they had a much improved service. Many thousands have access to improved services now, but many simply aren’t willing to move away from copper based ADSL services.
If you’re in an area whether there are no other options your best hope is to write to your local MP, local wireless provider, MBIE and the Commerce Commission asking what can be done to improve your service.If you’re in an area with RBI wireless and are unhappy with the pricing, once again contact the MBIE and Commerce Commission and your local MP to express your issues as RBI wireless is a Government funded offering. It’s also worth approaching Chorus and asking what community contributions may be required to improve services – Chorus are willing to engage with communities and share the cost of upgrades. And last, but not least, the solution for many small rural communities may be a community based network - there are plenty of providers around the country that could be interested in partnering with a community to deliver improved services that could easily be delivered over wireless. Rather than simply accepting the status quo, some of these communities need to look outside the square and adopt the Kiwi number 8 wire approach. Many rural communities have schools that already have fibre connectivity, and in many parts of New Zealand there is existing Chorus fibre infrastructure that can be used to provide services. There are a number of options that can easily leverage this to deliver improved broadband connectivity to entire rural communities for probably not much more than they’re paying now for an existing ADSL based copper connection. With communications Minister Amy Adams announcing a $150 million fully contestable fund for expansion of rural broadband services before the election, it’s also worth contacting her to express interest if you’re in a community and believe you could benefit or want to look at partnering with a provider to develop a community based solution. Solutions are out there – but some may require people to be innovative rather than a gold plated solution being delivered to them.
As a travel junkie I travel to Australia pretty frequently - often half a dozen times per year or more. While looking at flights this afternoon I noticed Air New Zealand now charge more to book a return flight to Australia on a single ticket than they do to book two one way airfares on separate tickets. The difference is only small, but the mere fact there is a difference is surprising.
What’s the logic behind that? As somebody who travels a lot and thinks they know a reasonable amount about airline booking systems, I can conclude there is no obvious reason for it – it looks like a simple case of Air New Zealand deciding they can make a few extra dollars profit as most people will be totally unaware of this.
Historically booking a one way flight from Australia to New Zealand redirected the customer to the Air New Zealand Australian booking site and quoted prices in A$ – 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.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $286, $356 or $521.
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.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $284, $406 or $411
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.
Book this as part of a return ticket including travel to Australia and you’ll pay $311, $409 or $411
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?
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! :)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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:
add interface=ether1 l2mtu=1522 name=vlan10 vlan-id=10
/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)
2) Create a Bridge – you can call this whatever you like.
3) Add VLAN10 and the Ethernet port you wish to plug your router into to the Bridge
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
OBi 200 featuring the OBiWiFi adapter
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.
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.
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.