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/
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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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!
Anybody who follows my blog will have spotted a number of hotel and airline reviews that have crept in during the last year. While I love tech, I love travel even more. I love writing about things and getting to interact with people with similar interests, and get a lot of emails from people who have read my flight or hotel reviews asking me questions that the airline or hotel website may not have answers to.
As I sat down to write this post I stopped to think how many flights I’ve taken in the past year (somewhere around 45 it seems), and how many nights I’ve stayed in hotels (somewhere around 50). As I’ve got older my travel habits have changed - it’s safe to say the luxuries of flying business class and staying in nice hotels is something I really enjoy, but I’m still a backpacker at heart. I’ve met some great friends while staying at backpackers, and have stayed at a number in the past year. I’m just as happy staying at a backpackers as I am a 5* hotel, and have very different expectations for both when it comes to the product on offer, and the level of service.
I’ve stayed at plenty of Auckland hotels in recent years and have found some pretty average offerings from Accor. I stayed at the Ibis Styles with a friend a year or so ago and we were both left almost in shock at the state of the rooms. Yes they’re very compact, and the beds weren’t great, but that’s OK. When you’re paying $79 for a low cost inner city hotel room from Accor’s low cost budget brand you have to expect that sort of thing and my expectations were set to that level. What you don’t expect to get is a bathroom ceiling completely covered in mould on the bathroom, a rotting door, and a handle that’s about to fall off. If you want sleep it’s not the best place to say either – when reception have earplugs on the counter to combat the noise from the nearby bar below you realise what a big issue it is.
On another visit I stayed at the Pullman which Accor pitch at the high end of the market, and had a room which had a lot of dust behind the door and a buffet breakfast experience that was absolute dreadful. A lack of food was put down to “we’re busy”, while staff seemed to be walking around with no real idea of what they were supposed to actually be doing. A complaint at check-out resulted in an offer of a 2-for-1 breakfast the next time I stayed there. I’m sorry Accor but that’s not a satisfactory solution to a problem – expecting a customer to pay full price for a bad experience in the promise it’ll be “better next time” doesn’t fit well in my world, because there probably won’t be a next time. In a competitive marketplace such as hotels I doubt I’ll ever be back.
So all of this leads me to my stay at the Mercure Auckland. I’ve stayed there in the past and my expectations were of a fairly stock standard middle of the road hotel. The hotel is located on Customs St East and is right next door to Britomart - Auckland’s downtown train station and transport hub. Buses to the airport and trains are literally 2 minutes walk away. The hotel features 13 floor with the top floor featuring a bar and restaurant that has great views over Auckland harbour.
I checked into the hotel at around 2pm on a Saturday, the front desk staff were super friendly and efficient and all were immaculately presented.
The 11th floor room was fairly standard in terms of layout and size. It featured good views of the Sky Tower, a good sized bathroom with a shower over the bath.
Unfortunately that’s about the only nice things I have to say about my stay. It really does rate as one of the worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in for the price, anywhere in the world. I’ve stayed in better backpackers in Auckland for a mere fraction of the price that the Mercure charge for a room.
After arriving in the room I went to brush to teeth and found that after turning on the tap the water stopped. 15 minutes later it still wasn’t back, but hey, plumbing problems occur so that’s not something I can really fault the hotel on too much. The plumbing problems were the least of the issues however – this hotel is in such a bad need of a refurbishment that I can really only describe it as a disgrace. Is I mentioned earlier I have very different expectations depending on where I’m staying and believe my expectations are very fair. I don’t expect to visit a middle of the range hotel that I’ve paid $135 per night for and see something that I’d expect to see in a $35 per night backpackers. That’s the exact scenario I walked into.
The state of the interior of the room was terrible. Clearly the room had been given a green feature wall at some point – it’s just a shame they never took the lamp shade off the wall to paint under it. It looked so tacky I was lost for words. All other walls showed significant damage and scratches.
The bed itself was also terrible and was certainly due for replacement. The sheets however were nice, and in line with most hotels now there was no unhygienic bedspread.
I thought I’d check out the TV. One of my pet hates in any hotel is incorrectly configured aspect ratios when a 16:9 TV features video in a 16:9 format that’s then centre cut resulting in a 4:3 picture which is then stretched vertically resulting the picture being chopped off on the left and the right. While some channels were fine, TV2 and Maori Television weren’t and exhibited this problem.
But at least the TV did work – it doesn’t look like whoever installed it knew how to crimp F connectors.
And while we’re on cables – I wonder what the story is with this mess that’s hanging under the desk? Not to mention the chair which looks like it’s seen better days.
Could the bathroom be better? Nope. The front panel was falling off.
The door was rotten from the water.
The silicon around the bath looked was looking pretty tired.
And there was a great view of the dust while having a shower.
The hotel provides free WiFI in the lobby – and is limited to 30 mins or 50 Megabytes per 24 hours. Judging by the speeds on offer you’re going to struggle to get even a basic webpage to load.
But these speeds are also going to be impacted by the WiFi equipment on offer – a D-Link AP with –77dBm signal strength. This is very poor with best practice when installing WiFi is to aim for -70dBm or better.
There is no WiFi coverage in rooms, instead access is via Ethernet cable. Usage is charged at 68c per minute up to $14.90 for 2 hours or 100MB, $29.90 per 24 hours or 200MB, or $115 per 7 days or 1GB. Usage in excess of this is charged at 10c per MB, or you can opt to have your connection speed shaped to continue using it at no charge.
The check-out process was quick and efficient but (un)luckily for them they never asked me how my stay was.
Writing this feels like a bit of a rant which is something I don’t aim for on my blog, but this would have to rank as one of the most disappointing hotel experiences I’ve ever had. If the Mercure where charging $35 for a room I wouldn’t be writing this, but when they’re charging $135 for a very sub standard product it deserves others to be wary of what they’re getting themselves into when booking a room. My advice is to look elsewhere – there are plenty of far better hotels in Auckland for a similar price.
Complaints about poor WiFi performance are one of the biggest issues facing the average internet user right now. With most people now relying on phones, tablets and laptops for their Internet fix, the days of a cabled Ethernet connection being the norm is well and truly over. Unlike a cabled Ethernet connection which offers a guaranteed level of performance, WiFi is incredibly complex with many variables that will impact performance and reliability. Dealing with wireless performance issues is a nightmare for the helpdesk of the average Internet Service Provider (ISP), with poor speeds being one of the biggest complaints from customers, and something they can do very little about as it’s something they have absolutely no control over.
First off lets be very clear with one thing. WiFi is not, and never will be a replacement for a cabled Ethernet connection. It will always be a convenient, complementary solution. Unless the laws of physics are changed at some point in the future there will never be an exception to this rule.
The first WiFi capable devices first appeared in the market in the late 90s with a standard known as 802.11b, offering headline theoretical speeds of up to 11Mbps. From the 802.11b standard the 802.11g standard was created, delivering an improved headline theoretical speed of 54Mbps. By 2009 the 802.11n standard was ratified, delivering headline speeds of up to 300Mbps, and by 2011 we were seeing the first 802.11ac gear promising headline speeds of up to 867Mbps (or even greater from some vendors).
The issue of theoretical vs real world throughput is something that we need to cover here. Every headline wireless speed you see mentioned, whether it be 11Mbps, 54Mbps, 150Mbps, 300Mbps or 867Mbps is a theoretical maximum speed. For various reasons it’s impossible for these sorts of speeds to ever be achieved in in the real world, primarily because they don’t take into account any overheads that exist in the WiFi protocol at Layer 1, and overheads at Layer 2 and Layer 3 in the open systems interconnection (OSI) model which form the basis of all data communications. They also don’t factor in WiFI being a half duplex medium, meaning that a WiFi device can’t transmit and receive data at the same time. It has to (very quickly) alternate between both, much like two people talking on a walkie talkie. This differs to an Ethernet connection which is full duplex and can transmit and receive data at the same time like two people having a real world conversation. As you’re transferring data across your WiFi connection you’ll be using one of two data protocols, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP). Because TCP relies on an acknowledgement (ACK) packet (think of a walkie talker user responding to every message saying they’re received it before the other person can send their next message), TCP performance over WiFi will typically be significantly less than UDP performance as UDP does not rely on ACK packets.
In the real world a 802.11b network will deliver maximum speeds of around 5Mbps, a 802.11g network will typically deliver maximum speeds of around 20Mbps, a 802.11n network will with 20Mhz channels (N150) will typically deliver maximum speeds of around 40Mbps, a 802.11n network with 40Mhz channels (N300) will typically deliver maximum speeds of around 80Mbps, and a 802.11ac network will typically deliver between 100Mbps and 350Mbps depending on channel width and the brand of hardware you’re using. These are all maximum real world speeds, and in the real world issues such as signal strength and congestion from other wireless networks will mean you may not get speeds anywhere near these - these issues are exactly what I’ll get onto next. Understanding what impacts WiFi performance isn’t straight forward as many of the key factors rely on a level of radio frequency (RF) engineering and protocols, however I’ll attempt to try to explain a few of the major concepts in something resembling simple English.
Lets start by explaining the most important principal of radio communications - noise floor. Unless you live somewhere with no neighbours within a 20km radius (or live inside a faraday cage), you’re continually being exposed to a myriad of radio waves from other wireless networks along with other sources of RF interference such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, mobile phones, video senders, baby monitors, and Bluetooth devices. Noise floor (like signal strength) is measured in dBm. dBm uses a logarithmic scale for measurement.
A typical noise floor value in the 2.4GHz band can be anywhere from -80 dBm to -110 dBm depending on the level of background noise in your environment from other sources. When you connect a WiFi device to a WiFi access point or router you’ll likely see an indication of signal strength on your device, typically showing bars. This shows a good approximation of signal strength, but isn’t telling you the full story. Many WiFi devices and access points also show the signal strength of the connected device, which will be shown in dBm. If you’re within close proximity of your WiFi access point you’ll potentially see a signal level of -50 dBm, as you start moving away from the access point this level will increase downwards. Once your signal level approaches the noise floor, link quality (and overall WiFi performance) will be affected. Once the signal strength reaches the noise floor, maintaining a WiFi connection will be impossible as each device is unable to “hear” the other device due to the level of background noise. All building materials cause a drop in signal strength which can be anywhere from a few dBm upwards - a regular plasterboard wall at home may reduce WiFi signal strength by 5 dBm, whereas a steel reinforced concrete wall with can easily impact signal levels by 20dBm.
To maintain a good quality WiFi connection you need to ensure your signal level is stronger than the noise floor. This is known as the signal to noise ratio (SNR). A SNR of 20 dBm or greater is recommended, meaning that if your noise floor is in the range of –90 to -95 dBm you’ll need to ensure your signal strength is at least –70 to –75 dBm to ensure a good connection. If you live in a very crowded inner city apartment block with a large amount of background noise and interference from other WiFi networks, you may find your noise floor is well below this figure and it could easily be in the vicinity of –80dB. This type of environment is when major problems start to occur, as it means you will need to be very close to your WiFi access point or router to maintain a good connection – but even then maintaining good performance may be difficult due to the way the WiFi protocol works, which is something I’ll discuss later on.
I like to explain noise floor in a very simple way by comparing it to people talking in a room. If you’re in a large room with one other person you’ll easily be able to have a conversation with them. If 300 other people and a DJ turn up playing music, they’re all creating noise. As this level of background noise increases you’ll find that maintaining a conversation with the person next to you becomes very difficult, and even when you shout you may not be heard. This pretty much mirrors what happens to WiFi when background RF noise effectively creates an environment where maintaining a reliable WiFi connection can be very difficult.
Now that I’ve explained the concept of noise floor, we’ll now look at the issue of frequencies. Two frequency bands are used by WiFi – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Today 2.4GHz is still the primary frequency used by WiFi devices. Most tablets, phones and laptops sold within the past 1-2 years will also support the 5GHz band, however the number of access points and home routers that support this band is still small. Both of these bands use blocks of spectrum that are openly usable by anybody in most countries in the world without a licence, meaning that there are other devices out there that also use these same frequency bands. In the 2.4GHz band, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, older cordless phones, video senders and microwave ovens all use the same frequency band as WiFi which means they all have the potential to cause interference and impact the performance of your WiFi. Most modern cordless phones use the DECT standard which uses the 1800Mhz band and will not cause interference with 2.4GHz WiFi, however in New Zealand in particular Uniden sold tens of thousands of 2.4GHz cordless phones until they stopped selling these a few years ago. A 2.4GHz cordless phone is a significant cause of interference with 2.4GHz WiFi and should be replaced with a modern DECT phone to eliminate the issue. Likewise turning on your microwave oven can cause a jump in noise that can impact WiFi.. Baby monitors and video senders that use the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band will also impact WiFi performance.
In the 2.4GHz band there are 13 channels available for use in New Zealand. In many other countries (including the USA) only 11 channels are available. Each of these channels is 10MHz apart. This in itself creates a major problem for 2.4GHz WiFi, as from 802.11g onwards 20MHz channels are now the norm, meaning that to avoid interfering with other WiFi networks, only 3 channels are actually available for use that don’t overlap with other channels. These are 1, 6 and 11. Using channel 13 in New Zealand is often a good idea as it is often less crowded, however it creates plenty of problems as many WiFi capable devices are configured for the US market where only channels 1-11 are allowed, and such devices will not be able to connect to a network transmitting on channel 13.
(Picture borrowed from www.xirrus.com)
Using a 20MHz channel meant a maximum theoretical throughput of 150Mbps with the Wireless N 150 standard, which for many people wasn’t fast enough - people wanted faster speeds. How did they achieve that? They simply moved to 40MHz wide channels, and Wireless N 300 was born. It doesn’t require a genius to realise that suddenly the 2.4GHz spectrum became a lot more crowded, and that overlapping channels from different networks became a major problem.
In the 5GHz band channels are placed 20MHz apart so overlaps don’t exist like they do in the 2.4GHz band if you’re using standard 20MHz channels, however recent additions such as the new 802.11ac standard can use channels up to 80MHz wide (and the standard allowing up to 160MHz channels), meaning the same challenges that exist in the 2.4GHz band will eventually occur in the 5GHz band as the number of devices using this band increases.
Due to the simple way WiFi works all other WiFi networks out there using the same channel or overlapping channels are creating interference which will ultimately impact the performance of your WiFi network. The WiFi standard uses something known as Clear Channel Assessment (CCA) to determine if other nearby WiFi networks on the same channel(s) are transmitting or receiving data. If it detects activity from another network it may not be able to transmit or receive data. Likewise when you’re transmitting or receiving data on your WiFi network, CCA on nearby WiFi networks will detect this activity. Think of this as like multiple conversations in a room with multiple people, where only two people are able to have a conversation at a time and all other conversations must stop before you can talk – in the WiFi world the impact of overlapping networks is a significant slow down in WiFi speeds and/or other performance issues.
For this very reason 2.4GHz WiFi performance in many urban environments is now significantly degraded. If you’re living in an environment such as an inner city apartment where there may be hundreds of nearby networks, you’re basically living in the worst possible environment possible for WiFi, and in some cases really have to be thankful your WiFi even works at all. The harsh reality is that fixing the 2.4GHz WiFi band isn’t possible – the solution is to upgrade your equipment to support the 5GHz band if reliable WiFi performance is important to you. While the 5GHz band will offer better performance, it also doesn’t propagate (travel) through open air and building materials as well due to the higher frequency. This is both the biggest benefit, and also the biggest downside of 5GHz WiFi – your 5GHz signal probably won’t leave your house and cause interference with your neighbours WiFi network, but you will also find that in your home a 5GHz signal will not travel through internal walls as well as a 2.4GHz signal. As we move towards even higher frequency bands for WiFi with a 60GHz standard now in place, we’re moving towards a future where individual access points in each room of your house either cabled back via Ethernet cabling or using Ethernet over Power adapters will become the standard way of providing WiFi coverage in the home.
Now that I’ve explained a few of the reasons why your WiFi can be impacted, I’ll offer a few tips on how to improve your WiFi connection.
First up is placement of your modem/router or access point. Many people are going to have this located next to their primary PC. The simple reality is that a WiFi connection will always work best the closer you are to your router or access point; so if this is located at one end of your home, you could easily have poor coverage at the other end of your home. As explained above, WiFi signals degrade as they travel though building materials within your home so placing your modem/router or access point in a central location is typically going to deliver the best outcome. If you have a big house the reality is that a single WiFi access point will probably not be sufficient to deliver adequate coverage. In this situation the best solution is a secondary access point that’s cabled back to your primary modem/router via Ethernet cable or Ethernet over Power adapters. Different brands of equipment have different levels of performance so upgrading your equipment can also significantly improve your performance. Discussing the pros and cons of different hardware isn’t something I’m going to write about though, so opening a discussion thread in a forum site such as Geekzone is the best place to discuss such things. Newer hardware that supports the 802.11ac standard will also likely use antennas that support beamforming which can deliver significantly improved performance. Ruckus (who arguably make some of the best WiFi equipment on the market) have a great white paper on beamforming that you can read here.
The next step is to ensure that your WiFi network is operating on the best available channel. What determines “best” isn’t something that’s easy to answer. If your WiFi hardware has it’s channel set to auto rather than having a channel manually configured there is a good chance it has probably picked what it believes is the best channel to use. Auto mode does have it’s downsides though, and if you’re in a very noisy environment your device may change channels regularly and performance may be impacted. If you have a 802.11n 300Mbps device it’s probably defaulting to 40Mhz channels, and if you live in a noisy environment with lots of other networks you may find your WiFi performance improves if you drop this back to using 20Mhz channels. There are various applications (my favourite is inSSIDer) for Android mobile phones and PC’s that will show you surrounding networks, and let you see what channels are the least crowded. If you’re using an iPhone you’re out of luck – Apple won’t allow applications such as this in the App Store.
You also need to be aware that not all hardware is created equal – it’s not uncommon to find home routers that can only support somewhere in the vicinity of 10 wireless devices. If you connect more WiFi devices than your router can support, you’ll start to encounter problems. You will also encounter problems if you have lots of devices connected with poor signal strength – if you have devices connected at one end of the house with very low signal strength, this will affect the performance of WiFi devices that are closer and have good signal strength.
And lastly ensure that power levels are set lower, not higher. Many people assume that more power = better, but in reality this is not the case. Turning your router or access point to maximum power settings will typically result in reduced maximum throughput and reduced receive sensitivity, meaning your level of performance may actually be worse. High power devices also mean more noise is being created, and this simply makes the 2.4GHz band worse for others. Setting your power level to a lower setting in many situations will actually improve your WiFi performance.
One common piece of hardware people are buying these days in an attempt to improve performance is a so called “WiFi extender”. These devices work by picking up a WiFi signal and rebroadcasting it, meaning it can improve performance in your home if you have low coverage areas. There are two major issues with these devices however – the first being that they will typically halve the maximum speed of your WiFi network as they have to pick up and then rebroadcast the network, and the second being that they are often not installed correctly. As the extender needs to connect wirelessly to your main access point or router, it’s no good placing it where there is poor coverage – the device needs to be placed in a location where coverage is good such as a mid way point between these areas.
In summary, WiFI is far from simple. These days people have an expectation that just because a WiFI network exists, that it should work, and work well - in reality nothing can be further from the truth.
Disruptive. It’s a word that I don’t like, but it has become a very common catchphrase these days to describe the now common scenario of a new entrant causing grief for existing players in a market. Right now disruptive new entrants in the market are causing grief for taxi companies worldwide.
I’ve done a lot of travelling in my life, and taxis are something that I’ve used a lot both in NZ and overseas. It’s something where the experience is the very similar right across the world, and mysteriously the instances of highly opinionated middle aged male drivers who love talking about politics while listening to talkback radio isn’t just something that’s unique to New Zealand. In many cities in the world the taxi experience is a unique one – catch a Black Cab in London and you’ll find yourself with a driver who’s spent years learning “The Knowledge” – a test involving memorising over 20000 streets and 20000 landmarks in Central London, and can probably tell you more about London and it’s history than any guide book.
The launch of Uber in the US in 2010 really became the first true competition to hit the taxi market. As the taxi market is often regulated or tightly controlled in many countries, the market in many ways mirrored that of a monopoly. While multiple companies may exist in these markets, pricing, and in some cases vehicle requirements are set by authorities, meaning the price and experience is often essentially the same, no matter what company you pick. Uber’s entry into the “rideshare” (as they call it) market was resulted in a product that very different to what already existed. Rather than the old school experience of hailing a cab in the street (something that can prove very difficult in the US) and then having to have cash to pay for it, the whole experience could be done straight from your mobile phone.
I started to write this blog post last month after having used Uber a handful of times in recent trips to the US. Since then I’ve used Uber a couple of times in Auckland, and we’ve also seen the launch of Uber in Wellington a couple of weeks ago. I’ve loved every Uber experience so far, and it’s something I’ll be happy to continue to use in the future.
What I do need to make clear at this point is why I (and plenty of others I know) share this support for Uber. Right now if you’re like many people out there you’ll immediately be thinking the sole reason is price. If you did, you’re wrong. Yes UberX may undercut existing taxi offerings, but Uber Black also exists offering a premium transport solution in luxury vehicles. Why do I really like Uber? The answer is really quite simple – Uber are using technology to let me interact with them, and that’s something that existing taxi companies seem to be largely ignoring.
I love being able to open up the Uber app on my phone, see where the nearest vehicle is, see an estimated quote for a journey, order my ride, see the details of the driver and his vehicle, and then watch in real time as the driver comes to pick me up. The Uber driver sees all this data on a mobile phone and gets GPS based navigation to the destination. Once my journey is over I can literally hop out of the vehicle with payment for the ride being automatically deducted from my credit card with no expensive “electronic card convenience fee” surcharges which most taxi companies in NZ charge. I’m then prompted to rate my driver, and likewise the driver is prompted to rate me as a passenger. Uber really is the perfect product for today’s market and delivers a customer experience that other companies simply can’t offer.
So how are taxi companies in NZ competing against Uber? Improving their service? No. Creating apps to order a taxi? Typically no. Waiving “electronic card convenience fees”? No. The New Zealand Taxi Federation who represents most taxi drivers and taxi companies in NZ are simply spreading FUD (fear, uncertainly and doubt) in the hope of discrediting Uber, with stories such as this on stuff.co.nz on the weekend. I’ve also heard from a couple of taxi drivers in recent months that “Uber is illegal in NZ”, with the Taxi Federation claiming that many drivers are not legally licensed. It’s a requirement to hold a passenger service endorsement to carry passengers for payment here, so my challenge to the Taxi Federation is to front up with some facts to back their claims or to retract them. If drivers are operating illegally it’s the job of the New Zealand Transport Agency to enforce the law, so they should be approaching them with evidence, not bleating to the media and trying to spread mistruths.
So why aren’t taxi companies in New Zealand simply working on the whole customer experience issue and giving customers the ability to book a taxi online or via an app? That really is the million dollar question. Most large taxi companies in NZ all use a taxi dispatch system created by Australian company MTData, who are now one of the largest suppliers of taxi dispatch hardware in the world. In car terminals integrate tightly with their back end system meaning that a taxi company knows exactly where every car is and can dispatch jobs direct to the drivers screen. MTData provide an extensive API meaning that building an app to deliver 100% of the Uber functionality can easily be built. Hutt & City Taxis and Auckland Combined Taxis have launched iOS only apps within the past couple of years based on MTData source code that offer basic booking functionality, but the fact most people have never heard of these really sums up how popular they are. The lack of Android versions of their software also shows it’s not a market they’re serious about, and they also lack any ability to pay for your ride using the app.
The NZ market has seen the introduction of Zoomy, a 3rd party app that tries to replicate the Uber experience by equipping regular taxi drivers with mobile phones running the Zoomy app. An individual can book a taxi using the Zoomy app and pay for this with their credit card. Zoomy however is in my view a dead loss and I don’t see much of a future for it as it relies on convincing regular taxi drivers to sign up for the service, and with so few of them interested in this you’ll typically find that there may not be a Zoomy driver available if you want to order a taxi. Zoomy is also disliked by many large taxi companies and with little hope of getting these on side, it’s probably facing a pretty bleak future.
All of this really poses the question of why organisations such as Blue Bubble Taxis, New Zealand's largest affiliated taxi group which brings together 16 different taxi companies from across NZ, aren’t interested in the app market. My understanding is every single one uses the MTData dispatch system. Why haven’t Blue Bubble built an app (especially when MTData themselves are willing to provide support) to easily allow passengers in any of those markets to order a taxi, pay for that taxi using the app, and more importantly stand out from the market by offering a solution that their competitors don’t offer? Instead of wanting to compete with new entrants, these taxi companies seem stuck in the 1980s mindset believing that there is no need for innovation or change, which in this day in age is a perfect recipe for failure in any industry as new players are certainly more than happy to trample all over your existing business and steal your customers.