All we need now is Air NZ inflight WiFi - which is something that has been rumored for some time with the launch last year of coverage in the South Pacific and the installation of a ground uplink station in Adelaide by Panasonic Aviation who provide Air NZ's Inflight Entertainment (IFE) system on their new aircraft.
Air New Zealand customers will be some of the first in the Asia Pacific region to be able to use their handheld portable electronic devices in non-transmitting mode for the entire duration of their flights following approval from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority. From 16 July the airline will allow the use of handheld portable electronic devices including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players during all phases of flight provided the devices are in flight mode. Previously customers could not use their devices during the taxi, take-off and landing phases of flight.
Initially this option will be available to customers travelling on domestic and international services operated by Airbus A320 and Boeing 787-9, 777-200 and 777-300 aircraft with plans to include Air New Zealand’s regional turbo prop and Boeing 767-300 fleets over time, subject to regulatory approval.
Air New Zealand’s General Manager Customer Experience Carrie Hurihanganui says extending the use of electronic devices to all phases of flight will further enhance the customer journey.
“We are living in a digital age where the majority of our customers use electronic devices while travelling. Today’s announcement will give customers further freedom to use their handheld devices to take photos, listen to music or watch pre-loaded movies gate to gate.
“Air New Zealand prides itself on being a leader in innovation and technology and continues to actively explore what can be done to make the travel experience easier and more enjoyable for our customers.”
Last year the US Federal Aviation Administration published guidance allowing for the expanded use of portable electronic devices following analysis by experts from airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pilots associations, cabin crew and mobile technology manufacturers.
I flew to Japan for a holiday for a couple of weeks late March and early April to see the cherry blossom bloom. I’d been meaning to post my Air New Zealand flight review for some time, but later is better than never! :-)
Air New Zealand fly two types of aircraft on the Auckland to Tokyo route, the 777-200ER (77E) and the 767-300ER (763). At the time of writing this the vast majority of flights are flown by the 767. The product offering between both aircraft varies quite significantly which is something that I’ll briefly discuss. I flew business class both ways on the 767.
The 767 offers two classes of travel – economy and business. The economy offering is a 7 abreast 2-3-2 configuration with most seats offering either 31” or 32” pitch as standard. Business class is a very dated product by modern standards consisting of old style non lie flat seats in a 6 abreast 2-2-2 configuration with 50” pitch. The seats are narrow and if you’re used to flying in business class with fully lie flat seats it’s safe to say you’ll be extremely disappointed. For day flights it’s an acceptable offering, but for long duration night flights it’s a pretty sub par offering for an airline in this day in age. The 763 features a Panasonic EFX inflight entertainment (IFE) system with 16:9 aspect ratio touch screens in every seat.
The 77E offers three classes of travel – economy, premium economy and business premier. The economy offering is a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with between 31” and 33” pitch as standard on most seats. Premium economy is also a 9 abreast 3-3-3 configuration with significantly increased 41” seat pitch, better recline and upgraded food and drink offerings. The premium economy seats however are not significantly different that those in economy, you’re simply paying extra for more space and better dining. Business premier is a fully lie flat bed in a 4 abreast 1-2-1 configuration with each seat having aisle access. The 77E features a much older Rockwell Collins IFE system with 4:3 aspect ratio non touch screens.
Air New Zealand are currently in the process of upgrading it’s 77E fleet with the first aircraft due for completion in July, and the remainder by mid 2015. This will see brand new seats fitted throughout and a move to 10 abreast 3-4-3 economy (you’ll know what a sardine in a can feels like), an improved premium economy offering with better seats and new business premier seating still in the existing 1-2-1 configuration. The aircraft will also have the latest Panasonic eXLite IFE fitted.
Air New Zealand will be introducing their new new 787-900 Dreamliners onto the route as they progressively arrive from late 2014 to replace the 767 fleet which is being retired.
NZ90 Auckland to Tokyo Narita
NZ90 is a daytime flight from Auckland to Tokyo. I was seated in seat 4J for this leg. Row 4 is the last row in business class with a bulkhead behind it separating business and economy class. Having sat in this row a few times before I’m convinced that the recline in these seats is slightly less than other rows due to the bulkhead. Bassinette fitting are also at the very front of the economy cabin, so you do face some risk of noise from babies in this area.
On boarding I was welcomed by the crew and offered a pre-flight drink of orange juice or champagne. Being a champagne fan I felt it would have been rude to turn the offer down, especially as Air New Zealand serve Mumm which is a favourite of mine. Noise cancelling headsets, a bottle of water, and menus were also present on my seat. I’m not a huge fan on the noise cancelling headsets Air New Zealand offers (as I have my own headphones which are vastly superior) but they are certainly a step up from the regular headphones used throughput the plane for economy seats.
After takeoff hot towels were handed out and another round of drinks handed out. Once again I felt it would have been rude to turn down another glass of Mumm. Tablecloths were then laid out in preparation for the breakfast service.
I opted for the smoothie, fresh fruit, muesli and yoghurt to start with, all washed down by another glass of Mumm. :-)
This was followed by hotcakes with a rhubarb compote and cream which was very yummy.
After the breakfast service was over it was time to relax for a few hours. There is a great selection of music, movies and games on the IFE system that will cater to most people. There is a lot to see out the window during the flight with many island and atolls on the way.
And of course crossing the Equator – something I always like to celebrate. I was a little tired of Mumm by then so opted for a Gin & Tonic. :-)
An afternoon tea service commenced around this time. I opted for a raspberry lamington and sandwich. I did feel however that the food loadings for this service could have been better, my seat was at the end of the service and the pickings were a little slim.
With just over 2 hours to go before out arrival into Tokyo the table cloths were again laid out and the dinner service commenced.
The prawn starter is a favourite for Air New Zealand that I’ve had a number of times and it always goes down well, especially with yet another Mumm! A selection of warm bread is also on offer.
I opted for chicken for the main course, washed down with a nice Pinot Noir. I love Japanese food so loved the ingredients, however the chicken was possibly just a little on the dry side.
Which was nicely finished off with a green panna cotta which was absolutely delicious.
Throughout the flight a snack bar is also available, featuring fruit, bottled water, Whittakers chocolate bars, muesli bars, pretzels and vegetable crisps.
NZ99 Tokyo Narita to Auckland
NZ99 is a night time flight from Tokyo Narita to Auckland. I was seated in seat 1A for this leg. Row 1 offers slightly less legroom due to the aircraft bulkhead, but I have no complaints with this and find row 1 the best seats on the plane as you’re not trapped in your seat unlike other window seats when the seat in front is fully reclined and the IFE monitor in use.
It wasn’t long after we’d departed that the tablecloths came out again and the tough decision (it really is a big #firstworldproblem) of deciding what to eat from such a delicious looking menu.
To begin we had a Japanese style starter. This tasted delicious, however if you don’t like Japanese food you may have second thoughts, however having visited Japan several times now I’ve become a huge fan of the food so it really hit the spot.
And then the tough decision on what to have as a main. Yes you can eat a burger anyway, but the novelty of having a burger on a plane was just too tempting. Air New Zealand deserve a lot of credit for getting this right – the bun was perfect and the burger patty tasted amazing. It was very interesting to see how popular the burger was, I’d pick probably 50% of the cabin had it for dinner.
And after finishing the burger and another nice glass of New Zealand Pinot Noir it was time for desert. Unfortunately the gateau had already gone so I opted for the ice cream.
It was then time to try and get some sleep being an overnight flight, but I struggled to get more than an hour or so, finding the seats quite uncomfortable. I instead opted to watch a few movies and spent a while chatting to the crew who had very little to do when most of the cabin was asleep. The usual snack bar was present so a couple of Whittakers chocolate bars really hit the spot.
A few hours out from Auckland the breakfast service commenced.
First up was the smoothie, followed by fresh fruit, muesli and fruit yogurt accompanied by a croissant with strawberry jam.
Followed by a delicious tasting poached eggs with perfectly crispy bacon.
Business class isn’t just about sitting at the front of the plane with better seats – it’s also about delivering an in flight fine dining experience!
Overall both flights were very pleasant ones, however the service wasn’t without fault and to me the 767 crew (who only fly on the 767 aircraft) didn’t seem quite as “polished” as long haul crews I’ve had on previous 777 and 747 flights. While we all accept that New Zealander’s can be very informal at times I felt both crews just seemed to lack a little in the way of professionalism that visitors to New Zealand who may not have flown business class on Air New Zealand may not be used to. Overall the food was fantastic, and the only area that is really lacking is the aircraft – I was fully aware I was flying on the 767, but I’m certainly aware of passengers on this route who have expressed shock at having such an old school business class offering and no lie flat seats for such a long flight.
I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging in recent months but a 10 day holiday in Hawaii has given me some motivation to get a little closer to finishing some longer posts I’d started writing. What better way to get back into things than a flight review - I love to travel, and to me getting to or from your destination is a major part of the fun!
At present Air New Zealand are operating 767-300 aircraft on the Honolulu sector. While I love flying on the 767 it’s safe to say these aircraft have seen better days and are starting to look pretty tired. Air New Zealand’s remaining 767 aircraft are all being replaced by 787 Dreamliner’s that start to arrive in the coming months, and all 767s will be retired from the fleet over the next 18 months. The 767 offers an old style Business Class offering (no lie flat) and Economy class. It does not feature any Premium Economy seating. Having flown Business Class on the 767 on a number of occasions it’s safe to say it’s a very tired offering by modern standards, particularly for night flights as it doesn’t offer lie flat seats. You do however get the great Business Class food and drink options. If you’ve got Airpoints Dollars to burn on an upgrade it’s worth it, but if you’re paying full price you’d have to question whether it’s worth it.
Check-in at Honolulu airport was a breeze. There was a separate Premium check-in queue but just over 2 hours out from the flight as there were very few people around. Once check-in was completed it was a quick walk to the TSA security screening. Anybody who flies in or to the US regularly knows how bad this can be. As a HVC with Air New Zealand (Airpoints Gold) I was able to use the Gold priority queue. From joining the queue to being screened was around 15 minutes, I’d estimate it’d probably be another 10-15 minutes for those not in the Gold queue.
Air New Zealand don’t have a Koru lounge at Honolulu airport so they share the JAL Sakura Lounge which is also used by American Airlines and all other OneWorld airlines. This is by no means the world’s best lounge, but it serves it’s purpose. It also does mean you don’t have to wait in the non air conditioned airport (which is all open air) as access to the air conditioned gate lounge is only available once the arriving NZ10 flight has landed and all passengers offloaded which is roughly 1hr before departure. It can be quite uncomfortable sitting around in the airport in the evening if it’s humid.
The design and styling of the lounge is nothing amazing but there is plenty of seating as there are very other flights at this time of the evening. Being a JAL lounge it’s pretty basic, as are many Japanese airport lounges. The biggest downside of the lounge for many travellers is the lack of any shower facilities, so make sure you don’t come to the airport after a day at the beach looking for one before your flight. Toilets are also not located in the lounge, but in the hallway just outside the lounge entrance.
If you’ve come to the JAL lounge expecting a gourmet meal you’ve got the wrong lounge – but the offering is fine if you’ve just after pre flight snacks. An assortment of sandwiches, cut fruit, a vegetable platter, soup, bread, snack mix and cheese & crackers were on offer offer. You can wash this down with the usual range of juice, soft drinks, liquor and beer, with Steinlager Pure being offered in the lounge for Air New Zealand flights.
Pre-boarding was announced and it was about a 5 minute walk to the gate. I’ve flown from Honolulu several times and announcements have always been made before actual boarding has started, so you don’t necessarily need to rush off immediately.
I was located in seat in the front of the economy cabin in 13B. The 767 features Business Class and Economy product but like other short haul Pacific flights offers the Seats to Suit options – meaning you can buy a Seat only, Seat+Bag, Works (seat+bag+meal) or Works Deluxe which also guarantees a neighbour free policy. As the 767 Economy has a 2-3-2 seat plan Works Deluxe customers are located in the middle of the forward economy cabin with the middle seat remaining free. The outer seats in this cabin are Frequent Flyer seats available to high value customers with Koru, Gold or Gold Elite status. Seats 10AB are ideal in this cabin as they offer more leg room due to the pilot rest area located in front of the cabin. Leg room is no different however to the remainder of the Economy cabin.
The 767 features seat back IFE in every seat with a selection of music and movies. On the Seats to Suit flights movies are not available to passengers who purchase seat only fares (but can be purchased in flight if you have a credit card). The Panasonic IFE system on both the 767 and shorthaul Airbus A320 is a very unreliable system that’s prone to issues. In probably 20 flights on 767 and A320 aircraft in the past 18 months I’ve experienced at least 4 or 5 full system reboots midflight performed by the crew to resolve issues, and it’s very common for crew to have to reboot individual seats due to issues. If you experience IFE problems make sure you let the crew know as a reboot will typically fix this.
Pushback was a couple of minutes past our scheduled departure time. Our departure was runway 8R which is known locally as the reef runway. This is a long taxi (around 15 minutes) from the gate but offers fantastic views of Waikiki from the left side of the plane.
Once we had reached cruise the service began
On offer for dinner was the chicken or the beef. Neither were particularly inspiring. I had the chicken pasta and didn’t finish it because (I’m being brutally honest here!) it just tasted terrible. The salad was nice, as was the melon ice cream. A bread roll would have been nice. Followed just behind was the drinks trolley offering the usual selection of drinks. It was interesting to see Air New Zealand now offering Moa Beer on flights but with an $8 per bottle surcharge. You’d have to be pretty stupid to pay this for a very average beer (I wouldn’t drink a Moa even if you paid me $8).
Breakfast was scrambled egg with chicken sausage, tomato, potato wedges and a muffin. Not a bad offering.
For customers who haven’t chosen to purchase a meal a number of snacks are available for purchase. Coffee, tea and water are complementary.
Our arrival into Auckland was on time however there was a delay with bags, something that be common early morning with a number of flights from the US, China and Perth all arriving around the same time. Overall the flight was a good one with good crew with good service.
Global roaming prices have been a pet hate for users for many years and there is no disputing that prices have been sky high, but this has quickly changed in the last couple of years with many mobile networks around the world slashing prices and allowing users to take phones with them, and not having to sorry about acquiring a foreign SIM card to avoid ending up with a mobile bill that costs more than the airfare!
In the last year or so Vodafone Group have moved to daily roaming rates across many of their networks allowing users to pay a small fixed daily charge and then all data, voice calls and SMS messages are deducted from the user's monthly plan allowance. Vodafone New Zealand are one of the last networks to launch this, but launched this today offering a $5 charge to 17 commonly visited countries.
So what does this mean?
It means you'll pay $5 every day you use your phone abroad in Australia, United Kingdom, USA, France, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Ghana, Romania, Czech Republic and India. Any SMS messages, data usage, inbound voice calls from New Zealand, or outbound voice calls to New Zealand or the country you're in will then be deducted from your monthly plan allowance. This will mean many users who roam will see massive reductions in their roaming costs - the old rates of 80c per SMS message, $1 per minute to answer a phone call, and from $1 to $6 per minute to make a phone call which abroad are now a thing of the past. You'll be able to use your phone in exactly the same as you do in NZ and pay no more than $5 for the convenience. It'll also mean significantly cheaper data - I have 3GB of data on my plan and can now use this while I'm travelling for what I consider to be a bargain price.
This offering gives Vodafone a massive advantage over Telecom or 2degrees, both of whom have roaming offers now very much pale in comparison to what Vodafone has on offer.
In late 2012 Fly Buys launched an interactive advertising campaign with advertising company Adshel. Bus stops signs, and a much larger display that was located in Wellington Airport for some time offered customers the chance to swipe their Fly Buys card and receive a free gum ball. You can see photos of these, and read more about the campaign here.
I’d never actually seen one of these in real life, but after seeing comments on Twitter on Friday about one of these not accepting an Air NZ Airpoints card (which it is supposed to do according to both the display and a Fly Buys rep on Twitter), I thought I’d have a look at one of these machines which is currently running in an Adshel bus stop in Manners St in Wellington with a few other Geekzoners.
The machine was broken and wouldn’t give us a gum ball, no matter what card we tried.
The Adshel sign welcomes me to swipe my Fly Buys card or my Airpoints card and receive a free gum ball. Innocent enough – until you consider the security implications of this.
A basic Fly Buys card has your 16 digit number printed on it, and the magnetic stripe on your Fly Buys card contains this number. The format of your Fly Buys number is identical to a credit card and uses the LUN10 algorithm – the initial 6 digits are a BIN range 6014 35 (unique to Fly Buys) followed by 9 digits which make up your Fly Buys number, and the last digit which is a check digit. The number is also present on a barcode on the back of your Fly Buys card in an EAN13 format. EAN barcodes normally start with the GS1 member country code, which you can see on goods manufactured in New Zealand which will typically start with a barcode in the range of 940-949. The 264 range is not allocated specifically to Fly Buys, but is one they’re permitted to use. After the 264 your Fly Buys number is shown, and the last digit as with all EAN13 barcodes is a check digit.
If you swipe your Fly Buys card through this mag stripe reader in the hope of getting a free gum ball, the risks are minimal. If somebody has maliciously tampered with the mag stripe reader and replaced this with a skimming device to capture card numbers your Fly Buys number isn’t going to be of any real use to a fraudster. Your Airpoints card however is another matter entirely.
Air New Zealand partnered with Fly Buys several years ago allowing Air New Zealand Airpoints members to accrue Fly Buys points directly to their Airpoints account. Not long after this Air New Zealand launched a new Airpoints card that used the Rev platform to offer a prepaid Mastercard Debit card capable of storing multiple foreign currencies, your regular Airpoints card, and Fly Buys card. The card is EMV compliant and supports Mastercard PayPass NFC technology as well as a chip , and can also be used at NFC capable Air New Zealand kiosks and gates to identify the card holder. Because the magnetic strip on the card has to be used for the Mastercard component, the Fly Buys number barcode has to be scanned at retailers, it can’t be swiped through a mag stripe reader like a regular Fly Buys card.
By now you’re probably starting to realise the security implications of swiping your Airpoints card through a random mag stripe reader attached to a bus stop. Rather than simply giving your 16 digit Fly Buys number away, you’re giving away your 16 digit credit card number, your name, and your Airpoints number. Anybody who decides to maliciously tamper with the mag stripe reader and replace it with a skimming device now has access to a constant stream of credit card numbers from unsuspecting people. Of course not everybody who swipes their card will have their OneSmart card activated, or have money in their account, but the security aspect is exceptionally scary.
With the number of recent cases of ATM tampering where skimming devices have been attached to machines, Air New Zealand and BNZ (who provide the OneSmart Mastercard product) should be terrified that Fly Buys is encouraging their customers to willingly swipe their card in a public place in a mag stripe reader that would require absolutely no skills to tamper with and replace with a skimming device. It really does makes a mockery of all the security messages that banks try and send to their customers about protecting their cards.
I had to dig out my mag stripe gear to show the data on the Airpoints/OneSmart card. I’ve PAN masked some of my personal data including my Airpoints number, expiry dates and OneSmart credit card numbers with a *.
It was also pointed out to me that the billboard will not work with a Kiwibank Airpoints Card by somebody who had attempted to use one in the past thinking that the reference to “Airpoints card” would include this card. I wonder what Kiwibank think of their customers swiping their credit cards through a mag stripe reader in a public area attached to a bus stop that could so easily be tampered with?
Anybody who knows where the town of Plzen is located is probably a bit of a beer geek. Plzen translates to Pilsen in German, and is the home of Pilsner beer. First brewed in 1842, the Pilsner style was a clear, slightly hoppy style beer that was very different to the much darker Ale that had been commonplace across Europe for centuries beforehand. If you’re a true beer fan you’ve possibly visited Plzen and been to the Pilsner Urquell factory – if you haven’t, it’s something that should be on the bucket list of every true beer geek as the factory tour is a fantastic experience.
Boundary Road is a brand of Independent Liquor, a company created by New Zealander Michael Erceg in 1987. Erceg was a true genius, who was sadly killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. Erceg pretty much created the ready to drink (RTD) market in New Zealand and in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Independent Liquor tightly controlled this highly profitable market with other players struggling to gain any traction in the market. In the early 2000’s beer became a growth area of the business as supermarket beer sales quickly took market share from traditional bottle stores that were at the time owned by industry giants DB and Lion Breweries. This allowed Independent Liquor jumped at the chance to gain traction in the beer market by aggressively pushing product in supermarkets, as they had previously been unable to do this in bottle stores owned by their much larger competitors. Some of this beer was terrible (Ranfurly anybody?) but as with the RTD market, they targeted price conscious consumers and quickly gained market share in the off premise market. The addition of some large imported brands such as Grolsch and Carlsberg gave them a portfolio of products that allowed them to compete head-on with DB and Lion offerings in the marketplace.
After Erceg was sadly killed in a helicoper crash with Grolsch executive Guus Klatte in 2005, Independant Liquor was ultimately sold to a private equity companies Unitas Capital and Pacific Equity Partners. It was then sold to Japanese company Asahi in 2011. In recent years they have continued with a strategy of flooding the market with products and hoping that large supermarket end displays and multiple facings of cheap beer would drive growth, and to some extent this has strategy has paid off. Whether the significant amount of money that would have been spent on Public Relations companies to drive this strategy was money well spent is a hot topic of debate, as attempting to grow the Ranfurly Brand failed miserably with what must rank as one of New Zealand’s worst ever advertising campaign. As to whether their beer is any good is also a hot topic of discussion – Boundary Road have numerous “craft” beer brands and consider themselves a “craft” brewer however many of their products are anything but unique. There is a significant market of price conscious customers who aren’t worried about the quality of their beer, and they are doing well in this category.
All of this leads to the horrible revelation that Independent Breweries don’t actually know how to spell Plzen. I was given a dozen Boundary Road Bouncing Czech beer a few weeks ago and yesterday decided to drink one while engaging in the great Kiwi tradition of cooking food on the BBQ. The beer was very average for a Pilsner style, but what was worse was the spelling. Where in the world is Pizen? One can assume that they actually mean Plzen (note the l rather than an i). Considering that the Pilsner style beer has only been brewed since 1842 their reference to the world “centuries” also seems a little strange.
I think a certain company is in need of not only a better Pilsner recipe, but also a history lesson and spelling lesson as well.
My blog has always traditionally revolved around technology because it’s something I love. What I do love even more however is travel, and with this in mind instead of writing yet another blog post with a technology focus I thought I’d write about travel since I am currently on holiday in the US at Astricon (ironically a tech conference!).
Air New Zealand have two remaining 747-400 aircraft in their fleet, both of which are used almost exclusively on the NZ7/8 route to and from San Francisco. To me the 747 is still the most amazing plane to grace the world’s sky and it is a shame that due to their age these planes are rapidly disappearing from airline fleets around the world. Both remaining Air New Zealand planes are due to be scrapped by October 2014. In all my previous 747 flights I’d never flown upper deck on a 747, so chose to head to the US via SFO in Premium Economy just so I could make possibly my final 747 flight and tick an upper deck seat off my bucket list.
NZ8 - 04/10/2013 - Seat 22A Premium Economy
My seat was an exit row window at the front of the upper deck Premium Economy area. I consider this one of the best Premium Economy seats due to the extra legroom, but others may disagree due to the proximity to the door which can be a colder area to sit. The upper deck is shared between Business Premier and Premium Economy, with 23 Premium Economy seats in a 3-2 configuration and 10 Business Premier seats in a 1-1 configuration. Another 16 Premium Economy seats are located on the main deck in a 2-2 configuration which offers a much cosier feel. These seats offer a seat pitch of between 38” and 40”.
Not being on the main deck gives this area a very different feel, which is clearly the appeal of sitting up there. Boarding for the service was a little late and the 7:15pm departure was a little late with pushback occurring at around 7:30pm. While boarding was underway the PA announcement apologising for the “jams in the aisle” were slightly amusing to me as the only “jam” was the crew delivering pre flight champagne to Business Premier customers.
The view from the top of the stairs of the upper deck showing the Premium Economy and Business Premier seats.
Looking forward to Business Premier from my seat.
Pre dinner drinks were served, with the same beverage selection being shared between Business Premier and Premium Economy. This means glass bottles of wine served in real glass, unlike the plastic bottles served in Economy. Wines and spirits are also of a much higher quality, and my glass of Mumm champagne (my favourite!) went down very well. Not long after this the meal service commenced consisting of an entree of prawns with wasabi mayonnaise, green tea noodle salad, nori and watercress. The flavours in this were great, with the wasabi managing to not overpower the other ingredients.
The Premium Economy menu.
Desert was a chocolate delice with blackberry creme fraiche.
The main is described as “being served with rocket” on the menu but no fresh rocket was served with this meal. Having had this main previously (with rocket) flying Business class to Honolulu in May I definitely feel the course did lack a little zing without the rocket. No bread roll was served in Premium Economy, which was strange as the tray contained a serve of butter. My assumption is that the crew simply forgot, as the bread roll basket had plenty of rolls in it after being delivered to Business Premier customers and sat on the wine storage area between Business Premier and Premium Economy during the service. The desert was delicious and washed with with a couple of glasses of Pinot noir served by a crew who were very generous with after dinner drinks. Not long after the meal trays were collected the main cabin lighting was dimmed. What is nice is a a range of snacks including Whitakers Chocolate, fresh fruit, muesli bars, vege chips and beverages are available from a self service area throughout the flight.
Breakfast was fresh fruit salad and yoghurt with optional cereal, and a croissant with a selection of preserves. I opted for the lemon scented brioche French toast with apricots, honey cream, toasted almonds and vanilla syrup as the hot option and found this to be amazing, and would have happily opted for more if it was on offer!
Despite the late departure time we were pretty much right on schedule landing in San Francisco. Clearing immigration at SFO seems to be a lot better than many of the horror stories I’ve heard at Los Angeles lately, and I had cleared immigration and collected my bags within 30 minutes of leaving the plane.
Premium Economy on Air New Zealand is a great offering, with the food and beverage selection being very similar to the Business Premier offering. Seating differs significantly between the different aircraft on the fleet, with both Boeing 747 –400 and 777-200 aircraft opting for a more traditional seat (which is slightly wider on the 747-400), whereas the Boeing 777-300 offers the newer Air New Zealand designed Spaceseat. Having not flown Premium Economy in the 777-300 I don’t have a view on this seat, but do know plenty of people who prefer the 747-400 seat over the Spaceseat.
Service is also a huge step up from regular Economy, however I do feel that the upper deck service may be slightly less attentive than my previous 777-200 Premium Economy flights. I put this down to the focus of the two crew on the Business Premier customers, however no matter how you look at it, the experience is a significant step up from Economy!
Did anybody tell the NZX?
According to the NZ Herald “Chorus is a business unit of Telecom NZ” … so it must be true.
Seriously folks, can the level of accuracy in the New Zealand mainstream media really get any worse?
If you’re a sports fan in New Zealand you’ll be aware of the acquisition of the New Zealand broadcast rights to the English Premier League by Coliseum Sport, a new start-up who’s goal is to break the stranglehold of existing broadcast TV by streaming games over the internet.
Unfortunately for Coliseum they’re already set themselves up to fail. Not because of their model, but the poor technological solutions that they’ve chosen to deliver their content. Delivery of video content over the internet is the future of media, and with the rollout of fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes by 2019 as part of the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout, New Zealand homes will have the capability and bandwidth to enable broadcasters to bypass existing terrestrial and satellite delivery platforms – that’s not to say New Zealand doesn’t already have world class broadband, because we do - over 80% of premises are capable of receiving a internet connection of at least 10Mbps, and around 50% of those premises are capable of receiving VDSL2 which can deliver between 30Mbps and 70Mbps depending on your distance from your local exchange or roadside cabinet. What UFB does differently is enable guaranteed bandwidth to premises, and more importantly enables multicast delivery of content over the UFB network, something that is essential to deliver high bandwidth content to multiple premises. Delivering content over the internet is the way of the future, particularly as people move to replace viewing live content with watching On Demand content when and where it suits them.
Coliseum Sport’s failing isn’t the decision to deliver content over the internet – it’s the options that exist to view their streamed content. No matter how many internet enabled devices people may have in their home, the big screen TV is still the entertainment hub of the home. While tablets may be convenient for watching content in bed, nothing can match the experience of watching high definition content on a big screen TV. Logic would dictate that anybody looking at replacing the existing broadcast model would focus on replicating the experience, but it seems it’s the aspect Coliseum have chosen to ignore. Right now your only option for watching Coliseum Sport content is to use a PC as their content uses Adobe Flash for it’s streaming – although there are are Android and iOS apps in development to allow viewing content on these devices. If you want to watch content on your big screen TV your only option is to hook a PC up to your TV, something that’s not difficult if you own a laptop, but it’s still a very cumbersome task that simply shouldn’t be required. If you don’t own a laptop that you can move to near your TV it’s probably not even an option.
Coliseum’s have completely overlooked the fact that every home in the country that has a TV with Integrated Freeview|HD (known as an IDTV – Integrated Digital TV) or a MyFreeview|HD recorder already has the technology built in to solve their problem. Pretty much every IDTV sold these days is required to have internet connectivity to comply with Freeview specifications. While many so called smart TVs already have their own applications such as YouTube for viewing content from the internet, building applications for multiple brands of TVs is expensive and time consuming, and that’s where MHEG5 steps in to save the day.
MHEG5 is an open standards Application Programme Interface (API) that is mandatory on every Freeview|HD IDTV or Freeview Set Top Box (STB) sold in New Zealand. MHEG5 allows interactive applications to be run on the TV or STB, an example of which is the Freeview Electronic Program Guide (EPG). The EPG application is device agnostic, meaning it will run on every MHEG5 capable device and deliver the same consistent user experience across every device that it’s run on. One of the coolest features of MHEG5 is the interactive channel extensions and ICStreaming extensions – two extensions that allow interactive content on your TV using content that is sourced via the internet. Support for this is required on every Freeview|HD IDTV and MyFreeview|HD recorder now sold, and it means your TV can access streaming content delivered over a broadband connection without the end user having to install any software or change any settings - all that’s required is for the TV to be correctly connected to an Internet connection. Support for ICStreaming is not required on every standard Freeview STB, however some do support this capability.
MHEG5 ICStreaming is already used in countries such as the UK to deliver BBC iPlayer content to end users, and has also been chosen by Quickflix who will be launching a MHEG5 based service into the New Zealand market before the end of 2013. This will make viewing Quickflix content on your TV as simple as watching regular broadcast channels, and means Quickflix don’t have to develop applications for the different brands of smart TVs on the market.
The capabilities of MHEG5 are exceptionally powerful, and there is nothing to stop other broadcasters or ISPs from building their own MHEG5 applications and delivering content over the internet. What’s surprising so far is the lack of interest from existing players such as TVNZ and Media Works who both currently offer On Demand services, but make viewing that content on a TV far more difficult than it needs to be. The key is making content easy to access, and both of these players, along with Coliseum Sport, don’t yet seem to have grasped this simple concept.
There has been a lot of talk in the last year about Sky TV’s dominance of the Pay TV market, with many people concerned about their businesses practices around exclusivity of content and pricing. Whether or not you agree on Sky being evil, they’re ultimately the main source of entertainment for many NZ homes, and many people can’t wait for the day they face some competition and have a choice of Pay TV providers.
What if I told you that Sky’s competition already existed? That’s right. With the purchase of TelstraClear, Vodafone is sitting in a prime spot, ready to engage in a war with Sky TV if they so desire.
TelstraClear was formed with the merger of Telstra New Zealand and Saturn Communications. Saturn Communications started it’s life as Kiwi Cable and deployed a cable TV network on the Kapiti Coast before expanding into Wellington, and later Christchurch. Expansion into Auckland was stopped by politics – in particular the NZ Herald who did an an amazing job ensuring that TelstraClear were not allowed to deploy their network in Auckland. This ensured that Aucklanders were subjected to the early 2000’s monopolistic practices of Telecom rather than being given freedom of choice when it came to fixed line phone and internet providers.
On the Kapiti Coast, Wellington and in Christchurch, Saturn Communications deployed what is known as a hybrid fibre co-axial network, or HFC for short. This network also has a traditional copper network for phone services that was rolled out alongside the HFC network. The network has a fibre to the node (FTTN) architecture consisting of both fibre optic and coaxial cables, with fibre carrying data to node (the roadside cabinet) where it’s converted to a radio frequency (RF) signal and then carried over the coaxial cable to your home. Each cabinet will typically cover several hundred homes.
Inside your home the co-axial cable is connected to your set top box (STB) which uses the Digital Video Broadcasting over Cable (DVB-C) standard. This is very similar to the DVB broadcasting standards used for terrestrial (DVB-T) and satellite (DVB-S) broadcasts used by Freeview and Sky. In it’s early days Saturn Communications sourced much of it’s content independently, but lacking a sport offering meant it made sense to partner with Sky, ultimately resulting in TelstraClear essentially just reselling Sky TV over it’s network.
Now that you’ve grasped the basics I’ll now explain why Vodafone’s acquisition of TelstraClear was a smart move. Not only did it give them a fixed line network and a nationwide fibre network, it also gave them New Zealand’s most advanced internet protocol (IP) playout system for TV. Every customer watching TV via their Vodafone STB is actually watching content that started it’s life in the Vodafone network as an IPTV stream, however rather than being IP all the way to your home, it’s converted to RF to be carried over the co-axial cable. Since the signal is digital all the way, no loss of quality occurs along the broadcast path. What is important however is that every channel they offer already exists in an IPTV format within their network, meaning it can easily be delivered over any IP delivery network anywhere within New Zealand.
Those of you with a T-Box will have spotted the Ethernet port on the back that is currently only used for electronic program guide (EPG) updates. This Ethernet port is also cable of being the source of all content, with IPTV content either live or on demand streamed directly to your T-box with no requirement for the HFC network.
It doesn’t take a smart network engineer to realise that broadcasting high definition content over the internet currently is an exceptionally inefficient use of bandwidth and that both terrestrial and satellite do a far better job of this. In the xDSL world where speeds are limited by your distance from an exchange or roadside cabinet and your internal home phone wiring, delivering IPTV content is something fraught with potential issues. Just on 84% of NZ premises have access to broadband speeds of 10Mbps or greater, with around 50% of those having access to VDSL2 which will deliver average speeds of around 35Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream. When you consider that a single 1080i Full HD broadcast TV channel broadcast over terrestrial or satellite uses up to 10Mbps, you can already see the issues that are faced. Those issues are solved by the current rollout in New Zealand of ultra fast broadband (UFB), with the construction of a fibre optic network to 75% of New Zealand homes and businesses already underway and due for completion by 2019. With fibre speed no longer becomes an issue, and a home could easily have several STB’s streaming 1080i HD content with no need to worry about it significantly impacting their internet experience.
As the UFB network rolls out Vodafone are in the prime position to take advantage of the IPTV revolution. While the T-box may have had a chequered past with numerous software issues, it’s now a relatively stable product. More importantly however, the IP based playout system that Vodafone now own gives them a massive head start over anybody else contemplating such a product. Building such a system isn’t cheap.
Now that I’ve given you a technical rundown of delivering IPTV, you’re probably going to ask where the content is. This is the question everybody is asking, but the answer is quite simple. It’s already there. Vodafone already have an existing resell agreement with Sky that allows them to rebroadcast Sky content, along with sourcing several additional channels not carried by Sky. What needs to be remembered is that much of this content is not exclusive to Sky, and anybody who wants to rebroadcast many of the channels carried by Sky is free to do so providing they’ve got the money to pay the content owner. There is realistically very little in the way of Vodafone deciding to go it alone and acquire rights to somewhere in the vicinity 80% of the content that Sky offer – with one notable exception – sport. This very much puts the ball in Sky’s court (literally). Sport is very expensive to produce and it’s not clear if Sky actually break even on revenue from their sports channels or whether they are cross subsidised. If Vodafone went it alone without a sports channel they’re only going to have limited success in the market, but the effect on Sky could be significant. Would Sky then do the smart thing and resell sport to Vodafone? Or would they simply hope that sport is a big enough selling point to ensure differentiation in the marketplace? My money is on the former. I’d also put money on Vodafone allowing their IPTV service to in effect be bundled by other internet providers, ultimately putting them head to head with Sky, and hopefully delivering us a future with a much greater choice of content, both live and on-demand.
UFB’s going to mean an exciting future in the NZ marketplace…