Femtocell Fun

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Jan-2011 20:14

Vodafone New Zealand today launched their Sure Signal femtocell solution. Essentially it's a mini cellsite around the same size as a router, that plugs into your broadband connection and delivers mobile coverage using the broadband connection as backhaul. Having played with the Alcatel Lucent and Huawei femtocells in the past I'm a definate fan of the technology, however many people aren't, believing that they're a cheap nasty fix for a problem that shouldn't exist.

What is cool about the technology is how it can be exploited in ways that mobile carriers do their hardest to prevent. Because a femtocell is the size of a router and can work anywhere with an internet connection there is nothing physically stopping you taking it with you to a foreign country, plugging it in, and enjoying zero rated roaming.. But this breaks many rules, including the fact you're illegally transmitting on spectrum in a country what you aren't legally allowed to use, which means carriers implement methods to prevent this.

The most common is IP whitelisting, where a mobile network restricts the devices to working with a fixed range of IP addresses, typically their own. Vodafone NZ appear to have adopted this method, restricting usage to customers using only a Vodafone broadband connection. Of course any network engineer out there will suddenly hear the word "VPN" jump into their head, and suddenly the opportunities are endless...

Please note that I neither condone or encourage breaking the law to exploit overpriced roaming charges! Smile

Permalink to Femtocell Fun | Add a comment (6 comments) | Main Index


Upcoming FM radio station frequency changes in New Zealand

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-May-2010 08:23

Over the coming months approximately 250 FM radio station frequencies in New Zealand will be changing. This accounts for around a third of all FM frequencies that are used in New Zealand.

When FM transmissions first began in New Zealand in the 1980's the channel spacing (the gap between stations) and frequency allocations that were used were not optimal in some regions. This means that in some areas the ability to broadcast new stations was hampered, and interference in adjoining regions could also occur which resulted in some frequencies being unavailable for use.

In April 2011 the usage rights for all AM and FM radio stations in New Zealand come up for renewal. In 2003 the Government agreed on a policy for existing rightholders to enable them to purchase 20 year licences from the 2nd April 2011 and in set new pricing formulas for usage rights of these frequencies. Over the past couple of years planning work has been under way to change many of these frequencies to ensure they are reallocated in a way that best suits New Zealand and allows for additional radio stations, as well as allowing the ability to offer services as as HD radio in the future if radio stations see this as an option.

Starting in June 2010 and continuing into early 2011 a significant number of frequency changes will occur, publicity for these changes has just started to appear and full details of every change, including the new frequencies is available from

 

www.frequencyfinder.co.nz



I’m after a job!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Mar-2010 10:14

If you've followed my forum posts and blog here on Geekzone over the last few months you're probably aware of the fact I've been unemployed since November after being made redundant. I decided to have a few months off over Summer relaxing (partially ruined by the fact Summer never seemed to make it to Wellington this year!) and working on a few other projects. Spending my days at the gym, socialising and catching up for coffee and lunch is a great lifestyle, but unfortunately isn't so great from a financial point of view!

To cut a long story short I'm on the lookout for another job or some more casual work in the Wellington region. Right now I have some part time projects I'm working on but I need some more challenges in life and am open to offers. . . .If you've followed me over the years you'll probably have a good idea of what interests me and where my skills lie!

I like to think I'm a bit of a guru when it comes to VoIP stuff - I've been playing with VoIP for over 5 years now have a fantastic knowledge of design and installation of IP PBX's and associated hardware. I've spent a huge amount of time playing with Asterisk and am a fan of both trixbox and Elastix. I've also worked on Epygi Quadro and 3CX PBX's and have a good knowledge of handsets and adapters from Polycom, Linksys, Snom, Aastra, Grandstream and Patton. I have a basic knowledge of Microsoft OCS and have successfully integrated my OCS setup with trixbox for external connectivity. I've also spent a lot of time playing with traditional analogue phones and PBX's and have a good knowledge of these.

I'm pretty handy when it comes to cabling work and have done numerous structured network cabling installations for phones and data in both homes and businesses. I've also installed a fair few TV aerials over the years and have a good knowledge of cabling requirements and setup of home theatre systems. I've  installed numerous CCTV and alarm systems and love electronics. Having spent time in retail I'm also pretty handy when it comes to the installation, support and best practice guidelines for EAS tagging systems.

I've been building PC's for many years and have a good knowledge of PC hardware and both Microsoft desktop and server operating systems. I'm no Linux expert but know the basics.

I'm an engineer who likes to build things, fix things, or develop innovative ideas into solutions that work. I'm not big on selling stuff but am more than capable of doing this. Cold calling is out - there is nothing that annoys me more.

I like to think I've got a pretty good understanding of the telecommunications industry in New Zealand and have a good knowledge of the various fixed line and mobile technologies used in New Zealand. I have a good understanding of both GSM and WCDMA networks and also enjoy writing about telecommunications, something you would have noticed if you've followed my blog.

I would really love to find more work in the telecommunications sector, particularly in the VoIP space as it's something I'm very passionate about. The realities however are that the market in NZ is still very much in the growing stage with plenty of cowboys who think they know their stuff trying to sell inferior solutions to gullible customers which is hurting the market. This isn't good.

If you've read my posts over the years and think I could be a good match for your company then feel free to get in touch. My contact details are listed on the right.

 

     Cheers

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Slingshot offer NZ's best ever mobile plan?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 27-Feb-2010 09:24

If you're an XT user and looked in the media today you'll see the competition are out to get your business!

Vodafone are offering to pay your early termination charges if you cancel your XT contract and are stuck with a bill for terminating this contract early. They will give you a free Nokia 6121 handset when you sign up with them.

Slingshot have also in on the act. Slingshot are MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) who piggyback on Vodafone's network. They are offering what is quite possibly NZ's best ever mobile deal.

A free Nokia 2730 handset
Free monthly access for 12 months (normally $20)
20 free calling minutes and 100 free TXT messages every month
25c calling to mobiles and landlines
12 month minimum contract

Slingshot also have a form letter quoting the CGA that you can send to Telecom explaining you would like to break your term contract and pay no fee.

If you're an XT user who is unhappy you certainly have plenty of options open to you if you do want to leave!



Is the MTR saga over?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Feb-2010 10:48

Yesterday was an interesting day in the mobile world in New Zealand. Along with yet another outage affecting the XT network, the Commerce Commission submitted their findings to the Communications Minister in relation to Mobile Termination Rates (MTR). The Commission in a 2 to 1 majority recommended to Communications Minister Steven Joyce that an aligned undertaking from both Telecom and Vodafone be accepted rather than the Commission being forced to intervene in the market and force the regulation of wholesale interconnection pricing.

 

The response from those with opposing viewpoints was interesting

                2degrees said

Today is a very disappointing day for New Zealand mobile users. After much delay, the Commerce Commission appears to have squandered a golden opportunity to finally bring New Zealand mobile prices into line with the rest of the developed world. New Zealand consumers suffer with some of the highest mobile prices in the world. The Commission’s recommendation to leave the decision on access pricing up to the incumbents, Vodafone and Telecom, will mean this burden on New Zealanders continues for the foreseeable future.

 

The response from 2degrees was as expected. They are a company that has spent most of the last decade complaining about the regulatory environment in New Zealand rather than getting on with building a network. In August last year 2degrees finally launched their network and by their own admissions are doing amazingly well. Last week they announced that they had signed up 206,000 active customers, a figure that was well ahead of expectations, and also announced that for the first time people in New Zealand are now able to access prepaid calling rates at prices well below the OECD average. They are also claiming ARPU (average revenue per user) in excess of $10, a figure that is higher than many Telecom prepaid customers.

The question has to be asked as to why 2degrees seem to have significant issues with the Commerce Commission decision. Right now their business is booming and yet they see regulation of the industry as being essential to compete. One really has to wonder why this is the case.

The Drop the rate, mate! Lobby group (that is heavily backed by 2degrees and several unions) went even further accusing Commerce Commission members of doing “an about face”

 

Two members of the Commerce Commission have done an about-face, after repeated voluntary undertakings from the big telcos – while another, Anita Mazzoleni, has sided with consumers, the Drop the Rate, Mate! campaign said today.

 

The Drop the Rate, Mate! Campaign was formed to “to demand lower mobile termination rates in line with the costs of connecting calls and texts”. They have never explicitly explained exactly what they mean by this statement and where they see pricing in the market, but when a campaign is powered by nothing but hot air this isn’t surprising. One would presume they would be at least partly happy with the Commission’s announcement, SMS rates are potentially going to be cut to under cost and voice revenue cut to levels that are in line with costs based on some pricing models. Exactly what “about face” they are talking about is unknown, for months now the Commerce Commission have been actively encouraging a joint aligned undertaking from all three carriers that would deliver pricing that was acceptable to the Commission in preference to the Commission forcing regulation of pricing. To say that two members of the Commerce Commission have done an “about face” and no longer care about consumers is nothing but rubbish. The only “about face” I’m aware of in the whole MTR saga was the decision in December by 2degrees to throw their toys out of the cot and withdraw all previous undertakings that they had submitted to the Commerce Commission leaving them with no offer on the table.

I’ve been accused of working for both Vodafone and Telecom in past blog posts on the MTR issue but want to make it perfectly clear I no ties with either company. The telecommunications sector as a whole is of great interest to me and watching the MTR saga drag out over the past year has been fascinating. The rates charged by some carriers in New Zealand for fixed line to mobile and for mobile to mobile calls are expensive, what people need to remember however is that the MTR issue is a discussion of pricing of wholesale traffic interconnection, it isn’t a discussion on retail pricing. The Commerce Commission have no plans to regulate retail pricing and believe that pricing will fall due to competition in the marketplace due to lower termination rates. Whether this occurs is still to be seen as there is no evidence anywhere in the world that can draw any established relationships between wholesale interconnection rates and retail pricing. There are countries with high interconnection rates and low calling costs and countries with low interconnection rates and high calling costs.

 

What offer is on the table?

Both Telecom and Vodafone have said that from the 1st October 2010 they will drop SMS interconnection pricing to 0c and adopt a hybrid Bill and Keep pricing model. This hybrid pricing model means that Vodafone and Telecom will not charge each other for delivering SMS messages to the other network providing traffic levels remain even. If an imbalance in traffic occurs at a level between 7% and 12% then a charge of 2c per message will apply, and for an imbalance of greater than 12% a 4c per message charge will apply. The reason for the hybrid system and not a true bill and keep solution is primarily at attempt to stop the proliferation of unsolicited SMS messages, in a true BAK model with no restrictions it’s possible for a network to actively sign up users whose only intention is to deliver unsolicited SMS messages to users on other networks. It’s worth noting that current SMS traffic levels between networks are all reasonably even as SMS is a two way medium – if somebody sends you a SMS, move often than not you will send a reply.

Both networks will drop voice interconnection rates for mobile to mobile and fixed line to mobile to 12c per minute from the 1st October 2010, with theis rate following a glide path dropping on the 1st January every year until it reaches 6c per minute on the 1st January 2014. All interconnection costs will be billed per second.


So what did 2degrees want?


2degrees have been pushing for rates to go even lower. Their last undertaking was for a true BAK pricing model for SMS messages (ie no charge even if there was a traffic imbalance), and for voice interconnection rates to be approximately ½ of what both Vodafone and Telecom submitted in their undertakings. Many of their submissions did nothing but complain about the competition rather than offer reasonable solutions and from the outside it seemed like their purpose was to hijack the whole investigation solely for their own motives.

2degrees have a true motive – and that’s the introduction of a true BAK pricing model for mobile in New Zealand. As a newcomer to the market they have the most to gain from BAK – the majority of calls from 2degrees mobile users are off net, this results in 2degrees having to pay Vodafone or Telecom money to interconnect calls. Likewise because the number of inbound calls falls well short they end up in a situation where they are paying other operators more than they are receiving in termination costs. It’s easy to see why 2degrees want BAK, the problem here is that the Commerce Commission were not interested in looking at using BAK as a pricing model for New Zealand. No other country has moved from a CPP (calling party pays) to BAK pricing model for mobile, and such as a move was totally out of scope for the MTR investigation. Exactly what decision 2degrees make now is over to them – they presumably still have the option of joining Vodafone and Telecom and leveraging their agreement, continuing with their current interconnection agreements, or sitting on the sideline with their ratchet making lots of noise while contributing very little.

 

Right now you have a choice in New Zealand when it comes to mobile. With three networks and a myriad of pricing plans there is plenty to choose from. What is plainly clear is that the wholesale cost of interconnection plays a minor part in determining the retail cost of both fixed to mobile and mobile to mobile calling. It’s possible to pay 23c + GST per minute to call a mobile phone from a Telecom Business line however a Telecom homeline user with no calling plan will pay 63c incl GST for the same call. Up until several years ago the standard Telecom rate for fixed to mobile was 71c per minute, a rate that was set close to 20 years ago when the MTR rate was around 50c per minute. We’ve seen wholesale MTR costs fall by more than 60% in that time but the standard retail price fell by approximately 10%. Likewise a mobile user can currently be paying as low as 25c + GST per minute with per second rounding after the first minute for a voice call using a provider such as Compass Mobile (a MVNO on Vodafone’s network) or can be paying 89c incl GST with calls rounded up to the next minute if you’re on Vodafone Prepay.

It’s very clear that wholesale MTR costs are not the cause of high mobile pricing in New Zealand, the problem is one of retail pricing. As MTR costs have fallen over time retail costs have not necessarily followed due to a lack of true competition between the two mobile operators in New Zealand. The Commerce Commission investigation had good cause and the current offerings on the table from both Telecom and Vodafone will mean significant drops in inbound revenue for both operators. As to whether it will mean cheaper calling prices for New Zealand mobile users is another question entirely, something only time will answer.

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Mail For Exchange 3.0 for Nokia delivers HTML and folder support

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 14-Feb-2010 20:35

If you are a Nokia phone user and use a Microsoft Exchange based email solution odds are you use MfE (Mail for Exchange) for your email. Newer Nokia handsets use Nokia Messaging, but for the large majority of users out there MfE is the only option as the standalone Nokia Messaging application does not support Microsoft Exchange.

For many years MfE has been severly limited with two major contraints - lack of folder support and no support for HTML, two features that were serious downfalls for devices such as the E71 that were targeted at email users.

The good news is that in recent days Nokia have released a brand new V3.0 release of Mail for Exchange. Included in the release is support for both HTML and support for folders in your inbox.

There is still no mention of this software of the official MfE website but it's available for download from Ovi Store.

I've been running this on my E71 for the last few hours and while it's still not a perfect solution it's finally great to be able to have access to features that should have been part of the software many years ago!



EDIT: There have been numerous people comment and also contact me saying that they can't find the HTML option. I can assure you that HTML viewing IS THERE!!!

If you have an HTML email click on options and there is a menu item saying view as HTML.



TV1 and TV3 6PM News Ultimate Maths Fail

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 9-Feb-2010 19:14

If you were (un)lucky enough to watch TV1 or TV3's 6PM news broadcasts tonight you were witness to a classic maths failure from both networks - the inability to correctly calculate a proposed 2.5% increase in GST.

Both networks showed a list of prices and calculated the new price with a 15% GST. Both failed miserably when it came to such a simple calculation and have no doubt confused an entire country.

When a product sells for $1500 the GST component of that price is $166.66 (rounded to 2 decimal places) and the GST excl price of the product is $1333.33 (rouded to 2 decimal places).

To deduct GST from a price divide it by 9 to establish the GST value or divide it by 1.125 to establish the GST exclusive amount,

Both networks simply added 2.5% onto the existing GST inclusive price which is wrong and does not give the correct amount. To calculate the new 15% GST inclusive price, the current 12.5% GST needs to be deducted from the current retail and the new 15% GST rate added to this GST excl price.

On TV3's example of a $1500 TV they show the new price of $1537.50, a $37.50 increase. 15% GST on the GST excl price of $1333.33 is $200.00, giving a new retail of $1533.33, a $33.33 increase.












On TV3

$1.50 is a only a negligible difference due to rounding
$200 -> $205 when it should be $204.44
$1500 -> $1537.50 when it should be $1533.33


How can you trust either network to deliver is accurate news when they're unable to calculate a basic maths equation?



3News Incompetence

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 14-Jan-2010 21:33

The state of mainstream media in New Zealand has begun to annoy me a lot lately - TV live crosses that tell me nothing that somebody in a studio couldn't, and factual inaccuracies caused by nothing but sloppy journalism.

Today a RNZAF CT-4 training aircraft that also flies as part of the RNZAF Red Checkers display team crashed leading to the tragic death of the pilot.

While watching 3News tonight during a live cross from Ohakea Airbase, reporter Charlotte Tonkin told us

The Air Force prides itself on it's safety standards. It says this is the first time any member of a display team has been killed in flight"

 

If the Air Force did infact make this statement there should be questions asked about their memories. TV3 should also be criticised for not checking the accuracy of a statement that is totally incorrect.

In 1989 A4K Skyhawk (serial 6210) crashed and was destroyed, killing Flight Officer Graham Carter. The aircraft was a member of the Air Force's Kiwi Red A4K Skyhawk display team, and collided in mid air with another A4K Skyhawk (serial 6211) while practicing a mid air maneuver for an airshow in New Zealand.

Another A4K Skyhawk (ironically serial 6211) was also lost in Australia after it crashed while practicing a barrel roll for an airshow. While not part of a display team it was practicing formation flying with another RNZAF A4K in preparation for a display.

It's clear this is not the first time a member has been killed while flying as part of a display team. Shame on you for blatently telling porkies to the New Zealand public.

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Merry Christmas Everybody!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 25-Dec-2009 08:13

I hope everybody who reads my blog has a fantastic Christmas Day and a great New Year. A big thanks goes out to all those who have posted comments and given me feedback on my posts, I really love engaging with those who spend the time to read my views on the world.

On a personal note I finish 2009 being unemployed - if you have any openings out there feel free to get in touch with me! 



      Steve




Have Consumer Magazine lost it?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Dec-2009 12:43

I've been a Consumer magazine reader on and off again for many years now. What I've noticed over the past few years however has been a complete change in direction of the organisation, a change for the worse. Articles have been poorly researched and written and it seems that as an organisation they're more focussed on getting their name out there in the media than they are on their core business of delivering unbiased, factual reviews of consumer goods and services.

This morning Consumer released a press release detailing the results of their yearly member survey of ISP's in New Zealand. This survey, taken by Consumer members ranks a list of the best and worst ISP's in New Zealand. This survey is available in the January/February version of Consumer and online on their website if you are a subscriber.

This survey does not rely on any technical testing, plan comparisions or ask the end user if they really know what they're talking about. It doesn't ask if they have master filter, have a shitty modem that will only sync at ADSL speeds on an ADSL2+ line or whether there internet is "slow" because they're downloading torrents on a plan that's clearly sold as being traffic managed 24 hours per day. The survey is also statistically flawed because it does not represent a true sample - it is a voluntary response that is also flawed because small ISP's with fewer responses can easily have skewed ratings. 

After browsing through this what really caught my attention was the section on mobile data



Mobile broadband

Nearly a quarter of survey respondents used their mobile phone for internet access.

New entrant 2degrees was the best for speed and connection reliability while Vodafone rated the worst on disconnections and dropouts, slower-than-expected speeds, and unexpected charges for excess usage.



I'm glad I wasn't eating Weetbix at the time because I would have choked on them. This claim by Consumer would have to be one of the most extravagant I've read anywhere for a long time.

Why? Because there is absolutely no way it can be true. I'd love to see Consumer magazine show some data that backs up this very bold claim that is presumably based solely on random end user comments rather than any actual performance testing.

2degrees have their own GSM mobile network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. Their network also has EDGE deployed on top, this gives a maximum theoretical data speed of approximately 240kbps. If you're a 2degrees customer and are within these geographic boundaries you'll connect to the 2degrees network. Outside these areas your phone will connect to the Vodafone's GSM network and you will roam on this using GPRS that delivers a maximum speed of approximately 48kbps.

Both Vodafone and Telecom have nationwide WCDMA 3G networks. Both of these networks will deliver up to 7.2Mbps at present, both networks also have trial HSPA+ sites delivering real life speeds upwards of 16Mbps. Telecom's CDMA network is still in use by a large majority of their customers but is in effect is obsolete and typically no new connections are being made. Likewise Vodafone have more 3G customers on their network than GSM and the majority of handsets sold these days support 3G so for this comparision I'm solely comparing the two WCDMA networks.

I've spent the past couple of weeks doing some pretty extensive testing of both Vodafone and Telecom's XT network around the lower North Island and can conclusively say that without a doubt that there is no way the EDGE network deployed by 2degrees can come anywhere close to the speeds delivered on the Vodafone or Telecom XT networks. I did encounter some retainability issues on the XT network which now appear to be resolved but overall both networks perform extremely well. Across the XT network it's not uncommon to obtain speeds upwards of 6Mbps and with average speeds in the 2Mbps - 4Mbps region. On Vodafone speeds in the 1.5Mbps - 3Mbps range are fairly typical and with one exception near a crowded mall I've never received average speeds of under 1Mbps on either Vodafone or Telecom's XT network.

I've also succesfully tested a 1.3Mbps video stream to a laptop while mobile on the XT network and saw exceptionally low packet loss, even during handovers. Retainability and connectability (the ability to establish and hold a data connection) are very good on both networks. If that's not delivering a significantly better speed and connection reliability experience than the EDGE network deployed by 2dgrees then I don't know what is. 2degrees don't have a "bad" network, it's actually very good and in my testing there are no issues and speeds close to 200kbps are easily achievable. It's just simply no match for Vodafone or Telecom's XT network because it's older GSM technology that is simply inferior to the WCDMA technology that Vodafone and Telecom XT use. 2degrees will be launching WCDMA 3G services aross their network in early 2010.

In terms of charging a casual user on Vodafone or Telecom's XT network will pay more than a 2degrees customer for data "overuse" charges - but the statement itself is contentious. 2degrees do not offer any data plans, all data is priced at 50c per MB. On Vodafone or Telecom a casual user will pay $1 per day for up to 10MB of data usage, after that data is charged at $1 per MB but very few customers actually pay this. If you're a regular data user you'll have a data plan (which 2degrees don't offer) offering you data for 10c per MB or less.

So the challenge is out there for you Consumer - exactly what basis do you base these bold claims on and do you have any statistics to back them up?



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


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

I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

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

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

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

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

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

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


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


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

twitter.com/stevebiddle










Located in NZ and after a cheap way to call friends or family in Australia?

Faktortel VoIP offers plans from $0 per month that offer you the convenience of being able to call landline numbers anywhere in Australia from A$ 10c per call (yes *per call*, not per minute!). An optional Australian DDI number also lets friends and family call you and they will only pay the cost of a local call. Interested? Check out Faktortel for more details.