If you were to ask some random people on the street what VoIP meant to them odds are you'll get a single word answer from the vast majority of people - Skype. While Skype has done a fantastic job of introducing people to VoIP the reality is that it's only a single product in the VoIP marketplace that revolves around a proprietary protocol, unlike the standards based solutions such as SIP that are rapidly gaining traction and forming the backbone of the world's telecommunications infrastructure.
Unlike the early days where people associated VoIP with low quality cheap phone calls, VoIP is now setting the pace and over the coming years VoIP based telephony will replace the existing phone service you have in your home. You could well be using a VoIP service now without even knowing it.
One thing that is apparent is that there is plenty of misinformation in the marketplace regarding VoIP. This isn't helped when incorrect and misleading information is put into the marketplace by vendors trying to push VoIP solutions.
This comment off the website of a NZ company selling VoIP phone solutions is a classic example of FUD.
The NGN is the biggest thing to happen in NZ Telecommunications - but existing analogue phones and systems will certainly not become obsolete overnight.
Like many telecommunications companies in the world Telecom New Zealand are currently in the middle of a major upgrade of their fixed line network. This upgrade is referred to as their NGN (Next Generation Network). In a nutshell a NGN is simply a fully IP (Internet Protocol) based network that has the ability to deliver data, voice and video over a single network. There are already plenty of people in New Zealand already using Next Generation networks - Vodafone's Red network and Orcon's Orcon+ network are both NGN networks.
The first step of this upgrade for Telecom is to complete their cabinetisation program. The goal of this is to ensure that a significant majority of households in the country are within 2km of a Telecom exchange or roadside cabinet. This ensures that broadband speeds using ADSL2+ and VDSL technologies are as fast as possible by minimising the length of copper cabling between the ISAM (the piece of hardware that provides the ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL service) and your premises. The shorter the distance, the better your broadband connection will be.
Roadside cabinets are connected back to a Telecom exchange via fibre optic cable. This is what is known as a FTTN (Fibre To The Node) network. This cabinet (or "node") then connects to the existing copper cabling running to your premises. The ISAM in this cabinet provides the ADSL2+/VDSL internet service, however PSTN voice services are currently still provided by the NEC NEAX switches that exist in the main phone exchange building.
The second step of the NGN project is to replace their existing PSTN infrastructure. In the late 1970's The NZPO decided to replace it's old mechanical switches with Japanese manufactured NEC NEAX switches - and believe it or not these same switches are still in place today delivering a phone service to the bulk of households in NZ. Telecom plan to have these phased out by 2020 at the latest.
The whole world is moving to VoIP and Telecom will not be replacing these switches with traditional switches, they will be moving to a VoIP solution that revolves around an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) network. This process is known as Class 5 Migration or Class 5 Replacement - Class 5 is the designation given to the existing NEAX switch in your local exchange that generates the dialtone and delivers this to your premises over the existing copper phone cabling. There are some fundamental issues to overcome to deliver a replacement VoIP phone service to households. The first is deciding on the best ways to achieve this out of the two main options.
1) Deliver a dialtone to your premises over the existing copper cabling to the existing analogue phones and devices in your house. This is the simplest way of maintaining backwards compatibility and ensures that end users will notice no change at all to their service and will not require any additional hardware.
2) Installing a residential gateway in your house or premises that connects back to the exchange building or roadside cabinet using ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL or fibre in a FTTP (Fibre To the Premise) area. Residential gateways are essentially a modem providing you with broadband access as well as a built in ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter) that provides analogue phone ports allowing you to plug in existing analogue phones. The ATA then connects directly back into the softswitch or IMS core network. Because the residential gateway provides internet access users could also have the option of replacing their analogue phones and moving directly to VoIP phones which can be plugged into your home network.
Both methods differ fundamentally and offer advantages and disadvantages.
The first option is the solution used by both Orcon and Vodafone to deliver voice services in the areas where they provide their own services over ULL circuits here in New Zealand with their Red and Orcon+ networks. Their hardware in the exchange delivering ADSL/ADSL2+ services to your house also connects back to their softswitch and handles the digital to analogue conversion, providing you with a dialtone on your existing phone. It's a VoIP service but the VoIP to analogue conversion is done by their equipment meaning it's completely transparent to the end user and requires no additional hardware to be installed in the premises. Telecom can deploy hardware into their existing exchanges and new roadside cabinets to deliver the exact same functionality. If your internet service was provided from a roadside cabinet your phone service would also provided from this very same cabinet.
The second option is currently being trialled by both Telecom and WorldxChange. In areas where fibre has been deployed directly to individual premises (FTTP) no copper cable exists to deploy a traditional analogue phoneline. In this situation a residential gateway has been fitted to the house that contains an optical to ethernet converter and a router with built in ATA to provide internet and support for analogue phones in the house. The unit also contains a house alarm that connects over the internet to an alarm monitoring company who provide IP monitoring, and a battery backup so that service is still available should there be a power cut.
Orcon's Homehub is also an example of an ADSL2+ based residential gateway that includes a modem, WiFi and analogue phone ports so you can use analogue phones with their VoIP product delivered to your premises over the internet.
Since I don't work for Telecom I can't say a lot about their exact plans for the future. What is clear is that both options will exist in the marketplace and play important roles. Telecom will be able to install equipment in their exchanges and roadside cabinets to deliver a dialtone over existing cabling so that all existing analogue phones will work, but many people are going to be interested in moving away from analogue phones completely to a full VoIP solution. If you're lucky enough to have fibre direct to your house either now, or in the future, a residential gateway will be required to provide you with internet and phone services.
The price of VoIP phones still exceed that of regular analogue phones but prices are dropping and the features that are available will see these becoming more common in households and businesses as people realise the benefits. These phones can simply be hooked into your existing broadband modem/router and can deliver voice quality that is far superior to that of the existing PSTN network using HD voice codecs such as G.722 when calling another device that supports the same codec. The great thing about VoIP is that you have a choice when it comes to your calling. With a VoIP device (PBX or phone) that supports multiple providers you can easily (and cheaply) sign up with a foreign VoIP provider and have a Melbourne or London phone number that people can call you on.
The growing market for hardware supporting video calling and video conferencing is also now putting this within reach of small businesses who would have simply been unable to take advantage of the technology in the past due to the cost.
It's clear that VoIP is the future of telephony. It doesn't mean that existing analogue devices will be obsolete. It does mean the opportunity is there for people to move away from analogue devices and replace these with VoIP hardware to take full advantage of the fantastic new products and services that are in the process of being deployed into the marketplace.
Today is the first day in my life that I've woken up with no job.
It is a day of sadness and happiness. I've got fantastic memories of my time having had a significant management level input into a very successful business. A change of ownership has meant that my skills are not wanted by the new owners. Karma is a wonderful thing and my knowledge is their loss, not mine.
Today really is the start of a new future for me. I've got some ideas and I know plenty of people. I'm very much a believer in life being predetermined and am sure that what has happened will certainly lead to greater happiness in the future.
If anybody thinks that I might be right for a role they have then my contact details are on this page to the right. I'm always open to offers whether they be for casual/contract or full time work and would certainly be interested in any work in the VoIP, telephony or telecommunications sector.
In the meantime if you're from Wellington and ever want to catch up for coffee or lunch I've got plenty of time on my hands! You can contact me on here or @stevebiddle on twitter.
One of the most common methods used to prevent shop lifting in retail stores is the use of EAS tags. These are security tags attached to products, and if the goods are removed from the premises without the tag being removed or deactivated barriers located at entry/exit points of the store will sound an alarm.
There are two types of tags in use today, hard tags that are attached to goods and removed from the goods during the sale process with a detacher, and smaller (typically) single use tags that are left on the product and deactivated when passed over a deactivator pad which is normally built into the shop counter or barcode scanner. Two main technologies exist in the marketplace today, AM (acustomagnetic) and RF (radio frequency). Both systems are used extensively throughout the world however I've spent most of my time playing with AM based systems which I believe are technically superior.
False alarms from EAS systems are extemely uncommon - common misconceptions are that car alarm remotes or other electronic devices will set the alarm of, this is something that is untrue. The reality is that the technology is exceptionally good and it is very rare for anything but an EAS tag to set of a barrier. If you set off a barrier odds are you are wearing or have in your possession a product that still has an active EAS tag attached to it.
Virtually all goods sold from Kathmandu stores are source tagged. This means EAS tags are sewn into clothing or inserted into the packaging at the time of manufacture, a process that saves time as there is no requirement for retail staff to have to attach tags to goods instore.
What they are doing makes perfect business sense. It's what they aren't doing that is causing every other retailer in NZ using an AM based EAS system significant grief.
So what are Kathmandu doing that is so bad?
Quite simply Kathmandu are doing a very poor job ensuring that products sold in their stores or via mail order have the EAS tags deactivated at the time of purchase.
How many people reading this blog have set off the alarm in EAS barriers while entering or exiting a store? If this did happen to you, were you wearing any clothing manufactured by Kathmandu or carrying a Kathmandu bag? The odds are pretty high that you are.
The integrity of EAS systems has been damaged by Kathmandu's failure to ensure that ALL goods sold by them have the tags deactivated. This has created a nightmare for all other retailers operating RF based systems as "false alarms" are being created by people who are setting off barriers, not because they have attempted to steal goods, but because they are wearing clothing or have a bag or other product that has a tag that is still active. Not only does this create a nightmare for retail staff it's also highly embarrassing for customers who are being singled out when they have in fact done nothing wrong.
Stores other than Kathmandu may be guilty of of the same thing but the shear number of Kathmandu products in use now in NZ makes them by far the biggest guilty retailer.
So what can be done about it?
If you buy any products from a retailer and set off the barrier when leaving don't just let them ignore it - make sure they take the goods back and deactivate or remove the tags. This will wave you the embarrassment of having barriers alarms go off in the future.
If you have items that continually set off the barriers now it's potentially worth asking the store staff in the store where it goes off if they can deactivate the tag(s) for you. Deactivating the tags is very simple and I'm sure they'll be happy to do this, after all it's benefiting both you and them.
If you have Kathmandu goods that set off exit barriers then visit your local Kathmandu store and explain that you'd like the tags deactivated and are sick of feeling like a criminal whenever you go shopping. Hopefully this will get the message across to their staff that failure to follow their own internal procedures doesn't actually save time, it simply antagonises valued customers.
As we all know however, things aren't going to stay anywhere near the current 75c value and at some stage our currency is going to drop. If you're somebody who buys goods regularly from overseas you can take advantage of this current situation and hedge your money for a rainy day.
Many banks are now offering prepaid credit cards in foreign currency. These cards are great for travelling as they allow you to buy funds in a foreign currently such as US$ and use the card in the USA without incurring any transaction fees (unless you withdraw cash from an ATM). Your money is also locked in at the exchange rate at the time of purchase, something that's fantastic for us right now.
I purchased a ANZ Travel Card when I was stopping in the USA earlier this year. The card costs $12 to buy and $10 every time it's reloaded. The bank does take a small commission when money is loaded but in my experience with several topups it's a lot lower than the usual fees incurred with foreign credit card transactions.
The beauty of this card is that the value of the card is in US$ and fixed at the time of purchase. This means if you top up US$1000 to your card at this very moment you'll gain significantly if the value of the NZ$ falls. Any purchases you make in US$ online are deducted from your balance, unlike a regular credit card that is converted using the current exchange rate.
I'd probably buy somewhere in the region of $500 - $1000 worth of goods from the USA yearly. These are typically books of Amazon or goods from eBay. By topping up my card now I can take advantage of the card should our currency fall as any purchases will effectively be at the ~73c rate that I purchased my US$ at.
If you're somebody who regularly buys goods from the USA or online in US$ a card such as this is something that's well worth investigating. I know most banks are now offering similair cards and Travelex are also. We all know our currency isn't going to stay high for ever - why not take advantage of the current rates while you can!
While I'd love to write more about the fantastic experiences I had during the weekend this is simply a quick thank you to everybody who was there for making this event such a great experience.
I had some great discussions with some fantastic people, both from within Telecom and from outside. I also experienced first hand how passionate many of the Telecom staff are about both technology and the business as a whole - something that can't be easy to maintain when you're such a corporate that people love to hate.
Thanks to Neil for making this event possible, Neal for making sure everybody enjoyed werewolf and to Nat and Jenine for their fantastic skills when it comes to running such a cool event. It was a pleasure to be invited and be able to be present.
For reasons that aren't necessarily clear Asterisk fails to register. This results in inbound calls failing and either being redirected to the failover destination or the VFX voicemail platform.
This is not a regular occurance - it is something that has been reported by several users here on Geekzone (including myself) who have encountered this issue periodically, I've had it happen on two or three occasions in the past year. When it does happen however it is annoying!
The fix for this issue simply requires sending a "SIP RELOAD" command to Asterisk which will force it to reregister all SIP peers.
To make things simple for people I'll show you how to automate this process so that your system will perform this task automatically which should minimise the intances of this happening.
Linux includes a built in scheduler called cron. This enables tasks to be run at a selected time. We'll create a script that forces Asterisk to register all SIP trunks once every 30 minutes.
Connect to your Asterisk/trixbox system via SSH.
Now we need to edit the cron configuration file. We'll do this in the nano editor which is included in trixbox. Depending on your Linux distribution you may have a different favourite editor.
# nano /etc/crontab
The nano editor will then come up and you can add text. Scroll down to below the cron.monthly task and then add a new line.
*/30 * * * * root /usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "sip reload"
01 * * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.hourly
02 4 * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.daily
22 4 * * 0 root run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
42 4 1 * * root run-parts /etc/cron.monthly
*/30 * * * * root /usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "sip reload" <------ ADD THIS LINE
05 0 * * * root rm -f /var/lib/asterisk/sounds/tts/tts*
*/5 * * * * root /etc/init.d/apf stop >> /dev/null 2>&1
Now press CTRL X and press Y and enter to save.
Every 30 minutes the cron scheduler will now force a SIP reload command. If you Registration has failed this will resolve the issue. This 30 minute period could be changed if required.
My blog post from last night discussing the Drop the Rate, Mate! campaign has generated plenty of comment. It's also made me think a little more about what the motives of 2degrees are with this campaign.
What is the goal of the campaign? The website goes into great detail explaining that lower MTR costs will reduce the price of calls. What the website doesn't say however is exactly what they mean when they say they want rates "dropped". Does "dropping" rates mean lowering them from existing levels or "dropping" them entirely and moving towards a new pricing model for interconnects?
Maybe this comment from spokesperson Matthew Hooton on Stuff today explains their real motive
"Drop the rate" spokesman Matthew Hooton said Telecom and Vodafone were "ripping off" customers to the tune of 15 cents a minute for calls.
It's very clear that Hooton believes that the current 15c voice MTR rate should be removed entirely and replaced by a new pricing model.
2degress have been very vocal in recent months wanting a move towards dumping Calling Party Pays (CPP) in New Zealand and a move towards mobile party pays (MPP) by implimenting a bill and keep pricing model. Dumping CPP means that mobile carriers receive no revenue for terminating a call on their network. It should be pointed out that no country has ever moved from a CPP to MPP model for mobile pricing.
In countries such the USA and Canada that use the MPP pricing model rather than CPP networks receive no revenue for inbound calling or SMS messages. This means users in many cases pay to receive calls or SMS messages on their mobile phone. This reason alone is one of the reasons no country has moved from CPP and MPP. Convincing users they should suddenly have to pay for receiving calls or SMS's would be a significant challenge.
Do people in NZ really want to pay? Do 2degrees really believe people want that?
The alternative that 2degrees are suggesting is Bill and Keep (BAK). Under this arrangement MTR costs are zero rated and no money changes hands between operators. Bill and keep is currently implimented here in New Zealand for local calling and in a market where local calling is free this model works fine. The flaws that exist within the bill and keep model are the reason no country anywhere in the world has so far adopted BAK for mobile pricing.
So what are the problems?
In moving to BAK customers who only use their phones for incoming calling and make very few outbound calls are unprofitable. Considering that many users in NZ fall into this category it would result in all networks suddenly facing not only a significant revenue drop due to the MTR corrections but also a situation where customers are infact costing them money to support. This would mean any gains by the move to BAK would be cancelled out as prices potentnailly increase to recover that most revenue.
Because traffic is zero rated it also means the potential for significant changes in call loading. If a carrier has to pay nothing to interconnect a call with another mobile carrier they could effectly offer plans with exceptionally generous off net calling rates. If large numbers of people took up these plans a mobile network could see their rates of inbound traffic increase significantly and with no MTR revenue to support this increase in traffic to fund network infrastructure these increased costs will simply be passed onto their own customers.
Is this really a fair model? If you have signed the online petition I assume you are have infact agreed to a move away from the CPP model towards MPP and will be happy to pay to receive both SMS and voice calls?
But what's wrong with our rates? A lot if you're to believe 2 degrees.
Now lets start pulling their graph apart.
How convenient that they forgot to mention that in the four countries that have zero that they do not operate under the CPP (Calling party Pays) business model. Oh, they also happened to forget that it's common to pay for incoming SMS messages and voice calls on some networks.. but I guess that just slipped their mind.
How conveient as well that the rates quoted on the site are actually for a 20 second call and make it look like the NZ figure which is based on a per minute rate is significantly higher?
To quote from EU figures from January 2009 that are in effect until new EU MTR rates take effect in early 2010.
Sweden €/min 0.393 $NZ 8.2c
France €/min 0.685 $NZ 14.3c
UK €/min 0.721 $NZ 15.1c
Germany €/min 0.818 $NZ 17.1c
Ireland €/min 0.1293 peak and 0.622 offpeak average = 0.956 $NZ 20.0c
NZ = approximately NZ$ 15c per minute.
2degrees has a discounted rate from the 15c - anybody who read the NBR last week will know what it is but for legal reasons I will not publish it here.
Rates in Ireland also differ between carriers - Vodafone and O2 have interconnect rates that are slightly less than that of Meteor who were the 3rd player to enter the market. MTR costs for Australia are also very hard to compare since they have flag falls and 30c billing blocks which can't be directly compared.
In some countries MTR rates are billed per minute and some are billed per second. Comparing a graph showing per second billing with a per minute call in New Zealand is blatently misleading.
MTR rates in New Zealand based on the current 15c per minute rate are very much in line with those in EU countries. A 3 minute call between 2 mobile numbers in Ireland would result in MTR costs of NZ$ 60c being paid between networks. Here in NZ approximately NZ$ 45c would be paid in interconnection costs.
NZ is NOT overcharging on MTR's like the graph shows.
What 2degrees also failed to mention (and what the NBR are no longer allowed to tell you) is that they are being billed per second for their interconnection with Vodafone. This means that their cost for a 20 second call to a Vodafone customer would be roughly equal with Sweden, the lowest CPP based operator on their graph.
Come on 2degrees - you're up to your old tricks again spinning us yet more rubbish. I guess a leopard never really does change it's spots.
2degrees have rolled out their own network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. When in these areas you will use the 2degrees network, when outside 2degrees coverage you will automatically roam on the Vodafone network. Calls will automatically hand over between networks.
Now the fineprint. As is the case with most new operator launches around the world where national roaming agreements exist, 2degrees customers WILL NOT be able to roam onto Vodafone's network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown. This is to prevent phones accidently roaming onto the Vodafone network and to stop people forcing manual network selections to benefit from cheaper pricing while staying off network.
So what does this mean? It means that if you're in one of these cities and have no 2degrees coverage then you will not benefit from moving. 2degrees have deadspots in their new network within these coverage areas and your phone WILL NOT roam on Vodafone's network. Roaming on Vodafone will only occur when you move outside the footprint of the 2degrees network.
If you are going to move make sure you check the coverage situation first - 2degrees do have a brilliant network with some very well located sites. They also have areas that I'm personally aware of here in Wellington that have no coverage at all.
First up lets explain what a femtocell is as I’m sure there are plenty of people who have never heard of the technology. In it’s simplest form a femtocell is a mini 3G cellsite that will cover an area the size of an average house. Unlike a normal cellsite however a femtocell connects into your broadband connection and uses this as the backhaul connection into the mobile providers network. The Alcatel Lucent box is around the size of a typical wireless router and can easily be installed by somebody with basic computer knowledge as it simply plugs into an existing router or modem and all configuration is handled remotely.
While the technology has been around for several years only a handful of mobile operators have so far publically trialed or deployed femtocells. The Alcatel Lucent boxes were launched by Vodafone UK into the marketplace on July 1st 2009, in what appears to be very much a trial of the technology to both understand customer acceptance to the devices and to test real world performance. Vodafone UK have marketed the product as the Vodafone Access gateway.
Alcatel Lucent’s data shows that the bulk of mobile calls are made indoors. It’s no surprise that delivering inbuilding mobile coverage is one of the toughest challenges for mobile operators due to the inability of radio signals to easily penetrate through building material, in particular concrete and steel. No matter how many sites are deployed delivering good inbuilding coverage will always be a challenge and this creates a market for low cost solutions such as femtocells which are significantly cheaper to deploy than traditional cellsites. The target market for femtocells in the Vodafone UK rollout has been people with poor or non existent coverage, anybody who’s lived in the UK will know that inbuilding mobile coverage, particularly in many of the Victorian era houses, can be extremely patchy. Unlike New Zealand that has two nationwide 3G networks many UK residents also only have GSM coverage in rural areas so the femtocell offers them the ability to have 3G coverage in their home or workplace.
Once installed the femtocell will typically be locked down to a limited number of handsets which can be controlled by the end user. They are not designed to work as a regular cellsite where any mobile phone can connect and they only support a limited number of simultaneous calls. The femtocell establishes an encrypted IPsec connection back to the mobile operators network over the internet and requires approximately 60kbps of bandwidth for a regular 3G voice call or 150kbps for a 3G video call. The most obvious downside of this is that a poor quality internet connection or a home modem/router that does not feature properly configured QoS (Quality of Service) could easily have the ability to cause poor quality voice calls.
Femtocells aren’t just about improving coverage however. They open up the potential to deliver products and services that are currently not available on mobile handsets. A mobile operator could choose to deploy a home phone service and let you use your mobile phone as a regular phone while connected to the femtocell. Alcatel Lucent’s femtocell even allows multiple phones connected to the femtocell to ring either all at once or in a round robin fashion. Also in development is hardware that would allow VoIP or PBX integration allowing you to use a single handset for both mobile calls as well as the ability for the phone to appear as a local extension on a PBX when connected to the femtocell. While this is currently available with dual mode handsets that support WiFi using the 3G radio offers significantly better battery life and allows a far greater range of handsets to be used.
The Alcatel Lucent box also features home networking capabilities which lets handsets share data with the local network. Demonstrated was the ability to syncronise data off the handset with a PC on the same network, something that currently requires connecting over the internet to achieve. A myriad of possible opportunities exist to expand on this functionality.
So what does the future hold? The concept of femtocells is great – there are always going to be areas where mobile networks simply can’t cover and they offer a low cost way of delivering mobile coverage. As mobile data speeds and usage increases it may make sense for companies who rely on mobile data applications to have their own femtocells to guarantee mobile data speeds. Mobile carriers on the other hand have to ensure that they don’t rely on femtocells rather than deploying their own infrastructure and they also have to work on pricing and business models – paying for the device and then paying regular rates for both voice calling and data while also using up their own broadband cap for the backhaul isn’t something many people are going to be happy with.