90’s NZ Mobile Memorabilia Part 1

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 3-Jan-2012 20:11

I've got a rather extensive collection of mobile pricelists, coverage maps and newsletters from both BellSouth and Telecom from throughout the 90's, and thought it might be interesting to share some of this. First up is some BellSouth Coverage Maps and Pricing from 1996.

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Vodafone Phone Insurance – beware of the new fine print

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Dec-2011 07:40

I’ve been a Vodafone Phone Insurance customer now for around 12 years, joining (from memory) not long after they made the service available. In that time I’ve made two claims, one in 2001, and another in 2011, and in both cases found the service great – I lodged claims and within days had a brand new replacement phone. Overall I’ve been happy paying my premium each month for the service they provide.

Earlier this year Vodafone faced some criticism after a Target show criticised their policy of replacing some handsets with refurbished models. In late October a new policy document was sent out to all customers clearly explaining that refurbished handsets may be used as replacement. It now seems that Vodafone have taken things a step further, and on the weekend I received a letter from Vodafone explaining new changes to the Vodafone PhoneInsure policy. If a refurbished phone is sent out as a replacement, a lower excess will apply, and if you’re somebody who tends to lose or destroy phones on a regular basis, higher excess charges apply for a 2nd and 3rd phone claimed on within a year.

Apart from some other minor changes, Vodafone assure us (in bold) that “Everything else stays the same”.

 

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As a reader of fine print I started reading the included policy document and was shocked to see some other major changes to the policy, changes that Vodafone clearly don’t see as being significant enough to mention in the cover letter where they have told us that “everything else stays the same”

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According to the policy document cover is now only provided on a mobile phone that is purchased from Vodafone. This means any phone purchased overseas or from any other network or retailer in NZ will no longer be covered by Vodafone PhoneInsure. Previously the origin of handsets wasn’t an issue, and nowhere in previous policy documents was any reference made to handsets, other than Vodafone refusing to replace imported 1st generation iPhones with newer models.. Both of my historical insurance claims have been on handsets that were not sourced from Vodafone, so quite clearly this has never been an issue in the past.

Vodafone clearly don’t think this is an issue that’s important enough to mention in the cover letter, and clearly don’t think it’s a significant change (“Everything else stays the same”), but I consider this this a significant change to the policy, especially as it could result in people who are presently covered being ineligible to claim after these changes take effect in January.

If you’re a Vodafone PhoneInsure customer and use a handset that was not purchased from Vodafone then you’ll probably want to review your policy. Paying money each month when you’re not going to be covered isn’t a great idea!



Are you receiving a substandard ULL ADSL2+ connection from your ISP?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Nov-2011 17:29

One of the most significant changes to the New Zealand telecommunications sector in recent years was the unbundling of the local loop (ULL) in 2007. ULL allowed carriers other than Telecom to install their own equipment in Telecom exchanges or roadside cabinets, and lease the copper cable that runs to your premises to deliver their products and services. In the real world it has meant that carriers have been able to offer xDSL and phone services to end customers without needing to use any of Telecom's hardware.

Around the same time that ULL legislation was introduced, Telecom also agreed to a Government mandated plan to deliver improved broadband speeds to homes and businesses. The cornerstone of this plan was the deployment of a Fibre To The Node (FTTN) network by Chorus, who planned to install around 3500 fibre optic cable fed roadside cabinets nationwide as part of a project known as "cabinetisation". Delivering minimum connection speed of 10Mbps to 80% of New Zealand households and businesses, these cabinets have fibre optic cable linking back into the Telecom network, and contain an Alcatel Lucent 7302 ISAM to provide xDSL services. The architecture of these cabinets is relatively straight forward - the existing copper feeder cable that runs from the Telecom exchange is terminated in the new cabinet on a new Master Distribution Frame (MDF), and existing cabling that runs to local homes and businesses is also terminated on another MDF inside the cabinet. Each line is then connected to the xDSL linecard in the ISAM in the cabinet, meaning that at the press of a few keys xDSL service can be enabled or disabled on a customer's line. Voice services are still provided by Telecom's NEAX switch located in the nearby exchange, and are carried over the copper feeder cable that connects the exchange and cabinet. In some cases where it's been deemed that the copper feeder cable is at, or is approaching the end of it's serviceable life, VMUX hardware is fitted to carry voice calls over IP using the fibre backhaul to the exchange, rather than over the copper cable.

The installation of these cabinets means that the distance of the local loop (the copper cable that runs between the exchange and the premises) was reduced significantly, with close to 50% of premises being less than 500m from a cabinet, and 80% within 1km of a cabinet. Because xDSL performance is dependent on the distance the end user is from the equipment, the shorter the local loop, the better xDSL performance will be. By the end of 2011 when the cabinetisation project is complete, around 80% of the premises in NZ should have an average theoretical DSL sync speed of around 12Mbps to 14Mbps. Homes within 500m of a cabinet or exchange should be seeing ADSL2+ internet speeds of around 15Mbps. 

As part of the industry consultation process before the rollout of the cabinetisation project, Chorus warned of the impact the cabinetisation project would have on ULL providers due to an issue known as midpoint injection - an issue which is now causing significant impact to many consumers who eagerly signed up to  ULL internet plans over the past couple of years.

DSL signals use frequency bands of the radio spectrum that aren't used by voice, allowing voice calls to coexist on the same copper pair with ADSL/ADSL2+ and VDSL signals. Because copper cables used in the network infrastructure typically carry many pairs bundled together, it's possible for signals from nearby pairs to cause interference with each other, something known as crosstalk. Because the ADSL signals transmitted from the new ISAM in the cabinet are a lot stronger than the signals that's have had to travel from the ULL gear in the exchange, the DSL signal from the exchange is in in effect drowned out, resulting in a significant degradation of the xDSL signal, and ultimately slower internet speeds from the ULL connection. Even if the crosstalk had minimal impact, the distance the xDSL signal has had to travel from the exchange means it will always deliver slower speeds than a xDSL signal from the cabinet.

When carriers such as Orcon, Slingshot and Vodafone started installing their own equipment in Telecom exchanges across Auckland they received plenty of media attention and were keen to tell anybody who was keen to listen how great this move was. Competition had come they exclaimed, promising in some cases to offer better, cheaper broadband and phone services to end users. What is unclear is whether these providers clearly understood the implications of the cabinetisation project, and more importantly the effects of midpoint injection that Chorus had warned of in their industry briefings. Move forward to now, and their eagerness to sign up customers is arguably resulting in many of their customers receiving a substandard service, with many being unaware of the problem, or the solution.

In the last couple of months Chorus have been busy completing the last stages of their cabinetisation project, which has included the installation of several hundred new cabinets in the Auckland region. Many of these new cabinets are connected to exchanges serving customers that are currently on ULL connections, and the immediate result for most of these customers is a line with increased attenuation, which will result in a degraded DSL service with slower speeds. The solution to the problem is straight forward, the ISP simply needs to migrate these users from their own ULL gear in the exchange and connect them to the Chorus ISAM in the cabinet using a Telecom Wholesale UBA connection. In the real world however, the business case for such a move isn't quite so simple. Because DSL services offered by Telecom Wholesale are a regulated product with pricing set by the Commerce Commission, the net cost to the ISP increases significantly as the cost of these wholesale connections is significantly more than the cost of delivering a ULL connection. Because some ISP's used a marketing ploy of cheaper pricing for customers using their ULL network compared to those customers who were connected to Telecom Wholesale connections, many end users may be faced with a price increase for their internet and phone services if they are to move from a ULL connection back to Telecom Wholesale.

How do I tell if I could be affected? 

The simplest way to establish the quality of your DSL connection is to look at the Chorus website - http://chorus.co.nz/service-availability-tool and enter your address. You will instantly see whether you're served from an exchange or cabinet, and whether your home is covered by ADSL+ and/or VDSL2 services. The next step is to log into your  modem and look at your connection stats. Providing exact details of how to do this is beyond the scope of this post, but in most modems these details should be fairly easy to access. What you are looking for are stats like the following:

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If you are within the footprint of a cabinet you should realistically be seeing a DSL sync rate in your modem of at least 10000kbps, with a good connection showing stats of up to 18000kbps. If you are on a Telecom Wholesale connection you should see a noise margin of around 12dB reported by your modem. If you are on a ULL connection you will potentially see a noise margin of around 6dB, as providers such as Orcon have chosen to use a more aggressive noise margin for their xDSL connections. If the Telecom Wholesale map shows you as being serviced from a cabinet, and your modem reports a noise margin of around 6dB you are potentially receiving a substandard connection.

The router screenshot example used above is a friend's Orcon ULL connection taken last month, with an attenuation of 54 dBm which is exceptionally poor. His DSL sync speed was 880000, which meant his internet speeds could be a maximum of 800 kbps per second. Telecom Wholesale provide a provisioning tool that any ISP can access that will show an approximate estimate of the attenuation and sync speeds at any address on their network - his address showed he should be seeing sync speeds of between 15000 kbps and 16000 kbps from the connection to his local cabinet. Within days of requesting a chance Orcon had moved him to a Telecom Wholesale connection and his connection was now around 20x faster than it used to be. There have been a growing number of threads on Geekzone discussing this issue over the past couple of months and all with similar end results, so his story is anything but unique.

The vast majority of ULL gear was installed in exchanges in the Auckland region so there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of internet users receiving sub standard speeds from their ISP. The cabinet migration schedule isn't a secret, and some ISP's have actively migrated ULL users across to Telecom Wholesale connections before cabinets have been installed, however others have chosen not to do this. If you know you are on a ULL connection and unhappy with your performance some basic checks such as those above could greatly improve your internet speeds!



Are NZ consumers being duped by retailers as Digital TV comes to town?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Jun-2011 12:58

Digital TV isn't new to New Zealand - Sky TV began digital broadcasts in the late 90's and Freeview launched in 2007 offering a digital platform for existing Free To Air (FTA) broadcasters using a DVB-S (satellite) platform to offer nationwide coverage to any home with a satellite dish, and in 2008 launched a DVB-T (terrestrial) network that works with a UHF TV aerial and will offer coverage to 87% of the population by the end of July. In September 2012 New Zealand begins what is arguably the most significant change to TV broadcasting in New Zealand since TV broadcasts began in 1960 - the shutdown of these analogue TV broadcasts leaving NZ with a 100% digital broadcast platform. This process is known as Analogue Shut Off (ASO) or Digital Switchover (DSO). By the end of 2013 when this process is complete and all analogue TV broadcasts are discontinued, every TV in the country that is not equipped with an integrated digital tuner for Freeview, an an external Set Top Box (STB) for Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear will be unable to pick up any TV broadcasts. It also means that every VCR or DVD recorder in the country will also be unable to record any TV broadcasts unless connected to an external Freeview, Sky or TelstraClear STB. Despite the dates for switchover being announced earlier this year, an official announcement was made on Friday marking the launch of a new www.goingdigital.co.nz campaign to educate people about this important milestone.

Current statistics show that close to 80% of homes are currently accessing digital TV. What these surveys don't ask however is whether every TV on the premises is currently accessing TV using a digital platform. Somebody who has Sky hooked up to their new 50" Plasma in their lounge is counted in these statistics as being a digital customer, even if the TV in the bedroom is only tuned into an analogue signal. The total number of TV's that are accessing analogue broadcasts is still very significant, and every device that has a tuner in it will require to be replaced or connected to a STB for it to continue working once the analogue broadcasts are shut off. What is readily apparent is that there are a large number of people unaware that analogue TV broadcasts will be shut off, and that their TV's will suddenly be incapable of displaying anything unless they purchase a digital STB for it. While advertising campaigns have started advising of the digital switch over, educating people about the implications of this will take time.

Of great concern to me however, is the behaviour of some of  New Zealand's largest retailers continuing to sell products that do not feature a digital tuner, meaning they will be incapable of functioning in a little over a year without additional cost to the consumers.

Several weeks Harvey Norman had TV advertising for a Visio 19" LCD TV for $249. "Great for the bedroom" boasted the voiceover message. This TV features no integrated Freeview tuner and is only capable of tuning in analogue broadcasts. Anybody buying one of these TV's for their bedroom and relying on analogue broadcasts will find that that once analogue broadcasts cease that their TV will be unusable unless an external STB is connected to it. Harvey Norman aren't the only ones guilty of this -  a quick glance at The Warehouse and DSE mailers show they are also selling a large number of TV's with no integrated digital tuner.

This poses a question - are these retailers blatantly misleading their customers by selling products that will not be able to perform it's primary purpose (watching TV) starting in 15 months time unless the customer spends more money to purchase a STB to allow this TV to continue to operate? I personally think they are.  A quick survey by of these retailers on the weekend inquiring about these products shows that they're doing nothing to educate and inform their customers that the product they're about to purchase will be unusable unless connected to a STB at additional cost to the consumer.

In my opinion every retailer in New Zealand selling a TV or DVD recorder without an integrated Freeview tuner should be forced to display Point of Sale material warning of the limitations of the product, and the same material should also included with the product. Selling a TV or DVD recorder that will in effect be obsolete, without clearly advising customers of this is in my opinion, completely unethical.

So my challenge to retailers - what are you going to do about this? What steps will you take to educate customers? What will you do when a customer brings their Visio TV back in 15 months time and says it no longer works?

If you're a consumer who's recently purchased a TV from one of these retailers that doesn't feature a digital tuner and were unaware that it will require additional hardware and costs to operate in a little over a year, what do you think?

Your thoughts on this issue are welcome.

 

* Image of switch off dates is from www.goingdigital.co.nz



Radio NZ’s hatchet job on MasterCard

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Apr-2011 20:36

This morning I awoke to the sound of Radio NZ news in attack mode launching a full on hatchet job on Mastercard. What had Mastercard done that was so bad? Well nothing. Nothing at all.

In November last year (1) the consortium of ANZ, EFTPOS NZ and MasterCard  announced the launch of  MasterCard PayPass in New Zealand. PayPass is a Near Field Communication(NFC) capable card (think "Snapper card") and enables payment for goods without having to use the magnetic stripe or chip on your card. No PIN number is required for low value purchases, which means the transaction times are super quick, typically somewhere in the vicinity of 300ms - 500ms depending on the volume of data that is transferred. Part of the announcement was that PayPass terminals would be installed at Eden Park and Westpac stadium in time for the Rugby World Cup. Despite the deal to launch NFC terminals in stadia for the RWC now being over four months old, Radio NZ thought they were onto a winner, boldly claiming that RWC patrons would "have to have to use cash or buy a new Mastercard prepaid card" for purchases during an game. I'm sorry Radio NZ, what was the news again? It's obviously a slow news day when your lead story is a rehashed four month old story that does nothing but spread FUD. I guess impartiality wasn't in the vocabulary today.

Radio NZ then called upon Massey University senior lecturer in banking Claire Matthews to comment "New Zealanders have taken to eftpos with such delight and make such great use of it, that to try and persuade them to use something else which doesn't offer any significantly better convenience or efficiency - there's simply not the argument for them to use it.". About now might have been a good time to do what a journalist does well and ask a question, such as " why do we not have EFTPOS in stadia today?".

Here in New Zealand today if you attend an event at a major stadium you'll find it's still very much cash environment. Despite our love for EFTPOS it's not commonly found. Why not you ask? The simple answer is that the transaction times are considered to be too slow and will create bottlenecks. This is a view that is certainly open to argument, with the average time for an EFTPOS transaction being in the vicinity of 15 seconds. Regardless of whether or not you think that's a problem it's an issue we just have to accept - and have done, as the lack of EFTPOS terminals at most major events will be readily apparent to anybody who regularly attends. Instead of handing over their plastic at the till, people either bring cash, or queue at ATM's inside the stadium and pay for their hotdogs and beer with cold, hard cash.

One interesting piece of history for buffs is that when the Westpac Stadium in Wellington was opened in 2000 it featured Visa Cash terminals at every kiosk. Visa Cash was a prepaid chip card that required no PIN or signature, however the hardware was withdrawn after the Visa Cash product failed to gain traction in the global marketplace, and was replaced by trials of NFC cards that began around the same time.

Here in New Zealand ANZ bank have been issuing NFC based MasterCard cards since mid 2010 and launched these officially in November 2010. A growing number of retailers now feature NFC capable EFTPOS terminals, and if you stand at a McDonalds store for long enough you will see probably see somebody using one. While not commonplace yet in the New Zealand market, the Australian market now has 5.3 million PayPass cards, and over 35,000 retail locations with PayPass enabled terminals. By October 2012 all Mastercard cards issued by banks in both New Zealand and Australia will feature PayPass, and by 2014 all EFTPOS terminals in both countries must be upgraded to support NFC cards. Sources tell me that ANZ will very shortly begin issuing NFC cards as standard, and that at least one or two other bank in New Zealand will roll out NFC cards over the coming months meaning there will be a growing numbers of cards in regular use by the time the RWC starts.

The "new" NFC terminals were installed late last year at both Eden Park in Auckland and Westpac Stadium in Wellington. If you're lucky enough to already have a NFC card you've probably already used it. If you had were expecting some flash new terminals to be installed just in time for the RWC you'll be sorely disappointed. The very same infrastructure and payment methods that are in place today will be exactly how things are during the RWC.

The hatchet job on Mastercard continued with blogger Lance Wiggs launching a scathing attack saying the decision is "stupid". Comments such as the one from Lance saying that  MasterCard need to "roll out the NFC/EFTPOS terminals across New Zealand so that tourists and locals alike can experience the technology" shows a lack of knowledge of the product and industry. NFC terminals are now reasonably commonplace in NZ, with a huge number of Ingenico terminals having been deployed in recent months as retailers upgrade to new EMV version 6 capable terminals as required by the 1st June 2011.

Issues were also raised in the media as to why Visa cards couldn't be used. In Part ANZ and MasterCard as RWC sponsors obviously see value in selling their brands, however more import is a key issue  that Visa's PayWave NFC cards have not yet been launched in New Zealand. Using something that doesn't exist in our market isn't easy!

In recent months there have been some very exciting developments in the NFC field. Cellphones with NFC capabilities have been trialled meaning that your cellphone becomes your wallet. Want to see your current account balance or transaction history? It'll all viewable on your phone screen. NFC is the future of payments, and the capabilities of such an exciting technology are very cool.

It's been  a long time since I've heard a rehashed news story about payment terminals that were installed months ago, NFC credit cards cards that are already in use by thousands of New Zealanders (and not to mention foreign tourists who will visit) and shock words such as "paying by cash" cause such a fuss!

 

Disclosure: Before somebody flames me I neither work for, or have any association with any bank, credit card company or terminal vendor.



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

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2degrees declares war on Vodafone and Telecom

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 6-Dec-2010 21:02

In recent weeks 2degrees mobile have upped the ante in the battle over Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs) here in New Zealand. 2degrees have declared war on both Vodafone and Telecom by offering prizes to users in return for soliciting bulk inbound SMS messages on their network - prizes that are funded by 2degrees from MTR revenue, and no doubt leaving them with a tidy profit on the side due to the huge volumes of traffic that the competition is creating.

MTRs have been a controversial issue in New Zealand and 2degrees have been very vocal about their objections to the current charges and the on going Commerce Commission inquiry into MTRs which has now been under way for over five years.

For those who don't understand MTR rates we'll start with a brief rundown. When calls are made between telecommunications networks, money is handed over from one network operator to the other. This charge, known as an interconnection fee (or termination charge) is designed to cover the cost of the network operator delivering the voice call or text message to the end party (or the 'B' party in the telco world). This model is known as Calling Party Pays (CPP), and is used by the vast majority of mobile and fixed line operators in the world to connect calls between networks. An alternative method known as Mobile Party Pays (MPP) is used by mobile operators in some countries such as the USA. Under MPP no interconnection charge exists and no money changes hands, instead the receiving party pays to receive a call or SMS.

MTR rates have become a very hot topic globally in recent years as regulators have tried to force these rates down. Here in New Zealand 2degrees have taken issue with the charges and have been very vocal in the past year, to the point of walking away from the negotiating table and withdrawing all offers after they took issue at the Commerce Commission preferring to accept voluntary undertakings from Vodafone and Telecom in late 2009, rather than forcing price regulation into the marketplace as 2degrees wanted. As of December 2010, yet another investigation is under way, with regulation of MTRs expected to occur in 2011, with pricing to be set by the Commission.

Two weeks ago 2degrees launched a promotion known as "Text Me Race" that exists solely to exploit termination rates, generating both significant revenue for themselves, and to no doubt send a clear message to both Vodafone and Telecom that they believe the current system is flawed. This promotion entices users to receive large numbers of SMS messages from off network mobiles (Vodafone and Telecom customers), and in return offers prizes to the users. In their initial week long promotion held just over a week ago over 700,000 SMS messages were received on the 2degrees network from the top 5 place getters, with over 230,000 messages alone received by the winner. The total number of messages received is unknown, but it's safe to assume that it's significantly higher!

With current SMS termination rates between Telecom and 2degrees of 9.5c + GST, and 6.25c + GST between 2degrees and Vodafone (negotiated as a special deal), this represents revenue to 2degrees of somewhere between $43,750 and $66,500 + GST, depending on the network that the messages originated from, for these top 5 users alone. In return 2degrees gave away 3 PlayStation 3's, a handful of free mobile phones, and $30 airtime credits if you received 1000 inbound SMS messages from another network. 2degrees have discovered a cash cow, and right now they're milking it as fast as they can. Today they have launched a new Xmas promotion, this time offering a LED TV for the top place getter, Xbox Kinect packages, free phones, and free airtime.

This type of business model of exploiting termination rates isn't new. In the late 90's it was exploited by an number of ISP's in New Zealand who offered free dialup internet that was funded by termination charges. This famously lead to the introduction of the 0867 prefix in New Zealand by Telecom New Zealand to manage traffic on their network, however the conspiracy theorists out there still believe the introduction of 0867 was a cunning move to Telecom to shut down the business model. Today the model is also used by 2talk who use the 028 prefix for their fixed line VoIP platform and allow people free forwarding of calls to their mobile phone as well as generating revenue for themselves for every call to an 028 number that is tied to a fixed line service.

One can argue that since the launch of mobile networks that MTRs have represented a legitimate funding source for networks using the CPP model. The question has to be asked however - is what 2degrees doing now ethical? Are they exploiting MTRs for their own gain? Should Vodafone and Telecom continue to deliver messages to the 2degrees network that are nothing other than "solicited spam"? If you're a Vodafone or Telecom user who's sent large amounts of messages do you feel short changed helping a friend to win a low value prize when the real winner is 2degrees?

2degrees are pushing for a Bill and Keep (BAK) pricing model where no money changes hands between operators, and they believe traffic symmetry occurs naturally. They believe "spam" isn't a problem in the SMS world, but that's clear is right now they're encouraging solicited bulk messaging which services no purpose other than delivering them financial gain. To me this is spam, even if it is solicited.

What is clear is that 2degrees have caught both Vodafone and Telecom off guard. The only unanswered question now is how much cash the cash cow will give out before it goes dry. People get dirty hands during wars, and only one side can win.



Vodafone NZ’s stuffed network

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 29-Oct-2010 20:32

It's not very often I get annoyed enough to write nasty things about a company, but Vodafone deserve an award right now for running NZ's worst performing mobile network.

There appears to be a major fault that's been affecting the Vodafone network for a number of weeks now and I'm interested in feedback from others who may be experiencing the same issue.

I use data on a daily basis on my Nokia E71. What I've noticed with increased frequency is 3G data retainability issues with data sessions randomly stalling. This becomes obvious when applications such as Gravity (a S60 Twitter app) refuses to update. Once the data session is stalled (but still active according to the phone) you can't send or receive data. The issue also affects voice calling and SMS messages. SMS messages sent while the data session is stalled will sit in the phone outbox and any inbound voice calls will go directly to voicemail. Inbound SMS messages are also not received by the phone

Fixing the fault is very simple. Ending the data session by closing down the application using the data session or manually ending the active data session results in SMS's being sent again and the ability to receive calls and SMS's instantly resuming. If you want a more drastic fix you could just power cycle the phone, but it's certainly not needed, unlike the last time a virtually identical issue existed when GPRS was enabled in the network in 2002 and a power cycle was the only fix.

I've now encountered this issue in various parts of Wellington and also in the Auckland CBD which probably excludes the fault from being  on a single RNC

Totally unscientific studies based around twitter feedback and friends experiencing the exact same issue shows it's not an isolated issue and that I'm not the only person encountering this fault. I suspect however that this issue is totally unrelated to the large number of people complaining about huge delays sending and receiving SMS messages on the Vodafone network.

If you are experiencing any of the above I'd love to hear from you and have created a thread here on Geekzone where the issue can be discussed. Vodafone are seemingly in denial of this issue so it would be interesting to see how many others are experiencing it.



Fixing the fail at Vodafone

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Oct-2010 21:14

How hard can it be for a telco to provide accurate usage information for customers? That's a question I've been asking myself for the past 3 1/2 years every time I try to check my usage balance on my You Choose plan.

One of my You Choose addons is Your Time 200. This offers my 200 minutes of calling to other Vodafone mobiles between 7pm and 7am weeknights, and all weekend. This addon differs from all other Your Time addons that include calls to any NZ number.

image

The description sounds clear enough. But that's where the problems start.

Lets say I want to check my remaining balance. A quick TXT with 777 with the word BAL tells me this

"Mthly N/W nat. vf-vf mins:126"

Hmm.. Where did the nat. come from? I was sure my minutes were only on net and didn't include national calls!

How about the 777 IVR? Maybe that's better?

You have.. "126 included included monthly nights and weekends national minutes".

Yip that's right, not only is the world included actually said twice but, but the national word has popped up again. What does that mean? Maybe the Vodafone website could help me. Lets log into the usage meter and check.

 image

Landlines? That's a new word. Is that the same as national calls or different yet again?

What I can tell you from being a customer for many years is that the Talk 200 plan only includes calls to Vodafone mobiles. Calls to any other off net mobile or landline phone are charged at normal airtime rates.

After 3 1/2 years of observing this and numerous complaints to Vodafone about this about this I figured it's time to get this off my chest. I know how and why the the problem occurs - the balance system was poorly scoped and is unable to differentiate between the different Your Time addons. At the end of the day however I don't care that you have incompetent staff unable to properly scope and build systems. You are misrepresenting a product  and if you can't be bothered in sorting this maybe you should actually start offering including calls to landlines in this plan so you're not confusing your customers?

How hard can it be? Honestly? I bet it's easier than fixing the continual problems with stalling PDP contexts on your 3G network (but that's a whole new post for a rainy day).



Chorus’ new Service Delivery Point (SDP). What is it?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Sep-2010 20:50

One of the biggest issues affecting Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) broadband is the quality of the copper wiring it is delivered over. The quality of wiring hasn’t caused significant impact in the past with slower first generation ADSL services, but as Chorus along with other providers such as Vodafone, Orcon, and TelstraClear upgrade their networks to support faster ADSL2+ and VDSL2 speeds, wiring quality becomes a major issue.

Overall the quality of the wiring within the Chorus network is typically good, however poor quality wiring in your home or workplace is common, and has the ability to have significant impact on both speeds and the stability of your connection. Many homes have poorly installed wiring or jackpoints, or jackpoints that have suffered corrosion damage over time due to the damp climate in parts of New Zealand. If your home wiring has not been upgraded since the late 1990’s it probably uses older 3 wire jackpoints (with a master and extension unit) which also have the ability that play havoc with DSL signals. Many people have simply blamed their ISP for their speed or stability issues in the past, without understanding that their issues could well be as a result of wiring within the premises.

The SDP is the result of many hours of work spent developing a device that can be installed in a home or business to improve broadband speeds without having to replace all existing wiring within the premises to comply with modern wiring guidelines. The SDP also future proofs the house for a move to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) based phone services and can also simplify the setup of a home network to PC’s or network devices located in other locations around the house. To really understand why the SDP is so important however, we firstly need to look at the current state of broadband infrastructure in New Zealand.

Right now Chorus are past the halfway mark deploying a Fibre To The Node (FTTN) network in New Zealand consisting of 3600 new roadside cabinets. Previously most DSL based broadband services were provided from phone exchanges that may have been some distance from your home or business. Because the DSL signal degrades the further it has to travel, the further you were located from an exchange, the slower your broadband would be. These new roadside cabinets contain fibre optic cable to link them to the existing exchange, and a piece of equipment known as an Intelligent Service Access Manager (ISAM) or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAM) to deliver your broadband connection directly from the cabinet over the existing copper wiring to your house. By the end of 2011 when this project is complete approximately 80% of New Zealanders will be located within approximately 2km of a phone exchange or roadside cabinet and will have access to broadband connections with a minimum speed of 10Mbps – the vast majority however will find that their speeds are closer to 18Mbps with current ADSL2+ technology, and with the upcoming launch of the VDSL2 technology many could see download speeds in the vicinity of 50Mbps over their existing copper wiring.

While Chorus are upgrading their network, in many cases the broadband speed bottleneck will now be the wiring in your home or business. DSL technologies use frequencies over your copper phone line that are much higher than those used by your normal voice services. To ensure that voice and DSL services can coexist on the same line and do not interfere with each other, filter(s) are required to be installed in your premises to split the two. There are two options available – a professionally installed master filter, or DIY plug in filters that are required for every phone in the home, as as well as other devices plugged into your phone line such as your Sky TV box, fax machine or medical alarm.

Most people choose to use plug in filters because it enables a them to perform a self install of their modem, and avoid the cost of a visit by a technician. Plug in filters are not a the perfect solution however – not only are they cumbersome, but they also don’t eliminate issues such as reflections on the line, nor can they compensate for poor quality wiring, connectors or jackpoints. As I mentioned earlier, damaged wiring or jackpoints, or even the use of older 3 wire jackpoints will cause a significant impact on DSL performance. Installing more than 4 plug in filters on a line can also cause the DSL signal to be degraded. These all have the ability to become a significant bottleneck with faster ADSL2+ and VDSL services which will suffer significant speed degradation or stability issues from any interference caused by your internal wiring.

Poor quality internal house wiring is an issue that is widely known, and is an issue that the industry has strugged to solve. Despite Telecom releasing guidelines in the late 90’s advising that a structured wiring solution be installed in all new homes, many new homes still don’t have one. Around the same time Telecom also advised of a move away from wiring phone jackpoints in a daisy chain configuration, but many electricians and phone installers still continue to this day to install jackpoints in this way. The daisy chain configuration involves connecting jackpoints in a “looped” configuration from one to the other, and causes impedance fluctuations or reflections on the line which in turn impacts on DSL signals, and ultimately broadband speeds.

A professionally installed master filter will split your broadband and voice signals as close as possible to where the cabling enters your house (a location known as the ETP or External Termination Point) and will give you a dedicated jackpoint to plug your DSL modem into. Because the DSL and voice signals are isolated It means that poor quality wiring can’t interfere with the DSL connection and in most cases will deliver faster speeds than what can be obtained using plug in filters. While it’s not possible to put an exact figure on this, for somebody who is connected to new equipment in an exchange or roadside cabinet and already gets good sync speeds  (ie in the 12000kbps – 15000kbps range) it could possibly deliver an increase of around 10%. Somebody connected to a new cabinet or exchange who has very poor quality house wiring could see speed increases of several hundred percent. A master filter is certainly recommend for anybody who uses DSL based broadband, and for VDSL services a professionally installed master filter is essential as existing ADSL plug in filters are unsuitable and can’t be used. Uptake of master filters has been low, in part because many people are unwilling to pay the costs associated with installation.

So on to the SDP. What exactly does it look like?

SDP

 

The SDP in it’s basic form is a very simple patch panel. The faceplate contains a number of RJ45 keystones and inside the unit there is a VDSL rated master splitter and a terminal block for interfacing with a house alarm. Ports 5 and 6 can be fitted and connected to RJ45 faceplates elsewhere in the house using cat5e or cat6 cable for connecting other PC’s or devices to your router to form a home network.

Your incoming phoneline is terminated to a VDSL rated master filter that is located inside the unit and your modem is now connected to port 1 of the SDP. Port 2 is the voice output from the VDSL filter, while port 3 is connected internally to existing phone jackpoints in your house. Port 4 is connected to port 3 and allows you to plug a phone in directly to the SDP. The PSTN jumper clip (shown in the image above) bridges your incoming voice services to your internal house wiring. Removing this and plugging a phone directly into port 2 allows a simple isolation test to be performed to establish very quickly check if a fault (such as no dialtone) is an internal wiring fault or is located between the premises and the cabinet or exchange.

The following images show a typical SDP installation:

Clean Pair1

The SDP itself is unpowered and requires no power to operate. Under development however is a battery backup module that allows home networking equipment to stay powered during a power cut. This is particularly important as we move into the fibre world with Fibre To The Home (FTTH) deployments and move towards using VoIP as a primary voice line replacement.  With FTTH all voice services use VoIP as analogue phone services can’t be carried over fibre optic cabling. The loss of power to your home will mean a loss of all phone and internet services, as unlike Telecom’s existing copper network which has batteries and generators at both cabinets and exchanges to maintain power during an outage, the equipment in your house can only be powered by your own electricity. The battery backup will allow you to keep your equipment powered so phone calls can still be made during a power cut.

It’s worth noting that while a lot of media attention has focussed on the battery backup issue and the potential inability of people to contact emergency services during a power cut if they use VoIP services, that a large number of New Zealand homes currently only use cordless phones that are rendered unusable in a power cut anyway. People should  ensure that they have at least one corded phone in their house that will allow them to make calls during a power cut.

There are two primary methods of connecting a SDP – one with a phone service delivered over POTS (as is the case for most people now), and one where a VoIP service is used as a primary voice line. The following example shows a typical SDP installation where a customer has voice (POTS) and DSL services provided over copper.

Diag 2

 

One of the great things about the SDP is that it allows a very simple transition process to a VoIP based phone service. Right now a large number people have installed their own analogue telephone adapter (ATA) at home and use VoIP services such as VFX or 2talk for their phone line. Many have also opted for Vodafone Home Phone Wireless boxes which use Vodafone’s mobile network. In both cases many people choose to simply plug a phone into the port on their ATA or Home Phone Wireless box because hooking this up to their existing house wiring is a process that is beyond many people’s capabilities. With the SDP, delivering a dial tone to any existing jackpoint in your home is a simple two step process – simply remove the PSTN clip and run a cable from your ATA or At Home box into port 3. Every jackpoint in your home that is connected to the SDP will now be connected to the ATA.

Diag 3

The SDP isn’t magical but it’s certainly a very cool little unit. Poor internal wiring is an issue that affects a large number of DSL customers, many of whom are totally oblivious to the issues and put up with speed related issues and problems such as frequent disconnections that can be directly attributed to poor internal wiring. To deliver optimum performance on ADSL2+, users should really have a central splitter installed, and for VDSL this will be mandatory. The SDP becomes a logical replacement for a master filter installation – rather than just install a basic filter the SDP fills a void that exists where people don’t want to spend significant amounts of money to replace wiring in their house, but want a cost effective way to be able to take advantage of faster broadband speeds and also future proof themselves for the arrival of fibre and VoIP services.

It is not a replacement for a proper structured cabling solution such as those recommended by the TCF, and if you are building a new home or upgrading your home then a structured cabling system should be seen as a key requirement.

If you’re wondering where you can sign up for one you’ll just have to wait a little while yet still. Chorus will be responsible for the installation but will not take orders directly - you will be able to request an installation through your ISP. The launch is not far away, and I’m sure we will see plenty of publicity surrounding the rollout when it does happen.



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


'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