Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) for Dummies.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 15-Nov-2012 08:11

Unless you’ve been living on another planet you’ll be aware that New Zealand is currently in the process of deploying a nationwide Fibre To The Home (FTTH) network. This network is being supported by the New Zealand Government to the tune of roughly NZ$1.5 billion over the next 10 years and is being managed by Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH). Work is presently underway deploying fibre nationwide, with several thousand homes now connected to this new network.

Much has been made of UFB retail pricing, and for many individuals and businesses the price they will pay for a UFB fibre connection could be significantly cheaper than existing copper or fibre connections. What does need to be understood however is the differences between fibre connection types, and pricing structures for these different services. There have been a number of public discussions in recent months (including at Nethui in July) where a number of comments made by people show a level of ignorance, both at a business and technical level, of exactly how fibre services are delivered, dimensioned, and the actual costs of providing a service.

So why is UFB pricing significantly cheaper than some current fibre pricing? The answer is pretty simple – it’s all about the network architecture, bandwidth requirements and the Committed Information Rate (CIR). CIR is a figure representing the actual guaranteed bandwidth per customer, something we’ll a talk lot about later. First however, we need a quick lesson on network architecture.

Current large scale fibre networks from the likes of Chorus, FX Networks, Citylink and Vector (just to name a few) are typically all Point-to-Point networks. This means the physical fibre connection to the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) on your premises is a dedicated fibre optic cable connected directly back to a single fibre port in an aggregation switch. Point-to-point architecture is similar to existing copper phone networks throughout the world, where the copper pair running to your house is dedicated connection between your premises and the local cabinet or exchange, and is used only by you. Because the fibre is only used by a single customer the speed can be guaranteed and will typically be dimensioned for a fixed speed, ie if you pay for a 100Mbps connection your connection will be provisioned with a 100Mbps CIR and this speed will be achieved 24/7 over the physical fibre connection (but once it leaves the fibre access network it is of course up to your ISP to guarantee speeds). Speeds of up to 10 Gb/s can easily be delivered over a Point-to-Point fibre connection.

The core architecture of the UFB project is Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON). Rather than a fibre port in the Optical Line Terminal (OLT) being dedicated to a single customer, the single fibre from the port is split using a passive optical splitter so it’s capable of serving multiple customers . GPON architecture typically involves the use of 12, 24 or 32 way splitters between the OLT and the customers ONT on their premises. GPON delivers aggregate bandwidth of 2.488Gb/s downstream and 1.244 Gb/s upstream shared between all the customers who are connected to it. 24 way splitters will typically be used in New Zealand, meaning that 100Mbps downstream and 50Mbps upstream can be delivered uncontended to each customer. The difference is architecture is immediately clear – rather than the expensive cost of the fibre port having to be recovered by a single customer as is the case with a Point-to-Point network, the cost is now recovered from multiple customers. The real world result of this is an immediate drop in the wholesale port cost, meaning wholesale access can now be offered at significantly cheaper price points than is possible with a Point-to-Point architecture. GPON’s shared architecture also means that costs can be lowered even further since the architecture of a shared network means dedicated bandwidth isn’t required for every customer like is is with a Point-to-Point connection. The 2.488Gbps downstream and 1.244Gbps upstream capacity of the GPON network instantly becomes a shared resource meaning lower costs, but it can also mean a lower quality connection compared to a Point-to-Point fibre connection.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of architecture we now need to learn the basics of bandwidth dimensioning. Above we learnt that a CIR is a guaranteed amount of bandwidth available over a connection. Bandwidth that isn’t guaranteed is known as an Excess Information Rate (EIR). EIR is a term to describe traffic that is best effort, with no real  world guarantee of performance. The 30Mbps, 50Mbps or 100Mbps service bandwidth speeds referred to in UFB residential GPON pricing are all EIR figures, as is the norm with residential grade broadband services virtually everywhere in the world. There are is no guarantee that you will receive this EIR speed, or that the speed will not vary depending on the time of the day, or with network congestion caused by other users. With Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) replacing analogue phone lines in the fibre world, guaranteed bandwidth needs to also be available to ensure that VoIP services can deliver a quality fixed line replacement. To deliver this UFB GPON residential plans also include a high priority CIR of between 2.5Mbps and 10Mbps which can be used by tagged traffic. In the real world this means that a residential GPON 100Mbps connection with a 10Mbps CIR would deliver an EIR of 100Mbps, and a guaranteed 10Mbps of bandwidth for the high priority CIR path.

Those of you paying attention would have noticed a new word in the paragraph above – tagged. If you understand very little about computer networking or the internet you probably just assume that the CIR applies to the EIR figure, and that you are guaranteed 10Mbps on your 100Mbps connection. This isn’t quite the case, as maintaining a CIR and delivering a guaranteed service for high priority applications such as voice can only be done by policing traffic classes either by 801.2p tags or VLAN’s The 802.1p standard defines 8 different classes of service ranging from 0 (lowest) to 7 (highest). For traffic to use the CIR rather than EIR bandwidth it needs to be tagged with a 802.1p value within the Ethernet header so the network knows what class the traffic belongs to. Traffic with the correct high priority 802.1p tag will travel along the high priority CIR path, and traffic that either isn’t tagged, or tagged with a value other than that specified value for the high priority path will travel along the low priority EIR path. Traffic in excess of the EIR is queued, and traffic tagged with a 802.1p high priority tag that is in excess of the CIR is discarded.

For those that aren't technically savvy an analogy (which is similar but not entirely correct in every aspect) is to compare your connection to a motorway. Traffic volumes at different times of the day will result in varying speeds as all traffic on the motorway is best effort, in the same way EIR traffic is best effort. To deliver guaranteed throughput without delays a high priority lane exists on the motorway that delivers guaranteed speed 24/7 to those drivers who have specially marked vehicles that are permitted to use this lane.

There are probably some of you right now that are confused by the requirement for tagged traffic and two different traffic classes. The simple reality is that different Class of Service (CoS) traffic profiles are the best way to deliver a high quality end user experience and to guarantee Quality of Service (QoS) to sensitive traffic such as voice. Packet loss and jitter cause havoc for VoIP traffic, so dimensioning of a network to separate high and low priority traffic is quite simply best practice. Performance specifications exist for both traffic classes, with high priority traffic being subject to very low figures for frame delay, frame delay variation and frame loss.

UFB users on business plans also have a number of different plan options that differ quite considerably to residential plans. All plans have the ability to have Priority Code Point (PCP) transparency enabled or disabled. With PCP Transparency disabled, traffic is dimensioned based on the 802.1p tag value in the same way as residential connections are. With PCP Transparency enabled, all traffic, regardless of the 802.1p tag, will be regarded as high priority and your maximum speed will be your CIR rate. As the CIR on business plans can be upgraded right up to 100Mbps, GPON can deliver a service equivalent to the performance of a Point-to-Point fibre connection. Business users also have the option of opting for a CIR on their EIR (confused yet?). This means that a 100Mbps business connection can opt for a service bandwidth of 100Mbps featuring a 2.5Mbps high priority CIR, a 95Mbps low priority EIR, and a 2.5Mbps low priority CIR. This means that at any time 2.5Mbps will be the guaranteed CIR of the combined low priority traffic. The high priority CIR can be upgraded right up to 90Mbps, with such an offering delivering a 90Mbps high priority CIR, 7.5Mbps low priority EIR, and 2.5Mbps low priority CIR.

You’re now probably wondering about 802.p tagging of traffic. For upstream traffic this tagging can be done either by your router, or any network device or software application that supports this feature. Most VoIP hardware for example already comes preconfigured with 802.1p settings, however these will need to be configured with the required 802.1p value for the network. Downstream tagging of traffic introduces whole new set of challenges – while ISP’s can tag their own VoIP traffic for example, Skype traffic that may have travelled from the other side of the world is highly unlikely to contain a 802.1p tag that will place it in the high priority CIR path, so it will be treated as low priority EIR traffic. ISP’s aren’t going to necessarily have the ability to tag traffic as high priority unless it either originates within their network, or steps are taken to identify and tag specific external traffic, meaning that the uses of the CIR for downstream will be controlled by your ISP.

It is also worth noting that all of the speeds mentioned in this post refer only to the physical fibre connection. Once traffic leaves the handover point, known as an Ethernet Aggregation Switch (EAS) it’s up to the individual ISP to dimension backhaul and their own upstream bandwidth to support their users.

As part of their agreement with CFH, Chorus dropped their Point-to-Point fibre pricing in fibre existing areas in August 2011 to match UFB Point-to-Point pricing, which means customers currently in non UFB areas will pay exactly the same price for a Point-to-Point fibre access as they will do in a UFB area if they choose a Point-to-Point UFB connection. UFB GPON fibre plans won’t be available in existing fibre however areas until the GPON network has been deployed, either by Chorus or the LFC responsible for that area. In all UFB areas both GPON and Point-to-Point connections will ultimately be available.

I hope that this explains the architecture of the UFB network, and how connection bandwidth is dimensioned. It’s not necessarily a simple concept to grasp, but with the misinformation that exists I felt it was important to attempt to write something that can hopefully be understood by the average internet user. The varying plan options and pricing options means that end users have the option of choosing the most appropriate connection type to suit their needs, whether this be a high quality business plan with a high CIR, or a lower priced residential offering that will still deliver performance vastly superior to the ADSL2+ offerings most users have today.

And last but not least I have one thing to add before one or more troll(s) posts a comment saying fibre is a waste of time and complains about not getting it at their home for another 5 or 6 years. UFB is one of NZ’s largest ever infrastructure projects, and to quote the CFH website:

“The Government’s objective is to accelerate the roll-out of Ultra-Fast Broadband to 75 percent of New Zealanders over ten years, concentrating in the first six years on priority broadband users such as businesses, schools and health services, plus green field developments and certain tranches of residential areas (the UFB Objective).”

Residential is not the initial focus of the UFB rollout, and never has been. Good things take time.

Raspberry Pi – the ultimate home Asterisk PBX.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Oct-2012 20:23

Unless you're a tech geek who's been living on another planet for the last six months you would have heard of the Raspberry Pi. If you have been living on another planet and haven't heard of it my advice is to Google it and drool, because it's safe to say the Raspberry Pi is without a doubt one of the coolest gadgets to hit the tech world in the past few years.

Stock of the Raspberry Pi has been hard to come by in recent months with demand far exceeding supply, but a new 512MB model is now out as an upgrade to the older 256MB model and stock is once again available. I ordered mine this week from Element14 in Sydney and received it the very next day. As I type this they still have stock available so if you're wanting one it'll be the best NZ$48 you've ever spent!

As I'm a VoIP guy for my day job and have been playing with Asterisk since 2004, one thing I was keen to do was deploy Asterisk and put what has to be the world's smallest PBX though it's paces. Rather than take the long process of installing Debian and Asterisk manually I thought I'd try the Incredible Pi PBX, an Asterisk / FreePBX distribution put together by Ward Mundy who's also behind PIAF, which is in my opinion the best Asterisk "all in one" distribution around.

raspberry pi


The Incredible Pi can be downloaded from here. As I'm writing this version 3.5 has just been released and I wouldn't recommend installing any older version of the software. Once you've downloaded the software you'll need to burn the image file onto your SDHC card (I recommend Image Writer if using Windows) The image requires a minimum of a 4GB card, if you opt for a bigger card the file system can easily be expanded after installation.

Once the image has been copied to the SHDC card you're ready to go. Pop the card into your Raspberry Pi and power it on. After a few seconds you'll see the boot screen and then be presented with a Debian login. To access the PBX from your console login or SSH the login is 'root' and password is 'raspberry'. To access the FreePBX web interface use the login 'admin' and password 'admin'. Congratulations. You've now got the world's coolest, smallest PBX!

I'm not doing to bore you all with a step by step guide on configuring Asterisk, but there is one catch to be aware of for anybody else in New Zealand. A FreePBX module called Astridex is installed by default and will intercept any calls routed out that start with 00. Manually edit extensions_custom.conf and remove the custom context that exists for this or any international calls starting with 00 will not work correctly.


Minimising the global roaming rort

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Aug-2012 20:53

Mobile roaming is great. The concept of being able to take your phone to over 200 countries around the world and seamlessly stay in touch with the same phone number is a wonderful concept, but it does come at a cost – a cost many believe is excessive. Regulators around the world have struggled to contain what can only be described as a global rort, with carriers around the world charging customers roaming on their networks much, much more than they do their own customers. Why? The only seemingly plausible explanation for this excessive charging? Because they can.

I’ve spent many, many thousands of dollars on mobile roaming in my travels around the world over the years and probably contributed to the bonuses paid to many BellSouth and Vodafone employees (so you’re more than welcome to shout me a coffee if you want). I’ve always known what the pricing has been, but have chosen to use roaming due to the convenience it offers. In recent years I’ve also used foreign SIM cards while roaming, in countries I visit often such as Australia I carry two phones with me.

We all know roaming is expensive, but there are plenty of tips to save money while roaming. Firstly ensure that you’re on the right plan. Telecom and 2degrees only offer a single roaming plan, this plan charges the same for calls back to New Zealand as it does for calls within the country you’re in. You pay a base rate for the country you're in and then pay the standard per minute rate that applies to calls in NZ on top of this. SMS messages cost a standard 80c to send no matter where you are, and roaming forward inbound calls cost $1 per minute to answer (the exception to these price points are Inmarsat backhauled satellite services such as on planes and cruise ships). Vodafone on the other hand offer two different roaming options, their Traveller plan works in the same way as the plan from Telecom and 2degrees, but their Standard roaming plan differentiates between calls within a country and calls back to New Zealand. Vodafone charge the same 80c per SMS and $1 per minute for inbound roam forward calls regardless of the plan.

If you’re a Vodafone customer and sign up to roaming you’ll automatically be placed on the Traveller plan, however this may not necessarily be your best option. If most of your calls are within the country you’re visiting rather than back to New Zealand you’ll be paying significantly more than you need to for calling, as an example while roaming in Hong Kong a call within Hong Kong on Traveller will cost you $3.00 per minute + your NZ airtime rate, so you're looking at around $3.40 - $3.70 per minute for that call. On the Standard roaming plan this will cost $1.00 per minute. In every destination except Australia the cost of receiving a call ($1 per minute) is cheaper than making an outbound call back to New Zealand, so for many the best option is to select the Standard plan and get people in New Zealand to call you rather than making a call from your mobile back to New Zealand.

Because Telecom and 2degrees only offer the single zone based roaming plans, significant savings can be made by switching to Vodafone if you roam regularly.

One thing that has caught my attention over the years has been a gradual increase of pricing, I thought it would be interesting to compare BellSouth’s February 1998 roaming pricelist to the prices charged by Vodafone today.When looking at this pricing it’s worth noting that inbound roam forward calls were billed in minute+second intervals rather than the minute+minute billing applied by Vodafone, Telecom and 2degrees today. Minute+minute accounts for an approximate 20% - 25% price increase over minute+second billing. Not long after this pricelist came out BellSouth also introduced offpeak and peak rates for the roaming inbound rate, meaning it cost 49c per minute to answer a call in major countries such as Australia and the UK during the New Zealand offpeak rating period (7pm to 7am and on weekends).

This pricelist also doesn’t feature SMS charges and I’m unable to locate my later pricelist that lists this, however SMS pricing was a surcharge on top of the rate you paid in New Zealand, ie 20c + surcharge. In most countries this surcharge was between 20c and 60c, so the cost of sending an SMS in 1998 vs 2012 was cheaper in many cases than it is now where a blanket 80c charge applies.

For the following table Traveller rates are the Traveller zone rate + your standard calling plan price for calls in NZ (ie somewhere in the vicinity of 40c - 70c per minute). Since prices don't differ now between networks as they did in 1998 I have only listed the price once per country.

Country 1998 Cost to answer1998 National Call1998 call to NZ2012 National
2012 Call to NZ2012 Traveller + your rate
Optus$1.04$1.05$2.20$0.50$2.00$NZ rate
Vodafone $1.04$1.00$2.35 ($5.60 for data)    
Max Mobil$2.56$1.05$2.85$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Mobilkom $2.56$0.85$2.75   
Mobistar $2.56$0.90$4.60$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
MobilTEL$2.85$1.00$6.20$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
CYTA$2.56$0.25$4.25$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Czech Republic:       
EuroTel Praha$2.85$0.80$6.20$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
RadioMobil (Paegus)$2.85$0.75$6.95   
Sonofon$2.56$0.85$5.45$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Tele Denmark$2.56$0.80$5.00   
EMT$2.56$0.80$4.95$1.50$6.00$2.00 +
Radiolinja Eesti$2.56$0.75$5.50   
Vodafone $1.65$0.85$3.95$2.00$4.00$3.00 +
Oy Radiolinga AB$2.56$0.65$3.30$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Telecom Finland $2.56$0.55$3.80   
France Telecom$2.56$1.00$3.20$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
De TeMobil D1$2.56$1.75$3.25$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Mannesman Mobilfunk GMBH $2.56$2.05$3.95   
Gibtel $2.85$1.00$4.60$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Panafon$2.85$1.20$4.60$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Stet Hellas $2.85$1.15$4.50   
Guernsey Telecoms$1.80$1.16$3.30$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Hong Kong:       
HK Telecom CSL $2.50$0.55$2.50$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Pannon$2.56$0.75$3.25$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Westel 900$2.56$0.70$2.60   
Pt Excelcomindo$2.56$2.35$4.75$1.00$6.00$3.00 +
Telkomsel $2.56$1.30$4.20   
Eircell $2.56$0.80$3.60$1.00$5.00$2.00 +
Esat Digifone$2.56$0.80$4.60   
Isle of Man:       
MANX Telecom$2.05$0.60$3.60$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
OmniTel$2.56$0.80$5.15$1.50$5.00$2.00 +
Telecom Mobile $2.56$0.95$5.20   
Jersey Telecoms$1.80$0.75$2.75$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
MTC$2.85$0.25$3.75$3.00$6.00$3.00 +
LMT$2.56$1.00$8.00$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
FTML$2.85$0.90$9.90$1.50$4.00$3.00 +
LibanCel $2.85$0.85$9.00   
SwissCom$2.56$1.25$3.50$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
P&T $2.85$1.20$6.65$2.00$5.00$2.00 +
CTM $3.01$0.50* $2.45$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Biniarang (MAXIS) $2.43$1.25$3.20$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Celcom $2.43$1.35$2.30   
MobilTEL (Bulgaria)$2.43$1.35$6.20$2.50$6.00$2.00 +
France Telecom$2.56$1.00$3.20$1.50$5.00$2.00 + 
Libertel $2.56$0.60$5.80$2.00$4.00$2.00 +
PTT Telecom$2.56$0.90$4.35   
Netcom$2.56$0.75$1.70$1.50$3.00$2.00 +
Telenor Molil$2.56$0.65$1.35   
Globe $2.56$0.95$4.20$1.00$5.00$3.00 +
Polkomtel$2.56$0.85$5.25$1.00$6.00$2.00 +
Telecel $2.85$1.00$5.80$1.50$6.00$2.00 +
QTel$2.56$0.37$4.55$2.50$6.00$3.00 +
Russia (Moscow)*      
MTS$2.56$1.50$10.50$3.00$6.00$5.00 +
MobileOne$2.25$0.35$2.75$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
Slovak Rep:      
EuroTel$2.82$1.10$6.00$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Mobitel$2.56$1.10$3.60$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
South Africa:       
MTN $2.56$0.65$2.55$1.00$3.00$2.00 +
Vodacom $2.56$0.60$2.40   
Airtel$2.82$1.20$5.75$1.00$6.50$2.00 +
Telefonica Moviles$2.82$1.20$5.66   
Sri Lanka:       
MTN (Dialog)$3.31$0.75$6.40$1.00$6.00$3.00 +
COMVIQ$2.56$0.90$4.30$1.00$5.00$2.00 +
Telia Mobitel$2.56$0.95$4.25   
Swisscom $2.56$1.25$3.50$2.50$6.00$2.00 +
Chungwha $2.40$0.60$2.75$1.00$4.00$3.00 +
AIS $2.56$1.05$3.40$1.50$4.00$3.00 +
Telsim$2.85$0.90$3.70$2.00$6.00$2.00 +
Cellnet$1.80$0.80$4.55$1.00$4.00$2.00 +
Vodafone $1.80$0.90$2.95   

Help! My mobile phone has been stolen!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Aug-2012 20:44

In recent months there have been a number articles in the media regarding the blocking of lost or stolen mobile phones on mobile networks in New Zealand. Due to the inability of some media organisations these days to string together a tech story that makes any sense, it’s probably left some people a little confused as to what is and isn’t actually happening in the marketplace right now. Contrary to some of these articles, a register of lost or stolen handsets is maintained in New Zealand, and this data is shared between Vodafone and Telecom. The bigger story however is that the black market for stolen phones in NZ continues to exist, in part because 2degrees doesn’t currently block lost or stolen handsets.

Every mobile device has a unique serial number known as an the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. Vodafone have maintained a list of lost or stolen IMEI numbers for many years, and it only took a phone call to them and your phone would be blocked from their network by loading the IMEI in an Equipment Identify Register (EIR) within the mobile network, meaning the phone was useless to anybody who may have acquired your handset since it could no longer be used on their network. Because Telecom’s CDMA network used handsets that weren’t compatible with Vodafone’s GSM and WCDMA networks, there was no need to share data as phones couldn’t be moved between networks. With the launch of Telecom’s XT network which uses the same WCDMA 3G technology as Vodafone, the ability to move handsets between the two networks became a reality. When 2degrees launched their network, initially only the GSM component, followed later by their WCDMA 3G network, it finally became possible to use a single handset across NZ’s three mobile networks - assuming of course that the handset was compatible with the different frequency bands used.

Both Vodafone and Telecom presently share IMEI data and maintain a list of handsets that have been reported lost or stolen. Telecom may also block phones where the purchaser has defaulted on a term contract with a subsidised handset. Sharing this data means this means if your phone is reported lost or stolen to either network it will be blocked on both networks. 2degrees aren’t part of this, and handsets that are blocked from the Vodafone and Telecom networks can continue to be used on the 2degrees network. One of the consequences of this is a growing black market for phones being sold on sites such as Trade Me that are marked as working only on 2degrees, which one assumes is because the seller of the device is fully aware that the handset they are selling has been blocked on both the Vodafone and Telecom networks. A number of threads have popped up on Geekzone in recent months where buyers have purchased phones from Trade Me, and upon trying a Vodafone or Telecom SIM card finding that their new phone is barred from the network. Clearly Trade Me can’t be held liable for property sold on their site, but in my opinion Trade Me should have clearly taken some responsibility for blocking auctions for goods that very clearly indicate something fishy was going on.

In the past week talks have taken place between Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees with the goal of 2degrees implementing an EIR on it’s network, and sharing IMEI data with Telecom and Vodafone. This will be a giant leap forward, and will go a long way to reducing the black market for mobile phones here in New Zealand. The big issue 2degrees will face joining such a program now however is that they’re going to end up blocking active handsets on their network, and dealing with angry customers wanting to know why their handset suddenly doesn’t work isn’t going to be easy. The only recourse most people will presumably have will be to file a complaint with the Police, as I doubt 2degrees will want to replace those handsets with new ones for free! The move by 2degrees is a positive one, and it’s a shame it’s taken them so long to implement an EIR, something that’s been pretty much commonplace on mobile networks throughout the world for the last ten or so years.

How to score a free breakfast (and you get to learn about UFB!)

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 8-Jun-2012 16:01

Over in the Geekzone forums this week Orcon announced a series of free breakfast seminars to educate the public on the current Government funded Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout that is currently underway.

Orcon CEO Scott Bartlett, Chorus External Communications Manager Robin Kelly and Head of Industry Relations Craig Young, and TechDay’s Sean Mitchell will answer your questions and provide practical information on how you can make the most of UFB.

If you live in Auckland this is clearly a fantastic opportunity to learn about the UFB project and understand how fibre will be installed to your home or business. A free breakfast is also a great selling point!

For more details check out the Orcon website


Netsys HPNA/HCNA adapter review

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 17-May-2012 08:03

With internet traffic growing year on year and users continually expecting faster data speeds, one area that still causes issues is how to carry those bits and bytes around a building or home. If a premises doesn’t have cat5e or cat6 cable for Ethernet, retrofitting it can be an expensive and very time consuming process. Wireless can be a solution, but still can’t deliver the sorts of speed that Ethernet can, and installing a reliable high speed wireless network in a building still requires cabled access points if decent speeds are to be maintained. One solution to this problem is the  HomePNA standard which allows data to be carried over existing copper or coax cable, completely avoiding the hassle of having to run Ethernet cable, and delivering speeds faster than wireless. The HomePNA 3.1 standard offers speeds of up to 200Mbps, support for 802.1Q VLAN tagging, fully transparent Quality of Service (QoS) using 802.1p, and supports cable runs up to around 1km. When deployed over coaxial cable the technology is referred to as HCNA (HPNA over Coax)

Late last year  I trialled some Netsys NH310 units from Snappernet. These units allow existing TV coaxial cable to be used to carry Ethernet data, in much the same way cable modems work over the TelstraClear Cable TV network using the DOCSIS standard. By using different frequencies than the TV signals, both can be combined and run over a single coaxial cable. These units feature 100Mbps Fast Ethernet ports, and in real world testing deliver speeds of around 90Mbps – fairly typical for a 100Mbps device. Over the coaxal cable the HPNA protocol supports speeds of up to 200Mbps, so the 100Mbps fast Ethernet ports are in effect a bottleneck in the system. Up to 64 slave units may be connected to a single master unit, all of which will share the available bandwidth.

The Netsys HN310H Master unit features 5 Ethernet ports and 2 coax F connectors, one for the TV aerial input, and the other for HCNA out. The HN310C slave unit features 2 Ethernet ports, and 2 coax F connectors, one for the HCNA input, and the other a passthru port to connect into your existing TV or Set Top Box (STB). While setup of this hardware may look simple, some knowledge of MATV (master antenna TV) or SMATV (satellite master antenna TV) is essential to deliver the optimum performance from this hardware. 16dBM isolation is recommended between the master and slave units, with a minimum of 8dBm isolation required for these devices to function correctly. If your setup has isolation of between 8dBM and 16dBM and is also being used for TV distribution you may need to use of a high pass filter between the slave passthru port and TV/STB to avoid any interference to the TV signal. In many MATV or SMATV distribution networks 16dBM TAP’s are installed as standard so this is a perfect match. The HCNA standard uses frequencies between 15MHz and 40MHz so this hardware can happily co-exist with both terrestrial and satellite distribution networks.

One thing to be aware of is that most TV amplifiers sold in New Zealand and Australia used in MATV/SMATV distribution networks don’t support a return path, ie. they will block signals from travelling from the output port of the amplifier to the input port. This means that master and slave units must both be installed on the output side of the amplifier. If there are multiple amplifiers you’ll either need to install multiple master units, or replace the amplifiers with units that support a return path. Many splitters, diplexers and TAP’s sold in NZ also only support frequencies from 45MHz upwards, so these will also need to be reviewed and replaced with equipment that supports frequencies from 5MHz upwards.

Configuration is done using the web interface on the master unit. Once the master unit is configured and slave units hooked up to the coax network they appear in an access list with their MAC address, here they can be associated a plan speed if required, with a number of predefined speed options being available. Individual VLAN’s can be assigned to both of the RJ45 ports on the slave units from the web interface, and there are a number of diagnostic tests available to show signal level and network performance of each individual slave unit.

These units are a very cost effective way of delivering Ethernet to hotel or motel environments that will typically have coaxial cable for TV but no Ethernet cable. With Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) due to hit NZ this year, this hardware could also provide solutions to premises where retrofitting cat5e or cat6 cable for Ethernet is going to be costly. Other HPNA equipment also exists that runs over copper cable, so existing cat3 phone cable can also be utilised without needing to look at more expensive xDSL based solutions.

Overall the setup is relatively straight forward, and once installed the performance is brilliant. There are certainly plenty of small issues that could arise attempting to install these in an existing MATV/SATV setup, and if you have no knowledge of TV distribution networks, and I would highly recommend anybody thinking about this solution seek outside advice from somebody with knowledge of MATV/SMATV setups.

The real world performance of these units is awesome, and they were chosen  for a large scale deployment in an apartment building here in Wellington delivering high speed symmetrical internet connections with VoIP services. The bonus of being future proofed for higher speeds in the future means that delivering a 100Mbps service to customers with a good CIR is totally within the capabilities of this product. Overall they’re a product that creates a fantastic solution and comes with with a great price point.

<shameless plug on> If anybody is interested in looking at these as a solution for a environment such as a hotel, motel, or apartment block I’m happy to provide consultancy advice or work with you on deploying a solution, my details are listed on the right. <shameless plug off>

111 Emergency Calls in NZ – your chance to have a say

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 20-Feb-2012 08:15

With the exception of 0800 numbers used by pizza chains, 111 is probably the most recollected phone number in NZ. It’s a number drummed into children from a young age, and the vast majority of us know it’s the number to call if you need urgent assistance from the police, fire service, or an ambulance. Around 3 million 111 calls are made each year in New Zealand.

One thing many people are unaware of however, is that the 111 service is totally independent of all three emergency services. A call to 111 isn’t answered directly by an emergency services call taker, it is actually answered by a Telecom employee at a Telecom call centre (known as an ICAP – Initial Call Answering Platform) in either Christchurch or Wellington who will establish the service you are after and then forward the call on to the service you have requested – police, fire or ambulance. The call will then be answered by an emergency services call taker in one of six communications centres across New Zealand – three combined Police and Fire communications centres in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland if you have requested police or fire, or three standalone ambulance communications centres that are also in Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland if you have requested an ambulance. Job details will be collected by en emergency services call taker who will action your call. In this modern era the communications centres in all three cities are linked together, meaning that your call could easily be answered by a call taker in another city if a major incident is occurring that results in large numbers of simultaneous calls swamping the nearest communications centre.

Telecom have provided the 111 service since it’s inception in the 1950’s, and up until the late 1990’s were the logical provider of such a service since they were the only provider of Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)landline phone services in the country. Mobile phones were also still still in their infancy, and Telecom were the largest mobile provider in the country. The last decade has seen significant change in the marketplace – we now have Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees providing mobile services (along with a number of resellers piggy backing on the Telecom and Vodafone networks), and 65% of 111 calls now made from mobile phones. A large number of other telecommunications companies and internet service providers (ISP’s) also now provide phone services, either over copper phone lines in the same way Telecom have historically done, or using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) carried over the internet.

In light of several recent issues on the Telecom network that may have resulted in the inability for some 111 calls to be be connected, the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) commissioned a discussion document looking at the background of the 111 service and whether changes should be made to the service going forward. Public submissions are open, and this is your chance to have a say on how the 111 service is funded and operates.

I’ll briefly touch on a few issues that are worthy of some thought – many are discussed in the MED discussion document, but I thought I’d add a little food for thought for those who may want to send in a submission.

  • With a growing number of 111 calls being made from mobile phones, should mobile carriers and emergency services communications centres upgrade their networks to support the ability to track the location of mobile phones while the call is in progress? This service (E911) has been in place in the USA for some time  and requires all phones sold to have a GPS chipset in them and support the E911 service. While we may think such a feature is great to have, who should actually fund the upgrades to support it? Many low end GSM phones don’t support such a feature – would the price of mobile phones increase if such a feature was mandated? Network based triangulation services can also be used to locate a device, but once again this still requires upgrades to support the capability.
  • As we move into a VoIP word, a phone is no longer tied by a physical address, and a 111 call could be made from anywhere in the world where an internet connection is available. How do emergency services go about tracking the location of a 111 call if the situation is one of life and death? Some people have chosen to replace their landline phones with VoIP services such as Skype that doesn’t support 111 calls. Should clear warnings have to be displayed by services that don’t support the ability to call 111? The public perception is still that any phone can be used to call 111, in reality this is no longer the case.
  • Some providers in New Zealand (2talk being a key example) don’t provide customer address details to the TESA database. This database contains phone numbers and address details and allows emergency services to respond to the address of a 111 non speech or call hangup made from a landline or VoIP phone by doing a reverse lookup on the CallerID. If you call 111 from a phone provided by a provider that doesn’t provide details to the TESA database, emergency services and the 111 call taker will have no idea of your location, and will be unable to respond without the caller providing address details - something that may not be possible in some circumstances. Like the issue above, should providers who don’t supply details for the TESA database be required to clearly warn end users that calling 111 is not supported? Should providers who don’t support 111 calling be required to supply stickers that are required to be fitted to all phones warning that 111 calls are not supported?
  • Should Telecom still run the 111 ICAP call centres? These costs approximately $4 million per year to run, and are funded primarily by an interconnect charge each time a 111 call is made. While the 111 service is free for end users, your phone provider is ultimately paying $2.36 for your 111 call. Should 111 be funded through a user pays interconnect fees when 111 is called (as it is now), or funded directly (and possibly even run by) the government? Should running these call centres be put out to tender?
  • Currently every 111 call, even those from outside the Telecom network (ie a 111 call from a Vodafone mobile) interconnects with the Telecom network, typically at the closest Telecom point of presence (POP) that offers voice interconnection, of which there are 29 nationwide. The call is then carried within the Telecom network to in the 111 ICAP call centres in Wellington or Christchurch.. As we move forward into a competitive marketplace with a growing number of providers offering phone services, the discussion needs be occur as to whether this is the most logical way of doing things. Up until a few years ago every phone call, even if it didn’t involve a Telecom customer, had to transit the Telecom PSTN network to be connected to the other network. This no longer occurs, with multiple carriers now having their own interconnections, and as we move towards a VoIP world interconnections directly between other providers will become the norm. Should a 111 call from Vodafone (for example) have to interconnect with the Telecom network, or would it be more logical for a provider such as Vodafone to provide their own direct interconnects with the 111 ICAP call centre? With Telecom committed to replacement of it’s legacy PSTN network and a move to VoIP by 2020, is being responsible for the entire 111 system an obligation that Telecom still want to be burdened with?
  • With VoIP now becoming mainstream through product offerings such as WxC’s VFX and Orcon Genius many people have a dialtone generated by their residential gateway (RGW) or an analogue telephone adapter (ATA) on their premises. In the PSTN world the dialtone was generated by the legacy Telecom NEAX exchanges that form the core of the PSTN network. These exchanges have both battery backup and generators to ensure they can operate for extended periods of time during is a power cut, but even with the NEAX phone exchanges still functioning after the Christchurch earthquakes, many people found themselves unable to make calls because their cordless phone had no power to operate – non powered analogue phones continued to work fine. As we move into a fibre world with the ultra fast broadband (UFB) rollout the vast majority of homes will find their phone connection moves to a VoIP one, and the optical network terminal (ONT) and/or RGW or ATA within their home require power to provide internet and phone services. Should the installation of a battery backup or uninterrupted power supply (UPS) be mandatory as part of every UFB install? If so, who’s responsibility should it be to maintain this and swap out the batteries every few years to ensure that it stays operational? Even with a UPS or battery backup, the service may still only be able to maintained for upwards of 12 hours. Telecom’s NEAX exchanges and Chorus cabinets can be kept running indefinitely on backup power. Should a large scale event resulting in a loss of power for several days occur in a UFB world, people will find themselves unable to make 111 calls from their landline phone and may struggle to charge their mobile phone. No matter what approach is taken, going forward we’re ultimately going to have a network delivering primary voice lines with uptime figures that won’t necessarily be able to match the 50 year old technology it’s replacing. Power is the Archillies’ heel of our next generation networks.

Telecom have done a magnificent job over the years building and maintaining a robust PSTN network that is still world class. The ability to make an emergency call is a core requirement of any phone network, and failures aren’t just an inconvenience, they could make the difference between life and death. With the split of Telecom into retail and network arms the “Telecom” as we used to know it no longer exists, and it’s a good time to review 111 calling as we enter an era of significant change in the New Zealand telecommunications sector.

The MED have a copy of their consultation document document  and details for sending in a submission on their website: http://www.med.govt.nz/sectors-industries/technology-communication/communications/emergency-call-services/emergency-call-services-111-review

When is a deal not necessarily a deal? When you buy it from Spreets.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Jan-2012 08:36

Depending on your view daily deal sites are either the best, or the worst thing to hit this world. There are definately bargains to be had, but also plenty of dubious deals. The Commerce Commission received huge numbers complaints in 2011 regarding these sites, with an average of 22.5 complains per month between January and June 2011, reducing to an average of 10 per month in October and November.

I couldn't help notice the deal on Spreets today, only $160 for a "GPS Navigation & Multimedia System that Includes an eBook Reader, Games, & Music & Movie Player! Worth $455. Delivery Included"


This product is apparently an essential trip to take on holiday "Don’t head off on your summer holiday road trip without it!" the promo blurb says. It features "the latest in GPS navigation technology".

This is fine if you live in Australia. If you read the fine print this units has the "latest Australian maps pre-loaded", with no mention anywhere of the inclusion or ability to load New Zealand maps onto it.

Even worse the Spreets page claims the product is worth $455. I wonder why the company that is distributing it only sells it for $345 including free delivery, and a 10% discount if you pay by credit card?

Is this really a bargain? Or just an overpriced piece of junk that in all reality is virtually worthless for it's intended purpose in NZ? That's up to you to decide, but I certainly won't be buying one.

90’s NZ Mobile Memorabilia Part 2

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 3-Jan-2012 21:33

Now some pricing and coverage maps from Telecom. Note the call duration discounts, and free minute if your call is dropped. Obviously calls don't drop any longer! Smile I have the entire set of NZ coverage maps if anybody is keen on looking at other areas.

The Sharp Zaurus was clearly the must have toy of the year if you could afford it!












telecom connect


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telecom 2

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.












sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
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)

  -xDSL deployments

*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 stevenbiddle@gmail.com