Why I won't be buying Kathmandu Shares

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 7-Nov-2009 16:12

Theft is a problem every retailer has to deal with in the modern world. Whether it be theft from staff or customers, it is a financial loss that has to be absorbed by the business, and ultimately passed onto customers.
One of the most common methods used to prevent shop lifting in retail stores is the use of EAS tags. These are security tags attached to products, and if the goods are removed from the premises without the tag being removed or deactivated barriers located at entry/exit points of the store will sound an alarm.
There are two types of tags in use today, hard tags that are attached to goods and removed from the goods during the sale process with a detacher, and smaller (typically) single use tags that are left on the product and deactivated when passed over a deactivator pad which is normally built into the shop counter or barcode scanner. Two main technologies exist in the marketplace today, AM (acustomagnetic) and RF (radio frequency). Both systems are used extensively throughout the world however I've spent most of my time playing with AM based systems which I believe are technically superior.
False alarms from EAS systems are extemely uncommon - common misconceptions are that car alarm remotes or other electronic devices will set the alarm of, this is something that is untrue. The reality is that the technology is exceptionally good and it is very rare for anything but an EAS tag to set of a barrier. If you set off a barrier odds are you are wearing or have in your possession a product that still has an active EAS tag attached to it.
Virtually all goods sold from Kathmandu stores are source tagged. This means EAS tags are sewn into clothing or inserted into the packaging at the time of manufacture, a process that saves time as there is no requirement for retail staff to have to attach tags to goods instore.
What they are doing makes perfect business sense. It's what they aren't doing that is causing every other retailer in NZ using an AM based EAS system significant grief.
So what are Kathmandu doing that is so bad?
Quite simply Kathmandu are doing a very poor job ensuring that products sold in their stores or via mail order have the EAS tags deactivated at the time of purchase.
How many people reading this blog have set off the alarm in EAS barriers while entering or exiting a store? If this did happen to you, were you wearing any clothing manufactured by Kathmandu or carrying a Kathmandu bag? The odds are pretty high that you are.
The integrity of EAS systems has been damaged by Kathmandu's failure to ensure that ALL goods sold by them have the tags deactivated. This has created a nightmare for all other retailers operating RF based systems as "false alarms" are being created by people who are setting off barriers, not because they have attempted to steal goods, but because they are wearing clothing or have a bag or other product that has a tag that is still active. Not only does this create a nightmare for retail staff it's also highly embarrassing for customers who are being singled out when they have in fact done nothing wrong.
Stores other than Kathmandu may be guilty of of the same thing but the shear number of Kathmandu products in use now in NZ makes them by far the biggest guilty retailer.
So what can be done about it?
If you buy any products from a retailer and set off the barrier when leaving don't just let them ignore it - make sure they take the goods back and deactivate or remove the tags. This will wave you the embarrassment of having barriers alarms go off in the future.
If you have items that continually set off the barriers now it's potentially worth asking the store staff in the store where it goes off if they can deactivate the tag(s) for you. Deactivating the tags is very simple and I'm sure they'll be happy to do this, after all it's benefiting both you and them.
If you have Kathmandu goods that set off exit barriers then visit your local Kathmandu store and explain that you'd like the tags deactivated and are sick of feeling like a criminal whenever you go shopping.  Hopefully this will get the message across to their staff that failure to follow their own internal procedures doesn't actually save time, it simply antagonises valued customers.



Taking advantage of our high $

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Oct-2009 19:42

Right now the NZ$ is at a 15 month high against the US$ - this means it's a fantastic time to be buying imported goods!

As we all know however, things aren't going to stay anywhere near the current 75c value and at some stage our currency is going to drop. If you're somebody who buys goods regularly from overseas you can take advantage of this current situation and hedge your money for a rainy day.

Many banks are now offering prepaid credit cards in foreign currency. These cards are great for travelling as they allow you to buy funds in a foreign currently such as US$ and use the card in the USA without incurring any transaction fees (unless you withdraw cash from an ATM). Your money is also locked in at the exchange rate at the time of purchase, something that's fantastic for us right now.

I purchased a ANZ Travel Card when I was stopping in the USA earlier this year. The card costs $12 to buy and $10 every time it's reloaded. The bank does take a small commission when money is loaded but in my experience with several topups it's a lot lower than the usual fees incurred with foreign credit card transactions.

The beauty of this card is that the value of the card is in US$ and fixed at the time of purchase. This means if you top up US$1000 to your card at this very moment you'll gain significantly if the value of the NZ$ falls. Any purchases you make in US$ online are deducted from your balance, unlike a regular credit card that is converted using the current exchange rate.

I'd probably buy somewhere in the region of $500 - $1000 worth of goods from the USA yearly. These are typically books of Amazon or goods from eBay. By topping up my card now I can take advantage of the card should our currency fall as any purchases will effectively be at the ~73c rate that I purchased my US$ at.

If you're somebody who regularly buys goods from the USA or online in US$ a card such as this is something that's well worth investigating. I know most banks are now offering similair cards and Travelex are also. We all know our currency isn't going to stay high for ever - why not take advantage of the current rates while you can!





TelecomONE FTW!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 5-Oct-2009 20:51

On the weekend I had the opportunity to attend TelecomONE, an unconference that was hosted by Telecom NZ and held at Mahurange College in Warkworth, featuring a mix of both Telecom staff and invited guests from outside the company.

While I'd love to write more about the fantastic experiences I had during the weekend this is simply a quick thank you to everybody who was there for making this event such a great experience.

I had some great discussions with some fantastic people, both from within Telecom and from outside. I also experienced first hand how passionate many of the Telecom staff are about both technology and the business as a whole - something that can't be easy to maintain when you're such a corporate that people love to hate.

Thanks to Neil for making this event possible, Neal for making sure everybody enjoyed werewolf and to Nat and Jenine for their fantastic skills when it comes to running such a cool event. It was a pleasure to be invited and be able to be present.






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Asterisk/trixbox VFX timeout issues

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Sep-2009 12:42

A handful of users have encountered some issues with SIP registration timeout issues using Asterisk and Asterisk distributions such as trixbox with the VFX VoIP service.

For reasons that aren't necessarily clear Asterisk fails to register. This results in inbound calls failing and either being redirected to the failover destination or the VFX voicemail platform.

This is not a regular occurance - it is something that has been reported by several users here on Geekzone (including myself) who have encountered this issue periodically, I've had it happen on two or three occasions in the past year. When it does happen however it is annoying!

The fix for this issue simply requires sending a "SIP RELOAD" command to Asterisk which will force it to reregister all SIP peers.

To make things simple for people I'll show you how to automate this process so that your system will perform this task automatically which should minimise the intances of this happening.

Linux includes a built in scheduler called cron. This enables tasks to be run at a selected time. We'll create a script that forces Asterisk to register all SIP trunks once every 30 minutes.

Connect to your Asterisk/trixbox system via SSH.

Now we need to edit the cron configuration file. We'll do this in the nano editor which is included in trixbox. Depending on your Linux distribution you may have a different favourite editor.

type

# nano /etc/crontab

The nano editor will then come up and you can add text. Scroll down to below the cron.monthly task and then add a new line.

*/30 * * * * root /usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "sip reload"

-------------------------

SHELL=/bin/bash
PATH=/sbin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin
MAILTO=root
HOME=/

# run-parts
01 * * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.hourly
02 4 * * * root run-parts /etc/cron.daily
22 4 * * 0 root run-parts /etc/cron.weekly
42 4 1 * * root run-parts /etc/cron.monthly

*/30 * * * * root /usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "sip reload"                  <------ ADD THIS LINE

05 0 * * * root rm -f /var/lib/asterisk/sounds/tts/tts*

*/5 * * * * root /etc/init.d/apf stop >> /dev/null 2>&1

-------------------------


Now press CTRL X and press Y and enter to save.

Every 30 minutes the cron scheduler will now force a SIP reload command. If you Registration has failed this will resolve the issue. This 30 minute period could be changed if required.




Droptherate - Are people being mislead by PR spin?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 12-Aug-2009 10:42


My blog post from last night  discussing the Drop the Rate, Mate! campaign has generated plenty of comment. It's also made me think a little more about what the motives of 2degrees are with this campaign.

What is the goal of the campaign? The website goes into great detail explaining that lower MTR costs will reduce the price of calls. What the website doesn't say however is exactly what they mean when they say they want rates "dropped". Does "dropping" rates mean lowering them from existing levels or "dropping" them entirely and moving towards a new pricing model for interconnects?

Maybe this comment from spokesperson Matthew Hooton on Stuff today explains their real motive


"Drop the rate" spokesman Matthew Hooton said Telecom and Vodafone were "ripping off" customers to the tune of 15 cents a minute for calls.


It's very clear that Hooton believes that the current 15c voice MTR rate should be removed entirely and replaced by a new pricing model.
 
2degress have been very vocal in recent months wanting a move towards dumping Calling Party Pays (CPP) in New Zealand and a move towards mobile party pays (MPP) by implimenting a bill and keep pricing model. Dumping CPP means that mobile carriers receive no revenue for terminating a call on their network. It should be pointed out that no country has ever moved from a CPP to MPP model for mobile pricing.

In countries such the USA and Canada that use the MPP pricing model rather than CPP networks receive no revenue for inbound calling or SMS messages. This means users in many cases pay to receive calls or SMS messages on their mobile phone. This reason alone is one of the reasons no country has moved from CPP and MPP. Convincing users they should suddenly have to pay for receiving calls or SMS's would be a significant challenge.

Do people in NZ really want to pay? Do 2degrees really believe people want that?

The alternative that 2degrees are suggesting is Bill and Keep (BAK). Under this arrangement MTR costs are zero rated and no money changes hands between operators. Bill and keep is currently implimented here in New Zealand for local calling and in a market where local calling is free this model works fine. The flaws that exist within the bill and keep model are the reason no country anywhere in the world has so far adopted BAK for mobile pricing.

So what are the problems?

In moving to BAK customers who only use their phones for incoming calling and make very few outbound calls are unprofitable. Considering that many users in NZ fall into this category it would result in all networks suddenly facing not only a significant revenue drop due to the MTR corrections but also a situation where customers are infact costing them money to support. This would mean any gains by the move to BAK would be cancelled out as prices potentnailly increase to recover that most revenue.

Because traffic is zero rated it also means the potential for significant changes in call loading. If a carrier has to pay nothing to interconnect a call with another mobile carrier they could effectly offer plans with exceptionally generous off net calling rates. If large numbers of people took up these plans a mobile network could see their rates of inbound traffic increase significantly and with no MTR revenue to support this increase in traffic to fund network infrastructure these increased costs will simply be passed onto their own customers.

Is this really a fair model? If you have signed the online petition I assume you are have infact agreed to a move away from the CPP model towards MPP and will be happy to pay to receive both SMS and voice calls?



Droptherate - How about telling us the truth?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 11-Aug-2009 19:48

Today marked the launch of a campaign called droptherate - a campaign lead by 2degrees mobile to force the Government to drop mobile interconnection rates in New Zealand.

But what's wrong with our rates? A lot if you're to believe 2 degrees.




Now lets start pulling their graph apart.

How convenient that they forgot to mention that in the four countries that have zero that they do not operate under the CPP (Calling party Pays) business model. Oh, they also happened to forget that it's common to pay for incoming SMS messages and voice calls on some networks.. but I guess that just slipped their mind.

How conveient as well that the rates quoted on the site are actually for a 20 second call and make it look like the NZ figure which is based on a per minute rate is significantly higher?
 
To quote from EU figures from January 2009 that are in effect until new EU MTR rates take effect in early 2010.

Sweden €/min 0.393       $NZ 8.2c
France €/min 0.685         $NZ 14.3c
UK €/min 0.721               $NZ 15.1c
Germany €/min 0.818      $NZ 17.1c
Ireland €/min 0.1293 peak and 0.622 offpeak average = 0.956     $NZ 20.0c

NZ = approximately NZ$ 15c per minute.

2degrees has a discounted rate from the 15c - anybody who read the NBR last week will know what it is but for legal reasons I will not publish it here.

Rates in Ireland also differ between carriers - Vodafone and O2 have interconnect rates that are slightly less than that of Meteor who were the 3rd player to enter the market. MTR costs for Australia are also very hard to compare since they have flag falls and 30c billing blocks which can't be directly compared.

In some countries MTR rates are billed per minute and some are billed per second. Comparing a graph showing per second billing with a per minute call in New Zealand is blatently misleading.

MTR rates in New Zealand based on the current 15c per minute rate are very much in line with those in EU countries. A 3 minute call between 2 mobile numbers in Ireland would result in MTR costs of NZ$ 60c being paid between networks. Here in NZ approximately NZ$ 45c would be paid in interconnection costs.

NZ is NOT overcharging on MTR's like the graph shows.

What 2degrees also failed to mention (and what the NBR are no longer allowed to tell you) is that they are being billed per second for their interconnection with Vodafone. This means that their cost for a 20 second call to a Vodafone customer would be roughly equal with Sweden, the lowest CPP based operator on their graph.

Come on 2degrees - you're up to your old tricks again spinning us yet more rubbish. I guess a leopard never really does change it's spots.











2degrees National Roaming. The Small Print.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Aug-2009 09:15

Right at this moment 2degrees are currently in the process of launching their network which is due to go live tomorrow. This huge investment is sure to benefit mobile customers in New Zealand who without a doubt have been paying too much for mobile calls.

2degrees have rolled out their own network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. When in these areas you will use the 2degrees network, when outside 2degrees coverage you will automatically roam on the Vodafone network. Calls will automatically hand over between networks.

Now the fineprint. As is the case with most new operator launches around the world where national roaming agreements exist, 2degrees customers WILL NOT be able to roam onto Vodafone's network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown. This is to prevent phones accidently roaming onto the Vodafone network and to stop people forcing manual network selections to benefit from cheaper pricing while staying off network.

So what does this mean? It means that if you're in one of these cities and have no 2degrees coverage then you will not benefit from moving. 2degrees have deadspots in their new network within these coverage areas and your phone WILL NOT roam on Vodafone's network. Roaming on Vodafone will only occur when you move outside the footprint of the 2degrees network.

If you are going to move make sure you check the coverage situation first - 2degrees do have a brilliant network with some very well located sites. They also have areas that I'm personally aware of here in Wellington that have no coverage at all.




Alcatel Lucent Femtocell Demonstration

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Aug-2009 21:48

On Friday I had the opportunity of attending an Alcatel Lucent presentation of their femtocells. The technology has been demonstrated to a number of telecommunications providers in NZ however none have presently committed to rolling these out in the New Zealand marketplace.
First up lets explain what a femtocell is as I’m sure there are plenty of people who have never heard of the technology. In it’s simplest form a femtocell is a mini 3G cellsite that will cover an area the size of an average house. Unlike a normal cellsite however a femtocell connects into your broadband connection and uses this as the backhaul connection into the mobile providers network. The Alcatel Lucent box is around the size of a typical wireless router and can easily be installed by somebody with basic computer knowledge as it simply plugs into an existing router or modem and all configuration is handled remotely.
While the technology has been around for several years only a handful of mobile operators have so far publically trialed or deployed femtocells. The Alcatel Lucent boxes were launched by Vodafone UK into the marketplace on July 1st 2009, in what appears to be very much a trial of the technology to both understand customer acceptance to the devices and to test real world performance. Vodafone UK have marketed the product as the Vodafone Access gateway.
Alcatel Lucent’s data shows that the bulk of mobile calls are made indoors. It’s no surprise that delivering inbuilding mobile coverage is one of the toughest challenges for mobile operators due to the inability of radio signals to easily penetrate through building material, in particular concrete and steel. No matter how many sites are deployed delivering good inbuilding coverage will always be a challenge and this creates a market for low cost solutions such as femtocells which are significantly cheaper to deploy than traditional cellsites. The target market for femtocells in the Vodafone UK rollout has been people with poor or non existent coverage, anybody who’s lived in the UK will know that inbuilding mobile coverage, particularly in many of the Victorian era houses, can be extremely patchy. Unlike New Zealand that has two nationwide 3G networks many UK residents also only have GSM coverage in rural areas so the femtocell offers them the ability to have 3G coverage in their home or workplace.
Once installed the femtocell will typically be locked down to a limited number of handsets which can be controlled by the end user. They are not designed to work as a regular cellsite where any mobile phone can connect and they only support a limited number of simultaneous calls. The femtocell establishes an encrypted IPsec connection back to the mobile operators network over the internet and requires approximately 60kbps of bandwidth for a regular 3G voice call or 150kbps for a 3G video call. The most obvious downside of this is that a poor quality internet connection or a home modem/router that does not feature properly configured QoS (Quality of Service) could easily have the ability to cause poor quality voice calls.
Femtocells aren’t just about improving coverage however. They open up the potential to deliver products and services that are currently not available on mobile handsets. A mobile operator could choose to deploy a home phone service and let you use your mobile phone as a regular phone while connected to the femtocell. Alcatel Lucent’s femtocell even allows multiple phones connected to the femtocell to ring either all at once or in a round robin fashion. Also in development is hardware that would allow VoIP or PBX integration allowing you to use a single handset for both mobile calls as well as the ability for the phone to appear as a local extension on a PBX when connected to the femtocell. While this is currently available with dual mode handsets that support WiFi using the 3G radio offers significantly better battery life and allows a far greater range of handsets to be used.
The Alcatel Lucent box also features home networking capabilities which lets handsets share data with the local network. Demonstrated was the ability to syncronise data off the handset with a PC on the same network, something that currently requires connecting over the internet to achieve. A myriad of possible opportunities exist to expand on this functionality.
So what does the future hold? The concept of femtocells is great – there are always going to be areas where mobile networks simply can’t cover and they offer a low cost way of delivering mobile coverage. As mobile data speeds and usage increases it may make sense for companies who rely on mobile data applications to have their own femtocells to guarantee mobile data speeds. Mobile carriers on the other hand have to ensure that they don’t rely on femtocells rather than deploying their own infrastructure and they also have to work on pricing and business models – paying for the device and then paying regular rates for both voice calling and data while also using up their own broadband cap for the backhaul isn’t something many people are going to be happy with.



EDIT: Telecom XT Prepaid Topups - Don't get caught out!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 11-Jun-2009 19:58

I originally posted this blog post earlier today. What followed online was a discussion between numerous twitter users who were critical of Telecom's policy and the official TelecomNZ account on Twitter. After approximately 30 mins Telecom announced


TelecomNZ In regards to the Pre Pay Top up, we have a correction. If you top up before the 6 months the original credit will roll over :)

TelecomNZ@juhasaarinen @stevebiddle @redjungle We will reword the T's and C's to clarify that the top up will cause the original balance to rollover



Whether this was a change of policy at Telecom within those 30 minutes or a simple error in the website text that will be corrected is anybody's guess - it's something only Telecom know.

I am reinstating this post because Google had already linked to the post anyway so leaving it hidden is pointless.



--------------------------------------------
ORIGINAL POST IS BELOW
--------------------------------------------

With the introduction of Telecom's XT network there have been several changes to their pricing struture and credit validity. If you're an XT prepaid customer you really need to be aware of these new terms & conditons to avoid being caught out.

In recent years both Telecom and Vodafone have had 12 month expiry periods for their prepaid accounts. If you don't top up for a 12 month period you will have your account deactivated, will lose your number, and all remaining credit associated with that account will be lost.

XT has introduced a 6 month expiry period for both your credit and your account. This means you have to top up once every 6 months for your account to remain valid. Once again this is no big issue as Telecom currently still offer (at the time of writing this) $10 topup vouchers which means your minimum spend is $10 over a 6 month period for your phone to stay active...hardly a big expense!

What is new however is the 6 month validity period for all credit on your account. In the past if you topped up your phone before the 12 month expiry period your remaining credit would be carried over and did not expire. On XT your credit will expire 6 months from the date of topup - even if you topup your phone before the end of the 6 month period.

If you top up $100 on your account and 5 months later have only used $50 of that credit and top up another $50 you will forfeit that unused $50 once the 6 month expiry period rolls over and will only have $50 credit remaining. In the past this remaining credit would have rolled over and given you a $100 balance.

From the Telecom Topup site  listing the terms & conditions:


Any top-up credit needs to be used within six months otherwise it will expire and you need to make sure you top up at least once every six months to avoid your Prepaid account being deactivated.


Telecom have not tried to hide this information - it is very clearly listed on their site. This issue is also probably unlikely to affect most customers who do top up regularly - afterall $10 worth of usage within a 6 month period is very little!

I'm sure however that it is going to catch some low use customers out as they approach the 6 month period and top up their phone to find that their unused credit has not been carried over.

Thanks to the people in the Geekzone forums (you know who you are!) who pointed this issue out!






Cellular roaming with g33ky toys. 1998 vs 2009

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 6-Jun-2009 15:03

In 1998 I spent several months travelling around Europe and was excited to be able to use BellSouth's GSM roaming service to stay in touch. Since I'm heading back over there in weeks I thought I'd do a comparision of then vs now.

I had a trusty Nokia 2110i (THE best phone at the time), Cassiopeia A20 and a Nokia data card. This allowed me to establish CSD dialup connections to iPass roaming numbers to download my emails.

11 years on things are a little flasher - my E71 supports 3G/HSDPA data roaming (only downside being that data roaming is so expensive nobody can afford to use it!) and I can also use a Bluetooth connection to my netbook which obviously supports WiFi as well.



The only downside is that roaming now costs MORE in many cases than it did 11 years ago. I'm still trying to find BellSouth's roaming pricelist that I do have still but I know local access calls in the UK roaming using one2one were typically billed in peak and offpeak rates and from memory were around 55c per minute 24/7 on one2one and slightly more on Vodafone, BT Cellnet and Orange. This is under 1/2 of the cheapest per min rate that is now available while roaming.

Inbound call rates were also typically billed at peak and offpeak rates - this means I could answer a roam forward call from NZ during the day in UK (offpeak rates in NZ) and pay 44c per minute (49c less GST) and also have per second rounding for roam forward. Now all inbound roam forward calls are $1 per minutes rounded up to the next minute.

SMS roaming was also great but rates were actually very similar to what they are now. Each GSM carrier had it's own surcharge which was typically between 20c - 80c meaning sending an SMS could cost between 40c and $1.00 whereas now it's 80c flat rate.





sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


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

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 trixbox, PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix and AsteriskNOW)
  -Polycom
  -Cisco
  -Linksys
  -Patton
  -Zyxel
  -Snom
  -Sangoma
  -Audiocodes

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

*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










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