This is a light article looking at Mobile Internet options for the holidaying, professional. You might think it sad that one would want to remain connected rather than swap to holiday mode – but take a minute and consider the world of today, in NZ at least.
The last decade has seen an embrace of ‘The Internet’ for providing services, information, tools and entertainment. There is so much that is now online, that only when you don’t have access do you realise how different the world is. Add some real spice and introduce two children under 10, and the weather we’ve had in the xmas/new year of 2009/10.
When was the last time you banked a cheque or used telephone banking? Or called a movie theatre to find out listings? Try going ‘internet-free’, then go on holiday… and try to manage your life. Technology may be considered a scourge of modern life. I see it as a way of making life better, easier and that much more manageable.
Babies learn to get attention by crying at a certain pitch, designed to induce response in tired parents. Pre-tweens learn two more dreaded words designed to tweak that nerve - “I’m Bored”.
I called a local movie theatre to get movie listings for the kids, which had a recorded announcement of all the movies on. The audio level was terrible – I struggled to hear anything – and there was no answer when trying to get a human. Movies were read in random order and with too much detail (rating, movie length and observations on movie) –too slow and too irrelevant for me. A quick trip to their website – sorted in 5 minutes flat (and $40 later for the tickets!). The online world, especially once it is familiar, is tough to leave.
Continuous Improvement: Product Launch’s & Compromise I’ve worked for several industries, mostly in telco and mobile. I have launched many products, and been through the subsequent after launch hangovers (when reality sets in). So I thought I would apply what I know to one of the biggest launches in 2009: the Telecom XT Mobile network.
A product launch is a series of compromises between commercial dates, technical realities, your own expectations and those of the sponsor(s). At some point, you need to go to market with whatever open bugs, missing tools, missing material are, for one simple reason: launch creates focus. It also puts the spotlight on, which means every move, success, failure, complaint or problem has huge visibility and is pored over.
No product is perfect at launch, no company is ever ready to deal with every type of usecase that gets presented – nor should they have to be. Being ready to solve all of yesterday’s problems is insanity – but you need to be ready to deal with ‘in-life’ as it crops up, and a company needs to make resources available while they work on ‘the next big thing’.
This state is sometimes referred to as ‘crossing the chasm’, between the hubris of launch and the dullness of reality. Not dealing with the chasm, or pretending it hasn’t really happened, is just crazy. A product launch is just the start – rapid response to in-life is more critical to success.
Telecom NZ has never run with GSM in NZ, although it has come close to swapping from CDMA. It took several years and a management change to sign off building a new network - WCDMA 850Mhz (same as Telstra for Australia). It’s just one technology - no legacy GSM network here – and everything is brand new, with little legacy baggage to contend with. The only real challenge is migrating the CDMA customer base to WCDMA, without having to give away 1.5m new devices.
This approach means you lose a mature, stable and reliable platform. Tools and technologies developed for the old have to be rebuilt, product enhancements and pricing plans need to be re-justified to the latest round of management, business rules need to be re-qualified… the list is endless. The recent failure of the XT network is a classic example – everything is new, which means the technology is still being stabilised.
The same conversation is happening for the PSTN network – moving to an IP Voice service forces the same discussions to be had. New technology often doesn’t have the same richness as the old - or the costs - and comes with its own foibles. Changing core technology is easy to justify in a presentation, and a lot of work to live through in practise – having been through it several times at every company I’ve worked for.
Knowing this I avoided buying an XT service for many months, waiting for the network to stabilise, for the sales channels to be trained and educated, for new propositions to be developed and refined, and for XT ‘mark 2’ to come out. Having a need for a Mobile Internet service, I took to seeing what the market offered and went from there.
The purchase Around the XT launch in May 2009, Vodafone launched a ‘$1 for 10mb a day’ offer, for any type of Mobile Internet use, with subsequent use costing $1/mb. The 10mb is reset daily, and is quite a good offer for very light use with a Smartphone, but not so hot for a datacard.
Vodafone do have options for prebuying 100mb or 512mb, but these require the user to be on ‘Supa Prepay’ and to purchase an add-on that recurs every month. Not so good if you only need it for a few weeks (I would have preferred to purchase a once-off block as I need). I have a Supa Prepay sim, as well as a Vodafone HSDPA datacard.
Before Xmas, Telecom launched a Prepay Mobile broadband offer. For $99 (or free to existing Telecom Xtra Broadband customers) you get the MF626 USB Modem (with USB extension cable), Prepay SIM Pack with $20 usage and 512mb bundled data. Subsequent data is either $29.95 for another 512mb, or partial usage that goes something like – “climbing usage of 10c/MB to 300mb, then 212mb uncharged usage thereafter”. Telecom gets to realise the revenue faster this way, rather than spread the $29.95 over 512mb (Money stored in a prepay account can’t be classed as revenue until it’s used for a service; while in the ‘idle’ state, it’s a liability on the companies balance sheet).
The purchase experience was one of the best I’ve experienced; I went into the Leading Edge store in Palmerston North on the 28th of December, and the entire process took 7 minutes. The girl at the counter was well-briefed and answered all of the tricky stuff I threw at here around compatibility, coverage and usage. She volunteered I shouldn’t activate the SIM Card until the 1st of January (else my 512mb free usage would be lost on the 1st of the month – this is a quirk of the Telecom billing system, but a nasty one nonetheless). Kudos to the Telecom retail folk – the training and execution was superb.
The environment I am staying near the beach, and depending on where I am in the house, I get between 0-2 bars for Vodafone, and 0-1 bars for Telecom - when near the window. Despite locking the Vodafone Mobile Connect software to 3G only, the Vodafone card still spends a great deal of time swapping between the UMTS and GPRS networks – which means lengthy delays as the card cycles between technologies. This is disappointing and should not really be happening in 2009. Both Vodafone and O2 developed their mobile datacard software simultaneously in the UK around 2004 (I know this because I led the O2 side for their 3G launch), and both use the same software vendor. Five years of product enhancement and development should mean the software is pretty robust.
To be fair, getting the Telecom software to install on my XP machine was an exercise. One only needs to insert the modem in a free USB slot, and your PC will auto-launch the installer – in theory. My machine recognised the Modem as a USB stick only and would not give me access to the embedded software – some obscure setting somewhere prevented autorun from working. I have Windows 7 on the same machine and was able to correctly install using that OS, as well as retrieve the software and copy to the local harddisk, to manually install with Windows XP.
I wasn’t interested in calling the helpdesk for support – I’m not doing a critical review of Telecom – and am lucky that I am able to self-support. No doubt driver install wobbled somewhere in the process – drivers being the biggest bugbear of Windows – and am pleased that the driver experience is better with Windows 7.
In Use What a difference new technology makes! Overall service speeds on Vodafone Mobile Internet, where I am, quite frankly suck. The card I have is not faulty, and I would not expect many other data users where I am so cell loading should be very light. My comments are subjective – I am experiencing the service as any user should – and to me, the Vodafone was just poor. When locked onto 3G for long enough, actual speeds for Internet, was disappointing.
Telecom (which has lower signal strength according to the Connection Manager) rocketed by comparison, with average performance of a vintage 512k broadband connection – which was more than enough to let me achieve what I wanted (banking and a little web use).
What I had forgotten was how greedy Windows is with an Internet connection. The moment a tunnel was available, all manner of updaters sprang into life (Windows Update, Windows Defender Update, AntiVirus Update, Apple Update, Spybot update and so on). I switched off as much as I could find, and even then there was usage going on (some malware perhaps?). On Vodafone, 10mb gets chomped through pretty quick, although they are good enough to notify you via text when you are 2mb away from your data cap. The Vodafone portal has excellent self-management tools – another example of services moving to the web – while I struggled with the Telecom website, and don’t wish to waste my precious bucket o’ data trying to figure it out.
Using Google Chrome, the surfing was fast and I achieved what I wanted – managing money, movie tickets for bored children, and keeping up with the rest of the world, as I have always done.
Conclusion I wrote this article to explore the concept of being truly mobile anywhere, with a useful piece of kit (a laptop). I also wanted to comment on product launch’s and product evolution, using a real-world example… and I think the Telecom experience is better than Vodafone. The self-service website needs a lot of work, but for what matters – actual customer experience – Telecom Mobile broadband is great.
Mobile is not yet at the point where it’s a true fixed substitute – the technology quality and pricing take care of that. But it’s good enough for the occasional user – and I do mean occasional – that prepay mobile internet is ok to use and fairly predictable (no bill shock either – if you run out of money, everything just stops).
Good on you Telecom for an acceptable service. Roll on the full XT Mark 2 – and then Mark 3!
Note: for clarity, I work for TelstraClear.
One thing that has done - and still does - my head in, is the discrepancy between speeds and the different technology types. It's easy enough to say 'it don't matter', except when it does, and I find it matters an awful lot, quite often.
What do I mean?
I mean those awful speeds. 24mbps Internet! 7.2mbps HSDPA! 1gbps Fibre, fwoar!
And yet, there is real nuance that affects what you get as a user.
For Internet, since that's the topic of NZ time and again...
The speed that matters I believe, is the IP speed you get for your applications. I use TelstraClear's cable service at home, and I can regularly download a file from a high-capacity server (eg microsoft.com) at 1.02MB/s - that megabytes per second, which measure the size of a file. To get that speed, I have the 10mbps - megabits per seconds, which measure the absolute speed of transfer at that second. As a rough rule of thumb, 10240mb /10 = 1024MB. Take 10 as being how many bits are required to represent a piece of information, with some overhead.
I know that I will be able to get those speeds, assuming all technology is lined up and functioning correctly (I am not getting into a debate over configuration and what TelstraClear does or doesn't do).
But now it get's interesting.
ADSL/ADSL2+ technologies use an older method of transfer called ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)... this doesn't readily map with 100% efficiency into the IP world, and you get something called the ATM-Tax affecting speed. If your ADSL2+ connection can connect at 24mbps/1mbps to the local DSLAM... then the 'tax' will consume between 10-15% of that bandwidth in overhead and syncronisation... or about 2.5mbps... and on it goes. Except of course most people don't get those speeds, and they get something closer to 10mbps, which reflects that it's not a fair comparison between HFC and DSL. With DSL, especially on the Telecom network, sometimes you're up and many time you're not.
802.11a/b/g/n/q/s/x and every other letter also has wonderful overheads. At Radio layer the access point may be able to talk to the wireless network card at speeds from 11mbps to 300mbps... but once you take error correction, delay, latency, and generally poorly implemented software... you're lucky to get IP throughput closer to 5mbps on 802.11b, 20mbps on .11g, and who knows what on the .11n spec. Translation: what you PC gets is not what's on the box. But if you're trying to stream a High-definition video from a media PC to your TV on a wireless connection, you need about 9mbps bandwidth for the IP layer - if you're only getting twice that on average, wow!
Now for something else: Ethernet, which is a way of networking computers together, but also has overhead and loss. A 100mb Ethernet port will not give you 100mb IP - far from it. There will be loss to inefficiency, error correction's, retries and so on. If you purchase a service that is 100mb IP... then the Ethernet access had better be larger than 100mb so you can get the full bandwidth.
Head hurting yet????
Does 1GB fibre connection mean I'm getting 1GB IP bandwidth to my computer? of course not... and most PC's would struggle to process such a torrent of information. 1gb more likely will give about 500mbps, which translates to about 50MB... still huge, but quite different to what's on the box!
I won't go into HSDPA or that lot - that's a whole new level of panadol time...
Now, I'm not a techie, and i'm sure many services could be made to run more efficiently. But I think if you buy a service with a speed promise, then it should be at IP level - which is what your applications will use.
Off to get the panadol....
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be at this event in the Vector Arena, where TelstraClear took the opportunity to outline plans, recall success and show off some truly impressive technology.
Actually I was on one of the stands talking about IP Gateway and Next IP
I was also fortunate enough to see the preparations first-hand yesterday morning (I arrived early with the Events Managers, so got a back-stage tour), and spoke to some of the folks that put the show together. Really cool stuff, and a real chest-thumping show.
The hologram of Rove was beamed in live across the Trans-tasman link, and there was very little delay - Rove commented that the delay was doing wonders for comic timing. He showed a picture of that mornings Sydney Morning Herald, although the sport section had fallen out of it.... maybe into a large rugby cup....
So a first for TCL, but also a real-revving of the engines at the core of the company....
NB: I work at TelstraClear
In a strange turn of 6 degrees, I work for a company whose CEO used to run Wrightson's and had an agreement with Vodafone, only now doesn't. And his former employer has hired the ex-Vodafone boss....
NZ is very small sometimes....