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.


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.

XT vs Vodafone Global Roaming. One key difference.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Jun-2009 06:48

NOTE: As of August 2010 Vodafone have upgraded their voicemail platform to allow the use of voicemail while roaming. They now offer the same features that Telecom do on XT.

See this post for more information: http://www.geekzone.co.nz/sbiddle/7366


One of the great features of GSM & UMTS networks is the ability to roam on foreign networks while travelling, and seamlessly use your mobile phone just as you would at home.

Pricing between both networks is similair in many respects but there is one key difference between both networks and that is the handling of voicemail support while roaming.

If somebody calls your phone you have two choices - answer the call or let the call divert to voicemail. Neither Vodafone or Telecom charge for voicemail deposits while you are inside New Zealand.

While you're roaming it's another story - due to the way roaming works if you do not answer your phone while roaming the call needs to establish a return path back to New Zealand and to the voicemail platform. This is where Vodafone and XT differ significantly.

If you're a Vodafone customer who's roaming call return to voicemail is not available on all networks.

On networks where it is not available the party calling you will receive a disconnected tone once you voicemail timeout is reached. They are not automatically diverted to your voicemail like they are in NZ and are unable to leave you a voicemail message, something many people find extremely annoying. On networks that do support a return path to the voicemail platform you ARE charged the normal inbound roaming rate of $1 per minute when people leave a message. If somebody leaves you a 3 minute voicemail message while you are roaming you're suddenly $3 out of pocket.

On Telecom XT a return path is available on all foreign networks while roaming and call return to voicemail is available on all networks. The mobile owner is also NOT charged for voicemail deposits left while you are roaming and a call is returned after the voicemail timeout period expires. This means there is no $3 bill when somebody leaves you a voicemail message.

If you're a regular roamer overseas and staying in contact is important then this significant difference may be of great importance to you and is something to factor in when deciding between mobile operators.

Telecom XT pricing - better value than you think.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-May-2009 19:42

Opinion of Telecom's new XT mobile network pricing has been very mixed since it's announcement earlier this afternoon. Many people have criticised Telecom for failing to deliver the significant price cuts that many believed would happen as they try and capture market share back from Vodafone.
One issue that has received little attention is the fact that Telecom are only billing per second after the first minute on both Prepaid and On Account connections. Ironically Telecom were the first to move to rounded up per min calling, something Vodafone then followed suit with. Over recent years both Telecom and Vodafone have billed per minute (and rounded up to the next minute) on prepaid calls and included minutes however addon minutes from both networks have offered per second billing after the first minute.

This means there are significant savings for both Prepaid and On Account users and means comparing included minutes plans between Vodafone the Telecom is quite hard to do.

Looking at my last Vodafone bill I estimate that I would have received approximately 25% more minutes with per second rounding after the 1st minute vs rounded calls with my included minutes on my Vodafone plan.

The savings will vary significantly depending on the length of your calls. If you're somebody who makes lots of short calls then the savings will be very significant. Long calls and they won't be quite so significant. It is certainly something that does need factored in when you're considering plans - despite what may appear to be similair airtime allowances between both Vodafone and Telecom plans for similair pricepoints you could infact be receiving significant extra value on an XT plan.

So the big question - how long till Vodafone follows?

Radler Trademark and DB Boycott

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Apr-2009 10:50

If you're a beer drinker you're possibly aware over the past few weeks of a saga involving the use of the word Radler on beer in New Zealand.

Radler is a term to describe a mix of lemonade and beer that originated in Germany. Here in NZ most people would know it by the term shandy.

Several years ago DB Breweries were granted a trademark to use the word Radler here in NZ under the Monteiths brand. IPONZ granted DB a trademark means that DB are the only entity who can legally use the word Radler on an alcoholic beverage in NZ.

Recently Green Man Brewery in Dunedin were lodged with legal papers from DB requesting that they stop using the word Radler on their "Radler" beer - a beer they had been making for several years that was a truely authentic Radler style, unlike DB's Monteiths Radler which was not true to the style.

There have been many people within the beer industry criticise DB for their actions and their protection of the word Radler. This campaign has been stepped up by a campaign launched yesterday by Rumbles Wine Merchants in Wellington encouraging retailers to refuse to stock DB branded products.

I know the guys from Green Man - their beer is fantastic and you can argue they have been picked on by a larger company, afterall their Radler was hardly direct competition for DB and both brands have co-existed for several years. Other Radler beers have also been imported and sold here in NZ in recent years.

On the other hand what DB have simply done what any large company does - requests trademarks for brands they own to stop them being ripped off. 

Blaming DB for trying to enforce something they are legally entitled to do is just stupid and not well thought out - if this situation was reversed and DB tried to launch a product called Radler and were stopped would people see this situation the same way?

The target here should be the Intellectual Property office who issued this trademark in the first place.

IPONZ issued this trademark to DB because the world "was not in common use in New Zealand" and from media reports that have appeared recently it appears they may have had advice suggesting that allowing this trademark was the wrong thing to do, but choose to ignore this advice and grant the TM.

If you're concerced about this issue then you should be taking some action. Boycotting DB won't do that - the small number of people here in NZ who do actually care about this issue and would follow such a boycott would do nothing to DB's bottom line.

A few thousand people contacting IPONZ and expressing their feelings, explaining that a TM should have never been issued and asking for this TM to be removed due to the word falling into general every day use is a far better way to target your anger.

DB being given the TM in the first place was stupid - this is the key issue.

You can send the IPONZ an email at info@iponz.govt.nz

VoIP for dummies. A basic guide for NZ users.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 12-Apr-2009 21:18

What is VoIP?

VoIP is short for Voice over Inter Protocol. Quite simply it’s the ability to encode your voice, convert this to data packets which are then sent over a local network or internet connection to a remote device where it’s turned back into sound. Most people out there have heard of Skype and instantly think of this when they hear the word VoIP.

Skype is VoIP product but it uses a proprietary protocol that is incompatible with the SIP protocol which has become the defacto standard for VoIP.

There are three major providers offering SIP VoIP services in New Zealand, WorldxChange’s VFX and DVX services, 2talk and iTalk. Both iTalk and 2talk are run by Callplus but have different pricing structures. There are a large number of VoIP providers in New Zealand but these really are the three main providers that many people will encounter and all three provider the ability to have local phone numbers in a large number of regions. An extensive list of providers is available from the voipusers.org.nz website

I want to get into VoIP – what do I need?

You have three options. A PC based softphone, a standalone VoIP phone or an ATA (analogue telephone adapter) that allows you to use a regular analogue telephone.

The cheapest way is to use a Softphone. This allows you to use a headset plugged into your PC soundcard or USB port with a PC based phone application to make or receive calls. Unless you have a high quality headset call quality can be unpredictable and fine tuning is required to ensure you don’t suffer problems with echo. Your computer always needs to be switched on to make and receive calls.

An ATA (analogue telephone adapter) has an Ethernet port that plugs into your router and has an RJ11 jack on the back for connecting a regular corded or cordless phone to make calls. This is completely separate from your PC and it doesn’t need to be switched on to make calls. There are a large number of manufacturers producing ATA’s and the call quality will typically be very good but may require some fine tuning with some phones to eliminate issues such as echo.

A SIP VoIP phone looks similair to a regular desktop phone but doesn’t need any adapters. It plugs straight into the Ethernet port on your router and once again this is completely separate from your PC. A VoIP phone offers the best call quality but will typically be the most expensive option. Once again there are a large number of manufacturers producing SIP compatible phones and in practice any SIP compatible device will work with any VoIP provider offering a SIP service.

The main advantages of a true VoIP phone over an ATA are the ability to have dedicated keys for phone functions (such as DND or voicemail) and the fact many phones these days have large LCD screens allowing you to do cool things such as running XML based applications. Call quality of a true VoIP phone will also typically be superior and additional high quality voice codecs like G.722 are also available.


So why would I want to move to VoIP?

The reality is that all voice calling is moving towards VoIP. In around 5 years time Telecom will have moved most of it’s voice calling to VoIP equipment. As a normal phone user you won’t notice any difference, you will still receive a dialtone when you pick up your regular home phone. This dialtone however won’t be coming from Telecom’s legacy analogue NEAX phone exchanges, it will typically be coming from a line card in your nearest Telecom road side cabinet.  This line card will connect to Telecom’s IMS network and will be completely IP based. Right now both Vodafone and Orcon are doing this on their Orcon+ and Vodafone Red networks however neither network will allow you to connect a VoIP phone or ATA directly to their VoIP network, you’re stuck with having to use a regular analogue phone running off your incoming phoneline.

There are two main reasons people are adopting VoIP right now. First off they’re choosing to use a VoIP provider for all calling rather than legacy analogue POTS (plain old telephone service) or ISDN voice services provided to Telecom or TelstraClear. With unbundled internet connections (the ability to receive an internet connection without the requirement for a phoneline) people are able to completely replace their existing phonelines with a VoIP based solution and benefit from the advanced features that are on offer that simply can’t be delivered cost effectively over traditional POTS based telephony.

Many people are also moving towards VoIP based solutions due to significant savings that can be made due to the cheaper calling rates available from VoIP providers. VoIP providers such as VFX and 2talk offer calling rates of around 5c per minute for national calls and to many international destinations. Calls between users on the same VoIP network are also typically free so there are no costs associated with calling somebody else connected to the same network, no matter where in the world they could be located.

One of the beauties of VoIP is that borders also open up – if you’re somebody in New Zealand who has friends or family in another country then you can sign up with a VoIP provider in that country, receive a local phone number and your friends or family can call you for the same price as any other local call. If you sign up with a provider such as Faktortel you can receive an Australian phone number and can also make flat rate untimed calls to anywhere in Australia for 12c – that’s per call, not per minute!

If you’re a business user then the benefits of VoIP can be even greater. If you have multiple branches or offices then users can all have extensions off the same PBX and make calls between extensions for free. You can also have phone numbers in different cities all liked back to a single PBX. These features can be done with existing analogue phones and phone lines but can’t be done as easily or as cheaply as it can with VoIP.

You could be anywhere in the world that has an internet connection and have a remote extension that works just like you’re in the office. If you have a WiFi & VoIP capable mobile phone such as many recent Nokia N and E series handsets you can connect to a WiFi hotspot in London and make and receive calls without incurring any costs other than the cost of your WiFi connection and avoid extremely costly mobile roaming costs for voice calls.

So how much will it cost me to move to VoIP?

For a home user the cost of an ATA adapter for existing phones is somewhere in the $100 - $200 range for a basic unit. It is also possible to buy ADSL modem/router units with built in ATA but these can cost significantly more depending on the brand. If you want a true VoIP phone these start at around $150. If you are plugging an ATA into an existing router/modem ensure that you enable QoS (quality of service) on your router so that voice traffic is given priority over other internet traffic. If you don’t do this or have a router that doesn’t support QoS then you risk having your audio drop out if you’re trying to access the internet from a PC at the same time as you’re making a phone call.

If you’re a business user then the move to VoIP can be dome in many different ways. You could replace all your existing phones and PBX with a VoIP PBX unit (such as a Epygi Quadro’s or PC based solution such as trixbox) but this is a significant upfront cost. A PBX option such as this will give you all the features you’d come to expect from a traditional analogue PBX such as call transfers, music on hold, DND, auto attendant etc but then offer plenty of other features such as voicemail (with the ability to have your voicemails to straight to email), realtime call analysis and reporting, click to dial from your Outlook contacts list and the ability for run PC based software so a receptionist can view the status of all users and transfer calls all with the click of a mouse.

If you’re just wishing to have a VoIP option for cheaper calling rates then an ATA can be hooked up to an existing PBX to allow routing of calls via a VoIP provider who offers cheaper calling rates than your existing provider. This is also a cheap way of giving yourself access to other markets, if you’re a business who has customers in Australia for example you could register this ATA with an Australian VoIP provider and allow your customers to ring you on an Australian number rather than them having to call New Zealand.

What are the catches?

The biggest catch when it comes to VoIP is the quality of the hardware you are using and the quality of the network and internet connections you are using. Most people in NZ receive broadband using an ADSL connection and the quality of this connection will determine how well your VoIP will work. If you’re a business customer then a higher quality connection such as a fibre optic connection from a broadband provider such as Cutylink is highly recommended. The only other downside is that your VoIP phone will not work in a power cut – if you’re running a VoIP setup at home it pays to ensure you have a UPS powering your router and ATA or VoIP phones to ensure you can still place calls while the power is out.

I hope this basic guide has been of use to you and has answered some of the questions you may have about VoIP telephony. If you have any other questions feel free to post here on the Geekzone Forums where there are plenty of people who can offer you assistance and advice.


Gravity v1.0 - Twitter finally comes to Symbian S60!

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 30-Mar-2009 21:29

If you're a Twitter user with a Nokia S60 handset you'll realise that unlike other devices such as the Blackberry and iPhone there haven't been any "cool" twitter apps. The best option has been to use a web based service.

This has now changed with the launch of Gravity. Gravity simply blows the competition away delivering an extremely nice looking UI that's feature packed and offers integrated twitpic support.

If you're a Symbian user and hooked on Twitter then Gravity is a must have!

To see more and to download Gravity check out http://mobileways.de/products/gravity/gravity/

Attn Mainstream Media - ASO will *NOT* be occuring in NZ in 2012

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Mar-2009 09:31

It seems to be a common misconception in NZ that analogue shut off (ASO) will occur in 2012. ASO is the date that analogue TV broadcasts will shut down in New Zealand, meaning you will need a Freeview box, Freeview IDTV or a TelstraClear STB or Sky STB to continue to receive TV broadcasts.

This misconception is being continually fueled by the media who continue to repeat this date, including in an interview with Steve Browning from Freeview that appeared in the Domonion Post yesterday that says

(discussing ASO)

Public policy is to achieve this by 2012, or when three-quarters of the population has digital instead of analogue TV, whichever comes first.

This is incorrect. Lets get the facts straight.

ASO will *NOT* occur in New Zealand in 2012. Analogue TV will continute to be broadcast past 2012.

To quote the Ministry of Economic Development

(b) Setting a Switch-off Date

10. Free-to-air digital television (DTV) needs to establish itself, and time is needed to assess take-up rates and the public response to DTV. An initial target date (or range) for ASO will therefore only be announced once total DTV penetration reaches around 60%. Following this, a firm date will be set once penetration reaches around 75%, or in 2012 – whichever is first.

Is it very clear that a date for ASO (analogue shutoff) will be announced in 2012 or when uptake reaches 75%. ASO will NOT occur in 2012 or when 75% of households have digital TV. 

Industry expectations are that ASO will occur when digital uptake reaches around 90%. This is expected to occur sometime around 2014 - 2016. It will certainly not be occuring in 2012.

I've blogged about this in the past and it's clear that many members of the mainstream media seem to struggle to grasp this basic fact as it seems to be continually repeated. A little bit of reading on the MED website will give you all the facts.

Trans Tasman airfare war? What airfare war?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Feb-2009 20:40

If you've been following the news over the past few days you'd be aware of some very good bargains for flights between New Zealand and Australia. Some of the advertised prices are so cheap that media have reported they have hit 20 year lows with flights getting down to $300 return including all taxes.

Instead of reporting how cheap prices are some of the media could try asking both Qantas, Air New Zealand and Pacific Blue why prices out of Wellington are significantly higher than out of both Christchurch and Auckland?
Looking at a few random dates it's typically between $120 - $150 more to fly from Wellington to either Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane than what it costs to fly from Auckland or Christchurch. This also doesn't factor in the $25 airport tax at Wellington that must be paid at the airport and is not included in the ticket price unlike Auckland or Christchurch.

We know significant additional competition exists across the Tasman flying in and out of both Auckland and Chrittchurch. Emirates have just launched their new A380's on the Tasman services and Qantas owned Jetstar have also slashed prices to compete. This has meant Air NZ, Qantas and Pacific Blue have have cut many fares significantly to compete. Here in Wellington we're stuck paying significantly more than an Air NZ  or Qantas customers out of either Auckland or Christchurch for the same routes.

Is it really fair that we're not seeing prices come down? Are Qantas, Pacific Blue and Air NZ price gouging customers flying out of Wellington? Is Wellington Airport doing enough to encourage competition?

How would your business cope if it lost it's internet?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 30-Jan-2009 13:28

The explosion of WiFi hotspots in recent years has now meant that a large number of business owners now see value in offering their customers internet access. It's now pretty common for many motels and cafe's to offer internet access and forward thinking NZ companies like Tomizone have made offering your customers a WiFi service easier than ever.

Simply buy an off the shelf router and you can start offering your customers a compelling reason to visit your business over another business that doesn't offer internet access. Give the internet away or charge for it - the choice is yours.

Section 92A of the Copyright Act comes into effect next month and will force ISP's to disconnect your internet connection if multiple complaints are received regarding the downloading of copyrighted material from your connection. This means that if you're a small business you could find yourself without an internet connection through no fault of your own if your customers download copyrighted material using your internet connection.

If you're a business offering an interneret connection what are your plans to minimise the risk of this occuring? Can you afford to have your internet disconnected? What effect would that have on your business? Are you likey to remove internet access (which could potentially lose you customers) simply to remove the risk of having your internet disconnected?

If you're a rental car company and somebody breaks the law and speeds in your car then you can pass that ticket onto the renter. Section 92A is the equivilent of having that car seized permanetely by the police with no compensation for you. How is that fair?

Have you really thought about this at all? If not you have a month to think about it!

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