Hey Coliseum Sport. Where’s your MHEG5 app?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Aug-2013 08:15

If you’re a sports fan in New Zealand you’ll be aware of the acquisition of the New Zealand broadcast rights to the English Premier League by Coliseum Sport, a new start-up who’s goal is to break the stranglehold of existing broadcast TV by streaming games over the internet.

Unfortunately for Coliseum they’re already set themselves up to fail. Not because of their model, but the poor technological solutions that they’ve chosen to deliver their content. Delivery of video content over the internet is the future of media, and with the rollout of fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes by 2019 as part of the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout, New Zealand homes will have the capability and bandwidth to enable broadcasters to bypass existing terrestrial and satellite delivery platforms – that’s not to say New Zealand doesn’t already have world class broadband, because we do - over 80% of premises are capable of receiving a internet connection of at least 10Mbps, and around 50% of those premises are capable of receiving VDSL2 which can deliver between 30Mbps and 70Mbps depending on your distance from your local exchange or roadside cabinet. What UFB does differently is enable guaranteed bandwidth to premises, and more importantly enables multicast delivery of content over the UFB network, something that is essential to deliver high bandwidth content to multiple premises. Delivering content over the internet is the way of the future, particularly as people move to replace viewing live content with watching On Demand content when and where it suits them.

Coliseum Sport’s failing isn’t the decision to deliver content over the internet – it’s the options that exist to view their streamed content. No matter how many internet enabled devices people may have in their home, the big screen TV is still the entertainment hub of the home. While tablets may be convenient for watching content in bed, nothing can match the experience of watching high definition content on a big screen TV. Logic would dictate that anybody looking at  replacing the existing broadcast model would focus on replicating the experience, but it seems it’s the aspect Coliseum have chosen to ignore. Right now your only option for watching Coliseum Sport content is to use a PC as their content uses Adobe Flash for it’s streaming – although there are are Android and iOS apps in development to allow viewing content on these devices. If you want to watch content on your big screen TV your only option is to hook a PC up to your TV, something that’s not difficult if you own a laptop, but it’s still a very cumbersome task that simply shouldn’t be required. If you don’t own a laptop that you can move to near your TV it’s probably not even an option.

Coliseum’s have completely overlooked the fact that every home in the country that has a TV with Integrated Freeview|HD (known as an IDTV – Integrated Digital TV) or a MyFreeview|HD recorder already has the technology built in to solve their problem. Pretty much every IDTV sold these days is required to have internet connectivity to comply with Freeview specifications. While many so called smart TVs already have their own applications such as YouTube for viewing content from the internet, building applications for multiple brands of TVs is expensive and time consuming, and that’s where MHEG5 steps in to save the day.

MHEG5 is an open standards Application Programme Interface (API) that is mandatory on every Freeview|HD IDTV or Freeview Set Top Box (STB) sold in New Zealand. MHEG5 allows interactive applications to be run on the TV or STB, an example of which is the Freeview Electronic Program Guide (EPG). The EPG application is device agnostic, meaning it will run on every MHEG5 capable device and deliver the same consistent user experience across every device that it’s run on. One of the coolest features of MHEG5 is the interactive channel extensions and ICStreaming extensions – two extensions that allow interactive content on your TV using content that is sourced via the internet.  Support for this is required on every Freeview|HD IDTV and MyFreeview|HD recorder now sold, and it means your TV can access streaming content delivered over a broadband connection without the end user having to install any software or change any settings - all that’s required is for the TV to be correctly connected to an Internet connection. Support for ICStreaming is not required on every standard Freeview STB, however some do support this capability.

MHEG5 ICStreaming is already used in countries such as the UK to deliver BBC iPlayer content to end users, and has also been chosen by Quickflix who will be launching a MHEG5 based service into the New Zealand market before the end of 2013. This will make viewing Quickflix content on your TV as simple as watching regular broadcast channels, and means Quickflix don’t have to develop applications for the different brands of smart TVs on the market.

The capabilities of MHEG5 are exceptionally powerful, and there is nothing to stop other broadcasters or ISPs from building their own MHEG5 applications and delivering content over the internet. What’s surprising so far is the lack of interest from existing players such as TVNZ and Media Works who both currently offer On Demand services, but make viewing that content on a TV far more difficult than it needs to be. The key is making content easy to access, and both of these players, along with Coliseum Sport, don’t yet seem to have grasped this simple concept.



Why Sky TV’s days of market dominance are numbered

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 17-Jul-2013 21:57

There has been a lot of talk in the last year about Sky TV’s dominance of the Pay TV market, with many people concerned about their businesses practices around exclusivity of content and pricing. Whether or not you agree on Sky being evil, they’re ultimately the main source of entertainment for many NZ homes, and many people can’t wait for the day they face some competition and have a choice of Pay TV providers.

What if I told you that Sky’s competition already existed? That’s right. With the purchase of TelstraClear, Vodafone is sitting in a prime spot, ready to engage in a war with Sky TV if they so desire.

TelstraClear was formed with the merger of Telstra New Zealand and Saturn Communications. Saturn Communications started it’s life as Kiwi Cable and deployed a cable TV network on the Kapiti Coast before expanding into Wellington, and later Christchurch. Expansion into Auckland was stopped by politics – in particular the NZ Herald who did an an amazing job ensuring that TelstraClear were not allowed to deploy their network in Auckland. This ensured that Aucklanders were subjected to the early 2000’s monopolistic practices of Telecom rather than being given freedom of choice when it came to fixed line phone and internet providers.

On the Kapiti Coast, Wellington and in Christchurch, Saturn Communications deployed what is known as a hybrid fibre co-axial network, or HFC for short. This network also has a traditional copper network for phone services that was rolled out alongside the HFC network. The network has a fibre to the node (FTTN) architecture consisting of both fibre optic and coaxial cables, with fibre carrying data to node (the roadside cabinet) where it’s converted to a radio frequency (RF) signal and then carried over the coaxial cable to your home. Each cabinet will typically cover several hundred homes.

Inside your home the co-axial cable is connected to your set top box (STB) which uses the Digital Video Broadcasting over Cable (DVB-C) standard. This is very similar to the DVB broadcasting standards used for terrestrial (DVB-T) and satellite (DVB-S) broadcasts used by Freeview and Sky. In it’s early days Saturn Communications sourced much of it’s content independently, but lacking a sport offering meant it made sense to partner with Sky, ultimately resulting in TelstraClear essentially just reselling Sky TV over it’s network.

Now that you’ve grasped the basics I’ll now explain why Vodafone’s acquisition of TelstraClear was a smart move. Not only did it give them a fixed line network and a nationwide fibre network, it also gave them New Zealand’s most advanced internet protocol (IP) playout system for TV. Every customer watching TV via their Vodafone STB is actually watching content that started it’s life in the Vodafone network as an IPTV stream, however rather than being IP all the way to your home, it’s converted to RF to be carried over the co-axial cable. Since the signal is digital all the way, no loss of quality occurs along the broadcast path. What is important however is that every channel they offer already exists in an IPTV format within their network, meaning it can easily be delivered over any IP delivery network anywhere within New Zealand.

Those of you with a T-Box will have spotted the Ethernet port on the back that is currently only used for electronic program guide (EPG) updates. This Ethernet port is also cable of being the source of all content, with IPTV content either live or on demand streamed directly to your T-box with no requirement for the HFC network.

It doesn’t take a smart network engineer to realise that broadcasting high definition content over the internet currently is an exceptionally inefficient use of bandwidth and that both terrestrial and satellite do a far better job of this. In the xDSL world where speeds are limited by your distance from an exchange or roadside cabinet and your internal home phone wiring, delivering IPTV content is something fraught with potential issues. Just on 84% of NZ premises have access to broadband speeds of 10Mbps or greater, with around 50% of those having access to VDSL2 which will deliver average speeds of around 35Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream. When you consider that a single 1080i Full HD broadcast TV channel broadcast over terrestrial or satellite uses up to 10Mbps, you can already see the issues that are faced. Those issues are solved by the current rollout in New Zealand of ultra fast broadband (UFB), with the construction of a fibre optic network to 75% of New Zealand homes and businesses already underway and due for completion by 2019. With fibre speed no longer becomes an issue, and a home could easily have several STB’s streaming 1080i HD content with no need to worry about it significantly impacting their internet experience.

As the UFB network rolls out Vodafone are in the prime position to take advantage of the IPTV revolution. While the T-box may have had a chequered past with numerous software issues, it’s now a relatively stable product. More importantly however, the IP based playout system that Vodafone now own gives them a massive head start over anybody else contemplating such a product. Building such a system isn’t cheap.

Now that I’ve given you a technical rundown of delivering IPTV, you’re probably going to ask where the content is. This is the question everybody is asking, but the answer is quite simple. It’s already there. Vodafone already have an existing resell agreement with Sky that allows them to rebroadcast Sky content, along with sourcing several additional channels not carried by Sky. What needs to be remembered is that much of this content is not exclusive to Sky, and anybody who wants to rebroadcast many of the channels carried by Sky is free to do so providing they’ve got the money to pay the content owner. There is realistically very little in the way of Vodafone deciding to go it alone and acquire rights to somewhere in the vicinity 80% of the content that Sky offer – with one notable exception – sport. This very much puts the ball in Sky’s court (literally). Sport is very expensive to produce and it’s not clear if Sky actually break even on revenue from their sports channels or whether they are cross subsidised. If Vodafone went it alone without a sports channel they’re only going to have limited success in the market, but the effect on Sky could be significant. Would Sky then do the smart thing and resell sport to Vodafone? Or would they simply hope that sport is a big enough selling point to ensure differentiation in the marketplace? My money is on the former. I’d also put money on Vodafone allowing their IPTV service to in effect be bundled by other internet providers, ultimately putting them head to head with Sky, and hopefully delivering us a future with a much greater choice of content, both live and on-demand.

UFB’s going to mean an exciting future in the NZ marketplace…



NZ. The home of world class broadband.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-May-2013 08:07

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of New Zealanders think that broadband service in NZ is crap. Despite what they may think, we’ve actually got some of the best broadband connectivity in the world, and the harsh reality is that many of those with a poor service are probably suffering because they’re a) too tight to actually pay decent money for a decent service or b) completely oblivious to issues such as their home wiring impacting their broadband performance. Many people who fall into b) fall into a) once told of their problem – they expect somebody else to fix their problem, and don’t expect to pay for it either, despite wiring within the premises being owned by the property owner.

With the completion by Telecom of their Fibre to the Node (FTTN) cabinetisation project in 2011 over 3500 new fibre fed roadside cabinets were constructed across New Zealand. As the speed of xDSL based technologies decreases the further you are away from an exchange or cabinet, the installation of these roadside cabinets has meant that average attainable xDSL sync speeds have increased significantly. Over over 80% of premises in New Zealand have access to xDSL broadband with a minimum sync speed of 10Mbps using ADSL2+, a technology that is capable of delivering downstream speeds of up to approximately 18Mbps and upstream speeds of approximately 1Mbps. Over 40% of those premises also have access to VDSL2 which can deliver speeds of up to 70Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream if  you’re within 300m metres of an exchange or cabinet, and speeds of between 30Mbps and 50Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream if you’re within approximately 900m from a cabinet or exchange. Due to the higher frequency range used by VDSL2 performance will degrade very quickly past 1km.

There are very few countries in the world that have such an advanced network that is capable of delivering speeds this high to such a large percentage of premises. xDSL broadband speeds in Australia for example pale in comparison, and despite Australia now being part way through a Fibre to the Home (FTTH) rollout as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN) it’s likely that a change of Government in September will result in the FTTH project being scaled back and replaced with a cheaper FTTN network using the existing copper for the last mile. If this happens by 2017 Australia could have a network replicating what New Zealand has had since 2011 – VDSL2 to those premises close to an exchange or cabinet, and ADSL2+ to those further away. In the UK BT’s Infinity project rollout is deploying in a large number of new fibre fed cabinets to deliver VDSL2 and ADSL2+ as a last mile technology. The facts don’t lie – New Zealand is literally years ahead of most of the world.

Not content with FTTN and copper for the last mile, New Zealand is currently progressing along the path of building a FTTH network to deliver fibre to 75% of New Zealand premises by 2019. Once again what NZ is doing is world class – based upon current planning very few countries anywhere in the world would have fibre to 50% of their premises by 2019, let along the 75% that New Zealand is aiming for. In those areas that aren’t receiving fibre, rural FTTN cabinets are being built and wholesale fixed wireless services being being deployed by Vodafone as part of the Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI).

Now that I’ve explained this all to you there are probably people out there wondering what sort of kool aid I’ve been drinking. The answer to this is that I haven’t.

Many people are receiving a substandard internet service, but the reasons for doing this aren’t because of the technology used to deliver the service,in many cases it’s because of their choice of ISP, and more importantly, their home phone wiring.

All ISP’s aren’t created equal. There are many factors that will heavily influence end user performance such as domestic and international transit (ie the amount of upstream bandwidth your ISP has purchased), backhaul inside NZ (the capacity your ISP has purchased  to carry data between the Chorus network and their own), the location and performance of DNS servers (closer is always better), whether your ISP is caching data, and whether they may have their own content delivery network (CDN) node to deliver bandwidth intensive traffic from within their network, rather than from somewhere else in the world. Like a fine bottle of wine price ultimately becomes a deciding factor as building and running a network doesn’t come cheaply. In the real world a $10 bottle of cheap bubbly wine isn’t going to taste as a good as a $200 bottle of Vintage Champagne, but many consumers are oblivious to that. Many people in this country seem to want the expensive quality Champagne, but aren’t willing to pay more than $10 for it.

If you're receiving your internet via  xDSL based technology your internal wiring within your home is the single biggest factor that will affect your internet speeds and performance. Over $1.5 billion was spent building roadside cabinets to deliver faster speeds, yet despite over 80% of premises being capable of receiving speeds of at least 10Mbps, the true number is below this. Why? Because the legacy phone wiring in many premises is simply incapable of delivering the performance required to deliver these speeds. The simple reality is that if you don’t have a master filter installed, or don’t have your xDSL connection terminated to a single dedicated jack point within your premises you’re probably receiving a degraded service. Rather than sounding like a stuck record I suggest you read my recent blog post here which talks in detail about this issue.

Last week the industry received a very significant announcement from Chorus announcing price reductions to the VDSL2 service that has now been available for a couple of years. With VDSL2 offering upload speeds that are 10x faster than ADSL2+, and download speeds that are up to 4x faster, the low uptake of VDSL2 (currently only 3000 people in NZ are using this service) really has been surprising. Unlike ADSL2+ which is a fully regulated offering with wholesale pricing set by the Commerce Commission, VDSL2 is a commercial service which maintained a $20 price premium over ADSL2+ to position it as a premium offering. While many larger ISP’s don’t currently retail VDSL2 as a product there are currently well over 20 ISP’s and resellers offering VDSL2 services and once again it seems that many people are either oblivious to the product offering, or merely not interested in receiving a faster service. Hopefully this price reduction will see VDSL2 uptake increase significantly – but remember that your wiring needs to be up to spec to support VDSL2, with a master filter or dedicated xDSL jack point being mandatory.

The ball really is in the consumers court… It’s just up to them to do something with it.



Viewing the content of your New Zealand ePassport

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 10-May-2013 08:13

If you’ve had a New Zealand passport issued since November 2005 you would have spotted the Near Field Communication (NFC) page in your passport. This solid page contains a NFC chip which duplicates the data printed in your passport electronically, and also contains a digital copy of your photo along with the biometric data relating to this photo.

An ePassport is now mandatory for visiting a number of countries, and if you’ve been to Australia in the past couple of years chances are you’ve used a Smartgate machine at the airport rather than having to be processed manually by Customs. The Smartgate kiosk reads the biometric data from your passport  and when your photo is taken it is compared to the biometric data in your passport to establish a positive match.

If you have a modern Android phone with NFC capabilities you can easily view the contents of this NFC chip.

Download the  NFC Tag Info app from the Play store to your Android phone, and once installed click on the app to run it. If you now try and read your passport you’ll see an error come up saying “Basic Access Control is active”. BAC is an security layer protecting your passport from being accessed without an encryption key, essentially preventing your ePassport from being read by somebody who doesn’t have physical access to the passport. The BAC encryption key is generated using your passport number, date of birth, and passport expiry date – data that is only printed inside your passport.

If you now go back to the main menu you’ll see an option to “setup access keys”. enter your passport number, date of birth and passport expiry date and press save. This will generate the encryption key required to read your passport.

epassport 2 

If you now put your phone next to your passport the app will be able to read the NFC chip and you should see your passport details and photo appear on the screen.

epassport 1 modified

A number of other details can be viewed, including the biometric data for your photo and the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) data which is the machine readable text that appears at the bottom of  your passport photo page.

To change electronic details of a passport additional layers of encryption exist also – you can’t change your details simply by having the BAC encryption key as this allows read only access.

If you’re interested in knowing more here are a few links you might want to check out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biometric_passport

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_access_control

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_Access_Control

http://www.frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Research/Operational_and_Technical_Security_of_Electronic_Pasports.pdf



Mobile data roaming – Why it’s not as unaffordable as you may think.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-Apr-2013 17:56

The last year has seen some big changes occur in the mobile market, with roaming in particular seeing very significant price decreases. Voice calls while roaming are still a massive rip off  (see my blog post here on pricing in 2012 being more expensive than 1998) but data has now dropped to a level where it’s affordable enough to use while roaming. Sure it isn’t as as cheap as data while in NZ, but it is a significant change to a year ago where the first thing anybody did when they travelled overseas was to ensure data was disabled to ensure the cost of casually using data on your phone didn’t exceed that of your airfares! Historically mobile data cost in the vicinity of $10 – $30 per MB depending on your destination, in many cases prices have now dropped to a mere fraction of that.

This post intentionally doesn’t make any mention of purchasing a SIM in the country you are travelling to. This is something that people may also wish to investigate as it may offer significant pricing reductions over roaming.

Lets look what each of the major players in the NZ market has on offer -

Telecom:

Telecom announced a game changer in December with the announcement of flat rate daily data roaming to Australia, the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Saudi Arabia. Roaming in Australia costs $6 per day for “unlimited” data, and $10 per day for the other countries listed above. A fair use policy applies to the “unlimited” offering and the $6 pricing for Australia is a promotion that expires on the 30th June 2013. For all other destinations you’ll pay $2.50 per MB for data in Asia, Europe and South Africa, and $5 per MB for data in every other country where data roaming is supported.

All of the pricing above only applies to On Account users, if you’re a Prepay user you’ll pay between $1 per MB for data in Australia, $2.50 per MB in the UK, USA, Canada, China, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, $5 per MB in Europe and South Africa and $8 per MB for data in every other country where data roaming is supported.

2 degrees:

2degrees offer pricing that is fairly standardised between both On Account and Prepay users. Pricing in all countries that support data varies between 50c per MB and $30 per MB of data. If you’re vising Australia pricing is 50c per MB for high value customers (those on plans greater than $59 per month) and 95c per MB for all other On Account and Prepay users. Pricing to other common destinations such as the UK and USA is $2.50 per MB.

2degrees also offer monthly international data packs that can be used in Australia, the UK and USA that offer 10MB for $20, 50MB for $75 and 100MB for $100. These are available to both On Account and Prepay users and can be used across multiple countries over the course of the month. If you use your pack within a month, another pack can be purchased.

Vodafone:

Vodafone have made major changes to their data roaming in recent months with Data Angel. Rather than offering any casual data rates, data roaming is only available with the purchase of a monthly data pack. This can be done by logging into your account before you travel, or on arrival in a foreign country you can use your web browser and will be redirected to a captive portal account page that allows you to purchase a pack. Countries of the world are split into 3 zones, with the pack being able to be used within any country in that zone within the month.

Zone 1 covers Australia and offers 100MB for $15, 250MB for $30 and 500MB for $50.

Zone 2 covers North America, most of South America, most of Western Europe, most of Asia and South Africa offering 40MB for $15, 100MB for $30 and 200MB for $50

Zone 3 covers every other country not in Zone 1 and Zone 2 and offers 5MB for $30, 10MB for $50 and 25MB for $100

As no casual data rates are available Vodafone customers roaming are no longer faced with the risk of bill shock while roaming – you can only use the data after you have purchased a pack. If you use your pack within a month, another pack can be purchased.

 

Summary:

So who’s the best network to roam on? That’s a tough question to answer and there isn’t a simple answer.

If you’re heading away for a short trip to Australia, the UK or US and want to make heavy use of data you can’t beat Telecom’s $6 / $10 per day offering. This really is amazing value and beats the prices you’ll typically pay at hotels in these countries for WiFi. If you’re heading away for a few weeks you may find the value proposition isn’t so great, and may find the Vodafone and 2degrees options are better value than Telecom – sure $10 per day is great if you’re a heavy user, but if you’re only using a small amount of data on your phone you could find that paying $210 for 21 days is excessive and a 200MB pack from Vodafone for $50 is all that is needed. It’s a shame Telecom don’t offer anything in the way of monthly pricing as both Vodafone and 2degrees have a significant advantage over them in this respect.

Vodafone have a very compelling roaming product these days, and the ability to buy a data pack that covers all of Europe is fantastic for anybody travelling around multiple countries within Europe, something many people do. If you were planning a trip for a month to the UK and Europe with a stopover in the US on the way over and Asia on the way back you could spend $50 to get 200MB of mobile data, easily enough for casual use of email, social media, browsing and mapping use for the entire month. While they don’t offer any daily capped plans the ability to use a single data pack across a large number of countries is something neither Telecom or 2degrees offer, and it’s something that many people travelling away from NZ may find is great.

2degrees sit pretty much in the middle. Their monthly plans don’t offer the same value as Vodafone, and they don’t have a daily flat rate offering like Telecom, but considering the UK, USA and Australia are the most common destinations that people travel to they have these covered with a reasonably priced offering. Outside these countries however 2degrees pricing is expensive, with a number of countries costing $30 per MB of data – you will pay significantly less than this on both Telecom and Vodafone.

At the end of the day the offerings from each network differs slightly, if you’re travelling overseas and want to make use of your mobile it would certainly pay to look at the offerings from each network before you go. With people so attached to their phones these days the benefits of being able to use data while roaming are significant, and you could see some significant savings by moving network or simply signing up for a no term contract solely for the purpose of roaming.



Is your premises phone wiring impacting your broadband performance?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Mar-2013 20:50

The vast majority of broadband users in New Zealand receive their broadband connection via copper cable owned by Chorus using ADSL, ADSL2+ or VDSL2 technology.  By far the most common technology in use is ADSL2+ which delivers speeds of up to approximately 20Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. Uptake of VDSL2 is growing and this technology is currently capable of delivering speeds of up to 70Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream, averaging around 40Mbps down and 10Mbps up. Between 2008 and 2011 over $1 billion was spent by Telecom rolling out a Fibre To The Node (FTTN) network which consisted of over 3500 new roadside cabinets across the country, all connected by fibre optic cable. Because the speeds of all copper based technologies are limited by distance, bringing fibre fed cabinets with equipment to deliver internet closer to people’s homes meant approximately 85% of premises in New Zealand are capable of receiving an internet connection of at least 10Mbps using ADSL2+, and around 40% capable of receiving VDSL2.

(For the rest of this post I will use the term xDSL to refer to DSL technology as a whole, this includes ADSL, ADSL2+, VDSL, VDSL2 and SHDSL)

What is clear however is that the actual number of people who are receiving a 10Mbps connection is significantly below this figure. The reason for this happening is also pretty clear – apart from distance, xDSL performance is dependant on the quality of the copper cable that’s delivering the services. Statistically speaking poor quality phone wiring within the home or office is the single biggest contributing cause when it comes to poor internet speeds or performance. It’s also very clear that the vast majority of people are totally unaware that their home or office wiring is impacting their internet performance.

Before I start to explain how wiring affects your speed it’s important you understand some basics of how how xDSL broadband works.

In the old days the copper cable to your home (known technically as a MPF – Metallic Path Facility) only delivered phone services and used the frequency range from 300Hz up to 4kHz to deliver voice. In the 80’s ADSL was born, allowing both a phone and data connection to share the same copper line by using a frequency range above that used by voice for the data transmission.. ADSL, ADSL2+ and VDSL2 standards all allow broadband to co-exist with voice. The following image (courtesy of Wikipedia) displays a standard ADSL band plan.

File:ADSL frequency plan.svg

As you can see regular ADSL uses the section of spectrum from 25kHz up to 1.1MHz. Newer xDSL standards use even higher frequency ranges to increase speeds, ADSL2+ improves upon ADSL by using up to 2.2MHz, and VDSL2 goes even higher with profiles using up to 8Mhz, 12Mhz, 17Mhz and  30MHz. The 30MHz profile is able to deliver a data rate of up to 200Mbps over several hundred metres.

xDSL divides the available spectrum up into small sections known as carriers, tones or bins (all three mean the same thing and are simply different terminology). ADSL, ADSL2+ and VDSL2 (8MHz, 12MHz and 17MHz profiles) use a carrier width of 4.3125 KHz. Standard ADSL divides the available spectrum into 256 carriers, and ADSL2+ offers greater speeds by using 512 carriers as it doubles the available spectrum. VDSL2 uses anywhere from 2048 up to 4096 carriers depending on the profile type. As the frequency range increases however, limitations of copper cabling start to take effect. While standard ADSL can easily work over 4km or greater, VDSL2 using a 30a profile will only work up to around 300m as the higher frequency ranges are unable to travel as far over copper cable. In many ways this mirrors the radio world where an AM radio station transmitting on 1000kHz will travel a lot further than a FM station transmitting on 100MHz.

While both a phone call and your xDSL can be carried over the copper cable to your premises, to enable the simultaneous use of xDSL and phone at the same time a low pass filter is required to be used to split the signals so that they don’t interfere with each other. This low pass filter is commonly referred to as a line filter or splitter and is pictured below.

plug in dsl filter

Most people will have a  plug in filter on every device in their home that uses the phone line. Without a filter you will be able to hear the xDSL tones if you lift up the phone handset (assuming you’re not tone deaf!), and will typically see xDSL disconnections or high xDSL error rates if you try and use the phone while your modem is connected without filters.

So you’ve got your filters all plugged in and your internet is connected. You probably think everything is sweet.

Wrong.

While a plug in filter splits the voice and xDSL signals, it doesn’t do anything to eliminate other issues that exist in your home wiring that will have an impact on your xDSL connection. If you have a home alarm it will typically be configured as a “line grabber”, which means your incoming phone wiring will run through the alarm before it connects to the phone jacks in your home. This configuration allows the alarm to isolate the line with a relay before it dials out to a security company, meaning that even if you leave a phone off the hook in your home your alarm will still work. Because of this your xDSL connection will drop every time your alarm dials out. Many medical alarms are also wired in a similar fashion, once again to ensure that a phone off the hook doesn’t prevent the alarm from being able to call out. Alarms can also increase line attenuation and line resistance, which is the next thing you’ll learn about.

So.. Attenuation. What is it?

Copper cable has characteristics which are well known, one of these is attenuation. Simply speaking, the longer a piece of cable, the greater the signal loss will be – a figure known as attenuation. Attenuation is one of the reasons why the speed of xDSL technology decreases the further you are away from a roadside cabinet or exchange. A lower figure is better, so if you’re located right next to a roadside cabinet or exchange your line attenuation may be around 2 – 3dBm, if you’re located 2km away your line attenuation will typically be around 25dB – 30dB.

To confuse matter more, your distance from a roadside cabinet or exchange isn’t the only thing that can cause high attenuation figures. Joints in a cable can also increase attenuation, with the extent of this increase depending entirely on how well the cable is joined. The typical New Zealand home has it’s phone wiring connected in series, this means that your jack  points are all looped together, as the image below demonstrates.

 

no master filter

 

Phone wiring in series was recommended practice until the late 90’s when xDSL services started to make an appearance. Telecom started advising in 1998 that phone wiring in series should be avoided, and the current TCF home premises wiring regulations also advise against this. It is still common practice however for many incompetent electricians and data installers around the country to follow this method, and there are still new homes being built where home owners will suffer from a degraded broadband experience, purely because installers can’t be bothered in following industry guidelines that have now been in place for over 14 years. All premises wiring should consist of a structured solution where all jack points connect back to a single location. The TCF website  contains plenty of information regarding this.

So what’s wrong with series wiring?

Each jack point can increase the attenuation on your line by a small amount, and also introduces multiple locations where corrosion can occur, something that’s exceptionally common in damp New Zealand homes. Corrosion in a jack point can cause significant degradation of xDSL. Another common issue is the mixing of newer 2 wire and older master and secondary BT jack points. Until the mid 90’s many older style phones in New Zealand required a master jack point with capacitor to generate a ringing signal carried on a 3rd wire within the premises. The master jack point was fitted where the phone cable entered the premises, and secondary jack points were fitted elsewhere on the premises. These were signified with a M or S in the lower corner of the jack point face plate. These jack points were replaced in the mid 90’s with a single style known as a 2 wire jack  point (as only 2 wires are required to be used within the premises). Mixing older M or S jack points and 2 wire jack points will impact xDSL performance.

Last, but not least, an issue known as a bridged tap (also referred to as a line stub by some people) is a major issue in the xDSL world. A bridged tap is created when wiring is split and occurs if you have multiple jack points installed., regardless if they’re in use or not. If you’ve got 5 jack points on your premises for example any xDSL signals travelling along the copper cable to your home are transmitted not just to the jack point that has your modem connected, but to the other 4 as well. These signals then reflect back from these other jack points and cause  interference to the xDSL signal, ultimately degrading the performance of your broadband connection. Higher frequencies are affected to a far greater degree by a bridged tap, so they’re not so noticeable if you’re using ADSL but can have a large impact on ADSL2+ and VDSL2. Bridged taps can also exist in Chorus wiring external to your home where wiring may be looped down your street, but the instances of this are now very low.

So now that I’ve told you everything that’s wrong with your connection, I’ll tell you how to fix it. The solution is simple – it’s called a master filter.

XDSL-MASTER-large

A master filter does exactly the same job as a plug in filter – it’s a low pass filter that splits voice and xDSL signals. What it does differently is eliminating all of the internal wiring issues discussed above, essentially isolating your xDSL from your home wiring. A master filter is installed at the point where your phone cabling enters your premises, with the xDSL output of the master filter connected to a dedicated xDSL only jack point somewhere on your premises. The voice output of the master filter is then connected to your existing phone wiring. You’ll still be able to use your phones anywhere on the premises, but will only be able to plug in your xDSL modem to the dedicated xDSL jack point.

master filter

Because the master filter isolates the premises wiring issues from the xDSL signal it means all of the issues I’ve discussed above can no longer impact your broadband performance.

It’s a common myth that having a naked xDSL connection (a xDSL connection without a phone) removes the need to use any filters. This is incorrect. While plug in filters are not needed as there is no need to split voice and xDSL signals, a naked xDSL service will still continue to be impacted by premises wiring issues that can only be eliminated by the installation of a master filter or disconnecting all other internal wiring so that only a single jack point remains connected for the xDSL modem.

So how much faster will my broadband be with a master filter? That’s a tough question to answer, because the results are going to depend entirely on the condition of your existing wiring. It’s very rare for a master filter to not increase broadband speeds by a minimum of 5 to 10%. It’s entirely realistic in circumstances where wiring is very poor to see speed double, or even triple. While certainly not the norm, I’ve installed master filters that have resulted in speeds going from under 5Mbps to in excess of 15Mbps. Based upon the vast number of threads on Geekzone where internal wiring is discussed and on statistics gathered from a recent project undertaken by a major ISP looking at the internal wiring issue, it’s safe to pick a modest median speed increase in the vicinity of 20% to 50%.

Most people would have never heard of a master filter, but they’re actually nothing new. When ADSL was first deployed by Telecom in the late 90’s a master filter was a mandatory requirement for an installation. To transform ADSL into a mass market product this requirement were lifted in favour of plug in filters. In many ways this made sense from a marketing view – the cost of a technician having to visit before broadband could be connected was something that would have seriously impacted take up of broadband services. This practice has still continued today and most new connections are DIY modem installs within the home.

All ISP’s as part of the sign up process for broadband can request that Chorus visit the premises and install either a master filter or install a new connection to a new jack point solely for the xDSL modem. In the vast majority of cases this doesn’t happen, primarily because the average home or business owner is going to baulk at the cost of doing this, which ranges from $199 right up to $400 depending on the work required and the connection type. This cost is too high for ISP’s to absorb on the average low margin residential broadband plan, and the average homeowner sees it as an unnecessary cost, in part because they have no idea what it’s actually achieving.

With VDSL2 services the installation of a master filter or dedicated jack point isn’t just a nice to have, it is essential. The greater frequency ranges used by VDSL2 (8Mhz for a standard 8b profile or 17MHz for a 17a profile) result in significant degradation of performance even with minor wiring issues. ISP Snap! made the decision to deploy VDSL2 as a mass market offering with no requirement for this, and anecdotal evidence shows that many users are receiving connection speeds well below what they should be receiving. A downside of this is that users with poor connections are also theoretically able to impact on the performance of other xDSL users. VDSL2 uses UBPO (upstream back-off power) to regulate the modem power output to minimise cross talk. Cross talk is essentially interference that occurs within a multi pair MPF (which can easily be several hundred lines connecting your premises back to the exchange or cabinet) where one cable pair causes interference to other nearby cable pairs. A poor VDSL2 connection results in the modem increasing it’s transmit power to attempt to compensate, which can cause cross talk, and ultimately affect other xDSL connections in the same multi pair MPF closer to the cabinet or exchange.

While I’ve explained how a master filter makes a difference I also want to show some technical data showing the differences between good and poor connections. All ISP’s have access to a tool known as SPM within the Chorus system that displays a myriad of graphs and statistics that are helpful in diagnosing xDSL connection issues. 

The image below shows a SNR capture of a good VDSL2 connection running on a standard 8b 8MHz profile off a Chorus ISAM several hundred metres from the cabinet. This line is synced at around 45Mbps downstream and 10Mbps upstream. You can see the performance of the individual carriers across the bottom of the table, referred to as tones in the following images.

vdsl2 snr

Now lets show a SNR graph of a poor quality VDSL2 connection, also off a Chorus ISAM, but being subjected to significant degradation due to wiring issues. You can see the SNR levels across the entire frequency range are lower due to the distance, and between tones 1100 and 1200 there is a large gap that is rendering this section of spectrum unusable, hence the poor upstream performance. The 2nd downstream block also has very low SNR, which ultimately means  a limited ability to carry data, which limits overall downstream performance.

vdsl2 snr poor

I’ll compare these two connections further with bit loading graphs of both connections. First off the picture below shows the 45Mbps / 10Mbps VDSL2 connection. As you can see there is good performance across the board.

vdsl2 bitloading

 

And below the 20Mbps / 5Mbps connection. You can very clearly see the gap in the upstream band, and also the very poor performance in the 2nd downstream band.

vdsl2 bitloading poor

 

I’ll now show an example of a before and after bit loading and SNR graphs where a master filter has been installed on an existing ADSL2+ connections to improve the performance. This connection is located approximately 2km from an exchange and had an ADSL2+ sync rate of 696kbps upstream and 5360kbps downstream prior to a master filter being installed.

graph

 

graph_012

 

As you can see from these images the connection is very poor, with the section of spectrum from tones 350 upward being unusable which is significantly impacting downstream performance.

What follows below are results from this same line after the installation of a master filter. The result was an increase of the ADSL sync speeds to 989kbps upstream and 10444kbps downstream. This has meant the customer’s downstream speed has close to doubled, and their upstream speed has increased by nearly 50%.

 

graph

 

graph_011

Now that I’ve explained the impact of internal wiring, how can you tell if it’s  impacting your connection? Chorus have a brilliant web based tool that will show ADSL, ADSL2+ and VDSL2 availability to any address in New Zealand. It also shows those areas that are within a 10Mbps zone – in effect around 85% of the premises in the country.

www.chorus.co.nz/sat

If you’re in a 10Mbps zone you will typically have a modem sync speed of at least 10Mbps. Testing to sites such as speedtest.net isn’t a smart way of diagnosing your connection, the best approach is to log into your modem and view the connection statistics. These are easily viewable within most modems and will look something like the following

image

So how do I go about getting a master filter installed?

Your ISP can arrange a master filter installation which will be performed by Chorus at a fixed cost of approximately $199. Installation can also be performed by anybody competent with installing phone wiring, with the cost varying depending on the complexity of your home wiring.

My personal view is that every home in New Zealand that has a xDSL connection should have a master filter fitted. As harsh as it sounds, If I ran Chorus I would also refuse to investigate any speed or connection related issues that end users lodge with their ISP until the end user committed to the installation of a master filter. The simple reality is that premises with multiple jack points and a xDSL connection that doesn’t have a master filter has degraded performance – while this degradation could only be minor, it could also be very significant. The issues caused by series wiring are well known, and these issues need to be eliminated to ensure the best possible connection.



Are Vodafone NZ holding NZ's best kept secret?

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 29-Jan-2013 14:19

If you've upgraded your iPhone5 to iOS 6.1 this morning you'll now see a new setting in the network settings screen:



iOS devices need to have the carrier pack configured to allow LTE on supported networks before LTE can be used. This option will only show in phones that have had the carrier pack set to allow LTE. Vodafone New Zealand isn't listed as an official LTE carrier on the Apple website but it would be safe to assume that Apple aren't going to ruin things for Vodafone and announce something before Vodafone themselves do.

So what secret are Vodafone holding from us?

It's no secret they've just upgraded over 400 cellsites around the Auckland region over the weekend to deliver 900 MHz Dual Carrier 3G services across the Auckland region (I wrote about this here on Friday). Vodafone also have plenty of 1800MHz spectrum to deploy a LTE network on.

Does this hardware support a technology they haven't yet told us about? You decide...








Vodafone's Auckland mobile network upgrade

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 25-Jan-2013 21:29

Vodafone announced at the start of December they were upgrading 400 cellsites in the Auckland region, and have been updating this on a weekly basis on their website.

These upgrades are now complete and the upgraded sites go live this weekend. You're probably now wondering - what is the upgrade?

Vodafone have upgraded roughly 400 sites to deliver a 900Mhz Dual Carrier 43.2Mbps 3G network across the entire Auckland region. Vodafone have used the 900Mhz band to deliver 3G coverage in rural areas of New Zealand for the last 3 years, but in the big cities, up until now, only the 2100Mhz band had been used for 3G. Why you ask? Because when Vodafone deployed their 3G network in 2005 the 2100Mhz band was the only frequency band ratified for 3G services globally. It wasn't until the 900MHz band was ratified that Vodafone were able to use the 900MHz band for 3G services, and they were one of the first networks in the world to start using the 900Mhz 3G band in 2008.

As many of you will know, signal propagation of the 2100MHz band isn't great, which has meant that inbuilding coverage on this band has always been sub optimal. 900Mhz 3G will mean that their 3G coverage will be significantly better. As the new 900MHz 3G network will all be Dual Carrier 43.2Mbps, it will add significant capacity to their their network of existing 2100MHz 3G sites, many of which are already Dual, Triple, or in some cases, Quad carrier.

This upgrade also means Vodafone instantly have a huge network advantage over Telecom. While Telecom already use the 850Mhz band for their mobile network nationwide, Vodafone have had the downside that they needed considerably more cellsites than Telecom to deploy their 2100MHz 3G network. This downside has now turned into a massive bonus for Vodafone - because the vast majority of these sites now have 900MHz 3G, Vodafone have around double the number of cellsites Auckland region using the 900Mhz band than what Telecom do using 850Mhz. This should offer Vodafone a significant inbuilding coverage advantage over Telecom.

To take advantage of the 900MHz 3G network you will need a handset that supports this band. Virtually every 3G handset sold by Vodafone or 2degrees over the last 3 or so years supports this band. Don't confuse 900Mhz with 900MHz GSM though - the 900MHz GSM network still continues to operate as usual, and a phone that doesn't mention 900Mhz 3G support in the specs, and only 900Mhz GSM isn't going to be able to benefit from this upgrade.

If you're a Vodafone user it would be interesting to hear your feedback after the upgrade goes live this weekend.

(And just for the record before somebody accuses me of being a Vodafone fanboi, I don't work, and have never worked for Vodafone)





Are pharmacies NZ’s biggest* rort? (*excluding airport carparking)

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Jan-2013 11:31

Example A - $12.99 vs $20.00 for the identical tablets at two different pharmacies.

If you do suffer from hayfever I highly recommend Levrix tablets, I've found them amazing. It might just pay however to check the price before you buy them.

levrix (Medium)



Credit Card Security–Why close enough isn’t good enough

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Jan-2013 18:28

Credit card security isn't a laughing matter these days. It's certainly not difficult to find people who have had their credit cards compromised and fraudulent transactions charged to their account. Typically this has been as a result of physical  card security being compromised by the use of a card skimmer attached to an ATM (numerous instances in Auckland), a compromised EFTPOS terminal recording card details (a major burger retailer in Queen St, Auckland), or by staff who have access to credit card records randomly copying numbers down for use (a foreign call centre for a major telco). Banks have complex systems monitoring transactions in real time and will often detect card fraud and put a hold on your card well before you're even aware there could be an issue. While card fraud normally doesn't leave the card holder out of pocket due the liability limits banks have in their terms and conditions, having to get a new card can often be a real pain if you have automatic payments such as bills set up on it.

Having had my card compromised while in Australia in the middle of 2012 and then spending an entire afternoon dealing with the consequences while trying to enjoy a relaxing long weekend away means I have zero tolerance to anybody in the industry dealing with credit cards who isn't willing to comply with industry guidelines. As far as I'm concerned you deserve to be named and shamed if you're accepting credit cards and failing to comply with industry guidelines.

The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council are responsible for creating data security standards for cardholder data. Known as the PCI Data Security Standard (DSS) this document covers the requirements and security assessment procedures that should be used in the banking and payments industry to ensure that card security remains a top priority. It's common to refer to being "PCI complaint" when your systems are complaint with this standard.

It's therefore surprising so see a large business like Wellington Airport failing to comply with industry PCI standards governing credit card security, and more so the fact this lack of security has now existed for several years in their car park ticketing machines.

Despite what some may think, a credit card number, or Primary Account Number (PAN) as it's technically known as, isn't just sixteen random numbers. Each card issuer has a unique Bank Identification Number (BIN) which comprises the first six digits of the card. The next nine digits are the account number, and the last digit is a check digit calculated using the MOD 10 algorithm, otherwise known as the Luhn Algorithm, calculated off the prior fifteen digits. This algorithm isn't complex, and it's easy to calculate this check digit with a piece of paper and a pen.

PCI DSS requirement 3.3 covers the storage and use of PAN numbers

3.3 Obtain and examine written policies and examine displays of PAN (for example, on screen, on paper receipts) to verify that primary account numbers (PANs) are masked when displaying cardholder data, except for those with a legitimate business need to see full PAN.

Mask PAN when displayed (the first six and last four digits are the maximum number of digits to be displayed).

As you can see the PCI DSS requirements are that the first six and last four digits are the only digits that should be displayed on a receipt. Why? Because displaying any more than this leaves your card number open to being compromised.

The first six digits are unique to your bank, so displaying these poses no real security risk. The last digit is a check digit, and the prior three prior digits are only 1/3 of your account number. Using a MOD10 calculator to calculate the remaining six digits still leaves a vast number of possibilities, so many in fact, that it poses no great security risk.

Wellington Airport receipts display the last six digits of the PAN, as pictured below (I've crossed two out so you can't see them). This now only leaves four digits that need to be generated, and literally leaves only a handful of possibilities for the card number. For all intent purposes you may as well be displaying the full PAN, as a card card can be compromised with access to the first six digits and the last six digits of the PAN.

20130104_181316

A Wellington Airport parking receipt by itself isn't going to let somebody exploit your credit card - as they're only displaying the last six digits of the PAN. Combined with another receipt from a PCI compliant terminal or retailer however and your card number can be compromised. Considering many people throw receipts away together it's entirely possible that somebody could gain access to two receipts which would enable them to reconstruct your credit card number.

So a small tip from me - if you use your credit card at Wellington Airport be careful what you do with your receipt. It could be the most expensive car park you ever use!

 

Update 05/01/2012 :

Fellow Geekzone Moderator Nate spent some some time whipping up some code using the MOD 10 algorithm to generate possible card combinations. By entering an incomplete credit card number and X's to signify the masking all possible full PAN numbers are displayed. These could then easily be submitted automatically to a payment gateway to establish the valid number. If PCI compliant PAN masking of six digits is followed the 100000 possible combinations make this a a virtually impossible task. With non PCI compliant PAN masking such as that used by Wellington Airport this could be done in a matter of minutes with access to appropriate payment gateways.



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
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)
  -Polycom
  -Cisco
  -Linksys
  -Patton
  -Zyxel
  -Snom
  -Sangoma
  -Audiocodes

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

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
   
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.


+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.


You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com

twitter.com/stevebiddle