Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why are our data caps so low?

New Zealand seems to have the lowest data caps on its Internet in the developed world. Recently, InternetNZ commissioned me to write a report about this. My brief was to go round the Internet industry and ask people for their views, and specifically ask them why, if our expensive submarine cable is the answer to our high data caps, don’t we at least have free onshore Internet traffic?

The results are quite interesting. You can read the report here. InternetNZ is asking for comments on the report – please send them some if you have any.

posted by colin at 9:31 am  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Taking back the Net

The Net used to be under the radar of governments and corporates. Then it got a lot bigger, governments paid it attention and large companies moved in. Some were beneficial, some weren’t and some were neutral. But the ethos of the individual Net user running the whole show got diluted along the way.

It’s easy to lament these things. It’s more fun to do something. A group of us are running some projects under the heading Retake The Net to try to put some power back into the hands of ordinary users. Yes, you and me. Retake the Net is putting together a Bar Camp for 29 October 2011.

The project I’m most closely associated with is called the Policy Auction. (That’s a working title and it will change when we launch.) The basic idea is to provide a platform where people can promote policies – things they think the gummint should do – and put up real virtual currency against them. Hence the auction. Maybe it will make a splash – that’s the general idea. And the timing right before an election is no accident.

About half a dozen people are giving up their time to build this thing, and it’s going to be very cool. But not as cool as it would be if you helped, too. We want to hear from Java geeks, visual designers and comms folk.

There’s a meeting of the Retake The Net crew at Betty’s in Wellington tomorrow night (3rd August). I do hope to see you there!

posted by colin at 9:29 pm  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Avoid Outrageous Data Roaming Bills

If you’ve travelled overseas with a smart phone, you know that you have to turn off international data roaming, otherwise your telco will own your house. That’s barely an exaggeration given the cost of data roaming – here’s Telecom’s, for example – ranges from $8 per megabyte to $30 per megabyte. Yes, that megabytes. As one wag put it: I didn’t know they still made megabytes. Typically in New Zealand we pay $30-50 for a gigabyte, sometimes less than that, and our smartphones and our lifestyles are geared to use that data. These prices are thousand times higher than that.

From time to time, telcos drop these charges, often by quite a large margin, then pat themselves on the back. Just try working out what the charges are in gigabytes, not the megabytes they always quote, and see how they stack up against what you pay at home.

Why should you have to pay more when you go overseas? When you take your mobile to the UK, say, and use data, the mobile telco you are connected to in the UK ships that data back to New Zealand for your home telco to put it onto the Internet here. That’s bonkers, and its part of the reason why its all so expensive. What *should* happen is that local mobile companies wherever you are should just connect you to the Internet for a decent price, i.e. whatever they charge their own customers plus a percentage to reflect the cost of billing it back. I’m not holding my breath on this.

Anyway, that’s not what this article is about. It’s about how to avoid paying these insane charges.

posted by colin at 12:01 pm  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The new Windows Mobile – A teenager’s perspective

A guest entry today – I lent the HTC Trophy running Windows Mobile 7 to my teenage son. Here’s his take on it.

One 17 year old’s opinion on this phone may be somewhat redundant, I don’t pretend to be the target market for a phone this expensive (possibly attributing to my ogling when being handed this for a play by my father?). But from the perspective of one who’s owned many Nokias and an iPod Touch, this phone seems to be a mix of the two with money thrown at it. So I’ll assume that you, reader of this post, who almost certainly spends more than $10 a month on their phone don’t really mind about spending a bit of money on some data. Not that I pretend to be an expert on data pricing.

Seeing as I have just spent 114 words outlining why I am completely unsuited to providing my opinion on this phone, I will now proceed to give it. In terms of hardware I can find no fault with it. It has a few buttons that are easy to grasp, but relies predominantly on its touch screen as an interface. The screen seems to be as good, if not better than my iPod, and it has a 4.1 megapixel camera. The Windows-driven interface is also easily manageable, their ‘tiles’ approach seems to work effectively, and maneuvering between the phone’s functions is easy and efficient.

The Internet user will also find that their address book is integrated with Facebook, and I would guess heaps of other stuff which my teenage phone experience has warranted little exposure to.

However, I still find myself maintaining my initial judgement of this phone, that the software, after a harsh upbringing in an orphanage, has been adopted into the hardware’s family, unlike with an iPhone where the components seem to be blood brothers. Oh please, elaborate on your confusing comparison I hear you ask. Very well. (i’m drunk on power by this stage.) Many of the phone’s menus and titles don’t fit, or are just a little too small for the screen, with seemingly random areas of blank screen space for no apparent reason. Stupid. Also, this may sound typical of someone who has grown up on Macs [the computers, not the beer -Ed], but the ‘Windows’ factor becomes apparent sooner rather than later. I have found myself turning to Google far too often to solve my problems, with a depressing rate of success. In this way (and many others) the phone seems more restrictive than the iPhone, and indeed it would be hard to not view the iPhone as more varied.

Thanks for taking the time to read this uncomprehensive (and in hindsight shockingly pretentious) report on my time with this phone. In conclusion, This phone seems to be good at being a phone, and I’m sure if you wanted to fork out around $900 for it, it could make your telephonic experience easy and simple. Comparing it to an iPhone seems harsh, despite them being in the same price bracket, and my Mac experience makes me question why you would buy one over an iPhone, but i’m sure Windows users will quite justifiably belittle this opinion. Whatever, man.

posted by colin at 12:10 pm  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That Windows phone

I’m on record as saying that Microsoft really needs its new phone platform, called Windows Phone 7, to succeed. It’s not that the loss of revenue from the declining sales of its old Windows Mobile phones hurts Microsoft much, but rather that it needs to be seen to be competent in a really important market.

Since the first iPhone, smartphones have come to challenge laptops for complexity and, in some cases, capability. Ten years ago, Windows on the desktop faced a small challenge from Linux and a larger (but still relatively small) one from Mac OS X. Now, despite the rise of the easy-to-install and use Ubuntu distribution, Linux is still very small on the desktop, but OS X is increasing strongly, up to about ten percent of total PC sales. But the interesting change is in the hardware: starting with the iPad, we are seeing devices using phone operating systems which are expanding into the space normally occupied by laptops. That’s a threat to Windows, not because of the iOS operating system, but because of Android – which is, of course, a version of Linux – becoming available in large numbers on slate-type devices and challenging Microsoft’s hold on the desktop and laptop operating system market. So, the question for Windows Phone 7 has got to be – not “is it good enough to sell?” but “is it good enough to keep Android out of the market, or at least out of the slate and tablet market?”.

posted by colin at 10:51 am  

Friday, August 20, 2010

iPhone: Getting back to 3

I’ve always kept my iPhone pretty much up to date with Apple software. After all, upgrades are free, and they often deliver exciting new stuff. Over the two years I’ve had my iPhone 3G, it has got more and more capable due to improving software.

Then Apple pushed iPhone OS 4 – or iOS4, as it’s now called – and the trouble began. Programs on my phone kept crashing, the sound kept getting interrupted and it became glacially slow. My phone went from being a thing of beauty and a joy to use to being a clunky machine to be endured and cursed. Using Wellington’s helpful text-to-park feature became nearly impossible because the parking machine would time out in the time it took me to send it a text message. And, in what was the last straw, it started ignoring incoming calls and going straight to voicemail.

This is the story of how I fixed all that by going back to iPhone OS 3.

posted by colin at 1:29 pm  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Broadband as a Human Right (updated)

One year ago Finland passed a law declaring access to a broadband Internet connection to be a legal right. What does that mean? There’s a discussion of this over on Red Alert, after Jonathon Penney delivered a really interesting talk at Victoria University entitled “Open Connectivity, Open Data”.

Incidentally, it’s really good to see a major political party actually trying to develop policy in the open on the Internet. I’d love to see them both doing it. Where are you, National?

I wrote a comment on the Red Alert blog trying to explain what I think statements like “Broadband is a Human Right” mean. Here’s an expanded and tidied up version.


posted by colin at 2:32 pm  

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Will Fastmail survive?

Yesterday the people who make the Opera browser announced that they had acquired Fastmail.FM, a commercial email host. Does this matter to anyone except the shareholders of those companies?

It might. Email is critical to many of us on the Internet. It may be true that email is for old people, but I find it pretty much essential for a great deal of the Internet’s usefulness. I’m a heavy user, in case you hadn’t gathered. I want to be able receive and send wherever I am and I archive everything. That’s a couple of gigabytes per year.

I move around a lot, connecting to the Internet through two or three different routes every day. Getting and sending email though the day used to be a problem for me because ISPs’ email servers tend to assume that you are connecting through that ISP. In the early 2000s I went through a phase of having to reconfigure the email client on my laptop wherever I was. To get round that I tried putting all email through a server I owned – Qmail on a Mandrake box – running in my home, running on a DSL line with dynamic IP. It does work, but it cost me grief to support it that I just didn’t need. (Gmail was in its infancy and wasn’t allowing you your own domain name at the time. Besides, I don’t like my Gmail address.)

Winding the clock forward to a few years back, I found Fastmail.FM. They are a specialist email hosting provider. They offer IMAP and SMTP over SSL (SSL is important because otherwise passwords are exchanged in plaintext, which might be over public wi-fi) and an email web client. They don’t do much else, but they do provide their email service brilliantly. I’ve been very happy with Fastmail for over three years. All my machines sync to the server, I have a nice fat email archive which I can search instantly, and I send and receive email on the move wherever I am. It’s just one less thing to worry about.

Now, Fastmail is being acquired. By a company with a marginally-functional email service of its own. Hmm.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Opera. They are another plucky David fighting the Goliath of Internet Explorer. They provide a credible browser which lots people like. They haven’t been as successful as Firefox, but then they haven’t had Google’s money behind them. I met their CE at the OOXML standards meeting in Geneva. He was saying some very sensible things.

But, I’m concerned that Fastmail might lose its service as a result. There are plenty of examples of companies getting acquired and effectively ruined. Will the acquisition of Fastmail cause it to lose focus in its email services? Opera says no, of course, and it’s encouraging that they say the Fastmail team will be kept on. Let’s hope that Opera means what it says and that Fastmail gets enhanced, not trashed.

In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out what it would take to move my mail archive and where I would move it to.

posted by colin at 1:23 pm  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the radio today: the tribulations of Telecom mobile

Today on Radio New Zealand National I’ll be talking primarily about the recent failures of Telecom’s XT mobile network. I’ll be trying to uncover just what a radio network controller is, and how Telecom managed to ballyhoo a network which then kept failing.

After that, if there’s any time, we’ll have a brief look at a new theory of physics that may integrate gravity and quantum theory. Gosh. And, of course, steam cars.

I’ll be on air after the 11am news. If you don;t want to listen live, shortly after the programme, you’ll be able to get it as a podcast or just download the audio as ogg or mp3.

posted by colin at 8:18 pm  

Friday, January 29, 2010

Today on the Radio

I talked about Apple’s latest launch, the state of Telecom’s XT network, Google being hacked in China and ACTA. I didn’t get time for Lieutenant Uhura, but she’s here.

No speaker notes for today – most of it was done off the cuff after the Apple launch. But if you missed it live, you can download the audio as ogg or mp3.

posted by colin at 12:58 am  
Next Page »

Powered by WordPress