Telecom's long-awaited $1.4 billion "next generation network" has a potentially life-threatening flaw - it won't work in a power cut.
The alarming implication of not being able to make emergency 111 calls has rescue services concerned and the government wondering how to ensure phone lines stay open in emergencies.
The revelation comes just months after a revamp of the 111 system and a year after a storm in Canterbury left almost 20,000 homes without power, some for almost two weeks. As a result, Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group worked closely with Telecom to ensure telephone systems would continue working in disasters.
Telecom's new all-digital system is to be phased in over the next five years and will deliver increasingly sophisticated communication services to homes, such as video on demand. But unlike current phone lines it requires a mains-powered "gateway" device in each customer's home.
The article goes on and on with this line. But you can clearly see that the "revamp of the 111 [emergency] system] has nothing to do with the telco.
The story doesn't really explain why they come to this conclusion except that the new system uses a "mains-powered 'gateway' device".
So let's explain what the paper failed to tell you: they are talking about Voice over IP (VoIP). When you use VoIP your voice calls go over the Internet connection, not over the landline.
Wait a minute, doesn't my Internet connection go over the landline anyway? In some cases yes, if you use a technology such as DSL, which uses the same copper wires that transmit circuit switched calls (voice calls) to transmist packet switched (Internet) data.
Sometime soon you will be able to get DSL service without having to rent a landline from Telecom. When this happens you could have your voice calls provided by another company using the copper - or simply use a VoIP service such as Xnet VFX.
Here comes the thing: VoIP requires a small box that will translate the analogue signals from your telephone to the Internet digital standards. And here lies the problem: if there's a power outage, this box won't work.
The solution is to buy a small UPS, a device that sits between this box and the mains, and if the power goes down it will provide energy from its internal battery, for a certain amount of time. Ihave two of these devices here at home - they power my entire home office (two desktops, two laptops, printer, router, cable modem, VoIP gateway). If the power goes down I have about 100 minutes of energy to keep us going. Or I can shutdown my computers and have even more time for the Internet router and VoIP gateway.
If you use a standard landline for your voice calls you won't have this kind of problem. That's because the power for the telephone comes down the copper, direct from the exchange.
The article on Stuff failed to explain all this, instead trying to focus in all the horror that would happen if we lived in a society where everyone uses VoIP and no one has a mobile phone.
Which reminds me that you already have this problem today if you use a cordless phone. That's because if the power goes down your cordless phone is useless. Go on, try it without power and you will see.
Why didn't the Stuff folks wrote an article about the life-threatening flaw of cordless phones?
According to the current Wikipedia entry:
Open XML is an XML-based file format specification for electronic documents such as memos, reports, books, spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents. The specification has been developed by Microsoft as a successor of its binary office file formats and was published by Ecma International as the Ecma 376 standard in December 2006.
Uninitiated users may confuse "Office Open XML" with "OpenDocument" (ISO 26300:2006) and "OpenOffice". Therefore it is commonly referred to as OOXML or its earlier name Open XML.
Office Open XML uses a number of dedicated XML markup languages in fileparts that are placed in a file container (Open Packaging Convention ). The format specification which is available for free at Ecma International includes XML schemas that can be used to validate the XML syntax.
So what's Standards New Zealand involvement in all this? The group is assessing stakeholder views on the suitability of a document on Office Open XML for publication as an International Standard. This is from their press release:
...New Zealand is obliged to vote on the adoption of the European Computer Manufacturers’ Association Office Open XML document (ECMA 376) as an International Standard. This document is currently designated draft international Standard (DIS) 29500 and is available at http://www.jtc1sc34.org/. There is an existing international Standard for Open XML, referred to as Open Document Format (ODF), which was published last year (ISO/IEC 26300).
Standards New Zealand, as New Zealand’s national Standards body holds the responsibility to cast this vote on behalf of New Zealand.
‘The aim of the meeting is to assess and understand New Zealand stakeholder views to allow Standards New Zealand to make an informed vote on behalf of New Zealand. This meeting will be independently chaired by Ms Alison Holt, the New Zealand delegate to the international committee JTC1 SC7 Software Engineering’ said Grant Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, Standards New Zealand.
The way I read it, when Standards New Zealand sends out a press release with "[There is] an existing international Standard for Open XML, referred to as Open Document Format (ODF), which was published last year (ISO/IEC 26300)." it makes all sound like "we have already decided, there is one standard already, why bother with another one and these two days are just formality"...
I'd suggest you check Rod Drury's reasoning on why we should have another standard. A standard doesn't mean it must be unique. Microsoft's Sean McBreen wrote:
Do other standardised document formats not exist today?
Yes, in fact there are actually many different and at times overlapping formats that exist today, for instance PDF/A, ODF and HTML are all ISO/IEC standard document types today.
Why do we need multiple standardised formats?
Multiple formats are required as requirements change and to cater for differing scenarios for instance PNG and JPEG are two ISO/IEC image standards in heavy use today. Individuals and organisations will also continue to innovate and standards must evolve to keep pace with this, for instance MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG -4 are all ISO/IEC standards for video encoding.
What is the impact to the industry if Open XML is not accepted as an ISO/IEC standard?
Literally billions of documents today are stored and saved using Microsoft Office file formats, an important aspect of Open XML is backwards compatibility for these documents. Not standardising Open XML will have an impact on the longevity of these documents and force government departments, individual organisations and consumers to migrate all of their documents over time. It will also significantly reduce the choice available to our customers in relation to document formats.
What is the impact to Microsoft if Open XML is not accepted as a standard?
While standards themselves don’t dictate customer and partner behaviour or purchasing patterns they do have a strong influence on this over time. As a result there is likely to be a direct impact on the adoption of Microsoft products if Open XML is not accepted as a standard that will reduce our ability to compete in the marketplace.
If a standard is mandated and does not support all the functionality and formatting of a document (say a Microsoft Word 97 document), all the unsupported formatting will be lost in conversion. This raises questions about the validity of the document as a historic record as it has not been maintained in the original formatting.
Secondly it means that someone has to go through and fix the documents - and when you consider the number of potential documents affected, this would be an expensive exercise.
Who's going to tell these organizations that they have to do all this work to move their documents to ODF and fix all the formatting issues and manage the compliance issues?
Simply saying that the standard should translate the old "rendering quirks" into the new and less buggy version doesn't cut it.
Just check the previous ITC vote and comments. Several companies explicitly said that there was a place for both ODF and Open XML as a standard.
Here is an interesting take on this issue, including a reference to Kiwibank, showing how this whole thing can impact enterprises and the market.
Of course if you are a geek with a penchant for managing servers, and have a rather large broadband allowance, plus spare hardware then you could run your own e-mail server, with your own domain.
But at least GMail and Windows Live Hotmail provide hosted services for you if you really want to go that way.
- Is it Windows Live Mail?
Yes, it is. But it's a branded Windows Live Mail address - [youraccount]@geekzonemail.com. How cool is that?
- Lots of space?
Yep, 2GB storage available for your e-mails.
- What about security?
The whole infrastructure is provided by the Windows Live service, and we have no access to e-mail contents or other user information. Your account is a valid Windows Live ID, and as such it can be used to identify you to other Windows Live services - including live.com, Live Messenger, etc.
- Do I have to use webmail only?
You can access the service through the webmail interface, or use free Microsoft Outlook Connector to access the service directly from within Microsoft Outlook 2003 or Microsoft Outlook 2007. If you don't have Microsoft Outlook but you have a Windows XP or Windows Vista PC, then you can use the Windows Live Mail client.
- Can I access my e-mails from a mobile phone?
You can use your mobile phone's mobile browser to check your e-mails by visiting http://live.mobile.com.
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You bet! You can use the Geekzonemail address to login into Windows Live for Windows Mobile on your Pocket PC or Smartphone running Windows Mobile 6 and you will have an option to receive e-mails as they arrive on your inbox.
Sign up now for geekzonemail.com
Skype was updating its status through a blog, with nothing much more than "bear with us" messages.
People started thinking that hackers had infiltrated the network, bringing down essential servers and clients, making the restart harder.
And then comes the "official" Skype explanation for the outage, which makes no sense at all:
On Thursday, 16th August 2007, the Skype peer-to-peer network became unstable and suffered a critical disruption. The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they re-booted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update.
The high number of restarts affected Skype’s network resources. This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact.
Normally Skype’s peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly. Regrettably, as a result of this disruption, Skype was unavailable to the majority of its users for approximately two days.
Blame Microsoft Windows Update! Call the usual suspects!
But I say this is just some story Skype is seeding... Let's see why:
1.Windows Update by default runs at 3am local time. So even if all Windows-based PCs in the world would restart they would not restart all at the same time, but over a 24 hour "follow the sun" period. The entire Skype user based is spread over 24 time zones, not in a single time zone.
2.Windows Update is delivered every second Tuesday of the month, and has been for the last three years. Why it only happened now?
3.Windows Update starts on Tuesday, and counting the timezones, the last country to reach that time would be here in New Zealand, which happens to be Wednesday morning local time. If the problem happened Thursday as claimed by Skype, this was Friday morning in New Zealand, almost two days after the automatic Windows Update.
So, yes, I think the whole explanation doesn't work.
While a vast number of people use Skype for their PC-to-PC communications, some businesses are actually using the service to create a virtual presence in other markets. I wonder how much business was lost on a 48 hour outage for these companies? Will they trust Skype again?
UPDATE: Skype has posted a new blog entry with comments worth reading:
We don’t blame anyone but ourselves. The Microsoft Update patches were merely a catalyst — a trigger — for a series of events that led to the disruption of Skype, not the root cause of it. And Microsoft has been very helpful and supportive throughout.
The high number of post-update reboots affected Skype’s network resources. This caused a flood of log-in requests, which, combined with the lack of peer-to-peer network resources at the time, prompted a chain reaction that had a critical impact. The self-healing mechanisms of the P2P network upon which Skype’s software runs have worked well in the past. Simply put, every single time Skype has needed to recover from reboots that naturally accompany a routine Windows Update, there hasn’t been a problem.
Unfortunately, this time, for the first time, Skype was unable to rise to the challenge and the reasons for this were exceptional. In this instance, the day’s Skype traffic patterns, combined with the large number of reboots, revealed a previously unseen fault in the P2P network resource allocation algorithm Skype used. Consequently, the P2P network’s self-healing function didn’t work quickly enough. Skype’s peer-to-peer core was not properly tuned to cope with the load and core size changes that occurred on August 16. The reboots resulting from software patching merely served as a catalyst. This combination of factors created a situation where the self-healing needed outside intervention and assistance by our engineers.
Since I have a similar hardware (Vodafone vodem USB modem) on another network (HSDPA), and since the Vodafone vodem has been providing really poor performance, as my first test I had to compare those two devices.
First impression? I am highly impressed with download speeds when comparing with the HSDPA USB option.
I have a variety of connections available here - Vodafone vodem HSDPA, Vodafone Merlin XU870 HSDPA, Telecom Sierra Wireless CDMA EVDO AirCard 595, and now the new Telecom Sierra Wireless CDMA EVDO AirCard 595U, so I had some experience with mobile data and what to expect from different hardware and network conditions.
I used the vodem with my UMPC because it is a device with USB ports only - no PC Card or Express Card slots. On my laptop I was using the Telecom AirCard 595 because it gave me better performance, coverage and it was the only one working on Windows Vista 64 bit (both the vodem and the XU870 work with 64 bit now, but I am sure Vodafone have not released the drivers to the world yet).
When I first got the Vodafone vodem I could use it from my home office and get an average of 800 Kbps downloads as shown on picture 1 from June 2006:
Since then Vodafone changed something in this area because my voice calls are terribly noisy and mobile data speeds have gone down. How much down? To the bottom, as you can see on picture 2 from today (August 2007):
Wow! Is this a difference or what? It's slower than dialup. This is from the same home office where I tested the same vodem one year ago. See how the network speeds went down? This is consistently the result I get here using the vodem.
Now this is the new Telecom Aircard 595U, on the same UMPC, in the same location, just minutes before I tested the vodem:
No comparison! I just hope Telecom New Zealand manages to actually keep this service when migrating to their new, recently announced HSDPA network. Because on CDMA EVDO it rocks.
To be fair, I tested the Vodafone vodem again, and if though it wouldn't get close to the CDMA speeds, this time it was much better, closer to what I would expect. It also shows how wildly the service fluctuates:
I have talked to someone at Vodafone and we will have this traced to check for cell capacity alarms, etc. I will keep you posted...
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I know this is not the first company with this kind of irrelevant content in their T&Cs. But frankly, what a waste of time even thinking of writing this, and then having someone from a legal team analysing it to see if the words "work" together.
You can read more here on the New Zealand Post Terms and Conditions - and guess what? I am not linking to New Zealand Post, I am linking to Google. Take that.
Sorry guys, this has already been talked about exactly one year ago - and believe me a lot of people inside Telecom New Zealand know about this. It's nothing news... News would be if the price actually dropped.
And David,WAP data prices are not the same as the open Internet data prices. Comparing the British Vodafone prices with New Zealand prices is a common thing, but they have a huge competition there. This explains the lowest price point at which they offer their services there.
Back to the whole discussion on mobile data roaming prices. Vodafone New Zealand charges $10 per megabyte for data roaming on Vodafone and partners' networks, and $30 per megabyte on any other network.
When asked why $30 per megabyte Vodafone officials say "it's what they charge us". This is wrong in so many levels. How could be possible that a GSM operator in Malta charges exactly the same as a mobile operator in the U.S.? Surely they charge different prices per megabyte, seeing their infrastructure and cost is completely different.
If they were really only passing the costs to consumers then I'd expect to see different mobile data roaming prices depending on where you are actually using the data, with probably cheaper prices in the U.S. and Europe than Asia and Australia.
Back to local costs., not all is lost. If you see Vodafone's 3GB plan for $79/month with an optional 100% allowance for only $10 then we're talking of 6GB mobile data for $89/month, which is really good compared to landline broadband (these are prices on open plan, seeing that I really hate contracts that are only good for operators).
When you sign up for Geekzonemail you get a full web-based e-mail service powered by Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail and includes includes a @geekzonemail.com e-mail address of your choice, which is also a Windows Live ID that allows you to log in to services such as Windows Live, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Spaces and more.
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