Unfinished business in NZ 700MHz band

In Spectrum fight goes on and on Telecommunications Users Association Of New Zealand CEO Paul Brislen reports:

The Commerce Commission has again delayed giving clearance to Telecom to buy the last block of management rights for 700MHz spectrum.

From the outside it looks like another set of crossed wires between the Commerce Commission doing its job of promoting market competition and misguided government policy.

As Brislen writes in his blog post — and has told me often — the problem is that Vodafone holds about 300 MHz of wireless spectrum, Telecom NZ has roughly 200 MHz and 2degrees has about 100 MHz. This makes for an uneven market. There’s a danger 2degrees will be effectively shut out leaving New Zealand with two powerful mobile giants and one minnow.

To put things in perspective, that last chunk of unsold spectrum is only a couple of percent of the total.

Even though the 700 MHz band is the wireless equivalent of prime real estate, on its own it probably isn’t enough to tilt the balance one way or another. On the other hand, if the Commerce Commission wants to start unpicking the lack of competition in mobile phone spectrum, this would be a good place to start.

WiGig: what is it and when will we see it?

WiGig_Alliance_LogoWiGig came up while interviewing Mano Gialusis and Pat Kannar for this morning’s story on Dell’s Precision workstations.

Although I’ve heard the term before, until now the technology has been shadowy. That could be set to change. Dell’s workstations are hardly mainstream, but this year’s high-end wireless technology could soon be everywhere.

Gialusis and Kannar told me Dell uses WiGig as a wireless docking technology for the company’s flagship mobile workstations. So, I asked the obvious question: that’s like a faster version of Wi-Fi?

The answer isn’t simple. WiGig is clearly related to Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi alliance looks after WiGig’s standards and certification.

WiGig: blazingly fast, but…

WiGig is faster than Wi-Fi – normally with speeds of up to 6 Gbps. It operates at least 50 times the speed of today’s desktop wireless standard. In theory those speeds can be boosted to 25 Gbps. In practice that means moving an HD movie between devices in less than three minutes.

Hoever, there are important differences. Gialusis and Kannar told me WiGig is used for different applications. From Dell’s point of view the technology means you can walk into a room with a mobile workstation and instantly hook-up to remote screens, loud-speakers, mice, keyboards and other devices. WiGig is mainly about media transfer.

WiGig uses different spectrum to Wi-Fi, it operates at around 60 GHz. Higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths. In plain English this means signals don’t extend as far, typically you only use WiGig within a single room. In other words, it’s much faster than Wi-Fi, but has a significantly shorter range.

And there’s the big disappointment. Those of us who’d like to hook up fibre connections to a house full of gadgets won’t be able to use WiGig for the task. It’s either push conventional Wi-Fi to its limits or run cables around the rooms.

Antennae twitching

Dell’s workstations have a steerable WiGig antennae, apparently that’s important. It also makes things a little more fragile.

This goes some way to explain why WiGig isn’t called Wi-Fi+ or something similar. The two standards are different. Although some equipment may have both Wi-Fi and WiGig, you can’t expect the two standards to interconnect.

Another issue is that WiGig has competitors. At least two other wireless technologies are vying to fill the same niche. Wi-Fi has its market to itself.

Clearly Dell is early to market with WiGig – most other hardware makers don’t expect to get devices to market until 2014.

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Vodafone LTE fibre killer in New Zealand?

When fibre comes down my streetFour days ago I wrote that the best broadband I’m likely to see for the next five or six years will be wireless. If independent consultant Jon Brewer is right, that could come in the shape of a Vodafone-owned network of picocells connected to the company’s own back-haul network.

Brewer says Vodafone has the technology and the spectrum needed to roll out a network much faster and cheaper than the UFB network being built by Chorus. It will offer UFB-like speeds. Brewer doesn’t say so, but the economics he outlines suggest Vodafone would be able to boost data caps.

Until now the arguments against wireless networks have been to do with spectrum scarcity and the high cost of network equipment along with the expensive of getting resource consents. Picocell technology does an end-run around these. 

Where consumers have a choice between fixed and mobile networks, they tend to choose mobile leaving fixed-line for things like bulk downloading of media content.

While Brewer’s post is speculative, there are some sharp minds at Vodafone who must have at least considered this approach. It will probably run into regulatory hurdles – New Zealand’s centre-right government is not keen on letting market competition make decisions about future telecommunications.

Nevertheless, for me this is a far more exciting prospect than waiting for a glass fibre to be strung down my road.

LTE as Fibre Killer? Vodafone’s Quick Win for Fixed Mobile Substitution « Inside Telecommunications New Zealand.

Telecom New Zealand’s free summer Wi-Fi

Hotel Ethernet

Hotel Ethernet – notice the old school Telecom logo from the days when 256kbps was high-speed Internet

Telecom’s Christmas gift to New Zealanders and overseas travellers is a summer-only network of free Wi-Fi hotspots.

The hotspots are mainly based on payphones in tourists places. That’s mainly towns, but the first one I found was in tiny Momorangi Bay off Queen Charlotte Sound between Picton and Nelson.

Before taking my Nokia Lumia 920 on a summer road trip I made a note of hotspots for when I ran short of data on my phone while away from home.

Free data, what’s not to like?

In the event, I didn’t use Telecom’s free Wi-Fi. Although I saw plenty of hotspots and my phone found more, the service was mainly available in places where I didn’t need it. That’s not a strike against Telecom, more a big tick in favour of savvy tourism operators.

We rented an apartment in Nelson that came with free Wi-Fi. I found it easier to use that for bulky data – like sending photographs. If I needed data while moving about, I could always dip into the 500MB included with my monthly mobile plan.

Apart from downloading road maps, the Lumia only sipped data while I was on the move.

Hotel disappointments

Our Wellington and Taupo hotels both had in-room broadband – delivered through an Ethernet cable, how retro. And they had paid-for Wi-Fi, but the price wasn’t right. In Wellington the Ibis allowed some free Wi-Fi access, but you needed to do everything quickly before charges kicked in. Ethernet cables were no use to me. I was also disappointed that the Ibis didn’t find the Nokia charger – luckily not the wireless charger – that I left in the room. Poor form.

Wellington has plenty of free Wi-Fi. Interestingly we had difficulty logging on to the free CityNet from just about every spot we tried, even though the phone could ‘see’ the hotspots. On the other hand, the free Te Papa Wi-Fi expended for some distance around the museum and worked well.

The Bayview hotel at Wairakei wanted a whopping $8 for 30 minutes internet access, which seems excessive and far more expensive than Telecom 3G data. Likewise the Interislander advertised 40MB, that’s not a misprint, for $7. Mind you, it was fun watching our position using the phone’s GPS while on board.

Charging the Lumia 920 without wires

Nokia Lumia 920 with wireless charger

Nokia Lumia 920 with wireless charger

There’s a lot to be said for getting wires out of the way of digital devices – for one thing it makes them mobile. A smartphone wouldn’t be much use if you needed to jack it in every time you make a call or check Facebook. And let’s not forget Mobile networks, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all cut down the need for cable spaghetti.

Despite all this, you still need to connect a phone to a wall socket to give them juice. At least you did. That’s about to change with wireless charging.

Nokia is the first phone maker to deliver a smartphone that can recharge its batteries without being plugged in. In fact, there’s no longer any need to physically connect a cable to the Lumia 920.

This is done by magnetic induction.  Induction tops up your phone battery when the charging pad converts current into an alternating electromagnetic field. The phone then converts this back to a current to charge the battery.  If that sounds too complex, just remember it’s the same as the charging technology used by wireless toothbrushes.

Hot stuff

Nokia’s wireless charging is about 90% as efficient as using a wire charger and some of the lost energy converts to heat – this means the phone can get warm during charging. In testing I found the phone was noticeably warm, but not alarmingly hot. Certainly nothing like enough to burn.

It’s a simple enough business – although as we will see there are traps for young players.

Nokia’s DT-900 charging plate is a little smaller than the Lumia 920. It comes with a weirdly wide electrical plug – if you use a multi-socket or a distribution board it has to sit in the left-most outlet. This connects to the plate. You simply sit your phone on the plate to start charging. A white LED lights on the plate and the phone bleeps to let you know everything is working.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, for the first day I had the device I thought it wasn’t working because I was using the plate upside down. The orientation isn’t immediately obvious – in fact, counterintuitively, the bottom face is slightly smaller than the top.


With that confusion behind me it was all plain sailing. Or should that be plain charging? I found it takes slightly longer to charge using the plate than a direct cable – but only a few minutes. The phone can go from almost discharged to a full charge in under two hours.

Nokia’s documentation says you can leave the pad switched on when you’re not charging as it draws hardly any power when not in use. If that bothers you, then it’s not hard to flick the wall switch.

Easy, not entirely wire free

Not entirely wire free

Not entirely wire free

To be blunt, placing the phone on the mat isn’t that much less effort than plugging in a cable. And let’s face it, the charging plate has wires, so you’re not entirely wire free. But there’s no need to worry about having the right cable – I’ve six incompatible USB connectors sitting my desk drawer, finding the right one in a hurry can be stressful.

The good news is that Nokia’s charging plate uses the Qi standard. That means it’ll work with other devices. It’s still early days for Qi, other phone makers are preparing to launch Qi models and over time you’ll see tablets and other gizmos built around the same standard. Even better news is there are plans to install Qi charging mats in public places – so you’ll be able to charge while on the move. There’s no news on when or if these public chargers will reach New Zealand.

This story will also appear at Scoop Techlab.

Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger’s own. Find out more about the Nokia Lumia 920 here you can find our more about Windows 8 on the Telecom Network here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

Why Cisco flicked Linksys

Cisco is set to offload its Linksys business. Business Insider reports the deal may already have taken place.

Linksys makes wireless routers for home users. That makes it a consumer brand languishing in a company that is best at dealing with business and corporate customers.

Networking giant CIsco made its billions riding the Internet growth spurt in the 1990s. In 2003 it sniffed the wind – correctly at it happens – and decided the future lay in consumer and small business products. The company dipped into Uncle Scrooge McDuck-like swimming pools full of gold to pick up Linksys.

At the time it seemed like a good idea. Alas, Cisco never got consumer. Its Linksys products were largely lacklustre – I had the misfortune to own one for a while. Cisco also made a complete mess when it purchased the Flip consumer camera business a few years later.

Now Cisco plans to become an all-embracing enterprise IT business with products and services aimed at the data centre. Making low-margin devices, piling ‘em high and flogging them though retail channels simply doesn’t gel with that kind of business. Getting rid of Linksys is a smart move.

What I’d love to know is whether Cisco turned a profit on the US$500 million it paid for Linksys in 2003.