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Bill Bennett

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Author: Bill Bennett

Not actually a geek, more a chronicler of geekdom. Still mainly a journalist, sometimes a blogger.

SafeStack Academy raises $2.3m to export security know how

Laura Bell has raised $2.2m to expand her online security training platform SafeStack Academy, with Jelix Ventures leading a raft of local investors in the round.

 

Australia’s AFR reports the news: NAB among backers as ‘moral hacker’ gets $2.2m to teach techies her tricks.

Natasha Gillezeau writes:

SafeStack Academy was born of a pandemic pivot after Ms Bell’s consultancy, SafeStack, suffered a 94 percent drop in revenue as many of her small business and start-up customers halted their spending on security because of economic uncertainty.

On SafeStack Academy, software developers and regular employees can learn how to build good security culture and measures into their products, software and processes.

That’s good to hear. Bell’s consultancy had an interesting, enlightened take on cyber security.

Upending the fear driven security pitch

Security companies often work hard to scare customers into parting with money for services or products that only go part way to making them safe.

They may share raw information about threats, but often in ways that limit the transfer of useful knowledge to customers.

Fear may work as a sales pitch. But savvy customers want more from a security partner.

Educate, inform and protect

Safestack took the opposite approach. Bell and her team worked to educate the people and businesses who are most vulnerable to attack. That’s usually small businesses and organisations. She makes an effort to take fear out of the conversation and replace that with the knowledge people need to be confident about dealing with threats in a sensible way.

Bell clearly loves her speciality.

When I spoke to her earlier this year she said: “Security is really exciting once you get past the doom and gloom. It has some of the fastest paced technology challenges you can find.

“…I wanted to support all of these tiny companies who, from New Zealand want to build their own little digital cathedrals and they want to do securely without breaking the bank.

“I get to look at their legacies and think; yeah, I did a little towards making things better for New Zealand or better for those people, or in the case of helping charities and non-profits, better for that group of people who would never be able to afford security normally.”

Along the way Bell has been responsible for hundreds of New Zealanders choosing cyber security as a career. The Safestack Academy will take that leadership role further and help spread a more intelligent security mind set.

China deals with out-of-control tech giants: Should we?

Xi Jinping has grasped a fundamental truth in his quest to win the technology race – that internet companies are all ultimately disposable

Writing at the Guardian John Naughton wonders if  there are lessons for the west in the way China deals with its tech giants. 

This is story of two parallel universes. Over in the western one, neoliberal capitalism rules. In the other – the Chinese universe – a different system presides. In both universes, government concern over the growing power of giant tech companies has been growing for a while, but there the similarities end.

None of this should be taken as an endorsement of the Chinese regime, but to raise two serious questions.

The first is an exam question: does the contrast between western feebleness in reining in our tech giants and Chinese effectiveness at controlling theirs imply that only authoritarian regimes can bring swaggering corporations to heel? Discuss. Do not write on both sides of the paper.

The other question is whether Xi Jinping and co understand something that we seem unwilling to accept – that social media companies, no matter how large and apparently powerful, are ultimately disposable.

Let’s deal with the last question first.

Social media companies are disposable. Closing them would be disruptive but it would do little long term harm to the economy.

Unhealthy dependence

Many business depend on aspects of social media. Yet every one of those dependencies could transfer elsewhere.

Take the companies who put all their marketing eggs in, say, the Facebook basket. There are other, often better advertising options available elsewhere.

Groups or families who use Facebook for communications can find other forums. It’s not as if there is a lack of choice.

Making the adjustments would take time. But, on balance Naughton and the Chinese Communist leadership are right: Social media is disposable.

What about the West’s inability to rein-in the worst aspects of tech giant’s abusive behaviour?

For now there is not the political will to act. That will not always be the case.

It will start with Facebook which is the worst offender by some distance.

Now the awful truth about Facebook’s cynical behaviour and its arguably evil business model is out in the open there will be fewer and fewer prepared to defend the company against regulation and even accountability.

There will be a fight. The results may be imperfect and often unsatisfactory, yet change is on the way.

Download 2.0 – October 8, 2021

Merger talks between 2degrees and Orcon dominate this week’s news coverage. Here Bill Bennett looks at what a merger might mean for the sector. 

IPOs on hold as 2degrees, Orcon talk merger

Trilogy International PartnersOrcon and 2degrees are in merger talks. If they strike a deal the pair would form a third force in New Zealand’s telecommunications market. One that is better placed to compete with Spark and Vodafone. Both companies were preparing floats. These plans are now on the back-burner. This is not the first time the pair have discussed a form of merger. A few years ago 2degrees looked at acquiring the business when its was operating as Vocus New Zealand and the Australian parent wanted a fast trade sale. Last night 2degrees US-based parent company Trilogy International Partners issued a statement following a trading halt. It said its had paused its initial public offering of shares in 2degrees “in order to consider a possible alternative transaction with another party”. That’s the nearest the two have come to confirming the news.

How a 2degrees, Orcon merger could reshape the telco sector

A merger between the two companies would cement 2degrees strategy of moving from a mobile carrier to a full service telco. While this move has been in train for years, Orcon would bring its broadband scale and its considerable enterprise and government business along with its cloud and data centres. It also has a retail energy business that it uses to build product bundles to improve customer stickiness. Orcon has previously struggled to add mobile to its portfolio thanks to New Zealand’s immature Mobile Virtual Network Operator market Combined the two would have around a billion dollars in revenue. The potential for cost savings would be considerable, more than $100 million.

Mobile

Little would change immediately in the mobile market. The Commerce Commission’s 2020 monitoring report says Spark and Vodafone each have around a 40 percent share. Which leaves 2degrees on 19 percent. The remaining one percent is made up of MVNOs. Adding Orcon’s share of the tiny MVNO business won’t move the mobile market dial. However, the merged business has an opportunity to build mobile sales to Orcon’s fixed line customer base. Over time the market share should grow.

Broadband

In contrast, a merger would immediately reset competition in broadband. The Commerce Commission monitoring report says Spark is the largest broadband retailer with a 40 percent market share. Vodafone is second with 21 percent. Orcon comes in at number three with 13 percent of the market and 2degrees is next with a 7 percent share. This suggests a combined 2degrees-Vocus business would be equal second with Vodafone and a long way ahead of the next player Trustpower which has a 6 percent market share.

Wider telco market

Each year the Commerce Commission counts what it calls ‘qualifying revenue’ for New Zealand telcos to determine how much each should pay towards the Telecommunications Development Levy. While it’s a useful tool for comparing the size of industry players, the calculations include fibre wholesalers. That aside, a combined 2degrees and Orcon would account for around 11.5 percent of the market. In round numbers that’s around a third the size of Spark and half the size of Vodafone. The next largest retail telco is Trustpower, a long way behind with a 0.8 percent market share.

Australian write-down takes Kordia into the red

Kordia took a $55 million hit at it prepared its Australian operation for sale. That pulled the state-owned network company down to a $47m loss for the year. It made a $9.6 million profit in 2020. The sale has yet to get regulatory approval. If it goes through, it will, in effect, halve the size of Kordia. Neither Kordia, nor the buyer, Ventia, has revealed the deal price. Revenue for the year was up a whisker at $122.9 million compared with $119.5 million a year earlier. EBITA was flat at $31.8 million.

Kacific cut prices as satellite competition warms

Kacific says it has cut the price of its satellite broadband terminal kit by as much as 50 percent. Prices for New Zealand now start at US$440 (around NZ$630). This compares with around $913 for the rival Starlink hardware. The company says the hardware is good for speeds of up to 50Mbps down and 10Mbps up. However local resellers quote the download speed at 30Mbps. An uncapped 30Mbps plan on Kacific costs around NZ$290 a month.

CommComms seeks to extend number portability

The Commerce Commission says it plans to extend number portability for another five years. The existing arrangement is due to expire in December. When it renews there will be a small change, customers will be asked to send a confirmation text before numbers are ported to a different carrier. This measure aims to protect customers against fraud.

Vodafone copper to go in six months

Vodafone says it will move around 10,000 customers from old style copper landlines to more reliable digital technology by April next year. Depending on their circumstances customers will move to fibre, wireless, HFC or VoIP services on copper-based broadband connections. The company says it will save customers money.

2degrees opens trophy cabinet

It may be the smallest mobile carrier, but 2degrees is celebrating a raft of awards for the quality of its network. Ookla, the company behind Speedtest named 2degrees as New Zealand’s most reliable 4G network, the most consistent 4G network and the network with the best 4G availability. The carrier also topped the recent Opensignal Awards for providing the best upload speed experience, the best video experience and the best 4G availability.

In other news…

CommsDay reports Datagrid has acquired land for its Southland data centre. It has picked a 43 hectare site near Invercargill. Facebook suffered a six hour outage earlier in the week and had its failings publicised by a whistleblower. I discussed this with Kathryn Ryan on RNZ Nine-to-Noon. Spark CEO Jolie Hodson talks about dealing the the digital skills shortage in an interview I reported for the NZ Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom. A massive data breach saw more than 100GB of data from game streaming service Twitch posted online. Reseller News reports on Kordia’s cyber security academy launch. Microsoft’s Windows 11 Aotearoa keyboard is covered by the NZ Herald. BusinessDesk says German firm eKomi has acquired Crossware, the Auckland email specialist. (Story behind paywall).
  The Download 2.0 is a free weekly wrap up of New Zealand telecommunications news stories published every Friday. All it requires is an email address. Your address is only used to send out the newsletter. It will not be sold to anyone. I’m not collecting the data for anything other than sending out the newsletter. You name isn’t going to be sold anywhere.

Poly Voyager Focus 2 headphones review: made for work

Long battery life, unfussy design and an innovative approach to better microphone performance make the Poly Voyager Focus 2 Bluetooth headphones a solid work-from-home performer.

Poly Voyager Focus 2

At a glance

For:Battery life, Acoustic Fence feature
Against:Expensive, not optimised for music
Maybe:Lacks passive noise cancelling, can be used with voice assistants
Verdict:Emphasis on productivity uses means Poly offers something different.
Rating:4.5 out of 5
Price:NZ$520
Web:Poly NZ

Noise-cancelling headphones or ear buds make working from home easier. They cut out the background noise allowing you to focus on your video calls.

Poly takes this idea a step further with the Voyager Focus 2.

Acoustic Fence

A feature Poly calls the Acoustic Fence uses noise cancelling to cut out extra sounds picked up by the headset’s boom microphone.

Poly talks about “creating a noise-free bubble in front of your mouth”. That’s marketing nonsense-speak.

The factual story is better. The same active noise cancelling (ANC) technology that cuts the background noises you hear, reduces them as you speak into to the microphone.

It means your voice cuts through. People at the other end of a conversation get to hear your voice above any background hubbub.

Active noise cancelling

Shared flats, family homes and business offices can be noisy places. Active noise cancellation will cut through a lot of that.

ANC technology is best when drowning out constant sounds, say a jet engine, road traffic or air conditioning. It manages to do a decent job if you need to make important work calls when kids are yelling or dogs are barking.

Voyager Focus 2 has three levels of ANC, you can switch between them using controls on the headset. The highest level removes most, but not all external sounds.

The lowest level means you might hear if someone in the same room wants to get your attention or a flight attendant is telling you to put the tray table up.

Passive noise cancelling

Headphones tend to have two types of noise cancellation. ANC is electronic, passive noise cancelling works by having the headphone cups fit tight around your ears.

That’s not the case with the Voyager Focus 2. The speakers sit on your ears, they don’t surround them.

Because there’s no passive noise cancellation you won’t get perfect silence, plenty of nearby noise will leak through.

In practice that’s less of a problem than you might thing. Full noise cancelling is important if you want to drift off to sleep listening to music on a long haul flight. It’s not always the best choice when working.

Comfortable

Over-ear headsets need to be comfortable for the long haul. Voyager Focus 2 start with an advantage, it is the lightest Active noise cancellation (ANC) headset I’ve tested to date.

Because they don’t have ear cups for passive noise cancelling they don’t need to clamp tight unlike the JBL Live 660NC.

This loose fit makes them idea for long calls. You won’t forget you are wearing them, but they won’t be a burden.

Battery life

Active noise cancelling means there are small computers in the headset doing the work. This needs power. So does the Bluetooth wireless used to connect the headphones to other devices.

Wired headphones draw power through the cable. Wireless ones need batteries.

Poly says the Voyager Focus 2 can go 19 hours between charges. That’s hard to check without extensive testing. What I can tell you is that the headphones’ batteries last longer than in rival models.

The review model came with a charging stand which you can connect to a spare USB port. It uses USB-A, not USB-C which would make more sense in 2021.

Does the Voyager Focus 2 stand out in a crowded market?

Headphone sales are booming as people adapt to working from home. Almost electronics device brand offers products in this space. Poly brings something unique to the party.

While headphones and earbuds can be hard working tools, you wouldn’t know that from the marketing. Most brands treat them as consumer devices and emphasis the features that matter when your are relaxing.

Poly takes the opposite approach. The Voyager Focus 2 headphones are made for productivity first.

You can have fun with them. But that’s not Poly’s selling point. These headphones will make you more productive, they will help you work better.

This was obvious from the moment they headphones arrived. Rival models come in fancy packages. These came in a plain brown box. Poly employs the style of packaging that enterprise computing firms use to send pallet loads of hardware to corporations.

There’s a good chance that if your employer is buying headphones, this is what you’ll get.

Poly’s plain box packaging sends a clear signal: This is not a consumer toy, it’s a tool for work.

Voyager Focus 2 verdict

Work-from-home headphones is a crowded and competitive market. There are plenty of options. You can find many cheaper alternatives to the Poly Voyager Focus 2.

Yet if you need headphones for work more than for entertainment, these are an excellent choice. You’ll get the productivity benefits of being able to hear video conversations and being heard at the other end.

What’s more they’ll will stay comfortable for longer than many rival headphones and the batteries will go longer between charges.

If you’re paying your own way, you might choose a headset that’s better for fun activities and is good enough for work. If your employer is paying the bill or you are an employer buying headphones for your workers, the Poly Voyager Focus 2 will be better for your productivity.

Download 2.0 – October 1, 2021

This week: A trial run of The Download 2.0, a weekly wrap of New Zealand telecommunications news. You can subscribe below to get the newsletter delivered to your email inbox every Friday. 

Spark chooses Nokia to speed 5G rolloutNokia Airscale Radio

Nokia says it has won a deal to supply radio access network (Ran) technology across a large part of Spark’s 5G rollout. The contract will also see Nokia upgrade 4G equipment at the sites.

After a modest start Spark has accelerated its 5G rollout plan. Spark’s FY21 results presentation revealed plans to cover 90 percent of the population by the end of 2023. The move represents a significant capital investment.

Spark’s plan assumes government will have made the necessary spectrum available by then. That’s not guaranteed.

In the early stages of its 5G roll out, Spark awarded contracts to Samsung, a relative newcomer to the network equipment scene.

Previously Spark had worked with Huawei to build its 4G network. That company is now, in effect, blocked from building 5G networks in New Zealand.

Nokia will use its latest AirScale portfolio including the company’s ReefShark System-on-Chip technology. It says this is energy efficient and will allow customers to connect at ten times existing speeds while using less power.

Spark has previously said its accelerated 5G programme will give the company a competitive advantage. The new technology will increase its capacity, offer customers greater speed and expand the reach of its fixed wireless broadband offering.

ComCom signs off Mercury’s Trustpower acquisition

After an investigation the Commerce Commission has given the green light to Mercury’s planned acquisition of Trustpower’s retail business. The regulator says the move is unlikely to lessen competition.

While Trustpower is an energy business, it is New Zealand’s fifth largest retail broadband provider. At the end of last year it had a six percent market share.

Trustpower sells fibre, fixed wireless broadband and mobile phone services. In many cases its customers bundle broadband and mobile services with power.

2degrees announces board ahead of planned float

While telco 2degrees has yet to confirm it will list later this year on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, it has named seven board members in preparation for the float. The seven are Kathryn Mitchell, Ken Tunnicliffe, Mark Cairns, Meg Matthews, Brad Horwitz, John Stanton and Erick Mickels.

In the winter 2degrees held meetings with potential institutional investors in New Zealand and Australia. Majority shareholder, Trilogy International partners has said it aims for an IPO either at the end of this year or early in 2022.

Vocus also plans to float its New Zealand business later this year.

Havelock North 4G tower build back on

A report at Stuff says building work on a Spark 4G tower in Havelock North has resumed. Construction work stopped in 2019 after protests and the site remains controversial with residents.

Online retail surged as New Zealand locked down

Slice Digital, an affiliate marketing network, reports online traffic and sales through its service increased dramatically in August as the nation locked down. Traffic was up 78 percent in the second half of August compared to the first half while sales increased by 162 percent. September sales are running at a 129 percent increase on August sales.

Vector works with Google

Vector is working with Google’s X division to build a map of its Auckland power distribution network. The goal is to build a virtual simulation of the network then use this for planning. The pair say it will help Vector get ahead of increasing demand for clean energy, renewable power and prepare to deal with a large electric vehicle fleet.

Tex Edwards behind supermarket plan

2degrees founder and Hawaiki Cable director Tex Edwards was in the news this week promoting a plan to upset the supermarket duopoly. It’s a move that echoes his involvement in establishing a third mobile network more than a decade ago. If Edwards succeeds with getting his plans off the ground, it will be familiar territory for at least one of his new rivals: Foodstuffs CEO Chris Quinn was a Telecom NZ executive when 2degrees emerged as the third mobile company.


The Download 2.0 is a free weekly wrap up of New Zealand telecommunications news stories published every Friday.

All it requires is an email address. Your address is only used to send out the newsletter. It will not be sold to anyone.

I’m not collecting the data for anything other than sending out the newsletter. You name isn’t going to be sold anywhere.