Bill Bennett

Menu

Category: computing

Computing is where it all started for this site. These days computing doesn’t need to be local. It can, and often does, takes place in the cloud.

Servers, storage and other pure computer appliances are joined by modern phones, which are computers is all but name.

Budget 2022 earmarks $20 million for NZ software

New Zealand’s 2022 Budget includes $20 million that will be spent over the next four years on supporting our technology sector.

The money will go towards two projects that are part of the Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan. The government worked with industry to develop the plan which aims to boost export revenue and create better paid jobs.

In his official statement Minister for Digital Economy and Communications David Clark says:

“We will support the growth of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Community and take ‘New Zealand’s Tech and Innovation Story’, a marketing initiative led by industry in partnership with government, to the world.”

New Zealand tech sector economic contribution

The minister’s statement says the digital technologies sector contributed $7.4 billion to the economy in 2020.

This number puts the $20 million earmarked in the budget into perspective.

You might expect an industry capable of generating $7.4 billion in a year to find its own $5 million to pay for promotion and marketing initiatives.

And you’d be right.

Yet the government wants to push the sector towards its goal of shifting our export industries away from carbon emissions and towards creating many more new high income jobs.

It gets to decide how the budget money is spent.

100% Pure Technology

Part of the money will brand New Zealand as a player in the more dynamic parts of the technology industry.

While there’s no doubt every other rich nation plans to do the same, there are reasons to be optimistic. This country has a solid history when it comes to building New Zealand’s brand.

We’ve done it with food and wine exports, with tourism. Putting New Zealand on the technology map is no different. Overseas technology companies see New Zealand as a place to buy expertise.

Addressing the skills will need a lot more spending over time, but there is money in the budget allocation for this.

The minister’s statement says: “…It will also support the delivery of short courses for digital skills development.

“We know for the digital sector to grow, it needs access to the right people. Historically, there has been a skills mismatch, but the key to future success is training our domestic talent with the right skills, and encouraging New Zealanders to participate, whatever their background.”

Is upgrading to Wi-Fi 6 a smart move?

Upgrading your home network to Wi-Fi 6 will give you the full benefit of a fast broadband connection but it may be best to wait until you update your devices. 

Fibre to the home can be fast. Think of it as a six-lane motorway with no speed limit. Yet once that turbo-charged data traffic hits your home, it can slow to a crawl as the motorway shrinks to a pedestrian footpath.

That’s because home networks are often slower than broadband connections. They tend to use wireless technology. Wi-Fi, the brand name for wireless networking, distributes data around almost every New Zealand home.

Chances are your internet service provider sent you a Wi-Fi router when you signed up for your broadband plan.

The problem is that Wi-Fi is usually slow. It can be a bottleneck. Or at least the Wi-Fi on your ISP-supplied router. Wi-Fi 6 goes a long way to fixing this, but you might not be ready to upgrade yet.

Ethernet where you can

Ethernet is faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi. Most Wi-Fi routers include Ethernet ports on the back.

You should use Ethernet where you can to improve data speeds. You should, at least, connect your TV to your router using an Ethernet cable direct to your router.

That way you won’t get Wi-fi hiccups in the middle of the big match or a Netflix movie.

Cables versus wireless

Ethernet has been popular for office network for decades. A few people use it for home networks. The problem is that installing Ethernet at home can be expensive and disruptive. It’s also inflexible. If you move your home office from one room to another you need to wire-in a new connection. That means more expense, more disruption.

Wireless is easier even if it is slower and prone to congestion.

There is a lot you can do about these negatives. The most obvious and, in the long term, the best option is to move to Wi-Fi 6. It is a more up-to-date version of wireless network technology.

Wi-Fi 6 can be faster than older Wi-fi, although you may not always notice much of a speed bump1. The more important thing about Wi-Fi 6 is that it works better when you have many connected devices.

And it’s likely you do.

Wi-Fi 6 eases data congestion

The average home has around 20 internet connected devices. Switched on devices will attempt to communicate with your router all the time.

The technical term for this is congestion. Unlike a lot of network jargon, it doesn’t need much explaining. Going back to the motorway analogy, congestion is when there is so much traffic things slow-down and eventually move to a crawl.

When lots of people use the same Wi-Fi router at the same time, you have data congestion. Every internet connected device in your house that is powered up will be competing with all the others to connect to your Wi-Fi network.

The technical name for Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax. When the Wi-Fi Alliance updated home wireless technology in the past the focus was on speed improvements.

Greater capacity

Wi-Fi 6 does this. But more important it increases capacity and improves power efficiency. It will perform better when there are many devices.

The speed improvement is significant. In theory a Wi-Fi 6 router can push data through the air at 1.2Gbps. This compares with 800mbps on the earlier Wi-Fi standard.

In practice you will never see those speeds.

There are all kinds of gotchas slowing connections. The big one is that everything on the network shares the bandwidth. Your neighbours’s Wi-Fi can interfere and slow yours if you are unlucky2. Wireless data will slow down going through walls. There are other factors beyond the scope of this post.

The key thing is that you should see faster Wi-Fi 6 connections: 30 percent faster than old school Wi-Fi. You’re going to need that extra speed if you have a gigabit fibre connection.

Capacity boost from Wi-Fi 6

More speed is great. Yet the increased capacity is every better. You don’t need to know the technology behind this, but if you have a spare week, go and research Orthogonal Frequency Division Multi Access.

In effect this technology splits radio channels into smaller chunks, then sends simultaneous blocks of data through them.

Doing things this way has an interesting by-product: lower latency. This is the time it takes for a signal to do a round trip from, say, your laptop, to and from a server. Wireless latency, think of mobile data, tends to be far higher than with fixed networks.

Latency

Latency is one of those measurements where lower means better.

Lower latency is great for gamers. With a high latency connection your game rival can take a shot at you before you see them.

With lower latency you should see less lag when chatting to others on, say, a Zoom video conference. There are times when this can be a problem, although in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not essential.

Power efficiency

The greater power efficiency in Wi-Fi means battery powered devices will run longer between charges. Again, it’s not a huge improvement when you look at a single household. Yet when millions of homes save a small amount of power we burn less fuel.

There’s another aspect of battery life that might not be of interest right now, but could be in the future. It means that small Internet-of-things devices can go years without needing a charge. This technology is now turning up in domestic products and may soon be useful.

You might, for example, want to place a security sensor by your front door. In the past it would have needed a power cable or for you to continually replace its battery. A lower power drain means you won’t need to change batteries for ages.

One last advantage of Wi-Fi 6 is that it has better security than earlier versions. It uses WPA3 which makes it harder for intruders to run a password guessing attack. Your home network can never be secure enough.

Wi-Fi 6 catches

There is a catch. You’ll need to buy a new router. They are not expensive, at the time of writing the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 routers on sales in New Zealand cost more than $300. In time ISPs will provide Wi-Fi 6 routers, a handful already do this.

A new router is only the start. Moving to Wi-Fi 6 means you will need to upgrade your devices. You won’t be able to go to a website and download a software upgrade that lets your existing devices use it.

Almost every new device now on sale comes with Wi-Fi 6. Hardware you purchased in the 18 months will probably have it. You’ll need to check. Otherwise those older devices won’t use Wi-Fi 6. That’s not a huge problem, the newer Wi-Fi 6 routers will support older devices, you just won’t see the speed benefit on this devices.

The next step up from Wi-Fi 6 is Wi-Fi 6E, for that to work, regulators need to free up 6GHz spectrum


  1. Mainly because you need new hardware to get the benefit. The story explains this later. ↩︎
  2. Although there are things you can do to reduce this problem ↩︎

NZ Tech Podcast – clearing fog, robots and Twitter

I’m back on the New Zealand Tech Podcast with Paul Spain. This week we discuss a couple of local innovations: airport fog-busting and fruit-picking robots. There’s talk about the implications of Elon Musk taking a sizeable stake in Twitter and discussion about the UK government getting into the NFT game.

It’s going to upset some listeners, but at one point I talk about why the New Zealand government needs to have someone with technology expertise sitting at the top table. It’s not a new idea, but one that is well overdue.

 

 

Source: NZ Tech Podcast episode 573.

Gartner falls for metaverse hype

An ill-considered press release from Gartner gushes that one person in four will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.

Facebook started talking about the metaverse to distract us from the toxicity surrounding its brand.

Last year it changed the parent company’s name to Meta to further distance the brand from its recent past.

Gartner draws on its deep pool of gobbledegook to provide its own definition of a metaverse:

“…a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It is persistent, providing enhanced immersive experiences, as well as device independent and accessible through any type of device, from tablets to head-mounted displays.

Enhance this…

You know you’re in trouble when you see the word ‘enhanced’. It is the technology charlatan’s go-to word. It can mean anything, but in general it is use as a fancy way of saying “a little better”.

Gartner used it twice in the space of two sentences.

Falling for this kind of nonsense is curious given Gartner invented the technology hype cycle.

And more so when you realise how unimpressed Facebook investors are.

We’ve seen similar digital-world projects in the past.

Today’s metaverse

Today’s computers are more powerful and there is more data network bandwidth. Yet otherwise there’s little in Facebook’s plan that you wouldn’t have found in, say, Second Life.

That may change.

Let’s take the metaverse shown in Mark Zuckerberg’s video at face value. It’s vague, but it is the nearest thing we have to work with.

If we accept Facebook’s video, Gartner’s press release is silly.

First, at the time Gartner wrote the press release in February 2022, Meta did not have a working metaverse.

Rudimentary metaverses

You can find a rudimentary metaverse in a handful of games. Meta isn’t the only big tech firm pouring billions into metaverse development.

Something will emerge. But the virtual world that features in Zuckerberg’s video does not exist. Tech firms can’t conjure it out of thin air.

The hardware and software needed to support that vision are not ready yet. It’s possible that will change in time for Gartner’s 2026 forecast.

Rolling new kit out to one quarter of the world’s population won’t happen overnight. Metaverse companies would need to make and sell two billion headsets.

Perspective

Let’s look at comparative technologies to put the numbers in perspective.

It took 25 years for a quarter of the world’s population to get a mobile phone.

There are around 60 million current generation video games consoles in use.

About one in four people, that number again, use Facebook, the social media website. It took years to build that audience.

Let’s say metaverse companies get a working system out of the door in two years. It’s unlikely they’ll have 25 percent of the world onboard in another two years.

And this is if we make the heroic assumption that everyone wants a metaverse. They may not. Virtual reality didn’t take off in the first three attempts. The metaverse shares a lot of characteristics with VR.

Dealing with a monopsony

America’s regulators watching big tech firms have shifted their focus from monopoly to monopsony.

Monopolies remain a problem. They are when a single company dominates a market from a sales point of view.

Customers have no choice who to buy from. That can lead to monopolies abusing their power and charging high prices.

One buyer to rule them all

A monopsony is where there is a single buyer. Their customers have no choice who they can sell to. Monopsonists can decide what they pay for a product or service.

In the case of technology, monopsonic transactions tend to be at the wholesale level.

Apple is, in effect, the only buyer of apps for iPhones or iPads. Any company wanting to reach customers has to go through Apple’s App Store.

That’s not the whole story. An app developer can try selling direct to customers, it won’t get far.

A similar monopsony exists with Google’s Play Store. While there are alternative stores selling Android apps, Google dominates.

Amazon monopsony

In the same way, Amazon has the ability to decide what it pays to companies wanting to sell products through its online store.

Google and Facebook have control over publishers who want to sell online advertising.

As always with these cases, the powers are not absolute. Sellers have alternatives, but they are rarely practical. A company not selling iOS apps through the App Store will sell a fraction of what its rivals selling through the App Store might achieve.

It’s a new approach for American regulators looking at the tech sector.

There’s a counter argument from the tech giants.

App Store wealth

Take Apple, its App Store has created untold wealth for many software developers who might otherwise have struggled to find customers.

At the same time, it creates value for consumers. People can buy apps from Apple’s store confident that they meet basic standards. Having a central point of sales simplifies buying and finding suitable apps. And there’s a case to be made this process means that apps are more affordable than they might otherwise be.

Developers complain about a lack of flexibility, Apple’s rules can seem rigid and, at times, arbitrary.

The other complaint is that Apple takes a hefty 30 percent cut from every transaction. There is no question this creates a huge revenue stream for Apple. In 2020 the store took $64 billion.

Yet this is in line with the margins software developers offered retail sales back when software was sold in boxes on store shelves. And at that time there was a distributor cut on top of the sales margin.

Bumper year ahead for NZ IT sector

Gartner says New Zealand spending on technology products and services will grow 7.4 percent this year. The company’s latest forecast says the market will total NZ$15.3 billion in 2022.

New Zealand’s forecast spending growth is ahead of growth in world spending. Gartner says the international market will climb 5.1 percent this year.

The fastest growth in New Zealand will be in data centre systems which Gartner says will grow 16.6 percent in 2021.

Data centre building boom

New Zealand is seeing a burst of investment in local data centres. Earlier this week DCI Data Centres announced plans to further develop its 5 hectare site in North Auckland.

The company says it designed its AKL01 and AKL02 sites for the New Zealand market and local data sovereignty.

Meanwhile, Hawaiki Cable founder Remi Galasso’s Datagrid product is going ahead near Invercargill in the South Island.

Enterprise software

Enterprise software is surging with spending expected to grow 14 percent. It services are forecast to grow seven percent. Devices will be up 6.7 percent.

Communications services is the laggard, as has been the case in recent years. Gartner expects spending to grow one percent. That’s well behind New Zealand’s rate of inflation and can be seen as, in effect, a market contraction.

In recent years Communications Services was the largest sector in New Zealand, but it’s slow growth saw it eclipsed last year by IT Services.

New Zealand IT spending forecast

 2021 Spending2021 Growth (%)2022 Spending2022 Growth (%)2023 Spending2023 Growth (%)
Data Centre Systems66716.67004.97639.0
Enterprise Software3,11114.03,53613.73,98212.6
Devices2,1146.72,3059.02,092-9.3
IT Services4,1767.04,5308.55,01110.6
Communications Services4,1611.34,2031.04,2451.0
Overall IT14,230
7.015,2757.416,0935.4
Gartner figures, January 2022.
All numbers are NZ$ millions

IT services on a roll

Gartner expects IT services to grow 8.5 percent in the coming year to reach NZ$4.5 billion. In 2023 it expects the segment to grow a further 10.6 percent taking it past NZ$5 billion.

IT services includes consulting and managed services. Gartner says consulting will grow eight percent in 2022.

“…staff skills gaps, wage inflation and the war for talent will push CIOs to rely more on consultancies and managed service firms to pursue their digital strategies.”

Gartner forecast total IT spending will grow a further 5.4 percent in 2023 taking the spend past NZ$16 billion.