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Wide Area Networking is evolving fast. WAN users already combine fixed-line and wireless technologies with concepts like software defined networking.

This approach is better suited to cope with a world where workers, applications and workloads are in a constant state of flux.

Eventually we could reach a point where, just as cloud computing users don’t always need to know where their data is, network users won’t need to know how their data gets from A to B.

All they will care about is that it gets there on time and at a reasonable cost.

Explosion of options

IDC vice president Huge Ujhazy says a year ago he was talking about carrier supported multi-Lan and multi-cloud. He says; “There is an explosion of options along with the race to interconnect all the public cloud, private cloud, on-premise cloud and wrap all this into the overall enterprise network.

“This year we’re adding the concept of multi-platform, because we think the future is moving towards a platform play. This means an application will make a request for a connection, it will give the request some parameters. It will then do whatever job it was going to do before handing the connection back.

“This is in contrast to the conventional approach where a customer might have to get a fixed two-year contract for a link.”

Ditching the fixed links

With a platform play, telcos will offer connectivity services alongside compute, storage and applications on terms that are similar to cloud computing. Just as cloud customers don’t have to pay for on-premise servers, but spin up on-demand services instead, connectivity customers won’t need fixed links. They’ll be able to by the connections they need as they need them. And like the computing cloud, the network is always on.

Ujhazy says; “We have to assume the network is always going to be there and you have to know what particular connection we are going to use. You might make a request such as ‘I want connectivity to an end point in Hong Kong. I want one millisecond latency and I want the least cost route’”.

Abstraction

This is a way of abstracting communications to the point where the customer doesn’t need to know or care about what is going on. In effect they are asking for a connection, letting the network operator choose the technology and the route. All they do is pay for the delivered service. There is no need for a permanent relationship with the network.

Ujhazy likens this to loading an app on a phone. He says; “It goes out there, grabs some cloudy bits, some application bits and does its thing.”

We are not there yet. Ujhazy says there is still a way to go.

The message from the carriers is “if we present ourselves as a utility, where all I’m offering you is a pipe to shove data down, then I’m increasingly marginalised. So if I start offering you a connectivity platform which has a place to store all this data you are connecting, a place to consume it from any device from any location at any time and a place to share it, then I can become really relevant”.

Like AWS and Azure, but with networks

He calls this approach “moving more and more behind the curtain. Think about what AWS and Azure have done for us. There was a time when we had to work for a living and build these environments. Now it’s a matter of matching this much virtual machine with this much storage and this much capacity and here is the credit card.”

Ujhazy says he is impressed at what Singtel is doing in terms of unifying all these parts. He says; “They’ve built an interface on top of all the cloud providers and all this connectivity. It’s called the Liquid Infrastructure. Customers can come in through the Liquid Portal and they can choose this and that and it comes down to a single Singtel bill. That’s the sort of complexity which we can push behind the curtain and make it the responsibility of the carrier. It’s quite appealing to customers who don’t want to deal with all that.”

Communications technologies are converging elsewhere. Ujhazy says in some markets Vodafone offers IoT Plus. This brings together traditional IoT connectivity with LTE and 5G along with edge computing. This is all wrapped together with managed services. In effect Vodafone is telling customers it will take care of everything. It’s a compelling proposition.

This story was originally published in The Download magazine as WAN platform play moves complexity behind the curtain . 

Huawei p40 pro

In March Huawei launched the P40 Pro. It is the company’s latest flagship Android phone.

Going by the reviews, the hardware is as good as it gets for Android.

It could have been a contender for 2020’s best phone.

Yet there is more to a phone than hardware. If anything the software and services are more important. So is the way these two integrate with the phone hardware.

Android, not Google

This is a problem for the Huawei P40 Pro because it is the first major Android phone from a top brand that doesn’t include Google Mobile Services.

Last May the Trump Administration placed heavy sanctions on Huawei. The company is not allowed to licence or otherwise use US-made technology.

Which means Huawei’s new phones can only use the open source version of Android.

Moreover, new Huawei phones can’t offer Gmail, Google Maps or You Tube. Huawei is cut adrift from the Google Play Store. You can’t pay for stuff using Google Pay.

Clever, up to a point

Huawei has found one clever workaround the problem. It has re-released versions of earlier phones that are still allowed to use these services. The Huawei P30 Pro recently appeared complete with everything Android.

That works if customers don’t mind buying what could be thought of as old technology. Not that 99 percent of users would ever know the technology is old, it still feels modern enough. As my P30 Pro review says, you get a lot of camera.

Homegrown ecosystem

P40 Pro buyers are stuck with Huawei’s own homegrown ecosystem. You get Huawei’s unexciting EMUI 10 operating system wrapped around Android and a handful of substitute apps. The apps might get the job done, but while some buyers may be satisfied others may not warm to them.

Huawei also offers its own App Gallery. The company said it was going to, or maybe that is will, spend a billion US dollars on the gallery. It has 3,000 software engineers working on it.

Whatever the claims, it’s like entering an Eastern Bloc shop in the bad old Cold War days. There are gaps everywhere and many apps are limp, pale copies of the real thing.

Even the included email app is, well, not a patch on Gmail. Huawei really ought to have poured some resources into making that one sing and dance.

If you are hooked on Facebook, there is no app. In fact you won’t find any of the most popular apps.

A brave decision

You’ve got to really want a Huawei P40 Pro to get one. Or you have to be extra keen to stick-it-to-the-man.

For a start, the P40 Pro isn’t listed in the Spark or Vodafone online stores at the time of writing. You could buy it from 2degrees at NZ$1500 a pop or on a plan.1

Then the challenge is making it work the way you’d want an Android phone to work. A lot of geeky folk are attracted to Android precisely because it does offer more scope for tinkering that Apple’s iPhone.

No doubt some of these will enjoy the P40 Pro challenge.

Security melt-down

You can use third-party app stores. If you work for a corporation your IT security people will probably have a melt-down at the thought. There are downloadable and published hacks and so on. Android is already a minefield for malware and scams, heading into this territory is not for the faint hearted.

Patching security updates is likely to be troublesome and P40 Pro owners may even be violating the terms and conditions for services like online banking using such risky software.

Huawei has made some great phones over the years. In another world, the P40 Pro would probably be among them. But it isn’t. Whether its handicap is fair or reasonable is one thing, but regardless of those matters, it would not be wise to sink $1500 of your own money into a crippled phone.


  1. The marketing material at the 2degrees site doesn’t go anywhere near mentioning the phone is not like other Android phones. This could be grounds for getting your money back if you feel duped. ↩︎

There’s a widespread feeling that remote work is now mainstream. An assumption that we will never go back to the old ways of working.

If that’s true, it’s been a long time coming. For years experts and pundits have predicted many more people will work from home in the future.

There’s evidence that the number of people working from home, at least for some of the time, was already rising before the Covid–19 pandemic accelerated the trend.

Remote work’s slow, steady rise

The rise has been slow, but steady.

It exploded when New Zealand and most of the world went into lockdown. Anyone who’s work could be done remotely logged on from home. Data volumes on broadband networks soared and hitherto esoteric applications like Zoom became part of everyday life for white collar workers.

For some home will be cemented in as their main future workplace. It’s worth remembering this only applies to certain types of work, a surgeon can’t operate via Zoom, nor can a supermarket shelf stacker.

The National Business Review closed down its editorial office, apparently for ever. The paper gave staff an allowance to cover home working costs.

Lonely, alienating?

Remote work is not too lonely and alienating for journalists. The job often involves attending functions or meeting people for interviews or information gathering.1 It could be hard going for some.

Yet, hundreds of companies are working through similar plans.

One key thing that changed with the early 2020 lockdown was that managers and individuals alike realised that mass remote working is possible and practical. Until now there was scepticism, especially among more anally-retentive managers.

Productivity questions

There are still questions over its desirability in every case. Some voices say remote working is more productive. Other managers hate the idea of not being able to look out from the corner suite to see rows of heads down with people beavering away.

For what it’s worth, my experience over the years is that it can be more productive at times, but work quickly eats in to the rest of your life. I certainly do more than a forty hour week and can count the number of non-working weekends over the last 15 years on my fingertips.

Either way, my gut tells me that while we are going to see more home or remote working than before lockdown, there will also be a drift back to the office.

Mix and match remote work

Maybe people will work from home two or three days a week and commute on the other days. Or it could be people will work one way when they need to focus on their own, and another way when close collaboration is needed.

It’s not all about me, but let’s go back to my experience in this department. I find if I only work from home, my productivity is OK, but not great.

Likewise, if I only work from an office, it’s not great either. But if I mix things up, productivity shoots up. If I have the freedom to work from home as and when the mood or my energy levels dictate, I get the best result of all.

Your experience might be different. It certainly will if you have a young family or if there’s not a lot of space at home. In those cases getting out is wise. This goes some way to explain the popularity of co-working spaces.

Which brings me to the other key point. It’s likely that many future workplaces will look and feel a lot more like co-working spaces.


  1. Well, that’s my experience and I’ve been working this way for almost 15 years now and sporadically for periods before this one. ↩︎

RNZ reports two more cell towers were attacked early today:

Police are investigating after two fires in Ōtāhuhu and Favona in the early hours of this morning.

Towers were also damaged in Māngere earlier this week and another in Papatoetoe late last month.

Elsewhere an RCG 4G cell tower was attacked in Northland.

It’s no longer the case of a one-off attack. Clearly something serious is going on.

Critical infrastructure

If New Zealand was at war, an attack on critical infrastructure would be regarded as treason. If a hostile foreign power was responsible for sabotaging critical infrastructure, it might not be an act of war in itself, but it would be a serious diplomatic incident.

In a sense, this is what is now going on with the so called anti–5G protesters. People around the world are being wound up, fed a careful diet of lies and misinformation in order to trigger this kind of behaviour.

There’s no question some of this propaganda is, at some point, serving or even directly controlled by state controlled organisations. It is quite deliberate. You can speculate which states might be behind the messages.

Target

New Zealand may not be in their direct sights. It’s unlikely anyone sitting in a foreign capital is high-fiving a colleague because a cell tower was taken out in Ōtāhuhu. We are probably collateral damage in a slow-motion underground cold war being fought elsewhere.

That doesn’t absolve the people who start and feed these rumours and misinformation campaigns. It does go part way to explaining it.

There’s little likelihood any information campaign organised by New Zealand’s government or telcos can counter this propaganda. For a start, the people who believe these conspiracy theories would be unwilling to take, say, Vodafone’s word on anything to do with 5G.

Moreover, any information campaign would naturally be spread by mainstream conventional media. Conspiracy theorists are allergic to mainstream media.

That’s if they see it at all. They are far more likely to believe the rants of red faced presenters promoting dubious health products on You Tube, other social media on underground channels.

It doesn’t help that high profile commentators work so hard to undermine reasonable government actions and messages in other areas.

This goes some way to encouraging a climate where an attack on critical infrastructure might feel more like fighting for freedom than destroying essential infrastructure that helps everyone.

No easy answers

As a first step, it’s probably a good idea to install low cost cameras at cell sites to monitor suspicious activity.

This is hardly another step on the road to tyranny… using security to protect private property is reasonable and well established.

Where things get more dangerous and contentious is dealing directly with misinformation. Incitement to commit a crime is a criminal offence.

Sure, there is often a thin line between incitement and legitimate free speech. But anyone who is, say, sharing information on how to attack a cell tower or broadcast an attack is clearly committing a crime.

Beyond that I don’t have anything to contribute. There are no easy answers. As I said in an earlier post about cell tower attacks, it’s not as if we don’t have other, bigger problems to deal with at the moment.

Shenandoah RCG tower

During the Covid–19 lockdown the Rural Connectivity Group switched on 29 new sites. The new sites connect about 2000 homes and businesses to fixed wireless broadband and increase the reach of the mobile networks. This includes mobile phone coverage for a further 110 km of state highway.

The RCG’s recent burst of activity means there are now a total of 92 sites.

RCG sites are part of the second phase of the government’s Rural Broadband Initiative.

Joint venture

The RCG is a joint venture between New Zealand’s three mobile carriers: Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. It builds 4G towers in parts of the country that might not otherwise get cellular coverage. Another part of its job is to reduce the number of mobile dead zones on main roads.

RCG - rural connectivity group cell tower

RCG partner companies share the infrastructure. Towers have one set of access hardware and one set of antennae. Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees all offer their services from each tower. The towers are also open for wireless internet service providers or Wisps to use.

Rural Connectivity Group footprint increased by one third

Much of the work for the new towers was done before the nation went into lockdown. Nevertheless, increasing the footprint by a third at this time is an achievement.

A post on the RCG website quotes RCG chief executive John Proctor who says:

“At the time of the lockdown we had a large number of sites around New Zealand close to completion which we needed to secure and walk away from. Being granted Essential Service status means our team has focused on getting built sites ‘on air’ providing immediate service to as many rural communities as possible.”

Eventually the Rural Connectivity Group will run at least 400 towers. It will deliver broadband to around 30,000 homes and businesses in more remote parts of the country. Those numbers could rise if government finds more funds to fill in coverage gaps.