Former Telstra executive and telecommunications consultant Dr Jim Holmes says looking at New Zealand’s UFB project from Australia was like “watching the carnival over the hill”.
Holmes says: “NZ is declaring victory. They have produced some very good results with much less overall government pain and suffering than we’ve had”.
He added that the country provided a model example of bipartisan policy development.
This is not the only reason UFB succeeded and outperforms NBN, but it is an important one. As former Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie told me in an interview two years ago; this country is good at “New Zealand Inc.”. That’s where everyone puts aside rivalries and works together for the national good.
New Zealand’s UFB project started under a centre-right National Party government. A centre-left Labour-lead coalition government finished the job.
It was a National election promise in 2008, but Labour went in to the election with a similar plan.
Although there were political rows, the UFB was never under a political threat.
This compares with Australia where the NBN was, and to a lesser degree, still is, a political football.
Australia’s usual narrative goes on to compare its low rank in international indices.
There is no question it under performs against other countries. Although this is often overstated.
And we should remember New Zealand’s UFB had a head start. When New Zealand began its fibre to the premises roll-out, a fibre to the node network was already in place. Australia, in effect started from zero.
What should be of more concern to Australia is the sheer amount of money it wasted with NBN. New Zealand’s project came in under budget. The government money used for the fibre build was in the form of soft loans, so the net cost was negligible.
Compare that with the NBN. The total cost depends on who you talk to. The official cost A$51 billion. That’s a lot of money for a network which underperforms the carnival over over the hill.
New Zealand interactive game developers earned $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017. The success comes from targeting audiences around the world and 96% of the industry’s earnings came from exports.
Technology lets us export photons instead of atoms. The idea was a common theme in my writing 25 years ago when the internet took off. It took time for the reality of this to creep up on us. Now it is happening in a big way thanks to New Zealand’s game developers.
One hundred years ago farmers would load sheep carcasses onto the, then, latest technology; refrigerator ships. These would belch smoke as they steamed to the other side of the world. It meant exporters earned foreign currency. This kick-started New Zealand on the path to, fifty years later, being one of the world’s richest countries.
Sheep carcasses, milk powder, crayfish, apples and all those other exports were made of atoms. They weighed kilograms and they needed to be physically shifted. The products would often take weeks to reach their destination by ship. There were physical risks.
Game developers sell light particles
Today, when, say, Grinding Gear Games, makes a game sale on the other side of the world, photons, tiny particles of light, race to their new home in a fraction of a second.
There’s nothing wrong with physical exports, that’s been what we’ve done for as long as anyone can remember. Yet tomorrow’s rivers of gold are going to come from exporting photons. We need to start thinking of games exports in the same way we once thought of meat or dairy exports.
If the game industry grows at the same pace for the next five years it could be worth a billion dollars a year by 2025. That’s still less than, say, wine or kiwifruit, but with much better margins.
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is a another take on the emerging foldable phone format.
Unlike earlier foldable phones which are the size of everyday phones that open to become an iPad mini-sized tablet, the Flip opens long ways. It resembles the flip phones that we are supposed to feel nostalgia for.
It’s neat, but not as useful as other folding phones for reading complex documents.
But there’s something else about the Galaxy Z Flip that appeals to me. It goes a long way to protect you from notification hell.
There’s a tiny screen on the front of the phone which lights up when there is an incoming notification. This is a lot less distracting than having a conventional phone screen light up with with a notification message.
Moreover, because you have to physically open the phone to read the full notification, there is a lot more distance between you and the incoming distraction.
It is easier to ignore the notification and easier to park it for later when you are not trying to focus. It’s not much protection, but enough to ease the cognitive load for a moment or two.
Of course the other possibility is to turn notifications off. That would be cheaper.
Last week Spark announced its first half results for the six months to December 31. It is a solid report showing strong revenue growth.
Spark looks to be heading on the right track. Yet there is an interesting angle on one of the company’s strategic moves.
Nine paragraphs into the market release there is this quote from CEO Jolie Hodson:
“We made a deliberate decision to limit wireless broadband sales in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, as a conservative measure to ensure customers had a great viewing experience while we introduced our new streaming service. Our capacity was more than sufficient, so we expect this to be a one-off and connection growth to return to trend in the second half.”
In other words Spark back-pedalled on fixed wireless broadband sales because senior management didn’t want customers to have a disappointing Rugby World Cup streaming experience.
Fixed wireless alternative
Spark pushes fixed wireless broadband to its customers as an alternative to fibre. It’s a strategic move because Spark owns its wireless network. That means the company doesn’t pay a wholesale fee to a fibre company. It keeps all the money and that makes for a higher profit margin.
Investors love that.
Downplaying fixed wireless broadband in the run up to the Rugby World Cup made sense. Although fixed wireless broadband should be able to give customers enough bandwidth to watch high definition streaming video, that’s not always the case in practice.
Unlike fibre, which has consistent and predictable performance, fixed wireless broadband performance varies from place to place. In some cases it also varies at different times of the day.
Fixed wireless broadband bandwidth is shared. So if a lot of people connect at once, speeds can drop. The Rugby World Cup saw data traffic peak across the nation. That put pressure on more marginal fixed wireless broadband connections.
Good at times
Fixed wireless broadband can be good. I’ve heard from happy fixed wireless customers who enjoy decent speeds and uninterrupted connections.
There are others who say their service does not do an adequate job with streaming video.
One common complaint is that wireless broadband speeds are not consistent. In some cases speeds vary in a regular pattern over the course of a day. Others say they get intermittent slow downs.
Conservative on fixed wireless broadband
Spark describes the decision to back-pedal on selling fixed wireless as conservative. That may be the case. But it underlines that the company is not confident about its fixed wireless performance.
There was no conservatism about selling fibre broadband to customers in the run up to the Rugby World Cup.
The message is clear: Spark knows fixed wireless broadband is a lower quality product. It knows customers get a better experience on fibre.
Customers with a 100 mbps fibre plan saw average download speeds of 99mbps. During peak time the dial barely moved. Samknows reported peak speeds at 98.6 mbps.
With fixed wireless broadband the average speed is 25.8 mbps. At peak times this drops to 22.7 mbps. That’s not a huge drop, but it squares with the anecdotal evidence that some customers see big drops while others see little or no drop.
Fixed wireless broadband latency
The SamKnows data also looks at latency. This is the time it takes for data to do a round trip. If latency is high, online users of applications like video conferencing and gaming can expect stuttering and dropouts. SamKnows says 30 ms is high.
SamKnows found nine in ten fibre connections had latency below 20 ms. In comparison 95 precent of fixed wireless connections had latency of over 30 ms. The average latency is around 50 ms.
Of all the latency tests performed on Fibre connections, 92% were below 20ms. At the other end of the chart, 95% of Fixed Wireless latency results were above 30ms.
That’s past the point where dropouts start. With everyday TV streaming, buffering can shoulder some of that load. Even so, it is a worse customer experience.
SamKnows’ summary says:
“…many fixed wireless connections will experience issues with latency-sensitive applications such as video calls and gaming.”
VDSL2+ can deliver near fibre speeds and in some cases is consistent and reliable. Before fibre came down my road I had a Spark VDSL2+ connection that delivered a consistent speed of more than 70mbps.
In three years it never wavered. You can read about my fixed wireless experience in this post. The speed was never anything like as fast as the VDSL2+ connection.
Fibre most reliable
Of course VDSL2+ is not as good as fibre. In the report summary SamKnows says:
“Households with multiple user should consider fibre, if available, for the most reliable performance.”
Spark knows all of this. The reason it pushes fixed wireless broadband is that the margins are higher. That’s because there is no wholesale charge.
For many Spark customers fixed wireless broadband is the right product. But let’s not pretend it isn’t an inferior product to fibre. Spark is willing to let its investors know that.
Disclaimer: I edit The Download magazine for Chorus as a contractor. It covers the company, the telecommunications industry and fibre broadband. These are my views and not those of Chorus.
The New Scientist reports on problems with software caused by an echo of the Y2K bug that had every excited in the late 1990s.
It turns out one of the fixes then was to kick various software cans down the road to 2020. In theory that gave people 20 years to find long term answers to the problems. In some cases they might have expected software refreshes to have solved the issue.
As the New Scientist reports:
Parking meters, cash registers and a professional wrestling video game have fallen foul of a computer glitch related to the Y2K bug.
The Y2020 bug, which has taken many payment and computer systems offline, is a long-lingering side effect of attempts to fix the Y2K, or millennium bug.
Both stem from the way computers store dates. Many older systems express years using two numbers – 98, for instance, for 1998 – in an effort to save memory. The Y2K bug was a fear that computers would treat 00 as 1900, rather than 2000.
It turns out that as many as 80 percent of the quick fixes in the 1990s used a technique called ‘windowing’. This meant treating all dates from the 00s to 20s as 2000 to 2020 instead of 1900 to 1920.
In one case people selling cars got acknowledgements from the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency dated in the early years of last century. That’s not going to cause havoc, but you can get an idea of the problem.
There’s another problem in the offing. The year 2038 problem.
This happens because Unix time started on January 1 1970. Time since then is stored as a 32-bit integer. On January 19 2038, that integer will overflow.
Most modern applications and operating systems have been patched to fix this although there are some compatibility problems. The real issue comes with embedded hardware, think of things like medical devices, which will need replacing some time in the next 18 years.
To my knowledge no-one in New Zealand has come across similar 2020 problems. Or have they? If you know of any please get in touch.