Vodafone TVYou need a fast fibre connection to use the new-look Vodafone TV. Less than 100Mbps won’t cut it. That means a UFB connection or Vodafone’s own FibreX alternative.

You also need a Vodafone broadband account. The service is company exclusive. CEO Russell Stanners says he hopes customers who like the look of Vodafone TV will reward his company with their business.

Vodafone has offered a TV service for some time. Its 2013 earlier incarnation was, in effect, a version of Sky TV’s My Box reworked for the internet.

The new version is something else. The hardware is a puck-sized box packaged with a remote control. In some ways it is like Apple TV.

It’s not about the hardware

There’s not much to the hardware because there doesn’t need to be much. The cloud does all the heavy lifting. An Amazon server stores all TV shows, movies and other video. It could be in Australia, but it could be anywhere in the world.

Cloud storage has the vast catalogue of material and the user’s own saved program choices.

There are also mobile clients for phones and tablets. Stanners says, you might be sitting at home watching the All Blacks test on a large screen before going on a trip.

When your taxi arrives, you can press pause on the big display. Load yourself in the car and resume watching the game from the point where you stopped en route to the airport. Pause again, dump your bags and find a seat in the lounge before getting back to watching the game on your tablet.

Stanners says the experience is seamless and brings all the screens together. Vodafone wasn’t able to show the hand-off at the Auckland event to show off the product. Yet staff were able to show how well Vodafone TV works on big screens and on mobiles. It is impressive and like all impressive technology has a faint whiff of magic about it.

Reverse electronic programme guide

Using the cloud has other advantages. There’s no likelihood of running out of local storage. And there’s a powerful reverse electronic programme guide.

This makes it easy to find the shows you want. One neat twist is you can use your mobile phone to cue big screen content. It’s a form of on-demand programming. Armed with the reverse programme guide, you can search back through the last week or so to find shows that you may have missed. The actual timespan wasn’t discussed.

Vodafone TV uses the company’s proprietary intellectual property. The company has a similar product in parts of Europe. Stanners says there has been a huge amount of local input into the service on sale here. Not least, is the work clearing the rights with content owners to build the reverse electronic programme guide.

Vodafone TV: made for Sky merger

The TV-as-a-service product was already in the pipeline when Vodafone planned to merge with Sky. It shows what Vodafone was able to bring to the party. Sky, meanwhile, owns the bulk of content. It will all be there on Vodafone TV, but it’s isn’t an exclusive relationship. The device is able to run apps and from day one there will be Netflix, YouTube and content from Mediaworks. TVNZ will join them soon after.

Vodafone was coy about the precise launch date and the cost. Stanners says it will be soon. There was a whisper at the event that soon means the next week or two. We could have the new Vodafone TV before we have a government.

He wouldn’t talk prices, but Stanners says they will be competitive. Again, the word around the event is that it won’t be expensive. There will be add-ons, some premium content and extras like Netflix subscriptions. At this stage customers will have to buy Netflix themselves, but Vodafone may yet offer it.

Party-on dudes

It doesn’t stop there. Stanners says one advantage of Vodafone’s approach is it makes distribution easy for smaller content providers. He says that means we could see the emergence of Wayne’s World-like niche channels.

The event made it clear there is still a strong relationship between Vodafone and Sky. Vodafone TV delivers most of what a merged operation could have achieved. It does so without causing regulatory ripples. There is no legal compulsion for Sky to offer the same content to other broadband suppliers.

Vodafone TV puts the company in a strong competitive position. It should be able to grow its share of the broadband market. Yet even with stellar growth it will struggle to match Sky’s satellite reach. It goes places fibre doesn’t.

Fibre is important to Vodafone TV. You need a solid, fast, reliable connection for it to work.

Chorus and the other fibre companies have graphs that show how fibre uptake took-off. It happened first when Spark introduced Lightbox. Then, again, when Netflix opened in New Zealand. There were two clear inflection points.

Inflection point

It wasn’t only uptake. The graphs also showing how much data users download. These also turned corners at the inflection moments. Expect a similar effect as Vodafone TV kicks in.

Close Vodafone watchers may have spotted a theme with the company in recent months. Vodafone group product director Sally Fuller was in town earlier this year. The main thrust of her presentation was that we’re moving to: “Everything-as-a-service”. She says the ownership of things is on the way out, instead we buy outcomes.

This is something you could miss in Vodafone’s TV announcement. Yes, it is a flash new product. It has the capacity to delight customers and win business from rivals.

At the same time it is another step closer to “everything-as-a-service”. This is the future world Vodafone refers to in its advertising. Vodafone TV is more than a product, it is a strategy.

Also on:

Ben Kepes writes about an infosec panic:

Bitglass, a company that is all about protecting organizational data, wanted to see the impacts of widespread use of public wi-fi, alongside the use of unsanctioned file sharing solutions…

…Bitglass’ threat research team tested two real-world scenarios—public wi-fi use and sharing of data from within a cloud app. The assumption being that the combination of public (and, one assumes, at-risk) wi-fi and cloud file sharing apps (shock, horror, cue the “cloud is risky” FUD) would deliver a double blow of cataclysmic risk.

Source: Public WiFi plus cloud file sharing: A recipe for InfoSec panic? « The Diversity Blog 

Kepes goes on to talk about his experience of using public wi-fi. He says he uses it a lot and never runs into trouble.

That makes sense. But it misses something. Kepes is motivated. He owns a business. He has enough experience, knowledge and sense to steer clear of obvious traps.

You, I and Kepes might be sensible. You can’t assume everyone using an enterprise computing app on a mobile device will be as careful or as savvy.

No amount of training or awareness programmes changes that.

Risky, not too risky

Organisations are at risk from careless use of public wi-fi. As Kepes points out the level of risk might not be high.

There is a simple way to deal with the risk. Build VPN functionality into every heavy-duty mobile enterprise app. That way that users have a secure, encrypted end-to-end link from their mobile device to the server handling their data.

VPNs are not expensive, they are not hard to build. They don’t impose much of a performance overhead.

Enterprise software companies can absorb the cost, a few cents per month, into their pricing model. It makes sense to guarantee security with an insurance policy against data being hijacked between a mobile device and the server.

Kepes’ point, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt undermines cloud computing. In general, cloud is more secure than older computing models. You might not expect cloud infrastructure vendors to address mobile access risks; it should be a priority for an enterprise SaaS business.

Xero Ipad

Xero has moved one step closer to becoming New Zealand’s first global technology giant.

Last week TCV, a Silicon Valley investment firm, bought 1.4 million Xero shares from Matrix Capital Management. The deal was worth NZ$28.5 million. That’s a little over one percent of the company.

Few people in New Zealand will have heard of TCV. Most New Zealanders will have heard of the company’s other investments. TCV owns equity in, among others, Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix.

Xero a name in Silicon Valley

Technology Crossover Ventures is based in Palo Alto, California, the epicentre of Silicon Valley.

Matrix reduced its holding in Xero from almost 10 percent of the company to around 8.5 percent.

The share transfer may not be a big deal in Silicon Vally terms or even in TCV terms. The business has close to US$10 billion invested in technology companies. The investment is from a TCV fund that focuses on mature firms that already have an impressive track record.

Yet it is significant for Xero, although not in financial terms. It’s an important vote of confidence marking Xero’s arrival in the technology premier league. That’s something no New Zealand company has managed before now.

Disruptor

The cloud accounting software company has disrupted global markets. Xero made the world sit up and look at New Zealand technology.

While Xero’s share price has fallen back from the mid-2014 high point, it has performed well so far in 2017. The price is up almost 15 percent since Christmas. In mid-December it traded at NZ$17.50, today, at the time of writing, it is NZ20.50. That’s the highest point for the company’s shares since November 2015.

Like many fast growing technology companies the business has yet to turn a profit. Although that day is now getting closer. At a recent company update founder Rod Drury said the business will soon be cashflow positive.

It continues to show strong growth in revenue. What’s more subscriber numbers continue to climb. This is a vital metric for a software-as-a-service business. At the end of March it hit the milestone of one million subscribers.

Office 365 businessMicrosoft partners have warned enterprise cloud service customers to expect a 22 percent price increase from April 1.

In a message to its customers one Microsoft partner says the increase applies to Office 365, Azure, CRM-Online, Enterprise Mobility Suite, Intune and other enterprise online services.

The customer message reports Microsoft saying

… this is an adjustment to more closely align prices to the NZ market and reflects the rapid evolution of cloud services and the dynamic nature of the market.

In Microsoft’s defence, the partner points out it is years since Microsoft prices have risen and that there is now more value in the products.

It goes on to say that a 22 percent price increase does not alter the financial sense of a subscription.

real price increase

While these points are both true, the price rise is still a long way ahead of New Zealand inflation. At the time of writing inflation is close to zero.

It is also out of line with the recent fall in the value of the New Zealand dollar.

Companies can renew before the end of the month and pay the existing rate.

Frazer Scott, director of marketing and operations, Microsoft New Zealand says:

Microsoft is committed to delivering state-of-the-art security and compliance enhanced cloud computing solutions. As part of our on-going business process and in light of the rapid evolution of the local market dynamics, Microsoft will adjust prices for company’s enterprise cloud products in New Zealand.

Microsoft’s price increase underlines the risk companies take when adopting cloud services. Although there’s no absolute lock-in, moving a company that depends on, say, Outlook.com for its email to an alternative service, is far from trivial.

Many businesses will feel they have little option but to swallow this price rise. Yet Microsoft is taking a risk here. If customers fear that subscription software prices will ratchet up in coming years, they’ll look elsewhere. A 22 percent increase tests the limits of what customers are happy to accept.

New Zealand - Australia

From March 2015 Microsoft will host New Zealand and Australian business customers from Azure datacentres in Sydney and Melbourne. Microsoft’s new Australian Azure datacentres opened in October and will cater for Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online customers.

For most New Zealand customers the move has two implications.

First, Australia is closer to New Zealand than the previous datacentre hosting Microsoft online customers.

Better than Singapore

At the moment a datacentre in Singapore hosts Microsoft’s New Zealand customers. Direct data traffic between New Zealand and Singapore typically has a ping time of around 120ms. Things are worse over the public internet where NZ-Singapore connections can even travel via the US.

Australia is 24ms from Auckland. To put this in context, that roughly the same as the ping times between the Auckland and the most distant mainland destinations in New Zealand.

Conventional wisdom says latency becomes an issue when ping times go over 50ms.

Latency an issue, but not that much

In general lower latency means you access applications faster and speed up data storage. In the case of Microsoft’s Office 365 apps, that might not always be noticeable as they handle most processing tasks locally on your machine. It will make a difference when saving or retrieving data from OneDrive storage.

Yesterday Kordia announced a Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute service. This gives New Zealand companies a private connection to the Azure datacentres. It bypasses the public internet and makes it possible to build hybrid clouds using on-premise servers and Microsoft’s remote services.

The second point about Microsoft moving its Azure datacentres closer to home is a tricky one: data sovereignty, security and confidence. When Microsoft hosts your data on Australian soil, it is subject to Australian law.

Data residency

In a media statement Microsoft New Zealand’s managing director, Paul Muckleston, says Australian data centres help address data residency considerations, particularly in sectors such as healthcare, education, government and financial services.

Mucklestone is right in the sense that New Zealand organisations are more at home dealing with Australian rules than, say, those in Singapore. But Microsoft is an American company, which means it also has to operate under US law. If the US government decides looking at your data is a matter of its national security, then Microsoft is only going to resist so far.

The good news is that, to date, Microsoft has a good track record on resisting. However, if data sovereignty is a big deal for you or for your customers, you may want to look elsewhere for cloud services.

Data sovereignty

New Zealand government seems relaxed about hosting non-critical data in Australia. Some ruling National Party ministers and MPs have suggested moving most data offshore as a cost-cutting measure. That could yet backfire politically, but outside of specialist circles data sovereignty doesn’t seem to excite much interest.

For my money one of the best messages in Microsoft’s announcement is that the company will offer what Mucklstone calls “geo-redundant back-up”. What that means in practice is that should the Sydney datacentre run into problems, Microsoft will switch everything to Melbourne.

Although this kind of redundancy is exactly what cloud service providers would like you to think is standard practice, it would normally cost extra.