Categories
telecommunications

Talking about 5G mobile on TV3 with Duncan Garner

A short introduction to 5G mobile for a non-technical audience including the important message that the wireless spectrum it uses is not going to hurt anyone. The argument here is ridiculously simple, we’ve had mobile phones for three decades now and there are no queues of sick people waiting to get into hospital. The frequencies used for 5G won’t change that.

Categories
telecommunications

Telecommunications still most complained about industry

Once again telecommunications is New Zealand’s most complained about industry. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over. The latest report is MBIE’s New Zealand Consumer Survey 2018.

Almost one in three people buying a home service experienced a problem. That’s according to According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

The most common problem, almost half, is that the product or service didn’t work as expected.

home based telecommunications problems

Fixed line, mobile complaints

It’s not only fixed line home services. One in five consumers buying a mobile service had a problem in 2018.

Even allowing for overlap between the two categories, this is a lot of people. The odds are close to even that you, the reader, are among them. The chance that you know a person who had trouble is close to certainty.

Part of the problem is that telecommunications touches everyone.
MBIE says almost two-thirds, 62 percent, of consumers bought a home service in the last two years.

Even so, the category is a long way ahead of building repairs, the next most complained about sector.

Over a quarter of people surveyed say their most recent consumer problem was with telecommunications.

That’s bad. It’s diabolical. But it gets worse. MBIE goes on to say the poorest New Zealanders get a worse deal from the industry’s bad customer service. These are often the people least equipped to deal with poor service.

It adds up to another digital divide. This one looks harder to fix than lack of access. Sorting this out could do much to improve poor New Zealanders’s telecoms experience.

Telecommunications Forum CEO Geoff Thorn defends the industry. He says the sector has been working hard to improve customer satisfaction.

“We know that New Zealand consumers have access to world-class telecommunications services when measured by coverage, speed and price. However, we recognise there are areas where the telecommunications industry can improve”, Thorn says.

That’s fair enough. Although it’s unlikely outsourcing customer support to an Indian company will improve matters. Vodafone already always ranks last in surveys comparing telco performance.

New service quality regime coming

Meanwhile the TCF is working with the Commerce Commission on a new service quality regime. The two plan to develop this in the next few months.

Thorn has a point when he says the poor showing in the report: “…is not surprising given the number of connections and associated transactions people have, and that, in the case of fibre, it is new infrastructure that is being rolled out across the country.”

One area the TCF could investigate is how New Zealand compares with other countries. A quick, unscientific online search shows telecoms where there are comparable statistics.

It’s possible companies don’t set realistic customer expectations. Consumer magazine runs frequent comparisons of local company support. It’s no accident that the firms that do best are those who promise next to no support.

Categories
review

D-Link Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit review

D-link’s Omna Wire-Free kit packs two weatherproof wireless cameras, base station and a year’s cloud recording.

If you need home or small business security cameras, D-Link has a kit that will have you set-up in no time. The Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit makes what could be a tricky task dead simple.

It took about as long to get the home surveillance system working as it will take you to read this review. About six minutes from opening the box to being able to check two remote wireless cameras. Of course, mounting them in a permanent spot will take a little longer.

Not cheap, but worth it

At NZ$900, Omna Wire-Free isn’t cheap, but if you need security in a hurry, it’s hard to go past D-Link’s kit.

The ensemble comes in a sizeable box. Inside there’s a base station, D-Link calls it a hub. It looks a like a Wi-fi router. In effect, that’s what it is.

You need a spare power socket for the hub and an unused Ethernet port on your router. Neither of these are givens in modern homes. It makes sense to place the hub close to your router. If your router is near your home entertainment hardware, you’ll have to live with more distracting flashing lights.

Two cameras, hub Omna D-link kit

The box also contains two wireless cameras. They’re about the size of a large apple or orange. Both are curvy, but have a flat base. D-Link supplied some mounting hardware, but there is only a single outdoor mount.

You connect the hub to power and your network. Then, you hit a sync button on the side of each camera and it will connect to the hub.

The next stage is downloading the Mydlink app. There are versions for iOS and for Android.

This brings us to the trickiest and most long-winded part of the set-up. You need to sign-up for a mydlink account and wait for a confirmation email to arrive. You may also need to scan the QR code on the back of the hub to get the software running.

At this point you should be in business and able to see what the two cameras are picking up.

Motion detection

Both cameras can handle motion detection. This feature can work in darkness. The cameras are robust and waterproof enough to put outside. That includes, say, up a tree in the garden.

When the cameras detect movement they capture the scene in 1080P resolution. It’s higher definition than you’d expect. You can choose to send the video footage to D-Link’s cloud storage. Or, you can capture it on a local SD-card or even an old-fashioned hard drive.

D-Link is following the now-common practice of adding online services to hardware. You get a year’s subscription to a basic cloud storage service when you first install the system. After that it costs. The price goes up depending on who long you want to store videos. If you have ten cameras and want to store 30 days of video the cost is US$100 a year.

There’s obvious value in this. If criminals rob or trash your place, there’s a chance they will find or even steal your hard drive or the SD card. If they are at all clued up about home security they may even look for it so they can destroy the evidence.

Local storage

The flip side is local storage is free. There’s no subscription to remember and you can get immediately at the data.

It wasn’t possible to test D-Link’s claim that the camera batteries will work for 11 months between charges. Yet after a few weeks there was no sign of them running down. Even so, if you mount the cameras in hard to reach places, recharging them could be painful. You have to unmount them and take them close to a power supply.

One nice touch is that you can buy extra cameras to expand your security network. D-Link doesn’t appear to sell spare matching cameras. It offers a range of options from A$150. It’s not clear from the documentation if you can add any existing home cameras to the hub.

Phone app

D-Link’s Mydlink phone app works well enough. Yet the 1080p resolution is overkill given the size of most mobile phone screens. The pictures are crisp and clear, even in low-light conditions. It’s hard to fault the product in the set up of video capture department.

That said, there doesn’t appear to be an option to watch live footage on a PC or laptop. If there is, it passed me by. It does work with Google Home, so it may be possible to Chromecast images to a large screen TV. I didn’t test this.

A more subtle shortcoming is the weird latency in the system. It can take ages for the camera image to appear on the app.

In testing on different occasions it would take two or three minutes to get from waking the phone to a live feed. Sometimes the app would appear to hang at this point only to spring back into life. Even a two-minute hold up feels like this could be long enough for a home invader to get through the front door and on their way to your bedroom.

As an aside, I’m also not comfortable with the assumption I keep my phone next to my bed at night. I’ve found that’s a surefire way to interfere with a good night’s sleep.

One last niggle, D-Link needs to work on the phone app. The user interface is poor at the best of times. If you’re panicking as someone crawls about outside it isn’t good enough.

Verdict: D-Link Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit

D-Link’s Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit takes the hard work out of getting a home security system up and running. Buying separate devices, mixing and matching them, then making them work with software is not for the fainthearted. The price is good considering the amount of work you won’t need to do.

The hardware performance is impressive. It’s better than I’ve seen on any home system. D-Link still needs to work on the software; both the user interface and the time lag to get images on screen. Still, I’d recommend this for anyone who needs home or small business security.

Categories
mobile review

AirPods 2: Apple’s clever wireless headphones get tidy tweak

Longer battery life, new charging case, hands-free Siri. AirPods 2 are a refreshed version of Apple’s popular wireless earphones.

From the outside, you’d be hard pressed to tell Apple’s updated AirPods from the model they replace. The two look identical.

Identical looks mean they also have an identical fit. If AirPods didn’t sit comfortably in your ears last time around, the new model changes nothing. Likewise if you had a problem with them falling out your ears, that’s still going to plague you1.

There’s also no discernible difference between the sound on the new and old models when it comes to playing music. You still get a full, clear sound.

A single AirPod

AirPods 2: Good sounds

The bass is not too heavy and the treble stays under control. You don’t get mentally exhausted by jangling highs. All the music I tried sounded crisp. The AirPods pick up a surprising amount of detail. They cope well with a range of musical genres.

There’s no active or passive noise cancellation and the AirPod design does little to block out excessive background noise. I haven’t had an opportunity to test them on a flight yet, but they work well on public transport.

When AirPods first appeared, I passed because recently purchased fancy noise cancelling over-the-head headphones. While the headphones are still more comfortable for long listening sessions, upwards of, say a couple of hours, the pods are so light and unobtrusive that, at first, it’s almost like you’re not wearing anything at all.

Upgraded chip

Apple says the newer AirPods 2 have an upgraded chip which improves performance in some areas: Longer battery life for voice phone calls, faster switching between devices and lower latency.

Because I’m new to AirPods I can’t tell you if the experience is better. What I can tell you is the experience is easily as good as I’ve had from other bluetooth speakers, earbuds and headphones.

With the earlier AirPods you had to double tap to launch Apple’s Siri voice interface. Now you can start the app by saying “Hey Siri”. This is how it works with the iPhone, iPad and Mac. While I’m too embarrassed to do this in public, it works well. Telling Siri to play your music choices is a useful feature when your hands are busy.

Like the earlier AirPods, your music will automatically pause if you remove one from an ear.

Qi charging

The wireless charging case work with Qi. This is a standard, you’ll find it on some iPhones and Androids. It means you can use the charging pads you already have to give your AirPods more juice. In practice it works well, although it isn’t fast.

It takes between three and four hours to fully charge the AirPod case using wireless and around two hours if you stick with the lightning connector.

AirPods show the best of Apple’s approach to technology. In use they are radically simple, so simple and easy to use they merge almost seamlessly into the background of daily life. After a few days you almost forget what life was life before you had them.

AirPods 2 verdict

There are few reasons to upgrade from first generation AirPods and even fewer if you’re not going to use wireless charging. That said, there are stories that ageing AirPods suffer from worn-out batteries, so there will be upgraders.

If you’re the kind of person who aims to impress by owning the latest fashionable kit you’ll be disappointed. While AirPods are something of a fashion accessory, there’s no extra kudos showing off the latest version.

One weakness; AirPods don’t fit everyone and they can fall out of your ears if you are active.

They’re not cheap at NZ$350 for a pair of AirPods 2 with a wireless charging case or NZ$280 for the non-wireless case. Yet, you’ll struggle to find better wireless earphones. They have plenty of battery life and the sound is as good as you’ll find anywhere else.


  1. If you are new to AirPods and wonder if they will fit, there’s an easy way to find out. The earpieces are more or less than same size and shape and those on the wired earbuds that come with iPhones. So long as they fit your ears, AirPods will be fine. ↩︎
Categories
mobile telecommunications

Unravelling 5G mobile part 2: Unevenly distributed

This is the second post in a series looking at how 5G’s reality might differ from perception. The first, Don’t expect a 5G big bang, boils down to how, often, the move from 4G to 5G mobile technology will be almost seamless.

Author William Gibson summed up a lot about technology when he said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

That’s how it’s going to be with 5G mobile.

America’s Cup 5G

Spark New Zealand’s 5G plan is a good example of how this works. Managing director Simon Moutter has repeatedly said that his company aims to have a 5G network working on Auckland’s waterfront in time for the 2020 America’s Cup yacht races.

His idea is to showcase New Zealand technology to the world. Or at least the part of the world that watches yacht races. At the same time it will send a powerful signal to New Zealanders about Spark’s capability.

The company has a nationwide mobile network. Its 4G coverage extends to places where more than 97 percent of the population live, work or play. There are hundreds of 4G towers.

The 5G network pencilled in for 2020 is likely to be half a dozen or so sites. It won’t even cover all over central Auckland. There’s nothing wrong with this. It makes sense to start with a modest network build and then extend it to reach elsewhere.

For guidance look at 4.5G

Spark has done exactly this with its 4.5G network. At first there was a single site in central Christchurch. Then another, then another and so on. Although we’re on the cusp of the fifth generation, the 4.5G technology still hasn’t rolled out across New Zealand. It’s there in some towns and cities, not others.

New Zealand is not alone with this. Very few countries are building national 5G networks from scratch. The upgrade is expensive and the higher bandwidth, lower latency 5G offers is not essential everywhere. At least not yet. It will be over time.

Spark’s 5G mobile plan

It will take years, if ever, for New Zealand to get uniform nationwide 5G coverage. There’s a clue for this in Spark’s capital expenditure plans. Simon Moutter has previously said the company will fund its 5G mobile roll out from its existing budget.

In other words, the company doesn’t plan to spend up big in year one rolling out new hardware everywhere. It could take a decade.

There’s another aspect to this uneven distribution which we’ll look at in another post: it’s possible different places will end up with different types of 5G.