Broadband in NZ– VLENZ Update, No 181, March 13, 2011

The  New Zealand Broadband network

Rural Kiwis  probably wont see

‘true’  Broadband  for decades

… will Christchurch quake slow implementation

of 2nd-best  RBI solution

Telecom's Dr Paul Reynolds ... rebuked for honesty.

With the government concentrating on the post earthquake resurrection of Christchurch – and the money needed to rebuild that city – one wonders whether the Rural Broadband Initiative which has been badly fumbled, will quietly fade into the woodwork.

And will  New Zealanders outside the main centres and Telco hubs continue to be left in the 20th Century with less than adequate Broadband?

Of course, it is understandable that the contract, which has been awarded to the old-style,  not-likely- to-deliver the Broadband needed for the nation, Telecom/Vodafone consortium with its outdated backward-looking technology, may  go on the backburner.

But one has to ask is  even  the  out-of-date solution to be thrown out with the demolition rubbish from the Christchurch earthquake.

Not that it really matters I suppose because one has to wonder whether the  Government and its advisers on the RBI  ever really wanted to have a competing future-oriented Broadband network outside the main cities.

‘Marketing carrot’

This was made clear by Telecom chief executive  Paul Reynolds, who earned a rebuke for his honesty from the Government, when he  forecast (before the tender was awarded) that it could take two decades for consumers to upgrade to ultrafast Broadband. Dr Reynolds said, although it is clear the Government intends the network should be completed by 2019, it would take at least as long again for all households to start using it. “Twenty years is the number for the progressive uptake of fibre services,” he said.

His remarks mirrored those of the Telstra-Clear NZ chief executive of a few years ago who  said he saw no need for fast broadband  in New Zealand.

FX Network's Murray Jurgeleit ... RBI future-proof solution rejected.

Despite  remarks like these the  major Telcos are still promoting  and selling Broadband throughout New Zealand  at exorbitant rates which they cannot deliver  at consistent Broadband speeds.

Even Telcom’s latest television promotion for its Broadband service fudges the fact that if you join without contract – a “marketing carrot” – you still have to pay $NZ90 to leave, exactly the same  as you would have had to pay if you had a contract, even if  the organisation cannot deliver consistent Broadband speeds.

The worst part of it is that, as the promotions attract more people to Broadband in provincial NZ,  the more the telcos’ services  degrade, particularly outside the main centres and the less reliable and consistent it gets at times of high bandwidth usage such as school holidays, after school and on wet, miserable winter weekends, the times when the average man, woman and child wants to use it.

The Government did have the option of future-proofing Broadband services for the country but failed to take the chance  apparently accepting the Telecom/Vodafone  solution which basically is slow 3G wireless and fast DSL over copper. This was probably because it was advised by those whose hearts have always been with the big players.

The major alternative was and still is the fibre and 4g wireless solution put forward by FX Networks with Opengate (Kordia & Woosh) which would have delivered much faster Broadband to far more rural users than any alternative.

Simply put  the OpenGate/ FX Networks  solution would have delivered a $NZ285m,  10 Mbps or more Broadband connection to 83 percent of rural New Zealand – a third of the country’s population which generates two-thirds of its export income – for as low as $NZ60 per month, with access from within two years – not six as posed by the Telecom consortium.

‘Choice, innovation, competition’

In a press release last month FX Networks Managing Director Murray Jurgeleit said, “In addition to the low prices, we have proposed to deliver extensive new infrastructure for our rural communities. We are committed to delivering guaranteed performance through the latest technology to put us ahead of our international trading partners.

“We can create an environment of choice, innovation and competition to ensure rural New Zealand is well served in Broadband technology for years to come.”

And Kordia CEO Geoff Hunt  who expressed disappointment at the outcome of the tender process, said that OpenGate would have connected a customer at full speed 40 kms from a wireless site,  a significant advance on what could be achieved with copper.

“The combination of fibre and 4G wireless technology enables us to very quickly deploy high-speed broadband to many more rural Kiwis,” he said.
The OpenGate/FX Networks consortium offer was based on the same advanced technology (4G LTE) that’s being installed in Australia, the US, China and India as an upgrade to aging and congested 3G networks.  Hunt said that this technology meant that any individual tower could be scaled up to deliver more than 1.7 gigabits per second, enabling hundreds of users to have ultra-fast Broadband off a single tower without slowing down service.

Geoff Hunt, Kordia ... an opportunity lost

“They (the Government) say they’re going to a proven technology with copper – it’s so proven that it’s being replaced by fibre everywhere,” said Kordia ceo Geoff Hunt.

“The opportunity to deploy much better broadband has been lost. It is really disappointing,” he said.

He claimed the Government decision, and I agree,  has effectively condemned rural communities to suffering from same old duopoly services that continue to under-deliver and hold rural New Zealand hostage.

“The government had an opportunity through the RBI to provide a technology step-change in services for rural New Zealand that would have laid a future-proof and highly competitive foundation for the next 15 years.

Not an “up-to” speed offer

He pointed out that the OpenGate/FX broadband network would have delivered 100 Mbps to rural schools, 10 – 20 Mbps to 83 percent of rural New Zealanders and an impressive 20+ Mbps to 67 percent of rural Kiwis.
“We can support a lot of people on the internet at these impressive speeds at the same time … we are offering 10 Mbps at better prices than in the cities today – not an “up to” offer,” he said earlier. “New Zealanders are sick and tired of high contention ratios and actual performance that bears no relation to advertised “up to” speeds.

I can concur with that having argued with both Telecom and  Telstra that the speeds they were and are delivering Broadband –  even in provincial centres let alone rural areas – is often more like dial-up than Broadband despite them charging  outlandishly for the service.
The OpenGate/ FX Networks’ infrastructure would have been separate and distinct from the existing copper and 3G networks, and it would have fostered much needed head-to-head competition with the moribund Telcos.

Now sadly it looks as though many of today’s rural New Zealanders probably will not get “real” Broadband at their homes in their lifetimes, even with the latest advances in copper wire technology.

This will only serve to place  rural  residents – adults and students – at an even greater disadvantage to their city cousins in a world where consistent, reliable fast Broadband is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury, especially in the area of distance education.

KAREN, VLENZ Update 171, June 01, 2010

KAREN goes  ‘independent’

NZ high-speed research/education

network in new partnership …

All NZ education to get real Broadband speeds

A year-old YouTube view of the FX Networks network  …
2200 kms of optical fibre and still counting.

Heralding a new era for online education and research  in New Zealand, Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd (REANNZ) has announced  that it has  entered into a long-term partnership with the country’s foremost, independent optical fibre network provider,   Wellington-based  FX Networks,   to provide the national connectivity for the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

The arrangement secures the continuation of KAREN’s existing 10Gb/s backbone connectivity and footprint around the country for an initial term of  three years through to December 2013, with two two-year renewal options.

The move should mean lower cost, and faster and more reliable  national bandwidth options for New Zealand tertiary and secondary education institutions, and could lead to a proliferation of virtual world and other third generation uses of the internet by  both faculty and students in education across the country. When coupled with other moves, it  should also provide benefits to distance learners.

Donald Clark, REANNZ

The Universities of Auckland, Otago and Canterbury, along with Weltech, in Wellington, are already operating a bandwidth-hungry,  OpenSim-based virtual world system (New Zealand Virtual World Grid) in test phase in conjunction with the KAREN network  which can only benefit from the latest development, which should ease both access and costs, especially  as NZVWG only uses local bandwidth, rather than international connections.

The decision to go with FX Networks  follows  what spokespeople for the two partners described as “a thorough and comprehensive evaluation process.”  The KAREN network has previously worked directly with  Telecom.

The contract also includes options to move KAREN to a dark fibre-based network infrastructure, which will be essential to ensure KAREN can continue to offer leading-edge network services within a constrained cost base.

The CEO of REANNZ, Donald Clark,  said, “This is the most exciting development for KAREN since the network was launched in 2006. We are confident that we have selected a progressive, long-term partner in FX Networks and have secured the best national connectivity options for our community and provided certainty to our members on cost and presence.”

“Over the last four years, the demands of our members has driven innovation in network supply and services across the telecommunications industry,” he said. “In earlier times our investments have helped other network suppliers extend their networks, now we’re helping FX Networks.”

Through moving to the new network, REANNZ will put into effect a new Network Access Policy which  will provide greater flexibility to REANNZ and KAREN members around access, and use of the network. The network is currently recruiting a number of secondary  schools to add to its current tertiary institution base.

A virtual region on the Weltech portal of the 'alpha' test NZVWG Grid .... online and MUVE education can only benefit from the latest KAREN move.

Work has already begun on comprehensive transition plan to ensure a smooth cross-over from current national connectivity arrangements to the new arrangements in December.

REANNZ is currently in the  late stage contract discussions with the preferred supplier for KAREN’s international network. An announcement on the selected provider will be made later this month.

FX Networks already has completed most of an optical spine the length of the country and is completing   a network right around the country to join with the spine – a number of  local bodies like those  controlling Hawkes Bay, Pahiatua, Dannevirke and Eketahuna among others   have already signed up with FX Networks -  which should make access to  KAREN  and true high-speed broadband internet an affordable reality for most  institutions as well as distance education students.

Jamie Baddeley, FX Networks

Previously, despite claims to the contrary, the major Telcos in New Zealand  have supplied  provincial New Zealanders  with Broadband, which they pay Broadband prices for, but which  generally  have not delivered consistent Broadband speeds. In fact,  in areas like the Manawatu, consumers, although paying Broadband prices, have often been left with a service, during  times of high contention, which   has run at dial-up speeds.

FX Networks’ fibre optic ‘backbone’ network  covering both islands of New Zealand, however,  is the fastest independent intercity pipeline in the country, capable of transferring data and voice at speeds up to 10Gbps.

The organisation describes its   network as a  ” a ‘green fields’ operation, our 21st Century technology and lean business practices mean we can deliver a Ferrari-type network for Corolla-type pricing.”

The company is privately owned and funded, with 30 percent equity held by New Zealanders. It is independent from the Telcos  operating in New Zealand.

FX Network’s partnership with REANNZ  follows the announcement  in April that FX Networks  had signed an agreement with Telecom Wholesale for the exchange of local internet traffic (local peering) at 19 of  Telecom’s points of interconnection – 39 currently available) around the country,  laying the groundwork for the “most efficient routing” of New Zealand’s growing volumes of Internet traffic through New Zealand’s two main internet backbones.

One of the regions on the University of Auckland portal of NZVWG grid which should benefit from both the KAREN decision and local "peering."

Peering allows traffic to be exchanged on a local or regional basis rather than transported back and forth throughout the country to be exchanged in Auckland.

Announcing this agreement the two companies said, “With the Government’s $1.5bn ‘Ultra Fast Broadband’ and $300m ‘Rural Broadband initiatives both on the horizon, the agreement paves the way for a whole new range of competitive broadband packages to be developed by ISPs and other service providers.”

FX Networks Jamie Baddeley said at the time of the agreement  that it meant  that the Governments investment of $1.8bn in urban and rural broadband “will now be able to run local content in a fast and efficient manner.

“This is a big step in New Zealand’s digital transformation that will revolutionise many aspects of society including health, education, commerce and entertainment,” he said. “…  I think many ISPs are going to have to rethink how they charge for traffic and there will now be competitive pressure to separate international traffic from local usage and charge accordingly.”

Ernie Newman, TUANZ

Senior industry consultant Dr Murray Milner said: “This is a very positive outcome with the industry tackling a major issue that is fundamental to the success of the current fibre roll-outs. Local peering means that internet backbones will not be clogged up with local traffic and we will see smart uses of the capability in areas like healthcare where digital X-rays can be shared simultaneously in full definition.”

Ernie Newman, CEO of TUANZ said: “Peering has been on the table for a number of years as one of those too hard issues, after some carriers depeered from the earlier system a few years ago. It was the users who bore the brunt of that with traffic romboning to Auckland when it didn’t need to, or worse to the USA. I’m delighted to see industry players resolving this issue without the need for regulation or government intervention and users will benefit from better performance and lower charges. What’s emerging is the national digital architecture that TUANZ has been calling for.”

SLENZ Update, No 159, January 19, 2010

Now the summer holidays are over…

Back  to Broadband and the

virtual worlds …

‘Reality exists in all worlds’

One world: The reality of vacation land…

Sitting on a golden sand beach near Splitapple Rock, in Tasman Bay, New Zealand, being warmed by  the late afternoon summer sun, I wondered about virtual worlds and what they have to offer me  – or anyone else.

Being without Broadband for three weeks – and Second Life  for that period – made me  wonder whether immersion (should I say addiction) is all its cracked up to be.

First off I must say I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. I did, however, read nine fairly  big books; swam every morning; hiked for  a couple of hours over the hills and through the bush every day; listened to bird song throughout the daylight hours; drove  an open-car (Jensen-Healey) frequently and enjoyably on winding coastal roads;  went to bed at about 10pm and woke between 4 and 5am; and I had a lot  of conversations with fairly ordinary people about fairly innocuous things, most of which – like the books – I forget the detail of now.

It was a holiday in the same beautiful place I’ve been vacationing for 20 or more years. It’s a place I love.

I was totally immersed in  the reality of my environment – I have the brown skin and more tightly cinched belt to prove it – but the memories are little different from those I have got from the virtual world of Second Life. The memories now I am back at my desk  are like my memories of being 30 years continuously on the road as a working  journalist all over the world  – little different from scenes viewed in a television travelogue or out a tourist bus window.

Of course, being there I could feel the sun and wind, the sand under my feet, and smell the sea and the ‘honey’ smell in the native bush. I also could feel the strain in my lungs and my legs climbing a steep hill, or over rocks, and feel the initial coldness of the water on that first early morning swim. But that was the only real difference.

One world: The reality of virtuality

Sitting on that beach though I came to the conclusion that for most purposes virtual worlds provide a similar experience with fewer hassles than those of the real world. I know all – yes all my friends – will disagree with that statement,  or consider me demented, but I think it is true. There is no real  difference in the quality of the experience despite  what the naysayers, who claim virtual worlds are not real life,  might argue.

I wouldn’t change my holiday venue for all the world – and I don’t think I would ever want Broadband there – but  for times when I want to travel without spending five hours in a car, or  a similar number of hours on  an aircraft; at times when I want to talk to people about real things from around the world or even just banter, without the mind-numbing, lubricity of alcohol which many need to free their tongues in a real life environment; at times when long winter evenings, weather or other circumstances keep me indoors;  or at times when I choose to play in another real place I believe  interactive virtuality offers a real alternative to what people call “real life” unlike non-interactive television, or other non-interactive entertainment mediums.

But what  most people in the so-called real world – and especially in education and business – have missed is that  like the “real” world virtual worlds are all about people. They are not about scenery – even though I spend hours exploring the scenery of new and old simulations in virtual worlds -  or scripting, or buildings,  they are about people, real people, who really exist in virtual worlds, just as they really do in the so-called “real” world, despite their appearance as avatars and/or roleplayers.

Strangely that was the only thing  I missed on my real life holiday: being able to talk to the real friends I’ve made in virtual worlds over the last five years. Some I only talk  with infrequently,  others on a daily or weekly basis.  But even though most are from thousands of miles away and I will never feel the touch of their fingers in a handshake they are as real to me as anyone I have met in the real world.

And unlike my local real life tavern – in a small, provincial town in rural  New Zealand, where conversations range from the weather, Rugby, cricket, racing, beer, girls and Rugby and did I say Rugby, but “don’t get to heavy” – my conversations in Second Life with  both men and women  from all ethnic backgrounds cover  a world of ideas and dreams, from art to the universe, from medieval shipping to  teleportation, from history to present day politics, and from lifestyles to  other world cultures.

For me, and millions like me, virtual worlds provide a doorway out of the world we choose to inhabit, perhaps not permanently, but for a certain number of hours each week: I can step through my screen into a place where I can find people – perhaps in a reality  10,000 miles away – who think on the same wave length as me or who I can learn from, or who I can laugh with, and even  those who I can cry with.

For me reality exists in all worlds:  it’s just one world, whether virtual or not.

Perhaps for some reading this, that is sad.

However, for me with virtuality and Broadband I find I can live in one of the best places on earth, a million miles from anywhere, and still be anywhere in the world  when I want to be with the people I choose to mix with. That’s what Second Life has given me. The world.

It has opened another door for me.

Both worlds: it’s all about people.

SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
- just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres -  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.
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