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to the old-style,  not-likely- to-deliver the Broadband needed for the nation, Telecom/Vodafone consortium with its outdated backward-looking technology, may  go on the backburner.

But one has to ask is  even  the  out-of-date solution to be thrown out with the demolition rubbish from the Christchurch earthquake.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

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NZVWG – VLENZ Update, No 172, June 03, 2010

Does the Emperor have any clothes?

New Zealand’s NZVWGrid  ‘newbies’ get

free avatar skins, hair, eyes and clothing

A ‘noobie’ appearance is no longer necessary in the  NZVWGrid …
free avatarskins, eyes and hair have been made available for users  …

New Zealand academics, researchers and  virtual world builders,  using and testing the alpha phase of the New Zealand Virtual Grid (NZVWG), no longer have to look like ‘noobs’ even though given some of the vagaries of the OpenSim environment they might sometimes feel like that.

Open source  avatar skins,  eyes, hair and clothing  have  now been made freely available on the Auckland  portal of  NZVWG at Kapua 6  (NZVWG  Kapua 6/88/116/34), and are  likely to be made  available  near the Auckland entry point to the MUVE on Kapua 3  as well as at other Portal entry points.

The full permissions skins have been created by the likes of Eloh Eliot,  Ziah Li,  Greybeard Thinker and others, with  the clothing obtained  from a variety of sources outside  the Second Life environment, such as free, full permission listings of clothing textures.

All are being made available under   “Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported” Creative Commons licenses.

The  NZVWG Project which grew out of  Otago University’s ONGENS programme is a joint venture of the University of Auckland,  the University of  Otago the University of Canterbury and  the Wellington Institute of Technology, Weltech.  A number of other institutions both in New Zealand and oversea have expressed interest in the project which is supported by New Zealand Telecom.

It is an open access national virtual world grid based on open source software. It operates on NZ-based servers hosted at Otago, Auckland and Canterbury Universities, and leverages other national investments in IT infrastructure through deployment on the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).

The grid has been set up with an academic focus and will be used for research and education, as well as for proof-of-concept application deployments and testing.

The project, based on opensource OpenSim  technology, is being led by one of New Zealand’s foremost virtual world education   champions, Dr Scott Diener,  an academic and  Associate Director, AC Tech, Information Technology Services,  at the  University of Auckland. Diener is well-known, both  as himself and as his Second Life personna, Professor Noarlunga, in MUVE  education circles around the world for his development of medical simulations and teaching programmes within Second Life.

Although little educational research is currently being done  in the alpha test phase of  the NZVWGrid there are opportunities once testing is completed. Besides  Diener’s Second Life University of Auckland virtual medical centre project in Second Life, which  may migrate to the NZVWG,  Otago University  has set up  the Otago Virtual Hospital in NZVWG (OtagoMedicalSchool/162/99/2800)  and is also hosting scenarios for medical students to gain experience practicing as doctors.   Some members of the now completed SLENZ Project are also active in the NZVWG although  there are no plans at this stage for a sequel to that successful research project.

… as well as  both men’s and women’s avatar clothing
and a limited range of footwear.

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.”

Life Games, VLENZ Update, No 169, April 17, 2010

Harnessing the power of play

Can   games-based learning

‘players’ save  the  world?

Jane McGonigal  thinks they can …

Jane McGonigal, who  directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a US nonprofit forecasting firm where she developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MORPG) in which players organise society to solve the issues that will confront the world in 2019,  asks why the real world doesn’t work more like an online game.

In a recent  TED presentation,  above, the games designer and futurist says her goal for the next decade is to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in on-line games.

Based on her research over a decade, she says she plans, over the next decade, to  convince more people to play bigger and better on-line games.

Noting that currently people spend an estimated  three billion hours a week on on-line games, she says, her research has  shown,  counter-intuitively, that this is not nearly enough  to  save the world from its real life problems.

In fact she believes if the human race wants to survive into the next century on this planet  “we need to increase the total time spent on-line gaming  to 21 billion hours game playing every week “by the within 10 years.

It’s worthwhile spending the 20 minutes it takes to watch to TED video to find out why she believes this, and why  her argument is eminently reasonable and probably something we disregard at our peril.

In the best-designed games, she says, “our human experience is optimised” and, when  “reality is broken, games designers can fix it.”

Jane McGonigal

“We have important work to do, we’re surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment,” McGonigal says, believing that the world’s gamers are an important resource for changing the world we live in for the better.

In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. She believes her game-world insights can explain — and improve — the way human beings learn, work, solve problems, and lead their real lives.

McGonigal masterminded World Without Oil, which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis and inspired players to change their daily energy habits.

She says, “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.”

The link to her  presentation was provide to me by Owen McCall, of the New Zealand Life Games Project.  Another supporter of that project, John Eyles, research and alliances leader at Telecom New Zealand, director at Eyles and Associates Ltd and chair at EON Foundation, provided another worthwhile link from a game-based learning conference he attended recently in the UK

The link, which should prove a valuable resource for all those involved in games-based learning,   Engage Learning, is an EU-sponsored initiative  which among other things,  provides information about general rating of games and quality criteria for evaluation of games as learning resources.

SLENZ Update, No 138, September 22, 2009

Why aren’t NZ  secondary schools

using virtual worlds, video games?

or are they …  but just below the radar?

DrFuturityAhead of the game …  Christ’s College, one of New
Zealand’s oldest schools, is in Second Life.

Given the ever- burgeoning popularity of  video games, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs)  and virtual worlds, or Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – they are all now mainstream –  and the growing body of evidence attesting to their effectiveness as a teaching aid one wonders why more New Zealand secondary schools  aren’t involved in Second Life’s Teen Grid or other virtual worlds.

There are a few involved or considering getting involved  – mostly private schools  and at least one, Christ’s College, Christchurch, through  Skoolaborate–  but one wonders whether New Zealand’s digital generation is being left behind the rest of the world. Or are those New Zealand schools using video games  and MUVEs just keeping their heads below the parapet? I know  a number of New Zealand teachers who are very competent in Second Life  but none of them admit to  teaching in virtual worlds.

New Zealand however,  is not the only country whose digital generation  might be missing the virtual education wave.

The South Koreans and Chinese definitely aren’t  but a couple of recent blogs on the situation in US schools would suggest many there are, despite  the increasing involvement of US tertiary institutions in virtual worlds.

US-based Dana Oshiro  recently asked the question, “Shouldn’t Schools Have Embraced Second Life By Now?” in his blog  ReadWriteWeb, and Washington-based lobbyist and virtual world’s blogger Max Burns (pictured left) asked a similar question in his Pixels and Policy blog .Burns, Max

The questions from both of them could easily be applied to New Zealand education where one often wonders whether the neo-Luddites still rule.

Oshiro wondering why, mainstream educators still don’t have the green light to teach in virtual worlds, said: “Many argue that video teleconferencing and instant messaging have replaced the need for virtual world interaction.” He then added though that neither of these offer the same “immersive” experience as a virtual world.

Max Burns, who has apparently been asking the question for some time, after noting that the University of Texas’ has used  $US2.5 million in grants to partner with SecondLife to “road-test” education in virtual world and create  a public resource of the resulting data, asked, “Why aren’t public schools everywhere doing this? It seems primed for inner-city schools where resources are strained and classrooms overflow with bored, disconnected students.

He then quoted a Tufts University report which demonstrated that kids from the digital generation  learn best when they learn in the context of a game – in this case, Second Life and virtual worlds take advantage of this generation’s immersion in technology to teach and entertain.

He detailed the  problem in the US of getting the greenlight to adoption as being bureacracy.

He said: ” It’s everywhere in the public school system, where the average state high school must deal with, in mostly this order: 1. in-house administrators; 2. district superintendent; 3. local school board; 4. city council; 5. local Board of Education; 6. State Department of Education; 7. Federal Department of Education.

In New Zealand, I could have added, that the problem is compounded by the fact that Telecom has appeared to have deliberately worked for competitive reasons  against allowing the quick spread of  high-speed, inexpensive  Broadband across the country, especially into the provincial towns, although the Government  currently might be moving to fill the vacuum  the telco has created. But despite the trumpeting of Telcom and TelstraClear among others, New Zealanders outside the major centres by and large have no idea what Broadband is even though it is being promoted and they are paying for it. Their services are still often little better than  dial-up – if better –  being notoriously slow and unreliable  at the times when most New Zealanders want to use the services, the evening.

CCbannerChrist’s College students … leading the way in New Zealand? (Christ’s College picture)

In the US, according to Max Burns, the education in secondary schools problem is being solved by establishing legal  “virtual”  Charter schools, for instance in Oregon. Charter Schools receive government funding but receive exemptions from the course requirements and bureaucracy of public schools. The only requirement? Show results.

“For those committed enough to buck the bureaucracy, the future of education is increasingly virtual,” Burns said.

In New Zealand and Australia it also  is the private school sector that is apparently showing the way.

But if New Zealand is going to move down the path of virtual education too, New Zealand’s education authorities should be thinking about these questions now. The yshould be asking where are the virtual world qualified teachers  going to come from?  How do we train them? How do we immerse them so they become virtual education champions rather than  negative real world whiners and neo-Luddites? Where are the  future New Zealand virtual education designers and builders going to come from? How do we retrain the digital migrants or dinosaurs  in the teaching profession to handle this new education generation, where in future  just as much mainstream schooling will probably happen in a  virtual world without boundaries as  in the face-to-face classroom?

Or are we just going to bury our heads?

The SLENZ Update – No 97, June 9, 2009

‘Exciting’ Kiwi development

Major New Zealand universities seek  funding

to establish  national virtual world grid

nzvwgsm

Proposal pdf here

Three major New Zealand universities are planning to establish an open-access, open-source New Zealand National Virtual World grid based on the ONGENS OpenSim grid which is currently under development.

The universities are Otago University, the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland. They have been joined by Telecom in the proposed establishment of the grid which will operate on New Zealand-based servers and will leverage other national investments in IT infrastructure. Funding is currently being sought to support this initiative.

Although the NZVWG will be primarily for research and education it will also offer proof-of-concept application deployments and testing. It is being designed to provide both experimental and routine use of VWs in teaching and research; to develop engaging interactive in-world content customised for New Zealand use; and to develop new context-specific plug-ins, enabling interaction between virtual and real (non-virtual) worlds.

The announcement of the planned NZVWG was made by Dr Melanie Middlemiss, manager of the GNI Project, from which the ONGENS testbed originated and which she runs with GNI technical manager Ms Hailing Situ.

The developmental ONGENS Grid, set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility developed by Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of Virtual Worlds and Web3.D technology, already has nodes run by the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury and Weltec. It currently is “open” for avatar registration but because it is in the developmental phase is not as stable as some other virtual worlds. It has about 100 registered users.

ONGENSWELCOME_001

ONGENS uses both the Government-funded KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) system and local networks.

Otago, Canterbury and Auckland Universities along with Telecom have formed a Governance Board for the NZVWG.

The proposed NZVWG will be composed of individual nodes at each University, connected together.

The project has been described as ” exciting” by the University of Auckland’s associate director, IT Services, Scott Diener, who is well known for his championing of virtual world education. The university, which has a two-sim presence in Second Life, is currently is running full test and development servers, hosting 12 islands on the ONGENS grid.

Announcing that further funding was being sought, Dr Middlemiss, said it was hoped to get more New Zealand and Pacific universities involved – the University of Papua New Guinea already has a research site – but it was a matter of finding people who were enthusiastic and dedicated to the development of the NZVWG.

Meanwhile the Government announced as part of the 2009 Budget in May a NZ$16m investment in KAREN to support the organisation’s ongoing operation and transition to a self-funding model.

Welcoming the Government’s new investment “to ensure KAREN keeps operating as New Zealand’s advanced network,” Donald Clark, Chief Executive of REANNZ said, “Such an investment, especially in these difficult economic times, indicates a strong commitment to science and to the investing in the underlying infrastructure of the country.”

NZNVWG

The proposed  New Zealand National Virtual World Grid

The SLENZ Update – No 37, January 2, 2009

The year that was …

I feel sure that during the year a lot of New Zealanders lost their embarrassment over being residents/participants  in virtual world’s like Second Life and began to see MUVEs as part of their “real” world.

Although the Lindens do not disclose  the number of Kiwis accessing Second Life on a regular basis reliable sources in the telecommunications industry  claim that new  Kiwi registrations on Second Life have been similar to the adoption of Broadband by the general populace – not earth-shattering but showing considerable progress compared to some years.

The major problems still facing New Zealand users of  high bandwidth applications, however,   are still the exhorbitant, one could say rip-off costs, associated with Broadband as the major telcos  attempt to milk the last drops out of their near-monopoly cash cows and the fact that their claims of delivering consistent, reliable broadband speeds in many centres outside  the major cities,  are at least questionable if not immoral. In many case, during the evenings, when most high bandwidth users  need their Broadband for “playing/working”, the speeds are little more than dial-up and sometimes even worse.  Despite this the major telcos have  continued to  promote and sell  Broadband in these areas and have charged an arm and a leg to those who believed what they were told about “real” Broadband and what it could do for them.

To use the great Aussie word the claims were generally bulldust, and if there is a hell somewhere organisations like Telecom/TelstraClear should be made to eat  copper wire.

Although Actrix, New Zealand’s oldest internet service provider, and Orcon, are now installing their own equipment in exchanges, Inspire.net is planning to do the same in the provincial areas of the lower North Island, and others are putting their toes in the water, the telecommunications industry, outside FXnetworks does not have the ability to give a worthwhile, consistent Broadband experience for about 80 percent of Kiwi punters.

Despite progress with the work of SLENZ, adult e-education, particularly in MUVEs,  is going to face bandwidth and speed problems for years to come unless, as is  proposed in the health sector, the New Zealand Government  ensures that  alternate and possibly even private/local government/pirate  networks  are given specific incentives  to compete against the big players in the provision of Broadband outside the major centres.

The year that will be …

crystalball_001

While I am loath to take out my crystal ball – I’ve been more often wrong than right –  there are those who are willing to have a shot. One of these brave souls, Lowell Cremorne,   of  Australian-based The Metaverse Journal, has been quite specific with his forecasts.( http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/12/31/ten-virtual-worlds-predictions-for-2009/)

While I don’t agree with all his pronostications, especially the one that new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life, I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that virtual worlds will begin to appear as normal daily life in television and  movies: I would go even further and say that by the end of this year that MUVEs, given the need for real life cost cutting, will become a formidable part of training, negotiation and just doing business in the real world, and a legitimate means of social intercourse both within and across continents: they will become a normal part of daily life for much of the 15 to 50 age group in the Western world with those not  participating being seen in some way as part of the left-behind generation, in much the same way as Ma and Pa Kettle were seen by the pre and Baby Boomer generations when they moved to the cities.

One can only agree that Governments are likely to step in with legislation, where they can,  on everything in MUVEs they feel they “must control”,  including certain if not all  sexual activity,  gambling and taxation etc,.  However, I think this will probably only lead to the creation and proliferation of “uncontrolled, unmonitored” private or pirate   MUVEs based on the OpenSim model  where  frontier law will be the only law and which will appear and disappear with startling irregularity for those in the know. Already there are “underground  worlds”  as it were in Second Life and the OpenSim movement will only increase the momentum for other more way-out blackmarket worlds.

Cremorne comments  that Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools  but I believe that  if New Zealand  telecommunications companies give New Zealand educators the right  bandwidth tools, the New Zealand education system, given the SLENZ team’s undoubted expertise and enthusiasm as well as the work of people like Auckland University’s Scott Diener will take us to the front of the educational field in MUVE technology. People forget that this is still only the beginning of virtual world technology. No one, anywhere has more than a toe in the water, no matter how many conferences they make presentations at.

And yes, I have to agree, despite all the improvements, Second Life will remain a frustrating experience for many, especially Kiwis outside the main centres. This is despite the improvements in the new user experience  promoted by the Lindens and the announcement of the  provision of standalone servers.  I would add, contrary to Cremorne”s thoughts,  that  with  Second Life moving away from “frontier law”, on the surface at least,  the  Teen grid will survive, but be incorporated into the main grid. This could widen the education appeal of the genre if it can overcome the  real world tabloid view of all “life” inside computers.

With Sony’s Playstation “Home”  and  XBox’s  offering  I have to agree that the user base for virtual world’s can do nothing but grow, but  until the creation of  a generic browser, a la the original Moasic model, users are likely to remain trapped behind the walls of their chosen simulation  or game be it Second Life or World of Warcraft, Habbo Hotel or OpenSim, Entropia or Vastpark  or any of the  numerous other MUVEs  on offer and in development.

In the meantime virtual worlds offer New Zeland and New Zealanders a rare and real opportunity to become a real part of the world out there participating with world citizens in world events rather than being cut off by wide oceans, time zones and the tyranny of distance.

The world as we know it …

bainbridgews“My general perspective is that virtual worlds are at least as real as many parts of the so-called real world,” William Sims Bainbridge, program director in human-centered computing at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), told Pam Baker of LinuxInsider last month.

“Is religion ‘real’?” he asked. “Is music ‘real?’ Is the stock market ‘real?’ These institutions are real only because many people take them seriously. They are socially and culturally constructed, rather than being innately real.”

Baker’s pieces on virtual worlds as we know them and  their benefits make interesting reading and present some insights that may not have been apparent before.

You can read them at: (http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-1-A-Place-to-Experiment-65656.html and
http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-2-Reality-in-a-Can-65673.html )

The US Army lands …

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Yes the US Army is about to land in Second Life. Although it  has scores of bases scattered across the world it  will soon be occupying virtual territory in a bid to win recruits.
“Over the next 30 to 45 days you might, if you’re one of them Second Life avatar dudes, that likes to go populate islands within Second Life, you will find an Army island in Second Life,” Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said during a presentation at the 26th Army Science Conference, according to Nick Turse at http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/the-armys-new-f.html

The US Army Second Life effort will comprise two virtual islands, one a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter and the other offering “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”

It seems to me that the US Army move gives new meaning to the recent demonstrations in Second Life against the “war” between Israel and Gaza. Even so Al Quaeda  has reportedly been using virtual worlds as training grounds for sometime and perhaps the US Army is just catching up with the game although one might have thought World of Warcraft would have been a better place to seek potential recruits.