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to the old-style,  not-likely- to-deliver the Broadband needed for the nation, Telecom/Vodafone consortium with its outdated backward-looking technology, may  go on the backburner.

But one has to ask is  even  the  out-of-date solution to be thrown out with the demolition rubbish from the Christchurch earthquake.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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The SLENZ Update – No 16, October 16, 2008

CPAs get SL picture

One  never thinks of  accountants as being enthusiastic about innovation – it can put red on the bottomline – but Australia’s accountants have greeted the concept of Second Life with gusto.

Their enthusiasm came after Australian Second Life residents Lee Hopkins (Lee Laperriere), an online communications strategist and Lindy McKeown ( Decka Mah), an educational consultant, presented the first Chartered Practising Accountants’ event in Second Life for the CPA Australian Congress.

The presentation attracted Second Life accountancy professionals from Mildura, Tumut, Euroa, Tamworth, Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and London, Liverpool, Detroit and New York.

One of the CPA organisers, Alex Dalidakis, expresses the CPA delight at the success of the in-world congress and gives tips on how to run a congress in  his blog. http://lovenumbertwo.blogspot.com/2008/10/running-second-life-event.html.

Hopkins also provides details in his blog http://www.leehopkins.net/ and the presentation at http://www.leehopkins.net/downloads/virtu al-worlds-for-finance-professionals-v2.pdf

Y’all welcome

Dr Ross Brown demonstrates YAWL

The Queensland University of Technology, a pioneer in the development of Second Life applications such as “Air Gondwana” for law students, has devised YAWL, which stands for “Yet Another Workflow Language”, a business language based on Second Life. http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=20357

Used for training people for work in hazardous scenarios such as mining, health and fire fighting, YAWL, among a clutch of new services fostered by the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre, takes them into Second Life to give them a first taste of the risks they will encounter when they enter the workforce.

The centre, groups 18 industry, government and research partners across Australia including the Queensland and NSW governments,  with a seven-year budget of A$120 million, including a grant of A$30.8million from the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. QUT is its largest academic contributor and the Queensland Government and its local partners (SAP, Suncorp and RACQ) have invested A$38 million. Other partners include UNSW, University of Sydney, RMIT, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Wollongong and Infosys, Telstra, Sensis, Austin Health and Fairfax Digital.

YAWL is the brainchild of QUT software engineering lecturer Dr Ross Brown, who says the way to create more effective lesson plans is to combine virtual worlds such as Second Life with workflow systems traditionally used to guide people through tasks within organisations. YAWL provides a simple interface that hides its complexities while exploiting the benefits of virtual-world technology.

Dr Brown says YAWL allows educators and businesses to take the learning process to where the students and workers are. “We can use YAWL to create virtual, training environments for industries such as health, mining or fire fighting where the actual danger is removed but people can train in a realistic environment,” he said.

Another use is the provision of One-Stop Personalised Financial Services project, involving SAP, Suncorp and QUT researchers, to help bank customers with their financial planning.

What’s the future?

Educators and  their institution administrators often question just where virtual 3D world technology is going. Many put off dipping their toes in the water for this reason. There are promoters, detractors  and fence sitters.

A recent SLED debate, however, has come up with some interesting “rants” on  just where immersive worlds are going and what the future for education within them is.

None was more interesting than that of wellknown – in immersive VW education circles  – than that of Modesto, California’s Stan Trevena (Quidit Small), in what he described as a”rant” on future virtual world developments.

Noting that all SLED debates on the future developments of virtual worlds were focused on Second Life, the Second Life beta tester said he believed inside of four years educators will be hosting their own servers behind their own firewalls, and “not all of us will choose OpenSim”.

“There will be public grids that we will attach to when necessary.  We will be able to link our grids with other education organisations through portals and linking grids.  We will teleport between places of interest, not walk or fly.  We will make our first moves towards a distributed or federated model in the next three years with our virtual worlds (we must come up with a new term, virtual to me means “not real”).”

But, he added, it was at least another year and a half before the first viable alternatives to Second Life  would emerge.

But even though everything was moving towards the Internet becoming the Metaverse and webpages becoming grids, he said, unless there was a breakthrough with Grid/Cloud Computing none of the models (including Second Life) could be scaled to the sizes necessary for mainstream adoption.

“Someone will come along and do for avatar transport what IBM did for eCommerce in the 1990s,” he said. “You will have a core avatar that is your personal (and verifiable) identity.  Dropping into different worlds you will be able to take on alternative identities while still keeping the link to your assets and identity.  We’ll get there in less than 10 years.   Early attempts at this will take place inside of five years.

“Private individuals and small business will be able to pay monthly fees for services to host anything from a personal space to a full size grid.  Some of these will be business and education-focused with heavy emphasis on applications, collaboration and communication.  Others will be more like the fantasy MMO’s of today.  Expect all the same advertising as you see on the web now to offset costs and drive traffic in these future grids.  And all of these will move to industry standard 3D file formats for compatibility issues.  If I want to bring my ‘Legendary Sword of Knowledge’ from World of Starcraft back to my OpenSim property to show it off to my guild, I’ll be able to do that.

“Second Life as it exists today has hit its limits,” he said. “Until there is a major shift in the infrastructure (database) and underlying design we will continue to be stuck in sub-100k concurrent user ceilings.  The performance of the avatars in Second Life pale in comparison to ‘games’ of today … portability will become more important in the equation, again pushing towards a OS and device independence.  Even at this early of a stage in Wonderland’s development upgrades to the client are a no brainer and everyone gets them on their next log-in because it’s web based.  Version 0.5 will be out after the first of the year, early look videos in the next month or two.  We’ll have to see how the new avatar skeletal system is implemented.

“We are passing through a necessary stage right now, but this is not what it will be like in the not too distant future.  We all need to expand our vision beyond just Second Life and OpenSim.  Far too many of our discussions and projections are limited to our fixation on this one platform for education.  And photo realism may not be the ultimate virtual world goal.  And let’s not forget augmented reality and the potential there for mass adoption by the mainstream in portable devices. “

Among the comments was one from  Tom Werner (Carston Courier) who said the only thing that had surprised him in the rant was the projected timeframes. He guessed half the timeframe for

a distributed/federated model and for asset-retention while visiting different worlds.

“It just seems to me that we hear about some new development or world almost every day (Wonderland, Croquet, Qwaq, OpenSim, IBM teleportation, Forterra, sandbox games like GTA 4, Google Lively, ExitReality, Ogoglio, etc., etc.),” he said. ” I just visited Prototerra last week. It was intriguing. They can handle an ‘infinite’ number of avatars in a space by setting a max number of avatars in a space to X and then duplicating the setting instantly at X+1.

“Anyway, I would have seat-of-the-pants guesstimated that open-source-on-your-own-server + distributed model + linking worlds + 3D file-format standards + import-your-own-assets would be here TWO years from now.”