broadband End User food and drink fun stuff internet media travel

What I Did On My Summer Holiday (Digital Issue)

Recounting a (digital) summer holiday, well spent.

I didn’t intend to take a break from writing during this year’s La Famille Kessel summer holiday in Normandy. No, I had plans to regale stalwart readers with missives on the nature of my vacation from the digital perspective, intending to carry the content flag for anyone out there hungering for fresh pixelated meat during these dog days of August. Of course, I also planned to put sugar in the Latte Cannelle that just arrived to the left of KoryChrome here at Paris’s RROLL. Not salt.

Offering up the Yiddish proverb my departed mother used to wield easily and quite often, “Man plans and God laughs.”

Failures aside (gee, that was easy), in an attempt to backwards-engineer satisfaction of the aforementioned hunger I will recount five (5) areas of computer-based fun I indulged in around the edges of my mostly unearned R&R over the past four weeks.

<OK. Everybody take a breath. Here we go.>

  1. As an R.E.M. fan(atic) dating back to the 1983’s “Murmur” I was thrilled to learn in May that the band was finally making good on their long-held promise/threat to issue a rarities collection. And in typical R.E.M. style the boys over-delivered, kicking out not one collection but two — Complete Rarities: I.R.S. 1982-1987 (50 tracks) and Complete Rarities: Warner Bros. 1988-2011 (131 tracks). 181 tracks, the equivalent of 18 albums of “new” material. Of course, the fact that I already had 98% of the tracks didn’t make this treasure trove any less interesting, oh no! These two digital “boxsets” represented an UPGRADE opportunity supreme, as well as hours and hours of artwork foraging and data tagging and reconciliation amusement. Just my kind of BIG data.
  2. It seems that every summer for going on who-knows-how-many years I have on some late night or other sat down at my computer determined to finally get a definitive handle on media information delivery. Or, in other words, figuring out how to configure RSS feeds in a way that not only brought links across from my favorite resources in a great many areas, but that did so in a way that allowed me to spend more time benefitting from the deluge than managing it. I hesitate to whether I succeeded this time, but with RSS Notifier in place and tweaked pretty darn well I can say that my hopes are high. If next summer I find myself NOT re-attacking this project, at that time I will know that “Paid” has finally been put to this bill.
  3. The new site that you hold in your hands, dear reader, has been praised far and wide, end to end, and in between the cracks (yes, I am the reason the store is out of clichés until next Tuesday). And on the surface it rocks far and wide, end to end…well, etc. Behind the scenes, though, quite a bit of work remains to be done to really get the thing humming. One major effort taking place is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) enhancement/reconciliation for legacy posts going back six-plus years, an ongoing task that represented pretty much all of the work I did on the site during August, between opening my throat for copious food and drink intake, forming a marvelous first-impression of Guernsey (the result of a brilliant 4-day holiday-within-a-holiday excursion), and doing whatever-the-heck-else constituted a holiday well taken. Regular visitors to the site will likely not notice any changes to their experience, save perhaps for greater crowds milling about the more popular attractions therein.
  4. 38+ rolls of film. In the four weeks stretching from 27-July to 24-August I shot over 38 rolls of film. “Holy Shutterbug, Batman!”, you are no doubt thinking, because presented like that the feat sure sounds impressive. And expensive. Leyna the Leica is quite the digital camera, though, so please temper your awe accordingly. Still, I do shoot in RAW and that necessitates that I “develop” the photos into .jpg files, adjusting various photo attributes as necessary (exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, white and black clipping, saturation, sharpening, noise reduction, and perspective correction, to name far too many), so if you want to let your awe (awe for RAW?) run rampant then by all means please do.
  5. The “La Famille Kessel” cookbook project continued during summer holiday 2014, with 10 recipes added, the appendage of notes and photos to existing content, and even some scant thought paid to eventual production. The collection, an ongoing concern, is an amorphous beast of a thing that will bring together pass-down family and friend recipes and a wealth of those found in key cookbook/magazine/whatever over the years. Promises to be quite the tasty thing when version 1.0 is finally completed…sometime in 2022 or thereabouts, coinciding with the kicking of The Boy out of his broadband-enabled nest.

So in summing up my digital meanderings for summer 2014, it is apparent that it was all about data and databases (about as surprising as water flowing out of the spigot when the tap is turned on). And naturally, we at are curious to know what you did to wile away the long days and short nights of summer — nobody will laugh — and thus invite your prolific Comments input. C’mon…have at it!


broadband End User internet Net

Openreach Profit Incentive in Action

Openreach’s sub-contractors may not all be so bad after all.

I finally had BT Infinity installed a few weeks ago. Having watched the installation of Huawei DSLAM at the end of the road some time before that with much anticipation, I pondered how badly BT Openreach and its subcontractors would botch the job and ruin the frontage to our community, while also yearning to finally break beyond the 14 Mbps glass ceiling I have endured for 3 years.

With regular broadband I have been fortunate, being on brand new copper and only 100 yards from the primary connection point with a short run thereafter to the exchange; thus I’ve always had the top end of the advertised broadband speed. My problem was with up, though, not down. Regular readers will know I am a home-based professional nomad, and as such uploading documents to file servers etc. in a timely manner is rather important. 1 or 2 Mbps just doesn’t cut it.

I had done my research and knew that an Openreach engineer would have to visit to install Infinity II. Forums and blogs were full of details about cable models and data extension kits and Openreach engineers having to run new cables through peoples’ houses. In this industry, we would hardly trust them to dress themselves in the morning half the time let alone undertake works in our nicely decorated hallways. I was scared.

Turns out though that the BT Homehub 5 has an integrated cable modem, so that problem went away (and I note it has better in-house coverage for WiFi than its predecessors — I have been fortunate enough to have had a Homehub 2, 3 and 4 and a Businesshub 3 to play with — and it didn’t nerd up VoIP with SIP ALG either). Also, as the cabling in the house is only 3 years old and to modern standards, the engineer felt no need to run a new line or change face plates — useful as it is a large integrated one that includes TV aerial, satellite, etc. — and just plugged it in. The entire installation took about 20 minutes, including the jumpering in the PCP and DSLAM.

What struck me most about my Openreach install was that my neighbour was also having it done in the same installation slot. The engineer visited both premises and did what he had to do onsite, and then visited the PCP/DSLAM to do jumpering just once (i.e., he simultaneously did both jobs). Furthermore, he called me on my mobile from the PCP/DSLAM to check if it was working, thus negating the potential need for going back and forth. Turns out the sync speed is virtually the advertised 76Mbps up down and 19 Mbps down up, with the reality not far off (up is almost dead on, down hovers around 50/60 so far).

The engineer was a sub-contractor to BT Openreach, working for Kelly Communications. These sub-contractors are often derided for cherry picking easy jobs, making out that the customer wasn’t present when they were, so they can complete as many of the low-hanging fruit as possible to boost their profit margins.

I am not sure whether Openreach Direct Labour would’ve had the initiative to simultaneously perform two installations, thus, ultimately, reducing lead times and increasing customer satisfaction. I do know that Openreach Direct Labour, upon realising that there was insufficient copper in the ground between a PCP and the exchange to install a new line in a colleague’s home, had to get another engineer to pull it through and then that engineer couldn’t just provision the line, they had to get another one to do it (no doubt you can imagine how long that sorry saga took). If that job had been sub-contracted, I wonder whether it would’ve been done more efficiently and ultimately to a better level of customer satisfaction?

The incidents we have all endured at the hands of Openreach are many and would shock anyone. Anne Robinson and Watchdog even did a piece on it. Many of these incidents involve sub-contractors, however I think we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here as clearly the profit incentive is doing some good in certain circumstances….. it may even work to overcome the inherent moral hazard in the way Openreach’s prices are calculated (i.e., the industry often pays for inefficiency, directly through the charge controls and indirectly through non-Openreach brand damage). Surely, the real challenge is how to we promote the positives and negate the negatives.

Lots of posts on t his site re BT engineering visits – check out this one on BT engineering visit lottery

Apps broadband End User fun stuff H/W internet Mobile Net phones

The Hump Day Five (23-July-2014)

The Hump Day Five this week goes to the pictures, gets the picture, migrates the pictures, wants a phone that takes the pictures, and offers a picture of Paris on Summer holiday.


A few days ago a filmmaker friend of mine asked if I would be interested in screening a rough cut of a documentary he has been working on for some time. I was somewhat flattered that he would ask, of course, and I have quite a strong propensity for documentaries, so I instantaneously responded with “Yes, please.”

Not long after I received the details of screening the documentary, and it was at that point that it all started to tweak my interest beyond the subject matter of the film itself, for two reasons. One, the film was presented to me as a video stream via Vimeo (password access, naturally). And two, my friend specifically requested that I promise to watch the film straight through with no breaks and without distraction.

So this is where we are today. Able to grant immediate access to video works in progress via the Internet, and as a result of that delivery method needing to beseech the viewer to take special care to not multi-task when viewing said film via the Internet. Not that I don’t get the reasoning, because I absolutely do, though it does have me thinking that in the not-too-distant future there will be technology deployed to tighten such tasks up. Insistent Streaming? You can watch vwxyz, but you have to do so in Full Screen mode and without screen deviation lest you have to start over from the beginning.

The screening request came across five days ago and I have yet to watch my friend’s film. Really, it is pretty sad that I am finding the idea of being-connected-yet-essentially-disconnected from AppleKory for 90 minutes straight to be daunting!


I’ve been hush-hush for a while now regarding my search for my next smartphone, waiting patiently for the one I had mostly settled on — the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom — to become available in France. I did manage to put my hands on a GKZ while I was in London for’s Pissup in a Brewery last month, and this helped to both move me closer to pulling the trigger and towards establishing a sharper perspective on my decision.

In short, I realized that as much as I would love to have a Galaxy K Zoom as my next smartphone friend, I will only do so if my carrier (Bouygues) can offer it to me at a subsidized price. They do this with a good many other Samsung smartphones, including the flagship S5 (which costs €599 unlocked, without subsidy, but only €221 paid out over 24 months with a correlating commitment), so I came to expect I could put myself into a Galaxy K Zoom for under €200 (versus €499 unlocked, without subsidy).

No dice. Or, at least, no dice yet. Despite my best efforts to make such a deal happen, and the encouragement of a Bouygues drone who told me he could do so but in truth could not (seems that he was willing to say just about anything to me over the phone to get me to walk in the shop), I remain wanting. And with the Summer holidays descending quickly in France, it seems I will remain saddled with my iPhone 4 at least until the start of September. And with the iPhone 6 announcement likely to take place that month…?


A few months back I made one of those big decisions. You know, the kind that changes everything, after which nothing will ever be the same and from which there is no going back. A paradigm shift of immense magnitude.

Thick, running irony, like motor oil straight from the can.

I decided to change photo management software, from Apple’s not-bad-for-a-toy iPhoto to Adobe’s truly terrific Lightroom 5.

For a good long time iPhoto worked for me. There were some significant bumps along the way, to be sure, such as dealing with the product’s generosity when it came to gobbling up AppleKory hard drive space with it’s need to maintain two copies of any photo that was modified in any way (including simple rotation). For the most part, though, iPhoto and I got along fine, even as my photography skills outgrew the software’s cutesy function set.

I suppose I knew that at some point I would need to move from iPhoto into something more robust, however in dabbling with other photography management packages over the years — window-shopping, as it were — I became fully aware of how difficult and tedious an endeavor it would be, fully switching over. Man, that is one deep and dark path to walk down, and if it wasn’t absolutely necessary…well, I could make iPhoto continue to work for me. That is, until I couldn’t.

For reasons unknown, at right about the same time I was beginning to explore shooting in RAW (though this had nothing to do with the issue), iPhoto stopped accepting modifications made to picture files. The changes I made — upping the contrast or vibrancy of a photo, for example, or cropping an image — would stick, but only until I exited iPhoto. Thus, when I would start the application again, any modifications I had made during the previous session were gone.

Naturally, I google-binged my problem, and I discovered that I was not alone. A great number of my fellow iPhoto users had been dealing with the same problem, and as far as I was able to tell in my digging none of them had come up with a solution short of abandoning iPhoto for one of its competitors..

The writing, as they so (too?) often say, was on the wall. iPhoto, it has been nice. Enter Lightroom 5.

It has taken patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child…er, move everything over, and I have hit my share of lulls, but a marvelous documentary I saw last Friday about the recently-discovered photographer Vivian Maier kicked me back into it, and finally I am finished. And nothing will ever be the same.


It has now been three weeks since I took AppleKory into the Apple Store at Opera to have one of their supposed Genius folk render opinion and possible solutions for a fan and heating problems. For reasons unknown, the poor girl’s CPU was running regularly at about 90 degrees Celsius and her fan was blowing at the maximum 6204 rpm. A friend who is also my OSX Guru has long told me that I run too many apps and processes simultaneously (foreground and background), and he was convinced that was the problem, but even when I turned just about everything off the CPU heat spiked and the fan in response ran loud enough to her in the next room (quite strange for a MacBook Pro).

The Genius who attended me ran some diagnostics and found no problem. He then, though, suggested that it could be a problem with the thermal paste in conjunction with the heat sink, and that such a repair would only cost €29…and a three separation. Wanting to have a happy and healthy AppleKory, I swallowed hard and handed her over. I then went home and told my Guru that he was wrong (Wrong! Wrong!), and that the problem was not running AppleKory too hard, but that it had to do with a hardware issue.


Two days later the Apple technician called. He told me in broken-but-not-bad English that the thermal paste was fine, and that as far as he could tell there was no problem with my system. “Perhaps you are asking it to do too much at the same time?”, he said. “Anyway, it is ready for you to pick up anytime.”


I retrieved AppleKory soon after, and — go figure — since then she has been purring like a kitten (so to speak…that is, without the noise). I have changed nothing with regard to the software I run or the intensity of such (over 20 Google Chrome tabs open as I type), and yet it is a rare occurrence when her temperature exceeds 80 degrees Celsius or her fan exceeds 5000 rpm (and most of the time both of those numbers are significantly lower…at this moment, 72 and 2588 rpm).

Like the child whose symptoms disappear upon realizing a visit to the doctor is in the offing? Or the sick cat who seems to get better when a visit to the vet is imminent? That Apple technician must be one scary dude, indeed!


Approaching the end of July, it is evident that the France Summer holiday has begun to take hold. Signs are appearing in the windows of shops and restaurants announcing date ranges of closure, the foot traffic on the street is significantly lighter, there are fewer people in the Metro (and fewer trains running, as well), there is a lot less ambient and incidental noise leaking into Chez Kessel. You would think, though, that with fewer people in town taxing Internet pipe capacity that my broadband service would be much improved, wouldn’t you?

Business ecommerce internet mobile apps

Old Websites

Considering Internet detritus of the slash-and-burn order, often the walking-dead creations of fly-by-night “web developers” who took the money (and lots of it) and ran.

Websites. For small businesses. Probably built by someone nice met at a local business networking event.

In Drupal? Joomla? TYPO3? For those without a care in the world, those first two aren’t places (except in web developers’ multi-conversant-code-language-script-caffeine-based frontal lobes), not even in the Hindu Kush. No, these are programming languages often used to build websites. Took that certain ‘someone nice’ years to learn that, and it would have taken many hours to build, let alone discuss wireframes etc., with you, their patient ‘How long is a piece of string?’ client.

What did you pay? £500? £1500? £6000? More !?! Wow! How was the ROI? How much is the SEO still costing you?

Hmmmm…. Guessing that if that was a few years ago, you’d currently have more chance of tracking down a yeti in a blizzard than locating the whereabouts of said web developer, who’s possibly off finding self, tracking yetis in the Himalayas etc. (or perhaps even heading up a super secret division looking into ants at Google HQ!)

Having had to track down (hey, thanks #socmed) and drag one web developer back to his Himalayan base camp, to make contact by satellite phone at an allotted time, and say ‘Just give us the bloody admin password’ so very small but critical changes could be made to a client’s site, I feel for SME owners caught in this trap. He of course wanted us to wait until his return in three months. Client wanted to call Nominet and serve a fortnight’s notice. Compromise met, password released. In that particular case, thin ‘partition walls’ existed between all the small sites he had on the server and with the main admin password I could of course see everything: clearly he’d done quite well and was now spending his earnings travelling. I hear new examples of this every week.

I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there’s a lot of these about, perhaps enough to one day push Nominet into ringing round asking if you were “mis-sold a website”, which you maybe won’t even own the domain registration of, and hence have not a clue what to do.

Nobody can claim WordPress ($free) is the be-all-and-end-all of web design (sorry Editor Kory!) or replace what a great digital agency can do for £50K, but with the availability of plugins such as WooCommerce ($free) and Information Street’s ‘Connector4 WooCommerce’ ($147) integrating the popular SMB commerce tool InfusionSoft ($pick your pain level) and thus taking the financial sting out of DIY self-build SMB websites, just what will all the newbie web developers cut their teeth on in the future?

Mobile apps for these previously desktop-only greats like WordPress (and all its plugins) and InfusionSoft enable, empower and look very shiny (“Give me that power!”), and they just kill that web developer’s rough version of your site (beautifully coded in C++, for less than a fiver an hour most probably, demo’d and discussed frequently in Nero’s).

Seriously, how long before there is nothing you cannot do on your business’s site/blog/e-commerce backend on your tablet sitting on the beach (except actually see it in direct sunlight)?

Ouch. Poor web developer.

However, it’s ‘out of the pan, and into the fire’, dear Reader. Those web developers; I have a sneaky feeling if they’re not working at $P$R$DigitalMegaBucks$$ design agency, many have gone off to design WordPress themes — and now the 2014 equivalent to the above scenario is discovering they haven’t updated that theme you bought two years ago (and they aren’t going to any time soon either, as it’s snowboarding season!). They just haven’t got the time or incentive to continue to support it, just so it will work with the newly-patched WordPress release for your newly-old website. For example, there’s the Jewelry Shop Theme by Sarah Neuber (see also this if you’re affected!) although I have no idea about Sarah Neuber’s reasons for leaving no forwarding address (it’s probably not yeti related) again you can feel the obvious pain of the SMB owners.

Moral of the story? It’s tempting to reiterate that if you want something done properly then do it yourself, but if your business is actually keeping you busy, you probably don’t have that time. However it’s 2014 and you now have no excuse not to have at least some working knowledge of what to do if that nice web developer checks out of town, and to ask that it’s built entirely upon WordPress in the first place?

Apps chromebook Cloud ecommerce End User gaming google H/W internet Mobile mobile apps mobile connectivity Net phones social networking

The Hump Day Five (16-July-2014)

The Hump Day Five is on Red Alert this week, getting all Google-y powerful on music in the cloud, Leftovers, and Ping Pong Mania.


Started watching a new TV show a couple of weeks back called “The Leftovers”. If you haven’t haven’t seen or heard of it, the premise is quite simple. On 14-October at a precise moment in time approximately 2% of the world’s population randomly disappears without a trace. Drivers from moving vehicles, criminals from prison cells, babies from car seats, one moment there the next moment gone. It doesn’t take much imagination to see compelling story elements in such a framework, and in fact it is easy to see how the utter chaos of such a situation could become too much of a good thing (entertainment-wise, that is). The creators, though, very smartly opt to confine the drama to a single small town somewhere in America and how “The Departure”, as it is called, has affected and continues to affect the populace three years down the line. Succulent details are offered via ancillary media — overheard radio, television news programs being watched by this-or-that character, etc., not a small amount of Internet-y stuff — and go so far as to include a list of celebrities who number among the 2%. Dark stuff riddled rich with despair, sure, and as television goes it isn’t for everyone, but if you like your diversion disturbing and in-your-face I highly recommend checking it out.


Since late June a new application for both iPhone and Android has been making its way through the zeitgeist in direct response to the once-again-heightening tensions between Israel and Palestine: Kobi Snir’s Red Alert Israel. The idea behind this new app is to alert users of incoming rockets so they can stop whatever it is they are doing and take shelter*. The alerts received (tied directly to Israel Defense Forces and Homefront Command) can be configured quite tightly — there are a great many individual areas, considering the country’s small land mass — and each alert offers allows for comments, which can include prayers and encouragement, as well as — not surprising, but enraging nonetheless — inflammatory notes full of disparagement and outright hatred. Red Alert Israel also includes streaming Israeli radio (in Hebrew) to supplement its alerts with more detailed information (I assume). All in all, it is a noble idea that falls definitively on the side of the angels (and I say this even knowing that there is no Red Alert Palestine equivalent).

So I am sensitive to the dead-serious nature of Red Alert Israel and applaud and support its above-reproach mission, but I would be fibbing BIG-time if I said the image of people running for cover from flying ordinance with their hands flailing high above their heads clutching their phones didn’t loosen a small smile. Got too many episodes of The Simpsons under my belt, I suppose. Please excuse (or feel free to flame me up but good in the Comments).

The Red Alert Israel app is free, as you would expect, though it does run shifting banner advertising, because in these times absolutely nothing should go unsponsored. I mean, think about it…is there an advertiser out there who wouldn’t want their product or service to be associated with the saving of lives? And thus a new business model is born!

*The users in Israel, that is, as it is quite evident that Red Alert Israel is being downloaded and put into use by people living elsewhere..for purposes of showing solidarity, inspiring prayer and greater empathy, to stoke flames of outrage, to feed whatever vicarious needs, perhaps to serve as the basis for gambling or drinking games, etc.


For someone who spends as much time driving keyboards and mice as I do, I really can be late to the party at times. Take cloud-hosted music (aka online music lockers, aka online music storage services). Available in various flavors for a few years now (the majors all bowed in 2011 — Apple, Amazon, Google — whereas an early achiever called AudioBox left the starting block in 2009), it was only this past weekend that I started to consider the idea of throwing some of my music up into the ether for ready access across my computers and smartphone. Naturally, I was aware of the cloud-hosted music concept, but that awareness was mostly relegated to Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud/iTunes Match service, and as I trust Apple’s software and service offerings about as much as…well, not at all, actually, I put up a willful “blind spot” to the whole idea. Of course, it also helped that my music collection far exceeded the 25,000 song limit put on the $25-per-year service by Apple, and that at the start – as is unfortunately so often the case — the service was available to U.S.-based users only.

A couple of years passed, and then along came KoryChrome. And with KoryChrome came promotions for Google services. And with the promotion in particular of Google Play Music — which I learned is now available in France and which includes the ability to load/match 20,000 songs absolutely free — came my revisiting the subject of cloud-hosted music this past weekend. 20,000 songs for uploaded/matched for free? Songs I can access from any Internet-connected computer capable of running a browser (Google Chrome need not be that browser, either), or from any Internet-connected smartphone? All without commercials or listening limitations?

Yeah, I know this party started ages ago, but as far as I am concerned there is still beer in the fridge and it’s still ice-cold.


On the subject of KoryChrome, La Famille Kessel returned to our Pays d’Auge family hovel in Blangy-le-Château this past weekend, and my keen and cool new Chromebook was thus reunited with its power source. And this time that power source made it into my computer bag for the trip back to Paris at weekend’s end. No doubt, a great many of you will now breathe easier and will stop wanting for sleep.


Got struck hard by a serious wave of irony a few hours ago when My Missus and I put The Boy on a train to summer camp. The camp he is attending is called “Ping Pong Mania” (translate from French), and it promises to be exactly that, with 90+ minutes of table tennis play and training each morning and another such session each afternoon. I blush with a certain amount of pride in saying that my kid is really quite masterful at the game, in no small measure because other than ping pong his free time these days is overwhelmingly consumed by Minecraft, Clash of Clans, SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition, youtube videos galore rooted in gameplay and game parody and what-have-you, and a bevy of other sofa-bound veg-and-play games and experiences.

My hope is the next 10 days will find The Boy matched up with other kids his age who are at or near his level. Otherwise, his hesitance to get off the couch and get out in the world (read: separate from his MacBook and iPad and Nintendo DS3) will have been justified…or so he will say and think, anyway. And this is where the irony lies as 32 years ago I remember feeling similar hesitation at heading off to summer camp, too…summer computer camp!

Apps End User fun stuff gadgets google H/W internet piracy

Yes, I Read Super Hero Comic Books

There are far worse things you can carry from childhood to adulthood than super hero comic books (and fewer that look better on your tablet screen).

For me, super hero comic books are just one of those things. I loved them as a child in single digits, continued to look in on them occasionally (and sometimes more often than that) through my teens, and plugged in harder than ever when Frank Miller and Alan Moore took them to the edge of serious dark pop art in my early 20s. I suppose I lost the thread somewhat as my 30s approached, though I am not sure if that was me or the simple fact that both Marvel and DC jettisoned creative storytelling during the 1990s in favor of marketing tricks designed to make every issue a collectible (not to forget to mention doubling the price of single issues…and then doubling it again). Regardless, moving to Paris — a land where reading comic books is less a geek tattoo and more proof of an enlightened mind — hooked me back in kinda-sorta, a side effect of my haunting the English language comic shops in and around the Rue Dante lying in wait for the latest can’t-miss graphic novels by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes, among many others. And I am sure that is where I would be today — hooked back in kinda-sorta — were it not for the darn things all going digital.

I don’t recall the first time I read a comic book on a computer, though it certainly predates my 2008 Mac re-entry. I do remember, though, how awkward it felt, viewing each scanned page one at a time before moving on to the next page using the → key or the Space bar. I also remember how annoying it was to have to hit the ← key repeatedly to go back to check some plot detail I skimmed past (annoyance that was multiplied by having to then hit the → key repeatedly to return to where I had left off). It all felt so trivial at the start, so “Take it or leave it.” And I left it. For a while, anyway, I left it.

Mostly, I left it. OK, every now and again, usually nipping at the heels of 3AM, I would download some issue in the Batman or Daredevil scheme of things and indulge (won’t say how or from where or whether it was a legal happenstance or not, no way). Just to stay up on the story, you know? Keeping up with the characters, these old friends of mine from childhood/teenagehood/young adulthood..whichever ‘hood I am inhabiting as I barrel towards 50.

And then My Missus brought home the iPad.

Like so many of us, I was tuned into the whispers and rumors of the iPad that were flying thick and furious during the back half of ‘09 and up through its introduction by Steve Jobs in late January of 2010. By the time of that announcement, though, I had driven an iPhone around the town a little bit without falling under its spell, and at first blush the iPad looked like nothing more than an iPhone on growth hormone. Interesting? Sure. Curious? You bet, because it was the birth of a new gadget category (and, naturally, because it was a new Apple product). Necessary? Uh…no. Not for anyone who had access to a computer and/or smartphone, anyway.

Not long after the iPad announcement I was able to put my hands and fingers on one of the first to make it to France. I can slide the apps pages back and forth. Smooth. I can touch an icon and open an app. Expected. It plays music and movies. Hmm. OK. Here you go, and thanks for letting me play with your new iPad. Enjoy. Oh…uh…can you make phone calls with it?

So getting back on track…a first-generation iPad made its way past over the Chez Kessel moat towards the end of ‘10, courtesy of My Missus, who as a publisher had been tasked with starting down the path of developing textbooks for the darn thing. Again, I held an iPad in my hands, and again I swiped the screen from side to side, touched app icons to watch the apps open, and clocked that it could be used to input music and video content. Then just as I was about to hand it back I had the thought, “I can read .pdf files on it, and book files in Amazon’s .mobi format…maybe…YES!”

Digital comic books, most often traded in .cbr (Comic Book Reader) and .cbz (Comic Book Zip), had proved to be a somewhat strange experience on a computer screen, but the iPad looked like it just might be a worthy delivery vehicle for suchness. And when a short google-bing turned up info on Cloudreaders, a free program able to read files in these two file formats (.pdf, too), I was on my way back to regular sustained web-slinging, shield-wielding, power-ringing, bataranging, billy-clubbing, hammer-throwing, repulsor-raying…OK, I’m OK. Can stop that now.

Now I had the means and the method, but what about the content? Well, as I stated earlier WITHOUT ADMITTING TO ANY INAPPROPRIATE ACTION OR BEHAVIOR, at some point I became aware of ways in which a person with an interest in doing so could easily obtain digital super hero comic books and at no cost. Speaking further about that person and their interest, it is a fact that pulp science fiction and comic books were among the very first pieces of “analogue” reading materials to be fan-digitized, to the point now where it is seriously difficult to think of content that cannot be had, ripe and ready for e-reading (and quickly, at that). Just to illustrate, do-do-that-goo(gle)goo(gle)-that-you-do-so-well on the following terms: “Complete Marvel Chronology” and look for links to Internet file-sharing destinations that I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO CLICK-THROUGH TO.

To close, I will share here that I really was (am!) one of those cliched kids whose now-priceless super hero comic book collection fell victim to tragic circumstances. In my case, “tragic” means a parental ultimatum issued: I could sell my comics at our “We’re Moving” yard sale or I could give them away, but there was no way they were being placed on the truck that would complete our summer 1976 family transfer from Chicago to Dallas. I unloaded hundreds of valuable pulpy friends* for $0.07 to $0.10 each on that August day, imagining not for a moment that I might be reunited with them someday down some dusty ol’ digital road (feel free to replace “digital road” with “information superhighway” if you must, because I just cannot bring myself to do so).

*Valuable to me, that is. Despite all of the ballyhoo I offer, my comic book collection wasn’t priceless…most of the issues were in tattered well-read condition, in fact, and fewer than five pre-dated 1970. I did, though, have issues 121, 122, and 129 of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and you most assuredly did not.

broadband Business H/W internet Net servers

FTTC Broadband — Upgrade Your Router

FTTC installed…and then the problems started.

Once again, welcomes contributor Tim Bray, Technical Director for ProVu Communications. “FTTC — Upgrade Your Router” is Tim’s second “Broadband Week” post.

At ProVu we, don’t often do onsite installations, preferring instead to leave them to our resellers. Sometimes, though, a problem comes along that requires that we get involved in helping to figure out what is going on.

One of our customer’s sites was activated for FTTC broadband. This customer ran an office with a small call centre and about 10 office PCs, and they thought the higher bandwidth would be useful. Zen (the ISP, in this case) had a special offer on ADSL to FTTC upgrades, so the time seemed right for upgrade. Our customer swapped their onsite router out for a model that could do both ADSL and FTTC, and all appeared ready for an easy change over once the Openreach engineer arrived.

ProVu logo

On the scheduled day the Openreach man showed up, and our customer had just 10 minutes downtime while he performed the jumpering in the cabinet. Up came the new 40 Mbps download line (which also had, more importantly, a massive upload speed). Magic. Everything worked, and the internet seemed to be lightning fast. And then the problems started. “The internet is slow!” “We’ve got bad call quality!” And so, a site working properly and perfectly had stopped doing so because of a service upgrade.

We added lots of monitoring. Smokeping and Nagios. Sure enough, we learned of intermittent bad packet loss on the line that came and went, usually at such quiet times as evenings and weekends. We could tell that something was on the network opening a large number of sessions through the NAT in the router, and we knew that the problems started as we got towards 600 TCP sessions. We wondered whether with FTTC when you open a browser window with all your saved tabs the computer would hit those tabbed sites — Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, BBC News and all their associated ad networks and image CDNs — all at the same time, perhaps causing these events to happen too quickly and to throw too many ports open at the same time.

Running just a small consumer type router, we couldn’t diagnose the issue to the point where we could determine what was causing it. As such, as we needed better instrumentation to investigate further, we decided to install a proper linux server as a router in lieu of the dedicated hardware. BT Openreach provides PPPoE termination, so it is easy to deploy standard PC hardware with 2 ethernet cards to act as a router. We used Munin to add every kind of monitoring. We had graphs of UDP sessions, TCP sessions, and traffic graphs for voice traffic against other traffic…you name it, we graphed it.

Everything we could think of that might help us to figure out what was causing the issues being experienced was in place. And it was that moment that the problems went away. Again, magic. Once the new router was installed, everything worked. We saw large throughput and sessions through the router, but no corresponding packet loss. And no user complaints.

Very puzzling.

Then one Saturday I noticed the traffic graph on the router rise up to 30 Mbps download speed and stay there. Not the first time this had happened, of course, but it was the first time I was there to watch. My suspicions were raised, so I phoned the call centre. “No, all our calls are fine.”  The new router was coping with this traffic fine. So I ran Wireshark and discovered that the call centre staff were watching telly using Sky Player on a sneaked-in laptop. And from watching the trace, I could see that Sky Player was streaming the video by opening a new TCP session every few seconds, which coupled with the large number of phone calls must have been what was overwhelming the old router.

I phoned the call centre manager with my findings, and she sussed that they were watching the footie. And regarding a remedy, lets just say some HR Department action occurred!

At this point, let me sum up the learning points:

  1. A bigger router might be needed for FTTC, as the router could be the slowest bit and not the ISP.
  2. The router might have a limit for packets per second.
  3. Even a small office can open a lot of ports through a NAT, something for which small routers cannot cope.
  4. With a good enough router, it is possible to run a small call centre and stream TV at the same time.

As an aside, I think this is a great point where IPv6 would help. IPv4 and NAT is stateful on the router. The router has to record each session and rewrite the packets. IPv6, though, would be stateless, so the router would have only need to pass on the packets rather than having to track sessions and rewrite port numbers. Also, there is the old adage: Use a separate connector for voice to your data. I suspect that some of the poor voice quality that encourages this is actually the voice and data services acting in conjunction to overwhelm the router, rather than there simply not being enough bandwidth. Bufferbloat may be part of the problem as well. But I suspect a router with more grunt may make it so the second line isn’t required.

I’ve done various consultancy jobs to investigate ‘SIP phones dropped off network’, and by scripting to monitor the NAT state table have found the router/firewall just dropping the session from the NAT table, which is obviously either a bug or just not enough capacity in the device.

Editorial note – check out our new site – BroadbandRating.

broadband Business internet Net

It’s Not Size that Matters, it’s What You Do with it that Counts

Sell not the thing, but the benefit in having the thing. Broadband? No, thank you. Connectivity? Well, I don’t mind if I do! is pleased to welcome “Broadband Week” guest contributor Clare Greenall, Marketing Manager for Timico Partner Services Ltd.

Let’s talk about how to sell *Broadband (ahem, connectivity) in the twenty-tens, as it’s quite a hot topic of late with all the Superconnected City schemes that are prevalent right now.

To start, I want to address the asterisk in the paragraph above beside the word ‘Broadband’, which is a term widely used to cover the whole spectrum of different types of connectivity (and a topic of discussion that regularly rears its head in our office). Traditionally, Broadband is perceived as a home-user product that provides access to emails, a bit of web surfing, and some social media. And it absolutely does all of those things, but that perception dates back to the days when 512k was the download max and the dial-up modems were still screeching in the corner of the room. Time has moved on.

Timico Partners Ltd.

With all of the new-fangled adaptations of Broadband (ADSL), such as; Ethernet, GEA, FTTC, EFM (the list goes on…) we can’t possibly cover off all these with the title ‘Broadband’ as it just doesn’t do it justice! The Government uses the word ‘Broadband’ and other providers use it, all because we assume the general public doesn’t understand any other term for connectivity. Let’s reeducate and start calling it ‘Connectivity’, or — better yet — give each product its proper name… Seeing as sales of connectivity are ramping up yearly, shouldn’t it be considered important to teach the masses about the huge diversification of connectivity? Will it not be beneficial to highlight the massive advantages that fibre offers over copper?

Increased bandwidth suddenly opens up endless possibilities for small and big businesses alike. For instance, take ‘the Cloud’, the attack of which some businesses fear as if it is some 1950s horror movie, not possibly understanding the real benefits it can provide. At its start, VoIP (Voice over IP) got itself a bad name because no one seemed to get the underlying connectivity piece right, calls were dropping, and voice quality was horrendous. Having access to these types of solutions is really only workable if they are run on robust Internet connectivity.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, though. Consumers really don’t care if adding Annex M to their ADSL connection will increase the speed up to 2.5Mb, and they don’t give a monkey’s *(*%$#^ if their EFM is delivered on GSHDSL technology. No, what they want to know is what paying more for their connectivity every month is really going to deliver, in terms of tangible benefits.

It’s like that old saying, ‘It’s not the size that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts.’ (sexual connotations aside, of course).

Businesses today don’t want Telecoms salesmen rocking up and spieling off countless numbers and technobabble about how their product works and the technology it runs on – trust me, I come from a voice environment and have had my mind blown by the detail in the ISP world – they just want to know the real benefits. I understand that all of the underlying facts and figures are necessary when building the solutions that overlay the connectivity, but that level of detail should be left to the IT folk and solution specialists to discuss.

I suppose what really bought this to the forefront of my mind, though, is seeing the countless email promotions coming through for the Superconnected Cities scheme. Even as I’ve been writing this piece, a promotional email has arrived from an IT firm that obviously has no idea how to market superfast connectivity so that people will actually want to buy it…

“YOU, Mr. Customer, can have from £250 up to £3000 towards the cost of your installation fees and you can have connectivity technology allowing for speeds of between 30Mbps up to 1Gbps.”

Great…OK, but what does that mean for the average business user?

We have to change the way we sell Broadband…ahem, er, sorry, Connectivity. It’s a means to an end. What’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? All the customer really wants to know is:

  • How will this help me to grow my business?
  • Will it cut costs in the long run?
  • Will it help me to work smarter?
  • What kinds of services will this allow me to use?

And that’s what we should be encouraging the channel to sell: the benefits of superfast connectivity. With only a couple of sales made through our local Superconnected Cities scheme in Portsmouth, it’s pretty clear that current attempts to sell a service that most businesses are crying out for have been unsuccessful. It’s time to show businesses what they can do with their big fat pipes.

broadband End User H/W internet media piracy

The Hump Day Five (9-July-2014)

In line with Broadband Week on, the Hump Day Five either benefits, suffers or remains mind-numbingly inconsequential…you decide.


Need for Speed HubFourteen years have passed since I arranged my first broadband Internet service in Paris with France Telecom, and yet it is no effort whatsoever to recall that first setup. Is this because I have an elephant’s memory? Well, it could be (because I do), but it is far more likely due to the utter ridiculousness of the Alcatel Speed Touch USB ADSL modem that came with that subscription. I remember when the box arrived, modem and instructions inside, and opening it to find…an aqua-green jellyfish-serpent cyborg!

Holding that creature in my hands — and there really was no way to think of it in any other terms — I could not help but think, “Man, these French people really do have a different way of doing EVERYTHING!” By this point I had been in the country for nearly a year, so this was not an uncommon thought for me (more like one I tripped over at least once a day), and yet…well, I laughed because there really was no other possible reaction. Then I connected the darn thing up — one end of it kchinged via standard RJ11 cable into the T-plug ADSL filter that plugged into the phone jack, the other connected via USB cable to my Dell Inspiron 3700 — and got to work.


Not long ago my ISP in Paris (Bouygues) informed me that my 100 M/ps service was being upgraded to 200 M/ps at no additional charge, which would’ve been cause for celebration if the service had actually changed moved out of its actual speed range of 20-40 M/bs.


As an American male born in and partially raised in Chicago and later seasoned in New York, I am fortunate to have what is doubtless the top U.S. sports fan’s pedigree (offer arguments to the contary in the Comments if you must, but…well, come on, really?). I can more than hold my own in any beery statistics-laden conversation, am a rabid fan of both the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants, bask in having seen Michael Jordan ascend to the position of Greatest and Most Influential Team Sport Athlete of All Time (and also recall easily the days when Muhammed Ali held that position), am able to maintain the “High Road” in the face of any so-called sports fan from delusionally-skewed Texas or rant-before-they-think Philadelphia, and really don’t take it all that seriously while managing to be dead-serious about it all at the same time.

All of the above accepted as unshakeable truth, when I resolved to move to France back in 1999 I did so knwowing that the whole sports thing would be one of the hardest points of separation. The 5-8 hour time zone difference was something of a factor — though I am a scar-branded member night owl — but by far the biggest obstacle to maintaining my U.S. sports culture was to be the near-absolute lack of interest U.S. sports in France, and thus the complete lack of game-viewing options and opportunities. Horror! Still, in for a penny in for a pound, I let it all go…that is, until I became broadband-connected (see aqua-gree jellyfish-serpent cyborg item above in the first slot). First I got back baseball, via an Internet radio broadcast product called Gameday Audio (and baseball really is at its very best over the radio, anyway, as any true fan will tell you), and that just in time for the Chicago Cubs epic 2003 season which saw them…no, it’s just too painful. Broadband and broadband-connected technologies continued to improve, of course, and just a few years after I got baseball back via radio the floodgates opened with streaming video and — the coup de grace — the introduction of the Slingbox.

So for me, courtesy of a Slingbox I have set up in south Florida (thanks, Dad), broadband means the NFL on Sunday, the World Series, and all of the U.S. sports punditry (and idiocy) I can stand, all just an application click away. To paraphrase Warren Zevon in closing, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”


Evey morning upon sitting down with AppleKory, one of the very first things I do is check for torrents of the television programs I keep up with broadcast the night before. Of course, I won’t say here what I do when I find those torrents. Before broadband, though, this daily exercise was not even possible (though before bittorrent there was KaZaA…and Helllllloooo Skype!).


And with that “Helllllloooo Skype!”…

Like 98.6% of the readers looking over these pixels, I am bound to at least one telephone line. Anyone with one of my telephone numbers can pick up any telephone and call me, and if I am not blocking the incoming number for some reason the odds are good that I will pick up. Landline, cellular…I have both (two landlines, in fact). If I do pick up, maybe I’ll even talk for a short while, though with the dovetailing advent of widespread broadband and instant messaging my career as a prodigious telephone talker came to a shockingly fast halt. Why talk, after all, when I can type nearly as fast (and when I am so much more well-written than well-spoken)? And if I do want or need to have a verbal exchange, why use up one of my hands holding a phone when I can instead make the voice connect over my broadband connection using Skype, or Google Hangouts, or whatever-whichever VoIP-driven service I can push my utterances through (and, yes, receive utterances back from) at little or not cost and without having to leave the comfort of my keyboard?

Broadband, baby…it just works.

broadband End User internet Net

B4RN, OMR, State Aid and the Witches Ducking Stool

The powers-that-be do not expect an ordinary rural community to roll up their sleeves and build state of the art fibre networks in parts of the UK denounced as totally uneconomic. is pleased to present the following “Broadband Week” post from B4RN Chief Executive Barry Forde. Barry is a networking expert with many years experience of designing, building and operating high performance networks, and apart from providing the technical input for B4RN he also acts as a consultant to a number of local authorities establishing local high speed broadband plans.

In mediaeval times if a woman acted oddly she ran the risk of being denounced as a witch. To test the veracity of such an accusation, a person so accused would be strapped onto a ducking stool and then immersed in the village pond. Then, after an arbitrary time, the woman would be brought up and examined. Continued life served as proof that she was a witch, resulting in a subsequent burning at the stake, whereas if the woman was dead then clearly she was innocent and everyone expressed their regrets. The point I’m making is that acting oddly was and still is a pretty dodgy thing to do if you want to enjoy a long and happy life.

B4RN is clearly acting oddly, as the powers-that-be do not expect an ordinary rural community to roll up their sleeves and build state of the art fibre networks in parts of the country denounced as totally uneconomic by those who know better. If the megalithic BT says it’s not doable then that, of course, is the definitive answer. Must be some sort of witchcraft if B4RN says it can do it, right? Bring out the ducking stool (the modern equivalent being the Open Market Review, combined with State aid rules)!

No one disagrees with the principle that in a modern society we should avoid situations where some part of the population is left disadvantaged in relation to others. So if we as a nation need Next Generation Broadband (NGB), loosely defined as >24Mbs by BDUK or >30Mbs by the EU, then it should ideally be available to all. The commercial operators are going to roll NGB out to about 60% of the population using their own money, so what’s to be done about the rest? And, no, the answer is not to make them move into the cities and then turn the countryside into a Disney theme park.


DCMS got the treasury to put up £520M of public funds for use in subsidising NGB build-out in the more difficult areas, the idea being to push NGB availability out to ~90% of the population. (I’d love to know whether there was some mathematical basis for that amount, or whether someone just stuck a finger in the air to test the wind.) The money was allocated on a formula basis to Local Authorities, each of which had to then come up with a local broadband plan, the hope being that they would also add additional funds from their own resources and also bulk things up with ERDF and similar initiatives. It worked, and I understand the total pot has climbed to around £1.2B, which is serious money. It was also hoped that allowing each LA to do its own thing would unleash competition and bring in new operators clearly thirsting for the chance to get stuck in!

I won’t rehash the long and bitter saga of how this BDUK phase 1 project has gone, but suffice it to say no one — apart from BDUK/DCMS and their respective Ministers and BT (of course) — is happy with things. The lack of competition in awarding contracts by Local Authorities (they all went to BT, the national monopoly telco) was roundly condemned by the NAO and PAC, and the fog of obfuscation laid down by the Local Authorities in making clear which post codes were in, which were out, and what speeds were to be delivered to each, is a plot worthy of “Yes Minister”. Small community projects like B4RN were totally frozen out of this by a whole series of rules that made it impossible for us to bid for the Local Authority contracts.

The powers-that-be, however, clearly feel happy with events and have decided to put another £250M of public money into the pot to increase the NGB coverage to 95% or better. Is there a basis for that new figure, or is it another finger in the air exercise? Having learnt nothing from the first round they seem intent on repeating the same model with formula funding for the Local Authorities, who will then award contracts as they see fit. The suspicion is that most will simply extend the phase 1 contracts with BT but, fingers crossed, some might take the opportunity to run genuine tenders which could open things up for community groups. First, though, each authority needs to run an Open Market Review to establish what work is going to be done by the commercial operators in the coming three years.

So let’s look at how all of this works from B4RN’s point of view. As a network operator building a network we have been asked to respond to Lancashire’s OMR with details of what our plans are, and as I see it we have three options, none of which appeals to me:

  1. Ignore the OMR and don’t respond. If we do this then our Local Authority can ignore us and assume that any areas not covered in phase 1 is “White” (i.e., no existing operator), and therefore eligible for subsidies from the phase 2 kitty. They could choose to simply add these areas to the existing phase 1 contract or they could go out to tender for them, in which case B4RN could respond to the tender.
  2. Respond to the OMR and list our targeted areas but say that these plans involve us bidding for public funds. The Local Authority is then perfectly free to ignore our plans as they involve public money and the OMR rules says these plans can be ignored, so the area stays White and we revert to 1 above.
  3. Respond to the OMR saying that our target area is going to be built come hell or high water, and we will find some way of building out to all 3500 properties in our patch. If we do this then the State Aid rules say we cannot bid for any public funds as the market is going to deliver ,and our area is now grey and not eligible for grants. In theory, this should also prevent LCC from funding BT to build out in those post codes too. As the phase 1 postcodes have not been disclosed by LCC, however, they can at any time state that a specific patch is being done via phase 1 funding, not phase 2, and go ahead. I cannot see any way to stop this from happening.

Options 1 and 2 mean that it is very unlikely we would get any funding via the phase 2 project, as our Local Authority has a close working relationship with BT and I’d be utterly astonished if they allowed us a sniff at the money. The probability is that they would extend the phase 1 contract with BT or, if not, do a new procurement structured to keep B4RN out. Option 3 means we are locked out of any funding anyway, and still will not have protected ourselves from a BT overbuild. But what we have done is committed the rural community to find 100% of the money and effort needed to build out the network. It becomes simply a matter for the Local Authority and BT to cherry-pick anything that looks remotely attractive to them, claiming it was in the phase 1 plan, and leave B4RN with the extortionately expensive and difficult bits.

So do we drown or do we burn? No response means no money, a response means no money and making a really serious commitment on behalf of the community and there is no safety net. The whole purpose of B4RN is to support the rural community. We really don’t want to get into a situation where we are making commitments on their behalf without prior agreement, and a 28-day window to respond to an OMR is nowhere near enough time to consult. From a community point of view, it seems the best way would be to not respond and to let the Local Authority fund BT to go out as far as it can, and then B4RN simply overbuild BT as and when community effort and funds permit. Given the extraordinarily high take up rates and support we get from our community we have no worries about competing with a subsidised BT, but it does stick in the craw seeing them get state aid support amounting to 80% or more of their costs whilst we get nothing. Particularly when ours is a full blown FTTH project that offers much better service and is very much future-proofed.

What I would really love to know is how on earth such a ridiculous situation has arisen. There are a number of community groups that are ready, willing and able to emulate the B4RN project. The government makes plenty of noise about localism and Big Society in action, but when such a wonderful example as rural broadband emerges they instantly kill it with bureaucracy and a morass of mindless rules. Why can a community not make a start on their project and look to bid for state funds to top it up? The rules say if we start something then it immediately becomes sterilised for any support. Do they really think it’s better for people to do nothing at all, except wait in the vain hope that big government will eventually solve things? Surely initiative should be rewarded, not penalised.

So back to the ducking stool. Do we practice holding our breath in the bath, have a chat with Jenson Button regarding borrowing some F1 flameproof long johns, or try and borrow Harry Potter’s invisibility clock so we can work our magic unseen by the Death Eaters in Whitehall/Local Authority/BT?

Editorial note – check out our new site – BroadbandRating.

broadband Business internet Net ofcom Regs

Ofcom to Cut Openreach Prices: Will it Increase Fibre Broadband Take-up?

Openreach’s wholesale prices to drop dramatically, but will it make a difference in fibre broadband adoption? welcomes guest contributor Julia Kukiewicz, Editor of, a consumer site focused on UK broadband (among many others).

Later this year Ofcom will force Openreach to radically cut the wholesale cost of installing a fibre line, from £50 to £11. The regulator says that this price cut, which is currently waiting on European Commission approval, will promote competition among the ISPs that resell BT fibre. That’s BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet, Primus and EE, among many others.

How big a difference, though, will an Openreach wholesale price cut really make to consumers?

Let’s consider how the ISPs pass on these wholesale prices today by looking at a sampling — three of the biggest providers, and three substantially smaller — of how much they are currently charging new customers to sign up for fibre broadband:


£30 (free with up to 76Mb)










Free (£50 without Plusnet home phone)

Almost all of the ISPs are already incorporating part of the wholesale fee into their monthly fee or just eating it, with the expectation that their customers will buy extra services and/or stay and pay beyond their minimum contract term. Even with that concession, though, the fees could be a significant barrier to standard broadband households that are considering making the leap to fibre broadband. Psychologists call this ‘the pain of paying’: it’s unappealing to make a big upfront payment for a service, even if you feel that the monthly price is pretty reasonable. Similarly, almost all of the listed ISPs offer fibre only on an 18-month contract (Sky being the exception, offering a 12 month tie-in), which is a big commitment for a household looking to switch. Thus, at face value, reducing the wholesale installation fee and contract length for fibre (Ofcom want Openreach’s fibre contracts to go down from a year to a month) looks to make BT FTTC more attractive, as long as the cuts are passed on. In the case of fees, at least, that certainly seems likely. It is expected that the effect will be less pronounced with contracts, because there are a lot of other pressures encouraging ISPs to offer long contracts, but even 12-month fibre contracts would be an improvement in terms of encouraging fibre switching. However, although price seems like an important barrier to signing up households to fibre, the level of that factor’s importance is far from assured.

Let’s pause here to consider the current rates of fibre take-up. As of March 2014, about 14% of UK households who have a fibre service available actually take it. Take-up has been growing over the past few years — just a year before the rate was just 10% — but it is still pretty low. At the same time, infrastructure availability is growing fast. BT FTTC is now available to around 70% of UK premises, and will soon be available to many more as it rolls out services on behalf of the local councils that awarded it BDUK money. Based on current projections, fibre broadband penetration could exceed 90% by the end of 2015. In this environment, price barriers like fees and long contracts may be stopping households from taking up fibre, but taking the popularity of pay TV services as an example, the ‘pain of paying’ explanation can clearly only take us so far. Logo

In a 2012 report entitled Strategies for Superfast Demand Stimulation, the broadband monitoring group Point Topic suggested that the focus needed to shift from building infrastructure to building customers that actually want it. Successful fibre broadband network areas — that is, areas where take up was high, giving companies a return on their investment and hence more impetus to continue expanding the network — were not areas with the most coverage and the lowest prices, according to Point Topic, but instead were places where real and active support from local people made people enthusiastic and excited about signing up for better broadband. And we are already seeing this in some areas with broadband champions, and even more strongly in communities which have taken the initiative to work with a local ISP, such as Frilford, Oxfordshire working with Gigaclear and Forest of Bowland and the Lune Valley, Lancashire working with Broadband for Rural North (B4RN)*. The bigger ISPs, though, haven’t taken the initiative to really stimulate demand in this way, and unless they do we may be waiting a long time for fibre take-up to really increase, even with Ofcom’s cut in wholesale costs.

broadband Business engineering internet Net

Thoughts on the Future of Broadband Down Under from the Australasian News Desk.

Antipodeans are watching what happens in more mature broadband markets — the UK, the USA — and trying to learn from their mistakes while seeking greater value. welcomes “Broadband Week” guest contributor Tom Avern who, when he isn’t pontificating on the internet, can using be found helping his clients sort out their network issues, riding bicycles, or taking photographs. Tom has been network engineering for 13 years, since he was but a lad, and has a CCNA to prove it.

If there is one global constant with regard to broadband it is that consumers will always want more speed and more bandwidth. Another global constant, of course, is the difficulty of managing the traffic.

One advantage that we antipodeans have is that we can watch what happens in more mature markets — the UK, the USA — and try to learn from their mistakes. For instance, the next big thing here in our sunburnt country is the National Broadband Network (or NBN), a roll-out similar to BT’s efforts with the “Infinity” products and their wholesale equivalents. What is interesting about the NBN process isn’t so much the similarities as it is the differences, and when looking into the available NBN plans and technology that an average broadband consumer may purchase I was surprised at what I found.

First, it seems that copper is almost dead, as the NBN Co will be removing copper lines everywhere and replacing them all with FTTP. Under this scheme, a good old analogue phone will function by way of an interface in the “NBN Connection Box”, which in turn will be connected to a power supply with a battery backup built in to facilitate phone calls during a power outage.

Second, the service itself can be delivered to the “NBN Connection Box” in one of three ways: (1) fibre, as detailed above, (2) wirelessly from a mobile tower, via a panel antenna affixed to the roof of the home, and (3) via satellite, for extremely remote locations. Something for all situations.

Third, the NBN has announced a plan with Telstra to provide VDSL FTTC services to 200,000 homes. This is a copper-based product (the only one yet to make an appearance), and thus it seems that not all of the copper is bound for the scrap yard.

I find myself wondering what will happen at the exchange. For one, there will be a lot of space where backup batteries and copper termination equipment used to reside, and if this space was re-purposed to facilitate server hosting — in a location on top of a major fibre node with decent power availability — well, could it all be leveraged as a business? Would people use it? Also, there could be real value in providing cache servers local to customers in heavy-use areas, to provide faster access to popular resources such as VoIP or VoD.

While writing this article, I compared plans in both the UK and Australian markets, and I found myself disappointed by the lack of value in the Aussie broadband market. Down under, your dollar buys you speed but not much in the way of data allowance. In conjunction, because Australia suffers from a population density problem (or, rather, the lack of such, as in comparison the UK has an average of 0.003 km2 per person while Australia has 0.3 km2), when the costs of delivering utilities is extrapolated you simply have to accept the fact that delivery will be more expensive and time-consuming in Australia.

Mobile data is a bit of a sore point with yours truly as Australia has yet to get mobile data plans that represent what I would call value. There are expensive plans available, including a “massive 512MB” that I find hilarious when compared with the unlimited plans available elsewhere in the world. The country is accessing the same content as the rest of the world with plans that are woefully behind and, again, density appears to be the issue: lots of mobile towers needed to cover a sparsely distributed subscriber base.

Currently, there are areas of Australia that appear on the three-year forecasted availability list for the NBN, so I think we’ll have to wait a while before the totality of the land down under is online at high speed, at value prices or not.


Bad Stuff End User gadgets internet media

Superfast Broadband This…

Is it too much to ask that Virgin Media provide the broadband service paid for, or at least something much closer to it than is currently the case? welcomes “Broadband Week” contributor Gary Hough, Regulatory Manager for Zen Internet and ISPA Council Member. Gary has worked in the ISP industry for the past 18 years and is convinced he is growing old disgracefully, Regulatory Management Post Punk.

Superfast Broadband this and Superfast Broadband that…it’s all you hear these days as ISPs and others bang on and on about needing to have the greatest and fastest internet service that money can buy. I often criticised those ISPs, who dropped leaflets through my door trying to get me to switch to their service under some headline speed that would somehow transform my internet experience. Then one day it all got me thinking, about my own personal use of the internet and how it’s changing so fast that it’s not always easy for me to keep up (even though I work in the internet industry), let alone really know if I will get a truly transformed and faster experience if I did change providers.

There’s no doubt that by 2016 the majority of UK households will have access to a Superfast broadband service, be that Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or even Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)…but do they really need it? I was unconvinced for quite some time, however I’m now finding it ever more frustrating that my home service provider (Virgin Media) is struggling to give me a superfast service, despite the fact it’s advertised as such and for which I’m certainly paying a lot of money per month. For example, for the princely sum of circa £125.00 + a month all in I take Virgin Media’s TV package, phone line rental, and 60Mb Broadband service. This Broadband service was sold to me as fttp, this despite the fact they use coax cable into my home (check out what Adrian Kennaird at Andrews and Arnold has to say about that on his blog), so I expect to get what I’m paying for…a Fibre to the Premises service. More often than not, though, that 60Mb service is struggling to keep up with the usage at home, especially at peak periods.

It is only my partner and I using our broadband connection, and most evenings we will typically be doing what most couples do these days (or at least I assume they do): fart around on Facebook via our respective iPhones/iPad/laptop, and perhaps listen to some music (Killing Joke, Magazine, Buzzcocks) streamed via YouTube or iTunes to a Bluetooth-connect Bose speaker or similar, etc. Or I might connect into work via VPN to do some last-minute blogging, download the latest meaty tomes from Ofcom, or whatever. Or sometimes we simply use iPlayer to catch up on a missed TV show (I say sometimes because more often than not Virgin streaming can’t cope with the strains of streaming an episode of America’s Next Top Model, and I have found myself wondering if they somehow think this is a feature they are providing, filtering and protecting us from ourselves and our obsession with mediocre TV). Anyway, my partner typically watches funny or surreal video clips posted in FB groups that she is subscribed to, or casually browses topics of interest, so nothing so intense that a 60mb connection can’t or shouldn’t be able to cope with. And yet, in my mind — and especially during peak times — our connection is just not holding up under the strain. Also, we’re only using the Virgin Media home hub (and it’s correctly set up), so I am certain it isn’t a wireless drop out or a technical hitch, though if I use wireless on the standard 2.4 GHz frequency it’s slower than switching to the 5 GHz frequency. The devices we use can handle the higher frequency (with the exception of one laptop), and as all of our devices are in the same living room we aren’t being restricted by any barriers to the connection.

So given all of that, I think it comes down to the connection being artificially manipulated by Virgin Media, due to the contention they face in my particular footprint from which I am served. Of course, as a highly valued customer — their words not mine — Virgin Media is promising me a free* upgrade to 100mb at some point in the future as part of their planned network upgrade, so we may in fact obtain 45Mb at best (given current performance and based on the current delivery track record).

Am I expecting too much, though? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t believe it’s too much to ask that Virgin Media give me what I’m paying for, or at least something much closer to it than is currently the case.

And where’s the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) when you need them? Lacking bite and teeth from my viewpoint. In truth, I often wonder why they even exist, given some of the clearly exaggerated advertising I’ve seen from some providers as well as the lack of enforcement that occurs when such is pointed out to the ASA.

So what’s the alternative? Should I switch to another ISP? This slow connection is happening far too often as is, and it will only get worse the more services and household gadgets rely on the Internet to function.

*In this case, “free” likely means another line rental increase on the phone service to pay for it all.

chromebook End User gadgets google H/W internet Mobile phones Weekend

The Hump Day Five (2-July-2014)


Friday afternoon found me riding the Eurostar rails, on KoryChrome (new Samsung Chromebook 2*), pounding out on a “First Impressions” piece…on KoryChrome. Using Writebox, one of those sometimes-useful writing applications that are intended to take the distraction out of the process, I was about 700 words into it when for reasons unknown I decided to go exploring. A sparse environment — which, of course, is the point — there were only six (6) icons to check out in the upper right-hand corner (which conveniently hide when you aren’t hovering your cursor over the spot), and as I was enjoying my new application and curious about it I thought I’d see what I could do with it.

Faux Leather Stitching!

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty about what the Writebox icons are for (syncing, settings, preview…the usual), except suffice it to say for the one that has me typing here now, a + symbol in the farmost left position on the very short toolbar. That particular icon opens a new Writebox file that effectively dumped my nearly-finished “Hello (again) KoryChrome” post into the ether of lost-forever 1s and 0s.

Infuriation and frustrating, yes, and the prospect of starting the post from scratch makes me shudder (still haven’t gotten around to that, but keep reading)…but from the I-can-rationalize-anything perspective, I am truly glad that as I make my approach on 50 I am still able to touch the hot part of the stove.

*Handed off to me by good ol’ globehopping Tref at our Pissup in a Brewery event this past Thursday at Fourpure Brewery in Bermondsey…if you missed it you are the lesser for having done so, but there will certainly be others so watch this space.


As long as I have the date here pinned to my short trip to London last week, I will burn a line or two on my latest experience with airbnb. Finding a reasonably-priced non-lethal-seeming accommodation for said trip that was within the Underground’s boundaries proved to be quite the challenge (only later did I realize this was due in no small part to Wimbledon being among the other usual goings-on in London), but eventually I did manage to wrangle a roof and bed in the tiny Bermondsey flat of a young couple (complete with an adorable 3-month-old kitten named Binxy). This being my third airbnb experience I was hoping it would be the charm, and I am glad to report that it was just that. If you consider yourself something of a brave traveler and have not yet taken a chance on airbnb or one of the other Internet home-invite services that are shaking up the hospitality industry, well this is me adding to the white noise urging you to do so.


The “Broadband Week” is coming up fast and I am furiously editing away on received submissions. That said, if you have an idea for a Contributor post that aligns with our theme there is still a sliver of time remaining to pitch it and get it in for publication next week. So if you want to see your name up on our marquee, please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]. I will be glad to help you bring your epiphany to the page.


Last week in London I finally got my hands on a Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, the little-bit-country-little-bit-rock-and-roll smartphone I have been kvelling over quite a bit here since its announcement two months ago, and I was far from disappointed. With new gadgets I wait for that special tingle (usually it comes from putting fingers on the device, but there are no hard-and-fast rules about that), and once I feel that it is just a matter of determining whether its strength is enough to kick me into “Want”. Consider me kicked well and good. Just need to find a way to get my provider to subsidize the pocket beast…


My lead-in KoryChrome tidbit illustrated for the umpteenthsomething time that I could do with a few more smarts, and I expect that my Hump Day Five wrap-up for the week is sure to remove any lingering doubt.

Hot off the Eurostar back to Paris on Friday I found myself in a rented Škoda barreling towards our tiny family hovel in Pays d’Auge’s Blangy-le-Château. Over the 8 years La Famille Kessel has so often made the jaunt that certain routines have formed, including for me the ritual of connecting AppleKory up — power source, monitor converter, USB peripherals, etc — and at visit’s end, disconnecting it all. Sounds simple and is simple, though early on I did once make the gross error of leaving my MacBook Pro power adapter behind. This resulted in a frantic run to the Apple Store Carrousel du Louvre upon arriving back in Paris that Sunday evening to buy a new one. As with all things Apple, the new power adapter wasn’t cheap, but the impossible alternative was to go a few weeks with a single battery charge. And in the end, the €69 I pushed across for it has turned out to be quite a good investment, both for peace-of-mind (it lives in my computer bag, making it possible to always leave the original at home) and from a value standpoint (darn thing has put in 7+ years of service and counting).

So. Routine. Routine is good. And as so often happens when a routine undergoes any kind of change, things go pear-shaped. Last night, just as France was putting the spank to Nigeria to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil quarter finals, the new KoryChrome’s battery slid down to 2% and I realized I had left her charger back in Blangy. Not too long after she became just a sleek good-looking techy brick, and will remain so until the Friday following the next (or until I can suss out a replacement, of course…for a new product that is not yet for sale on the right side of the Atlantic).

Business food and drink fun stuff H/W internet wearable

Owed to the Laundromat

Friday afternoon finds me well-lunched (New Mexican-ish place that opened nearby about a month ago) and passing roughly 45 minutes at a laundromat that is about 100 steps from the door to our building in Paris’s 18th Arrondissement.

Decidedly not Web 2.0 — no wifi, no URL on the door or windows, no comment field anywhere upon which to register user opinion — the local laverie (that’s French for…well, I trust you can work that out, cherished reader) is actually proving to be somewhat comforting in the mere fact that it has seemingly not changed a lick since my first and only previous visit almost 13 years ago (that being right after My Missus and I moved into our flat at 57 Boulevard Barbes and before the delivery and hookup of our washer and dryer, natch). Of course, the pricing is different now with regard to both the amount and the currency, but everything else is the same or similar enough to register as such…the basic floor plan, types of machines in service, signage, the definitive lack of furniture upon which to wait for the various cycles to complete, the character stereotypes aiding me in occupying the place (and we aren’t talking butcher, baker, or candlestick maker)…


==> To answer the hanging question for the one person out there who might crave the answer, my lavage moment is brought to you today by frugality and a need to clean a winter duvet that is simply too bulky to launder at home (and which the La Famille Kessel decision-makers are good and sick of paying the teinturier — dry cleaner — upwards of €50 to clean every spring). <==

I must admit that a broad idiot’s smile broke across my face when I realized a few moments ago that this is only my 2nd time in a laundromat in a great many years. The reason for said smile being that before that September 2001 visit to my current perch — with the exception of 1993, a year I spent living in a big house with three other people (and a washer and dryer) — I could always count on spending two hours every couple of weeks passing the time exactly as I am now, reading and writing amongst giant industrial behemoths chewing on my washable wearables and slucking down my hoarded dimes and quarters for the privilege.

Through the dormitory years, frathouse life, this apartment, that apartment, another apartment, apartment-apartment-apartment, and on through a house that while cute and cuddly was simply not able to harbor a washing machine (let alone a dryer), it was a steady diet of laundromat boredom for me. Regular as phone bills and cheap thrills, lest I be a dirty boy.

In the early 1990s a wave of innovation washed over the public laundering industry in urban America, and before long laundering types had some options. You could have a drink and try your luck at picking up a fellow launderer while your clothes getting sudsed up, or you could bowl a game during the rinse cycle. Of course, the good old-fashioned laundromats that I tended to inhabit soldiered on — those offering a rundown pinball game or an ancient Pac-Man machine for entertainment…if that — but now instead of the dull sense of tedious contentment with which we old-fashioned launderers were familiar, we were instead subject to a new and strange sense of unease, knowing that somewhere out there on that mundane Laundry Night there were those who were dancing or enjoying karaoke while their unmentionables were tumbling.

Did I bite, you are no doubt wondering? Did I turn my back on the underprivileged and overworked, the single old-timers, the vagabonds and homeless folks with enough esteem to occasionally freshen and soften their garments, the students squeaking by on budgets too small to be seen with the naked eye? I did not! But then, none of the new-age laundromats were offering free Internet access.

Nearly a decade and a half of years pass. Have passed. Past. A quick google-bing today reveals that clean-your-clothes multi-tasking has continued to expand and evolve, with Laundromat-Cafés (yes, offering free wifi) and even Laundromat-Restaurants now heavy in the mix. All we need now is Laundromat-equipped office cubicle farms and the evolution of the public laundry arts will be complete.

Duvet spinning fast now. Yes, I do think there is a song in there somewhere, but it is just past the reach of my tongue at the moment. Two minutes to go and I am outtahere.

Related posts:

End User fun stuff gadgets H/W internet Mobile mobile connectivity Net phones wearable

Flying Away on a Wing and a Prayer

I’ve been daydreaming about technology. Again.

Oftentimes you will see me, fingers unmoving on my keyboard, my mind skimming the clouds (not “the cloud”), blissfully imagining features that I want/need/must have in my next computer.

**Cue dreamy fantasy, Fender Rhodes-ish, 1970s-era TV comedy music. Cue LOUD thunder crack.**

…a monster SSD (I recently carved a Samsung M9T 2TB HHD from a sealed-and-not-meant-to-be-opened Backup Plus external hard drive to install in AppleKory, so you know that when I write “monster” I am not messing around…s’gotta be BIG), a good degree of voice command capability, a separate GPU, a battery that can reliably deliver 10+ hours of juice regardless of use intensity, integrated cellular Internet connectivity, and — naturally — MacBook-level build quality across the board…

**Fade out goofy cue-in music underlay.**

Gadget This Gadget ThatIntegrated cellular connectivity. Something of a Holy Grail among a great many of us who drive MacBooks, this functionality has been on my “Features and Functions for AppleKory Upgrade” list (yes, I really do keep such a thing…don’t you?) for so long that I am not entirely sure I can reclaim the pixels. That said, my blue-sky tech whimsy is relegated not only to computers but also to smartphones, those marvelous wonders of technology that by their very nature connect to the Internet via cellular. Regular readers know, of course, that I am deeply ensconced (stuck?) in the the search for my next smartphone, which at this point still looks to be the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom. I have yet to actually put my hands on the GKZ, however, and as my near-decision to be among the Zoomed has me feeling as shaky as it does giddy, I am guessing there is a moment of reckoning waiting for me once the darn thing actually becomes available in France. Early reviews are all over the place, though they all seem to reflect less the smartphone’s build quality and feature set and more the usage values of the reviewers themselves. In aggregate, though, those reviews fall mostly in line with expectation, describing the not-so-little bugger as a “niche product”…a niche that, when described, sounds an awful lot like one into which I enjoy lanyard pass access. Still, it seems that every week there is yet another new player on the field that deserves consideration — just yesterday Amazon’s Jeff Bezos splashily announced his company’s entry to the Smartphone Wars, the Amazon Fire Phone, which has not one and not two but SIX cameras on-board — and until such time as I can try on the Galaxy K Zoom for size (and weight) my musings on the device will be blue-sky whimsy indeed.

**Cue dreamy fantasy, Fender Rhodes-ish, 1970s-era TV comedy music. Cue LOUD thunder crack.**

…ready to perform as smartphone and compact camera, and serving well as both while requiring the precious pocket space of of just one…sharp and responsive camera function, especially in low-light situations requiring tight optical zoom…well-designed apps serving essential and not-so-essential needs…easy and thoughtful interaction and synchronization with AppleKory…elevation of my walkabout effectiveness from the sludgy puddle into which my iPhone 4 currently has it imprisoned…ah, bliss…

**Fade out goofy music.**

Pie in the sky, baby!

So have you gotten the impression that for me it is all about the Internet? Nay, I say! Let’s have a little talk about tweedle beetles…er, cameras (and set aside the fact that many of them these days have some kind of Internet capability, because nobody buys a camera primarily for that). Up front, let me say that nearly four years in I continue to be utterly besotted with my Leica D-Lux 5 (the lovely Leyna). Despite this, however, nary a full day passes without me dropping into some camera review site or another (, I’m talkin’ ’bout you) and gorging myself on the latest this-and-that in the world of photo-taking apparatus goodness. My next camera…my next camera…

**Cue silly dream fantasy whatnot music for last time. LOUD thunder crack, too.**

…weather-resistant…compact size, but with interchangeable lenses…built-in wifi file transfer capability…insanely-high resolution EVF and rearview monitor…somewhat retro…finger-tingling build quality…

**Fade out. End the darn post already.**

Yes, yes, me likes me cameras.

Me also…I also (Bizarro voice only works in teeny tiny doses) thirst to soar with new-gadget-happy, like all qualifying tech geeks who have over the years read an embarrassing number of comic books and tuned into far too much sci-fi television. I am sorry to say, though, that the wearable-whatever getting most of the ink these days just isn’t getting me up to escape velocity. I haven’t worn a watch on my wrist since 1992, a streak that I cannot imagine coming to an end any time soon, iWatch or whichever Dick Tracy contraption notwithstanding (including this watch). And as for Google Glass, I have never been able to get my head around the idea of wearing glasses for reasons other than dire necessity (2-D cinema-going guy that I am), and more than halfway to my own personal Finish Line I have yet to encounter a pair of sunglasses that looked like anything other than a waste of money. iBelt? Amazon Fire Shoes? A power ring or magic lasso? No no no no no. I don’t daydream about wearing my gadget tech these days…I want it IMPLANTED!

Related posts:

competitions End User events fun stuff H/W internet media Mobile mobile connectivity Net obsolescence piracy

Watching the Football

Yesterday a friend of mine in the UK asked me if I was “going to watch the football”, stating his own excitement over the soon-upon-us 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil (the official label of the event, if the website is any indicator), and then asking “Have you converted a little? Soccer to you, I guess.”


I actually converted 20 years ago as a direct result of the excitement surrounding the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Of course, the football punditry out there will immediately assume that this American finally clued in that year due to the tournament being held in the U.S. for the first (and so far only) time, however that assumption would not only be disingenuous but wrong too. No, my sports imagination was finally captured by International football in 1994 not because I was swept up in host country hoopla, but because I was living/working/traveling Europe that year and found myself instead swept up in the remarkable national enthusiasm and spontaneous celebrations I encountered in England, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany as the tournament played out. Walking around Namur, Belgium, for instance, on a Tuesday night in early July, seeking out a priced-right-for-a-backpacker dinner, I was left aghast and delighted by the string of cars going by with horns a-blarin’, people hanging out the windows hooting and hollering and waving the Italian flag. The people of one country so unabashedly showing their colors, whooping it up on the streets of another country…what is this International sporting thing, anyway? And then five days later, being fortuitous enough to be in Germany to witness first-hand the crashing out of the Germany team1…I was hooked!

1994. The world turned its eyes and ears to the most commercial country in the world to watch “The Beautiful Game” on television and radio, and only on television and radio. And not a single URL in sight.

When my pal asked me whether I was going to tune into the 2014 FIFA World Cup my knee-jerk first thought was “Will it be available via the Internet?” to which my second thought instantly responded “Are you kidding? Of course.” Sure, I know the games will be broadcast on television, and I am relatively sure the one we have in the main room still works (The Boy watches it from time to time…I think), but it wasn’t until long after I answered my friend’s oh-so-rhetorical question that I even paid a thought to the idea of actually using the device to watch a match.

Football TV

Naturally, the picture the Chez Kessel television delivers is plenty sharp (as so many are these days, we are Triple Play kitted), and something prompted me long ago to wire the sound to come through our stereo speakers (think it was the 2006 FIFA World Cup that prompted that…friggin’ Marco Materazzi, sister-and-mother-insulting classless b*stard), so it isn’t a poor viewing option that had me defaulting to the Internet as my top-of-mind football entertainment resource. It’s just…well…you see…c’mon, you know…it is so much easier to simultaneously Web-out with ⌘+Tab (Alt+Tab for the Windows-fettered readers out there, and whatever-equivalent for UNIX deities and whichever others) than it is via some lap-bound or hand-bound device supplementary to the television.

Addiction. Always lurking, eminently humanizing, and available in oh-so-many forms.

1994. When to the layman “Internet” meant email and bulletin boards and nothing more. The World Wide Web was just starting to poke its head up, and “streaming” was a word relegated to tape data backups.

Without admitting to anything (and there will be no Q&A), I will cagily say here that a long time has passed since I last watched a television program at the time of broadcast (other, that is, than hypnotized channel-surfing-and-staring borne of jetlag). This is not to say that I am accomplishing the impossible, foregoing television entertainment in what is unquestionably a golden age for the medium (too many programs to list, but suffice it to say that I can speak “The Wire”, “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, and this Millenium’s “Battlestar Galactica” reboot with anyone…buncha great UK-produced programs, too!). I do, though, manage to forego the starchy advertising that comes with all of the good TV meat on offer, and without littering my shelves and floorspace with DVD sets gathering dust.

Yes, packaged up nice-and-digital and stripped of its impurities, television for me has come to mean the Internet. And I find it a richer and far more satisfying experience for that, too.     ==>Twenty-three minutes into the sixth episode of Season Two of “The Americans” a reference is made to an earlier plot point that I skied past. Pause. ⌘+Tab to Google Chrome. Type “The Americans episodes ” into the Address/Search field. A quick click and read. ⌘+Tab back to VLC. Un-Pause. Good to go.<==     Of course, certain television events practically demand in-progress viewing — cannot-turn-away news events and, yes, some sporting events (though "condensed" recordings can now be acquired after the fact, such as three-plus hour American Football games boiled down to 58 minutes!) — but these have not kept that really big monitor in our flat's central room from looking more and more novel with each passing season. 1994. Televisions were definitively three-dimensional, whereas the scripted programming they delivered to the quivering and drooling masses was two-dimensional at its very best. Which inevitably brings me back to "watching the football". I imagine that as was the case the last time around, La Famille Kessel will ease slowly into 2014 FIFA World Cup action, eventually ramping up interest as the meaning of the games increases (and if France makes a move, as in '06, getting downright rabid about it all). And as that happens our somewhat dusty black Samsung-emblazoned flat-panel Living Room window into the Global Village (clichés flowing thick and furious here at the end) will no doubt once again find its purpose.   1Is there anyone who isn’t German that likes to see Germany win at anything? 🙂

Related posts:

Business chromebook google H/W internet

Wherefore Art Thou, KoryChrome?

Knowing that Tref was heading over to the U.S. for this week’s Genband Perspectives 14, I asked the fearless namesake of the cracking website you hold in your hands if he would be up to muling a spiffy new Samsung Chromebook 2 back over the pond for my pickup at’s Pissup in a Brewery (which you really don’t want to miss) later this month. Unsurprisingly, he responded with a hearty “Sure, M8.” and I was off to the races…well, off to find a shipper who could deliver the device shipping-free and tax-free to Tref at his Orlando hotel prior to his return flight, that is.

Naturally, my first surf-to destination was, however although they had my desired Chromebook in stock I would have to pay extra for both shipping and sales tax (6%). Sales tax? Amazon? Said to be on the cusp for years, I guess some law somewhere was passed and it finally took hold.

Next I tried, which promised free shipping…and no sales tax. Oh, except in states in which the company has a physical business presence, such as Florida. Needed to go all the way to the final click to learn that (and confirmed it with a Samsung Phone Drone, too).

Finally, after a few more hits-and-misses my search ended at New York’s famous B&H, which not only promised free shipping to the Sunshine State but a tax-free transaction as well. The only problem was that I would have to wait a little over 30 hours to actually place the order due to my having stumbled onto the B&H site during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, because although you can peruse B&H’s website during Jewish holy days — the Sabbath each week, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the two-day periods that bookend Sukkoth and Passover…and Shavuot — you cannot actually place an order while any of these days are in progress. To their credit, B&H clearly indicates such restrictions on their site when pertinent, even going so far as to offer a very useful countdown clock on the site that indicates when they will once again be open for business. Free shipping, no sales tax, a one-week window for it all to happen in…I could wait 30 hours.

Faux Leather Stitching!

The reviews are rolling in on the Chromebook 2, and while they aren’t universally great — it’s certainly no “Jesus Phone” — they reflect my expectations for the my soon-to-be-new friend and then some. Sleek, light, stylish (that faux black leather case and stitching!), the Chromebook 2 also has a lot more under its keyboard than its predecessor (which was NOT saddled with the moniker “Chromebook 1”), being markedly faster and offering a somewhat better screen and trackpad. All good stuff. Good enough, in fact, to pull me back into the Chromebooked less than four short months after having eBayed the original KoryChrome back in February. References to “The Godfather, Part III” unnecessary.

30 hours later. 09h00 Eastern Standard Time (15h00 in Paris’s GMT+1), and following a quick touch-base with a B&H Phone Drone (who assures me the package will arrive on the promised date of 12-June, which is one day to spare…might even show up on the 11th) I pull the B&H trigger on Chromebook 2. And less than 30 minutes later I learn that my delivery window is short by a day due to my having boneheaded the nitty-gritty detail of Tref’s #orlandoroadtrip. Yes, our man’s adventure runs from 6-June to 13-June, but he is actually set to clear U.S. on 12-June…the day B&H Phone Drone near-guaranteed the new KoryChrome would make its grand entrance in Orlando.

Did I really do that? Me, the guy who in the past 15 years has overnight-flighted the Atlantic no less than 120 times? Well, no matter. Chromebook 2 hadn’t shipped by this point — B&H was happy to take the order on the Friday, but due to the Sabbath it woudn’t actually ship until Sunday — and I was relatively sure I could cancel it if need be. So I pinged Tref, just to let him know my swirling thoughts on it all. He clued me into his late-ish departure time on 12-June, and with that I made my leap of faith (into the abyss?), opting to let the order fly. After all, even if the package misses Tref in Orlando, how hard could it be to arrange for its return via the hotel, United Parcel Service, and B&H? (He writes with a touch of both sarcasm and extreme naiveté.)

And that is where things stand on this fine late spring Wednesday. B&H confirmed my order on Sunday via an efficient email, and I know that the package left Maspeth, NY on Monday evening. Where between Maspeth and Orlando it is now, though, is nothing more than a WAG, though ever-faithful readers are welcome — encouraged, even! — to join me in attempting to track the new KoryChrome’s voyage to Orlando. Crossed fingers, good thoughts, focused karmic energy, muttered chanting, speaking in tongues…whatever any of you have to give that can help ensure the new KoryChrome’s safe passage into Tref’s hands, I’ll take it!

Related posts:

End User internet Net social networking UC

One Out of 1,874,161

Over the weekend I received a Twitter request from someone unknown to me to participate in a dm (direct message) exchange. Figuring it at first to be some kind of scam or sales come-on I was just about to use TweetDeck’s “Block” function to keep the party from contacting me again when I noticed in their Twitter handle something we have in common…a four-letter sequence beginning with ‘k’ and ending with ‘y’ (and just so you know, my Twitter handle is @kory).

Here we go again.

Since registering to use Twitter (7-March-2007) I have been approached more than a few times by other Twitter uses looking to appropriate my Twitter handle for their own use. These enquiries have nearly always been of the friendly variety — there was one guy who dealt with my “Thanks, but no.” by trying to rally his thousands…er, hundreds…well, dozens of followers into hotboxing my acquiescence (and I am happy to say that his call to action backfired, with plenty of this fella’s so-called “friends” publicly shaming him on Twitter) — and in most cases even led to mutual Twitter following for a time. Knowing what it is to grow up Kory, I understand the propensity all Korys out there seem to share in wanting to have @kory for themselves…it is simple, direct, easily remembered, somewhat unique (it isn’t ‘David’, ‘John’, ‘Steve’, ‘Alan’, or ‘Mike’, anyway), and it is short. Really short. In fact, it is that very four-letter quality that seems to stir the pot of desire more than any other, likely because the shorter your Twitter handle the more freedom with characters you can provide to those who might want to tweet to you, or retweet your tweets or your own retweets!

1,874,161. That is the number of valid four-character Twitter handles, taking into account that the valid characters for Twitter usernames include all 26 letters, the 10 digits, and underscore, and the fact that characters can repeat. 37x37x37x37. 1,874,161. One of those 1,874,161 is my @kory — yet another is’s very own Trefor Davies’s @tref — which I first used to tweet seven years, three months, and three days ago. So with so many four-letter Twitter handles to be had, why is my own proving so popular? Silly question, I say, as any self-respecting Kory on Twitter must certainly aspire be @kory! Would be and should be thrilled to be @kory!

So pea-cocking aside (maybe just a little more…being @kory really is terribly cool, but it pales in comparison to this), I need to give some credit where it is undeniably due as I didn’t just stumble into the Twitter scene early enough to be the 817,772nd registrant to the service. No, the reason I am one of the First Million Twitterers (and before you can ask whether that is a real select club I will stop you with a “Heh. You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?”) is because long ago I hitched my social media caboose to the barreling-fearlessly-into-all-things-social-on-the-Internet phenomenon that is Jeff Pulver. I won’t go into deep detail here on Jeff’s exploits, antics, and achievements in social media as just a wee bit of googling and or binging will tell his story far better than I can here. I will say unreservedly, though, that were I not attached securely to his new technology bullet train it is far more likely I would be @kory498852 on Twitter and not @kory. So kudos once again, @jeffpulver.

@Kory Stats

Getting back to my story, the tweet I received at 06h09 on 7-June-2014 simply said, “@kory hey man dm me when you get this”, from a Twitterer (Tweeter?) going by “@korycomtois”. Being a diligent type, once I had decided not to immediately block this fellow Kory I clicked over to his Twitter page to learn what I could, which honestly wasn’t much. Still, @korycomtois looked harmless enough. Also, I am almost always up for a little back and forth, and — who knows? — maybe this would be the magical Twitter exchange that would change my life, thus I tweeted back. It took another day to get our DMing ducks in a row (my fault as although @korycomtois was following me I was not yet following him), however before weekend’s end we had made contact. And sure enough, @korycomtois was keen on ending my reign and assuming the @kory crown.

Yup. Here we go again.

No doubt, there is a question lurking on the collective tongues of my readership, that being whether I have ever been offered actual cash money for the @kory handle. The simple answer is…I think so. I think so because although numbers have been bandied about — back in 2011 one seemingly determined soul went as high as $5000 — I have never encouraged or considered such offers to the point where the nuts-and-bolts of actual payment and follow-through became part of the discussion, and as such I cannot definitively say the offers were legit (and, yes, that $5000 offer did get me thinking for a short while).

@korycomtois wrote, “I am very interested in it (your handle), would you ever consider parting with it?”, and when I wrote back I mentioned that I had once turned down $5000 for it and asked whether he was prepared to offer “an amount that is worthy my giving it a re-think”. I didn’t have to wait long for a response.

“I’m sorry I cannot come close, I am a high school student that just wanted my first name as my handle.”

Young Kory went on to apologize for wasting my time (he hadn’t…I found myself delighted with our exchange, his politeness, and just the fact that he steeled himself up and asked the question as so many would not have), and we parted as fellow followers, for the time being at least. Then earlier today, seeing a tweet @korycomtois posted I found myself dwelling a bit on the connection. Here was a kid who when I first leaped onto Twitter was at most 11 years old (The Boy is a year past that), who joined the service 1,151,558,938 Twitter accounts after my own @kory was issued (not a real number as at some point Twitter skipped whole swaths of numbers…a fun one nonetheless, though), throwing a flag out into the ether hoping for a connect and a magical Twitter connect that would change his life (or, at least, his Twitter handle). Jiminy!

So I say this to @korycomtois: I am going to hold onto @kory for now and into the foreseeable future, but you have my solemn word — 140 characters of it — that when the day comes that circumstance or decision results in my vacating @kory it will be yours to carry forward.

Related posts:

Apps Bad Stuff broken gear End User gadgets H/W internet

Fie on Eye-Fi

Transferring photos directly from your digital camera to a hard drive via wifi. A sweet idea, to be sure, and a functionality that now seems to be built into pretty much every new digital camera model coming off the producton lines. This was not the case just a short time ago, though, and this is the raison d’etre for Eye-Fi.

For those of you not already in-the-know, Eye-Fi is a company that produces SD and SDHC memory cards that supply digital cameras with secure wifi capability in addition to the usual photo file storage. They also produce software that works in conjunction with their product line, helping their customers to facilitate the use of their Eye-Fi cards (read: essentially owning the process of wirelessly transferring their customers photos and video from camera to computer). Eye-Fi memory cards work with just about any digital camera that makes use of a SD or SDHC memory card. They come in a variety of different storage capacities, are powered via the camera itself, and — supposedly — work up to a range of 90+ feet outdoors and 45+ feet indoors (yeah, that made me go “Huh?” too). Setup is quite easy, though due to configuration necessities it is a bit more complex than just pop-in-and-go. Of course, with so many different cameras in Eye-Fi’s purview it simply is not possible to offer a single file transfer performance standard, however to the company’s credit they do offer copious information and support on their website that is granulated down to the camera maker model level. And the associated Eye-Fi software extends the basic functionality of an Eye-Fi card, allowing for fine-tuned file organization, real-time file transfer, and file geotagging.

So all in all, Eye-Fi offers one handy-dandy, extremely cool, and very useful piece of digital photography tech…none of which is going to keep me from slagging it from one end of this page to the other.

Regular readers (and understand, please, that by ‘regular’ I am not implying normalcy) know that I have something of a propensity to slightly anthropomorphize objects to which I assign high value. My computer, my bicycle, my moped, certain knives…all tactile things that I have given names to, might in rare moments utter a conversational word to, and which I have kitted out with high-quality accessories. Naturally this extends to my go-to digital camera, my beautiful and beloved Leyna the Leica D-Lux 5, which over the years I have adorned with an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), a lens adaptor tube, various filters, extra batteries, and a handcrafted leather half-case. And because I adore the lovely Leyna both outside and in, last summer I bought her an Eye-Fi Pro X2 16GB card.

Fie on Eye-Fi

Finally! Wireless file transfer…the one essential feature Leyna did not have! I can take a picture here…and it will render over there! No longer would I need to remove Leyna’s SD card to experience the fruit of her labor. Now I could just navigate to the date-stamped directory created by the Eye-Fi software or open iPhoto and there my photos would be, ready for editing, viewing, sharing. Internet-age technology at its absolute zenith!

Heh. No. Eye-Fi started breaking its promises from the get-go, without even a brief “Honeymoon” period. Dingy slow file transference, an inability to circumvent Leyna’s power savings settings when doing its work, a need to be in a direct line of sight with the network router (thus partially explaining the “outside” versus “inside” transfer distance “Huh?” listed in the specifications…numbers that were wildly exaggerated, too, I must add), dropped connections…it all made for a lot of expectations swallowing on my part, while also forcing me to change workflows and camera settings just to get some semablance of usable functionality from my new handy-dandy, extremely cool…yeah, whatever.

I persisted with Eye-Fi in spite of the distinct lack of satisfaction I was getting from the device and technology, believing that I could adapt to the workarounds I had to put in place to get it working in my digital photo scheme of things. Perhaps a future firmware update would smooth out the kinks between Leyna and Eye-Fi, I thought (hoped), or maybe the two devices would spontaneously comee to work better together over time (OK, I didn’t really believe that, but I’d spent $99 on the darn card and really really REALLY wanted it to work as expected…as promised). And a firmware update did come along, as did a software update, and I boosted the wifi in both the flat and at our Normandy maison secondaire…but still, the relationship didn’t markedly improve. A few months in, frustrated yet again with Eye-Fi’s slow and spotty performance I found myself (gasp!) taking it out of Leyna and putting it into AppleKory’s card reader to more quickly grab the files therein. Purpose defeated, and now I was the owner of an extremely expensive 16GB SD card.

And that is the way it was with me, Leyna, and Eye-Fi tech until just recently when I became just a little more serious in my photography, making the leap to shoot in RAW and migrating from Apple’s game-but-wanting iPhoto to Adobe’s magnificent Lightroom 5. Now, a passionless relationship mired in apathy has gone downright cold. When asked to transfer jpeg files via card reader the Eye-Fi card and software proved up to the task, performing as well as any other SD card. With much larger RAW files, though? This past Sunday evening upon returning from a 4-day weekend I removed the Eye-Fi card from Leyna and set it up in the card reader for file transfer. It had been a few weeks since I had last offloaded the card and in the interim I had snapped about 2000 photos (the result of a conspiracy involving a glorious spring in France, three stateside visitors, a two-day London excursion, a day at Futuroscope, and a three-day weekend spent in and around La Rochelle). 14+ hours. That is how long it took Eye-Fi to empty 12GB onto my hard drive. 14+ hours, a speed of just under 2.1 mbps, and this via card reader…I shudder to imagine how long it would’ve taken via wifi!

I know a lot of people are quite satisfied with their Eye-Fi cards and have been for some time — did my due diligence, I did — and that one man’s bad experience does not a product assessment make. That said, with all of the problems and disappointments I have endured, and following the utter debacle of my last file transfer, I will soon be turning my own Eye-Fi card loose on the ravages of eBay, and let the buyer beware!

Related posts:

Engineer fun stuff internet peering

Dress to impress – LINX 20th birthday bash photos by @andyd #LINX85

Dressed to impress – terrific images courtesy of Andy Davidson from the LINX 20th birthday bash at the Cumberland Hotel in London. We are all v sophis.

Andy is a keen amateur photographer and is a member of a club – they have regular get-togethers to shoot a variety of artistic subjects.Ask to see more of his stuff. He has a career beyond the internet. He even appears in some of his own photos – very long armed selfies.

All work and no play eh?…

Engineer fun stuff internet peering

The night before the morning after @routerfixer #LINX85

photo booth at LINX85 - 20th birthday celebration

Photo booth pic from the LINX 20th birthday celebrations at the Cumberland Hotel. A great time was had by all. Slight oddity, considering the internetty nature of the event, that the photo booth would only print out “polaroid” style pictures rather than being able to email me an electronic copy (cf the image of my eyeball by the opticians last week). This photo is a photo of a photo.

The two serious looking guys are Clive Stone and Steve Lalonde.

It’s funny to think that the last 20 years, the life of LINX, represent a substantial part of the total lifespan of the internet. ARPANET dates back to 1969. So if you were born before 1969 you pre-date the internet. You will be able to tell because when you first sign up to Facebook and need to choose your date of birth, any year prior to 1969 on the sign up page will involve scrolling down to get to the right number. They make it easy for those born in the “internet age” – their birth dates are displayed on the initial screen.

While I’m in a historical perspective mood and looking for milestones in my timeline it occurs to me that in In 1995, one year after the founding of LINX, I bought the Bill Gates book “The Road Ahead”. At the time this was a visionary work by one of the world’s most successful high tech entrepreneurs. We would have to be patient as the “information superhighway” was still some time in the future.

This is no longer the case. We have been streaming down the information superhighway for some time now, a fact reflected in the success and growth of LINX as an Internet Exchange Point.

I will be 72 years of age on LINX 40th birthday. I won’t be in the internet game although I trust I will till be an user (:). It’s going to be an exciting next 20 years. We no longer need Bill Gates to provide the vision. The vision is whatever your imagination can come up with (teleporting aside).

In the meantime Happy Birthday LINX, and all who sail in her (!?)

Engineer engineering internet peering servers

The 3rd LINX router modelled by @neilmcrae and Keith Mitchell #LINX85

So you think you know your routers? This SPARCstation,,  was LINX’s 3rd router installed at Demon in Finchley (AS2529) in 1994. Before most of today’s ISPs were a twinkling of a Microsoft egg timer.

The SPARCstation is modelled by Keith Mitchel and Neil McRae who I realise don’t look old enough to remember those days but you would be wrong:)

The lads might be able to enlighten us re the throughput capability and route capacity of this box. It would be a far cry from the 100Mbps 100Gbps toys that Neil plays with nowadays at BT. It probably didn’t need to support more than 20 routes!

Neil is holding the router, Keith has the cup of tea. Note that the box is being held higher up than the cup of tea. That’s in case Keith drops the cup – safety in mind.:)

One also wonders at which point racks were standardised at the U dimensions they have today. Many an ISP had rows of tower PCs stood on metal shelves. Of course U’s these days are often Virtual.

linx85 keith neil

SPARCstation IPX

broadband Business business applications internet net neutrality peering voip

Net Neutrality and Telephony

Net neutrality and VoIP telephony – thorny issues the industry needs to negotiate welcomes “VoIP Week” contributor Rob Pickering, CEO of ipcortex.

Most folks who work in the VoIP industry have at some point been subject to a casual horror story from a new acquaintance about evil VoIP and how they tried it once and that it nearly brought their business to its knees. My heart sinks whenever I realise that this is the direction in which the conversation is going, at which point I usually find myself wishing I’d said that I did something less controversial for a living…like writing computer networking software! I listen, though, nodding politely, already forming a conclusion — after all, it would be unlikely that the problems experienced were due to a fault in their equipment or termination provider, both of which are probably perfectly reliable. No, a lack of a suitable quality of service (QoS) between their premises and termination provider is almost always the culprit in such circumstances.

The UK service provider industry has developed lots of solutions to the QoS problem, and things are far better now than they were just five or ten years ago when the market was in its infancy. The quality and availability of last mile circuits, particularly in metropolitan areas, has massively improved with successive advancements such as LLU, FTTC, FTTP, and cost-effective, high bandwidth Ethernet IAD type circuits. There has also been a trend towards integrated providers delivering the whole service — access circuit, Internet and telephony — as a single package. Behind the scenes, this may or may not translate technically into a full end-to-end in-house QoS-managed solution, depending on the provider and sometimes the geography of the customer. It does, however, assign commercial responsibility for delivering a fit-for-purpose solution to a single party, and this can only produce a better quality outcome for the customer.


Such an approach is certainly not universal. The US market has developed differently, for instance, and most VoIP termination providers don’t get deeply involved in provision of access circuits, instead opting to rely on decent low loss, low jitter transit or peering arrangements, and their customers’ own commodity access circuits. Often they will do a bit of automated “connection testing” as part of their signup process, however in general customers on unsuitable circuits tend to weed themselves out.  This does produce some benefits for customers, including more transparency with regard to costs, as well as a bit less lock-in as there is no commercial linkage between access and over-the-top (OTT) voice service. Today, in fact, several of those US suppliers are entering the UK market with this same business model.

Which brings us on to Net Neutrality. Whenever this subject comes up, we tend to think about its obvious effects on consumer entertainment services. The future development of the telephony industry is, however, intimately linked with this issue. Whilst the raw, per-consumer bandwidth requirements of a VoD service like Netflix is greater, the network characteristics required to deliver a reliable telephony conversation of at least ISDN quality are in some ways more onerous. Though buffering can always be used to counter horrible jitter on the underlying path for a video stream, and content caches are already used to reduce transit requirements, neither of these methods can be used to reduce the pain on a real-time voice conversation. If telephony providers can no longer get good, zero-packet loss, low jitter transit, or peering with many leading access providers, then an entire business model may very well be frozen out.

How do you think the industry will develop? Vertically integrated one-stop shops for network access and telephony, or universal OTT providers? I’d love to know your thoughts.

VoIP Week Posts:

Bad Stuff broadband End User fun stuff internet Net UC voip

Vastly Objectionable Ignominious Phrase

What the lone acronym in “VoIP Week” does NOT represent.

As a longtime fan of Marvel’s super hero comic books — 40 years and happily counting — I find myself quite satisfied with the persisting Hollywood trend of putting these Fantastic! Incredible! Amazing! Uncanny! Mighty! characters on the Silver Surfer…er, silver screen. And almost as much fun as seeing these wonders brought to life is the narrative means used to tie them all together, that being the oh-so-shadowy government agency S.H.I.E.L.D., which as acronyms go is one heckuva Marvel-ous mouthful (originally “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division”, then changed in 1991 to “Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate”…both way-cool).


So what does all of this have to do with VoIP? Well, as great acronyms go absolutely nothing, as S.H.I.E.L.D. is way-cool while V-o-I-P is decidedly not. In fact, though the meaning behind V-o-I-P — Voice over Internet Protocol — is a cause célèbre, worthy of consideration, contemplation, conjecture, and cockeyed optimism, the “word” verbalized evokes images of a thick liquid dripping onto a badly-tuned piece of tin poised alongside a carnival microphone.

Say it with me. Or better yet, don’t.

As awful an acronym as V-o-I-P is, one has to wonder how it came to stick as the most common reference term for the technology it represents. Could it be that as bad as it is, V-o-I-P is actually the best of a really bad bunch? Let’s see…

IPT (IP Telephony)? Difficult double-consonant at the end, and perhaps too easy to rhyme with “gypped”…
IT (Internet Telephony)? Taken.
VoBB (Voice over Broadband? Again, like IPT, too easy to set a negative rhyme to.
BT (Broadband Telephony)? Taken.
BPS (Broadband Phone Service)? Proves that an ugly-sounding acronym is better than one with absolutely nothing going for it.

OK, so maybe I am no longer wondering how V-o-I-P took hold in the tech-y lexicon. After all, nature abhors a vacuum and all that (Horror vacui!). Also, sadly, nothing better was in the ether (evidenced above), and it isn’t as if the average man-on-the-street is going to say “Voice over Internet Protocol” every time they need to refer to the concept (of course, there is no way said average man-on-the-street is ever going to comfortably use the acronymic word “VoIP” either, but let’s not get bogged down in reality’s messy details). Still, it sure would be nice to be able to lay blame for V-o-I-P at someone’s keyboard, but unlike the massive majority of Internet-based whatever-and-whatsis there is absolutely nobody out there laying claim to originating — starting? envisioning? founding? — the term. Even if we could force somebody to take responsibility for this *four-letter-word* of a four-letter acronym, though, a proper punishment could never be levied as any attempt to do so would likely raise the ire of the Kids from C.A.P.E.R.*

At this point the Marvel-literate among you might be gasping (Gasp!) for me to return to espousing on and praising the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe, for those of you not in-the-know who have hung on this far). It is “VoIP Week” at, however, and other than their diametrically opposed acronym quality no other useful correlation can be made between S.H.I.E.L.D. and V-o-I-P (other than the fact, that is, that S.H.I.E.L.D. agents likely make extensive and heretofore unknown — and way-cool — use of VoIP technology). Still, you can’t beat a good opening.

*The Civilian Authority for the Protection of Everybody, Regardless

VoIP Week Posts:

internet ofcom voip

VoIP and Emergency Services – Location, Location, Location… welcomes VoIP Week guest contributor Ray Bellis, Senior Researcher at Nominet UK and Director at NICC Standards Ltd.

UK Proposed Architecture

I’ve blogged previously on the UK Specification being produced by the EmLoc Task Group of NICC Standards regarding the thorny problem of Emergency Services determining the location of a VoIP caller who may be unable to disclose their location, for whatever reason (e.g., the caller is under duress and is unable to talk, or they simply doesn’t know their location, etc.). This work was driven by General Condition 4 (GC4) of the “General Conditions of Entitlement“, which apply to all Communications Providers:

The Communications Provider shall, to the extent technically feasible, make accurate and reliable Caller Location Information available for all calls to the emergency call numbers “112” and “999”, at no charge to the Emergency Organisations handling those calls, at the time the call is answered by those organisations.

At the time of publication these were draft specifications — they’ve since been made publicly available as NICC Document ND1638.   For more details of the architecture please see the aforementioned blog posting and the NICC Document.

A key component of the proposed architecture is that it would require every Internet Service Provider and Access Network Provider (ANP) to operate a service known as a “Location Information Server” (or “LIS”).  The protocol provided by the LIS is described in RFC 5985 and is known as “HELD”, short for “HTTP-Enabled Location Delivery”.
Nominet NICC

Whilst Ofcom has not (yet) carried out any enforcement activity on ISPs or ANPs relating to GC4, they have commissioned a report on the NICC Document that concluded that the architecture described therein is “technically feasible”.  It is therefore to be expected that at some point Ofcom will start enforcing this requirement.

Work to update ND1638 to reflect recent changes to IETF standards is ongoing, and also to allow device-provided location (e.g., GPS readings) to be sent to the Emergency Services during call setup.   However, even if device-provided readings were available, ultimately the Emergency Handling Authorities (EHAs) would trust the network-provided location as the primary source of location, with device-provided location acting only as a means to enhance  the former and be used when consistent with it.

ETSI M/493 Architecture

The European Commission published Standardisation Mandate M/493 in May 2011, requiring European Standards Organisations to develop standards in support of a “Location Enhanced Emergency Call Service”.  This work is being carried out under the “End-to-End Network Architectures” (E2NA) ETSI Project.

The draft architecture being devised by the ETSI working group builds upon previous work by the National Emergency Number Association, the European Emergency Number Association, the Internet Engineering Task Force and others, and many of the functional components are very similar to those used in the UK architecture.

The draft ETSI architecture has one very significant difference from the UK architecture that reflects the more complicated emergency call routing required in some countries.  In the UK all emergency service calls are now handled by BT, so the VoIP operator therefore has no need to make any call routing decisions other than recognising that the called number is an emergency number and passing the call to BT via the appropriate interconnect. In some European countries, however, that initial call routing also depends on the caller’s location, and therefore the architecture requires that the IP Access Network must provide the caller’s location to the VoIP operator before the call can be passed to the emergency services!  This makes the LIS an essential component of the architecture, and therefore safety-critical, with all that this entails.

With EC and ETSI backing for this architecture it seems more likely than ever that ISPs and Access Network Providers will have to implement additional services within their networks to support emergency service calls, even though they are just “mere conduits” for those calls.

VoIP Week Posts:

Business internet phones voip voip hardware

The Conception and Birth of a New IP Handset welcomes John Bennett, Managing Director snom UK Ltd

There are five mainstream manufacturers of IP handsets active in the world today, and for the business client, service provider or reseller seeking to select a handset supplier it can be difficult to evaluate the differences amongst them. Price is an obvious criteria but that reveals little about the expected handset life, quality of voice and the durability or usability of the handset, all of which contributes to the user satisfaction and the lifetime cost of the handset. Two reliable options for evaluation are (1) references from existing users, and (2) a good look at the manufacturing process.

A reliable quality manufacturer will operate an in-house research and development team. Interoperability and the ability to work with a very broad range of PBX and hosted service providers on the market are absolutely key in the specification of IP handsets.


The design, development and manufacturing guidelines for IP handsets are quality, security, interoperability, a practical and aesthetically pleasing design, and inclusion of features that meet the needs of modern communications. Products must be stable, functional, efficient, durable, and must provide a quality in which customers can have confidence.

Defining the Designer Baby

The starting point for any new handset development is with the customer, customer feedback is key to understanding what is working, what is not, and what is needed, what is liked or disliked. It is particularly important to understand the end user experience both for handset use and from a deployment and manageability point of view. A good way to develop such understanding is to process and analyse any returns or repairs working in close collaboration with development and production teams. This has an immediate benefit for the customer as minor modifications can be quickly integrated into production. It is perhaps even more important in that a constant and systematic analysis of complaints and faults allows companies to produce reports and identify trends and issues, thus allowing for continuous product quality improvement and the development of new devices that meet customers’ requirements and deliver high levels of reliably in the long-term.

It is also important to track the changing technology trends to ensure that handsets meet tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s, and to take into account the need to easily adopt new technologies into the business. In today’s business world, key capabilities are remote provisioning, support for virtual private networks (VPN), CTI solutions and integration with Microsoft Lync.

Once the specification is agreed to the next stage is the prototype build followed by market testing. Manufacturers should maintain a close relationship with key end customers that allows for market testing of new handsets, to establish they are not only fit for purpose but that they provide customers with a solution that will excite and motivate them to continue to buy their product.

The standards of the tests to which a manufacturer will submit their products are another key indicator of handset quality. Manufacturers should have very strict criteria, and before approving a handset to move to full production the phone must successfully pass various drop tests and tests on the electrical interface. One characteristic that is of particularly importance is maintaining highest standards of audio quality, not just at first production but on-going as the handset will likely be exposed to heavy use for five years or more. Products should be regularly subjected to audio tests and careful measurements taken to determine and resolve audio deterioration.

Product Birth is only the Beginning

Once the prototype has been approved the manufacturing process goes ahead full steam. Material selection and build quality has an effect on both the audio quality and the durability of a telephone handset. Developers should continuously monitor the production process, and handsets should be spot tested to ensure that quality standards are met. During the production not only should the operational performance of the handset be monitored and tested, but also the entire response frequency of each phone. The smallest difference in build quality can adversely affect the phone quality, and this can involve anything from build impacting on the audio quality to introduction of a specialist coating that prevents the discoloration of handset keys and ensures the handset durability.

Regular analysis and systematic review of problems or complaints can ensure that product quality is maintained and improved to effectively meet user needs.

So what should you look for when evaluating IP hone handsets? I recommend you consider the need for in-house testing and fault evaluation and feedback, a process of continual improvement rather than a throw-and-replace approach, and a controlled and monitored manufacturing process, all of which will ensure a high quality and durable solution.

VoIP Week Posts:

End User events fun stuff gadgets google H/W internet mobile connectivity UC wearable

Band Camp Coincidences

Google Glass. Telephony. Synchronicity

At my age, you would think that I would be long past adolescent self-consciousness; that I wouldn’t feel awkward with the geeky way of thinking. A girl that I had a crush on back in the 2nd Grade said to me, “You talk funny. You talk like a scientist.”, referring to my vocabulary. At that age this wasn’t a compliment, nor was it really a criticism. It did not, though, bode well for any potential romantic entanglements.

On the way to the conference I find myself sitting next to two attractive, well dressed middle-age women, three abreast in the aisle seat. We start the long first leg of the flight with a little small talk. We are flying together from Dallas to Albuquerque, where they will leave the plane prior to its flying on to Seattle (my destination).

“What’s in Seattle?” they both ask.

I feel like I’m on my way to band camp. What do I say to them? I tell the truth.

“I’m going to speak at a conference on Content Management – a technology conference.”, I say.

“Oh. Technology stuff.”, from which they return to conversing among themselves for the remainder of the flight. It’s fine. I wanted time to think, anyway, to be quiet on the plane so that I could figure out what I am going to talk about at the conference. I booked the conference before deciding to leave my last corporate job. I opted to keep my commitment, though, and now I need to put my presentation in my own voice.

The plane is landing in Albuquerque. The small talk starts again, and it turns out that the two women also live in Austin. I hear them say something about two local radio hosts known as JB and Sandy. I ask a question regarding Sandy. They fill me in. It’s friendly, partly because we’re parting way in five minutes.

Nobody sits next to me on the Seattle leg of my flight, and I have time and space to think, to figure out a theme for my talk. I’m basically speaking on the lessons learned over the last year as a software team trying to buy the next generation of the solution instead of building the next generation of solution.

“Choosing a system is like a plane trip…”

“Choosing a system is like traveling through Mexico…”


H/W internet

Internet Connectivity at DeVere Wokingham Park #UKNOF28 ISDN2

I know I posted earlier in praise of the WiFI connectivity at the DeVere Wokingham Park. Thought I’d show you the kit they threw out before we got here1. Presumably worried about what we might say. 384kbps wouldn’t have cut the mustard really would it?

isdn at the devere hotel wokingham park
1 I’m not saying how long before we got here 🙂

Engineer internet

Nominet precautions for Nuclear attack on .uk #uknof28

Vint Cerf with Trefor Davies at the Nominet Internet Policy ForumJust heard a nice talk by Brett Carr on Nominet’s transformation of its infrastructure. For the lay people amongst you Nominet is the organisation that runs the .uk suffix. All domains ending in .uk. eg were I to be the owner, which I’m not because Trefor happens to be a small town in Wales and all place names went very early on in the domain name land grab.

.uk is considered to be a strategic resource for the United Kingdom. The wellbeing of our country depends on it – commerce etc. Nominet therefore has to be run very professionally. Whilst being a not for profit organisation Nominet is well known in the industry for being cash rich and in all fairness donates a lot of its surplus to charity through the Nominet Foundation.

The availability of cash also allows Nominet to use enterprise grade systems in its internal infrastructure. This is different to most of the internet which is run on open source software which by definition is free apart from the cost of support which tends to be managed using internal resources. Nominet’s use of Enterprise grade software is consistent with the strategic nature of its remit.

What is interesting is the extent to which Nominet goes to maintain uptime of its infrastructure. It has two data centres in the UK linked by resilient and diverse 10Gbps connections. Most servers are virtualized using VMware. A problem with one  and the system fails over to the other. Problematic resources can be rebuilt very quickly. This is all standard stuff.

The interesting bit is the third data centre in Geneva. In the event of a catastrophic event happening to the UK, and not just to one of the UK data centres, the Geneva DC will continue to work supporting at least some of the .uk functions. We are talking nuclear strike type scenarios here. Data on the infrastructure design and how to rebuild the service is kept in a locked safe “somewhere in the UK” for later recovery.

This did raise a number of questions. If the UK has been hit by nuclear attack who will be left to rebuild the infrastructure? Will anyone care at that point? Where do you buy a nuclear bomb proof safe? The answer to the latter is apparently that there are four nuclear proof locations in the UK. Presumably the safe would be kept there. I dunno.

This post is beginning to drift here but as a kid we lived in the Isle of Man. My dad was the Director of Education there and as such he was guaranteed a place in the IoM government nuclear shelter. The cold war was still going strong during the seventies. Dad told them where they could shove their nuclear shelter. Why would he want to be “safe” inside with his family dying on the outside.

That hopefully is a threat of the past1. Nuclear bunkers seem to be used as secure data centres nowadays. It is at least good to know that in the event of a nuclear attack your .uk domain name will still work. You now just need to make sure your website is dual homed so that you have something for your domain to point at when the balloon goes up. I recommend Geneva.

Other posts featuring Nominet:

Vint Cerf photocall at Nominet Internet Policy Forum (yes I did have my photo taken with the great man)
Global Domain name growth
Nominet – judge and jury of the www?
A brief history of .uk domain names

PS the pic is of me with Vint Cerf at the Nominet IPF – why not? 🙂

PPS added 3rd May – dad and I were stood outside our house in the Isle of Man when I was a teenager when we heard a siren. We lived about 3 miles out of Douglas and we instantaneously wondered whether this was it – the balloon going up. It was during the cold war. Turns out it was the Douglas lifeboat being called out…

1 Apparently we have moved on to worrying about cyber threats these days although there are plenty of nutters around to keep an eye on.