Categories
Business webrtc

Another step forwards for telecommunications for business

Onwards and upwards for business telecoms WebRTC says Peter Gradwell

peter gradwell talks webrtcIn the fourth of our WebRTC articles this week Peter Gradwell , Founder of Gradwell Communications, explores the buzz surrounding WebRTC and what it means to small business. Peter started Gradwell Communications because he couldn’t find the communication technology he needed for his own business, so he developed it. Gradwell has grown year-on-year, now handling communication services for nearly 22,000 small business customers. Peter is a founding member of the Internet Telephony Service Providers Association and has served on industry advisory boards and has lobbied domain policy and VoIP regulations.

Nowadays it is more and more common to see SMBs adopting new communication technologies. From feature-rich hosted VoIP services (like those provided by GENBAND NUViA), to the latest in Cloud tech, more than ever SMB’s are looking for a competitive edge over their larger counterparts. And whilst in this field we can find innumerable combinations and products, many customers just want a basic PBX seat at a reasonable price.

Therefore, for those customers looking for a straightforward, no nonsense communication over IP service, I am happy to give praise for WebRTC. Which gives an open framework for the web that enables Real Time Communications through the browser. It takes into account the fundamental building blocks for high quality communications on the web such as network, audio and video components used in voice and video chat applications; thus allowing a really different sales pitch into the SMB market through bespoke IT integration.

So, as a small business, which are the main benefits that I gain from adopting WebRTC?

  • It is built on the strength of the web browser: WebRTC abstracts signalling by offering a signalling state machine that maps directly to PeerConnection. Web developers can therefore choose the protocol of choice for their usage scenario (for example, but not limited to: SIP, XMPP/Jingle, etc…)
  • The calls from the website are delivered seamlessly either to existing VoIP platforms or can be received on web-based agent desktops.
  • For the agent, it is possible to receive the customer calls from inside their browser based CRM systems so that they are delivered with customer information and website context.
  • Once customer and agent are in a conversation, video, co-browsing and screen-sharing can be used to provide a co-ordinated multi-channel customer experience.
  • WebRTC is already integrated with best-of-breed voice and video engines that have been deployed on millions of end points over the last 8+ years.
  • Includes and abstracts key NAT and firewall traversal technology using STUN, ICE, TURN, RTP-over-TCP and support for proxies.

Combining all the functionalities already listed and an open and free project that is supported by companies like Google and Mozilla; one can see why there is such a buzz surrounding WebRTC.  Just another example of how the evolution of the internet never takes a break.

Loads of posts on WebRTC in general on this site here.

Read the previous posts in this Genband sponsored WebRTC week:

The disruptive potential of WebRTC to communications networks by Greg Zweig
The role of the reseller in a software world by Chris Barley
WebRTC and Client Container Technology by Ralph Page

Categories
Business webrtc

WebRTC and client container technology – lower deployment costs without sacrificing functionality

WebRTC and client container technology – lower deployment costs without sacrificing functionality

ralph page genbandIn the third of our WebRTC articles this week, Ralph Page, Strategic Solutions Director at GENBAND, looks at the emergence of client container technology.

We’ve seen an explosion in Unified Communications solutions, each bringing their own ecosystem of apps to match a bevy of new devices.  This hyper connectivity stampede means that a Service Provider launching a Unified Communications service needs to offer clients for PC, Mac, tablets(i.e. iPad & Android), phones (i.e. iPhone & Android) and Web browsers. Each of these clients’ needs to be kept up-to-date, driven by changes from both device vendors and operating system providers.

Further, some customers want custom-branded clients; each of these also has to be touched each time the base client is updated.  Ultimately, Service Providers finds themselves upgrading at least one of their UC clients every quarter and potentially touching every customer that has a custom branded variant.

UC clients are particularly susceptible to OS and device changes because their very existence is tied to unifying multiple services and leveraging multiple device functions (speaker, mic, location, etc.).  Not to mention that real time services don’t respond well to performance issues from lagging operating systems or apps.

In theory, simple WebRTC browser-based clients should be a cost-effective alternative.  Using a browser means that changes are centralized in a web server.  Web developers can customise features or deliver customised branding to individual enterprises using HTML5.  No need for multiple apps and app store issues.

However, native WebRTC browser based clients, especially in mobile devices, have limitations.  First and foremost, some devices don’t support WebRTC compliant browsers.  More importantly, many mobile devices don’t give the browser access to push notifications services or allow access to contact lists or leverage battery-saving techniques.

Recently a new concept has emerged that leverages WebRTC and HTML5 but offers access to the best bits of the device’s operating system for push notifications, on-screen pop ups or the ability to start-up when the device starts.  Unlike a simple browser, this new model uses a client container to dupe the device operating system into thinking it is a full application.  However, the container itself runs its own browser so it can display the HTML5 content and deliver WebRTC services.

At GENBAND we’re very excited by the container concept and are embracing the model for all of our next generation Smart Office UC clients.  See more at: http://www.genband.com/genband-perspectives/new-omni-client-technology-will-heat-unified-communications#sthash.9RRl3K45.pdf

Try out WebRTC for yourself… GENBAND KANDY is a real-time communications Platform-as-a-Service that provides access to voice, video, rich-messaging and collaboration services using WebRTC as an enabling technology.  Developers can sign up to KANDY and start using their free accounts to run Quick-Start tutorials before integrating into their own applications.  ITSPA UK members can enter their KANDY applications and ideas into the GENBAND UK Summer of Apps competition. http://www.trefor.net/events/webrtc-apps-competition/

Loads of posts on WebRTC in general on this site here.

Read the previous posts in this Genband sponsored WebRTC week:

The disruptive potential of WebRTC to communications networks by Greg Zweig
The role of the reseller in a software world by Chris Barley

Categories
Business Cloud voip webrtc

The role of the reseller in a software world

 

Telecoms resellers becoming obsolete?

chris barleyIn the second of our WebRTC articles this week, Chris Barley asks ‘what might the comms reseller look like in a software world’? Chris has spent too many years in telecoms, starting out in business development in the early days at NTL, where he was responsible for satellite services and data network roll out, followed by a product manager role at LCR service provider ACC Telecom, where he was responsible for Intelligent Network and broadband services. More recently Chris worked at iHub, heading up product and network roll out for hosted voice services.

With the role of software becoming more dominant as a disrupter in many industries, it is interesting to look at what the potential affects of software development could be on the communications world.

A recent poll revealed that 80% of Fortune 500 Company CEOs were concerned that their businesses would face a serious threat from the tech sector in the next 10 years. This is due to many large corporates trying to keep competitive by applying sticky plaster to their legacy business models, only to see new software companies solving the same problem at a fraction of the time and cost.

So what does this mean for communications? Curiously for a tech segment, it could be argued that the comms industry has not been very adventurous when it comes to product innovation. A business requiring voice comms is sometimes offered a hosted service, but it is equally likely that a bit of hardware will be installed with traditional black phones placed on the desk, a solution that has stood reasonably still over the last 20 or so years.

In the case of the traditional PBX and phone installation, the infrastructure, telco lines, central office switches, proprietary software etc, dictated what the solution looked like – which was pretty much the same for every customer, be the user a banker or a builder. Just as importantly, installers and maintainers were required to look after all the equipment, adding significantly to the solution’s cost and complexity. The result? Expensive network equipment that provided a fixed solution, supplied through layers of resellers and providers at a high cost necessary to support all the elements in the chain.

The situation has improved with the move to hosted services, with providers offering cloud PBX services to business customers. Whilst the model has been reasonably successful, most observers would however say that it has not reached the rate of penetration that some expected. Unfortunately there are still too many layers of cost in equipment infrastructure and support services that make the hosting model too expensive for rapid penetration in the business market.

But now two things are happening that are changing the future shape of the market – costs are coming down and customers are getting more demanding.

In the comms world as we know, there is no need for expensive telecoms infrastructure to make and receive a phone call. Services are being transferred from circuit switched to IP networks, and as bandwidth speeds and codec efficiencies increase, many voice services will move completely to the internet, where the majority of customers will accept a few quality problems for a free service. Indeed the demand from the younger generation workforce for voice comms has and will continue to decrease, with messaging and video chat rising in importance as their use moves from social to business networks.

At the same time software in most industries is driving business change at a much faster rate, and this is a big challenge for companies that want to remain competitive. Now businesses are moving from large, inflexible, fixed work environments, to more mobile groups of cross functional teams, consisting of knowledge workers that now need to respond more rapidly to market changes.

With the advent of webRTC, it is now likely that web based applications that have changed so many other industry segments will now have a similar effect on the comms world. Now that everyone is speaking the same language, there are substantial opportunities for new operators to take on the existing business model.  With a pure software model there is minimal equipment required to provide services. Rather than developing their own full stack, service providers (SPs) such as Veyring can easily just use the APIs from traditional vendors and opensource providers to build services with a wide range of features at a fraction of the cost. In addition the requirement for network and telephony engineers is reduced.

And as these are all services distributed via the web, there will be no requirement for a traditional reseller to install and maintain the service, indeed the end user will be able to buy these solutions directly from the SP, who has packaged the service using APIs from the software vendors themselves.  So whereas previously there may have been 5 layers in distributing a service to the end user (vendor – carrier – wholesaler – reseller – end user) increasing there will now only be 3 (vendor – service provider – end user).

This more streamlined and efficient model will result in a dramatically reduced cost base and less inertia in the sign up and onboarding stages. This has the advantage of enabling the freemium business model, where the lower cost base allows the introduction of free services (for a basic product package) that incentivises use and initiates the viral spread of the service. As sign up is a much more frictionless process than installation of traditional services, rapid scale can be achieved. This is important as this engine of growth can be much more cost effective and rapid than off line marketing methods used for the traditional comms solution.

The freemium model works when a certain percentage of users upgrade to the paid service and create a healthy revenue stream for the business. This upsell will be the acid test of a successful service provider, since common freemium take up rates are commonly less than 5%. However applications such as the messaging service Slack, with a paid service take up of in excess of 30%, illustrate what can be achieved with a well designed service that meets the needs of the customer.

A paid service needs to demonstrate real value add for the business user. The key to this value add is likely to be the move to cloud based business applications for many functions and processes, and the expectation that comms will be an integrated element allowing users to complete tasks seamlessly within the same app. Previously this would have required an expensive CTi solution, but now most web based business apps publish APIs that make integration with a comms solution considerably easier and less expensive.

Therefore the SP of the future will not need to focus on providing lines, network, and hardware, but will instead need to differentiate by adding value through developing features that will be relevant to the specific company or industry. This will involve developing new skills around understanding a customer’s business challenges and building product to solve these problems.

These new SPs may originate from web developers and internet companies that understand their customers and see the opportunity to comms enable core business applications and private intranets. Alternatively, it will be interesting to see from the comms sector which resellers embrace this change and are successful in a software dominated market.

Try out WebRTC for yourself… GENBAND KANDY is a real-time communications Platform-as-a-Service that provides access to voice, video, rich-messaging and collaboration services using WebRTC as an enabling technology.  Developers can sign up to KANDY and start using their free accounts to run Quick-Start tutorials before integrating into their own applications.  ITSPA UK members can enter their KANDY applications and ideas into the GENBAND UK Summer of Apps competition. http://www.trefor.net/events/webrtc-apps-competition/

Loads of posts on WebRTC in general on this site here.

Read the previous post in this Genband sponsored WebRTC week:

The disruptive potential of WebRTC to communications networks by Greg Zweig

Categories
Business webrtc

The Disruptive Potential of WebRTC to Communications Networks

WebRTC Disruptive Potential to Communications Networks

greg zweigThis is the first of our WebRTC articles this week, Greg Zweig, Director of Solutions Marketing at GENBAND, introduces WebRTC and suggests that its solid engineering and developer-accessibility has the potential to disrupt how we communicate today.

Some background on VoIP

Until fifteen years ago communications networks were primarily built on predictable and reliable circuit-switched networks.  In the late 1990s Voice over IP (VoIP) started making inroads as it allowed service providers to better leverage the massive investments they were making in data networks; they could simply add voice as another application.  It’s easy to see their logic, why keep building two networks when they could invest in one and use it for multiple services?  In the end, the basic math couldn’t be denied, VoIP won.  However, it’s important to appreciate that the pace of change is slow and that even today, the majority of voice services are still circuit switched.

VoIP has gained the most ground in new network builds such as fibre to the home and cable television.  More recently VoIP is being used in mobile networks that have adopted 4G.  Service providers learned quickly that there is a big difference between making one VoIP phone call that connects quickly and sounds fine and creating a network that consistently supports tens of thousands of calls.  Not surprisingly, as a VoIP call traverses more networks and touches more devices the opportunity for issues grow.  Service providers quickly found that customers were far more accepting of VoIP when it was deployed in a more predictable network environment with a well understood set of endpoints.

The explosion in Internet access and IP-connected devices have made it more and more impractical to try to limit endpoint choices or potential connectivity paths.  The trade-off for greater flexibility assures occasional issues with disparate audio and video devices, variations in OS or hardware platforms, local network or Internet access limitations as well as issues with intermediary elements like NAT or firewalls or VPN.  Additionally, basic issues such as blocked media stream routes between the devices or incompatibilities with the media encoding are still common.

webrtc disruptive potential
Certainly, all of these issues can be solved.  If you’re a massive global cloud service provider looking at providing “freemium” voice and video services to complement your application suite then you could roll up your sleeves and start building some great end-user software apps that solve many of the client related problems.  In fact, maintaining a walled garden for the user community is just another way of streamlining variables to manage quality.  Deploying Session Border Controllers (SBCs) can ease firewall and NAT issues and in theory the SBC could encrypt every call.  Unfortunately, many of these answers may be fine for a walled garden but they don’t actually encourage extemporaneous communication.  They may be cost-effective for narrowband voice access with a low peer-to-peer call ratio but they don’t necessarily scale for mass-market peer-to-peer HD voice and video.  And, the reality is that encryption is rarely applied while lowly narrowband G.711, not HD, often prevails.

Introducing WebRTC

A more radical approach was taken when WebRTC emerged.  Initially driven by Google, WebRTC specifies how two endpoints on the internet can securely, reliably and cost-effectively establish a session to exchange real-time voice, video and data.  Today it is natively implemented in Chrome, Firefox and Opera browsers and is made available through a JavaScript API that an average web developer should be able to understand.

webrtc disruptive potential

 

WebRTC defines internet tolerant and royalty free-codecs to promote an interoperable high definition experience.  It mandates security for media flows between peers to ensure security is not an option but is also not difficult to implement.  It leverages ICE to be facilitate peer-to-peer connections where possible, dealing with NATs and minimising usage of media relay servers.  Media can even be configured to run on TCP port 443 (common HTTPS port) so that it busts through firewalls often found in corporate or guest WiFi networks.

WebRTC implementation in the browsers abstract the details of the OS and the platform, manage audio/video input devices and provide things like echo cancellation (it is a joy to simply “talk-at” your laptop built-in speaker/mic/camera and not fuss with USB headsets).

WebRTC does not however specify what it should be used for or how two [or more] parties should locate each other and exchange connectivity information.  The common expectation is that this will be done using well understood web client-server protocols (secure, reliable, firewall tolerant and supported by web browsers) and will be considered as part of other user identification and communication flows already provided by the web application.

WebRTC your Application

The network engineering and developer-accessibility of WebRTC catalyse the integration of real-time communications into web applications.  Web applications today usually operate at a tangent to the communications network with users pivoting between them to meet their objectives.

webrtc disruptive potential

With WebRTC, the expectation is that communications will become an embedded part of the application.  Where we have an ability for a buyer to send a message to a seller on an e-commerce website, this can be extended with WebRTC to provide real-time voice and video.

The fact that users do not need to install software on their machines means that you can build services which are only used occasionally.  The ease of application development means that you can build services that might serve a very specific niche of users.  The royalty free clients, preference for peer-to-peer media and attention to security means that you can build services that might serve a global user base of millions of users.

Not the complete picture

Stepping down from the hype, there are still things that need to be worked – not least the place that WebRTC has on mobile devices.  You can run a WebRTC app in a compatible browser on a compatible smart-phone but it might not be how users actually want to use your application (they use an installed “app”) and you may be restricted in user experience because browser applications can’t receive notifications or access the device address book.

It is also not quite as easy as you’d like to get started… there is still some generic “state machine” requirements to deal with for the WebRTC implementation, its use of ICE and the co-ordination between the two parties.  And, there is still some wrinkles between different WebRTC engines in browsers or apps.

We’ll deal with these points in a subsequent article but we should also see that there is sufficient positives with WebRTC and industry momentum that there is no excuse for not getting started with the technology.  It is quite simple to dip your toe into the WebRTC water and see how it might change your application or relationship with your customers.

Try out WebRTC for yourself… GENBAND KANDY is a real-time communications Platform-as-a-Service that provides access to voice, video, rich-messaging and collaboration services using WebRTC as an enabling technology.  Developers can sign up to KANDY and start using their free accounts to run Quick-Start tutorials before integrating into their own applications.  ITSPA UK members can enter their KANDY applications and ideas into the GENBAND UK Summer of Apps competition. http://www.trefor.net/events/webrtc-apps-competition/

Loads of posts on WebRTC in general on this site here.

Categories
Apps Business social networking

Sentiment analysis experiment ends

Sentiment analysis experiment ends

I’ve ditched sentiment analysis as a metric on the broadbandrating.com website. The idea that we might be able to rate broadband providers according to social media sentiment was a good one but in reality most people commenting on their broadband provider were slagging them off (to use the venacular).  Most positive vibes were being generated by positive marketing initiatives by the ISPs themselves, and then mostly by TalkTalk who seemed to be extensive users of Twitter. Nothing generally to do with customers unilaterally praising their ISP.

It is interesting to see sentiment analysis creeping in to more and more places in our lives (ish). During the general election it was being used to gauge how parties were doing. In fact for it to be anything other than random guesswork we found that the results needed to be 100% human generated.

In other words we couldn’t leave it to a computer to decide whether a tweet was praising or condemning an ISP. The English language has too much scope for misunderstanding. In theory this manual activity could be outsourced to somewhere with low cost labour but then that ran the risk came with a very high probability of it being done by someone whose first language was not English and who would therefore be facing some of the problems of the computer in identifying the tone of a tweet.

We bore the cost of getting this work done in the UK for some months but in the end decided the feature wasn’t worth it. It was an interesting experiment.

In the meantime we still have the Customer Service metric – how long it takes an ISP to answer the phone and where their call centres are typically based (ie UK or India). We will also no doubt introduce others but in the meantime are concentrating on pure marketing activities such as the pig racing and the bulletproof broadband videos (both also featured on this site if you’re interested).

So there ya go. The sentiment analysis experiment was an interesting toy but in the end didn’t cut it. You have to move on.

Categories
broadband Business

The tangled web of consumer broadband marketing

best broadband deals

In the last 10 days I have had approximately fifteen emails from affiliate relationship managers of the big 5 ISPs with notices of changes to their marketing offers. 6 from TalkTalk, 1 from Sky, 4 from BT and 2 from Virgin. Plusnet haven’t been in touch for 3 weeks or so. I’ve also had one or two generic affiliate window ones.

The headlines from these offers include:

fibre flash sale

Netflix promotion

unlimited infinity 1 offer

BT Sports Assist Campaign

12 months free Broadband Unlimited without TV plus a £100 M&S or Tesco e-voucher, pre-paid MasterCard or a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4

Love2shop voucher

Unlimited Superfast Broadband £5 a Month For 18 Months + Free Connection

£75 and £125 Sainsbury’s Vouchers and a £5 Unlimited Broadband

Get a £100 voucher when you take out one of these bundles

Bewildering really innit? These offers tend to change most weeks. They have to to some extent because  I think the Advertising Standards Authority otherwise looks at them as the norm – a price crash isn’t a price crash if it is always that price.

These offers make the cost of a broadband line to be deceptively low. You have to look at the price beyond the initial offer or contract stage. This isn’t to say that that subsequent price isn’t competitive. The inducements offered to switch broadband provider are however very tempting.

Last week if you signed up with Sky on an initial 12 month contract you could get a broadband package with unlimited data usage for only £14.18 inc line rental – taking into consideration their cashback deal. Similarly BT Ininity 1 (unlimited) was £19.24 inc line rental when including their Sainsburys £125 voucher offer.

Brutal. These companies have to have deep pockets and huge marketing budgets.

The upshot to the consumer is that they have a bewildering complexity of offers to try and choose from. I guess much of the marketing budget is spend trying to be the “last broadband provider that the consumer saw on TV” on the premise that whichever was the one seen last will be fresher in the mind and more likely to be chosen.

The best broadband deals however do change with bewildering regularity and it makes sense for someone making a switch to bide their time, decide what sort of incentive they want (cash, Sainsburys vouchers etc) and wait for the great offer to return.

All good stuff – it’s how sites such as broadbandrating.com et al make their money.

Oh and btw caveat emptor – it isn’t always just about price is it? Eh?

PS it’s a full time job keeping track of these deals.

Categories
broadband Business

600% increase in BT Wholesale WBC and WBMC FTTC and FTTP Cease charges

Notification of changes to WBC and WBMC FTTC and FTTP Cease charges

A reliable industry source has just told me that BT Wholesale are increasing their Cease charges for Market B Wholesale Broadband Connect (WBC) and Wholesale Broadband Managed connect (WBMC) Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) products with effect from the 1 September 2015. Market B if I recall correctly is where there is more than one competitive broadband provider or where BT has more than 50% market share. 

The pricing for WBC and WBMC FTTC and FTTP End User Access (EUA) Cease charge increases from £5.31 to £31.52.  Market B is where most of the business is. The reliable source can’t see any corresponding price increase from Openreach so they say this looks like BTW generating some additional gross margin.

The question is whether this charge gets passed on to end users. It represents a significant chunk of change considering the amount of churn there is in this game – 12% in 2013/14 according to my source. Not surprising churn is this high considering the amount of up front cash being dangled in the biz for new subscribers. I guess this churn must be adding to BTW’s overheads.

It  would appear (alt image here) that BT themselves are going to charge £5.50 which would suggest that they are taking a hit – they surely must have to carry the same costs as BTW (or their customers).

I can’t believe the charge does get passed on by most consumer ISPs. There would be uproar. It would surely be anti-competitive. You’d be taking your sign-on bonus from one ISP and handing it to the one you’re just leaving.

This price increase certainly puts a bit more of a squeeze on the customers of BTW. It’s a fine balance they have to strike. BTW will need to show profit and if their costs rise they need to put up their charges. But they also don’t want to stop their customers from growing by being too expensive.

Smaller ISPs can’t keep up with the pricing of the big consumer players and have to sell on service levels. In my time at Timico we bought quite a few small ISPs specifically to bulk up the broadband customer base and gain scale. There are other reasons for doing this – we were able to up sell our other services into the acquired customer base (leverage the base to use a somewhat corny business term).

This increase in Cease charges is certainly an incentive to look after your customers.

Anyway that’s it for now. I’m not sure I’m that interested in this kind of fine business detail – changes to WBC and WBMC FTTC and FTTP Cease charges – but it does have the potential to cause a bit of a stir.

Categories
broadband Business fun stuff

How to choose the fastest broadband provider – go pig racing

fastest broadband pig race

Fastest broadband pig race brought to you by broadbandrating.com

The video says it all really. This is the latest in a fun filled series of videos by broadbandrating.com which brings a different slant to how to go about choosing a broadband provider.

In this case the fastest broadband provider is represented by the winning pig. The ISP names are all made up in case the losers make a complaint.

The funny thing is that one day you could be eating a bacon sandwich made from our winning pig – Uswine Bolt.

Filmed on location at Piglets Adventure Farm Park in York to whom we are extremely grateful for their enthusiastic cooperation.

Thanks also to Tom Davies of tomandthat.com. If you visit his website you may notice something in the way of a family resemblance. Video production is part of the portfolio of service s offered by trefor.net Marketing Services. If you are looking for your own corporate video or videos please do get in touch.

Categories
broadband Business

BT throw £129m back into rural broadband pot

BT rural broadband reinvestment

Bit of an announcement from DCMS re performance against budget for BT and the BDUK broadband roll out. I was in conversation with someone about the Lincolnshire project and was told that they were coming in significantly under budget and were expecting the remaining funds to be ploughed back in. That is going to be the subject of a week of posts over on broadbandrating.com but in the mentime the gov has beaten me to it with the news.

At the risk of becoming one of those media outlets that just regurgitate spiel they get sent I’ve pasted the whole press release below. I know that readers of this blog have a wide range of views on this subject so I’ll leave it to you guys to comment and form the debate.

Good morning,

Please find below a joint DCMS/BT statement re: BT to return up to £129m to local authorities to rollout superfast broadband even further.

STATEMENT 30.07.15

The Government welcomes BT’s news today that the company will make up to £129m available to extend the Government led roll-out of superfast broadband.

The funding will be made available to local authorities to reinvest the money in providing further superfast broadband coverage to even more homes and businesses and much earlier than originally planned.

The money is being made available as a result of a clause in the contracts BT agreed with governments and local authorities that allows the funding BT has received to be returned or reinvested into further coverage if take-up is better than the 20 per cent* expected in BT’s original business case. The high take up rate to date has resulted in BT making  a new business case assumption of reaching 30 per cent take-up in these areas.

John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said:

“It’s fantastic to see that the rollout of superfast broadband is delivering for customers and for the taxpayer. The Government was clear from the start that as levels of people taking up superfast broadband went beyond our expectations in areas where we invested public money, BT would reimburse the taxpayer for reinvesting into further coverage across the UK. This now means that BT will be providing up to £129m cashback for some of the most hard to reach areas.

“Our £1.7bn superfast broadband programme is on track to reach at least 95 per cent of the UK by 2017, and it is great to see homes and businesses making the most of everything that superfast speeds have to offer.”
Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT, said:

“Seven years ago, in the depths of recession, we embarked on our multi-billion pound fibre investment to bring faster broadband speeds to the UK.

“BT’s fibre network is accessible to more than 23 million premises. Four out of five UK homes and businesses can access it and 4.6m are now connected. We’ve hit our original take-up assumption and have rolled out ahead of target and on budget. This is a real success story for the UK.

“We are delighted to be able to share that success by making up to £129m available to extend the roll-out to more BDUK homes and businesses, earlier than planned and at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

“BT will work with local bodies over the coming months to identify where these funds can be provided early to enable the local bodies to invest in increased fibre coverage sooner than would previously have been the case.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

* This 20 percent take-up rate was based on international comparisons and BT’s experience in its own commercial roll-out.

Categories
Business Mobile mobile connectivity

Wholesale Mobile Access – a tonic for our industry?

Wholesale Mobile Access – a primary concern of the Competition and Markets Authority in its review of the proposed BT/EE transaction.

It has been an exciting couple of months for those of us with an interest in the regulation of the telecommunications industry.

We’ve had the publication of the much anticipated first “consultation” in Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications. Those that have already grappled with its 180ish pages of Ofcomese will know it doesn’t exact contain much that hadn’t been known or floated by various stakeholders in the past. That said, Ofcom have, separately, proposed a dark fibre remedy on BT, which, given the completely woeful predecessor that was Physical Infrastucture Access was a welcome move by them.

What has been going on though, slightly away from Ofcom, is the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) investigation into the proposed acquisition of EE by BT. Last week saw popcorn-worthy scenes between TalkTalk and Vodafone played out in the industry press about Vodafone’s status (or not) as a wholesale provider of mobile services to Mobile Virtual Network Operators.

The amicability of TalkTalk and Vodafone’s divorce in isolation is one thing, but a review of all the documents submitted to the CMA so far, conversations had at conferences, articles in the industry press and whatnot, all point to one thing. That there is a firm belief that the market for wholesale mobile access is not as optimal as some would like.

To me, this is reinforced somewhat by what I consider to be some fawning over the market by Ofcom in the Strategic Review of Digital Communications – there’s a paragraph in there implying there are more than 20 operators with access at the radio layer – so-called “thin MVNOs”. I will personally buy a pint for the first person that manages to list them all in the comments section below. My wallet is safe because I am pretty sure this is a sleight of definitions used to try and paint a rosier picture of what happened on Ofcom’s watch than really did.

All of this is irrelevant though, because the CMA has honed right in on this as being one of the primary concerns in its review of the proposed BT/EE transaction. Yes, there’s other stuff in there about mobile backhaul and quad play and yada-yada-yada, but, like the Eye of Sauron, they have had an immediate laser like focus on what we all know to be an area of concern in our industry.

We’ve been here before. We’ve seen a bottleneck of assets like the radio access network as recently (or as far back depending on how old you feel) as the late nineties with the introduction of carrier pre-select (CPS). We had indirect access before then – we still do of a fashion – but this was the first truly economically enlightened breaking of the BT monopoly I can think of.

CPS enabled an end user to permanently have BT program the local exchange to route their outgoing calls to an alternative provider, negating the need for a little magic box adding an indirect access code or dialling digits manually. The alternative providers would build their networks out to these exchanges to collect the calls. The rates for all of this were heavily regulated and they made profit by arbitraging the regulated rates versus their own efficiency in building a network.

Fast forward a few years and we have (and still do) one of the most competitive markets in the world for outbound calls from a premises, even before the advent of over the top communications. All this came about from a simple technical remedy to allow other, competent, operators to interconnect deeply in the BT network to offer a competing service.

What’s more is that every single CPS operator I can think of offers its own wholesale service – it doesn’t provide CPS just for its own retail operations, but to resellers and dealers and whatnot; each level of the supply chain is adding its own value to the proposition and before you know it you have hundreds, if not thousands, of “telcos” offering fixed voice services to residential and business users.

If we have a look at the mobile equivalent, this is not what you see. Granted there is a decent “alternative” market for mobile originated voice calls to international destinations, but thereafter, if you think about it, the market is rather foreclosed. GiffGaff is an O2 subsidiary, Sainsbury’s Mobile is, for all intents and purposes, rebranded Vodafone, Asda Mobile is rebranded EE and so forth. The Mobile Network Operators, I would say, in economic terms, are presenting a classic risk of being an oligopoly. This is not good for competition and not good for consumers or our industry if those risks are realised.

The CMA has some work to do on some of the more esoteric points on backhaul and on the issues of competition in pay-TV that have been around before BT and EE started to cosy up to each other; Ofcom are taking the structural separation of Openreach question into the Strategic Review, but there’s one very simple thing that can be done here and now to create a far more optimal market in mobile; which is wholesale mobile access.

Undertakings from BT/EE as part of the proposed transaction to create a CPS-like remedy to allow operators with their own Home Location Registers and what not to interconnect with the EE radio network for the conveyance of signals to and from handsets on charge controlled terms would mean all the major fixed networks could invest with certainty to offer services; to the outside world they would look just like a mobile network operator, not just a rebranded service that merely mediates some billing records for the end user. Just like CPS, there’s no reason to suspect they wouldn’t offer variants of this to the next level of the supply chain, all of whom could add value to the market. Next thing you’d know is we’d truly have one of the most competitive markets for mobile telephony in the world, not just one driven by a race to the bottom for Apple-upgraders.

But don’t expect good in-building coverage, because virtually all the lower frequency spectrum is held by the others…. that’s a subject for another time/discussion about Three and O2, but for now, there’s growing interest in the definition of wholesale mobile access and a narrow window of opportunity to get a decent form of it with evidence on why it is required and how it would help in front of the CMA.

Note from Tref. Peter Farmer is Head of Regulatory Affairs at Gamma Telecom and a pretty prolific contributor to this blog. Read some of his other authoritative stuff here.

Categories
Business business applications ecommerce

Slightly confused of Lincoln

HP printer delivery either 09.13 or 13.56

You see before you a bewildered bloke. One where there is a risk of extremes of emotions on this, a pleasant if slightly breezy English summer’s day. My HP printer delivery is either going to be at 09.13 or 13.56.

HP printer deliveryComing out of the pool changing room this morning my pocket vibrated. It was a text message from DPD saying that my HP printer delivery will be executed (word chosen to startle, albeit momentarily) by Ian between 09.13 and 10.13 this morning. Impressivo I thought. Just time to get home and eat my banana.

Munching away at said banana at the breakfast table I logged on to the DPD website to see if I could physically see where Ian was. Confusingly the website told me that it wasn’t Ian coming but Dean. Wosgoinon I thought! The next minute  second text came in confirming that indeed Dean was the logistics operative entrusted with the delivery of my new printer. Not use of word delivery instead of execute. Gotta mix it up.

Now there are a number of possible scenarios that could explain this sitch:

DPD, on behalf of HP may have made a simple mistake in allocating the job to Ian. Ian may not actually be in today – annual leave or maybe even off sick. For Ian’s sake lets hope it isn’t the latter. Ian may also have enthusiastically shot off leaving the HP parcel behind. He may even have said “That’s too heavy for me with my bad back. Let Dean take it”.

It may also be that HP have erroneously shipped two printers and they have been shipped separately. In this case I’d probably be able to sell one of them on eBay. Result.

doorbell rings

That was Ian at the door with my part shipment. Everything but the printer itself! Ian enquired as to my puzzled expression (DPD drivers are known for their empathy – it’s in their training) and I was able to explain the events of the morning thus far, as conveyed to me by sms and to you in the copy above.

You need to know that the conveyor belt at DPD in Lincoln broke down this morning so when the four delivery lorries (big business this) arrived at the depot all the parcels had to be manually handled. Manual intervention, as I’m sure you all know, leads to mistakes and the two packages didn’t end up in the same cage.

The upshot is that Dean himself is bringing the actual printer this afternoon. “Funnily enough” said Ian “I have just seen Dean driving down Wragby Road in the opposite direction” I live on Wragby Road. Funnily enough I didn’t laugh.

Ah well (said in a somewhat sanguine voice). I’ll pop into the office now then and come back for lunch.

In case you didn’t read it the HP printer delivery was for this bit of kit wot I wrote about yesterday. The HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw printer. Does double sided printing you know? :)

Categories
Business business applications gadgets

I bought a printer

HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw

Good news – Your order for the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw has been accepted and we will start processing it now.  We will send you an email once your order has been dispatched.

You can track to your order online at any time by signing in to your account and then in the top right hand corner of the page hover over “Your Account“ and select “My orders” from the drop down menu.

If you provided a mobile telephone number you will receive a text message* the night before your order is delivered giving you the option to:

  • Select an alternative delivery date
  • Opt for delivery to a nominated neighbour
  • Collect the parcel from your local depot

You’ll also receive a text message on the delivery day giving you a 1 hour delivery window so there’s no need for you to wait in all day*.

I bought a printer. It’s the first one I’ve bought in 3 1/2 years. When I bought the last one I took out a 3 year warranty and it died on e earlier this week. It wasn’t in fact the printer that I originally bought that died but the fourth incarnation of the original. None of em lasted a year.

The warranty is up now so I figured I’d invest in something a little better. I bought a HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw. Still took a 3 year warranty though. Good value if you ask me.

In some respect this is a small admission of failure. I’ve been working as a paperless business. It isn’t totally possible to do that as legal documents often need printing. Moreover the family has specific needs. Printing boarding passes, homework etc I know boarding passes can be electronic but it isn’t always practical especially with a youngster flying to Madrid quite soon. Youngsters don’t always have phones suitable for airline apps/electronic boarding passes.

I am now strangely excited by the fact that I am about to be the owner of a HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw laser printer. This printer has a NFC interface so I should be able to tap it with my droid and print off a doc/photo/something else. Good eh?

None of this is what prompted me to write this post. It’s just the fact that I am going to get a 1 hour delivery window. Simple innit? Why can’t other vendors do the same? So do I know but not all. My daughter is about to return home from her year abroad and is sending a suitcase by courier in advance (so her mum can get a load of washing done probs). Mum, or someone has to wait in all day because we don’t get a delivery window. We do get a tracker on that one but not a 1 hour window.

I’m even tempted to “collect the parcel from a local depot”. Fwiw. I’ll let you have an update on the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw printer once I get it installed. Does double sided printing you know? 🙂

Categories
Business social networking

LinkedIn invite strategy

LinkedIn invite – do you really wanna be my friend?

I haven’t got a LinkedIn invite strategy. I don’t collect contacts as such. They just happen as and when. On occasion LinkedIn  shoves me some. Sticks em in my face and says “how about this one Tref”. Sometimes I connect.

The other day I sat looking at my list of broadband exec contacts. There were a few ISPs where I didn’t have their CEO names. I figured I’d try LinkedIn. Wasn’t that easy. Before connecting it wanted to know how I knew them. I didn’t necessarily know their email address.

So I ditched that line of enquiry. Then LinkedIn wouldn’t let me go any further without me agreeing that it could look at my email address and match up contacts on their own database. I assumed. It came up with around 700 contacts for me to choose from.

I began to manually filter through these but then gave up. Sod it. It was easier to just invite all of them to connect. I did this. Now for the last few days I’ve been inundated with notifications of accepted LinkedIn Invite requests (or whatever they are called).

Some of these are with people where I have absolutely no idea how I am hooked up with them. A very brief check has however shown that they are mostly in approximately the right space so maybe there is some method in there. There have been a couple of emails asking how I chose the individuals concerned. These have had honest replies along the same lines of this blog post with a footnote that I wouldn’t in the least bit be offended if they chose to delete my request.

I look forward to seeing what comes of this expansion in contacts. With LinkedIn I no longer care whether I’ve met the person. Mostly for me it’s about whether they are in the right space. The CTO of an ISP is likely to have far more in common with me than a sales person from the pharmaceutical industry (for example) or a social media “guru” (you do get em).

A big part of this exercise is shameless self promotion. LinkedIn is the social networking platform most used for shares on trefor.net. Feels like an increasingly good place to do business, or at least promote your business.

Categories
broadband Business

Ofcom Strategic Review and the separation of Openreach from BT

Ofcom Strategic Review – the boys don’t want to see a separate Openreach

The Ofcom Strategic Review happens every 10 years, the last being in September 2005. This week Ofcom announced the consultation for its latest review with a wide range of subjects on the table around the general subject categories of

  • investment and innovation, delivering widespread availability of services;
  • sustainable competition, delivering choice, quality and affordable prices;
  • empowered consumers, able to take advantage of competitive markets; and
  • targeted regulation where necessary, deregulation elsewhere.

The 2005 review led to the formation of Openreach. The 2015 review includes in the “sustainable competition” section a discussion as to whether Openreach needs to be totally separated from BT. Cast off and left to row its own canoe.

There has recently been a flurry of complaints to Ofcom about Openreach, notably from Sky and TalkTalk. We discussed this at the ITSPA council meeting yesterday and then afterwards at the Summer Forum. The tone of the conversation was that yes there was a problem with Openreach – the number of engineering visit no shows costs the service provider industry a fortune – but no they didn’t see the benefit in separating Openreach from BT.

People would rather Openreach just got its act together and stopped failing the industry with its poor performance. See my own experiences here. The feeling was that the process of separating the Openreach would take years, during which time there would be huge disruption and little or no investment in the infrastructure.

This is a complicated subject on which I’m sure many readers will have their own specific views. I’m beginning to veer away from the idea that separating the two is a good thing. The biggest issue for me is the Openreach cost structure. There doesn’t seem to me to be much incentive for them to reduce their costs. On the other hand Openreach does have a complex bag of worms to manage – the archaic UK copper phone line infrastructure.

Technically the easiest/best thing to do would be to replace the copper with fibre. In the long run it would be by far the best thing. The problem is of course how to fund that. BT certainly isn’t going to do it.

The Ofcom discussion document is 185 pages – read it here. It’s a full time job reading this kind of stuff. You have until October 8th to respond.

Categories
Business media travel

Another glorious summer day

It’s another glorious summer day in the shire but I am up early and off South to the oven that is London. I have a good day ahead with the first trefor.net Tech Marketing lunch and the Political Intelligence birthday party. 7.30 am train down and 9.30pm t5ain home. Urgh. A long day.

Should be enjoyable though. There will be a gentle stroll from Kings Cross station to Kettners in SoHo, the lunch venue. It is an enforced gentle stroll as the tube workers are once more on strike. It’s a democratic right.

I’ll walk off the lunch with another gentle stroll of around an hour or so to the City for the party. All this exercise…

I employ an element of poetic license in the title of this post as the nearer I get to London the cloudier it gets. This is probably good. A gentle stroll can be onerous in the glare of the midsummer sun, high up above the lowering skyscrapers of the capital. I have not brought a hat.

En route to town it is noticeable that as we race through the countryside the fields, last week totally verdant, are now turning gold. The harvest will soon begin. The larders soon to be stocked up again for another winter ahead. We should feel good about this:)

I am wearing shorts and a Lonap tshirt and have a pair of stout walking shoes to assist my passage through the streets of town. There is a change of clothes in my knapsack (thought I’d use that word instead of “my Osprey day bag” – more in keeping with the flowery nature of this post).

I quite like the odd day out in London and the 7.30 am from Lincoln central gets you off to a good start with a full English breakfast as soon as you leave Lincoln. I’ve usually finished it by the time the train gets to Newark half an hour later – it’s a slow branch line.

The featured image of this post is today’s breakfast. Have a good day and if you are coming to the lunch I look forward to seeing you.

Categories
Business olympics UC

Sat in hospital waiting room on the Anniversary of the July 7th London bombings

London bombings – mobile network shut down.

Sat in the waiting room of Lincoln County Hospital. As I wait the media reminds me that it is the 10th anniversary of the July 7th London bombings.

I was in town at the time. The previous day I’d been at the Lloyds of London insurance building.  Doing a talk about Unified Communications to IT folk from insurance brokers. IT in the insurance industry in those days mostly involved replacing notebooks – the paper variety. The insurance industry is very conservative in its outlook.

We finished just as the announcement was being made re London winning the 2012 Olympics bid. Naturally a party ensued and later I staggered back (I should point out this was due to me carrying all the AV kit  (projector) and pop up booth) to the plush comfort of the Royal Scot Travelodge, nominally in Kings Cross.

We had an office in Camden Town in those days and the next morning it was a toss up whether  I hiked to Kings Cross Station with the gear to travel to the office on the one or two tube stops on the Northern Line or wait for a taxi. The Travelodge (I stop short of giving it the accolade of “hotel”) wasn’t in a good spot to find a taxi – they were mostly already full and going away from the train station.

Eventually I caught one and got to the office 10 minutes later to hear the news of the bombing. Had I decided to walk I’d probably have been there just at that time!!!

I had planned to catch a train home sometime that day. Not much chance of that happening. Noticeably the mobile networks stopped working. In the State of Emergency as was the networks close to the public to allow emergency services access only apparently.

By lunchtime there was no point thinking of doing any work. Lots of the staff hadn’t been able to make it in anyway. We hit the pub and I stayed the night with my sister who lived in Bal ham (gateway to the south). Caught the first available train nowf the next day.

I was pitching presence an IM to the insurance community. We never got anywhere with it but it’s the same stuff used by everyone in the world nowadays.

You should know that the 7/7 London bombings were still quite close in memory to the 9/11 tragedy in the USA. On that occasion I was stranded at a SIP Summit in Austin Texas and it took nearly a week to get a plane home. After being affected by both incidents my wife began to believe I was jinxed. Still married mind you 🙂

This Thursday I am in London for the trefor.net Technology Marketing lunch. The transport system will again be in chaos as the tube drivers exercise their democratic right to withhold their labour. I suspect some French influence.

Don’t worry though. The restaurant is only a gentle 30 minute stroll from Kings Cross so it will still go ahead. We have three places left if you want to come. It’s going to be a very useful and informative session.

Featured image courtesy of Tom Bird, Portfast

Categories
Apps Business fun stuff

Women in tech week social stats

Women in tech week on trefor.net attracts high level of social media engagement

It looks as if we will be carrying one or two women in tech week posts over into this week but as of this morning the statistics look very good.

12 posts received a total of 694 shares split as follows:

  • 275 Facebook
  • 245 LinkedIn
  • 133 Twitter
  • 17 Google+
  • 24 Comments

Makes you wonder why anyone bothers with Google+. I certainly only do so on the basis that it may help with SEO rankings. As far as comment numbers go there does appear to be a trend to comment in the social media streams of sharers rather than on the blog itself, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. The number of LinkedIn shares points to a high proportion of business people reading the posts.

Three posts drove the numbers. Chris Conder’s exposition on rural broadband, Liz Fletcher on the acceptability of drinking prosecco for geeks (ok it was about more than that) and Helen Jeffrey on how to be a woman in tech.

Chris Conder stimulated comment and debate from a number of prominent individuals both in the media and the internet industry. The issue of rural broadband still generates a very emotional response from people affected. ie those who can’t get decent internet access.

The common denominator here was I think the size of an individual’s social network. Liz is very well known in both prosecco drinking circles and the internet plumbing industry and Helen is internationally known in the publishing game. She must be because her Facebook posts over the weekend contained views from plush bars in New York where she was celebrating the 4th July.

Regardless of the number of shares received by any individual none of this week could not have happened without the support of contributors who have been very generous with their time and for which I am very grateful. There was a terrific mix of posts covering a range of tech subjects, most of which demonstrated an in depth mastery of their subject.

The themed weeks on this blog are becoming increasingly popular. To call a “women in tech” week a themed week is somewhat unfair labelling, or at least a poor application of a label. It’s not like a week of posts on the Internet of Things, or Cloud Technology. Women in Tech is not a theme per se. However most of the contributors are friends (and hopefully the one or two I didn’t already know are now friends) so perhaps we can call it a female friends of Tref week.

If you have a good idea for a future themed week feel free to drop me a line. I have started to get quite a few unsolicited approaches offering guest posts. These mostly get ditched, especially the ones that begin “Hi there” but some do make it through so don’t worry if we don’t know each other. You do need to be someone working in industry though and not a professional writer placing posts on behalf of clients.

Updated numbers Wednesday morning bring the total to 743 shares and comments split as follows:

  • 279 Facebook
  • 280 LinkedIn
  • 141 Twitter
  • 18 Google+
  • 25 Comments
Categories
Business business applications fun stuff

How to be a woman in tech

How to be a woman in tech

When the wonderful @tref was looking for ‘women in tech’ to write a guest blog I had to answer a few questions: am I in tech, how did I get here, and what can I do to encourage others?

What do you do?

I perform the pivotal role of interpreting business needs to technical people and analysing the potential of technical developments for the board and business team.  To do this one has to be an excellent communicator, be able to manage demanding priorities calmly and effectively, and have an understanding of the evolving technical context.  The publishing company I currently work for is small but ambitious, constantly looking to implement new projects and initiatives.  The continually-evolving technical environment demands drive, the ability to evaluate systematically, and unswerving support for and appreciation of our tech team..

How successful is this?

The magazine I work for has had constant growth in both circulation and revenue.  This is even more impressive when considered against the backdrop of declining print in many sectors of the publishing industry and publishers’ struggle to embrace the benefits and culture of new digital technology.  The challenge is an ongoing one and not to be underestimated.

How did you get here?

I am living proof that coming from a non-technical background is not a barrier.  Women can combine their innate communication skills and strategic abilities with an analytical approach, to support and implement complex projects – ideal attributes for a digital world.

I first worked (in the distant past) at a small consultancy firm, initially as receptionist, moving on to the documentation department (they had the first word processors from the USA – with 8 inch floppy disks!), where I supported projects by creating inputs on punch cards for mainframe processing.  Exposure to the first home computers, the ZX81, C64 and Spectrum, led to playing with machine-code programming, contributing to ‘Zipper Flipper’, a game produced for the Spectrum, earning a grand total of around £4,000 in royalties!

I spent the next 20-odd years working with databases (dBase and Pervasive SQL) and personal computers/networks, principally specifying, implementing, and supporting software (developed in Psion Archive initially, then C and C++) to manage subscriptions and royalties for publishing companies.  At its height we provided software and support to over 100 publishers, sending billions of copies to subscribers, and processing millions in revenues.  (I also had two children).

Six years ago I joined the London Review of Books to lead a new team, initially to manage the build and implementation of a (then) new @LRB website and newly digitised archive (and no, I had never done that before).  This intense period of work culminated in a successful launch, on time, and very positive feedback.  Now I am an Associate Publisher and lead on the analysis of digital performance and the development of digital strategy for the business.

What about outside of work?

As a long-time supporter of Scouting, I used a global database to run an international educational programme for 40,000 people at a huge camp in 2007.  I have a great interest in the campaign for rural broadband access, which led to the choice of my MA research topic; “The use of social media in enhancing volunteer engagement”, a case study of a community website fighting for rural broadband in Cumbria.

I like to think that the re-evaluation of the ‘fibre tax’ and its impact on rural broadband initiatives was prompted in some part by my advocacy on behalf of rural communities with BDUK in 2010. As a follow-on from that discussion, I was invited to write a report for BDUK considering the implementation of a practical strategy to support data-led community-based decisions in the delivery of super-fast broadband.

I supported a local school in a voluntary role, working as part of their Membership and Development Committee and helping them to become the first state school to implement an alumni database and website.

How can I become a woman in tech?

Be curious.  I believe it is vital to examine how different sectors approach the use of technology and social media.  I believe that the educational, arts, public, private and voluntary sectors have much to learn from each other.  I am actively engaged and interested in the use of technology to empower individuals, companies, not-for-profit companies and charities.

Find your ‘digital north’.  I have often wondered why some people ‘get’ digital, and some do not – most often when facing barriers constructed of anxiety and fear.  I put my comparative ease with the digital world down to playing around with machine code and BASIC all those years ago.  So – make something.  It has never been easier to learn.  You do not need to be a coder to work in tech – but it really helps to understand the basics of how coding works!

venn_diagram_example (1)

Image credit: @davidshrigley

Be digitally creative. Take part in a hackday or two. I have been to several hackdays: Culturehack East, the National Archives hackday, EdTech hackathon at Google Campus, and Hackthespace at Tate Modern.  Meeting and working with people in a creative digital space is incredibly motivating and I have always learned a lot.  You do not need to be a coder to take part – just enthusiastic about digital.

Find your passion.  Mine is data – I love it.  This has led me to great conversations and connections – entity extraction from our archive with the BBC R&D department, for example.  I also have the innate conviction that you should build capacity over one-offs (almost) every time.  The exception is if you are making digital art!

Experiment.  If you have the opportunity to push the boundaries, take it.  I was lucky enough to run a fantastic digital project for The Space, a BBC and Arts Council project.  The project explored the idea of a ‘digital essay’.  The work, created in collaboration with the writer Will Self, and Brunel University, is called ‘Kafka’s Wound’.

Bring others with you.  This can be very hard to do.  There is fear and anxiety around the unknown.  I am about to run a second mini-hackday for my colleagues.  Last year we had a great day mixing up mostly non-techie people and letting them loose with paper and pens as well as laptops.  The results were brilliant and the follow-up survey provided both solid evidence of the benefits, and suggestions for improvements.

Connect. This is fairly obvious.  I can trace much of what I have achieved in the digital space to the decision in 2009 to find out what Twitter could be good for, and if I could make a difference using social media.  I have met many, many people on Twitter before meeting them in real life (and some I am yet to meet).

Draw.  Use paper and marker pen.  If you can’t draw something, it’s very hard to explain it, even to yourself.  It works for me (and I am terrible at drawing).

Listen.  Engage with your technical people – have discussions, find out what they find interesting, ask questions, encourage everyone to speak. Understand as much as you can.  Be patient.

Volunteer.  Use your technical knowledge to support a local cause that inspires you, be that World Scouting, community broadband, or your local school.  If you find others there to work with, all the better, but I have often found myself the lead in terms of technical understanding.

Get to grips with business.  All technology is embedded in a business.  Understanding the structure of business and how it works is vital if you want to straddle the tech and business divide.  Running my own business was the foundation of my expertise, backed up with an MA in management, which I really enjoyed.

Explore organisational culture.  Understanding the culture of an organisation will help you make moves towards organisational change.  If you work in an organisation that is not a start-up (likely) then there will probably be a big shift required in order to embrace and take advantage of the opportunities digital can provide.

Look ahead.  See what’s coming up – keep an eye on it.  Expend some budget on R&D and make some of the advances in tech real for your organisation – it need not be expensive (cardboard headset and smartphone to demonstrate 3D video, for example).

What’s next for you?

As everything continues to shift the possibilities have never been more interesting.  I am looking at how the cultural sector is adapting to digital, and there are some big projects out there.  In my dreams I will one day do a PhD.

Final words?

Follow your interests. Become (almost) indispensible.  Experiment. It’s great if you can manage it!

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco by Liz Fletcher
Network filter bypass solutions by Rhosyn Celyn
Network Automation by Leslie Parr
IX model defended by Valeria Rossi
Board level veteran sees progress by Lesley Hansen
Rural broadband solutions by Chris Conder
Pebbles, Pebbles everywhere by Sarah Baskerville

Categories
broadband Business

Rural Broadband’s disaster – why I care – what’s wrong – what’s to be done

A farmer’s wife speaks – rural broadband solutions

why I care – what’s wrong – what’s to be done

I am a hairdresser and a farmer’s wife, and I don’t want to run the country, but I do want to set a few facts straight.

I got involved with tech in the late 80s, when my children started using computers, I didn’t want to ‘not know’ what they were doing. I did some training, and worked as a digital graphic artist for a designer from home, whilst doing caring duty. This meant posting large files on disks, but then we got digital in earnest to keep up with competitors. I started with dial up and tried satellites, without much success, so I ended up as part of a group building a wifi mesh with the help of the university, and this then led to laying the very first rural community fibre to the home in 2009. I am now a small cog in a fibre network called B4RN, built by the community, for the community, and costing £30 a month for gigabit symmetrical, unlimited, unthrottled awesomeness.

During the last 15 years I have seen what a mess we are making of ‘Digital Britain’. I have seen funding wasted. I have seen politicians looking foolish. I have worked as a volunteer for the Digital Assembly as an observer and reported to Neelie Kroes, who, like me wants every citizen to have the chance to be digital. I want to help. Thanks to my community and B4RN JFDI, I now have one of the best connections in the world, here on my farm. My speed test, just for interest, what’s yours like?

Why I care. (about the rest of the country) (inc You)

Millions of us are left on connections that are not, and never will be fit for purpose. Government have been brainwashed into believing in infinity.

In order to save billions of pounds in eHealth, eEducation and eGov we need every single citizen to be able to go online, easily, affordably. At the moment they can’t, so the analogue ways have to continue which is very expensive for the government and taxpayer. We should NEVER ask ‘what will it cost?’. We should ask ‘what will it cost if we don’t grasp the nettle and do it once, and do it right?’ Patching up the old phone lines is not a solution, and it is a scandal and a disgrace that this government, and the previous two have got it so wrong.

We are up against a monopoly incumbent, determined to protect its assets, with a massive marketing budget and snake oil salesmen. We are the lobbyists of the future. We need to be heard. Thank you to Tref for the platform! May I also say at this point that our phone line network was one the best in the world, it fed the industrial revolution, and that is down to the fantastic engineers who built and maintained it. Sadly, since privatisation the finances for upgrades simply haven’t happened. Yet money can be found to buy football coverage to try to stamp out Sky…

What’s wrong. (with the rest of the country) (inc you)

The current state of ‘Digital Britain’.

What really bugs me is the fact that most of the politicians, civil servants and funders who are in charge of building a Digital Britain in order to keep up with the digital revolution know very little about the subject. This has been proved time and time again. The emperor has no clothes, yet all the minions assure him he’s gorgeous. (looking at you Edward). As we lose our manufacturing industries we have to replace them with other exports, and digital exports are the way to do it.

All the funding for the final third (rural areas and those on long lines) who couldn’t get broadband has been manipulated into Openreach coffers and wasted. ‘Wasted’ you say? ‘they have brought fibre broadband, superfast to millions of homes’ you say? Not so. If you study the statistics its ‘homes passed’. What has really happened is that the monopoly has effectively prevented anyone else getting support by grabbing the funding and by doing so has throttled innovative solutions from altnets. They have enabled some cabinets, and every single home on those cabs are classed as having ‘fibre broadband, even if they are still on dial up.

The quango in charge of regulating telecoms is staffed with ex BT employees and tickboxers doing reports. They base their reports on information from BT and consultancies who are often paid by BT to write more reports. The ASA (advertising standards authority) has no grasp of physics and is worse than useless. They think we are getting fibre broadband through phone lines. They let millions of pounds of marketing budgets bombard you with advertising until you believe in infinity. This is total rubbish. I will tell you why…

Fibre broadband does not come down phone lines. Also, their statistics are ‘homes passed’, and many in those statistics aren’t really connectable, (too few cabinets deployed and not enough fibre).   If an exchange is enabled it moves into the superfarce statistics, even if users’ lines are still too far away to get a fit for purpose connection. Business area cabinets are not upgraded to protect openreach revenue from leased lines. Poor areas are often not enabled. Rural areas don’t have any cabinets to upgrade to ‘fibre’. It is all a superfarce.

The ‘fibre’ cabinets are a choke point (see p141, Peter Cochrane evidence to HOL) and a dead end and are not futureproof. All the funding wasted on these would have been better spent getting real fibre nodes into the final third, not squandering it on the urban fringe where there was easy picking. All it has done is enable a few near the cabinets to go a bit faster.

It hasn’t helped any on long lines. Many cabinets haven’t been enabled, only the easy ‘economic’ ones that BT could have done themselves, and should have done if they had wanted to.

Many millions are therefore still on the wrong side of the digital divide, still tied to copper phone lines. We are no nearer NGA than we were in 2003. In those days 2Mbps would have been luxury,  in 2005 someone invented youtube, and iPlayer and now needs are climbing and 100Mbps doesn’t seem that fast any more with many homes streaming on TV and PCs. Cabinets cannot deliver what many need now, let alone in the future. Many families have multiple devices and a single feed won’t be enough. Also they have to pay copper land line rental for phones they don’t use just to get the broadband.

Why did it go wrong?

In 80s the then government led by Margaret Thatcher started a programme to bring fibre to every part of the UK. They didn’t want a monopoly (BT) to do this, so they opened it up to competition. BT were well advanced in the manufacture of fibre and in pole position to deploy it in those days, but the Americans came in and it looked like they would get masses in before BT did.

So BT started with dial up, and followed with ADSL, and the bottom dropped out of the market, and the cable companies pulled out. BT have since ruled the roost with the second class solution – internet access through phone lines. Cheap as chips, should actually have been free.  Virgin bought some of the bankrupt fibre lines and started their own network in urban areas. This competition in towns and cities has led to what is FTTC, fibre to the cabinet, or ‘infinity’, a faster service for those who are close to the cabinets. It doesn’t help those who aren’t within a few hundred metres much – if at all. Where Virgin go, BT upgrade, but Virgin cable is a lot better service so customers stay with them. Virgin on adsl isn’t good, they then become just another reseller of Openreach via wholesale. (I know, it’s complicated but stick with it).

In the late 90s in project Colossus, most of the exchanges were fibred up. That meant your dial up was fibre based. Smaller exchanges were government funded (all the project access funding went there) and only odd tiny ones were left out. Then Openreach sat back and collected the golden eggs, not investing, not feeding the goose, just paying fat cat wages, and shareholders.

They even gave their boss over £9 million a year, two years running!

The only time they have done anything to update the infrastructure is when and where there was a sniff of competition. The rural areas languish on dial up and sub meg ‘broadband’ and nothing has been done at all to help. Along came the digital switchover fund, and BDUK. They gave the money to the councils. The councils gave BT the funding, and they have used it to cherry pick the urban fringes. Essential maintenance has not been done, as any customer will testify, but now Sky (another ISP) is calling for a review. Openreach are now holding out their paws for yet more funding, (Phase 2) having not delivered the first set of promises. This funding will end up going into satellites with their partner Avanti. It is all a stitch up.

British telecom is split into a few groups. Openreach control all the infrastructure. Wholesale sell the access. BT internet buy from wholesale and are an Internet Service Provider. All the other ISPs buy from wholesale too. Wholesale buy off Openreach. This is why we are deemed to have ‘a competitive market’ but in reality we are held to ransom by a monopoly, with the exception of a few altnets who are independent. Virgin also has an alternative network, mainly fed from their own cables. But in the main, it’s all down to Openreach, and they are failing the ISPs.

In 2002 we attempted to get our telephone exchange ‘enabled’ for broadband. We already had fibre in it, as did most of the others. We marketed for BT openreach in other words. They weren’t interested in us, as with many of the rural exchanges, there was not enough profit in us. In 2003 there was masses of funding made available, ie Project Access in our area, and we tried to get funding to build our own wifi mesh, using a feed from the publicly funded CLEO project. (CLEO Cumbria Lancashire Education Online) We couldn’t get any, and all the other funds – Big Lottery, Plunkett, Nominet, Nesta etc etc replied to say that ‘BT promise to get broadband to every home in the country, so we can’t fund you’.

Eventually project access, having wasted all their funds enabling a few exchanges for BT in Cumbria, and millions in ‘promoting the benefits’ were a bit embarrassed to have nothing to show for it, so they gave us £25k for 6 case studies to shut us up. We did the case studies from the wireless mesh we built with their money. They spent a fortune making a film about it. It was showcased at the launch of project access at Rheged  27/10/2005. As soon as we started building the mesh, BT enabled our exchange. Coincidence? It didn’t matter, as our network couldn’t get broadband through the copper anyway, and still can’t. Our mesh thrived and prospered and now all the customers are on our own community fibre. And have sacked off their phone lines.

For the next few years, our hopeless regulator assured government that everyone had access to broadband. The OFCOM website still has the information on it (page 5, but they have now added a proviso about long lines after pressure from grassroots lobby groups). The ordinary people who I met every day still hadn’t got it, and where I live the lines are so long even dial up didn’t work, despite being ‘fibre based’. In some areas there is no terrestrial tv nor mobile signals. Some places don’t have mains water and electric, but you can generate that. Not so with internet. If there are south facing hills, even satellites don’t work, but we tried those too. Very expensive to run, dodgy upload, high latency and not reliable. One even broke the quoins out of the side of a house, because round here it is windy too.

Anyway, we made a fuss. We had a conference in Cumbria, we launched the Final Third First campaign. Government needed to realise that to enable everyone to have NGA you have to start at the outside and work inwards. Openreach jumped onto this very quickly, and with their snake oil salesmen they convinced the councils that only they could deliver to this final third. They assured government that their commercial footprint would be upgraded at their own expense, if government would fund the harder to reach places. They visited every one of the councils and convinced them they could do it. They have put a lot of time and effort into making their vital vision work. Their vision is to keep the country on copper, but they call it fibre. FTTC is no more fibre broadband than dial up is.

Dr Cochrane: Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made. It ties a knot in the cable in terms of bandwidth and imposes huge unreliability risks. 

We made it quite clear at the start that they couldn’t do it with copper. We tried to get the civil servants and the EU commission to see through the hype. But they wouldn’t listen. (nobody got fired for buying IBM).

The upshot of all this, is that any altnet (alternative network) was not able to access any funding. Despite the PAC and NAO investigating and castigating BDUK and BT Openreach, and demanding that they release the postcode data to descope areas they don’t intend helping, nothing has been done, and regulation isn’t working. In the last few months, 6 years after the launch of Digital Britain, we have seen a couple of altnets get support, having spent 3 years and a lot of community and private money fighting for funding. There is hope. But it’s a farce to have to play a stupid game when it should be made easy for people to help themselves.

We are being held to ransom by a greedy monopoly who is killing the golden goose. It has consumed all the golden eggs, so there is no next generation waiting in the wings. We are stuck on an obsolete phone network for our internet access, and we are fast becoming a laughing stock as BT leech the last remaining assets from what was a world leading telecoms company.

Nations without good phone networks have leapfrogged straight into fibre, which has also enabled powerful mobile networks too, even in remote regions. All this talk of 4G and 5G, it won’t work without the fibre backbone, and unless we want millions of masts it still won’t work in the majority of the land mass without small local fibre mobile cells in homes and businesses. Even 2G still isn’t available in a lot of rural areas. As long as government believes the telco hype, there is no hope for us though. That is what compelled me to write this blogpost.

You cannot get fibre broadband down a phone line. You cannot connect the whole country using obsolete cabinet technology. gFast is the next stupid thing they will try to push on to us, this only works down 19 metres of copper in lab conditions, not through miles of twisted pairs flapping in the sky or knotted up in trees and ploughed up in fields, or up and down city streets in jammed up conduits. We have to wake up and talk to the taxi drivers and those who cut our hair, and stop listening to snake oil salesmen.

In our area we are now ok. We all have real fibre, dug in by the community, owned by the community, and funded by the community until it was sustainable. Our local heroes.

B4RNstormers
photo by Murdo McCleod in June issue of Saga magazine

Now it is making a profit. We have proved it works. This project can be replicated to go the extra mile, where telcos fear to tread. We are ok, so should I just stop ranting and ignore what is going on in the rest of the UK? I think not.

Who are We ?

It’s the whole population of the UK really, isn’t it? If not us, then who? The population employs a government supported by public servants to ‘serve the public’. We can all see “our employees” have been seriously led astray by commercial interests who have lost the plot and are stifling innovation in the UK. The Vital Vision brainwashing ran for many years before it was removed, but the damage had been done and many public servants had been on it. They became the ‘visionaries’ for the infinite superfarce.  BT have erased all traces of it from their site, but the pdf lives on, thanks to the cloud.

The incumbent is determined to protect its investment in copper. It will not invest in fibre until it is forced to. It is wasting its profit on patch ups, fat cats and football, instead of futureproof upgrades. It has brainwashed our vital ‘visionary’ employees in Westminster.

What’s to be done?

If not now, then when? It’s almost impossible to deal with the “yes ministers” public servants but MPs are duty bound to investigate difficulties and instigate remedies. We need to insist that a group of MPs are educated with the basic rules of physics and successful solutions, such as B4RN the rural community solution, Gigaclear the commercial operators who have deployed rural fibre in several places and Hyperoptic in urban areas. These must be visited and studied as templates. These altnets have not had government support, but they are still delivering a vastly superior and more cost effective solution than the incumbent. After the explanations of what’s wrong, and when they understand, the MPs could follow instructions for including a much clearer and more precise set of definitions:

rural broadband solutions

It is not ‘fibre broadband‘ if it comes down a phone line.

‘Homes passed’ should not be included in statistics.

Upto‘ speeds are not acceptable.

 

 

It so happens that an “All Party Parliamentary Group” (this group could easily be brainwashed into becoming yet another delaying tactic?)  has been set up specifically to investigate Rural Broadband. Ian Liddell-Grainger MP will chair the Rural Broadband APPG with Richard Bacon MP and Nigel Evans MP as vice Chairs. They, for a start, must visit B4RN in Rural Lancashire, Hyperoptic in London and Gigaclear in Oxfordshire and find out the truth, free from snake oil salesman hype. The telco lobby has brainwashed most of our nation. Rural areas are the lifeblood of our nation, and need fibre, and it has been proven to be economical by altnets. Once the rural areas have fibre, the rest will swiftly follow, as food and water flow into the cities, so will superb internet access for all. <end rant>

If not us, then who?

Please do your bit. Think about it, talk about it, to the taxi driver and your barber/hairdresser, friends, family and co-workers, and help stop this superfarce, bit by bit. The same way you eat an elephant. One bite/byte at a time. Do it for the next generation. Help build a real Digital Britain.

 

 

4As
4As – the Activists enthuse the Adopters, the Adopters can enthuse the Apathetic, (activists scare apathetics) otherwise the Anti brigade get their way, and all we’ll end up with is FTTC and a superfast train set for a few commuters. If you can’t be an Activist, be an Adopter. Help us build a Digital Britain to be proud of. Why not be the best?

 

We have made a start, here in Lancashire. We have built our own fibre network from scratch, and it just works. The people have done it all. We have many retired people working in the trenches, grannies and granddads with spades and pickaxes. We have found it builds community cohesion and everyone has a feel good factor. It can be done. If we can do it, others can too. If government would support it, it could be done a lot faster and a lot easier. Your future is in your hands. To which group do you belong? Activist or Anti?Adopter or Apathetic? You don’t have to be techie. It isn’t rocket science.

 

Thank You. Power to the People.

Dr Cochrane: Fibre to the cabinet is one of the biggest mistakes humanity has made. It ties a knot in the cable in terms of bandwidth and imposes huge unreliability risks. Click here for the full interview with the ex CTO of BT.

Update, July 8th 2015:

For those who are interested in a truly factual account and history of the Superfarce that is Digitalbritain, they need look no further than this blog, it is written by the very brave whistleblower, Mike Kiely, and you will have no doubt after reading it that what I said is true. He has the proof. http://thebitcommons.com/cgi-bin/ebb/blog2/index.php?action=viewcomments&pid=19

 

B4RN was ISPA Internet Hero in 2012

B4RN were awarded two MBEs in the Queen’s BirthdayHonours list 2015.

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco by Liz Fletcher
Network filter bypass solutions by Rhosyn Celyn
Network Automation by Leslie Parr
IX model defended by Valeria Rossi
Veteran board level techie sees progress by Leslie Hansen

Categories
Business engineering

Veteran board level techie has seen some progress in her career

30 years in tech has seen some progress

When I was asked if I would like to contribute a blog item on Women in Tech I seriously wondered if I was the right person to do it.  You see I have never thought of myself as a Woman in Tech. I am simply a person doing a job I love in what I see as one of the most exciting industries around.

Before I got involved in IT and Telecoms the most technical position I had held was designing and selling photovoltaic system for electrical power at remote locations. I never really thought of it as a technological role at the time. Maybe that is one of the reasons for my success. Technology has never seems unobtainable to me, it has just seemed a challenge of the job and I have always loved challenges.

My sister was involved in technology and my father and both my brothers are engineers.  I suppose you could say technology was in our blood but I think rather that fear of technology was never taught to us. Maybe my parents were ahead of their time in never trying to teach us to conform to traditional roles.

Being educated in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Greece certainly did not give me a lot of strong female local role models. The wonderful thing about technology and engineering subjects in general is that they are for the most part logical and factual, and therefore in my humble opinion so much easier to deal with than the many shades of grey and public opinion that effects so many professions.

The IT and Telecoms industry is  demanding and fast moving and to succeed you need to be logical, organised and dedicated.  Above all you need to stay up to date which involves constant ongoing reading and discussions through networking groups. You can’t bluff it, if you are going to succeed you need to understand the industry and the technology.

I am aware that at the ripe age of 30 I achieved the distinction of becoming a Director and that over the following years I have continued to be one of the few women at board level, but I have always felt I could do the job, and I have certainly never felt that I achieved a position on anything but merit.

I do recall one position from which I resigned in disgust when I discovered that my male colleague was earning substantially more that I was for essentially the same work. I would have done the same if it had been a female colleague and I have never felt either discriminated against or held back by my sex. OK I recognise I have different personality characteristics from my, mostly male, counterparts but this has never seemed like an advantage or otherwise. It is just who we are.

30 years ago I did often find myself the only woman in the room. This was at first in meetings, then attending seminars or conferences and finally as my experience increased as the only women speaker at many industry events. But the people I met at these events whether as a delegate or as a speaker where not interested in me as a woman.  They were interested in what I knew or had to contribute and so everyone at the event started on an equal footing.

Over the years the number of women in the industry has steadily increased and I am delighted to have met some lovely women that I now count amongst my friends.

Technology is great, it is exciting, it is fun.  It is rarely boring and often challenging and in my experience you are respected for what you know and can do and for who you are. The IT and Telecoms industries are a wonderful place to work and I would, and have, encouraged any young person to get involved in a field that can be so rewarding.

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco by Liz Fletcher
Network filter bypass solutions by Rhosyn Celyn
Network Automation by Leslie Parr
IX model defended by Valeria Rossi

Categories
Business ofcom

UK Calling what does Ofcom new ruleset really mean?

Ofcom new UK calling rules muddy the waters – calls to mobile and 0870/0845 will rise

Today is the day that brings changes to the way telephone calls are charged for 084, 087, 09 and 118 numbers. The Ofcom new UK Calling rules are the latest initiative from the UK regulator that claims to make the cost of calling these numbers clear for everyone.

However, looking over the website ukcalling.info, it doesn’t actually say what the cost of calling an 0845 number is on the new scheme. Their own calculator on the ‘Cost of Calling’ page is no use either. Enter ‘0845’ and it says “Calls are typically charged at between 1p and 12p per minute depending on the time of day for landline customers, plus a call set-up fee. Calls from mobile phones generally cost between 5p and 40p per minute.”

Doesn’t seem clear to me? What is the cost? Tell me the money!

The new charging structure is as follows. There is an access charge and a service charge that together make the overall call charge. The access charge is what your provider charges you and the service charge is the portion that goes to the service provider. Add the two together and I get the call rate. Makes sense to the telephone geeks, me included. I like maths but at least I have the sense to know that most people don’t.

To be fair to Ofcom, this works best with telephone voting on TV. You will now see a message that says something like vote for Dan, “Calls cost 20p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.”

This should be clearer if you can remember the access charge for you provider!

You can probably tell from the tone of this article that I am not supportive of this initiative. I have often joked that Ofcom has no powers to fix the problems in the market unless it is related to TV voting and then they come up with this UK Calling nonsense that seems to be focussed on TV voting!

The more I look at Ofcom’s project, the less I am sure of what it is trying to achieve. Fact, non geographic numbers are confusing, no one knows how much it costs to call them, even me with my power for numbers. Fact, mobile providers charge ridiculous rates for calling these numbers.

So Ofcom must have some goals?  Goal, simplify the whole system so that more people understand the costs of calling non geographic numbers. Goal, try to ensure mobile and other telecom providers reduce their rates to the caller.

So let’s look at the first goal. Simplification.

When I speak to customers and they ask me the cost of something, they always want a straight answer or at least something that makes sense in English. Up until now I have been able to answer the question, how much does it cost us to call 0845, 0870 and 0871 from our  service? The answer was 3p and 1p and 11p. Pretty straightforward. Now the answer is that we charge an access charge of 3p, plus the service charge for that number. My answer now doesn’t tell you the actual cost to call. The answer to that question is an now unknown and possibly different for every number you may dial. If I was speaking to the customer I would probably now say, ‘well we charge 3p per minute plus whatever you will get stung for by the service charge but I am with you on this one regarding the costs, who knows, it’s a lottery mate’.

Doesn’t sound simpler to me.

So what about reducing costs. In the past Mobile providers have managed to charge huge amounts for calling 08 numbers. But guess what, this UK Calling thing hasn’t sorted this. Mobile access charges are still high. A text regarding the change from my provider Three managed to include a hidden message to Ofcom.

‘Do you call numbers that start 084, 087, 09 or 118? From 1 July how these calls are charged is changing & will cost more. To find out more click …’

Did you spot it? Yes, ‘will cost more’. A small F you to Ofcom?

One second though. 0800 and 0808 numbers are now free to call on mobiles. Yes, this is indeed the greatest thing go come out of the whole initiative. Except, sorry Ofcom, no credit or pat on the back for this. You are just finally fixing something you should have stamped down on the day the mobile providers started charging for something that was meant to be free anyway. Dense question of the week for you. Freephone, how much is that to call? Anyone? Anyone?

Another reason the cost of calling has also gone up, is because Ofcom has let service providers set their own pricing for their number ranges. 0870 which were cheaper to call thanks to Ofcom’s previous initiative are now up by 10p per minute and 0845 service charges seem to be several pence per minute higher now from the providers I have checked. And why not? It’s a good time for service providers to take the opportunity to make increases hidden amongst the other changes.

So Ofcom have neither simplified nor reduced costs to the consumer with this new initiative!

The painful outcome of all this is. It has increased the cost of calling these number to the end user. Ofcom has allowed service providers to set their own prices on 0845, 0870 and 0871 and therefore fragmented the number ranges to make it impossible to answer the question, how much does it cost to call an 0845. Ofcom has forced providers to waste hours changing systems and communicating this to customers for no tangible benefit.

But wait, there might be one really positive and hidden message from all of this.
“Service providers, ditch your expensive 084 and 087 numbers and get an 03 number instead. That is if you want anyone to call you.”

See also this post by Simon Woodhead in which he quantifies how much prices will go up as a result of this move by Ofcom.

Categories
Business net neutrality Regs

EC Single Telecoms Package position on roaming charges and Net Neutrality

European Commission plan to end roaming charges and establish net neutrality rules – EC Single Telecoms Package

Hot in from the ITSPA (Internet Telephony Service Providers Association) secretariat is this commentary:  Late last night the European Commission, Council and Parliament concluded their final round of negotiations on the Single Telecoms Package. The key parts of this initiative are a plan to end mobile roaming charges and the establishment of net neutrality rules.

With regard to net neutrality, the following principles have been agreed to:

  • All traffic to be treated equally with no blocking, throttling, degradation or discrimination of Internet traffic and also no paid prioritisation.
  • There are a limited number of exceptions to the general net neutrality rule:
    1. compliance with legislation related to the lawfulness of content or with criminal law;
    2. preservation of the security and integrity of the network (malware, DOS);
    3. minimising network congestion that is temporary or exceptional; and
    4. spam and parental control filters (with prior request, consent and possibility to withdraw consent)
  • The provision of specialised services is allowed as long as this does not harm general open internet access. Specialised services are services that require technical requirements which cannot be ensured in the best-effort open Internet.
  • Zero-rating of traffic will be allowed, but regulatory authorities will have to monitor and ensure compliance with net neutrality rules.
  • National regulatory authorities will be tasked to monitor and enforce open Internet rules and will be empowered to set minimum quality of service requirements on Internet access providers.

ITSPA has published a press release welcoming the news which can be viewed here. In summary, we are pleased with the news and have supported the Latvian Presidency of the European Council’s work on the subject which has found a compromise which balances Open Internet principles with an approach that ensures that the Internet can still be run in an effective manner.

ITSPA has campaigned on this subject – particularly the practice of mobile VoIP applications being blocked by network operators for anti-competitive reasons (which will now be prohibited) – for approximately two years at both EU and UK level. The announcement should be considered a great achievement for ITSPA.

The new rules are expected to come into force in early 2016.

The Council has published a press release and the European Commission has published a fact sheet – the latest agreed text has not yet been published.

PS we can particularly look forward to the end of the mobile data roaming ripoff.

Categories
Business internet Net peering

Valeria Rossi defends the not for profit IX model

Valeria Rossi, general manager of MIX is passionate about not for profit IX model

I am in front of the typical “blank page” …

I read “Women in tech – a blog written by women, not a blog about women”, and I wonder if a woman would write about technology differently from a man. But this does not matter, this is not the subject.

In reality I have never much felt gender differences in my job, nor have I suffered from it. At the beginning of my career, I had the chance to work in the IP networks field within the academic world. There, despite “networks design” being predominantly a male activity, gender has never been an issue. I realise that it is not always the case, but either I was lucky or I have always behaved neutrally with respect to gender, avoiding to making it an issue.

I must admit, nevertheless, that things changed 15 years ago, when I started to manage MIX, initially as the technical director and later as its general manager. There I had to make double the effort to persuade a board, composed then and ever since entirely by men, that one specific strategy could be winning rather than an other, or that a particular chance had priority over others.

Nobody has ever challenged my technical choices, but often I had to make an extra effort to assert my credibility in business management and general overview. Do I believe that this has been due, at least partially, to the fact that I am a woman? Yes, I believe so, but now, even in this respect, fortunately or thanks to my skills or perhaps only to my strong determination, this belongs in the past.

I think of how many times I had to act with, and sometimes against the governing board, in order to develop MIX, company that started very quietly and kept with a low profile for several years. This as in a highly vertical Italian market where peering seemed both the keystone and a service competing with the transport and transit services of those offering the peering.

It took years before achieving the IX (Internet Exchange) model which is now recognised everywhere in Europe, open and without barriers, where anyone in possession of an AS is welcome … But effort is part of the game.

In this effort I was supported by my colleagues – who along the years have become friends – and co-founders of Euro-IX. Euro-IX is a successful example of open forum where we debate and coordinate efforts for the benefit of the whole Internet community.

This experience shared together, at the very beginning just with a few people taking the first steps towards the achievement of the IX model, later with a larger community representing every European country and many others in the world, has been for me and consequently for MIX itself a source improvement and growth. Doing it with my friends, was also a life gym.

Actually, those have been important years of learning, both for the people and for the market itself.

Perhaps MIX reached some goals more slowly than others.

Why such an effort?

Well, because in such a rapidly evolving world we have faithfully adhered to the successful European models that espouse openness of the market – firstly in Italy but strongly linked to that of our foreign friends.

Amongst all this only one thing is really written in the stone:

never act in direct competition with our members’ business,

operate neutrally  and

never considering a peering service as a money source in itself.

Every internal battle, every ‘lost’ opportunity, everything has been justified by the strong belief that we had to maintain the super-parties role of IXes and in particular of MIX, without discrediting it by giving in to market dynamics which we do not believe is compatible with the role of an Internet Exchange.

IXs are born within the ecosystem of Internet as neutral substrate, functional to its development. IXs can optimise Internet paths, while enabling the freedom and autonomy of traffic routing, favouring openness against closure, protecting the market from monopolies, and balancing the market logic of transports.

Therefore I do believe that an IX has a big responsibility and must be an example of neutrality. The stability and growth of an IX must guarantee this type of ecosystem.

Rethinking to the Euro-IX experience, I’m now certain that in the domain of IXs, the concept of ensemble is the keystone to success:

On the one side every IX is born to operate primarily inside its country of origin – where it knows the actors, the market dynamics, the political-economical implications, where it knows where it can ‘touch’ the ecosystem to improve it

On the other hand, the ensemble of  IXs can act at a global level, intervening on the dynamics of the overall Internet, which by construction is a whole and only entity.

Unfortunately though, the millstone of the business-oriented is slowly but more and more clearly encroaching on our micro-world, where nowadays the strategy of the ‘IP routes trawling’ seems to prevail over a more global stability and growth.

I do not believe this is the right way ahead, I believe that attempts to predominating can only bring confusion in favour of old market logics.

But when things are changing and moving, there’s more fervour, passion, need to exchange new ideas and possibly to battle too. New efforts? Yes, but this is the amusing part of my job.

Tons of peering content on this blog – see here

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco
Network filter bypass solutions
Network Automation

Categories
Business travel

Eurotunnel – the fibre analogy or maybe not

My daughter was meant to catch a Eurostar home from Paris tonight. She is now in a melee of people at Gare Du Nord trying to rebook her ticket for tomorrow. To call it a queue would not be right she tells me via Facebook.

She will miss her connecting train from Kings Cross to Lincoln and probably have to buy a new ticket.

This is all because some workers (workers?) have gone on strike in Calais. The ferries are blockaded, the tunnel is closed.

Lorries are backing up the M20 which is now closed. All flights out of Paris are fully booked and she may struggle to get on tomorrow as I doubt there is sufficient capacity in the system to take two days worth of passengers in one day.

Imagine if the Eurotunnel was a length of fibre connecting the UK with France and the rest of the continent and that broke. We would probably not notice because there’d be another fibre somewhere with tons of capacity that could take all the traffic. Not so with the human transport system.

Hannah is trying to rebook online whilst she stands in the crowd. Everyone is trying to do the same thing. In fact as I write they are saying that you can only rebook online. I’ve filled out a request for her using the booking details she provided. It is now a manual process. She can only wait.

Funny how there is a knock on effect when something like this happens. Not really.

Now I’ve been trying to sort out changing her virgintrainseastcoast ticket from kings x. She took a pic of the confirmation number and messaged it to me. Trouble is I can’t understand her handwriting and spent 5 mins getting nowhere with the train company. Now Hannah must be in the Metro – I can’t get hold of her for confirmation of the booking ref. I’ll have to wait until she gets back online!

If I get an update I’ll obviously let you all know. I’m getting this off my chest here to some extent 🙂

21.57 update: she’s now booked on a train tomorrow lunchtime and will be home by 17.13. Got lucky because the Eurostars are now fully booked until Friday.

Categories
broadband Business

Central London superfast broadband desert

London broadband speeds shocker

At first glance this map of London broadband speeds coverage is a bit of a shocker. It’s been published by Mayor Boris Johnson (or by his minions) based on inputs from Ofcom.

You can see that the residential areas outside the centre are by and large well served albeit with a fair few “not so superfast spots”. However central london is a nightmare.

One presumes that the same logic applies to central London as to business parks where FTTC is frequently not provided. The rationale is notionally absence of an adequate business case. Cynics have been known to suggest that the real reason is that operators (naming no names) prefer to push businesses towards higher value Ethernet connections knowing that superfast isn’t available and the bandwidth they must have (as Yoda might have put it).

We make no call here. Simply report he facts. I would be a bit dischuffed if I was in an area that could only get “fast” broadband if all around me were on the blistering stuff.

For your convenience, and because the embedded pics are just screen grabs of the original interactive maps we provide the legend:

Superfast – Next generation broadband (> 30Mbit download speed) is available at 1 to 100% premises within postcode

Fast – Maximum download speeds from 10 up to 30Mbit

Slow – Maximum download speeds from 2 up to 10Mbit

No Data – No data available for this postcode

Interesting to consider that 2 – 10Mbps is labelled as slow by the GLA folk. Can’t disagree with them. It’s also the uplink I’d be wanting to make sure of.  The old ADSL uplink speeds don’t cut the mustard anymore.

I’ve done you a zoomed out version of the featured image – shows a lot more superfast broadband availability.

superfast broadband availability london

 

On a slightly different but similar subject I was browsing the Twittersphere for broadband related tweets and came across thissun:

https://twitter.com/sarabudge_DSSB/status/612945097827745792/photo/1

It was this response that struck a chord – the forgotten people of the internet world. London or Aberdeenshire. Notspots know no geographic boundaries, only population densities.

PS I don’t know how I came across this map. I figured a link was emailed to me but I can’t find the email. Odd eh?

Och aye

Categories
Business fun stuff

Do you challenge the norm?

Norm challengers of the world unite

Howard Fisher from LINX just posted a comment on Facebook:

“Junk mail just received advertising a presentation says “Simon’s extensive global experience, providing bespoke solutions for clients, ‘challenging the norm’ to leverage competitive advantage. This is achieved via understanding leading agile workstyles and combining them with brand enhancing concepts to create award-winning environments in which to work.” I think I’ll give it a miss.”

When you think about it I know it wasn’t put like this but Norm Challenger could be the name of a bloke. He’d obviously be American. He is either a management consultant or a duck hunter. The latter for no reason other than Duck Dynasty is one of my fave TV progs.

Woa Tref you’re moving off the subject son. No no no don’t worry. It’s just as relevant as any of the marketing blurb in Howard’s junk mail.

Presumably Simon ain’t going to pay to send out good junk like that if there isn’t a business case for doing so. If there is a business case the worrying this is that someone must be dumb enough to buy from his pitch. Norm might do it but he doesn’t sound like he is in the right job, being a duck hunter and all.

We can see from the blurb that Simon designs offices. One wonders whether he makes use of Feng shui. You’d think so wouldn’t you but it just doesn’t say in the spiel. Gone are the days of just making sure the colour scheme was right and the desks at the right height. I’m getting “chill out space”, gymnasium, kitchen with fridge full of free beer, pizza on demand, hammocks above the desks. You get the gist.

Only working in a small office with three people (with a spare desk for expansion) I just didn’t realise there was so much to office design. We could have used Simon when they designed ours. Gets bloomin hot in the summer. I had to nip out and buy a portable aircon unit last year. The original architects still have an office in the building. They are in denial I think.

All I will say, in finishing off this quickly thrown together post whilst I was in the mood is that Simon and his marketing people need to start targeting their mailshots better. Howard is a semi retired engineer. He won’t have much interest in office design and LINX have just moved so they will already have engaged the professional services of an office designer, presumably one of Simon’s competitors. Unless it was indeed Simon himself in which case he was selling to the converted. Doesn’t seem to have been the case though.

Quite a nice office design in the featured image don’t you think? Norm challengers of the world unite.

Howard btw tells me he’s deleted the email now but recalls that it included an offer of free hospitality at the top of the Shard in London. Simon is clearly an upwardly mobile kinda guy – in this case all the way to the 34th floor.

That’s all…

Categories
broadband Business

B4RN the movie

B4RN storming video 🙂

B4RN as all of you should know is a rural broadband network providing a 1Gps symmetrical service to parts of the countryside near Lancaster.

B4RN has produced a video that has been entered into a competition. It features @cyberdoyle plus many volunteers seen out digging trenches high up on the hills in  in deepest mid winter. They are helping themselves to provide themselves with decent broadband connectivity, an essential for life nowadays.

It’s a world ignored by mainstream providers of broadband service because there is no business case. As a result the B4RN footprint is growing. The featured image isn’t good quality because the vid isn’t available in hi res until after the competition judging is over. It does however give you a feel for the B4RN geographic footprint.

It takes 2 hours to drive from one end of the B4RN area to the other just because the terrain is so difficult and the roads consequently windy. According to @cyberdoyle you can drive for 2Km without a customer in sight.

It isn’t really just the network operators that find it uneconomical to service these rural areas. The government, which through its BDUK initiative, has hitherto considered it too expensive to facilitate broadband into these areas. The notional spec offered to prospective customers in these areas is 2Mbps. Totally inadequate.

I have just upgraded my 81 year old father in the Isle of Man from ADSL Max to 80Mbps FTTC. The cost difference was very small and in fact he said he was perfectly happy with his existing service. Now that he has the new connection even he, at 81 and with very simple internet access requirements (email, guardian online etc), says he can notice the difference.

Maybe 4G might be the answer but B4RN provides 1Gig at £30 a month with unlimited bandwidth. No way you’ll get that from a mobile service. In fact you won’t get an unlimited bandwidth bundle. It’s just too expensive for mobile operators to provide.

Now B4RN is a special case. A not for profit with a community of helpers willing to pitch in because it’s the only way they’ll get broadband. B4RN also has, in Barry Forde, someone that knows what he is talking about when it comes to networks. Most rural areas won’t have a Barry Forde.

So if you are in a B4RN area then you are lucky. If not and you can’t get broadband I don’t know what to say really. You need a @cyberdoyle and a Barry Forde.

Now watch the video:

Loads of B4RN stuff on this site btw. Search results here.

PS expect an extended “director’s cut” version in due course. They were filming for 3 days.

Categories
Business business applications

The conversation is moving to a few places online

Categories
Business voip

The SIP trunk market will die

SIP Trunk Market Futures

Sounds a little negative does’t it? SIP Trunks? A big growth area? Die? SIP Trunks?

Well I’m not talking straight away. It’s got plenty of legs yet. The point it that SIP trunks are a replacement for ISDN lines into an on premise PBX. It’s the PBX that is going to die because eventually all “phone systems” will be hosted. They will merely be cloud based applications. Voice minutes will be integral to the whole proposition. No need for SIP trunks.

It’s the same argument as for VoIP gateways. Gateways exist to convert TDM to IP. When TDM systems fizzle out, break and die the gateway will be a redundant component. I don’t know how global gateway sales are doing. Still growing probably.

It’s an interesting conversation. What is the future of the voice market? Will there be one? Doomsayers have been predicting the death of the voice minutes market for ever. At least since the advent of VoIP. Costs plummeting, competition driving down ARPUs to near zero etc etc.

Actually the argument remains the same. Last night I answered my mobile phone and found it was Rob from the office calling me via Google Hangout. I immediately told him I’d ring him back on his landline. Uh?!

He wasn’t making a voice call. It was a Google Hangout. I only have 1GB of data in my EE 4G bundle. Video uses it up at a rate of knots. I rang Rob back on a geographic number to which I have unlimited calls at very low cost.

The mobile industry presumably currently makes it’s money from people breaking out of bundles, eg calling non geos not covered by the “unlimited calls” deal and from mobile data charges.

Rob in making the call would not have been paying anything. He was using his broadband bandwidth. The time will inevitably come where I can get the same deal on my mobile. In fact as broadband service providers are increasingly adding mobile to their deals (BT/EE!) a flat rate price for bandwidth of any flavour seems inevitable.

Add to that embedded voice in every browser and you have your ubiquitous and essentially free internet phone calls. All driven from web based applications. No SIP trunk in sight.

Just finishing off this line of logic we will actually still be paying for the calls indirectly. The big social media platforms which will essentially own the directories whilst giving away their service free to punters live off advertising revenues. Advertisers add the cost of reaching you to their products which you buy with your hard earned cash.

Still, the calls will seem free:)

I’ve had enough of this. TGIF. I’m off camping this weekend. C ya.

Categories
Business fun stuff spam

How to market online

Or online marketing marketed offline

The good old fashioned postman dropped some good old fashioned snail mail through my letterbox. I’m working from home today so excitedly picked the mail up off the floor and flicked through it.

One was addressed to “The lovely person who lives at…”. I gave it to son 2 to open as he was disappointed that there were no letters for him personally. “It’s a £130k cheque” he exclaimed excitedly (no strikethrough).  Nah. Only joking.

The letter was an invitation to “join the online community for Lincoln”. I sighed and put it in a pile of other junk ready for recycling.

Then it occurred to me that hey, here was a website trying to drum up business using traditional direct marketing methods. The website was called streetlife.com.

Now I don’t know which [email protected]$!&rd business has sold them my address. Maybe no one as the letter wasn’t addressed to me personally. Shouldn’t be allowed to spam me anyway.

Then I thought “what an expensive way to recruit new website users” and “how inefficient”.

Just goes to show how much money it really takes to get your stuff seen these days. The holy grail is free viral online marketing but that very rarely happens. When you are actively promoting something you get visitors to your website. When you stop this the visitors stop, or at least there are fewer of them. This is why you see lots of online affiliate marketing websites advertise on TV. It’s big bucks. The more visitors you want the more you have to actively promote the site.

This costs money in the case of streetlife.com it’s money spent on direct mail. It’s also probably money spent with a marketing agency. The letter tells me their site has been featured in the Guardian, Sunday Times, Woman & Home and BBC News. It is probable that this exposure was down to time spent pitching to journalists (one assumes). Money.

Woman & Home tells me who their audience really is, as perhaps does their mode of address. Personally I already have as many social media platforms as I can handle, probably too many as G+ isn’t doing anything. Without looking at it seems to me that Facebook already serves the same purpose as streetlife.

I won’t be signing up with streetlife. Call me a miserable git.

On the upside streetlife have now got themselves some major free exposure on trefor.net 😉 As I finish a tune enters my head: Streetlife, there ain’t no place I can’t go…