- Dick Tracy, take a hike
- You pays your money...
Time zones are funny things. There I was, sitting on my hotel bed in Rome (sorry, had to slip that in there) typing away furiously when it dawned on me: I'd already missed the deadline for the FryUp by a whole day.
That's right, call me Phileas Phogg in reverse. Too jet-lagged to realise that writing the FryUp on Friday morning in Europe meant it was all too late for New Zealand. Ah well, couldn't be helped.
And yes, I had a lovely time, thank you for asking. If ever you're travelling to a far-distant shore, be sure to take a marketing manager with you. Alison from Ericsson makes an excellent Passepartout although she does tend to over-pack somewhat.
So what did I learn on my whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, Cannes and Rome? Many things but most importantly I learned that cellular roaming is a myth.
It's not the fault of the technology, or even the way the technology is implemented, so much as it is a fault of the commercial agreements between carriers.
Data roaming is almost non-existent to the point where even PXT messages don't get through. Vodafone kindly loaned me a Mobile Connect Card after I managed to destroy mine, but to no avail. It wouldn't work in either Amsterdam or Rome and in Cannes I kept dropping off the one network that did have a roaming agreement. At one point I found myself using that network for data but another for voice because the call clarity was much better.
Also there's the price. Having to spend 20 cents per megabyte is appalling for data but having to spend $30 a megabyte is just astonishing. It took me the better part of an hour to clear my email and cost me $45.
The other alternative was WiFi, or "wifee" as one amusing gentleman called it. I tried this out in a hotel in Amsterdam where they offered 24-hour access for $40 with no download limits. It would have been great, but of course, when I tried to connect to the work email server it was down. Ah well.
Voice fared no better. The lag in calls from a New Zealand cellphone to another in Europe is horrendous, so much so we ended up using SMS to stay in touch, which is quite peculiar in this day and age. We weren't alone, either. The various press conferences were full of reporters texting their stories back to base 140 characters at a time.
Ericsson showed us a network diagram which suggests it's quite possible to connect to the local PSTN directly instead of through the home country server, thus eliminating that lag. I can't wait.
If it all worked well, of course, I'd have nothing to write about. Well I would, but I wouldn't have much of an excuse for missing my deadlines now would I?
We did get to see some interesting kit on our travels. In Holland we trooped out to the town of Enschede. Well, we did once we sorted out the trains. Actually, that's one instance of mobile data working well - we missed an announcement in Dutch and ended up on the wrong train going the wrong way until a nice man with a WiFi connection called up the train company website and showed us how to get back on track (arf arf).
Enschede suffered an appalling tragedy a few years ago. The centre of the city was destroyed by an explosion in a fireworks factory. It killed 22 workers and levelled around 2000 homes.
The company charged with replacing the houses is future-proofing by rolling out fibre to the home (FttH) and the company contracted to do the work is quite astounding. With only three staff it's the epitome of outsourcing, but the real proof is in the product on offer: for 60 euros (around $NZ120) a month customers get 35 TV channels, 16 radio stations, local, national and international calls at roughly 35% less than the incumbent and a symmetrical 2Mbit/s internet service with a traffic limit -- if you can call it that -- of 100GB a month. Pay a bit more and you get 10Mbit/s.
The company expects customers will be demanding 4Mbit/s for the same price next year and 10Mbit/s the year after so it's quite prepared to offer it.
Here at home we're starting to see some real movement as well. Counties Power is moving into Auckland and should be offering a broad range of speeds and price points from the 256Kbit/s right up to megabit offerings. Woosh is here and although I still keep hearing terrible things about coverage and latency they're busy expanding the network. TelstraClear has also jumped in boots and all in the areas where it has its own network and is offering 1Mbit/, 2Mbit/s and 10Mbit/s services which strike me as real broadband. None of this pussy-footing around with half a meg speed or 500MB traffic limits; this is far more useable. Sadly it's only for those folk in Wellington, Christchurch and Khandallah that are on TelstraClear's network.
Which makes Telecom's forthcoming offering, due to kick off on Monday, somewhat tame by comparison. Telecom announced its new DSL plans a month ago and they're a much better offering than we've seen previously, but still only 256Kbit/s.
While I'm sure the slower, entry-level end of the market needs servicing, and Telecom has to do something to get everyone off JetStream Starter and on to a real plan before the end of the year so it will make its 100,000 customer goal, the top end of the market isn't going away any time soon.
- Dick Tracy, take a hike
The Roman leg of the trip, so to speak, gave us an opportunity to look at a cellular company in the throes of moving to a 3G network. Video calling and Big Brother are the two drawcards on offer in Italy it seems.
Big Brother is, of course, the reality show and customers of Hutchison's 3G company, amusingly named 3, are able to watch the contestants at any hour of the day or night on their phones.
I have to say I was quite impressed. Because it's not a live feed as you would get with a video call, the footage looks quite good. There's very little buffering or stuttering and if you wanted to watch Big Brother you could quite happily. I can imagine other companies coming up with other services, like "goal of the day" in soccer mad Italy, that will make great use of the facility.
I'm not so taken with video calls, however. I know, I know, we've been asking for them for years. I blame Dick Tracy myself. It seemed like such a good idea but really, I'm happy with voice.
Of course, I'm also happy with a black and white screen on my phone or PDA so maybe I'm just old-fashioned.
I still think 3G networks are really going to make money if they engage the business sector users rather than the consumer end of the market. Forget video calls and concentrate on providing applications for the mobile office worker. They want bandwidth, know what it is and are willing to pay more for it.
The battle royale in the mobile market for the next couple of years will, I think, be between 3G and WiFi. They both seek to do the same thing - offer broadband connections away from home or the office - but they go at it from opposite ends of the spectrum. Pricing will be the killer here. Already WiFi capability is being built in to laptops and PC cards are dirt cheap. 3G handsets will have to be comparable in price or they'll be left to gather dust.
- You pays your money...
Now don't panic, but I've been thinking about how to make money out of the FryUp.
I said don't panic!
At the moment the price is probably one you're all comfortable with: namely, it's free. Some of our email newsletters have sponsorship, others are driven by the "bring them to our website" ethos that means you don't want to charge for them.
But the FryUp is something of an odd one. It's all-original content that probably doesn't sit well with a single sponsor (in full news-gathering objective reporter mode I'd probably feel compelled to write an expose on the nefarious business practices of whichever poor company signed on as sponsor just to prove I was unbiased) which does tend to leave open only two paths: continue to give it away or charge a subscription.
There are quite a few things to consider, however, with charging. Firstly, nobody pays for online content in New Zealand. Well, not so far, anyway. Would readers pay for the FryUp? I'd hope the content is (ahem) unique enough that you'd feel it was worth paying for but whether you'd stump up or not is another matter. Perhaps it's just too strange to pay for? Also, there's the odd issue with delivering it on time if at all. I'm sure that would sort itself out though.
There's also that ridiculous idea that you can order readers not to forward on their email to someone else. Nobody commands my in-box but me and if there's one thing guaranteed to get me to forward on an email it's a disclaimer telling me I can't. That would have to be sorted out as well.
So I thought I'd share my thoughts on the matter with you. So far I'm thinking the price should be so ridiculously low that you'd have no problem paying it.
Forget $30 a week or even $30 a month. How about $30 a year? That's low enough that the company petty cash could pay for it and even I would be able to get that past the financial controller.
On top of that, it's low enough that if you were to forward it on, nobody's going to get too bent out of shape, although if it was a regular thing you could demand they pay for it themselves.
We could look at bulk rates for companies that want to receive multiple copies, or post it to their intranet, that kind of thing.
But first things first - I thought I'd ask you all what you think. After all, this is the FryUp and that's what we do here. So let me know at: email@example.com. Nothing's set in stone any which way; we're really just bouncing ideas around to see what fits. I'll report back next week.