- Online gaming goes live (in December)
- Residential broadband blues
- Online gaming going live for Xmas
I thought every site would have this up this morning but it seems they're all hung over or something because nobody's carrying the story of Microsoft launching Xbox Live in New Zealand in time for the Christmas shopping spree.
No one. Not even Computerworld Online, which is odd because I could have sworn I wrote a story about it. And some other stories. Technical glitch/ghosts in the machine/trouble at mill means we've had yesterday's stories up instead of today's. Sorry about that. (Normal service has now resumed.)
Xbox Live. Why do you care, right? You don't play games, you're a serious business professional with responsibilities and a career path. Yeah, go on. You're all hanging out to find an excuse to get broadband at home, I know you are. And this could very well be it - make use of that Xbox that's kicking around the lounge by hooking it up to the net and playing other 30-something children. I know I'm hanging out for one.
There's good news here for the broadband industry in New Zealand - Xbox Live will compete head-to-head with PlayStation II's online service from next year and that should drive demand. I don't think it's any surprise that the minimum speed you'll need for either service is 256kbit/s and that Microsoft has been "working closely" with Telecom over this.
Better still, the service will be relatively free. How can a service be "relatively" free you ask? Well, Sony Computer Entertainment won't be charging for it at all, but I presume you'll need some extra gear in the shape of hard drive, ethernet connectors and the like. Microsoft says it will sell a starter kit that includes VoIP headset (more on that below), a couple of games and a software upgrade disk to sort out the Xbox dashboard. It will also come with a 12-month subscription to the service so you have a year's gaming out of it before having to decide whether to renew or not.
This is good because it really means your connection cost is the only price you'll pay on a regular basis. It's also bad because it means your connection cost is the price you'll pay and you will be paying. Traffic charges on Telecom's JetStream Home 256kbit/s service mount up and with an ardent gamer jumping on the connection every chance he or she gets, you're likely to rack up the bills. Microsoft tells me the average game only uses 7MB to 10MB an hour but when your connection cap is only 500MB a month, you're going to be paying excess charges after only the first week or so (depending of course on whether you want to surf the net and send email as well).
The Xbox service won't be chewing through international traffic either. Once you connect up, your machine sends authentication data off to the US, gets the nod and then you play locally. Games are served from a player's Xbox, so when you join a game that's being hosted in New Zealand you're only using national traffic.
Now it all becomes clear to me why Telecom didn't simply switch every JetStream Starter customer over from 128kbit/s to 256kbit/s. JetStream Starter customers aren't charged for local traffic, only international. Get the picture? Imagine all those JSS customers chewing through national traffic for free. Why, they'd melt the copper wires, so they would. This way Telecom gets to clip the ticket for them every step of the way.
The VoIP headset is entertaining - you can chat during a game or you can hang around in "the lobby" before playing a game and talk to whoever is online. With Xbox's "friends" list, similar to instant messaging white lists, you can chat away to your mates at VoIP charges. Interesting development. The quality was pretty good too - I watched Microsoft's Kumara Kid fire up a bike game and by golly we could hear a bunch of keen Yankee racers chattering away.
Given the next story, you'll see why any impetus we can get in the residential sector is a good thing - in my opinion.
- Residential broadband blues
By now you're familiar with the basic story. Telecom wants to get 100,000 households using broadband by the end of next year. Telecom has also started labelling JetStream Starter, which runs at 128kbit/s, as "not broadband" but will continue to count them towards the overall total because without them it won't get anywhere near 100,000 by 2005. Take away the JetStream Starter customers and Telecom currently has 13,000 broadband residential customers.
If we compare our uptake rate with the recent ITU (International Telecommunication Union) survey "Birth of Broadband" penetration rate per 100 households, we no longer sit comfortably just behind Australia with 1.1 per 100 but between Argentina and the Dominican Republic with 0.33.
That means countries like Guam, Bahrain, Grenada, Latvia, Venezuela and my all time favourite country to be beaten by for infrastructure issues, Lebanon (!), are all ahead of New Zealand when it comes to broadband penetration.
I rang the telecommunications commissioner's office to see if he knew about this when they put together the unbundling draft determination and fortunately, yes, they did know. The commissioner's office makes the distinction between fast narrowband running at 128kbit/s and broadband starting at 256kbit/s, just as Telecom does.
Douglas Webb, the commissioner himself, was very chatty on the subject. However, his view did surprise me.
Residential broadband, you see, is a tricky beast and if you compare New Zealand's uptake rates with anywhere else in the developed world, you'll find we're tracking in a very similar manner. Webb says it is the business world that will benefit most by the move to unbundled broadband and residential customers are reluctant to move even when offered remarkably cheaper deals.
I have to admit, I was quite gloomy about this. Surely there's more out there than just fast internet and email that requires broadband? Surely there are more uses that will lure residential customers to shell out that wee bit more?
Thankfully there is (see above) and hopefully that's only the tip of the iceberg. Voice over IP should be a killer app as well, given the toll regional limits. According to Communications Minister Paul Swain, who I also badgered on this subject, a project in Southland will be offering such toll-busting services and that's great news. Maybe voice is the killer app broadband has been waiting for?
Swain also isn't too worried by the low uptake figures. He's of the opinion that the real test of broadband's appeal will be counting heads at the end of next year when Project Probe has finally kicked in. They'd better - Swain says broadband is fundamentally important to New Zealand's growth.
"I have absolutely no doubt that broadband will be one of the technologies that drives economic performance over the next decade."
-This is a piece put together by Keith Humm, who also launched the recent petition calling on Telecom to reduce prices and make broadband more available. Interesting numbers here comparing broadband pricing with dial-up.