Cables and cellphones

Two things have happened in the world of telecommunications recently that I'd like to share with you - Telstra's cable snapped and I got a new cellphone. The two events are poles apart in their impact on your working lives, I know, but they both speak to me of the issues facing the telco environment.

Two things have happened in the world of telecommunications recently that I’d like to share with you — Telstra’s cable snapped and I got a new cellphone. The two events are poles apart in their impact on your working lives, I know, but they both speak to me of the issues facing the telco environment.

Telstra’s cable is certainly the larger issue — the SEA-ME-WE3 cable was damaged 63km from shore south of Singapore. Telstra Australia relies on the cable for about 50% of its international capacity and the damage has been felt by users right across Australia. Thanks to capacity bought from elsewhere and the double redundancy built into the system, it's recovered to about 75% of normal.

SEA-ME-WE3 was the area’s largest capacity pipe until the Southern Cross Cable (SCC) came online earlier this month and the problems it’s experiencing at the moment simply go to underline the fragile nature of our network.

We’ve come to rely so much on the internet for everything from simple communication to the income we earn that when it vanishes or is diminished in some way it’s eerily like having a limb amputated.

I’ve spent a couple of weeks at home relying on my dial-up connection rather than the super-speedy industrial-strength office pipe and it’s been hell. Those days when I can actually get online I run at about 22kbit/s maximum which is, let me tell you, sheer hell. Forget gaming at lunchtime, forget watching Telstra Business online, forget “instant” messaging, forget emailing large attachments or downloading MP3s or watching movie trailers ... All 22k is good for is email and even then that’s a bit tenuous.

How would you or your business cope if New Zealand’s connection to the outside world dropped off or became even slower than the already slow speed we get? That brings up the touchy subject of disaster recovery plans (DRP). After the power crisis (remember that?) we surveyed a bunch of you and you all said you’d be developing DRPs as soon as the lights came on. Just six months later those plans were being moved down the priority queue faster than you could say Y2K.

Just wait until cellphones move into data delivery in a big way as well and then we’ll see what congestion is really like. I’m picturing the kind of arterial problem that is usually treated with a pair of paddles and much shouting on ER. Having the SCC is a great move in the right direction. Its triple-redundant loop should ensure we don’t see the kind of problems the Aussies are currently experiencing, at least for a few years until we start to max-out the capacity.

On the subject of cellphones, I have just switched from using a personal mobile to having a work account. It means I have a new WAP-enabled phone (woo-hoo) and should be able to do nifty things like download my email to it as well as getting all those up-to-the-minute news flashes I like so much.

There are two problems with this — firstly, Vodafone says I have to have a new cellphone number. Why can’t I keep the old one, I cried? I have business cards with it on, everyone I know has it programmed into their Palms, Psions, cellphones, landlines and whatnot. No, they say. Your old number is a prepay and cannot be transferred. What nonsense.

My second problem is the MyVodafone service — you can change all your details as often as you like from name, password, what services you want, what games you want to play and so on. Everything is changeable except your phone number. After several emails I was told I would have to delete my entire account, thus freezing my user name, and build a new one with a new user name. When I finally agreed to do that, they told me I couldn’t change it via email, I had to ring them up to do it. The reason given — security. After a lengthy email conversation in which I told them my user account and details so they knew it was me talking, they still insisted on me ringing up to do it.

Neither of these situations should happen — there isn’t a technology reason for either of them, just a marketing reason. Come on, Vodafone — that’s not e-business. It’s just a pile of cobblers.

Brislen is a Computerworld journalist. Send email to Paul Brislen.

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