Gosh, what a busy old week it's been. It started off so amiably, with a wee note from Microsoft's PR agency urging users to patch their machines, then Whammo! (that's a technical term, by the way) the Blaster worm gets jiggy with Microsoft.
There's more to come of course. Over the weekend those unpatched machines that are still operating will flood Microsoft's Windows Update website with millions of packets of data in an attempt to knock it off air. Given the way the Microsoft 0800 help desk fell over under the strain of it all during the week, they'll only need around 5000 machines to make a good job of it.
I tried to patch my machine. I really did. I followed the link posted by Microsoft. It told me all about the security flaw and the patch and why it was so important. Did I want to proceed? You betcha. The next screen told me I needed to download a wee bit of code so MS could work out what patch I needed. I just told you, I thought, but OK, we'll do it your way.
So the code was downloaded and it scanned my machine for software (hey!) and then it reported back to MS HQ (HEY!) and then it gave me the good news. I needed 32 critical upgrades, eight non-critical ones and two operating system upgrades.
I was gobsmacked. All I wanted was the patch to fix this one particular hole but, no, I had to have a day's worth of work just to get to the point where I could even download and install that one patch. So I did what any red-blooded journo would do. I ignored the problem.
Patching as a means to an end for security is all well and good for the occasional problem but when it becomes the entire process for ensuring your system is fine, then it becomes as big a problem as the security flaws themselves.
I spoke to Microsoft New Zealand's Terry Allen about it and, while he valiantly offered tech support over the phone, he also made a good point. The threats today are quite different to the threats that were around when my PC was assembled (did I mention it's an old clunker now?) and the security response should be updated to match. I should download all 32 patches because without them I'm running a huge risk of being nailed not only by the current round of nasties but also the previous round. At the moment I'm protected by my fearful and trusty Nokia M1122 router which, bless its carbon socks, hides my entire system from the world at large, even without my intervention. This is a good thing because as you can see, I care not a jot about keeping my patches, upgrades, updates and their ilk up to date.
Really there has to be a better way. I'm not sure I trust Microsoft's patches enough to take the automated approach and just put up with whatever comes down the pipe to me. I don't like the changes to the terms and conditions that go with it, I don't like having my PC scanned for illicit cargo (sorry, I've been playing Freelancer a lot lately) and I don't like giving MS the right to come into My Computer and do what it wants to ensure my/its security.
Having said that, I also don't like viruses and would like to see them gone. This is despite having had a week's worth of easy work following the trail of this here worm. How ironic that only last week I was making fun of the virus thing as a story that had done its dash. Ah well. Sometimes I think stories about viruses are just as virulent as the viruses themselves.
Stop Press! Hold the front page! Film at 11!
That's right, we received an important announcement yesterday - Vodafone is going to build a 3G network.
Well that's a relief.
Of course, Vodafone was always going to build a 3G network - it bought all that lovely spectrum at auctions around the world so it would have the capability to offer video phones, CD quality music downloads and all the rest. It has to build a 3G network or be seen to be foolish in its impulse buying.
Amusingly, TelstraClear is also going to build a 3G network in New Zealand at roughly the same time. Expect both to be up and running by the first quarter of 2005. Both will run on Wideband CDMA (W-CDMA) and offer speeds of around 200Kbit/s with gusts up to 384Kbit/s. Vodafone is also talking about eventually offering a High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) service, which has average data rates of around 2Mbit/s for one-way traffic.
But hang on a minute, New Zealand already has a 3G network, doesn't it? That other company, oh, what's its name? It'll come to me in a minute.
That's right, Telecom already uses CDMA, albeit a slightly slower version - CDMA 1xRTT - in the form of its Mobile JetStream Go 27 network. Telecom will tell you it is a 3G service although the latest release on the matter says it offers "up to 3G speeds", which is good to see. 3G to me means video phones and megabits of speed and I've never been a fan of over-promising and under-delivering on a technology. We've see too many iterations of the vapour-ware, hype and carry-on in the ICT industry to let it affect us any longer.
Which is why these two announcements from TelstraClear and Vodafone must be taken with a grain of salt. This is a very early stage in the process and we've seen that process derailed before. TelstraClear was going to build a separate national network complete with fibre backbone and loops around Auckland Wellington and Christchurch and that never happened. Is it economic to build two completely separate yet practically identical networks in a country the size of New Zealand? I would have to say not.
Especially when you factor in Walker Wireless and its technology (again, it's W-CDMA) and it's got a leg up on everyone else because it's won three regional tenders in the Project Probe broadband-for-all game. I would expect both Vodafone and TelstraClear to be very friendly towards Walker Wireless in the coming year. Vodafone has the inside straight on that; it's already signed a deal to firm up the possibility of taking an equity stake in WW at some stage (if that's not a contradiction in terms).
So where does that leave Telecom? Well, actually looking quite good. While Vodafone and TelstraClear work out what they're doing, pay lots of money for network rollouts and generally get busy with each other, Telecom has a national network in place, can offer relatively fast connection speeds, is building a useful platform for its move into the consumer space with capped text message charges, a good looking, cheap consumer phone - finally - and a big marketing campaign. Let's face it, TelstraClear and Vodafone are both talking about 3G islands - the main urban centres - in a 2.5G world. Telecom has already split the difference and is offering a 2.75G connection for all. And if you look at overseas markets where 3G is already available, it's costly and geographically limited and generally isn't taking off as fast as the telcos would like. Telecom has said it will wait until it hears from customers that Mobile JetStream isn't up to the job any more and since that's only now being fully marketed, that's probably some time away.
I'd expect to see aggressive pricing from Telecom in its Mobile JetStream offering in the year ahead to really put a dent in the plans of both TelstraClear (its biggest competitor in the fixed line market) and Vodafone (its biggest competitor in the cellular market).
And at the end of the day (when the sky turns red) the users will have multiple choices when it comes to mobile data and a great deal more competition in the market to keep prices reasonable. Nice.