FryUp: Telecommunications companies get the blues

Top Stories: Telecom, Telecom, Telecom; Ihug gets an ouchie; Peer to peer a steep learning curve

Top Stories:

- Telecom, Telecom, Telecom

- Ihug gets an ouchie

- Peer to peer a steep learning curve

- Note for Netscape 4.7x users

- Telecom, Telecom, Telecom

Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Firstly, there are the ads. Is there anything more guaranteed to annoy end users than an ad that proclaims Telecom's reliability? I think not, baby puppy. Especially an ad that is as selective as the 99.999% reliability ad. Apparently it only applies to the core network which, if you remove all the phones, hubs, switches, routers, ISPs, end users and competitors, will run quite smoothly thank you. Of course, without all that you'd expect a damned sight more than 99.999% reliability I would think, but hey, I'm just being picky.

But that's like shooting fish in a barrel and is beneath us, so let's move on to more entertaining targets.

Take Telecom's apparent inability to keep its DSL service running. It all started when it sent out a nice email saying the micro-outage problem had been fixed. Never tempt fate, is my advice.

Apparently it's all better now, please stop writing about it, Telecom said. However, businesses and individuals around the country seem to still have problems with "brief disconnections" or perhaps "short-interval drop-outs" or maybe they are "chronologically-inconclusive SNAFUs" but which we will continue to call micro-outages because it sounds more techie.

Telecom tells me that although it's solved this major problem, minor versions of it may continue to plague the service and it has no plans to sort them all out. Why? Because JetStream is not supposed to be a robust solution but is in fact a best-cost service - that is, if you want reliability you have to pay more and buy a service that, not surprisingly, Telecom can also offer you.

Yet when Telecom first launched JetStream it was billed as a panacea for broadband users' ills. Not only would JetStream provide blisteringly fast internet connection and "always be on" but it would be ideal for small businesses wanting to expand into the world of virtual private networks (VPN) or do other high-tech things, perhaps like running Terminal Server applications.

However, all that is gone now - expunged from the Telecom website as though it was never there. Now to do all that you need to upgrade to IP.Networking and its family of products.

Perhaps Telecom discovered the technology wasn't up to it, or perhaps it discovered too many Kiwi businesses wanting to take advantage of the offering and realised it could make a killing by charging more. I don't know, but it's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Telecom's headline-grabbing actions.

Not only is it arguing still with TelstraClear about interconnection issues that led to a 111 call going unheard, but it appears that most of the West Coast of the South Island can't actually get dial tone at times. This isn't a micro-outage, this is a complete network failure that leaves a community stranded for hours if not days at a time.

I was going to mention DSL billing, again, and perhaps also help desk issues but they're always a problem and I've had enough fish-in-a-barrel-fun today.

If you pay for a service you expect the service to be available. Telling customers one thing to get them signed on and then saying the service is "best effort" is not good enough. Complaining about the lack of demand for broadband while you can't supply basic phone service to the coast is not good enough. Telling everyone that your network is 99.999% reliable but not backing that up with guarantees or refunds is not good enough.

Your days as a monopoly are numbered, Telecom. Pull your finger out.

I'd include a story or two here from Stuff, if only it had one. It did run an NZPA version of the Herald story, but changed the headline to "Internet hiccup at Telecom". You wouldn't know that Telecom is part owner of Stuff's parent company (INL) would you? (Cheap shot I know).

JetStream users seek refunds over service problems - IDGNet

Outages continue despite Telecom's claims - IDGNet

JetStream dries up for net users - NZ Herald

Telecom outages leave West Coasters praying - NZ Herald

Telecom's shocking DSL admission - Aardvark

Compare and contrast with this story about Canberra:

High speed DSL taking off across Tasman - IDGNet

- Ihug gets an ouchie

In fact, Telecom, try taking a leaf from Ihug's book. If you're going to have a failure, you have to a: do it with style and b: tell everyone what's going on.

Ihug tried to upgrade its network in the middle of the night but, alas, when users started logging on the following morning the whole kit and caboodle went down. Email, internet access, even Ihug's website vanished. That led to a bunch of people ringing Ihug looking for an explanation. So the phones went down as well - crushed under the weight of numbers.

Once the smoke and debris had cleared, Ihug managed to get the whole thing back up on its feet and dusted off and pointed in the right direction again by mid-afternoon. Ihug immediately put an apology up on its website but, more importantly, it explained what had happened. Take note: users like to be kept informed.

Now I'm sure there are some unhappy Ihug users out there, and the newsgroups and mailing lists will reflect that in the next couple of days, but there isn't a network on the planet that's immune to outages. They are going to happen. They are going to upset users. We are going to write stories about it, so why not learn to deal with those things in a timely and informed manner.

Want to get the users onside after a failure? Tell them what happened, why it happened and how you fixed it. Tell them why it won't happen again. You can't tell users too much about these things. Don't use terms like: "the system failed but was restored" because we know that already -- don't treat us like idiots. Tell the truth.

My favourite thing about the Ihug failure? Tim Wood's voice mail on Thursday morning says, "Tim Wood is on sick leave until 9 am tomorrow". Now that's funny.

Ihug back online after failure - IDGNet

- Peer to peer a steep learning curve

Once upon a time the internet was good only for email and browsing "websites". Sometimes I think ISPs would love us to return to those halcyon days, but I'm afraid the genie's out of the bottle, the cat's out of the bag, the worms are wriggling free from their can and pandora's box has well and truly popped its hinges.

The genie/cat/worm/thing in this instance is of course broadband. With a broadband connection you can not only check your email and surf those websites but you can do other things as well. Like instant messaging, for one, but also downloading music, watching movie trailers, hosting your own files for uploading, virtual private networking, high-speed online gaming and more. There are applications out there being developed right now that you'll be hard pressed to remember ever having been without by 2005.

But that creates something of a problem when you're running a network. How do you cater for a user base that includes bleeding edge as well as two dears in Dunedin that want to email someone about a sick cat (true story)? At the one end you have users who consider a monthly usage of 3GB to be quite normal and at the other you have someone who doesn't care what a GB is.

Xtra has stepped into the firing line this week with the news that it "manages bandwidth" for peer-to-peer downloads on the JetStart service. In effect it means Xtra has less bandwidth available for services like KaZaA or Morpheus (children of Napster) than for general surfing and email use. Users of such services have been complaining for some time about lower download rates, and now it seems that it's because they are using the service in a way Xtra isn't keen on.

But Xtra isn't the only ISP looking to limit customers. While the others gleefully tell me they don't care how you use the bandwidth just so long as you keep it legal, most ISPs are moving to cap JetStart accounts.

Xtra is considering its options with both JetStart and JetStream offerings and should come out with some new ways of slicing the pie in the next few months. The other ISPs are sure to have their own takes on how best to let customers do what they want while maintaining a profit margin, and good luck to them I say.

By way of contrast, in Australia a new DSL ISP, Pacific Internet, offers a DSL package that has quite a few twists to it. For $A100 users get a 1.5Mbit/s download speed and 500MB of traffic a month. For an additional $A10 a month users can get unlimited downloads between 1am and 8am. For $A20 they get unlimited downloads between midnight Saturday and 8am Monday.

That kind of thinking means hard core users are catered for along with the newbies. Nobody gets their bandwidth restricted, nobody gets slow connection speeds because of someone else abusing the service during peak times. Those additional hours are traditionally quiet times on the network so why not make use of them? There are plenty of shareware products out there that allow users to schedule downloads--why not take advantage of such things?

I'm sure there's a solution or two out there for users and network administrators alike. Let's just hope they can keep the bean counters happy as well.

Xtra "manages bandwidth" for P2P app use - IDGNet

- Note for Netscape 4.7x users

And now, the party's done and if you're using Netscape 4.7x you're out of luck.

The FryUp herd of technical managers have discovered some major incompatibility issues between the HTML FryUp and the older Netscape browser's email package, Messenger, which means unfortunately you can't see the FryUp in all its glory.

The choices are stark and unsavoury I'm afraid: go back to the text-based version, upgrade (nooooo!) your browser or change your preferred email package (e.g. Eudora). You can change your profile back to text-only by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.

If you're using Netscape 6 or beyond you shouldn't have any problems but do let us know if you have issues with the layout.

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