Stories by Juha Saarinen

Telecom’s CDMA network suffers outage

Customers on Telecom’s legacy CDMA mobile network experienced major service disruptions this morning.
The problems started around 9am today, with the loss of 32 CDMA cell sites. These are located mainly in Auckland City and South, North Shore, Waitakere, as well Rodney District.
However, Northland cell sites were also affected, as were sites in Lower Hutt, Tasman District and Christchurch.
The outage on the CDMA network comes hard on the heels of two nationwide outages on the incumbent's new XT 3G service in December and January.

Opinion: Is regional Layer 2 really open access?

The government’s Ultra Fast Broadband or UFB tender is drawing to a close today. This new crucial network infrastructure build is attracting a great deal of attention from various industry players, despite some saying the project is underfunded compared to for instance Australia’s NBN.
The government has multiple goals for the UFB, and one of them is to learn from and to avoid repeating past mistakes. That’s much harder than it seems, because technology and the way we use it can take unexpected turns.
When Telecom was sold off, its main business was voice calling. That’s important enough, and the idea was that a privatised Telecom would have commercial incentives to provide voice services cheaper and more efficiently than a state-owned telco.
Even though the Internet had been born already, nobody could see the packet-switched data-centric world of the 21st century coming. To state the obvious, in 2010, voice is no longer king when it comes to telecommunications, merely part of a service bundle.
That’s how it should be if we had planned our telecommunications infrastructure to keep up with customer needs and technology. We didn’t do that, unfortunately.
The reason is DSL, or broadband over copper phone lines. DSL is fantastic technology considering what it delivers but it failed the ISP industry and us, the customers, by not being open access.
Instead, we got resold Bitstream DSL access in various formats, as delivered by Telecom. The incumbent is the infrastructure provider, the wholesaler and also, a retailer that competes against access seekers that resell Telecom services on thin margins.
As a result of this direct control over the network Layer 2, the field of ISPs in New Zealand has thinned and with them, the service options available to customers. We’re talking about less competition, very similar product offerings and pricing; that’s not a sign of a healthy, dynamic growth industry. Local Loop Unbundling was introduced to deal with this issue, but it was too little and too late to make a big difference.
This past experience is exactly the reason why there’s reason to be concerned when members of the New Zealand Regional Fibre Group or NZRFG propose to light up fibre and provide 100Mbit/s Ethernet or other Layer 2 connectivity directly to customers (Read more on network layers).
The government appears to have issued a preference for the LFCs to stay at Layer 1, and to let access seekers light up the fibre themselves. However, the government has left the door open for LFCs to provide Layer 2 services directly to customers too, which some now say they will supply.
Asked about its policy on Layer 2 services, NZRFG says “it supports the government objective of delivering open access wholesale infrastructure provided on equivalent terms to all Access Seekers.”
Will the NZRFG however ensure that this happens?
While the government says its Crown Fibre Holdings Company has a “particularly strong interest in ensuring there are low barriers to End Users switching retail service providers, where the services are provided on LFC networks,” this could be difficult to achieve in reality.
In rural and provincial areas with low to medium numbers of customers, the first provider to get a foot in the door is likely to turn into a mini-monopoly. Customer inertia and economies of scale will see to that.
There are many challenges before the UFB becomes reality, and one of them is not to turn it into another Bitstream-style network. If that happens, the billions of public funding will be wasted.

Updated: Challenger 2degrees withdraws termination undertakings

The Commerce Commission has released further revised undertakings for mobile termination rates, from Vodafone and Telecom and made the surprising announcement that 2degrees has withdrawn all of its earlier undertakings.
Bill McCabe, chief commercial Officer at Two Degrees, says the third mobile network operator withdrew its undertakings as the termination rate proposed in them was in line with the commission’s benchmarking, 6.5 cents a minute.
McCabe says the commission indicated to 2degrees that it was likely to be accepting a much higher rate of 12 cents a minute, as proposed by Vodafone and Telecom, leaving the newcomer to charge a much lower termination rate than the two big telcos.
The large disparity in termination rates would put 2degrees, which has a lower customer base than Vodafone and Telecom, at a further competitive disadvantage, according to McCabe.
“We cannot understand how the commission arrived at the higher rate,” McCabe says. He says that while the principle of reaching an industry agreement is good, it shouldn’t disadvantage competitors.
Taking a swipe at the slow-moving regulatory process, McCabe says he cannot understand why the commission just can’t get on with adjusting termination rates, as the authorities in other countries have done.
“It’s been going on for four years already”, McCabe says and points to the large amount of documentation and submissions amassed in the process over time. He says he printed out the Commission web page a few days ago, and noted it contains twelve pages’ worth of document titles alone.
McCabe also labels the ten-month undertakings process as part of the termination rate investigation and submissions procedure, as “disturbing” due to the length of time it’s taken.
Asked how the New Zealand regulatory procedure compares to other jurisdictions, McCabe says ours is “an odd process”.
“The voluntary undertakings aren’t something I’ve seen before,” McCabe says. According to McCabe, they don’t work in a market with multiple players, only in ones with single monopolies. Undertakings are built into the Telecommunications Act 2001.
McCabe says that telecommunications is one area that has to be regulated and that you “can’t let people do what they want”.
Also, in other markets “the regulator has some teeth” McCabe says, and is able to make decisions for the long-term benefit of the market and competition whereas in New Zealand the Commission makes a recommendation to the minister in charge after investigation and submissions process.
“Ultimately, this turns it into a political process,” McCabe says, and adds that this is at odds with how regulation is conducted in other jurisdictions.
The undertakings from Vodafone and Telecom could mean the MTAS regulation process will come to an end next year. Vodafone’s general manager of corporate affairs, Tom Chignell, says the commission has indicated that the aligned undertakings from the two big telcos are acceptable to the regulator.
A final report will be issued to the minister in charge in February 2010 by the commission. Chignell expects a decision by the minister whether or not to accept the commission’s recommendations will be made in April or May next year.
Vodafone will see an immediate $50 million revenue reduction if its MTAS undertakings kick in next year.
Throughout the regulatory process, Vodafone, with mainly a mobile telephony business, has expressed concern that reductions in MTAS rates won’t be passed on to retail customers, and only benefit other fixed-line telcos.
This is “bad for us, but OK if it the money gets passed on to customers instead of going into the pockets of fixed-line operators,” Chignell says.
At the moment, Vodafone says it doesn’t know if there will be a pass-through of the reduced termination rates, and Chignell says the commission doesn’t know either. However, Chignell says that the commission has a “bullish view” on pass-through, despite there being no cost-analysis made by the regulator.
As for the reduced rates in the undertakings, Chignell pointed to two areas of potential confusion. One is the starting dates: Telecom proposes April 1, 2010, Vodafone October 1. The commission’s assumption is January 1, 2011, for regulation, but in all instances, the “glide path” for termination rate reduction spans five years.
By December 31, 2013, Telecom’s proposal has call termination rates down to 6 cents a minute, a figure that Vodafone will reach on January 1, 2014.
The second area of confusion is the change to per second billing, from today’s rounding up to the nearest minute, says Chignell. To compare the two, Chignell says the industry practice is to reduce per-second rates by 23 percent.
This means by next year, the current 14.4 cents a minute rate will have come down to 9.8 cent in today’s terms, or 12 cents a minute on a per-second basis. Towards the end of the five-year period, termination rates will be 4.9 cents by today’s measure, Chignell says.
A hybrid bill and keep model is proposed by Vodafone and Telecom for SMS text messages. The model says that where the volumes of messages transmitted between networks differ no more than seven percent, telcos won’t charge one another.
If there’s more than seven percent difference in volume but less than twelve percent, the termination rate will be two cents per message. For traffic twelve percent larger in volume the rate will be four cents per message for the traffic difference.
The hybrid bill and keep model is proposed to combat SMS spam, Vodafone says.

Embattled 'Spam King' faces arrest

Having seemingly defied interim High Court injunctions banning the sale of a database of business contacts, allegedly purloined from the Yellow Pages Group, Image Marketing Group Ltd (IMG) and its director, "Spam King" Brendan Battles now face further legal action.

Kordia pulls Te Puni Kokiri out of GSN bind

The sudden cancellation of the Government Shared Network (GSN) last December left Maori policy advisory agency Te Puni Kokiri (TPK) having to scramble for a replacement to keep its inter-office communications going.

Injunction? What injunction?

Image Marketing Group, a company operated by “Spam King” Brendan Battles and accused by Yellow of having illegally obtained a database from the directories organisation, could be in further legal hot water after apparently initiating a spam campaign yesterday.
Games and web developer Justin Cook forwarded the spam to Computerworld, in which Image Marketing Group is hawking databases with details of New Zealand businesses at half price, at $1,500 and $2,500 each.
Yellow communications manager Mandy Thorburn says her company became aware of the campaign after spam hit the inbox of Yellow CEO Bruce Cotterill.
Thorburn says the campaign yesterday and today means Image Marketing Group has breached a temporary High Court injunction.
Yesterday, Yellow obtained a temporary High Court injunction, preventing Image Marketing Group from selling the database. Yellow says it discovered that Image Marketing Group had obtained its database in November this year and says it takes the purloining of information very seriously.
Image Marketing Group didn’t defend itself at the High Court hearing yesterday, stating lack of funds to hire a lawyer. The injunction was granted ahead of a full trial in six months’ time.
Battles is no stranger to controversy, having been described by investigative journalist Brian McWilliams as a “Spam King” who sent out up to 50 million messages a day.
After arriving in New Zealand from the United States four years ago, Battles started spamming here too, attempting to sell broadband plans for his then employer, Compass Communications.
Currently, Battles and companies associated with him are being investigated by the Department of Internal Affairs for sending text message spam.
Image Marketing Group referred Computerworld's enquiries to Battles' mobile phone. He did not immediately answer or respond to a message.

FryUp: Telecom's $500K fine raises broader industry issues

There is no 3G signal in this bunker
Many thanks to an “industry insider” for allowing FryUp to Godwin itself, YouTube style, and for this great pointer to the final days of circuit switched telephony being nigh.
- Hitler upset as LTE does not have a CS domain.
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