University of Ulster Telecommunications Survey

It is kinda important that you add your tuppence to this survey.

The biggest issue I see is this constant fascination with DOWNLOAD speeds.

“23% of consumers in Northern Ireland are on average receiving less than 2Mbits/sec over their broadband connections. This percentage is higher than anywhere else in the UK.”

“The Ofcom report also states that the average maximum speed available around Belfast is 8.9Mbits/sec compared to 5.7Mbits/sec in Coleraine, 4.3 Mbits/sec in Fermanagh, and 5.4 Mbits/sec in Down district.”

“Mobile coverage in Northern Ireland remains lower than the rest of the UK. 87% of the population of Northern Ireland live in a postcode district with at least 90% 2G coverage; however the figure for 3G coverage is much lower at 54%. This is well below the UK average of 95%.”

I’m considering applying for an Innovation Voucher.

An Innovation Voucher is £4000 of university or college research and development time which can be used for new product scoping, new process development or similar practises.

The recent location tracking scandal which affected iPhone and Android (and probably affects Nokia – if anyone cared) highlighted that I’d really like a tiny chip device which had GPS+COMPASS+LCD+GPRS that was small enough to fit on a wrist band. The unit has a unique code which is used to identify it. The LCD has two views – one being an information/hold screen and the second being an arrow.

When paired with the web service, the wrist unit displays an arrow pointing towards a pre-determined position. If nothing is pre-programmed, then it always points north.

The wrist unit therefore tells the user which direction the preprogrammed position lies.

The web service (and attendant Android and iPhone apps) allow you to plot the location of your wrist units, communicated over GPRS. The apps on smartphones can also act as wrist units too – reporting location.

The Innovation Voucher would be to scope out the development of the hardware components and software system. Could it be built cheap enough? What would the service costs be? If the wrist unit could display more information or store more data, what would you put on it?

Would you aim this product at worried parents? Tour guides (giving a wristband to each tour participant)? Schoolteachers?

Could you make a game out of it? Yes, yes I think you could.

The Last Mile

Last week there was a public debate on “Monetising Kelvin” held out at the Northern Ireland Science Park. The event was sponsored by MATRIX and Hibernia Atlantic.

Project Kelvin is a joint €30 million initiative between DETI and DCENR and is partly funded through the EC INTERREG IVA programme. The new cable will link Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry, Omagh, Portadown and Strabane to Europe and North America. In addition, the cable will also provide links to Letterkenny, Castleblayney, Dundalk, Drogheda and Monaghan. This build marks another key milestone in Hibernia Atlantic’s history, as the communications company is the first to deploy a cable from North America to this region. This build is also notable for Northern Ireland and global companies alike, as it offers a new wealth of capacity and the ability to directly and securely connect to Canada, US, UK and mainland Europe.

This proposal adds high speed connectivity to the existing Northern Ireland Saturn Ring (NISR):
Bytel-Ireland-A4_24_08_2007

Locations on the Saturn Ring are already possessing high speed connections but if you’re not in a building sitting on a Point of Presence (POP) then you’re kinda buggered anyway. The cost for laying a 2 Mbit leased line from a very close POP is currently around £6K and a 10 Mbit line can be had for around £8.5K. The further you are away from a POP, the higher the cost.

The problem that Kelvin isn’t resolving is the Last Mile.

This refers to the fact that you can drag a high speed cable three thousand miles across the Atlantic ocean but when it gets here, you’re stuck on a slow upload link. But, I hear you protest, we have 50 Mbit internet links in Belfast? Download yes – which is fine if you want to have a nation of consumers but rubbish if, for example, you want to upload digital content (home-grown movies for example) to content delivery servers in the USA. In essence, if Kelvin doesn’t usher in a new heap of wireless connectivity, it’s not actually as much use. Unless, of course, you own one of the POPs and have a heap of office space to rent out.

So, what’s the solution for getting the data out there?

A few years ago, a group of cheeky folk mobbed around Belfast with iBooks and Windows CE handheld and large Omni and Backfire antennae and played with the idea of setting up an intra-Belfast wireless network. that group folded – people went off and did their own thing – but the concept itself is still valuable. Why don’t we have a wireless delivery system for bandwidth from a local POP? How much does it really cost to buy an access port on the POP and then feed that out to folk who need it?

I guess this is another vote for “who is looking after the little guy?”

Muni WiFi: escape the Dialup Dark Ages

A few years ago I approached Belfast City Council with the idea of my company putting a large chunk of cash into a Meraki WIFI mesh which would then provide free WiFi to Cathedral Quarter. Cathedral Quarter was and still is plagued by having historic cobbled streets which prevent the laying of new lines – but for my business it was an opportunity. If Belfast City Council would pay for two or three ADSL lines in some buildings, we would sink a heap of capital into the network hardware and handle all of the installations. What would we get out of it? A bit of advertising to the Creative Centre of Belfast. That’s all we wanted. The response we got back was that the area already had BTOpenZone, which, if you investigate is notable for it’s absence in the area.

Undeterred I believe that Belfast needs a free-to-access Municipal Wi-Fi network.

There are providers around but the cost and subscription burden of many providers (and lack of basic interoperability, never mind poor user interfaces for mobile travellers) makes the current WiFi subscription set up to be a very unsatisfactory experience for the average traveller.

Belfast allegedly attracted 800,000 people for the Tall Ships event recently.

“Around 800,000 people crowded to the city’s docks for the biggest event ever staged on the island of Ireland. This included 100,000 holiday-makers who visited the city especially for the event – and 250,000 people believed to have watched the magnificent Parade of Sail out of Belfast Lough.”

(Doing the maths: This means there were 200,000 per day. Which means 10,000 per hour or so during the four days the Tall Ships were here. I call bullshit but hey).

Either way – there were thousands of people present and over 1000 crew from those ships. Would a free WiFi service have been useful to them? Of course. Last time I travelled to the US, I had to pay nearly £1000 in data and voice roaming charges and my next trip will likely be as bad if not worse. It is essential to the Tourism economy in Northern Ireland that we have a tourist-friendly environment. Rather than the tourist not using voice or data services (or worse, spending hundreds of pounds on roaming data paid to their home carrier), we should be providing that service free of charge and permitting them to use Skype or other voice services to call home. We need to build Northern Ireland as a progressive traveller-friendly destination.

Recently in the news, San Francisco is pioneering with Solar-Powered WiFi bus stops.

bus-stop-470b-0909

By 2013, San Francisco is planning to construct 360 new Muni bus stops that’ll further the causes of both solar power and blanketed Wi-Fi at the same time.

and Toyota created a bit of a news story with their new Prius advertising campaign:

giant-toyota-flowers-omg-rm-eng

Toyota planted five 18-foot tall “solar flowers” in Boston’s Prudential Plaza and provided free Wi-Fi and electricity that was “partially powered” by the solar panels attached to the petals and stem.

Think of where the roaming charges go. This money is not being used to build the Northern Ireland economy, they’re not being used to upgrade our infrastructure, build our schools or assist local business. The money goes somewhere else.

So, lets unwire Belfast. Let’s break the stranglehold on communications held by the mobile carriers where they can charge £6 per megabyte downloaded or uploaded which, frankly, drags us back to the dialup dark ages.

Disconnected Conferences..

On his blog, Evert waxes about how conferences tend to have poor wifi:

What’s needed is for someone knowledgeable to carry out a site survey and to use the results of this to work out a radio-plan. Take in consideration all possible sources of interference, the network load (i.e. amount of bandwidth needed) and make sure that you implement correct channel management and you should be OK. Coverage area and number of users can just be plugged into this matrix as it is scaleable.

Hm, hold on there. WiFi connectivity was spotty at OCC BBQ and wasn’t that you I saw in a suit pottering around with WiFi access points at the Digital Island Meetup/BizSpark Launch in November? I couldn’t get connected to WiFi there either. It’s not kosher to throw stones and I’m not throwing stones here – I’ve previously documented my own experiences with WiFi at events.

The problem is, in my opinion, shitty equipment. Whether it’s the oft-documented Free Public WiFi misfeature (Thanks, Microsoft) or the fact that some people don’t turn off their torrent applications when they connect to public wifi – I’ve seen it happen. All WiFi equipment is made by the lowest bidder. It’s all turd. And it’s worse when Windows creates ad-hoc networks at random without permission. That’s just arsehole behaviour.

The problem is… WiFi is shit.

Firstly it’s entirely based on collision detection. And it’s on a shared medium. So every time you add a new user on there it’s going to decrease the chance you can get any data. We hated this when it was a wire and we hate it when it’s wireless. But it’s a standard. So what are you going to do.

People should not expect massive data rates. They don’t need massive data rates. You need less than a megabit a second for decent WiFi. Anything faster than that and you’re just pissing into the wind. Use a damn wire already.

BT and The Cloud part company

The Register writes about todays announcement:

“It’s disappointing for BT Openzone customers that they will no longer be able to benefit from the convenience of our hotspots – we are disappointed that BT could not reach acceptable commercial terms, though we are certain everyone will understand that our service partners, O2, Orange, AT&T, iPass and many others are happy to do business with The Cloud.”

The thing is, selling WiFi like this was never going to be a good business model. For my money I’d rather back community focussed efforts like FON or support grassroots efforts which will pull apart the dependency on third parties selling WiFi for more than pennies an hour.

We can’t consider muni-Wifi in Northern Ireland because public-funded money should not be used to compete against private companies (except in cases where the privately owned service proposition is really bad) but that’s not to say there shouldn’t be alternatives out there.

I’ve got my hands full at the moment with Digital Circle, Infurious and the other things on my plate. I’ll have to return to UKWifi.net at a later date. There’s more shakeouts to happen as 3G dongles take a bite out of commercial WiFi, mark my words.

Days at Sea

We start out the trip with more than two days at sea. This means intermittent mobile signals and potential for high costs. There’s also been zero data – not 3G, not EDGE, not even GPRS.

Travelling by water really helps you appreciate the distances between places.

It takes DAYS to go places. We passed a tall ship yesterday. Under sail I can’t imagine how long it must take to get anywhere.

Roaming in the EU. And not in the EU.

I was not aware of this:

In February 2006, O2 Ireland became the first operator to abolish roaming charges between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – introducing ‘All-Island’ pricing for people travelling between the north and south.
Roaming charges in Ireland were a concern for those living or working near the border, who often incurred roaming fees inadvertently, sometimes in their own homes.
In addition, international roaming has been abolished for O2 Ireland’s business customers between Ireland and the UK.

Of course, I have no idea whether I incur data or voice roaming charges because I’m an O2 UK customer and not an O2 Ireland customer.

It’s now a month to the big day and straight after that a two week cruise which will take in 6 countries in 12 days. I’ve been busying myself with getting FON set up so that I can find some free/cheap WiFi in some countries and looking at the roaming rates other than that. For the most part it’s going to be £3 a megabyte. For two of the countries at least it’s going to be £6 a megabyte.

Digging around, there’s the ‘Data Abroad’ Bolt-on which costs £20 per month for 10 megabytes and £50 per month for 50 megabytes. Seems like a winner and I’ll nab that when I migrate to my new contract.

Anyone got any EU and European-but-not-EU roaming stories?