Author: simonmackay

Merry Christmas from Simon Mackay

I am wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

There are some important issues to think of during this gift-giving season, especially when you open those computer-related gifts on Christmas Day.

1: When you set up that new router, make sure that you set it up in a secure manner. The wireless network segment must be secured to WPA-PSK standards and using an SSID unique to the premises as described in the “Making Sure Your Home Wireless Network Is Secure” article.

2. Make sure that the administration front-end for the router is secured with a good password rather than the default “admin” password that the manufacturer sets it to. This should also be set up for any other network devices like network-attached storage boxes that are able to be managed from the Web browser.

3. When you set up a new computer, make sure it is running the latest version of an anti-malware program and that there is a desktop firewall in place. A good anti-malware program that I would recommend for home use would be the free AVG program (http://free.avg.com) or the Avast Home Edition (http://www.avast.com/). Also make sure that Apple Macintosh computers are running anti-malware programs because of the latest crop of malware that is now targeting this platform.

It is worth knowing that the recent crop of anti-malware programs integrate “sure-surf” functionality that warns you if you are heading to dangerous websites or if an item in a Google search list is a trap Website.

4. Make sure that operating systems are set to obtain update files automatically. This can be achieved by going to the “Live Update” menu in Windows or going to the “Software Update” under the Apple menu in MacOS X.

5. Don’t think that the Webcam is just for weirdos. Think of it now as a tool for communicating with distant relatives and allowing them to be part of your life. Consider them being on Skype or Windows Live Messenger and you could easily save heaps on the phone bills.

6. Enjoy a safe and happy New Year

With regards,

Simon Mackay

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Making VoIP easier for the home, SOHO and small-business user

A new networking trend that is approaching the small network user is VoIP (Voice Ovr IP). It will typically include IP-based videoconferencing and offer such benefits as free or very low-cost calls, “local number anywhere” and wideband (FM-grade) telephony. Businesses of all scales are moving away from the classic PABX or key system which has its own wiring infrastructure and moving towards an IP-based business telephony system which uses existing local-area-network infrastructure. For them it also reduces the need to rent extra telephone lines for such requirements as inter-location “tie lines”.

The main problem with current VoIP setups is that they are hard to configure. Typically, you have to determine the network configuration for your VoIP service provider and work out particular “dialling plans” such as whether to use VoIP or standard telephone to make a particular call. The other factor you have to work out is which number your VoIP handset rings to. Most of these setups involve awkward interfaces and terms, including remembering certain parameters to be set across multiple devices. In some situations, this kind of work still needs one who has technical knowledge of all things to do with business telephony.

A lot of VoIP service providers have responded to this issue by selling pre-configured VoIP hardware that is locked down to their services. This situation ends up with the hardware being useless if you decide to move to a better deal offered by a competing service provider or decide to expand and evolve the system.

One way of improving the setup is to provide service-plan data packages that can be uploaded to VoIP hardware. This can be useful when it comes to signing up to a new service provider or upscaling the existing VoIP service. Another improvement that can exist could be preset outbound dial plans such as “VoIP for calls other than local & emergency / service”, “VoIP for calls other than emergency / service” or pre-defined “VoIP tie-lines”. These can be selected through a wizard-style interface.

The inbound call plan would be set up through a service-extension map for “direct inward dial” or simple “one-click” options for basic “all-call” setups.

As far as the provisioning of new VoIP telephone extensions goes, VoIP systems should consider use of UPnP and similar IP-based technologies for this purpose. The other issue that also needs to be considered is a standard data package for supplying the extensions (VoIP handsets or analogue telephone adaptors) with the necessary data. This avoids the requiement to have a system that can only work with telephones from a few vendors and can allow innovation in this field. It is more of concern as far as WiFi-based VoIP handsets, including “fixed-mobile convergent” mobile phones, are concerned.

The data packages would be an XML-based configuration file that contains information about SIP / STUN provider details, handset identity details and outbound / inbound dial plans.

Once measures are taken to make VoIP telephony easier to deploy, this can lead to system owners being able to have home and business telephony their way.

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Universal Service Obligation and Broadband Internet – Further comments

ThinkBroadband article on European Commission plan to establish a broadband-Internet universal service obligation in the European Union.

My Comments

What should be the minimum qualifications for universal provision of a broadband Internet service?

There may have to be a minimum bandwidth for the “standard service”. This would then require the universal service provider to be able to provide that level of bandwidth to the customer’s door in all areas.
In the case of technologies like ADSL or wireless where the distance from the exchange or base station and the quality of the infrastructure or the terrain between the customer and the exchange / base station determines the bandwidth, the provider would have to take steps to achieve the minimum bandwidth at the customer’s door. This would require the ISP to undertake such works as renewal of telephone wiring or installation of repeater stations.
As far as the minimum standard of service is called, there would have to be a minimu bandwidth. Some people may reckon that 512kbps would be the standard bandwidth for basic use such as browsing “Web 2.0” sites and / or sending and receiving e-mail using POP3. Others may consider 1Mbps more realistic considering the current generation of Internet transport protocols. This would allow more bandwidth for the increasingly-common Internet practices like on-line multimedia, V2oIP (voice and video telephony over the Internet) and increased file transfer such as through use of “cloud-based” computing services.
Another factor that may need to be defined would be what kind of technology should be used to provide the service. This would determine whether the service should use ADSL2, FTTx and similar wireline connections to each door as a minimum standard or whether they can use wireless in sparse areas.
Similarly, there may be the issue of bandwidth-use allowances for the universal service and what happens if the user oversteps that allowance.
Another issue that will need to be worked out is content control mechanisms so that children don’t see unsuitable content on this service. Could this be provided with a “clean-feed” service or through a standard Internet-filter program installed in the Internet-gateway device or “end-user” computer. It also includes updating of content filter lists on a regular basis. 

Who should be the ISP who provides the “standard service” and is responsible for covering all areas?

It may be provided by the “universal service” telecommunications provider’s retail broadband-Internet arm, similar to Telstra’s BigPond service, British Telecom’s BT Broadband service or France Télécom’s Orange Internet service. On the other hand, it could be provided by an existing retail ISP who is awarded a “universal service provisioning” contract by the national government or a local ISP who works as part of a local “switched-on access” program. If true competitive access is required, then all retail ISPs would be required to provide the universal service.

What could be the public-access requirements?

The standard for universal-access Internet service will have to encompass “public-access” requirements which would be the equivalent of the “public payphone” in the universal-access telephony service definition. This could cover the requirement to provide Internet-access terminals in public libraries, hospitals, and similar public places; or providing “wireless hotspot” service in public areas like parks or town squares.

How should it be funded?

Because it will be more costly to provide the set minimum standard of Internet access at a specified price in some areas such as the country, there would be the issue of covering the losses associated with providing this kind of service.
Typically, this could be through the ISP charging more for its discretionary services such as high-bandwidth plans, mailbox services or Web hosting. This may be the model practised by retail broadband arms of universal-service telecommunications companies. It may also encompass the ISP selling content services such as music and movie download services to its customers and to the general public.
On the other hand, there may be a “universal service fund” that may be established by the government. The money could be raised through dedicated taxes such as a “universal service levy” on discretionary services; redirection of a portion of any sales tax or consumption tax associated with Internet-access costs or simply through line spending by the government.
Sometimes, the universal Internet service could be integrated in to the mechanisms that exist for providing the universal telephone service, such as using existing universal-service funds or taxes.
Whatever way, such universal-service obligations shouldn’t hamper the competitive Internet-access market and the advantages that it brings like low access prices or good-quality service.

Concerns

One main concern would be how universal-service operators could marginalise areas of less economic importance. This could manifest in deploying infrastructure capable of providing just the basic Internet service into those areas or being slow about provisioning or maintaining Internet service in those areas. This situation can lead to long-term customer dissatisfaction with the service and therefore lead to customers deserting the universal-service ISP when competition appears in their area.
This situation has repeated itself many times with incumbent telecommunications providers who provided the universal telephone service, whether they are private companies or government-run operations.
There needs to be a minimum service-level standard established as part of the universal-service obligation for the Internet. It would have to cover such issues as response to customer issues like service faults and difficulties; and the time taken to provision new services to the customer.

To sum up

If the concept of universal Internet access is to work successfully, a lot of questions will need to be asked so as to avoid problems with provisioning this level of service.
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"Triple Play Social" now in full deployment in Paris

News Links (French-language sites)

http://www.degroupnews.com/actualite/n3071-hlm-paris-sfr-fibre_optique-haut_debit.html DegroupNews (France)

My commets

Since my earlier article wbich I had moved from my older blog, SFR had taken over Neuf Cegetel. But this universal-acces “single-pipe triple-play” service has continued on and the trucks are now rolling a the HLM estates as this is being written.

Because of the high-throughput technology, companies like SFR are able to provide this kind of acess to the people.  As I mentioned earlier, it is underpinned by the European business culture which is primarily “for the people” rather than for the executives of the big companes which is the primary business culture in the USA.

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"Triple Play Social" in Paris – an example for providing a universal bare-bones "triple-play" service

News Links (French-language news sites)

http://www.pcinpact.com/actu/news/41764-neuf-cegetel-opac-triple-play-social.htm PC Impact

http://www.vnunet.fr/news/neuf_cegetel_introduit_sa_fibre_optique_dans_les_hlm_de_paris-2026564 VNUNet 

My comments

)In February 2008, Neuf Cegetel (a French telecommunications provider) along with Office HLM de Paris (the public housing authority in Paris, similar to the Ministry of Housing in Victoria, Australia) have established a universal-access “single-pipe triple-play” service for deployment in areas of Paris that have fibre-optic telecommunications.

This service, which is offered for EUR1 / month tax-exclusive has the provision of:

  • 18 channels of regular “free-to-air” digital television programming including high-definition broadcasts provided by the “free-to-air” broadcasters
  • 512kbps broadband which is effectively the same standard as most mid-tier ADSL plans currently available in Australia and;
  •  a landline telephony service of similar standard to Telstra’s InContact service — can receive incoming calls but cannot make outgoing calls except to emergency and special numbers

delivered over the fibre-optic pipe.

Comments on this service in relevance to the Australian market

From what I see, the 512kbps ADSL service is being considered the bare minimum standard of Internet access in Europe where people in Australia have to call this standard of service a luxury and have to consider 256kbps “fraud-band” Internet service as the “way in” when thinking of broadband. Often this has meant that sole parents and others on very limited income are having to stick to this speed if they want to think of broadband at all; or just simply work with a dial-up Internet connection.

As well, Australian pay-TV providers don’t offer a “FTA-only” deal where you only receive the free-to-air digital TV channels. This may be because of the prevalence of cheap standard-definition DVB-T boxes flooding the market and the DTV service comprising primarily of the FTA channels receivable on regular TV and a handful of supplementary channels that are “spin-offs” of the regular broadcast output. The only areas where such a service may take hold would be customers who live in areas with marginal TV reception and / or customers who rent premises where there is an underperforming TV aerial or simply no TV aerial and may find it hard to get proper digital TV reception.

The kind of landline telephony service that is offered may appeal not just to people on a low income but to share houses where a common telephone may be required just for receiving calls and “emergency fallback”. Typically, the tenants would then maintain prepaid mobile phones for their outgoing calls and for receiving personal calls.

This kind of service provisioning may catch on in Continental Europe where most of the culture is centred around being “for the people” but won’t easily be accepted in cultures like the USA where corporate profits are more important than the needs of the people.

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Housewives hooked on the internet as they log on more than anyone else | Daily Mail (UK)

Articles

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1093047/Housewives-hooked-internet-log-else.html

Articles posted during New Year’s Day

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7789494.stm 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/dec/31/internet-housewives

My Comments

Affordability of Internet service and computer equipment

Nowadays, a decent-standard broadband Internet plan is at a price that is affordable for most people no matter the financial situation. Increasingly, these plans are becoming bundled with other personal telephony or pay-TV deals so they end up being a no-brainer to consider for the home.  This also includes the arrival of “n-play” deals that encompass personal (landline and / or mobile) telephony, Internet access and multi-channel pay-TV services.

As well, computer equipment of a standard good enough for working on the Web and doing other basic tasks can be purchased for a reasonable sum of money. Similarly, I had talked on the blog about a) repurposing an old business laptop as a general-purpose “kitchen PC” and b) the concept of “netbook” computers like the Asus Eee PC as general-purpose computers. This covers cost-effective laptop computers being able to earn their keep in this kind of situation.

The new computing experience

I have mentioned a lot in my blog of a “new computing experience” that is becoming the norm in most households. The Internet “edge” for this setup is typically an affordable wireless router that provides a WiFi local network segment as well as an Ethernet local network segment. The computer that is typically used in this setup is typically a notebook (laptop) computer that has a built-in WiFi network interface. The printer will typically be an inkjet-based “all-in-one” that is hooked up to the computer as need for printing or scanning arises. Some setups may use a network-enabled “all-in-one” printer that connects directly to the Ethernet or WiFi network segment and uses standard network protocols for handling print jobs.

This experience has been brought about through Intel’s heavily-promoted “Centrino” concept which promotes the WiFi wireless network as part and parcel of laptop use. One main concept that was promoted in the “Centrino” concept was the idea of portability where you can go anywhere in the house in a moment’s notice yet still be within reach of the Internet.

What is this leading to?

The main activities cited in the article include general Web browsing and banking / paying bills online.  It had said that the short amount of time needed to do the business online can lead to more leisure time. In the context of the housewife, this would encompass more quality time with the children.

Other articles that I have read talked about housewives with young children visiting the casual gaming sites like MSN Games and MiniClip so they can play a few rounds of a casual game while their child is having a nap.

Social-networking sites; which are often demonised as huge “time wasters”, a threat to privacy and a hangout for unsavoury types of people, can appeal to this kind of user. The same can hold true of online forums, instant messaging and similar sites.

But primarily, the housewife using the Internet as part of her life means that there is another tool for her association with th organisations that she deals with. Think of being able to view “parent-teacher” information sent by the school that the children go to or putting up online notes for the pressure-group organisation that she and her neighbours are part of.

Conclusion

The remarks made in the Daily Mail article and in this blog commentary certainly show that the “connected” lifestyle certainly appeals to those who spend some of their time alone in the house.

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General-sale digital-TV set-top boxes and DLNA

At the moment, most add-on “over-the-air” digital-TV converter boxes sold through general retail don’t come with UPnP AV / DLNA media-client functionality. But this feature could be offered as something to differentiate units in a product line or differentiate a unit from one offered by a competitor.

There will be a lot of interest in these boxes over the next few years as various countries either switch off analogue TV service and go “all dgital” or enrich their digital-TV platform. This is espeially so as people want to make sure that they can receive the digital TV service on other TVs in their house and at other locations. Integrating the DLNA functionality in these set-top boxes can allow the boxes to become two devces in one – a network media adaptor as well as a digital-TV set-top box.

It will then work with Internet TV / vodcast gateway software that provides DLNA-based directory software for Internet TV services and vodcasts, thus allowing access to this kind of content on the regular TV. The same could hold true for any multimedia content held on a PC or network-attached storage connected to the home network.

Similarly, this concept can work with DLNA-compliant PVR set-top boxes and provide access to content that is recorded on the PVR unit. It can also provide access to “multi-room PVR” functionality like the ability to pause a show in one room and pick up where you left off in another room. Such functionality has been provided for in version 2 of the UPnP AV MediaServer and MediaRenderer device specifications.

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50 years since the first self-dial long-distance telephone call in the UK

Links

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3548287/Long-distance-telephone-call-without-the-help-of-an-operator-is-50-years-old-today.html – The Telegraph

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7766147.stm – BBC

My Comments

Today has been the 50th anniversary of the self-dial long-distance telephone service in the UK, where telephone subscribers culd call across the country without needing the help of an operator. The demonstration call that was made on this day in 1958 was made by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who was located at Bristol to the Lord Provost who was located in Edinburgh. A re-enactment of this call will take place between the same people at the same locations but using video-conferencing technology, not just as a celebration of accessible cost-effective long-distance telephony for all but as a proof of concept that this can be done with today’s video-conferencing methods.

The reason that this event is being celebrated is because it is one of the major milestones in telecommunications, where these calls had transcended many barriers. It was about bringing the business centres of a country together and simply bringing country areas to the city, just by lifting that telephone handset and dialing the correspondent’s number. It has then paved the way for such technologies as computers, the Internet and home networks.

I had talked about in a previou article on how to go about setting up your computer and your home network for video-conferencing with distant relatives using Skype or Windows Live Messenger. This, like VOIP (Voice Over IP) is now making long-distance telephony so much more affordable for most that we can even take this kind of service for granted.

Happy 50th Anniversary for the Self-Dial Long-Distance Telephone Call!

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HomePlug – the best way to connect the Tivo to your router

You have taken the plunge to buy the Tivo personal-TV service and have this unit add increased value to your free-to-air TV viewing. But this Tivo box needs to be connected to the Internet for online registration and to benefit from an updated electronic programme guide plus all the extras that are available for that platform. This is also of importance where there is the possibility of Tivo running video-based services like “catch-up TV” as part of the platform. It is similarly true of any set-top-box IPTV or video-on-demaind platform which relies on Internet connectivity.

The Tivo people mention in their advertising material and product document of only two ways to connect the Tivo unit to the home network and to the Internet. They are either an Ethernet cable or an optional USB-connected WiFi wireless network adaptor supplied by Tivo. The problem with these wireless network adaptors, and the WiFi wireless network in general is that they can be very “hit and miss” in their performance.

But there is another way to connect the Tivo to the home network without running extra wires around the house. This is in the form of HomePlug which uses the AC wiring as a data transport.

Typically you would connect a short wire from the Tivo’s Ethernet socket to the Ethernet socket on a HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and plug the HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in to the wall. Then you connect anther short wire from the router to another HomePlug-Ethernet bridge and plug this HomePlug-Ethernet bridge in to the wall. Out of the box, these units would simply just work.

If you had an existing HomePlug setup, you would simply just use another HomePlug-Ethernet bridge for connecting the Tivo unit to the existing HomePlug segment. You may have to use the PowerPacket utility supplied by the HomePlug equipment vendor to enrol the new HomePlug unit in to the existing segment.

Once this is going, the Tivo unit should just work as though it is using the Ethernet connection to the router. This would then lead to any download that is part of the platform taking a relatively short time, and would be important if there is the possibility of video-based services being part of that platform.

Disclaimer: This post has been written by myself based on an observation of a demonstration Tivo setup at the Digital Life exhibition that was held in November this year at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. It is not sponsored by HomePlug or any of its affiliated organizations.

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Understanding Fibre-Optic Broadband

There has been recent talk about the idea of providing the National Broadband Network, a super-fast broadband Internet service, either with Telstra or Terria (an Optus-led consortium) providing the infrastructure. One idea, proposed by Terria (who was OPEL) was to provide a fibre-optic service to urban locations and use a WiMAX radio link for rural and regional locations and the other idea, proposed by Telstra was to use fibre-optic in all towns and a DSL service optimised for long distance for rural areas. This issue even ended up being one of the platform issues for the Australian Labor Party during their campaign for Election 2007.

There are some “greenfield” (newly-released land) housing developments in Australia where this kind of fibre-optic broadband service is being deployed. This has been made easier due to the development not having telecommunications or other infrastructure and is used as a promotion tool by the developers in showing how “switched on” the location is.

Some other population-dense countries such as France and the USA are deploying a commercial fibre-optic broadband service into various neighbourhoods.

 

Infrastructure Types

FTTN (Fibre To The Node) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in the neighbourhood with intentions to cover a number of streets

FTTC (Fibre To The Curb / Kerb) – fibre optic link to a cabinet deployed in a street with intentions to cover that street and perhaps “courts” and other cul-de-sacs running off that street.

FTTB (Fibre To The Building) – fibre-optic link deployed to the wiring closets of multiple-tenancy buildings (blocks of flats, office blocks, etc). Single-occupancy buildings may be served in a manner similar to fibre to the curb or may be served using fibre to the premises.

FTTP (Fibre To The Premises) / FTTH (Fibre To The Home) – fibre optic link deployed to the customer’s premises. A strict interpretation would require that multiple-tenancy buildings have optical fibre running to each unit (flat, office, shop) in the building.

Setup at the customer’s location

Systems other than FTTP / FTTH will have a copper-wire link running from the system cabinet or wiring closet to the customer’s door. This will be deployment-dependent and may be a high-speed variant of DSL piggybacked on the telephone lines; a coaxial link similar to cable TV and cable Internet; or simply a twisted-pair Ethernet cable run similar to what is implemented for wired networks in the home or workplace.

In the case of an FTTP / FTTH service, there will be an “optical network terminal” device that is deployed at the customer’s premises. It is simply a fibre-optic – Ethernet bridge that links the fibre-optic cable to the home network. The device would either be fixed outside the house with an Ethernet cable run to a room nominated by the customer; or be a box the same size as a typical cable modem and is installed in a similar manner to cable-based broadband Internet.

Typical standard of service

The typical fibre-optic service that is being provided would be a “single-pipe triple-play” service with broadband “hot and cold running” Internet, multi-channel pay-TV and landline telephony provided over the same “pipe”. Due to the “fat pipe” provided by the fibre-optic infrastructure, the level of service would be beyond the average telephony, pay-TV and broadband Internet service.

This would usually be represented by the TV service carrying a large number of high-definition channels, the IP-based landline telephony service being capable of handling “high-band” telephony services like FM-grade or better audio and / or videophone services with smooth pictures The Internet service would be able to offer a level of service that is beyond what the typical broadband Internet service can provide, which would be a high throughput service with a very low latency.

This kind of service would typically be provisioned using an Internet gateway device equipped with an “analogue telephony adaptor” interface so the customer can continue to use existing telephony devices. If the customer subscribes to pay-TV service, they would be supplied with an IP-TV set-top box that is connected to the Internet gateway device via a high-speed network connection like HomePlug AV, Ethernet or 802.11n WPA wireless.

Some installations have used a “single-box” solution for the network-Internet “edge” with the Internet gateway, analogue telephony interface and IP-TV set-top box function built in to the one box but such installations are unpopular because of the desire by most households to keep TV viewing and computer use in appropriately-comfortable areas.

Competitive Delivery

Issues that are currently being raised mainly in France are the provisioning of fibre-optic broadband on a competitive footing where competing service providers have access to the same customer base.

One of them is a competitive delivery scenario where one or mor competing service providers use their own infrastructure to provide their own service. The issues that are raised are primarily focused on multi-occupancy buildings like blocks of flats, office blocks or shopping centres which France has many of. It concerns whether multple operators should or shouldn’t share the same wiring closet and infrastructure for the cabling to the occupant’s premises and what happens when an occupant changes service providers.

Ultimately, the issue of competitive delivery in all kinds of locations will need to be worked out, especially for the good of the customers.

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