Why Malcolm Turnbull is wrong about the NBN being unnecessary

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The always-interesting tech journo Renai LeMay has posted a controversial article on Delimiter, In defence of Turnbulls’ NBN speed claims. The crux of Malcolm Turnbull’s argument, that Renai supports, is that current broadband technologies, while not as fast as the limitless potential of fibre, are fast enough for what people need to do on broadband today, and therefore spending $40 billion on the NBN is a waste of money.
I strongly feel that looking backwards in technology terms is not the right way to evaluate whether an investment in new technology is worthwhile.

Here’s why:

– In the first few years of broadband availability, the vast majority of people couldn’t see why they’d need it, because dial-up was perfectly fast enough for their emails and web use of the day (which probably meant internet banking once a week and a few Alta Vista searches a week).

– Before home VoIP became possible (adequate broadband speeds and provider availability) people were happy enough paying 40c a minute to call from Sydney to Melbourne.

– Before ADSL2+ became commonplace, most people were perfectly happy to traipse down to the video store to rent a video and pay the associated late fees.

– Before the iPad came out, there was negligible demand for tablet competing. (See how spectacularly unsuccessful all Windows tablets had been, for example.)

– Before the iPhone came out, the vast majority of people loved their Nokias and couldn’t imagine anything better.

– Back when I started at APC in 2003, there was a prevailing view that PC CPU’s were ‘fast enough’ — you could run Microsoft Office at a good clip on them, and if you had a decent graphics card you could run the latest games.

– Before HSPA+ Telstra Next G, people had no idea you could really work effectively from a wireless connection at speeds close to home broadband. (Yes I realise the irony of that example, in the context… but no wireless network is a competitor for the rock-solid reliability of a modern wired network.)

My point is… when it comes to technology, the general public, outside of the tiny technology enthusiast field, do not cry out for new enabling technology. But they sure do appreciate it when it arrives, and when it is done right.

It’s the “done right” part that I think is the key thing about the NBN. It’s what the iPad is to Windows tablets.

I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future of technology (and I do think many of the examples given in the NBN promotional video are a bit absurd), but my personal hopes for the impact of the NBN are:

– That given it is a government project, there will be an impetus for the government to make all government services available online, including face-to-face consultations with government workers.

– That population stress will be eased on major cities because it will be easy to telework from any remote location using a reliable, non-fluctuating connection. (Wireless _does_ fluctuate, and ADSL speeds are a crapshoot on a premise-by-premise basis.)

– That more two-way internet applications will become available, taking advantage of consistently low-latency, high upstream speeds. (I am personally disappointed that the basic NBN connection is limited to 1Mbit/s upstream.) Currently, the internet is by necessity architected around one-way download applications due to the highly asymmetrical nature of connections to end users.

I also don’t agree that any current broadband technologies are capable of providing adequate performance when it comes to upstream speed. Optus’ 100Mbit/s cable, for example, can only provide 2Mbit/s upstream to each user.

My biggest hope, really, is that the NBN will provide consistent broadband speeds right across Australia. Without that, it’s prohibitive for “IP workers” to move to country areas where their broadband options will be limited and variable. As a result, we’re all forced to live in city areas and pay ridiculous house prices, or live in dowdy regional areas like Geelong or Bendigo where decent ADSL2+ is likely to be available, but you’re living in a ‘mini-CBD’ anyway.

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I rode the Google staff shuttle bus!

I’m on a Gray Line bus out of San Francisco, en route to Yosemite National Park. There is FREE wifi on the bus – amazing! San Francisco really would be the place to live if you were tech minded.

The bus driver just commented that the reason this bus has WiFi is that it does double-duty as the shuttle bus for Google employees! He showed me the WiFi setup — it was installed by a particular Google engineer and has four mobile broadband cards — Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and some other network attached to a WiFi router with auto-failover in case of no coverage on one of the networks. All I can say is thank you Mr or Ms Anonymous Google employee!!!

I’ve also decided not to use global roaming for data on my Blackberry while I’m here because it’s easy enough to find WiFi hotspots here with reasonable pricing like $US15 per day — or free in some hotel lobbies. Of course, my Blackberry is practically useless with WiFi — I’d forgotten how atrocious the Blackberry WiFi implementation was. Most of the time it can’t associate with a hotspot or it can associate but can’t get an IP address (while other devices like a MacBook or iPhone have no problem associating).

I am therefore very glad that I also have an iPhone 3GS with me (on review loan from Optus, and before anyone asks: no, they didn’t offer to provide global roaming access as part of the review!) In fact, I’m writing this post from the great WordPress app for iPhone.

I have also noticed that hotels in the US increasingly don’t have wired Ethernet broadband in their rooms any more, instead having WiFi only. “So what?” you might ask. “Isn’t that more convenient?” The answer is no; it means you have to pay for each device you want to connect separately. Although hotels with wired Ethernet have the same rules, you can get around the per-device charging restriction by using a WiFi router plugged in to the Ethernet port. Can’t do that with WiFi only hotels.

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FLIGHT REVIEW: Qantas A380 economy

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Since most journos who have scored free flights from airlines on A380s have been given the business or first class experience and written about that (for obvious reasons… airlines want publicity for their immensely profitable premium seats) I thought it would be worth relaying my experience of flying a Qantas A380 in economy recently. (The flight was paid for by another vendor whose conference I was attending, not Qantas. I do write for the Qantas inflight magazine, but they do not give me discount air travel and I do not give them free kicks in my coverage of Qantas in other publications 😉

I flew the Qantas A380 on an eight hour Singapore to Sydney leg the other day and was immensely impressed. In fact, it’s such a comfortable ride compared to a 747 that I will certainly be actively looking for A380 routes on future international trips, and I reckon I’d be prepared to pay 30% more on the ticket cost of an equivalent 747 route.

Some initial thoughts on what is so great about the Qantas A380 after the jump. (PS that’s the awesome “tail cam” view on the inflight entertainment pictured above.)

Continue reading “FLIGHT REVIEW: Qantas A380 economy”

Voicemail is dead.

Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has it SO right in his article, Think Before you Voicemail. I could not agree more! Voicemail is a horrible relic of the 90s from an era before everyone had email at their fingertips, and it must DIE!

My particular tactic at work is to have a 90 second voice greeting that really, really, slowly and laboriously tells people that I really prefer email to voicemail, and repeats my email address numerous times, including spelling it out in full. And if people suffer through that all the way, I say: “I am often away from my desk or travelling and may not get your voicemail for days or weeks … however I have a mobile phone with email, so that is always the best way to reach me … but leave your message, if you want.”

Comically, the only people who ever leave me messages are bubbly junior PR people who are ringing to follow up to check that I got such and such a press release. Clearly, they don’t care whether I got the message or not, as long as they can tick the box on their client billing form that says they followed up with me.

Another good thing I discovered for avoiding voicemail in my life: on my particular mobile phone plan (Optus Blackberry $79 cap plan), the Optus SurePage service can be billed into the cap. So, even though each operator-answered message that is taken down and SMSed to me costs $0.85, that can be billed as part of my $300 per month cap value. And since I never spend anywhere near $300 on my voice calls, those $0.85 pager-style text messages don’t cost me any real money.

I’m sure it’s not the same on all plans, and since it’s a premium Optus service, I almost wonder if it’s an oversight by Optus, but I’m glad it’s that way, because now I never have to listen to voicemail on my mobile any more either — I just get an SMS with the message and a number I can click on to call back if necessary.

In short, I HATE VOICEMAIL, and even if it was massively overhauled and sent to my email and stuff, I’d still hate it, because listening to the messages and transcribing people’s numbers, etc, takes up valuable time, and I wish they’d just email me instead.

It’s nice for Michael Arrington — who is hugely influential in tech — to have come out and declared voicemail dead.

Make Safari use CMD+K for Google Search

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One of the things that really annoys me about Apple Safari is that it doesn’t use the CTRL+K / CMD+K keyboard shortcut for activating the Google Search dialogue box, which is standard across most browsers — particularly Safari.

Instead, Safari makes you use CMD+Shift+L which is a “twister” of a keyboard shortcut — not very ergonomic.Â

Amusingly, in their efforts to make Firefox 3 more Mac-like, the Firefox team has implemented the CMD+Shift+L keyboard shortcut as an alternative to CMD+K in Firefox 3. However, I still much prefer CMD+K.Â

I found this great post over at 5thirtyone about how to make Safari recognise CMD+K as a keyboard shortcut for activating the Google Search box. It works a treat! Hurrah!

Stop websites disabling your browser address bar, toolbar, bookmarks etc

Do you hate it (like I do) when you click a link and a website opens a new browser window without the address bar, toolbar, bookmarks, scroll bars etc … and you can’t even resize the window?

Banks are particularly annoying like this… despite the fact that their websites are designed to work on screens as small as 800×600, they have code in their login routines that maximises the internet banking window, even if you’re running a high-res display like a 24″.

Here’s a hugely useful tip about how to reconfigure Firefox to stop websites doing these annoying things.

1. Open a new tab in Firefox. In this new tab, type about:config into the address bar.

2. Copy and paste this text into the filter box: dom.disable_window_open_feature.

3. Double click each of the items that appears in the list to change the default behaviour. (See the tip referenced above for more detailed info on what each of the list items does.)