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Going like a Boeing

Going like a Boeing is the way. The large passenger jets of today don’t just fall out of the sky. There would have to be something pretty serious happening to make them fail in flight.

And now we see that recently a pretty new Boeing passenger jet came down to earth killing all aboard. Indications are that both engines were intact and running normally, but the ‘fly-by-wire’ system did something that the pilots could not overide nor correct in time. It looks like the software drove the plane into a stall or drove it nose down into the ocean.

We’re not sure if that is indeed what happened, but the early reports of the flight recorder analysis would suggest it.

Putting right up that testing operational flight control systems and testing accounting software are two very different things. A bug in the accounting software doesn’t necessarily kill people, but a bug in flight control systems can kill many hundreds.

If you are into software development projects that drive industrial machinery, autonomous driving vehicles or fly-by-wire passenger jets, then ‘fail-to-safe’ is an important thing. For simple bugs can turn out to have disastrous consequences.
A very long time ago the trading name “Teletechnique” was coined in Kokstad, Natal by a trio making televison reception possible in remote locations. A small farming town located a few hundred kilometers South of Durban on the border of Transkei.
Kokstad was one of the many regional centers that wasn’t going to get television for another decade or so after the first transmissions of the SABC in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and some of the larger cities in South Africa. One of the very last countries in the world where television was deployed during 1975. And in the local politically correct presentation style, the evening program was first in English, then in Afrikaans. And the next day first in Afrikaans and then in English. At least TV was already quite sophisticated with PAL colour and dual carrier stereo in those days. Just the standard UK TV sets wouldn’t work on Johannesburg channel 13. You had to buy a local manufactured TV set.


Now, the people of Kokstad engaged with Teletechnique to get their TV going. That required high-gain antennas and low-noise amplifiers because of the distance to the Durban tranmitter. It didn’t take long for the nearby village of Matatiele to knock on the Teletechnique door to see what we could do there to make television work. Matatiele was even further away from Durban, but being on the edge of the Drakensberg mountains of Lesotho there was a high point with pretty much line of sight to the Durban transmitter where TV reception was fair. A relay transmitter was constructed operated from batteries and a wind charger. And hey, presto, the village of Matatiele had television and never looked back.

Then some nosy reporter put a story in the local womens weekly. A magazine that was read in every town, village and farm in South Africa. The story spread like wildfire. If your town wants TV and you don’t want to wait for the SABC to put up a tower, then get those people from Teletechnique to come out and help you. From there on, the phone never stopped ringing again and the pilots of the local flying club were happy to clock up more licence hours to bring us to all these remote locations with the job to make television there. Plenty of mountain climbing. And no ‘direct to home’ satellite or solar panels in those days. Windchargers were the way to keep the batteries going and give the villages their television coverage with strings of smallish TV relay transmitters.

Those were the days :-)
For a good month now, customer line testing by the retail ISP has been made law in Australia. If you are in the business of providing Internet to subscribers, you’ll have to ensure that the line actually works and is capable of delivering the promised speed.

Over are the days of the bumsteers. Like “did you switch it off and on again?”, “Did you plug it in?”, “Is the red/green/yellow light on?”, “Does it flash?”.

Now, we’ll need to order a truck-roll and go onsite to check these things... Coming with the built-in problem that truck-rolls actually cost heaps of money and need proper appointments with the customers to gain entry to the premises. Which takes up secretarial time and call-centre time. And that doesn’t come for free either. Then, the customers didn’t ask for all that, hence they would be rather reluctant to pay the bill.

We’ll, it seems we’re stuck with this new piece of beauty legislation for the time being so we’ll have to find a solution which doesn’t blow the bank.

A possible option here is to take control of the customer home modem/router and make it report the line speed and connectivity to a central monitoring server. An ACS server which can talk TR-069 could do the job. Problem here is that not any and all modem/routers do include a TR-069 client and even if they have they may not be capable of reporting all the things we need. Something that could be solved by selecting the brands of modems/routers which are compliant and make it mandatory for the customer to have that installed. Meaning, if the customer doesn’t want to co-operate and bring their own devices, they better go and get happy elsewhere. But no ISP can guarantee the line performance if there are no end-to-end monitoring tools in place.

So, here we are. As from today our ISP operation will offer end-to-end automatic line monitoring for our customers using the TR-069 protocol with compliant end devices. This can be routers or modems but also SIP phones or surveillance video system boxes. Just about anything that lives on the home networks behind the firewall. How does that work without punching holes in the firewall? Actually, quite easy. The TR-069 protocol describes communications likewise to the “ET is calling home” protocol. The end device calls the server and sets up a persistent connection, allowing two-way communications for monitoring and commands.

So, if you run a retail ISP Australia today, learn all about there is to learn on TR-069 and unless you run your own server, hire some space on someone else’s TR-069 server in the cloud. Because you can’t leave home without it :-)



Why the CVC is dead.....

Once upon a time, in the days that people would go to the video store to hire a good movie, there was some enthusiastic accountant inside the brand-new National Broadband Network club who figured out hat by selling virtual circuits you could make a lot of money. In good old fashion 'reckon-yourself-rich' style and with some hints from old and grey stock brokers it looked like a good revenue generator. So, the idea got named as Circuit Virtual Charge or CVC and whilst not much tangible had to be delivered it sure looked like a near hundred percent gross profit margin on every dollar charged. That is the charm of selling virtual things. No boxes, no couriers, no delivery costs, no nothing. Just virtual reality. And the sky is the limit. Looking perfectly right in the estimates.

And then something happened in broadband land that would change the world forever. The old fashion linear television content delivery with fixed time program schedules no longer fitted the world of the up and going masses. They got themselves IP set-top boxes and large wide screen high resolution smart television sets which could display content on demand. Initially there were only few places with limited libraries where one could connect for a movie-on-demand but the idea of not having to run to the video store and never ever getting hit again with late return fees went viral. At the same time, smart television sets became even smarter and the Hybrid broadcast broadband TeleVision (HbbTV) standards from the European Broadcast Union reached some form of maturity. In Australia the HbbTV was adopted by the joint broadcasters as Freeview Plus offering all catchup services and video-on-demand services.

And with the demise of the video store and the massive deployment of smart large screen 4K televisions the 'Netflixification' of our Internet systems began. In the early days it was relative easy to keep on top of that. Just watch your daily demand and add capacity where needed. But then, standard digital TV moved to high definition digital TV and in the last half year or so plenty of content is now also available for 4K super high resolution digital TV sets. And the demand for bandwidth went through the roof. So, a few weeks ago, when the latest series of Game of Thrones premiered on the Internet, it turned rapidly into the Game of Moans. Why? Well in Australia the first one to kick the bucket was the Foxtel authentication server which could not cope with the demand and folded. Many other data centres and ISP saw their networks killed of by unprecedented demand. Just like the M1 to Brisbane is perfectly straight and flat enough to do 110 km per hour but if there is a prang near Beenleigh you can forget about getting on time to the airport.

The 'streaming TV' concept is not new at all. It has been with us for more than a decade. But the massive take-up by a TV audience at large is something from the last few years or so and has been at a real explosive rate. If you go to a TV shop today, just about all the merchandise on offer are "smart" TV sets and the Internet has become the standard connection method for 'on demand' content.

So, where are we going? Well, we'll just have to be a bit faster with beefing up our network capacity. Not really a technical problem for current network technology. The capacity of our fibre cables is sheer infinite. Just need some more and larger boxes on the ends. Throw some more money against it and all subscribers will be very happy. That process is now known as the Netflixification of our Internet.

And what about the CVC? Good chance that in six months time we'll celebrate the funeral.


The Netflixification of the Internet

The Netflixification of the Internet

Once upon a time, around the days when black-and-white television had changed into colour television for close to a decade, Saturday nights at home were movie nights.   Daddie went out to the movie store and hired a 16mm movie in a big tin drum to take home.  Movie projectors for 16mm films were still a bit of an upmarket thing and not very widespread. But they were there and in countries where broadcast TV was not available (yes, there still were a countries like that) the Saturday night or Sunday afternoon family movie time with a 16mm movie was just as commonplace then as the video-store with video tapes and blu-rays were a few decades later.

Come the Internet in the early 90's.  Dial-up Internet. ASCII art was a about as close to showing pictures as it got in the early days. The compressed picture formats came around. The dial-up lines were replaced with DSL, and people like YouTube figured out how to deliver small video clips over narrow bandwidth lines with some success.  Most of the time you had to download the entire clip first before you could actually view it in motion speed, but hey, who would baulk at that if you are trying and testing new things.  And at the time, it was sort of mind boggling to be possible at all.

Another decade went by and the ADSL2 speeds made it possible to actually view streaming video online whilst it was downloading. The download was always a few seconds ahead of the showing to mask the line buffering and any small hiatus in the downloads.  The video players at the time did all that automatically, giving the viewer a good video clip experience with minimal effort on the user side.  Whilst OK for short clips, playing full movies for an hour or more was still a hit and miss affair.  Bandwidth was pretty unreliable in those days and you could probably see the first ten minutes, and then have to wait for five minutes or so to download enough into the buffers to play the next five minutes.  Not really a good movie experience unless you're really desperate to see the thing.

Then file sharing programs and automatic download systems were invented. Torrent files would hold the info where and what to download with complete movie files cut up into thousands of fragments, all downloading from somewhere in the cloud, from someone else's computer.  Wildly popular.  You put in the torrent.  Let it spin for a few days.  And slowly but surely the complete movie files comes fragment by fragment on your hard drive and when complete you can play it.  Until lots of copyright holders starting to protest loudly against these practices and a few take downs, jailings and other nasties later this entire torrent business went underground, out of sight, hidden behind VPNs and other dark methods.  But it is still there and apparently rather thriving. If you want to see the latest episode of a new series or movie, get Vuze or some other Torrent program and you'll find and get whatever you're looking for.

Come one decade later into the twenty first Century.  High speed broadband on cable television has taken a flight with DOCSIS, connecting hundreds of millions of subscribers with at least 10Mbps. In the latest versions of DOCSIS that has become 100Mbps as a standard and 1Gbps with DOCSIS 3.1 just around the corner.  Fibre to the home becomes a commodity, no longer something which only exists in the labs. Delivering Gigabit speeds as a standard.  And broadband subscribers start finding out that more and more broadcasters have their content available on the web for fast download or for online viewing.  New video streaming protocols are invented.  And for home viewing, these protocols now automatically adapt to the available line speed. If the speed slows down a bit, it doesn't stop the movie but just goes to a lower resolution.  When bandwidth is available, the content will scale up to the highest resolution.  All automatic ad effortless for the viewers.

Viewing an online movie on a TV screen was still a bit of an effort.  You needed a computer or a set-top box to connect to the Internet, then a HDMI cable or something to connect to the TV screen.  Multiple boxes and multiple remote controls made life not easier.  But then, suddenly and out of the blue, the "smart TV" was born. A standard TV set, with a smallish computer packed on the back that connected to the Internet and made it possible to display streaming content without need for set-tops and add-on boxes.  Life went good. Then some bright sparks at the European Broadcast Union saw the lights and formed a HbbTV working group, whom defined and developed the Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) concept from scratch, making use of many already existing standards for streaming content and web browsing.  Just putting it all together in a way that you could navigate your way to the content on a standard television receiver with a standard remote control without need for fancy set-tp boxes and the likes.  It took a while to take hold, but in the European market you wou;dn't buy a new TV set without HbbTV any more.  It is today just unthinkable how you could ever have done without it.  It's called the 'red button revolution', it is here and now and very, very real.  Even on our remote island of Australia we have our own HbbTV implementation done by the joint broadcasters of Australia.  Known as "Freeview Plus". Heaven knows why they had to give it a different name, fumble their own variety on the technical rules, and royally stuffed up a chance to get Australia in the front seats of television technology.  But it is there nevertheless and won't go away any more.  That was a few years ago and life in broadcast land and online video content went on without much of a splash.  YouTube grew. ABC, SBS and the commercial broadcasters all set up sites where you could access past programs and see them again.  And Foxtel had their own implementation of dial-up movies, delivered on-demand through the Internet, although, at a price.

Meanwhile, the Internet Service Providers in Australia have seen a steady growth of demand on bandwidth, especially in the early night viewing hours when people came home from work, had something to eat, and then sat down in a lazy chair to watch a movie.  The change from pre-programmed 'linear' television what you get from the antenna or from the satellite dish was slowly but very surely complemented and even replaced by 'on-demand' content from the Internet, which you could play at any time you wanted.  Nothing too bad and too drastic really.  People use more bandwidth, pay for more GigaBytes, and the ISP just provides it as and when needed as a matter of course.  Not a big deal.

But then, somewhere mid last year, something new happened in streaming video land.  Out of the blue, Netflix entered the Australian market.  And Stan followed suit.  Offering gigantic movie libraries online for a fixed fee per month that would really fit easy into just about any family budget.  And the take-up rate has been rather spectacular. Every smart TV suddenly had a built-in "Netflix" button that could get you connected in no time with minimal effort.

Our poor Internet Service Providers saw it all happen, but were really overwhelmed by the pace that Netflix took to bring streaming media to the masses.  Being used to adding a bit more capacity to their networks every now and then, it wasn't really a big deal when the first streaming movie trends emerged. But suddenly reality hits.  When everyone on your network switches on a streaming Netflix movie after dinner and coffee, the demand goes through the roof.  And just adding a bit more bandwidth is not going to fix it. Mass consumption of Netflix requires not just a little bit of bandwidth but oodles of bandwidth.  Think about doubling, tripling and quadrupling your capacity every quarter or so.  It is just phenomenal the way bandwidth consumption has taken off with the coming of Netflix.  It doesn't go up linear. It goes up exponential.

And that, my dear friends, is what we now call the "Netflixification" of our Internet.

NBN Flight of Fancy

Enjoy your new Lustrum......

All I want for Christmas.........


Australian Domain Name Fraudsters?

Can you remember those nice letters from Ghana or Nigeria every now and then?  Beautiful envelope and a colourful exotic postage stamp of collectors quality.  Yep those were the days.  The contents were always bogus, some fraudster trying to rip you of, but the stamp was always good to give away to someone who made it their hobby to collect stamps.

Today, these Nigerian scams come by E-mail and in such vast numbers that nobody even bothers anymore.  No nice looking stamps and nothing to write home about.

So, it is somewhat surprising that a new crop of fraudsters is emerging right on our own soil, having nothing better to do than sending good looking but bogus domain notices around in the hope that some unsuspecting accounts clerk will just pay them amongst the mountain of other day-to-day invoices any business has to deal with.   The intent to mislead and defraud is not so obvious.  Skilfully worded and designed to look like a bona-fide request to hand over your money. Complete with multiple payment methods.  Just looks like your everyday phone bill or utility bill.  But it is not.  Somewhere on the docket it clearly states: "This is an invitation to register. If you are not the proprietor or do not wish to register, disregard this letter".  Good on you.  Buyers beware.  I do not think it is that sort of innocent.  It looks much more as a shameful attempt to extract monies where they are not due.  A cleverly worded notice delivers a false and misleading message with the intent to deceive.

Don't know what sort of people dream up these schemes to knowingly and wilfully deceive their fellow citizens, but if you ask me it is a clear case for the ACCC.
Hybrid broadcast broadband TeleVision (HbbTV) is going places in Europe. The Soccer World Cup spun off heaps of applications and re-runs of the best goals. Not only that. Things like the Eurovision Song Festival draw many hundreds of millions of viewers. The use of HbbTV to capture more audience in narrowcast content is clearly becoming a mainstream technology now. Television sets in the shops will need to be smart and be HbbTV compliant for this to work. And in European TV shops they do. It's like buying a new car when you would expect that a radio is part of the deal. HbbTV has become the standard for today's smart digital television set.

Not so in Australia. More than a year ago now, the Freeview club of Australian broadcasters decided to band together and deploy HbbTV. The Seven network would be the first, giving themselves half a year to sort the technology and another half year to fit it all into the commercial sales operation (for sales of advertising). So, a year has gone by and where are we now? One of the regional commercial broadcasters has abandoned the club, citing too high costs for implementation. SBS has now embraced HbbTV and is experimenting with new applications, lately with re-runs of the most audience-capturing world soccer cup moments.

What about our retailers? Well, your scribe enquired with Kogan the other day about HbbTV compliance for their smart TV sets. The result? It's not there and no plans to implement. Walked into a Harvey Normann store lately and dropped the HbbTV word. Big brown eyes were saying "What's that?" We're doing well on our island in the Southern Hemisphere. Soon, we'll be the dumping ground for TV sets that don't include HbbTV because nobody in Australia seems to ask for it. Now, when we first had colour television, Australia chose the German invented PAL standard. When we got stereo television, Australia chose the German Zweiton standard. When we got digital television, Australia chose the European DVB-T standard. And there was some associated activity from all interested parties, including the Government Department of Communications, to promote the "Digital Ready" scheme and make sure that TV sets sold in Australia would actually be compliant with the DVB-T digital transmission standard as rolled out over the continent. So when people went shopping and bought themselves a brand new flat screen TV set, it can actually tune into the Australian digital TV channels. Good show.

Now we are at the eve before the HbbTV revolution will hit Australia, and it seems that none of the TV retailers have a clou as yet how to cater for this. Sometimes people say that government intervention is not a good thing for everything and it is better to let the market decide on what to implement and how fast to implement. But this is really starting to look like a rerun of the development of railroads in Australia. Before we know it, every State will have railways with a different gauge. And before we know it, some clever pay TV operators have captured their market segment with proprietary technology, locking the viewers into incompatible systems. With as net result an entire collection of set-top boxes, smart blue-ray players, and smart TV sets that cannot display HbbTV content. Good show Australia! We are really making progress.

Maybe the Standards makers in Australia should wrap their minds about it, and adopt the HbbTV standards into the Australian digital television receiver standards. And maybe the shareholders of our National Broadband Network should adopt and promote the HbbTV standard as the preferred way to deliver broadcast and narrowcast television content over the new NBN Co systems. Tell you, it works a lot better and easier than the firstly touted multicast technologies, which are all still well aand solidly stuck inside the NBN Co sandboxes. The sandbox playgrounds for technologists, which has not produced anything useful as yet. Not ready for an Australia wide mass market acceptance. It is time for a good look at streaming media content. Then set some standards and goals to make it work all together in a seamless way. Put up your hand if you have a good idea! Australia needs you!

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