Friday, February 22, 2013

FTTN vs FTTC: my methods and decisions

Since it’s been criticized, here are some personal notes on the methodological choices I made in estimating the rate of BT’s FttC rollout for the ABC in an Australian context.

Why use exchange areas instead of population?

1.    Verifiability – While it would be possible to verify BT’s household-coverage claims, it would need someone willing to part with around $10k to buy a data license and carry out the analysis.

The number of cabinets installed by BT provides no base for comparison: Australia doesn’t have a design yet.

On the other hand, the number of exchanges serving VDSL2 is published in the UK, and ADSL2+ in Australia.

The only assumption I made here is that a hypothetical FTTN would need to replicate ADSL2+ coverage to satisfy the public.

2.    Geographic equalisation – Using exchange areas equalises the vexed question of the geo-demographic differences between Australia and the UK, an issue which I’ve worked on for six years in various projects.

Britain and Australia have nearly the same number exchanges – 5,000 or so – yet the UK’s exchanges serve 40 million households, Australia’s 7 million. The UK’s exchanges are bigger (in terms of lines served) but smaller (in terms of geography served).

Why did I select 2009 as the start date for the UK FttC, and 2010 for the NBN?

That’s much easier to answer: the deployment of commercial pilots provides an equivalent date for the two projects.

The NBN has proceeded very much in the public spotlight – the implementation study, the establishment of the company, the design decisions, the maps, the appearances in Estimates and so on. We knew a lot about the design process before the launch of commercial services in 2011.

BT’s process is a black box, by comparison. We do know that its first commercial pilots occurred in 2009, but between that date and the official launch of commercial services, we know very little about how much work went on. For example:

-    How many cabinets were ordered, delivered, and put through acceptance testing?
-    How many locations went through site preparation so as to enable rapid installation when cabinets were available?
-    What resources were devoted to network design, site selection, training, contractor selection, and ramp-up planing?

And so on.

Without an understanding of the pre-launch effort, I think it’s quite reasonable to use the commercial pilots as “Year Zero” of BT’s rollout since I can be certain that all that “underground” work was going on at least as early as 2009, prior to the commercial service launch in 2010.

Since everything else was based on public sources linked in the article, I don’t feel the need to explain the other sources further.

Google Glass: the next tech press cargo-cult

The tech press rarely, if ever, sees the downside of a gadget when they begin hyping it.

iTunes turned property (the CD) into a license without a whisper. E-readers did the same with books – complete with revocation of licenses, lending / gift restrictions and so on. Smartphones work hard to eliminate privacy. Games platforms are trying to do away with ownership of games, just as iTunes did with CDs.

The lesson repeated but never learned is simple: gadget-makers have a result in mind when they design things. They’re not acting at random. The licensing models are worked out by lawyers before the product is launched; strategies exist.

And we come to Google’s Project Glass: the gadget is getting lots of love before it even exists, and there are no downsides.

Google once wanted to “organise” the world’s information. Nothing wrong with that, as an ideal.

But there are dangers in encouraging Google to own every possible information-delivery channel right down to the eyeballs.

Sure, won’t it be cool? Someone wants to design an app that will estimate the weight of vegetables in the shop, just by looking at them. Wow! (Dude, there’s a set of scales just over there.) Someone wants to give you a heads-up map (because it’s so much trouble actually knowing where you’re headed).

There will be ads, the inevitable ads, and data collection: because you won’t get your cool “augmented reality” (by the way, one of the most odious expressions the tech sector has contrived) for free.

You can bet that such considerations would be in tech journalists’ minds, considering that they completely missed the downsides of iTunes etcetera years ago?

No. They’re worried about whether Google Glass will (a) arrive soon enough for them to write reviews of them and (b) whether they will brand the wearer as a “geek” and therefore never take off.

It has, as I hinted in the headline, a characteristic of the cargo cult. Google will drop its next wonder on the waiting tribe, who construct a religion around their own dependency.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

About shooting in national parks

Last night I complained about the state governments “shooters in national parks” policy on Twitter, sparked a bunch of replies, and rudely went to bed during the discussion, so here’s my thoughts. I have a busy day, so this will be quick.

1.    Is it affecting tourism?

Yes. I own some holiday cottages in Wentworth Falls (Bunjaree Cottages, here). People are asking about it – “will there be shooters around?” – even though the Blue Mountains National Park isn’t on the list. They’re worried. It’s easy to dismiss them as uninformed, but that’s the way of the world.

2.    Am I anti-gun?
In public places, most certainly.

3.    “Gun owner” isn’t the same thing as “gun nut”
When I use the phrase “gun nut” I am referring to a particular mindset: the ideology-from-the-NRA lobby groups.

I know people who go target shooting, and I know farmers who keep a weapon to deal with feral pigs, wild dogs, injured animals and the like. They aren’t pining to head out for a weekend swapping between gun and bow-and-arrow (and in the case of farmers, they greatly resent having wild pigs brought into their district just to provide targets for shooters).

4.    It’s worked fine in New Zealand
Actually, there have been deaths. Rosemary Ives in 2010, and Dougal Fyfe 2011, to identify two.

5.    The national park shootings will be properly supervised

If you travel down the Hume towards Goulburn at the right time on a Friday night, you’ll see the suburban 4WDs loaded up with weapons and beer.

I know country people who call in the family from the verandah at night if there are shots in the distance, because they’ve had bullets come over hilltops and whack the house.

And I’ve seen the roadside gatherings with the guns lined up against the cab of the ute while the roo-hunters stop for a beer.

Yes, I think fears of a future with guns in national parks are justified.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

About that British Telecom Fibre-to-the-cabinet case study...

Since British Telecom’s fibre-to-the-cabinet rollout is the example Mr Turnbull favours, let’s take a look at it.

Question: Does the rollout deliver high speeds?

BT currently claims a maximum of 80 Mbps over copper. As always, with a copper-based technology, “your mileage may vary”.

Question: Can customers upgrade to fibre?

Answer: Yes, in some cases.

Question: What’s the fibre-to-the-cabinet reach?

Answer: Currently around 60 percent of the UK population.

Question: How many exchanges are required to deliver that reach?

Answer: Around 1,300, if this list is accurate:

Question: How long did the rollout take to reach 1,376 exchange areas?

Answer: Around four years. Call it 340 exchanges per year – at which rate, Australia would have VDSL2 services replicating current ADSL2+ services in, oh, about 8 years. Give or take. Your mileage may vary…

The absolutely inescapable point of this little conceit is simple: Australia is not the UK. Pack 60 million people into Victoria; concentrate them tightly enough that you still have farmland and (in Scotlant) tundra; deliver broadband in a way that your rural users complain they can’t get it, and then use that as a model for Australia.

As I said, if Australia were to match the UK’s rollout rate, we might match its KPIs, but the actual Liberal Party target for fibre-to-the-whatever would take nearly as long as the NBN.

But I don’t blame Malcolm Turnbull. I blame the supine, spavined, sleepwalking slackness of journalists who by hell should be smart enough, Google-savvy enough and care enough to actually test the case study. The research took me a little bit of down-time, not enough to justify asking someone to pay me for – which is why this is a blog post instead of an article.

Off yo' asses, my colleagues. Research or retire.

Monday, February 18, 2013

You want cuts? Cut the Joint Strike Fighter

OK, I’ll give you the cuts. One cut. One cut to rule them all.

The massive boon-doggle, scam, sham, snake-oil shake-down called the Joint Strike Fighter.

For a $35 billion commitment, Australia has so far received nothing, nada, zero, zip, the cube root of sweet bugger-all, except.

Oh, yeah.

Except for a gap in our “air superiority” between the retirement of our current fleet of baby-killing flying machines and the touted-since-the-1980s next-generation of baby-killing flying machines.

All on the presumption that a quarter of the world is waiting, itching, champing-at-the-bit to wage war on Australia.

Just to remind you: the JSF talks started in the 1980s. The money Australia has so far handed over have achieved nothing more than development work on what looks, to all intents and purposes, like a complete failure that won’t be delivered in its current form, nor to its current timetable, nor to its current price.

The F-35 finally managed its first flight in 2006, two decades after it was conceived. Right now, its airworthiness is under question, not for the first time, because it can’t fly through thunderstorms for fear of lightning strike. Its delivery date remains as uncertain as its eventual capabilities. 

Its price is as excremental as the whole veil of bury-the-skeleton secrecy over who-scammed-who in twenty years pf vile alchemy turning the manure of bad public policy into the gold of shareholder value.

And Australia remains irrevocably committed to it.

To defend Australia.

Here are two snippets of fact for you.

  1. Australia is a continent
  2. In all of recorded history, no continent has been successfully invaded by a strike force, except in the presence of an overwhelming international coalition

Prove me wrong.

Now, in the defence of a continent that probably doesn’t need defending, since it’s cheaper for (say) China to buy what it wants from us than to take it by force, we’re committed to pouring good money after bad, into a project of notorious non-delivery and malfeasance, because of a commitment to an ally that won’t turn up if China turns hostile (do you truly believe that America would spark a nuclear war over the arse end of the world?).

Just to emphasise: at this stage, Australia has a $35 billion commitment to a development project in the USA. Say it slowly to yourself. Savour the ironic stupidity, the medalled mendacity, the cynical theft that this entails – and the naïf cultural cringe and fearful “yellow peril” idiocy that keeps our budget nailed to a failure.

The JSF isn’t a bloody jet fighter. It’s a massive subsidy to American industry, disguised as a military program. Australia doesn’t need to sling $35 billion in, just for the privilege of knowing that some good ol’ boys still eat well. What about keeping the money here and doing some good with it?

“Retail suffers in election years”

Well, of course Eli Greenblat is sympathetic to what retailers say. He’s the Fairfax “retail reporter” after all (one of the great dangers in specialisation is that the reporter identifies with the speciality instead of the reader. I try to pay attention and avoid this myself).

Here’s the article: “Election call a disaster, says Specialty”

The ‘money quote’ is this: "Election periods always, always, affect us and the fact that it has been called so early is an absolute disaster, [Specialty Fashion Group CEO Gary] Perlstein said.

Oh really? Here’s a quick capture of retail trade since the 2001 elections. I’ve taken the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ seasonally-adjusted retail trade growth for:

-    The quarter preceding the election; and
-    The quarter in which the election was held.

One datum is missing – in 2008, December quarter seasonally adjusted retail growth was left out because of the government’s stimulus package.

Something odd happened in 2003 – there was killer retail growth. If you eliminate the outlier, what do you see?

2001 – growth above average for the preceding quarter and election quarter
2004 – growth on average for the preceding quarter, below average in the election quarter
2007 – growth above average for the preceding quarter and election quarter
2010 – growth on average for the preceding quarter, below average in the election

What about clothing retail alone, since that’s what Specialty does?

Nope. The clothing retail item, seasonally adjusted, in the ABS data set is just as likely to rise ahead of an election as it is to fall.

However, the ground is prepared: if Specialty doesn't perform in 2013, we know what excuse will be given.