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Brislen on Tech this week

Paul Brislen, Editor. 09 September 2016, 4:32 pm

Submarines

Speaking of fibre, it's all well and good for rushing around the country but if your bits can't break free and head off overseas, we've built the world's fastest national intranet, to borrow a phrase.

Currently New Zealand's international bandwidth is almost entirely provided via the Southern Cross Cables network, which links us with Australia, Fiji, Hawaii and the US mainland.

There's more than enough capacity there to cope with our small population's demand for cat videos, but the lack of competition on the route means we've never really been a serious contender in the data storage market, despite all our other powerful incentives (green electricity, cold climate, political stability and so on).

Competition matters aside, there's also the tricky question of what to do if the SCC is damaged and given both sides of the network land in Auckland on an active volcanic field, the risk could be seen as quite severe indeed

Now however we have a consortium building a cable to Australia (Vodafone and Spark with Telstra seemingly reluctantly bringing up the rear) which will land in Raglan giving us some much needed security of supply.

Hawaiki Cable has long touted itself as a contender in this market and is in talks with Pacific Island governments to connect up various capital cities to its proposed Auckland-Hawaii cable. Finally it's begun its survey work and plans to go live by the end of 2017.

Southern Cross is reaching the end of its shelf life and its limited capacity isn't really as upgradable as one would hope. Currently SCCN offers just shy of 6Tbit/s and Hawaiki will tackle that with around 25Tbit/s of capacity to the US, potentially leading to a huge drop in the price of the international leg.

However, Southern Cross isn't sitting still and has announced out of the blue that it will lay a new cable (Southern Cross NEXT) on a slightly different route to the US and will offer 60Tbit/s of capacity.

The cynical among you will suggest this is just a spoiler to ward off any interest in Hawaiki's project, and indeed in the past we've seen upgrades and announcements timed in such a way as to encourage conspiracy theorists to reach for their tinfoil hats, but given Hawaiki's advanced stage of planning I suppose Southern Cross realised it cannot sit on its hands and let the market slip away.

The better news is the price of building these things has plummeted from the billion dollar plus mark back in 2001 to around $320 million today.

Quite what will end up being built remains to be seen but we do seem to be edging towards a more connected future and this is a good thing. The massive earthquake that shook Japan in 2011 moved its main island Honshu 2.4 metres to the east cutting practically all fibre links to the Chinese mainland, but internet and phone access didn't miss a beat as Japan has a multitude of cables connecting it to the world.

NBR - Spark on the hook as Southern Cross plans $US300m new cable?

Stuff - Southern Cross plots course for new cable but admits approvals not in the bag

 

Apple

Apple, Apple, Apple.

The new iPhone is out and its faster, has a better set of cameras, an extra speaker for stereo sound, no headphone plug (although it will ship with an adapter so you can plug in via the Lightning port) and two new colours which are (and I'm not kidding) both black.

The home button stops being an actual button and becomes a touch screen but with a button feel to it (I am not making this up) and the battery gets a little bit better.

Apple has sold one billion iPhones so I will bow to their obvious understanding and capability on this point but somehow… I'd hoped for something game changing and this isn't.

There's no new Macbook again, probably because of the lack of improved chips from Intel, and there's a second generation for the "device that nobody wears but that's too cool to cancel at this stage" aka the watch, and there are wireless ear buds that are almost small enough to swallow.

All those charts about the technology curve that have the giant flat plateau at the top now begin to make sense.

Which begs the question, what's next for devices?

I don't have a clue (is it voice interfaces? Possibly but that's not the entire game, surely?) but I hope it comes along soon because when one of your key features is a new colour, you're not disrupting, you're the incumbent.

And then there's the tax problem.

The EU courts have ruled that Apple owes a lot of money in back taxes - US$14.5 billion to be exact.

Apple, as so many of our multinationals do, likes to minimise the amount of tax it pays in each jurisdiction and has set up shop in Ireland where the tax rate of 12.5% is seen as a huge attraction. However, Ireland is part of the EU and the EU takes a dim view of companies moving funds around to minimise their tax payments, and after a two-year long investigation, the EU has ruled the Apple has managed to reduce its tax payments to an extraordinary 0.005% tax rate in Ireland in 2014.

Apple, naturally enough, refutes this and is determined to appeal the decision. CEO Tim Cook says it's a dark day when a country can't even run its own tax system without interference. Apparently they don't do irony at Apple HQ.

In fact, Cook goes one step further and has condemned the ruling claiming the decision will destroy multinationals' willingness to invest in jobs and growth in the EU.

"This would strike a devastating blow to the sovereignty of EU member states over their own tax matters, and to the principle of certainty of law in Europe," he says in a statement.

That's all jolly but when we look around the world and see how much these companies do, or rather don't pay in tax, it's hard to feel much sympathy. All five of the world's most profitable companies are now high tech giants and yet all act with a degree of impunity when it comes to paying their fair share.

Something has got to give and while tech giants have the money, governments have the biggest of bills to pay and corporate tax is a key component of their income streams. These companies have disrupted countless industries and their ability to remove cost from a sector, typically in the form of jobs, means we're all facing a future where employment not only isn't certain, it might not even be possible in many areas.

One area that is ripe for disruption is the financial sector which seems to feel it's immune to technology's consultations. Not so fast, my fat cat friends in banking, because Apple is determined to introduce Apple Pay to the Australian market.

The only problem is the Aussie banks are equally determined not to be picked off one by one and have sought leave of the regulator to collude on the matter.

Yes, the banks have asked for permission to work together to set the price by which Apple can charge them for access to the Apple Pay platform.

Apple is, quite properly, outraged by this and is saying it won't negotiate at all if the banks are allowed to work together.

While nobody has much sympathy for Apple's position on tax, the public sympathy levels for banks with their record profits, store closures and fees for doing everything from putting money in to taking money out means it's hard to know who to cheer for in this particular stoush.

Whichever way it goes, the flow-on effect will come to New Zealand in the near future because with our four main banks now wholly owned by Australia's banking elite, the final say will trickle down to our neck of the woods before you know it.

NBR - Quick guide to the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus

Techblog - Apple cuts the cord

The Register - Inside our three-month effort to attend Apple's iPhone 7 launch party

The Guardian - Irish government split over immediate appeal against Apple tax bill

The Register - Making us pay tax will DESTROY EUROPE, roars Apple's Tim Cook

ZDNet - Apple claims giving Australian banks negotiation rights will undermine customer security

 

Fibre to the Brislen - the Final Chapter

(he said, tellingly)

A flurry of emails earlier this week assured me that my fibre connection would be coming soon to a driveway near me.

I was slated to receive a visit from a team of people with whom I could argue about the design they'd come up with (avid readers will remember I want the fibre connected to the rear of the property, the design I'd seen has an overhead line to the front of the property). Following that, assuming the debate didn't end in tears, two weeks later I would officially join The Future.

Naturally they rang at 0730 on Friday to say they were in the driveway and could they just get stuck in.

Not wanting to say no I raced home from a meeting to find a team of three Visionstream guys looking at the work order, looking at my driveway and shaking their heads. I would need to be connected at the rear of the building, they said, because that's where the patch panel for my internal wiring sits.

The smugness radiated off me like an EMP, setting off car alarms and knocking birds out of their trees for at least half a kilometre around.

However, after some walking back and forth, considering The Attic Gambit (great if you want to drill through the floorboards) versus the Homeowner's Delight (in which I take a pick axe to my driveway and carve a new channel for them) we settled on the "why don't we just run the fibre through your basement and connect to the CAT6 cabling at the point nearest the road" which, despite requiring little in the way of actual violence or mayhem is what we did.

By "we" I mean of course them because all I did was get in the way and open the occasional locked door. Having asked where they'd put the ONT I'd pretty much exhausted my technical aptitude (I did tell them I'd got a CAT6 network several times. "We know, we know" they'd say patiently) so I went off to a meeting and came back to discover the future had arrived in my home office.

As I type I have 100/20 which is jolly nice, the phones are working and all that's left is for me to figure out a way to connect my Unifi wifi box at the front of the house now they've stolen my one jackpoint, and to thank the team who were fast, courteous and went out of their way to make sure I was happy with the install before they augered a single wall. Good job, guys.

And I'm not the only one, it would seem. UltraFast Fibre (based in Hamilton) runs the UFB in Hamilton, Tauranga, Whanganui, and New Plymouth and accounts for around 13% of the country's installs, and has just bought out the government's share three years ahead of schedule.

The UFB build was predicated on government funding that would be paid back in 2019 - UFF has jumped the gun and paid off $189 million (it got $11m discount for prompt payment) in part because of the huge demand for fibre.

This is a great piece of news because regional fibre deployment should lead to regional economic development and that's good all round. To know that companies can set up in Tauranga, Napier, Wanganui and elsewhere rather than having to be in Auckland or Wellington is very good for the country as a whole and having fibre access is key to that success.

And as I write news is coming in from Chorus that it will begin rolling out gigabit speeds to business customers from next month. This makes Chorus the last of the fibre providers to offer a gigabit connection around the country after UFF, Northpower and Enable Networks all announced offerings earlier in the year.

As a business owner who is quite happy currently with 100/20 speeds, I don't know I'd be able to see much difference in the real world - I simply don't do enough to warrant the connection.

But as my empire grows I'll be looking for more connectivity and having such a huge overhead is tremendous. And for those SME who are already running into the 100Mbit/s speed "limit" (music to my ears) this will be a huge boon.

NBR - Waikato Networks buys out Crown's holding in Ultrafast Fibre for $189m

Stuff - Stuff Fibre gets thumbs up from comparison site

 

Fibre to the Matthews, Part II

Not such good news for what appeared to have been destined a fast and painless UFB install for the other Paul.

As outlined last time, with Fibre becoming available in the neighbourhood, Chorus jumped into gear: arranging a visit the following week and install this week. So how did that work out?

The results are in, and... No fibre :(

Along they came as planned last week. The first issue was the install itself - the installers apparently aren't allowed to actually run cables through walls "any more", so unless the occupants want big ugly capping running around walls, you're on your own. Ok, no probs, a sparky was engaged and wiring duly sorted.

So along they came again this week to connect from the street. Celebration time. Cables ran fine (using the old copper wire as a draw-wire to drag the cable up the pipe from the street). All going well. Except... the connector thingee to hook into fibre at the street end was faulty. Bugger. And the neighbours. Double bugger. So no fibre... until the "street provisioning" team could get out to look at that. About 2 weeks. Triple bugger.

Next problem was the fact the install was past the point of no return... the copper wire from the street was no more. So no phone or copper VDSL until they could look at it. Scream! Fortunately the good Chorus folks ran a temporary copper cable the length of the 30m driveway in the meantime so a modern #FirstWorldProblem tragedy was averted.

So the story continues... Check in next time for another "riveting" edition!


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