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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 03 February 2017, 1:29 pm

Here is the clock

There's a new sheriff in town and his name is Donald J Trump and he seems eager to put his mark on the order of things, including (unsurprisingly) the tech sector.

While New Zealand slumbered under the sun umbrella (Ha, as if), Donald Trump was elected and installed in the White House a scant 14 days ago.

And what a fortnight it's been.

Early on, Trump met with the leaders of major US tech companies to reassure them of his approach to handling key issues like (and I'm guessing somewhat here) intellectual property, privacy in the internet age, who gets to pay tax and which of them should hand over their first born child to be sacrificed to the gods of bling.

Something like that.

Since then we've seen fears around H1B visas (the visa under which most non-US born tech folk gain access to US employment) and whether they would continue to be made available, and further fears around Trump's anti-Muslim ban which may or may not include dual-passport holders, people from countries with a large Muslim population regardless of their actual faith, children and in some cases green card holders returning to the US.

Google was so alarmed it called back many of its US-based staff who were travelling overseas at the time and other tech companies have expressed emotional responses ranging from outrage to dismay to disgust.

Uber took the unusual step of introduce an online "you can unsubscribe here" function to its app because so many people were uninstalling the service after it unwisely decided to offer service at various US airports while the taxi drivers stood in protest against Trump's ban. Customer service, it seems, comes in many guises.

In New Zealand we discovered the government had granted tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel New Zealand citizenship at a secret ceremony held in California despite Thiel not actually being resident in New Zealand. Well that's one way to handle the tricky business of overseas investors I suppose (plus if Trump does blow up the north American continent, Thiel's new Queenstown crash pad/zombie apocalypse compound will make the perfect place to start making America great again).

All told the first two weeks of Trump's administration have raised more questions for the tech sector than have been answered and we haven't even got to the tricky net neutrality, who runs the internet stuff yet.

Bloomberg - Google Recalls Staff to U.S. After Trump Immigration Order

The Guardian - #DeleteUber: company automates account removal due to demand

The Guardian - Documents reveal how Peter Thiel was granted New Zealand citizenship

The Guardian - Amazon pledges legal support to action against Trump travel ban

BBC - India IT sector fears new US H-1B visa bill for skilled workers

Times of India - IT stocks drop 4% on H1-B visa fears

The Register - IETF 'reviewing' US event plans in the face of Trump's travel ban

Trumpton - Opening credits


Big Data in the US election

ITP CEO Paul Matthews also talked about Big Data's role in Trump's election on my Radio NZ New Technology slot this week.

Some fascinating key points:

  • Trump's campaign spent millions to pull together huge datasets and build a detailed psychological profile of all 220 Million US adults
  • They then used this to customise and target voters with highly personalised messaging - both positive (for potential Trump supporters) and negative (to try to dissuade Clinton supporters)
  • On one day alone, they sent out 175,000 targeted ad variations, based on the profiles they had developed
  • The campaign was so sophisticated that from July 2016, Trump door-to-door canvassers were given an app that identified the political views and personality types of inhabitants of every house - so they could focus on those receptive to their pitch.

Of course Trump wasn't the only candidate to use data and technology in this way, although they did seem to push it further than ever before.

No doubt people will argue either way how much of an impact this had, however it seems Trump was convinced. Following his win, he appointed Steve Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist - one of the directors of the company behind this work.

Radio NZ - New Technology with Paul Matthews

Vice - The data that turned the world upside down


Getting connected

Locally, things have been much calmer. While locals basked in the summer rays (Wellington: that's the hot rain you felt on January 28th at about two in the afternoon) the government announced the winners of the UFB 2 extension project.

As expected the four companies responsible for the first phase (Chorus, Northpower, UltraFast Fibre and Enable) have won the bid to extend the fibre to the home network out from 75% of the population to 85% coverage by the end of 2024.

Total cost of the extension - $300 million.

This is great news and hopefully will lead to similar results for the rural customers currently using a mix of copper lines, fibre to the node and fixed wireless services.

But it's not all plain sailing from here on in. We still have to get everyone connected up to the UFB network and that has been fraught in the past few years. Tales of connection woe have certainly dropped off but whether that's entirely down to the connections being completed with less fuss or whether we're all just so tired that nobody wants to complain any longer remains to be seen.

However, the bigger and longer term problem remains - how to ensure rural New Zealanders don't get left behind.

Fixed wireless in rural areas currently offers speeds on a par with copper DSL. Until very recently that was considered pretty reasonable but now the ISPs have decided not to offer anything between 100Mbit/s plans and 1000Mbit/s, many rural users are looking on with envy once again. Speeds of 1Gigabit per second mean multiple users can maximise their use of the connection on a regular basis without too much worry about congestion. In rural New Zealand, one power user per house is probably going to break the bank.

Fixing rural connectivity isn't an insurmountable challenge. Far from it - Telstra in Australia has just demonstrated 1Gigabit/s speeds over its wireless network and that means Vodafone and Spark (and other wireless ISPs) won't be far behind. The next generation of cellular networks offers a tremendous leap up in terms of capacity now they don't have to carry voice as an analog service and the various new technologies associated with ensuring quality of service mean speed-wise, wireless is on par with fibre.

And before the blowhards get too carried away with their "UFB is already redundant" chestnut, fibre will continue to grow and add more capacity while wireless service remains a contended one - that is, the more users on it, the slower the connection goes.

But these are bright times for the telco industry. Perhaps I should say, for the telco industry's customers. The industry itself still struggles to understand customer demands and this year's Consumer survey of telcos suggests some of them still have a way to go.

Techblog- UFB2 contracts awarded - 700GB/month per household by 2020

Computerworld - ISPs: Bigger is not better, Consumer NZ survey finds

Computerworld - Spark to use UnisonFibre for FTTP in Napier, Hastings, Taupo and Rotorua

Gizmodo - Telstra Just Pulled 1Gbps Over Its 4G Network

Techblog - NZNOG 2017 - working together for a better internet



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