Category Archives: Telecom

PhoneGnome Releases API

PhoneBoy and Alec Saunders are writing about PhoneGnome’s newly announced API. I think this is wonderful and have even taken the time to try out one of the user contributed applications that can be used to initiate a call from the PhoneGnome to a designated phone number (such as a cell phone number) and then to a number listed in the user’s phone book – an ideal application for users that have cell phones with unlimited incoming minutes (or who buy local GSM Sims while traveling) or who want to call long distance at VOIP rates. The PhoneGnome product has such great potential, in my view, and hopefully this API initiative will allow it to really take off.

Free 411 Services

Tired of paying for 411 service? A number of companies are offering free directory assistance free of charge, though users have to listen to advertisements – 800-FREE-411 and 800-411-METRO. According to 800-Free-411, operated by Jingle Networks Inc., phone carriers such as MCI can charge up to $3.49 for a similar service, while SBC and Sprint charge up to $2.49. Unfortunately, both services are limited to the US.

Shaw fires back at Vonage over VOIP tax

Mark Evans writes that Shaw is firing back at Vonage over its complaint regarding Shaw’s $10 per month Quality of Service (QoS) fee for non-Shaw VOIP application. Although this issue has, and should continue to have, important considerations from a competition perspective, I think we also need to continue asking probing questions from a consumer protection perspective. In other words, if an ISP advertises a data connection with no monthly caps on data transfer and with a speed with X megs/sec of speed and then throttles it down selectively depending on the amount of use by a particular consumer, should that not attract some sort of liability from a consumer protection perspective? Likewise, if a service is advertised as providing “Internet access” and then certain ports are blocked, should the ISP not be forced to prominently disclose that information? Finally, the same issue if the ISP gives a higher priority to their services at the expense of competing services that a consumer may be trying to access.

Although not directly related, there’s also the issue of DSL and cable ISP providers advertising speeds “up to X” when (1) not every subscriber can actually obtain services at those speeds (ever) because the last mile links may not support it (my DSL link, which is advertised and sold as a 3 meg service, is actually throttled down to 1.6-1.7 megs due to line quality issues); and (2) the speed during “normal” surfing hours may be much lower due to the use of shared media or other network bottlenecks. We should have mandatory disclosure requirements so that consumers are able to make informed decisions.

P.S., I think its a good thing that Shaw is offering this optional “enhancement” – my concern has more to do with ISPs providing more disclosure on what they are doing so that customers can better understand what they are buying.

Toronto Wi-Fi – part 2

I had a look at the description of the wi-fi network that Toronto Hydro Telecom is proposing to build and found the following quote:

Additionally, not only will the Toronto Hydro Telecom Wi Fi network cover six kilometers in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, it will provide service that is at least ten times faster than that of our competitors.

Personally, I think it would be more correct to say that the service will be AT MOST ten times faster, not AT LEAST. The maximum speed of the repeater to home user connection may be 10 times faster, but depending on the distance the speed may drop down to as low as 1 meg per second (only a fraction of the total maximum potential). Furthermore, it may be a little misleading to focus on the speed of that link only since TYT’s proposal to use mesh technology to deliver the service will mean that speed bottlenecks may be created on the backhaul between the various repeaters and a base station connected to TYT’s fibre backbone. The useful speed of the service may therefore also be much less than the potential being suggested. Cable and DSL also have certain bottleneck type issues. However, my point is that it is misleading to only look at the link speed of one segment in the network and use that as the basis for comparing the speed of the service.

That being said, the proposed service looks like a good initiative that hopefully will bring more competition to at least a small part of the Greater Toronto Area.

VOIP surcharged by Canadian ISP

According to a Vonage Canada press release, it has submitted a request to the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to investigate Shaw Communications (an ISP that serves western Canada) for recommending to its high-speed Internet customers that they pay an additional $10 charge if they use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service provider such as Vonage Canada in order to obtain a “quality of service enhancement” which is necessary to ensure independent VoIP service is not disrupted or degraded. The same fee is not separately charged to customers of Shaw’s own VOIP service. Shaw does not appear to have provided any details of how its enhancement works or why it is necessary. According to Vonage Canada, it wants to ensure that “the monopoly telephone and cable Internet service providers don’t restrict what services, applications or content Canadians can access. Canadians demand and deserve freedom of choice.”

Sounds like the CRTC needs to sit down with the Canada’s Competition Bureau and lay down some rules regarding network neutrality.

See also the write up by Mathew Ingram in the Globe.

Toronto to get municipal Wi-fi

According to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Hydro Telecom is expected to announce that the creation of a city-wide wi-fi wireless network based on repeaters installed on street light poles. Toronto Hydro Telecom already provides broadband data services throughout the GTA using over 450 kilometers of fibre optic cable and its network connects to over 400 commercial buildings. I have not seen details about the specific technology THT plans to deploy but suspect that it may not be suitable for high bandwidth applications or applications that require low latency (since packets may need to bounce through multiple repeaters before reaching a base station).

Further details available from Mark Evans and The National Post.

CRTC to force continued bundling upon Canadian cable operators

The Globe and Mail has carried a number of articles during the past several days about a recent Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decision that would force Canadian cable companies to continue bundling analog specialty channels into tiers until sometime between 2010 and 2013. So while Canadian cable customers can currently pick and choose individual specialty digital channels, they must continue to purchase analog speciality channels in bundles by tier. While this approach may help prop up certain Canadian channels that would otherwise sink, it will make it more difficult for Canadian cable tv and satellite operators to compete with the new competition that they will likely be facing from IP TV competitors.

Sierra Wireless, VOQ, Tiger Direct and Privacy

I noticed yesterday that TigerDirect was dumping Siera Wireless’ now discontinued VOQ Professional Phone at a really attractive price. The phone originally sold for about $500-600 about 18 months ago and at the time I was seriously considering buying it. Instead, I opted for a different smartphone and was glad that I did given Sierra Wireless’ decision to get out of the cell phone business.

In any case, I picked up one of the phones at the Toronto outlet store today. It was not labeled as used or refurbished and was made to look new. I got it home and started to look around. To my surprise, it contained 135 SMS messages (received throughout 2004 and early 2005), many of which obviously belonged the phone’s previous owner – he had quite an adventure to Meca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and then was apparently looking for a house in Toronto. It contained birthday messages (so one would know his birthday) and his anniversary (two common items used for authentication by many businesses). It contained a password for something called Rogers Desktop (he was a Rogers Wireless subscriber) as well as activation codes for certain services. Amazingly, it also contained login credentials to access what appeared to be a corporate email account at Sun Microsystems. I’ve deleted everything but it just highlights to me the dangers of sending malfunctioning computer equipment to the manufacturers who then “refurbish” or “recondition” it without even going to the trouble of performing a “factory reset” to wipe the memory on the device. And it was disappointing that Tiger Direct does not prominently note that the product is factory recertified. Also, I guess the term factory recertified at Tiger Direct means that product could have been used for more than a year.