Monday, 16 August 2010

NBN Australia

As the federal election campaign comes to its final week, the issue of national broadband network (NBN) has become one of the most important policy differentiators between Labor and the Coalition.

I have not been paying much attention to NBN until a couple of months ago when a friend of mine was trying to search for jobs in NBN yet found very few. As the government claims that NBN will directly employs tens of thousands of people, you’d expect many job ads from them. But that’s not the case. I did a search on one of the job sites back then and only found a handful.

I posted a question on what real benefits average Australians will expect from the NBN on the NBN Australia discussion group. There has been no answers so far. As I live in a big city and there are many broadband options to choose from – FTTH, cable/HFC, xDSL, 3G or non-standard wireless ones (unWired) offered by many communications service providers (CSPs). I don’t see the need of spending my hard-earned tax dollars trying to improve on something that I cannot experience.

What I do want to see is to spend my hard-earned tax dollars on those who really need it – regional Australia. There is a big gap between big cities and regional area in terms of infrastructure. Some people have to drive for hours just to go to a hospital – that’s if they have a car. For those who don’t, they will have to rely on community buses, which takes even longer.

Dick Smith has raised the issue about population and sustainability in Australia. It was hotly debated on Q&A. One of the issues was population distribution and the infrastructure to support the population. There is no doubt that regional towns want to attract more population and therefore economic growth. You cannot achieve this without improving the infrastructure. So I believe the government should spend less money overall, and focus on narrowing the gap, which will provide real long-term benefits to the Australian people.

Last week, NBN triumphantly announced that the speed of the fibre network can go to 1Gbps – “10 times what they originally envisaged”. At least that is what most of the TV news reports have told you. To non-tech heads like Tony Abbot, that might sound astounding. But when you go into the details, it’s not that exciting but could be puzzling. Apparently the 1Gbps is burst rate, not committed rate (note that the committed rate is what users really experience). Does that mean NBN and the government were originally envisaging 100Mbps burst rate on a FTTH that costs 46 billion dollars, which is downright laughable?

Communication networks are hierarchical and each link of the transmission network matters (by the way, can NBN tell us what the bandwidth between Tasmania and mainland is/are?). The overall user experience also depends on all the links from point A to B. The network speed we experience is equal to the weakest link – see Ultra-fast broadband will be slow on overseas links. Just a few days ago, I downloaded VMWare image of Mac OS X Leopard (2GB) using bit torrent. It took less than 30 minutes. One day later I tried to download Zorin OS – a Ubuntu Linux distro (1GB) using FTP, it took over 8 hours at which point the connection to the website was broken. So I had to redo it the next day using a mirror site which still took a couple of hours, but it was worth it. The OS is awesome!

Also, in a wired home environment (or should I say wireless), people typically use WiFi and laptops. With the latest WiFi standard (802.11n), you can expect 40Mbps (and 200Mbps burst). So again, there is a very weak link right at home.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Google WAVES Good-Bye

Google promised to change communications with Wave, but instead the service has reached an untimely death.I was shocked when I saw the above heading on one of the news items yesterday. I remember I saw an online video of a demo of Wave mid last year. I was very curious and anxious to try it. However, I could not find out how to join! It was apparently by invitation only. Then I forgot about it – until yesterday. So that online video turned out to be my first and last encounter with the great Wave.

Someone sited top 11 reasons why Wave failed. I believe the top reason for me is the missing marketing of the product. Every now and then I would receive promotional emails on my Gmail account about Google Ads. But there has been nothing about Wave. I have resisted the temptation to put it on my blog thus far – mainly because I am too lazy and the traffic to my blog is very low (maybe 60 per day and half of them are from crawlers).

If you take a closer look to how Google works internally, it does not seem so surprising. It is part of Google’s corporate policy to have their employees spend up to 20% of their time to work on any thing that they think interesting. If the management thinks the project has potential, the company will resource and fund it. No doubt Wave was born out of such conditions. So it’s created by nerds for nerds. The Google management probably hoped that it would one day take on the likes of Facebook. Being a nerd I don’t mind the complexity and learning curve – in fact, that’s what draws me to it. But by definition, nerds are not great social networkers – e.g. I joined Facebook and Twitter to test their APIs. That definitely reduced the appeal of Wave.

Also, the near zero marketing of Wave is no surprise considering how Google makes money – through advertising. That is why they advertise Google Ads and leave the other pet projects live and die on their own. From the days Larry and Sergey started Google, they had been focusing on technical superiority rather than monetisation. That had worked on the search engine since it was so far ahead than the others and the user experience is extremely simple. The contrary is true for Wave. So to let Wave catch up with its competitors purely based on its own merit without any marketing will require some time – much longer than the 1 year that Google had given it so far. Even the search engine did not catch on on day one – Larry and Sergey spent their doctorate years in uni to develop the product.

Now that the Wave is flushed down the toilet, I wonder what the Google people in Sydney are doing these days.