Bell Bull

April 19, 2008

Yes, it’s late and I’m irate about the whole Canadian ISP thing with Bell.ca throttling their last mile connections, no matter who’s upstream of that, on e pretense that “it’s not fair otherwise”.

Their claim: 5% of users use over 30% of bandwidth, to the tune of 33%, at peak times. Leaving the other 95% with the remaining two-thirds. What this translates into is one in twenty users using nearly 10x the bandwidth of the average user. So you have one user in the twenty responsible for the same amount of traffic as ten “average” others combined. Or maybe just nine.

But let’s think for a minute. Who do they say the “average” user is? Maybe it’s unbiased an all, but if the “average” user puts through 5GB of traffic per month (normalizing for various usage patterns between high-average and low-average, that’s about 167 MB per day, plenty for web surfing and e-mail and the occasional YouTube video and such other traffic) then the “bandwidth thieves” are only putting through 50 GB per month. That could be surfing, downloading *legal* music and movies, watching video, listening to podcasts, backing up their computers to the internet…$20 spent on AmazonMP3 music means probably 100 MB downloaded, my weekly podcast bunch is probably to the tune of 200 MB, you have movies weighing in at 700-1500 MB apiece…

Then, on the off change that you want to upload a trip movie to Google Video, plus some photos to Flickr, you might use several hundred megs per day on just that. Backing up your system might take several gigs per month…so basically using the internet for all it’s worth…all legally…may put you in the “abuser” bracket. Forget long talks on VoIP…a voice conversation is a megabyte per minute so if you talked a half-hour per day you’re talking about nearly a gigabyte per month right there. A five-minute video call to whoever would cost 30 MB of data at minimum, probably more like 50. Not to mention websites being rather unwieldy these days. A download of Microsoft Office weighs in at a few gigabytes, and every month a few hundred megabytes of patches come in from the operating system vendor of your choice. Did I mention streaming video from decent-quality sites like Revision3 or Hulu?

In short, just because you’re actually using the internet like it’s 2008 doesn’t mean that you should be throttled like the backbone is from 1998. If the DSL equipment feels that old, it needs to be expanded and replaced; throttling should not be passed onto the customer or whatever ISP you’re renting your lines out to just because you don’t feel like doing the work needed to add capacity.

In closing, my computer has been active for nearly eight hours. In this time I’ve transferred around 3.3 GB of information to and from the network. I’ll have to change by computer’s habits on checking e-mail, backing up information and probably surfing the web when I go home for the summer; the ISP there limits users to 25 GB of transfer per month. Then again, the connection is slow enough that I may or may not be able to max that out anyway…

Moral of the story: the internet needs competition in the ISP space, not penalties for progress. Bring on the fully open, ten-megabit links to whoever wants them…though thirty or fifty is perferable 🙂

EvDO In North America

April 19, 2008

Amid Europe’s supposed 3G awesomeness the gauntlet is thrown down that their 3G (UMTS, HSDPA, basically the upgrade path for the GSM tech they have over there) is the best 3G out there, and that we stupid (North) Americans have no idea what we’re doing with this non-GSM technology…I beg to differ…especially when you’re actually in the U.S…

First off, if Kevin Rose can’t get a decent Qik video out over his Nokia phone using WiFi, I gotta wonder how good the cell networks are over in Europe, data-speed-wise. Maybe better than I think, but then again if you take an iPhone over there you may not be able to get even EDGE data. On the other hand the networks seem to have skipped EDGE in favor of UMTS data, so things go both ways…

But as I was saying, EvDO…

Well, done right, it’s awesome.

In the U.S. you have quite a few carriers with networks supporting this 3G technology. Sprint, Verizon and Alltel are the biggest ones, covering probably over 250 million, if not more, people with the high-speed network. I think at least 240 million of those have access to the highest-speed version currently out there, Revision A, which allows for faster uploads, slightly faster downloads and a generally better internet experience, though regardless it’s great. You also have smaller carriers like CricKet adding the tech to their networks. Though they may or may not contribute to the whole population-covered figure of EvDO coverage, it’s really neat to see three carriers covering the same area with high-speed data over the air. That’s more competition that you usually get on the wireline side of things (read: cable + DSL). If you go up north into Canada, two of the three big networks up there (Telus and Bell…the other is Rogers) have this data system rolled out as well. Mexico has a carrier that’ll allow you to use any of their (small…see my post about it) network, prepaid, to access high-speed data.

Contrast this to the current state of affairs on UMTS-based 3G in the Americas. There are exactly three carriers who, to my knowledge, operate such networks, with a fourth one coming (T-Mobile in the U.S.) These three are AT&T (US), Rogers (Canada) and Telcel (Mexico). The thing is, though a large proportion of each carrier’s phones are capable of 3G data, the places you can actually get such service is small. Probably combined the data area would be smaller on UMTS than the network of just one big CDMA carrier, EvDO-wide (Alltel, Sprint, Verizon). It probably doesn’t help matters that UMTS is actually a TOALLY different tech than the GSM it sits alongside, as far as deployment goes to the various networks that have taken that route.

Also, UMTS is a bit slow…

Though it boasts theoretical speeds (1.8, 3.6 or even 7.2 megabits per second) that surpass that CDMA (2.4 or 3.1 megabits) can deliver, from everyone’s experience (or it seems that way) CDMA looks to win out in everyday use as “the fastest gun”. Not only does it have more coverage in the Americas, it actually comes closer to its theoretical limits on download speed than HSDPA (the upgrade of UMTS that’s the fast stuff) does. I’ve on several occasions connected my EvDO-powered smartphone (the Mogul on Sprint) to my computer and surfed the web with it, wherever I happened to be. The speeds were a little slower on the uptake than your common DSL connection, but once you start downloading information the speeds are highly comparable. This is from a wireless system, available in tons of places and on probably 90% of new phones that use the CDMA network at all. Contrast this with AT&T’s offering: I walk into an AT&T store (which is of course full bars on their service) and test out the laptop that was showcasing their HSDPA data service. Keep in mind this isn’t going through the bottleneck of a slow phone. The speeds I was feeling seemed comparable to satellite internet, and that’s not a compliment. 

Yes, you can use EvDO as your only internet provider, as long as you don’t mind things not being mach-speed fast. In fact, hopefully I’ll be switching my parents onto such a system sooner than later. Though you’ll want Sprint or Alltel, who don’t cap off your data transfer at five gigabytes per month, as opposed to Verizon or CricKet, who do. Unless you’re just doing very light web surfing or something similarly non-content-heavy. Anyhow, you just grab a data card and either plug it into your computer or set it up somehow to be shared via your home network if you have such a thing. The easiest (albeit rather expensive) way to do this is vy grabbing a router for the task from the likes of Cradlepoint via http://www.3gstore.com. Or grab a WiFi-equipped smartphone (like the Mogul), get an app called WMWiFiRouter on it and share your internet that way.

I must say that I’m very happy with what I’ve seen of EvDO, from using it on various vacations to just having a fast connection on my cell phone with which I can get information when and where I need it. My school campus’ WiFi is for my iPhone; my Mogul runs EvDO 24/7 and it’s just grrrreat.

I have been meaning to write about this for a bit over a week now but have finally gotten around to it. Let’s sit back and compare Mexico’s cellular system to our own, and see how good ours is in comparison…

The country has around 110 million people, as opposed to a bit over 300 million here in the US. Land area is disproportionately smaller vs. the population. As to cell service, the top ten carriers alone in the US probably have 250 million subscribers, but then again you’ve got lots of small U.S. phone services that may make up for another several million people with cell service. This is actually an amazingly high ratio compared with Mexico, where a mere 65-ish million customers. Looks like four carriers dominate the space, with one being a near-monopolistic leader…

The Numero Uno, as it were, for Mexican cellular, is Telcel, with a staggering 74% of ALL cellular customers in its grip. Think AT&T back when they were renting you your phone. Okay, not that bad but still, Telcel is in a similar position to AT&T, complete with GSM technology and the number one spot in the Mexican cellular industry. Granted, it’s smaller than the top three carriers in the nation above it, but still…

Anyway, you can get their phones, both prepaid and postpaid, practically everywhere and, due to licenses in both 800 and 1900 MHz GSM, coverage is good too. Though the coverage map sort of looks like T-Mobile in the U.S. to tell you the truth. In other news, just recently (about a month and a half ago) Telcel launched 3G service in some of Mexico’s larger cities. Generally sounds like AT&T, except a few years later. It also seems like they have 55% of their employees dedicated to customer service…wonder what the figure is like in other carriers.

Okay, so enough about the 45-million-pound gorilla of cellular service in Mexico. There is another GSM provider, which seems to be the functional equivalent of T-Mobile in the U.S. Its name: Movistar. Part of the Telefonica international empire, Movistar is bigger in size, ratio-wise, than the next-biggest carrier the same way Telcel is bigger than Movistar. They have 11-ish million subscribers and their coverage seems to have gotten better recently, now reaching nearly as far as Telcel’s. There are even some areas where Movistar has coverage and telcel doesn’t. At any rate, the carrier’s rates seem a bit better than Telcel’s but otherwise you’re just dealing with another GSM carrier that cells a huge variety of phones, including some brands (likely made in China) that I’ve never heard of before, or that I’ve never heard of hawked by U.S. carriers before. Okay, I take that back; the company now known as CellularOne (formerly Chinook Wireless in Montana, formerly Blackfoot Wireless and 3 Rivers Wireless) sells an Alcatel phone or two.

Next up, we’ve got Iusacell. Looks like their network (on which 4 million people have service, the vast majority of them prepaid…even with data service) is fully 3G. That’s right, this company (whose website looks dated in my opinion…but I can say that of all the Mexican cellular operators) has full EvDO data (probably Rev. 0 though…I’d be surprised if they had Rev. A) network-wide, for as low as 599 pesos per month! This translates into a little under $57 per month at the moment. Not bad, until you find out that their network coverage, at least with the map I have, puts CricKet to shame in terms of spotty coverage. They probably cover all the population centers in the country, but outside of that you may need a TelCel or Movistar prepaid phone. But hey, they’ve got real, fast (I’m supposing) 3G! Too bad they’re the only CDMA carrier in the country, so roaming coverage is nonexistent…

Last and least, at least in terms of subscriber count (but not in coverage!) is Nextel Mexico. Unlike the U.S. version of the company, these guys seem perfectly happy keeping the iDEN technology alive. I’m betting this is because nobody has put up a serious 3G network to which data customers would go, added to their spectrum’s being separate from the fight over 800/1900 that CDMA and GSM must face. They also have a business niche, with the best walkie-talkie service in the land (sound familiar? Iusacell and Telcel both have PTT but they’re the same lame jobs that haunted AT&T and pre-merger Sprint). as a warning, there are some places where Nextel doesn’t have coverage where Movistar and Telcel do, but the coverage is probably an order of magnitude better than Iusacell’s mainly soutn-Mexico chickenscratch. The 800MHz MIRS channels on which iDEN runs probably helps with that coverage. On the less bright side of things, with only two million customers the Mexican government (!?!) had to tell the other three carriers to hook their lines to Nextel’s. So that means that before then some Nextel phones (at least) weren’t able to call out to normal landlines and cellular phones out-of-network? This is MADNESS! But hey, they offer an unlimited plan for a similar price to what you’d get in the U.S.

So there you have it. The wireless landscape of mexico has been bared, showing that there are a mere four carriers serving the nation, with many areas where no cell phone of a normal sort may tread. There, CDMA is almost gone, iDEN is small but powerful and GSM (complete with calling-part-pays service) rules the roost without a doubt, with over 90% of the market. That’s why I like being in America (okay, that’s not the only reason), where I can have high-speed internet access on a huge nationwide network, with roaming onto other carriers as needed, where if I wanted to I could pick up four prepaid phones off of different carriers and all of them be using different towers. A place where not four but SIX or SEVEN cell phone carriers have service…a place where the largest carrier is by no means a near-monopoly, and the smallest carrier sticks around because nobody else offers service where it does. A place where I can get unlimited service from all seven of the carriers offering service to my single spot, where I can have my high-speed data and high-speed push-to-talk. A place where I don’t pay or everything in pesos and where “no hablamos Español” is cool. 🙂

Let me preface this by saying that, though I want to go into the industry, I’m by no means an expert on how all the backend stuff works on either cable or fiber internet. Or DSL for that matter. But I sort of know what’s going on, and I think that counts for something…

Looks like I’m gonna make this brief too. Got a lot to do.

Anyway here are some prices that I’ve found for internet out there, proving that Comcast could do better than its current offering (50 megabits down, 5 up, for $150 per month, $180 business edition I think)…the speeds are down/up in megabits per second

$90 50/20 (FiOS)

$140-$160 30/15 (FiOS in another area)

20/20 $77 (FiOS)

30/5 $62 (OptimumOnline Cable)

As you can see, it seems like cable is limited to 5 megabits upstream speed, though downstream speed can get pretty high. So don’t be too hard on cable for that…they still haven’t perfected “channel bonding” which allows faster upload speeds on their new DOCSIS 3.0 spec. So maybe we’ll see higher speeds, or maybe they can afford to overpromise on download speeds but not on uploads since people are looking to send stuff and want some way to do it reliably and quickly rather than an over-promise under-deliver type of thing. Then again, FiOS can do twenty megabits up with no problem, so why not Comcast? And why does Comcast cost $150 per month for a connection that I’m sure is going to be throttled in some way? Dunno, but gotta end this post somewhere, otherwise I’ll not have enough time for homework…

Heard about the Dell laptop that is a mere $879 including a built-in Blu-Ray drive? Well, let’s explore this further, and also explore my reasoning on why NOT to get it at this point in time.

First off, the format war has ust ended, discounting the HD VMD people over in India, who will probably convert eventually. That or be of no consequence.  What we have at the moment is the equivalent of a 2.4x DVD burner drive and an 8x DVD ROM drive, at about the time that those came out, in terms of price and format maturity. Though it seems that Blu Ray hasn’t quite caught on the way that these formats had at that point, and it seems as though it won’t for awhile, even though there’s no such thing as the +R/-R weirdness that was eventually mitigated by the inexpensive inclusion of both formats into a single drive at very little extra expense.

Anyway, right now the best Blu-Ray readers and writers can slurp data off the discs, or burn the data onto them, at 18 megabytes per second. This is on a desktop drive (laptop drives are, as usual, half the speed) and, I’m pretty sure, at the outer perimeter of the disc, meaning that the real burn speed will be slower. Granted, this may seem astoundingly fast, considering that DVDs’ write speeds in similar terms would be 14x or so, close to the 16x generally accepted as the “mature” speed for the spec. Pretty good, right? Well,the same could be said of the DVD technology when it came out, as compared to CD burning, though to a slightly smaller extent; a 2.4x DVD burner was faster than a 20x CD burner (this was the first real burn speed as far as I know), a 4x model breaking 32x CD-speed-wise, and an 8x burner outpacing the CD burning ability entirely.It looks lik, between formats, there’s a bit over 2x in speed advantage between one and another, on maximums. Problem is, storage capacities increase by much more. A typical CD can be burned in well under two minutes by the top-speed burners. A DVD is, at minimum, four minutes. Dual-layer DVDs aren’t even a perectly max’d out technology yet, though their storage capacity pales in comparison with that of Blu-Ray…you see, Blu-Ray discs hold 25GB of stuff. It will take, at best, nine or ten minutes to write all that stuff to disc, or read it out linearly. But we can’t complain, since DVD-ROM drives take longer to read the whole disc than CD-ROM. Right now, DVD is the faster technology outright, while DB is still very much in a development stage, with the discrepancy in media costs reaching as much as two orders of magnitude for a little over 5.3x the storage density.

Now we come to the other, big, consideration: price. Both in computing horesepower and in cash money, which go hand in hand anyway.  Dell wants $280 over the price of the baseline combro drive in its Inspiron 1525 in order for a combo Blu-Ray reader and DVD\CD writer to be put in the laptop. For the same price the processor on the laptop could be upgraded from a measly Celeron M to a powerful, new-generation Core 2 Duo, with $5 to spare. If you want the BD burner, shell out another $200, versus the $30 difference (for a slim drive) between a DVD combo and a DVD burner. But that’s not all; even though the Inspiron has to have a dedicated media accelerator card just to render the BD video (Intel’s current-gen integrated graphics, the X3100 set, can’t do the job), it’s time to pay $100 to up your processor to at least a “real” Core 2 Duo, which has to have 1.83 GHz of dual core processing power; the Celeron M that comes stock won’t work, and neither will the next level up, a 1.73 GHz “Pentium Dual Core”. This is after the format wars have gone on for a long while…my guess is it’ll be a year before all computers are powerful enough to even play the gosh-darned tings. Whereas, once DVD-ROM drives were made available in PCs, practically anything could play a DVD and midrange rigs were able to burn them in short order. You could even outit an older machine with a burner and have it work nicely…anything lower than high-midrange a year and a half ago probably can’t do Blu-Ray in any shape, form or fashion. $880 plus tax (making the total more like $940 or $950) for a computer that can play HD movies is just pathetic. $400 for a player (PS3) worth its salt…same thing. Keep i mind that right now you can buy a laptop that will play DVDs admirably for $400, and burn them for maybe $450..or take the Dell at $500 or $530 plus tax, respectively. Versus $880 or $1080 plus tax if you want your shiny new format.

If you’re wondering, there are cheaper deals to be had on Blu-Ray as well. A desktop-size reader is $130 on Newegg. A combo reader\DVD-burner is $180.  A burner is $330…sounds like the early days of DVD burning, doesn’t it? Again, horsepower required, as well as a flawless chain of secured computer components in order to make sure that you get video coming out from that hot new Blu-Ray title you just got. Yeagh.

Sure, businesses may pick this tech up as faster than tape drives and lower in cost, but for the same price as one Blu-Ray drive and 250 GB of write-once storage right now, you can get two terabytes worth of external storage, on rewriteable media (aka hard drives). Or upload, download and online storage for that same data for a whopping eleven months via Amazon S3, or close to that

Of course, prices will come down and Blu-Ray will eventually become the media of the present rather than the future, but right now I wouldn’t buy it unless you’re getting the Nine Inch Nails deluxe package and want to remix the content to your heart’s desire. Then you need the Blu-Ray reader to get all that loevly data off the disc. But otherwise, I don’t think anyone is going to see widespread adoption of Blu-Ray until 2010 or even 2011, another twenty or thirty months, at which point internet connections will be nearly as fast as disc reads (if latency isn’t too bad on the ‘net connection and you’re doing random BD reads, which take awhile), and flash disks will offer value similar to what Blu-Ray does now at speeds that will trump Blu-Ray then. Who knows…people may end up downloading more real movies to their combo set-top box\Blu-Ray player over the interwebs than they will consume by the box’s physical media slot, especially if things keep moving as slowly as they are right now. Even if HD movies on AppleTV lok like creepin’ crud versus the beauty of minimally compressed (comparatively) 2-megapixel-per-image content sucked off a metal disc by a blue laser.

Updates and a Cold

March 23, 2008

Happy Easter everyone!

Sorry I haven’t updated this blog in forever (2 months+). I have however just updated the My Work and About Me pages. Check ’em out.

Gotta go though (sorry for such a short post); I’m recovering from a cold I contracted yesterday (no more boxes of kleenex in my dorm room :/ ) and have to catch supper…wait…never mind, I can just eat the food that I got from my aunt\uncle’s Easter brunch this morning\early afternoon. I’m sure it’ll taste better than the infamous Mines Slate Café. More on changing that place on my Twitter, now my personality spamming method of choice. Check it out by following the link in the link bar at right.

I’m now spending most of my time on an Apple computer, the 20″ 2.4 GHz iMac. I also use a Dell Inspiron e1505 and a Toshiba R100, both of which just run Windows. In my opinion, compared with the typical big-box computer (there are exceptions, like some Dell laptops, mainly the XPS series, and some other units by other lesser-known manufacturers) units by Apple hold some advantages if you’re deciding to purchase one over the other:

1. No promos
I like promo-hunting but lots of people don’t. Apple’s simply computer line  doesn’t rapidly vacillate in price, and the relative dearth of customization options make it pretty easy to figure out what Mac you’re gonna buy. Easier than, say, buying a PC from elsewhere.

2. It can run the best of both worlds.
Macs run Windows too. And they run their own pretty-darn-good operating system. So while in the hardware arena ou give up some choice by going Apple, you get twice the operting system choice you do normally from a PC. Heck, the percentage is actually less…in a good way…x86-based Linux will run perfectly fine on n Apple unit.

3. They don’t skimp on components
As opposed to the PC manufacturers, which start you off with 512 MB of 533 MHz memory, a single core 1.46 GHz processor and a rather limited operating system, not to mention a lowcapacity battery in some instances, for Apple computers the low-end models are perfectly capable of doing everyday tasks very smoothly. The desktop situation is a bit better for PCs, since Apple elects to use a bunch of notebook components in their iMac(the only thing I don’t really like about having that system). But to get down to cheap price levels, PC makers skimp on components that Apple doesn’t, thus making Apple look betterand PCs look nearly as costly as Macs when you get similar features, at least on the consumer end of things. Macbook Pros are much more expensive than Dell XPS m1530s, but less expensive than workstation laptop models that Dell tucks away in the business categor. Likewise, Mac Pros are more expensive than high-end home machines, but are cheap compared with desktop workstations in many cases. :/

4. They DO skimp on bloatware
PC makers are getting better about this, but Apple never had any problems with it to start with. One suggestion that you might want to buy a .Mac subscription, and you’re on your way. All trial versions of software are neatly tucked away should you want them, but they’re tucked away so you won’t be annoyed if you don’t want them. Again, Dell at least is slimming down the junk they include with their computers, so that the darn things will run with 1 GB of memory and a rather slow dual-core processor in a Vista environment without grinding to a screeching halt, but no matter whether you put Windows or just keep Mac OS on your Apple computer,  things are quite clean.

5. Mac OS is pretty, and so are Apple computers
Don’t get me wrong, Windows Vista looks awesome, and actually is much flashier than Apple’s Leopard OS. But Mac OS X has been doggone beautiful since pretty much the start, and thus applications built for the system are actually made to look nice, as opposed to a rather haphazard collection of Windows doodads. It’s probably easier for programmers to make pretty Mac apps, too, what with all the developer tools Apple builds into the operating system. Oh, and on the hardware side, while PC makers are getting better about this every day, I still think my iMac looks better than the Dell XPS One system. The Macbook also looks very cool compared with…oh…every other laptop on the market, though expansion capabilities, beyond memory and hard disk space, are nil internally. Yep, no ExpressCard slot on that little bad boy.

So if you just want to use your computer, whether that means using WIndows or using Mac OS, the Apple bunch trumps Dell, Gateway, HP et al. Though if you’re willing to work it a bit, the latter manufacturers will get you a better deal on a better system. Just be prepared to delete a few miscellaneous trial versions at the get-go. Oh, and your computer won’t be designed by Apple in California, for what that’s worth. Hey, I have nothing against anybody…yet…my next normal laptop will likely be the Dell XPS m1530. My next ultraportable, coming soon? If it proves worth the wierd USB and headphone jack arrangement, the Macbook Air.