Island Life by David Slack

So Long, Spot

I was going to be posting this on Tuesday, and here it is Friday. Not that I’m complaining in the least, but you publish a topical book and you end up taking a lot of time out of your week for interviews. That and having a few beers in Wellington with your publisher.

Meanwhile back at home, a small technological triumph has been quietly proving itself to be the best bloody Internet service I have ever had. I don’t know anything about the people who put together the wireless service at Wired Country, but if they have to commute across water to get to work in the morning, I have every reason to believe they get there on foot.

This unalloyed enthusiasm springs from two significant periods in my Internet life: a long and harrowing experience with early Internet satellite technology, and the inevitable defeated rage you develop at having to take your high-speed Internet supply from the cosseted, monopoly-protected, bloated, imagination-challenged and chronically under-achieving “corporate” that is Telecom.

Dead right I don’t like them, and it’s not because, as some people assumed when I mentioned their profit in the Treaty quiz, that I’m some kind of corporation-hating lefty. Capitalism and free trade suit me just fine, but if Telecom is a fair representation of a vibrant corporation fighting the good economic fight in Adam Smith’s ideal world, than I have a passport to the Netherlands.

First things first. I can’t remember when I got my first satellite dish from Ihug. 1997? At any rate, whatever date it was that they launched the service, I was on the phone, with my credit card number ready. Internet at several times the speed of dial-up? You bet I was interested.

The Wood brothers were thinking up some new service every week at that time, or so it seemed. This was just one of many new services they were cooking up as the cash came rolling in, and I suspect that the quality suffered a little because of that. The idea was excellent: phone signal for the path up, and a dish to catch the signal coming down from the sky tower and into your PC. The execution, however - at least as far as the dish on our roof in Stanley Bay was concerned - proved to be less than perfect.

At the outset, it was beautiful. Blazing speeds, streaming audio, Internet just like my friends in the States with T1 connections had been describing.

But that state of grace lasted just a short while, then turned to custard. The connection would hang, the signal would drop out, and in an infinite variety of ways this delicately balanced mechanism would flip spectacularly off the highwire and plunge to its electronic death.

In the end, my daily routine would be: check email, check site, browse for about ten minutes, and then lose connectivity. Remedies then included all or any of the following: Uninstall software. Pull out card. Reinstall card. Reinstall software. Climb on to roof. Check dish. Change configuration (wide range of settings under consideration at any given day). Call Ihug, talk over problem. Go over to Ihug, pick up new card. Go over to Ihug, pick up replacement for new card. Repeat. Spend time with Ihug technician as they climb onto roof, check dish, come down, take out card, reinstall, etc, etc. Participate with Ihug technician in three-way discussion with radio frequency inspector from Ministry of Commerce (no, really) assessing whether neighbouring Navy yard may be trampling over signal. Repeat exercise re: interference from the (no really) airport. Participate with Ihug technician as we abandon taking feed from Sky Tower and install bigger satellite to receive signal from satellite. Repeat previous procedures. Participate with Ihug technician as we replace satellite dish with big-ass dish substantial enough in size to make someone like Nicky Hager look twice. Repeat previous procedures.

I learned more recently when Juha Saarinen moved into our street and we started discussing ideas for something - anything - to get an alternative to Jetstream that he had some years earlier tried to get the same Ihug service in his place elsewhere in Devonport. “Can’t help you, sorry” they’d said. “We have this customer not far from you and you wouldn’t believe how much grief we’ve been having with his setup.”

Telecom of course, took their own sweet time to come up with high-speed Internet, and when Jetstream was finally unveiled, I manfully determined to persevere with the Ihug service. But in the end, I just got weary of the trials of it all.

I called up the Telecom people and hooked up to Jetstream. By comparison to the preceding ordeal, it was pretty damn good, although in retrospect there were a good number of teething problems and inadequacies in the first couple of adsl modems they supplied. And, of course, there were data caps. Didn’t have them at Ihug; soon got to see what a pain in the arse they were. You hit your cap, and from then onwards, it becomes a bit like buying a book and then handing over another dollar for each page you turn after the fourth chapter.

You looked at the comparative pricing for broadband in other countries, and you looked at some of the rates they were charging here for frame relay and the like, and you got the clear feeling that you were being treated like the fish in the proverbial barrel. No wonder their uptake figures were, for so long, so puny.

Hoped the commissioner might fix it; didn’t happen. If 256k is broadband then I am the aforementioned Dutchman.

And yet, and yet…maybe Mr Webb had been taken on a tour of Wired Country, because when he said that wireless posed a viable alternative to broadband he wasn’t as far off the mark as I thought he was. If you were to take just Woosh into consideration, I’d say that was a weak sort of offering. As far as I can tell – and feel free to contradict me - that option is not stable enough, not fast enough and simply doesn’t represent value enough to constitute a viable competitor.

But this Wired Country one, piped into me by the most able and conscientious Craig at (and do by all means drop him a line and ask them about this excellent service) is absolutely the – as they say – business.

You want speed? Blazing. You want stability? Rock solid. You want data caps? How about one you’ll never hit?

If there's anyone out there who’s been involved in developing this product, I’d be fascinated to hear from you. What did you do right? Is this a result of good management? Intelligent development? Adequate resources? Good long-term planning? Whatever you’ve done you’ve got it right, and you should take a bow.

This has been worth the wait, and Spot? Don’t come around here looking for any more Jellimeat.