Archive for the 'Reviews/Recommendations' Category

Want to know the time in Leura?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

With Wenty and Katoomba both boasting public clocks that keep pretty accurate time, why is Leura bereft?
A new electronic magazine – the Whistler – based in the Blue Mountains, launches with an investigation of just why the clock on the Spires has never worked.
Other stories are of local interest too.
Katoomba Leura Online supports the Whistler in its quest to get the Spires clock working.


Wireless Broadband in the Upper Mountains – 3G

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

You might have seen the reports in the Gazette about opposition to a mobile phone tower in Faulconbridge. This is part of the network upgrade that is to deliver fast wireless data speeds to the Blue Mountains for users of the Vodafone and Optus networks.
These 3G (for 3rd generation) systems offer access to the internet ate speeds that often exceed the wireline ADSL service available on traditional phones.
Over the last few months a couple of friends have shared the roll-out plans for various networks in the upper mountains region.
The NextG network replaced the old CDMA service, and while there are issues for users who are on the fringe of coverage areas (the signal doesn’t travel as far), on the whole it will probably be a good move. The new network offers speeds up to about 7Mbps, although typical speeds are slower, but still several megabits. The other advantage is the NextG network is HSDPA, the standard just about everybody is using, so handsets and modems will be cheap in time.
This network is running now, and pretty well covers the upper mountains. I don’t believe there are any plans to further expand coverage in our area, so if you cannot get it now, you are probably out of luck.
Optus and Vodafone launched a joint network upgrade for metropolitan areas last year, with them sharing the cost of upgrading the base stations to 3G. Interestingly, the information I have says the metro region includes base stations all the way to Leura. I also suspect they expect to cover Katoomba from the Leura station, so don’t read that as excluding Katoomba. Even Blackheath might get some coverage as the straight line distance will be within range.
I haven’t got a date on when the upgrade will go ahead, but the Optus coverage website says upgrades will be done by July 2008.
I don’t believe they will make this date, based on some scheduling information I have seen from Vodafone.
As the other partner in the Optus expansion, Vodafone’s network will come on at the same time. Their project plan states all metro upgrades (the whole joint venture project) will be complete by May 2009. This is why I doubt the Optus date.
Significantly, delays like that in Faulconbridge could extend this deadline further, and I am unaware whether the Leura upgrade will require a new mast (and possible associated delays) or whether the existing sites will suffice.
The second part of the Vodafone story is their 3G upgrade for non-metro sites. This is a separate project on their own, aiming to cover 95% of the population (slightly more than they cover now) with 3G services.
This project is scheduled to complete by December 2008, and has Ericcsson supplying the kit. Interestingly, they intend to upgrade all nodes then switch them all on at the same time, rather than as the upgrades are completed.
Vodafone claims after this upgrade you will be able to access 3G services anywhere you can currently get a standard GSM signal from them.
At the time of writing, the Vodafone 3G signal extends just west of Lapstone, with slower GPRS available for most of the train ride to the Upper Mountains.
3 launched the first 3G network, covering a fair bit of Sydney, but coverage peters out in the lower mountains. 3 have no current plans to extend this, so mountains residents will have to continue looking enviously at the cheap data bundles they offer. Note that 3 users can access data in the mountains, but it is via roaming onto Telstra GPRS at ruinous expense ($1.65 per MB) and pretty slow.
I’m including Unwired here even though their technology is different from the phone companies. They currently offer no service in the upper mountains and have no firm plans to extend here. They do expect to change their network architecture to WIMAX, which will, in theory, allow wider coverage, so a future expansion would cost less.
That said, they do recognise the need to expand coverage, so we’ll see what happens.

If you have money to burn, or a critical need for mobile broadband, then Telstra NextG is your only current option. Optus and Vodafone offer some cheap data plans, but the best Optus offers require you to bundle your home phone (and they do not extend their best deals for fixed lines to the mountains) and neither service operates at broadband speeds in the Upper Mountains yet.
The interesting thing will be to see whether the Optus/Vodafone upgrades scheduled for the upper mountains happen before or after the Australia wide Vodafone upgrade. It would be pretty annoying if rural areas get a 3G competitor to Telstra before the mountains.

Best deal for telecoms in the mountains

Monday, April 14th, 2008

In my day job I work for a phone company (AAPT) and sometimes need to analyse call plans for customers.

If you live in the upper mountains, you might have wondered which phone plan is right for you. As a general rule, anybody but Telstra used to be the right choice for your home phone supplier, but in the last few years it has become a little trickier.

For customers living as far west as Katoomba, Telstra offer a plan that has a feature called the Wide Area Call option. This lets customers have a 25c local call as far away as 50km over the charging zone, which happens to take in all of metro Sydney if you live east of Medlow Bath (Medlow/Blackheath/Mt Vic residents might like to contact Telstra to see whether it covers them too). To get this deal you must choose line rental plan “Homeline Plus” and elect the Wide Area Call option. There is another option with capped STD rates called “Regional Call” that is not such a good deal.

For mountains folk with family in Sydney who make few other STD or international calls and don’t call many mobiles, this deal is probably the best among the traditional telcos, however, be aware it has high flagfall (39c) for all timed calls and quite high fixed to mobile charges. This means if most of your bill is calls to mobiles, the saving from cheaper calls to Sydney are unlikely to off-set these high charges.

For everyone else, you probably want a deal that offers low prices on all call types. I personally use the AAPT Anytime Plus, an old fashioned sort of tariff where you just pay for what you use, which suits me as we don’t make many calls (and I get a discount from work).

The main game, though, are the capped plans, although they are a bit of a misnomer as they are not really capped. These plans charge you a fixed fee, like $49 per month, for a large value of included calls, and in some cases, unlimited calls. Even Telstra is offering this sort of deal (although theirs is $89.95).

Soul, GoTalk, AAPT and a bunch of little operators offer capped or bundled plans. All are reasonably close in price if you are an average sort of user (that is, you make a mix of calls, not a disproportional number to international or one number or something). If your phone bill at the moment is over $80 including line rental, it is pretty likely one of these plans will be cheaper. Note Optus plans aren’t available in the upper mountains as they can only be accessed where their network is.

Finally, if you make *very* few calls, say you use Skype or some other VoIP service, or make all your calls from a mobile, the cheapest line rental if you need to have a fixed line installed is Telstra’s HomeLine Budget.

All this is based on people who don’t use broadband Internet and don’t make many calls to mobiles. If you have ADSL and a couple of mobiles in your house, you can probably save a few more dollars by bundling them all together. I’ll do a post a bit later about that.