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Open Letter to Senator Stephen Conroy on the state internet access in Australia

Hello Senator,

I have recently relocated my IT business from outer metropolitan Melbourne to country Victoria. The state of the internet in this country is a joke.

A professional associate of mine in Paris has access to 100Mbps down and 10Mbps up unlimited fibre. This costs him 45EUR p/m which includes line rental for a POTS equivalent phone service and basic cable TV. Setup is throw in if you take it for 1 or 2 years - he couldn't remember the term of the commitment.

I have a contractor in Hong Kong who has access to a network many times faster than people living in similar conditions in Melbourne.

In Tecoma I had access to business grade Naked ADSL2+ for $85 per month with 25G of data and a fixed IP address. Not included in the download quota was access to streaming radio, Linux and other Free/Open Source software (and some not so free), and some ABC content. If I exceeded my quota I would be shaped. The setup fee was $129. With this service I could use a high quality VoIP service for cheap calls overseas, where some of my clients and contractors are located.

Now I am living in country Victoria I am unable to even get ADSL1 - despite being informed by Telstra on 2 occasions that it was possible - "it won't be a problem just call us once you move in".

I am now stuck with a very sub optimal solution.

I am using currently using 2 HSDPA modems on the Optus network with directional antennas. During the week at best I can get 1.5Mbps/150kbps from each link. Each service has a 6G usage quota for $50p/m each, with excess usage charges of $153.60 per Gb (or 0.15c per Mb). All traffic is counted (both up and down).

The Optus network is stretched and even worse on weekends and evenings. The service is also unsuitable for VoIP, so I have to pay more for my calls too. Optus doesn't offer fixed IP addresses or an accurate tool for measuring usage. In every way their service is inferior to ADSL.

The equipment I used to set this up properly cost me close to $1000. I also spent several days setting it all up and paid for professional assistance with the project. As the service is not eligible for the Broadband Guarantee scheme I have to wear these costs as part of running a business in a rural area.

Satellite is completely unsuitable for my business due to the latency, slow speeds and a requirement of a minimum 2 year commitment. The claim that satellite offers a "metro-comparable level" of service is laughable - 1024/256kbps with 5G of data for over $100 per month and a $3000 setup fee is extortion.

My only other option is Telstra's Next G service which requires a 3 year commitment and costs considerably more than the similar service from Optus.

I am located near Newstead, less than 2 hours drive from the centre of Melbourne, not 200kms west of Uluru. I expect that I should be able to get reliable phone and internet services at reasonable prices with a choice of carriers. Based on my (somewhat limited) knowledge of the area less than half the connections from the exchange here can access ADSL. The current situation here is reliable, value for money or available - pick 2.

Anecdotal evidence would suggest that many businesses in rural areas are constrained by the lack of quality data services in their area. The lack of proper broadband services in rural areas must cost businesses millions of dollars every year. Local economies also suffer as people are unable to establish businesses which rely on reliable and affordable internet access and so the jobs and investment goes to the larger regional centres or metropolitan areas.

Based on overseas trends the National Broadband Network will be out dated before it is finished. Even with 98% coverage some 400,000 people in Australia will not have access to reliable high speed internet services.

Instead of wasting money on an filtering system which most people don't want, will slow down access and has the potential to cause major head aches for system administrators (not to mention making us an international laughing stock), you should consider investing in the future of rural and regional economies by giving us access to high quality, high speed internet services. My views of the filter scheme are best summed up by a comic.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing about how you plan to fix the state of internet access for tech businesses based in rural and regional Australia.

Yours Faithfully,

Dave Hall

Managing Director

SKWASHD SERVICES PTY LTD

Howto get a Public IP on Vodafone's 3G Network in Australia

Vodafone in Australia offers a pretty good mobile data plan - 5Gb for $39.95 per month. They have recently upped the price to $49.95 p/m.

Unlike 3, vodafone doesn't offer a public IP addresses to their "mobile broadband" customers. Vodafone pitch this as a business product. I don't agree with it, but I can see how you could justify only offering a NAT'd IP address when using your handset to access the internet or maybe even as a tethered modem. Such logic can't be sustained when offering a HSDPA modem as a "mobile broadband" service. If it is mobile "broadband" then it should be similar to a fixed line broadband service.

After discovering VF only offer a handful of gateways for their data customers, I tried finding out about getting a dynamic public IP address.

To cut a long story short, after 4 calls to data support, and about the same to corporate support, I was at a dead end. Consumer data support told me that I needed to talk to Corporate data support, who wouldn't talk to me as I wasn't a corporate customer.

Eventually I gave up and called the TIO, who, as always were great. I then called the Vodafone complaints team who struggled with all the details of broadband, public IPs, gateway IPs, various service acronyms and the terms which I had agreed to.

After a few more phone calls and waits I was finally awarded my dynamic static IP address. They add something to your account to give you access to the full access APN which gives you a public IP and no port restrictions. For the record the APN is "internet", instead of the normal "vfinternet.au", but this won't work unless VF enable it for you. I some how think Vodafone award access as a prize for persistence.

I did a quick check on the vf.au site again tonight and it seems the small print is the same, so if you sign up for the service I think you have good ground for getting a public dynamic IP like I did. It will just take jumping through a few hoops.

Update: The title should have read public not static IP.

Unlocking a Novatel Merlin U530 under Linux

Or another reason why I am glad that I don't use 3 anymore.

I should have posted this some time ago, but forgot and so it has been sitting in my Drivel drafts folder for a bit.

You might want to try these instructions under windows too, if you get a dud unlock. Just use another terminal emulator instead of minicom.

Skip the history and read how to unlock it

I recently switched from 3 mobile to virgin for my UMTS data. I already had a Novatel Merlin U530 card from three. The card isn't fantastic but it works pretty well at upto 384/64Kbps which is good enough for mail and feed reading (my main 2 activities on the train) or ssh.

When trying to get the card unlocked, 3 was less than helpful initially, which is pretty normal for them. Initially the operator told me that my card could not be unlocked, when I asked why I was told it was in my contract. When I read the contract I had signed to the operator I was put on hold. She came back and told me that it couldn't be unlocked, I told her it could as I had read online that it could. Then I hear in the background "just keep telling him it can't be unlocked". When I asked to speak to the person in the background telling her what to say she told me that there was no one telling her what to say. I told her I could hear the guy and that I wanted to either speak to the person or get their name so it could be included in a report to the TIO. I was again put on hold. About 1 minute later I was told that I would be transferred to data services.

After spending a little while on hold I got to speak to someone in data services. First they wanted to know why I wanted my card unlocked, I explained I could get a better deal elsewhere, to which the response was that I could talk to sales to see if there were any new offers available - I declined. Next I had to play 20 questions to make sure I was the account holder and that I was out of contract. After reading the IMEI code off the bottom of the card I was given the unlock code and told that I would be emailed the software - a zip file containing some Windows only application.

I had my content filtering too high so amavis bounced the message the first time. When I rung 3 back, at first 3 told me that I need to talk to my ISP as it was very strange that the message was bounced, I told them I would just use another account - my gmail account. The guy then told me that gmail bounces their messages, so we used my hotmail account.

So now I had the software, so I tried using XP under qemu to talk to the card for the unlocking, no luck. A few days later I borrowed a XP laptop from a friend. By now I had misplaced the unlock code. Back on the 3 merri go round, this time data services was happy to hand over the code. The operator waited on hold while I unlocked the card. I started the application, inserted the card, plugged in the unlock code and got the message confirming that the card was unlocked.

Later that day I tried using a vodafone SIM, no go. Another vodafone SIM no go. My Virgin SIM didn't work either. I tried using the unlock software which kept on erroring.

I thought going to a 3 store might get it fixed quickly. Basically I was told that as the card was out of warranty and I wasn't using a 3 SIM they wouldn't provide any support. The best I could do was pay for a firmware reload from a non authorised service centre.

Back to the 3 call centre merry-go-round. I explained that I was extremely close to lodging a TIO or Consumer Affairs complaint as the card useless and not working as advertised. I spoke to a helpful operator who told me he would escalate the job.

Over the weekend I spent a fair bit of time searching for answers. Eventually I ended up finding a list of AT+C modem commands. In the list was

AT+CLCK

which is for facility lock. I played with it a bit and found that network personalisation was still active, but no other locks were on. This seemed strange to me. I figured this is where my problem was.

This is how I unlocked my card. You must have a 3 (or locking carrier) SIM inserted in the card while attempting this.

I connected to the card using minicom by running the following in a terminal (I didn't need to be root).

minicom /dev/ttyS2
Minicom should then load and output something similar to this
Welcome to minicom 2.2

OPTIONS: I18n 
Compiled on Mar  7 2007, 15:10:03.
Port /dev/ttyS2

               Press CTRL-A Z for help on special keys
                                                     
AT S7=45 S0=0 L1 V1 X4 &c1 E1 Q0                     
OK                                                         

I then entered

AT+CLCK=?

which should return

+CLCK: ("AB","AC","AG","AI","AO","IR","OI","OX","PN","SC")

OK

This is a list of locks available on the card.

Enter the following

AT+CLCK="PN",2

Which means, for network personalisation (PN), query the status (2), which should output

+CLCK: 1

OK

The 1 indicates locked.

You will need your unlock code from your carrier - I do not know how to get it other than via your carrier. This is not a "how to unlock your card with the unlock code" howto. So replace <CODE> with your unlock code.

AT+CLCK="PN",0,<CODE>

The 0 is for unlock. If it works should get OK or something, I forget exactly the response, but ERROR means it failed.

Now your card is unlocked and should work with any carrier.

Use [ctrl] x to quit minicom.

Enjoy!

If you need the settings details for using a Merlin U530 with Virgin Mobile in Australia under Linux try the following

I'm a virgin - again

For a bit over a year I have had a Novatel Merlin U530 data card from 3 mobile. When my contract expired I started to look at churning. At first 3 insisted the card was network locked and couldn't be unlocked, "as stated in your contract". I read them what I had signed and mentioned the TIO, before the supervisor I had heard whispering in the background took the call and sorted out the unlocking.

3's service is good, if you are within the "broadband zone" (read within 35kms of an east coast capital city). The downsides of 3 are that once out of their coverage area, you roam on the Telstra GPRS network (and pay for every Kb on top of the monthly plan fee), and when you need customer service, you wait 20mins to talk to someone in India on a crappy VoIP connection. If the coverage was better and the N95 wasn't still "coming soon", I may have considered their X Series product.

I considered Vodafone, who I use for my phone, but I am not very impressed with VF. The phone I got under contract is a dud. VF keep on calling me to tell me I'm a valued customer and making sure I am happy with the service, but every issue I raise isn't something the person on the other end of the phone can deal with. After my last experience with VF's data services, I am still wary of them. Vodafone's pricing wasn't that great either.

Telstra required a long contract for a poorly priced product. Although their coverage is good, they use a non standard frequency, making my current data card useless. I also try to avoid using Telstra, due to their anti competetive attitude.

Optus uses the same 3G network as Vodafone, so they were appealing. The downside with Optus was price. Their "youth market" subsidiary Virgin Mobile has just released a 3G product with a great price (by Australian standards). With Virgin I get 1G of data per month for 30AUD (including 50AUD worth of calls). The Optus 3G network is still being expanded but is pretty good. In the country Optus'/Virgin's GPRS coverage is pretty good too - at least where I travel to. Although I am limited to 384/64Kbps, I am not locked into any contract.

The only downside with Virgin is the excess data charges - 20AUD per Mb. As I generally average a lot less than 1G p/m, this shouldn't be a problem. Streaming radio on the train should now be an option while checking my emails.