Monday, February 26, 2007

BT's Beta Site

I came across BT's Beta site - among the more interesting features is a Web2SMS service, that uses your mobile phone number (so that when you send an SMS via the web site, it looks like it's from your phone). There's also 1571 Online, which lets you download your voicemail from 1571. BT Contact is there, but it's in private Beta (for BT Employees only). Also of note, is a Google Maps mashup, that (when you zoom in, shows you the localtion of BT Openzone hotspots and payphones.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Playing With Web21C SDK

I've had some joy with BT's Web21C SDK for Java. Using the Groovy Scripting language and Google's Data API, I was able to access a Google Calendar and send a text message for each event. Not the best use of either SDK, but at least it was a "proof of concept".

A few things, the Certification Wizard only worked for me via the command line - the GUI caused the VM to blow up. And I needed to compile the groovy script before running, trying to use the groovy command doesn't work (there seems to be a class loading issue).

BT 21CN SDK Now Available For Java, Python and PHP

BT have released Java, Python and PHP versions of the 21CN SDK, so those of us who prefer not to use the .Net platform can get in on the party.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Motorola L6 & Linux

I've been playing with the L6. I've gotten bluetooth transfers working (at least L6 -> Linux, I haven't tried the other way) and with a a USB cable and moto4lin. I had to get the latest version of moto4lin out of CVS in order to use the "C drive" of the L6 - the version in Ubuntu's repository is old and only sees the "A drive".

However I managed to somehow change all the names of the audio files to form I found the list of what they are here, but just in case that disappears off the net, I'll reproduce them below. I've changed a couple of them back, but seeing as I'm sorely tempted to debrand it at some point in the near future (which involves flashing/flexing the device back to Motorola's defaults), I'm not going to bother renaming all of them.

~AlertFile001.mid Alert
~AlertFile006.mid Bells
~AlertFile007.mid Bits & Bites
~AlertFile013.imy Chimes high
~AlertFile014.imy Chimes low
~AlertFile016.imy Chord high
~AlertFile017.imy Chord low
~AlertFile019.imy Claps
~AlertFile020.mid Cosmic
~AlertFile026.imy Ding
~AlertFile027.mid Door Bell
~AlertFile028.imy Drum
~AlertFile032.imy Fanfare
~AlertFile039.mid Harmonics
~AlertFile041.mid Interlude
~AlertFile042.mid Latin Loops
~AlertFile050.imy Notify
~AlertFile056.mid Provincial
~AlertFile057.mid Random
~AlertFile061.mid Snaggle
~AlertFile064.mid Standard
~AlertFile066.imy TaDa
~AlertFile071.mid Triads
~AlertFile073.mid Up and Down
~AlertFile075.mid Wind Chime
~AlertFile094.mid Moonlight Haze
~AlertFile108.mid Ambient Mood
~AlertFile118.mp3 Sharp Edge
~AlertFile128.mid Helix
~AlertFile137.mp3 Moto
~AlertFile150.mid Nocturne
~AlertFile167.mid Power Surge
~AlertFile171.mid Hyperactive
~AlertFile183.mid Digital Signal
~AlertFile199.mid Fluid
~AlertFile202.mid Exotic
~AlertFile203.mid Illumination
~AlertFile204.mid Club
~AlertFile208.mid Motion
~AlertFile209.mid Radiance
~AlertFile210.mid Sensation
~AlertFile214.mid Pulse
~AlertFile216.mid Organic
~AlertFile218.mid Urban Style
~AlertFile219.mid Sky Blue
~AlertFile224.mid Fashion
~AlertFile237.mid Waves
~AlertFile242.mid Clouds

After you delete some of these AlertFiles, you must delete TempDB.db and MyToneDB.db found in the /a/mobile/audio/ directory and then restart the phone.

Friday, February 16, 2007

HBO Coming To Tiscali TV

According to an article on TimesOnline, entitled "Threat to Channel 4 as HBO goes for an on-demand service", mention is made of the new HBO service coming to Tiscali TV (ie, Homechoice).

"Initially, the channel will be available on three platforms; Virgin Media, the newly created cable-to-broadband company; BT Vision and Tiscali TV, with the programming line-up updated weekly."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

BT Tradespace

I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere yet - BT have launched BT Tradespace, which looks suspiciously like a "MySpace for Small Businesses". It gives small businesses blogging, photo and podcast space and a Click To Call feature - which looks like it pops up a dialog box where the visitor types in their phone number and BT completes the call. This feature is called "Call Free", so it's free for the consumer to call the business .I haven't found out if the business pays for the call, or if BT picks up the tab like Google appear to do with their Click To Call service in the US. It's (like most things online) in beta.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

HBO Coming To BT Vision

BT has a press release on how HBO is coming to BT Vision. In my rant on convergence, I said that it was only going to be a matter of time before the American media companies bypass British media companies entirely (and with channels like ABC 1 and FX, they've already started). I also linked to a report at Broadband TV news about HBO coming to Virgin Media. Now it looks like a pretty much identical service is coming to BT Vision. I wonder if Homechoice/Tiscali will be next?

I've Finally Got DTT

A few weeks back I posted about how Homechoice/Tiscali was my only choice for Broadband/TV service and that even analogue TV was gone, as the aerial had fallen off the roof. Last week the aerial was put back up and there was a little sign saying that we needed to retune our TVs. I wondered if that meant that we could now get DTT (though nothing was mentioned). I've borrowed my parent's Freeview box (they barely use it anyway as they get Sky) and low and behold I now get DTT. All of the multiplexes except for multiplex 2 come in at 100% signal strength. Sadly, while I get multiplex 2, the signal strength seems to be around 75%, so the picture and sound often break up on the ITV and Channel 4 channels. I'm not using the best cable in the world (and it's fairly long for an unamplified cable), so I might try playing around and seeing if I can get a better signal.

Still, now that I get DTT, it at least opens up the possibility of moving away from Homechoice/Tiscali, should the new Tiscali branded service not come up to scratch. However, a quick glance at my options, (TopUp TV Anytime, BT Vision and Simply's tvMax) has not shown much promise. Even worse, just as I get a small taste of Sky back (even if it's just Sky News and Sky 3) an article at DigitalSpy indicates that Sky want to replace those channels with a MPEG 4 based pay service that "will offer a range of content including sports, movies, entertainment and news". They'll probably get between 2 to 4 MPEG 4 channels for each MPEG 2 channel - so ultimatly it'll be between 6 and 12 channels, which is fairly limited compared to DSAT. As such, I doubt I would want to pay more than about 5 quid for an "entertainment and news pack", especially seeing as single "Mix" (which is a comparitively large group of similar channels) on Sky costs between £3.50 and £7.50 (as the bare minumum you can subscribe on Sky is 2 mixes for £15, and that goes up to 6 mixes for £21). I don't hold out much hope - "Sky By Wire" which is available on Homechoice offers half of the Sky Movies channels for more than what all the movie channels cost Sky Subscribers. Worse, Sky By Wire is just Movies and Sports - it's the entertainment and news channels that I want. Sky won't want to cannibalize their current subscriber base, but will want to keep competitor pay services at bay as much as possible - a half hearted attempt at a DTT pay platform will go some way to fulfilling both those goals.

Be the first to trial a new BT Business product

BT have a "Business Blog", which was news to me (I was playing about with Google's blog search to feed into a Yahoo Pipe I'm creating and it was one of the first results). Their latest post is sort of "Call For Participation" for Small/Medium Sized Business to try out some new "super top secret" product. No mention is made of what the product is, but, allegedly:

It will be of interest to businesses that spend a lot time at offsite premises - such as at those of a customer, supplier, partner or contractor - or have any of them working on your premises. And, for being good enough to help us with the trial, we'll give a free month' s subscription to the new product.

So, no real clue as to what it is. If I was to speculate, it sounds like it could be a business version of BT Fusion (where you use the offsite premise's WiFi for calls). It's the being located at a premises that makes me think it's not a pure mobile product (like some sort of product that uses 21CN's Location services would have been) and as BT Fusion doesn't appear to have a business version I would be surprised if BT wasn't working on "BT Business Fusion".

BT Broadband Talk Videophone 1000 and 2000

While catching up with engadget, I came across an item on the BT Broadband Talk Videophone 1000 (and it's WiFi enabled sibling, the 2000). One thing that struck me was the line

The phone uses a BT Broadband Talk account, plugs into your router and existing broadband internet, includes automatic upgrades and a built-in address book, and will cost you 10p (about 20 cents) per minute to use

I was somewhat surprised by that statement - unlike the Amstrad E3 and some ancient BT Videophones from years long past, the new BT Videophones use VOIP, and surely calls that are completely over VOIP would be free, as they are with every other VOIP provider I've ever heard of.

Digging around, I came up with BT Broadband Talk's "What It Costs" page, which, while not mentioning the video service does detail BT Broadband Talk's calling plans and it looks like fully VOIP calls are indeed chargeable if they fall outside of your plan. So, if you have "Evenings & Weekends" a call to another UK number (including another BT Broadband Talk number) during the day is 3p a minute with a 3p setup charge (which looks exactly the same as a daytime call on a landline with "BT Together Option 2"). The only way this is in any way competitive is if you're a BT Total Broadband Customer, as then the Evening and Weekend package is thrown in for free - users of other ISPs have to pay 2.99 a month. Even then, as BT are often running promotions on Option 2 (I think they're advertising one on TV if not on their website at the moment, and I'm currently on an Option 2 promotion that I never saw advertised anywhere), using BT Broadband Talk may be more hassle then it's worth. Getting back to the cost of video calls, the video calls have their own "What It Costs" page, and it looks like video calls are 10p a minute, at all times. I could see some justification if it was touching the PSTN in some way, or calling 3G mobile phones, but 10p a minute VOIP to VOIP?

Even weirder is the BT Broadband Talk Softphone, as Softphone To Softphone calls are free - if you dial by Softphone IM name and not by number as "calls to BT Broadband Talk numbers are just 3p (plus a 3p call set-up fee"). I guess this is left over from the old BT Communicator with Yahoo Instant Messenger product that was withdrawn. The Softphone also has Pay As You Go option, unlike the "normal" Broadband Talk.

I would love to know the technical reason why a VOIP call dialled one way is free, and the same call to the same person over the same product but dialled differently is charged. Also, the softphone does video calling but I haven't found out if it's interoperable with the Videophones. Seeing as the Softphone has the word "free" emphasized over and over (for example, you even get 100 SMS messages for free) while the Videophone pages don't appear to use the word at all, I'd be unsurprised if they're not compatible, even if there's little technical reason for why they shouldn't be compatible.

My current opinion of BT is that they have some really interesting and exciting products, but they're often overpriced (but then, if you look hard enough, you can occasionally find a reasonable deal) and they don't always seem to be integrated well (Virgin seem to be doing a better job, with their "Very Impressive Package" - BT could do a better job, throwing WiFi access into the mix).

Some other BT Broadband Phone Links:
FileSaveAs' Review
Pocket Lint's News Item On the Videophone Launch

Linux Based IP Videophone

LinuxDevices has an article on a Linux based IP Videophone. The phone is part of Iwatsu Electric Co's "Premium Communication Tool", which includes a VOIP PABX and is targeted at small offices.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How long before there's "One Bill"?

DigitalSpy has a short item on how Virgin Media might one day offer utilities (water, gas, electric) as a natural extension of Virgin Media's current quad play offering. I'm wondering how long will it be before we see "One Bill", as Virgin also sell mortgages and insurance they could have a unified, all household expenses (bar food) bill. I guess if Tesco (who already do food, telephony, broadband, mortgages and insurance) got into the One Bill business, they could even take care of the food (or maybe the Virgin Group will eventually buy out Sainsbury's).

Tesco Cordless Internet Phone Vs Linux

I'm trying to get Tesco's Cordless VOIP Phone working with Linux. It almost works but it looks like one of the audio interfaces isn't working (interface 0). Looking around the web, it looks like interface 0 on several USB devices doesn't work, so maybe getting ALSA to ignore it will get it working (except, I'm not sure how to do that yet). I've sent an email to alsa users mailing list, hopefully someone will be able to shed some light on what I need to do.

Telephony Mashup Contest

O'Reilly Media (as in, the book people) and StrikeIron (who consider themselves to be "The leader in live data and business functionality over the Web") have announced a "Telephony Mashup Contest". Entries need to be in by the 20th of February, and "is timed to conclude on the first day of the O'Reilly Emerging Telephony Conference where finalists will demonstrate their mashup at the conference" - so I guess if you're not going to ETEL, there might not be much point nor is there much point if you're heading off to ETEL and you don't live in the US (excluding Arizona, Vermont, Colorado, Connecticut, [Maryland?] and North Dakota) or Canada (excluding Quebec). I'm not sure why there's a question around Maryland, but that's what it says in the rules. Still, if you are one of the privileged few allowed to enter, you'd better hurry.

via: O'Reilly Radar

The Long Road To Convergence

I've been looking at the "triple/quad play" service providers (TV, Phone, Broadband, Mobile), and with all the talk of convergence, I think we're still a long way off from a truly "converged" service.

In my mind, a converged service would work something like this:

The phones in the house would be fairly intelligent devices. VOIP based, there would either be a full blown "Domestic PABX" box somewhere in the house or a "Virtual PABX" provided externally by my service provider. The wired phones would be internet terminals, with video messaging capabilities (like an ad-free, VOIP version of the Amstrad E3). The cordless phones would be dual WiFi/3G internet enabled devices which would connect to the home network at home and my providers 3G and WiFi services when away (similar to the current BT Fusion/Openzone offering, possibly combined with something like the iPhone). There would be at least one "house number" that would ring all the phones (both in the house and mobile) and every member of the household could have thier own personal number.

Video (and audio) wise, each TV would not need a set top box - just a network connection. They would connect to either a home video server (ie, a centralized, multi-tuner, networked PVR) and/or my providers video server (ideally, it would also connect to video servers provided by anybody with the rights to host the video that is on their servers).

I think getting there is going to be a struggle. Starting with Video, there's a host of challenges to overcome. An elegant solution (especially for those, like myself, who have limited space) would be centralized PVRs - my service provider would host my video storage space. This space would most likely be virtual (why have multiple copies of the same Star Trek episodes) and probably based upon hours and not gigabytes. This isn't going to happen anytime soon, because broadcasters won't allow it - most of them seemingly insistent on somewhat dubious PayPerView schemes. With a home server PVR based approach, if I have Sky, Homechoice/Tiscali or (as far as I'm aware) Virgin Media there are neither compatible PVRs that are network capable or even tuner cards for a PC so that I could build my own - so if I use those services I'm stuck with either a non-network PVR or some form of clunky network PVR|PC setup that involves re-encoding the video and some remote blaster to control the set top box.

With telephony, convergence should be simpler. Next Generation Networks are designed with convergence in mind. However, I'll bet it will end up as a mine field of confusion marketing. It will be a while before the concept of voice traffic needing it's own per minute pricing scheme disappears. One other obstacle to overcome is emergency service - not just the phone knowing your location, but emergency power to the phone as well.

Of some (possibly more) interest will be seeing what services and technologies fall by the wayside. My personal dead pool is:

  • Top Up TV Anytime - This is a service that combines spare DTT capacity with a PVR to simulate a VOD service. It's fairly expensive for what is a very limited offering and there have apparently been a lot of complaints about the quality of the PVR used. DTT space is at a premium, so somebody is bound to come along with a better (probably Freeview based) use for that spectrum and they'll be willing to pay more than TopUp TV for it. BT have a slightly better idea (ie, a Freeview PVR that uses a broadband connection for the VOD service), but the VOD service seems a bit expensive and needlessly tied to BT's broadband offering.

  • PC Based VOD services - such as 4od, fivedownload, Sky Anytime and even the forth coming iPlayer fom the BBC. Just as the TV is not the place to surf the web (at least for most people), the computer is not the place to watch TV (again, for most people). More importantly, if you have the knowledge required to use 4od and the like, you probably have the knowledge to use Bittorrent and get a free and uncrippled copy of the programme instead. It's why Apple have the Apple TV - make it convenient for people to watch what they want, on the device they want and people might just be willing to shell out a few quid (though, I would bet more for movies than TV shows). Most of these services are also Pay Per View and I have my doubts about most PPV services over the long term - they seem expensive compared to PVRs (especially once PVRs come down to the 50 pound price range, which about the same as watching 1 or 2 American TV series at current PPV prices). As for the iPlayer, once the initial excitement disappears and the limits (as currently proposed by the BBC Trust) become noticeable, interest in the use of the iPlayer will dwindle to the the point that a few years down the road the service will either be scrapped or overhauled in attempt to justify it's use of licence fee money (especially in world where the BBC is having a harder and harder time justifying the licence fee itself).

  • Broadcast Media - In the longer term, I don't hold out much hope for broadcasters. PVRs and VOD will change the market. However, just as there's still a place for radio, there will still be a place for live TV. News and Sport will be around for a long time, even the movie channels might remain competitive, possibly offering a bargain basement way to access movies compared to the VOD services. Even the linear entertainment channels might still have a roll, but more as marketing services for the download services (much like Radio stations playing music). Note, that by download services, I don't mean PPV, I mean I pay X amount of pounds and I get to watch every episode of a series, for as long as I want (an online version of DVD ownership, not an online version of DVD rental).

  • The UK Television Industry - this is a combination of the above two points in what will become a critically ill industry. A lot of the broadcaster's offerings (of both the live stream and nascent VOD varieties) are propped up by (mostly American) imports. What happens when what's left of the American Media industry (in an attempt to grab a larger share of the profits) decide to skip the middleman? Disney, Warner and Viacom all have operations over here, how much longer will they need local partners? (not long) I expect to see a lot of consolidation.

  • VOIP providers - Skype, Gizmo et al are going to be in for a rough ride once convergence really kicks in. The telecoms companies are starting to get really competitive, and as convergence kicks in, a lot of the benefits of VOIP will disappear (as it will all be VOIP). Not only will the telcos get competitive against the VOIP providers, as time goes on the VOIP providers will become less competitive compared to the telcos (Skype Journal recently had a rant on how Skype had introduced a call connection charge - something most telcos do, but are starting to get away from).

  • Over The Air vs Over The Wire - not really a dead pool item, more a question on if the "Negroponte Switch" will happen or even if it matters. Nicholas Negroponte pointed out that it was an accident of technology that phone calls were delivered over wires but television and radio were broadcast. Once everything becomes IP based, the low level medium becomes far less relevant. There might come a point where it's no longer viable to broadcast, instead the current broadcast spectrum could be reallocated for two way communications

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Time-Zone Processing with Asterisk, Part I | Linux Journal

Time-Zone Processing with Asterisk, Part I | Linux Journal

Linux Journal has an article about Time-Zone processing with Asterisk - the idea is that when you log in to your asterisk server from some SIP connection, you dial an extension and Asterisk works out where in the world you are, and sets itself up to only put through calls that are at a reasonable time for the time zone you are in. For example, you're in Sydney for a business trip and somebody calls you in London. Asterisk knows that you're in the land down under and will only forward calls during the day in Australia, and send callers to Voice Mail at other times (though you can set it up to pass through certain numbers at any time of the day).

As the inspiration for this was mobile phone based and this article is SIP based, I'm wondering if a future instalment will take mobile phones into account. While having a look at BT's 21CN SDK, I noticed a location service for mobiles - so I'm wondering if that would be one way to implement such a system for mobile phones. Of, course the 21CN is a limited beta service, so we'll have to wait for full roll out for such a home built service to really be useful. Even then I have my doubts as to whether or not mobile location services will work internationally, at least at first.

Monday, February 05, 2007

BT's 21CN Web Services

There's a beta SDK from BT for their 21CN Web Services at It includes VOIP and SMS.

While it's good to see BT embraceing open standards for the new network, it's a bit of let down to see that the SDK is .Net only - so it's of little use to Linux/Java people. They don't even need to release a full SDK for java - the WSDL files would do (then people could create their own version of the SDK for other platforms).

Homechoice Changes

My video and broandband provider is Homechoice. Back in November, they were bought out by Tiscali, but not much has changed. According to this article, changes are afoot from March 1. Homechoice is currently limited to London and Stevenage, after March 1st, they plan to roll it out to other parts of the UK. They plan to go from 50,000 subscribers to 5 million (I guess that not only is every Homechoice customer becoming a Tiscali customer, but every broadband Tiscali customer is set to become a Homechoice customer).

According to the article, the TV will be bundled with the broadband access (no change there) but that the telephony option will be extra for £5 a month (apparently it's currently bundled, but I've never taken the option). No word on if we get new channels (the channel range is pretty poor compared to cable and Sky), but if they want it to succeed they're going to have to increase the channel range - one of the main reasons why I have stuck with Homechoice is that it is that I can't get cable (even though I live in London, there's no cable TV where I live), I can't get Sky (thanks to a tree), I can't get Freeview (the community aerial doesn't work with Freeview and I've never been able to get anything digital with "rabbit ears") and finally, since the really windy day a few weeks back, I can't even get analogue TV as that community aerial is now sitting in the back garden. So while it's Homechoice or no TV for me, most people aren't in that boat.

One good thing - it looks like we're in for a new box (which I hope they don't start charging for - seeing as I'm now on my 9th or 10th box thanks to upgrades and hardware failures) which will have 160Gb hard drive (as well as HD). So I might be able to retire the TiVo before it dies.

One thing I'm worried about is that the service might degrade - it's actually a 27Mb/s ADSL connection with a really, really low contention ratio as the original VOD service required a lot of bandwidth. A few years ago the service was upgraded - the new MPEG 4 based service brought a smaller box that needs less bandwidth for TV and the download bandwiths were increased. I now have 4Mb/s service that actually delivers 4Mb/s - I'm concerned that contention might increase if we get bundled in with all the Tiscali broadband subscribers.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dead Tech: HomeRF

I seem to have a thing for technologies that failed in the marketplace, and today (while searching for information on Siemens Gigaset M34 USB/DECT dongle) I came across HomeRF - a failed competitor to WiFi. Back in the late 90's I didn't take much notice of wireless networking, mostly because I couldn't afford it, but also because I had no real use for it. So I missed the battle between HomeRF and WiFi (and there might have been something else called HiperLAN fighting it out as well).

HomeRF had some interesting features that differentiated it from WiFi. HomeRF had DECT built in, with a certain portion of HomeRF's bandwidth dedicated to voice. Another portion of bandwidth was allocated to audio/video streaming (apparently with up to 8 dedicated channels for A/V streaming). It was a technology that was mostly aiming for the home, as opposed to more expensive WiFi, which was supposedly designed for the office. It was also (allegedly) more secure and robust than WiFi by using frequency hopping. It's original incarnation was at the 1 Mbs point, with a 10 Mbs version 2 (versions 2.5 and 3 were announced, but never came to fruition).

HomeRF died at the end of 2002 when the consortium of companies behind HomeRF shut down it's working group. At one point, there were 100 member companies, but oddly, there was only ever one chipset manufacturer (Proxim). Most of the companies involved were also involved with WiFi, so it was fairly easy for them to jump ship.

HomeRF Archive

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Motorola L6

Last Friday, I bought myself a new phone - a Motorola L6. It was the cheapest Bluetooth phone I could find (30 quid with a trade in, 40 otherwise - I turned in a broken old brick to get the 10 quid off).

It's on Orange PAYG, though I'll be getting it unlocked and probably unbranded at some point. They're running an "all the data you can eat for £1" promotion at the moment, and as I'm still lacking broadband in the flat I've been making some use out of it.

The first site I tried was GMail, it recognized I was using an L6 and invited me to download a client app for GMail, which I did. So far, I've also installed Opera Mini and midpSSH (though without working broadband in the flat, I haven't been able to try it). I might try to find an IM client (though IM'ing on a phone seems a bit pointless) and J2ME SIP phone (and take real advantage of that £1 a day offer). I'm also in the market for a decent to do manager.

I have yet to try and hook it up to any of my computers. I think I've worked out the software I'll need, and I should have compatible USB cable lying around, but I haven't had the time to try it.