Tuesday, 04 November 2008

Bush/Cheney - Regime change imminent

Let's take a deep breathe and hope the polls are right and that come tomorrow, Barack Obama and the Democrats have swept the Republicans (along with Bush/Cheney Regime) out of power.

After the fiasco and incompetence of the last 8 years, the world deserves so much better. How a so called “sophisticated” nation such as the USA could have voted for this regime twice, beggars belief.

My only reservation is that hopefully Obama and the Democrats live up to the message of change and a "government of common sense over ideology”. Many times politicians promise so much and then deliver so little after being elected. But at this stage anything would be better than the mess of the last 8 years.

Perhaps it is ironic that the Bush regime may actually prove good for the USA in the long run, as a “wake up” call to Americans on how bad things can get, when one supports ideological regimes – and hopefully never to be repeated. I was in the USA for some of the time in 2001/2002 and it was incredible how so many Americans hysterically backed the government then. And cheered on the war in Iraq, as though they were watching a football match – who can forget the Jessica Lynch fiasco. I wonder how many citizens would admit to such support now.

But what is infuriating about the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsveld and Wolfowitz etc, the architects of the mess that has engulfed the US policy over the last 8 years, is that they can now retire in relative comfort, without having to answer for the chaos, death and destruction they have inflicted on so many citizens of the world. And their legacy, that is going to take so much to put right.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Opinion from the trenches - Or what does it take to be an entrepreneur, successful or otherwise?

After starting and running Precision Networks for the last 3 years, I often find myself reflecting on what it takes to be an entrepreneur (successful or otherwise). And how my experiences over the last 3 years have changed my outlook, compared to when I first started out. Here are my ramblings for what they’re worth….

What is an entrepreneur?
In my opinion, entrepreneurs come across as 3 types:

The Rookie: Someone who is usually working for some one else and has some or other start up “grand plan” or idea or has recently started up a new company and is going through the “honeymoon” start up phase.

The Success Story: Where all Entrepreneurs hope to be one day with a successful and financially viable company. Not many get there and lots of young companies fall by the way side, long before they can call their company successful.

The Trench Warrior: Where the majority of entrepreneurs (including myself) find themselves on a day to day basis, as they strive to grow and build a successful company.

Requirements to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Aside from all the important things such as correct marketing, cash flow management, having viable products and services, networking etc. and the tons of other information that exists out there, for me the following requirements are just as important for moving a start up to a hopefully one-day, successful company:

1. You have to be “desperate” to succeed. We all have some form of plan B available should our start up company not work out, but if plan B is too attractive compared to plan A, then in my opinion it minimizes the chances of success. For example if one had a potential cushy, well paying job option available should your start up company not work out, then I think the odds are that it won’t. You must be so desperate for plan A to succeed, that plan B is just not a real possibility for you.

2. Don’t expect everything you do to be successful or bring instant rewards. If you are a person that expects instant success or reward from every effort, you will become very frustrated quickly. Often one does lots of work for little or no return. For example preparing for tenders can be very time consuming and require lots of effort with only a small chance of success. However you have to give the application 100% effort and believe that you will succeed and move on swiftly if you don’t succeed.

3. There is no room for big egos. Irrespective of how much work/business experience or professional qualifications one may have, in a start up company, one will often find oneself doing menial tasks that are well below your experience and qualification levels. But if they need to be done for the eventual success of the company, then you just get on and do them. A big ego or refusing to do crucial menial tasks is a sure recipe for failure. Basically you must be prepared to do whatever it takes for the company’s success (legally of course)

4. Get a company domain with linked email addresses. There is nothing more unprofessional than receiving emails from companies that use free email accounts such as gmail, yahoo etc. It comes across as unprofessional and says a lot about your company in a negative way. Also ensure you have an effective and professional looking web site. Perception is very important in business – sometimes more so than reality.

5. Choose your battles carefully. At the beginning of a company start up, one is desperate for customers, in fact any customers. But as time goes by and the company grows you realize that some customers take up more time than they’re worth. I.e. one spends a lot of time and effort supporting them for very little return. Rather once you have the luxury of choice, it is better to focus more on customers that are vital for the success of the company. And you must be prepared to do anything for them irrespective of how small or menial (legally of course). And spend less time and effort on the hard work, less viable ones. Remember the 80:20 rule, 80% of business usually comes from 20% of your customer base.

6. Build customer relationships and communicate. Many companies have poor communication skills with customers. It is important to be very responsive and build a good relationship and understanding with customers as they prefer dealing with companies they know and understand well. For example always return calls and emails and do what you promise and when you promise. And if you can’t deliver on time, then let the customer know why not and offer an alternative way forward.

7. There is a very fine line between success and failure. The difference between a successful or unsuccessful deal, can come down to very little. It’s often just that extra effort on your side that tips the scales for success. So never give up and always look for opportunities to make a deal successful, even when it may seem unlikely to others.

8. Create a virtual organization. In the early years of a new company, one usually cannot pay for lots of staff, so it’s important to develop strong and effective relationships with supplier companies and partners, who can assist you in achieving your company’s goals. For example I consider the people I work with at my suppliers as part of my company, even though they don’t work for me technically. But their input and efforts are often just as vital to the success of many of my ventures. These relationships also allow you to deliver on greater jobs/projects, than you can succeed as a small company with few staff.

9. Don’t expect success overnight. Unless you are really lucky, achieving success for a new company takes time, lots of time. It’s a marathon not a sprint and requires lots of perseverance and a “thick” skin. If you’re a person that takes “no” and failures hard, then you need to get over this in order to make your company successful. Running a company is never easy.

10. Strong brand and low expenses are important. The more one has to invest in a new company, the more likely it will not succeed (plenty of ad hoc evidence). It’s far more important to build a strong brand while keeping expenses and investments to an absolute minimum. You need to run a tight ship.

11. Make the boring sexy. Many start ups often try to bring a new and previously unknown products /services to market. While it is possible to succeed with something absolutely new, I think it’s often easier for a start up to work in an existing market where you know a customer base and demand for a certain products/services exists already. Ok so there is also a lot more competition. But that’s where you need to create the “sexy from the boring”, so that your organization stands out. For example what Starbucks did for plain old coffee or Seth Godin refers to as Purple Cows in his books on marketing. You can always branch out to the more adventurous products/services once you have an up and running viable company.

12. Be flexible and adaptable. One advantage that smaller companies have over larger organizations is that they have the flexibility and ability to respond to changing market conditions and customer needs much quicker than larger companies. Larger companies are often tied down by procedures and protocols and cannot respond quickly to a situation that requires adjustment quickly. .

Thursday, 01 May 2008

Telkom, You're Fired!

I know that it is often fashionable to criticize Telkom, but my recent experience dealing with them, beggars belief.

Our company offices are moving location and I needed to cancel the phone connection at the old office and get a new line installed at the new offices. Having been through this process before, I knew that one needs to send a signed fax to Telkom requesting this change, which I did. However a week and half later and the old line still not cancelled, I decided to phone their call centre. Big mistake!

As usual, as soon as I had worked my way through all the menu options, I got Telkom’s irritating music and the canned voice that informed me of their apparent high call volume and that there was a 10 minutes wait for the call to be answered. However I was given the option to use the Call Back service where Telkom would call me back once I was in front of the queue.

Deciding that I did not have 10 minutes to waste I entered my phone number into their system expecting to get a called back once in front of the queue. However 4 minutes later my phone rang and the canned voice informed me that it was Telkom’s Call back service. "Wow" I thought that was quick and I accepted the call.

But my admiration was short lived. As soon as I had accepted the call I was put on hold again, listening to their irritating music once again which went on and on and on for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes … by which time I was really fed up. The whole point of using and PAYING for the Call Back service was to allow me to be at the front of the queue with no delay. But the best was yet to come…

After 20 minutes I decided to end the call but guess what, I could not! Putting the receiver failed to end the call and my line was held "captive" by this Telkom call for approximately 50 minutes – talk about an innovative money-making-scheme.

I phoned the call centre back again once the call had dropped and after another 20 minute wait complained to the person at the other end about the problem experienced. But despite her reassurances that she would report the problem and someone would get back to me, we all know nobody at Telkom really cares and nobody was going to do anything - I am still waiting for someone to get back to me of course.

At Telkom, nobody gives a damm it would seem and there is nothing we can do about it except grin and bear it - for now. I long for the day that we have a real competitor. I think only once they start losing customers in droves will they start worrying about customer service and the fact that it takes so long to get anything done using their call center service.

Unfortunately I don’t really see Neotel as a worthy alternative. Their introduction to the market has been so inefficient and slow and doesn't inspire confidence that they will be any better. I long for the day that South Africans have a real telecoms alternative and we can collectively say, “Telkom, you’re fired”!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

From Rolls Royce to Trabant. What to do when your laptop/desktop goes slow?

So you made an investment a few years ago on a decent laptop/desktop and were in seventh heaven as your machine purred beneath your fingertips and mouse clicks. But that was then and this is now, and your former "pride n joy" is operating at the speed of a Trabant and you’re not sure why?

The reality is that just like cars, PCs/laptops need servicing from time to time. Despite starting of technically similar (obviously with different specifications), they develop unique characteristics and “personalities” that are dependent on their history of use. So day to day events such as installation and removal of programs, recovery from occasional crashes, virus and spyware attacks and recovery, creation and deletion of files and how they are saved on your harddrive, operating system inefficiencies etc all take their toll and eventually leave your machine needing a little TLC.

So for the technically adventurous, here are a few simple tips to help bring the zest back into your machine:

● Before starting the service, ensure that all your important data files and emails are backed up safely!

● Check how much memory the system has. Nowadays with Windows XP and more demanding software programs it is worth having at least 512Mbytes of Ram. If you have less then it may be well worth investing in more. The more memory you have the better.

● Delete any legacy printer installations and mapped network drives that no longer exist.

● Run a full anti-virus and anti-spyware scan on your system and drives. Use AntiVirus and AntiSpyware software that is not system resource hungry. By resource hungry I mean programs that use a lot of the machines processing power and memory. For example I personally avoid Norton AntiVirus because it tends to turn ones PC/laptop into a big AntiVirus/Spam machine, incapable of doing much else.

● Delete “deleted” files from your email program's folders. Often these are moved to a “Delete folder” for example as in Microsoft Outlook. If you don’t do this your email's database file will get larger and larger and become cumbersome for your mail program to manage.

● Ensure you have at least 1 Gigabytes of disk space available on your main harddrive. If not uninstall programs you don’t need and delete all unnecessary files (usually files ending in *.tmp, *.avi, *.mpg or *.wmv). You could use an utility tool such as Win XP Manager (assuming you are using Windows XP) to assist with the removal of these files. Even if you have more than 1 Gigabytes of space available it is well worth removing unnecessary files that "clog" your system..

● Backup legacy documents onto a separate drive/cd.

● Run Microsoft Scan Disk and Microsoft Defragmenter. Both these are built into your Windows operating system.

● Check and clean up your operating systems windows registry using XP Manager. Note be very careful when working with windows registry and ensure you make a copy of your systems registry before doing any tweaks. XP Manager has a user friendly wizard to help you do this process automatically annd safely.

● Use XP Manager to remove unnecessary start up programs that “eat away” at your system’s memory. For example when you install HP printers, they often also install programs that run at your PCs/laptops start up, and which most people don’t need. Again XP Manager will allow you to identify and remove these programs. However before you remove any start up programs, ensure that you understand what you are removing.

● Further tweak your PC's hardware and software settings using XP Manager. The wizard will help you with most of these.

Hopefully after this "do-it-yourself" service, your PC/laptop will be back to some of its former glory.

Where was Eskom during the Live Earth concert?

With all the power capacity problems that we have and are experiencing with Eskom, I was amazed that they did not take any advantage of the "Life Earth" concert message. Why not or did I miss it :)?

Surly this was a great opportunity to “ride on the back” of this concert and spread the message to South African power consumers to be more conservative and aware with their power usages.

Seems like a missed opportunity. Eskom where were you?

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

We have about 50 years and then we’re fcuked…

…unless we start doing something about the environment now! This is the harsh message according to Al Gore’s movie called “An Inconvenient Truth”. A must see for all of us in my opinion!

What is most scary about this movie is that it makes one realize that the world is going to be a very unfriendly place to live in if we don’t stop the current rate of environmental destruction.

But despite inherently knowing this, most of “us” just continue to live our lives without taking any real action – a bit like frogs in a pot of water being brought to the boil without jumping out. And by “us” I include governments, especially those from more industrialised nations.

There are many reasons for our lack of collective action and urgency, but in my opinion one of the major reasons is that success of our economies and businesses is measured by GDP. Using GDP does not give incentives’ to be more environmentally friendly as illustrated by an article I wrote a few years ago. Part of it referring to the problems with GDP I have pasted below:

Businesses seek to maximise profits and therefore there will always be an incentive to externalise costs. As Welford (2002) summarises, “The single-minded emphasis on profit, efficiency, cost reduction and growth dwarfs issues such as employment, protection of the environment, social responsibility and sustainable development.” Cavanagh et al (2002) claim a possible reason for this is because the primary driver and measure of economic activity today is GDP, which fails to give a true indication of how society is actually progressing based on these activities.

Inherent in the GDP measure is the assumption that, as it grows, so society is better off. However this system of measuring economic activity has many flaws because it assumes that all business activities, even destructive ones such as the clear-cutting of forests or construction of toxic dumpsites, are all positive indicators of GDP growth. Ineffective long supply chains are also considered more beneficial to GDP than shorter ones. For example long-distant shipping of goods across oceans is seen as a good thing because it adds many layers of economic activity, from production to port, from shipment to delivery. Local production for local consumers involves less shipment and is therefore seen as less productive because it does not contribute as much to the GPD measure, despite being more efficient and effective.

Other limitations of GDP include: not counting activities where no or minimal money changes (e.g. household labour caring for the sick and elderly or subsistence agriculture within communities); not counting the destruction of non-renewable resources and natural capital (e.g. the depletion of forestry whose diminishment impoverishes the future of any society); and the lack of any distinction between the production of goods and services that help the poor and that of luxury goods or even weapons.

Hence it is possible for the deprivation of the poor to increase in a country during periods of rapid growth. While more ‘productive’ economic approaches such as increased foreign investment or capital-intensive infrastructures add to GDP and the perception of progress, they actually undermine traditional economies and previously self-reliant systems. Encouraging businesses to work towards a higher GDP is therefore often in conflict with many of the objectives and initiatives of a sustainable economy and this needs consideration.

A better measure of economic success is GPI rather than GDP…

A new philosophy and strategy of measuring economic activity is needed; one that encourages sustainable production, consumption and accountability by businesses, but also overcomes the inertia for change and is consistent with the aim of profitability. It needs to accurately reflect the economic activity while encouraging practices that are sustainable and in compliance with initiatives such as the Global Compact.

Several such measures have been developed by organisations like the International Institute for Sustainable Development of Canada, the Redefining Progress group and the United Nations Development Program, which overcome many of the GDP’s shortcomings. One example that could be used as a suitable alternative to GDP is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which takes from GDP the financial transactions that are relevant to sustainable economic well-being, and adjusts for aspects of the economy that GDP ignores (GPI, 2004; Cobb et al, 2004; Cavanagh et al, 2002). Hence GPI measure the relationship between traditional factors that are economic as well as those factors that are social and environmental. Like GDP, GPI is based around the nation’s personal consumption, but assesses the ‘well-being’ of households, rather than the money they spend.

Some of the economic adjustments and measures for GPI include: Resource Depletion – GDP counts resource deletion as current income, while GPI counts the depletion or degradation of wetlands, farmlands and non-renewable minerals (such as oil) as costs; Pollution – GDP counts pollution as a double gain, firstly when it’s created and again when it is cleaned up, whereas GPI subtracts the costs of air and water pollution, as measured by actual damage to human health and the environment; Long-Term Environmental Damage – GDP does not account for economic environmental impacts such as climate changes and the depletion of the stratosphere whereas GPI treats as a cost the consumption of certain forms of energy and of ozone-depleting chemicals.

I don’t profess to be an expert on environmental issues but I know that the time to act collectively is now. There is an associated website for Al Gore’s movie where you can read more. We cannot tell future generations in 50 years from now, that we didn’t know.

mmm... I am also wondering how different the world may have been today if Al Gore had won that election!


  • Welford R, 2002, “Disturbing Development. Conflicts between Corporate Environmentalism, the International Economic Order and Sustainability”, in Utting, 2002, pp. 135-158.
  • Cavanagh J, Mander J, Anderson S, Kimbrell A, Barker D, Korten D, Barlow Maude, Norberg-Hodge H, Bello W, Larrain S, Broad R, Retallack S, Clarke T, Shiva V, Goldsmith E, Tauli-Corpuz V, Hayes R, Wallach L, Hines C, 2002, Alternatives to Economic Globalisation – A Report of The International Forum on Globalisation, Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc, San Fransico.
  • Cobb C, Venetoulis, J, 2004, “The Genuine Progress Indicator 1950-2002 (2004 Update), Sustainable Indicators Program”, Redefining Progress [online]. Available from: http://www.RedefiningProgress.org [Accessed: 6th July 2004].
  • GPI, 2004, “Contents of the Genuine Progress Indicator” [online]. Available from: http://www.redefiningprogress.org/projects/gpi/gpi_contents.html [4th July 2004].

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Web 2.0. Fantastic video explanation!

I think the following video on YouTube offers a fantastic visual explanation for Web 2.0.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g

Has to be watched using a decent internet connection at the right time of the day otherwise the video is stilted, which diminishes the powerful explanation.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

To Vista or not to Vista, what is a company to do?

Don’t do it! At least not yet, unless you are a company that loves experimenting with new technology or because Vista has some or other feature that you need and which is not available in another “reasonably stable” operating system such as Windows XP.

Of course, despite its short life, there are those out there who love Vista and those who hate it. My stance is neither, more a neutral “wait and see” attitude based on practical considerations that companies need to weigh up when introducing newly released technology such as Vista into their company, and this is especially true for software.

Let me explain. With any new technology, the software component is arguably always the “weakest link”. Reasons for this are that software is never as thoroughly tested as hardware because there are often far too many permutations and scenarios to test compared to hardware, as well as the fact that software engineers always know that there will be a second chance to fix bugs with patches and upgrades etc should the need arise (as it always does), a luxury that does not apply to hardware (except at much greater expense).

Hence, the very software nature of a new OS platform such as Vista means there are bound to many “unwanted features” that will take time to fix. For example, one of the biggest issues with Vista currently is the lack of drivers for hardware, making upgrades very difficult and time consuming. As for buying a new desktop or laptop with Vista already installed, I would still avoid it for now if possible, because who knows what incompatibilities may lurk when working with existing operating systems. A search on Google also shows many problems that have been found since its inception, all of which are going to take time to resolve. This seems to justify my position for now.

So if your company simply uses computers/laptops as tools for internet access, email, database management, documentation etc, and things are stable at the moment, then why take the huge risk of introducing a new platform such as Vista now?

Windows XP will be officially retired in 2008 on new desktops/laptops so it is probably best to wait until then to embrace Vista. Hopefully by then most of the major problems will have been found and resolved. As the saying goes, for now ”Better the devil you know…”

Wednesday, 09 May 2007

What is IT?

Despite Precision Networks being a networking and IT company, I hate the term “IT”!

For me IT is a nondescript term used for anyone who works with technology of any kind. From the “pimply faced youths” who can just about start up a PC, to extremely skilled software/hardware professionals, all are lumped together as working “in IT”. In fact there is no reason why such diverse technological skills should be lumped together at all, other than that it compartmentalises all technology under one umbrella.

Another possible reason is that the “barrier to entry” for working with technology is very low. Everyone has some or other technological skills nowadays, so it is only a short step away from “being into IT”. However when it comes to highly skilled individuals, the barrier to entry is much higher as it takes a fair amount of skill and effort to become really good in a particular technology field. Of course one can also do a generalised IT course, although this arguably makes one a “jack of all trades and master of none”. This disparity and uncertainty in skill sets also means that the IT industry is highly unregulated and companies often receive poor services and products, which in turn is also reflected in the way that companies deal with IT.

For example, larger companies should have IT represented at executive level because having the right technology is strategically imperative for the company’s success in the market place. However, many usually have a couple of IT “geeks” tucked away in the basement struggling to keep the company’s technology afloat on a shoestring budget. All technology investments are treated as cost decisions rather than as strategic business decisions. Hence companies investing in specific technology typically opt for the cheapest rather than the strategic choice. While cheaper now, it inevitably proves more expensive in the longer term as this equipment often does not meet the company’s business needs.

On the other hand, smaller (SME) companies often treat technology as an unavoidable expense – and usually cannot afford dedicated IT resources within the company. IT responsibilities tend to fall upon the employee who happens to have the most IT knowledge. Again, this means that the IT investments are often not necessary suitable for the company’s business needs. Buying “cheap” in the shorter term often proves more expensive in the longer term as the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is usually higher because of all the support, upgrades etc that are needed to support technology that is not right, right from the start.

So how should companies approach as well as invest in IT? In short, “IT infrastructure investments should be regarded as simply too important and too expensive to be ignored, ill managed or left to non-management IT-only specialists. If companies want to exploit the business potential of modern IT fully, then infrastructure and relevant investment assessment should be at the top of the management agenda, and should be considered both as a business and technological decision”. To learn more about the questions that you need to be asking and considering with regards to your company’s IT, click here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Fighting the Spam plague

One of the downsides of using email is being bombarded by spam. Personally I don’t mind receiving the occasional unsolicited email from company XYZ advertising products ABC, but when one is forced to wade through variants of the same email advertising the same dodgy stock, questionable pharmaceuticals, lottery scams etc, then it becomes extremely annoying, especially when these emails are received in large quantities.

One is forced to check through all emails received, including the spam, just in case a legitimate email is hidden somewhere between 100 messages espousing the wonders of some or other stock. Fighting spam poses a significant cost to any organization, either directly from the extra loads on administrators and employees as well as recovering emails falsely identified, or paying for the waste of bandwidth and addressing security risks posed by phishing, scripts and viruses. For more detailed information on spam click here.

While tools to fight spam are continually being improved, Spammers always seem one step ahead of efforts to eradicate it. This could be compared to the chemists employed by athletic “drug cheats” who also always seem one step ahead of the authorities. For example, Spammers use techniques such as embedding their “message” inside graphic images, using unique random email addresses so that all emails come from a unique source and, finally, filling the email with random words with no set pattern. This means that each spam email is unique with no obvious identifying characteristics, making it very difficult for standard anti spam methodologies to block. This also makes it very difficult for users to know whether an email is legitimate or not.

Lately, Spammers have also become more aggressive and are using viruses to recruit "zombie machines" for Spammers. The zombie machines are mostly unsuspecting victims' PCs, which have happened to contract the virus, opening them up to Spammers, who can then route spam emails through their machines.

Annoyances aside, however, the main aim of spam seems to be bypassing the filtering tools and getting users to open emails, rather than about getting them to "buy" the message contents. Surely this is missing the point because no one in his/her right mind would buy from such a source, so why do it? And how do Spammers make money from spam? Well, further reading shows that the spam business is in fact quite lucrative. See economics of spam for details on why Spammers do what they do.

What to do about spam
So this brings us to the question, what do you do about spam without giving up on emails altogether. Here are a few suggestions too help make the spam plague a little more tolerable:

1. Use an email service provider that has SPAM filtering tools.

2. If you are receiving huge amounts of spam, it might be worth changing your email address (discontinuing the current one) and emailing all your legitimate contacts with your new address. Drastic action, I know, but one way of getting rid of excessive spam in one fell swoop.

3. Ensure that your email address does not appear on websites etc where it is accessible to Spammers. Also be wary about using it when filling in forms on untrusted websites, chatrooms etc.

4. Use free spam filtering software tools such as Mail Washer which allows you to create white and black lists as well as to delete spam on the server before it is downloaded to your PC (Pro version with better functionality available for $37). Or you can use a filtering system such as Spamcop to filter emails automatically.

5. Ensure that any “invalid emails” that are sent to email adresses linked to your web domain are deleted, rather than sent to a default email address (especially true if you are the domain administrator for the website).

6. Change your website to use forms rather than emails for customer enquires/orders.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Speeding up your Internet surfing

So you've finally had enough of battling with that dodgy old dial-up connection and are now contemplating going broadband. Or your current broadband connection is not meeting your needs and/or is too expensive and it's time for a change.

The choice you need to make is between Iburst, HSDPA (Vodacom and MTN) or ADSL from Telkom, which can be quite a daunting decision for the technically non-inclined. HSDPA and Iburst are "long range" wireless options not to be confused with "short range" Wifi, while ADSL needs a fixed telephone line. So here are a few pointers to help make that decision a little easier.

Connection speed
First you need to decide what Internet speed you need. Obviously the faster the better. Below are the theoretically "maximum" speeds on offer:

Iburst:Up to 1Mbps
HSDPA: Up to 1.8 Mbps. Drops to GPRS rates in non coverage areas.
ADSL: Up to 384 kbps, 512kbps, 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps (1024 kbps = 1Mbps)

In South Africa, however, the reality is that these maximum speeds are rarely achieved (if ever) because actual average speed achieved is dependent on factors such as time of day, location, supplier capacity, remote site being accessed and technical problems. For example, right now my current speed is averaging around 175 kbps on a 512 kbps ADSL link. Obviously the higher the maximum speed capability of your link, the higher the average speed you will get while surfing.

Price per bandwidth
Next you need to decide between the different packages on offer. All companies charge differently although, after installation, price essentially boils down to cost per Mbyte. With Telkom this price is also dependent on the speed of the ADSL link chosen, as well as the cost of your ISP (Internet Service Provider). What you need to decide is how many Gigabytes (1024 Mbytes) you need per month and at what speed, and select a package that is appropriate for your needs.

As a comparison, I have listed below the comparative monthly costs for 2 Gigabyte of data:

Iburst: R0.21/Mbyte/month (2500 Mbytes package, no modem)
HSDPA: +- R0.20/Mbyte/month (2048 Mbytes in bundle rate from MTN/Vodacom)
ADSL: R0.31/Mbyte/month ( 2048 Mbytes Cap with 1Mbps line using Axxess as ISP at R119/month)

Although the wireless options give better value for money as ADSL works out much more expensive per Mbyte at 1 Mbps, if you are happy with a 384 kbps line speed, for example, then the cost reduces to +- R0.18/Mbyte. On the other hand, if you need a faster speed and are confident that the wireless coverage will be reliable in your area, then one of the wireless options may be the way to go.

Unfortunately the reliability of each of the above connections is hard to predict and I have seen and heard of cases where all connection types have been unreliable and slow. This usually boils down to one of the following reasons:

Time of day: At certain times of the day, there will be more users online sharing the same resources, so overall speeds obtained will be lower than at other times.

Your location: Especially true for the wireless options as in certain locations, speed will be much better than in others. This is because the wireless signal coverage is affected by objects such as distance from the transmitter as well as buildings, weather, mountains etc between the transmitter and your router. For example, I have used HSDPA cards at the CTICC centre in Cape Town and got average speeds of only 270 kbps. While the coverage for all is increasing, ADSL is the most likely only choice for many areas because of Telkom's huge infrastructure. Iburst and HSDPA are mainly focused in major cities. It is however important to check the reliability of wireless coverage at your site before going ahead with using a wireless connection.

Technical Problems: All the suppliers will experience technical problems from time to time and that invariably effects connection speed - unfortunately in South Africa this is far too common a problem at the moment.

Internet Needs
If you are planning to use the Internet while on the move using a laptop, for example, then Iburst and HSDPA are the only options available – ADSL needs a fixed phone line.

However, if you will be accessing the Internet from one location then you have the option of using any of the three. Personally I prefer using a fixed ADSL line because, in my opinion (and Telkom technical problems aside), a physical wired solution should always be more reliable than the wireless options. If you need wireless with ADSL, you always have the option of using Wifi, which will give you short range wireless connectivity (+- 35 meters from the router with longer ranges posible using the right setup).

Also, the type of applications you will be running will influence your selection. If all you need is "reasonable" Internet speed for email and browsing, then 384 kbps from Telkom may be all you need. On the other hand, if you are downloading large files or need a fast connection between two offices, then you will need a faster connection.

My Preferences
Home/Business fixed location: ADSL from Telkom (Non Telkom Router)
Roaming user with laptop: HSDPA from MTN

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Roads, Cars, People. What have these got to do with your company's IT?

An analogy we like to use to illustrate the importance of companies having the right IT, is to compare the roads, cars and people on a country’s transport network to an organisation's IT.

The roads represent the network infrastructure. The cars represent the applications that all the staff use. Finally the people represent the users of a company’s computer systems. But just like a country needs good transport infrastructure in order to be internationally competitive so an organisation needs a great IT networking infrastructure. For more on this subject see our
IT Metaphor.

SNO near yet so far?

Neotel, the much anticipated SNO (Second National Operator to Telkom), promises to "introduce a variety of voice and data services (including high speed internet and broadband) for consumers in South Africa, with the first of these services targeted for availability on a trial basis around mid 2007".

Forgive my skepticism but since my return to South Africa in early 2004, the launch of the SNO has continuously been just 6 months away and here we are in April 2007 and still nothing of real substance has happened yet. So I will believe this when I see it.

However as most of us know South Africa is in dire need of a rival to Telkom's monopoly so that telecom costs can become more competitive. In fact telecom costs are probably one of the biggest obstacles faced by many SMEs. At least telecom prices are starting to fall in anticipation of the SNO. As for dealing with Telkom's Call Centre, ..........mmmm well let's just say with a few unexpected exceptions, banging one's head against a wall is a far more pleasurable experience.

I am also concerned that Telkom's infrastructure is starting to "creak" incessantly as more consumers/businesses start to make use of broadband - in fact we could start facing "inconvenient adsl outages" similar to the power outages experienced lately, thanks to Eskom’s capacity problems. Hope I’m wrong but this is my “gut feeling” after a seemingly increase in "slow and problematic" internet access, experienced over the last few months.

Sunday, 08 April 2007

How to choose the right laptop?

I am often asked how one goes about choosing the right laptop. Obviously because of the technological understanding required as well as the plethora of brands out there, it can be very confusing and daunting.

So here is some brief advice on how to go about it:
Firstly decide what you are going to use the laptop for. For example, if it is just to be used for internet, email access and documents then your requirements are very different from someone planning to run processor and memory intensive applications such as games, media applications or CAD. An entry level laptop may be more than adequate for your needs! So why pay for more?

Don’t buy a laptop just because it has "lots of features". This is because you will most likely end up paying for features that you don’t need. A good example of what I mean by "lots of features" and where this happens a lot is with cell phones. Most people just use them for calls and sms’s, yet end up paying exorbitant prices for fancy phones that have a “million-and-one” features, they never use.

Rather carefully consider the specifications and features of various models and decide what is important for your needs. I.e. wireless (mostly standard nowadays), Bluetooth, harddrive size, processor spec, memory size, built in camera etc.

When comparing models which have similar specifications go for the one with the highest performance processor (dual processor preferable) as well as the maximum amount of ram you can afford (minimum 512Mbytes). The better the processor and the more ram, the faster the laptop will be. While one should not buy IT based on "lots of features", it is worth ensuring that you get the best "value for money" with features that are important.

Weight and battery size can also be a deciding factor. If you travel frequently, then a light laptop with a 12” screen may be preferable to lugging around the world with a dead weight.

Choosing the laptop brand is always a personal thing. Sometimes you just like the look and feel of a particular brand. Other times it's a recommendation from a particular person. My favorites in order of preference are: Lenovo, Acer, Sony and HP. For laptops we supply see laptop specials.

For more reading and advice see Ezine Articles