Tata SNO!

Posted by MduP
MduP
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on Wednesday, 25 January 2006
in Digital Blogs

What if SA’s Second National Operator (SNO) is relying on more than just technical support from shareholder Tata? What if the SNO’s telecommunications blueprint has been “borrowed” from its equity partner Tata Group of India?

For starters, the SNO’s core strategy will be to become an integrated enterprise communications player in Africa, leveraging strengths in both telecom and information technology.

It will enter the market, perhaps as early as April, by targeting large enterprises with sizable telecom spend and offer them customised end-to-end voice and data solutions.

In fact, this will be the SNO`s primary focus during the first 18 months and its biggest differentiator, against incumbent Telkom – offering companies end-to-end voice and data solutions, with a single point of contact to service all their voice and data requirements.

After all, it is the ability to service this need, which in future would decide the success of any telecom venture.

To this end, the SNO will adopt a three-fold go-to-market strategy. Firstly, it will focus on adding value by offering managed data and voice services. Secondly, with a view to meet SA`s current and future bandwidth needs, it will commit to increasing the bandwidth availability in the country. Lastly, it will offer customised telecom solutions to enable companies to optimise the utilisation of their telecoms infrastructure.

To deliver on this strategy, the SNO will have two principal business units: a Teleservices Unit (SNO-Teleservices) that offers basic and cellular services and an Enterprise Business Unit (SNO-EBU) offering managed bandwidth services (managed data and voice solutions).

Managed data and voice services, in fact, will be the SNO`s core value proposition – moving customers onto a managed bandwidth platform, thus providing the efficiencies of operations.

On the SNO`s list of end-to-end managed services will be, among others, international ATM/ MPLS services, managed voice minutes, domestic and international ATM services, MPLS services, customer premises equipment (CPE) management, managed security, disaster recovery and business continuity planning (DR & BCP) services, etc.

As for the overall sevices bouquet from the SNO, expect it to be an array of telephony, data and voice offerings.

On the telephony side, for example, services will include wholesale connectivity services (voice and data), basic telephony services, fixed-line, mobile, fixed wireless telephony, broadband and wireline ISP services.

Its voice-based value added services will include a voice portal, roaming, 3-way conferencing, Closed User Group (CUG), while data-based value added services will include Wi-Fi Internet services, international IP-VPN, broadband access services, Internet gateway services and wireless data services such as downloading of ringtones, wallpapers and games through its data portal.

Other things it may bring to market sooner rather than later could include prepaid fixed wireless phones, multimedia handsets, expanded Wi-Fi across public hotspots, new voice and data services such as on-demand multimedia and interactive applications like news, cricket, astrology, etc.

In fact, we may see Vodacom`s BlackBerry being challenged by Ego, a nifty Bluetooth-enabled pocket PC that comes with an inbuilt camera and a video recorder that allows video streaming. This handset also allows all office applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.

The SNO will also be very bullish about its basic wireless services and lay greater emphasis on limited mobility WLL (wireless local loop) in all the circles where it intends to launch operations.

The basic idea will be for the SNO to cater to the mass market with wireline, cellular, fixed wireless terminal and broadband services and to tap the enterprise space by offering end-to-end managed voice solutions and a combination of competitive international long distance, managed infrastructure and ISP services.

Then again, pricing of its services is another area where the company is likely to be aggressive. The key for the SNO will be to offer multiple flexi tariff plans for all segments of the market, i.e. right from low-end users to mid-level users to high-end users of its WLL service. Customers could also expect bundling of various value-added services within the various WLL tariffs being offered to the end customers.

The future of telecoms in South Africa looks promising indeed, but the BIG question remains… Will the SNO take its cue from strategic equity partner Tata/VNSL?

When senior SNO officials tell a journalist to “look at Tata’s strategy in India and you’ll know what we can do”… perhaps the SNO will. But then again, there is a BIG difference between “can do” and “will do”!

Mdup


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The future of wireless mankind is bleak - it`s called Sentech

Posted by MduP
MduP
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on Tuesday, 24 January 2006
in Digital Blogs

This is a rather long and detailed blog [slog], but do yourself a favour, read it and weep… for the future of wireless mankind is bleak! That is, if our future depends on Sentech.

For the record, names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent... because there are none! Also, where needed some aggravation-induced vocabulary has been substituted with suitable facronyms.

Picture the following. It`s 7pm, Monday night. Just synced my notebook with PC at home and hook up to our super[slow]highway courtesy of my [reportedly uncapped, unshaped, always-on] 128Kbps MyWireless (Sentech) connection.

Cuppa coffee in hand and cigarette lit, I am eager to retrieve urgent work emails to be actioned before 12pm, as I have critical deadlines to meet.

Gotta be kidding! Outlook Express fails and error message pops up…
Your server has unexpectedly terminated the connection. Possible causes for this include server problems, network problems, or a long period of inactivity. Account: `ITWEB`, Server: `111.11.111.111`, Protocol: POP3, Port: 111, Secure(SSL): No, Error Number: 0x800CCC0F

OK. Nothing new. This is a regular occurrence if you`re a MyWireless user trying to access office email from home and your office mail server is configured on port 8000. It`s like playing the Sentech port-o-lotto – pick a port and you could be the winner of Sentech`s blocked port of the day lotto!

Been there, done it, got the T-shirt. Through past late night trials and tribulations [backed by remote support courtesy of ITWeb`s chief-IT-honcho], I have the process of elimination down pat!

O
f course, since I am an old school IT journalist, I don`t jump to any unfounded conclusions… and so I commence with the process of elimination.

The time is 7:00pm.

Check #1: The obvious check… Online access seems fine. I can access www.itweb.co.za and www.google.com, so no problem likely with the local SA Internet backbone.

Check #2: The female check… Not unlike the situation when a car breaks down, but actually you ran out of petrol! No, I did not by mistake change my email user account and my Wingate proxy server works just fine.

Check #3: The other mail account check… I add a personal email account (a US mail account) to Outlook and test send and receive. OK. So email from the \n This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it > This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it address works 100%.

Check #4: The MailWasher check… this nifty program has saved my proverbial butt many times before when email downloads time out. For anyone in need of a really cool tool that does filtering, bounces, blacklists, and deletes spam – this is it! In my case, it allows me to check what email sits in my account on our mail server and, if there is [according to SA-standards] a large email of 10MB or more that blocks downloads, I can delete it and continue retrieving my mail.

Alas... no luck. MailWasher error message pops up: The connection was intentionally closed by the server before the session was completed.

You might think that I`m now ready to place a remote support distress call to our chief -IT-honcho and blame it all on our IT department! No, there`s still a few logical steps to conclude…. After all, I need to be sure of my FACTS!

Check #5: The ALT+CTR+DEL check… Just in case, I opt for a reboot. Windows 2000 does have a bad habit, on my PC at least, to start consuming resources after a while and randomly generate virtual memory problems.

Check #6: The REGEDIT check… Sentech`s MyWireless IPWireless PC software, in the past, has required manual intervention in the form of hard coding some registry settings – in particular the password, which has a habit of disappearing. Since I know the registry settings by heart, having had the [dis]pleasure of using MyWireless for just over a year now, I do a quick scan of to double check all settings are OK.

Check #7: The paperclip check… before going online again, I do the last resort check, namely to start and stop and reset and start the MyWireless modem. The resetting part of the modem, in case you didn`t know, requires a delicate maneuver with a paper clip, short-circuits a positive and negative on the back of the modem.

So, with the obvious browsing, proxy server, email account, windows, modem, connectivity and mailwasher tests out of the way, I decide to send our chief-IT-honcho an SMS. Just a double-check SMS that is… not yet pointing any fingers!

The time now, by the way, is 7:45pm.

Send SMS: Any problems with mail server? Can`t connect?
SMS back: No. I can connect.

OK. It`s now time for the official cell-to-cell remote support distress call. Having been through this several times before, we jointly embark on phase II of the process of elimination and a few more remotely directed checks follow.

C
heck #8: Email password… chief-IT-honcho connects to my mail account using my password and can see and receive my email. So obviously, the problem is not with the ITWeb mail server or my mail account.

Oh yes, for the record, chief-IT-honcho connects remotely courtesy of a Telkom ADSL line… NOT, I repeat, NOT a MyWireless connection.

Check #9: The TRACERT check… Now online again, but still email-less, we do a simultaneous TRACERT on our mail server`s IP `111.11.111.111`. Surprise, surprise… via Telkom ADSL our chief-IT-honcho has no problem. Alas, my TRACERT – courtesy of MyWireless connection – timed-out after 11 hops! Oh yes, I also do the Telnet check, with similar going-nowhere-slowly end results.

Sensing my misery and PO [facronym] state of mind, chief-IT-honcho experiences a rare moment of compassion and, following a brief moment of hesitation, opts to part with some tools of the trade. In this instance, the art of all things DNS, courtesy of http://www.dnsstuff.com/

W
hile immensely grateful for the pearls of wisdom, I am now becoming increasingly frustrated and FPO [double facronym].

In case you are wondering why this excessive behaviour to test all possible variables before placing a support call to Sentech. Based on past experience, I have come to know that the most obvious and first response from the Sentech call centre will be to blame the ITWeb mail server or our ISP.

So finally, having exhausted all the obvious in-house port of calls and having eliminated our mail server or ISP as the likely culprits, I resort to dialing 0860084843 [Sentech`s call centre].

The time now, for the record, is 8:10pm.

As I`ve done many times before, I spend the first 5 minutes explaining to the call centre gentleman the 9 checks, which I have performed over the past hour and advise him that the TRACERT timed-out after 11 hops. I then proceed to ask him to also perform a TRACERT on our mail server IP (`111.11.111.111`) and personally verify the facts.

Now here`s the real killer. He responds with I cannot do a TRACERT as I do not have a MyWireless modem on my PC. I take a deep breath and gently points out that TRACERT is performed using the CMD prompt and has nothing to do with the modem.

Hallelujah! He comprehends… there IS intelligent life on planet Sentech! This step, however, requires an extensive consultation with technical and I am placed on hold for eight minutes.

Upon his return, he jubilantly informs me that his TRACERT also timed-out, but after 9 hops. Now since mine timed-out after 11 hops, the technical dept requests that I email a copy of my TRACERT results to them to enable them to accurately assess my problem.

I
 take another deep breath and, once again, gently points out that his TRACERT is likely to be 9 hops as the 3rd hop is the Sentech backbone on which he currently sits. Thus the first two hops, in my case, are likely to be my PC/modem and the base station to which I connect.

OK. He experiences a moment of enlightenment and, once again, we`re on the same page. We concur that he will submit his TRACERT results to the technical dept and log a support call. I request a reference number, which for the record was 31555, and he assures me that technical will call me within an hour to inform me of the status – good or bad.

The time now, for the record, is 8:25pm.

Not contend with just sitting around and waiting for technical to call me, I decide to put my newly acquired tools of the DNS trade to good use and promptly discover that the IP, where my TRACERT times-out, belongs to none other than UUNET SA. Surprised?

At this point I am compelled to focus on getting some work done and thee constructive and productive hours fly pass.. 

Of course, I`ve been waiting in vain for a call from Sentech`s technical dept during this time... why? well that`s just NOT how things work! The time now is 11:30pm.

I brace myself and call Sentech to enquire about the status of my support request #: 31555. My DNS discovery is confirmed... the problem, it seems, is the UUNET and T-Systems peering system. The microlink between Galo Manor and the metro tower is reportedly down. They apparently started with this maintenance at 8am Monday morning and it is likely to till be down until 5pm Tuesday afternoon.

Of course, as to why Sentech customers, who would be affected by this, have not been notified... I get the usual Sentech answer – check the bulletin board [which by the way I still have no clue as to its whereabouts and/or purpose].

I
n conclusion, I pray that this dissertation to some degree, at least, conveys the extent of my discontent and the sad state of customer service and wireless affairs [courtesy of Sentech] .. which has become the norm in South Africa!

May your wireless misfortunes be of a less painful nature!

Mdup


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