Another Telstra Rip-Off

So Telstra (the major Telco here in Australia) get all fired up about their new service. It is called the “Next G Network”. Basically offering WiFi where-ever you go.

The only upshot as far as I can tell with this is that you can take your Internet connection with you. That is they supply you with a “mobile card” that you install your Laptop and you can be connected while you travel, as opposed to find some unsecured WiFi network somewhere. If you mainly or only use the Internet at home then this is a rip off of staggering proportions.

So there is on offer two plans and yes they are locked for 12 months. The first plan called “G Fast” offers 256 kbps and 128 kbps upload. There is a 200MB option or one GIG, and that is per month… The cost… $49.95AU and $79.95AU respectively. First up the speed is poor even for WiFi and second you would not want it to be going any quicker as you are charged 30 cents per MB once you go over your quota! So that too slow for you and a bit restrictive? Well we are geeks and we need speed right?

Well maybe the “Super G Fast” is for you. There is only one speed here and that is 550 kbps to 1.5 mbps download (average) with an upload speed “bursting to 384 kbps. This plan is offered in two options; by the hour or by the volume. 10 hours or 20 at a cost of $29.95AU and $49.95AU respectively. The volumes offered are 400MB, 1GIG and 3GIG. Costing, $79.95AU, 109.95AU and 199.95AU respectively… Oh and I forgot that there is a one off fee of $299AU for the wireless card.Is it just me or does this seem like there is something wrong?

Pays to read the fine print where some of this information was taken:

1. The G Fast plans will have a download speed up to 256kbps and an upload speed of up to 128kbps. These speeds are a theoretical maximum. Actual speeds will be slower. The Super G Fast plans will have an average download speed of 550kbps to 1.5Mbps and an upload speed bursting to 384kbps. Speeds may vary due to congestion, distance from the cell, local conditions, hardware, software and other factors.
2. Usage means monthly combined upload and download data transfer. 1 Gigabyte = 1000 Megabytes.

[Added Emphasis]

This country is going bloody mad. Anyone that thinks this is any type of good deal could be in for a shock. Especially when you consider that Google is delivering free wireless access to the whole town of Mountain View where they are based and they want to do it elsewhere! Not to mention the fact that this type of thing has been available in the US for about the last 6 years.

Sure I don’t have the ability to have access no matter where I am. But if I wanted WiFi at home, the addition of a Wireless modem would be all it would take and that would be for less than 200 bucks! So taking the mobility part of the equation out. I have a connection here at home that is 1.5 mbps download and 256 kpbs up. No that isn’t break neck speed but it is the fastest available here in Cairns, Australia at the time of writing this. I pay a quarter of the cost above and I have 10 GIG to play with!

I am no maths genius and I may be wrong here but this whole thing seems very, very steep. The sad thing is that this will be the only high speed Internet option available to some isolated communities here in Australia. What choice does that leave them? I certainly hope we are rescued from these crazy times by someone, some company or at least the Australian public waking up to themselves and realizing that there are other options other than Telstra. Force the competition and start giving yourselves the choice at competitive prices and stop complaining.

No thanks Telstra I will have my restricted mobility.

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What Bit Rate for Podcasts?

I really, honestly do not know the answer to this question. What is the best bit rate to encode a podcast at? Also does that answer depend upon the fact that you are a listener or a podcaster or hosting service?

I do the post production work for the Global Geek Podcast. Before moving to TPN I always encoded the podcast at 44khz and 96kbps. That works out at about 35 – 40MB per show (depending on length between 40 minutes to an hour). We have what I think is great audio quality, but am I spoiling ourselves and our listeners and potentially excluding others?

We have never had a complaint about the file size of the show. No-one has ever said it was too big. People have commented on the quality and said it is great and we have worked hard to get it that way. But I now question if that is over kill. So I tried to figure out what bit rate is the most common. I did a very small survey of the podcasts I have on the computer. I only have nine on it at the moment – most of them are on the MP3 Player (where they should be).

Anyway I got the following breakdown:

Total of 9 Podcasts:

  • 2 encoded at 96kbps
  • 4 encoded at 64kbps
  • 3 encoded at 48kbps

A conclusive survey that does not make. But maybe I am aiming too high. What quality do listeners expect of a podcast? Do they want a small file and lower quality so that they get the content without the bandwidth. Or do they want great quality and a larger file size? With the size of MP3 players now the storage is not an issue I don’t think. But I know in Australia the cost of bandwidth might be. The cost of faster connections is expensive and so many users are on a maximum of 256/64 or 512/128. So does a larger file size deter them from listening to our show? Could we have a bigger audience if we made it smaller and if that is the case what size is acceptable?

With the uptake of broadband technology there is a step towards encoding at a larger bit rate but what should it be? Perhaps 64kbps is a good place. I listen to quite a few podcasts that are recorded at 64kbps and they sound good. A one hour podcast encoded at 64kbps is about 28MB (voice only). Is this a big difference to 96kbps? Well it is between 10 and 15 MB. Will that mean the difference between more listeners and a balance between keeping your existing ones because of what they expect? Will you loose listeners by lowering the bit rate dramatically and will it matter because of the number you pick up. To me it does anyway, I care that we keep the listeners we have.

The other big consideration here is the hosting cost. I know that I had to go to the plan one up from the basic plan in order to have the podcast encoded at such a high bit rate. So that privilege cost me $10US/month instead of $5US/month. That was a cost that I thought was worth it. Also what if your podcast is being hosted by a network, what file size is reasonable for them to host? Is it acceptable that you have a higher bit rate than the other shows that are hosted there and is it necessary? Personally, I would like to find a happy medium between file size, bit rate and quality. I want the best quality at a reasonable file size. I don’t want my hosting provider to get pissed off that the show is too large. In addition to that fact; the network wants as many people to listen to as many shows as possible. If it is possible that people are “turned off” by a large file size, then that is not for the benefit of the network and I would not do it. In that instance the file size should be smaller at the sacrifice of quality for the benefit of the network and I need to accept that.

As a listener I do not care what size a file is. I have a fast Internet connection and it really does not bother me. I like high quality podcasts but I listen to some that are not of a high quality as far as bit rate because the content is good. So is good quality a cover for shit content? If it is; it is not sustainable long term. So as a listener of podcasts I don’t search for podcasts based on audio quality or file size, and maybe I have just answered my question in part.

Having made these points I will say that some basic editing will improve quality out of sight. I have turned off podcasts because they have not bothered to do this basic editing. They were unlistenable and total shit and they should have thought the same! I wonder if some podcasters even listen to it after they have recorded it. So what do I mean by “basic editing?”

Basic editing in my opinion is:

  • Setting levels before you start, especially if you are recording Skype using a software application. This means setting your levels with enough “headroom” to get loud during a podcast so that you don’t “clip” the recording. And not so soft that you have to amplify it dramatically to get something to work with.
  • Don’t edit the podcast as an MP3, MP3 is a “lossy” format and gets worse and worse in quality every time you re-encode it or open it and save it.
  • Run a compressor on the audio to “smooth” the audio. That is take out the high’s and bring up the lows.
  • Run the compressor a few more times.
  • Normalise” the audio, basically set the zero level. Makes the podcast the same volume and means that the listener isn’t constantly turning their volume up and down.
  • You may need to “amplify” the whole audio after using the compressor and normalising the audio. You don’t want the listener running out of volume because it is too soft!
  • Any added or imported audio needs the above steps.

Believe it or not the above takes the least amount of time in my editing but makes the biggest difference. I do go a step further and edit the actual audio and take out the umms and errs and we always stuff things up and say well we will edit that out. The time is also in the transitions and the mixing of the imported audio, making it all work together (the best that I can). So maybe you can see why as a podcaster I want it to sound as good as I can, I put a lot of effort into both the pre and post production. But is that at the neglect of other issues? Is this basic and advanced editing enough to make it a “quality” podcast?

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Tell me if you are a listener or a podcaster. Podcasters, tell me what you encode your podcast at and why. Listeners please answer my questions for me. As I said at the start of this post I really do not know what the right answer is, that’s why I have posed lots of questions. It would be great to get some answers, although I am not sure there is one.

Internode ISP To Boost Bandwidth in Australia

As you may or may not know my Internet Service Provider is Internode. This is an Adelaide run; slick internet provider that comes highly recommended for you Australian readers. I have always received great service with a no-fuss attitude. In addition to that they offer a reliable service at an affordable cost.

So without starting to sound like an advertisement or something, I found some real news on the RSS about Internode. Australian IT reports that they are wanting to be the first Australian ISP to offer “super-fast” internet connections of over 1Mps. They are currently waiting for approval by the relevant authorities. Once this is done they are planning for immediate deployment of the service.

The service is being touted as ideal for people that want to host web services, video conferencing and downloading large files. While this is all great and dandy, I bet the rest of the world is laughing their arses off! Internet services are so far behind in Australia it really is not funny. This is evidenced by the fact that I regularly talk to my overseas contacts that have much faster connections than the “super-fast” 2Mps! Indeed Knightwise who is from Belgium has a 4Mps connection for less than I am paying for 1.5Mps!

This is not to shun the forward thinking of Internode. The fact that they are pushing for faster connections is great but we are really behind the times on a global level and scale.

The tele-communications industry in Australia remains a political and red-tape filled cess pit that, from what I can see, shows no sign of changing any time soon. This is severely compromising our stake in this rapidly changing and transforming landscape that is the internet. Perhaps the global push for connectivity will boot our industry into a more competitive stance and one that enables the community to take advantage of all that the internet is offering, rather than a restrictive, legalistic, overpriced and unfair monopoly (Despite the denials) that restricts access and that is based on cost alone.

This is highly evident by the fact that at the moment I pay $49.95 AU a month for a 1500/256 connection. If I was with the biggest, most dominant and anti-competitive company in Australia and yet the most popular, Telstra; I would be paying $125 AU. When you ask them why; you get the usual red-tape rhetoric. I just do not understand how a company that charges more than double can stay in business. Other than the fact that they prey on peoples’ comfort in familiarity.

Congratulations to Internode for playing the ball. Wake up you Telstra morons we are being left behind and yes you are a problem.