Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some bits and bobs - Skype updates, Android growth, and some handy software...

Hi everyone,

Well it's been a while since the last post and we've been very busy at Zenbu HQ.  We now have over 870 Zenbu Wi-Fi hotspots throughout New Zealand and the Cook Islands.  That is over 120 new locations that have joined the Zenbu network since back in July.  We also had our 3 millionth connection on the 15th September 2011 and are already close to 3.5 million only a couple of months later!

Now I'd like to quickly bring up something that has annoyed me for a while - automatic, forced, Skype updates (have there recently been more updates than usual?).  There is no longer any way to disable automatic updates within the Skype software itself and Skype forces updates on their users at fairly regular intervals.  And it apparently isn't only me this annoys.  There seems to be an ever growing chorus of discontent out there.  Not only do the automatic updates use bandwidth but I don't like any programs running on my computer to download or install updates without my explicit approval (at the time of the specific update).  For Skype in particular I preferred the user interface of some of the earlier versions and would like to continue using them.

So what can you do about it?  Sadly the solution is a bit geeky but apparently blocking access to ( in your firewall will stop Skype from being able to automatically update itself [see the link above].  I have only recently implemented this myself (after the most recent forced automatic Skype update - the straw that broke the camel's back!) so I cannot yet confirm that it works, but Skype still apparently works fine after making the change and if future automatic updates are blocked I'll be a happy camper.  Fingers crossed.  I also wonder if putting a '' in the 'hosts' file would be sufficient?  [Note that '' and '' also resolve to '']

While on the topic of software, a handy little program for sharing a single internet connection between multiple devices that I have used a bit recently is Connectify.  Basically it allows a (Windows) computer to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot.  So, for example, you could connect to Zenbu on the computer running Connectify then connect your other devices to the signal coming from the computer.  This is a handy way to use more than one device simultaneously with a single user account.  This method also allows devices that can't login to the Zenbu system on their own (eg. they don't have a web browser etc) to access the internet and can also be used to share a mobile broadband (cellular) data connection with devices (such as iPads) that don't have USB ports to which you could connect a USB mobile broadband data stick.

Before I sign off I'd also like to mention the continued growth of Android.  In the last month Android has comprised 5.8% of total visits to our website (and 39% of mobile visits).  Mobile devices now account for 14.2% of visits to our website up from 9.5% in July 2011.  Google certainly seems to be onto a winner with Android!

Nice that daylight savings is well underway and the long warm evenings of summer are with us.  Enjoy.


The Zenbu Team.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Updated mobile usage stats

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update of our "mobile" usage stats for those (geeks) out there who are interested in such data. About a year ago (July 19th 2010) the following was the breakdown of mobile device usage and mobile users comprised just over 3% of total visitors to our website.
Device typePercentage of users
Symbian (Nokia etc)18.0%
iPad (not even officially on sale in NZ yet)7.9%
Windows Mobile1.5%
Others (PSP etc) combinedless than 1%
As of today (again statistics from the preceding month) the following was the breakdown of mobile operating systems used to access our website. Mobile devices comprised 9.5% of total visits to our website in the last month.
Device typePercentage of users
Others (PSP, Windows etc) combinedless than 1%
So it seems pretty clear that 1. usage of mobile devices to access the internet is increasing; and 2. Android is growing in popularity phenomenally quickly!

Being somewhat geeky ourselves we have a good selection of most of the devices listed above and can certainly vouch for the convenience and usability of mobile devices. I expect their usage will continue to increase.

Hope the school holidays are being appreciated by all.


The Zenbu Team.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Another busy summer and some peer-to-peer info

Hi everyone,

Well we have had a very busy summer. Since October 2010 the number of Zenbu WiFi hotspots has increased from 500 to over 680 and on 21st February 2011 we had our 2 millionth connection! It was only April 2010 that we had our millionth connection so in under a year we have had over 1 million internet sessions on our network. Also through the first few months of 2011 on average over 2000 people per day have used our service, about double the number of users in 2010. So on the growth front it certainly seems like good progress!

Now, we have recently been contacted by several people concerned about the "new copyright law" (the "Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill") that has recently been introduced. This has been getting a fair amount of media attention but fundamentally does not change the legality of anything. It is already illegal to download copyright material without the consent of the copyright holder and this bill just "seeks to amend Part 6 of the Copyright Act 1994 to provide more effective means for copyright owners to enforce their rights against people involved in unauthorised sharing of copyright material via the Internet (infringing file sharing). It aims to provide copyright owners with a fast-track alternative to existing remedies under the Act". So apparently nothing is becoming any more or less illegal due to this bill, only the means of resolving copyright disputes are changing.

How does this affect people sharing their internet connection with others? Well really it shouldn't change anything as it is already illegal to download copyright material without authorization.

As far as the Zenbu system is concerned, by design it is prohibitively expensive to download big files (like music, movies etc) regardless of whether it is done legally or illegally. For example using an inefficient protocol such as Bittorrent (one popular peer-to-peer file sharing system that has relatively high protocol overheads) it would probably cost upwards of $100 to download a movie - certainly not something many people will do! So unless you are providing free internet access, people will not download movies, music, tv shows etc over the Zenbu connection as it is simply too expensive. This protects your broadband connection from heavy use which would leave you with either a big bill, slow speeds for the rest of the month or at best a slow connection while people download movies and it also helps protect you from "copyright infringement". Regardless of whether people do it legally (using iTunes, Digirama or even peer-to-peer software) or illegally (using Bittorrent or other peer-to-peer software) it is a good idea to minimize the transfer of large files over your broadband connection.

Other than with the disincentive of price provided by the Zenbu system, people concerned about the risk of peer-to-peer file downloading can generally block file-sharing protocols at their broadband modem. The administration page of the broadband modem will generally have a "firewall" or "filter" option which should allow you to easily filter/block peer-to-peer traffic. It is much more likely that people with unrestricted access to the internet (staff, your children, friends etc) will use file-sharing than anyone connected via the Zenbu connection (unless you provide people with free internet access). Because it is all traffic over the broadband connection that needs restricting the best place to block peer-to-peer traffic is it at your broadband modem (or at your ISP).

If your existing broadband modem doesn't have such an option it would probably be worth calling your ISP and asking them if they can provide (or at least recommend) one that does. Many broadband modems supplied by ISPs are pretty poor quality so this could be a good opportunity to get a better, more reliable, more functional (and often much faster) modem. Not only should it allow you to block peer-to-peer traffic but it should also provide a much improved internet experience for you and your customers.

Here is an article with information on some broadband modems commonly provided by ISPs in New Zealand - The information provided is in-keeping with our experiences of different broadband modems. Basically a good modem should never need restarting to stay online and should provide good speed and reliable connectivity to your computer(s)/devices. As well as the modems recommended at the link above I highly recommend DrayTek modems. We use the Draytek 2700e (some other DrayTek modems are here) for one of our broadband connections and in over 18 months it has not once needed restarting and has been super reliable (and yes it has the option of blocking peer-to-peer services).  Of course you should confirm that any equipment or service you are considering buying will actually do the job you want with the manufacturer or your ISP before you purchase it.

Please be aware that completely blocking all peer-to-peer traffic is technically very difficult, if not impossible, as the peer-to-peer traffic can be encrypted, different ports can be used etc. and a determined user will likely get around any blocks that are put in place.  There is an aspect of cat-and-mouse between peer-to-peer file sharing software developers and the network administrators that attempt to block or disrupt the peer-to-peer traffic.  Naturally our politicians are a long way from the front lines of this technical battle ground!  A combination of blocking or restricting traffic at your modem and pricing that makes the use of peer-to-peer file sharing unattractive is likely the best solution available.

Edit: Additional information on the copyright amendment bill is available at

Well that has turned into quite a long post. Any Twitterers out there who prefer things in smaller doses might like to follow our twitter feed.


The Zenbu Team.