Thursday, August 15, 2013

Zenbu design in the 'modern world'.

Hi everyone,

Hope we are all in good health. It would seem that the cold chills we were facing for a while there have passed and along with this new wave of comparatively warmer weather I would like to post our first blog entry in a while. (A bit of a long one so I have bolded the important parts.)

's topic is regarding the perhaps not so well understood reason of;
Why Zenbu is designed the way it is and with what purpose in mind.
(Hopefully we can dispel some general misconceptions along the way.)

So without further ado, every now and then we receive remarks regarding it being 
'the 21st century' and that we have 'outrageous prices' (and were Zenbu an ISP providing internet to a contracted account holder, then I would likely agree).

However, Zenbu does not provide the internet connection that Zenbu hotspots are run off and as such 
in the conventional sense of the term,
we are not an Internet Service Provider.
What we do provide is a guest internet access system where the focus is placed on the controlling of access and data usage.

With that being said, I would like to explain why we believe Zenbu style systems are the only realistic way to provide fast and reliable public (= shared) internet access.

First of all, this exaggerated sense of technological advancement in the aforementioned remarks; what exactly is the source of this perception? Well, a simple hypothesis would be that it is likely due the fact that yes, internet [data allowances] & [data use] are increasing.

But... and a big but that is, the incongruence between expectations (due to the above skewed notion of advancement) with the reality of internet provision... is from the lack of understanding / awareness that the [internet speed] of our standard ADSL connection is not increasing proportionally.
ADSL speeds have not increased in New Zealand since it was introduced. As a matter of fact, upload speeds were actually faster when ADSL was first introduced!
- Yes, newer faster alternatives, such as VDSL and UFB have emerged.
- No, unfortunately, most places do not have access to such services.
(and for many locations the only option is still expensive and slow satellite connections.)

We find that, often reference is made to 'unlimited data plans' and the cost of residential broadband etc as reasoning for why prices should be lower or more data should be provided (usually requesting that it should also be free at that!).

Unfortunately, what is entirely overlooked is that these plans are not 
'unlimited speed plans' (such a thing does not exist) and that Zenbu operators are actually free to provide data at their own discretion and pricing. (Which is of course a judgement which only they can make.)

So taking that all into consideration, to be nice and concise, our explanation is basically;
[internet data allowances] not = [internet speed]
[internet data use] = [internet speed] x [time]

Increasing [internet data allowance] does not affect in any way the maximum [internet data use] possible in a specified amount of time. It just changes/removes an arbitrarily chosen number after which an ISP does 'something' (e.g. charge $ / throttle speed).

If a public hotspot operator decides to provide and people use more data on a connection that can only go the same maximum speed, the result will merely be an internet connection that is relatively more overloaded, slow and unreliable than it was previously.

More / unlimited data allowance does not change this reality.

Given that the purpose of Zenbu is essentially to protect an operator
's internet connection from being overloaded and allow public provision of a fast & reliable internet connection to multiple users simultaneously... the price of Zenbu credit purchased online is set at the lowest common denominator (currently satellite connections) that should sufficiently protect internet connections from being slowed down in this manner.

Sometimes we are told that, because devices these days have all sorts of software and apps on them that automatically sync, update, use the internet and consume lots of data... our system design is no longer relevant in the 
'modern world'.

Our response to this of course is; it is exactly for this reason,
(users are not controlling such things themselves, letting rogue software/apps, viruses/malware, p2p etc run wild and free... not applying the slightest bit of discretion when using a publicly shared internet connection)
that systems such as Zenbu are required more than ever.

Below are some quick calculations for reference purposes;

Standard ADSL
[10Mbit/s download] = 1220.703125 kb/s
[1Mbit/s upload] = 122.0703125 kb/s
100MB @ 10Mbit/s = ~1 minutes 24 seconds.
100MB @ 1Mbit/s = ~14 minutes.
1000MB @ 10Mbit/s = ~14 minutes
1000MB @ 1Mbit/s = ~1 hour 40 minutes

Ultra Fast Fibre
[100Mbit/s download] = 12207.03125 kb/s
[50Mbit/s upload] = 6103.515625 kb/s
100MB @ 100Mbit/s = 8.39 seconds
100MB @ 50Mbit/s = 16.78 seconds
1000MB @ 100Mbit/s = 83.89 seconds
1000MB @ 50Mbit/s = 167.77 seconds
10000MB @ 100Mbits/s = ~14 minutes
10000MB @ 50Mbit/s = ~28 minutes
100000MB @ (So on so forth.)

So on a fast ADSL broadband connection someone uploading a 200MB video to iCloud (or the equivalent) would consume the entire available bandwidth for about half an hour leaving everyone else running very slowly.

Fibre provides much faster speeds, yes.
Fibre provides more data over the same time to the same # of users, yes.
Does it stop a single user with unrestricted access from overloading the connection? No. (This is of course why purely 'time based' designs for public internet access are not a sensible idea.)

Given a finite amount of speed [x], [y] maximum amount of data can be transferred over [z] period of time. Introduce an unknown [n] number of users that [y] needs to be shared between and it becomes very quickly apparent that a means of restricting data usage is required.

If a single person wants to connect to a single internet connection then sure, it does not particularly matter how much data they use. (their usage does not affect internet speeds for anyone else).
However, public WiFi is a different story. In order to have many users connected simultaneously while maintaining good transfer speeds for all... data must be restricted.

A good way to put all of the above into perspective is;
An internet connection is like a water hose.
Many people just want to fill their glass with water and are done very quickly allowing others to also fill their glass with water ('light' usage) but then there are those who want to fill their entire pool with water and they sit their hogging the water for a long time ('heavy' usage). During that time, people that just wanted to have a drink are left to lick droplets of water on the pool side in order to quench their thirst.

You can increase the diameter of the hose & the number of hoses.
Users can also fill (house designers continue to build) bigger pools.
Unfortunately, the size of pools is increasing much faster than the diameter of our hoses and the 'fire hydrants' that were in mind when designing such pools are only available overseas.

Finally, to wrap things up, the topic of copyright infringement.

Beyond not providing internet at all (understandably not the preferred option), data restriction is the most effective method of curbing such illegal activity from taking place on your internet connection.
  1. Making data sufficiently expensive that it would cost the user more to download copyright material like movies, than it would to rent or outright purchase the product, removes the incentive of doing so in the first place. 
  2. Not providing sufficient data for a user to complete transferring of the files renders attempting to do so pointless and a waste of data. (movie files can be quite large) 
The reason we bring this topic up again is because we have received a few enquiries regarding some services which claim they can protect public internet providers (i.e. the broadband account holders) from potential copyright infringement charges.
All we have to say regarding this is that they either;
  1. Do not fully understand how the internet and the peer-to-peer networks for that matter operate.
  2. Do not understand that the "Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill" applies only to peer-to-peer file sharing.
    (So "blocking" access to websites [which is likely to be ineffective anyway] does not actually impact on people's ability to use peer-to-peer file sharing software.)
  3. Or are just outright being misleading / purposefully omitting information / falsely advertising.
It is not possible to provide access to the internet in general and at the same time 100% stop users gaining access to parts of the internet. Blocking access to a website does not stop and is unrelated to illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.
You can implement censorship and blocking mechanisms which can indeed stop a majority of people, but anyone that does want access and has any technological know-how, will be capable of circumventing any such block. Note that peer-to-peer file sharing does not involve websites at all (it is people sharing files directly with each other) and the software that they use to do so is specifically designed to circumvent any possible block that may be in place.

Under the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill the account holder can be held liable for illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. The bill does not apply to websites at all.
(and yes, we agree, it is a ridiculous law... but let's not dwell on it.
The bright side is that no Zenbu operators have had a problem so far!)


The Zenbu Team.

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