April 2006
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Month April 2006

Seasons and vegetables

Broccoli season is over. Its strange and wonderful to be living in a country where vegetables are truly tied to the seasons. I am so accustomed to boundless choice available in NYC. No more broccoli for a while — asparagus it is. Spring is really here, almost 70 today.

Sky in Europe

This register piece is worth a read on Sky’s realtive position in europe — the presumption that sky will dominate multichannel video in europe is held by pretty much everyone here.   Surprising given the progress of IPTV — and the fact that many IPTV providers are figuring out that a me too service isn’t what IPTV is going to be about.   Just like cable differentiated itself from broadcast, IPTV is going to have to differentiate itself from satellite and cable.

A new ball game?

Cringley piece on Apple’s boot camp is worth a read. I think he overrates the importance of the OS — its yesteryears battle. And he under rates the importance of tightly coupled experiences for Apple and the Job’s team. I don’t believe Job’s is interested in having OSX run on OEM PC’s. Apple advantage today is a tightly coupled, CE like experience.

What technology I am using at home in Italy

A couple of friends have asked about what technology we have setup here in Italy. A summary with commentary below.

Connectivity wise we are using ADSL. Cheap, fast european ADSL. We see speeds of 3-6Mbps with very few drop off’s and little maintence. Our provider is Telecom Italia, we have the Alice service. I would have liked to have tried Fastweb but outside of Milan Fastweb is essentially an ADSL reseller — the FTTH offering is in the Milan metro area. Price wise ADSL has several tiers — the lowest is approx. $25 (with promotions etc.) and the highest includes wifi router and voip and is around $38/mnth after promotions. These prices are in line with France, UK and Belgium. Interestingly upload speeds seem to be as much of a selling point as download speeds.  Finally, to share some of this bandwidth goodness I am testing a Fon access point — not a lot of data on it as yet, will post some commentary when I know more.

Telephony wise we have setup a mix of wireless and VoIP options. For calls within Italy we use our cell phones or the home pots line. For cell phones we are using our US phones with Italian prepaid SIM cards. SIM provider is TIM. Coverage is pretty good but not as good as I expected (europeans often complain about US cell service, saying it soo much better here). In buildings, particularly old Italian ones with thick walls, you have no service. Voice service is pricey – driving much of the the text/data usuage. Data usuage is very interesting. SMS is threaded in a manner that I havent seen in the US. And there are many features that on the SIM card that pre load on to the cell phone interface. Most of them are TIM promotional features — local information search for taxi service, or a voice based search/information service (both of which get loaded into your phone book). There are group chat services, some content and entertainment and also payment services. Payfor me lets you pay or SMS funds to another user — either by entering a phone number or by sending an SMS. The phones take full advantage of the simplicity of a text based interface — I have seen far fewer attempts to push usuage into a browser / graphical experience. Likely one reason why next generation/3g adoption has been slow. On the subject of 3g I havent yet tried the wireless VoIP offering from 3 Italia, will post when I do.

Fixed line VoIP wise we have both Vonage and Skype setup. I brought over our Vonage/Cisco ATA box and it was up and running on the network within minutes. It works fabulously well. Offers us a local (917) number for people calling from the US. Almost no issues with quality or drop off. Amusingly our vonage 917 number must have gotton scrapped recently we have started getting telemarketing calls — after 3 years of vonage usuage in the US with no telemarketing calls and now we are getting calls here in Italy from US vendors (consider that these calls are orginating from call centers outside the US, thinking that they are dialing a US resident, an instance of how strange telephony is becoming now that switching is decoupled from location). Most of our usage on vonage is back and forth to the US. Skype is great for calls elsewhere and multiparty conference calls. I got a Linksys cordless skype phone that works fabulously well. Full access to the address book etc. Drop off and quality of Skype calls is good but not great — big difference between quality of Vonage vs. Skype. Note Alice does offer VoIP as part of its ADSL package. As you might expect its not heavily promoted and the main selling point seems to be personal phone lines — it comes with 5 lines / phone numbers. I havent tried this service.

Video wise we arent watching much italian TV. We are using Sling and a couple of IP video services. Sling works surprisingly well. Its an amazing and strange experience to be sitting here in Italy navigating our Tivo box in NY. Its facinating the degree to which I associate interfaces with place — getting on the Tivo from here makes me feel physically like I am in NY — as I said before, its weird. Quality is fairly good, it works great for talking head stuff (jon stewart etc.), less good for drama but its pretty much only the Soprano’s that we watch drama wise. Note we dont watch much TV in the US, and we watch even less here. But I was surprised by how well Sling does work. The quality bottle neck is mostly because of the upload limit on our broadband connection in the US (the stream we recieve is on average 250-300k). That said if we wanted to watch sports, or any fast moving image — the sling experience wouldnt be great.

Outside of Sling I have tried pretty much all the movie download services. Performance is mixed but lack of quality films has been pretty consistent accross services. This is changing (given recent collapses of the DVD and online window) — and now the quality and price of the services are going to compete head on with p2/ bittorrent alternatives. Vongo / iTunes are the best US services I have found. Do note that most of these services are blocked to non US IP numbers so they only work when connected via a VPN. Italian IPTV is starting to blossom. There are services available via the PC and there are services available to the TV. The PC based service is mostly pay per view — there are prepaid card options that are blended with telephony offerings. The TV based service retails as a complete package for $60/mnth — this includes ADSL, telephony services and a basic TV line up. While I havent tried the service it doesnt seem as advanced as Illiad’s offering in France.

I am also watching a fair amount of short/chunky video from youtube, rocketboom and its kin, but thats a whole other subject.