Monday, September 20, 2010

Zune Pass & Marketplace Content Coming To Canada (Some of it anyway)

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For some of those who were looking (in Canada) for a viable alternative to Apple's iPods and iTunes, who bought Microsoft's Zune media player only to find that the online music store, the Zune Marketplace wasn't available outside the United States.  The only sources of legally obtained music was through importing songs from CD's or other online music stores such as that sell songs as regular .mp3 files without the restrictions imposed by digital rights management.  Microsoft later introduced a music by subscription service called Zune Pass, again only available in the United States.  It was not long after that Microsoft pulled the Zune players from the Canadian market. 

It has finally come to pass that Zune Pass and Marketplace content will be available outside the United States.  Just about all Zune content will be available across Europe, Zune Pass Music Subscription will not be available in Germany.  Canada, Australia & New Zealand  will get video rentals and purchases but no music.  Looking on shows that Microsoft is using Zune as a service for video rental and purchase on the Xbox 360.  There is very little mentioned about the portable media players.  Even then, wouldn't Zune Marketplace customers also want to buy the songs as well, without having to deal with a third party online music store?  Some analysts no longer consider Microsoft to be a leading edge technology company, I wonder why?

When, Not If The Samsung Tab Comes To Canada

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Tablet computers designed to compete with Apple's iPad have been rumoured to be in development for months now, It appears that Samsung's Android powered Galaxy Tab will be the first to go head to head with the iPad.  In a rare move for any manufacturer of devices that operate on cellular networks, the Galaxy Tab is compatible with both CDMA and GSM/HSPA networks.  Samsung has already announced that the Galaxy Tab will be available through all four of the national carriers in the United States.

What will remain to be seen if the Galaxy Tab will be sold through the regional carriers as well as the big national carriers.  Don't subscribers to MetroPCS, Cellular One and Cricket deserve access to the top devices just as Verizon or AT&T subscribers have. 

For subscribers in Canada the big question is if not when the Galaxy Tab comes north of the border.  There will be very little doubt that Bell, Telus, and Rogers will support the Galaxy Tab on their networks.  One thing that cellular subscribers in Manitoba will want answered.  Will it work on MTS?  The short answer is Yes if they sell it directly.  Canada's last CDMA only carrier will not activate any device they didn't originally sell. If the Tab is sold through general electronics retailers that don't sell or activate other MTS cellular products then it's highly unlikely that MTS would activate service on a Galaxy Tab.

For those in Saskatchewan wanting to use a Galaxy Tab on Sasktel, will be able to without any problem on the new HSPA network.  For those who need data service on the older CDMA network because CDMA coverage is more expansive since HSPA covers the cities and the highway corridors could be out of luck unless the subscriber lives in a CDMA only coverage area.

Competition from Samsung is exactly what the tablet computing market needs right now,  The cell phone industry's hardware subsidy business model may not appeal to some but it does make the cost of a tablet easier to take compared to the price that Apple charges to the iPad  which will make Samsung's Galaxy Tab an even more compelling competitor in both the United States and in Canada.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why Super WiFi Won't Fly In Canada

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South of the 49th parallel, the regulator of all things that transmits signals, the Federal Communications Commission is working on a new standard for wireless networking that promises faster speeds and greater range (up to 2 kilometres) and better able to penetrate through walls.  Already dubbed 'Super WiFi' would abandon the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands that WiFi networks have traditionally used.  SuperWiFi networks would be transmit in the 'white spaces' between TV stations created when America's television industry made the switch from analog to digital back in June of 2009.

Super WiFi will be something like Hulu in one way, it will only be available in the United States only.  Canada's half hearted approach to switching broadcast TV from analog to digital means that there will be no white spaces opened up for Super WiFi or anything else that requires radio frequency spectrum that gets freed up from the DTV transition.

The main transmitters in the major cities will need to be switched from analog to digital but station relay re-transmitters that serve small towns and rural areas will be allowed operate in analog after August 31, 2011.  All TV stations have been assigned alternative channel assignments by the CRTC to operate on if they are providing both digital and analog over the air signals between now and August, 31. 2011.  Many stations will be moving to their assigned digital channels.  Any transmitter operating on channel 52 or higher must be moved to channel 52 or lower regardless if it's a main station transmitter that will be switched to digital or a station relay  re-transmitter that will continue to operate in analog.  Stations operating on channels 2-6 are choosing to move due to the better performance on the VHF hi and UHF bands. 

To illustrate how filled the TV bands will get even if just a few networks operate stations in any given area, Regina has CTV (CKCK-TV) on Channel 2, CBC (CBKT) on Channel 9 and Global (CFRE) on Channel 11.  The CRTC has assigned channel 8 to CKCK-TV for digital broadcasting, it is expected that CKCK will move from channel 2 to 8 as part of the digital television transition.  CBC is assigned channel 26 to operate CBKT-DT but have applied for a one year extension to complete their digital build out in smaller cities in Canada.  If in the unlikely event this extension is granted there will be a digital station operating right next to an analog station.  CFRE is likely to stay on channel 11 using their assigned digital channel 40 unused due to the lower operating cost of operating on VHF.  That leaves very little room in the Hi VHF channels for everybody and their dog to operate a SuperWiFi network.

Complicating things even more moving out into areas away from the cities where station relay re-transmitters operate.  In Moose Jaw CKCK operates a re-transmitter on channel 7, and CBKT operates a re-transmitter on channel 10 out of Willow bunch south of Moose Jaw.  Moose Jaw lies in the fringe area of CBKT channel 9 expected fringe area of CKCK-DT channel 8.  If the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation gets on year extension, channels 7,8,9,10,11 and 13 will be occupied.  That's why there will be no SuperWiFi coming to Canada and all those wireless broadband services and cell phone bands probably won't be available here ether.

Monday, September 13, 2010

BCE buying CTV: The Demise of Net Neutrality in Canada

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For the past few years legislators in the United States have been debating how to ensure net neutrality for all Internet users south of the border.  Net Neutrality ensures free access to all content or services available online regardless of the subscriber's Internet service provider.  Meanwhile in Canada, Net Neutrality isn't being debated, it's not even being mentioned.  Instead mergers between Shaw and Canwest Global and now CTV and Bell Canada are going to be rubber stamped.

Canadian Internet users will be steered towards content owned by their Internet service providers.  Access to other sources of online video could potentially be inhibited.  The big ISP's have been targeting bit torrent and other peer to peer networks for throttling because they can and do argue that most content peer to peer networks is pirated and uses a high amount of bandwidth that degrades performance of other users' broadband service.  When Netflix launches in Canada within the next couple of months how will the big ISP's respond to that?

One of the effects that the merging the cable/telco/ISP's with broadcast networks is the apathetic attitude towards the transition to digital television that is now just eleven months away.  Shaw built their business providing better picture and sound quality to broadcast television networks such as Canwest Global.  The move to digital television will give over the air viewers the same sound and picture quality that cable and satellite subscribers get.

The DTV transition will also free up wireless spectrum required to open up the Canadian market to new competition for cell phone and wireless broadband service.  Will Bell rush to convert transmitters of CTV stations to digital.  Somehow I didn't think so.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Growing Danger of 'Tap and Go' Credit Cards

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While this Blog covers technology, this is an entry about the technology behind how products and services are paid for.  For the past few years Canada's banks and other credit card issuers have been issuing credit cards with smart chips in them where the card is inserted into a slot in point of sale terminals and the user keys in their PIN, this has made credit card transactions more convenient, more reliable and most importantly more secure than the older magnetic stripe technology that has been around since the late 1960's.  For one step forward to making credit cards more secure the industry has taken two enormous steps backward.

Another new technology that has appeared called PayPass by MasterCard and PayWave by Visa allow card holders to pay for purchases without signing a credit card slip or punching in a PIN.  Non contact payment systems use a technology called Radio Frequency Identification or RFID to store cardholder information on a microchip embedded in a credit card that can be called up by an RFID reader at a merchant's point of sale system.

The biggest downside to non-contact credit transaction systems is that there is no verification that the person making a purchase is the actual person that the credit card was issued to.  While MasterCard puts a limit of fifty dollars on PayPass transactions and Visa has a twenty five dollar limit on PayWave transactions.  The biggest fault isn't from the use of stolen or somebody's lost card that is found and used by somebody else, it's that RFID technology being in wide spread use.  RFID card readers can be purchased easily and inexpensively.  With minor modification RFID readers can capture information from cards as far as four feet away.  The information from captured credit cards can be recorded and used to produce clone cards.

MasterCards issued through Bank of Montreal or a retail chain in Canada are PayPass enabled, but MasterCards issued through credit unions are not.  Visa cards issued by RBC and TD have PayWave but ScotiaBank and CIBC do not have it.  If you have a credit card that is due for renewal soon ask them for a card that doesn't have PayPass or PayWave.  Some credit card issuers will issue a non RFID credit card upon request but some will not.

The potential for credit fraud from RFID harvesting has already spawned a cottage industry of companies providing metal protective sleeves to put credit cards in when they are not in use.  The metal sleeve keeps the signals from the RFID reader from reaching the credit card. 

Like some other technologies, Non contact credit card transaction were probably put out into the world without being thought out properly.  Until RFID credit cards can be better protected then maybe cardholder should hold off getting RFID credit cards even if it means changing credit cards.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

364 Days Until DTV Day Canada

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With the rise of the sun today, September 1st 2010 the day analog over the air television is now less than a year away.  While for the most part Television stations have failed to provide transition simulcasts of their programming in both analog and digital instead opting for a flash cut on 11:59 PM on August 31st of next year.  Television stations in the Great White North, who have done nothing to communicate that the change over is going to happen, now is the time to start. 

For those using antennas for one or more TV sets, not too much is knows on what to expect.  A few things are certain:

To keep receiving programming after August 31st older TV sets with analog tuners will need to be replaced with a set with a digital tuner or a digital converter box will need to be connected to between the antenna and the older TV set.  The antenna may be replaced as well.  Many areas especially in western Canada where for the most part TV signals have been exclusively been broadcast on VHF channels, Many TV stations will be switching from their current VHF channels to UHF channels.

The main transmitters for TV stations will be required to switch to digital, but station relays (retransmitters) will be allowed to remain analog provided that they are not using channel 52 or higher, any station relays using channels 53-69 will be moving to a lower channel to free up the 700 MHz band for public safety communications, cell phones and wireless broadband services.

For TV viewers there will be confusion in a year from now, both the CRTC and TV stations will have to clear up how people watch over the air TV and what channel to watch, stay tuned Canada, if you can.

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