24 March 2010

Niue #10: Settling this Nonsense Once and for All

Thursday was our last full day in Niue. Our equipment was turned off the afternoon before because, as best I could tell, a public disinformation campaign from IUSN's operators had lead their subscribers to blame us for widespread WISP outages. I had had my fill of the whole mess and took comfort in the fact that I would be on the next flight out.

That morning, Frank came to guesthouse and ask what my plans were. I said Jessica and I would probably go snorkeling again at Limu and maybe have a picnic, but didn't have any technical work planned. Since everyone was blaming us for IUSN's outages, I would not turn on the equipment unless someone specifically asked me to do so. Frank's response was clear: We were acting with cabinet authorization, at the request of the acting Premier, to test a mobile phone system. There was no higher authority in the country. I should do whatever I thought was reasonable to advance that testing.

I went to the Telecom office and spoke with the Director. We were turning on the GSM system again, but would not announce it yet. We wanted to determine if we were really the cause of the outages. The process would take about an hour.

Sitting at the guesthouse in North Alofi, Harvind started a ping to gatech.edu, a server in Atlanta. 800 ms, no packet loss. I turned on the NS5 at telecom. 800 ms, no packet loss. Harvind turned on the NS5 at the guesthouse. 800 ms, no packet loss.

I drove up to Sekena and called Harvind from the AMPS phone. Still 800 ms, no packet loss. I turned on the NS5 at the tower site. Harvind could get the web interface on the access point. Our whole backhaul network was running. Altanta was still 800 ms, no packet loss. I booted the the BTS and turned on the power amp. Still 800 ms, no packet loss. We waiting another ten minutes. No change.

I drove down to the internet cafe in Alofi, IUSN's retail outlet. I asked, "Now that the mobile stuff is shut down, is everything working again?"

"Yes, just fine."

I asked to be sure, "Is it working right now?" They looked over at a screen and said it was.

We left the system on all day. The Telecom Director called around to people who had been complaining of service outages. There were no problems. We had discovered how to prevent our equipment from interfering with IUSN: Just don't tell them it's on. By the end of the day, we were sitting on the porch in Alofi, making cheap GSM calls overseas and using the internet at the same time. Later that day, the Director sent out an e-mail explaining that we had determined that the GSM system was not causing internet outages. Thanks to IUSN's misinformation campaign, we probably lost a full day of testing and some die-hards out there are still blaming us for everything bad that happens to their internet service.

(Next door to the IUSN/RockET internet cafe, there is a combination bakery and pool hall run by a Kenyan man who lost his passport (in red). The bread he makes is very good for breakfast toast, but molds over fast in the tropical climate. He was enthusiastic about the GSM project and I hope he eventually gets good use of it. This photo has little to do with the blog post, other than proximity, but I'm tossing it in here anyway just to help give a sense of the place.)


  1. Congratulations.
    I'm responsible for wifi networks over here in france, we have worse people that requests antennas being dismantled because they "feel sick" even when there's no radio equipment attached to them ;)

  2. That's pretty good. Guess that funny shaped piece of metal up there warps their auras or some such.

    By the end of the trip we joked among ourselves, "Don't pass gas or you'll break the internet." Our landlord at the guesthouse nagged us, too. It always starts the same, "I'm not a technical person, but ... you're wireless ... they're wireless ... there must be some connection. Mr. St Clair says suchandsuch ..." I've sure you've heard it before. It turns out that this guy had a DNS problem. I didn't know GSM systems could affect DNS in nearby IP networks. ;-) We learn something new every day.

  3. Wow, what a story, thanks for sharing. And a definitely a big step for the project - being on the way of providing a nation-wide cellular service (albeit a small nation) :)
    So what is the status of Niue cellular service right now?

  4. Pavel -

    Good to hear from you!

    The Niue system is up and running, but still as a closed test system. I logged into the BTS remotely this morning. There were 27 handsets in the service area, 29 provisioned in the PBX and about 1000 calls made in the last two weeks, although most of the calls were loopback tests.

    The big delay now is the integration between the GSM system and the existing wireline PBX. The Xorcom gateway finally arrived, but there have been some difficulties getting it set up. I doubt Telecom Niue will open service to the public before they support local calls to wireline phones.

    We are also working on some features to simplify provisioning of new subscribers. The SMS-based autoprovisioning is a little too free-wheeling for Telecom's taste, so we are working with them on something more controlled.

    But the unit *is* running and I even saw some activity on it while I was logged in.

    -- David

  5. how does it feel like making skype-out calls on a network with 800ms pings?

  6. Not as bad as you'd think as long as the packet loss is low. For commercial service, they will need a lower-latency link, but when your only choice is satellite there are lower limits on latency, around 250 ms per hop I think.

    Try making a call between two different cell phone carriers with handsets in the same room. The latency might surprise you.

  7. this is a good project for rural connectivity.pls,can i get more information about its deployment(maconess@yahoo.co.uk).

  8. Telephone service for GSM and PSTN is less sensitive to latency than Skype, as Skype is over packet-switched networks (the Internet) and not circuit-switched. An average latency of 800ms means you could have one packet arrive in 600ms and another in 1000ms, especially without QoS, whereas circuit-switched channels have fixed latency - if it's 800ms latency for one frame, it's 800ms latency for all frames.

  9. Segin -

    Even without jitter, latency can cause a problem in conversations. The most common symptom is when both talkers keep trying to start talking at the same time, which usually happens because the pauses between bursts of speech are longer than either speaker expects. It can be irritating.

  10. I have done a lot of wireless work and Research. A cruise ship anchored offshore's radar operates close to 900 MHz and would obviously disrupt the wireless Internet. Chances are the ship left or shut off it's scan and everything went back to normal. It wouldn't take a genius to figure that out if the wisp had any clue what they were doing. Most reputable wisps try to conserve bandwidth and would be glad to work with you. If you have future projects I would like to contribute/learn.