Further to my rant about True last week, here is an excellent article on just how corrupt and ridiculous the Thai Telecoms scene is. The whole article is worth reading, but here are the key points of insanity…
The headlines today are proof, if ever we needed, that if Thailand is to move forward and joined the developed world in telecommunications, the Cat and the Turtle should be put to sleep, once and for all. Firstly, the Turtle. TOT had a bid for its proper 2.1 GHz 3G project, ZTE and Ericsson were excluded. ZTE for offering too much core network capacity and Ericsson for not having its own antenna equipment brochures in the bid pack.
On TOT, and the money it collects on Thailand’s behalf from the companies who actually provide network services…
On the one hand it is still 100 percent owned by the Ministry of Finance and thus the taxpayer, on the other, it currently acts as a gatekeeper, taking revenue share from AIS and using it all up before it returns the spare change to the exchequer.
If it were to give up the revenue share, perhaps the taxpayer could let this bit of incompetence go, but it does collect revenue share, and it does managed to use it almost all up. As a tax collector, it is not particularly efficient.
On CAT Telecom and how it has favoured True, and screwed DTAC and Thailand’s 4G future…
As for the Cat, the story is that Cat Telecom (often mis-represented as Cattlecom for subliminal reasons) has helped TrueMove buy out Hutch and True, now Real (the names are lovely and confidence-inspiring) will use the 850 MHz frequency currently used by Hutch for CDMA 2000 and CDMA EV-DO to offer 3G services on 3G HSPA+.
This is called in-band migration.
In 2007 Dtac told, not asked, told CAT that it would be conducting in-band migration from its 850 1G AMPS network (of which it had 12.5 MHz) to 3G HSPA. Fast forward almost four years and CAT has still not decided whether this constitutes a new network or an upgrade and only has just recently allowed for a non-commercial trial network to be built out.
The point here is that Dtac had the frequency. It was not re-allocation. They just wanted to change its use from AMPS to HSPA and yet, four years later, Cat, the concession holder and de-facto regulator, cannot decide whether to allow it or not.
Yet, in much less than four years, it has decided that True can take over another company and switch from one 3G technology (State-side style CDMA EV-DO) to HSPA. True (or Real) never had frequency, it had to buy another entity to get it. This would seems like re-allocation to everyone but the bureaucrats at CAT, while at the same time, they have denied Dtac the right to use their own frequency.
Why is this a big deal? Because 850 is prime 4G LTE frequency, but in order to do LTE effectively, you need big chunks – 20 MHz or even larger chunks of spectrum. HSPA operates on 5 MHz (or in some, very, very rare cases, 10 MHz). Allowing True / Real to continue would mean fragmentation of spectrum that will hurt Thailand’s move to 4G when the time comes.
Not that anyone cares, of course. This is Thailand.
Everyone is focused on the status quo, on the near term kick-backs and money for the upcoming elections to look at a 4G future. The myopia of the government will hurt Thailand in the long run.
Thanks to daveoli for the heads up.
Posted: January 28th, 2011
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The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.
But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.
Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to “get” what the space of each shot is and adjust.
And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are “in” the picture in a kind of dreamlike “spaceless” space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.
So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?
Walter Murch is perhaps the only film editor in history,” Wikipedia observes, “to have received Academy nominations for films edited on four different systems:
• “Julia” (1977) using upright Moviola
• ”Apocalypse Now” (1979), “Ghost” (1990), and “The Godfather, Part III” (1990) using KEM flatbed
• “The English Patient” (1996) using Avid.
• “Cold Mountain” (2003) using Final Cut Pro on an off-the shelf PowerMac G4.
Wikipedia writes: “Murch is widely acknowledged as the person who coined the term Sound Designer, and along with colleagues developed the current standard film sound format, the 5.1 channel array, helping to elevate the art and impact of film sound to a new level. “Apocalypse Now” was the first multi-channel film to be mixed using a computerized mixing board.” He won two more Oscars for the editing and sound mixing of “The English Patient.”
He’s right. I quit working in Virtual Reality back in the 90′s because the technology just wasn’t ready yet.
My issues with that technology then are similar to Murch’s now, and I have been quoting from part of them as recently as when the Wii appeared.
Lag is another big issue for VR (of any kind). Tracker lag (be it head or hand tracking), which feeds through the control system into the simulation and is translated a fraction of a second later into visuals. Consequently we end up with there being a disconnect between what we see in the headset compared to where your brain knows your head has actually turned to look. Or worse still the complete lack of change in what you see when you simply move your eyeballs.
You can get the idea of what I am talking about by simply playing a Wii game and observing controller lag; your hand waggling and your virtual sword on screen are very obviously not in sync. Or using any Augmented Reality app on a mobile device and seeing how slow the image is to catch up with where you turn the device to face. This is what induced motion sickness in countless numbers of people playing in VR machines back in the day. Imagine your entire vision being swamped by a “reality” a fraction of a second behind where your head knows it is actually looking. Another problem that 600 million years of evolution has never been presented with before.
Only now, some 20 years later, are we at the stage where Head Mounted Displays, computer CG hardware and tracking systems could perhaps approach the fidelity that makes that kind of vision of VR tolerable. But even still the eyeball moving problem exists for VR, as does Murch’s convergence issue for 3D. And both really are still a niche enthusiast driven form of media – which then and now big business are desperately trying to ram down your throat.
It will be a long long time before we have neural implants that actually immerse us in a virtual world. And the only other option is some kind of holographic imaging. Also a little way off, and something that comes with its own issues. A simple example is with Nintendo’s upcoming 3DS. 3D simply does not work when it is constrained by the frame of a screen – no matter how much many many game journalists gush about it.
Just like VR 20 years ago, 3D cinema and gaming is a fad that will pass, and we will all chuckle about in a few years time. Perhaps to revisit in the future when holographic imaging technology has caught up and we can dump the stupid headache inducing glasses, and expensive hardware setups that are required to even approach what visionaries hope to produce today…
Cameron’s Avatar will stand out for a long time as the only good example of a 3D movie. And that is simply because he threw everything he had at that movie to make it the best possible example of where we are technologically today with 3D. I still believe it was a huge success primarily because of the evocative story and fantastic visuals, which are much better appreciated in HD in any case. You simply see more, are immersed more, and enjoy the CG more on a good old fashioned flat HD screen.
In the meantime movie companies, technology giants and media moguls (who have a lot of money invested in this technology) will keep trying to sell 3D to you.
It would be much better if we got those companies to focus on good storytelling and original content, rather than another technological white elephant.
Posted: January 25th, 2011
, Walter Murch
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SPOILER : If you are in Thailand and want broadband internet, no matter how appealing True’s promotional material and offers appear, be aware that it is a trap. Go with another internet provider.
In fact, based on my experience over the last 6 years, I would advise you to avoid everything this company does. Avoid their mobile network. Avoid their satellite television service. Avoid their IPTV packages. And avoid their broadband internet.
In a nutshell : Avoid True like the plague.
It’s not that True’s internet is slow. All internet in Thailand is slow. It’s not that True’s infrastructure is unreliable. All infrastructure in Thailand is unreliable. It’s not that True’s connections are unstable. All connections in Thailand are unstable.
So, why should you avoid True? Well, because if you ever have a problem or issue, or try to get anything approaching the service you are actually paying for, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Just to be clear. True are pretty much like any telco. They misrepresent what their services are capable of. That’s no problem, apparently. It should be. But in this day and age we are all wearily familiar with the lies that our service providers routinely spout.
It should also be noted that when True’s services work they are passable. Not great. But passable for a developing country with congested international pipes, an infrastructure put together on the cheap, and low paid miserable employees running it all.
The real problem, though, is that True have a totally blaze attitude towards customer service. They simply don’t care, or are so clueless about how to deal with customers as to have the same effect. True are unable to respond in any intelligent way to reasonable complaints, billing queries, service requests, or problems their customers are having.
And if you choose, out of desperation, to vote with the only option left to you and not pay bills, they will respond with threats and legal action, rather than constructive attempts to resolve their customer’s issue.
True’s method of doing business is in some ways a microcosm of many of the social and political problems that Thailand itself is facing today.
If I could draw cartoons I would draw an image resembling an infinite number of monkeys working on an infinite number of typewriters to describe the True Corporation. Except that given an infinite amount of time they still wouldn’t produce a copy of the works of Shakespeare. Nor would they achieve one cohesive sentence in all that frenetic typing.
Case 1 : Broadband Internet
About 6 years ago when I came to Thailand broadband was basically non-existent. In fact back then I was initially forced to use dial up to get online, even while living in the suburbs of Bangkok.
Around the time that consumer ADSL packages started becoming available here from a handful of internet providers. I first tried to choose a package from a company with offices in my local area : Jasmine Internet. Unfortunately as far as I could understand in those early days in Thailand, True Internet controlled the all important exchanges for my part of town, and refused to give Jasmine any access to that part of the infrastructure. So I was forced to go with True. Despite the fact that Jasmine’s service was coming from the same government controlled telecoms gateways as True’s, their offices being 5 minutes from me, and their packages being more attractive than True’s. I was left with no option but to go with the company that had installed the pipes in my area. Frustrating, but fair enough, I guess.
On the one had you can see why True would not want to help a competitor. But in most other countries this kind of monopoly on services, which is to the detriment of the consumer, would be offset by some kind of infrastructure sharing agreement (E.g. Like that forced on BT in the UK), which would be forced on providers by a benevolent government. In Thailand, however, things like that are millennia off. It is literally a foreign concept that will not take root here for a long time, if ever. And companies like True revel in this insanity.
For information on the madness behind the allocation of the Thai telecoms contracts there are many good articles on the internet that will make your toes curl. Just google “Thailand 3G” for details on the current 3G farce that has been going on here for what seems like an eternity. When I read those it becomes very clear to me that the kind of unfair business model that is forced on all telecoms in Thailand by state controlled monopolies is mirrored in True’s attitude towards it’s own customers. The abused has truly become the abuser in True’s case. But that is really no excuse.
In my case I have watched as the internet here, as everywhere, has become saturated with users while telcos launch packages promising ever increasing speeds. All the time that telcos are doing this they are playing catch up with both local and international bandwidth off the back of the money raised from new customers. And all the while the stability of the internet speeds we receive fluctuates wildly.
On one occasion I questioned why my 1.5Mbps internet could only pull down data from overseas at a fraction of that speed. And the glib answer was that the connection speeds guaranteed by True, and others, were only “applicable inside Thailand”. It’s a laughable, but at least comprehensible, excuse.
Fast forward to today and I became aware that the monthly fee I was currently still paying each month entitled me to a speed (on paper) of 8Mbps. My actual speed was 3Mbps (again on paper). Both of those quoted speeds should be taken with a large pinch of salt though.
And forget verifying your speed with sites like speedtest.net. Results for those sites are cached in some way in Thailand, so as to give false readings. If you want to see how fast your internet really is then you need to conduct a download from a reliable source overseas that sends randomised and hash checked data. In short the internet speeds you see in Thailand are a complete facade even when they appear to work. Just try loading a niche web site compared to say the front page of CNN to get a feeling for what I mean.
This increase in package speeds does seem to have come about indirectly because of government intervention. The Thai government has insisted that internet service providers decrease the cost of internet for the masses. What the telcos decided to do instead though was to double or triple the speed of their packages across the board. Which was incredibly cheap for them to do as they simply changed their promotional material, and offered increased speeds they couldn’t possibly offer reliably when you consider that their current speeds didn’t work reliably anyway. This enabled them to “satisfy” a government directive on the surface of things, but maintain profits. While at the same time appear to be offering a great deal to new subscribers. New subscribers also get priority over existing ones when it comes to the higher speeds.
There is no relationship loyalty in Thailand in business either… Because of course, they didn’t actually tell existing customers about this, or even attempt to upgrade their packages. It was up to each customer to request this update. Partly because they are lazy and inept, but also because if they upgraded everyone the internet in Thailand would grind to a halt. Consequently any “upgrade” for an existing subscriber with True requires “processing”. Where as if I go into a shop and “sign up for a new connection” (their own words) I can have the increased speed today! You get the drift.
Earlier this month I contacted True and asked for my package to be brought in line with the fact that I had been paying three or four times what I should have been paying each month for the actual package I was still restricted to.
I was told it would take “4-7 days” for the upgrade to happen. So I waited. Knowing how things work here I waited 7 working days before I contacted them again to ask why I still had not seen a change in my package. I was then told it would take a further “2-3″ days. My upgrade was “in process” apparently. I didn’t even ask what that means. At the time I wondered if they needed to upgrade some piece of equipment in my area. But really suspected that it was simply something they needed to change in a database somewhere.
Another week passed and I contacted True’s customer service again to ask what the problem was once more. I was told my upgrade was “in process”. I requested a call back from someone who could tell me more, and was promised one that day.
Another week passed. Quite irritated at this point I pushed for more information, and again was promised a call back that day from a supervisor. I didn’t hold my breath.
Finally, about 24 after that, I set aside the time to sit on the phone with True Customer Service until I got a definitive answer. My ultimatum to the person I spoke to was that I either wanted my bill reduced today, or my package speed increased immediately. Otherwise I would cancel my contract, and curse their firstborn. (I am joking about the curse – but you can understand how frustrated I was at that point, I am sure!)
After about an hour on the phone, and what can only be described as a conversation that Monty Python would have been proud to have scripted, I got my answer.
Apparently my extremely old package, created when DSL was first available in Thailand, was inexplicably 9 baht (30 cents) lower than the price of the package they had suggested themselves that I could upgrade to for free.
They asked if I was willing to increase my monthly bill by 1% in order to have the package. Which I was, of course.
My problem with all this is why could I not have been told this on any one of the occasions I had contacted them over a period of 30 days. I did of course ask this, both in Thai and English just to be sure that the point got across, and the only reply was a rather meek apology.
In retrospect it’s a story I might find amusing one day. But in all seriousness, even discounting the real amount of time and stress this palaver cost me, I honestly think interactions with companies like this shorten your life span.
So far my “8Mbps” is performing at speeds which just about approach the bandwidth of the “3Mbps” package I was “upgraded” from. But that is an improvement, because my “3Mbps” package rarely got anywhere near the speeds it was supposed to furnish me with either.
Oh, and although the upgrade was “instant” once I agreed to the increase in my monthly bill, and I got a text on my phone in English and Thai telling me that I could now use my enhanced service “immediately”, it still took 24 hours for the speed increase to register on my router. This was despite rebooting it several times over the course of the day, just to see if I needed to do anything my end.
This is how it is day in and day out being a customer of True.
You literally pray you never have to contact them with a problem, or even a simple request.
Part 2 : Mobile Phones
My first mobile phone contract in Thailand was with True. Like many I fell for the commercial presence True has in the country. Which is pervasive.
For many years I knew no better than all cell phones in Thailand have patchy reception, drop signals frequently, and offer non-sensicle packages aimed at teenagers.
One month I got a bill for domestic mobile internet usage from True that came to over $1000 (My normal bill was about $10 – $15). Querying the bill, and after waiting an interminable time for a detailed breakdown I received a copy of my usage that showed I had downloaded the equivalent of a DVD in a little over 3 hours to my mobile phone.
To put this in perspective it was late 2006 and I was using a Palm Treo on a GPRS connection. This is before 3G had even been heard of in Thailand. After pointing out to True’s technical staff that the amount of data they alleged I had downloaded was a technical impossibility on their network, not to mention via my device, they still would not back down over the bill.
I voted with my feet and my wallet. I refused to pay the bill, and moved over to AIS.
I also sent them a registered letter detailing my reasons for disputing the bill, and explaining why I felt I had no other course of action left to me. Of course I never received a reply to that letter.
To this day I still get periodic legal threats from True over the outstanding funds. Oh, and before you ask I did pay for what I had used the month I cancelled, just less the crazy mobile internet overcharge.
By comparison I have had the same issue with AIS and GPRS twice in the last 3 years. On both occasions AIS listened to what I had to say, and even though on one occasion they asked me to pay the bill before they investigated, I always got credited with the amount that they had overcharged me for, eventually, one way or another.
What’s more the staff I spoke to at AIS seemed to be actively invested in solving my issue, and called me back when they promised.
Part 3 : Satellite TV / IPTV
Back in the day True’s satellite TV service was called UBC. It offered some of the most basic and low quality feeds from the likes of Star Sports, BBC World Service programming, Hallmark etc. All of the most basic programming that is on low budget satellite packages in most other countries. Not “premium” up to date programming that you would expect from the country’s one and only “premium” satellite TV provider.
UBC also chose to use frequencies for their satellite signal which are susceptible to interference from bad weather. In a country that has regular, and extensive rainy seasons!
For this patchy, ad-laden programming they charged a package price annually which would easily cover both my BBC license fee and a subscription to Sky in the UK. What’s more UBC would block adverts that it did not get a kick back from so that we had to watch a static test card during advert breaks. I hate adverts. But having a test card several times throughout fuzzy low quality movies, which have been chopped down to the length of in-flight movies is irritating. What is even more irritating is if during movies, or live sporting events the morons in the control room forget to turn the test card off after the adverts!
A long while back I ditched UBC/True as the way I get TV here (primarily due to Star Sports absolutely lousy Formula 1 coverage). And now use other perfectly legal means of getting content from the UK and the US for far less money, in better quality, and with more freedom and choice. If anyone in Thailand wants to know about the services I use then please do contact me.
In recent years True has continued with its terrible satellite packages, actually downgrading what was once known as the Gold Package, and introducing a Platinum Package. In a business strategy that is typical to True, the Platinum Package was/is (it’s been a while since I checked) the Gold Package with a few extra throw away channels, and the same bandwidth shared between that increased number of channels. The Gold Package actually got downgraded, but the price remained the same, and existing customers who wanted the same programming they had last year had to upgrade and pay more!
In conclusion I genuinely feel sad for Thailand the country, and its people that this kind of business is able to not only survive here, but actually thrive. And I don’t see things changing any time soon.
Posted: January 20th, 2011
, Customer Service
, Internet Thailand
, Mobile Phone
, True Corp.
, True Internet Thailand
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