Singapores Internet of Nothing

Since I work at http://hackerspace.sg/, occasionally the topic arises about how to keep your embedded device connected to the Internet in Singapore.

Basically it's a huge PITA.

Wireless@SG doesn't work reliably. It's a long running joke. If you miraculously authenticate and get online, you will probably be kicked off it.

Getting connected on 4G LTE is expensive and a HUGE PITA. The cheapest way I've discovered so far is to do it get a "Long expiry plan". The longest being 30 days for 1GB for 20SGD, http://info.singtel.com/personal/singtel-prepaid-data-plans. You have to manually renew it every month from the device itself. Good luck scripting the SMS to top up! No one I've known managed it.

Getting wired connected for a little thingie is generally impractical. OpenNET aka NetLinkTrust can take MONTHS to get their contractors hooking you up. ISPs contract is 1 year minimum. Next you will have little headaches like VLAN tagging to worry about.

There was an initiative for an "alternative" low power connectivity with SIGFOX but that fizzled out and besides... it's one way & non-IP so lacking in versatility.

And no IPv6

Even if you somehow get inexpensively connected to the Internet in Singapore. You won't have IPv6. You won't be addressable. No Internet service I've found does IPv6 natively in Singapore, leading to horrible stop gaps like http://pi.dabase.com/ where I have to keep an expensive socket connection open just to be able to get at my device.

IPv6 workarounds like HENET aren't great because they are usually very slow, expensive and badly routed. IPv6 needs to be natively supported by ISPs and routes need to be constantly tested and maintained.

Conclusion

So the above connectivity challenges really need to be sorted out for Singapore to have a "Internet of Things" revolution. Initiatives like "Next Generation Nationwide Broadband Network (Next Gen NBN)" & "Wireless@SG" sound awesome. But the devil is in the details. A lot more work & consideration must be made to get the Internet of Things sanely online and addressable.

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Switching to StarHub

Update: 2014-12-18 FINALLY StarHub flicked the switch! You can tell VoLTE works by Tapping About→Carrier

Switching to a better mobile deal is quite tricky in Singapore.

I compared Singtel, M1 & StarHub by their 3GB plans, but there are some hidden costs.

Firstly, you need take a chunk of time out of your day to re-contract. Despite what StarHub might say, to open your new line, you need to go to a StarHub shop. I darkly predicted a 3hr mission to Bugis. I was not far wrong. The wait, signup and payment took almost exactly 90 minutes, we are now exhausted!

Things you need in order to switch

  • A Singaporean Identity Card with at least 6 months of validity
  • Proof of address, ideally a bill

You need to ensure you are "not contracted" still if you are switching. The terminology is very confusing in Singapore. Since on some plans after an initial 1 year contract, you automatically get migrated by your current operator/carrier (mine was M1) to a typically more expensive "rolling contract".

A rolling contract means you are not contracted. If you are not contracted StarHub can take care of the switch, but they can't tell if you are contracted or not contracted. You must find out beforehand, or risk losing your money.

The little gotchas

The StarHub 4G "3" plan we switched to from M1 is 34.32, but Caller Display ... a fundamental feature is astonishingly a 5.35SGD a month addon / "Value-Added Service". So your bill ends up being 40.09SGD a month.

The other big gotcha is that you need to pay for the new SIM cards + "activation cost". So this the switching cost to look out for. So that is 37.45SGD per line. So for my wife and I, out came the cash card, nervous looks and a painful swallow for 74.90SGD.

After 12 months, the line loses the initial 20% discount and ramps up. So every year, to save 20%, you should recontract. I.e. spend an afternoon in a Starhub shop.

While you are signing up aka the assistant typing in all your details into a baroque PDF form (since they use PDF for their business processes, I think this proves they don't use Web forms / i.e. an online process yet), you can and should ask for:

  • No advertisements
  • No to reselling information
  • No to voicemail - accidentally dialling voicemail on your iPhone costs about 20c / per minute

The next few days

Previously we had free calls between each other, and StarHub has a similar feature, however you need to call customer services to nominate the numbers in their HappyTalk scheme. You can't do this online. Update: Since we get 150 free minutes a month, I don't think we need HappyTalk which I later figured out cost 10SGD to activate.

Furthermore, you need to call and setup E-billing. Bit of a shame they can't setup an online account there and then in the shop.

Update: The porting was announced via SMS on M1, that it would happen on the 1st Dec. I noticed about midnight on the 1st no service on the M1 card so we switched to the StarHub SIM card. We tried calling each other, but it failed. In the morning, however is working fine! There was a confirmation SMS that the port was successful at 9AM.

The StarHub staff implies the switch should be smooth and we shouldn't be double charged. We lay in wait for the next M1 bill!

Where you sign 6 times without seeing what you are signing

The last and probably most annoying thing, is that to setup a UK style "Direct Debit" or Giro as it is called here in Singapore, you need to do some legwork with your bank. It's not an automated process, and StarHub doesn't do sane things like present you with a pre-filled bank instruction. Which is surprising, because that means StarHub won't know when they will get paid and leads to all sorts of other costs like sending reminder letters to pay. sigh

M1 versus StarHub

I heard from a couple of sources that StarHub is currently the most modern network and the first and only operator supporting HD voice in Singapore.

What's HD voice? It's actually an interesting 4G VOIP implementation locked to the carrier, so you can't "SIP2SIM" away to a 3rd party sadly. An easy way to tell if you have it or not, is to make a call and watch the 4G symbol. Did the call drop to 3G data speeds? Yes? You don't have HD then!

UPDATE: I've noticed my reception dropping to 3G when taking calls, so AFAICT StarHub have messed up HD audio on my new line. I'm trying to get through to someone sane in support and failing.

4G speeds atm from Geylang seems roughly the same, about 40mbit/sec down. However StarHub's upload seems a little more capped than M1.

Therefore it takes roughly just 11 minutes of full speed downloading to blow the 3GB monthly included data. Each extra 1GB is charged at 10.70SGD, which caps at 168SGD.

StarHub might be on Twitter, but whoever is handling the account is absolutely useless: http://greptweet.com/u/starhubcares/#kaihendry

The $$$ saving

My wife calculated that through switching we should save about 96SGD for the year, compared to just re-contracting with M1 for the 3GB plan. Is that worth an afternoon in a Starhub shop? I'll let you decide. ;)

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Smart Circuit breaker wanted

Switch board at HSG

My dream hardware project, the project I check https://www.kickstarter.com/ periodically for, is a "smart" MCB that could fit in a typical circuit switch board, but with two additional features:

  1. Wifi IoT connectivity so I can at least TURN OFF that switch
  2. An API to read out of how much power the circuit is pulling in kilowatts

Close up of MCBs

Use case

Ever left your home with the Iron or Air-conditioner on?

I want a simple Web application to be able to see a total & break down of how much power my home is using. If I noticed some grave irregularity (like leaving an iron on!!), I can just switch the power off for that circuit altogether.

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Problems with Internet in Singapore

An update on 1.5 years ago with Why Singapore Internet sucks. This is in the context of HSG.

HSG is stuck with M1 until 2016-02-09, since we were connected after 3+ month delay due to OpenNET 'capacity issues' on 2014-02-10.

(The other day I heard of a company waiting FIVE MONTHS for an OpenNET connection)

Switching cost far too high

Locked into a recurring two year contract. We tried to switch but M1 said we renewed per contract which as a Hackerspace we were unaware of (until it was too late) and we can't get out of. To compound the issue, we are unable to upgrade from 100Mbps to 1Gbps IIUC until 1 year has elapsed of our recurring contract.

Update: 930SGD pcm for 1Gbps Internet http://s.natalian.org/2014-11-25/M1-quote-1Gbps.pdf

Business versus residential line cost

Same service, 2+ times price difference, that's if you can get a clearly priced business package. Usually it has to be negotiated down from some crazy price.

Singapore ISPs have no status page / no accountability

{M1,Singtel,Starhub} do not have a status page like https://aastatus.net/ or http://status.aws.amazon.com/#AP_block

We never know what service quality we are getting, whether it is getting worse or better. (International) Bandwidth is another matter entirely which seems variable and opaque.

No static IPs / IP allocation service / IPv6

Making home/office hosting dependent on unreliable dynamic IP aliasing... Therefore any reliable Internet service is forced to centralise onto "the Cloud" which is usually much more expensive despite what AWS et al would like you to believe.

Conclusion

As a Hackerspace we are locked for years with uncompetitive Internet and we are unable to reasonably host any project at the Hackerspace.

We are forced to beg for Cloud credit and we are unable to run anything bandwidth intensive.

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Nintendo Wii U owner comments

I bought a 300GBP Wii U with MarioKart 8.

MarioKart 8 is indeed good, but the rest of the system kinda sucks. Doesn't surprise me that Nintendo posted losses.

  • Their update procedure is cumbersome and isn't done seamlessly in the background. So it can stop you from playing.
  • No details to what the updates are, so there is no reward or new UX to look forward to
  • Many Apps I want to see get better like the Youtube App... does not get better
  • In fact nothing seems to get better. For an internet connected platform not to evolve... well then it's dying imo
  • The Nintendo store is really really, phenomenally shit. I WANT TO BUY NEW GAMES!
  • Nintendo identity is really poorly designed. I am constantly confused between my Nintendo U id, Nintendo store and something else again
  • Nintendo offered me a free game if I entered or registered MarioKart 8. Er... I don't have time for this shit. I lost the code. I didn't get a new game. I have a bitter taste in my mouth.
  • Customer service is poor. No twitter, and when I explained I lost the code, they said they could only give me a new code if I provide them the old code. Er... I don't think you understand.

I'm writing this with the hope Nintendo bloody well gets their finger out. I think the hardware itself is fine. The platform software is just really quite poor.

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Redirecting a UK home telephone number

99 times out of 100 it will be with BT.

Say you want to redirect your email. Easy peasy. Free of cost.

Say you want to redirect your telephone number to your mobile or VOIP system? Lets assume you are redirecting to a local number, the cheapest possible way to do it.

First you need Call Diversion, 3.50GBP.

Now you must pay for the incoming call which is redirected:

  • 11:18 £1.230
  • 2:21 £0.420
  • 0:39 £0.240
  • 0:02 £0.240
  • 0:47 £0.240
  • 3:15 £0.210
  • 0:24 £0.170
  • 0:09 £0.170
  • 0:05 £0.240
  • 0:23 £0.170

This can amount pretty quickly!!

I'm told you can cumbersomely get your number if you disconnect your line, which is obviously hugely inconvienant.

Pity OFCOM are not doing anything to improve number portability and competition AFAIK.

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Recovering a stolen camera

Well strictly speaking I left the 450SGD Canon S120 on the Airport bus (I think). I was so tired that day. I realised this and contacted the Palermo Airport bus company hours later to no avail. Also contacted Palermo Airport itself. No dice.

So I was thinking how I could avoid this situation or better find it in future. I did have my name and twitter id on a sticker on the camera. Obviously this wasn't enough for it to me returned to me. :(

On the train to Naples

Searching by serial number

First off, the Canon's serial number of the camera is NOT embedded in the images it takes.

/home/hendry/Downloads$ strings 14094833648_7703bd9cbd_o.jpg | grep PowerShot
Canon PowerShot S120
IMG:PowerShot S120 JPEG
/home/hendry/Downloads$ strings 14094833648_7703bd9cbd_o.jpg | grep 71805

Engraving it

Casey Neistat engraves his camera using a Dremel. I wish I did this since the photos / videos I took are worth more to me than the resale value of the camera.

Ibeacon whatever

I noticed http://www.thetileapp.com/ but I don't see how that would work. The tile itself could only be attached clumsily. And only people RUNNING THE TILE APP ON AN IPHONE in very close vicinity (0% chance) could ever possibly report this back to me.

Invisible markers and stuff

I think this stuff rubs off and the fact that it's invisible is a bit dumb. UK police say they use this to identify stolen goods, but I doubt its utility.

Stolen database of stuff

AFAIK there is no place to say XYZ serial of equipment is stolen. Wish there was.

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FTTC is worse than ADSL when 2km far away from exchange

I've complained about Superfast Cornwall rural broadband rollout technology being a poor choice for rural locations before.

Now I have a nice graph to illustrate the point:

fttc speed graph

The image is from http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/ which is site devoted to outing the scandal of the "next generation" Australian broadband roll out.

So unless you live ontop of a cabinet, FTTC (VDSL), the product that Superfast Cornwall tout can well be an expensive waste of time. The cheaper older ADSL can be better than FTTC in distances greater than 2km!!

To add to the confusion of my FTTC "superfast" install, we are told our line length is 3400m, even though I can drive to the cabinet in a mile. Combine that with line instability (we lose carrier upto several times a day), we have a very poor experience with this "upgrade".

Rural Cornwall connectivity looks bleak. BT Openreach probably won't lay fibre or allow folks like me to pull fibre through their conduits. My ISP says the best I can do is buy another line and consider bonding them, doubling again my ISP costs to ~100GBP per month.

3G might come along. I could perhaps consider long range wifi with a neighbour who lives closer to the exchange. But those options will have high latency.

What a disaster. :(

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Barclays made my backup account dormant and took my money

Since I travel a lot, I keep a backup current account debit card in a secret location in case my wallet is stolen or lost.

That un-expired card failed to work earlier this year. I later logged onto Barclays online banking to find no trace of the account. It's as if it never existed.

The account had 693.73GBP in it.

I called up Barclays quoting the account number and sort code printed on the bottom of the card... at first the "customer service representative" worryingly could not tell me what has happened. Two phone calls later and a visit to my branch, reveals that my backup account is considered "dormant" because I have not used it for a year.

Later it turns out I was sent a letter on the 17 December from "Mr D Wass" warning me that "Your current account has not been used for some time". It instructed me to call Barclays by the 10th of March 2014. Since I'm terrible with post, I failed to read this single warning letter. And now my account is dormant. This letter was not found upon their Document Management service "Barclays Cloud It", which I think it should be.

At the branch I'm given a long https://www.bba.org.uk/ form to fill in. I've already wasted many hours on this, and now I need to provide personal details to a 3rd party, in order to get my money back? I'm shocked. Why can't Barclays simply re-open my account?!

I called up https://www.bba.org.uk/ to express my frustration. The receptionist tells me that they simply act as a post box for Barclays dormant accounts team. I've now just spent half an hour filling a form in https://www.mylostaccount.org.uk/, which could have a better SSL support.

Thank you for completing the mylostaccount online form.

Your enquiry will be dealt with by the following organisation/s in the coming weeks:

IF NO ORGANISATION IS LISTED BELOW THIS CLAIM HAS NOT BEEN SUBMITTED. PLEASE START AGAIN OR TELEPHONE 020 7216 8909 FOR HELP.

Barclays Bank Plc

BBA reference id: 503731

To carry out a full check of all the institutions listed may take up to 12 weeks.

I am still waiting to get my money back. I also want to lobby Barclays to:

  1. Inform me of account changes on the online banking application which I use regularly and not snail mail
  2. Stop this insane practice. Why the HELL wasn't MY MONEY put into my other current account at the VERY LEAST?

When I asked Barclays why they make accounts dormant, it was the time honoured "security reasons" response. Shocking.

UPDATE: A reply from BBA. I've struck gold! June 19

I am pleased to advise you that Barclays have indicated that they may have traced a dormant account in the name of Kai Hendry that you have quoted and a letter will be sent to you from the bank, within the next 28days, to validate your claim.

British Bankers' Association

The Voice of Banking and Financial Services

Sheeezus.

FINAL UPDATE: Barclays sent me a cheque for 693.72 (think I'm down 1 penny somehow), back dated to 03-JUL-14 which arrived on July 24th. My parents kindly drove into town to bank the cheque the next day. Hugely inconvenient. Money lost. Lots of time lost. No apology from Barclays. Watch out.

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Withdrawing money in Europe with Barclays Debit

I anticipated that this might be difficult, so I called Barclays beforehand to ensure my Debit card would work for a start and then I get the best rates.

They advised I use only Global Alliance atms.

So whilst in Italy, I sought out the BNL atms, which was a little awkward at times. Time was wasted.

Problem 1 - no idea how much my withdrawal limit is

I want to withdraw a large amount of EUROs to minimize the transaction fee. Unfortunately it didn't allow me to withdraw 500EUR. Or 400EUR. So in order not to upset the person behind me, I reached for the 250EUR mark.

-£209.00
Cash Withdrawal
ITALY
AMOUNT IN EUR 250.00 ON 25 MAY VISA FX RATE 1.231981 FINAL GBP AMOUNT INCLUDES NON-STERLING TRANS FEE £6.07 ATM

Problem 2 - fixed % fee of I don't know what

Yikes, that's a 6GBP fee.

It gets worse:

-£251.87
Cash Withdrawal
ITALY
AMOUNT IN EUR 300.00 ON 28 MAY VISA FX RATE 1.22669 FINAL GBP AMOUNT INCLUDES NON-STERLING TRANS FEE £7.31 ATM

There is a fixed percentage, ontop of these bad GBP-EUR conversions.

£176.27
Cash Withdrawal
ITALY
AMOUNT IN EUR 210.00 ON 31 MAY VISA FX RATE 1.226989 FINAL GBP AMOUNT INCLUDES NON-STERLING TRANS FEE £5.12 ATM

I called up Barclays to complain, and they say they advise holiday makers to bring cash. Post office cash at 1.16 EUR to the GBP isn't a lot better.

I can't get the credit card deals http://travelmoney.moneysavingexpert.com/ recommends since I'm self-employed. One can get better deals by ordering EUR cash in advance in England, but it involves a rigmarole. What a PITA. Times like these I'd rather UK have the EURO.

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