Tuesday, June 28, 2011

US VISA requirements in Singapore

If you happen to apply for US VISA, then you know how painful it is. Except few nations most of the people need VISA to enter and the requirements can be daunting.

The process is outlined clearly here: http://singapore.usembassy.gov/niv-apply-step1.html . However I've some tips,

1. DS 160. Note lots of information required like your parents date of birth, passport no, spouse, children details, your education institute details (address etc). Make sure you save or try to finish it fast. I've to do it almost three times before I can complete it.

2. You can only pay the VISA Fee through Standard Chartered Cashier Order. So you've to make a trip to Stan Chart. Make sure you check the amount before your trip to the bank and bring sufficient cash :)

3. Appt will be atleast two weeks away. So if there is urgency, call the embassy. The guys give priority for specific tasks. For business travel, you should share a document clearly mentioning what is the loss if you don't make a trip :)

4. Interview & the rest just as mentioned in the website..


For the rest,the requirements are pretty simple but I found the photo requirements are a bit tough. It seems some sort of advanced, sophisticated stuff to me. Anyway here goes the link for the list of  so called 'endorsed' list


The list contains only few of them and note, that these are not the typical "instant" shops. You need to give them 3-4 working days for the 'touch-up's. ;)

Also, most of the Kodak stores offer the 5x5 size which is relatively cheap (6 for $12) and you can avoid the travel. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

M1 to launch LTE commercially..

Source: ZDNet

Hurray.. M1 did a great job. While all the guys (competitors, analysts and rest) were thinking that next Q1 is the period when all the action will be, they calmly announced the news.

In the initial phase it'll be only for CBD area and by next year Q1 cover the island. One significant diff is the positioning. I think given the data crunch, SP's will be targeting high value customers/enterprises. So it's no surprise that the target audience are enterprises now.

However moving forward, I'd still expect M1 to be the cost leader with cheap data offerings. If we see the recent promo for Home Fiber Broadband, $29 for 50 Mbps became a huge hit. This is the same price point where Singtel & Starhub offering their entry/mid level services.

I think M1'll try to repeat the same in mobile data space too. Slowly migrate the high value customers to LTE and offer 3G at much cheaper prices..:)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Only 1 in 5 worker look forward to work each day.. (Lowest in the survey)

Source: HeadHunt

The summary says, that the employees here are at the bottom of the list for work place happiness. They won't look forward to go to work. Only 17% think they would stay with the employer forever (compared to global avg of 35%).

In a nutshell, the problem is when we drive for "cheaper, faster, better" instead of quality this is going to happen. There is a limit for us to be cheap, better based on several factors. Unfortunately today most of our bosses still think with a 70's or 60's mindset. They would like to see us every day at the desk by 8.30, doesn't want to see us leave before 6. Must obey the process, etc etc. While I fully agree that we need to follow the established rules for a purpose, what I don't agree is the usage of process without thinking relevancy.

If you see the systems from USA, you'd understand what I am talking about. If you apply for a VISA, you need to enter your spouse name, details and your parents birth dates etc. Why would they need this information from a person who's going there on a biz trip? Compared to our system their system is inefficient. Same way, compared to lots of developing nations like India, China, our systems are inefficient. We need to be more efficient so that productivity levels can take a boost. With higher productivity, companies can afford higher wages as well as flexibility and in the end employees can enjoy higher quality of life (money+flexibility)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SingTel Mobile offers priority pass service - Asia's First.

Source: SingTel

As per singtel claim, the service offers better speeds( i.e. Typical speeds of 1.7 Mbps to 4.8 Mbps on a 21Mbps subscriber 80% of the times).

The cache is the 80% and whether is it on a single session or multiple sessions. I'll certainly exclude the option of asking for overseas content as the control is not within singtel hands. If they can promise the specified speeds even for a single session that'd be great.

Technically speaking the issue here is not with the limitations of technology or radio stuff, but how much money the operators are willing to spend and how much money consumers are willing to pay. Today, without doubt the problem is congestion and resource availability. Be it singtel or starhub or m1, all the networks are congested and running at high loads during peak hours. So the choice for them is to expand the network and charge the customer or persuade heavy users to offload. Challenge is the unique situation in Singapore, where mobile internet access is almost used as a replacement of fixed broadband. So offloading can be tricky.

Then, what are the alternatives?. IMO, I'd strongly suggest the Femtocell or other seamless/tightly coupled offloading solutions like i-wlan or GAN/E-GAN. Singtel can leverage on the NG-NBN and offer combo deals or packages for in-house usage. For outdoor usage, they can leverage on micro coverage/hot spots, something which is gaining lots of traction in LTE space.

Another point is the premium pass or ERP option is offered only on Dongles but for smartphones. I'd think the issue for them is the 'quantity' of smartphone on higher plans. If singtel offers on smartphones, this will be challenging for them to differentiate. If they put too high charge, people might not subscribe in quantities and those subscribed will complain like hell when they don't get the speeds. If they put too low, then end up like current situation of our express ways where ERP end up collecting money points rather than offering faster access.

Overall, not very convinced that the 'premium pass' can solve the throughput issues. It is more of adding capacity and offering at the right price point or offload to fixed network.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Who killed Nokia...

After last week gossip that Microsoft may be looking to acquire Nokia, today the latest rumor says Samsung may be considering Nokia.
Also the credit ratings of Nokia downgraded just a notch above Junk. What happened to the darling of mobile industry? A lot of European companies/people/leaders looked at Nokia as Europe answer to Silicon valley's innovation. Now why Nokia couldn't transform itself like what it did in the past. Lots of questions..

1. Is it Apple who killed Nokia?

I'd say up to some extent yes. Before Apple, the smart phone market was enjoyed by Nokia. When people talk about Mobile OS, it is Symbian. Apps are Symbian apps and Nokia phones are the standard. But with iPhone the marketplace changed overnight. Everyone started to launch new smart phones with bigger screens. Google released Android, Apps became the 'in' thing. But why Nokia couldn't/didn't saw the change coming?

2. Is it the strategy?

I wouldn't comment much here as I can sense the lack of strategy from Nokia after the mgmt changes. I don't think any big company would clearly state that their strategy is to 'partner' with another company :|
Anyway in early days the problem was with the lack of focus. They started symbian, then the number of symbian series/versions were too many. For different purposes they've started different series. (like 60, 80, N, UI etc). I'm sure this would've created a big havoc in their R&D. The development path was pretty slow too.

On the handset front, I still like their handset for intuitive design. What they've missed is the change in physical layer. i.e new networks offering higher data speeds and markets going from traditional WAP to plain internet. If we see in emerging markets like India, Africa, Nokia is still the market leader with considerable gap above No.2 player. But in more matured markets, their pie dropped like hell.

If we look in to their income statement, you can clearly see the problem. It is as simple as this. Their sales dropped tremendously from 2008 (74Billion in 2007, 70Billion in 2008, 58Billion in 2009 & ~57Billion in 2010). When the trend is clear I don't really understand what the management thinking. Are they simply counting on emerging markets to compensate for the dev market drops? Anyway the sales of smartphones is the culprit here.

3. Is it Microsoft/Partnership

I'd still say this is their biggest mistake strategically. There is no synergy between these two players as well as no clear benefits in the long run. When Nokia became submissive to MS, a lot of staunch supporters of Symbian/nokia changed their loyalties. Financially the details are still not publicly available but I've confidence in MS management that thay must have gotten a very good offer :)

To summarize, I'd think it is the management/strategy which affected Nokia. Given the current situation I am extremely pessimistic about their Mobile operations. However their Mobile Networks & other new areas (they've started going aggressively in to IT market with cloud offerings and other service offerings) they may able to make some profits. But the increase is not going to compensate the losses in mobile business. Hopefully they'll be able to turnaround. Afterall most of us started our mobile journey with a "nokia" phone.

SK Telecom goes for Femto Cell

Source: Light Reading

SK Telecom opted for Femto to manage the exponential growth of mobile data. Barring city states like Singapore, Hongkong, I think most of the Mobile operators will go in the same way as Femto offers a seamless way for end sub.

For the offload, there are various means. Below is a basic setup of mobile network.

[Mobile]--------{Radio network}---------{Core Network}----------{Internet}

If we see, Femto comes in the extreme right hand side. This has a huge positive impact on the Customer experience. i.e. Customer doesn't even have to worry about the technology and he can continue using mobile data.

If we take Wi-Fi offload this is quite similar to Femto, but the key difference is Customer need to activate Wi-Fi and from Operator point of view the traffic may not even reach his network. If the operator is an integrated operator, then perhaps the network can be setup in such a way so that the wi-fi traffic will be routed to mobile data center or network.

For other options like TCP compression, Video compression I am not a great fan of them as these were created during the early days when any home page with size more than 100KB considered bad web design.

I wish to share a detailed analysis if my time permits. Hopefully in the next couple of months..

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

World IPv6 Day - Sadly no participation from Singapore.

Today is the world IPv6 day. If you want to know what is it, then look here. Cisco guys put it very simply.

Participation from Singapore is "zero". Telkom Indonesia is participating and some of our neighbors are using it (e.g. Malaysian public sector started supporting IPv6 last year). Hello IDA, SingTel, Starhub or M1. Are you guys listening to the world? or last forever fighting the fire?

Wish to see the transition soon. I was expecting NGN in Singapore to be started with IPv6 and other good stuff but apparently the RSP's are still the same old RSP's and no plans to offer v6 to consumers yet. :(

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Skype down again..

Source: My own experience & Skype Blog
Skype went down again. I am not sure whether they want to ensure that that're part of 'microsoft' but twice in a week is not what I've seen before.
It was down around 8PM Singapore time and quite intermittent till 10. At first I thought this is due to my ISP, singnet doing issue or my home wi-fi. But the rest of the connections are pretty good. Meanwhile saw the blog entry.

Hope the guys up there going to solve. If not I think lots of users will consider switching to alternatives. :|

iOS5 finally previewed - Not quite exciting.

Finally Apple announced iOS5+iCloud this morning. For the details visit engadget 

Best (or rather pending for sometime) new stuff is Wireless sync. I could do that with Windows mobile years back. Android was great and finally iPhone does that.

Notifier, camera, todo's & twitter integration are other notable features. I am not a great fan of 'cloud' stuff given the connectivity woes. Perhaps Japanese or Koreans would love to have them but for me in SG, I still prefer my data to be with me on the hard disk.

Anyway the iOS5 availability is in Fall which means somewhere after September 2011. So we still have few months before we can see the improvements. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

SingTel Hello Card - Please try again after five minutes..

SingTel Hello card is a prepaid calling card. It allows cheaper overseas calls and offers excellent quality. However recently I am getting quite frustrated with the "busy" tone. During the day time it seems acceptable but the frustration starts after 7 PM. When you dial the number, it simply says "please try again after five minutes" and disconnects. Today I've been trying since 7 and no luck yet.

I think this problem started after they started the "callback" service + free calls for prepaid numbers. Most of the overseas workers use this card and after 7 they will be busy calling homes. This is really the cheapest and most convenient way to call overseas. Right now it gives ~ 1000 minutes for $10 card. I remember in 2003, it used to offer 12 min for the same amount. :)

Hopefully, SingTel can add few more lines to this service. If the same thing continues, I believe many people will go to other alternatives. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mobile Phones "MAY" heighten the risk of Cancer. India & TRAI, hope you are listening..

Source: e-week

WHO issued a warning on heightened risk of Cancer associated with high mobile usage. As usual, mobile companies & vendors started replying quickly. If you see the reply you know what is the truth,

CTIA (This is the association of mobile folks) says, that "there was still no solid evidence that cell phones cause cancer".

Now, read the statement and it says a lot. What CTIA says is that they are not confirming or providing evidence to show that mobile phone usage doesn't cause cancer but they says "no solid evidence".

The mobile phone manufacturers claim in their manuals that the goods are safe. If you read them carefully, you'll know how safe are they :) . Just look in to the manual and search for SAR info.

The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual says users' radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines: "When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from the body."

BlackBerry Bold advises users to "keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.98 inch (25 millimeters) from your body when the BlackBerry device is transmitting."

The biggest culprits are the Mobile phone companies. In developed world they comply to regulations but the developing world, they are doing a great harm. Places like India, Indonesia, where the regulation is not so tight, these firms are notorious for transmitting at very high levels. If you happen to stay near the base station, you'll know and you can literally feel it. 3G in particular is really bad and the exponential growth in 3G in India might potentially crate more issues.

It is really sad to see that communication which is critical to human development causing problems to the health. Hope, that there will be more research & drive to reduce the RF congestion around.

Google Music - Started sending activations...

Just received the invitation from Google Music. Below is a screenshot.. Currently they support streaming over web as well as an App for Android. For iOS or iPhone folks the alternative way is to use the "safari" browser just like with Amazon.. (More details here at Cnet). Actually I am not a great fan of Apps and Apps effectively kill the development of full browsers on mobile phones. Still I hope there comes a day when we can simply access the stuff on mobiles just like a normal, regular browser.

Looks good... Currently they are offering only in USA. But as usual we all know how to be in US to activate accounts :) 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

HP, Juniper gains market share in Q1-2011, Cisco drops

Source: Canalys

Canalys says in Q1, Cisco market share dropped from 73.2% to 68.2% and HP & Juniper happily enjoyed the increase in their pie.
Cisco is struggling to keep their markets while trying to gain new markets for their products. What's lacking with Cisco or the current problem is "innovation". We've not seen a new product from Cisco since their launch of 72 series routers. Since then every year though they are launching new products, they are just bigger boxes with more and more capacity, features.

HP came in to the market with "simplicity" & "support". The biggest draw for HP nodes is Lifetime support. Whether they do support it or not is a different story and I won't comment on it. But the top management found it extremely good. Also, for DC folks, this is good because most of the servers/blades are from HP (Though lately Cisco is gaining some market) and support will be seamless.

Juniper is the new entrant and their USP is JUNOS. If you ever used the command line of a Juniper you'd certainly agree with me. Same OS is not a strength on its own but it became a strength thanks to Cisco. With the multiple/ever changing versions from Cisco, it is making things more complicated for the engineers.

I don't know but hope Cisco will look in to "simplifying" stuff rather than making things more complex. It was the company simplified lots of stuff. But now it seems they're focusing on some thing else.

SBS Transit IRIS - iPhone App. What a waste of resources.

I've been using SG Buses but recently realized that the realtime bus information is missing/not accurate. A quick search in Google showed that SBS stopped sharing the bus real time info to 3rd parties. The reason, they've created their own app.

In the first place if the app is not their first attempt. I've used their mobile iris page since their launch. But I opted for other app because of  "bookmarks" feature and ease of use. Now they've "modified" of "updated" their app.
Have a look at iTunes at below link

I think this is the worst app in the market (SG - transport related apps), because it didn't serve the purpose. I am not sure whether this is developed locally/inhouse or just outsourced to some other vendor who doesn't know the public transport mode or how people uses it. They didn't offered Bookmark feature where you can save your fav bus or bus stop. But their Bookmark offers to remember bus no at a specific number and you MUST specify TIME too. That's the weird part. No one takes bus at a specific time every day, forget about keeping an alarm for that.

I guess it went like this.

Exec: Team, we need to show that we're doing some good stuff.
Product folks: How about an APP. After all that is the "in-thing" now.
Exec: But there are 3rd party apps and how to force people to use ours?. Ok I've an idea. First stop giving our feed to 3rd party guys. Then here goes the budget. Get it
Product: Ok. Outsource to some one else. Save 10% budget and write it in to my perf report.
Mgr: How to differentiate? what is the unique stuff?
All: Have a "Reminder" function. No one in the world ever came with a reminder.
All: Great. Let's try to put it under "Innovation" and try to patent it. Release to the public.

Great job done guys.

P.S. I'm sarcastic and very pissed off. I am angry because of the way our big companies are doing "innovation" and treating customers.
I've been using the tools to plan my journey and didn't rely (couldn't afford a car and personally don't like to drive) on a car. Now thanks to SBS, my reliable way of getting bus timings is gone.

One exec, came up with the proposal. Look guys, we need to have an App. First stop giving the feed to 3rd parties

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cisco VNI 2011

Cisco just released VNI. Check it out here

* The growth in Mobile networks is quite similar to Fixed networks in late 90's
* Mobile Video will be the next big thing (Already I can see people in MRT, Bus sticking their eyes to phones/youtube)
* APAC will be the largest mobile only internet market by 2013.

The last point is of great interest to me. Countries like India offers huge potential for Mobile internet/data. In India, the fixed broadband penetration is still in low double digits and the infra is in terrible shape. Unless the gov/telco's are willing to invest billions of dollars there is no way the mass market can access quality internet. BSNL did a great job but still they cannot go to every nook & corner of the vast country.

On the other hand wireless can offer greater choices to the masses with the right strategies. If the operators can work with device manufacturers and vendors to offer the right product+price the opportunity is huge there.

Millionaire percentage, density across the world - Singapore tops again

Source: BCG

According to Boston Consulting Group recent survey, Singapore tops the millionaire percentage ratio with 15.5% or 1 in every 6.5 persons worth a million ;) Assuming an even distribution of wealth across the population  and 4 person household it makes 5 out of 8 houses a millionaire house.

US tops the list with most number of millionaires with 5.22 millions
Japan is in the 2nd place with 1.53 millions followed by China with 1.11 millions

Now the funny part is India. The number is 190,000 and ranks at 12th. This is because they worked based on "Official numbers". If were to go with the actual numbers I am sure India would beat lot of nations and jumps to be in the top 3.

Almost all metros are seeing Condominiums, Villas worth million dollars and I don't believe people who are staying there are not millionaires. Land rates increased so much that it is cheap to buy land in Singapore rather than in Mumbai or even rent office space in Singapore than Mumbai down town.

For that matter if we just count all the legislators of India, I am sure the rank will improve a lot. The Neta's & Babu's number can easily hit a million.

The most important improvement needed for next generation mobile phones/mobility devices..

I don't really wish for a dual core or quad core processor; memory is not a big deal too. Even the speed of wireless broad band is not an game changer. I am quite happy with ~ 2 Mbps speed which I managed to get most of the times on a 21Mbps HSPA+ network.

My biggest hope is to have a new gen "battery". A battery which can last until I've time to charge. I've been using Android devices and recently got an iPhone (Company phone). iPhone batter is much better compared to HTC Deside or Samsung Galaxy S. But still after extensive use the battery dropped to <30% in less than a day.

I am a mobile worker means all my tools, gadgets are in a bag and I'll carry them with me. My notebook is a lenovo X201 and it gives me approx 3 hours battery time. With a extended battery pack I can squeeze another couple of hours. I wish I could get at least 8 hours time so I don't have to carry power supply/cables in the back pack.

Most basic item it seems, but somehow this is where the innovation seems to be missing/pending..

WebEx Video control

If you guys every used WebEx with a webcam notebook or iPad I'm sure you've noticed that your video starts automatically. Although it says that it is "NOT SENDING" the video, the view of looking at yourself and the feeling that the colleagues watching you is really weird.

So, I've tried Google but couldnt find a solution. Realized that this is pretty common complaint from most of the users and WebEx standard reply is to disable when the meeting was arranged. However this is where things get messed up.

I've tried disabling the WebCam and tried some other registry hacks but end up with a pretty 'non-tech' solution. So now this is how my notebook looks during office hours. Requirements: a Post-It note.

Hope Cisco will take some steps (now running 8.5) in the future releases to respect the privacy.