ADSL Wind Infostrada: Non fate il mio stesso errore

Dear international readers, since this post represents my rant against a well known Italian voice and internet service provider, all of the following is written in Italian language. I assume you won’t need to read this if you reside outside Italy.

Nonostante le tonnellate di cattive esperienze e critiche raccontate in svariati siti, ho deciso di sottoscrivere ugualmente un abbonamento voce/adsl con Wind Infostrada (contratto Absolute Adsl).

In realtà non necessito della linea voce ma il prezzo dell’offerta adsl/voce è inferiore a quella del solo adsl.

Il contratto viene sottoscritto per la cifra maggiorata di 29,95€/mese (per i primi 5 anni) invece che dei 24,95€/mese pubblicizzati in quanto la mia zona non è raggiunta direttamente dalla rete Wind Infostrada.

Sono trascorsi pochi giorni dall’avvenuta messa in funzione della connessione e devo proprio dire che me la sono cercata: facciamo un passo indietro e raccontiamo tutta la storia (n.b. alcune delle date citate sono approssimative, ma la consequenzialità dei fatti è reale).


Venerdì 15 Marzo

Sottoscrivo online il contratto Absolute Adsl e ricevo il mio codice cliente (da utilizzare per contattare il 155 mentre la linea è in corso di attivazione).

Martedì 26 Marzo (data approssimativa)

Prendo appuntamento per l’installazione con un tecnico Telecomitalia. Gentilissimo, il tecnico esegue tutti i lavori necessari per l’installazione della nuova linea e non lascia la mia abitazione prima di aver verificato che sia presente il tono di centrale e che il nuovo numero telefonico sia funzionante.
Tuttavia mi avvisa che lui è incaricato della sola messa in funzione della parte voce della linea e che l’adsl verrà attivato successivamente.

Chiamo il 155 che mi rassicura che le tempistiche standard per l’attivazione adsl sono di 30 giorni.

Lunedì 15 Aprile (data approssimativa)

La luce sul modem (correttamente configurato e lasciato sempre acceso sin dal primo giorno) non da segni di vita.

L’operatore del 155 mi rassicura che, anche se il mio specifico caso è fuori dalla media delle tempistiche, presto sarà attivata l’adsl.

Martedì 23 Aprile

Chiamo il 155 e mi avvisano che ci sono effettivamente dei ritardi nell’attivazione e che la data di chiusura della pratica è stimata per sabato 27 Aprile. Mi consigliano comunque di concedere qualche giorno in più ed aspettare fino al martedì successivo (30 Aprile).
Chiedo se ci sarà un ulteriore contatto da parte di un tecnico per avvisarmi dell’avvenuta attivazione e mi viene data risposta affermativa. Resto in attesa.

Martedì 30 Aprile

Mi accingo a chiamare il 155 e mi accorgo che il mio codice cliente non viene più accettato: qualcosa deve essere cambiato. Accedo all’area clienti sul sito www.infostrada.it e noto che l’adsl è contrassegnato come attivo già dal 19/04/2013.
La luce sul modem è ancora spenta.

Chiamo nuovamente il 155 e questa volta invece del codice cliente inserisco il numero di telefono (procedura riservata alle sole utenze già attive) e l’operatore non può far altro che constatare che l’adsl non funziona e aprire la segnalazione di guasto: dice che già dal giorno successivo cominceranno a gestire la pratica (peccato che il giorno successivo sia la festa dei lavoratori).

Insospettito recupero un vecchio telefono e lo collego alla presa telefonica principale dell’abitazione, alzo il ricevitore e… niente: il telefono è muto. Come è possibile? Dopo la visita del tecnico la linea voce era completamente funzionante.

Richiamo il 155 e questa volta segnalo un malfunzionamento alla la linea voce: l’operatore mi fa eseguire alcuni test e non può fare altro che constatare che la linea voce non funziona e aprire la procedura di guasto.

Giovedì 2 Maggio

Mi chiama sul cellulare un tecnico Telecomitalia che mi dice che è attualmente in centrale e che il guasto è stato risolto; insisto per avere ulteriori spiegazioni e il tecnico risponde con queste parole: “Era uno spinotto scollegato”. Allibito, ritorno a casa e finalmente trovo la luce del modem accesa e la linea voce regolarmente funzionante.

Accendo il computer ed eseguo la procedura di registrazione, necessaria al primo collegamento, per poter abilitare la navigazione internet.

Sono online! Ma la mia euforia ha brevissima durata, stroncata dalla estrema lentezza e scarsa reattività del collegamento internet.

Venerdì 3 Maggio

Eseguo alcuni test e constato che le prestazioni della linea sono altalenanti: a tratti si scarica a 5 Mbit/sec (velocità di tutto rispetto) mentre in altri momenti non si apre nemmeno una semplice pagina web.

Accedo alle schermate di diagnostica del modem per controllare che il problema non sia dovuto a scarsa qualità della linea ma non è così: il modem riporta valori di attenuazione e margine SNR nella norma, il numero di errori non correggibili è anch’esso nella norma.

Chiamo il 155 e segnalo la lentezza, riassumo qui di seguito la conversazione (O = Operatore, M = Me stesso):

O: Quale modello di modem usa?

M: D-Link DSL-320B

O: Ah, ma è un modem USB

M: No, è un modem ethernet

O: Comunque è un modem molto vecchio

M: No ha solo due anni (per la cronaca: è un modem ADSL2+)

O: Eh ma comunque è vecchiotto, eseguo comunque qualche test sulla linea

L’operatore mi fa attendere qualche minuto e poi risponde che i test sulla linea non hanno evidenziato alcun difetto: spiega che si tratta probabilmente di lentezza dovuta a congestione perché la mia linea è ancora attestata in centrale su porte di Telecomitalia perché quelle di Wind Infostrada sono tutte in uso. Bisogna aspettare che espandano le porte di Wind Infostrada in centrale.

Sono ben consapevole della situazione della rete telefonica nel mio paese natio: il mio doppino percorre circa 800 metri per arrivare allo Stadio di Linea che non è fra quelli aperti agli altri operatori (motivo per cui non è stato possibile attivarmi l’adsl al prezzo pubblicizzato di 24,95€/mese).

Faccio presente questa particolarità all’operatore che mi risponde che le informazioni in suo possesso sono diverse dalle mie e allora gli chiedo a quale centrale sono collegato: “alla centrale di Cremona” risponde. Cerco di farlo ragionare e gli dico che il DSLAM a cui è collegato il mio doppino è sicuramente nello Stadio di Linea di Rivoltella via S.Zeno (provincia di Brescia).

La comunicazione, come per magia, cade.


Ad oggi la adsl rimane inutilizzabile per gran parte di ogni giornata.

Tengo a precisare che, nella medesima abitazione, era fino a pochi mesi fa attivo un servizio voce/adsl di Telecomitalia che funzionava benissimo.

Lascio a voi trarre le dovute conclusioni.

Booking.com : “Free cancellation” can mislead users

Lots of internet services have changed the way people do things. Speaking of Booking.com, it has radically changed the way we book hotel rooms to a point where we’ve almost forgotten how reservations once used to work.

I’ve used Booking.com many times and I’ve always been satisfied with its services and the convenience it brings to the reservation process.

However, my last reservation brought up a ‘surprise’ I wasn’t expecting from such a well-respected website.

A few days ago my girlfriend and I were in the process of booking a room for a night in Oxford. Booking.com listed many possible offers and we spotted a nice B&B among them. We still weren’t sure this was the best choice for us but it was late evening, we were both tired and decided to reserve anyway, reassured by the emphasized “FREE CANCELLATION” writing (see the images below). The cost of the room was 79 GBP.

The day after I noticed a 79 GBP charge on my credit card, wait, what!?

I rushed to open the confirmation email and read:

Prepayment: 100 percent of the first night will be charged on the day of booking.

Cancellation policy: If canceled up to 2 days before date of arrival, no fee will be charged.If canceled later or in case of no-show, 100 percent of the first night will be charged.

I didn’t recall reading such a policy while booking, so I went back to the booking.com website and noticed that the prepayment and cancellation policy are not clearly shown. They only pop out if you hover your mouse over the little blue “i” at the right of the “free cancellation” writing (see the images below).

I felt tricked, so I quickly googled for similar cases and found this: http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/bookingcom-c506346.html

It appears I’m not the only one who’s been misled. Reading the link above, it seems that Booking.com has previously denied responsibility in similar cases stating that it is merely acting as a middleman by conveying your information to the hotel which in turn can define its payment policies at will.

I totally agree with Booking.com being only a middleman. What I don’t agree with is the way it presents important information to the user: “free cancellation” is green coloured and emphasised, whilst the prepayment policy is hidden under a mouse over action (see the images below).

Another strangeness is that, after giving a close look at the actual policy of the hotel I booked, in case of late cancellation or no-show we would actually end up paying twice the price.This is because I booked only one night which has been already charged because of the prepayment policy, and the same amount will be charged again in case of late cancellation or no-show. I don’t think such a policy could be defined as fair by anyone.

This time me and my girlfriend will not cancel the reservation, but I believe Booking.com really has to sort this issue out and present prepayment and cancellation information in a more foolproof way to the user. Failure to do so will quickly worsen its reputation and users’ trust.

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UPDATE 1: Some reader commented that he always checks everything ten times before confirming the booking. He’s right, everyone should, I wasn’t trying to deny my responsibilities. My point is that Booking.com is a business who acts as an intermediary and, as such, its main job is to present important information to its users in an easy and straightforward way; it is in its interest to do so in order to be trustworthy.

UPDATE 2: Booking.com’s staff has sent me an email to clarify the situation: they say that in case of cancellation the prepayment will be refunded. Kudos to them for the quick response, still I think that an hotel policy should clearly state that the prepayment will be refunded to avoid any misunderstandings.

Is an LTE Nexus 4 en route?


So iFixit opened up the Nexus 4 and found 4G LTE hardware in it.

Lots of rumors and speculations went on, with somebody even thinking that 4G capability might be enabled via hacking or a future software update. But let’s delve a bit deeper into the matter…

A modern telecommunication chain has a digital part composed of baseband processor and transceiver and an analog part composed of power amplifiers for the transmission side and low noise amplifiers + filters for the reception side.

As we can see from figure 17 and 18 in iFixit’s teardown article, the Nexus 4 mainboard sports a MDM9215 baseband chip and a WTR1605 transceiver chip, both from Qualcomm and both able to process GSM, UMTS and LTE signals. This means that the digital part of the chain is 100% LTE capable.

Where Google’s flagship phone falls short though is the analog part of the chain, which has power amplifiers and filters for only the GSM and UMTS frequencies (which I believe are the chips from Avago Technologies).

This means that even if the 4G capabilities of the baseband and transceiver chips might theoretically be enabled hacking with the baseband’s firmware, no actual LTE communication will succeed as the phone has been crippled out of its analog LTE part.

So why is it that Google sells a phone with LTE parts in it?
Remember that Nexus 4 has an LG branded sibling named Optimus G which is fully LTE capable: things are likely that LG decided to use the same mainboard in both phones simply omitting the LTE analog chips from the Nexus.

Perhaps it would have been much more costly for LG to design a GSM/UMTS only mainboard. Perhaps not.
Imagine Google going to LG asking to take its shiny new Optimus G, which sells unsubsidized in the 500/600$ price range, brand it Google Nexus and sell it at 350$. Why the heck would have LG ever accepted such a deal?

We all know that LG’s agreed to the deal, but perhaps it wanted something in exchange, some form of “protection” that wouldn’t let the Nexus 4 totally cannibalize its Optimus G sales: what could this protection be? What’s the main shortcoming of the Nexus 4 in all its reviews?

Yeah… perhaps you got it… I’m guessing that LG might have asked Google to withhold LTE support in the Nexus 4 to give the Optimus G a competitive advantage.

Samsung brand might be so powerful that its Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus probably didn’t make a dent into its global profit figures. It might not be the same for LG which is clearly hedging its market position.

It all makes sense when we think that LG itself is pricing the Nexus 4 in the 500/600$ range in all the countries where it’s not sold via Google Play Store (at much of its customers dismay).

Not all hopes are gone though, chances are that an LTE Nexus 4 is still in the pipeline but will be marketed with some ‘strategic’ delay.

Nexus day

Today it’s Nexus day: the full new lineup of Google’s flagship devices has started selling and has been met with a very warm customer response. As an owner of a Galaxy Nexus I was tempted to line up among all those hogging Google’s Play Store servers to get their new iteration of the Nexus smartphone. My hopes waned as I noticed that UK’s Play Store Devices pages were at first not responding, only to reappear a few minutes later with a nice “COMING SOON” badge beside all Nexus 4 offerings. It looks like this launch has been a worldwide success.

I won’t get my hands on a Nexus 4 soon but in the meantime the software powering Google’s latest powerhouse was released as an upgrade for the Galaxy Nexus. In a matter of minutes my phone was running the latest and greatest Android 4.2 operating system and I suddenly went on to check which of the advertised Nexus 4 features didn’t make it to its older sibling.

As an old-time iPhone user I got accustomed to Apple’s habit of deliberately cutting new features from older devices and I thought that even Google might have done the same trick to encourage people to upgrade existing devices to its latest hardware offering: luckily I was wrong. Google chose to withdraw no feature from its Galaxy Nexus (almost: Galaxy Nexus owners loose Miracast and HDR photo mode, no big deal).

I think this might spur an interesting debate on the definition of product:

  • on one side we have the Apple-esque definition, where hardware and software are a whole: a new product might sport a software-side feature that won’t be brought to previous devices just because it wasn’t originally part of that product.
  • on the other side we have the Google-esque definition, where hardware and software are nicely integrated but not exclusive to each other: if a new product sports a software feature that can run on previous devices then it will be back-ported.

Of course these are simplistic models: there are lots of other factors that might contribute to whether a software feature will make it to past products, but I think we should keep it simple at least at the beginning.

 

The bottom line of this story is:

I got pissed when the iPhone 3G could use A2DP to play music through bluetooth enabled stereos: my original iPhone was running almost the same hardware but couldn’t. I was pissed again when the iPhone 4S had Siri but my iPhone 4 didn’t (while jailbreakers had shown it could indeed run on it). Result: I didn’t buy any newer iPhone.

This time I won’t buy a new Nexus. This might be considered today as a marketing failure, but Google’s won my trust and earned a new loyal customer: there’s a high chance that next year I’ll be first in line to buy the Nexus 4’s successor.

You judge who’s the winner here.

Never make the same mistake twice

It was back in ’97, Jobs had just returned to Apple and, during one of his first keynotes, he talked about  the mistakes Apple had done and what was contributing to poor sales. He stressed that the product line was bloated and full of products among which was difficult to tell any differences; he then presented the new product line: consumer laptop, consumer desktop, professional laptop and professional desktop. This simple and effective strategy contributed a lot to Apple’s renaissance.

It’s been one year after Jobs passed away and I see a few small signs that should remind Apple never to make the same mistake twice:

  • Keeping two previous generation iPhones on sale alongside iPhone 5.
  • Keeping on sale iPad 2 alongside iPad mini and iPad retina.

One might argue that older iPhones are still there to fill lower price gaps, and I partially agree with this. But I don’t think one could ever say that keeping two identical products which differ only in physical size (not screen size) is a good thing (the mini and the 2 have a very similar price tag so there’s no gap filling here).
The average person who has rarely used a PC and wants to dig in the internet-era with a tablet is going to have a tough time deciding wich one to buy.

Apple shall never forget that part of its success has come from a careful choice of what NOT to do.

I really hope this is not a sign that the current management is driven by a “let’s fill all the market gaps” folly.

iOS Task Completion API abuse

As many of you are aware, iOS4 introduced several APIs that bring some degree of multitasking to iOS applications: one of them was originally meant to give an app the extra chance to finish some worthy tasks before getting suspended: it’s called “Task Completion API”.

Unfortunately this API has become a free ticket for up to 10 minutes of background execution that every app can get, even the ones that don’t need it.

This means some apps may ask for extra CPU time and remain in background execution for as long as 10 minutes (the limit set by the iOS).
The problem is that we have no quick way of telling wether this extra time is being used for the completion of a useful task or if it is being abused.

With the help of the “Instruments” application included with Xcode I’ve tried to analyze the behavior of a few common apps and noticed that Task Completion abuse actually happens with at least two very popular titles: “Whatsapp messenger” and “Facebook messenger”.

Instruments’ Activity Monitor shows how regular iOS apps like Twitter and Foursquare are suspended by the OS a few seconds after returning to the home screen.
Whatsapp and FB Messenger instead ask for extra background CPU time in order to wait for incoming chat messages. After the 10 minutes period expires the apps are suspended and therefore switch to the Push Notificaiton API to receive incoming messages.
While this behavior may seem harmless it is actually preventing the CPU from sleeping and drains a considerable amount of battery. In fact, even if the apps aren’t doing much work, their used CPU time keeps increasing at a slow albeit constant pace.

Yes it’s true that after 10 minutes these apps will be suspended anyway and the CPU may then sleep, but only if we aren’t using them in the meantime!
For example, say we send a chat message, lock the phone and wait for 9 minutes, then we send another message, lock the phone and wait for another 9 minutes and so on… Our messaging application will use the Task Completion API each time and therefore will never be suspended because it is brought back to the foreground before its 10 minutes extra time expires.

Suspended apps aren’t allocated any CPU time thereby increasing the chances the CPU has to go to its sleep state: in an ideal scenario, the 9 minutes between each chat message would have been all eligible for the CPU to sleep!

I think the developers of these applications should rethink about their design choices and avoid using the Task Comlpetion API because it doesn’t fit in this particular use case. The traditional Push Notification API should be always preferred instead.

…the doubting part of the web…

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