Thursday, August 07, 2008

3 Other ways to use your Snapper Card

I now have my Snapper Card and eagerly waiting to use it on the bus for the first time.

I still believe that Micropayments are due some further disruption where time and convenience would benefit from a payment card. My take on three candidates:

1. Taxi payment - not really a micropayment as typically fares will exceed $10 but this is included due to convenience. In a society where cash is no longer king you still need some to pay for your taxi home. You have the option of a credit card but you can't use EFTPOS. An ideal payment method would be the Snapper Card if the technology could be successfully integrated with the taxi itself. An extension of this would be a general rollout of GPS into cabs to help the drivers navigate around Wellington. If you combine GPS and Snapper properly you have a predictive cost tool based on point A to point B by road.

2. The cable car - in many ways integrated into the Wellington transport sphere enabling payment by Snapper must be a logical conclusion. I'm sure it's just a matter of time. As already posted here makng the GPS data from the buses available would be a real value added service. Make that available as a screen inside the cable car and allow commuters to see if they are able to connect to their bus service when they reach the bottom.

3. Short term parking - an ideal target for micropayments. Today you can request to have the parkign charges added to your Vodafone post-paid bill. This is fine if you're using post-paid but is a fire and forget service that you delay the payment for. If left in an uncontrolled way you could well get a nasty surprise when you get your phone bill at the end of the month. Allowing Snapper to be used to pay for parking still makes it a cashless transaction but gives the control to the consumer as they gt real time updates to their Snapper balance.

Monday, August 04, 2008

3 Things....New Zealand could do with Google Maps

A couple of weeks I took myself along to a seminar hosted by Google "Google in the Public Sector".

They gave a run down of how government bodies across Asia Pacific are starting to use Google products. Of particular interest to me was the use of Google Maps integration.

I have drawn on the idea before in some of my discussions for the Techdirt Insight Community but the seminar got me thinking about specific application to New Zealand.

1. Snapper Mapper:

Snapper is the new RFID stored valued card that can be used on Wellington's Buses and Trains. The system uses GPS to keep track of the charging zone for the payment. An outward facing use for this would be to show which routes are now Snapper'd and of those where the bus currently is. Overlay this on Google Maps and you've given your customers a real time view of which bus they can use Snapper on and where the bus is. Good news for commuters looking to plan their journey.

Here is an example of what is achievable, real time Train data feed for Zurich.

2. Parking saturation:

Wellington has parking problems, there's no hiding from it. However what if you could save time by avoiding the saturated areas. This article from Technology Review got me thinking about mapping sensor data from the parking spaces in and around Wellington CBD. If it was displayed as a general heat map then when you're on the way in you could avoid the red zone and head to alternative parking that is still cool to the touch.

3. RV Heatmap:

House prices in New Zealand and influenced by the Rateable Value (RV). As a potential buyer I would be interested to see how housing prices are trending by area.

Something similar to House Price Maps would be a useful insight on where to buy (or not).

Sunday, August 03, 2008


This year's Olympics should be the best ever for coverage.

Fring are looking for onsite commentators and as a means to encourage people are offering a 3.5G phone as your reporters tool.

I hope that this will be the games of the micro blog. The potential for services like Twitter or Jaiku to open up access to the games in a way never seen before is encouraging.

Essentially there are three dimensions to the games:

  1. Nation
  2. Event
  3. Athlete
Typically broadcast of the games ha content defined by the nation. The USA channels closely follow the USA squad, the same for UK, NZ Australia etc. This is targeted at the national pride.

For those people who are actively engaged in an event themselves, marathon, it's the event that is king. There will still be an element of "my country" but this is equally balanced by "my sport".

The final element is the followers of a specific athlete. Friends, family and fans may elect to follow all of the events surrounding a person. From living in the Olympic village, training the event itself and the reactions after the event.

This is where Web 2.0 could crack open the Olympics and allow unprecedented access.

The biggest beneficiaries would be the minor countries and the minor events.

How much coverage do you think the Cambodian runner Hem Bunting will get normally? or even the Cambodian team.

Minor events that do not normally get prime time coverage (Fencing, Modern Heptathlon etc) could be covered for the fans.

It's the natural evolution of broadcasting where content is moved from a push to a pull model. Narrowcasting of the Olympics and the success of it (or not) could be great insight to the future of content publishing at such events.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Snapped Up...No such thing as a new idea

Less than 6 months after I posted my EFTPOS meets the Wellington public transport idea Snapper is now on the hook.

Snapper is the Wellington take on the EZLink card with RFID payments for transport and micro payments. After seeing the first on-bus terminal on Tuesday today I witnessed the ANZ branded snapper keyring being used by a customer to buy their lunch.

Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bangkok Metro Wai-Fi

While many cities have already dabbled with, and in many cases shutdown, city WiFi projects Bangkok is just rolling theirs out.

The speeds will be low, around the 64K mark, as the service is designed to allow employees to check their email and use IM.

This is all in an effort to give people an alternative to the daily commute in the time of high fuel prices, lack of supply for NGV cars (Taxis) and the general congestion problems on the capital's roads.

Having worked from home on ADSL and dealing with large attachments typically sent my email today the low speed will be impacting on adoption.

Overall I wish the operator every success but feel that the service is doomed from the start. The main concern is how much business, even general business, can be conducted in a hands off approach in Thailand. The Wai is still a powerful sales and business tool. Face-to-face meetings will continue to be the core of the decision making process and distance from the Pu Yai's office ties in with a circle of ever-decreasing power and responsibility.

Bangkok will be truly ready for WiFi when business society is ready for Wai-less working.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cashless Society? Micropayments up for disruption

New Zealand, although small, is a long way ahead in many aspects compared to the UK. Some of their new schemes are being adopted by the UK government. What I remember from my first trip here 6 years ago was the impact of the EFTPOS system. Long before the UK was using Chip and PIN New Zealand was moving towards a cashless society with the ubiquitous EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer Point of Sale) cards and terminals.

The system is good and robust. But the one place you can't find it for some of those micropayments is on the public transport system. Buses would benefit from some form of electronic payment system.

There is one drawback of the system in it's implementation today, the time taking to pay. For small payments, say a Moro (think Mars) Bar at the local dairy (corner shop) is the time taken for the system to recognise the card and for the user to select the account (Cheque, Savings or Card) and input their PIN. This would certainly slow down the boarding process.

Many cities use RFID based cards for public transport. Hong Kong has the Octopus Card, Singapore has EZLink, London has Oyster. What form could a Kiwi card take. The public transport system in Wellington is very good, Well supported with Buses and Trains having one card available to pay for travel on both would be beneficial. Even better if it could be extended to Auckland and Christchurch as well. In my mind the Kiwi Card is an RFID base system that has strategic top-up locations near transport hubs (train stations, platforms, bus stops) that I could use my EFTPOS card to add balance. A system that would mean no cash laying around to be collected by vandals and would speed up boarding times as it would be a standard proximity based system.

Now I just need to find a VC.....

Bus 2.0

Walking around the compact city centre in downtown Wellington you gradually become aware of the grid of wires above your head.

Having stretched the use of trams here into the late 40's the re-emergence of electrified public transport in the form of trolley buses is good to see.

The first thing that strikes you is how quiet they are compared to their diesel counterparts. The next observation is that many of them seem to be conversions from old diesel buses, extending the life.

There has also been investment in a new, purpose built, fleet that runs around the city and out to the suburbs. There are many cities in the UK that would certainly benefit from such a fleet of electric buses. Cambridge with it's narrow streets would be an easy city to retrofit and the benefits to the stone architecture of the colleges with less diesel fumes would be noticeable.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No home line? what about the internet

Having just moved to Wellington I have recently been through the process of setting up broadband access. The whole process was more difficult than I had planned for but it got me thinking of various approaches to avoid sitting in the internet cafe....

Naked DSL
Cable Broadband
Public WiFi
Public WiMax

The classic approach would be ADSL. The apartment we moved to didn't have a phone line already connected which is the pre-requisite for ADSL. Who says you don't need copper anymore?

Given the take up of mobile handsets as the only phone of choice for many people what then are the choices when you don't have a land line? This is where Naked DSL comes to the fore. There are however scarce numbers of providers that run Naked DSL lines into homes, none that I could see in New Zealand.

There is however Telstra Clear that operate a cable network to supply TV, Voice and with a cable modem broadband access. This is the best option for subscribers in the US if you want to drop your Ma Bell telephone in favour of your mobile "line". The down side is that Telstra Clear are still pushing cable and haven't got as far as pushing cable anywhere near our apartment yet :( If you're in Auckland, Vector is extending their fibre network at the moment.

AirCards are quite popular here. In a country with ~4 Million people only 400K households have broadband subscriptions. This is where the AirCard fills the gap. Run by Vodafone it's usage of the CDMA network to get "broadband" access, faster than dial up (but we'll ignore that as we're assuming we don't have a phone line) but not by much. OK for IM and Email but not much more than that.

The last two are nowhere near developed in New Zealand yet, although plans are moving forward for a network of WiFi hotspots in Auckland.

Still there is a strong argument for Telcos to invest in their most visible asset, that of the public telephone network (pay phones). So I raise the notion again that if people are really dropping their land lines in favour of mobile then use the copper assets to drive some value added connectivity for people who want broadband access. The other option for public WiFi is for utilities companies to build out capability. Vector is an electricity, gas and communications company. Street lights are even more common place than payphones, many phone boxes have already been decommissioned. This is a natural network than could easily be adapted to provide more than light.

The final part is the continued promise of WiMax. Telecom did win the auction for spectrum and have asked to begin to develop plans around the technology. We could see extensions to the Broadcast trials to build out a real alternative for broadband coverage. After an unsuccessful foray into fixed wireless access by Ionica in the UK WiMax will become the fixed wireless access platform of choice for many countries.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Why Simple is best

In the move to New Zealand we decided to keep one of the mobile numbers here. The operator, DTAC, has been quite creative with options to retain the number at minimal cost.

The first plan they offered was zero monthly charge and to retain the number you have to keep the account active with at least one transaction every 90 days. Not a bad plan if you were going away for three months or less. However we won't be back until August at the earliest.

After describing the problem in the outlet the CSR suggested to transfer the number to pre-paid. This is the best model for convergence for me allowing me post-paid functions with pre-paid as a payment method. It seems that this operator is starting to understand the pre or post is no more than a choice on how I wish to pay, the services should not be differentiated based on service line, good news.

This pre-paid package, called Simple, allows you to keep your balance and your number active for one year, that's 365 days. Sounded promising so the change was made and the IN rolled out the updates over the next three hours.

Then it all broke down. The reason why telcos should always keep their plans simple
in nature and not just in name is that the human factor of the CSR in the call centre will always let you down.

First contact was to ask about top up options. The corporate website has some useful information but with four separate tables showing various versions of charge rates, top up amounts and expiry periods the effort is lost in a confusing over supply of information. So the call to the contact centre is made.

The usual problem of CSR's is that they typically don't have enough information to the helpful, they work hard but get nowhere. We ended up educating said CSR on the core principles of the plan and asked again on top up options using online banking. The poor CSR was let confused and unable to answer to we asked them to check and get back to us.

You can fault the service mentally, they went away did their homework and dutifully called back to talk through the steps.

Now that the balance has been topped up the confirmation SMS arrives saying that the balance will expire on 14 February 2008. That is 45 days, 320 days short of what the plan states should happen.

Back on to the call centre to ask what is happening, why the balance will expire so quickly. This new CSR explains that you will receive a new SMS within 24 hours showing that your expiry date has been extended to the full year, thanks for phoning the call centre you've been charged 3 baht.

After all the hard work in the promotion design, the rep in the outlet, the first CSR that did their best and phoned back, now the customer is very unhappy because they have had to phone the call centre again to get conformation and been charged for the privilege.

This is why robots and IVR will always be better than CSR's. If plans become too complex and the CSR's are not trained properly all of the hard work in generating a good customer experience is thrown away. All because the first CSR did not have enough information to answer the question fully the first time around.

The subscriber is charged for two calls to a call centre that should be able to be handled in a single inbound call. A cynical mind would ask if this is a plan to generate additional revenue from the call centre. Forget customer satisfaction, keep them calling in repeatedly and charge them every time.