23 May 2006

Bring the noise! But, you know, locally.

One of the problems in replacing radio with podcasts for your morning commute is that your radio all gets a little, well, American. Like the charts on the right of this page indicate, I listen to a lot of podcasts, mainly from the US and UK. And they're all excellent, but I do miss the old kiwi accent a little. So when I heard recently that Radio NZ had started podcasting I was pretty excited.

Earlier this week I subscribed to a bunch of RNZ podcasts, and since I was due for an update* anyway, got to hear them the next day.

Um, the audio quality wasn't much chop.

So I dug deeper. The insight podcast was compressed down to a bit rate of 32kbps and a sample rate of 11khz. Contrast this with the Radio Clash podcast for example, which rocks out at a mighty 80kbps and 22khz. I sent an email to Radio NZ and learned some interesting things:

1: They know the audio quality isn't perfect yet. They're working on it and there is a plan to move up to 32khz. That should provide some very nice audio. So everything's sweet, right?

Um, no. Because:
2: If your ISP is XTRA, the podcasts are downloaded from the US instead of here. This is because of the peering thing. Which is pretty complicated and I will attempt to explain in a moment, but the end result for Radio NZ is that serving audio from the US to NZ ears is far more expensive than doing the same thing in NZ. This means that the audio quality XTRA customers will never be better than 24khz.

The attempted explanation
So how come having XTRA as an ISP causes your Radio NZ podcasts to be worse quality?

You know what, I'm not the right guy to be explaining this. But I'll give it a go. And it what follows makes no sense or is just completely wrong, well I told you I wasn't the right guy to attempt this.

OK. In NZ there are two public internet exchanges, one in Auckland and one in Wellington. If an ISP chooses to do so, it can set up in one of these exchanges. This means that if a user on one ISP wants to access a website that is located in NZ but on a different ISP, it's no problem. Both ISPs are peered and agree to exchange information for free.

In 2004, Telecom and Telstra stopped being part of these peering exchanges. They are peered with each other, but not the other ISPs. So now, if you are on XTRA and want a file from some other NZ ISPs server to get it, you have to go out of NZ first. Imagine a flight from Auckland to Christchurch with a stopover in Los Angeles. It's slower, way more expensive and you may get DVT. And completely unnecessary. The only people who could possibly think this would be a good idea are the ones you bought the air tickets from. And that, for the purposes of this too-stretched metaphor, is Telecom.

For a better explanation you could look
here, or maybe here.

So. What have we learned today?
1: Radio NZ ROCKS, and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.

2: Telecom are, suprisingly, still a big hungry monopoly who have no problem with screwing their customers. I still haven't posted my blog entry about what I really think about their patronising xtra ordinaries ad campaign.

3: Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin both married their first cousins. OK, maybe that wasn't entirely clear from the above, but you can find so many interesting snippets at factme.com

In closing I can do nothing else but refer you to the latest Hard News, where you can find a link to the excellent telecom(n) mashup add.

Keep cool till after school.

*Yes, I manually update my iPod. Theory being I like to programme exactly that this podcast follows this. What's more, I only update the thing once every month or two; I listen to so many podcasts it takes that long to get through them. Of course, by having a two-month delay, the next batch takes even longer to get through. It's a vicious spiral and I'm pretty sure that soon I'm going to take a month off work just to catch up on them all.

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