Category Archives: Blio

Quick Update

Joe’s weekly bullet list update..

  • Monday, ISPA INX workshop.
  • Tuesday, 1/2 price cocktails at Julep, off Long Street. Bumped into Sam Finnemore. Drinks and snacks at Sidewalk Cafe in Vredehoek for a birthday.
  • Wednesday, Lions Head. Another INX workshop, more about CINX (Cape Town Exchange) this time.
  • We’re sold out of all Blio PBX devices from our first production batch. The next batch should take about 8 weeks to manufacture and will have all the regulatory and certification tickboxes ticked.
  • Wednesday afternoon, Mouille Point. Funny how some things don’t change. Happy Hour Pizza at Roots in Obs.
  • Thursday, full day Teraco board meeting. Teraco series A funding. Walked up Lions Head.
  • Thursday evening, dinner at Riboville with the Teraco investors. Riboville is an old bank converted into a restaurant with a wine cellar in the old vault. Best fish I’ve had in while. We were seated in the old bank manager’s office.
  • Friday, time with The Mia. Visited Will in Somerset West. Mia locked us out again, in a new way. Visited Signal Hill.
  • Friday night, planned to attend Georg’s birthday dinner at Harbour House, Kalk Bay and it was supposed to be Mia’s first babysitting experience but Mia was sick so we stayed at home.
  • Saturday, gym, swim, Deer Park cafe. Btw. the service at Deer Park sucked.
  • In the birthday spirit.. drove to Table Mountain along the cable car road and had strawberries and Pierre Jourdan champers on the mountain side with Georg, Kirsty and Jess. Mia has always loved strawberries.
  • We visited Erf 81 (the crazy farm in the middle of the city), puppies, piglets, duckies, chickens, horsies, goats, sheep. Scrubs.
  • Mia likes The Cure.. mostly the songs Friday I’m in Love and Love Cats.
  • Had strawberries for breakfast.
  • Sunday, gym, swim, Knead.. where the service was excellent. Mia had strawberry juice. Mouille Point for a bit of running around and playing with a ball on the wide green open spaces.
  • Sunday night, dinner with friends. I suck less at Scrabble now. Awesome berry dessert.
  • Hoping the Nokia E71 will finally be available in SA soon. I need a new toy.
  • I love Cape Town.
  • See you at the GeekDinner on Thursday.

Idea for the week: “cheat life”. Have a groovy week crazy kids.

Quick Update

Joe’s news items..

  • Random quote of the week: “What on earth would a man do with himself if something did not stand in his way?” — H. G. Wells
  • Looks like Teraco raised its remaining funding.
  • Tuesday, Georg’s home cooked veggie soup and red wine evening.
  • Wednesday, downloaded Firefox 3.0 and moved some furniture.
  • There seems to be good interest in a Cape Town peering point again. About 11 networks have responded positively so far, including Google.
  • Finally found a use for the DMCA. Facebook is pretty quick with removing copyrighted material.
  • Thursday, processed some iWeek paperwork. Amobia and Teraco are now Gold sponsors. WAPA will endorse the Thursday morning wireless session and will have a stand in the iWeek exhibition area. If you have not yet registered, go here.. it’s free.
  • The Blio PBX passed 100% of the TBR-3 tests including the optional parts. This completes the 4th and final part of the ICASA requirements.
  • I attended the 1st Cape Town Pecha Kucha night. The wine was crap. The Moscow Mules were good. The talks were pretty decent.
  • Friday and Saturday was Mia time. We went for a swim again. She fell asleep in the car as we drove to go watch some rugby. Mia slept on my chest for most of the game. Not bothered by any of the excitement around her. It really is a magic feeling having her take a nap like that.
  • Saturday night was Andy and Georg’s house warming party. Must be Andy’s 6th house warming in two years. All the usual suspects showed up, including my personal shrink, who’s birthday it is today.
  • Sunday, had fish and chips at the Waterfront and watched Kung Fu Panda. A fun movie.
  • Walked up Lions Head just before sunset and got some panoramic photos of clouds rolling into Camps Bay and Cape Town harbour. Cape Town is Rome.
  • I now have a dinner table (again). Guess I’ll have to have a dinner party soon.
  • I also have an Ubuntu PC and SIP phone at home now.. all I need is a big LCD screen for movies.

Peace.

Story Series Part 3 : Amobia

From the Story series..

The brief history of Amobia.

Before Amobia was founded

Early in 2002 David Jarvis contacted Joe after finding his personal homepage, looking for Linux geeks to help him build a wireless network in Cape Town. It sounded like a fun challenge, so Frogfoot started doing consulting work for Uninet.

We did network design, routing, QoS, proxy servers, VSAT configs for DVB decoder cards, weird and wonderful asymmetric source routing hacks, some Mikrotik configs, BGP routing etc.

David had just returned from Mozambique where he had built a similar network. This was an interesting time for outdoor wireless networks in South Africa because of the regulatory challenges and questions about the legality of building wireless network infrastructure. It was not even legal to use VoIP back then. A group called Megawan had attempted building wireless networks before and were shut down by the telecoms regulator. In many ways this was the wireless wild west and we knew a few of the cowboys.

We liked the new wireless toys, it was interesting technology and using it was legal in most parts of the civilised world. It was easy to argue that using it was “for the common good”.. and best of all, there was demand, which provided rapid growth opportunities. People were not happy with the incumbent monopoly telco and ADSL services were expensive.

Uninet was routing most of its outgoing and local traffic via Frogfoot’s network at the time and using a big VSAT dish for incoming international traffic. Frogfoot built a Linux QoS server for Uninet. This allowed Uninet to offer always on, rate based internet access at a good price.. an attractive value proposition.

We saw the whole evolution of outdoor wifi.. from PCMCIA cards in Windows PCs (crazy as it may seem) with long antenna cable runs, then simple (dumb) bridge devices, PPPoE, 2.4Ghz 802.11b, then the first wireless CPE routers, followed by 5.8Ghz 802.11a and eventually custom (managed) CPEs. (Customer Premises Equipment).

Frogfoot developed an embedded Linux CPE operating system, which later became the Blio CPE software.

We were happy to be the geeks in the background. David was a true pioneer.

A possible merger, Amobia version 0.1

In late 2004 it was announced that the legal landscape would change. VANS would be allowed to use VoIP as of 1 February 2005 and there were strong indications that VANS would be allowed to build their own networks. Actually I think it was announced that VANS could self provide at that point, but ICASA and the DoC seemed happy to maintain a state of uncertainty.

We started talking about a Frogfoot and Uninet merger. There was talk of using the Amobia brand for the new company. We never managed to make this idea work. Maybe the two company cultures just did not match.

The Amobia Brand

Joe came up with the Amobia name. It has a reference to the amoeba cell based organism. This was the third swimming animal brand… frogs, moon jellies and amoebae.

The Amobia logo was created by a designer we hired at the time.

The mustard yellow, black and burgundy red company colours were inspired by Joe’s favourite wine at the time: Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2002/2003.

Amobia Communications (Pty) Ltd. was registered in 2003.

Amobia version 1.0

After the Uninet merger idea did not work out.. we parted ways in a spirit of friendly competition. A few months went by and we found ourselves past the Feb 2005 date.

We wanted to build a wireless network to leapfrog the existing wireless providers with a “greenfields” deployment. Do it right, from the start. All 5.8Ghz, no legacy 2.4Ghz equipment.. fully redundant routing, dual backbone routers per site, a 3 layer network with a private IP network for management and a secure VPN layer. No PPPoE. A portal to manage configuration and field-upgradable CPE software. Simple.

“..there has been no case in history where the pioneer became the dominant producer, whether you are talking about a business or a science. The most successful innovators are the creative imitators, the Number Two.”

Frogfoot had the knowledge to design and manage networks, but let’s face it.. we were geeks with skinny touch typing wrists. We needed some muscle on the ground to physically build wireless networks. At one point we tried tracking down an old spearfishing contact, then a paratrooper turned sysadmin.

We started talking to one of Frogfoot’s oldest clients about the idea: Cape PC Services. They were interested. We had a meeting and we started building the new company. It was a simple 50/50 deal.. over a handshake you could say.

Frogfoot would contribute, existing knowledge, management systems, design, marketing, sales and support. CPCS would contribute, network deployment, installation team management, billing and operational things.

We connected our first client in Nov 2005.

Early on we had the vision that wireless is not perfect and it’s hard to get right, but we would engineer systems around the technology to make it work. A wireless network fit for the the African continent.

Fast forward

Amobia received a VANS license. In 2006 a letter from ICASA made 15 wireless providers form WAPA. Amobia and WAPA found a super hero lawyer: Dominic Cull. Amobia connected 100 schools for the SchoolWAN project. We managed to attract a number of big corporate businesses as clients, mostly through our “can do” problem solving attitude. Amobia’s franchise model was a success. Amobia was included in the Individual ECNS license conversion process and we had some fun writing an 80+ page business plan in 5 days. WAPA and Amobia initiated high court legal action asking for a declaratory order on the rights of VANS to self-provide network infrastructure. Amobia now has infrastructure in Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Province. We’re about to launch a wifi hotspot service as our “last yard” distribution model.

Our next major challenges are to get an ECNS license, maybe raise some money and grow the franchise business.

It’s not easy running a telecommunications infrastructure business in South Africa, but it’s very rewarding watching it grow and seeing the impact it can have.

Rock ‘n Roll.

I sold my shares in Amobia in early 2010.

Story Series Part 2 : Blio

From the Story series.

The brief history of Blio.

 

Abz and Joe, had this idea to develop a security hardened operating system somewhere in 1999. We also had an interest in embedded systems and gadgets in general.

Early in 2001 we founded a company called the Blio Corporation (Pty) Ltd. We ran this in parallel with Frogfoot, with the idea to use Blio as a platform to launch products based on the IP developed inside Frogfoot.

Joe came up with the name and logo, which was inspired by the moonjellies in the Two Oceans Aquarium (Cape Town),

 

 

Abz’s had a strong background in writing device drivers and working on electronics projects. Joe was interested in management systems for network appliances.

Blio developed an Outdoor Fixed Wireless CPE (customer premises equipment) operating system. Basically a custom Linux system to run on small routers. Abz build the backend. Joe built the font-end. The biggest advantage of this system was to make CPE units field-upgradeable.

This CPE OS later evolved into the software used on Amobia’s network today.

In partnership with Mark (from CLUG) we developed and sold a cost effective 2U rackmount server casing. Frogfoot and Amobia has many of these casings in production environments.

We also developed a Bandwidth Manager (QoS device), but never fully completed the project.

In the process of building the CPE and the QoS devices we started building a unified web based management system framework used across all our products. This user interface is also used for our PBX.

Around 2005, Blio changed it’s focus towards the emerging VoIP market and started building an IP PBX for the small and medium business market. The idea was to run Asterisk on a low power embedded device with no moving parts. At this point Blio took on more shareholders. We became 5 directors.

Nelius and Gerhard have a strong electronic engineering background and we knew them from Stellenbosch days. Thomas has a long history in building PBX systems and developing software for embedded systems. We knew Thomas through the Cape Linux User Group.

Hardware development happens en Stellenbosch. Software development, marketing and sales run from Cape Town.

Where are we now?

We completed the first IP PBX product and we are close to completing all the required tests for ICASA certification. We have some plans to build derivative models, with PRI interfaces and maybe an entry level model with less analog ports. We are actively seeking distribution channels and integration partners for the PBX.

The CPE OS is moving forward. Amobia, which in the past only provided “last mile” services, is now creating a wider distribution network using Wifi hotspots. Let’s call this a “last yard” service. The new hotspot integrated CPE will be deployed soon.

We closed the Blio business down in 2009. An interesting failure.

Boiler Plates

Boiler? Yeah, until recently I also did not know what a boiler plate was. It’s PR lingo.

A boiler plate is a paragraph that describes a company and its products and gets included at the bottom of press releases. The idea is to capture the key attributes of a company. It’s like a poem about a business.

I’m busy refining some boiler plates.. what would you say are the most relevant ideas to include?

Frogfoot:

Frogfoot Networks is an independent technology company providing innovative internet services and open source solutions. Frogfoot’s service offering includes: Wifi Hotpots, ADSL, Linux Virtual Servers, VPNs and Web Hosting. Frogfoot was founded in 2000 and is based in Newlands, Cape Town.

More info:
www.frogfoot.com
0860 KERMIT

Amobia:

Amobia Communications, founded in 2005, is an independent network infrastructure provider. Amobia builds outdoor fixed wireless access networks. Amobia’s focus is on corporate branch connectivity solutions and high speed point to point links. Consumer services include cost effective wireless broadband internet access and wifi hotspots.

More info:
www.amobia.com
0861 AMOBIA

Blio:

The Blio Corporation, founded in 2005, designs embedded systems and builds cost effective, scalable and dependable solutions for the next generation converged public network. Blio offers innovative IP PBX telephony solutions and platforms for internet service delivery.

More info:
www.blio.com

Teraco:

Teraco Data Environments, founded in 2007, is an independent datacentre infrastructure provider and the first company in South Africa to offer vendor-neutral colocation facilities. Teraco is focused on building high quality datacentres for corporate businesses, carriers and internet service providers. Teraco’s business model creates a network value effect by building open and competitive environments where the cost of interconnection tends to zero.

More info:
www.teraco.co.za
0860 TERACO

WAPA:

The Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA), established in 2006, is a non-profit industry representative body acting as a collective voice for outdoor fixed wireless operators in South Africa. WAPA’s primary objective is to ensure the sustainability of the wireless access services market. WAPA is positioned to be an interface between government, it’s membership and consumers and promotes self-regulation of the industry.

More info:
www.wapa.org.za

Hacker Marketing 101

In the gym today I thought to myself, lately I feel like I’m doing a crash course in journalism and marketing. The 3 years in 6 months version. I always had fun with branding and design, but writing and marketing seems to take much more time and effort.

I’ve been reading unhealthy amounts of Seth Godin (books and blog). I spend hours reading blogs and thinking about marketing ideas. I’ve become responsible for WAPA‘s internal and external communication and I seem to have taken on the same role in Frogfoot, Blio and Amobia.

I’ve really started to notice marketing around me. I can’t help but think up PR strategies. I keep looking at the word of mouth potential in new ideas. An example would be the concept of “box designs” I found in Agile project management.

I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is that.. marketing begins very early in the design of a new product or service. You can’t slap it on later. You need a story. “Pull” or self perpetuating (viral) marketing is way more (cost) effective than “Push” (broadcast) marketing. But you knew that.

I now collect contact details for journalists. I have a pretty long list. I was up till 2:00 writing and sending out a press release about the Frogfoot Hotspot business model.

I guess I enjoy this because.. let’s be honest, it’s just way more fun spreading ideas that are cool, innovative and worth talking about. Orders of magnitude more fun than trying to sell commodity services where you can’t really add value.. like the current state of the ADSL business in this country where most people are just forced to self what Telkom sells, the way Telkom sells it.

I’m not sure if I’m any good at this marketing thing (yet), but it seems to keep me amused. I guess it’s the hacker approach to marketing, just do it, figure it out along the way, pick up the lingo and “wing it”, over-focus a bit and then it becomes easy. It can’t be that hard right? (-:

Blio PBX Passes Certification Tests

An update on our Blio PBX..

As you may know there are a few weird and wonderful hoops you have to jump through in the telecoms business to get equipment certified. This involves a few (expensive) tests.

We’ve passed 2/2 with 2 to go..

We’ve just passed the CISPR-22 (radiated emissions) and SWS-001 (Telkom requirements) tests fully. We are waiting for the results from Germany for TBR3 and from Test Africa for the safety tests.

Shouldn’t take longer than 2 weeks for either of them. If all goes well, ICASA can get us our certificate about 2 weeks after that.

Expect to to see the Blio PBX with a shiny little ICASA sticker soon.

Cape Town WordPress Meeting

Attended the 2nd Cape Town WordPress meetup this afternoon at the Barn. The usual suspects and a few new faces. Had nice chats with Henk, Sarah, Alan and Jonathan. I was mostly there to bitch about WordPress security issues and to brainstorm a solution for easily updating a growing (6+) number of WP blogs. I think I confirmed some theories. I’ll keep working on my ideas.

I was happy to find more google-free ™ people there. Just say no to gmail, google calendar, US government indexing… reminds me of that Larson cartoon where they have the GSM phone in a museum and the tag line is something like “old surveillance / spying equipment”. That’s how they killed Pablo. Ok, ok.. I guess I should quit Facebook to back up my paranoia.

Thanks to Callum &co for organising and planning the event.

After that I had a Royale burger with The WSE.. and a couple of Laurentinas. No tuna at Royale today. Very sad.

Frogfoot’s new website is coming along nicely. Yes, WordPress based. Soon, see it, you will. I’m busy getting the Frogs to choose their avatars and motivating them to contribute (blog).

I still have to figure out a way to make a cheap digital camera waterproof for our Suicide Gorge mission this weekend.

Oh, also had a positive meeting with a VoIP equipment distributor today about the Blio PBX.

ps. I love Cape Town.

Quick Update

Been a while since I wrote something here. I guess I’ve been busy. Let’s see, a few random updates…

  • Had a nice weekend in Pringle Bay with friends, got some sun.
  • Visited the Endeavor crew on the 28th floor of the LG building a while ago. Nice views. Still no real scope to work together it seems.
  • Been working on the web interface for the next Blio CPE software, which will allow Amobia to build outdoor (integrated) hotspots.
  • Had an Amobia meeting last night and looked at some financial stats. Amobia grew its revenue by about 110% over its last financial year 2006 vs 2007. Amobia is about 2.25 years old now. Well on it’s way to being a successful business when it gets to the magic 3 years figure.
  • We’ve spend a good number of hours planning, designing and developing the new Frogfoot website. Looking pretty awesome. It’s built on WordPress. We should have all the themes and styles done by tomorrow, which leaves me to write and update some content. Should launch early next week… but a few beers after work on Friday are in order. The new Frogfoot blog design is even nicer than the Swimgeek blog.. I’m going to have to think up something new for my blog design (-:
  • There’s been a few interesting developments on the VANS license conversion front. More sports to follow soon. We have a WAPA committe meeting tomorrow afternoon.
  • There has been good interest in the Blio IP PBX lately. A number of website queries and interest from PBX solution companies. There are a few demo units out in the field and we’ve had some good feedback. Working on improving the documentation and making it easier to get going after buying a PBX.
  • Frogfoot’s hotspot sales are starting to pick up. We’ve done some work on an easy sign-up process for hotspot operators and we have a new all singing and dancing hotspot software revision due within the next month. It will have much better integration with our accounting system and better automation of things like debit order forms and profit sharing payment notices.
  • Amobia’s touch rugby team has been on a winning streak, they are top of the log at the moment.
  • Frogfoot is now an Extreme Networks partner. We’re thinking of cabling up Teraco with purple cat6 cable. 😛
  • Attended a very interesting meeting about IPP’s (independent power providers) this week. Had a bit of a feeling of deja vu.. seems the electricity market in this country is currently where the telecoms market was 10+ yrs ago.
  • Looks like I’ll be in Wellington this weekend and maybe visit the Stellenbosch Fresh Goods Market again.

Catch you on the flipside, crazy kids.

Quick Updates

I realised I’ve been blogging for more than a year now.. about 14 months.

I watched Into the Wild at the Labia tonight. Pretty good, a bit boring at times but a nice way to end a busy week. Definitely not a Hollywood ending. “Happiness is only real when shared”. Makes sense.

Monday I had a VC meeting. It’s a nice feeling to convince people that your idea will fly when they start out being very sceptical. I’ve been working on the Teraco Spec Sheet and Price List document since Monday.. it’s almost ready. Can’t show it to you just yet, maybe next week. The Teraco business plan is turning into an impressive document.

Tuesday I attended a full day WAPA strategy workshop in Noordhoek. Monkey Valley is a really nice setting to get away and single-task for a day. I think it was very productive.

Wednesday was mostly a Teraco day which ended a long negotiation phase.. and turned out being positive. Had a Frogfoot staff dinner at the Brass Bell. Always nice to visit Kalk Bay.

Thursday I visited Parliament, wearing my WAPA co-chairman hat. Had a meeting with Dene Smuts (MP), the DA spokesperson on communications. I’m happy to report there is a person in parliament with a clue. I was very impressed by her understanding of our industry. We mostly talked about the challenges our members are facing in the license conversion process.

Friday was a full day Frogfoot dev team design session. These sessions can be real mind benders, chewing on lots of complexity and distilling it into a plan. Always fun.

The Frogfoot Portal is the heart of our business.. it’s an automation and configuration management system, a network policy database, it manages IP allocation, (ADSL, Wifi, Dial) Radius, Timesheets, DNS.. etc, etc. You get the idea, we’ve been working on it for about 4 years now.

Frogfoot has written it’s own accounting system from scratch over the last ~14 months and we had to plan making it live before the new financial year. We built a debit order automation module last week. Some of the next steps are to better define a “product layer” to manage our LDAP tree, add an order queue, more product focused user interfaces, a product builder tool and integrate all this with our new general ledger.

Sounds like fun?.. makes you mildly sad you forgot all that accounting knowledge from school days.

Amobia is doing well.. we’re about to light up the first Joburg ring.

We added the new PBX to the Blio website.

This made my week.

Ok (fellow) crazy kids, must sleep now.