Category Archives: Blio

Quick Updates

The brain-dump posting..

I watched The Darjeeling Limited tonight.. Wes Anderson’s latest movie. It was kinda entertaining, visually pretty good… but not nearly as good as Life Aquatic or Royal Tenenbaums. The short movie before the main movie was interesting (Hotel Chevalier).

Attended my first SPIN meeting last night. I guess you would call the people that go to this kind of thing “software process geeks”. A number of the topics were good food for thought.

Suicide Gorge was great fun. It’s a real gem. I was pretty tired after the walk, fell asleep before dinner. In some ways nice to be that tired. Man, was I stiff the next day.

The Blio PBX sales process seems to be gaining momentum.

Teraco is still looking for ~90 bars.

Looks like Frogfoot will partner with Extreme Networks. We’ll do sales and consulting and probably standardise on using Extreme switches internally. Why Extreme? Well, it’s carrier grade kit and they are focused on building switches. They have a very nice OS (with Linux ancestory) and they offer a good layer 2 redundancy protocal (EAPS), way better than STP. I think Linux people have an affinity to Extreme’s design and thinking: focused, efficient, stable. Can you guess the two opposites of my analogy?

WAPA released some very impressive wireless industry growth figures from the annual member census.

Frogfoot and Amobia are on the list of Individual ECS licensees asked to meet with ICASA in Feb.

We’ve started a project to integrate the Frogfoot Wifi billing engine with the Amobia outdoor wireless CPE devices.

I attended a WAPA Spectrum Analyser Workshop last week. It was fun to explore some of the deeper physics behind practical wireless lingo and day-to-day working knowledge. I learned lots of useful things about radio’s, antennas and EIRP (power) measurement. I think the vision and goal of self regulation (in ISM) will be a reality sooner than we think.

Ok, must sleep. Think I’ll walk around Lion’s Head early tomorrow morning.

Blio IP-PBX v1.0

The first production batch of Blio PBX’s is complete and ready to ship. Doing the first sales demo for a client tomorrow (who is interested in buying 3 units). Busy with the first brochure. Exciting times.

pbx1 pbx2

Quick feature list:

  • Stylish black metal casing
  • 1U, Rackmount or Wallmount
  • Designed and manufactured in Cape Town, ZA
  • Low power, no moving parts
  • 1 * 10/100 Ethernet port
  • 2 * ISDN ports, 4 channels
  • 2 * Trunk ports, aka FXO (outgoing Analog incl. GSM/LCR)
  • 10 * Analog extension ports for standard desk phones, aka FXS
  • Tested to work well with the SNOM range of SIP Phones, including the reception (Star Trek style) console
  • Supports stacking, you can buy one now and add more later to grow one (virtual) PBX
  • Has a very nice user friendly web interface for management (DIY config)

Anyway, it’s the perfect small/medium office PBX, grows with your business, IP/SIP ready but enough analog ports for cost effective migrations.

Suggested retail price is in the range of R16k per unit for the first batch, depending on how good your haggling skills are :-P

If you had to pick one

Today we visited the casing and front panel printing people with our design ideas for the Blio PBX.

Pics are at the usual place.

It seems there are two routes forward:

1) We make a Cream/Beige colour 1U box that blends in then you mount it flat against a wall. This would be very much like your traditional (analog) PABX systems found in many small businesses around the country. We basically assume that a doctor’s office or a small legal firm would like to replace their PBX but keep it on the wall and keep most of their current phones.

2) We make a Black/Dark-grey colour 1U box that’s designed for rack mounting in a 19″ cabinet. It’s more like an Ethernet switch or router. You could put it down on a desk or stack it, but it kinda asks for an environment with at least a small 19″ wall box/cabinet (which will cost you about R500) or a big server room cabinet. We basically assume this is for an office that has structured Cat5 Ethernet wiring. With this route we are guessing people may keep some of their analog phones but they want a few SIP phones.. they are more tech-savvy, early adopters.

Now, the fun part where you, the reader get to shape the future of our product.

You can answer with one of 4 options..


If the price was the same and you _had_ to buy one, would you take a black or cream one and would you put it in a cabinet or on your wall..

Please add a comment with your answer.


blio moduleI was walking down Lions Head this morning and I figured.. maybe I can do better with the Blio PBX’s Unique Selling Proposition.. in one sentence. Let’s try that..

The original from yesterday: “The first locally manufactured low cost IP PBX”

“The first locally designed and manufactured low cost IP PBX”

“The first locally designed and manufactured low cost IP and Anolog converged PBX”

“The first locally designed and manufactured affordable IP and Anolog converged, 1U rack mountable, stackable, DIY PBX”

“The first locally designed and manufactured affordable IP and Anolog converged (so you can still use your old phones and the boss can have a pretty SIP phone) PBX, that’s rack mountable, stackable (so it grows with your needs) and easy to configure with a web interface (so you don’t need to pay some expensive techie to tinker with the ugly arcane box on your wall and pray it still works after any small change.”

Ok, now it’s getting a bit silly. I’ll just go to work.

Do you have any better ideas?

September GeekDinner and PBX


Go sign up for the September GeekDinner: a.k.a. Dangerous Drumstick. It’s on Thursday 27 Sept at a very nice venue for spring / early summer overlooking the sea.

Looks like we could be showing off our new Blio PBX at the GeekDinner.. “The first locally manufactured low cost IP PBX”.

We have a meeting to sort out the front panel tomorrow. The device is very close to ready, we’re busy with the EMC testing and the ICASA type approval process at the moment.

I’m off to go listen to a CLUG talk on Open Street Map now.

Update from the life of Joe

This is one of those bullet point update posts. Seems I’m only really getting time to blog on Sundays at the moment.

  • Amobia and Frogfoot Joburg Office

    We have office space and data-center space in Joburg now and we are busy setting up our network. We’ll start with two /23 networks and the usual recipe of border and aggregation routers, netflow probe, switches and Xen servers. All that remains after that is to setup some VoIP phones and we have a “shake and bake” office ready for the first three or four people.

  • Teraco

    The Teraco data-center project is moving forward. Most of the infrastructure planning and shopping is done. This week involved mostly some spreadsheet jockey work on the financials and finalising the switch fabric design and purchasing. We have some cool 3D rendered views of the floor plan.

    Parts of the design have a bit of theatrical flair (:
    Picture the view walking into the reception area, looking past the plasma screens with all the environmental stats, past the stylish seating, through fire-proof glass (that’s only made in Belgium at about R8k/sqm or something like that) down the main corridor with a uniform view of row upon row of black server cabinets all the way to the back wall. The room is dark and the only light comes from the aircon floor grills. You get the space ship landing-strip picture, right? Now all we need is that movement sensor suspense effect from Aliens. (;

  • Teraco Switch Fabric

    I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking into Ethernet switch fabric options for the Teraco data-center in the last three/four months. It’s been painful. Most vendors still want to sell you 10yr old technology, ugly spanning tree solutions, mixed layer2/3 complexity for redundancy with very few giving any thought to solid redundant and rapid failure convergance layer2 (only) switching (which you would think is obvious). I consider myself a semi-expert all all the Metro Ethernet lingo and features at the moment.

    I looked at HP, Huawei, Cisco, Extreme, Juniper, Foundry and some lesser brands.

    We have not finalised the switch fabric purchase, so I’ll not say too much, but Extreme has some pretty cool kit. I’ll restrain myself from commenting on the state of the other brand’s offerings.

  • Adobe CS3 Launch

    I attended the launch of Adobe’s new Creative Suite software a week or three back. It was supposed to be some Rock concert theme. They had to go stuff it up with hip hop acts. Why can’t they put a warning on the invite saying: “extremely lame music involved”.

    I did not stay long… but I can say two things..
    1. I’m a bit worried about the monopoly created in the design software world (A+Macromedia)
    2. You get the idea the Apple + DTP/design market is not that big judging from the reseller stands.

  • GeekDinner

    The last GeekDinner at the Wild Fig was a great success. We’re busy planning the next one. The date is set and the venue should be announced soon. Go add your name to the list.

  • Amobia Wireless School Connectivity Project

    The wireless schools project is moving forward. 75 schools have equipment installed. We are in the process of commissioning all the VPN links, adding email services for all the Tuxlabs and adding content on the WAN (like Wikipedia). The last step will be to add Internet access.

  • Looking for Beta testers for our Amobia hotspot product

    Amobia currently has a number of Wifi Hotspots at our Potchefstroom franchise. We recently improved the system with quick signup tools, much nicer looking web interface, credit card and debit order payment options.

    I think we have an interesting business model. It supports franchising, non-variable cost to the end user.. which I think is cool, I don’t want to be guessing which hotspots are ripping me off. It uses a profit sharing model with incentives on traffic usage and sales transactions.

    We have a roaming agreement with Uninet who has about 800 hotspots in Cape Town.

    If you are in Cape Town or Stellenbosch and interested in the hotspot game, contact Amobia.

    I think the Wifi hotspot business is going to be fun in the next few years. Lots of room to innovate with interesting challenges and problems to solve.

  • New Blio FXS/FXO modules

    Blio has completed the design and manufacturing of it’s FXO and FXS PBX modules.
    Yes, they are compatible with the Digium cards, made locally and much (much) cheaper. They will be on the Blio online shop very soon.

    blio module

    The modules are designed for our Blio 1U IP PBX project, which is moving forward nicely. We are currently waiting for the final version of the (primary) “motherboard” PCX to be manufactured. We’ve already sold two PBXs (-:

  • My first Ubuntu install

    You would think that I would have installed Ubuntu before now, but I’ve been a Debian man for the last 10 years. Two weeks ago I was pondering my options for a home PC (not for me).. Apple or Linux. Apple may have resulted in less “Joe the tech support guy” work.. but let’s face it, Apple just don’t have the moral high ground.. so Ubuntu won.

    I paid about 1/4 of the price of an entry level Mac and got more memory and disk space.

    After a minor initial setback with some dodgy Kingston memory I installed Ubuntu 7.04 in about 1 hour (while doing other things) and everything “just worked”.

    Over the weekend I played around with Ubuntu. I’ve never been a Gnome fanboy, but it’s not bad. You can pretty much configure anything with a right-click.

    Oh, and I can report the user(s) are also happy. I’m impressed.

    I think the time has come for the Wintento users to stop bitching and jump ship. If you look back in ten years and you can say “I switched to Ubuntu/Linux in 2007” you may just save a bit of face. Like looking back on very bad fashion choices.. Windows people will have to deal with their children thinking they were complete retards for running Windows after 2007 :-P

    If that statement annoys you no end then I can only grin.

  • My opinion on (not so) recent hype events

    Bullard has half a clue, at least he knows what a blog is. The rest is noise.

    De-Lille is not as far off as you think. I don’t agree with her ideas for fixing the problem, but “digital crack” is a concern. MXit, crackbook, 2nd life, world of warcraft. They all suck up lots of (possibly) productive time.. I guess it’s no worse than a generation of TV addicts, but I don’t think we should ignore the risks. I spent a good part of my life playing Civilization, looking back, I was pretty addicted. I’m not going to comment on her ideas for censoring blogs, ok, I will, she must be smoking socks with high polyester content.

    The aggregator wars… who cares?. Muti is pretty cool, I don’t really see the point in the others.

  • Contemporary music sucks

    Maybe I’m getting old, but my head hurts from the music on kfm and 5fm. Why do they have to play this hip hop crap?. I just picture The Rat dancing to anthems of mindlessness.

    Thank goodness for the sane people at Radio 2000 who still have a clue.

    I’ve realised I can’t listen to the music in the Stellenbosch bars/clubs anymore, I think it’s part of the reason I stopped drinking. It’s just too painful.

  • Google encyclopedia salesmen

    Now that we have Wikipedia, you don’t get door to door encyclopedia salemen anymore right? Kinda, but now we have the Google recruitment army contacting you two or three times a year to offer you jobs. They must have contacted the whole of CLUG by now, but I don’t see anybody flocking to Google. I have my reasons, but I wonder why none of the people I know are interested. I guess in some ways they have attained (do no) evil empire status.

  • Metro Ethernet and Neotel

    We had a meeting with one of the technical people at Neotel last week. They seem to be doing good things. The Metro Ethernet market seems like an exciting ride over the next few years, SNO, municipality projects, more and more interest in digging up roads and putting down fibre. Interesting times for the Internet industry in Cape Town.

  • Trip to, Sweden, England, France, Spain and maybe Prague and California

    Textbook midlife crises stuff.. go run with the bulls in Pamplona.. we’ll see, it’s not my idea, but it could be fun.. I’ll need to get a bit more running fit. I’m trying to plan a trip around my 30th birthday (in July). The catch is combining it with some business trips and nailing down some of the many variables for booking dates. Nothing confirmed yet.

  • Endeavor

    I have a meeting with two people from Endeavor tomorrow morning. They seem to find and support “high impact entrepreneurs” in developing markets. No idea how they tracked me down, but it seems like a bit of an interview of sorts.

Must go to sleep now.

40 Bars of Beer on the Wall

A summary of what I’ve been busy with..

A few bars here, a few bars there.. and pretty soon we’re talking real money.
— Paraphased, Donald Trump

  • Teraco is in a final budgeting phase, it turned out to be an expensive project. Trying to build a fully n+1 redundant switch fabric with about 8000 GigE ports using no spanning tree for less than 10 bars is an interesting challenge. We’re busy with an exercise of knocking off a few bars on the project.
  • Frogfoot and Amobia are planning their Joburg offices
  • Amobia completed it’s Southern Suburbs ring and we have a very cool 3D signal GIS map of our coverage area now
  • Frogfoot’s new 7 seat call-centre is up and running using Ubuntu and SIP soft phones. We have very nice Asterisk and RT (ticket system) integration now. CallerID based ticket generation and ogg voice recordings attached to each ticket
  • It’s crunch time to get our wifi hotspot product finished. It’s a case where the beta product is live and the final touches are needed urgently. We have Radius-proxy/roaming working with one other ISP already
  • WAPA’s new websites are very close to launch
  • We are working on Frogfoot’s new super-duper WordPress driven website with integrated online shop
  • There is a WAPA braai on Friday 25th
  • Frogfoot got more IP space from AfriNIC,, about 8000 IPs
  • Frogfoot’s Portal (web management system) now has all kinds of cool AJAX search features
  • Frogfoot network upgrades.. we have a new Core2Duo Netflow stats server and we’re planning the move to a full Gigabit network for our routers and core switches.. not that we really need it, we move about 10Mbps of traffic trough the day, but it’s nice to have. We also dumped OSPF and we’re using iBGP again.. which is rock solid
  • Figured out how to mass deploy SNOM VoIP phones
  • We had an office lunch on Friday at the Brass Bell in Kalkbay to welcome three new frogs
  • Mia is running around at full speed
  • Don’t forget about the May GeekDinner
  • Pics are at the usual place
  • And lastly, I’ve given up drinking alcohol.. shock, horror. It’s been more than a month now. Interesting social experiment, most people think I’m a bit crazy. My official reason is that it breaks my forward momentum. My one worry is that I’ll end up as a complete neurotic goody-two-shoes.. no McDonnalds, no drinking Coffee, Coke or Alcohol, no TV, no Smoking, no SMS, no Voicemail, no QWERTY keyboards, no Microsoft products.. is this normal?

PS. If you have a few spare bars lying around, we are looking for investment in our projects

PPS. For those who don’t know, 1 bar = R1million, when the big dogs talk money they talk about bars (-;

Weekend News

Just got home after about 61 hours away..

Lets see, that’s news:

  • Visited Stellenbosch on Friday afternoon, the Blio PBX is moving forward
  • I created a 91 MegaPixel panoramic image (15456×5888)
  • Had a long interview with a journalist from the Cape Times on Friday, mostly about the GeekDinners and social media. Watch out for this in the Lifestyle section
  • We are busy testing our new wifi product for Frogfoot and Amobia. Busy with lots of interesting Radius work.
  • Photos are at the usual place.

    Amobia, the brief history

    I wrote an email over the weekend to give a potential employee some background about Amobia. Today I figured it could be good material for a blog posting. Amobia is looking for Senior Systems Engineer(s), so if you read this, you get a twinkle in your eye and you’ve got the balls, erm.. guts for pushing the (wireless) envelope please contact us. Only the brave.

    Here’s the background…

    Amobia is just over 1 year old. Our first client was connected in October 2005. It’s a young company, but it is showing very nice growth.

    In the short time Amobia has been running we have built up an impressive customer list, this includes.. Datapro, Storm, Truworths (incl. Uzzi), Pepcor, Pam Golding Properties, BP, Swist Group (of MXiT fame), WP cricket, call-centres, a number of hotels, wine farms, about 50 schools (at last count) and our most interesting project at the moment: Pick ‘n Pay, for which we are aiming to connect all their stores in the Western Cape. We have partnerships with Arivia.kom and Verizon Business and Amobia has the backing of three partner companies: Frogfoot, Blio and Cape PC Services.

    Wow, that was a mouth-full (-:

    How do we manage to get ISPs to use our services you may be wondering? We’ll we have an “inclusive” business model. In the corporate and business market Amobia does not offer any IP transit services. We are purely a Last Mile Infrastructure provider.

    These are exciting times. Amobia is franchising and the model has been proven to be successful. The legal environment is rapidly changing and we are a part of that change. Amobia is busy planning it’s network deployment in Joburg. There are very interesting challenges of interconnecting WISPs, reselling, and roaming. This is ground breaking stuff.

    I believe we as a company and as an industry are doing pioneering work in the outdoor wireless space. I’m confident we are leaders in technology and innovation compared to the rest of Africa and even the US.

    In some ways Amobia is close to the point where we need to clean up our act to “go big” and refine some of our initial design choices. Amobia 2.0 (:

    We’re looking at improving the management systems, the LDAP logic, the VPN model needs a Radius layer, we’d like 802.1X support, we’d like to look at using OLSR to improve on OSPF. We’d like to add a WiFi roaming product (which we are currently working on). We’d like to dump Mikrotik if at all possible and use our own Linux routers… this will make our network 100% home-grown, proudly designed in Cape Town. We need a WiFi meshing solution for large areas like housing complexes.

    We need people who can consume all the complexity of this network.. wireless technologies, VPNs, dynamic routing, x509 auth, Radius, LDAP, monitoring… etc. and help design and shape its future. Not many people have the gift of seeing this big a picture and producing clear workable solutions to problems.

    —-8< snip 8< ----

    Blio PBX Progress

    Blio Logo

    Blio is busy building an IP PBX. It will run Asterisk, but the main thing that differentiates it from your average Linux PC with Digium cards is that the hardware is designed from scratch.. right here in Cape Town and Stellenbosch I should add.

    Version 2 of the main PCB was completed this week. There is also a custom designed MiniPCI ISDN interface card and our own FXO and FXS modules. We are in the process of extending the Blio web management interface to work on the PBX.

    It should all soon be available in a neat 1U casing at a price well below the cost of a mid-to-low range traditional PBX.

    Here are some pictures from a demo at the Futurex trade show at the end of last year. At the time of this demo it was already a functional PBX that could route analog and VoIP calls.