Category Archives: Frogfoot

Quick Update

I have not been blogging much lately. Go figure. Weekly news summary as usual..

  • I entered Amobia in a venture fund competition. Should have some feedback by mid July.
  • Added a Crackbook page for Amobia.
  • Watched Zeitgeist, 40 Year Old Virgin and Oceans Eleven.
  • We had a Frogfoot company photo taken for 2008. Pics at the usual place.
  • Completed the Extreme Networks ECSP training course.
  • Made a fact sheet for WAPA.
  • Walked up Lions Head three times this week. Helps me think.
  • I’m getting back into a swimming routine. Helps me think.
  • Friday, made a new friend by apologising to an old friend. We avoided each other for the last 3 years.
  • Removed two ~nasty blog posts.
  • I brewed up Joe’s famous thai green curry on Friday evening. Nice to cook.
  • Visited Wellington on Saturday afternoon.
  • Anton is in ZA for a week. Had a nice dinner with friends at the Fishmonger followed by drinks at the Akker.
  • Saturday and Sunday was Mia time. We watched Babe today. Sweet movie.

Quick Update

News from planet Joe:

  • Teraco now has a commitment for 2/3 of required funding
  • Entered Amobia in a business idea competition of sorts, should have some feedback by mid July
  • Updated the SwimGeek front page
  • Friday, went for a walk with Mia on a strawberry farm
  • Saturday, gym, swim, food, family, fun and friends
  • Sunday, Fathers Day was a complete mess, I was a complete mess
  • Ever see people you know are on your Facebook friends list but you can’t remember their names? It’s happened twice now.
  • Persuaded the admin of the en_ZA locale settings to use 24:00 time format and make weeks start on Mondays. The power of open source. If a small thing bugs you it can be fixed quickly.
  • I’ve taken an interest in peering (internet exchanges) again after the JINX workshop. Busy tinkering with a few ideas.
  • Added a Facebook page for Frogfoot
  • I registered for this year’s iWeek conference. I’ve been invited to be part of a wireless panel discussion on the Thursday (wireless day).
  • Weekend movies:
    • Elf: Good
    • Sex and the City: Not that bad
    • Hot Fuzz: Classic

Have a fun 4 day week. I can see I’ll need to be applying some selective amnesia jedi mind tricks.

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.

Quick Update

Snapshot from the life of Joe..

  • Today: Had a chill Sunday. Went for a walk around Mouille Point. Ended up in Caffe Neo and stuffed myself with a very nice salad selection. I updated the WAPA website. I discovered the best things since sliced bread.. raisin and cinnamon sliced bread. It’s like a big hot cross bun. Yummy.
  • Yesterday: Spent time with The Mia. Took her along to gym for the first time. She can bench 80kg.. no, not really.. but she liked the kids play area. Ended up in Somerset West for a friend’s going-away drinks session. One more person going to London. I generally think Somerset West is pretty lame.. “it’s like a wax museum with a pulse”, but Henry’s is not a bad bar.
  • Last week I had some fun getting articles about Frogfoot, Amobia and WAPA published. I attended an ISPA meeting and a WAPA committee meeting. Had an Interesnting meeting with a metro-wifi equipment vendor. With a bit of luck we’ll be doing a fairly large scale wifi hotspot pilot project soon. The metro-wifi kit uses some phased beam array antenna technology… getting new toys soon.
  • Dr. Strangelove announced he is getting married, in the Cape Town area, in October.
  • I’ve come to realise that a large percentage of the world’s popular music is about romantic relationships that ended.
  • Had a relaxed lunch at Neetlingshof last week. It’s a nice Sunday lunch spot.
  • This coming week we have the next WordPress Cape Town Meetup and the May GeekDinner. I still need to prepare two talks.
  • Then, this coming Friday I have a “leaving Stellenbosch” party. Seems my last good reason to gallivant around Stellenbosch is moving to Cape Town. End of an era.

Have a fun week.

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.

Story Series Part 1 : Frogfoot

From the Story series..

From the Frogfoot website: The Frogfoot Story

I re-published it here to make sure I keep a copy:

The Frogfoot Story

Our History and Legacy

 

The Setting

Frogfoot was founded in July 2000. Abz and Joe met at Stellenbosch
University in 1997, where they both spent lots of time tinkering with Linux
and mountain biking in the mountains around Stellenbosch.

Before Frogfoot was a Business

Abz and Joe were busy developing an e-commerce site which would sell wine at
the time. They had an analog leased line (32Kbps) to the student house where
they lived. Which was really cool, for that day and age.

With the e-commerce venture coming to an end they were about to lose the
sponsorship of their leased line. They were also not very happy with the
service they were getting from their ISP at the time, who treated them
like.. well, students.

You would expect them to start an ISP at this point, but the story takes a
bit of a twist…

Joe and Abz started talking to a few friends about getting a permanent
Internet connection as a group. The idea was to create a co-op. The co-op
would arrange a leased line from Cape Town and members could then connect
with analog leased lines or SDSL. Good plan, everybody was keen.

When the day came to order the leased line all the other people were
noncommittal.

Start Up

“Let’s start an ISP”. We needed a name, some business cards and clients.

Joe designed a logo (using Gimp), made some business cards, walked around
Stellenbosch and (pre-)sold services to a few businesses. He arranged a
location for the first Frogfoot POP. With a bit of bartering the POP lease
was exchanged for Internet access.

We ordered a 128Kbps leased line from SDN (later taken over by UUNet) and
started to figure out Cisco routers and multi-port serial card support in
Linux. Abz (the PPP and Linux guru) managed to get the our serial card
working in what would be our first access router. We registered the
frogfoot.net domain and our first server was called kermit.frogfoot.net.

The Frogfoot Name

At the time none of us had much interest in branding, but it seemed like a
fun project to find a name.

Today Joe would like to say the name was inspired by his amphibious
activities at the time, like Scuba diving, underwater hockey and spear
fishing.

When asked for the truth, the best answer he can come up with is that the
name was chosen like many people pick their passwords. They look around
their desk and start to make connections with some object in front of them
like “mobile phone” or “sunglasses”.

Joe had a Tshirt with frog feet on it, which was close to his PC at the
time. There you have it. Strange but true.

Fast Forward

  • 2001 – Frogfoot opened a POP in Cape Town
  • 2002 – We built a Datacentre (Frogtown)
  • 2003 – The Frogfoot Network became AS 22355 and we
    started using our own IP space
  • 2004 – We moved into office space in Newlands, Cape Town and
    started working on The Frogfoot Portal
  • 2005 – Started offering ADSL VPN services
  • 2006 – Started offering Xen Virtual Server services
  • 2007 – We built a Wifi billing engine

Full Circle

In August 2008 Frogfoot sold
its consumer client base
to focus on providing business services. This
is a return to the business model we had when we started Frogfoot.

I sold my shares in Frogfoot in early 2010.

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? (-:

Quick Updates

Bullet point update for the week..

  • I’ve slowly been working through a mountain of email after last weeks holiday. If you are waiting for a reply, well.. I’ll get to it.
  • I was contacted about joining the Extreme Networks Customer Advisory Council. It’s a forum for “innovative and creative user of Extreme Networks solutions”. Maybe it’s because I keep bugging them about the features I want.. often strange requests only people crazy enough to build wireless networks in Africa would think about.
  • I just returned from a Frogfoot staff cocktail party at Jaqui Daya. In celebration of the store’s 1st birthday we were invited for a few snacks and drinks.. it’s just around the corner from our office so we’re very good customers.
  • So, with a bit of social lubricant (vino) I finally updated and published a page that’s been in draft form for a while. I guess it’s still a draft but now it’s out there in the wild. It’s a page about Frogfoot’s company values.
  • I also added a hotspot overview page, to give everybody the bigger picture of how the Frogfoot Hotspot business model works.
  • Attended my first “powerplate” class on Wednesday. I guess it’s my fad of the month.
  • Note to self: don’t do any back exercises the day before looking after a 2yr old.

Keep out of trouble kids, but have a fun weekend.

Quick Update

Another in the series of short and sweet bullet list posts. Hmm, let’s see what have I been busy with in the last week or so..

  • Last Wednesday was a record day, I ended up in being in meetings for more that 12 hours in total.
  • The all new Ubuntu was released. We updated the Frogfoot Grid page.. you can now order an Ubuntu 8.04 LTS server and we updated the datacentre graphic at the top of the page as promised.
  • Our Pirate Radio t-shirts arrived. We’ll hand them out soon.
  • I upgraded my laptop to the new Ubuntu version. It was not 100% painless.. because of the lame Broadcom wifi card in this HP, but it’s all working well now. Seems there is native kernel support for my wifi card now. Sweet.
  • I’m on holiday for the week. Woot! Well it’s more like a long long-weekend. Went sailing in Gordons Bay on Friday, Awesome sunset. Took Mia to the beach on Saturday. Another awesome sunset. Spent Sunday in Rooiels with Mia and the WSE. On Tuesday I took some panoramic pics, had some interesting German beer, a braai in Stellenbosch and drinks at Fandango’s. I seem to be in an Asoka/Fandango’s pattern lately. Oh, yeah I converted somebody to using Firefox at the braai (-:
  • Monday was the nerds geeks on a train event. About 20 facebook friends traveled from Newlands to Simon’s Town by train. Nice views all along the coastal track. R25 for a tourist pass to hop on and off as you like. We stopped for beer and food in Kalk Bay. I found a nice book in the Kalk Bay bookstore. Soaked up some sun. Had a few good laughs. Made new friends. A fun day.
  • I watched Run, Fatboy, Run today (yes, at the Labia). From the same breed as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Good movie. It hit home. Seems it’s possible to get all deep about a comedy.
  • Just returned from a Heavy Chef gathering at Hatfields restaurant in Hatfield Street, Gardens. I live in Gardens but I drove around for 10min trying to find this place. Weird street naming was to blame. We listened to a very good presentation by Phil Barrett about user experience design (UX). Interesting topic. Just like you get font-geeks, you get UX-geeks. Ran into Mr. Eric E. who updated me on his new venture.

As always, my photos are here.