Project: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION of V.90/V.92 Modem Sounds

Just recently, there was a surge in traffic to my old legacy dial-up sounds pages. While I did my best with the equipment I had at the time to capture the sound of dial-up modems, I always knew that my job was only half done. As we approach the consumer POTS-line apocalypse, and ISP upon ISP are starting to disable their modem banks, the V.90/V.92 handshake sound is seriously under threat. Anything from V.34bis and down is still safe, since having modems “back to back” will allow for this type of connection to occur, but since V.90/V.92 are digital modulations on the downstream, the digital modems are rare, expensive and require special digital (ISDN or better) connectivity to function. There’s no way most home users can afford to have them. As a result, in this post, I finish the job I started (before it’s too late) to present the definitive collection of V.90/V.92 modem sounds at a quality never previously presented before.

A Two-Paragraph Introduction to Modem History

Early modems used simple modulations involving FSK/PSK modulations and separate carrier frequencies for receive and transmit. When that became spectrally impractical, interim protocols featuring “turn-around” which were half-duplex and various non-standard optimizations started to appear (e.g. Trailblazer, USRobotics HST, Hayes Ping-Pong/Express96). Over time, developments were made which increased the data rate by using more sophisticated Trellis-code modulation, and full-echo cancelling to allow for the full voice-band frequency to be used in both ways simultaneously. This increased the complexity of the modems, which also increased their handshaking times due to the requirement for training, a process whereby the modems assess the qualities of the phone line and set optimal parameters to maximise the transmission rate within a given set of line conditions.

A good introduction to the various sounds of dial-up modems was done in a relatively viral image by Oona Räisänen on her blog, reproduced here under CC:

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This image, however, depicts a V.34-type connection, as it has no high speed sound.

The High Speed Sound

This is not the correct technical term for it, but it’s a term which I’ve heard amongst my less technically proficient group of friends. They realized that by listening to the modem’s handshake, there was a particular sound towards the end of the handshake which signalled a high speed connection. They were right.

This sound is of the Digital Impairment Learning (DIL) sequence. This is only applicable for V.90/V.92 connections, as V.34-type (analog, up to 33.6k) connections do not have it. If you heard this “sound”, you would be fairly certain that you were attempting a V.90 (up to 56k) connection.

For those who want a headache, they can go and try to digest the ITU-T’s V.90 recommendation here, specifically the section about DIL (8.4.1) and the section about Signal Ja (8.3.1).

While the document is technical, I will try to explain the concept in a progressively more difficult way. Basically, the standard dictates that the analog modem (customer side) sends a Ja sequence which tells the digital modem (ISP side) what signals to generate for the DIL segment and send back. This allows the analog modem to understand the line parameters better – namely, is there robbed bit signalling (i.e. where one-bit of every six 8-bit frames, or more in case of multiple RBS links, is altered by the signalling equipment), or are there digital pads (i.e. a DSP algorithm based scaler which reduces the maximum level on the phone line). This allows for the modem to adapt and compensate for these impairments.

The signal itself is rather complicated in specifications, consisting of up to 255 segments, 8 codes per segment, with the length in 6-symbol blocks determined by the associated H-value. Further to this, the specifications also define a sign-pattern and training-pattern, which are up to 128 bits long, and specify whether a symbol transmitted is a training symbol or a reference symbol, and whether the symbol has positive amplitude or negative amplitude. This sequence is repeated completely until it is aborted by the analog modem, or the sending modem times out. Further to this, throughout the DIL procedure, the analog modem is also permitted to send scrambled data (SCR), but is not required to do so.

Because of this analog modem defined nature of the DIL signal (i.e. the high speed sound), different modem manufacturers were at liberty to use a different DIL training pattern optimized for their algorithms. This resulted in a case where people would notice that my modem didn’t quite sound like that recording!

As to why this flexibility is in the V.90 standard (and not found in earlier standards) may have to do with the compromise nature of V.90 which came about to end the war between K56flex and X2 by producing an incompatible but similar modulation that modems from both camps could be upgraded to. This flexibility may have been necessary to appease both parties and reduce the engineering effort required to redesign their digital impairment learning algorithms, but that’s just a hunch.

Methodology

In order to capture the best quality handshakes, I had to resort to a necessary evil of VoIP. While generally not optimized for data, I was careful to configure the transmit/receive amplitudes, disable echo cancellation, reduce packetization to 10ms increments, use G.711a codec, disable fax pass-through detections and lock the jitter buffer at its minimum value of 30ms. This made it much more suitable. I terminated my test calls through the Linksys/Sipura PAP2T ATA to a local VSP which has digital terminations I know are capable of returning the exact digital codes and permit a V.90 connection, which is very difficult. Additional V.92 testing was performed using an overseas VSP termination, as local V.92 modem banks that were reachable through VoIP terminations were not known.

The VoIP ATA was connected through a Ethernet bridge where all the packets in both directions were collected and reconstructed into call audio using Wireshark (as PCM 16-bit samples, rather than the native a-law 8-bits). This allowed me to separate digital and analog modems into separate channels. Some echo is heard due to impedance mismatches at the analog end, which is expected behaviour.

This method is much better than recording the audio output from the modem’s speaker jack (as I did previously) as it eliminates power supply and digital hash noise from the recordings, and allows for separation of the two ends of the call. It’s also obviously miles better than recording the audio using a microphone, as the tinny piezo buzzers on many internal modems do a pretty bad rendition of the actual call audio.

Of course, getting the drivers and getting the modems installed was not necessarily trivial especially with some of the less popular and less supported winmodems. This required computers spanning Windows 7 x64, down to Windows 98SE to ensure the functionality of the collection of modems.

The Samples

This is the section you’ve all been waiting for. In this section, we will look at the actual recorded sounds. Before we begin, here’s a few things to look out for (spectrograms generated with Spek):

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Some modems perform the V.8bis and escape to V.8 at the beginning of the call, with some of them getting the timings wrong and mucking that up. Others don’t bother at all, and just respond only to V.8, which is possibly slightly faster. Some modems send a guard tone with the data sequences before and after the line probing signal, while others do not, resulting in a slightly brighter sound. The DIL sequences vary between the chipsets, but some have scrambled data being sent back and others do not – so keep an ear out for that as well.

V.90 Handshakes

These will be presented, grouped by chipset. Click on the link text for the audio. Waveform images shown, with green indicating analog modem, and blue indicating digital modem. If you would like to hear just the DILs cut-together into one audio file, here it is. It probably makes an ideal nerdy ringtone, for those who still use a ringtone.

Rockwell/Conexant HCF/ACF/ACF2 Modems

Conexant-HCF-[smooth-crescendo]Rockwell/Conexant were the most popular chipset as they were relatively low cost solid performers. These could be found in various brands of external and early internal modems. The sound that these produce is arguably the most typical V.90 sound that most people remember, having a smooth crescendo as the DIL. It does not perform V.8bis.

Rockwell/Conexant ACF2 Modems

Netcomm-RoadsterIIUltraSVD-[two-tone-cres]By all means, this was not the case with all ACF2 modems, but my Netcomm Roadster II 56k UltraSVD (AM5690) and Roadster II USB (AM5050R3) both make this two toned crescendo, which might easily be mistaken for the first. It also has some difficulty during the INFO sequence which causes it to be prolonged. It performs V.8bis.

Conexant HSF/HSFi Modems

Conexant-HSFi-[stuttering-crescendo]These were fairly popular internal soft modems and instead use a stuttering crescendo rather than a smooth one. It seems to get the V.8bis timing wrong, and misses the first capabilities request message consistently, which may be a driver bug.

 

Lucent Technologies WinModem (later known as Agere)

Agere-Mars1648C-[bipbipbipbip]Arguably one of the best softmodems I have used, and one that had kept me online for almost half of my dial-up career. This one uses a “bipping” noise with scrambled data sent during DIL. No V.8bis negotiation takes place. This used the Netcomm IN5699_5 with the latest V8.36 driver, although many products used the 1648C chipset, the last hardware-DSP based generation.

Lucent Technologies WinModem (later known as Agere)

Agere-Mars-HV90-[bipbipbipbip]This one was recorded using the 1646 HV90 chipset modem running (deliberately) V5.44 driver under Windows 98SE (the things I go to for this). This validated the observation made by Richard Gamburg of Modemsite of DIL changes. The differences can be seen in the tone pattern and scrambled data during the DIL.

Agere Softmodem (later known as LSI)

Agere-Venus-SV92PP-[echo-blip]A relatively unrelated cousin of the LT winmodem, also went through a name change due to a series of acquisitions. It is seen that this modem does not do V.8bis negotiation and does not send scrambled data during the DIL, with a DIL that sounds like an echoing blip. The Broadcom modems also sound identical.

Texas Instruments DSP based Modems

USR-Sportster-[bong-bong]This particular chipset was considered a premium chipset and was part of most of USRobotics’ extremely reliable range of modems, such as the Sportster Flash, Courier, Message Modem etc. I also found the same chipset in an Aztech EM6800U/A and the same line frequency diagnostic command also works (ATY11). The DIL is known affectionately as the “bong”.

Ambient Technologies (later Intel) Modems

Swann-SpeedDemon-[crackly-buzz]This chipset was found in the Swann Speed Demon as well as the Amigo Intel Host-Accelerated Modem. This one makes a crackly buzzing noise, which on tinny piezo speakers, is hard to distinguish from the regular noise of scrambled data. The modem also does not participate in V.8bis negotiations. Not very commonly encountered.

Motorola Hardware/External Modems

Acer-AcermodemSurf56-[laserbeam]This sample was recorded from an Acer Acermodem Surf 56, the only Motorola hardware external modem I have come across. The modem has a very particular DIL sound which I have dubbed the laserbeam and has the honour of being the shortest DIL sequence recorded.

Motorola SM56 Softmodem

Motorola-SM56-[laserbeam]The SM56 soft-modem, while also a Motorola chipset, differs from their hardware chipsets in the pace of the DIL. For their soft modems, the DIL sequence is slower and more prolonged. A subtle, but noteworthy difference.

ESS Teledrive

ESS-Teledrive-[stuttering-bip]A relatively uncommon, low cost soft-modem which had some good opinions from time to time. I’ve never used it, however, its DIL is distinctive with a staccato bipping that makes it sound like someone’s having a seizure or something. It was nice to hear this one as I had never heard this one prior to this investigation.

Smartlink/Modio Softmodem

Smartlink-SL2800-[smooth-crescendo]This modem was an SL2800 modem, but it sounds practically identical to every Smartlink/Modio product I have used. At a time, these were quite popular as a softmodem driver for AMR/CNR based modems in cheaper computers and laptops, and they worked with many integrated audio chipsets. Their crescendo is easily mistaken for a Rockwell/Conexant but is slower.

V.92 Handshakes

V.92 was the last dial-up modem standard, and bought along with it features such as quick connect which at least, in theory claimed to reduce handshaking times by remembering line performance parameters, support for call-waiting modem-on-hold to suspend and resume data connections (although this was rarely allowed by ISPs), PCM upstream for increased upload rates up to 48k at the cost of limiting downstream rate to 48k as well (again, rarely used). It was accompanied by V.44, an improved data compression standard, which was commonly used to improve throughput.

In the course of testing, I also made calls overseas, terminating via a u-law gateway in the USA to their V.92 modem banks. The increased latency makes the connection both difficult, and prolonged, with the handshake signals almost artificially prolonged to lengths not often heard. However, this gave me a chance to capture the quick-connect behaviour of the V.92 capable modems that did successfully exhibit quick connect within the 10-30 test calls I made per modem.

Agere Softmodem Normal V.92 Connect

Agere Softmodem Normal V.92 ConnectThere’s nothing too flashy about this one, and it doesn’t differ very much to the V.90 connection reported earlier with the exception of increased latency and the ulaw/alaw conversion or mismatch. Regardless, the arrangement was sufficient to demonstrate V.92 connection in normal mode.

Agere Softmodem Quick V.92 Connect

Agere Softmodem Quick V.92 ConnectThis is where things get interesting. The quick connect recognizes V.92 upfront and skips the line probing sequence entirely. The DIL is still used, but an accelerated version of it is used. This is the first time I have exhibited the one modem using two different DIL sequences. The connect is indeed quicker by a few seconds, although its robustness may be affected.

USR Message Modem Normal V.92 Connect

USR-Message-V92NC-[bong-bong-bong]Because of the latency, the DIL has “looped” around resulting in two-and-a-half bongs in the DIL segment. Normally, hearing four bongs indicates a time-out of the DIL and a retrain occurs, but in this case, the connection is successful as V.92 and the extra partial bong is due to latency of the “abort sending DIL” command.

USR Message Modem Quick V.92 Connect

USR-Message-V92QC-[bong-bong-bong]Again, the line-probing sequence is skipped in the quick connect, as V.92 capabilities are quickly identified, but the DIL in this case remains the normal regular DIL as this modem only has the one DIL sequence.

 

 

Motorola SM56 Softmodem Normal V.92 Connect

Motorola SM56 Softmodem Normal V.92 ConnectIn the case of the Motorola, the increased latency of the trans-pacific connection gives us an unusual glimpse into its extended DIL sequence. In the case of the USR above, its termination was merely delayed by latency, but in the Motorola, it was delayed more than just by latency revealing more of the DIL which is not normally heard.

Motorola SM56 Softmodem Quick V.92 Connect

Motorola-SM56-V92QC-extDIL[laserbeam]The extended DIL is also used on the quick connect with the high latency, but the line probing phase was skipped. I suspect there may be different levels of quick connect, but achieving the fastest quick connect, especially under VoIP conditions where the impairments are different to POTS, is rather difficult.

Conclusion

A lot of calls were made, and some ISPs were probably annoyed. Variations on the V.90/V.92 handshake were examined, with differences in V.8bis negotiation, guard tone, DIL, scrambled data and INFO sequence length shown. It seems that certain chipsets (e.g. Rockwell/Conexant) have a habit of not sending scrambled data during DIL, whereas some others do.

With this posting, I think I am ready to farewell V.90 and V.92, and I think I won’t be too sad when the last V.90/V.92 modem banks are turned off and unplugged from the network for good. I’ll always be able to hear the comforting high-speed sound, and remember the various chipsets who were part of making internet connectivity faster and more affordable to the world.

While I wasn’t able to test every variation of V.90/V.92 chipset, the DILs recorded cover every chipset I know of (as most vendors use the same DIL for their whole family of chipsets), possibly with the exception of the IC-Plus/Topic chipset which I haven’t seen for sale or encountered personally.

I hope this post is enjoyed by those who enjoyed my legacy pages, and I hope it goes some way to helping you find your dial-up modem sound.

Posted in Audio, Computing, Tech Flashback, Telecommunications | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Tech Flashback: Even More Internal PCI Dial-Up Modems

Regular retro-technology service continues with this blog post. I showed some of my vast collection of dial-up equipment in the past, especially my internal PCI modems, but because of the bleak future of voice-band modem technology, I sought to obtain a few more different sorts of modems to add to my collection. The reason for this will become clear over the next few days when … the posting happens.

Anyhow, lets just delight in the sights of some more PCI modems.

Netcomm InModem IN5699_5

To be honest, I really didn’t need to get any more of these, but since I saw them at auction in their pristine sealed condition and I found one of my IN5699_4’s based on the same Agere 1648C chipset had somehow failed, I thought it was worth the money just to grab them so as to preserve them for the future.

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This unit was towards the end of the reign of dial-up, and was one of their more “premium” internal modems, with a golden backplate to offset it. This was because it was one of two internal modems that Netcomm were selling, with a inferior IN5920 based on the Agere Soft-Modem DSP-less chipset rather than the Lucent/Agere WinModem 1648C “Mars” chipset which did have the DSP and could operate quite reliably even on rather slow machines. The LT Winmodems also had frequent driver updates, and good connect rates in my experience, whereas the DAA set-up on the inferior IN5920 was often significantly slower (52k vs 44k connects at my house) and so I ended up giving my IN5920 away.

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They also went to a red PCB for this model, and it has the latest 1648C chipset on it, along with an Agere silicon solid state DAA, but still with a traditional hybrid transformer. Also unlike some of the last models to be produced, it had a very tinny piezo buzzer to provide audible feedback of the modem’s line condition, which really gave a poor rendition of the actual signals on the line especially when inside a computer case.

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Serial number on the back, but of course, no warranty on these anymore since Netcomm is now more a company focusing on wireless solutions.

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For the extra touch of class, the brand is stamped into the backplate as well, whereas the older IN5699_4’s had just an adhesive label.

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You get a phone cable, driver and software CD that had Cheyenne Bitware for fax/voice/data operation (a very antiquated piece of software) and a quick start guide. Because it was a very common modem, and drivers were made available, it is plug-and-play even in Windows 7 x64.

Amigo AMI-2019F aka XH1136 Intel Host-Accelerated Modem (HaM)

This particular modem was sold quite a lot at Dick Smith, and the name “host accelerated” really sounded a lot better than “winmodem” or “soft modem”, and so at one stage I even wanted to get one myself.

2016031113212689

Now that I have one, it doesn’t seem so exciting anymore, since even though it is Intel branded, Intel has no support for it anymore. And it’s not really Intel as such, because the chipset is an Ambient Technologies chipset (which Intel acquired). The modem has a conventional transformer, and a relay controlled line switch. It also has voice ports for speaker and microphone on the rear, and an inbuilt buzzer.

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The PCB was dated Week 30 of 2001, and is a little dusty as it was a pull from someone’s machine.

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The modem is not actually supported under Windows 7 at all from what I could find, and does not automatically install under XP. Instead, finding the driver is necessary, and as Amigo no longer exist, we have to thank the Internet Archive because they still have it.

Mitsubishi Diamond Voice 56P

This is another Agere/Lucent WinModem based device, and I managed to get this sort of by a happy accident. Ultimately, it has an HV90 chipset, which turns out to be an older 1646 DSP as opposed to the 1648C above.

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It has a very compact design with a relay line switch.

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Again, it is a little dusty, dated week 52 of 2001. Why this modem was of importance will be explained in a future posting.

PTI-401-H00 Motorola SM56

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A later soft modem with an entirely silicon DAA, and quite a weak speaker. PCB is dated Week 14 of 2006, and I believe PTI stands for Puretek Incorporated.

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The modem does have driver support and automatically installs under Windows 7 but has connectivity difficulties. Under XP it seemed to work just fine.

Agere Pinball P40

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Because of an auction deal, I managed to receive a bucketload (10) of these units, which are extremely late units. It utilizes the Agere SV92PP chipset which is the nasty purely-soft chipset which the IN5920 would have used (or its earlier version). This also has a purely silicon DAA with a “digital” transformer, which is quite interesting.

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The rear label states a manufacturing date of 11th October 2010. The card is plastered with approvals, because it appears to be either a pull or supplied for OEM pre-installation into their computers.

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As a very cheap OEM product, they did everything to save money, which meant only fitting one jack to the modem for the line, and providing no looped-out phone port, given that many people didn’t use the phone near their computer and often they had no good reason to use it because the modem wasn’t switching the port or using it correctly in voice mode anyway. It was also plug-and-play under Windows 7 x64.

Broadcom BCM94212

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This particular acquisition was from the USA, because these modems were never very popular in Australia at all. This was one of maybe two dial-up modems that Broadcom ever made, with their focus shifting to broadband and wireless technologies, and thus is significant in some way because of it. Despite this, it seems we may have been duped all along, since the chipset has the letters AGR in the printing, which suggests it has something to do with Agere.

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Again, it is a pull, so it is a little dusty, but it seems to be an older OEM product, so it’s not entirely skimping on all the features and still has a phone port on the rear. It is dated Week 14 of 2003.

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Why do I say it’s likely to be an Agere? Well, when it was tested, the unit certainly behaved very similarly to the Agere soft modem (SV92PP) tested above, and it sounded very much identical. That being said, the driver support for this was non-existent past Windows XP, unlike the Agere.

agrsm

When I was looking at their driver .sys files, I spotted some similarities in the build naming, where AGRSM stood for Agere soft modem, and BCMSM stood for Broadcom soft modem. The way the releases are named as \build\Win32\opt*wdm*\bin seemed a little strange to be coincidental.

string-mirrors

Some of the other strings were identical as well, and it seems the driver has (internally) some ability to identify the type of answering modem as well in both example files.

calling-to-modem-identify

This highly suggests the DSP is definitely an Agere chipset, with the differences lying in the Agere driver probably only working with Agere DAAs, whereas the Broadcom didn’t opt to use Agere DAAs and instead substituted Silicon Labs Si3012/3021 instead, hence needing the custom driver. This also implies that the modem could have been possible to support under modern OSes if the vendor bothered upgrading the driver.

Speedlink 56PCI Retail

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This was another modem I ordered from overseas, but got lost in the post on the first shipment causing these series of postings to be held up. This was a Smartlink SL2800 chipset, which apparently had something to do with ST’s chipsets, and eventually was bought out by Conexant (formerly Rockwell). These weren’t common at all, but the driver was in other ways, in products called the Modio, and modems based on CNR/AMR riser cards, as their soft-modem drivers were pretty much the Smartlink drivers.

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This unit was sold as a Speedlink 56PCI Retail, and is a late model dated Week 29 of 2005.

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A very generic backplate and make indeed.

Conclusion

To grow a collection of voice-band dial-up modems in 2016 may seem pointless and somewhat strange, and I would agree with you on that. But all of this was not done without something very specific in mind, to preserve something which might soon well be forgotten despite great interest in the recent months. More to come … stay tuned.

Posted in Computing, Telecommunications | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Visited: CeBIT Australia 2016 Exhibition

cebi16-sydshwgnd

cebit16-entrancebadgeAs a tech enthusiast, it’s become a yearly tradition to visit CeBIT Australia, and this year is no different. Just like last year, it is held over three days at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park as the Exhibition and Convention Centre is undergoing a complete redesign. Today was the first day of the exhibition, and as an eager attendee, I made sure to arrive just before the showfloor opened at 10am to spend the whole day at the event.

This year, I appeared representing myself and this blog of mine, as a tech blogger, so it’s only appropriate that I report on my visit!

 

Overall Climate

Compared with previous years, my attendance at the first day seemed somewhat subdued. There was a small crowd, but nothing too serious, and people were very freely moving around the stalls without any major crowds. Compared with previous years, it seemed the number of stalls may have reduced and the floor area seems a fraction smaller. Start-up companies are now given a much more respectable and less cramped “regular 1-unit” of space, rather than a half-unit.

Compared with last year, the mix of technologies has also changed. Last years’ over-crowded LED lighting corner was nowhere to be found today, and the country specific areas of former years seemed to have disappeared as well. The dominance of the Chinese companies in the past is toned back, although many of them are still present selling primarily fibre-based communication products. Some of the big names that were formerly at the exhibition touting cloud based solutions (e.g. Salesforce), computing products (e.g. Altech, now defunct, and Microsoft/Nokia) and security products were notably absent, resulting in a move from “big name” large shiny expo areas to more “regular sized” stalls.

The former focus on 3D printing was also noticeably absent, with those using 3D printers more focusing on applications rather than actually trying to sell 3D printing which is now commodity. The whole “drone” thing was also limited to just one notable vendor, so maybe the novelty factor of these technologies have begun to wear off.

Instead, we have a few new first-time exhibitors from overseas, and many exhibiting stalls dedicated to educational institutions (e.g. UNSW, Sydney TAFE, Sydney Uni, Western Sydney Uni, Newcastle Uni, etc) which suggests to me that maybe they had some problems trying to fill the floor with trade companies. Also notable was that there were more start-up companies exhibiting than in the past, which is admirable given the difficulty of being a start-up in Australia.

Many of the consumer-level brand stalls were noticeably absent this year – formerly we had the likes of Belkin and Linksys for example. Even some of the scientific equipment and data-handling equipment vendors were not around.

Because of the different mix of stalls, I felt that the staff on most of the stalls were much more approachable and active about engaging people passing-by in a courteous and appropriate manner. I didn’t experience any indiscriminate scanning of badges or being badgered to give up all of my details as I did last year, which was a nice change. That being said, I feel like there was less variety and less exhibitors compared to years back when it was held at Darling Harbour – but I hope this changes in the future.

Touring the Floor

Before I begin this section, I’d just like to note that my mention of a company does not imply my endorsement of the named company, their products or services. I have named them only because they have caught my interest and I had spent some time at their booth, so I thought I would share some of the things they had to say. Ultimately, it isn’t possible to go through each and every stall and their products, so here are just the stands that I spent a significant amount of time at, and that I feel are worth a quick mention.

It was interesting to see my university (UNSW) represented at three different stands – at Sunswift (an exhibition of our solar racing car), NewSouth Innovations and at the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre. Our solar car is a bit of a PR magnet, so it was nice to see it back at CeBIT over several years and still drawing a crowd. I had a very nice chat to the volunteer students there, sharing some of the common engineering-student gripes. The MCIC was also very exciting, as they offer 3D printing 101 courses which are always booked out and free access to 3D printers in the new Material Science and Engineering building. I had naturally assumed that these resources were constantly booked out and that the facilities were only for UNSW students – but surprisingly this was not the case. It is apparently open to anyone who has completed the necessary training and is a space which is more than just design with mentoring and consulting to help foster innovation. Knowing this, I’m sure they will become extremely popular in the near future.

I then decided to go around and visit my good mates at Icom Australia, who have been exhibiting many years, but this year, I was sad to see that some of their former staff were no longer with the company. They were exhibiting their Wi-Fi based radio infrastructure, but also had regular analog and NXDN capable sets for professional usage. Further to this, it was noted that they have a new IC-41PRO 80-channel 5W handheld CB unit, as well as an IC-450 car mounted transceiver with handset that has an LCD on it as well which is apparently an option for the Mazda BT-50 ute (but don’t quote me on that one). It’s interesting to see how small the new units are getting, but my old 40-channel IC-40S is still going, so that’s a pretty good sign.

Last year, Tesla Motors were also at CeBIT – this year, a Tesla was on the showfloor, but on exhibition for eveeh (a play on EV, short for electric vehicle), an electric car rental company. I suppose if you haven’t seen one before, or you haven’t sat in one before, here’s your chance!

Nearby, Virtual Reality Ventures which focus on VR technologies were exhibiting an IKEA simulation of a virtual kitchen you could tour around using an HTC Vive with its associated controllers. They also had an Oculus Rift unit, the personal unit belonging to one of their developers, on show along with the Samsung Gear VR and their own branded “Google Cardboard” clone, which they were willing to sell for $20 a unit (a bit pricey).

Another stand that caught my eye was that of Anker, a first time exhibitor looking for an Australian distributor. This company is quite reputed for their high quality intelligent power banks and chargers, and I have received numerous requests to review their products, but nobody ever sent or donated a unit for testing. It was fortunate that I had the chance to talk to them in person about this and it seems that I will be reviewing an Anker product shortly! Now all my readers can stop nagging me about it, and I can tell you exactly how the Anker products compare with the rest of them. Thanks to Anker for being so efficient about this and showing their complete trust in their product to let me have at it!

I also stumbled on the Multitech Systems stand, which was rather exciting for me as Multitech is a long-time company in the voice-band modem arena which have evolved to provide several wireless-link systems as well, based on the LoRa standard. I recognized the ZBA modem they had in the back – one of the few modems in the world that is still produced and supports V.34 Super-3G faxing. I had a great time talking to David Smith who was commenting on the technical radio aspects to do with their LoRa modules, and recounting his time at NASA’s JPL which left me in awe. It was a great chat!

I also had a very long conversation with the guys at the Apacer stand, Steve Ku and even a few random visitors who happened to walk by. Apacer is a brand that isn’t as commonly found on the consumer market in Australia, but I did have some fond memories of using their products in my early days in digital photography, and they were always known for good value products. They were exhibiting their industrial grade products, including CF, CFast cards, mSATA and M.2 cards, SATA plug-in modules, 2.5″ drives and other specialty form factors including 1.8″ ZIF, USB-header plug-in devices, etc. They explained to me about the tough consumer market, and the special engineering work they put in to industrial devices with special features. These include physical security tokens (urKey) that are matched to drives and can write protect, erase and destroy their respective SSDs when connected, their cloud based drive status monitoring, and the various different levels of security encryption and drive erasure techniques (CoreEraser) even up to a full destruction of the metadata on the drive rendering it unusable (CoreDestroyer). They also have various protection modes which include a “pseudo” write protect where the drive records changes but is not persistent – kind of like having a flash-based RAM drive. They were even willing to work with customers with particular needs to engineer variations to their standard products to meet their needs, showing me that they aren’t just “another” memory OEM that produces “standard” products without any in-house expertise.

While walking by, I also stopped in at the AKiPS start-up stand where they demonstrated their web-browser based system network monitoring solution that is cross-vendor, featureful and scalable. It was interesting to see the system running on FreeBSD on a NUC, but equally at home on a VM, showing very pretty historical data charts with 1-minute resolution through to three years, which I found quite impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that this was not a cloud-based system. In previous years, I’ve shown my disdain for “cloud” based solutions as the end user doesn’t own anything, and data which should stay in-house ends up being sent out to somewhere else. This can lead to massive headaches if you want data exported for a different analysis, or if the vendor goes under and takes the service down. As a result, I’m glad to see that some companies haven’t fallen down the as a service style trap.

Similarly, I had these sentiments when I visited BaQapp and saw their BackupBoxx, an ODROID based appliance with open-source software that performs local backup and mirroring over the network for disaster recovery. It’s definitely a faster, and more “secure” option than using cloud-based services where you have no certainty as to what it’s being stored on and whether it is vulnerable to disaster. You’re also less constrained by the speed of your internet connection, which, because of the way the NBN is, isn’t likely to see guaranteed fast upload speeds. However, how well the solution actually works, I’m not entirely sure, but this is probably something you could try to build yourself with a Raspberry Pi, albeit clunkier and slower.

I also stopped by Robobuilt, as they were another start-up that had a 3D printer running, and they were focusing on custom looms for custom fabric weaving that uses 3D printing as part of the manufacturing process. An interesting application, I thought.

I couldn’t help it, but I also stopped by the guys at Ruckus Wireless where we had a nice chat about the new 3.5Ghz LTE “unlicenced” business. It’s nice to see that MU-MIMO 802.11ac is all ready and deploying now, as last year, this was still something that was yet to hit primetime. Where the whole Wi-Fi standards will head is not entirely certain given that we haven’t exactly exploited all of the possibilities with 802.11ac (e.g. up to 8-spatial streams – the most we have today is four).

Speaking of that, Quantenna were back this year, again showing some of the CPEs that have integrated their quad-stream 802.11ac chipsets, although, again, the stand was a little quiet. Xirrus Wireless were also back, as they have been every year.

To top it all off, MyNetFone were also back this year, and I spent a lot of time at the stand talking to them about the Pennytel migration (thanking them for their hard work in keeping it afloat and keeping service continuity for everyone), the state of the NBN and a lot of off topic subjects. They exhibited, as in prior years, some of their Yealink desk phones, and their home and business VoIP/SIP trunking products. I enjoyed talking to them so much that I probably ended up consuming too much of their time. Oops!

Conclusion

Today, CeBIT opened its doors at 10am. I left the showfloor when it closed at 6pm. This year is the first year that I have spent all of my day at exhibition, and I enjoyed talking to each and every person I met. It’s a wonderful thing meeting like-minded people, sometimes in more than one way, and it’s always insightful to exchange knowledge and ideas in a way and at a level that I am rarely permitted to.

If you’re a tech enthusiast, or you run a business, it might be well worth your while to attend and see what the companies have on show. As with previous years, early-bird registration means free entry to the showfloor. However, if you’d like to visit, you might still be able to get some tickets via referral links and special promo codes which give you a full discount on the showfloor entry. I had another great day at the exhibition, and spent a lot more time on the floor than I expected. It was definitely a great day, and I look forward to seeing most of you again next year. Thank you all so much for your time!

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