Friday, February 10, 2012

BT nonsense with VPN

I might be shooting on my foot for talking too soon, but I have just spent half an hour talking with the customer service of BT about why my BT Infinity connection won't work with VPN. After talking to numerous people that had to talk to their supervisors because they had no idea what I was talking about, I ended up speaking to a sales guy. He said that if I want VPN support, I had to change to a business package and end up paying more than double what I'm paying now, which is over £50 per month. That would include an static IP address (which is a nice addition, but honestly, I don't care about it at the moment). The thing is that it used to work before, but they didn't care when I said this. They just said that BT home does not support VPN. End of discussion.

This is all my fault for not doing my research before calling BT, although one would think that they should know better than anybody else about what's possible and what is not. Of course they don't, because after a brief search I found a BT forum in which they (as in customers, not BT) suggested to enable "port clamping" in the BT hub's settings. Sure enough, there is a menu called VPN, where it is suggested to enable this setting if you are having problems with VPN, which I had. Oh magic... now it works with no problem whatsoever... well, that is so far, because apparently it is unsupported according to their own sales department.

Lesson 1: Always do your research before talking to anybody
Lesson 2: Do not think that customer support knows what they are talking about
Lesson 3: For God's sake, do not believe sales people!

I'm tempted to send a letter of complain telling them that they should have known about the BT Hub option and that it almost seems they were just trying to make more money out of me... but I think I will pass just in case they decide to cut my VPN and say "We told you it wasn't supported". Shame on you, BT...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Status report on the Internet of Things

Almost two years ago I wrote about the Internet of Things and what, in my view, the IoT did not encompass. In that post I argued that because nobody could really tell what the IoT was, it could be a good idea to start by discussing what it wasn't. There were mixed opinions, of course. My intention was to try to focus the discussion on the IoT a bit and try to avoid falling into the buzzword black hole. But two years down the line, how has the IoT discussion evolved? Has the community gained any focus or has it all finally spiralled out of... well, that, focus.

As you probably sense, my answer is going to be the second one. The last couple of years have seen an increase in conferences, books and journals dedicated to the Internet of Things. This is great, until you realise that most of these are just using the IoT as a buzzword just because is “in fashion”. Consequently, the majority of the papers submitted to these conferences and journals are written by researchers that have not changed their research topic, but they have just added “Internet of Things” to the titles of their papers to be able to publish in more places. Of course, since the conferences and journals had been set up in the first place just to attract more submissions, there is no real filtering on the suitability of the topics and anything with the IoT name on it will be deemed as within the scope. When these papers get eventually published, they send the signal that any topic remotely based to networking and the Internet is valid, and this contamination just goes on an on.

Basically, in my point of view we have seen little or no improvement in the understanding of what is the IoT, what are its implications and how it will actually work. I haven't found any publication talking about how the architecture of the IoT should be, what are its challenges, how can it be achieved or how far we are from it. Yes, there have been some papers describing enabling technologies and applications, but that doesn't really help without a generic, structured vision (and eventual agreement) in how all should fit together. At the same time I have not found much criticism on what is happening... it would almost seem that nobody wants to kill the golden egg hen. Of course, eventually all the research labelled now as IoT will jump to a new buzzword if it is convenient, stick to the old buzzwords if necessary, or none at all if that gives it better chances to be published / funded.

The Future Internet (or the future of the Internet, just to keep avoiding buzzwords) is of course still relevant, and research will inevitably carry on because it is a hugely important ICT area. One could argue that irrespectively of the community going somewhere with the IoT or not, research will continue in a very similar, if not identical, way. As argued earlier, the fact that research in this area has only changed the title of its publications when the IoT discussion became trendy, tells us that the popularity of the IoT will come and go without any major impact in research investment. So, if this is the case, will we then get to the same place regardless of how the research is labelled? Well, yes, but the path is also important. Eventually, the concepts that the IoT encompasses (whichever they are) will happen anyway, but a focus on a structured vision of the IoT would allow us to enjoy results earlier and better. For that reason it is sad to see how the grand vision of the Internet of Things becomes adulterated and diluted over time. Is it perhaps too late for the IoT? I think it is, but I would like to be wrong.