This web site now supports HTTP/2 – SPDY

http2I am happy to report that this web site now supports the new HTTP/2 protocol. HTTP/2 was standardised in RFC 7540. For the most tech savvy, they can turn to the Wikipedia entry that describes the protocol with more detail. Suffice to say that it aims at making web sites load faster.

However, there is one requirement that is still difficult to honour for individual, non-commercial sites like this one. HTTP/2 requires the connection between the web server and the browser to be encrypted. For this, one needs a SSL/TLS certificate, which can cost quite some money. Starting 16 November 2015, the Let’s Encrypt project will issue free SSL/TLS certificates, trusted by all browsers. This will be a serious boost for HTTP/2. This web site is part of the Let’s Encrypt Limited Beta, meaning it can already support HTTP/2.

http/2 screenshot

AVM Fritz!Box 7490 review

AVM FRITZ!Box 7490Three years ago, I got the AVM Fritz!Box 7390, which has been serving me well over the time. However, with Proximus announcing the deployment of VDSL2 vectoring this year, my trusted Fritz!Box would not be accepted by the incumbent and network operator, despite its proven VDSL2 vectoring compatibility. I was left with the perspective to place one of Proximus’ BBoxes in front of my Fritz!Box. That would have meant two devices for one Internet connection. An ergonomic and ecological nonsense.

Not so anymore. Enter the Fritz!Box 7490. AVM is the first CPE manufacturer that went through the tough process of getting some its devices certified for Proximus’ VDSL2 network. The 7490 is one. The others being the 7360 and the 3490. Whether Proximus’ certification process is justified or not is another debate. Suffice to say that only certified devices are assigned a VDSL2 connection on Proximus’ network. Non-certified ones are downgraded to a low ADSL speed.

If you have been using Fritz!Boxes in the past, this one will look very familiar, both for its external design and its web interface. Hence, rather than restating the obvious you read elsewhere, let’s have a look at what is different.

VDSL2 Vectoring compliance

Up to now, the only certified VDSL2-vectoring friendly or capable modems in Belgium were Proximus’ own BBox-2 and BBox-3 in various incarnations, and their Sagem clones. All seem to have a rather buggy firmware at this time, in addition to being clearly tailored to Proximus’ marketing needs.

As mentioned above, AVM now has two devices certified by Proximus, this one being one of them. This is one of the major reason to buy this device if you do not want to use Proximus’ Trabants and would rather settle for a BMW.

The first time you turn the 7490 on, the setup wizard will ask you which country you are living in and adjust itself to the specificies of the country. The relevant firmware version is downloaded later in the setup process. In the case of Belgium, there is no possibility to upgrade the firmware to a new generic (or beta) version without losing Proximus-compliance. This is rather unfortunate, and especially worrisome in case there would be a major security bug that needs to be fixed rapidly. This is due to Proximus’ lengthy process for certifying new versions. (Note that Proximus’ own BBoxes get updated several times a year.Talk about field level playing)

Other features

In addition to the features already present in the older 7390, some additional ones are worth noting. The 7490 supports Wireless AC with up to 450 Mbit/s in the 2.4 Ghz band and even 1300 Mbit/s in the 5 Ghz band. The latter may come in handy if you live in an area with a lot of (mostly 2.4 Ghz) WIFI networks.

The 7490 also boasts more flash memory for its internal usage than its predecessor. This allows AVM to add additional features to the box with sacrificing others. For example, the latest iteration of the 7390 firmware removed the support for the SMB sharing due to the shortage of flash memory.  No more so with the 7490. AVM has a long tradition to continuously improve its firmware. Do expect new features to be added in the future, firmware certification permitting. See, for example, what is currently being tested in the Beta version.

With all the possibilities of the Fritz!Box 7490 regarding Internet, telephony and home networking, it is hard to think of a missing feature. Nothing being perfect in this world, one such missing feature for the Belgian market would be the so-called “full routing mode”. Right now, the Fritz!Boxes only offer the IPTV signal on two dedicated wired Ethernet connections. It would be helpful to have the IPTV signal available on all connections, including WIFI. According to AVM, this feature is already deployed in other markets, like Luxembourg. However, the relevant information for Belgium is not being provided to them. This is competition, the  Proximus way.

In usage

As can be expected from AVM, the modem is stable. My previous 7390 never required a reboot, except for firmware upgrades. After using the 7490 for a few days, I am confident it will perform flawlessly also. The Fritz!Box has a nice function which allows one to import the settings of another Fritz!Box. This worked nicely. In my case though, the settings related to IPv6 were not recovered (with the 6.04 stock firmware at least). According to AVM, this should be fixed in future versions of the firmware. I also needed to re-register my DECT phones, which makes sense since they were still expecting the former Fritz!Box.

My Internet connection not being upgraded to VDSL vectoring, I could not test its performance in this context. I will update my post if and when it finally happens (Proximus does not currently vectorise the 8d profiles). Regarding the performance in plain VDSL context, I did not notice any change compared to my previous 7390. This was expected.  VDSL performance is mainly dependent on elements outside the device manufacturer’s control: PSTN line length, copper quality, telco policies, etc.
Update 5 Aug 2014:   Proximus has now activated VDSL vectoring in my area. It did not change anything for me, as I am too far from the street cabinet. However, I was not downgraded, which demonstrates that the Fritz!Box is indeed certified by Proximus.

All in all, this Fritz!Box 7490 is worth every Euro. Surely, it may look more expensive that the average ISP-provided modem, but they don’t play in the same league. If you were to add the cost of a basic modem, a good home router, a DECT station and an IP-based PBX, the Fritz!Box is actually cheaper than all those components bought separately, and consumes less electrical power. So, do our planet a favour and prefer an integrated box, with a consistent interface.

Advice to address book and web form developers

Form exampleI spent the last 30 years of my life in the IT world, and remain puzzled by the assumptions many software developers make about the “correct” format of the names and addresses of people. Not only the small development shops but also the big names like Apple and Google.

Here is a small list of false assumptions:
  • All names and addresses are using US-ASCII: Forget 7 bit-ASCII. We are now using UTF-8 and Unicode, and so is your database if it is less than 20 years old. Even in latin script, accents do matter. They can change the meaning of a word. Replacing non-ASCII characters with question marks is even more insulting.
  • Everyone has a middle name: Not true. This is highly cultural. Do not just assume that a word between first and last names is automatically the middle name.
  • First and last names are one word: Not true. In many cultures, both first and last names can be several words, sometimes linked by a hyphen, but not always. Some can even be very long. Provision your database column width accordingly. And please spare us the mid-sentence capitalisation, like “laFayette” or “LaFayette”. This is irrespectuous if this is not how the person’s name is written.
  • Word case does not matter: Yes, it does. Whether your name is “Lafayette” or “la Fayette” has a different meaning in French, for example. Also: we do not use dot matrix printers anymore. It does not make sense to print names in ALL CAPS, as if you were shouting.
  • First name is always before last name: Not true again. In fact, British English uses the more adequate concept of given name and surname. In some countries, it is customary to have the surname before the given name.
  • Everyone has a salutation/title: Yes, everyone has a salutation. However, some people have multiple titles. “Herr Professor Doktor” or “Hr. Pr. Dr.” is perfectly valid, and should fit into your form.
  • Everyone has a suffix to his/her name: Well, not everyone. However, do not make assumptions on what it can be. There is more than just “Esq”, “PhD” or “MD”.
  • Every country has regions/states/provinces/departments/Länders: They usually do, only that they do not always need to be mentioned on correspondence.
  • Postal codes always follow the city or state name: No. They often precede the city name.

Surely, there are other assumptions I missed. Please contribute in the comments.

Modems VDSL: Belgacom choisit pour vous

A partir du 1er février 2014, Belgacom va vous pousser à l’achat d’un nouveau modem si vous n’utilisez pas une BBox-2 ou 3. Utilisateurs de Fritz Box, Zyxel, Thomson ou autres Cisco, préparez-vous à dégainer votre portefeuille.

handcuffs_2Lors la mise en service de son réseau VDSL2 en 2008, Belgacom avait obtenu du régulateur des télécommunications, l’IBPT, de n’autoriser qu’un seul modèle de modem, la célèbre BBox-2 (et son clone Sagem Webr@cer, utilisé par les concurrents), invoquant l’immaturité de la technologie et les risques d’incompatibilité inhérents aux différences entre appareils embarquant des technologies différentes (“chipsets”, en langage technique). La BBox-2, modèle d’entrée de gamme, castrée dans ses fonctionnalités, avait été conçue pour servir la stratégie commerciale de Belgacom. L’expérience pratique avait démontré que des modems de marques concurrentes, équipés de chipsets différents (Ikanos, Lantiq ou Broadcom) fonctionnaient sans problème. Les internautes frustrés par les nombreuses déficiences du modèle unique proposé par Belgacom disposaient donc d’alternatives, la plus populaire étant la Fritz!Box de AVM.   Read more »

Loi sur le stockage des échanges d’e-mail: Une loi qui loupe sa cible

emailLa Belgique ayant été pressée par la Commission européenne de transposer la directive 2006/24/CE sous peine d’amende pour retard, le texte suivant est proposé en urgence. Il étend aux e-mails le régime existant pour les appels téléphoniques, permettant de garder une trace des échanges, les fameuses “métadonnées” que Prism et autres systèmes de surveillance collectent. En pratique, ce sont les fichiers de connexions (log files) des serveurs d’e-mail.

L’objectif est louable. Comme toujours, pourait-on dire. Il doit permettre de pister des criminels, des terroristes, des pédophiles (j’ajoute ça parce que c’est toujours vendeur auprès des journalistes de RTL-TVi). Rien que des affreux, sales et méchants, chère madame Michu. Mais comme d’habitude, il faudrait se demander si les moyens sont bien adaptés à l’objectif, et si les effets collatéraux sur la protection de la vie privée ne sont pas disproportionnés.

Ce texte ne s’applique qu’aux opérateurs de télécoms ou aux entreprises qui offrent un service de courriel externe à leurs clients ou personnel.  Ce que le pouvoir politique n’a pas encore compris, c’est que l’Internet n’est pas le réseau téléphonique. L’Internet utilise une infrastructure décentralisée. Il est donc très facile d’envoyer et de recevoir des e-mails sans qu’ils ne transitent par l’infrastructure de courriel de votre FAI. Si vous hébergez vos e-mails personnels sur votre propre infrastructure, vous n’êtes donc pas concernés par la loi. On trouve des offres d’hébergement d’e-mail sur une plateforme privée pour moins de 20€ par an, nom de domaine compris. Les méchants, et ceux qui ont des choses à cacher, pourront donc se prémunir pour pas cher. Les gentils, qui n’ont rien à cacher mais qui ne veulent pas pour autant tout dévoiler, aussi.

Encore une loi qui loupe sa cible. Elle ne sera utile que pour identifier les plus nazes des criminels. Les vrais méchants, eux, savent comment se protéger. 99,9999999% des données collectées seront inutiles pour l’objectif recherché. Par contre, pour votre vie privée …