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Giant Manta in Tubbataha

A giant manta ray “flying” past our dive group from one of the walls in Tubbataha.

Video by Chie Clemente. Taken with the JVC FM1.

The No Bullsh*t Speed Test of SMART’s LTE (Warning: Video is 25 minutes long)

There is a satellite station for the LTE booth located near my hotel. I heard that they degraded the signal to “divert all power” to the central booths where Rico Blanco performed. I got a bright idea. I decided to do a real speed test. What would happen if we had a degraded LTE signal (without shifting to HSPA) trying to go through several layers of concrete? I was at the Real Maris Hotel. The center stage is located near Aria in D’Mall fronting the beach. That’s relatively far PLUS the fact that my hotel room is located near the road. At the booth I am guaranteed over 50Mbps — that’s about 6 MEGABYTES per second. But in the real world, I don’t think this will hold true given location of you in conjunction to the cell sites and the number of users accessing the signal.

Also, what if we were pinging servers from the USA? Here’s a screenshot of what kind of speeds you are getting if your server is located in Washington and the sites you are accessing from the PH are not cached OR not being downloaded from a dedicated server.

So I ran back to my room, skipped a massage (haynaku), fired up my ScreenFlow and spent the next 30 minutes making this actual speed test. I promised myself that I would post whatever findings I had here — good or bad.

You be the judge!

Mbps is not Megabytes per second but “megabits” per second

N.B. If you’re knowledgeable about this subject, please leave a comment to refute or add to this post as we’re all trying to understand what makes good or crappy Internet.

One of the biggest confusions of consumers when purchasing Internet plan subscriptions is that they think Mbps means megabytes per second when in fact it means “megabits per second” and there’s a huge difference. It’s partly the telcos’ fault as they aren’t very gung-ho about these educational campaigns for consumers. I think they should start helping consumers understand what exactly “2Mbps” means in the real world application. Also they should start including a value called CIR or Committed Information Rate or the average bandwidth per x number of households in a given area. Now that’s useful!

Here’s a tool to help you calculate ideally how many kbps you should be getting with your Internet provider commitment.


In other words, if your telco is selling you a 2Mbps connection, your ideal burst speed (say you’re downloading a torrent) should peak at around 250KBps (that’s kilobytes per second not kilobits per second — remember that kbps is kilobits and KBps or KB/s is kilobytes). But that’s the best speeds. I don’t think it takes into account CIR. So if I’m using my Android phone on HSPA to tether Internet to my laptop and I’m getting 60-120KBps (which I got in Palawan since I’m probably not exceeding the CIR, but not in Manila which is definitely more dense), then it really could mean that my telco is delivering actual average speeds. Please, telcos, I think we should level up the way we communicate our Internet-related products as we move on to 4G technology! :)

A look into SMART’s prototype LTE Dongle by HUAWEI and my first speed test

Greetings from Boracay! I was able to borrow a special LTE USB dongle from HUAWEI. There are only 5 of these in the world made especially for the event and from what I heard HUAWEI really had to rush these to SMART. I have one of the four (oh wait I think Jen Juan also has one). The others are being used in stations around Boracay, shared over WiFi. You may wonder why we’re on the island. It’s because ever since before, Boracay has become a test bed for new technology. I was here in ’07 for their Mobile TV launch and now I’m back for their LTE deployment.

The USB dongle is in no way a representation of the final product. LTE will launch soon and will be deployed across the country. A bit of a technical info here: current SMART cell towers running 3G can easily be upgraded to accommodate LTE and later on, LTE Advanced. You will need “4G” enabled phones to access the higher data network so in the meantime, while the phones are not yet here, let’s be content with the dongle.

I will be doing a series of speed tests throughout my stay. This is the first.

From my hotel which is in a more remote location (and indoors) I am getting 15Mbps. This afternoon, the LTE booth was pushing 69Mbps (LTE promises 50Mbps) and while everyone was sharing over WiFi and stressing the network with HD video streaming, they did a decent ~ 30Mbps, which is still very fast.

Let me put into context what “fast” means. At my current speed I am downloading a 7GB game from the Steam Store at 290-400kbps, streaming the 720p HD version of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead without buffering (full screen) and uploading a couple of files (over 4GB) using my FTP to my server. Plus Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

So funny! It says “faster than 99% of the Philippines!”

By the way guys, Mbps is not MEGABYTES PER SECOND but MEGABITS. Here’s an explanation. It is confusing so if you still can’t tell the difference I would really just use real world examples which everyone can understand (like the actions I just made above).

I’ll be doing more tests tomorrow as I would like the “real world” challenges such as being indoors / outdoors to affect the performance of speeds. So far I am very content.

LTE dongles will have a separate price compared to the 3G / HSPA ones currently available in the market. LTE is backwards compatible but not vice versa. The name of the LTE service is SMART Evolution.

Oh, just one more thing. The LTE dongle runs on Snow Leopard as well. Here’s a shot of my MenuMeters upload/download:


When is the best time to go to Tubbataha?

One of the many sea turtles that rest along the white sands of the reefs. This one was more accommodating and let me swim with it for a few minutes.

OK pardon me for this ultra-SEO’d title :) But Tubbataha Reef is one of the diving highlights of the world and last April 14-20, I joined the second trip of the M/Y Hans Christian Andersen for 4 days of diving: In every dive you’re guaranteed sharks.

Tubbataha National Park is open from April to June. You can’t just “go there.” You need to take a live aboard boat and as far as I know you need to be a diver to go. Tubbataha is not an island. It is a coral atoll in the middle of the Sulu Sea composed of walls with great visibility with two sandbar islands which you cannot set foot on. The vis is so good, there was one point I went down to 138 ft thinking I was only at 80 ft. Great vis! Great diving!

The schedule is literally Eat, Dive, Sleep. Our group did a total of 15 dives. What we saw: schooling jacks and huge barracudas, manta ray, several eagle rays and marble rays, big tuna, turtles galore, more than 50 reef sharks (sharks guaranteed in every dive!) and lo and behold, a tiger shark. There were also sightings of hammerheads but our group did not see them.

One of our chase boats resting on the flat iron ocean surface.

Our dining area / cleaning area / where we load the chase boats.

Let’s do this!

Because of the odd weather patterns we were the first lucky group of the season on board the HCA. When we arrived on day 1, the waves were still a slightly strong but slowly got better come day 2 and finally, flat ironed calm. On the last day we were also able to make a trip to the Ranger Station that guards the reef. Since summer came late, I would honestly suggest booking your trip towards the end of April or maybe even early May regardless if you’re taking the HCA or Expedition Fleet. So yes, book on a later date and not early April. It’s a global warming thing methinks.

Underwater photos in this post were taken using a 18-55 kit lens on a standard Sea & Sea port with surprisingly good results despite having only one strobe. If you want to borrow these shots, I won’t mind as long as you give proper attribution. Thanks! Here’s the complete low res album.

Spawning barrel sponges jut out of the wall. This was a Nat Geo moment for me as when barrel sponges spawn, all others in the vicinity spawn as well.

At 40 ft under a small crevice, we found a lot of lobsters. All of the flora and fauna in Tubbataha are protected by law. No touching. No fishing.

A playful manta ray makes it way towards my lens. One of the tricks to shooting mantas is to pinpoint where they will end up when they make a turning gliding arc. I was lucky!

One of the many white tip reef sharks taking off from a dive site called Shark Airport.

A Napolen Wrasse whizzes by my lens. Happy I was able to take a photo.

In a group, I feel more comfortable going up close and personal with this school of barracudas. If they were solitary, it would mean they are hunting.

A peeping turtle probably annoyed that we disturbed him.

Tubbataha is known for its huge fan corals.

WOW talaga!

Pushing a school of jacks for 30 minutes was a bit tiring but we did it. These guys stayed with us for half the dive.

Jules and Jan chasing the manta for a quick photo op.

Where Tuna Sashimi comes from.

Another shark parked on the white sandy bottom.

Zoomed + Cropped + White Balanced: I shoot in RAW because I really have to do a lot of adjusting afterwards such as removing a little backscatter, and white balance adjustments. Other than that, all photos are as is.

Jules taking her time with the school of jacks.

My Tubbataha postcard shot with a very cooperative turtle.

PHP 40,000.00 for the M/Y Hans Christian Andersen (price varies)
PHP 3,000.00 for park fees

Ranger Station
On the last day we were able to take a short visit to the Ranger Station. These are the brave men who stay for 2 months at a time, protecting the oceans from poachers and illegal fishers. The sand bar is amazing. It’s just there right in the middle of the ocean. We came in at low tide.

At the station we gave a small donation of canned goods (MEAT!) and bought some t-shirt souvenirs.

What an amazing trip! Next stop, Palau!

I’m now back in Manila and definitely missing the ocean. It’s lovely out there. I think, for what it’s worth, being away from Twitter and Facebook — and the city — really helps put many things in perspective.

Two weeks with the HTC Desire S

About two weeks ago I was able to nab the HTC Desire S running on Android 2.3 more popularly called Gingerbread. As far as I know, this and the Sony Ericsson Arc are the first two Gingerbread devices that are available in the Philippines running on the latest version of the Android OS. What’s the main difference between this version of Android and the previous? Well, not much really: they cleaned up the UI performance, they added a feature called Near Field Communication (like how in some countries you simply need to tap a commuter card onto a sensor to let you pass) and correct me if I’m wrong, real support for a front facing camera out of the box. Hence, the HTC Desire S comes with a front and back camera.

By the way if you still don’t have it, it’s Nathan Azarcon on the cover this month!

UNO rocks out this month with our very special Music Issue, featuring one of the country’s biggest rock stars on the cover: Nathan Azarcon. (This is, by the way, only the second time in the magazine’s nine-year history that we’ve put a solo male on the cover; the very first one was Manny Pangilinan.)

Inside, we combine two of our biggest passions — women and music — in a massive section featuring artists established and up-and-coming, including Lea Salonga, Barbie Almalbis, Celeste Legaspi, Sarah Gaugler, Vernie Varga, Katwo Librando, Kitchie Nadal, Myrene Academia, Armi Millare and many more. Also, editors Erwin Romulo and Luis Katigbak show off their picks for the best local music of the 2000s so far.

Those of you who have daydreamed of dating the hotter-than-hot Jacq Yu (or at least gazing at some incredible pix of her): we’ve got you covered. Also, the lovely Denise Montecillo joins us as we stuff our faces at Mercato Centrale. Jinno Rufino meets the NBA All-Stars, Eric Melendez talks about how we acquire music today, Lorely Trinidad tells us about growing up Fil-Am in a hip-hop world, Caliph8 shows us how to dig for rare vinyl, and Tricia Gosingtian says hello to New York City. That’s not all of course, but you’ll have to grab the issue to find out more.

(UNO’s Music special should be played at high volume, preferably in a residential area.)

[Follow us to UNO Magazine]

SMART Communications launches LTE

By the time you read this post, I’m still in the middle of the ocean, finishing our last day of diving Tubbataha Reef. When I get back, I fly, almost immediately to Boracay. I’m there with my partner-in-crime Andi9 so we’ll be streaming live soon!

SMART is launching LTE technology and doing the entire demo in Boracay.

LTE is a modulation technique that is designed to deliver 100Mbps (DL) per channel and give individual users performance comparable to today’s wired broadband. It was bound to happen. The question was when. To put things into simpler terms let’s have a look at a short history of how mobile phones work:

2G GSM Technology
Remember your Nokia 5110 and 3210? There. Calls and SMS. That was 2G connectivity.

2.5G Technology
This was the first shot into surfing the Internet with your phone but we were using WAP sites. Remember WAP? Yung parang pangit na website designed for mobile phones using GPRS? That was it. Add your ringtones and picture messages. It got a little better when phones started using EDGE connectivity (popular with BlackBerry then) but that was still not …

3G and 3.5G Technology
This is Internet today. It’s workable but not comparable to the wired connections we have at home. You could surf, email, chat, do your social networking, but it was honestly a bit hard to do things like online gaming and downloading huge files.

4G Technology
This is the next generation of connectivity. 100MBPS. On your phone. Built on top of existing technology. No, you cannot use your current phones or USB dongles to access these speeds. The only phone I know that’s capable of accessing this network is the HTC Thunderbolt. Yeah I think SMART is deploying LTE at the same time as Verizon in the USA. Not sure if the Thunderbolt is launching here though because there’s a slight difference in setup with the LTE here and the one in the USA. I heard they’re shipping in dongles.

So yes if you’re planning on buying a new USB dongle for mobile Internet, I suggest you wait a few. That’s because you can practically achieve faster speeds with costs similar to your current plans.

I’m not sure when exactly SMART is making the commercial announcement (i.e. data plans and rates) but if you leave a comment here they will probably get back to you as a number of them read this cute site.

Oh and just one more thing. In case you’re wondering what the difference between LTE and WiMax is, well the former is GSM-based technology: phones. While WiMax involves a completely new set of hardware and is designed for WiMax-enabled devices.

NUDI Interview on ANC Mornings

Jan Acosta and I guested on ANC Mornings to talk about the fast growing underwater photography club in Manila. NUDI or the Network of Underwater Digital Imagers (check us out on Facebook and yep, here’s the link to our site) is an underwater photography club that was formed to get diver-photographers together to share techniques and experiences in shooting underwater.

The Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and the things we find down there are simply amazing. We talked about diving as a viable hobby in the Philippines, conservation, our gallery exhibits and the SNUPS competition that we’re co-organizing this year.

My epiphany about smartphones and data services

So I had an epiphany a couple of days ago. And this began with me coming home from a business trip racking up a bill of PHP30k worth of roaming charges. And that was just for 2 days of use. Of course the cost is charged to the company but waiting for the bill to be settled incurred my line being cut for 2 days. I was alternating between two phones: my HTC Mozart (which you can get in SMART’s Rockwell branch on plan 1800) and a HTC Desire S (the new Android 2.3 device which SMART let me pull out for testing).

Anyway, the feeling of not being able to call or text was a tragic one. My phones, for all intents and purposes were dead. They were only good for Angry Birds. Well, at least the Android phone. BUT not when I entered a WiFi hotspot. It’s like the phones magically came to life whenever I entered wireless hotspot, plugged in the password and went online.

My “no text” was solved using a combination of sending Twitter DM’s and chat using Kik Messenger. Since Kik works across multiple platforms, I’m pretty much solved. If not, the DM on Twitter solved the gap.

My “no calls” was easily solved with Skype and Fring (well actually I barely used it as I’d send DM’s to everyone telling them to call if needed).

Couple that with being able to update your Facebook status, Foursquare, Plurk and surf the web, I barely noticed that my SIM was inactive. Oh, and I have complete guarantee that my messages were sent, unlike SMS that at times doesn’t make it.

Have we entered an age where GSM is slowly becoming obsolescent? Not obsolete, mind you? Obsolescence is when there’s nothing wrong with a product or service. It’s just that there’s something more efficient that makes the previous service redundant. It’s just like how SMS replaced the pager. People have defined “smartphones” as phones that allow you to install apps and do more things than call or text. I think this is fairly accurate.

But I do like my own definition: it is a phone that doesn’t need to use 2G technology (i.e. calls and text) to send messages and call. Smartphones take advantage of more advanced infrastructures such as 3G, HSPA (3.5G) and LTE. You know that USB dongle you bought to connect your laptop to the Internet? That’s essentially a smartphone stripped of all other functions except Internet. I think this is precisely why telcos are offering pure data plans on SIM cards as we unconsciously move away from the “text and calls” generation towards data.

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Chrina Cuna on my weekly tech show on defining what exactly a smartphone is. You can catch this show every Wednesday from 2PM to 4PM on Flippish. If you aren’t online at this time, you can always watch the archives.

I hope they settle my bill soon 0_o.

The first original game I bought … was CRAP.

At home I have these big iBox containers which I use to store my junk. I have 6 of these stacked up at the foot of my bed. It’s semi-OC: one has all the plugs and cables, another has gadgets, and manuals, another one with my lens filters, so on and so forth. Rummaging through my stuff (I was packing for a long trip next week) I found the box of my very first original PC game titled “Rise of the Robots.” Anyone remember this? I remember buying this in a gaming shop in Hong Kong during the mid 90’s. It was this vs Wing Commander IV. At that time, I had no patience for flight simulators and the thought of robots beating each other up in the area was absolute childhood fanfare.

And so this is the box (sadly contents are lost in time):


Subject: I Love You (and yes, starring Jericho Rosales)

Interesting. It’s Jericho Rosales‘ first international film. But more than that, it seems like a pretty solid story on the drama and intrigue behind the ‘I Love You’ virus epidemic that plagued the world’s Internet in May of 2000. The worm originated from the Philippines and thus, the setting (or one of the settings) of this film. Looks really interesting.

BlackBerry Torch 9800: You want one. No, really you do! Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.

EDIT: Here’s a post from my friend Eric on his BB6 experience.

Wow. Talk about delayed. The BlackBerry Torch you see here was released in the middle of 2010. It’s only now I’m reviewing it. To be fair, I haven’t seen a lot of people using this phone as it arrived late in the Philippines. In fact, back at Mobile World Congress, RIM’s booth was all over the Torch and their tablet, the Playbook which is supposedly out globally this April.

Jewelmer: A Short Primer on the South Sea Golden Pearl

On the geeky side: I’m using the new Samson Go Mic to record the voice over for this short amateur documentary. It’s an amazing device for PHP 2,300.00. It’s small, lighr and super affordable and can very well replace your professional USB studio mic if you aren’t too meticulous.

Transcript and photos follow.