Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Trades Hall

Trades Hall, seen from near the corner of Vivian St and Taranaki St.

This is Trades Hall, in Vivian St, symbolic home of the union movement in Wellington since the 1920s. On 27 March, 1984, during the final months of the Muldoon Government, caretaker Ernie Abbot went to move a suitcase that had been carelessly left in the entrance into an office for safe keeping. The ensuing blast blew debris, including Abbot’s dog, Patches out into the street, and killed Abbot instantly. The case remains unsolved today.

But this isn’t about an act of presumed political violence in the ’80s.

In 1996, a fledgling web development company, associated with the union movement (complete with posters of Marx & Lenin on the office walls) needed better Internet access than their dial-up could provide. yet within their meagre budget. And at NetLink, we had just built a wireless service.

We didn’t call it “wifi” then, and the Proxim gear we were using was expensive, and ran at about half a megabit or so, much less than the 802.11 standards that came out over the nest few years. 2.4 GHz wasn’t as crowded as it is now. With a clear line of sight and outdoor, directional antennas, we’d had it providing access at well over a kilometre, and the Cotton Building at Victoria University has a fantastic view over the entire CBD from its high Kelburn campus.

Coverage map

Original NetLink coverage map, circa 1997

From the roof of Trades Hall, we couldn’t see the Cotton Building antennas. The building is three stories high – generous, 1920s stories, admittedly, but an adjacent building was twice the height. The rear corner of the building could see past that, though, but blocking that view was the Marion St complex, retail, plus three levels of car parking and another three levels of apartments. It looked hopeless.

But I figured it was just a question of how tall the pole needed to be, and I suspected that it wouldn’t be unreasonable. By walking down the street a bit, we could get a line of sight to the Cotton Building, over the Marion St apartments, and, crucially, over the corner of Trades Hall.  We estimated that a pole of about five metres or so would intercept that line.

NetLink’s wireless service, and indeed NetLink itself (bought out by Telstra in 1999) are long gone. But that pole is still there, with its “patch” antenna still attached. You can see it on the far right of the photo above, and magnified below.

5m pole on corner of Trades Hall

Reaching for the sky


A recent posting on an InternetNZ list mailing reminded me of just how far we have come. In March, 1995, I took the minutes of the New Zealand Internet Society of  steering group meeting.

Just so we’re clear on what the Internet was back then, the Web was only just beginning to get traction; typical data rates were 48 kbps; establishments such as universities had rates of up to 256 kbps, the total amount of Internet bandwidth out of the country was (I think) 384 kbps. That’s the same amount as six phone calls. Most traffic was email and file downloads using FTP. Interactive services usually required a terminal session using Telnet. Dial-up Internet was only just becoming available; most services that you could use from home required you to dial into an Internet-connected computer service using a terminal emulator, and running your mail program and FTP downloads from there; if you wanted to download a file to your computer, you used a file transfer program like Zmodem to suck it down from the service provider’s computer after the FTP download had finished.

So the Internet was still a new thing. We were still trying to get to grips with how things should be done. So far, all the officialness required was being done through the Tuia Society, which was simply not equipped to address interests outside the immediate research and education community. It did, to its credit, recognise that this baton needed to be passed onto a more broad-based organisation. The March meeting was to explore the possibility of creating an New Zealand Internet Society, possibly as a chapter of the international Internet Society.

The technology to record this ground breaking meeting? Pen and paper.

Here, then, are the minutes to that meeting: Continue reading ‘Old school’ »