Last week's column

on the unintended consequences of the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act or TICSA generated a fair bit of feedback from the industry.

To recap, uncertainty around TICSA's notification and authorisation regime for network changes meant that the Google sponsored software defined network/network functions virtualisation platform REANNZ had built to develop and commercialise the technology was shifted abroad.

That's bad enough, but one network operator that contacted me said he's deliberately keeping his company revenues below the $10 million threshold and the subscribers number under 4,000 just to avoid dealing with TICSA hassles.

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In other words, the network operator is deliberately not investing money or growing his business because of TICSA.

Beyond handing over final decision making on how to build networks and the equipment that can be used for them, some network operators apparently have problems with inserting the legally mandated interception capabilities in various parts of their businesses.

A second source suggested that some operators' networks had seen outages thanks to the attempts at setting up interception capability for surveillance, but I haven't been able to verify this.

Either way, it seems clear that TICSA has loaded costs to network operators' already tight budgets, and it's not certain that the additional layer of bureaucratic delays it brings provide any real security benefits.

TICSA is apparently scheduled for a review sometime this year. If that's the case, telcos and internet providers had better warm up their word processors and get stuck in with the submissions because there's plenty of flaws to patch in TICSA.

Smartphone-a-geddon

The Mobile World Congress is on over in Barcelona and my inbox is bursting with announcements of new devices.

Samsung's hoping that the new "Project Zero" Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge will revive its flagging mobile device business. The new Galaxies certainly look good, somewhat Apple-esque in fact, and are brimming with high-powered tech like 64-bit processors and that curved screed on the S6 Edge.

At the same time, some useful features that won over a number of people from Apple iPhones have gone, like the removable battery, memory card slot and water and dust resistance.

HTC has also released a new phone, the One M9 with a 20 megapixel camera now, and there's the nice looking LG G Flex 2 that arrived a little before MWC in fact along with new Xperias from Sony, so Samsung will have some severe competition in the Android device area.

If you're after a new Android smartphone (and maybe a smartwatch to go with it, Huawei released a range at MWC), the choice this year like last year is bewildering, with devices that offer similar features at roughly the same price.

I'm hoping to have some of the new Android phones to try out soon. Meanwhile, I've been testing something completely different, namely the Blackberry Passport.

Launched last year, The Passport is the contrarian of mobile phones, starting with the square shape. I'm not totally sold on the format, which makes the Passport difficult to hold - although it does give the physical keyboard more space which is good.

The square phone: Blackberry Passport
The square phone: Blackberry Passport

Now, the keyboard is more than just a bunch of keys to press: it also acts as a touchpad.
It sort of works, but I think Blackberry made a mistake by making you use both the hardware keyboard and another one on the touchscreen itself for numbers and special characters.

Having to move your thumbs and fingers across the keyboards slows down typing - I was expecting the opposite on the Passport, having a physical keyboard on the phone.

Otherwise, the hardware on the Passport works pretty well and quickly. The phone is responsive and voice quality is especially good. A 13 megapixel rear camera takes pretty good stills although the autofocus can hesitate leading to blurry shots. Shooting videos up to 1080p didn't show this problem and you get good, sharp clips.

Nowadays you don't just buy a phone, you buy into a whole system that includes applications. The good news is that Blackberry World has most apps you'll need, from messaging to social media to utilities and games.

Blackberry World is nowhere near as chock full of apps as Apple's App Store or Google Play, although having access to the Amazon App Store helps.

There are around a quarter of a million apps on Amazon's App Store, a little bit more than in Blackberry World; compared to the 1.3 million apps in Apple's App Store and Google Play, there will be a few that Passport users won't have.

I've grown accustomed to iOS and OS X integration with my iPhone and Mac, and would miss it a great deal. Blackberry offers similar integration with the Blend software, that lets you, for instance, respond to messages on the phone on your computer. Blend works fairly well, although I'd still rate Apple's Continuity and Handover features as being slicker.

Business users will find plenty to like in the Passport and the built-in applications for Blackberry OS 10.3. Again, Apple's iPhones has sunk its teeth into the enterprise market with more business apps being written for iOS than Blackberry, which is a reversal of how things were not so many years ago.

If you want a non-conformist smartphone that stands out, plonking down $900 (ouch) or so on the Blackberry Passport is one way to do it. Expect to spend some time to get used to the Passport though, because it is that different.