2010 February


We now have evidence to support the claim that those at the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (and therefore, the majority of people in the developing world) are likely to enter the world of knowledge and convenience promised by the Internet through the path opened by the rapidly increasing capabilities of mobile networks and user devices. Mobile 2.0 describes the use of mobiles for “more‐than‐voice”. Mobiles are increasingly becoming payment devices which can also send/process/receive voice, text and images; it is envisaged that in the next few years, they will also be fully capable of information‐retrieval and publishing functions, normally associated with the Internet. Mobile 2.
Now with smartphones ascendant in the developed market economies, retailers are beginning to think about how use the multiple capabilities of the handsets to enhance the shopping experience. The main way they plan to do it is by turning people’s mobile phones into information displays and ordering devices. Can’t find the flour at the grocery store? Grocers will offer phone applications that tell shoppers exactly where to go. Is the department store out of size 8 jeans?
The earthquake has revealed Haiti’s lack of robust civil infrastructure, as well as the importance of international connectivity. The catastrophe also highlights the failure of Haiti’s cellular phone infrastructure. IEEE Spectrum magazine has interviewed via e-mail a Haitian engineer, Charles-Edouard Denis, who helped build Haiti’s first cellphone company, Haitel, and who describes the impact of Haiti’s cellular infrastructure before and after the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. Read full story.
An Italian judge has held three Google executives responsible for the content of a site picked up and made accessible through Google. This is a threat to us all. 20 hrs of video are uploaded on to Google every hour, so if this ruling stands, Google will have to employ increasingly large numbers of people to monitor web content. Or screen out most web content. Most bloggers have the same problem.
Despite the fact that not all the frequencies have been cleared, India has announced the 3G auctions will be held in April. The original date was January 2009. Perhaps the driving force was the government’s need for money, rather than the conditions being right. India’s long-delayed auction of third-generation (3G) mobile phone bandwidth will be held on April 9, the government announced Wednesday. Applications from bidders for the multi-billion-dollar auction, whose proceeds are earmarked to help plug a gaping fiscal deficit, will be accepted until March 19, a government notice said.
In an interesting post, that we recommend you read in full, Micheal Gurstein makes the case for telecenters despite the Nenasala debacle of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. Here is his key question: Or to put the question another way—what do we lose if we (or rural Sri Lankans) only have mobile communications with optional access to the Internet and we by-pass the personal computer completely? What happens if that becomes the communications paradigm for a range of countries such as Sri Lanka who, having not managed to effectively respond to the digital divide to this point, decide basically to give up the fight and leave it all to the ambitions and creativity of the mobile operators. We can say more, much more (and have, with more evidence than casual observation), but here is the comment I left on his blog: “Give up the fight and leave it all to the ambition and creativity of the mobile operators?” Well, isn’t that a smooth rhetorical move?
This is definitely not the appropriate set of new features that we need at the Bottom of the Pyramid in emerging Asia and elsewhere. Voice commands, greater convenience in reading/viewing, more location-sensitivity, etc. would be among mine. Of course we could also consider what the surveys say about flashlights and radios. But the most important thing is the discussion.
Services trade, especially mode 1 services trade where the buyer remains in the buyer’s country and the seller remains in the seller’s country, is critical to the development of emerging economies. India has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of liberalized trade, but the NYT article below shows that the US is also a clear winner. The full article is worth a read. For example, will Washington offer tax breaks or other export incentives? While businesses may clamor for them, these would be a setback for freer trade — after all, for years it has been America that has been hectoring other countries to end their subsidies to exporters.
One way business models and innovations travel is through mergers and acquisitions. We have been waiting to see more African consumers benefit from the low prices and greater connectivity afforded by the Budget Telecom Network Model. Finally it looks like a big Indian telecom operator has got a foothold in Africa, with the transfer of Zain equity in a number of African countries to Bharti Airtel. Zain has fared badly in Africa along with other Middle Eastern operators perhaps because their home turf has been heavily regulated. Most acted as comfortable monopolists until only recently.
A story on the Barcelona GSM World conference had this interesting summary on the state of the handset market. With our focus on infrastructure we have not written much about handsets over the years, but it’s becoming difficult, especially in the context of the Mobile 2.0 narrative. As I said in a recent interview with the Expanding Horizons magazine: “Mobile networks will provide the key connectivity, especially as we see handsets becoming more advanced.” Global shipments of handsets had been falling every quarter since the third quarter of 2008, when the global financial crisis erupted, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

Quo warranto, TRC?

Posted by on February 14, 2010  /  8 Comments

Following the appointment of Director of Information (or Propaganda) as part-time Director General of Telecom, I have been getting a lot of calls asking about Internet censorship, prohibition of Face Book, and licensing of news websites. While I do believe that (a) the Director of Information is on the face unqualified to serve as DGT, and that (b) the Department of Information has no role to play in a modern democratic society, I do not think that any of these feared things will happen. Whatever the DGT does, he has to do under the Law, the Sri Lanka Telecom Act, 25 of 1991, as amended. According to the Act, the DGT does not have legal authority; all authority lies with the Commission, a five-person body chaired by the Secretary of the relevant Ministry, at the present time Mr Lalith Weeratunge, Secretary to the President. The DGT is a member ex officio and until now, the only full-time member.
Back in 2004, LIRNEasia got on the WiFi bandwagon. Ours was one of the first WiFi offices in Colombo (we had trouble getting suppliers who knew what they were doing) and we installed WiFi temporarily at the Mount Lavinia Hotel for our launch conference. One of the unexpected results was that it caused people to hang around the conference room, including after the sessions ended (a rather surprising outcome in an exceptional beach hotel). It seems that WiFi and the easy connectivity it gives has this effect universally: Students endure hundreds of hours on yellow buses each year getting to and from school in this desert exurb of Tucson, and stir-crazy teenagers break the monotony by teasing, texting, flirting, shouting, climbing (over seats) and sometimes punching (seats or seatmates). But on this chilly morning, as bus No.
It started with something innocuous. Within a very short period of around a week all the mobile operators in Pakistan announced they would charge 10 Paise for balance inquiries. The Competition Commission of Pakistan naturally initiated an inquiry. The mobile operators said there was no price fixing and that this move was intended to reduce the overuse of this service. But then someone turned up with copies of emails showing the existence of a CEO Forum and details on discussions of prices, not only for balance inquiries, but for other services as well.
Findings from LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP3 study have been cited in the latest issue of Nokia’s Expanding Horizons magazine. The article discusses the vast potential mobile phones have for providing those on the lower-incomes or the bottom of the pyramid, access to the internet for the first time. Read the full article here. Excerpt below: According to ICT policy think tank LIRNEasia, the evidence shows that mobiles, not computers, have the best potential to deliver services to rural areas in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the world’s largest concentration of poor people. “This is the hardest case.
Google has announced that it will be rolling out superfast broadband as demonstration projects. “Google, indeed, appears to be playing a chess game,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “If they can create an even mildly credible commitment to offer superfast broadband to the home, it could strike fear in the hearts of cable and telcos, stimulating an arms race of investment — just as they did in the auction for spectrum a few years ago.” In a post on its corporate blog, Google said it planned to build and test a high-speed fiber optic broadband network capable of allowing people to surf the Web at a gigabit a second, or about 100 times the speed of many broadband connections.
An excerpt from a trade newsletter published by the Govt of India: According to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), the apex body for software services in India, the revenue of the information technology sector has risen from 1.2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in FY 1997-98 to an estimated 5.8 per cent in FY 2008-09. Further, the industry body expects the sector to grow between 4 per cent and 7 per cent during 2009-10 and return to over 10 per cent growth next year. India’s IT growth in the world is primarily dominated by IT software and services such as Custom Application Development and Maintenance (CADM), System Integration, IT Consulting, Application Management, Software testing, and Web services.
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