2011 April


Something we rarely talk about in discussions of the great public policy success of our time, the mobile explosion, is how various kleptocrats rode the mobile boom. Libya’s Qaddafi’s present problems serve to bring this skeleton out of the closet: But never underestimate the human capacity for delusion. Here’s a despot who’s managed at various times to pocket America and Europe with après-moi-le-déluge talk of the need for his rule, bought off several smaller African states, cocooned himself for more than four decades with fawning acolytes, murdered with impunity, sired with abandon, enriched himself beyond measure and — like any self-respecting modern tyrant — doled out the cell phone companies to his kids. Through all this he’s survived. Our politicians just tax mobile operators in multiple ways.
Policy windows are an important element of LIRNEasia’s work style. More than supply push we believe in demand pull. Does not give us optimal control over our time, but we live to work, not work to live. The period following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami was clearly a media window, even if we can debate whether it was actually a policy window. LIRNEasia, which does not have ongoing research on disaster early warning was inundated by requests for interviews and articles.
A three-tiered approach comprising reduction of probability of flooding or dam breaks, sustainable flood-proof spatial planning and building, and conventional disaster preparedness that has been developed in the Netherlands was a key element of the comprehensive presentation made in the course of the 2nd LIRNEasia Disaster Risk Reduction Lecture by Dr Aad Correlje of the Delft University of Technology held on the 27th April 2011 at the BCIS Auditorium in Colombo. The lecture also served as a memorial to the victims of the Kantale dam disaster in April 1986, 25 years ago. The documentary made by Divakar Goswami on the Kantale disaster was shown and a minute of silence was observed. The response panel comprising Bandula Mahanama (a community leader from one of the worst flood-affected areas in the Polonnaruwa District), S. Karunaratne (Sri Lanka National Committee on Large Dams), Dr Kamal Laksiri (Ceylon Electricity Board) and Mr U.
We do not believe in the killer app. Multiple apps is what we think will drive mobile broadband. But if there be a killer, it will probably be search, as this NYT article suggests: Today, Google says mobile searches are growing as quickly as Web searches were at the same stage in the company’s early days, and they are up sixfold in the last two years. Google has a market share of 97 percent for mobile searches, according to StatCounter, which tracks Web use. Now that it dominates the field, Google is throwing its burly computing power and heaps of data at new problems specific to mobile phones — like translating phone calls on the fly and recognizing photos of things like plants and items of clothing But it search reinvented, not the same old, same old.
Tp provide location-based services, companies will need maps that will describe relations between shops, people and places. Both Google and Apple are collecting this information, using software embedded in the handsets. Google and Apple use this data to improve the accuracy of everything on the phone that uses location. That includes maps and navigation services, but also advertising aimed at people in a particular spot — a potentially huge business that is just getting off the ground. In fact, the information has become so valuable that the companies have been willing to push the envelope on privacy to collect it.
When one only reforms only a part of an interconnected sector, the unreformed parts start to atrophy. Because of union resistance and the perception that the post was not that much of a money maker to start with, the hitherto conjoined posts and telecom were bifurcated and reform efforts focused on telecom. So 30 years after bifurcation, what has happened to the post, saved from from the depredations of foreign capital and World Bank advice? Sri Lanka’s state-run postal service lost 3.0 billion rupees in 2010 up 22 percent from a year earlier, while revenues fell 6.

Syria: The chess game

Posted by on April 24, 2011  /  0 Comments

It’s fascinating how the game is getting played out in Syria, one of the most brutal Arab dictatorships. The regime learned from Egypt. But so did the resistance. The regime monitors the networks and periodically shuts/slows them down. But the counter move of smuggling in hundreds of satellite phones had already negated that move.
The AT Kearney Global Services Location Index for 2011 is out. I seem to have missed the 2010 report, so comparing with 2009, which I did do a post on. India is still number 1 and China is number 2. No change. Thailand has slipped to 7 from 4, overtaken by Indonesia.
The police can siphon all kinds of data from a suspect’s mobile phone. Yes they can. And it’s in the State of Michigan in the United States of America.  Sounds quite similar to the aliens sucking a victim’s memory. The Michigan police are using the Data Extraction Devices that are commonly used to transfer data from  an old cell phone to a new one, according to Reuters.
The Federal Communications Commission has a solution: reclaim airwaves from “inefficient“ users — specifically, television broadcasters — and auction them off to the highest bidder, sharing some of the proceeds with television stations that volunteer to give up airwaves, known in the trade as spectrum. It is easy to talk about spectrum refarming in the abstract. It’s quite something else to get it done. Having done it, I have the scars to prove it. President Obama said 500 MHz will be refarmed.
The regulators from both Malaysia and Singapore announced the price reduction in international roaming this week. The reduction is done for both pre-paid and post-paid roamers in two stages. Stage one will in effective from 01 May 2011, 20 percent reduction for voice calls and 30 percent for SMS. The tariff reduction will be 30 percent for voice calls and 50 percent for SMS (based on current prices) by 01 May 2012 (price reduction). For more information click here    
Cambodia was the first country to have more mobiles than fixed. Finland was where the trend to mobile-only households started. And now the US is on the path. Age, poverty, subsidies seems to be contributing to the shift. And of course the prices coming down.
I had the opportunity attend the discussion by Tim Berners-Lee and Gordon Brown in Geneva, speak on the “future of the web“, a public lecture hosted by the Université de Genève, April 06, 2011. The two discussants didn’t have anything new to share; they were talking the same language of tapping in to the untapped through mobile phones; nothing new to LIRNEasia (see our Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid studies). The WWW Foundation has realized the reach of the mobile phone to deliver the web to those 80% that have not yet been exposed. What we were more eager to hear was the defense on the claim that the “web is dead, long live the internet“. In defense – “No the web isn’t dead” with the success story pointing to the Wikipedia.
In 2007, after false warnings and unnecessary evacuations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, I wrote the following (published in India in early 2008): Given the massive costs associated with evacuation orders (not only in lost productivity but deaths, injuries and other negative outcomes), government must be the sole authority. Given the certainty of blame if a tsunami does hit, over-use of warnings and evacuation orders is likely. It is important that procedures be established not only to make considered but quick decisions about watch/warning/evacuation messages, but also to counter the bias toward excessive warnings and evacuation orders. Disaster risk-reduction professionals know that false warnings are an artefact of the inexact art of predicting the onset of hazards: but the general public does not. If they are subject to too many false warnings, they will not respond even to true warnings.
It’s another example of universal stupidity of the civil servants. The Federal Communication Commission has decided to “educate” the Americans about broadband. It’s fine with informing the consumers about megabits-per-second. How about telling people about latency, jitter, peak-hour performance, and short-term speed increases? Mitchell Lazarus observes: Broadband service has become a utility, like electricity, gas, water, telephone, or cable.
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