2011 December


We complain every time early warning is not given or false warnings/evacuation orders are issued. But praise must be given when right action is taken and lives are saved. Indian authorities are to be praised. Witnesses in Chennai and Pondicherry said trees had been toppled, there had been power outages throughout the night and disruption to phone and internet services in some areas. Hundreds of people from fishing communities along north Tamil Nadu’s coast, and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state, have moved to schools set up as relief centres until the weather system passes.
We’ve been talking about the qualitative increase in data volumes that will result from the conversion of mobile networks into carriers of data since 2010. Is it a flood, a tsunami or an avalanche? The name does not seem to matter (though tsunami is the term that seems to be catching). Unless the problem is understood (operators do; some regulators and policy makers do, as evidenced below); and addressed (both in terms of access networks, as below, and in terms of backhaul, as we have been advocating), the quality of broadband experience will degrade radically. The announcement comes as wireless companies are facing a spectrum crunch crisis that has already begun to reshape the industry.
Every year, IBM make five tech predictions that it is confident will be realized in the next five years: five in five. Number four this time is the prediction that the Digital Divide will be bridged, thanks to mobile devices. Mobile devices are decreasing the information-accessibility gap in disadvantaged areas. In five years, the gap will be imperceptible as growing communities use mobile technology to provide access to essential information. New solutions and business models from IBM are introducing mobile commerce and remote healthcare, for example.
Smith Dharmasaroja is a hero of mine. Disagreeing with a hero does not come easy. But he is wrong to give equal or greater weight to national tsunami detection and monitoring systems than to communication of last-mile warning. It may be that the fault lies in the reporter in ordering the comments, but it does appear that Mr Smith believes that a national tsunami detection and monitoring system is most important to Thailand. It is not.

Greetings for 2012

Posted by on December 26, 2011  /  8 Comments

The pendulum swings again. It was around 10 years ago that the great retreat was in full swing, with US and European telcos retreating from emerging markets (and even masking their investments as France Telecom did by making Mauritius Telecom the holding company for its African operations). Now they’re unloading European businesses to go where the action is. France Télécom, led by Stéphane Richard, is shedding assets in Europe, where phone companies are vying for a shrinking pool of new customers amid tightening regulation, to embrace faster-growing markets in Africa and the Middle East. “It makes sense to exit the difficult Swiss market and may give them more flexibility on the cash-flow side,” said Giovanni Montalti, an analyst in London at Crédit Agricole Cheuvreux.
The government itself has found the early warning actions of the designated national authorities deficient and is talking of setting up workaround mechanisms. Nothing really new, other than sadness that seven years and large commitments of resources have not taken us much farther than we were back in 2004. What is even more worrisome is the lack of knowledge among all the parties about the available modes of communicating early warnings. No mention of cell broadcasting that is capable of delivering location-specific tailored information to all mobile handsets within the range of a base transceiver station. The journalist has done a good job except for repeating misinformation about poor communication infrastructure and access in rural areas.

Sri Lanka exports e-waste

Posted by on December 23, 2011  /  0 Comments

Back in 2008, I had a knock-down policy debate with current Provincial Council Minister and then Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority Udaya Gammanpila (mostly in the Sinhala newspapers, so difficult to give all the links, but here is one). In the short-term he won: the two percent envi levy was not rolled back at that time. But in the long-term we won: the 2011 Budget abolished the envi levy and the dream of funding all the activities of the Environment Ministry from mobile taxes went away. In the course of the debate, Mr Gammanpila claimed that e waste could not be transported across borders and that therefore the levy was needed to fund the construction of a factory. I questioned the veracity of this claim and even challenged him to a public debate.
We’ve been thinking about the potential of big data (large, continuing streams of computer-readable data) for development applications. There is nothing about development in the marketing campaign below, but can any zealous privacy advocate identify a problem with it? A mobile campaign by Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide, which is based in Chicago, places the ads for the thermometer within popular apps like Pandora that collect basic details about users, including their sex and whether they are parents, and can pinpoint specific demographics to receive ads. But not all mothers will see the ad on their smartphones. Rather, the ads will be sent only to devices that, according to Google, are in regions experiencing a high incidence of flu.
Malathy Knight-John, LIRNEasia Research Fellow, has been awarded the PhD degree by the University of Manchester for research conducted on the subject “Privatisation, Competition and Regulatory Governance: A Case Study of Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Sector.” This research drew on the work she did on the Telecom Policy and Regulatory Environment of Sri Lanka for LIRNEasia since 2006. We offer our warmest congratulations to Malathy on achievement of the highest degree and wish her the very best in her future scholarly endeavors.

Pakistan: End of MNP?

Posted by on December 20, 2011  /  4 Comments

Has Pakistan made mobile number portability a terrorist act? The Minister directed Chairman PTA to revisit the whole system and ensure that all those illegal SIMS which are being used on stolen identity shall be blocked. The meeting decided that in view of the grave complaints, Mobile Number Portability (MNP) by the service providers is banned in future and anybody found violating should be booked under Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 as it is against the national security. Anybody misusing, sending threatening emails or tampering with email address, mobile phone via SMS, MMS etc shall be dealt with under ATA and other relevant sections of law. News report.
When I was in government, I heard complaints of shortages of scarce resources and ability to earn adequate revenue all the time. I paid attention, but always verified. Specifically, with regard to claims of spectrum “shortage,” there is a problem. It is true that without a minimum allotment (say 2.5 MHz for CDMA and 5 MHz coupled on GSM), it’s next to impossible to properly design a network.
Based on theory and analysis, we have strongly advocated that early warning should be issued by government. I have even gone so far as to suggest that those who issue false warnings should be prosecuted. Thus, it comes as shock to read in the Sunday Times that the government itself is planning to bypass the national early warning center, issuing international weather alerts directly to fishing boats capable of receiving them. But the Minister’s reaction is fully understandable. People died needlessly, because the agency that is mandated to warn our people of hazards that may harm them willfully neglected to do so.
It is not every day that our research gets covered in the Nepali media. That makes it special, when we do get covered. When LIRNEasia started, we fully intended to work in Nepal, a South Asian country with great unrealized potential. We did too, in the first cycle. But even for us, the internal strife proved too much.
The way most governments tax mobile use, the answer would seem to be yes. It is treated like cigarettes, a demerit good that imposes negative externalities on society; and is thus subject to additional taxes. The research reported below examined the question of whether mobile use is addictive (albeit in a different context, that of mobile use while driving) and found that no, it was not addictive: Paul Atchley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, conducted research this year and last to determine whether young adults had enough self-control to postpone responding to a text message if they were offered a reward to do so. The idea was to determine whether the lure of the device was so compelling that it would override a larger reward. The research found that young adults would postpone the text.
We had the pleasure of engaging with an erudite politician at the inauguration of LIRNEasia’s principal capacity-building event, CPRsouth in Bangkok last week. Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who used to teach economics at Thammasat U before he went into politics, had this to say, as reported in Bangladesh’s Daily Star, about innovation and the role of the state: “Creativity takes place very much in the private sector, so regulations must be friendly for them,” said Vejjajiva, in his keynote speech at the inaugural session of a two-day conference on Communication Policy Research south 6 (CPRsouth6) in Bangkok on Friday. Vejjajiva, now the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives of Thailand, also emphasised independence of the regulatory body, but not without accountability. I found it quite a contrast to a long article in the New York Times about how the Chinese state is treating innovation by the private sector, ripping it off and bringing it under the control of the state: The usurping of private enterprise has become so evident that the Chinese have given it a nickname: guojin mintui. That roughly translates as “while the state advances, the privates retreat.
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