2014 July


Eighteen members of Parliament from six different political parties, including the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the opposition National League for Democracy, assembled before start time this past weekend for an ICT awareness program organized by the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization (MIDO) where LIRNEasia supplied the content. They then stayed engaged throughout, asked many questions and asked for more. This was a unique experience that, in our view, bodes well for the country. The harmonious interactions among politicians from different parties were impressive. But even more was the genuine interest in learning about the changes that were coming to their country.
Cambodia has drafted a law mandating all telcos “selling” their infrastructure including towers and underground cables to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Cambodia (MPTC). Subsequently, all operators surrender their licenses too. The government will decide how the access service providers will make reentry to their dispossessed infrastructure. And these draconian terms will be planted in the licenses the government will reinvent. But licences and infrastructure are not all that is at risk with the government’s proposed reforms: One clause states explicitly that the MPTC will use the telecom sector as a tool to maintain social order.
Despite proposing minimum broadband speeds during a public consultation for wireless communication technologies, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has  now revoked its proposition. The consultation issued in April this year received 56 responses, including one from LIRNEasia. In May 2014 TRAI requested for counter comments. However, after having gone through the whole process it seems that the telecom operators have been given the freedom to define the speeds themselves by not mandating a minimum. Instead, the following is in effect: (4)Every Service Provider shall ensure that the details of Minimum download speed available to the consumer, in its wireless data plans, are –(a) printed on the vouchers of the wireless data plans(b) published on its websites and all advertisements of wireless data plans; and(c) available at its complaint centers and sale outlets   Gazette notification and press release.
The first translation of the book Information lives of the poor, co-authored by Laurent Elder, Rohan Samarajiva, Alison Gillwald and Hernan Galperin and published by IDRC, was ceremonially released in Yangon at an event on the 25th of July. The picture shows one of the co-authors handing over the book to H.E. Mark McDowell, Canada’s Ambassador to Myanmar. MIDO, Myanmar ICT for Development Organization, produced the Myanmar version.
A study of mobile use by poor micro entrepreneurs in five cities has revealed surprisingly high levels of smartphone use, indicating fast take-up of mobile applications and services beyond voice when competitive network roll-out gathers momentum in the coming weeks. The results of ethnographic research, interviews and focus groups conducted earlier this year by LIRNEasia, a regional think tank based in Sri Lanka, were released by CEO Helani Galpaya in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon in conjunction with the launch of the Myanmar version of a book summarizing research on mobile conducted in three continents. Of the 124 people interviewed for the study, 57 already owned their own phone while the others used other people’s phones or payphones. Of the 57 owners, 42 (73 percent) owned phones that could be categorized as smartphones, with touch screens and browsers. As recently as in 2011, only 15 percent of 10,000 poor people surveyed by LIRNEasia in six South and South East Asian countries had these features.
In its report titled, “Myanmar: Telecoms’ Last Frontier” the Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) explores the realities of Myanmar’s telecom environment. The government of Myanmar wants to leapfrog “from 10 (SIMs per 100 people) to 80 in five years.” LIRNEasia’s chair Rohan Samarajiva has concluded his report in this publication: The challenges before Myanmar are many. But, if the mistakes of its neighbors and peers are avoided and lessons learned and put into effect, the target of 10 to 80 in five years can be achieved. While outlining Myanmar’s strategy for Universal Service Fund, Rohan is explicit at the very beginning of his another paper in the same publication: We at LIRNEasia have been critical of universal service subsidies.
In Sri Lanka, the incumbent teleco is a healthy company that gives decent service, lots of patronage benefits and some contributions to Treasury. It did not shed any employees, other than through voluntary schemes. In Bangladesh and India, the incumbents are at death’s door. The difference is that Sri Lanka government partially privatized the company in 1997, giving management control to the Japanese investor. Thanks to another Japanese partner, it looks like the Myanmar MPT company will not join the incumbents requiring life support.
There will be two events to mark the launch of the Myanmar translation of Information Lives of the Poor, co-authored by Laurent Elder, Rohan Samarajiva, Alison Gillwald and Hernan Galperin and published by IDRC. The first is at the Sky Palace Hotel , 3, Yarza Thingaha Road, Datkhinathiri Township, Hotel Zone, Southern Nay Pyi Taw, Nay Pyi Taw, http://skypalace.asia/home.html phone number is (95) 67 422122, (95) 9 49 210 703. We plan to start at 1430 on the 24th of July.
I wonder what Carlos Afonso, who was so upset when I said at IGF2009 in Sharm El Sheikh that most people in developing countries would be accessing the Internet over mobile devices, would have to say now? China had 632 million Internet users at the end of June, an increase of 14.4 million since the end of December, according to a semiannual report published on Monday by the official China Internet Network Information Center, which is known as CNNIC. Of those, 83.4 percent reported gaining access to the Internet with mobile phones, exceeding for the first time the 80.
As someone old enough to remember the 1984 Apple ad that assailed IBM as big brother, I am willing to bet Big Blue will pull through and to be amused by Apple collaborating with IBM. The areas IBM is betting heavily on include data analytics, cloud computing and corporate mobile and social computing. At a meeting with analysts in May, company executives called them its “strategic imperatives.” They span IBM’s services, software and hardware businesses and mostly contribute to the revenue of the services and software units. Steven Milunovich, an analyst at UBS, estimates that these businesses account for 21 percent of IBM’s revenue.
For the last few years, I have been reluctant to publish in academic journals and edited volumes, where the content that I contributed would not be available on the web. I have now some doubts about the wisdom of this position. If one assumes that citation is a proxy indicator that someone out there is reading what one writes, one could conclude that the more cited articles are the most read. I dislike publishing in platforms that do not make content available on the web because I think that fewer people can read what I publish there. So, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that my work that is freely available on the web, on platforms such as SSRN and in open journals, should be read more and should generate more citations.
It started with the infamous “SIM tax” in 2005. Although mobile covers nearly 100% of population and geography, a highly ambiguous Social Obligation Fund (SOF) was created in 2010. Consequently the telecom regulator has been illegally amassing huge wealth since 2011. Now the tax authorities have decided to impose 1% surcharge on mobile usage to “promote rural education.” And for the first time, the taxmen will be collecting a sector-specific toll.
There is a good article the mobile revolution by Nalaka Gunawardene in Sri Lanka’s best business magazine, Echelon. No surprise, he draws extensively on LIRNEasia research ranging from teleuse at the bottom of the pyramid through the work on the budget telecom network business model to our estimates of how many Internet users there are. This is where you would look for the excerpt and the link to the article. But Echelon is a young publication and they need to get their revenue model working. There is a lag between the ad revenue generating print version (out this week) and the possibly cost-causing online version.
Quality of Service Experience (QoSE) is generally not what ISPs worry about. QoSE however, is what affects the user’s broadband experience. LIRNEasia’s broadband benchmarking efforts have consistently been about QoSE. In a recent launch of its new service Google aims to provide statistics based on streaming media via YouTube, that will help users make informed choices of ISPs. It seems however that this service uses a ‘push’ mechanism as opposed to a ‘pull’.
It appears that the smartphone market may be turning into a commodity market sooner than thought. Samsung’s response to its predicament could shape the entire smartphone market. If Samsung aggressively cuts prices to improve sales, it could pressure other competitors like Nokia, HTC and Motorola Mobility to lower prices, too. That could lead to lower-quality products or even slimmer margins for the smartphone business as a whole. Already, in many recent financial quarters, only Samsung and Apple have made a profit from smartphones.
A fascinating interview with the Chinese financier Zhang Lei by the Financial Times highlights the need to learn about and keep up with China’s ICT industry. Now Zhang is taking the Chinese template offshore. “The Chinese model, which is mobile-driven, is more suited to emerging markets than the US model, which is desktop driven,” he says. “The socio-economic profile is more similar. We can help companies like Tencent go abroad and accelerate the growth of the mobile internet elsewhere and others also can leapfrog.