2014 November


Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the first discussions on the maritime Silk Road being promoted by President Xi Jinping. I wrote up the two points I made in my five minutes. The second point described in the excerpt below suggests that governments and operators get behind the UN ESCAP Information Superhighway initiative that we’ve been working on with them since 2010. It is possible to place security teams on trains and ships to thwart the attacks of extremists. But it is not practical to guard fibre optic cables, be they placed on the ocean floor or buried underground.
The way mobile connectivity is growing in Myanmar, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology should be updating the connectivity numbers every week. But given all the other priorities such as deciding who gets the fourth license, indicators are not easy to come by. According to the Irrawaddy Magazine, the country had 11.6 million active SIMs by end of September 2014. That amounts to 22.

Limits of mobile telephony

Posted by on November 28, 2014  /  1 Comments

Nothing better illustrates what we have always said about ICT’s role in development than this tragic story from Sierra Leone: But none of it was reaching Isatu Sesay, a sick teenager. She flipped on her left side, then her right, writhing on a foam mattress, moaning, grimacing, mumbling and squinching her eyes in agony as if she were being stabbed. Her family and neighbors called an Ebola hotline more than 35 times, desperate for an ambulance. For three days straight, Isatu’s mother did not leave her post on the porch, face gaunt, arms slack, eyes fixed up the road toward the capital, Freetown, where the Ebola command center was less than 45 minutes away. “This is nonsense,” said M.
      Broadband in the Philippines has been receiving a lot of negative press. LIRNEasia research confirms the poor quality received in Manila. In response, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) called for a public consultation for which LIRNEasia responded to. The regulator has been granted P 15.5 million (2015) for the benchmarking of broadband quality of all service providers.
Related to the previous post on ICT Development Index,  the 2014 Measuring the Information Society report also has a section on the ICT Price Basket (IPB) which is a composite basket that includes three sub-baskets: fixed-telephone, mobile cellular and fixed- broadband. This is used to measure the affordability of ICT in a country by dividing the IPB value by the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of the country. Even though the report mentions that the growth of mobile broadband has overtaken fixed-broadband and is less expensive especially in developing countries, the IPB still does not include mobile-broadband. ITU has a separate section only measuring the affordability of mobile broadband, but has not included these indicators into their index. While South Asia performed badly in the IDI, the affordability of ICT in South Asia is much better according to ITU’s ICT Price Basket method with Sri Lanka ranked 39 (up from 44), Bhutan 71 (up from 81), India 84 (up from 92), followed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal at 102, 116 and 119 which have not moved much compared to 2013.
Christoph Stork and Alison Gillwald have been engaged with the real-world problem of high mobile termination rates in Southern Africa for several years. Perhaps the earliest intervention was with the Namibian Communication Commission in 2009. Then there were repeated engagements in South Africa. We know, from our experience, that policy engagement does not leave a lot of time for academic publication. But it’s not that our colleagues did not try to publish in academic journals.
Bangladesh has not done too well in the IDI rankings, but a Bangladesh newspaper has been fast off the mark. On a global ranking of ICT usage, Bangladesh falls at 145 among a total of 166 countries, according to the latest report published by the International Telecommunication Union today. In Measuring the Information Society (MIS) report, Bangladesh has also ranked at the 27th position among 29 nations in the Asia-Pacific region with an ICT development index (IDI) of 1.97 and Afghanistan being the lowest in the region with an IDI ranking of 1.67.
We deal with a subset of ASEAN countries, the most prosperous among them being Thailand. So I looked at the performance of the not-so-rich ASEAN in the ICT Development Index. Thailand has advanced from 91st place in 2012 to 81st in 2013. Very significant. Then comes Viet Nam (101; down two places from 2012), Philippines (103; down one place), Indonesia and Cambodia holding steady at 106 and 127, respectively; Laos, down four to 134; and sadly Myanmar at 150, two places down from the last place in the region it held in 2012 — 148.
The 2014 Measuring the Information Society report is out. No surprises at the top: Denmark is now at 1 and Korea is now 2; just changed places from 2012 ranking. Significant movement from the Gulf countries: UAE goes from 46 to 23 and Qatar from 42 to 34. UAE is almost too difficult to believe. No good news from South Asia, sadly.
We’ve been thinking some big changes were coming to energy, mostly because of application of ICTs and concern about excessive centralization. But could this accelerate everything? According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents.
I’ve seen larger numbers being thrown around but this seems to be the component that the Indian Department of Telecom will control through its BBNL special purpose vehicle. The Rs 20,100 crore national broadband network will serve as a countrywide optic-fibre pipe to provide high-speed internet connectivity across rural India while the Rs 30,000-crore-plus wifi-based e-services project aims to create a commercial ecosystem to recover the costs of building such rural broadband infrastructure. Since the national broadband project is likely to see a 40% cost-escalation to nearly Rs 28,000 crore, the combined capex and opex cost of executing both projects is internally envisaged at roughly Rs 60,000 crore by DoT. “Currently, BBNL’s role is purely B2B (business to business), in that, it will be a bandwidth supplier to telcos who will eventually ride on the national broadband network to deliver services. But if BBNL is also required to deliver broadband services, its business model will have to migrate to the business-to-consumer (B2C) format,” said another DoT official aware of the matter.
For many, the only thing new about what journalists write about mobiles in Myanmar would be Myanmar. But I was thinking about the hate speech angle, which is, without question, going to be extremely significant in that country. Mobiles and social media are not the causes of hate speech; they are the enablers and accelerators of hate speech. Like in the old Yugoslavia, there would have been a lot of enmity toward “the other” in Myanmar. But the whole thing was bottled up and suppressed, not because the military government was against hate speech, but against all speech.
China Unicom and Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) have completed the deployment of a 1,500km terrestrial optical fiber link. It spans from the southwest Chinese province of Yunnan to Myanmar’s Ngwe Saung Beach in the Irrawaddy Delta. It is called China-Myanmar International (CMI) cable. This US$50 million cross-border telecommunication transmission link runs from Ruili and Muse on the Sino-Myanmar border to the coast via Mandalay and Yangon. Eventually it will be plugged with SEA-ME-WE 5 and AAE-1 submarine cable systems.
A short piece by Jan Chipchase on how mobile use is playing out in Myanmar. He highlights some interesting observations about mobile use in Myanmar, as well as the realities of conducting research in the outer parts of the country. Here he highlights the cost of power as a mediating factor in mobile use. In Bogale 2,500 Kyats ($2.5) will buy you a rechargeable battery that can power a home for two short nights.
Vignesh Illavarasan is featured as ICT Champion by the IDRC Asia Office: P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi has identified situations in which mobile phones lead to positive development outcomes. Since 2008, he has been involved in research on the economic and social impact of ICTs, especially mobile phones. His research interests are focused on how micro-entrepreneurs, especially women, leverage ICTs for economic growth. According to Ilavarasan, the role of ICTs in social and economic development is complex.
The GSMA Asia team had come to Colombo for their annual staff retreat. Amid all the team building activities, they also thought they should replenish the knowledge conduits and asked LIRNEasia to put together a few sessions. Many ideas were presented, but I thought it surprising that a collective organization of users of international backhaul capacity had paid so little attention to the sad state of international wholesale markets in the region: IP transit prices way above what were being offered in Europe and North America, excessive reliance on submarine cables that were vulnerable because of the chokepoints of the Suez, the Malacca Strait and the Taiwan Strait. Improving the international connectivity of the region by promoting the building of open-access terrestrial cables to supplement the existing submarine cables is now a priority of UN ESCAP. We’ve been working with them on this since 2010.