2016 January


Knowing the importance of networks, LIRNEasia has always probed about circles of friends and contacts and the role of ICTs in maintaining those relationships. Good to see the results of a study focusing entirely on that: The survey asked 2,000 people, chosen because they were regular social-network users, and a further 1,375 adults in full-time employment, who might or might not have been such users, how many friends they had on Facebook. The results showed, to no surprise whatsoever on the part of Dr Dunbar, that the average number of Facebook friends in the two groups were Dunbar-sized numbers: 155 and (when those who did not use Facebook at all were excluded) 187, respectively. Other details matched Dr Dunbar’s earlier work, too. This described a pair of smaller socially relevant numbers—a support clique (people you would rely on in a crisis) of about five and a sympathy group (those you would call close friends) of about 15.
I am in Myanmar with Disability Access Expert Nirmita Narasimhan of the Center for Internet and Society to initiate work on one component of our Myanmar as an Inclusive Information Society project. It is said by the experts in making devices and services accessible to those with disabilities that it should not be thought that such actions make things worse for “normal” users. So no wonder this piece from the Economist caught my eye: Robert Bosch, a German producer of car parts, among other things, recently displayed a touchscreen with “haptic feedback”. Visual effects, sounds and vibrations are already used with touchscreens to confirm when icons or keys are selected. What the Bosch system does is to add different surface textures to the mix.
We used to say that the only certainty about demand forecasts for telephony in developing economies was that they were wrong. It appears the same may apply to business strategies. Telenor had more demand for data than they envisaged. Ooredoo is planning to mass market data? Ooredoo’s focus on costlier data services, however, has meant that it fell behind its rivals in signing up subscribers: MPT boasts 18 million customers, while Telenor has 12 million.
Looks like what we wrote in EPW is having ripple effects. A cost-effective, intermediary method of collecting data has emerged in the form of direct source collection, in which individual citizens themselves are relied upon as the primary source of information. This is done through mobile network data, generated by all cellphones and includes information such as frequency and duration of calls, Internet plans and visitor location registry data. In cities buckling under the pressure of a growing population and facing a possible breakdown of infrastructure, this method of pre-informed planning allows the populace itself to contribute to the solution. LIRNEasia, a Sri Lanka-based think tank, has carried out an extensive study demonstrating the value of mobile network data.
Much of these findings I had heard from our researchers who did field work in Myanmar. But we did not make the Atlantic. All over the world, Internet cognoscenti are bemoaning the fact that not everyone uses the Internet like them, in many cases citing our research as reported by Quartz. But here is an interesting thought for them to ponder: But Facebook has a compelling advantage over other news apps or even Twitter: The content of many posts and news items live inside Facebook itself. There are external links, but most of the article summaries and photos are self contained.
I’ve been asked to comment on a brewing storm in a tea cup, the supposed opening of the gates to hordes of Indian IT workers. At this time, all that the government is considering is a Framework Agreement, or an agreement to work in a time-bound manner toward a technical and economic cooperation agreement. I was involved in the early stages of negotiation but have little knowledge of current state. Not having the time to engage with the issues in detail, I thought, I’d paste below the transcript of a talk I gave at the National Chamber of Commerce, along with the slideset. Addressing an audience of who I took to be diehard protectionist types from the world of commodities and goods, I had highlighted how much we had benefited from unilateral but incomplete (one still had to grovel before the BoI for most permissions) liberalization that allowed us to grow the telecom and IT & ITES sectors over the past two decades.
Sliding revenues from conventional wholesale services mean carriers are being challenged to find new drivers for growth. It has been the hot topic in this year’s Pacific Telecommunication Council’s Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. I presented the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway as new avenue to revenue. Here is my presentation.
India started in April 2015, when the regulator (TRAI) proposed rules for how application/content providers (Over the Top Players, or OTTs) should be regulated, taxed and treated (that  debate got sidelined in the battle over Facebook and FreeBasics, but that’s a different story). Now it’s South Africa’s turn.  It seems that two operators are pushing for the regulator (ICASA) for regulation of OTTs, specifically that WhatsApp should be subject to local tax.  These are two of the bigger telcos that are asking for this.  Supporting their point of view of course are the national security hawks, who possibly don’t care about the tax, but want access to the OTT content (in this case, the content of WhatApp messages), and see this as the opportunity for catch-all regulation.
I was invited to share my research with Stockholm Environment Institute Asia office in Bangkok. The intention was for SEI-Asia Researchers to possibly identify any areas for collaboration. I themed my talk on “ICT4D action research in Early Warning Systems”. It has been 10 years since I first began my research work in December of 2005. It was important to first establish an abstract definition of an EWS.
A carrier-neutral international cable that will connect Myanmar to Thailand and Malaysia is be operational by 2017. he story does not say anything about SEA-ME-WE 5, scheduled to be operational in 2016, and the AAE-1 cable scheduled for completion in Q4 2016. Nor is any mention made of the already built new links to China. Could this be because all the above except for SEA-ME-WE 5 are essentially cables that connect China to the world, which just happen to go through Myanmar? Any way, a carrier-neutral cable is always a good thing.
Grace Mirandilla Santos has been working on this for a long time. Even after the formal proceeding ends, it appears she will have to help. Cabarios also expressed difficulties in getting wired and fixed wireless subscribers to volunteer for measurement of Internet speeds. Mary Grace Santos – an independent researcher for think-tank LIRNEasia – expressed willingness of civil society representatives present to encourage subscribers to volunteer their broadband services for testing and monitoring . “We will do a public call over social media so we can encourage more people to actively participate in the monitoring process,” Santos said.
The Bangladesh State Minister for ICT is among the many who have expressed their unhappiness about the release of stale data based on a large-sample representative survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, which shows impressive gains in mobile use and less than impressive Internet use. “All these data show that Bangladesh has developed as a country in the ICT and telecommunication sector,” said State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak. He, however, was not satisfied with the findings on internet connections at households. “Our calculation showed that internet penetration is now more than 34 percent, and it will be 100 percent by 2021.” Last year, 44 lakh smartphones were sold, and the number would double this year, he said.
One thing working on big data has done is to sensitize us to the power of visualization, especially using maps. Here is one that impresses, especially in view of our focus on urban development: Data viz extraordinaire Max Galka created this map using NASA’s gridded population data, which counts the global population within each nine-square-mile patch of Earth, instead of within each each district, state, or country border. Out of the 28 million total cells, the ones with a population over 8,000 are colored in yellow. That means each yellow cell has a population density of about 900 people per square mile—“roughly the same population density as the state of Massachusetts,” Galka writes in the accompanying blog post. The black regions, meanwhile, reflect sparser population clusters.

On communication

Posted by on January 11, 2016  /  0 Comments

Effective communication is extraordinarily important for everything we do at LIRNEasia. But we do not talk about it in systematic way that often, hoping it will seep through in the course of the activities we undertake. I was invited to deliver the 66th Founder’s Day oration at my old school, Thurstan on the subject of communication. So I put together a talk. The slides tell only one part of the story.
We at LIRNEasia have always emphasized the significance of the physical infrastructure that makes the Internet possible. That is possibly because we work in parts of the world where the infrastructure is still being built up. Our long engagement with ESCAP on the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) is testimony to this. It is in this context that this piece about the data centers that support much of the “cloud” caught my attention. This led to an outcropping of office parks that housed not only defense contractors, but also government IT and time-sharing services and, later, companies like MCI, AOL, and UUNet.
The Egyptian investment in North Korea surprised many. But Naguib Sawiris expressed confidence when I heard him talk about it in Barcelona a few years back. Apparently making good profits was possible, but what value are profits that cannot be repatriated? The Egyptian operator rolled out North Korea’s sole mobile network in 2008 as a joint venture with the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC). Orascom owns 75% of Koryolink, which has 3 million subscribers.
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