2016 April


It was in 2010, that the Obama Administration announced a roadmap to release 500 MHz of spectrum. With the newest announcement, it looks like the targets are being met. The only thing worse than having no announced roadmap, is having a roadmap where the targets are not met. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said it reached its greatest hopes for the amount of spectrum it would be able to offer to wireless carriers in an auction scheduled to begin in late May. Television stations flocked to provide the spectrum, promising to sell enough of the valuable airwaves they use for broadcast programming to reach the agency’s maximum target for the auction.
It was Herbert Simon who first talked of the attention economy: “Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Now we see what the value of attention is. Ours is way below USD 11.86, but not zero and rising. What this means in dollars and cents for Facebook can be seen in numbers contained in its first-quarter financial results, released on Wednesday.
A recent report by TIE, summarized in Mint, echoes many of the conclusions we reached about the challenges of increasing Internet connectivity in India, with emphasis on the bottom of the pyramid. It is important that Bharat Broadband Network stays at the backhaul level and does not seek to directly provide access services to end users. This is not only to safeguard the principle that all access providers should have non-discriminatory, cost-oriented access to the backhaul but also to ensure that the NOFN rollout does not slow down any further. It is silly to ask a bunch of bureaucrats to market Internet access. Private operators are not interested in providing access at the ends of the NOFN wire for various reasons.
Even if it took some exchange-rate movements, to do it, it’s still good news. My only concern is that Myanmar lawmakers will see these numbers as an invitation to start milking what they as a cash cow. There is much to be done in Myanmar in terms of translating the reforms into real benefits for people and that requires the investors earning a reasonable return. Ooredoo Myanmar took in QAR334 million (US$91.7 million) in the three months to March 31, up 18pc over the previous quarter and 42pc on Q1 2015.
On 26 April 2016, Dr Vigneswara Illavarasan who led the Systematic Review on ICTs and MSMEs, convened an expert roundtable to discuss the results and to learn from those working in the field. To round out his study, which was focused on urban areas, I presented the Systematic Review on the impact mobiles had on rural livelihoods and related indicators. The invitees were experts in the field, except for the Ministry representatives everyone who had said they’d come did come, and the discussion of rich with insights. The slides on MSMEs are here. The slides on rural livelihoods are here.
2016 Q1 financial results revealed by Telenor Myanmar paints a rosy picture: “I think I’ve said for many quarters now that this cannot continue, but it does,” said Group CEO Sigve Brekke during the company’s financial results presentation. “One-and-a-half years into operation … [Telenor Myanmar] is now cash-flow-positive for the first time.” Telenor Myanmar’s operating cash flow margin came to 10pc, according to the results. “And despite the aggressive rollout I expect them to be able to stay in the positive territory,” Mr Brekke said. Meanwhile, the company’s margin on earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation – or operating profitability – reached 42pc.
In theory, surge pricing is a no-brainer. If prices go up when demand surges at particular times, surge pricing will bring additional supply to the market. While not supporting what appears on the face to be an economically illiterate decision by an Indian court to ban surge pricing the authors of the Economic Times op-ed point to an unnoticed Delhi-specific fact: the only drivers who can respond to the price signal are those outside the area, since only licensed drivers can supply services. This suggests that research that pays attention to the specific conditions is needed. This is what LIRNEasia did with regard to telecom reform; this is what is needed for platforms in developing countries.
On 18th April 2016 LIRNEasia inked its Memorandum of Understanding with UNDP on areas of cooperation for the first national summit on foresight and innovation for Sustainable Human Development titled “Visioning Sri Lanka #2030NOW”. The summit will be held in Colombo from 24-25th May 2016. In addition to LIRNEasia and UNDP, other core partners for this two day conference include The Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, the United Nations Global Compact Network of Sri Lanka, Sarvodaya, and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Collectively the partners will work towards mainstreaming the use of foresight and facilitating innovation in Sri Lanka so as to successfully implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). LIRNEasia will help to develop the direction and outcomes of the conference and facilitate the discussion on improving the use of data and particularly big data in both monitoring as well as achieving the sustainable development goals.
Yesterday Sriganesh and I had the pleasure of presenting LIRNEasia’s big data work at the 3rd session of the Colombo Big Data Meetup, a prominent local meetup group focusing on big data and data science, domains still very much in their infancy in Sri Lanka. We spoke to a diverse audience of nearly 150 IT professionals, academics, statisticians and enthusiasts. The presentation was followed by a panel discussion which included Sriganesh, Dr. Shehan Perera of the Computer Science Department of University of Moratuwa, and myself. The discussion touched on a range of topics including practical aspects of running a successful big data operation,  learning data science, democratization of data and collective privacy.
I was given the task of talking about policy challenges to using mobile communication advancing socio-economic development in the ASEAN, at the research meeting on mobile communication in the ASEAN at the LKY School. Given the tremendous heterogeneity within ASEAN (ranging from Singapore to Myanmar) I decided it would be more useful to do a deep dive into one ASEAN country, rather than skate over the lot. Also, given the peculiar state of the “single market” in the ASEAN where policy and regulation are not in any way harmonized, a pan-ASEAN discussion would result in a load of platitudes. So I talked about the policy challenges in Myanmar. In the slides I presented data from the 2015 baseline survey to address what socio-economic development effects would be like.
I thought that the Government of India finally solved the problem of getting rid of the universal service fund money that kept coming in. Sam Pitroda gave them the solution with NOFN, that was supposed to shift the money to BSNL and other government entities. And the money was given for little result. But the inflows were just too much. Now the accumulated balance is over USD 6 billion.
It’s difficult to understand how Google’s mission could have been achieved, if the US authors’ union had prevailed. But the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the final appeal. The justices did the right thing. The legal fight over Google’s effort to create a digital library of millions of book is finally over. The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge from authors who had argued that the tech giant’s project was “brazen violation of copyright law” — effectively ending the decade-long legal battle in Google’s favor.
Three years back I wrote about the Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG) cable. It has been officially activated today. In my engagement with the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway of ESCAP, I have been consistently referring to BBG as Asia’s very first cross-sector telecoms infrastructure that links beyond the border. The designers of BBG have very wisely bypassed the pirate infested infamous strait of Malacca. From double landing stations at Singapore it traverses across Malaysia and terminates at Penang.
I received an email from some magazine catering to the NGO Sector, saying they had studied our website and wanted to do a feature on us. After I agreed, the next email included the following question. First of all, I would just like to know if LirneAsia are implementing projects as of the moment or is it focusing solely in research? If there are, are there any projects being implemented in terms of ICT and digital divide? Since this showed that they had not actually studied our website, and this was likely to be a waste of time, I replied thus: We not only do not do projects, we believe they are mostly a waste of time and money.
We at LIRNEasia have always seen transaction costs at the heart of much of what we do. Our interest in ICTs in value chains, for example, has been focused on changes to transaction costs made possible by ICTs. This fascinating article on the business models underlying cloud computing foregrounds the scale economies perfected by the likes of Amazon. But perhaps the real story is in the negligible transaction costs of billing? This economics of tiny things demonstrates the global power of the few companies, including Microsoft and Google, that can make fortunes counting this small and often.
For many, daily travel is a product of routines that have been established over time. From commuting, getting the kids to school and back home to the occasional shopping trip much of our movements follow a predictable pattern. Attempts to map human movement in different regions across the world using emerging sources of big data such as mobile network call detail records (CDR) show that in general aggregate human movements change very little from one week day to another or from one weekend to another. Our work on human mobility using a large CDR dataset have shown that Sri Lanka is no different. However during some days of the year such as during festivals, holidays and natural disasters routine travel behavior gives way to unique travel behavior.
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