Trade unions are supposed to level the playing field for workers. But it’s something else that happens with unions in monopoly services provided by government. They engage in what is very close to extortion. Government doctors in Sri Lanka go on strike, harming innocent patients, demanding and getting privileged access to popular schools for their children and duty exemptions for the cars they buy. Railway workers demand salary increases even when the losses exceed total revenues.
This past week, a three-day tech camp for persons with disabilities was held in Yangon. Around 50 participated in this tech camp representing different disability organisations. Half of the participants were from Yangon, while the rest of the participants were from other areas of Myanmar. Htaike Htaike Aung of MIDO, with help from our invaluable disabilities consultant Nirmita Narasimhan, made a well received presentation on how ICT applications in the local languages can be used to make persons with disabilities (any disability) more independent. This was a continuation, and one of the most gratifying outcomes, of Nirmita’s work in Yangon a few months back during which both Htaike Htaike and I received a superb training in how ICTs can be used to make information societies more inclusive.
For the past week or so, LIRNEasia’s ICT for agriculture researchers have been interacting with three groups of coders who want to respond to our pitch described below. In Sri Lanka, a considerable amount of information relevant to farmers involved in the export sector is held within government departments and Ministries. How can we create a solution that enables farmers to receive important information vital to their work and also allow them to share information about disease outbreaks and other issues? Solution: Create an app that has information related to crop advise, the ability to take geo-tagged photographs and to upload to a platform for identifying and tracking diseases, and a platform where farmers can advertise to exporters. I understand there’s a lot of activity this weekend at the offices of WSO2 which have been volunteered for this Code4Good event.
We’ve been excited for some time about the energy and enthusiasm in the start-up space in Myanmar for some time. But it is still great to see the country and its young people gain the attention of the Economist. Still, a few firms have begun to blossom since its ruling generals began opening up the economy in 2011. Back then, less than 1% of Burmese people could access the internet. But with wireless towers now popping up across the country, the government thinks 80% of citizens may have a mobile phone with a data connection by 2016.
The New York Times carries this fascinating story about Hike, a new app that is being driven by Sunil Mittal’s son. Those who consider every smartphone app as a mortal threat to the telecom business should read this. In a first for messaging apps, Hike allows its users to send free text messages to people who use “feature phones” —low-end devices that lack a smartphone’s ability to download apps — and to people who usually keep their phones’ Internet connection turned off to save money. It allows chats within groups of up to 100 people, and transfer of large files, a useful ability for students exchanging homework files. India is the third-largest smartphone market by sales, after China and the United States, and since the end of last year it has been the fastest growing.
Interesting interview with Ooredoo’s Myanmar strategy chief: Flagging up the likes of mobile health and money services, Swierzy told Mobile World Live there was a big opportunity to go beyond the traditional talk and text model. “We think we can get Myanmar using advanced services more quickly than other markets,” he said. Qatar’s Ooredoo, along with Telenor, fought off stiff international competition to win a telecommunications licence in Myanmar. The plan is to make 3G commercially available first in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw – and the corridors that link them – by the end of this (Q3) quarter. Swierzy doesn’t see lack of consumer mobile knowledge as an issue in Myanmar’s main cities.
The research conducted by Rajat Kathuria and Sugandha Srivastav continues to generate more publicity. Indians are falling in love with mobile apps. The average smartphone user in the country has 17 apps, says a recent study released by Google Mobile Planet. The number is close to the global average of 25 (South Korea leads with 41 apps—mostly games—per smartphone). India’s app economy is estimated to be worth Rs 974 crore in 2014, and is expected to grow 66 percent to Rs 1,621 crore in 2015.
I was a little surprised by the report in the Hindu Business Line that the Department of Telecom is planning to set up a testing and payment infrastructure for mobile apps, along with a subsidy/investment scheme funded from the Universal Service Fund. I was surprised about the DoT taking the lead when apps seem to be more within DEITY’s subject area. I was also surprised that funds from the USF were being used, when one would think that converting the universal service fund into an investment vehicle is an unusual choice. I was also surprised that many of the topics had been discussed in great detail by Rajat Kathuria and Sughanda Srivastva at the Expert Forum we conducted in Delhi on March 12th, 2014. DoT senior officials were present, but it seems that a month and half is little too short a time for policy recommendations to be transformed into actual policy in India.
Many new issues worth further exploration emerged at the Expert Forum we concluded in New Delhi yesterday. One thing that was stated by officials was that the private sector was not stepping up to purchase the capacity offered by the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN). Unlike in other countries, the access offer is not complete (supposedly, some tariffs have been published; with some serious discounts on offer). Imagine offering a service without full information on what to do if the NOFN fails. So, what comes first: NOFN access rules or the private operators lining up to buy capacity?
Apps have attacked the lucrative harvest of voice with the tenacity of hungry locusts. Now they have targeted the farmhouse of messaging. And the device makers have joined the feast with independent messaging outfits. The revenue from messaging services fell by almost 4% in 2013 to just below US$104 billion. It predicts that the decline in messaging revenue will be more pronounced in North America and Western Europe where the greatest penetration of smartphones and data users has been prevalent.
From India to Myanmar, debate has been engaged on what regulators should/should not do regarding mobile apps. Are telecom regulators the right people to promote innovation? Should mobile apps have to be licensed? Should mobile operators be prohibited from providing apps and value-added services, as was proposed in Bangladesh? These questions were discussed in the session that I presented at today at the 13th Asia Pacific Telecommunity Policy and Regulatory Forum.
I discussed two elements of the Internet eco-system, attractive apps and content and trust, with an audience of interested and informed members of the Nepal Internet Society in Kathmandu on August 1, 2013. Discussion focused on how innovation could be fostered in Nepal, on cyber-security, and what could be done in the short and medium term for the young people of Nepal to grab the opportunities afforded by the new mobile-first Internet eco-system. The presentation.
My second presentation at the SATRC policy workshop moved into contentious territory. I was preceded by Principal Advisor to TRAI, Mr Sudheer Gupta, who presented the TRAI recommendation that the new category they describe as “application services” be subject to a form of authorization at the cost of INR 15,000 and transaction costs. Sri Lanka’s official representative challenged the need for licensing, which made me happy. But this is an area where no one has all the answers and it is good that SATRC has got the discussion going. I did not cover the last section of the slides because of lack of time.
It was one thing for Gmail to ask “did you intend to attach a document to this email?” based on your use of the word “attached” in the email. But it moves things to a whole new level when an app analyzes your digital bread crumbs and tells you stuff that you haven’t even thought about. The services guess what you want to know based on the digital breadcrumbs you leave, like calendar entries, e-mails, social network activity and the places you take your phone. Many use outside services for things like coupons, news and traffic.
We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about the failure to supply toilets on our site and elsewhere. Now there’s movement on using mobiles to help get working toilets in schools and elsewhere. “It’s something that can have a little more impact than helping someone find the nearest bar or restaurant,” said Gary Gale, director of global community programs in the location and commerce division of Nokia, which works with the company’s mapping technology. After the event in Washington, the winners of the hackathon are set to travel to Silicon Valley for meetings with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who are interested in the issue. The World Bank does not plan to invest in the projects, but hopes that others might.