Last Mile


Now that we’ve had some time to figure out 4G/LTE, we got to start on 5G. But it seems it will be some time before the standards will settle, according to the NYT. You may soon start hearing a lot about 5G, or the fifth generation of wireless technology. This technology is expected to leap ahead of current wireless technology, known as 4G, by offering mobile Internet speeds that will let people download entire movies within seconds, and it may pave the way for new types of mobile applications. Yet many challenges exist before 5G becomes part of our daily lives.
The conventional telcos were complaining that the Googles and the Facebooks of the world (labeled by them as Over-the-Top or OTT players) were unfairly getting a free ride on the expensive, difficult-to-maintain last mile access network. Bharti Airtel went as far as unilaterally seeking to identify such uses by their customers and to impose additional charges on them. They backed off in the face of widespread protests, but they said that they expected the regulator to “level the playing field.” Now it looks like their complaints may be getting a response from a different quarter. If the Googles and the Facebooks of the world provide connectivity directly to their users, the old boys will have nothing to complain about.
Smith Dharmasaroja is a hero of mine. Disagreeing with a hero does not come easy. But he is wrong to give equal or greater weight to national tsunami detection and monitoring systems than to communication of last-mile warning. It may be that the fault lies in the reporter in ordering the comments, but it does appear that Mr Smith believes that a national tsunami detection and monitoring system is most important to Thailand. It is not.
The idea of using information supplied by people for early warning is extremely attractive. So much so that one politically-correct person wanted us to rename our project from “last mile” to “first mile.” We didn’t because in our model it was the last mile, the end of the warning chain, and we have little tolerance for people who think the world will change simply because we rename it. But that does not stop us from thinking about the possibilities of detecting hazards through crowdsourcing. Seems quite appropriate for “unnatural” hazards of criminality as described in this report: “Avoid Plaza Las Américas,” several people wrote, giving the location.
“We told you so.” We said that the last mile was the key to saving lives; that focus had to placed on getting the warnings out to the potentially affected people; that they had to be trained to react appropriately; that all the fancy technology in and under the sea would come to nought if these key actions were not taken. Our collaborator Nalaka Gunawardene says it again in a SciDev piece worth reading: “What failed was the education process ­ only some of the people fled to higher ground and one of the boats put to sea immediately after they felt the earthquake ­ the right thing to do in these circumstances. Why wasn’t everyone well prepared to respond given the recent history of earthquakes and tsunamis in the region?” Nalaka Gunawardene, director of TVE Asia Pacific, a not-for-profit media group, hinted at underlying problems with the system’s suitability for its environment.
It is disappointing to see sirens still being promoted despite the demonstrated problems. And I think Kogami was present at the HazInfo dissemination event we held in Jakarta. Patra Rina Dewi, director of the Tsunami Alert Community (Kogami), a nongovernmental organisation working on disaster mitigation training for communities, said the knowledge people most need is whether an earthquake has the potential to become a tsunami. The current standard for this is an earthquake that occurs less than ten kilometres below the seafloor and is recorded as more than seven on the Richter scale. “But this kind of information should be translated into easy information for the people,” said Patra.
The special issue on “Community-based last-mile early warning system” carried on its back page the following contribution from Rohan Samarajiva (despite the title of the publication, it’s not possible to find this piece on the web, so what is pasted below is the pre-pub version: Between a rock and a hard place The tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the absence of any official warning. The Bengkulu earthquake of 2007 September 12th shows that this is unlikely to be repeated. What we must guard against now is indifference to warning; of populations that will refuse to evacuate in the face of real danger. Tsunami prediction is an inexact art practiced in conditions of imperfect information and time pressure. In the Pacific Basin, which has had the most experience with tsunamis, 75 per cent of all warnings are false.
It has been a practice at LIRNEasia to write an assessment of the responses to potentially tsunamigenic events in the region. We commented on Nias and Pangandaran. Now that the discussion on the response is starting, here is our take: Lessons from the Sri Lanka tsunami warnings and evacuation of September 12-13, 2007 The tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was the absence of any official warning. The September 12th Bengkulu earthquake shows that this is unlikely to be the case in the future. We have seen that the new institutions created since the 2004 tsunami have the will and the capacity to act.
On Friday, September 7, 2007, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights (MDMHR), with the support of LIRNEasia, held a meeting on “The Role of Telecom Operators and Broadcasters in a National Public Warning System” with a six of the eight major telecom operators, as well as several disaster management-related government agencies (NBRO, Irrigation Dept., Meteorology Dept., CCP, etc.), UNDP, and a few technical institutes. Mr.