2018 February


Economies of scale of production of telecom equipment are considerable. There are only a few manufacturers and most countries rely on foreign suppliers. But there are concerns about surveillance being built into the equipment itself, enabling the governments of the countries where the manufacturers are located to spy on others. This issue has come to the fore now as Chinese suppliers are increasingly displacing Western companies. PCMag, a US publication, provides a useful analysis: Network equipment is, in general, where spying happens.
We have been writing about network shutdowns for a long time. We even formulated a law to explain its workings. Now finally a court has ruled: The judgement reads as, “For what has been discussed above, the instant appeal and the connected petitions are allowed. Consequently, the actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority, as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3).

City as platform

Posted by on February 24, 2018  /  0 Comments

We’ve been writing about smart cities for a while. Many of the plans for the design of these complex organisms have fallen short of expectations. But now some are taking a new approach: Sidewalk thinks of smart cities as being rather like smartphones. It sees itself as a platform provider responsible for offering basic tools (from software that identifies available parking spots to location-based services monitoring the exact position of delivery robots), much as Google does with its smartphone operating system, Android. Details are still under discussion, but Sidewalk plans to let third parties access the data and technologies, just as developers can use Google’s and Apple’s software tools to craft apps.

The importance of being earnest

Posted by on February 23, 2018  /  0 Comments

A recent post reflected on the issues with a broadband price ranking that was seemingly issued by or, in the least, endorsed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). There were comments and debates on social media about this WEF ranking that placed Sri Lanka as the 17th least expensive for broadband in the world. Given LIRNEasia’s history and interest in ICT indicators we delved into the methodology and found it to be highly flawed. We also found out that while it was cited on the WEF website, it was not commissioned by the WEF. I presented a critique to the WEF which was published on their blog.
This is not the first time Engel’s Law has been written about here. And unlikely the last time. The 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey report is out and we’ve started poking around for insights. Here is a sample: From a high of 60.9% of total household expenditures spent on food in 1990-91, the food ratio has declined to 34.

What is not bias?

Posted by on February 21, 2018  /  0 Comments

Bias is an important topic in general. It is of special significance to a research organization. Issues of bias being built into models that are beginning to play significant roles in society and economy are coming to the forefront of public discourse. So we decided to talk about this topic at a Journal Club. Colleagues from University of Moratuwa’s DataSearch also attended.
Rohan Samarajiva Sarvodaya Fusion, Ministry of Disaster Management & UNDP 19 February 2018
I was invited to speak at the launch of the UNDP-funded DataSmart initiative of the Ministry of Disaster Management, where some work is being done by Sarvodaya Fusion. I talked about the need not only to collect data, but also to ensure that it produced the right kind of information that could be translated by the beneficiaries into action that saved lives and protected assets and livelihoods. We need to think beyond generalized disaster warnings to provide people in particular locations with specific, actionable information that they could use, such as the river will crest in this particular location at x meters at this specific time. I went on to talk about the need to have more granular rainfall data that could be fed into models that could yield the kinds of actionable information people living in our river valleys could use. The attenuation of microwave transmissions caused by rainfall is built into the operation of the ubiquitous mobile networks.
The Household Income and Expenditure Survey is an important report. The 2016 report is just out. The previous report (2012-13) found that 12.5 percent of Sri Lankan households lacked telephone service, fixed or mobile. By 2016, the phoneless households had declined to 8.
I just heard of Maev Sullivan’s demise. It’s always sad to hear of the passing of friends and those who engaged in the hard work of telecom reforms. She was with Mercury when the UK market was being opened up. She fought the battles to make interconnection possible. I still remember her formula: first they deny; then they delay; then they degrade.
The Young Scholars’ Program conducted alongside the annual CPRsouth conference has been offered eleven times since January 2007, with the support of IDRC. The purpose of both events is to develop policy intellectuals in the global south. A tracer study conducted in 2016 found that those who had participated in the Young Scholars’ Program before presenting papers at the conference were the most policy engaged. The program was re-conceptualized accordingly, and the Young Scholars’ Program placed firmly in the foreground starting August 2017. View the full report here.
The work on building trust-enhancing mechanisms for electoral demarcations has been an important component (not applied in the case of local government elections). On the 13th of February, Team Leader Sujata Gamage shared her research with colleagues at the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University.
The World Economic Forum recently published some broadband price comparisons that generated some social media conversation, mostly because Sri Lanka, which had the lowest broadband prices according to the ITU, was now the 17th cheapest. LIRNEasia Research Manager Shazna Zuhyle who is active in the ITU’s indicators committees had this to say: The WEF has employed a consulting consultancy firm to gather the data that was then analysed by cable.co.uk. They have simply captured all fixed residential broadband plans per country, averaged the monthly cost and converted to USD.
People are talking across borders more and more. But the minutes carried the old-fashioned way by telecom operators are on a downward trajectory. It won’t be long before conventional calling will go the way of the telegram. Telcos terminated 547 billion minutes of international traffic in 2013, and Skype plus carrier traffic totaled 761 billion minutes. If we assume that total international (carrier plus OTT) traffic has continued to grow at a relatively modest 13 percent annually since 2013, the combined volume of international traffic would have reached 1.
The results of our 2016 nationally representative survey were quoted extensively in Myanmar’s Universal Service Strategy document released in January 2018. This work has fed into the Government’s proposals in multiple areas including affordability, ownership of devices and digital skills. The manner in which our work on digital skills contributed towards the Government’s recommendations is depicted  in the table below. A more comprehensive document which includes the linkages between our work in affordability and ownership of devices can be found here.
We had proposed standard comparative metrics for universal services because we said they would lead to improved performance and changes in programs. Some academic reviewers rejected our article on the ground that metrics could not improve performance. It’s difficult to educate ignorant peer reviewers because they are anonymous. But who knows, they may stumble upon this blog. The Centre’s quest to identify the top 100 cities for its smart city projects has states vying for maximum entries.
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