General — Page 4 of 245

LIRNE asia CEO, Helani Galpaya, was recently appointed to the board of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD).
LIRNEasia is calling for proposals from field research organisations for the conduct of comparative nationwide quantitative studies of ICT access and use in Cambodia and Pakistan. The deadline for submission is 0800hrs Sri Lanka time, 24 July 2017. Details of the study and instructions to interested parties are contained within the following request for proposals (RFP), which can be downloaded here. Interested parties should request Annexes 3-5 to the RFP by way of an email to procurement[at]lirneasia[dot]net.  

White spaces, again

Posted on July 11, 2017  /  0 Comments

It was in 2007 that we first wrote about white spaces. Ten years later, the talk continues. The technology is sometimes known as “super Wi-Fi” because it behaves like regular Wi-Fi but uses low-powered television channels to cover far greater distances than wireless hot spots. It is also more powerful than cellular service because the frequencies can penetrate concrete walls and other obstacles. Promoting the white-spaces technology could reap rewards for tech companies: The remaining 24.
As people live longer and elder dependency (ratio of adults to working population) increases. How to give the elderly a productive life without imposing a heavy burden on the taxpayer will be one of the most important public policy challenges. The Economist examines the issues, looking, among other things at, ICTs: Encouragingly, in every centre for seniors visited for this report, from New York to Seoul, the most popular classes were in the use of smartphones and tablets, often sponsored by telecoms companies who spotted an opportunity. If insurers and health-care providers do not come up with a funding model, tech and telecoms companies may eat their lunch.
This is getting to be boring. Every few years, decision makers at TRAI and DoT float balloons about reducing the USO levy. We write commending it. Nothing happens. Another official said that besides increasing the payment tenure, the 5% levy towards Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) could also be reduced, more so as it would bring down the licence fee component for telcos without impacting the government’s revenues.
We spent a lot of time thinking about service-quality in relation to electricity and telecom services in 2012-14. We organized the 2013 SAFIR core training course around the theme of service quality. But the work has more to contribute. The current controversies around private medical education has brought to the fore many neglected issues related to service industries, including the question of service quality or standards. The op-ed seeking to respond some of these erroneous claims states: As shown by the example of automobile service above, the burden on the regulatory agency is much less when competition exists.
The talk is about 2G networks being shut down and the frequencies repurposed for other uses. But of course this step will take a lot more time in countries where feature phones still predominate. Perhaps Myanmar will be the first. The first 2G network was commercially launched on the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja (now part of Elisa) in 1991. In December 2016, Australia’s largest mobile operator Telstra closed its 2G network, which was in operation for more than 23 years.
In a “parable” I wrote some time back, I indicated that it made sense for companies such as Google to build their own international backhaul capacity or enter into joint ventures to build the cables. Telegeography says it is so: But there is a cautionary note. A lot of the build—or a lot of the demand for new capacity build is coming from content providers. Really big content providers. And within that group just a handful of companies.
It seems everyone is talking about digital platforms and digital labor.  This is not surprising, given the amount of news Uber alone is creating in many countries, including the ones LIRNEasia works in.  Everyone is worried about the impacts on labor and working conditions, while some are optimistic about the welfare effects created, especially for consumers who now have more choice and often cheaper rides. Last year we completed the Sri Lanka part of a project looking at a specific type of platform-enabled economic activity that completes a transition with the buyer and seller never meeting – that of on online freelancing and microwork.  We are now looking at the same phenomena in India, and will soon start the same research in Myanmar.
When people were getting their knickers in a twist in relation to Y2K problem, I was in government. I used to get a lot of questions about it. Part of my job was to prepare for all eventualities, without creating unnecessary panic. My response Y2K hype always included reference to a Sinhala aphorism about people who slept on mats on the floor had little to fear about falling off beds. Appears that logic will not apply to cyber warfare.
I have been asked several times about the feasibility of national online freelancing platforms. There are a few in Sri Lanka. According to this report, it appears that a platform has emerged in Myanmar too. First prize goes to Honey Mya Win. She founded her startup with her programmer sister less than a year ago after quitting her job with a Chinese telecom firm.
According to information obtained from the Facebook advertising portal, we calculate that 29 percent of Myanmar’s population has a Facebook account. I wanted to cross check from our 2016 survey. We found 35 percent of the mobile users were also Facebook users. The base here is smaller (not the entire population by telephone users in the 15-65 age group). So obviously, our number has to be higher than 29.
I was working on some comparative numbers. Most of these are recent and from reliable, credible sources. Interesting insights. Most people think Facebook use is a subset of Internet use. But in SE Asia, Internet use is always lower than Facebook use.
Micro and small enterprises play an important role in developing countries. Any improvement in their performance is likely to have a significant impact on the poor. Many studies have been conducted on the impact of ICTs on MSME performance. Research Fellow P. Vigneswara Ilavarasan, who has been conducting research on MSMEs for many years, led a team which conducted a systematic review of this research.

Rule of thumb is also an algorithm

Posted on June 28, 2017  /  0 Comments

As part of our big data work, we’ve been thinking about the opacity of the algorithms we use. The pretty picture and tables that result from the research are persuasive, but if people wanted to know how they were derived, it would not be easy to explain. But then, we have to always think about the alternative. A method may be familiar and may have been used for decades if not centuries. But that does not necessarily make it fair.
Been thinking about AI for a while but realized there was nothing on the record. It’s good to have some record of what we are thinking about, as illustrated by the recent tweet I sent showing our first post following the launch of the iPhone. What is artificial intelligence today? Roughly speaking, it’s technology that takes in huge amounts of information from a specific domain (say, loan repayment histories) and uses it to make a decision in a specific case (whether to give an individual a loan) in the service of a specified goal (maximizing profits for the lender). Think of a spreadsheet on steroids, trained on big data.