India


For a country that stood at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of telecom penetration a decade ago, 2008 was a watershed when India’s subscriber base topped 350 million users to make its network the second largest in the world after China, displacing the US. The significant achievement was made possible by the mobile telephony segment of communications, which was once thought to be a gizmo for the rich – what with a tariff of Rs.16.80 per call when the telecom revolution began in the country in the early 1990s. But with tariff falling to 40 paise a call and incoming calls becoming free, mobile telephony began to appeal to the masses.
Four years to history, ‘Your tears are mine’ (see below) was my reaction to Asian tsunami. Reproduced in multiple sites, it was recited once in a remembrance event. Though written more in a Sri Lankan context, let me pick it again today, to remember all 225,000 lives lost, in the worst tsunami in recent history – that caused vast damage to four countries LIRNEasia closely works in, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. Not my every wish was granted. The aftermath of tsunami, instead of creating a division-free society demonstrated how pathetically the disparities were amplified.
“I think in many areas today if we don’t bypass some of the generational changes would be very difficult to implement because of the mindset. So C-Dot was setup as a group of young people dedicated to designing through indigenous development of the telecom switching systems and related products with focused on rural communication, digitisation of the telecom network and with a focus on building human capacity for telecom, software, computers all of that. We had some total of about 500 young engineers with average age of 23. I would say almost all of those people are now very important, in key positions in global ICT revolution everywhere all over the world. There were some very interesting activities we launched then and those were the seeds we planted.
Even as SIM cards have become the focus of investigations to establish the identity of the Mumbai attackers, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has found that at least two lakh mobile phone users, almost 20% of the total vetted connections so far, had provided fake identity papers and their addresses were unverified. In an ongoing audit, ordered by the government to establish the genuineness of customers, DoT found that out of 10 lakh connections verified so far, more than 2 lakh had been issued to customers whose identity could not be established. The extent of fake identities has rattled the government which has started penalising service providers at Rs 1,000 for every fake user found. Sleuths suspect that the Mumbai attackers, like in the past, had obtained SIM cards on fake identity and had used it for communication with their handlers across the border. Though details are yet to be made public, officials have procured details of SIM cards from where they were procured and whose identities were used for the same.
Surprises me, the skepticism of some Bangla friends here about their own broadband potential. The rest of the world seems to think otherwise. In the maps above the country sizes indicate their Internet penetration. Bigger the country more widespread is the net. (Found them sometime back in Cyber Geography, but cannot locate the source anymore.

Use of mobiles in the Mumbai attacks

Posted on December 3, 2008  /  2 Comments

It is always informative to engage in a retrospective assessment of the use of technology in a terrorist atrocity and see what we can do to make their activities more difficult (and prevent knee jerk reactions that only make the lives of law-abiding people more difficult). The first reports on the use of mobiles by suicide attackers of Mumbai are coming out: Mr. Muzammil, who is the right-hand man to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakvhi, the operational commander of the group, talked by satellite phone to the attackers from Pakistan when the gunmen were in the Taj and Oberoi hotels, the Western official said. The attackers also used the cellphones of people they killed to call back to Mr. Muzammil somewhere in Pakistan, the official said.
As usual, media is blamed for their role in Mumbai. Unconfirmed reports claimed the terrorists trapped in Taj Mahal Palace constantly watched TV for news and they might have got a feeling of excitement if not ideas from the live coverage. Stupid guys. They never knew what they missed. The best ball-by-ball coverage was hardly on TV but on Twitter, anybody could have accessed thru a mobile.

LIRNEasia at IGF, Hyderabad, India

Posted on November 25, 2008  /  0 Comments

Helani Galpaya will represent LIRNEasia at the third Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting to be held in Hyderabad, India, from 3-6 December, 2008 at the Hydrabad International Conference Center (HICC). Helani will be among panelists a workshop entitled, ‘Digital convergence beyond technology: socio-economic benefits, SMEs & public policy’; this workshop aims to discuss the evolving definition of digital convergence as well as the benefits and opportunities to key stakeholders – with a special focus on SMEs. Digital convergence refers to the evolution of previously distinguishable digitalized information formats, services, applications, networks, and business models in ways that reduce or blend the distinctions. This workshop will focus on what kind of information and skills various stakeholders must have to address digital convergence issues and the implications for the policy environment, users and enterprises of all sizes.

Passage to India

Posted on November 23, 2008  /  1 Comments

In 1997, NTT bought 35 per cent of a badly managed government phone company called SLT along with the right to manage it for five years for USD 225 million. The decision was bracketed by the Central Bank attack (on a per capita basis more devastating than the World Trade Center hit of 11 September 2001) and the bombing of an empty [Sri Lankan] World Trade Center. Many wondered what the logic was. One explanation was that NTT saw Sri Lanka as a stepping stone to India. But no step was taken.
President-elect Barack Obama has named two telecom industry and policy veterans and a leader of Google’s philanthropy arm to craft the new administration’s high-tech policy priorities. The policy working group on Technology, Innovation and Government Reform will “develop proposals and plans from the Obama Campaign for action during the Obama-Biden Administration,” according to the president-elect’s transition web site www.change.gov. The authors of what could be sweeping changes in broadband rules, privacy and government transparency include: –Blair Levin, a telecom investment analyst at Stifel Nicolaus and former chief of staff to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt.

Mobile benchmarks overtaken by events

Posted on November 16, 2008  /  0 Comments

One of the main reasons for collecting and disseminating indicators data at the regional level is currency. By the time the ITU puts out its reports, two years have gone by, and the data are of historical value in these fast-changing times. Despite knowing all this, even we got tripped up this time. In attempting to release mobile and broadband benchmarks at the same time, we delayed the release of the mobile data collected and analyzed in early October and were overtaken by events. In the future, the data will be released without delay.
A study by Professor Rajat Kathuria, ICRIER and International Management Institute New Delhi, is now available. In the paper, Professor Kathuria seeks to assess the impact of decline of leased line prices in Indonesia. It tries to capture this impact through qualitative as well as quantitative impacts. Since the decline in prices occurred recently (2008 April), the period post the decline is not large enough to do a meaningful time series analysis. However, qualitative assessment is made and the impact is compared with India, where decline in leased line prices led to substantial benefits to user industries.
Existing telecom operators may have to pay more than the new players eyeing the 3G space, in the form of annual charge for the 3G spectrum. A committee chaired by Department of Telecommunications (DoT) Joint Secretary J S Deepak has recommended that an operator having 2G spectrum and 5 MHz of 3G spectrum should pay an incremental 1 per cent more than the applicable slab rate for 2G spectrum. The committee, which was set up to suggest annual spectrum charges for 3G, has recommended that due to the efficiency in capital expenditure and synergy in operations, operators having 2G spectrum and acquiring 5 Mhz of 3G spectrum should be charged at a higher rate. GSM 2G operators get 4.4 MHz and CDMA players get 2.
The roll-out plans of new mobile players could be dampened with some of the existing pan-Indian operators demanding higher rates for providing interconnection. This includes higher termination rates (levied for ending calls from a new operator’s subscriber to an incumbent player’s network) and port charges (for accepting traffic from a new player to an existing network). Incumbent operators such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone are at an advantageous position because they have a large subscriber base and, therefore, it is necessary for the new players to interconnect. If the new operators do not interconnect with them then their subscribers will not be able to call users on the incumbent player’s network. “The interconnection charges being imposed by the existing players are based on the telecom regulator’s order issued in 2003.
Leading telecom operator Bharti Airtel will launch operations in Sri Lanka in December, a top official announced on Monday. “We will roll out the services next month as all formalities are done and issues relating to inter-connectivity have been sorted out,” Bharti Enterprises vice-chairman and managing director Rajan Mittal told reporters in New Delhi. The telecom giant had been facing problems of inter-connection, with local carriers not willing to give inter-connections to the company. Source: Hindustan Times, Nov 04

Rapid rise in rural telephony in India

Posted on October 27, 2008  /  0 Comments

Few weeks back I heard Senior Director of COAI, Mr T.R. Dua, state that rural teledensity (or access paths/100) now exceeded 10. Having heard numbers as low as 2/100 population just a few years back, I decided to investigate further. The Indian telecom minister, Mr Raja, confirmed that there were now 11 access paths per 100 rural persons.