Tag Archives: Telecommunications

Telecommunications in Argentina

Argentina has one of the largest economies and highest overall levels of development in Latin America. It has high levels of education and low infant mortality rates, but also still suffers from extreme poverty,especially after the 2001 economic crisis. As far as ICTs are concerned, Argentina does not have an official policy and is seriously lacking in infrastructure, especially in rural areas. The government regulatory environment is also not conducive to the development of ICTs.

However, despite its many problems with ICTs, Argentina does have a fairly strong telecommunications industry. In 2009, ICTs represented 5.6% of the national GDP. Argentina’s statistics for fixed-line and mobile density, as well as Internet penetration, are the highest in the region. Argentina is considered a “qualified software producer” and the cities of Buenos Aires and Cordoba are home to telecommunications hubs. The FORESTA report that I used for my paper mentions the group “Polo IT Buenos Aires,” which is made up of over 80 domestic SMEs (small and medium enterprises), almost half of which export to 15 different countries. This shows the strength of ICT production in Argentina, especially the fact that the products are high-quality enough to be exported. Mobile-phone subscriptions are increasing rapidly in Argentina, as well as Internet use. In 2009, the number of mobile subscribers in total per 100 inhabitants was 125.6, while the Internet penetration in total per 100 inhabitants was 57.3. Both of these figures show remarkable growth in the last decade. Overall, the telecommunications industry is strong, especially in urban areas such as Buenos Aires and Cordoba where businesses cooperate with universities and the government.

Most of the information concerning Argentina’s telecommunications industry can be found in the FORESTA report, pages 58-65.

Mobile Banking Innovation in India

In his article, Shalini Mehta, argues that mobile phones have been revolutionary in India – but it is not enough. Less than 1% of the population that owns a mobile phone uses it for banking. Banks have even moved from using purely SMS banking methods to offering “banking services on mobile handsets through WAP-based internet websites…” in order to incentivize users to engage in this convenience offered. These methods have had minimal effect on the people of India where the adoption of mobile banking is largely centered around lack of banking services offered and the absence of a variety of languages spoken throughout India. The author goes on to touch on the importance of catering these banking systems to certain mobile platforms like IOS, Android, Windows, etc… This is necessary because a one size fits all solution is not conducive to satisfying a growing technological community. The lack of innovation within mobile banking is the classic case of complacency for an emerging market. Once the new technology is uncovered, its creators think that it can build itself. However, in order to be an effective business model, but more importantly to reach as many people as possible, mobile banking needs to be on the front lines of technological innovation.

LifeLines India- a Follow up

In this week’s reading, from Tim Unwin’s book ICT4D, there was a Case Study (page 162)that particularly interested me about an ICT4D project called LifeLines India.This project was focused on giving rural farmers the ability to access web based information that could help them increase economic growth and solve agricultural issues. The farmers could call in and leave questions on an automated voicemail, which were then researched by specialists who would respond within twenty four hours.

This is a service that caters specifically to the needs of rural India, where many people are illiterate and poor agricultural workers who could not access the internet for information. The project was a great success and when this book was printed in 2009 the service was aiding more than 100,000 farmers, was planning on expanding to more than 3,00o villages, and inspiring similar programs in other sectors. One independent study cited in the book says that the information aid increased product quality and productivity enough to have a 25-150% profit growth for the farmers!

I wanted to see how Lifelines India has fared in years since this case study was published, in hopes that the project has continued to prosper. The website lists that it now hosts not only Lifelines Agriculture, but also Lifelines Education for teachers. They have expanded to 2,000 villages in north-central India and now serve 200,000 farmers. In 2009 they were awarded Award for Social Responsibility by the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP).

It is refreshing to see that Lifelines India has not only continued to help rural farmers, but also expanded and improved in the last three years. The project works well because it noted the unique needs of the communities that were being served and also used simple technology, such as telephones,to better connect the people.

MXShare: Cloud Phones for the World’s Poorest

MXShare was mentioned in passing by Richard Heeks in “ICT4D Manifesto,” but this exciting technology deserves more attention from our class. Developed by Movirtu and patented by Nigel Waller, MXShare allows individuals who cannot afford a mobile phone to own a cloud phone, accessible from any mobile or land-line using a unique PIN.

The detractors I read considered MXShare a flashy re-brand of calling cards, but there are a few unique differences, the most important being that MXShare users can receive messages and calls tied to the cloud number. A better conceptualization would be to think of Mxshare as a SIM card that can be popped in to any phone to access the days messages and make and receive calls. This is a great program because it is simple, useful, and takes advantage of technology already widely in use. In addition, mobile owners receive a small credit every time they allow an MXShare user to use their phone, which fosters community involvement and creates a positive cycle for cloud and physical phone users.

Overall, it is the simplicity of this program which excites me; it addresses a need and improves access to the most impoverished without the need for government grants, extensive training, or infrastructure development.

Recently, Hewlett-Packard partnered with Movirtu to increase access to MXShare: http://tinyurl.com/97v3rwo.

An in-depth look at the technology can be found in their patent application here: http://tinyurl.com/8ckfmvp.

The company that developed and implemented the system can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/9pb9exy.

The implementation of the technology is being studied in Kenya: http://tinyurl.com/8o6v2ka (Page is in French).

ICT4D Professional Profile: Dr. Hernán Galperin

Dr. Hernán Galperin is the Steering Committee Member for DIRSI, a research fellow at the Telecommunications Research Program, CIDE, in Mexico and an Associate Professor and Director at the Universidad de San Andres in Argentina.  In 1992, he received his BA in Social Sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires; in 1996, his MA in Media Studies (Stanford); and in 2000, his Ph.D. in Communications, also from Stanford.

Dr. Galperin’s work mainly focused on ICT4D Policy and Regulation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Either for this reason, or because of it, he worked extensively with DIRSI: Diálogo Regional sobre la Sociedad de la Información (Regional Dialogue on the Information Society) as a telecommunications and development policy expert. One of the main reasons I chose to profile Dr. Galperin was because of his work with development regulation and policy.  I believe that without regulation, ICT4D initiatives have the risk of only helping certain groups with the community, or even in ways, furthering the marginalization of other groups.  Other problems that may arise with development initiatives range from being environmentally damaging, to (either directly or inderectly) employing/supporting child labor, intentionally or not.  With regulation, these things can be managed and documented.  Too often, in my opinion, development projects/initiatives are results-driven and may overlook some of the unintended consequences of providing modern ICTs at a discounted cost.

Galperin; however, disappeared in 2009.  He hasn’t published since then, and his website and CV havent been updated since 2009 as well.  I was also unable to find him on Twitter or on Facebook.  His last email address listed that I could find was hernang@usc.edu, yet he left his post at the University of Southern California in 2007 according to his CV.  For a man so involved in ICT development from 1997-2009, it seems strange that he could just vanish from the field – even if he were retired. He’s gotta be around somewhere. If you see him, let him know I’d be interested in tweeting at him.

For more information, check out his website.


The Calyx Institute

While we were in class on Wednesday I mentioned the explosion of internet interest that occurred while we were in our seats.  At 4:00am on April 11th,  CNET posted an article detailing the plans of The Calyx Institute, an internet service provider dedicated to protecting the privacy of its clients.

The ISP would not merely employ every technological means at its disposal, including encryption and limited logging, to protect its customers. It would also — and in practice this is likely more important — challenge government surveillance demands of dubious legality or constitutionality. -CNET

Now, Calyx Institute representative  Nick Merrill is certainly not making any friends by challenging every major telecommunications corporation in the country in addition to local police, and the FBI, but his fight is one that is on the minds of internet users everywhere. So, if you believe that individuals are entitled to the same privacy on the internet that they are outside of it, The Calyx Institute is the non-profit telecom provider for you. Actually, priced at $20 a month with no limits on data usage (like those being implemented across the nation), the Calyx Institute would easily be one of the best ISPs in the US.

Merrill received such high levels of interest from internet communities, that he created a page at Indiegogo to raise funding. The page was created just before our class was started, but by the end he had raised over $2000 from individuals. However, starting an ISP is not an easy task and will require millions of dollars for the Calyx Institute, so donate and spread the word to show your support and maybe Calyx will catch the eye of some institutional investors.

CNET Article

Reddit Post

World Bank has a 70% Failure Rate

This article discusses how developing nations  have rapidly been growing in terms of information and communication technologies, they are still seeing great problems in relation to high-speed internet access and broadband connectivity. In result, the World Bank has seen a 70% failure rate when it comes to ICT projects. Some of the ways that the World Bank has tried to recently promote ICT initiatives to better communication technologies in underdeveloped nations are through ICT sector reform, access to information infrastructure, ICT skills development, and ICT applications. Through such initiatives, the World Bank was shown to be one of the largest financiers in telecommunications within poor underdeveloped nations. Nevertheless, in “regarding efforts to promote universal access, targeted World Bank ICT projects with the objective to directly promote target access for the underserved and the poor had limited success; only 30 percent have achieved their objectives of implementing universal access policies or increasing ICT access for the poor or underserved areas. Bank operations to promote universal access often were slow to get off the ground and were superseded by the rollout of mobile phone networks by the private sector, in some cases supported by Bank sector reform” (www.ictworks.org). Although the World Bank has seen failure, it is important to remember how they have also achieved great parts of their initiatives to better information and communication technologies, in hopes that they will continue to improve in order to increase development within developing nations.

Expectations in Telemedicine for Developing Countries

With the recent developments in machines that can perform surgeries remotely, Telemedicine seems to be an unstoppable force in the future of health care. However, this unstoppable force still has to overcome issues in infrastructure, funding, culture, literacy, and countless other obstacles before it can reach its full potential. While reading out case study on the use of Telemedicine in Ethiopia I found myself exactly which branches stood the best chance of being implemented in a developing nations, and which among those were the most valuable. Considering those two questions, I found that the following were likely to be the most important for rural areas of developing countries:

  • Telepathology – the transfer of image-rich pathology data between distant locations for the purposes of diagnosis, education, and research
  • Telepharmacy – drug therapy monitoring, patient counseling, prior authorization, refill authorization, monitoring formulary compliance with the aid of teleconferencing

Obviously, these two branches do not cover all of the healthcare needs for rural patients, but both go a long way in providing convenience to rural citizens with minimal infrastructure needs. Telepathology in particular can prevent rural citizens from making long trips to the city to solve minor problems, and telepharmacy can help deliver and renew prescriptions for basic ailments. With the use of telepathology, local clinics can send images to doctors across the world along with a description of the symptoms in order to receive a diagnosis. These technologies also only require cameras, cell phones, and an internet connection, while teleradiodiolgy, telecardiology, and other branches require significantly more investment in equipment. In fact, the entire infrastructural requirements for Telepathology and Telepharmacy could be overcome by a single smartphone connected to a 3g network, which many of us take for granted as something we always have with us.

Are Mobile Phones Overhyped?

Mobile phone technology has revolutionized information and communication in the last decade. Currently the International Telecommunications Union reports that there are over 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide (87% global penetration.) However, not everyone believes that mobile phone technology are a sustainable solution for economic and social progress. CNN held a discussion between four experts on the subject in order to answer the questions, “Are mobile phones just another high-tech solution to what are essentially systematic and deeply rooted problems? Are mobile solutions for combating global poverty overhyped?” The answers to these questions are summarized below.

Kentaro Totayama is a researcher at the School of Information at UCal Berkeley. He believes that mobile solutions are overhyped in their ability to address illness, ignorance, oppression, and other socio-economic problems in the developing world. He compares the current buzz about mobile technology to the 1960s use of television for education: overall great potential but in the end unproductive. He says that technology may have the ability to amplify human capacity and intent, but technology alone will not fix the challenges of these categories. Rather than providing cell technology to developing areas, he instead suggests employing smarter and more efficient program leaders, addressing organizational blind spots, and providing high-quality training for program workers. Therefore, while mobile technology has a lot of potential, it is not sufficient to fix the problems of the developing world.

Maura O’Neill works as the Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. She believes that mobile technology will not immediately offer improvements in health, education, and income. However, she does believe that mobile technology is on the right track. She cites companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Apple that benefitted from the rise and fall of previous countries and have emerged as superpowers in the technological world today. O’Neill finishes her response with the line, “The next decade will be transformational in development. Mobiles will be a big part of the story.”

Katrin Verclas is the Co-Founder and Editor of MobileActive and also believes that phones are both important and overhyped. The use of phones for information sharing, strengthening of social networks and safety nets, and commercial purposes have been important. One example of how phones have been useful is their role in Kenya’s mobile money craze. However, Verclas says that mobile technology may be useful to boost development efforts, they will not replace a lack of investment, resources, and trained staff.

Eric Tyler is a Program Associate at the New America Foundation. His point, summarized, is that mobile development is still very new and very young. He basically echoes what was said earlier in that mobile phones are necessary but not sufficient in development strategy.

I believe that these answers are pretty on target. I am a strong advocate of the information and communication benefits that mobile phone technology can offer to rural areas and developing countries. However, we cannot just expect to throw a bunch of phones to a village that has never been exposed to this kind of technology and expect all of the development programs to be solved. I think this article is important in this debate because it reminds people that technology alone will not be a fix to the problems, especially if it is not sustainable or implemented in the right way.

“The politics of telecommunications reform in South Africa”- Article cited in readings

This week’s reading broadly touched some of the main conflicts in ICT4D, notably the varying definitions of “globalization”, stakeholder relationships, ICT’s connection to widening income and social gaps, the role of capitalism, and the role of regulation. First, the superficial connotation of “globalization” is the typically heralded idea of an overarching unprecedented system of plane-leveling to the extent of equal access to information (and other assets) is shared around the globe. To a certain extent most of the population tends to view “globalization” as beneficial in this manner; some of the most recent current events that signify ‘progressions of the populous’ and other grassroots organizations in otherwise poorer or oppressed communities, have been accredited solely (and usually only half-correctly) to social media. Unwin mentions that this idea of globalization overshadows some commonly overlooked implications of globalization, such as the idea that it provides another mechanism for wealthy capitalists to exploit poorer and more disadvantaged communities. This reality is particularly frightening in the context of ICT4D on the basis that ICT access for all is becoming increasingly important in global and local economic and social spheres. Unwin mentions that striking a balance and synergistic relationships between governments, the general public, private industry, and NGO’s is not only difficult but unique to every nation and perhaps even more locally unique to communities.

Unwin cites an article in the chapter about South Africa’s post-apartheid goal of increasing techonological communications access to usually more disadvantaged sectors of its population. The article explains that in its Telecommunications Act, the government sold a 30% stake in the state owned network operator, Telekom, on the basis that the company would expand its services to under-serviced areas. Over a period of ten years (1996-2006) South Africa saw only a 10% increase in telecommunication use, and monopolization caused prices to surge beyond international averages.

I find the conundrum of regulation vs. deregulation quite intriguing and was wondering if anybody knew more about this situation in South Africa or if they have any opinions regarding other case studies in which ICT was privatized, liberalized, regulated, etc. Link to the aforementioned article here: http://communication.ucsd.edu/horwitz/JTPO831.pdf