Tag Archives: Mobile Technology

Developing, Deploying and Accessing ICT services on Mobile Phones

Presentation by Stéphane Boyera
World Wide Web Foundationation. Unfortunately, Stéphane was not able to attend the CTA ICT Observatory in Wageningen but Kevin Painting did his presentation. The content is based on the work of the W3C MW4D Interest Group. more

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The Cloud, the Crowd and Public Policy in ICT4D

In the recent article “ The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy“, published in the Summer 2009 volume of Issues in Science and Technology, Mr. Michael Nelson overviews the concept of the Cloud and its implications for public policy. The article (which I am reproducing below) traces the evolution pf ICTs from Phase 1: standalone devices, through Phase 2: the World Wide Web, to Phase 3: the Cloud. Reading the article led me to try to consider the parallel story of ICT4D. Certainly, I do not expect that the evolution of technology innovation in developing countries will necessarily follow the same path as that in the industrialised world. But I find it interesting to consider the possibilities for social, economic and technological development in light of the story given by Mr. Nelson.

I think that by now most would agree that the popular uptake of ICT devices for personal use in less developed countries only started around 2003-4 with the development of the pay-as-you-go business model for mobile services and the lowering of the cost of mobile phone devices. Currently, there is an intense competition among device manufacturers for the establishment of an ultimate and pervasive platform for mobile devices. The competition among Nokia’s Symbian, Google’s FOSS Android, Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s Blackberry, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and others reminds me a lot of the early days of the personal computer and the well documented story about the struggle between Windows and Apple. Looking at it from this perspective, I think it is fair to say that mobile technology in developing countries is probably in Phase 1 of its development. Other events, such as the use (albeit limited) of GPRS and 3G in developing countries and the availability (also limited) of mobile Internet access in suggest that ICT4D might have reached Phase 2.

The parallel story of the evolution of technology for use in developing countries clearly unfolds at a much greater speed than the evolution and adoption of personal computing in advanced industrialised countries. ICT4Ds are also not developing in isolation from technological and business model solutions aimed at advanced industrial countries, and vice versa. Still, I would be interested in hearing any opinions on the matter. How do you imagine the ICT4D Cloud? What do you think are the public policy imperatives in the developing world?

The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy by MICHAEL R. NELSON
A new age of more flexible, less expensive, and more secure computing will emerge soon if governments act wisely.

The Internet is entering a new phase that represents a fundamental shift in how computing is done. This phase, called Cloud computing, includes activities such as Web 2.0, Web services, the Grid, and Software as a Service, which are enabling users to tap data and software residing on the Internet rather than on a personal computer or a local server. Some leading technologists have forecast that within 5 to 10 years, 80% or even 90% of the world’s computing and data storage will occur “in the Cloud.”

Although the move toward the Cloud is clear, the shape of the Cloud—its technical, legal, economic, and security details—is not. Public policy decisions will be critical in determining the pace of development as well as the characteristics of the Cloud.

The evolution of personal computing has occurred in three distinct phases. In phase 1, computers were standalone devices in which software and data were stored; typical applications were word processing and spread sheets. Phase 2 was marked by the emergence of the World Wide Web, which made it possible to access a wealth of data on the Internet, even though most users still relied on software that ran on individual machines; the quintessential application was the Web browser. In phase 3, most software as well as data will reside on the Internet; a wide variety of applications will proliferate because users will no longer have to install applications software on their machines.

Most of the work we do with computers is still done using phase 1 or phase 2 tools, but more and more people, especially among the younger generation, are starting to take advantage of the power of the Cloud, which offers:

  • Limitless flexibility. By being able to use millions of different pieces of software and databases and combine them into customized services, users will be better able to find the answers they need, share their ideas, and enjoy online games, video, and virtual worlds.
  • Better reliability and security. No longer will users need to worry about the hard drive on their computers crashing or their laptops being stolen.
  • Enhanced collaboration. By enabling online sharing of information and applications, the Cloud provides new ways for working (and playing) together.
  • Portability. The ability of users to access the data and tools they need anywhere they can connect to the Internet.
  • Simpler devices. Since both their data and the software they use are in the Cloud, users don’t need a powerful computer to use it. A cell phone, a PDA, a personal video recorder, an online game console, their cars, even sensors built into their clothing could be their interface.

Cloud computing has the potential to reduce the cost and complexity of doing both routine computing tasks and computationally intensive research problems. By providing far more computing power at lower cost, Cloud computing could enable researchers to tackle hitherto impossible challenges in genome research, environmental modeling, analysis of living systems, and dozens of other fields. Furthermore, by enabling large distributed research teams to more effectively share data and computing resources, Cloud computing will facilitate the kind of multidisciplinary research needed to better understand ecosystems, global climate change, ocean currents, and other complex phenomena.

Combining the power of Cloud computing with data collected by thousands or even millions of inexpensive networked sensors will give scientists new and exciting ways to track how our planet and its ecosystems are changing. At the same time, such sensor nets will give entrepreneurs new ways to provide new services, ranging from traffic monitoring to tracking livestock to improving surveillance on the battlefield or in high-crime neighborhoods.

The government role

The pace of development and deployment of the Cloud will depend on many different factors, including how quickly the basic technology matures, how quickly the computer and telecommunications industries agrees on standards, how aggressively companies invest in the needed infrastructure, how many cost-effective, compelling applications are developed, and how quickly potential users accept and adopt this new way of purchasing computing resources.

Government policy can influence each of these factors. And there are other ways in which governments can accelerate or hinder the growth of the Cloud. Just as the pace of development of the Internet has varied by country and industry, the pace of development of the Cloud will vary widely. The key policy factors that will influence the pace of progress include:

Research. Giving researchers around the world access to Cloud computing services will lead to a further internationalization of science and a broadening of the base of first-class research. It will make it much easier to participate directly in multi-site projects and to share data and results immediately.

But how this happens will depend on decisions made by government research agencies. Will they make the investments needed to provide Cloud services to a large portion of the research community? Or will separate Cloud initiatives be funded that are restricted to a narrow subset of researchers with especially large computational needs? Precommercial research is still needed on some of the building blocks of the Cloud, such as highly scalable authentication systems and federated naming schemes. Will there be sufficient funding for this critical R&D? Will government agencies (and the politicians who determine their budgets) be willing to fund Cloud services that will be increasingly international? Will they be willing to invest government money in international collaborative projects when the benefits (and funding) will be spread among researchers and businesses in several countries?

Privacy and security. Many of the most successful and most visible applications of Cloud computing today are consumer services such as e-mail services (Google Mail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail), social networks (Facebook and MySpace), and virtual worlds such as Second Life. The companies providing these services collect terabytes of data, much of it sensitive personal information, which is then stored in data centers in countries around the world. How these companies, and the countries in which they operate, address privacy issues will be a critical factor affecting the development and acceptance of Cloud computing.

Who will have access to billing records? Will government regulation be needed to allow anonymous use of the Cloud and to put strict controls on access to usage records of Cloud service providers?

Will government regulators be able to adapt rules on the use of private, personal information when companies are moving terabytes of sensitive information from employees and customers across national borders? Companies that wish to provide Cloud services globally must adopt leading-edge security and auditing technologies and best-in-class practices. If they fail to earn the trust of their customers by adopting clear and transparent policies on how their customers’ data will be used, stored, and protected, governments will come under increasing pressure to regulate privacy in the Cloud. And if government policy is poorly designed, it could stymie the growth of the Cloud and commercial Cloud services.

Access to the Cloud. Cloud computing has the potential to dramatically level the playing field for small and mediumsized businesses (SMBs) who cannot currently afford to own and operate the type of sophisticated information technology (IT) systems found in large corporations. Furthermore, SMBs will also be in a position to offer their local knowledge and specialized talents as part of other companies’ services. Likewise, researchers, developers, and entrepreneurs in every corner of the world could use Cloud computing to collaborate with partners elsewhere, share their ideas, expand their horizons, and dramatically improve their job prospects—but only if they can gain access to the Cloud. Telecommuters and workers who are on the road will also have access to the same software and data used by those in the office, provided that we increase broadband access in the home and over wireless connections.

As a result, development of the Cloud will increase pressure on governments to bridge the digital divide by providing subsidies or adopting policies that will promote investment in broadband networks in rural and other underserved areas. Unfortunately, the main impact of many previous efforts to promote network deployment has been to distort the market or protect incumbent carriers from competition. As Cloud computing become critical for a large percentage of companies, governments will need to find cost-effective ways to ensure that homes and businesses have affordable access to the Cloud no matter where they are located.

E-government and open standards. Cloud computing could provide huge benefits to governments. The Cloud is not a magic wand for solving hard computing and managerial problems, but it will reduce barriers to implementation, eliminate delays, cut costs, and foster interagency cooperation. A few pioneers, such as the government of Washington, DC, have already demonstrated the huge potential of Cloud computing for e-government. Vivek Kundra, then the chief technology officer for DC, led an effort to migrate thousands of DC government employees to Google e-mail and office software based in the Cloud. “Why should I spend millions on enterprise apps when I can do it at one-tenth the cost and ten times the speed?” he said in 2008. “It’s a win-win for me.”

Cloud computing will be particularly attractive to government users because of its increased reliability and security, lower maintenance costs, and increased flexibility. Running government operations on a unified Cloud infrastructure will be more secure and reliable, and less costly, than trying to maintain and manage hundreds of different systems. In addition, if done right, Cloud computing can help governments avoid being locked in to a small number of vendors.

Governments have the potential to be model users of Cloud computing. As the largest economic entity in most countries, government has the leverage to set standards and requirements that can influence actions throughout the economy. Just as U.S. federal government Web sites demonstrated the power of the Web and inspired state and local governments and companies to create online presences, national governments can be early adopters of Cloud computing, which would demonstrate and publicize the technology. But if governments are going to become early adopters of Cloud services, they must overcome bureaucratic, regulatory, and cultural barriers to resource sharing that could slow the adoption of Cloud computing. Government IT procurement rules covering purchase of hardware and software must be updated to enable purchase of Cloud services.

U.S. government procurement decisions in the 1980s, which led to the widespread use of the Internet Protocol to link together previously unconnected agency networks, were a critical driver at a crucial time in the development of the Internet. Likewise, major government users could play an important role by compelling industry to quickly reach consensus on open, international Cloud standards so that government suppliers, contractors, and partners would be able to easily tap into government-funded Cloud services.

Today, many different grid and Cloud architectures rely on incompatible proprietary software. Achieving the full potential of Cloud computing will require a “Cloud of Clouds”: different network-based platforms all linked together by common middleware, so that data and applications software residing on one company’s piece of the Cloud can be seamlessly combined with data and software on systems run by another Cloud service provider.

Competition and antitrust. The structure of the Cloud will be defined over the next few years as key players establish the standards and technologies for Cloud services and as business models and business practices evolve. Perhaps the most important factor determining how the Cloud evolves is whether one company or a handful of companies are able to achieve a dominant position in the market for Cloud services or whether the Cloud becomes an open interoperable system where hundreds or even thousands of different companies are able to build and run part of an interlinked, interoperable Cloud capable of running different applications developed by millions of developers around the globe.

With the Internet, strong economic benefits and customer demand both pushed network service providers to link their different networks and create a network of networks. The situation may not be as clear-cut with the Cloud, and some companies building the infrastructure of the Cloud may be able to use economies of scale, ownership of key intellectual property, and first-mover advantage to block or slow competitors. Governments will need to watch carefully to see that companies do not use their dominant position in one sector of the IT or telecommunications market to gain an unfair advantage in the market for Cloud services. A Cloud built by only one or two companies and supporting only a limited set of applications would not be in the best interest of either individuals or corporate customers.

Governments need to take cautious rather than radical actions at this time, and to promote open international standards for the Cloud so that users will be able to switch Cloud service providers with a minimum of cost and risk. Flexible, far-sighted government policy and procurement decisions could promote interoperability, without dictating a particular architecture or set of standards for the Cloud. Since the Cloud is still evolving rapidly, governments need to allow and encourage different companies and groups to experiment. For instance, in government procurements for cloud services, governments can require interoperability and migration plans in case an agency wishes to change Cloud service providers at a later date, without specifying a particular standard or a particular company’s service. In the 1980s and 1990s, when personal computers were being widely adopted, some governments took the wrong approach; they chose Microsoft Word as their government-wide word-processing standard, rather than embracing an open standard such as the Open Document Format and requiring all vendors to support it. Later, some of those same governments had to resort to antitrust actions against the Microsoft monopoly they helped create.

Wiretapping and electronic surveillance. One of the thorniest issues related to the Cloud may be electronic surveillance, particularly when it spans international borders. In the United States, citizens are protected by the Constitution against unreasonable search and seizure. In most cases, the police must get a search warrant to examine data on someone’s home computer. It is not at all clear that the same data are protected if they are backed up in a data center in the Cloud, particularly if that data center is in another country. And if the situation within the United States is unclear, it is even less clear how and when U.S. or other intelligence services can access data from noncitizens stored in the Cloud. If users believe that governments will be monitoring their activities, their willingness to use the Cloud for important functions will surely decrease.

Intellectual property and liability. Related to the question of wiretapping is whether governments will try to enforce laws against online piracy in ways that limit or slow the development of Cloud services. By giving customers access to almost unlimited computing power and storage, Cloud services could make it even easier to share copyrighted material over the Internet. Will Cloud service providers be required to take special measures to prevent that? Will they be liable for illegal activities of their customers? Would doing so make it impractical for companies to provide Cloud services to the general public?

Consumer protection. If companies and individuals come to rely on Cloud services such as e-mail, word processing, and data backup, and then discover that the services are down for a protracted period of time, or worse, that their data are lost, they will seek recourse—most likely in court. If the reliability of Cloud services becomes a serious problem, state and national governments may step in to ensure that customers get the service they expect.

What kind of liability will a company that provides Cloud services be expected to assume in the event that there are serious outages? If a program running in the Cloud malfunctions, it could affect other users. Yet tracking problems in the Cloud and assigning responsibility for failures will be difficult. The Internet is already causing telecommunications companies and the courts to adopt new approaches to assigning liability for outages and security breaches.

Crafting a consistent global approach to this problem will not be easy, but if it can be done, it could increase consumer trust and significantly accelerate the adoption of Cloud services. Given the difficulty of finding an international governmental approach to consumer protection in the Cloud, a global self-regulatory approach based on best practices, insurance, and contract law may be faster, more flexible and adaptable as technology evolves and new services are offered, and more effective.

Taking the lead

Governments will play a critical role in shaping the Cloud. They can foster widespread agreement on standards, not only for the basic networking and Cloud communication protocols, but also for service-level management and interaction. By using the power of the purse in their IT procurement policies, governments can pressure companies to find consensus on the key Cloud standards.

Governments need to assess how existing law and regulations in a wide range of areas will affect the development of the Cloud. They must both “future-proof” existing law and ensure that new policy decisions do not limit the potential of this revolutionary new approach to computing.

The greatest concern would be premature regulation. The Cloud will be a fundamental infrastructure for the economy, national security, and society in general. A natural reaction would be to demand uniformly high quality and to regulate a number of features and services that use it. But without a lot more experience, we simply do not know enough about what the right set of underlying services will be, what are appropriate differences in price and quality of services, what techniques will be best for providing reliable service, and where the best engineering tradeoffs will be.

Governments can add value by encouraging experimentation and new services. They must avoid locking in the wrong technology, which will either put a country at a competitive disadvantage or reduce the value of the Cloud as a whole. Governments must follow industrial practice as much as possible rather than mandating untried solutions.

Like the Internet itself, the Cloud is a disruptive technology that challenges existing business models, institutions, and regulatory paradigms. As a result, there is likely to be resistance from many different quarters to the widespread deployment of Cloud technologies. Governments must be willing to challenge and change existing policies that could be used to hinder the growth of the Cloud. Simply trying to adapt existing regulations to the Cloud might allow entrenched interests to significantly delay the investment and effort needed for widespread use of Cloud computing. Because Cloud computing is a fundamentally different approach to computing and communications, governments should consider fundamentally new approaches to telecommunications and information policy.

Many of the public policy issues, including privacy, access, and copyright protection, raised by Cloud computing are similar to Internet policy issues that governments have been struggling with for at least 15 years. However, addressing these issues for the Cloud will be at least twice as difficult—and five times more important. Because the Cloud is inherently global, policy solutions must be cross-jurisdictional. Because the Cloud is a many-to-many medium, it is not always easy to determine who’s responsible for what. And because the Cloud technology and Cloud applications are evolving so quickly, government policy must be flexible and adaptable. Because the challenges are so great and the opportunities so widespread, it is imperative that policymakers and the technologists developing the Cloud start now to look for innovative technical and policy solutions.

Iranian consumers boycott Nokia for ‘collaboration’

by Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Tuesday 14 July 2009 21.22 BST

The mobile phone company Nokia is being hit by a growing economic boycott in Iran as consumers sympathetic to the post-election protest movement begin targeting a string of companies deemed to be collaborating with the regime.

Wholesale vendors in the capital report that demand for Nokia handsets has fallen by as much as half in the wake of calls to boycott Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) for selling communications monitoring systems to Iran.

There are signs that the boycott is spreading: consumers are shunning SMS messaging in protest at the perceived complicity with the regime by the state telecoms company, TCI. Iran’s state-run broadcaster has been hit by a collapse in advertising as companies fear being blacklisted in a Facebook petition. There is also anecdotal evidence that people are moving money out of state banks and into private banks.

Nokia is the most prominent western company to suffer from its dealings with the Iranian authorities. Its NSN joint venture with Siemens provided Iran with a monitoring system as it expanded a mobile network last year. NSN says the technology is standard issue to dozens of countries, but protesters believe the company could have provided the network without the monitoring function.

Siemens is also accused of providing Iran with an internet filtering system called Webwasher.

“Iranians’ first choice has been Nokia cellphones for several years, partly because Nokia has installed the facility in the country. But in the past weeks, customers’ priority has changed,” said Reza, a mobile phone seller in Tehran’s Big Bazaar.

“Since the news spread that NSN had sold electronic surveillance systems to the Iranian government, people have decided to buy other company’s products although they know that Nokia cellphones function better with network coverage in Iran.”

Some Tehran shops have removed Nokia phones from their window displays. Hashem, another mobile phone vendor, said: “I don’t like to lose my customers and now people don’t feel happy seeing Nokia’s products. We even had customers who wanted to refund their new Nokia cellphones or change them with just another cellphone from any other companies.

“It’s not just a limited case to my shop – I’m also a wholesaler to small shops in provincial markets, and I can say that there is half the demand for Nokia’s product these days in comparison with just one month ago, and it’s really unprecedented. People feel ashamed of having Nokia cellphones,” he added.

News of the boycott has appeared on the front page of Iranian pro-reform papers such as Etemad-e Melli, owned by the reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi. Hadi Heidari, a prominent Iranian cartoonist, has published an image of a Nokia phone on a No Entry traffic sign.

A Nokia spokeswoman refused to comment on the company’s sales in Iran.

The Iranian authorities are believed to have used Nokia’s mobile phone monitoring system to target dissidents. Released prisoners have revealed that the authorities were keeping them in custody on the basis of their SMS and phone calls archive, which was at officials’ disposal.

One Iranian journalist who has just been released from detention said: “I always had this impression that monitoring calls is just a rumour for threatening us from continuing our job properly, but the nightmare became real when they had my phone calls – conversations in my case.

“And the most unbelievable thing for me is that Nokia sold this system to our government. It would be a reasonable excuse for Nokia if they had sold the monitoring technology to a democratic country for controlling child abuse or other uses, but selling it to the Iranian government with a very clear background of human rights violence and suppression of dissent, it’s just inexcusable for me. I’d like to tell Nokia that I’m tortured because they had sold this damn technology to our government.”

NSN spokesman Ben Roome said: “As in every other country, telecoms networks in Iran require the capability to lawfully intercept voice calls. In the last two years, the number of mobile subscribers in Iran has grown from 12 million to over 53 million, so to expand the network in the second half of 2008 we were required to provide the facility to intercept voice calls on this network.”

In other sectors, state-run TV has also been targeted by protesters who have listed products advertised on its channels and urged supporters to join a boycott. Companies are running scared, and viewers have noticed the number of commercials plummet.

“We don’t have many choices to show and continue our protests. They don’t let us go out, they have killed many, we are threatened to text people or distribute emails, they have summoned people who shout Allahu Akbar [‘God is great’] on rooftops at nights, so we need to look for new ways,” said Shahla, a 26-year-old Iranian student.

“I can obviously see on the TV that they are facing an [advertising] crisis. This at least shows them how angry people are,” she added.

The SMS boycott, meanwhile, has apparently forced TCI into drastic price hikes. The cost of an SMS has doubled in recent days. Protesters view the move as a victory.

via Iranian consumers boycott Nokia for ‘collaboration’ | The Guardian.

Rapid Android for Collecting Market Information?

I came across an interview, prepared by Ms. Katrine Veclas from MobileActive, with Mr. Jonathan Jackson of Dimagi. The interview introduces the Rapid Android technology which offers an innovative way of configuring the back-end of SMS deployments.

Mr. Jonathan Jackson, summarises the currently available deployment options as including deployments via international SMS gateways and localised deployments. Under the first option the deployment path consists of: 1) clients sending SMS to an international phone number 2) messages are transferred to an international SMS gateway 3) message go through the Internet to a Web server 4) client machines are able to access the Web server through the Internet to view the data.

marketAlertsThis deployment option is great for large scale applications. In the area of dissemination and collection of mobile market information, I am aware of ITC’s Trade at Hand using similar deployment paths for the delivery of Market Alerts from trade support institutions to networks of exporters, and for the collection and analysis of local market information under the mCollect project.

ccpmp1The second deployment option mentioned by Mr. Jonathan Jackson includes 1) local server connected to a phone, being able to talk to local clients and 2) client machines hitting the local server directly, or through the Internet. Small deployments are viable under this option. But deployments are subject to the hazards of thier small scale. Even small problems with the systems can become critical because they require specialised engineering skills. Such deployments are at risk of losing users’ interest when qualified support is not available on the ground. A market oriented project which might fall under this category is the Cambodia Crop Production and Marketing Project (CCPMP).

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The Rapid Android technology presented my Mr. Jonathan Jackson allows for the use of Android phones not only as SMS clients, but also as back-end servers. This dual use greatly simplifies the equipment needs and the skill needs for the deployment of SMS solutions. It also allows for immediate analysis of incoming data in real time.

For the sector of mobile market information systems, Rapid Android presents enhanced SMS broadcasting and data collection opportunities. With the future developments of Rapid Android outlined by Mr. Jonathan Jackson under wasy, Rapid Android presents the opportunity to develop more resilient and extensive market infromation collection networks. Even though the benefits of broadcasting up-to-date market informatiton to farmers in remote areas have been widely recognised. I think more efforts are needed to improve the market information generation process and to ensure the quality of the information. So far the accuracy of the collected information is largely due to the skills and experience of market ennumerators based out in the field. The transformation, analysis and response to this information is tends to be removed at central head offices and headquarters. With the availability of technologies similar to Rapid Android, the opportunity of relocating the analysis closer to the source of the data opens up.

Talking about Movirtu’s MXShare

On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender  published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.

Katine farmer Dan Ekongu with his mobile phone, which he uses to communicate about agriculture via Talking about a revolution. Photograph: Dan Chung.

I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.

The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.

MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.

Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.

The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.

For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.

Mobile Use Behaviour in Liberia

During my work with ITC on Liberia, I was in touch with field contacts and I had the opportunity to discuss the state of the mobile telephony sector there, the available services and their prices. One of my reliable contacts there shared with me the following information. She said, that the average amount spent on pre-paid mobile phone cards (aka scratch cards) in Liberia is $5 per month. Apparently, most of the $5 of airtime credit  is used up within a few days of scratching the card. How could we possibly account for such behaviour? I’ve been thinking up hypotheses about it:

  1. One obvious suggestion would be that people go into the trouble and expense of getting the scratch card because they have some particular significant information need, or emergency which requires conversations at considerable length. Then the question becomes, how is it that these events re-occcur with considerable regularity, approximately every month?
  2. A variant of the same scenario would be the use of the airtime for a short but expensive conversation. For example, parents in Liberia calling their children overseas.
  3. A completely differnet way of looking at it, would relate to the nature of the social networks people are part of. Say, for example, if someone has enough money to buy credit then he/she is expected to get in touch with many people in order to re-affirm their identity as part of a group.
  4. Yet another scenario would be that once someone had airtime credit on their phone, the airtime credit is considered communal. So the people in their immediate surrounding feel entitled to use the phone.

What do you think? Any suggestions on the matter?

Mobiles vs Laptops: regulatory, technological and development issues

olpc-articleCory Doctorow has managed to spur a debate with a recent Guardian article (One Laptop Per Child – what went wrong?, 13 Jan 2009). That is a debate regarding the appropriateness (for development goals) of mobile technologies and associated GSM networks), versus the appropriateness of laptops (and associated mesh networks) for furthering socio-economic development goals in less developed parts of the world.

The issues impinging on the debate are regulatory (intellectual property, wave spectrum property, etc.), technological (functionality, usability, etc.), as well as issues relating to the precise level of socio-economic development (network infrastructure, literacy) within the country in question and the availability of  access to information and communication, alternative to mobile technologies and laptops.

many-possIn Many Possibilities… Steve Song emphasizes the faulse dichotomy within the technological debate. The technological convergence appears to be self-evident. Mobile phones are increasingly better able at tackling Internet applications. Additionally, mobile operators are increasingly savvy in their offerings of mobile Internet access, whereby computers (laptop, or otherwise) are enabled to access the Internet through a wireless “cloud”.

The regulatory issues are much  more prominent within the area of mobile communication, and thereby a disadvatage to that technology. Having paid some exorbitant sums of money at 3G spectrum auctions, mobile operators are understandably looking at recovering those expenditures. Mesh networks are obviously not subject to regulatory interferance. But should they ever become pervasive and significant in daily life, I think that the need for regulation will make itself apparent. The Internet, to say the least, is becoming increasingly a controlled and monitored space.

Last but not least, there are the development issues surrounding the adoption of either mesh-networked laptops or Internet enabled mobile technologies. The adoption of technology and the readiness for adoption clearly differ in different countries. Bulking so many places into the convenient “developing countries” heading seems counterproductive. Negroponte proposes a laptop for every child while I am prepared to see children in different countries using latops or mobile phones, as appropriate, in order to learn and grow. Laptops are still uncommon in classroom setting, even in places where people can readily afford them, while mobile phones have been successfully used within classrooms across the developing world e.g. (Meraka Institute – ICT in Education, South Africa). We need to be able to acknowledge that various ICTs would suit the needs and fit the constraints present at different places.

So what are the implications for mobile marketplaces? Internet marketplaces have existed for a long time now, and have changed significantly the trading landscape throughout the world. They have mobilised the “long tail” by providing trading opportunities which did not exist previously, thereby giving value to items which previously had none. The junk in your garage is no longer junk. Someone would invariably point out its value to you by quoting how much you can sell it for. A quote easily determined by a quick search among recent eBay auctions. Internet marketplaces have enabled dynamic price negotiations (auctions). They have also made obvious the contracting problems and the fraudulent activities which are unfortunately an inextricable part of remote, technology-based exchange transactions.  Consequently, adequate regulation and control are a much needed prerequisite for Internet or mobile trade.

I have named the current blog “Mobile Market Design for Development” because in my observation trader in developing countries are very flexible, mobile and on-the-go. It is difficult for me to envisage their use of desktop computer technology and associated ITCs (telephone landlines, LAN cable connections, etc.). That being said, I can see how web technologies can be used as an additional channel for access to the collected market information (See CellBazaar.).