Communications and info tech in developing countries, especially wireless broadband and high-value applications
Ken Novak's Weblog
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
FTC Message Switching Systems
: A blast from the past, the project I worked on 20 years ago. "The Sombers Group built the company's fault-tolerant Tandem Computer-based switching systems, which were installed both in the U.S. and overseas. " By "overseas" they mean Cameroon, where I installed the message switch at Intelcam
in 1983. I also upgraded the switch in 1986, and then hosted their staff for TCP/IP training in 1995 in California. 1:08:19 PM
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Wildlife trade on the web: "Internet shoppers in search of the exotic have sparked a booming trade that is threatening the existence of many endangered species, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. .. “Trade on the Internet is easy, cheap and anonymous,” said IFAW UK director Phyllis Campbell-McRae. .. The report “Caught in the web - wildlife trade on the Internet” found in just one week 146 live primates, 5,527 elephant products, 526 turtle and tortoiseshells, 2,630 reptile products and 239 wild cat products for sale." 8:33:51 AM
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century: 20 years ago I travelled in Africa, telling people that wireless phones would be the IT that would matter there. Nice to read the stories of how that works today. "Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way. Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles. But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she takes out her mobile phone. .. "It is a necessity," said Ms. Skhakhane.. "Buying air time is part of my regular grocery list." She spends the equivalent of $1.90 a month for five minutes of telephone time. ..
One in 11 Africans is now a mobile subscriber. .. cellphones are enabling millions of people to skip a technological generation and bound straight from letter-writing to instant messaging. .. One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her cellphone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells. "She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer," said Mr. Nkuli of Vodacom. "So she keeps them in the river," tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale. ..
William Pedro, 51, who deals in farm and garden plants, said he tried for eight years to lure customers to his nursery in a ragtag township near George.. "now [customers] can phone me for orders and I can deliver them the same day." ..
Congo was in the midst of a civil war when Alieu Conteh, a telecommunications entrepreneur, began building a cellular network there in the 1990's. No foreign manufacturer would ship a cellphone tower to the airport with rebels nearby, so Mr. Conteh hired local men to collect scrap and weld a tower together. Now Vodacom, which formed a joint venture with him in 2001, .. [hauls] each satellite dish into place with ropes. Base stations are powered by generators. .. Vodacom Congo has 1.1 million subscribers and is adding more than 1,000 daily. ..
How does an African family in a hut lighted by candles charge a mobile phone? .. the solution is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car. Ntombenhle Nsele keeps one in her home a few miles down the road from Ms. Skhakhane's. She takes it by bus 20 miles to the nearest town to recharge it in a gas station. For 80 cents each, Ms. Nsele, 25, lets neighbors charge their mobiles from the battery. She gets at least five customers a week. "Oooh, a lot of people," she said, smiling. "Too many." " 11:14:36 AM
Monday, August 22, 2005
Global University Phone System
: "The GUPS Initiative provides universities with a voice over IP (VOIP) system they can easily install and configure to connect their phone networks with other academic institutions around the globe. Calls are routed over the internet using VOIP thus bypassing traditional telecommunication charges for phone calls " 10:35:13 PM
Monday, August 15, 2005
Royal Philips Electronics development pilots: Three projects, including one launched by Paul Rankin from the Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship at Stanford. "Voices in Your Hand is a pilot project running in Recife, Brazil, to bring digital connectivity to people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. .. Using modified MP3 players, people can listen to personalized web casts of audio information offline in their homes, talk back and use voice email. Then they visit a public utility point to link their sets to the Internet. The customer here may be a family or a village, rather than an individual. .. The pilot will be completed mid 2005, learning will be captured and results will be used to test the feasibility of possible scale up scenarios." 8:48:26 PM
The Africa You Never See: Africa, "according to the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corp., offers the highest return in the world on direct foreign investment, [yet] it attracts the least. Unless investors see the Africa that's worthy of investment, they won't put their money into it. .. Consider a few facts: The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world's highest-performing stock markets. Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations. Cell phones are making phenomenal profits on the continent. Brand-name companies like Coca-Cola, GM, Caterpillar and Citibank have invested in Africa for years and are quite bullish on the future.
The failure to show this side of Africa creates a one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. .. With good governance and sound fiscal policies, countries like Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and many more are bustling, their economies growing at surprisingly robust rates.
Private enterprise is not just limited to the well-behaved nations. [In Somalia] private enterprise is flourishing. Mogadishu has the cheapest cell phone rates on the continent, mostly due to no government intervention. In the northern city of Hargeysa, the markets sell the latest satellite phone technology. The electricity works. When the state collapsed in 1991, the national airline went out of business. Today, there are five private carriers and price wars keep the cost of tickets down. .. Obviously life there would be dramatically improved by good governance -- or even just some governance -- but it's also true that, through resilience and resourcefulness, Somalis have been able to create a functioning society.
Most African businesses suffer from an extreme lack of infrastructure, but the people I met were too determined to let this stop them. It just costs them more. Without reliable electricity, most businesses have to use generators. They have to dig bore-holes for a dependable water source. Telephone lines are notoriously out of service, but cell phones are filling the gap. .. As I interviewed successful entrepreneurs, I was continually astounded by their ingenuity, creativity and steadfastness. These people are the future of the continent. " 8:33:32 PM
Are We Prepared for Avian Flu?: An interview with "Laurie Garrett, the only reporter to win all three of journalism's big "P" awards (the Peabody, the Polk and the Pulitzer) .. resigned from Newsday earlier this year [citing] a deteriorating climate for journalism .. Today, Garrett is Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her story "The Next Pandemic?" was published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs ..
"Avian influenza comes from aquatic birds, including migratory ducks, geese and herons. The loss of these birds' migratory routes in China has brought them into direct contact with humans in farms and parks. In this way, influenza is spread from migrating birds to domestic birds, then to pigs and ultimately to humans. This chain of events involves veterinary science, ecology and medicine, the triumvirate studied by the science of conservation medicine." One general issue: we lack "respectful mutual lines of communication between those protecting human health, those protecting animal health and those dealing with ecology."
On avian flu response specifically: "I think the CDC is doing a lot. But what I keep trying to get across to people is that flu starts in Asia. We're a lot better off if we can stop it in Asia than if we wait until it is here and try to figure out some means to minimize the damage. And that means a whole lot more multinational agreements, and this is difficult at a time when our Congress is full of members saying really terrible things about China [and Vietnam]..
In a recent study published in Nature, a team at Oxford University did a computer model just simply asking if it is possible to stop pandemic flu. And the good news is their answer is yes, it is possible, but the bad news is it can be stopped only if you identify it when there are just 30 human cases. Well, we're not going to spot those first 30 human cases before it spreads to hundreds or thousands of people unless we have a much better infrastructure of public health, vigilance and surveillance in poor countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and in countries with more money but completely lacking in sophisticated public health infrastructure, like China." " 2:04:44 PM
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Mobile phones in Kenya:
Good anecdotes on small business' use of phones. "When handyman Alex Theuri puts down his wrenches after laying water-pipes in buildings, he picks up screwdrivers and pliers to install electric wiring elsewhere -- but there's one tool he's never without. The mobile phone has become the most essential work item for Theuri, a Kenyan plumber, electrician and small businessman who, like so many others in the East African nation, makes a living from various different jobs at the same time." 12:57:04 PM
Friday, August 12, 2005
Internet Scammers Keep Working in Nigeria
: "In Festac Town, an entire community of scammers overnights on the Internet. By day they flaunt their smart clothes and cars and hang around the Internet cafes, trading stories about successful cons and near misses, and hatching new plots. Festac Town is where communication specialists operating underground sell foreign telephone lines over which a scammer can purport to be calling from any city in the world. Here lurk master forgers and purveyors of such software as "e-mail extractors," which can harvest e-mail addresses by the million. Now, however, a 3-year-old crackdown is yielding results, Nigerian authorities say.
Nuhu Ribadu, head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, says cash and assets worth more than $700 million were recovered from suspects between May 2003 and June 2004. More than 500 suspects have been arrested, more than 100 cases are before the courts and 500 others are under investigation, he said." 11:12:31 AM
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
G.M. Thrives in China With Small, Thrifty Vans: "In this obscure corner of southern China, General Motors seems to have hit on a hot new formula: $5,000 minivans that get 43 miles to the gallon in city driving. That combination of advantages has captivated Chinese buyers, propelling G.M. into the leading spot in this nascent car market. ..
The minivans, which G.M. builds in a joint venture with a Chinese partner, have a quarter the horsepower of American minivans, weak acceleration and a top speed of 81 miles an hour. The seats are only a third the thickness of seats in Western models but look plush compared with some Chinese cars. ..
The utilitarian minivans and pickups are mainly purchased in China by small-business owners in towns and smaller cities, who drive them both to carry supplies for their businesses and to transport their families. .. The minivans have been a big hit, helping G.M. sell more than 170,000 very small vehicles - automobile types not available in the United States - and to pass Volkswagen this year in sales in a market that VW has dominated for two decades. They have helped turn China into G.M.'s biggest center of automotive profit - in contrast to losses in manufacturing operations in the United States - and its second-largest market in terms of the number of vehicles sold, after the United States...
The Chinese government has also encouraged a shift toward more efficient models through stringent fuel-economy regulations, even as Congress has opted for more subsidies for oil production and a limit on hybrid car subsidies .." 5:32:53 AM