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Ofcom plans to slash UK Mobile rates

In a move that is sure to delight customers, the UK regulator Ofcom has laid out plans to slash the price charged by mobile network operators for connecting calls from other network operators from 4.3p to 0.5p per minute by 2015. The regulator also wants consumers to be able to change mobile operators within 24 hours, taking their numbers with them.

Ofcom, in proposals published this week, said the move which will see cost of landline calls to mobile phones cut was possible because of very large increases in data volumes (data traffic on mobile networks had risen 200% over the past year), which reduced the proportion of costs attributable to voice; a decline in the cost of network equipment; and the removal of the contribution by termination charges to the joint and common costs of the network.

Ofcom can realistically expect to feel the wrath of UK operators as the latter have a bit to contend with in the short term. First ly the cut in so-called mobile termination rates affecting billions of calls a year thus slashing mobile operators' income from connecting calls; secondly the prospect of mobile network operators facing  a potentially expensive auction for so-called 4G spectrum; and thirdly switch in underlying technologies from analogue time division multiplexing to digital Internet Protocol-based Long Term Evolution technology. But in the long term all should lower capital and operating costs to mobile operators.

The move from Ofcom comes in the wake of a 2009 European Commission directive to cut termination rates to reflect the actual cost of completing calls. It is aimed at introducing more flexibility via designing competitive call packages between landline and mobile operators as well as promoting competition for the benefit of consumers given the present regime ends in March 2011.

This is clearly good news for consumers. Long may it continue.

 

EDITORIAL
Our demand for 3 ‘e’s


Despite the ridiculous suggestion that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has no business aspiring to the highest office after his 'cover duty' in May 2011, the issue really needs not arise once he gives a good account of himself. 

We hasten to advise the Acting President about the only 3-point agenda which Nigerians are interested in. We call them the 3 ‘e’s. - “electoral reform”, “electricity supply” and “‘e’ empowerment”. 

The first is simple to implement and needs not take all the 14 months he has to spend in office. Take a decision that the Uwais' Electoral Reform Proposal be implemented and ensure it is done with a human face. What is required is not time but courage. 

Electricity supply may take some time since the solution model is about 'throwing money at it', but a good courageous decision will start yielding result within 3 months if the decision is taken to truly and sincerely liberalize the energy industry, an Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC having been in place already. The emphasis is on ‘truly’ and ‘sincerely’, not that we have not been at this all along.  The solutions are no longer in lengthy study reports and big volumes of Exco memos and Documents. The telecommunications industry should be held up as the template the energy industry must replicate. 

The ‘e’ empowerment issue may admittedly be fairly strange. It is no big grammar. A funding support to broadband infrastructure at the backbone and primary distribution levels is the secret.  It will not strike the eyes in what the Communications Policy draft which the 25 man committee (25?!!! Oh boouugh) is just about to craft. Infact the document will mean nothing if broadband internet access does not come at its instant. 

The 3 ‘e’s do not require much time. They need courage and dare devil decision making. They have dared Mr. Acting President by saying he has no right to return to office. He too can dare them by doing what is right and getting out of the way for them.  

Nigerians will take care of the remaining. We know our people.

 

ICT industry raises hope in Jonathan
as Yar' Adua’s tenure is rated low
 

Mr. Leo Stan Eke, an ICT marketing czar and entrepreneur rated the Yar’ Adua period of governance in Nigeria as a low time for the growth of information technology. He told a Lagos audience where a book on “e-knowledge -  Time is running out” written by Mr. Chris Uwaje,  that Obasanjo’s eight years of administration raised the  worth and attention paid to the technology application industry but things nose dived since Mr. Yar’ Adua took over. He hoped that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan would reverse the trend in the remaining time for the industry to pick up again.

 

Bharti fills its boots as Zain Nigeria may move on again

Having deliberated a few weeks ago who will not buy Zain Nig, we now know who will. On 30th March, Indian top mobile operator Bharti Airtel said it had sealed a 10.7-billion-dollar deal to buy Zain's African assets, ranking it among the world's top five cellular players.

The acquisition, ranked the second-largest foreign takeover in Indian corporate history, sees Bharti acquire Kuwait-based Zain’s African mobile services operations in 15 countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Having failed in two attempts to acquire South African mobile giant MTN, the acquisition is a dream come true for company chairman and founder Sunil Bharti Mittal  of gaining a foothold in Africa, one of the world's fastest  telephone markets.

In an emailed statement, the 52-year-old a billionaire tycoon called Africa "the continent of hope and opportunity", he said the agreement was ‘a landmark for the global telecom industry and a game changer for Bharti’ and the company "will be transformed into a truly global telecom company with operations across 18 countries, fulfilling our vision of building a world-class multinational," added.

It is perhaps the market’s potential given that phone ownership in the countries where Zain operates stands at just 32 out of every 100 compared with 51 in Bharti’s native India, coupled with Mittal’s entrepreneurial foresight which sees him look to expanding foreign revenues amid a savage price war at home are what lie behind this acquisition.

But Bharti can not expect this to be a cake walk. Analysts say, having signed the deal at Zain Africa BV's headquarters in Amsterdam, he will have to utiltise all his entrepreneurial chutzpah to turn around Zain's loss-making African operations but the Nigerian market – the fastest growing – offers encouragement though it has been losing subscribers to rivals.

Romal Shetty, telecommunications head at global consultancy KPMG’s India said Bharti will be entering ‘not just one market but 15 markets.’ He said ‘You can't play a single strategy for all of them,’ and Mittal has ‘a lot of work ahead.’

Analysts say the strategy here for Bharti - which pioneered low-cost telecoms in India - will be to bring down Zain's high cost base and win subscribers, and to get subscribers to talk more using lower tariffs.

 

 

More litigation worries for Apple

A Taiwanese Touchpad technologies company said this week it had filed a complaint with to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) urging it (US) to prevent the electronics giant from selling touchscreen products such as the iPhone, iPod much-anticipated touchscreen tablet computer, the new iPad.

Elan Microelectronics Corporation claimed Apple infringes on patents regarding touch-sensitive input devices with the ability to detect the simultaneous presence of two or more fingers. It says the patents are violated in the iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook and Magic Mouse products as well as the iPad and is demanding the ITC bar Apple from importing the products into the United States, which are manufactured overseas, and prevent it from selling any of the products in the United States that it has already imported.

In a statement Elan said, ‘We have taken the step of filing the ITC complaint as a continuation of our efforts to enforce our patent rights against Apple's ongoing infringement.’

The ITC, it is reported, will decide whether it will institute an investigation within 30 days.

 

Industry Review
Innovation Centres: The Foundation and the Future of IT
 

With all the premonition and efforts and from the industry’s players, there is no stronger indication necessary action needs to be taken now to prepare a strong IT foundation for its sustainability and global competitiveness than the UK government’s recent announcement that Information and communications technologies will spearhead the its attempt to grab a significant share of tomorrow's global multi-billion-pound markets.

 

 Internet technologies will be the key industry sector of the future as new opportunities emerge on a smarter planet. SMEs are uniquely positioned to seize them starting with smarter technology and a dynamic infrastructure that connects IT to all of the digital and physical assets in a business. Thousands of midsize companies are already building a more dynamic infrastructure to reflect this

 

The government was accepting a report from Hermann Hauser who has a proven track record having helped start Acorn Computers, the UK's most successful PC maker, in the 1980s and currently head of Amadeus Partners, a venture capital company who said economic capabilities need to translate its leads into market share or really big money something partially responsible for productivity gap between the US and the UK. He said the UK was "strong at the brainy end, not at the low-cost end" of the value chain.

He said the development of "clusters" was essential to his proposed strategy and the risk capital needed to launch world-beating companies could be very low. "For example, a software company doesn't require the capital investment that a silicon fabrication plant needs, and the margins can be much better," he said.

Accepting the Hauser Report on the current and future role of technology and innovation centres in the UK, business secretary Peter Mandelson said the government would support the development of a network of technology and innovation centres. He said “I am now determined that the UK builds a capability for the long term, through a more strategic and sustained approach to investing in these centres. Hauser is right that these centres need long term, predictable funding and I am committed to making that happen. I want to understand the UK's strengths, weaknesses and where there are gaps we need to invest in.”

Emerging markets and their governments need to take heed.

 

WEEKEND SATIRE
Home may be where the problem is
Aftermath of 2.3 GHz court verdict

by
titi omo-ettu

 

One of the engaging issues in the early days of deregulation in emerging telecom markets was serial litigation from operators, which had the potential to slow down growth, stifle competition and impede tariff reduction. It was Telecom Answers Associates, while presenting an industry study report to the new NCC management of the very early days of deregulation in Nigeria that  drew attention to what it called ‘over-litigation’ in several merging markets stressing the importance of addressing the matter right from the fundamentals.

 

The issue became a popular talking point for the Commission and the consensus then was that for the survival of the emerging Nigerian telecom industry, a robust and professional Commission was imperative. The operating military decree of the time, according to legalists, left room for manouvre to grow a professional NCC for sustainability in the embryonic industry. The National Communications Act 2003 which emerged almost a decade later, duly lived up to the billing and it did not disappoint.

 

There is no doubt that today the NCC met the vision of those founding fathers in that regard and even more. Several operators, especially the so-called ‘big players’ headed for the courts at the slightest opportunity to undermine the Commission’s attempt to achieve rollout out services from every Tom Dick and Harry that held a license. Fortunately every time they went to court, the Commission and industry emerged stronger.

 

There was the particularly interesting case of a notable operator’s lawyer who found offence in then proposed Universal Service Provision FUND objective on the premise it would be ‘unfair to us that we contribute money only for others to spend it’.  You have got to hand it to these guys at least they keep things interesting.

 

From all indication, the 2.3 GHz imbroglio has refused to go away. The latest news was that NCC pre-emptively issued MOBITEL license for to pick up as soon as the Abuja High Court ruled that its licence be released. Perhaps NCC was thinking ahead just in case an operator proceeded to court to argue that the judge had ‘erred in law’, and to request MOBITEL’s license remained withheld.

 

A few days after MOBITEL received its license, THIS DAY newspaper reported on Thursday March 25 that the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications (we dare not say Minister since there was none at the time) went back to court on appeal to request that the judgment be set aside.

 

In other words, the returning operator should not be allowed to come into the market. It calls into question whose interest the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications serves. On the face of it, legalism may just be the interest here but certainly not the interest of telephone users  for whose interest the ministry was supposed to be serving.

 

Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory once said ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies’ - if you get my drift.

 

 

Industry Review (International)
And the spat goes on
  

Just when you thought it had gone off the boil, the spat   has returned with a vengeance In dramatic act of defiance and in direct contravention of what took it into China, Google hell bent on shaming its host, has stopped censoring its Web search and news services. in a move that could prove to be a pivotal in the history of U.S. companies' efforts to do business in China. It is simply another knell that signifies an unraveling, just a little more, of the current state of Google Inc.'s business ties in China which sees the former winning global praise for its defiance while simultaneously threatening to turn  the latter into a pariah.

Google's said that it was redirecting people who visited its Chinese site, Google.cn, to an uncensored Chinese-language version of its service hosted in Hong Kong - a switch reported to have begun in the middle of the night in Beijing. Company officials said Google would continue to host its maps and music search service in China and intends to keep its sales and research operations in China. The move puts its business in one of the world's most important markets on rocky ground, but not cutting its nose to spite its face, it is a strategy of simultaneously having and consuming of its cake i.e. of spouting off about Google's ‘new found’ principles about information freedom while still keeping a foot in the country.

But China and its authorities did not get to where they are today by showing due concern on Google’s ‘frivolities’. Its response has been swift. After deprecating Google’s whinge dubbing it hypocritical, its second biggest operator in China Unicom in reaction to Google's decision  to stop offering a censored search service, is to stop using Google search on Android handsets opting instead for Android phones developed for it by Motorola and Samsung. While Google has remained indecisive about leaving because of commercial imperatives, China has not displayed such reticence in its reaction. It is safe in the knowledge it can survive without Google as China has far more people owning and using mobiles than it does using the net.that Google will be hurt should it leave all together

Who will be proven right? 

 

Google uncensors its Chinese site

Google sparked controversy when it promised to leave China if it couldn’t legally offer uncensored web searches. Now the search giant has found a loophole to wriggle through. It has discontinued operation of google.cn, and now routes searches from China through google.com.hk, where its Hong Kong servers are located.

The company’s Chief legal officer explained in a blog post, that Google believed this was a sensible solution to the legal challenges the company faced, was “entirely legal”, and in his opinion would considerably increase access to information for its users in china. “We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.”

Chinese state controlled media had opened up with strong rhetoric condemning Google, alleging suspicious connections between the company and American intelligence agencies, and accusing it of trying to impose American values. "One company's ambition to change China's internet rules will only prove to be ridiculous", Xinhua News Agency said.

CNN reports that some sensitive search terms remain blocked despite Google’s latest measure.

 

 

Broadband to generate economic growth says Google Boss

The call for a ’digital revolution’ carries on unabated and even in societies that are perhaps perceived as its birthplace.  Amidst Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) $7.2bn plan to rebuild America's communications systems as part of a wider government infrastructure regeneration initiative, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said widespread availability of high-speed broadband networks will "catapult" the US economy into growth and restore its competitive edge in business and science.

His comments, published on Google's official blog asserted that  the FCC's national broadband strategy will set goals for expanding broadband to under-served areas, promote greater speeds, and drive consumer demand. He highlighted the benefits saying the investment "will harness this communications technology to urgent national priorities, such as jobs, education, health, energy, and security. In short, the plan will lay the groundwork for investing in America's future."

In what could be described his perception of ‘creeping complacency’ and the need for urgent action, Schmidt said the US had fallen behind other countries in access to fast networks after inventing the internet. Providing internet access to every community, including farms and inner cities, as soon as possible needed to be was a short-term goal and on the long term effect of inactivity he said, "Long after we recover from this recession, this broadband gap will be a dead weight on American businesses and workers, unless we act now," he said.

 

USA plans high-speed net for all

In response to the reality that one-third of Americans, about 100 million people, are without broadband at home, US communications regulator, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)has unveiled the nation's first plan to give every American super-fast broadband by 2020 which will now submit the plan to Congress.

Working on the premise that broadband was the ‘greatest infrastructure challenge’, the FCC's comprehensive programme aims:

  • to connect 100 million homes to super-fast broadband with speeds up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps)
  • allocate spectrum to allow network updates for wireless broadband
  • increase adoption rates to 90% and make sure every child is digitally literate before they leave school
  • providing one gigabit broadband to schools, hospitals and military installations
  • and encourage greater competition among providers to make prices cheaper and deals easier to understand.

Industry analysts are sceptical saying the FCC’s stance is an oversimplification. Erik Sherman of BNet.com says that the FCC plan "sounds like an overstatement". He says "The plan cannot be a silver bullet for all these issues and problems which exist for a number of different reasons and not just because of a lack of broadband. The plan is very big in scope and if you look at the rationale, the FCC is basically saying we need more money for more internet. I am not saying we don't need a broadband plan but we have to be realistic about what it can and cannot do,"

Dismissing the above, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt told BBC News that ‘Broadband for every American is not too ambitious a plan and it is absolutely necessary’. He went on to say, "The consequences of not succeeding are heartbreaking. Every nation needs a common medium to gather around and to have the internet as a common medium where a third is left out is unacceptable."

In emphasising the benefits this infrastructural development will bring, Hundt said, ‘It is changing how we educate children, deliver healthcare, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organise and disseminate knowledge’.

Current FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, said the programme is an action plan necessary to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address so many vital national issues.  Access to high-speed internet services is said to have grown dramatically from 8 million Americans 20 years ago to nearly 200 million today.

Estimates to implement the plan have been put at $350bn (£233bn). How that bill will be split between private investment and tax dollars is not yet known. More than $7bn will come from President Obama's 2009 stimulus package but politicians will be waiting in the wings to slap anything that is deemed ‘excessively expensive’.

24-member Committee for Communications Policy Review

The three years wait for government to commence the process of reviewing its communications policy in search of a digital economy ended last Thursday when Minister of State for Information and Communications, Dr Aliyu Bilbis inaugurated a  24-member National Communications Policy Review Committee in Abuja.

Chairman of the Committee is Engr. Isaiah Mohammed, Managing Director of Globaltouch West Africa Ltd. Membership of the Committee is drawn from government, telecom and broadcast private sector, media and the academia.

Coming on the eve of the release of election timetable and therefore electioneering race towards 2011, it is clear that the government that will take Nigeria into an information society may, at best, emerge in 2011. 

The Committee has three months to submit its report.

Digital Economy Bill:
Proposed amendment faces severe attack in the UK

In a response to the ‘moral panic’ that accompanies the debate around the freedoms conferred by the internet, a letter published by the Financial Times says the House of Lords – the UK’S upper house – proposed amendment, would have unintended consequences that far outweigh any benefits it could bring.

The bill would change the UK's procedures on injunctions so that internet service providers (ISPs) would block more websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material without a court order, the letter said.

The letter which comes on the back of hostile criticism from media lawyers and industry observers was signed by  the CEOs of  UK major companies like BT, Orange, eBay, Virgin Media, , the Internet Service Providers Association, Consumer Focus and Open Rights Group, as well as popular figures, Members of Parliament and university lecturers.

The letter said, ‘Blocking access as envisaged by this clause would both widely disrupt the internet in the UK and elsewhere and threaten freedom of speech and the open internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended.’ It also said the amendment goes even further than the controversial US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) which was also intended to stop copyright pirates but has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, chills free expression and scientific research, and interferes with computer intrusion laws.

The writers said there was a multitude of legal, technical and practical issues to reconcile before the amendment could be considered proportionate and necessary and warned the amendment could harm the UK as a place to do online business and conflict with the broader objectives of a ‘Digital UK’.

Online copyright lawyer Francis Davey, said ISPs would be better off under DMCA than under the new Amendment.

…Consumer groups wade in

Criticism of the amendment has not simply from public figures, it was claimed that small businesses and consumers are likely to be left largely unprotected if the controversial Digital Economy Bill becomes law as it stands.

Cross-bench peer Lord Erroll said the fight over how to protect online copyright and what some regard as free speech was being driven by big businesses. "Small business is not getting a look-in in this bill at all. That is the problem which I, Lord Whitty, and some others have with it," he said.

Consumer groups are now lobbying behind the scenes to ensure that the law affects only persistent illegal file-sharers. Their stance is that while they do not condone unlawful file sharing, their concerns are that the proposals will oversee consumers pay for a system that is fair nor effective.  They call for the communications regulator Ofcom to consult consumer bodies when it drew up codes of practice on ISPs' initial obligations and obligations to limit internet access when illegal file-sharing was discovered.

A spokesman for Ofcom's Communications Consumer Panel said the panel was watching the bill's passage through parliament closely. It was particularly concerned to improve consumers' rights to appeal and redress following alleged copying. In its response to the Digital Britain consultation, the panel called for consumer bodies to help develop the proposed code of conduct, and said technical measures, such as throttling and cut-offs, should not be imposed without a court decision.

 The date for the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons has still to be set. The struggle continues.

Look who's complaining now
by
titi omo-ettu

Word came out midweek from Zain Africa’s Director of Corporate Strategy, Mohammed Sheikh, who warned of dangers ahead as, according to him, Africa’s mobile market was reaching saturation. Sheik also said pointedly that “Good, fair competition is acceptable, but competition where someone enters the market and cuts prices dramatically damages future levels of investment’


Even if we agree with Sheik’s assertion, the basis of which is, at best suspect, it is by no means the full story.


If his assertion is based on markets like Nigeria, one of Africa’s most important, then the figure of 74million mobile phones which leads him to the conclusion that the market is taken up has to be questionable simply because 74million phones does not necessarily equate to 74million users – an indication that there remains an uncovered market of considerable size.


Here we have adhered to the undeniable reality of empowerment that telephone access affords particularly rural dwellers thus creating a viable market even at that level. Unleashing this potential has always been the basis of the universal service fund wherever it has been endorsed.


For a fact, it is not only governments that precipitate destabilization the kind of which Sheik was describing. Short termist investors trading telephone companies for a fast buck must shoulder their share of blame in the instability they create in the system in terms of pressure they put on the market, the local workforce they frustrate and local resellers whose investments have been mindlessly destroyed by the very issue that Sheik has accused governments of.



African regulators are now learning the ropes as they must. Service providers will need to raise their performance such that the survival and improvement in mobile telephony will depend largely on good quality service and not any carrot and stick promotional gimmickry that have worked for them thus far, but rather on innovation, and truly smart incentives to which consumers are about getting aware of and accustomed to.

 

Office 2010 ready to go

Office 2010, the latest version of Microsoft's office productivity suite, will be available to business users on 12 May.

The new product which allows document sharing using SharePoint 2010 to allows users to share Office documents to work offline.  The introduction of a new software - SharePoint Workspace 2010, means when users reconnect their laptop to the network, the changes they made while offline will be synchronised. It also features Office Web Apps, which enables users to view and make light edits to Word and Excel documents through their browser.

Businesses and consumers who purchase and activate Office 2007 - or a new PC running Office 2007 - between 5 March 2010 and 30 September 2010 will be able to download Office 2010 at no extra cost.

News reading moves to the web

The internet is now arguably the second major resource used to stay current with news, behind television, and now ahead of newspapers and radio, according to CNN.com, citing a survey by the Pew Research Center.

2,259 adults of 18yrs and above responded to the study, and its results indicated that while local television news came top, ahead of national television network news, 61% said they got a lot of their news online, compared to 54, and 50% who said they listened to the radio, and read newspapers respectively. The proliferation of internet social networking allows many web users to create links to interesting news items, or email and forward them for their friends to view and comment on, opening up new issues for online discussion, and making news reading a more involving experience for web users. 75% of respondents reported having received news in this way.

The shift of audience to the internet and falling revenues from newspaper sales has caused many news vendors, led by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, to introduce a user pricing scheme for some of their internet news portals.

The survey is based in the USA.
 

‘Chuck’ bags award

Yestarday the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) today named Charles ‘Chuck’ Thacker, a technical fellow at Microsoft Research, the winner of the prestigious A.M. Turing Award for 2009 for his pioneering design and realization of the Alto, the first modern personal computer, and the prototype for networked personal computers.

The Turing Award, widely considered the ‘Nobel Prize in Computing’, is named for the British mathematician Alan M. Turing.  The award carries a $250,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation and Google Inc. 

Thacker, 67, was also cited for his contributions to the Ethernet local area network which enables multiple computers to communicate and share resources, the first multiprocessor workstation as well as the prototype for today’s most used tablet PC with its capabilities for direct user interaction. 

ACM President Professor Dame Wendy Hall in her statement said, ‘Charles Thacker’s contributions have earned him a reputation as one of the most distinguished computer systems engineers in the history of the field. His enduring achievements—from his initial innovations on the PC to his leadership in hardware development of the multiprocessor workstation to his role in developing the tablet PC - have profoundly affected the course of modern computing.’ 

Alfred Spector, Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives at Google Inc. said, ‘Google is pleased to join in honouring Charles Thacker for his far-reaching role in the birth of one of the most important technologies in the 20th century. His contributions made possible the style of computing that we enjoy today, and we are proud to be a sponsor of the ACM Turing Award to encourage continued research in computer science, and the related technologies that depend on its continued advancement.’

 

 

Dearth of broadband now makes youths run out of rural areas of the UK

Jobs used to be reason for migration of youths to urban centres. Reports coming from UK say the reason now could be broadband if steps are not taken to arrest it. The point that is being made is that it is not lack of job but lack of broadband in the home that makes young people move to cities to find jobs. 

Stuart Burgess, the government's rural advocate, said this to the Prime Minister in a recent report that the long-term future of the countryside is in jeopardy because many young people are being forced out of rural areas to find homes, jobs and support. 

Developing economies also have something to learn here as they do not need to grow only to learn that access to broadband is a shortcut for society to grow and migrate out of poverty faster.

Chris Uwaje’s book due for launch March 30

A compendium of earlier and recent writings of Mr. Chris Uwaje is about to be launched. The compilations called “e-Knowledge – Time is Running Out” is a harmonization of some of the author’s several dissertations on the subject of Information Technology as it relates especially to Nigeria.

The book shares Uwaje’s wealth of experience and mission-critical concern on the state of information technology in Nigeria and the shape of things to come. Coming from a renowned primus inter pares player in the authorship of Nigeria's Policy for Information Technology, it is expected that the book launch will not only wet the appetite of the general public, but fulfill the expectations of all IT Stakeholders with respect to the emerging roadmap to the e-Knowledge Olympiad. 

It is scheduled for Tuesday March 30, 2010 at the Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos.

 

Big firms report big savings from IT-CMF
by
Abi Bilesanmi

In these austere times, companies are inevitably looking to get the best return possible from their budget. In an attempt to achieve this, back in  June 2006, Chip maker Intel joined forces with the National University of Ireland and the Boston Consulting Group - a global management consulting firm and leading advisor on business strategy - to form the Innovation Value Institute (IVI).

This spurned the creation of the Information Technology Capability Maturity Framework (IT-CMF), which aims to show organisations how to measure the business value of IT investments, choose the best IT investment proposals, deliver competitive advantage and manage IT investments for optimal business value.

More than 4 years on since the inception of the IVI and two years since the IT-CMF framework has been in the public domain, some 40 top global organisations have signed up. This illustrious list which includes Microsoft, Chevron and BP, Ernst & Young, despite their global status, are reporting that they are starting to see positive results with respect to cost, return on investment, scalability, security and flexibility.

Pharmaceuticals company Merck has used the framework to save 8% on its budget for technology innovation and 20% on its total budget for experiments. Intel has reported a 25% improvement in IT capability for 10% less money. Mike Bevil, manager of IT innovation at MRL, the research laboratory division of Merck, told Computer Weekly that using the framework had enabled the company to improve the "hit rate" of successful projects (i.e., applications where it could measure the profit produced as a result of a new IT system) by 20%. "In general, we can get to the go/no go decision much faster too," he says.

MRL is reassessing its software applications portfolio as use of the framework starts to expand, he adds. One project is to evaluate MRL's future use of cloud computing technologies and suppliers.

Axa-Tech, the IT division of insurance company Axa, claimed to have achieved a 96% reduction in set-up working time for new servers, an 81% drop in total cycle time to set-up virtual servers, and a 63% cut in set up times for physical servers using the framework.

Chevron has decided to use the framework to reorganise and unify its entire corporate IT function.

BP, not exactly a small company itself, are espousing the virtues of IT-CMF. Its Group Enterprise Architect Vincenzo Marchese says BP's enterprise architecture management department has shown big improvements in capability maturity in two years. He puts this down to training and certifying staff in an architecture framework, which improved the quality and consistency of their work.

While manufacturers seem keen on the framework's benefits, IVI wants the IT sector as a whole to adopt it.

Martin Curley, Intel's global director of IT innovation, says he would like two-thirds of all Fortune 500 companies to be using the framework within five years. He is also hoping the Council of Europe will call for its use to evaluate all national and local government IT projects.

Time to Listen!
(A review of Ernest Ndukwe’s recent lecture series)

 One of the drawbacks of the public sector is a lack of continuity as there is never a succession plan. In our environment, sitting officials who plan their succession have done so even for selfish, sometime very callous, reasons. This lack of continuity and consequently inability to plan for the future is sometimes put forward as an argument for the ‘limited’ state – one which has no role in business. NITEL is an interesting case in point which we have successfully deployed as a template to demonstrate that government has no business running a business. 

Ernest Ndukwe, the telecommunications engineer and manager who had in the last ten years sat atop the operations of Nigeria’s Regulator of telecommunications appears to have now joined the public lecture circuit discussing what he thinks the future should be for Nigeria beyond 2010. He can talk about a future, because he has done something worth talking about. It was by no means plain sailing and if he is vindictive, he probably will also use his lecture to fight back as he has been battered and bruised along the way – a ‘parting shot’ especially now that his exit is imminent. However, the scars on his back tell us he has earned his stripes to surely have some say in what (not necessarily who) succeeds his tenure in office… and he is worth listening to.   

Some few weeks ago, he listed about ten important issues which taken together, may translate to having advised the market on the unfinished business as he leaves office. Last week was the third and latest time he discussed those things that contributed to unprecedented success in Nigeria’s telecommunications and how they can be sustained.  

His speeches have taken a holistic approach to the requirements of the future addressing the kind of attributes that whoever government eventually appoints into the Commission should possess; what the focus of attention should be; as well as the role of all stakeholders – government, the regulator, operators, and consumers in taking the industry to the next level. 

The one issue on which Ernest Ndukwe has been relentless and discussed more than any other public official throughout his tenure is the central and critical role public electricity supply had been to the telecommunications industry. His unyielding stance on this thorny issue may be taken to mean that he has suggested an alternative procedure for government to look at the issue of power sector reform in the country.  

Although there has also been a professed reform or even declaration of liberalization industry in the energy sector, the regime of implementation has been at best insincere. Some guys started by mushrooming ‘private companies’ out of the government octopus called NEPA and they went about telling us that is what liberalization is all about. 

It was the same in the telecommunication industry when in 1994, just one year into liberalization, General Sani Abacha disbanded the Nigerian Communications Commission and also went ahead to put ‘a liberalisation unbeliever’ in charge of NITEL. By so doing, he stalled liberalization and there existed an NCC without a Commission. We ran such an industry till 1999 when the emerging regime changed tact  

Perhaps what Ernest Ndukwe had been saying is that the liberalization process in the energy sector needs a rethink and it has something to learn from the telecommunications sector reform process. 

Ernest also said that an efficient Frequency Spectrum Management and allocation is desirable. Those in the know, know he has already advised on the quality of who should be entrusted with the responsibility of day to day operation of the Commission. No doubt he must have based this view point of his personal experiences and the limitations of the Commission as it is today. 

Other issues he has described in various words include:

Maintaining stability in the policy and regulatory space; Maintaining the operational and financial independence of the regulatory Agency; Invigorating an operating environment that is conducive to attracting investment; Emphasis on growing broadband infrastructure and catalyzing adoption and usage of broadband services by the citizens; Expansion of fibre optic cable transmission infrastructure nationally and internationally and striving for improved corporate Governance in the industry.

 If there ever was a time for us to listen, it is now

Core profits slumps at Deutsche Telecom

Evidence that there are aftershocks following the turbulence of the last 18months came to light this week when it was revealed that Deutsche Telekom’s profits was down 77% in 2009 primarily due to write-offs at its troubled T-Mobile UK subsidiary. Grim as this may sound, the figures represent an increase of 4.8% compared with 2008. Unadjusted net profit slumped to €353m from €1.5bn a year ago, due to write-offs worth €2.3bn on goodwill in T-Mobile UK and South Eastern Europe.

These results confirm the growing consumer switch to mobile and broadband communications at the expense of fixed line telephony. In the full year, its domestic operation lost 2.1 million line losses, almost 17% less than in 2008, as the number of mobile customers grew 1.1% to 17.2 million. The company also grew its broadband business 15% to 3.8 million broadband lines.  Its IPTV business also showed encouraging signs selling one million entertainment packages to cable customers and almost doubled its internet-based TV customers

Putting the revelation into some kind of perspective, Deutsche Telekom's CEO René Obermann said, "After a bumpy start, we rounded 2009 off with good results. Cost discipline was key to getting through economically challenging times. However, we did not save at the expense of the future, but continued to invest heavily".

Copulation of the old reliables as
IBM and Shell Collaborate

In the cutthroat competitive world of IT, it seems you have to take comfort where you can find it. To this extent two ‘golden oldies’ IBM (remember them?) and oil company Shell are collaborating on a research project to use predictive analytics - a form of business intelligence that uses number crunching and statistical analysis to predict future events. Shell will use this technique to predict likely sites for oil and gas reserves.

Hans Potters, manager for reservoir surveillance technologies at Shell, said, "With more sophisticated analysis, Shell sees large potential for enhancing our understanding of existing oil and gas fields…. IBM's strength in computer modelling is now added to Shell's subsurface domain expertise. With this collaboration, we break new ground in this area, and we expect this will increase oil and natural gas production in the future."

The two companies are working on building mathematical models to speed up the process by which collaboration geophysicists and reservoir engineers on exploratory expeditions

Since its somewhat ‘dignified exit’ from the field leaving Microsoft, Google and Apple to ‘fight it out’, IBM over the past five years has quietly branched out to pastures anew focusing on providing the underlying information infrastructure to support business intelligence and performance management solutions – databases, data warehouses information integration  as well as various analytic capabilities. This has seen it spend $10bn buying business intelligence companies and has 200 mathematicians at its Watson labs dedicated to predictive analytics.

 

A game only ‘old reliables’ play, eh!

 

NCC extends SIM card registration deadline to May 1 2010

The Nigerian Communications Commission has extended the deadline for the commencement of registration of all new SIM Card users in Nigeria to May 1, 2010. The Commission explained via a press release that the deferment became necessary following the discovery that large amount of SIM Cards with instant activation features, which were already distributed by the service providers before the earlier announcement, would not have been cleared out before March 1, 2010.  

Regarding procedure, the announcement said in the case of existing SIM Card holders, necessary processes and procedures were currently being worked out to guarantee a smooth registration exercise and that consumers would be notified in due course about the timing and how to proceed.

More phones for Maiduguri

 Triple play operator, Visafone Nigeria, recently announced that it has rolled out telephone service in Maiduguri, north east Nigeria. A late entrant into the market, Visafone deploys CDMA standard and has widespread coverage in the country.

Federal Environment Agency gets Nigerian Telcos cracking

Telecoms Operators in Nigeria have been given three months to conduct and submit environmental compliance assessments on the location of all telecommunications masts in Nigeria. The Director General and CEO of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA), Dr Ngeri Benebo announced at a meeting with representatives of the operators in Abuja that the measure was in response to rising public concern with the indiscriminate erection of communication masts.

All masts in every state of the federation are to be catalogued, and multiple hard and soft copies of the reports be returned for the review of the NESREA. The DG suggested that consultants accredited with the Agency be engaged by the communications companies, and proposed that this new measure will allay the fears of the public on the dangers posed by telecoms masts erected near public dwellings. The NESREA is a Ministry of Environment body responsible for environmental protection and development.

Virgin Media promises100Mbps Broadband

In a clear indication that competition in the UK broadband market is really heating up, Virgin Media has announced that it will release a 100Mbps package by the end of the year.

Virgin Media – pioneers of fibre optic internet in the UK – is undertaking this action to put clear blue water between itself and the rest of the competition in the broadband field to maintain its continued success.

The company is building on the success of the launch of its ultra high broadband speed last year as more than 41,000 subscribers joined its 50Mbps, capturing nearly two thirds of the new broadband subscribers but more importantly it has seen an increase of 81 percent in the last quarter of 2009 over the previous quarter.

This development means that Virgin will control the top end of the market i.e. subscribers with a high level of disposable income who are more and likely to stick with Virgin Media because of the internet rather than the television or phone services.

Google bosses convicted in Italy

We all have a deep personal and professional interest in the Internet, but very few of us think of the legal/ethical framework within which some argue the internet must exist. For those who question such a supposition, an Italian court has convicted three Google executives in a trial over a video showing an autistic teenager being bullied.

In a ruling that clearly demonstrates that the freedoms conferred by the global nature of the internet will be trumped by domestic laws laid down by national governments and parliament, Google employees were accused of breaking Italian law with prosecutors arguing that Google broke Italian privacy law by not seeking the consent of all the parties involved before allowing it to go online.

It is also a clear indication that the arguments about responsibility over internet content simply will not go away. In his verdict, Judge Oscar Magi absolved the three Google employees, Peter Fleischer, David Drummond and George De Los Reyes, of defamation but convicted them of privacy violations giving them suspended six-month sentence. A fourth defendant, product manager Arvind Desikan, was acquitted.

Google unsurprisingly rejected this ruling with David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer at Google and one of those convicted saying he was "outraged" by the decision. "I intend to vigorously appeal this dangerous ruling. It sets a chilling precedent," he said.

"If individuals like myself and my Google colleagues who had nothing to do with the harassing incident, its filming or its uploading onto Google Video can be held criminally liable solely by virtue of our position at Google, every employee of any internet hosting service faces similar liability," he added.

Peter Fleischer, privacy counsel at Google, questioned the prospects of survival of many internet platforms if the decision is upheld. ‘I realise I am just a pawn in a large battle of forces, but I remain confident that today's ruling will be over-turned on appeal,’ he said.

Richard Thomas, the UK's former information commissioner and consultant to privacy law firm Hunton & Williams denigrated the ruling saying the case was ‘ridiculous.’  He told BBC News, that ‘It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post.’

The industry awaits the full ramifications of this verdict for content providers around the globe.

Microsoft and Amazon sign the dotted line 

Microsoft and Amazon on Monday signed a cross-license agreement under which both companies will have access to each other's patent portfolio on broad range  of products, including Amazon's Kindle and Amazon's use of Linux-based servers.  

The terms of the deal remain closely guarded but it was revealed that Amazon will pay Microsoft for the access. Amazon must be rubbing its hands with glee in capturing this deal as Microsoft's patent portfolio is the largest and strongest in the software industry. 

Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel for intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft said in a statement that the agreement ‘demonstrates our mutual respect for intellectual property as well as our ability to reach pragmatic solutions to IP issues regardless of whether proprietary or open source softtware is involved,".

Since the launch of its IP licensing back in December 2003, Microsoft has since signed more than 600 licensing deals including big names like with Apple, HP, LG, Novell, Pioneer, Samsung and Lexmark for multifunction products with the aim of preventing rather expensive patent battles in the future.

Foreign IT firms ‘feel the heat’ in China

Having been lured by the promise of a slice of the huge Chinese market, businesses are finding that an evolving regulatory regime targeting information technology-related products is making the realization of earlier promise a tad more difficult than anticipated.

John Neuffer, Vice-President for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council - a lobby group - said technology companies are ‘feeling less welcome and finding it increasingly difficult to do business in China.’

This is not a new phenomenon. The decree that all providers of encryption-related software would be required to disclose their source code in 1999 – (which was later “clarified”); the shoe-horning of companies into only buying information security products with domestic certification – something near impossible for foreign companies in 2006; making domestic certification compulsory for certain product categories, including smart cards, firewalls and secure routers in 2007; were all indicators of what was to come. Individually and collectively, they present a stern test for foreign companies that have their core business in software, PC and telecommunications manufacture.

 Industry experts say that full implementation of all rules would either exclude foreign players from a large part of the Chinese market or force them to develop separate products for use there.

The regional head of a foreign semiconductor company was a bit more apoplectic when he said saying, ‘Once every bit of the organisational infrastructure falls into place and every rule is implemented, there will not be much of a China market left for us.’

The Chinese have always been reticent about an unfettered opening of their market but foreign companies are used to getting their own way while steamrolling domestic markets in developing economies. They do not like this one bit but the Chinese government, it seems, do not care.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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