From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Vodafone's Voodoo Crunched My Credit!

Two days ago, I was more than a poster-child for disappointment as I was unable to send my paltry 0.30gp/0.40gp/0.50gp to myself and a friend--just because Vodafone Ghana had not told me that they were working on their transfer credit function.

My friend asked me for a transfer today and I lamented how Vodafone had gone and done voodoo with my credit, wanting me to transfer in denominations of 1ghC!

Well, mystery over: I just got off the toll-free line (in Ghana 101), which is actually that for Broadband services as the 011 was not working, and was duly informed that they will complete work on the 12th!

Here was me thinking that I had gone the way of the fool in believing that they would hold onto some of the gems of the erstwhile Ghana Telecom, such as Live SMS (113) and the famous credit transfer.

Well, looks like they have, but I did suggest next time they better inform us--not just on the radio, which quite a number listen only for a limited time!

By the way, GOOGLE BUZZ is all the rage. Need to spread the word on Google's latest Social networking site. Wonder when Yahoo and/or MSN will follow suit!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Bonfire of TELCO Vanities

By E.K.Bensah Jr.

I do not for a second doubt the intelligence of any of our musicians, but when their utterances defy common sense, it can only make you wonder if sense is so common, why doesn’t everybody then have it?

A term so platitudinous it is not funny—and often used by all and sundry— is the term “global village.” In other words, we are believed to be all connected in many more ways than we can imagine—and social networking tools like that of Facebook and Twitter exemplify this closeness to sometimes frightening proportions. This means that our understanding of issues have reached a point where most of us –thanks to online point-of-reference Wikipedia – accept a consensus on definitions.

Last time I looked, an ambassador is someone who is supposed to carry the aspirations—i.e. represent—his nation or the beliefs encapsulated in a cause, hence the role of UN Ambassadors, such as the newly appointed Stevie Wonder. Such ambassadors are not UN officials, but carry and advocate the UN’s view of alleviating the scourge of war and promoting peace.

So when a few weeks ago 16 artistes – actors and musicians alike – were made ambassadors for the Nigerian telco GLOBACOM, I thought it was evident that the whole package involved more than the money, and that it was more a case of these artistes representing GLOBACOM—and no other telco in the Ghanaian landscape. Even without recent reports alluding to some complaints about a so-called “exclusivity clause”, that they are ambassadors for a company speaks volumes about how they are expected to conduct themselves with these telecommunication companies.

If all this seems like a black-and-white affair, let us pause and reflect for a nano-second: is it not great to have telcos come into the country to provide services and jobs for Ghanaians? Is it right, however, that they come and lure artistes with money to the extent that their space for performance is seriously inhibited by an exclusivity clause contract?

Some might say “who cause ‘am? I can only scream “regulation!”

The Three MuskITeers?

So Accra Mall now has no less than three Internet cafes: the Apple shop, powered by Vodafone; BusyInternet; and now very recently, Vodafone Ghana. I do not think that anyone will now be quibbling about accessing their emails for that all-important mail, as for the price of GHC2.50/hr, one can access any of the three cafes. I guess the jury might be out for a while on the speed of the internet connections of these three places, but on the significance of the cafés, the verdict is out—and it is in favour of choice.

Much like the presence of the five telcos in the country, consumers are being given choices to make on what comparative advantages any of the companies have that would be less expensive for the pocket, but I cannot help but wonder a bt about the presence of the three cafes.

Granted, the novelty of the Apple shop café is that it is, frankly, classist: only those sufficiently audacious to try their luck on a Macintosh would want to try the Internet a la Mac. Looking at the role of Busyinternet is like looking at nothing at all—after all, Busy has been the industry leader for a good nine years. But then there’s Vodafone Ghana.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the erstwhile Ghana Telecom that pretty much has a monopoly on the provision of broadband provision through its broadband4u does not simply bring down the cost of broadband so that many more new Vodafone Ghana users might get access. Is it just me or is the provision of a service to the public by a provider that has monopoly of that service, but fails to bring down the cost of that service to existing customers not sound like an idea turned on its head?

In short, why is Vodafone concentrating on competing with an industry [read: internet café] leader like Busyinternet (especially when it already has a presence through the Apple Shop which it powers) when its existing BROADBAND customers have been paying the same rate since they appeared on the scene in August 2008? Why not focus on bringing down the cost of broadband provision for those subscribers, while simultaneously inviting new subscribers to BROADBAND4U through a promotion?

Unless Vodafone Ghana is planning on doing some strange things to the BROADBAND4U service and telling its customers, I shall be asking more of these hard questions!

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How the Ghanaian Media Missed the Masters of the Internet at IGF IV

So the Internet Governance Forum has come and gone like it never happened—and none of the media in Ghana covered it. I cannot quite understand how the Ghanaian media can pick up feeds from the BBC on all and sundry, but somehow miss issues like these? If it is about building capacity, then perhaps a shake-up of the Editors who manage news content ought to be done so that particular kind of news can be covered.

I do not know about you, but last time I looked, technology had assumed an important factor in the development of most nations. That we have the beleagured Vodafone; Tigo; MTN; and Zain in the country and that they are reputed to making tongues of observers of that sector wag could be construed as a sign that the market is saturated, given that Globacom is yet to take-off. That in itself should probably give more of the media food for thought on the future of technology beyond value added services to our mobile phones. These days, for example, mobile internet has become de rigeur, and I am wont to believe that it is only a non-discerning media that will want to leave the debate on technology at the door of mobile phones!

Truth be told, some papers have started to get their act together on reporting technology and ICT. Though I can only think of two out of many of the private press, it is at least a start. Then again, even one of the state-owned sister paper’s that does a great job on reporting technology every week failed to touch on the Internet governance forum, preferring to do an interview of the boss of the International Telecommunications Union(ITU) Dr Hamidou Toure.

Why Internet Governance matters

Perhaps one of the cardinal benefits of the internet is its ability to serve as a source of information to people all over the world. That it is generally free once one overcomes the hurdle of internet café fees and whatnot makes the appeal all the more greater. While I understand it is very easy to appreciate the value of the Internet and its utility for all sorts of uses, I also understand that it is very easy for all of us to take it for granted.

This is where Internet governance comes in, because it enables policy to be formulated so that people worldwide can continue to enjoy its benefit. Even more critical is the Internet governance forum, which I touched on last week. Its value is found in the fact that it is a multi-stakeholder forum monitoring the work of the Internet, and therefore making it easier for policy to be produced around it.

The naysayers of the internet governance process might speculate that after the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis, the UN just needed another excuse to spend inordinate amounts of money on a process that does not get anywhere. Before we accept this idea lock, stock and barrel, let us read what is officially written about it.

Wikipedia says that it was a working group established after a United Nations-initiated World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that proposed the following definition of Internet governance as part of its June 2005 report:

Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.

Wikipedia maintains that “Law professor Yochai Benkler developed a conceptualization of Internet governance by the idea of three "layers" of governance: the "physical infrastructure" layer through which information travels; the "code" or "logical" layer that controls the infrastructure; and the "content" layer, which contains the information that signals through the network.”

In other words, looking at how the Internet works through how governments themselves do their work is probably one of the ways in which we can better-appreciate the work of the Internet Governance Forum.

In the final analysis, if the impression I am giving is that the Ghanaian media does not cover these issues because they are apathetic to them, then I would be way off mark. The truth of the matter is that I should have known that having failed to cover the past three Internet Governance Forums (2006-2008), they were hardly going to change tack and suddenly begin covering it. At least, one has to commend the consistency!


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Introducing the Masters of the Internet at the Fourth Internet Governance Forum

By E.K.Bensah Jr.

Despite the apparent growing ubiquity of broadband internet--as expressed, for example, through USB mobile modems that promise us heaven and blink-of-the-eye speeds--it is true that access to the internet is a great deal better than it was even five years ago.

The media generally likes to talk a lot about costs going down, inexorably providing the general Ghanaian population with relatively less expensive access to the Internet. Truth be told, the availability of mobile phones is probably that which has democratised access to the 'Net, through the easy access of wap-enabled services--as exemplified by those of Zain, which, with a simple sim card, enables you connect to mobile internet within 24 hours.

Back to the ICT Future?

You may re-call that last week, I touched on ITU and how it creates standards. This week, I want to remind us to reflect a bit on the progress of the Internet since 2005, when the World Summit of Information Society ended in Tunisia with what has come to be known as the “Tunis Agenda for the Information Society”. Adopted on November 18, 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia, it called for the creation of an Internet Governance Forum(IGF) and what wikipedia calls “a novel, lightweight, multi-stakeholder governance structure for the Internet.”

Few Ghanaians might know that as I write this, the Fourth Edition of what has become known to the ICT cognoscenti as IGF will end on 18 November, where a number of important developments in the ICT and information society sector will develop. The Internet Governance Forum is underway in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, which to some might seem a curious place, given its record on human rights. Already, repports doing the rounds on the internet are trying to suggest that the UN has been involved in some kind of nefarious conspiracy of silencing proponents of human rights--just because some UN guards removed posters on human rights that had not been approved earlier.

Back in Tunis, in 2005, there was even a stabbing of a human rights activist, lending credence to the assumption that just because it was a UN-sponsored conference, the global body could come and wag its finger at Tunisia for bad human rights. Most of us who had the priviledge to be there at that time were consumed by attentiveness to the multiplicity of terminologies and developments coming at us with juggernaut speed that in all honesty, agitations like that looked like a footnote to the wider debate on where the information society was going.

IGF IV Explained

All that said, reports seem to indicate that the meeting is rather focused, with discussions focusing primarily on access to the “Internet; diversity; openness; security; and critical internet resources”.

The statistics are also not to be sneezed at. For example, Subramanian Ramadorai, the Vice-Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services in India has not just talked about how new technologies “can mean the difference between life and death for the 701 per cent of the global population still unconnected to the Internet”, but crucially, how “while 79.4 per cent of Australians and 70 per cent of Americans have internet access, only 15 per cent of Asians and only 4 percent of Africans have access.” This kind of statistic reinforces the perception of a digital divide that is a veritable reality for millions of the non-connected. One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC), though a commendable endeavour that also came out of WSIS 2005, can only go so far in addressing the digital divide.

What it seems we can say about the outcome of this IGF is that it will be one that makes concrete suggestions on the above-mentioned points, including recognizing that connectivity has a direct correlation with a positive social and economic changes; therefore ensuring that rural communities are privy and party to these positive changes are critical.

Ramadorai maintains that bringing ICT into rural clinics, schools and mobile devices, impacts basic education, health care, and agriculture in ways that one can never have imagined. To that extent, it makes sense that while we appreciate that consumers in the developed market enjoy broadband and are even moving to newer technologies, there is quite some catch-up that many parts of the developing world will need to do to ensure that the information society is not just part of UN nomenclature--but contributes to a fair and inclusive society.

ekbensah AT / +233-268.891.841

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why the International Telecommunications Union(ITU) Matters

By E.K.Bensah Jr.

Despite the fact that Ghana recently took over the Council of the International Telecommunications Union from Bulgaria at their general meeting in Geneva, I do not for a second think that Ghanaians generally know what the implications of this position mean. I think it makes sense that if you are to understand the significance of the position, then it is only fair you obtain an insight into what the ITU is and does. In my estimation, few Ghanaians care enough to know these two. Against this background, I am going to spend the next couple of weeks touching on aspects of the ITU, what it does and why it matters--not just for Ghana, the sub-region or the continent, but for the rest of the world.

ITU Council for Dummies

Let me begin, though, with the Council. It comprises 46 member states and is the ITU's governing body. The assuming of Ghana on the Council does not mean that Ghana gets to head the ITU; it simply means that like the UN's Security Council, which rotates between countries every now and then, Ghana will chair discussions of the 46-member group, which includes the implementation of the Union's strategic plan, with the objective of responding to the current demands of a fast-changing telecommunications and ICT environment.

Right now, Ghana's MP and Minister for Communications Haruna Iddrisu will be the key person on the ITU Council. Speaking early October at the start of the Council, he talked about how Ghana is committed “to the ideals and values of ITU”. Normal speak you might think. Indeed, but here was the killer: “we must set the tone and agenda on how to strengthen regulatory practices, address issues related to convergence and ensure the smooth functioning of the Internet.”

It is conceivable that buried inside those words was not just a Minister of Communications hot on the heels of a report looking at the Sales and Purchase agreement (SPA) of the deal between Ghana Telecom and Vodafone, but one that has for quite a while sought to highlight the necessity of the rule of law around the telecommunications and ICT sector. In this respect, when he spoke this way, he was not just recognizing that there remain regulatory practices--as exemplified by Ghana's National Communications Authority(NCA) - but that governments have to keep an eagle-eye on strengthening regulation to the extent that new and emerging technologies can be kept under wraps as well.

Another key thing Iddrisu said was in relation to the hottest topic at the moment--climate change. Here, his words are in consonance with the ITU, which strongly believes that ICTs can be seriously harnessed to combat climate change.

Why we must care about the ITU

After all has been said and done, the ITU is more than the governing council; it currently has a secretary-general--Malian Hamadoun Toure--and quite a bit of work to be done. However, most of its work can be broken down as Wikipedia explains it: “Its main tasks include standardization, allocation of the radio spectrum, and organizing interconnection arrangements between different countries to allow international phone calls -- in which regard it performs for telecommunications a similar function to what the UPU performs for postal services”.

Breaking it down for the rest of us, ITU is in fact a lot about standards, standards, and more standards. Wikipedia explains it this way: “Due to its longevity as an international organization and its status as a specialized agency of the United Nations, standards promulgated by the ITU carry a higher degree of formal international recognition than those of most other organizations that publish technical specifications of a similar form.”

In short, ITU is not just the UN's telecom agency, but the agency that sets standards that are meaningful.

Boon for mobile phone users--phone chargers!

Small wonder, then, that the ITU has just approved a standard for phone chargers. The UN agency has just given its endorsement to an energy-efficient one-charger-fits-all new mobile phone solution. Now, every mobile user will enjoy the new Universal Charging Solution(UCS), which enables the same charger be used for all future-compliant handsets--irrespective of make and model.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Will The Elusive Globacom Offer us Better Value for Money?

Let us be clear: if you promise me that you will be arriving in a country in September, yet two months later, you have not made your presence known, might you not be considered to represent the word “elusive”? If so, then you might want to join me in tagging Ghana's sixth operator Globacom as a fitting candidate. Consider this. As far back as March this year, its website on read: “Glo Mobile Ghana is set to change the face of communication in Ghana as it engages ZTE, a highly-rated international telecoms vendor, to deploy additional access network infrastructure including hundreds of indoor and outdoor Basic Trans-receiver Stations (BTS) for its imminent roll-out.” Given the lengthy delay of Globacom's entry into the country, could cynics be blamed for becoming weary at a combination of tardy Nigerian services with Chinese technology feared as sub-standard to be a harbinger of bad tidings for the festive season?

Tigo far from Trailing the Telco Competition

On a more serious side, given the serious competition going on off late, might Globacom not have arrived on the bad side of telco competition? If you are scratching your head in wonderment, you must have missed something: Zain has gone in overdrive to reward--and appease--all those new customers that have been complaining that they do not enjoy the bonus all those older customers get at the end of every two months. You can now send a message to a number, which will enable you enjoy all you spent in the day the following day.

Tigo might have stolen Zain's thunder, if truth be told, for it's value-added-service of paying 3.99GHC for a month to one Tigo number is doing wonders for those who have subscribed. Although you can add only one number at a time, imagine how much money you would have spent had you been calling a regular number without this promotion? In my book, Tigo is winning in so far as many others join the Tigo revolution.

Vodafone Vodoo!

For a person who has more erstwhile ONETOUCH chips than sense, you could say I have become a sage!

I have decided to abandon my vodafone chips. I just don't feel I am getting value for money. Last month, I got my bonus credit from
Zain, looked at my Vodafone chips and shrugged.

"Just not worth it" I thought.

These days, using a mobile phone is not just about convenience, it is also about accommodating the necessary headache of buying units. Given the relatively execrable quality of lines these days at peak times (read: saturation!), you are likely to have dropped calls, which inevitably lead one to consider using secondary networks--which all cost money to maintain. Promotions do not a telco make, but when the only one they are also offering is as elusive as the arrival of Globacom into the country, then I begin to wonder whether it is not time to offer some TLC--tender loving care-- to my disposable income!

Tech Appeal 191

  • Despite the fact that the Spintex Road is undergoing fresh tarring, given the execrable number of potholes there, tro-tros, more than any other kind of commercial driver, is behaving badly by overtaking and stopping on the shoulder of the roads when they could simply follow the queue. This morning, one of those Ashanti-bound American cars illegally overtook us as we were slowing down and, without warning, moved in front of us. This kind of intimidation does not help tempers in the morning. Does NRSC have a number to call to check these types?
  • I humbly submit that ALL news stations--from GTV through to METRO TV to TV3--set up numbers--either Multimedia messaging service (MMS) numbers or simple emails--where the Ghanaian public can either send pictures of bad driving of social ills, such as parked cars without triangles, etc. This way, every Ghanaian would feel involved in helping make Ghana a better place. More importantly, the spate of camera phones would be put to better use now that many people are beginning to feel the pinch of buying new phones in these hard, economic times.
  • Will the Ghana police consider joining FACEBOOK, or having a twitter account? Imagine informing twitter “followers” and Facebook users that there is traffic up ahead on the Spintex Road? The service should think about the wonders that would bring to road management! Their website on is this side short of bad, with latest news giving information posted in March 2009! / 0268.891.841 /

*this piece will originally appear in upcoming edition of WEEKEND WORLD, to hit newstands this weekend

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