From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Merry Methods to the Mobile Madness

With Christmas some nine days away, and precious little inspiration for a present, Ghanaians might be prompted to go for a mobile device. With all manner of shapes, sizes and sorts available, you cannot go wrong in bringing a smile to your loved one’s face. Here are some humble suggestions to guide you on what’s out there.

There are smartphones, which are considered “voice-centric mobile devices”, and are very portable. It does not necessarily have to have touch-screen functionality; its ability to handle corporate email, connect to the internet—just to name but two—are sufficient. Of the most popular ones, BlackBerrys and TREO are to-die-for; they have full QWERTY keypads. You can also find some that are slimmer, less bulky, and more of a phone. These have more letters and symbols per key; HP’s iPAQ is one such phone.

Generally, smartphones have wide-area connectivity, such as GSM and GPRS/EDGE or 3G/HSDPA capability. Smartphone pundits like to refer to the BlackBerry for its landscape-mode screen and QWERTY keypad; its ability to connect to the internet makes it all the more attractive. However, uneasy lies the crown for BlackBerry, for there are, newer pretenders to its throne; these include newer devices, such as HTC’s S710, which offers a slide-out QWERTY keypad. Off late, smartphones come packed with integrated Wi-Fi, allowing them to connect to a landline via Wi-Fi in the office, whilst using a mobile network elsewhere.

Secondly, there are the regular mobile devices, provided by the SAMSUNGS, NOKIAs, and MOTOROLAs (to name but three popular brands). These are coming packed with a number of integrated applications, such as MP3 players that are Windows Media Player-compatible, such as the MOTOROLA Z6. If you are just into sending text messages and making voice calls, you cannot go wrong with any of these. Buying a phone that comes with a camera and/or video is de rigueur these days, but if you rarely use the camera, you might want to cut down costs and go for one that just takes pictures—and cut out the video, as rarely do these two applications work optimally side-by-side.

In looking for a phone, you might also want to consider one that has “Bluetooth” connectivity. This is a low-power; short-range technology that supports lower data transfer rates (721 Kbps for Bluetooth 1.2 and 2.1 Mbps for Bluetooth 2.0+EDR) over shorter distances. Like the so-called “camera phone”, most phones come Blue-tooth ready. If you ever wondered where Infra-red went, it was pretty much killed by Bluetooth.

With mobile providers of ONETOUCH, MTN and TIGO providing GPRS capabilities, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ghanaians are capitalising on them. My far-from-scientific survey indicates that unlike my Western counterparts, Ghanaians rarely patronise these services, feeling they will be ripped off their units even more than they already are! A humble voice of experience can safely say that the prices are relatively cheap – if you just need to check your mail, and browse the odd BBC news story.

If you thought patronage of GPRS services in Ghana is low, you haven’t heard the latest from the New York Times that claims that mobile web, and 3G networks in particular, are flops. The article maintains that data accounts for only 12 percent of revenue for mobile phone operators; another survey indicated that only 13 percent mobile phone users use their phone to browse the Web more than once a month.

Three main points are highlighted for this failure: displays, which are too small to read effectively; difficult user-input, due to lack of a keyboard; and the billing method by most operators that allow you to pay per byte.

The GPRs-optimists among us would say that all that may be true—except when you are using a better and more efficient phone, like the Nokia E90 smartphone, which screen is sufficiently big to enable a satisfying web-browsing experience. Even the ever-popular-in-Ghana RAZR models of Motorola, like the L7i and flip-phone V3, enable you browse seamlessly without having to fork out twice a salary.

Has Mobile Video Been Killed by BlackStar?
A Ghanaweb report of 16 July 2007 indicated that ONETOUCH would be providing its subscribers television on their mobile phone. According to the mobile provider’s website, “this service which will be provided by Black Star TV will be commercialised in October, 2007 and will be available only on the Onetouch network”. Two lengthy calls to ONETOUCH’s hotline indicated that the service will be rolled out as soon as it’s ready.

Mobile Video Recording Soon
While we are keeping our fingers crossed for that, we can probably place faith in a Reuters report that says that video recording our humble mobile phones are set to reach “high-definition quality in a few years.”

Predicted by an executive from industry leader Nokia to be a reality “in a couple of years”, it was also predicted that this development would be associated with profits as better quality could “boost sales of pricey multimedia phones…” Beyond the NOKIA N95 being able to record such high-quality video, prospects for this latest technological convergence might fall flat, considering the acknowledgment that “increasing the video quality affects the quality of the still camera.”

Nokia—Still Connecting People?
With predictions that it will be embedded in upcoming Nokia S60 3rd edition devices, you might need to go beyond the Greek around the models to accept that if you don’t own a high-end Nokia phone, you will not be getting Nokia’s Internet radio anytime soon. This would be a pity, for reports say that it makes “music discovery effortless”, in the sense that the whole experience is made seamless (easy browsing; hourly updates of the top ten most popular internet radio stations; creating a list of “Favourites”).

Ready for download from the following mobile phones—Nokia N82; N91; N95; N95 8GB—the rest of us – using neither Nokia nor such high-end ones—will have to accept something less: our humble earphones connected to our radio-enabled mobiles!

Where’s That Payphone?
USA-based AT&T has announced that come 2008, it will nip the provision of payphones fairly and squarely in the bud. This comes in the wake of a steady decline of payphones from about 2.6 million phones inn 1998 to an estimated 1 million phones today. One wonders whether they might feel tempted to introduce a talk tax on mobile phone users as a result!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

When Your Phone Comes Too Close to Call

There is a scene in TV Africa’s running of the hit show Prison Break when the son of protagonist Lincoln Burrows (awaiting a death sentence within days) gets through to the secret-service-hunted-lawyers trying to stop his father’s sentence—only to have the two murderous secret service personnel (who had, hours earlier, killed his stepfather and mother) locate him within moments of his call. We see that this was not the first time they had located the son the moment he picked his call. You might think this is a rather science fiction scene. You’d be wrong—for this is very science fact! Welcome to the world of Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled phones!

To most of us in the developing world, GPS might appear to be a bit fancy. However, countries like the US have been enjoying it since 1999, when the US’s Federal Communications Commission pushed through an act requiring all handsets to incorporate the technology. Known as the so-called E911 system, it enables emergency services accurately locate and pinpoint location of a mobile phone caller.

With predictions that GPS-enabled phones will quadruple by 2011, small wonder it has caught the attention of the American public. While we here in Ghana struggle for phone calls that can get through at all, most Americans have begun to place premium on GPS-capability—right there with GPRS (mobile internet)/wap capabilities, and multimedia.

With the issue of “Discgate” still lingering in the minds of people, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the fallout of the loss of 25 million people’s data would serve as reminders of the need for privacy; instead it seems to be the last thing on people’s minds.

Take last week, when Information Week reported that American university students from Montclair State University will require its students to buy and carry special cell phones equipped with GPS. If you thought that this meant that privacy had been jettisoned, here’s one for keeps: in Japan, defence ministry officials are being required to carry GPS-enabled phones so they can be located at all times. The rationale behind this is that if these officials can be located during the weekends and at all times, this will help reduce potentially-corruptible behaviour.

If one were tempted to think that this is an information society going mad, let’s just say that it less that – and more a sign of things to come!

Big Brother Watching?
Google has released a beta version of Google Maps for your mobile phone, which means that you can be located through triangulation of your cellular network. In English, it means you be located, through Google Maps, without having to lug round a GPS-enabled phone; all you need is a GPRS-enabled phone (which most phones in Ghana are). If you think it’s too high-tech, you might be spooked to know that my mobile provider (that’s always in touch) enabled me download it on my mobile through its regular GPRS. While Google Maps was not able to establish my specific location, I could clearly see “Accra”, “Nsawam”; “Swedru”; “Larteh” and “Tema”.

With this free application, which can be downloaded from Google’s mobile page (, the user’s location is seen as a blue pulsating dot. If the application is unsure of the location, it will display a paler blue circle. Unlike traditional GPS, this one can be used indoors—and drains your battery less.

Mobiles and Wireless Take Centre Stage
The wireless and mobile phone community won out last week when -- after a month-long diplomatic meeting in Geneva that was attended by delegates from observer companies, including AT&T, Boeing, Intel and Sharp, -- delegates from 164 countries agreed to earmark what calls “new sections of the finite spectrum for mobile phones and other wireless products.”

Once this new treaty comes into force, mobile phone users will experience clearer connections and faster downloads of music, movies and other data in what is known as 3G—or future generations of handheld devices. If you ever wondered, “3G” is a term coined by the UN agency in charge of telecommunications—the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)—to define mobile communications technology. Associated with 3G are increased bandwidth, and the ability to work over wireless air interfaces.

We must all now be aware of that familiar mobile phone interruption when we’re listening to the radio or watching television. What this new treaty seeks to do is to allow mobile technology use higher high-quality frequencies—without the television of television services or users of radio waves, including airlines, meteorologists and the military.

Who’s the Sleekest of Them All? has an interesting site, where you can review the top latest 20 mobile phones. They include Motorola, ZTE; Apple; Sanyo and Nokia. The prize, however, goes to Samsung, which features no less than nine new phones—quite a number of which look suspiciously like re-hashed Motorola RAZR’s. This site is certainly a boon to the mobile phone fanatic:

Alternatively, you can check out a UK-based “Phones Review” site, where, as far back as May, they listed “Ultimate Top Ten Mobiles of 2007”! You won’t be surprised to find a Motorola; Samsung; and LG in there:

Emmanuel is Ag. President of Ghanaian Association of Journalists in ICT (GHAJICT). Kindly check out: for tips, articles, and developments on ICT. Please direct all comments and/or correspondence to ekbensah AT

Emmanuel.K. Bensah Jr. has 59 followers on Google Buzz

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Go Black Stars!

Currently waiting 2
get some typically
ghanaian sunday
food of fufu as
takeaway. Am @
eden tree-an
eaterie that has
not been spared
excitement of
opening of Cup of
African Nations,
which begins @
5pm gmt. Ghana
vs. GUINEA! May
the best man win!