From Technology in a Wireless WSIS

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

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vodafone’s Purchase of Ghana Telecom: Matters Arising

The 70% acquisition by Vodafone of state-owned Ghana Telecom may be a done-and-dusted deal, subject only now to parliamentary approval in the august house. There are, however, serious issues arising that merit some consideration.

First of all, one would have to be from Mars not to know that this is an election year. After the announcement was made in 2006 to privatise, why is it only now that the putative sale has gone through, some five months before general elections? Secondly, despite the fact that there was a breather after France Telecom and Portugal Telecom were rejected some months back, at what point did Vodafone up and decide to make the bid, which, if we believe the opposition, was a non-starter, on account of the fact that there were other bidders ready to pay more than the $960million?

In December 2007, Kenya, where Vodafone operates as a mobile operator under Vodafone Kenya, was in the concluding stages of privatising state-owned Telkom Kenya, with the winning bidders France Telecom taking control by 21 December, 2007. The uncanny similarity of an opaque bidding process coupled with a privatisation so close to general elections makes for an explosive coincidence that is so serious it’s not funny. One might be tempted to think that this has nothing to do with Vodafone, till we read that an offshore-registered company by the name of Mobitelea was offered an opportunity to acquire 25% of Vodaphone Kenya Limited at the same price Vodafone had acquired them. This prompted civil society groups in Kenya to argue that “the privatisation of Telkom Kenya cannot…be deemed regular until the true picture of its ceding of [mobile provider] Safaricom shares to Vodafone Kenya is unravelled and rectified.”

Here, there is little proof that anything irregular has gone on despite the manner in which the sale went through so quickly, but reading the *Financial Times* account of the sale was sufficient to prompt speculation that given that the country is experiencing a budget deficit, the government might have seen a sale so close to the election as an opportunity to make amends around the economy.

Practices elsewhere
Still, whilst Kenya can talk about Vodafone Kenya bidding for a part of Safaricom, Ghana cannot even talk about a Ghanaian consortium ready to buy GT. This is one of the unique things about this privatisation. The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia tells us that Vodafone has three networks in the Middle East and Africa that are majority-owned: Egypt, Qatar and now Ghana. In the first case, state-owned Telecom Egypt owns 45% of Vodafone Egypt. In the Qatari case, Vodafone went in as a mobile operator, securing a 45% stake in Qatar Telecom, the Middle Eastern country’s second mobile licence provider. When we come to Ghana, a significant 70% was not only at stake, but also of our state-owned provider, prompting one to wonder why such a high figure, and why the land-line provider? Reports in the Ghanaian media indicate that Globacom had also made a bid, but had to settle for second best through a mobile service.

Questions Unanswered
Those are not the only questions. Reports in the media suggest that the minority’s concern was that Vodafone comes in as a strategic investor with little experience in landline provision. That it is setting up new services in New Zealand, where Vodafone also operates, that look like landlines and mobile lines combined should not be sufficient to assuage our fears of how it will manage our broadband services, national fibre optic system, and others. What of our national security? There is anecdotal evidence of our state security – BNI -- monitoring landlines; how far will the security services go in allowing a mobile provider with plenty of capital to share the monitoring of our landlines? Thirdly, all mobile providers have had to pass through GT for their operations. Now that Vodafone’s acquisition is semi-complete, will Vodafone’s supreme interest be in the regulation of the other providers, or a rough-and-ready competitor alongside them? Will the lines be indefinitely blurred on all these issues?

Making Gmail Safer
The London-based Guardian newspaper reports that Google is out to make life easier for all of us—at least those using Though the service has not been wholly rolled out yet, the new feature aims to make using sending and receiving emails through gmail a safe experience, especially for those using Firefox and Internet Explorer 7. The official Gmail blog says that “at the bottom of your inbox, you’ll see information about the time of the last activity on your account and whether it’s still open in another location.” There is also a link that will show “Recent activity”, indicating when and how you logged on (either POP3 or Mobile), as well as your IP address. It will also enable you sign out of all sessions remotely.

I can say from personal experience that many a time, I’ve been able to simultaneously access my gmail account through the computer at work; through my mobile phone through ONETOUCH’s GPRS; as well as through an external device that can connect to the internet. It’s even possible to open two pages in gmail, where you can compose a message in one, and view incoming mails in another. This new system might clearly put paid to such practices which can only be the boon to a potential scammer.

I can say for Yahoo that when you log into messenger online, it indicates to all of your friends that you are “mobile”. Anytime I have tried to access it on my work computer, I’ve had a prompt warning that I am logged in elsewhere. Such 2.5G services of GPRS enable us do more than we could ever dreamt of…

…including MMS on ONETOUCH
Given the discussions over the acquisition of Ghana Telecom, it was very easy for one to speculate that the bad service that ONETOUCH was providing was due to sabotage. That calls to the 24/7 hotline produced a degree of mendacity or ignorance by the call-service people that there was nothing wrong with the network only went to fuel speculation that sabotage was in the works. We may never know what caused ONETOUCH to provide customers with irregular service from the beginning of July up to a few days ago until they tell us. What I can say, though, is that despite the irregular service, which included the signals being at their very lowest, and beeps from phones that there was “no service”, the multi-media messaging service seemed to start working at that same time!

I know only because when I took my sim card from my phone to put in another one, I received a message asking me to accept “multimedia settings”, which I reluctantly did. Deciding to test the waters, I sent my other GPRS-enabled ONETOUCH number an MMS. Within minutes, it had been sent, and I had received it on the other number. This was rather ironic, considering the ONETOUCH network itself was working poorly. Still, not one to complain too much, I tried again, and again. The MMS does work now. Contrary to the promotions that had gone out a couple of months ago about free MMS, which spun mendacity to its highest when it claimed that the servers were down, when in actual fact, the system had not been set up properly, the promotions that came with July have revealed a promising ONETOUCH user experience—provided we can make those calls!

US airports lose more than 12,000 laptops a week
Whether you believe this information to be hyped up by computer manufacturer Dell or not, bottom line is that according to a survey by the Ponemon Institute, around 637,000 laptops are lost every year at US airports. The report maintains that “close to 10,278 laptops are reported lost every week at 36 of the largest US airports, and 65% of those lost are not reclaimed.”

Dell has used this data to launch a security service that uses technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to recover lost laptops. Furthermore, the US Federal Trade Commission has produced a leaflet “Keeping Laptops From Getting Lost or Stolen”. A website is also available to this effect:


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