Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Beyond Voice: New uses for mobile phones could launch another wave of development

The Economist recently published a special report on Telecoms in Emerging markets which is available here. The following is an extract from that.

In a field just outside the village of Bumwambu in eastern Uganda, surrounded by banana trees and cassava, with chickens running between the mudbrick houses, Frederick Makawa is thinking about tomatoes. It is late June and the rainy season is coming to an end. Tomatoes are a valuable cash crop during the coming dry season and Mr Makawa wants to plant his seedlings as soon as possible. But Uganda’s traditional growing seasons are shifting, so he is worried about droughts or cash foods that could destroy his crop. Michael Gizamba, a local villagephone operator, offers to help using Farmer’s Friend, an agricultural information service. He sends a text message to ask for a seasonal weather forecast for the region. Before long a reply arrives to say that normal, moderate rainfall is expected during July. Mr Makawa decides to plant his tomatoes.

The Farmer’s Friend service accepts text message queries such as "rice aphids", "tomato blight" or "how to plant bananas" and dispenses relevant advice from a database compiled by local partners. More complicated questions ("my chicken’s eyes are bulging") are relayed to human experts, who either call back within 15 minutes or, with particularly diffcult problems, promise to provide an answer within four days. These answers are then used to improve the database.

Farmer’s Friend is one of a range of phone based services launched in June by MTN, Google and the Grameen Foundation’s "Application Laboratory", or AppLab. As well as disseminating advice in agriculture, provided by the Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative, the new services also provide health and market information. The Clinic Finder service points people to nearby clinics, and the Health Tips service explains the symptoms of common diseases.

Lastly there is Google Trader, a textbased system that matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities. Sellers send a message to say where they are and what they have to offer, which will be available to potential buyers within 30km for seven days. Mr Makawa says his father used the service to look for a buyer for some pigs, which he sold to pay school fees. These services cost 110 shillings ($0.05) a time, the same as a standard text message, except for Google Trader, which costs double that. In their first five weeks the services received a total of more than 1m queries.

As with the Village Phone project, Grameen is trying to establish a model that can be scaled up and replicated in other countries. Offering agricultural and health information is more diffcult than offering a phone service, however, because such information must be localised and must take cultural di?erences into account.

Grameen’s collaboration with MTN and Google in Uganda is just one of dozens of services across the developing world that offer agricultural, market and health information via mobile phones. In India, for example, farmers can sign up for Reuters Market Lite, a textbased service that is available in parts of India. Its 125,000 users pay 200 rupees ($4.20) for a threemonth subscription, which provides them with local weather and price information four or five times a day. Many farmers say that their profits have gone up as a result.

Tata Consultancy Services, an Indian operator, offers a service called mKrishi which is similar to Farmer’s Friend, allowing farmers to send queries and receive personalised advice. "The rural population is willing to pay substantial subscription fees to get this information multiple times a day", says Kunal Bajaj of BDA. There have been lots of pilot schemes in the past, he says, but commercial offerings are now beginning to gain ground.

Nokia, the world’s largest handsetmaker, launched its own information service, Nokia Life Tools, in India in June. In addition to education and entertainment, it provides agricultural information, such as prices, weather data and farming tips, that can be called up from special menus on some Nokia handsets. The basic service costs 30 rupees a month, and a premium service which provides detailed local crop prices in ten states is available at twice that price. "It is in its early stages, but it has resonated extremely well with its target audience," says OlliPekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s chief executive.

Services to help farmers have been most widely adopted in China, where China Mobile offers a service called Nong Xin Tong in conjunction with the agriculture ministry, as part of its push into rural areas. It has already signed up 50m users and is aiming for 100m within three years. The service provides news, weather information and details of farming related government policies.

China Mobile also runs a website,, that sends farmers information about planting techniques, pest management and market prices. The service, which costs two yuan ($0.30) a month, sends out 13m text messages a day and has over 40m users. There are dozens of other examples across the developing world.

TradeNet, launched in Ghana in 2005, now links buyers and sellers of agricultural products in nine African countries; CellBazaar provides a textbased classified ads service in Bangladesh.
Mobile phones are also being used in health care. Oneway text alerts, sent to everyone in a particular area, can be used to raise awareness of HIV; sending daily text messages to patients can help them remember to take their drugs for tuberculosis or HIV. Mobile phones can be used to gather health information in the field faster and more accurately than paper records and help with the management of drug stocks. Cameraphones are used to send pictures to remote specialists for diagnosis.

Quantifying the benefits of agricultural and health services is hard, and such services are still in their early days in much of the world. The mobile service that is delivering the most obvious economic benefits is money transfer, otherwise known as mobile banking (though for technical and regulatory reasons it is not, strictly speaking, banking). It has grown out of the widespread custom of using prepaid calling credit as an informal currency.

Suppose you want to send money from the city back to your family in the country. You could travel to the village and deliver I’m not selling for that the cash in person, but that takes time and money. Or you could ask an intermediary, such as a bus driver, to deliver the money, but that can be risky. More simply, you could buy a topup voucher for the amount you want to transfer (say, $10) and then call the villagephone operator or shopkeeper in your family’s village and read out the code on the voucher. The credit will be applied to the phone of the shopkeeper, who will hand cash to your family, minus a commission of 10-20%. In some countries, where airtime can be transferred directly from one phone to another by text message, the process is even simpler: load credit onto your phone, then send it to someone on the spot who in return gives cash to your intended recipient.

These methods became so widespread that some companies decided to set up mobile payment systems that allow real money, rather than just airtime, to be transferred from one user to another by phone. Once you have signed up, you pay money into the system by handing cash to an agent (usually a mobile operator’s airtime vendor), who credits the money to your mobilemoney account. You can withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have su?cient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash.

You can also send money to other people, who will be sent a text message containing a special code that can be taken to an agent to withdraw cash. This allows cash to be sent from one place to another quickly and easily. The biggest successes in this field so far have been Gcash and Smart Money in the Philippines, Wizzit in South Africa, Celpay in Zambia and, above all, MPESA in Kenya, which has become the most widely adopted mobile money scheme in the world.

Launched in 2007 by Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, it now has nearly 7m users. Not bad for a country of 38m people, 18.3m of whom have mobile phones. MPESA’s early adopters were young, male urban migrants who used it to send money home to their families in the country. But it has since become wildly popular and is used to pay for everything from school fees to taxis (drivers like it because it means they are carrying less cash around). Roughly $2m is transferred through the system each day, with an average amount of $20. ?In markets in Kenya, stallholders are happy to take MPESA payments.

"It’s pretty dramatic," says Bob Christen, head of the "Financial Services for the Poor" initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

MTN’s launch of a mobile money service in Uganda in March 2009, in partnership with Stanbic Bank, provides further cause for optimism. MTN backed up its launch with a huge marketing campaign based around the simple idea of sending money home, as Safaricom had previously done in Kenya. After three months 60% of the population had heard of the service, a level of awareness that MPESA took a year to achieve, according to MTN. After four months the service had signed up 82,000 users. Of the $5.1m transferred in that period, half was in the fourth month, indicating a rapid take-off. MTN plans to increase the number of outlets that can handle mobile money to 5,000 by early 2010. MTN’s apparent success in Uganda seems to suggest that Kenya may not be a one-off after all. After fine-tuning its technology and procedures in Uganda, MTN plans to introduce the service in 20 other African and Middle Eastern countries; it has already launched in Ghana. Meanwhile Zain, which operates in several African markets, has started its own mobilemoney service, called Zap. According to CGAP, there will be over 120 mobilemoney schemes in developing countries by the end of 2009, more than double the number in 2008. By 2012, it predicts, some 1.7 billion people will have a mobile phone but no bank account, and 20% of them will be using mobile money.

Operators do not expect to make much money from mobile banking, says Mr Okoudjou, but it can help keep customers from defecting to rivals and cut costs by allowing people to top up their airtime directly on their phones, as well as providing wider social and economic benefits that reflect well on operators. Most importantly, he says, mobile banking can help the industry repeat the huge impact made when mobile phones were first introduced. "This is a second wave that can unleash the potential of mobile phones again," he says. "So we need to do this, and we need to do it properly, and we need to do it all over."

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

OFDMA Femtocells: A Roadmap on Interference Avoidance

Earlier, I have blogged about LTE femtocells being starting point of LTE and how LTE can be better technology than HSPA. In this months IEEE Communications magazine, there is a series of articles on Femtocells. I will try and cover some of these (unless I wander off in some other direction). The first one is titled 'OFDMA Femtocells: A Roadmap on Interference Avoidance'. At the end of this post, I have provided links to the research and the actual paper (in a legal way ;) so if you are not interested in the post and want to directly jump on the actual paper see the end of this post.

There are all kinds of statistics about the number of Femtocells worldwide. There could be upto 70million by 2012. If this happens the big problem would be the interference between Macro and Femtocells and also between Femtos. OFDMA (used in LTE and WiMAX both) Femtocells can handle the interference better than CDMA (UMTS and CDMA2000) Femtocells due to its Intracell interference avoiding properties and robustness to multipath.

So what are the main problems that the operators will face when deploying femtocells? Lets look at some of them:

  • Access method: Three different approaches exist namely, Open access, Closed access and Hybrid access which is a mix of both of them. The first two approach has some problems and I have suggested a solution before ;) but the best solution may be to go for Hybrid approach where limited connectivity is available to non-subscribers of the femto.
  • Time Synchronisation is another important aspect of OFDMA Femtos. To minimise multi-access interference and for successful handovers, synchronisation between all the Femtos and between Femto and Macro is a must. This should be acheived without any complicated hardware so as to keep the cost down.
  • Physical Cell Idendities (PCI) could be a problem because of limited numbers
  • Neighbouring cell list, which is restricted to 32 in LTE, could be a problem if too many Femtos are around
  • Handovers could also be a problem if the UE keeps jumping between Femtos and macro. One solution could be the use of HCS.

Interference analysis will definitelty play an important part in the rollouts. If not properly managed, could result in dead zones within Macro. Power control Algorithms and Radio Resource Management strategy will help but effective Spectrum allocation technique is needed as well. The diagram above shows different approaches for subchannel allocation in OFDMA femtocells.

The Femtocells would need to be self-configurable and self-optimising. I tried to explain the SON concept earlier which is similar. Self-configuration comes into picture when the Femto is switched on. Once the parameters are adjusted then Self-Optimisation tries to optimise these defaults into something better and more suited to the current environment. Sensing of the environment plays an important part in this. The diagram above shows different approaches being used by different Femtocells. The cheapest approach would ofcourse be the measurement report approach where the phone is made to report the environment. The only problem being that whichever phone was used (automatically selected) will have considerable amount of its battery power used up :)

The team behind this IEEE paper has been doing some excellent research work in the field of femtocells.

There is a book that is under publication and will be available early next year. At the same time if it interests you, you can look at some of their publications including the IEEE one that has been quoted here. Here are all the necessary links:

Hope someone finds all this info useful :)

Monday, 28 September 2009

ICC 2009: 3G to 4G: towards full mobility IP services

There are some interesting slides and presentation from the IEEE Communications Society ICC 2009 conference in Dresden, Germany in June 2009. Here is the link to slides from the topic "3G to 4G: towards full mobility IP services".
Let me know if you found it useful.

Paging Permission with Access Control (PPAC) Study in Release 8

A new feature that was studied part of 3GPP Release 8 was PPAC (Paging Permission with Access Control). The aim of this feature was that in an emergency situation, the network can get congested and as a result all access is barred except for emergency services. This can cause problem when the user requires to be contacted but is unreachable.

Lets take Case 1: Disaster risk management office in government calls to emergency responder within disaster areas in order to supply temporary service to the disaster areas.

This should not be a problem because the emergency responder is an authorised user with higher priority of access class and will be able to make and receive calls in the disaster area.

Case2: Ambulance attendant reaches a rescue site in the disaster area but cannot find the person who asked for help originally because of unexpected destruction. The attendant should be able to call him/her in order to make sure where he/she is.

Case3: Firefighter is at a scene of fire of high-rise apartment in the disaster area and calls to a person who asked for help in order to give out directives on the evacuation.

These scenarios as such are no problem except when there is congestion on the receiving side. In that case either the emergency attendant or the risk management office should be able to get in touch and establish the call.

In technical terms, the people like emergency attendants and disaster risk management office attendants are called authorised users and the ordinary people who need help are known as unauthorised users.

It should also be possible to make a small duration call between unauthorised users so people can check each others safety. This can be controlled by changing the permission of different access class for small durations so that people can trigger calls for small duration.

The study found that eMLPP (Enhanced Multi-Level Precedence and Pre-emption) that is already available since GSM days can resolve the problem of prioritisation in resource allocation. A new capability will be required to allow UEs with indications from the network to perform location registration and respond to a paging request even though it is under access class barring conditions to complete certain classes of calls or messages (e.g. calls from emergency personnel, …).

This new capability will be available probably when Release 9 is finalised in December this year.

As far as understanding this eMLPP is concerned, the following book has quite a lot of details on this topic. If you can get hold of it then do go through it.

Preferential Emergency Communications: From Telecommunications to the Internet (The Springer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science)

Here is the google books link for that.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Flexible RLC in Release 7 and Release 8

In R99, RLC packets had to be relatively small to avoid the retransmission of very large packets in case of transmission errors. Another reason for the relatively small RLC packet size was the need to provide sufficiently small step sizes for adjusting the data rates for Release 99 channels.

The RLC packet size in Release 99 is not only small, but it is also fixed for Acknowledged Mode Data and there are just a limited number of block sizes in UM Data. This limitation is due to transport channel data rate limitations in Release 99. The RLC payload size is fixed to 40 bytes in Release 99 for Acknowledged Mode Data. The same RLC solution is applied to HSDPA Release 5 and HSUPA Release 6 as well: the 40-byte packets are transmitted from RNC to the base station for HSDPA. An additional confi guration option to use an 80-byte RLC packet size was introduced in Release 5 to avoid extensive RLC protocol overhead, L2 processing and RLC transmission window stalling. With the 2 ms TTI used with HSDPA this leads to possible data rates being multiples of 160 kbps and 320 kbps respectively.

As the data rates are further increased in Release 7, increasing the RLC packet size even further would significantly impact on the granularity of the data rates available for HSDPA scheduling and the possible minimum data rates.

3GPP HSDPA and HSUPA allow the optimization of the L2 operation since L1 retransmissions are used and the probability of L2 retransmissions is very low. Also, the Release 99 transport channel limitation does not apply to HSDPA/HSUPA since the L2 block sizes are independent of the transport formats. Therefore, it is possible to use fl exible and considerably larger RLC sizes and introduce segmentation to the Medium Access Control (MAC) layer in the base station.

This optimization is included for downlink in Release 7 and for uplink in Release 8 and it is called flexible RLC and MAC segmentation solution. The RLC block size in fl exible RLC solution can be as large as an Internet Protocol (IP) packet, which is typically 1500 bytes for download. There is no need for packet segmentation in RNC. By introducing the segmentation to the MAC, the MAC can perform the segmentation of the large RLC PDU based on physical layer requirements when needed. The fl exible RLC concept in downlink is illustrated in Figure above.

There is a lot of interesting information in R&S presentation on HSPA. See here.

Main source of the content above and for further information see: LTE for UMTS: OFDMA and SC-FDMA Based Radio Access

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Enhanced UL for CELL_FACH state in Release 8

Users should always be kept in the state that gives the best trade-off between data rate availability, latency, battery consumption and usage of network resources. As a complement to the data rate enhancements made to the dedicated state (CELL_DCH), 3GPP has also made significant enhancements to the common states (URA_PCH, CELL_PCH and CELL_FACH). Release 7 introduced HSDPA mechanisms in the common states in order to improve their data rates, latency and code usage. Release 8 introduces corresponding enhancements in the uplink, allowing base stations to configure and dynamically manage up to 32 common Enhanced Uplink resources in each cell.

This enhancement improves latency and data rates for keep-alive messages (for example, from VPN or messenger applications) as well as web-browsing events, providing a seamless transition from EUL in common state to EUL in dedicated state.

As a further improvement of the CELL_FACH state, Release 8 introduces discontinuous reception (DRX), which significantly reduces battery consumption. DRX is now supported in all common and dedicated states.

Enhanced FACH and RACH bring a few performance benefits:
  • RACH and FACH data rates can be increased beyond 1 Mbps. The end user could get immediate access to relatively high data rates without the latency of channel allocation.
  • The state transition from Cell_FACH to Cell_DCH would be practically seamless. Once the network resources for the channel allocation are available, a seamless transition can take place to Cell_DCH since the physical channel is not changed.
  • Unnecessary state transitions to Cell_DCH can be avoided when more data can be transmitted in Cell_FACH state. Many applications create some background traffic that is today carried on Cell_DCH. Therefore, Enhanced RACH and FACH can reduce the channel element consumption in NodeB.
  • Discontinuous reception could be used in Cell_FACH to reduce the power consumption. The discontinuous reception can be implemented since Enhanced FACH uses short 2 ms TTI instead of 10 ms as in Release 99. The discontinuous reception in Cell_FACH state is introduced in 3GPP Release 8.

For more information see: LTE for UMTS: OFDMA and SC-FDMA Based Radio Access

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Net Neutrality: Good or Bad?

I am not sure what the right answer to this question is? There will be winners and losers in either case.

FCC (Federal Communications Commission) chairman Julius Genachowski has just outlined his much-awaited plan for Internet neutrality. If the plan is approved it would drag the wireless operators in the US into the public regulatory arena occupied by their wired cousins who have recently had to account for their neutrality policies to the FCC.

The proposed policy outlined today by Genachowski will mean the FCC will get to poke and pry into mobile operators' business policies and rule on how well they conform to FCC guidelines on neutrality in the same way that wiredtelcos must. The FCC will also impose new and tighter neutrality behaviour on the big phone companies including Verizon and AT&T.

In detail: Genachowski has reaffirmed the long-standing (since 2005) broadband principles that will now be formalised by the FCC.
  • That consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
  • That they are also entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
  • That they are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
  • And that they are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
Genachowski has added two extra principles. Internet access providers can't discriminate against particular Internet content or applications: and they must ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practises they implement.

"The rule-making process will enable the commission to analyse fully the implications of the principles for mobile network architectures and practises, and how, as a practical matter, they can be fairly and appropriately implemented," Genachowski said today.

U.S. phone companies may be forced to open their wireless networks to rival Internet services like Skype and Google Voice under the proposal. The proposal, if adopted, would be a victory for consumer advocates and big Internet companies like Google Inc at the expense of telecom operators like AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel Corp.

"The risk to the wireless carriers is that they won't be able to stop customers from using free voice and text services like Skype or Google voice," said Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. "Voice and text are where they make all of their money."

The FCC has already been examining why Apple Inc rejected Google Voice for use on iPhone, sold by AT&T.

The new proposal could result in mobile customers cutting their phone bills by opting for minimum carrier voice plans and doing without text-messaging plans if they use mobile voice and text services from Skype and Google.

Piper Jaffray analyst Christopher Larsen downplayed the risk, saying that if they have to, operators would be sure to find a way to change their fees in order to maintain profits.
Advocates of Net neutrality have long argued that service providers must be barred from blocking or slowing Internet traffic based on the content being sent or downloaded.

But service providers say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services -- such as video sharing -- puts pressure on them as it requires active network management, and some argue that Net neutrality could stifle innovation.

AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, said it was concerned about an extension of Net neutrality rules to the competitive mobile industry.

The new regulations would limit consumer choices and "affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders," said an executive at Verizon, which owns the No. 1 mobile service with Vodafone Group Plc.

Wireless trade group CTIA, whose members include AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, said it was concerned the proposal would have "unintended consequences." Leading Cable provider Comcast Corp said it was pleased Genachowski "recognized that networks need to be managed."

Exactly my thoughts (but with proper technical terms, language and analysis ;) by Gary Kim in IP Communications:

In the communications business, rationing is a fact of network life. Since virtually every part of a communications network uses shared resources, and in a market where users do not want to pay too much for access to those resources, rationing of network resources is necessary.

Shared finite resources always pose a usage problem. Known as the "tragedy of the commons," the economic problem is that multiple individuals, acting independently, solely and rationally when using a common resource can ultimately destroy the shared limited resource.

Some people argue that this problem cannot exist with the Internet, which is virtually infinitely expansible. But that misses the point. In looking at shared resources, the "commons" is the access network's resources, primarily. In other words, the "choke point" is the homeowner's garden hose, not the reservoir.

Some might argue that IP technology, optics, Moore's Law and competition upend the traditional "scarcity" value of access bandwidth. Certainly it helps. Currently, most consumers have access to two terrestrial broadband providers, two satellite networks, three, possibly four mobile networks. Then, there are broadband pipes where people work, at school and at many retail locations.

Still, there are some physical and capital investment limits, at least at retail prices consumers seem willing to pay. If consumers are willing to pay much more, they can get almost any arbitrarily-defined amount of access bandwidth. That, after all, is what businesses do.

If consumers resist paying business prices, network investment has to be shared more robustly than it otherwise might.

Given that all network resources are shared, resources are finite. To support retail prices that require such sharing, networks are designed in ways that "underprovision" resources ranging from radio ports to multiplexers to backhaul bandwidth. Based on experience, network designers engineer networks to work without blocking or degradation most of the time, but not necessarily always. Unusual events that place unexpected load on any part of the access network will cause blocking.

Blocking, in other words, is a network management technique. And that's the problem the Federal Communications Commission is going to have as it looks at additional "network freedoms" rules commonly known as "network neutrality." The term itself is imprecise and in fact already covered by the existing FCC rules. One might argue the issue is more the definitions and applications of existing rules that require clarification.

The ostensible purpose of the new rules is to prevent access provider blocking or slowing of any lawful applications, but a rule exists for that. Instead, it appears a primary effect of the rules will be to extend wired network rules to wired providers.

Beyond that, policymakers will have to contend with tragedy of the commons effects. If, in forbidding any traffic shaping (a network management technique) in the guise of "permitting the free flow of bits," rulemakers might set the stage for dramatic changes in industry packaging and prices of Internet access and other applications and services.

U.S. consumers prefer "flat rate billing" in large part because of its predictability of cost. But highly differentiated usage, in a scenario where networks cannot be technically managed by any traffic prioritization rules, will lead to some form of metered billing.

If metered billing is not instituted, and if service providers cannot shape traffic at peak hours to preserve network access for all users, then heavy users either have to pay more for their usage patterns, they will have to change their usage patterns, or they might experience some equivalent of "busy hour blocking."

Application providers and "public policy advocates" seem to be happy that new network neutrality rules might be adopted. They might not be so happy if ISPs lose the ability to deny or slow access to network resources. On the voice networks, some actual call blocking is allowed at times of peak usage. Forcing users to redial might be considered a form of traffic shaping, allowing access, but at the cost of additional time, or time-shifted connections.

To the extent that such blocking rules already are impermissible, some other network management techniques must be used. And one way to manage demand is to raise its price, either by increases in flat-rate package prices, by instituting usage-based billing or some other functionally-similar policy.

To avoid the tragedy of the commons problem, in other words, requires raising the end user's understanding of cost to use the shared resource.

Prioritized traffic handling, which assigns users a lower priority in the network once they have reached their fair use level, might be a preferable traffic management technique to slowing any single user's connection, once their individual usage caps have been reached.

When that is done, heavy users experience degradation in service only when competing for resources in a congested situation. For peer-to-peer users, the experienced reduction in throughput will be limited over time.

Only in heavily loaded cells or areas will a peer-to-peer user experience serious issues. Prioritized traffic handling enables operators to focus on dimensioning their networks for normal usage, while still permitting unlimited or "all you can eat" traffic.

Perhaps there are other ways of handling the "rationing," but on a shared network with network congestion, available to users paying a relatively modest amount of money, while a highly-differentiated load being placed on the network by a small number of users, some form of rationing is going to happen.

Perhaps flat rate packaging might still be possible if rationing affects end user credentials, rather than bits and applications or protocols. In other words, instead of "throttling" a user's bandwidth when a pre-set usage cap is exceeded, what is throttled is access to the network itself.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

CVs and Jobs via Souktel

A non-profit group in the occupied West Bank has started a scheme that uses mobile phone text messaging to help young Palestinians find work.

The group, based in Ramallah, has already registered 8,000 Palestinians on its Souktel system, most of them recent graduates. The system connects them to about 150 leading employers who are looking for staff.

Internet access in the West Bank remains low, reaching about one-third of the population. Most computer use is at internet cafes, which are largely male-dominated domains in what is still a conservative society.

Souktel enables young people looking for work to register by answering a series of simple questions in Arabic through text messages, which are used to create a mini-CV. They then receive regular information about relevant jobs on offer.

It costs little to use apart from a slight premium charged on each text sent. In the same way, employers can post notices about job vacancies and filter applications.

The project comes at a time when despite forecasts of improved economic growth in the West Bank, unemployment still stands at around 20%, with that figure even higher among young people.

The Palestinians are a highly educated population but the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, with checkpoints, roadblocks and frequent restrictions, makes it costly and difficult to travel and do business. Universities rarely offer careers advice.

You don't need an iPhone or to download software. It's just messaging and it works on a phone from 1995.

Souktel, an SMS service based in the Middle East and East Africa, is all about connections. The service, launched in 2006, uses SMS to connect users to everything from jobs and internships to humanitarian aid and youth leadership programs.

The name comes from "souk," the Arabic word for "marketplace," and "tel," or "telephone. Although at least 80 percent of people in Palestine have access to mobile phones, most people have Internet access only in cafés or public places, said Jacob Korenblum, co-founder of Souktel. "Getting information about medical care, jobs, and food bank services can be difficult," he said. And even at Internet cafes, Korenblum said that many people, especially women, lack access to these services. "We wanted to develop a very simple service," he said. "That's how Souktel started."

Korenblum who is Canadian, said that although he has been working in the aid sector since 2000, his personal interest in Palestine began in 2005. "I came to the West Bank to work for an NGO. The main things I realized was that there wasn't so much a lack of aid, but rather a lack of good ways to find out about it." Currently, Souktel is run by a team of six people, four of whom are Palestinian.

Souktel is a combination of two services -- JobMatch and AidLink. JobMatch is an SMS service that connects people seeking jobs with employers. Job seekers can register via SMS with Souktel, and then, through a series of text messages, enter details about themselves into the system. These include location, skills, career interests, and level of education. Whenever the job seeker is looking for a job, he/she can text "match me" to Souktel to receive an instant list of jobs that matches the resume that is already stored in the Souktel system. The job listings include phone numbers so that the job seeker can call potential employers to set up an interview.

Korenblum said that at least 2,000 people use the service each month and the service has about 8,000 total users. In the past year, JobMatch has connected about 500 people with jobs. Users tend to be between the ages of 18 and 25, and the system recently expanded to include internships and volunteer opportunities. In June, about 170 people found jobs using Souktel, but the service’s success is partially reliant on the economy.

Earlier this year, Souktel launched services in the Iraq and Somaliland. In the future, Korenblum hopes that Souktel continues to grow, and could be used to connect people not only with jobs, but with educational programs or health and social services. "SMS is pervasive,” he said. “It is also by far the most cost-effective way for people to get the information they need." He also hopes to continue to share Souktel’s platform. “We've been struggling with it for three years now, and we've arrived at something that works,” he said. “We want to save someone else time in trying to develop it, so they have something that is useful for them.”

If you find this interesting, check out a Souktel presentation here.

SMS for Emergency Services

I blogged few months back about SMS for emergency services in USA now the same is being tried in UK.

Ofcom is trialling a new system to let deaf people access 999 services using text messaging.

The system lets users who can’t speak send a text message to emergency services. Their text is received by 999 assistants and read out to fire, police or other emergency service. A reply is also sent back via SMS.

The trial kicked off earlier this month, with Ofcom asking people to register to test the service. As the trial will use actual emergency messages, it needs enough people to register to get a good feel for how the system is working as most won’t actually have cause to use it.

To register, text “register” to 999; anyone not registered will not be able to use the service.
Ofcom noted that users shouldn’t assume their message has been received until they’ve received a reply, and that anyone sending hoax messages will be prosecuted.

If the trial goes well, the texting system could be in place as early as next year, Ofcom said. It’s being supported by the major telecoms companies, as well as emergency services and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

SMS to the emergency website here.

Monday, 21 September 2009

HSPA Functions and Benefits

Very interesting diagram summarising HSPA Functions and Benefits

Source: 3G Americas Whitepaper, HSPA to LTE-Advanced: 3GPP Broadband Evolution to IMT-Advanced (4G)