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Internet Governance

Issues Regarding the Mobile Internet

Today’s session was something really new to me. During the IGF 2008 in Hyderabad, I missed this workshop. The interest has remained, but nevertheless, I managed to plan things out and catch this session. It was just walking into a room with no preconceived ideas. I mean I’ve heard about “mobile Internet” per se but I was just eager to learn more of the issues surrounding “mobile Internet.”

The first issue tackled was from Nir Quaynor of Africa. Right away, I caught the word “paradigm shift” and picked up what his presentation was going to lead to. Quaynor discussed that there are billions of users shifting usage of the Internet to mobile. There was some technical words he mentioned, which I seem to have gotten lost. He mentioned about “sms” (short message service)and mobile web updates. Then there was mention of “keywords” that are registered like domains on a shared short code community. For example, he meant “short code” for each operator. I did  anticipate the mention of Africa’s accessibility to mobile Internet and Mr. Quaynor did say that Africa may not have full connectivity and may  disrupt tolerant solutions to web sms.

The second presenter was Stefab Boyera of the W3 Consortium. He started by mentioning that 92% of mobile subscribers do have a browser on their phones. It seems like the backbone has improved a lot in most countries in Africa. This could be attested to most people having much access to more platforms. The curve rate was at a minimum but the curve has been exponential in the last few years. As to how we can increase or improve infrastructure, he presented two challenges:

[1] The first challenge is about the web not being accessible;

[2] The second challenge is how to extend the functionality of the web wherein local content is available;

Note that the second challenge brought about a discussion on how one trillion of documents is huge enough but most of these content is blocked. As to how to address these two challenges? Well there are local actions in local countries. What he meant about “local action” is how technology has to be improved, and how to define web accessibility and content. There are no clear mythologies or guidelines. Even the last 10 years have been a lot of work.As to how can we discuss the number of users and how we can help people look for more content, has to breached on a technology level at a global level. There is need for more research and developmental actions. If we need to believe in local platform, then we need to discuss with the operator, raise awareness that it is easy to use, and how to use technology for mobile content. We can develop more tools to ease this development of content (as we have seen the arrival of web 2.0 tools like blog and wiki), and such tools will lower the access to mobile platform. It has indeed been lot of work in the past years to make accessibility possible to western countries, as well as the internationalization of mobile names and the web. There is little action focused on the need of those at the bottom of the pyramid so it is really good to invest in local action, and then increase the number of people who can use this opportunity.

The next presenter was Yoshiko Kurisaki of BHN Telecom for Basic Human Needs. She touched mostly on policy implications of mobile web. This discussion started off with a mention of what was new at the at the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) Telecom World 2009 – how technology can be useful to people. In Africa, there are new generations of telecom regulators. Then ICT is a social tool – wherein mobile is a life infrastructure in developing countries, for instance, making daily payments, health services, education and etc. This is, in fact, was transforming the lives of poor people.

As for emerging policy and regulations, Ms. Kurisaki talked about the following:

[1] health policy/ m –health;
[2] finance policy/ m-payments;
[3] education policy/ m-learning;
[4] m-xxx

Note that the fourth emerging policy and regulation is just an anticipation of emerging policies. All these emerging policies and regulations point to mobile telecommunications. The implication of such policies is simple: this is about having electricity, having a telecom network, having basic education, and empowering women and girls in rural villages.

Then, the mixed reality, although trends are favorable, is the financial aspect. ICT policy-makers in health and education have to work on the process of securing that policies are followed and regulations are met. It’s just something to really work on and learn from real projects.

The message to be relayed to policy makers is to facilitate and to adapt technology because human needs evolve. There is a  need to place emphasis and put more focus on the people at the far end of the digital divide (and mostly women, people living in villages, and people with disabilities) – just basically people who can benefit more. She stressed “ radio” and as from what I understand, it’s a leverage that works well until now. Well, perhaps, people know how to use it and it’s still technology.

The next presentation was by Leslie Martinkovics from Verizon, who heads the International Public Policy & Regulatory Affairs. Mr. Martinkovics started by saying that the mobile world in 2009, pertaining “obviously” to mobile phones, now accounts for 73% of the world’s telephone lines. This fact basically surpassed the number of fixed lines in 2002. Guess what the prime driver is? Well, it’s video. So sometime in 2014, there will be more than two billion mobile broadband users.

But seriously, the issue here is how cellular penetration in the developing world, especially between 2008-2009, surpassed the 50% mark to reach an estimated 56% at the end of 2009. So that is twice as many mobile subscriptions in the developing world than in the developed world (3.2 billion versus 1.4 billion). The prediction is that in 2014, the mobile world would generate an annual revenue of $137 billion. Thus, reinforcing the idea that video is a motivating driver.

Digital divide is narrowing but still exists. In the Asia Pacific and Europe, they have the most broadband subscribers. There were fewer fixed mobile broadband subscribers in Africa, however, IP traffic is growing fastest in Africa and in the Middle East. So basically, broadband infrastructure is the key and that investment and innovation are driving broadband growth through competition. It also creates jobs, like for instance, there will be 500,000 new jobs for every $10 billion increase in digital investment.

Mr. Martinkovics also used the term “LTE” which means “Long Term Evolution.” He mentioned that the future of mobile broadband is a long term evolution, and with fourth generation (4G) mobile platform. With the next generation access technology, there will be more than 100 operators who will join to deploy LTE with ten among for 2010 rollouts. LTE is also forecasted to re-watch 32.6 million subscribers globally, by the end of 2013. It will offer high speeds of up to 173 mbps in downlink and 58 mbps in uplink. Think – excellent excellent coverage.

Verizon also mnetioned that they will have the LTE/700 MHz Plans and the 2008 standards finalized. By 2009, vendors will be selected and by 2010, it will now support open applications.

The right policies will ensure future growth- continuing support for global standards development, and promoting competition. Innovation between operators will also continue to drive growth.

Tim Berners Lee came in last to talk. He mentioned right away that the mobile web is huge – the fundamental web , its diversity, and its ideal of technology. Basically, people accessing the web are the same people accessing mobiles. This eventually allows diversity as the web goes out to different cultures. He also talked about the idea that there is a culture change and stressed the point that it’s not about being “America” – it’s about “YOUR” internet, where every community can make their own community site. As to how this digital gap is narrowing because of the kind of phone we have, he asked this: how do we actually measure the gap? He left the question hanging.