" ITREALMS: March 2005

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Maximizing 2.5G, the Glo way

Features of the week:

Determined to redefine the life of Nigerians through its Second Generation Enhanced (2.5G) network, the Second National Operator (SNO), Globacom, is exploiting the technology for its subscribers’ sake, reports REMMY NWEKE.

LIVING up to its status, the Second National Operator (SNO), Globacom Limited, has continued to blaze the trial on innovative Value Added Services (VAS), based on its deployment and determination to exploit its Second Generation Enhanced (2.5G) technology, within the nation’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

The requirement for mobile data services, encouraged growth of the internet has been the backbone for the development of enhanced data services otherwise known as 2.5G.

2.5G, is a generic term used to refer to a standard of wireless mobile telephone networks that lie in between Second Generation (2G) and Third Generation (3G) technologies. According to the mobile-phone-directory.org, the development of 2.5G has been viewed as a stepping-stone towards 3G, which was prompted by the demand for better data services and access to the Internet.

In the evolution of mobile communications, each generation provides a higher data rate and additional capabilities, and 2.5G is no exception as it has provided faster services than 2G, but would not be equated to be as fast or as advanced as the newer third generation (3G) systems.

In some quarters, analysts have seen 2.5G as an alternative route to 3G, but this appears to be short-sighted, as 2.5G is several times slower than the full 3G service. Technically speaking, the term 2.5G extends the capabilities of 2G systems by providing additional features, such as a packet-switched connection via the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) in the Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA)-based Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) structure, and enhanced data rates via the High Speed Circuit Switched Data (HSCSD) and Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE).

These enhancements in 2.5G systems permit data speeds of 64-144 Kilobytes per second (kbps); a unit for measuring computing information equal to 1024 bytes, which enables these phones to feature web browsing, the use of navigation and navigational maps, voice mail, fax, and the sending and receiving of large electronic mail (e-mail) messages.

However, Glo Mobile’s latest VAS, the Glo Mobile-Banking (m-banking) within its MagicPlus package was based on the kind of infrastructure on ground and supporting software deployed to meet up with the proposed value added service plan.

This is coming as Meridea Financial Software Limited has been selected as one of the best-performing and innovative entity with the fast growth of its mobile banking solutions, by Tornado-2004 for its new generation solutions. Like Meridea, the likes of CraftSilicon and Zslinc.com, are among many other software houses that focus on mobile banking software evolution.

Announcing the introduction of Glo-M-banking, prior to its commencement on February 28, 2005, the Chief Operating Officer (COO), Mr. Mohammed Jameel, said this service provides all Glo Mobile customers swift and easy access to their bank accounts from their mobile phones within Glo coverage area.

He also said subscribers could check their bank account balances, view the last five transactions on the account, transfer funds from one account to the other within the same bank and recharge a Glo prepaid line, all directly from their Glo Mobile phones. Noting, “this is the first time in the history of the country that one single application will provide a uniform interface to a multitude of banks”.

In collaboration with InterSwitch, Nigeria’s premier e-payment switch, Glo M-Banking offers subscribers access to real-time personal banking information and saves the customer time and money as he is able to do much of his banking transactions from the comfort of his home, office, on the road or anywhere he chooses. Thus, “With Glo Mobile-Banking, the customer carries his banks on his palm,” he declared.

Champion Infotel gathered that Glo Mobile began trials of its mobile banking services early this year, even as Mr. Jameel says that at the moment the service is available in 16 high-end banks, namely; First Bank Nigeria Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank, Zenith Bank, Afribank, Oceanic Bank, Wema Bank and Chartered Bank, as well as Platinum Bank, Prudent Bank, Standard Trust Bank, Universal Trust Bank, Bond Bank, Gulf Bank, National Bank, First City Monument Bank and United Bank of Africa (UBA).

“A subscriber could request for the service by filling in the Glo M-Banking request form and upon successful activation, he/she will receive a welcome Short Messaging Service (SMS) on the mobile phone, informing the subscriber that the m-Banking service has now been activated,” he explained.

To access this service, therefore, subscribers need the Personal Identification Number (PIN) issued by the bank and “If he already has a debit card, the debit card PIN automatically serves as the PIN required to access the m-Banking services,” he said. Stressing that a subscriber is required to select “check balance” on the MagicPlus menu, enter the bank code and select the account he wants to check, and for security reasons, the subscriber is required to enter his PIN number, highlighting that Glo Mobile positions its m-Banking service as a more user-friendly application because of its menu driven functions.

According to the COO, by tying the service to the phone number and PIN, a higher assurance is given of an end-to-end security on all transactions, which is better than what is presently available in the market.
To this end, the Smart Card Society of Nigeria (SCSN) has commended Globacom for introducing Glo M-banking, for its uniqueness and robust ability to hasten the march toward an electronic-card society in the country.

In a congratulatory letter signed by its secretary, Mr. Adeyinka Adeyemi, SCSN said it was delighted at the way Globacom was redefining the information and communications industry in the country through the introduction of innovative and value added services.

“The launch of Glo M-Banking aligns with the cardinal objectives of the society, to promote and encourage the development of electronic payment, using smartcard technology or any related technologies and adapting the same to enhance easy and fast transactional activities,” he said.

Emphasising, the scribe said, “we are particularly delighted that Glo M-Banking provides a uniform interface to a multitude of banks, thereby taking mobile banking a step further than hitherto obtainable, thus allowing customers to have easy and swift access to their banks.”

Smart Card also expressed the hope that the deployment of Glo M-Banking would, “encourage other organizations both in the public and private sector to develop value added and customer-friendly platform to ensure speed, ease and reduce cost of banking and other transactions,” Mr. Adeyemi noted.

Also speaking, the Marketing Director of Globacom, Mr. Subhra Das, told newsmen; “The service was designed to operate using high security protocols,” underscoring that apart from M-Banking, MagicPlus, also provides Glo subscribers with a whole lot of information-based services classified under information, news, sports, football, entertainment, business services and register.

The information section, he said, provides subscribers with flight schedules, including arrival and departure times of all airlines operating in Nigeria on both the local and international routes, just as it gives an up-to-date information on horoscope and daily weather forecasts.

Whereas, the sports segment provides sports related information including fixtures and results of the Globacom Premier League, English Premiership, UEFA matches, Bundesliga, Serie A and Dutch league, the news segment, according to the Marketing Director, keeps subscribers abreast of political, economic and social issues locally and internationally, while the subscribers could equally access business services such as currency exchange rates through the Dutch Auction.

The entertainment section would give subscribers a world of customised ring tones, logos, games, jokes and music charts, even as the segment on register, affords subscribers opportunity to search for the addresses and phone numbers of registered companies using a set of search parameters.

Mr. Das, further described MagicPlus package as a stepping stone towards advanced wireless data services, with a unique number that subscribers could dial to access the services in the MagicPlus menu which are also affordable.

Giving more details, he said subscribers would pay N40 per request on M-Banking services, N25 per request for the information-based services and N100 per request for ring tones and logos.

Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) at Teledom International Limited, a telecom integrated solution firm, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, told Champion Infotel, recently that inadequate telecommunications infrastructure that is robust and reliable is the bane of modern-day banking based on technology in any given society, including mobile banking; which shows Glo’s infrastructure deployment therefore is on the right path.

For a Glo subscriber and monitoring officer, Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Lagos Archdiocese, Mr. Ifeanyi Peters, it is innovative and reduces time one spends in the bank trying to check balances and conduct small transactions.

“I think it’s commendable and is part of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) revolution,” he declared.

Glo Mobile, an arm of Globacom Limited, launched its mobile telecommunication services on August 27, 2003.

The telco prides itself as the first to introduce the per second billing (PSB) option and the first to introduce GPRS-based services; Glo Multi-media Messaging Service (MMS) and has added Glo Mobile Internet, a GPRS-based Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and Glo Direct, an Internet access offering since August 2004.

As more Nigerians, especially telecom subscribers look forward to when this service will be introduced across other networks of banks and mobile operators alike, as well as beyond the shores of Nigeria as obtained in some developing countries like India, a wake-up call for other operators who are in slumber is sounded.With the phone in your hand, enjoy the services of mobile banking at your doorstep.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Broadband, technology of the future

Features of the week:

The need to unbundle the benefits of Broadband technology is examined in this report by REMMY NWEKE.

IN need to have access to some urgent information on his electronic mail (e-mail) box, Mazi Ofor Ikotuonye, a post graduate candidate of one of the states’ universities in Lagos, rushed out of his residence and headed to the nearby Internet café.

At the first café, nothing seemed to be happening though Internet savvy looking people were sitting before Personal Computers obviously linked to the Internet. They were waiting for the telephone line and a box, which he learnt, was a dial-up modem to connect to the Internet, before they could resume browsing.

A modem is a device used to transmit and receive digital data over a communications line normally used for analog signals, according to Columbia Encyclopedia. A modem could also come in form of cable or wireless format.

Initially, every person in the cafe with about 10 PCs were praying within themselves that rancorous noise of telephone buzzing across to the modem would seize, which otherwise means it has connected, but always indicating the engaged tone. He looked around and decided to check the next cafe, where he found out that the Internet was at rather snail speed and those already surfing were wearing long faces.

He dashed out again, yet to another café further down the road; there, people where very relaxed, surfing from one website to another in search of information.

Instantly, out of curiosity, he approached the manager of the café to inquire on what kind of service or technology that was deployed by them, only to be told "Broadband technology".

According to Broadband.com, this technology is technically defined as the non-specific term for high-speed digital internet access. Generally, Broadband includes the Digital Subscriber Lines (DSLs, T1,T3 or even E1 lines) and the brand new satellite internet connection.

It is also seen as the latest in high-speed internet access technology, delivering access at speed hundreds of times faster than a dial-up modem can provide.

The BBCNews Online described Broadband as a system designed for high-speed transmission of huge amounts of electronic data.

Hence, it could be likened to a pipe carrying water and if one wants to get more water down the pipe, and send it faster; definitely the person needs a larger pipe, and so is broad bandwidth. Bandwidth is the capacity of a communications line in transmitting or receiving information.

To this end, BBCNews Online also noted that this same result could be achieved in respect of data, deploying advanced cable technology, radio frequency transmissions or satellite systems, as the case may be.

This is to further say that various signals were combined into one for the purposes of transmission down the wire and is separated on reaching the destination.

While DSL, a core technology bundled within the broadband range could best go for an always-on internet connection that uses available ordinary copper phone line for both home phone service and a high-speed internet connection.

Thus, it could be used to surf the world wide web (www) and still talk on the same time over an existing phone line, without having to install a new one.

Data Communications for Business, describing T1 as a revolution introduced by AT & T in 1962, said its a digital data stream capable of handling 24 independent connections simultaneously. It has proved to be a cost-effective means of linking voice and data, both inter-office and intra-office; serving as an alternative to high-speed modems for data transport.

In other words, bringing about an increased usage or deployment of T1, since most users of T1 have come to term with the notion that it costs less to have a T1 trunk than a series of leased telephone lines in a point-to-point topology, according to TechFest.Com.

Dallas SemiConductor/Maxim Integrated, explained that a full T1, a term for a digital carrier facility used to transmit Digital Signals (DS) at 1.544 megabits per second (Mbps), is made up of about 24 digital channels.

This, also requires a Digital Connection Device (DCD) unit or Customer Switching Unit (CSU) to connect to four wires in order to carry the information, and most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have T1 as their connection to the Internet, just as a full T1 accommodates over 200 internet users amidst other services offered by their providers.

On the T3, Sunrise Telecom said it is a network transport architecture-embedded with variety of purposes, convenient for carrying 672 voice channels in one circuit.

Latest T3 applications, Champion Infotel learnt, include the transport of broadcast quality video, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) physical layer connections and super computer direct links.

It was also recognized by Sunrise Telecom that T3 and T1 are general terms referring to the transformation of 44.736 Mbps and 1.544 Mbps worth of digital circuits over any media, respectively.

"T3 and T1 could be transported over copper, fibre or radio," Sunrise Telecom declared, stressing that Digital Signal (DS-3) and DS-1 are terms for electrical signal found at the metallic interfaces for these circuits where most testing is performed.

Throwing more light on the efficacy of Broadband core-competences, the chief executive of PiNet Nigeria Limited, Mr. Lanre Ajayi, said T1 or T3 is a technical standards which are dominantly used in the United States, while the E1 is the European standard that offers 2 Megabits per second of data or signal.

E1 line also comes along with about 30 telephone points and also mainly used by ISPs, but provided by national operators.

Ajayi, who is the vice president of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), agreed that broadband core technology, would go a long way in ameliorating the penetration of internet and information in developing nations, including Nigeria.

Experts also said some of the merits embedded in Broadband is radically a life-changing steps as electronic mails containing attachments would be downloaded in seconds, and same with attaching files on your mails.

For music lovers, along other entertainment offered nowadays on the internet, the labour over dial-up modem would be a forgone conclusion, as hitherto attempts for hours becomes available in minutes, among other values.

Little wonder then that at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) organized Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) last December in Geneva, one thing that top the agenda was the issue of deploying broadband at every nook and cranny to boost universal access, describing it as an "enabler".

Participants, hence, sought the regulation that should be directed at improving the long term interests of this technology for citizens. Pointing out that Broadband could contribute to universal access by improving and enabling education, information, and increased efficiency such as reducing costs, overcoming distances, opening up Information and Communication Technology (ICT) markets, enhancing understanding and creating employment.

The GSR forum ended by issuing an industry transforming best practice guidelines toward achieving low cost Broadband and internet connectivity.

According to the conference chairperson and a Commissioner at the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ms Kathleen Abernathy, "Broadband networks are the key to maximizing the promise of an evolving and converging ICT sector."

She noted that new wireless and converging technologies that are sure to follow can revolutionise societies and help to close the broadband divide that exists within and among countries of the world.

Director, ITU Development Bureau, Mr. Hamadoun I. Toure, while applauding GSR guidelines pointed out that technological innovations and market developments are forcing telecom regulators to rethink their regulatory practices.

Mr. Toure said, "in many ways they are pioneering innovative uses of technologies such as Broadband and the regulatory frameworks needed to support those innovations."

The GSR, attended by 54 heads of national regulatory bodies, encouraged regulators to educate and inform consumers about the services that are available to them and how to utilize same, "so that the entire population benefits".

It also tasked regulators to work with other government entities; industry, consumer groups and other stakeholders to ensure consumers have access to the information they need about Broadband and internet services.

They further urged member countries to adopt policies to increase access to the internet and Broadband services based on their own market structure, such that policies reflect diversity in culture, language and social interests.

Like the regulators pointed out, adoption of a regulatory regime that facilitates the use of all telecommunications transport mechanisms, be it wire line, power line, cable, wireless, including Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) or satellite; public access to broadband and internet services to schools, libraries and other community centers, should be of utmost importance.

Therefore, participants of all nations, were tasked to facilitate this dream through economies of scale and competition among Broadband vendors and service providers.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) led by Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, probably discovered this import, giving the impetus in organising a workshop on Broadband in April 2001.

Though technology evolution goes beyond workshops on Broadband to transform into action process, hence, much is needed to encourage service providers to embrace Broadband as the technology of the future, with lots of propects for developing continents like Africa, in keeping date with the future through ICT tools.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tampere Convention and life-saving technology

Features of the week:

To better the world during emergencies is one of the cardinal points of Information Society, and a welcome development with Tampere Convention, despite the absence of Nigeria in any of its processes so far. Reports REMMY NWEKE.

COMMUNICATIONS in disaster areas have always proved difficult, especially for relief workers like the Red Cross among other humanitarian agencies worldwide.

Disaster is known to be a sudden event such as flood, storm, earthquake or accident, which causes great damage or suffering. It could be subdivided into natural disaster and man-made.

This, no doubt led to the recent holding of a treaty otherwise known as Tampere Convention on Emergency Telecommunications following its ratification by about 30 countries globally, excluding Nigeria.

The situation report released on February 15, 2005, by the United Nations Office
for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that approximately 500,000 people were affected in the Pakistan rains/snowfall, according to its resident coordinator in the country.

From Sudan in Africa where millions of lives are at stake, to Columbia where over 1,000 have fled their homes to Venezuela and Guyana where torrential rains and flooding displaced thousands of citizens. And With what happened at the Tsunami disaster, last December, the treaty must have come appropriately to avoid the re-occurrence in the future.

However, the treaty, entitled “Tampere Convention on Provision of Telecommunication Resources for Disaster Mitigation and Relief Operations” was endorsed on Saturday, January 8, 2005, thus making it possible for usage of telecommunication equipment over trans-border without hindrance, especially by humanitarian organizations.

Until now, the trans-border use of telecommunication equipment by humanitarian organizations often were impeded by regulatory barriers that make it extremely difficult to import and rapidly deploy telecommunications equipment for emergencies.

Disasters are considered to kill one million people each decade and leave millions more homeless. When disaster strikes, communications’ links are often disrupted; yet for disaster relief workers who arrive on the scene these links are essential.

Questions that require information gathering for immediate response include: how many people have been injured or have died, where the injured are located, where they should be dispatched and the extent of the medical help needed.

As well, workers rely heavily on telecommunications to coordinate the complicated logistics of rescue and relief operations.

In the absence of an agreed multilateral framework that temporarily waives formalities, delays have meant the loss of lives.

“In emergency situations, telecommunication saves lives,” said Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations specialized agency for telecommunications, which, along with the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has been a driving force in drafting and promoting the convention.

He said, “With this Convention, relief workers can make full use of today’s telecommunication tools which are essential for the coordination of rescue operations.”

According to the Chief Information and Communications Technology officer at UNOCHA and Head, Special Unit for Least Developed Countries at Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) in ITU, Mr. Cheriff Ghaly and Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, respectively, the Tampere Convention calls on states to facilitate the provision of prompt telecommunication assistance to mitigate the impact of a disaster, and covers both the installation and operation of reliable, flexible telecommunication services.

Regulatory barriers that impede the use of telecommunication resources for
disasters are thereby waived. These barriers they said, include the licensing
requirements to use allocated frequencies, restrictions on the import of
telecommunication equipment as well as limitations on the movement of
humanitarian teams.

“OCHA aims to ensure the best response to disasters to prevent loss of life and help survivors. The convention will make that work easier,” said Mr. Jan Egeland, operational coordinator of the Tampere convention.

The convention also safeguards the privileges, immunities and facilities granted to persons providing disaster assistance by granting them immunity from arrest and detention and exempting them from taxation and duties.

As the first treaty of its kind, the convention also defines the non-governmental organizations and non-state entities whose personnel would be granted these privileges and immunities when engaged in supporting the work of UN humanitarian and rescue organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), OCHA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies (IFRC).

The Convention defines the overall framework for the cooperation among states parties and all other partners in international humanitarian assistance.

It describes the procedures for request and provision of telecommunication assistance, recognizing the right of a state party to direct control and coordinate assistance provided under the convention within its territory.

It also defines specific elements and aspects of the provision of telecommunication assistance, such as termination of assistance and settlement of disputes. It requires States to make an inventory of the resources — both human and material — available for disaster mitigation and relief, and to develop a telecommunication action plan that identifies the steps necessary to deploy those resources.

Explaining further, Messrs Ghaly and Zavazava said, the convention requires a requested state party to the Convention to put in writing, prior to the arrival of telecommunication assistance in a disaster zone, the fees it expects to receive or have reimbursed.

And to avoid excessive charges, the fees are to be based on an agreed model of payment and reimbursement, as well as on other factors such as the nature of the disaster, natural hazard and the particular needs of developing countries.

In fulfilling the objectives of the Convention, the Operational Coordinator at OCHA, will seek the cooperation of other appropriate United Nations agencies, particularly the International Telecommunication Union.

The 17-article, legally binding international treaty, was unanimously adopted on June 18, 1998, by the delegates of the 75 countries that attended the Intergovernmental Conference on Emergency Telecommunications (ICET-98), hosted by Finland in Tampere, about 200 km north of Helsinki.

The Treaty was then open for accession, requiring 30 ratifications to come into effect.

Troublesome, however, is the absence of Nigeria in both
the signing of the convention in June, 1998 and its ratification in January 8,

Like the ITU scribe recently said at the African preparatory conference on World Summit on the Information Society (WSISAccra 2005), many more lives should have been saved if appropriate communications were in place, on the Tsunami incident, both within the affected areas and globally.

And with the coming into force of this convention, obviously its a way of making the world a better place.

It is worrisome, however, that out of the 30 nation’s that ratified the convention, only three were from the continent, namely, Kenya, Uganda and Morrocco.

Others countries that endorsed the convention were Barbados, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Denmark, Czech Republic, Finland, El Salvador, Guinea, India, Hungary, Kuwait, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Oman, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden, Tonga and United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

States like Nigeria yet to endorse the convention, especially from Less Developed Countries (LDCs), should endeavour to be part of the moment.

This is not because, most disasters occur in LDCs, about 49 countries out of which 33 are in Africa, but it is imperative for them to be part of the globe in all sense of it.

The impact of communications during the Ikeja -Lagos bomb blast in January 2002, cannot be overlooked, but be appreciated.

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