Thursday, February 18, 2010

postheadericon Ubiquitous broadband in Africa-What are the benefits and effects on the media ?

How will ubiquitous broadband in underdeveloped and developing countries affect life? Will high speed, satellite Internet revolutionise access to information and information sharing in the fields of health, commerce and media as envisioned by O3B Networks? see previous post

Drastic changes in media inevitable
Judging by trends in countries that have advanced Internet infrastructure, drastic changes in the media will be inevitable. Many good changes for readers and audiences will occur, and sadly, some bad ones for publishers and media houses will happen. While many newspapers in Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have already set up online versions, hard copy editions have been the only options for the vast majority of their readers. The ubiquitous availability of low cost Internet will change that.

The employed and educated people who buy newspapers will stop buying newspapers and use the Internet as a source of free news.This has been happening in many parts of the world in the past decade and a half. Such a shift in media consumption poses a threat to the future of newspapers.

Media consumption in most countries in Africa, Middle East and Latin America is primarily comprised of radio, newspapers and TV. Radio has a wider reach, followed by newspapers. Television comes third (due to poor transmission and coverage & cost of TV sets), and again due to infrastructure and cost, the Internet comes last.

A new public sphere, by-passing repressive media laws & alternative views
The availability of the Internet to many people will create a public sphere-the new village square- where people can discuss and debate issues online. Most of the countries set to benefit from O3B’s Internet initiative have poor human rights records and repressive media laws. For example, news that is not favourable to governments never gets to see the light of the day. The Internet will enable people to bypass such controls, and give an alternative voice. This is healthy for democracy and will mark a new era of access to a lot of alternative views.

Controversy over Ubiquitous Internet in Africa
O3B’s idea of bringing wireless satellite broadband available to more than 3 billion people in developing and underdeveloped countries has been controversial from the start.

“Well at least now Nigeria won't be the only ones to send all those Nigerian scam emails to everyone”, posted user evilnewbie on on 9/12/08

“Thanks Google... perhaps fixing the problems in Africa like hunger, poverty, corruption, and diseases is not as important the availability as the Internet!” added evilnewbie.

An isolated opinion, but nevertheless one that raises the issue of priorities

Google-is it good corporate social responsibility or marketing wizardry?
Although Google is backing O3B Networks’ to provide Internet access, Google’s involvement and intentions have come under a bit of debate. “Is Google’s colonizing of a new digital frontier a part of global corporate social responsibility or is it a clever marketing and branding exercise?” Well, you choose.

The answers to this may partly lie in what Google has been up to in the last few years. Apart from being a giant in the Internet space, Google has steadily ventured into the mobile market (think of Google’s Android OS, think of Nexus One). I’m sure Google know that the regions where O3B is set to offer the Internet are growth areas for mobile phones. In the last fifteen years, growth of mobile phones has been phenomenal; in Africa for example, growth now stands at 35% of the almost 1 billion people. This defies logic as Africa has most of the poorest countries in the world, people with very little spending money or credit cards.

“If [Google is] going to dominate the Internet, they want as many people on it as possible,” says Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the founder of GeekCorps.

Thinking long term, targeting ‘digital natives’
Globally, technological futurists see a boom in internet enabled wireless handheld devices. Google is in both camps-that of the Internet and of handheld devices. It’s certainly not lost on the Google marketing wizardry that young Kwesi in Ghana, or Odinga in Kenya, or Thulani in South Africa or Ahmed in the Middle East or Silva in Latin America will grow up in a world where mobile phones are the norm and one day buy a mobile phone. Google knows all these facts ..In fact, Google knows everything, which is why it’s the world’s best search engine. Google is not thinking short term-it’s thinking very long term

In the interim, what will determine the success of the availability of affordable Internet access is the availability of Internet-enabled devices like netbooks or laptops.

O3B Networks capacity to outweigh several existing optic fibre options
In the last couple of years, several optic fibre networks linking Africa, the Middle East and Europe have been set up or are in progress. However, O3B Networks will have the largest reach and impact. A new undersea fibre optic cable called Seacom linking Africa to Europe started service in mid-2009, so did the The East Africa Marine Cable System (TEAMS ), which links Kenya to the United Arab Emirates, and thus to the rest of the world. A 3rd cable called Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSY) is scheduled to start operations in mid 2010. In landlocked Zimbabwe, Econet Wireless is developing a $500 million optical fibre network linking to Seacom

Internet recipients not interested in academic debate on intentions
Given the opportunity and access to affordable Internet access, most recipients in the targeted countries will probably not question Google’s motive. I doubt if they’ll care if it’s a branding exercise, or flexing of its muscles as the king of cyberspace or good social responsibility. What they will care for is benefit of Internet access and the chance to join the World’s Information Superhighway albeit a decade late.

What is clear though is that full-fledged ubiquitous internet will change information sharing and change the media dramatically.

Monday, February 8, 2010

postheadericon Bridging the digital divide:Global, ubiquitous Internet by end of 2010

In less than 12 months, the much vaunted O3B Networks will start offering high speed satellite Internet to telecommunications operators and ISPs in emerging and developing markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Several telecoms companies have already expressed confidence in the start-up network company and have signed multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts.

“Bandwidth will get cheaper, faster and easier for most of the world. O3B Networks will enable emerging markets operators and Internet service providers to make the Internet a truly global and ubiquitous experience,” proclaims O3BNetworks
on their website.

Founded by Greg Wyler in 2008, O3b which stands for 'other three billion', aims to make the Internet accessible and affordable for billions of people in emerging and developing markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East..O3b Networks will accomplish this by building a global Internet backbone which connects the networks in these countries.This global Internet backbone infrastructure will be the world’s first ultra-low-latency, fiber-quality, optic-fibre speed, satellite-based network.

With investment and operational support principally from Google Inc., Liberty Global, Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, the O3b Networks system will provide telecommunications companies (telcos) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) with a low-cost, high-speed alternative to connect their 3G, WiMAX and fixed-line networks to the rest of the world. This will allow billions of consumers and businesses in more than 150 countries to benefit from high-speed Internet connectivity for educational, medical and commercial applications.

O3b Networks founder Greg Wyler worked in Rwanda from 2004 to 2006, where he put together a modern Internet infrastructure for the African country, before heading back to the United States. O3b Networks will initially launch eight satellites that will be placed in medium earth orbit (8,000 kilometers from the earth), which is some four times closer to the planet than geostationary satellites at over 35,000 kilometers, and accounts for the low latency.

“This innovative satellite system will cover approximately 70 percent of the world’s population with fiber quality Internet connectivity at attractive terms and conditions,” says the company.

One of the investors in the Channel Islands based O3B Networks is SES, the renowned satellite operator of 99 percent of the world’s population via a fleet of over 40 satellites.

O3b Networks backbone infrastructure is likely to boost capacity and increase the numbers of Internet users on the African continent which stands at 6.8% of the 991 million people. In Asia, 19.4% of the 3.8 billion people are Internet users, and 74.2 % of North Americans use the Internet.

COMING NEXT-the benefits and effects of ubiquitous broadband on the media in Africa

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this is Vincent Murwira's blog, part of his research site Skype: theopennewsroom Twitter: @theopennewsroom
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" In the real world, the right thing never happens in the right place and the
right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to make it appear that
it has." Mark Twain