Banking the unbanked

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I earnestly believe that providing clean affordable energy, low cost telecommunications and access to inexpensive financial resources are important steps in alleviating poverty - Simposya, Boyd.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Look no server!

Traditional telephone networks rely on a central switch to route calls. When this switch fails, all else fails. VoIP networks are no different from plain old telephone systems in that they too require servers to connect calls. Attacks on these servers can bring an entire network down.Government snooping, as Edward Snowden has shown, is trivial for security organisations and cyber-criminals.

Enter Ring. Developed by Savoire-fair Linux, Ring has the advantage of not relying on central system, incorporates strong point-to-point encryption, requires neither registration nor a password (think SIP) and it is self-healing.

A 40 character ID allows room for massive network nodes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pizzicato: An Analogue-less Radio

Folks at Cambridge Consultants have built a small radio transmitter without using any analogue parts. This is a world first and has enormous implications. Analogue components such as Gallium Arsenide chips are expensive in terms of cost, power consumption and the real estate they occupy on printed circuit boards. By contrast, regular digital logic is low cost and mostly off the shelf. According to Monty Barlow at CC:
New mathematical tricks mean we can compute multi-Gigabit/second, digital waveforms in real time without a supercomputer. Software can shape and control this waveform, making almost any signal imaginable at any frequency.
All this at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent regular radio. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Voice over IP without the App!

Traditionally, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services have relied on two pieces of software: an application installed on the phone (client) and a server application running somewhere on the internet.

Installing VoIP software such as Linphone or CSIPSimple is not a simple matter. The extra effort required to download and configure VoIP apps puts off many users and therefore slows universal adoption of voice over data services. Some software such as Zoiper automate client configuration.

The much touted Over-The-Top (OTT) revolution where we all avoid classic phone services in favour of VoIP relies on a large installed base of client application e.g Viber, Skype.

A compelling solution is WebRTC (Web Reat Time Communication), a standard defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Since every smart phone comes preloaded with a browser of some sort, there is future potential to connect and talk to anyone surfing the net using any device.

Monday, March 3, 2014

WhatsApp?

Mobile phone carriers have every reason to be afraid. Very afraid. WhatsApp announced its intention to enter the voice segment. With almost half a billion active users, WhatsApp boasts a subscription that is within spitting distance of Airtel, the second largest mobile network in the world.

The prospect of cheap international voice calls will not go unnoticed by chat users. Operators have seen a sharp drop in text (SMS) revenues as users have shifted in droves to mobile chat applications. A similar migration to VoIP will be a deadly blow to many networks. Mobile terminated revenues will shrink. Lucrative international calls will all but disappear. WiFi originated calls will be difficult to block. Unlike skype, WhatsApp takes advantage of existing phone numbers and subscriber recruitment is almost automatic.

New, affordable smart phones such as the one showcased by Firefox at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona will allow emerging markets to skip traditional voice in favor of packet-switched calls.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Android vs Tizen

Back in September 2009, I wrote about the challenge posed by Google's new operating system Android to incumbents Apple, Nokia, Blackberry and LG. Since then Android has dominated the mobile phone platform. Based on Linux, the OS benefits from code contributed by a legion of programmers across the globe and available royalty-free to hardware manufacturers and software developers.

A formidable response is on the horizon. An association of some of the largest players in the electronic industry is backing Tizen, a new mobile OS platform. Tizen, like Android, is based on the Linux kernel and should benefit from the combined strengths of members such as NTT DocoMo, Huawei, Samsung and Intel. It should be interesting to see how Google responds especially given that two of the main contributors to the rapid rise of Android (Samsung and Huawei) appear to have changed camp.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fabrice is the man!

Fabrice Bellard, best known as the author of FFmeg and QEMU software, is back in the news. His company Amarisoft has released a 4G LTE base station running entirely in software on a stock PC. The result is a 4G platform priced at least ten times less than a traditional box.

This is good news for small network operators and private companies e.g. off-shore oil rigs, remote mining operations and adhoc network providers. Amisoft has not released the cost of the software but the price for the radio front end (based on the Ettus N210 and SBX daughter board) is around $2,000.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Microfinance: The Emperor's Old Clothes?

Trouble is brewing within and around the microfinance industry. Some industry watchers have been particularly scathing of the impact (or lack thereof) of microfinance on alleviating poverty. For forty odd years microfinance was touted as the vehicle for delivery of low cost capital to the poor leading and thereby creating opportunities for local enterprise. Today the microfinance industry is accused of not only delivering neat profits for some but of also gifting influential organisations such as the World Bank a formidable political tool.

Microfinance is premised on the belief that providing the poor with access to affordable capital stimulates entrepreneurship, creates jobs and helps to drive poverty out of their communities. That is all very well as long as there is a market for the said entrepreneurial goods and services within the community. In other words, while microfinance may tackle the supply side there is scant empirical evidence that it simultaneously boosts demand (Say's Law). This facilitation of financing has led to too many entrepreneurial businesses chasing too few customers and employing too few people (except the business owners who subsist on poverty wages).