|Issue:||Latin America 2008|
|Topic:||Merging and converging – work, life and ICT|
|Author:||Joao Pedro Flecha de Lima|
Joao Pedro Flecha de Lima is the Vice-President of Huawei, Brasil. Mr Flecha de Lima has been working at Huawei since it began operations in Brazil nine years ago. Before joining Huawei, Mr Flecha de Lima worked for both the McKinsey and K2 Achievements consulting firms, the ABN Amro Bank and at Pactual, an investment-banking firm. João Pedro Flecha de Lima is a Civil Engineer, graduated by the University of Brasília and MBA by Columbia University.
Convergence of information and communications technologies (ICTs), the Internet, broadband, mobile telephony and such has changed the global economy, the way businesses work, how science is done and the way people live. Much of the world’s population in both the developed and developing world do not have access to the technology because of its cost, the lack of infrastructure where they live, unfamiliarity with the technology, their lack of education or the difficulty of using many of the services and devices.
The convergence of information and communications technology (ICT) has begun to change our lives, and will change them even more in the years to come. E-mail, SMS, mobile phones, instant messaging, chat and Skype make it possible for all of us to communicate with anybody, anywhere, at marginal costs or even free. Large investments in ICT have generated unprecedented connectivity. The number of mobile users in Latin America grew from 20 million in 1998 to more than 300 million in 2007. In the same period, Internet users grew from six million to 100 million. These new technologies became essential for small and medium size companies, since they allow these companies to effectively participate and compete in the global marketplace – something once possible only for large multi-national conglomerates with abundant capital and large staffs. The ability to compete in global markets is increasingly determined by technological superiority and ICT-related management skills. At the individual level, the omnipresence of ICT is seen in the the widespread availability of interactive multi-media content and applications such as e-commerce, gaming, Second Life, music and video on demand and location-based services. User generated content such as YouTube, Wikipedia social networks such as Orkut, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are other examples of the growing importance of ICT. Google’s success, not only as the world’s most used search engine, but as a purveyor of Web-based services such as Google’s Maps and Earth, the provider of online support for email (Gmail) personal agendas and file-sharing and its astounding success as the number one online advertising medium all attest to the role ICTs play in the growth of the new economy. All of these examples also attest to the role the new economy plays in the growth and convergence of ICTs. Several types of technological convergence make the ongoing ICT revolution possible: • Convergence of Content: Compression (MPEG, AVI, WMA,…) Cryptography and Authentication (PKI, SSL, IPSEC) Languages (XML, Java, Brew); • Convergence of Transport Networks: DWDM, SDH, ATM, IP Networks, QoS; • Convergence of Access: xDSL, Cable Modem, Mobile Networks, Broadband wireless, satellite, FTH, Digital TV; and • Convergence of Terminals: Smartphones, tablets, IPTV, Video games, home appliances, set-top boxes. Challenges and threats Convergence can disrupt the industry, as in the case of VoIP’s impact upon the long distance market, but it also brings new opportunities to build revenues. For operators, the challenge is to transform their business models from voice-oriented to data-oriented, as voice revenues are stagnant or decreasing, while data revenues are doubling every year. Last year, YouTube alone consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in year 2000. There should be 100 million Internet-based TV subscribers by late 2010, up from three million in 2006. There are three million SMS transactions every minute and the wireless sector is adding 40 million new connections per month. These developments demonstrate the meteoric growth of ICT-based services and the need for constantly increasing investment in transmission networks. Network security is another big task. In a network-oriented society, inadequate security measures can have dramatic and dangerous consequences for individuals and corporations. The security challenge grows as more companies rely on converged IP networks to which they allow remote access. The growth of Internet users, broadband capacity and number of Internet-enabled devices has created an opportunity for hackers, organized criminals and terrorist attacks through SPAM, spyware, identity theft and viral infections. Convergence brings great challenges for regulators. Unbundling, anti-trust, unified licenses, promotion of local and diverse content, protection against offensive material and privacy invasion, trade relations, intellectual property, data protection and optimization of the use of the electromagnetic spectrum are among the complex questions regulators must deal with. Regulators need to handle all these issues in a manner that is both technologically neutral and sufficiently flexible to let the sector take advantage of new, emerging, technologies; and at the same time provide a stable regulatory framework to assure the potential investors. Manufacturers of converged ICT appliances have the challenge of making their products more user-friendly. Today’s home appliances are so technologically sophisticated that a considerable amount of knowledge is needed to make them perform even the most basic functions. There are refrigerators that send and receive emails, that can be used for e-commerce, and that incorporate phone books and real-time video. The challenge for manufacturers of converged ICT devices is to pass the so called so-what? test; they must conquer the indifference of consumers accustomed to a growing list of trivial features and gimmicks that manufacturers include for no other reason than they can do so at almost no cost. The trend towards the proliferation of un-needed features has evolved with virtually every new electronic device. Those who are about 45 years old only had access to personal computers during their undergraduate years. Mobile phones only became widespread in the 1990s. On the other hand, our children, who were born with these new technologies, are familiar with all the latest gadgets. In a typical home, children of 12 years of age are much more ICT-literate than their parents. In India, a seven-year-old boy earned a Microsoft Office User Specialist Certification. This digital generation gap creates another type of division not often considered. It is a challenge for governments, regulators and society to promote the social inclusion of older citizens, especially the ones that do not work in ICT-related industries. Typically, programmes for digital inclusion focus mainly upon providing hardware, software and connectivity, and upon training teenagers in ICT skills. Few programmes pay much attention to broadening the skills of this relevant over-40 years of age group. If, instead of looking at age, we look at the low-income population, the result is still not encouraging. According to a recent survey by the Secretary of Planning of the State of Sao Paulo, the wealthiest state in Brazil, of the population with incomes of US$300 per month, 90 per cent know what Internet is and 80 per cent believe the Internet can improve their lives, yet only a disappointing three per cent have access! The applications most desired were to help schedule doctors, find nearby hospitals, look for jobs, prepare CVs, complain or get information on public utilities and taxes. Continuous education programmes, bank account info, payment of bills and transfer of money are among the top needs still not available to the low-income public studied. Non-standard devices are an additional complexity for the end user. A simple change of mobile handset model can result in a big headache. Regulators and standardization organizations have yet to discover how to combine freedom of innovation with the ease of use and predictability of platforms. The user’s difficulty when migrating between ICT devices is often compared to that of learning to drive a new car. Anyone with a driver’s license can drive a car of any brand. Yet, instead of the ICT making it easier to use a car, the sophisticated ICT devices so widely used in today’s cars are so complicated that one cannot use all the features of a new car without spending hours reading the user manual. Much still needs doing to make ICT devices user-friendly. Another problem is the number of new abbreviations and acronyms that the ICT industry constantly invents. Just to name a few, there are: AMPS, TDMA, CDMA,GSM, GPRS, SMS, EVDO, EDGE, HSPA, LTE, BTS, RNC, 3G, UMTS, BSS, RAN, MSAN, VDSL, FTTX, DSLAM, ATM, PTN, PBX, SDH, DWDM, IPBB, CPE, SGSN, GGSN, VPN, IMS, HLR, NGN, PICC, RBT, IPTV, ADSL, CN, C5, ME, MW, GPON, ODN, TDM, SDP, GMSC, A&S, ON, WIMAX, WIFI, PCS, WLL, CATV, DTH, DVB, RFID, DNS. As if these were not enough, there are also many combinations like IPDSLAM, IPPBX and NGDWDM. In the developing world, many people still cannot afford access to information and communication technology and services. This ‘digital gap’ between developed and developing regions has attracted the attention and concern of Governments and non-profit organizations. Broadband wireless access is the least expensive, non-disruptive and practical way to close this breach. There are, however, many segments of the population in both the developed and developing worlds that require attention. The advent of email, user-generated content like social networks, and convergent devices such as the iPhone, are strong incentives for the over-40 user group to invest in their ICT literacy. Still, many cannot even use an email account or send and receive SMS. One way to reduce this gap could be through partnerships among manufacturers, operators and governments to provide ICT training using traditional, ‘old economy’ sites like kiosks at shopping malls, airports, train stations, bus stations and other high traffic areas, preferably locations where people have some time-to-kill. Network security is a permanent, growing, concern. Internet infrastructure must continually be fortified. Manufacturers could provide friendlier, less automated, help desks for the users of ICT devices. Customers are increasingly demanding more personalised services. This would stimulate greater usage of ICT products and services to offset the additional help-desk costs. ICT convergence has come to stay, but there is still a lot to do before users can fully benefit from the broad range of possibilities offered. Easy to use applications and simple plug-and-play devices are mandatory for the maturity of the industry. It is time for the emphasis to shift from the network to the user, from the features to practical application. Only then we will see how much ICT can change our lives.