Mapping connectivity & the digital divide!

The old maxim “if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it” is as true today as ever… however increasingly as many people reach information overload one could argue it should read “if you can’t present information you can’t get others to act on it”.

A classic challenge is presented by internet connectivity. We are all aware that many of the Southern countries where we have worked have terrible connectivity how is this linked to the economy, production, trade, education levels, health services?

i-isp-ss.gifThis map from the Internet Mapping Project Map Gallery shows the major ISPs indicating volume of traffic (colour density) and extent (distance). A variety of maps indicate other internet measures including distance from host, network address, top level domains or ISPs/ cities and many more. Including more detailed maps and raw data!

Other internet map sources include: Rocketfuel, The Opte Project, Cybergeography who publish a fascinating Cyberatlas and Caida.

Internet Map USA

This second image from Infosthetics March ’06

“is an extremely detailed map of the North American Internet backbone including 134,855 routers. the colors represent who each router is registered to: red is Verizon, blue AT&T, yellow Qwest, green is major backbone players like Level 3 & Sprint Nextel, black is the entire cable industry put together, & gray is everyone else, from small telecommunications companies to large international players who only have a small presence in the U.S. This map demonstrates that although AT&T & Verizon own a lot of Internet pipes, they currently do not dominate the Internet infrastructure (yet).”

IP map2

I love this third image again lifted from Infosthetics Dec. ’06, whilst it presents IP address space as a map it provides a clear impression of ‘internet face’ dedicated to continents, clearly if this were broken out in more detail, particularly with breakdown for “Asia” it would become ever more useful. See original source xkcd and comments from the artist.

a chart of the IP address space “on a plane”, using fractal mapping which preserves grouping (any string of IPs will translate to a single compact region on the map). each of the 256 numbered blocks represents one 8th subnet (containing all IPs that start with that number).

When preparing my dissertation on the privatisation of telecoms in Brazil in 1999 a communications star “map” clearly illustrated how minimal traffic was making the hops to and from Africa or Latin America. Different presentation tools using different internet usage “measures” consistently confirm this picture. Though we may not be able to lift detailed quantified facts from such maps they clearly provide tools to reflect trends and bias.

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Paranoia – another friend on Skype?

Since you are all seasoned travellers there is no need to introduce you to Skype, probably it is the friendliest VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) service available.

No doubt you, like me, really enjoy being able to phone friends and family all over the world as I please. The Web cam takes it to a whole new level and my kids just love to chat, scream and show their favourite toys to cousins, uncles and grandparents.

However have you ever considered security! Yes, sadly Skype is just about as secure as the internet, fortunately we are not all using MS Windows, market dominant software typically attracts security breaches… Oh dear… it looks as if Skype is not only taking the market by storm but is likely to for a while, especially in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Middle East. The BBC Digital Planet podcast 16th Oct 06 has more info.

Telephone calls are most prone to hacking when they can be interrupted. For example if you call a bank the line is on hold while you wait for call centre staff to become available, this is when the call/ line can be interrupted (pretending they are the bank call centre) and interjects a request for verification of who you are, asks for your password, and card number, codes …. of course after they have such details they can directly manipulate your banking details. These are known as “man-in-the-middle” attacks, since the hacker has to interject a call and manage the telephone communication to both parties. Of course there are plenty of counter-opinions such as Ravings of a Strange Mind.

Is this common … far from it, indeed it doesn’t appear there have been any widely discussed examples … yet!

Of course enterprise providers of VOIP equipment (like CISCO or Nortel), VOIP solution providers to business (Vonage), and hosted VOIP service providers will all be putting in place appropriate security mechanisms. It is not so easy for Skype since they do not control the equipment in your home, the last mile or the server connecting to your computer.

Paranoia is not a healthy state of mind, however next time you are on Skype to the bank… there is a skip in the music… the line tone changes… simply gives some strange interference… you might want to fall back on good old paranoia and hang up!

Mobile phone banking … post conflict ready!

Mobile phones replace cash, debit cards, credit cards, ATMs and even banks! The Economist reveals all!

Many of us have heard rumours of upcoming payment and credit card services by phone, indeed they are common in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, however it seems that such servsices can truly benefit developing countries far more. For proof look to South Africa The Good News. (Oh no not again!)

Running a hair salon, grocery store or supplying goods? All payment transactions out, paid in, cash transferred, utility bills and of course paying mobile bills can be handled by Wizzit. Think of the advantages if you do not live near a bank branch, an ATM, or cannot get credit. Of course removing branches radically reduces both financial risk and operating costs, Wizzit claims services are a third cheaper, thus they can afford to serve individuals making multiple small transactions.

South Africa was one of the first to introduce mobile ATM’s in 2004 or Mzansi to taking banking to the populace. Banking by phone is chasing the 16m South African adults (more than half the adult population) who still have no bank accounts… but 30% do have mobile phones.

Already over 0.5 million use Wizzit as their bank, 8 in 10 customers had no bank account, this was achieved using an old developmental participatory approach or modern marketing tool… ‘peer to peer’ networking, in this case using 2000 unemployed people or ‘Wizzkids’ as mobilisers.

In many middle income and developing countries from Brazil to Kenya mobile coverage has overtaken fixed telephone lines quickly due to high pricing and the difficulty of getting a phones. Initially crediting prepaid time became a mechanism to transfer money… now we are seeing the development of integrated mobile banking platforms in a surprising array of countries as communities and countries skip physical banks and move straight from cash to mobile. Including M-Pesa micro-credit in Kenya and Celpay in Zambia and Congo. Keep on top of developments with Mobile Africa.

Imagine the possibilities in countries transitioning from post conflict to a more stable scenario. Mobile phones are common, banks if they exist provide appalling service, many people are not ‘credit worthy’ in the traditional sense, professionals need to get cash to families widely scattered, migrant workers return funds to family at significant cost, suppliers cannot provide significant credit. In short mobile phoning bank could slash transaction costs, free up liquidity, and enable micro credit schemes to flourish will reducing risk. No doubt the Hawallah’s will be the first to see the potential.

Next time I leave the beaten track perhaps I can leave the greenbacks at home with my credit card!

Net Neutrality … storm in a teacup… or fight for global liberty

Is paranioa over “big Communications” or telco’s controlling the internet overdone?

Current consumers, both business and users pay for connectivity and services. Online service providers from Google to Rocketboom all pay their way. As for payment for premium service, such as faster delivery, well this has been the case for a long time with businesses being prepared to pay a premium for security and speed, whether through VPN’s or paying specialist online service providers.

Of course a two tier (or more) internet in the mass market where those who can pay get privileged treatment is fundamentally flawed. The arguments are well presented on Save the Internet. However this US and western centric view misses the global impact.

A far bigger issue is what impact will this have on less developed countries. Internet Cafes have sprung up all over Kabul in Afghanistan over the last 3 years what impact will a two, three or even four tier system have on Afghans access to the world outside? The World Bank estimates that around 10% of people in developing countries have access to the internet, one would suspect a large percentage of these to be on dial-up. In Kabul we had a expensive Wimax connection to our home, I hate to think how slow or unreliable the service would have been if other tiers of service had priority. Surely we would not want to condemn developing countries bottom rung in yet another tiered system of access to world markets?

One has to remember that AT&T, Verizon, Comcast to name just a few Telco’s in the US, like telco’s globally are struggling to find a replacement for loss of highly lucrative paying voice traffic to consumer friendly VOIP providers like Skype. In the US all telco’s are planning massive investments in convergent networks over which they can offer telephony, mobile, broadband and TV to the home. Interestingly in the UK which has a non-cable culture BT has taken a cheaper route. To replace the ‘lost’ telephony revenues, and cover the costs of the convergent networks, telco’s are scrabbling to increase revenues from broadband connectivity or internet services…

– – – but wait a minute! – – –

Haven’t they got it the wrong way around? Cable companies pay the content providers … so doesn’t it logically flow that all those innovative online providers should be paid by telco’s for providing the value-added products that drive demand for broadband that home owners do, after all, have to pay for?

Not only should the principal of net neutrality be upheld, US government and others should conciously not intervene with laws. The internet is genuinely changing the world with the access it provides to information, ideas and through sparking creativity, no ethnic group has an edge in “geekiness” lets keep it that way… maintain the net as a global platform for innovation!