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Volume 23, No. 1, February 2013

 


Table of Contents

 

Nepal Wireless Revisited

A paradigm to explain why global growth is now led by developing nations

 

Stephen Ruth

Professor of Public Policy and Director, International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology, George Mason University, United States

ruth@gmu.edu

 

Mahabir Pun
Director, Nepal Wireless
mahabir@himanchal.org

 

Samuel Stone
School of Management, George Mason University, United States
sstone4@gmu.edu

 

In 2007, an article in this space described an extraordinary rags-to-riches Internet connectivity project in Nepal, tracking its progress from zero bandwidth to a successful regional network linking rural villages, schools and clinics and hospitals to the worldwide Internet. The emphasis was on achieving people-to-people connectivity, but it became clear that many new Internet-facilitated applications could produce revenue, too. Utilizing the most basic approaches (sample: WiFi technology and a 60 milliwatt transmitter sending signals up to distances of 20 miles or more), the project achieved robust connectivity, in spite of considerable opposition from warring groups like the Maoists and also from the government (Ruth & Giri, 2007). Since this primitive beginning, the original project has blossomed into a non-profit Internet service provider called Nepal Wireless, which provides connectivity services in the central region of Nepal and has also gradually added new income-producing applications (Ruth, 2012). Nepal, like many other developing nations, has found certain applications to be particularly valuable for early adoption, either because they foster a government agenda- tourism, discouraging poaching, etc.- or align with both regional and national objectives, like improving practices in agriculture, environmental protection, and medicine. This article has two purposes: first, to update the earlier account of the Nepal project, describing some of its subsequent income-producing applications after initial Internet connectivity; and second, to describe examples of similar applications in other developing nations.

 

ICT implementation in developing nations matters more now than ever before. Global GDP increases are no longer driven primarily by the wealthy nations like the United States, Western Europe, Japan, etc.- where growth has been anemic and sometimes even negative (the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Japan all had negative growth this past quarter). Instead, robust growth is coming from the developing world, especially China, India, and Indonesia, but also from dozens of nations in Africa, Asia, and South America which are leveraging ICT opportunities. Not surprisingly, many of the developing nations mentioned below as examples are also characterized by high annual GDP growth rates.

 

Tourism As connectivity in Nepal improved, it became possible to offer Internet-based services for tourists. Here are some of the follow-on projects: money transfer and virtual ATM services for mountain trekkers to pay bills or get cash (Thamel.com); a booking system for trekkers in community lodges; advertising and the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Trek;[1] and many others. As part of the advertising campaign of the community trek, Nepal Wireless has installed IP camera[2] in three places in the Himalayas and people from outside can see live views of Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himalaya ranges. Tourism applications have been popular for many other developing nations as they take full advantage of telecom possibilities. For example, in August 2012, Malaysia launched a free smart phone application named Malaysia Amaze-Ya! The application was created by the organization Tourism Malaysia and is the latest tourism smart phone application in Asia, similar to the recent launch of YourSingapore Guide.[3] Malaysia Amaze-Ya! allows smart phone users to search for restaurants, hotels and stores in the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Sabah. The application displays the contact information for these businesses and locations through a partnership with Google Maps. Local weather conditions in the three Malaysian metropolitan areas are also provided. The service is completely for free and available for both the iPhone and Android phones. In Brazil, the site of the 2016 Olympics, many new tourist applications are being developed for smart phones and tablets, like the so-called QR codes[4] embedded at special locations, such as Arpoador Beach in Rio. The user simply points the device at the QR pattern and immediately receives information about its history and significance (Menezes, 2013). Even the tiny island of Dominica now has a smart phone application for tourists and prospective tourists. It uses Dominica’s Visit-Dominica website and downloads condensed information for visitors (“Tourism smartphone app for Dominica,” 2012).

 

Applications to prevent poaching One of the recent telecommunications applications in Nepal was aimed at preventing poaching and other wild life crimes. Working with New York-based Wild Land Security (http://wildlandsecurity.org), Nepal Wireless is developing a surveillance system using IP cameras at Chitwan National Park to monitor poachers and to help save endangered animals like tigers, leopards, and rhinos. Many other countries have taken advantage of anti-poaching applications. Google awarded $5 million to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for using telecom technologies against wildlife crime, a $10 billion industry. One of the major components of the WWF’s technology push in Africa is the deployment of remote-controlled drones to monitor wildlife preserves and potentially track poachers, reporting locations and suspicious activities to rangers in real time with thermal imaging and satellite locations. In Congo, the WWF has kept their anti-poaching innovations at ground level with radio-transmitting metal detectors hidden along elephant trails in the wildlife preserves. Authorized visitors and rangers carry transponders that identify their signals; however, unauthorized detection of metal, commonly found in guns and other equipment related to poaching, result in the exact coordinates of the intrusion being transmitted to rangers’ devices. WWF is also helping with new, more reliable and durable animal tags within the preserves. These “smart tags” allow for better tracking through smart phones and similar devices. Since the data is transmitted through satellite broadcast system, poachers’ activities are monitored in real time (Coldewey, 2012).

 

Protecting the environment In the Nepal project, the environmental applications have mostly been collaborations with larger projects, including setting up of weather stations at high altitude locations like Mohare Danda (10,800 ft). Nepal Wireless is assisting a team from the University of Virginia to monitor atmospheric dust particles and climate change in the Himalayas in a NASA-funded project and has also installed three weather stations in the Himalayas for collecting real time weather information. There are abundant global examples of other environmental applications, like the Global Canopy Program, which has been training the indigenous population of Guyana to use smart phones to record, track and share data on local deforestation. The system collects data on carbon levels, stocks of fish in the local rivers, etc., compares them to activities related to forest degradation such as fires, mineral excavation, logging and construction, and reports the data for evaluation by the United Nations’ extensive network of environmental projects called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). [5] REDD itself has dozens of partner countries all over the world, with Lao PDR and Morocco recently being added. The REDD programs for environmental protection are as numerous as their member countries, with Indonesia and Vietnam recently developing improvements for forest management programs.

 

Agriculture The Nepal project used a web-based agriculture application called Haatbazar (local market) to facilitate increasingly diverse agriculture applications, like yak raising, cheese making, yak and cow cross-breeding farms, fishery, vegetable farming, etc. Over the past five years there has been a similarly dramatic increase worldwide in the use of networks to improve farming with great emphasis on mobile technology. The title of the World Bank’s 2012 IC4D report (Halewood & Surya, 2012) is descriptive: Maximizing Mobile. It makes it clear that mobile technology has become a key force in helping developing nations become a worldwide engine of growth. With respect to agriculture, it gives numerous examples. Here are some: Uganda (radio)- increase in price paid to farmers attributed to farmers’ improved bargaining power; Peru (public phones)- farm incomes increased; Sri Lanka (SMS)- transfer of margin from traders to farmers; Kerala (mobile phones)- higher-value enterprises took a more proactive approach to marketing via mobile; Uganda (SMS and Radio)- awareness of market conditions and prices offers more farmers opportunities for economic gain; Ghana (SMS)- half of those surveyed receiving market prices via SMS saw increase in incomes. In nearly all the cases farmer income increases have been in the double-digit range. There are similar examples all over the world. In Latin America, where the World Bank estimates that 98% of households have mobile phones, the case in Chile is typical (“Latin America leads global mobile growth,” 2012). The government there developed an SMS application for farmers, which relays information about crop prices and weather conditions. If the farmer does not have a smart phone the message gets through anyway, since simple texting is involved instead of a more complex system.

 

Telemedicine Because there were no doctors and hospitals in rural areas, the early Nepal project gave high priority to connecting sick villagers to city-based health care professionals through online chats and eventually offered more sophisticated services, like relaying EKG results. Telemedicine applications are probably the most significant example of the full advantages of Internet connectivity in developing nations, since they are a temporary offset to the high cost of building local medical facilities. It allows individuals who are denied regular access to medical care, due to distance or cost, the opportunity to diagnose illnesses online, consult physicians across great distances through video chat, and even conduct medical scans. A powerful example is the India project sponsored by World Health Partners (WHP), an international non-profit organization based in the United States. WHP’s Uttar Pradash network uses 1,200 local workers called Sky Care Providers and delivers health care services to 120 centers. The Sky Care Providers are assisted by cheap mobile device systems which, when necessary, are directly connected to a central facility in New Delhi. Consultation charges are very low, as little as 20 U.S. cents, for the poorest households (“Can telemedicine alleviate India’s health care problems,” 2012). Kenya, with over half its citizens using the MBanking system mPesa, is possibly the most interesting national telemedicine paradigm, at the intersection of a business opportunity and health care. Now the same cell phone that is employed for financial transactions can be used for mobile healthcare, thanks to an app called MedAfrica. It offers the full range of telemedicine service options at a reasonable price and also has a very innovative business model. Operating on smart phones as well as lesser-featured devices, MedAfrica uses advertising revenues to support free medical content and lower-priced links to services (Talbot, 2011).

 

Conclusion Since the last article on the Nepal project in 2007 (Ruth & Giri, 2007), much has happened. There were only 22 villages connected to the wireless network in 2007; however, Nepal Wireless has expanded its network to more than 140 remote mountain villages today. Thus, the fledgling project in the central Himalayas has grown and matured into a full service (and, surprisingly, non-profit) ISP called Nepal Wireless, adding new services each year. But the major global story is that during this same period the world’s economic patterns have shifted, and the developed world has become the GDP growth leader. This new pattern of vibrant growth is typified by the imaginative Internet-based revenue-producing services that are springing up everywhere in the developing world.

 

References

Can telemedicine alleviate India’s health care problems? (2012, March 8). India Knowledge@Wharton. Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/article.cfm?articleid=4675.
Coldewey, D. (2012, December 10). Predator becomes prey: Google-funded drones to hunt poachers in Africa. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/technolog/predator-becomes-prey-google-funded-drones-hunt-poachers-africa-1C7456194.
Halewood, N.J. and Surya, P. (2012). Mobilizing the agricultural value chain. Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile.

Latin America leads global mobile growth. (2012, July 18). The World Bank. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/07/18/america-latina-telefonos-celulares.
Menezes, B. (2013, January 30). Rio takes tradition high tech for tourists. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/rio-takes-tradition-high-tech-for-tourists-341114.html.
Ruth, S. (2012). Nepal Wireless: The power of innovative action. Global Studies Review, 7(3). Retrieved from http://www.globality-gmu.net/archives/2965
Ruth, S., & Giri, J. (2007). Defying the odds: A success story from the mountains of Nepal. Information Technology in Developing Countries, 17(4). Retrieved from http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/egov/ifip/nov2007/stephen-ruth.htm
Talbot, D. (2011, December 16). Kenya has mobile app fever. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/426378/kenya-has-mobile-health-app-fever/
Tourism smartphone app for Dominica. (2012, May 15). Dominica News Online. Retrieved from http://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/tourism-publicity/tourism-smartphone-app-for-dominica/
 


[1] Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Trek. http://thegreathimalayatrail.org/trek/annapurna-dhaulagiri-community-trek/  

[2] An IP camera or Internet protocol camera, is a type of digital video camera commonly employed for surveillance, and which unlike analog closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras can send and receive data via a computer network and the Internet. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_camera

[3] The YourSingapore Guide is a mobile application that works as a travel companion and that tells one where to go, what to do and how to do it in Singapore.

[4] QR code or Quick Response Code is a two-dimensional bar code that was first designed for the automotive industry in Japan, but has become popular outside the automotive industry due to its fast readability and greater storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code

As a society develops we assign more value to time. The rich usually value their time more than the poor. But the not-so-rich who are paid on a daily basis know the value of their time well, especially what it would cost them to skip work in order to obtain some government service (what economists call opportunity cost).

[5] UN REDD Programme home page. http://www.un-redd.org/