Accelerating growth through M-Banking & M-Health

While only roughly about 5% of the population has access to computers, more than 50% of the world population has mobile phones. Mobile phones have become cheaper and are more ubiquitous these days. Hence given the penetration of mobile phones it makes sense to use them for improving the lives of those in emerging economies. Two such technologies which hold enormous potential are m-banking and m-health described below.

M-banking: Financial services, a key driver for economic growth, is either negligible or completely absent in remote rural areas. Regular banking services are unviable in these areas. The small deposits and loans held by the rural poor make it unprofitable for traditional banks to operate in these areas through traditional delivery methods.  In these areas m-banking is truly a god send.

M-Banking refers to financial services offered by Service Providers to the unbanked poor in rural areas. The people in these villages can purchase either pre-paid or post-paid units from the Operator. They can then use these units to pay for goods and services. M-Banking offers a safe and secure method to the unbanked poor for sending and receiving payments through SMS’es. To make m-banking a reality, requires the coming together of the 3 major players namely the Service Provider, the Application developer and the financial institution which can regulate and disburse units of money.

A recent report by McKinsey with GSMA in 147 countries shows that more than 1.7 billion people in emerging economies will have a mobile phone without access to banking services. The McKinsey reports also states that by 2012 the opportunity in m-banking would generate $5 billion annually in direct revenue from financial transactions and $3 billion in indirect revenue through reduced customer churn and higher ARPU for traditional voice and SMS services.

Some examples of success are M-Pesa of Kenya, Wizzit in South Africa and Globe in Philippines.  M-banking provides a 24×7 service in the village and does not require any complicated infrastructure. One could imagine services where the unbanked poor could receive instant payment for the farm produce, could save money on a regular basis and pay for electricity bills instantaneously through SMS. This will increase both the sense of security and personal well being.

M-banking provides for tremendous socio-economic growth in the villages. With the increasing penetration and the ubiquity of mobile phones m-banking represents a sure-shot way of ensuring all round economic transformation in the villages.  M-banking helps in reducing risk and brings true convenience to financial transactions. However, appropriate authentication and authorization procedures should be used.

Mobile banking does not need expensive infrastructure that is required of banks, the network of ATMs for depositing and withdrawal of money. M-banking is convenient, secure, easy to use and can be quickly deployed. While the Service Providers are the facilitators of m-banking, it is the financial institutions that will regulate and provide banking facility to the unbanked poor.

Hence m-banking is a complete win-win situation for the all the players involved namely the CSPs, the financial institutions and the unbanked poor. Besides providing convenience, m-banking will be a key driver for all round economic growth in the villages.

M-Health: Another companion technology which has enormous potential in emerging markets is m-health. M-health relates to the provision of health services in rural areas where there is an acute shortage of qualified health workers. In these areas the use of mobile communication can help in addressing key health needs of the poor, thanks to the explosive growth of mobile phones in these areas.

Some of the key benefits of m-health is the ability to spread timely health related information and diagnoses to the health workers in the villages enabling the ability to quickly track and contain the spread of diseases and epidemics. Other applications include remote data collection and monitoring of health related issues.

Recent estimates indicate that half of the population in remote areas will have a mobile phone by 2012. This provides inmates in even the remote villages’ instant access to the important health related information’s-health along with m-banking can allow Health organizations to transfer funds which the needy can use for performing health checkups.

Like m-banking SMS is a key enabler of m-health. SMS’es can be sent to educate and spread awareness of diseases, transfer funds and for informing the availability of health services. Health workers can mobile phones or PDAs to collect and send disease related data.

M-health also provides a unique opportunity for Service Providers, Health institutions, insurance companies and the patients themselves.

Conclusion: With the increasing penetration of mobiles both m-banking and m-health are particularly relevant today. Both these technologies are capable of not only transforming the economic landscape but also providing the CSPs, financial and health institutions with a sound business and strategic advantage.

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Mobile Smartphones – The New Swiss Knife

The humble mobile phone from its early avatar of enabling voice calls has now metamorphosed into a device which can perform multiple functions. The mobile smart phone is the new Swiss knife. From making voice calls, to watching video clips, from mobile TV to Location Based Services (LBS) the uses of the mobile phone are many.The mobile phone is both ubiquitous and almost indispensable to daily life. A look at some of key technologies which will still further the utility of the mobile phones are discussed below.

Mobile Banking : Bringing the bank to the mobile: Mobile banking is a trend that is just picking up. Mobile banking provides for the banking needs for the poor who have no access to banks and has a lot of potential for growth. Mobile banking refers to a method where the rural poor can make payments and do cash transactions through simple SMS text messages. Mobile banking is crucial in emerging markets where traditional banks are not viable. A recent McKinsey Report 2010 states that the though the number of mobile phones in emerging markets is in excess of 1 billion, only about 45 million use mobile money in the place of traditional banking. The report further states that opportunity in mobile banking is about 3 billion annually.

Mobile banking requires the interworking of telecom operators, application providers and cash agents for making this service a reality. Mobile banking can promote customer growth and reduce churn for service providers. Some success stories are M-Pesa in Keya and SmartMoney in Philippines. There is a tremendous opportunity for this application in countries like India and China and other emerging markets. In this application, the mobile phone helps the user to bank while on the move.

Near Field Communication (NFC) : Mobile phones enabled with NFC technology can be used for a variety of purposes. One such purpose is integrating credit card functionality into mobile phones using NFC. Already the major players in mobile are integrating NFC into their newer versions of mobile phones including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Nokia. We will never again have to carry in our wallets with a stack of credit cards. Our mobile phone will double up as a Visa, MasterCard, etc. NFC also allows retail stores to send promotional coupons to subscribers who are  in the vicinity of the shopping mall.

E-Ticketing: With an application, our flight iternary, tickets or movie tickets will be sent to the mobile phone. E-Ticketing can also be used for train and bus rides and does away with the need to carry small change.

Some of the key applications envisaged for the mobile phone in the future has been discussed and many are already in use. The smartphone will not only be indispensable in future but will be omnipotent and omniscient.

Published in Technorati – Mobile Smartphones – The New Swiss Knife

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The Future of Telecom

Published in Voice & Data – Bright Future

Introduction: The close of the 20th century will long be remembered for one thing. The dotcom bust followed by the downward spiral of many major telecom and technology companies. For those who believe in the theory of the 12 year economic cycle this downturn is right about to end and we should see good times soon. Even otherwise there is good news for those in the telecom domain. We could shortly be witness to golden years ahead. There are many signs that seem to indicate that the telecom industry is on the verge of many major breakthroughs. Technologies like LTE, IMS, smartphones, cloud computing point to interesting times ahead. In fact telecom is at a inflexion point when the fortunes seem to be pointed northward. This article looks at some of the promising technologies which are going to bring back the sunshine to telecom.

3G Technologies –Better Quality of Experience (QoE): The auction of the 3G spectrum ended after 131 days of hectic bidding for this cutting edge telecom technology. 3G promises a whole new customer experience backed by extremely high data speeds. 3G promises download speed of up to 2 Mbps for stationary subscribers and 384 Kbps for moving subscribers. It is very clear that such high data speeds will inspire a host of new and exciting applications. Applications that span location based services (LBS), m-Commerce and NFC communications will be simply be irresistible to the users. Moreover the ability to watch video clips or live action on mobile TV or on laptops enabled with 3G dongles will have a lot of takers for 3G technology. App stores for 3G are bound to do a roaring business as 3G takes off in India.

Smartphones – The game changers: In the last decade or so in the telecom industry no other invention has had such a disruptive effect in the telecom domain as smartphones. Smartphones like the IPhone, Droid or Nexus One have changed the rules of the game. The impact of smartphone has been so huge that it actually spawned an entire industry of developers who developed applications for smartphones, content developers and app stores. The irresistible appeal of smartphones is the ease of use and the ability to browse the net as though they were using a normal data connection.  Users can watch youtube clips, play games or chat on the Smartphone.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) – Digital Convergence:  IP Multimedia System (IMS) , based on 3GPP’s Release 5 Specification in 2005, has been in the wings for quite some time. The IMS envisions an access agnostic telecommunication architecture that will use an all-IP Core for the transport of medium be it voice, data or video. IMS uses SIP protocol for signaling between network elements and SDP for exchanging media between applications.  The IMS architecture promises a whole slew of exciting application ranging from high quality video conference, high speed data access, white boarding or real time interactive gaining.  IMS represents a true convergence of the telecom wireless concepts with the data communication protocols. The types of services that are possible with IMS will be only limited by imagination. With the entry of smartphones and tablet PCs, IMS is a technology that is waiting to happen and will soon become prime time

Long Term Evolution (LTE)Blazing Speeds: Already there are upward of 5 billion mobile devices and a report from Cisco states that the total data navigating the net will exceed ½ a zettabyte (1021) by the year 2013. The exponential growth of data and the need to provide even higher Quality of Experience (QoE) led to the development of the LTE. LTE is considered 4G technology. LTE promises speeds anywhere between to 56 Mbps to 100 Mbps to users enabling unheard of speeds and applications.  What makes  LTE so attractive is that it promises better spectral efficiency and lower cost per bit than 3G networks. The competing technology for LTE is WIMAX which is also considered as 4G. But LTE has a better evolution path from 3G networks as opposed to WiMAX, While LTE is a packet only network there are sound strategies for handling voice traffic with LTE.  The standards body 3GPP offers two options for handling voice. The first is the Circuit switched (CS) fallback to 2G/3G network. In this scenario data access will be through the packet network of LTE while voice calls will use legacy 2G/3G voice networks. The other alternative is the switch voice traffic to the IMS network with its all-IP Core. This method is supported by the One Voice initiative of many major telecom companies and accepted by GSMA.  This strategy for handling voice through an IMS network is known as VoLTE (Voice over LTE)

Internet of Things- Towards a connected World:  “The Internet of Things” visualizes a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the internet. This technology promises to transform the network from a dumb-bit pipe to a truly “computing” network. The Internet of Things or M2M (machine-to-machine) envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and intelligent devices that communicate with the network. The devices will be capable of sensing, identifying and responding to changes in the immediate environment. Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) is one of the early and key enabler of this technology. The uses for this technology range from warning when the structural integrity of bridges is compromised to implantable devices in heart patients warning doctors of possible heart attacks.  The impact of the Internet of Things will be far-reaching. There are numerous applications for this technology. In fact, ubiquitous computing or the Internet of Things allows us to distribute processing power and intelligence throughout the network into a kind of ambient intelligence spread across the network. This technology promises to blur the lines between science fiction and reality.

App StoresThe final verdict:  The success of App Stores in the last couple of years has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is a complete ecosystem with App Store Developers, App Stores, and the Content Developers and Service Providers.  Apps and App stores have changed the rules of the game so completely. No longer is a mobile phone’s snazzy looks enough for it to be a best seller.  The mobile should be supported by cool downloadable apps for the user to use.  App Stores and apps will play an increasingly important role with apps being developed for smartphones and tablet PCs.  There are bound to be several interesting apps spanning technologies like   Location Based Service (LBS), mobile Commerce, eTicketing, Near Field Communication

Cloud Computing – Utility computing: Cloud Computing has been around some but is slowly gaining more and more prominence. Cloud computing follows a utility model for computing where the cloud user only pays for the computing power and storage capacity used. Cloud computing not involve any upfront Capacity expenditure (Capex).  Users of public clouds like EC2, App Engine or Azure can pay according to the usage of the resources provided by the cloud. Cloud technologies allow the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms, and databases almost like a utility like electricity or water.  The cloud exhibits an elastic behavior and expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops. Cloud computing will be slowly be adopted by more and more organizations and enterprises in the years to come.

AnalyticsMining intelligence from data:  Nowadays organizations all over are faced with a deluge of data.  For raw data to be useful it has been analyzed, classified and important patterns determined from the data. This is where data mining and analytics come into play. Analytics uses statistical methods to classify data, determine correlations, identify patterns, and highlight and detect key trends among large data sets. Analytics enables industries to plumb the data sets through the process of selecting, exploring and modeling large amount of data to uncover previously unknown data patterns. The insights which analytics provides can be channelized to business advantage. Data mining and predictive analytics unlock the hidden secrets of data and help businesses make strategic decisions. Analytics is bound to become more common and will play a predominant role in all organizations in the years to come.

Internet TVHot off the net:  If IMS represents the convergence of Telecom and the internet, Internet TV represents the marriage of TV and the internet. Internet TV is a technology whose time has come. Internet TV will bring a whole new user experience by allowing the viewer to be view rich content on his TV in an interactive manner. The technology titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google  have their own version of this technology. Internet TV combines TV, the internet and apps for this new technology.  Internet TV is bound to become popular with complementary technologies like IMS, LTE allowing for high speed data exchange and the popularity of websites like Youtube etc. Internet TV will receive a further boost from apps of smartphones and tablet PCs

IPv4 exhaustion – Damocles’ sword: While the future holds the promise of many new technologies it is also going throw a lot of attendant challenges. One serious problem that will need serious attention in the not too distant future is the IPv4 address space exhaustion.  This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2 32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another


Technologies like IMS, LTE, and Internet TV have a lot of potential and hold a lot of promise.  We as human beings have a constant need for better, faster and cheaper technologies. We can expect a lot of changes to happen in the next couple of years. We may once see rosy times ahead for telecom as a whole

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The evolutionary road for the Indian Telecom Network

Published in Voice & Data Apr 14, 2010

Abstract: : In this era of technological inventions, with the plethora of technologies, platforms, paradigms, how should the India telecom network evolve? The evolutionary path for the telecom network clearly should be one that ensures both customer retention and growth while at the same time be also capable of handling the increasing demands on the network .The article below looks at some of the technologies that make the most sense in the current technological scenario The wireless tele-density in India has now reached 48% and is showing no signs of slowing down. The number of wireless users will only go up as the penetration moves farther into the rural hinterland. In these times Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are faced with a multitude of different competing technologies, frameworks and paradigms. On the telecom network side there is the 2G, 2.5G, 3G & 4G. To add to the confusion there is a lot of buzz around Cloud technology, Virtualization, SaaS, femtocells etc., to name a few. With the juggernaut of technological development proceeding at a relentless pace Senior Management in Telcos, Service Providers the world over are faced with a bewildering choice of technology to choose from while trying to maintain the spending at sustainable levels. For a developing economy like India the path forward for Telcos and CSP is to gradually evolve from the current 2.5G service to the faster 3G services without trying to rush to 4G. The focus of CSPs and Operators should be in customer retention and maintaining customer loyalty. The drive should be in increasing the customer base by providing superior customer experience rather than jumping onto the 4G bandwagon. 4G technology, for example LTE and WiMAX, make perfect sense in countries like US or Japan where smart phones are within the reach of a larger set of the populace. This is primarily due to popularity and affordability of these smart phones in countries like the US. In India smartphones, when they come, will be the sole preserve of high flying executives and the urban elite. The larger population in India would tend to use regular mobile phones for VAS services like mobile payment, e-ticketing rather than downloading video or watching live TV. In US, it is rumored, that iPhones with their data hungry applications almost brought a major network to its knees. Hence, in countries like US, it makes perfect sense for Network Providers to upgrade their network infrastructure to handle the increasing demand for data hungry applications. The upgradation to LTE or WiMAX would be a logical in countries like US. In our nation, with the growth in the number of subscribers, the thrust of Service Providers should be to promote customer loyalty by offering differentiated Value Added Service (VAS) service. The CSPs should try to increase the network coverage so that the frustration of lost or dropped calls is minimal and focus on providing superior customer experience. The Service Providers should try to attract new users by offering an enhanced customer experience through special Value Added Services (VAS). This becomes all the more important with the impending move to Mobile Number Portability (MNP). Once MNP is in the network many subscribers will switch to Service Providers who offer better services and have more reliable network coverage. Another technique by which Service Providers can attract and retain customers is through the creation of App Stores. In US, app stores for iPhone have spawned an entire industry. Mobile Apps from app stores besides providing entertainment and differentiation can also be a very good money spinner. While the economy continues to flounder the world over the Service Providers should try to reduce their Capacity Expenditure (Capex) and their Operating Expenditure (Opex) through the adoption of Software-as – Service (SaaS) for their OSS/BSS systems. Cloud technology, besides reducing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for Network Providers can be quite economical in the long run. It is quite possible that prior to migrating to the Cloud all aspects of security should be thoroughly investigated by the Network Providers and critical decisions as to which areas of their OSS/BSS they would like to migrate to the Cloud. While a move to leapfrog to 4G from 2G may not be required, it is imperative that with the entry of smartphones like iPhone 3GS, Nexus One and Droid into India the CSPs should be in a position to handle increasing bandwidth requirements. Some techniques to handle the issue of data hungry smartphones are to offload data traffic to Wi-Fi networks or femtocells. Besides, professionals these days use dongles with their laptops to check email, browse and download documents. All these put a strain on the network and offloading data traffic to femtocells & Wi-Fi have been the chosen as the solution by leading Network Providers in the US. Conclusion So the road to gradual evolution of the network for the Network Operators, Service Providers are 1. Evolve to 3G Services from 2G/2.5G. 2. Create app stores to promote customer retention & loyalty and offer differentiated VAS services 3. Improve network coverage uniformly and enhance the customer experience through specialized App stores 4. Judiciously migrate some of the OSS/BSS functionality to the cloud or use SaaS after investigating the applications of the enterprise that can move to the cloud 5. Offload data traffic to Wi-Fi networks or femtocells.

Tinniam V. Ganesh

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