If you've been keeping an eye on the junta running Guinea (that's just regular Guinea, not to be confused with Guinea Bissau or Equitorial Guinea), you'll know that the current iron-fisted military leader has fulfilled none of the promises he made upon taking power a year ago, and has seen public opposition to his rule grow. A week and a half ago, a rally against his government turned into a bloodbath, as soldiers killed as many as 157 people, and viciously targeted women for rape and sexual abuse.
As it turns out, a number of protesters snapped photographs of the violence on their cell phones, and the images of sexual violence-- seen as particularly heinous in this Muslim country-- have further grown and solidified opposition to the government. From the NYT:
Cellphone snapshots, ugly and hard to refute, are circulating here and feeding rage: they show that women were the particular targets of the Guinean soldiers who suppressed a political demonstration at a stadium here last week, with victims and witnesses describing rapes, beatings and acts of intentional humiliation... The cellphone pictures are circulating anonymously, but multiple witnesses corroborated the events depicted.
As in Iran earlier this year, mobile phones have empowered the citizenry to witness atrocities committed by a repressive state, and to share what they saw-- not just with the few thousand other people who were there, but potentially with millions of people across the country and around the world.
Also as in Iran, with opposition growing, the government in Guinea faces a choice: Crack down harder to ensure control, or yield to popular demands. It's hard to know how this will play out, but at a certain point, repressing a vocal, active, networked population of 10 million becomes very difficult.
Fast Company looks into the future of eHealth in a feature article about Susan, a 39 year-old cartoon with not just her own health to worry about, but her children's and parents' health as well. She's a busy woman, so she finds it convenient to watch her own gluten intake, check her child for strep throat, and monitor her father's scrabble scores using her mobile device ("phone" hardly seems like the right word for such a machine...).
The big argument here is twofold: First, that the continuous self-monitoring of your health through a variety of mobile and e-applications will make for more efficient and positive health outcomes than sporadic, occasional-trip-to-the-doctor monitoring. Second, as the title encapsulates, "the future of healthcare is social"-- i.e., we'll be watching each other's health.
There's something a little eerie about uploading everything from your blood sugar levels to photographs of irregularities on your skin to the great cloud of networked devices. One of the biggest challenges eHealth proponents will face is reassuring prospective users of their privacy and security. There will be other hurdles, too: getting medical records online and integrating them with the mobile network, creating user interfaces that are comfortable, comprehensive, and easy to use, etc.
But the technology, by and large, is already here. That's what is so exciting about this mobile space. Technology has been advancing so quickly over the past few decades, that it has left every other part of our society in the dust. We have the capability to do amazing things with what we already have, somebody just needs to imagine it and do it.
A week ago, I introduced you to Global Mobile, and promised weekly videographic evidence of NDN's long history in this space. What you're witnessing right now is me keeping my promises. Don't get used to it.
Alec Ross is a Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Before that, he was the co-founder and President of One Economy, a non-profit dedicated to bringing technology to low-income people around the world. In 2007, he co-authored A Laptop in Every Backpack with Simon, a paper about the importance of connecting American children to the global communications and information network to better prepare them to compete in the 21st century economy.
This video comes from June of this year, from the party we hosted celebrating the launch of "mHealth for Development," a report from the UN Foundation and Vodaphone Foundation. In his talk, Alec discusses the promise of mobile technology to do everything from facilitate health care delivery, to offer banking services to the poor, to better connect people with their governments. He's a compelling speaker and a brilliant guy-- and it's good to know there are people like him running our government:
The mHealth Alliance is a new partnership between the Vodafone, UN, and Rockafeller Foundations committed to o "facilitate global innovation and ensure maximum impact in the field of mobile health." MobiHealthNews has a great interview with David Aylward, the new executive director of the Alliance: He talks about integrating the mHealth community, the potential for mHealth to tackle chronic disease, and synergies between the developing and developed world as both enter mHealth at the same time from different directions. The whole thing is worth reading if mHealth is your game, but here are a few choice quotes anyway...
Here, he really captures the big-picture challenges with mHealth going forward:
All of these mHealth services that touch these various communities need to be connected in some fashion. Integrating those services is one mission. Integrating those kinds of services into underlying healthcare systems, e-health to use the short language, is a second. Getting sustainable economics under both of those is a third. Researching and showing the health and economic effect of doing that is a fourth. Underneath those there are more procedural activities, support activities like communications and connecting people together to technology initiatives. Fundamentally, though, it’s those four goals that we are after.
And here he talks about chronic disease, and how both developed and developing nations are de-emphasizing hospitals as a model for health care:
The dominant illnesses, of course, are chronic diseases. We find in the developed world that 80 percent of our healthcare costs are caused by chronic diseases. I don’t mean to say that 80 percent [of our healthcare spending] is spent on obesity or diabetes, but it is caused by those. What we see in the developed world is this huge trend of trying to take care of people in their homes and try to keep them out of hospitals, because we know that as soon as they walk into that facility’s door it’s a couple thousand dollars and plus they’ll catch infections and so on. In the developed world we see all these discussions about ways to keep people at home, get information from them while at home, export the knowledge at the center.
In the developing world we are seeing exactly the same thing, but for a completely different reason. We are seeing the same trend because they don’t have the resources to build the hospitals and related resources. Worldwide we have this very, very powerful trend that we and your publication are right at the forefront of, the edge of. In that sense we can benefit directly from the development of the protocols and knowledge base that result in long distance care for health problems. In that sense the developing world will benefit a lot, but not because they figured it out in the West and can now bring it to the South, but because we are all facing the same problem together.
Bharti Airtel and MTN have walked away from a long-in-the-works affiliation that could have created the world's third-largest mobile operator. Bharti, India's biggest mobile operator, and South-Africa based MTN, Africa's biggest, were discussing mutual investment that would likely have led to a merger. It's not entirely clear why the deal collapsed, but it appears the companies were having trouble navigating their respective legal systems, ant MTN was facing pressure from within the government, where forces wanted the company to retain its South African identity.
This is big news for both African and Indian wireless industries, and, I have to say, probably bad news for most consumers (or prospective consumers)-- particularly in Africa. Bharti has done an extraordinary job creating a successful business model for bringing wireless access to underserved parts of India. A merger may have gone a long way to similarly connecting all Africans-- even those currently way off the grid-- to mobile networks.
A report from Gartner Research announced this week that 1 in 5 households in the world has broadband internet access. Well that's pretty good, but color me not that impressed-- the 3.5 billion people with mobile phones create a much broader network. Whether you're a corporation focused on capturing emerging markets, or a non-profit looking to improving lives around the world, the mobile audience is a lot bigger.
But if you take a look at the chart (cribbed from the Economist) at left, you'll see an interesting counterpoint to the above. While mobile phones might offer broader impact, broadband penetration packs a much more powerful punch. A 10% increase in mobile subscriptions causes a 0.8% growth in GDP in a develping country, but a comprable increase in broadband subscriptions leads to a 1.4% growth.
So should we be more interested in expanding mobile networks, which have a good deal of infrastructure in place and are spreading like the chicken pox all by themselves, or in pushing broadband internet, which will promote faster growth?
I'm relieved to say that I don't think we'll ever have to make that choice. While it's great to see new undersea broadband cables beginning to tie Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya into the global network, it's hard to imagine a fibre backbone running securely through Central Africa-- and it won't ever be necessary. If you take a look at the second pilfered graph, projections suggest that sometime in 2011, more people will get their broadband over their mobile device than through a cable running into their house. Already, more than half the phones imported to Africa have data capabilties.
This is part of a broader trend of the gradual merging of mobile and internet services. 4G networks will be up and running in less than two years' time, and at that point, a netbook with web access over mobile networks will be nearly as good as a laptop plugged into the wall. Before you know it, every device will connect to the web wirelessly over mobile broadband networks, and bringing broadband into the developing world won't require costly, risky cables.
If you're looking for impact in the near-term, simple mobile capacity is the way to go. But if you're looking long-term, internet services will be the cheaper, deeper, faster option before you can say mobile broadband.
The NY Times reported yesterday on Question Box, an innovative joint effort of Rose Shuman's Open Mind, and the Grameen Foundation, active in both India and Uganda. The service allows individuals to dial into a call center-- either through an actual phone box, or via a mobile-equipped Question Box employee-- to ask questions and get information on agriculture, commodity prices, or any number of other things.
On the user end, the program is basically a variant on Grameen Phone's "phone lady" concept-- using a communal phone to provide access for those without their own. As handset prices drop, and more and more people have their own phones, this model is less and less relevant.
The other half of Question Box-- the call center-- is more unique. In India, callers talk to people sitting in front of computers, who can answer their questions on the web. In Uganda, because of shoddy internet connectivity, callers are connected to people with access to a database of relevant local information and previously asked questions.
The Western analog of this program might be KGB, a company you may know from their TV ads encouraging you to text in whatever asinine question pops into your head, and receive an answer moments later. Yet more evidence that, while this technology is making life a bit more convenient in the parts of the world with ubiquitous internet access, it's making life massively more comfortable, more profitable, and more survivable for people in the developing world.
Sure, this program is small-bore. There's no scalable business model to support it, and the database of answerable questions is obviously limited. The rapid spread of mobile phones is making it less relevant, and as 3G networks allow the internet to penetrate deeper into India and (eventually) Africa, the call centers will also become obsolete.
Still, this kind of innovation is what's needed now-- with such a new technology, we'll only get anywhere by trying everything, and seeing what really works for the end users.
- Deconstructing Mobiles for Development - The good people at Mobile Active have initiated a new series of essays to honestly and critically assess the promise and failings of mobiles in the developing world. The first installment, from Ethan Zuckerman, analyzes some of the challenges posed by working over a centrally controlled mobile network, as opposed to a peripherally-controlled network like the internet. It's a good read, and the whole series will be well-worth watching. (via @mobileactive)
- New Operating Systems for Africa - IBM is launching a new software package to run on Canonical's Ubuntu linux operating system. Designed to work on low-cost netbooks that have become a favorite of many African businesses, the software will use cloud computing, and offers a full suite of applications. And at OLPCNews, a rave review of the Xtra Ordinary operating system for the One Laptop Per Child XO machine.
- Splash in Sierra Leone - Sierra Leone, a country known mostly for its blood diamonds and child soldiers, is about to become the latest country with a mobile payment system. "Splash," as it will be called, will allow mobile-to-mobile payments in the style of M-PESA in Kenya.
Hey, welcome to Global Mobile, a new blog at NDN. I've been doing this for about a month now, and enjoying it thoroughly, so thanks for reading, and visiting, and helping me convince my boss that this is a worthwhile endeavor (I jest... this was all his idea, really).
If you're new to NDN, we're a think tank based in Washington, DC. We are dedicated to making this country and this world a better, more just, and more sustainable place to live, and we focus our work on cutting edge issues that are sometimes a little ahead of the curve. Which is to say, everything you read here-- you'll be reading it in the Washington Post a few years from now. Or so we like to think.
Though this blog is new, we're not particularly new to the power of mobiles. Our affiliate the New Politics Institute was writing about cell phones in politics long before Barack Obama told you he picked Joe Biden via text message. Simon and Alec Ross co-authored a paper in 2007 about the importance of the global communications network, suggesting that we better prepare our children for this new world. And last year, Tom Kalil, now Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote for our affiliate the New Policy Institute about the "Mobile Revolution." So, this blog is building on a pretty deep track record dealing with this stuff.
From now on (or at least for the next few weeks), I'll be digging old video out of our archives every Friday, to show you some of our history in this space. Below is an interview with Simon from earlier this summer, after our event with the UN Foundation and Vodaphone Foundation releasing a new report on mHealth for Development. He talks about our belief in the power of the mobile network to enable better healthcare around the world.
Thanks for stopping by, and hope to see you back here soon. -Sam