Net Result – Mobility Computing In Pakistan

Net Result
Published Dawn, Sci-tech, Jul 5th, 2009

Pakistan was recently host to two occurrences that herald an oncoming revolution in how we will compute and communicate with our world. One was the launch of the new line of HP MINI Netbooks (just recently announced in May at the ‘Touch the Future, Now’ conference in Beijing) which aim to bring in a new level of portability & operability to the Pakistani user. The other was the launch of the Nokia flagship Nokia N97 ‘Mobile Computer’. Both products are trying to satisfy the same need “to have something small, portable, and inexpensive (mostly) with you that is always connected” to the Internet.



Netbook PCs are miniature versions of notebooks that keep cost to a minimum. The new ones come with 10.1 inch screens, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB HD and enough power to hit a sweet spot for both consumer and business users. Their main attraction is their low price (less than PKR 30,000), followed by full QWERTY keyboards that approach (if not quite match) standard laptop arrangements, whilst their portability and ability to run most common applications mean that many people can leave a heavier notebook behind.

On the other hand, Smartphones, defined as phones which run complete operating system software and provide a standardized interface and platform, have offered mobile office applications for years including tasks such as document editing, e-mail, and web browsing. These now promise to usher in an era of mass-personalization, adjusting to the world around us, helping stay us consistently connected to the people and things that matter most.

The battle for the supremacy of being the new client-side interface to the web thus begins soon as netbooks and smartphones start replacing traditional PCs in homes and offices. Here let us the clarify what’s the fuss about towards becoming the most popular device to connect to the net – the device with the highest number of users will attract application developers from both consumer & business segments, gaming companies, advertising revenue, entertainment content, data pipes, etc. It will thus create the digital ecosystem around which we will work, live and play and massive markets & revenues for the companies which own these devices.

This however is not an easy task. The Pakistani data market is still in infancy stages. We have less than 300,000 broadband connections, whilst on the mobile side, voice still accounts for over 92% of the revenues of local mobile operators and data services are currently growing at only 2% per year. Combine this with low literacy, lack of local content development, lack of broadband awareness campaigns, QOS levels and provision of low interest loans for purchase of computers and these affect the development of mobile computing in the country adversely. Even in face of these adversities however, desk-bound PCs stand to lose their dominance as the main access point for the net –fast, since all the trends point to a mobile environment dominating our part of the world and soon.

The first trend is the push by wireless broadband companies and mobile network operators. The WiMax companies hope to provide ubiquitous coverage throughout Pakistan as close as 2011, whilst a leading company is already thinking of adding net-books plans to their existing offerings, plunging the cost of a netbook further. Mobile carriers are also actively pushing for consumers to start using data plans, driving rates to as low as Rs. 500 per month for unlimited data usage.

Secondly as compared to the current total of 5 million PCs not all which are net enabled, there are around 5 million phones in Pakistan which are EDGE/GPRS enabled and these are growing at a brisk pace as income levels across Pakistan rise, whilst cost of hardware falls. Local operators are now expecting their revenues from data to grow, as the subscriber’s appetite for mobile based content has been increasing every year. Going beyond a ring tone, wallpaper, SMS or a theme, they are now on a look out for great content and applications. One challenge which currently restricts this from taking off however is the absence of standards.

Originally uploaded by romainguy

Optimizing mobile applications for different OS and broad range of mobile devices with varying screen sizes and versions remains the biggest problem for both the mobile content developers and distributers. However, an upcoming step taken in this direction is the new Google’s Android platform that unites the players of mobile ecosystem such as wireless operators, handset manufacturers and developers all at one place. Android’s software stack will provide developers a complete access to handset capabilities and tools that will enable them to build more compelling and innovative applications for the mobile consumers. It’s noticing this trend that Nokia has made Symbian Open Source and hopes to counter Google’s influence in the manner.

Thirdly, SMEs, the over 1 million small companies in Pakistan, are starting to push the trend towards cloud and mobile computing, unlocking increases in productivity that a mobile revolution promises. These businesses desire the benefits of enterprise solutions to grow further, but simply can’t afford the custom-based solutions common to large companies because there aren’t enough users to spread the cost of developing proprietary apps. However, provide a smart-phone with a built in web-browser like ‘Opera’ to each of the employees and suddenly cost-effective mobile applications are very much possible for the sales force, field employees, in store employees, for fleet management purposes, finance, operations management and more. With the power of the full web available today and with business apps and web front-ends for ERP, CRM and other business critical systems on a mobile phone, the flexibility and the economies to propel Pakistani small businesses into the digital age are very much possible. Similarly, by deploying a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) technology — which runs the local machine’s desktop from a remote server – businesses can use a netbook for everything, including accessing content stored on other machines, thereby decreasing the costs of IT hardware and improving productivity no end.

HP Mini 110 - White

HP Mini 110 - White

Fourthly, we have seen the digital convergence in our country which is bringing together the separate worlds of audio, video, data and voice communication services, giving control of the entertainment and media content to the consumer. Already today (to a limited extent) we can access the services and content (e-mail, television) using different terminals over different types of networks. Thus the borders between fixed-line and wireless mobile networks are disappearing.

Looking five years out, with netbooks continuing to improve in quality with better graphics abilities, these will move towards true laptops in features whilst connected to faster data networks whilst smart phones dominating the landscape will marry the best features and capabilities of the computing and communications worlds, which will transform the user experience, bringing incredible changes to what we call our life.

Social Media In Pakistan

I had the opportunity to attend the Young Social Reformers ‘Tipping Point, 2009 – New Age Media Strategies For The Next Frontier’ held at Mariott Hotel on Sat. 6th June, 2009.

The objective of this event was to uncover the core principles of New Age Media Strategies and was attended by some big-wigs such as the provincial Information Minister Shazia Marri. Ms. Nasreen Jalil was the chief guest at the closing ceremony.The focus of the conference was on how the organization can leverage social media to achieve their business goals through blogs, micro-blogging, wikis, podcasts, video, forums, social networks, online communities, and social book marking sites which are increasingly being levered by the companies to build brand visibility and equity, promote products and services, influence communities, increase website traffic and leads.

The speakers list was impressive comprising of Mr. Masood Hashmi, CEO Orient Mcann, Raza Haroon, Minister Information Technology, Badar Khushnood country head Google, Dr Abrar Ali Baig, SEVP National Bank Of Pakistan, Naheed Memon, Director Medcom, Fahim Siddiqui, anchor Geo Tv, Qashif Effendi, CEO 180 Degrees, Khurram Rahat, Country Director Teradata, Shoaib Shamsi, Assistant Prof Greenwhich University, Faisal Qureshi, anchor Samaa TV, Dr Auzar Wajidi Dean Management Sciences KU, Anila Weldon, CEO Weldon BBS, Tabish Sabah Microsoft, Attah Shabbir.

However except for the presentation by Badar Khushnood, Country Consultant Google in which he talked about the blogging scene in Pakistan and how the young are opting it as a ‘lifestyle’, the other speakers had no idea of what they were talking about. I especially enjoyed talking to him about ‘Dr. Alvi’ (whose blog has been awarded in the whole of South Asia for its political analysis and coverage) and about ‘Sizzled Core’, young Harris who is at the forefront of technology. We also discussed ‘Sense Applied’ and how Farhan’s coverage of the N97 led to Pakistan being featured as one of the two countries who ‘Unboxed’ the N97 before it was even launched. This is what makes social media great in Pakistan.

For the rest, in the 9 hour session, we were treated to marketing 101 style presentations, self-promotion, lots of hot air, spiel and a general non-idea about the subject matter at hand. I guess it was to be expected since sans three speakers (Badar, Tabish and Qashif), none of the people were marketers in general and none had worked in social media before. With both the other good speakers, mismanagement occurred with Tabish Sabah, Microsoft and Qashif Effendi, 180 Degrees (who had a 80 slide presentation specially prepared for the event) both not being able to speak – Tabish because the time-management at the conference was below par and he had meeting elsewhere and Qashif because one of the management forgot he was sitting on stage and closed the session. These were the only two speakers other speakers who would have had something worthwhile to talk, probably.

Perhaps the only thing good i can say about the initiative is that the govt. officials had to say the word ‘Blog’. Though probably they didn’t understand a word about it. At least now they know that there is something happening in our part of the world.

I don’t know what’s all the fuss about these technologies, unless it’s just to be thought of as cool. With all the talk surrounding ‘Social Media’, people keep forgetting that it’s nothing new. Media has been leveraged for sociable purposes since the caveman first discovered walls. Even in Pakistan, the most popular applications that were ever installed on PCs were framed around communication and sharing – bulletin boards, mIRC, instant messaging through software like MSN Messenger, AOL or ICQ, chat-rooms, etc were very popular in the last decade.

Perhaps the hype is because of the social networks such as Facebook and Orkut which have taken our world by storm. Marketers want to tap into these networks and thus are trying to leverage the technologies to their advantage without understanding the rules of the game. Marketers listen up, social networks have the power beyond ad revenue to act as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool for companies and brands. As in much of media, creativity is the key here. If you can find the type of ad that Facebook users will click, that’s one thing, but if you can build something they’ll click, engage with (or buy) and help you spread, you’ve got something far more exciting and effective. One campaign that used this technique very successfully was the Burger King “Whopper Sacrifice” application, which recently also earned a Grand CLIO in Interactive. BK developed a Facebook app that once installed promised to give the user a coupon for a free hamburger if they were to delete 10 people from their friend’s list to prove how they preferred the Whopper over their friends. The “sacrifices” showed up in the activity feed. So it said, for example, “Caroline sacrificed Josh for a free Whopper.” Facebook ended up disabling the WHOPPER Sacrifice, after the love of the user for the WHOPPER Sandwich proved to be stronger than 233,906 friendships.

Media isn’t neatly boxed into little rectangles called newspapers, TV or magazines anymore. People now connect to other people and draw power from crowds, especially IN crowds. If you want to be part of the Social Networks marketing process, than you have to be part of the conversations – that’s when real marketing takes place. YSR people, take note for your next initiative.

If you want to read more about the conference, Saqib at Brandasy has done a wonderful job of it.

m-Health – The Next Frontier Of Medicine In Pakistan

Health Care For The Next Billion People

by Umair Mohsin
Published Daily Dawn – Sunday, May 24th, 2009

CAN new technologies help to tackle the health problems of the world’s poorest people? It seems such a silly question. After all, the public-health systems in much of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America are rudimentary at best. With many villages having no clean water or basic sanitation, let alone reliable access to clinics and doctors, modern wizardry like molecular diagnostics and digital medical records seem irrelevant.

Not only this, such nations which also include Pakistan also face infrastructural, awareness & resource crunches including non availability of timely medical information or guidance, lack of mass awareness of various issues, accessibility, lack of basic facilities, lack of regulation which leads to quackery & fake medicines, lack of affordable health care, lack of monitoring & feedback mechanisms. Epidemics and a shortage of healthcare workers also continue to present grave challenges for the government and health providers.

Yet increasingly, the ubiquitous & increasingly smarter mobile phone is becoming the de facto choice for providing access to quality health care even for the world’s most remote and resource poor environments and there is a growing body of evidence that is demonstrating the potential of mobile communications to radically improve healthcare services. The field of mHealth – the transmitting & enabling of various eHealth data contents & services using wireless technologies – is set to boom.

The Case For m-Health
Pakistan spends less than one percent of its GNP on health in public sector which is one of the lowest in the world. Healthy people are a prerequisite for economic and social development and building nations on weak foundations is hard e.g. the infant mortality rate of live births is still high for a country at the stage where Pakistan is. The major killers in children are pneumonia and diarrhea, whilst the complication of pregnancy in women of child bearing age is very common. For those who survive malaria, tuberculosis and drug abuse continue to be a potential threat, whilst communicable, infectious and parasitic diseases remain to be a severe burden. Less than 43% of women have proper antenatal care, whilst only 15% receive post-natal care. 38% of the women are undernourished. We are plagued by inadequate primary health care, high rates of population growth, prevalence of communicable diseases, lack of awareness, managerial deficiencies, inadequacy of funding and trained manpower and centralized administrative and financial powers.

Thus the mobile communication explosion has the potential to improve health service delivery on a massive scale. With low-cost handsets and the penetration of mobile phone networks into the most remote regions of our country, tens of millions of citizens that never had regular access to a fixed-line telephone or computer now use mobile devices as daily tools for communication (80 million mobile connections to around 7 million WLL & fixed lines). This growing ubiquity of mobile phones is a central element in the promise of mobile technologies for health. For example, mobile technology can support increasingly inclusive health systems by enabling health workers to provide real-time health information and diagnoses in rural and marginalized areas where health services are often scarce or absent altogether. Among those who had previously been left behind by the ‘digital divide,’ millions now have access to reliable technology.

m-Health Projects In Pakistan
Though the mHealth field is still in its early stages, it has already begun to transform health delivery. Projects throughout the developing world are demonstrating concrete benefits, including:
• Increased access to healthcare and health-related information, particularly for hard-to-reach populations
• Improved ability to diagnose and track diseases
• Timelier, more actionable public health information
• Expanded access to ongoing medical education and training for health workers

In Pakistan, there are a host of companies working in this area, two amongst them are Healthline & Phonecast.

Health-Line: Communication and Training for Healthcare Workers
An acute shortage of healthcare workers is a major challenge facing our country’s health sectors. Community health workers in developing countries are often trained only for a few months before they begin providing health services, and have a great need to access updated and reliable health information. Training new cadres of health professionals and empowering current workers, as well as connecting health workers with sources of information via mobile technology is a strong basis for empowerment, as it provides the support they need to perform their functions effectively and self-sufficiently.

The HealthLine project’s goal is to specifically target this need. They have designed an information access system specifically for such health workers, which they can call any time, toll-free, from any cell phone or landline. Through a spoken conversation with the system in their native language, they are able to learn more and/or fill in any health information gaps that they may have. This in turn enables them to provide better health services to their community. HealthLine is a collaborative research project involving Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA), Agha Khan University (Karachi, Pakistan) and the Health & Nutrition Development Society (Karachi, Pakistan).

PhoneCast’s CallDOC – Diagnostics and Treatment Support
Diagnostics and treatment support are vitally important in healthcare—misdiagnosis or the inability to diagnose a condition could have serious, even fatal, ramifications. Given that upto70% of the health cases in Pakistan can be handled with first-level support, CallDoc in partnership with Pakistan Medical Association, has taken the step and their applications in this area are designed to provide diagnosis and treatment advice to remote patients through wireless access to medical staff and a subsequent connection to professional health workers certified by PMA. CallDoc’s diagnostic and treatment applications use the phone as a point-of-care device. Health workers will leads the patient through a step-by step diagnostic process. Once data are entered into the system, remote medical professionals can diagnose the illness and prescribe treatment or recommend the patient to a PMA certified doctor close by.

CallDoc is a 24/7 Tele-health information and consultancy service thus patients are able to receive treatment in their villages and homes, averting the need for expensive hospital visits, which are beyond reach for many. As pilot CallDoc is working with John Hopkins and USAID on their Pakistan Initiative for Mothercare And Newborn ( PAIMAN) headed by its Chief of Party Dr Nabeela Ali, by operating a 13 district support through a combination of mhealth and e- health based Call Center from Karachi for 13 districts to provide first level support and referral for Maternal and Newborn deaths and complications. This operation is first of its kind for a bid to save the death of 37,000 young mothers every year during the pregnancy related issues and to prevent the severe complications among the 400,000 mothers every year during their pregnancy stages. CallDoc project is also being supported through initiatives by Asian Development Bank and Ministry of Finance.

Mr. Abdullah Butt, CEO of PhoneCast Said “ By eliminating the need for patient travel, our applications have the potential to dramatically increase access to care. Our network will provide basic, affordable, timely and genuine first level medical support and referral to the nearest health facility on figure tip of millions of Pakistanis through mhealth for achieving the millennium goal objectives, which has not been possible since the inception of Pakistan”, we are working on setting up the largest mhealth facility in Pakistan very shortly, through a combination of multimedia based telemedicine and mobile technology platform.

M-Health Future:
A recent report funded by the UN Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, two charities, documented more than four dozen projects in m-health across the developing world in Education & Awareness, Remote Data Collection, Disease & Outbreak Epidemic Tracking and Remote Monitoring.

In Uganda, Text to Change uses an SMS-based quiz to raise awareness among phone users about HIV/AIDS that brought a 40% increase in the number of people getting tested. A study in Thailand in 2007 showed that compliance with a drug regimen to tackle TB jumped to over 90% when patients were sent daily text reminders to take their pills on time.

The field of mHealth is at an inflection point. With dozens of projects implemented and proven benefits, all trends indicate that investment will continue and mHealth projects will serve an ever wider range of constituents in the years ahead. At the same time, technological innovations will bring enhanced benefits, particularly in the areas of data collection, patient monitoring, and remote diagnostic and treatment support, where application development is already proceeding at breakneck speed.

So should the poor be given access to new technology? Bill Gates was one of the people who used to be on the side of the skeptics. Nearly a decade ago, he delivered a speech at a conference on technology for the developing world, inveighing against the idea that modern technologies like satellite communications links, solar power and internet-enabled computers could magically improve the lives of the poorest. Did they have any idea, he asked his listeners, what it meant to live on less than $1 a day? “You’re just buying food, you’re trying to stay alive.” His decade’s experience with his foundation’s work in public health seemed to have changed his mind however about what is good for the developing world. He now says that “poor people absolutely deserve better technology.”