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Dileep Agrawal, CEO, WorldLink: “When things don’t happen fast enough it can get frustrating.”

Dileep Agrawal, CEO, WorldLink, Nepal

If you have recently been frustrated by buffering while watching an HD video-on-demand stream, then hold that thought. For those in the less developed parts of the world, watching HD video at all, is, quite literally, something of a pipe dream.  In these countries, for those fortunate enough to be able to move past existential concerns such as food and housing, internet connectivity and bandwidth is still a mere fraction of what those in developed countries are used to. It’s a pain point of which Dileep Agrawal, chief executive of Nepalese ISP WorldLink, and a speaker at the Broadband Asia conference in May, is only too aware.

WorldLink has been serving Nepal with internet connectivity since 1995 and owns 90 per cent of the infrastructure that it uses to deliver services. This is a network consisting of Ethernet and optical fibre to both consumers and enterprise customers. ADSL however, if off the table, as the incumbent Nepal Telecom has not agreed to unbundle its network for others to use, and as such dominates that market.

Nevertheless, as of February 2012, WorldLink has a total of 22,000 customers and in addition to providing basic internet access offers VoIP, web hosting, network integration and support services which Agrawal sees as being all part and parcel of being a modern data services company. “Nowadays, it’s not just providing simple internet but providing value added,” he says. “Providing just simple internet services is a difficult job in any economy now.”

The major challenge facing WorldLink is dealing with the high prices it has to pay for backbone internet access compared to developed nations and the fact that it is land-locked that ensures that prices remain very high. As a result its customers on average pay for a relatively lowly sounding 384Kbps service. In practice WorldLink delivers a one megabit connection, consisting of 512kbs of international bandwidth and 512Kbps of local bandwidth. Agrawal admits this isn’t fantastic compared to more developed economies. “Penetration is traditionally lower [here] and the speeds are terrible,” he admits frankly.

The customer experience is boosted at least by the fact that Google has installed local caches in the country. It’s not purely for altruistic reasons though as Agrawal is quick to explain. “It’s for YouTube. [Google] wants YouTube to stream better. Its gives a better experience to get more people watching. They want advertising .” Still, he’s not complaining. “It’s nice that they have put servers in our country as our customers don’t complain to us that there’s too much buffering.”

But what about content located in other parts of the world? “Getting higher speeds [for customers] directly impacts us as we need to buy more upstream bandwidth to the internet. That’s the only limitation. And that upstream bandwidth is still not at the price levels that people buy at in Europe, America, or Singapore; any places where bandwidth is available in plenty. In major areas it would be US$ 5; we pay US$ 100.”

Worldlink buys most of its international connectivity from Indian operators Airtel and at present there’s a lack of competition to bring prices down. “It varies because there aren’t many operators selling bandwidth to Nepal, so the competition there is less,” Agrawal explains.

“We have connectivity to China but it’s not too reliable, and it’s not operational yet. So we have very few choices of who we can buy from on the Indian side, because there are very few people that have built their network up to the border of our country.”

There’s no immediate technical solution to this situation, but time and political stability will eventually enable a more competitive market to spring up. “It’s down to the political will on our side to negotiate with the government of China. We have not tried, as politically our country has not been that stable in the last few years.”

However, it’s clear that progress is being made. Where Nepal was paying US$ 300 per meg a few years ago, it’s now at US$ 110 and Agrawal believes that in five years it will be down to just US$ 5-S10, which is level at which developed countries would expect to pay now.

He’s keen to see that future pay dividends both for his company and for the prosperity of his country. “We still haven’t been able to experience the transformational benefits that have occurred in more developed economies where internet penetration is higher and the bandwidth higher”. Things are changing though, as those who are able to afford it, and those who live in coverage areas are turned on to the benefits of connectivity.

“I’ve been in the industry for 15 years now and initially it was just mail that people used. We could see people who did international business had a competitive edge and were able to close more deals. With the advent of the internet it’s given them a new edge in terms of being able to advertise and promote themselves globally.  And I’m pretty sure that with more bandwidth people will be able to access internet resources in a much better way. And once you have access that there’s a lot of educational content that you’ll be able to access and society will benefit from that.”

With ADSL blocked off by the incumbent, WorldLink has three methods of connecting up its customers, Ethernet, fibre and fixed wireless and Agrawal explains the technical reasons behind ow it makes the choice of what to roll out.

“The Ethernet service for residential customers is theoretically capable of delivering 100Mbps in the last mile, but the network is not reliable enough to deliver an enterprise grade service.  We pull fibre to the node, and from there, we pull outdoor (shielded) CAT5e cable on utility poles with outdoor switches at every 100 meters.  The switches are cascaded in series and then further branch out to extend the network into streets and lanes. A customer is connected to one of these switches using outdoor CAT5e cable.  The switches are powered using DC voltage passed through the CAT5e cable.  [However], we experience periodic cable cuts or switch and power failures, resulting in service outage.

“For enterprise customers, we pull optical fibre cable from the node to their premises.  This is more reliable as it is not dependent on any intermediate switches or power failure.  Fibre media is more reliable as well.”

WorldLink is inevitably keen to explore any means it can to reach its potential customers,  and as such, has two fixed wireless technologies in its portfolio. The Motorola Canopy for its Enterprise customers, and a lower cost device from Ubiquity Networks for home users. Neither are based on WiMAX or LTE. “Both are proprietary,” Agrawal says. “We would love to roll out WiMAX but the spectrum for that is not available.”

With the proximity to India spectrum this is a situation that’s not likely to change anytime soon due to the recent political scandals round telecoms licenses. “The stumbling blocks are surrounding India today is that people are scared of spectrum. It’s a dirty work after what happened in India. Politicians are very scared of taking any decisions on spectrum issues for fear that it might backfire on them in the future.”

This leaves WorldLink to focus on rolling out its existing technologies to other areas outside the main areas of Katmandu. “We are moving our focus to underserved , semi-rural markets where we can get some customers who are happy with the fixed wireless that we provide. Katmandu is 60 per cent of the market and rather than just focus on it we’re trying to shift outside.”

With so many challenges, Agrawal is keen to come to attend the Broadband Asia conference to meet and talk with others to explore ways to innovate out of the constrictions it faces to improve its service and grow its customer base. “I’m looking forward to understanding what the feelings around Asia for broadband growth. What works; what doesn’t work? What business models are coming in? TD-LTE is coming into the picture and we’d like to try and meet different ISPs and operators that we can collaborate with.”

Armed with first-hand knowledge of how things are going in other areas of the world, Agrawal is confident that he’ll be able to improve things for WorldLink and its customers. “It’s a very exciting time but when things don’t happen fast enough it can get frustrating.”

The Broadband Asia conference is taking place on the 15th-16th May 2012, KL Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Go to the website now to register your interest. – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion

IBM, AT&T partner on Internet of Things to make cities smarter

AT&T and IBM are partnering on an M2M platform that will combine cloud, analytics and IoT technology to make cities safer and smarter

AT&T and IBM are partnering on an M2M platform that will combine cloud, analytics and IoT technology to make cities safer and smarter

Enterprise IT giant IBM and US carrier AT&T announced a partnership Wednesday that will see the two companies co-develop cloud and analytics solutions that ingest data from M2M sensors embedded in civil and energy infrastructure in cities. The companies said they will combine analytics, cloud and security technologies in a bid to capitalise on the burgeoning Internet of Things movement.

The partnership will initially focus on co-developing solutions for city governments and midsize utilities, which will gather data from sensors embedded in everything from transit vehicles and traffic lights to video cameras and utility meters.

The companies said the new platform will help improve urban planning and allow cities to improve resource allocation across metropolitan environments by analysing the movement of people, improving traffic and parking capacity as well the response times of first responders in the event of emergencies.

“Smarter cities, cars, homes, machines and consumer devices will drive the growth of the Internet of Things along with the infrastructure that goes with them, unleashing a wave of new possibilities for data gathering, predictive analytics, and automation,” said Rick Qualman, vice president, strategy & business development, telecom industry, IBM.

AT&T said the resulting technologies will be managed through its existing M2M platform, with IBM contributing its Intelligent Operations Centre, the dashboard utility for its Smarter Cities portfolio, and its analytics and cloud technologies.

“The new collaboration with AT&T will offer insights from crowdsourcing, mobile applications, sensors and analytics on the cloud, enabling all organizations to better listen, respond and predict,” Qualman added.

While IBM has been working steadily on its Smarter Cities portfolio AT&T, a longtime partner of the enterprise IT incumbent, has over the past few years moved to expand its reach in the growing M2M space.

Last year the telco partnered with Indian IT and outsourcing company Wipro to build its M2M application development platform, and it launched a range of M2M “Foundry” innovation centres last summer to speed up development. It also recently unveiled a modular connected car platform based on Ericsson’s vehicle cloud technology.

That said, both AT&T and IBM see a huge opportunity in the M2M space. According to IDC the installed base for the Internet of Things will grow to approximately 30 billion connected devices by 2020.


This article originally appeared on Business Cloud News.

Bluetooth Asia 2017 to Showcase Innovative Internet of Things Products and Technology

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced that Bluetooth Asia 2017 will be held on September 26-27, 2017 in Shenzhen, China. Offering a unique format which includes industry zones and hands-on demos, attendees and participants will have the opportunity to experience the power and potential of Bluetooth and see the Internet of Things (IoT) in action. You can join the Bluetooth SIG, groundbreaking innovators, and industry-leading influencers at this premier wireless event by attending, partnering, speaking, or exhibiting. Click here for more.

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Thingful aims to be the Google of the Internet of Things

Thingful wants to be the world’s index for M2M sensors, bringing order to largely heterogeneous systems and platforms

Thingful wants to be the world’s index for M2M sensors, bringing order to largely heterogeneous systems and platforms

With over 30 billion IP-connected devices and sensors projected to be in operation by 2020, according to ABI Research, the tech world is positioning the Internet of Things to be one of the biggest drivers of innovation since the steam engine. But much like the evolution of the internet which saw an explosion in user-generated information, all of that data beckons order. A service launched Thursday called Thingful hopes to do for IoT what Google did for the internet: indexing M2M sensors and making them searchable for people looking to innovate with open data.

Thingful was developed by the company Umbrellium which was founded by tech entrepreneur Usman Haque, one of the brains behind Pachube, now known as Xively.

Xively is like a YouTube for M2M except rather than videos the service enables people to store and share environmental data generated by internet-connected sensors on objects, animals, devices and buildings in real time. Devices connected to the platform can also be connected with one another. Since its acquisition by LogMeIn in 2011 the service has become like a GitHub for M2M developers, providing a platform for application development using data generated by these sensors.

Thingful hopes to take this a step further. Simply put, it’s an index of all the web-connected sensors that generate publicly available data. It’s presented as a map that users can browse to find sensors around the world, which includes things like energy, seismic, radiation and weather monitors but also includes data generated on sharks, icebergs, ships, healthy, and pretty much anything currently monitored by IP-connected sensors.

“What we learned from Pachube is that there is a real appetite for bridging the physical and virtual worlds in this way,” Haque said. “One of the peak moments for the service was during the Fukashima disaster, when it became pretty much the central repository for people storing and sharing radiation data. Groups were wiring up their Geiger counters to be able to share that data in a way the government wasn’t really able to.”

Though there are similar platforms today, Pachube was one of the first data infrastructures for the Internet of Things well before the tech industry embraced the buzzword. Now almost every tech firm is jumping on to the Internet of Things phenomenon, with diverse companies – like IBM, Cisco, T-Mobile and Heroku (Salesforce) – developing platforms designed to handle or metabolise sensor-generated data, which is only growing in volume.

But these platforms can be difficult to integrate with one another if they are not linked on the same network or share the same data infrastructure.

“The problem is nobody knows where all of that data is, or how they can be connected to other devices,” Haque said. “If your device is on Xively then it can only communicate with other devices on Xively, and even though many of the data infrastructures out there do have horizontality – they can support weather stations as well as radiation and soil monitors and the like – the fact is that if you’re on a different network you won’t even know there’s a pollution sensor right next door to you because it’s communicating with a different data infrastructure.”

The service also tries to facilitate innovation around open data by suggesting relevant sensors based on the geos and applications users define when they sign up, and lets users link their own sensors with the service to make them discoverable for others.

“Data infrastructures today are very good at handling data but they aren’t necessarily very good at handling the conversations people need to have around that data,” Haque said. “Say you find an air quality sensor near you that measures something you’re interested in, the questions quickly become: Who else is interested in that? Who else is watching this air quality monitor? Can we find out whether there are other air quality monitors in the vicinity, which may be on a different network but which could be included in building something really useful?”

Thingful’s launch is an interesting development in the open data movement more broadly, a fledging movement largely defined by organisations increasingly opening up their data sets (particularly governments) for others to innovate on top of. If it catches on the index could encourage consumers and organisations to make more data publicly available, stimulate interesting mashups with other open data sets or convince researchers to link their own sensors up to the index (users can also “claim” their own sensors on the service).

Haque said that the business model is still being decided – it first wants to test if appetite for the service is as strong as anticipated, but suggested the next logical step would be to speak with the big connected device manufacturers and  leverage the visibility to developers that such an index could give them.

“People do want to be able to share their data, and they want to be able to talk about their data. If we make it easy to find that data, we can provide an avenue to structure more meaningful conversations around it,” Haque said.


This article originally appeared on Business Cloud News.

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