Making Poverty History

The Economist writes:

In 2005, poverty reduction is scheduled to dominate the global policymaking agenda as never before. First will come some visionary reports, led by Jeffrey Sachs’s study for the United Nations (in January) and Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa (probably in March). In July, if Mr Blair does not unexpectedly lose a British general election in the meantime, he will host a G8 summit of rich-country leaders which will focus on tackling poverty, especially in Africa. In September, the UN will hold a special General Assembly Summit to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, which include a commitment to halve the proportion of the world’s population living in poverty by 2015. As progress has been slow, there are likely to be plenty of new initiatives and promises of fresh action. In December, it is hoped, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong will bring the year to a triumphant close with the announcement of a deal to further liberalise global trade in ways that should give a big boost to the economies of poor countries.

In economic terms, the human race has never been richer, or better armed with the medical knowledge, technological prowess and intellectual firepower needed to beat poverty. In rich countries, it has been possible to shift the focus of domestic policy from absolute poverty (now a rarity) to the relative sorta giant step forward. In poorer countries, too, the past couple of decades have seen an unprecedented rise in the income and standard of living of hundreds of millions of people, mainly in Asia, who no longer struggle just to survive from one day to the next. The continuation of recent rapid rates of economic growth in India and China alone promises to free hundreds of millions more from poverty during the coming decade.

Three main policy ideas are likely to top next year’s agenda: a big increase in aid from rich countries to poor; a massive write-off of poor-country debts; and trade liberalisation, especially for the agricultural products that are crucial to many poor economies, whose exports are now treated harshly by America, Japan and the European Union.

WiFi Will Impact Cellcos

WSJ writes:

Each minute of wireless calling over Wi-Fi is a minute of calling not made over a cellular network. That has the potential to shake up the world of cellular calling.

Unlike a traditional cellphone call, which comes out of your bucket of paid minutes, calls over the Internet may not be counted at all. That means that if you were in your office — or eventually your home, or Starbucks or any place that has a Wi-Fi connection — you could make unlimited free calls (not counting the cost of the Internet service). That is particularly significant because roughly a third of all cellular calls actually are made from an office or home, according to a Yankee Group survey. DoCoMo’s phone will work only if it is configured with a specific corporate Wi-Fi network; you can’t just use it at Starbucks.

Already, as voice increasingly moves over the Internet, traditional land-line telephone providers are facing a threat to their core business: Internet phone providers such as Vonage Holdings are offering calling plans that in some cases are about half the price of a comparable telephone plan with a land-line phone company. Cable operator Cablevision Systems offers phone service as a free add-on for subscribers who pay for both TV and cable-modem service. Even some executives at the old-line Bell phone companies believe it’s only a matter of time before they will be forced to throw in phone calls as a free — or close to free — application on top of a broadband subscription.

The wireless carriers, currently the best source of growth in the phone industry, have so far been spared much of this tumult. That is likely to start changing with the advent of wireless calling via the Internet.

OpenOffice File Formats

Slashdot points to an article by Jem Berkes who makes the point that “OpenOffice’s commitment to open document formats and interchange as the strongest selling point – never mind cost.”

  • Data longevity: this is an important point, which is often overlooked because it’s really only an issue in the (distant?) future. Microsoft has made it clear that it wants proprietary document formats, and inconsistent ones at that. This may work as long as Microsoft is around and developing software that supports files created by outdated products. Personally, I’m more comfortable with my OpenOffice.org documents in XML format because I know that in the worst case scenario, I can unzip the document structure and easily extract text from the XML components. This is technical, but what it comes down to is: my data is easily accessible in the future. It is also easy for third party developers to write tools for OpenOffice documents.

  • Data interchange: this builds on the previous point. MS uses proprietary document formats and seems unwilling to allow seamless data flow between different software from independent vendors. It’s just not in their best interest. OpenOffice.org uses data formats designed to be easily interchanged (OASIS specification), and other projects are cooperating with the vision of open document interchange – e.g. Abiword, and KOffice.

    Now, given the rapid worldwide growth and popularity of open source software, including OpenOffice.org, do you really think you’re better off locking your documents into an inflexible, non-interchangeable format (MS Word version X)? I would argue that for anyone who values document longevity and interchange, it’s in their best interest to use software based on open data formats.

  • TV on Cellphones

    New Scientist writes:

    With cellphone bandwidth so expensive, operators need another way [than GPRS or 3G] to transmit their pictures. Which is why the cellphone industry has been working on a number of ways to deliver live TV to phones via digital signals broadcast from existing TV transmitters.

    The most promising scheme, called Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H), was last week chosen by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute as the standard for Europe. DVB-H is based on the successful digital terrestrial TV system that delivers the UKs 30-channel Freeview digital TV service.

    Its strength is its method of transmission, which is highly resistant to the kind of interference that has bedevilled analogue pocket TVs till now. The data is split into packets that are transmitted in thousands of parallel digital streams spread across a range of frequencies. When they reach the receiver, the packets are joined up to reconstruct the video stream.

    Using MPEG-4, Windows Media or Real Video compression, watchable live TV can be squashed into a 240 kilobit-per-second data stream. In addition, DVB-H banishes the problem of on-screen ghosting caused by signals reflected from buildings, mountains and aircraft. The digital receivers software recognises the reflected packets as duplicates and discards them.

    TECH TALK: India Trends: Made in India

    That India needs to move up and across the value chain is clear. The signs of that happening emerged in India. The number of companies setting up (or expanding) their development centres in India is growing. Yahoo India employs 250 people. Google has just opened their R&D centre. Microsoft and Oracle are growing theirs. IBM and the others already have a large presence. There is a small but non-zero possibility that Intel could set up a manufacturing facility in India. Nokia just announced that it will start making handsets in India next year. Even some of the leading American universities are exploring the possibility of setting up campuses in India to tap into the demand for highly qualified talent.

    This is what the International Herald Tribune had to say about Nokia and Microsoft: Nokia and Microsoft both announced new ventures in India, underscoring the country’s increasing allure for high-technology companies. Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile phone maker, plans to spend as much as $150 million on a new mobile phone manufacturing plant in India to reduce costs and to cash in on increasing demand in the country. Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, said that it would open a research lab in Bangalore, India, in January to increase its presence in the market and take advantage of the country’s large and increasingly sophisticated population of engineersWhile Microsoft is tapping into India’s scientists and engineers, Nokia is targeting its rapidly growing phone market.

    The state-of-the-art development centres and manufacturing facilities are also attracting Indians back from abroad and a growing interest in venture capitalists. Even though much of the VC investment continues to be in the services and BPO sectors, we are already starting to see US-based companies with freshly acquired capital make India a key part of their technology development strategies. As the talent pool grows, we will start seeing companies emerge out of India for the global marketplace.

    One such example is Ittiam, an Indian DSP firm, which recently got $6.5 million second round funding from Bank of America Equity Partners Asia. EE Times wrote about Ittiam: Ittiam has more than 50 customers for its intellectual property, some of which have been used in IP video phones and V.92 modems. Recently named the world’s most preferred DSP IP supplier, Ittiam counts Sony and Texas Instruments among its customers.

    What we are now starting to see is innovation from India. What we also need to see is innovation for India. Here is the difference: the first kind of innovation focuses on the needs of the top of the pyramid globally, while the second kind of innovation is for the middle of the pyramid in emerging markets. We are seeing some of the latter, but we have a long way to go. For this, we need entrepreneurs and venture capitalists willing to look inward rather than outward. Hopefully, the coming year will see a lot more of such innovation. This is what will get us the Rs 5,000 ($110) PC and the Rs 1 lakh ($2,200) car. This is about a new innovation mindset made in India, first for India, and then for the other emerging markets.

    Tomorrow: Looking Ahead

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