Here’s a piece I wrote about the, for some somewhat obscure, Digicel and its efforts to win a slice of Myanmar’s mobile pie. You can read the rest here.
SINGAPORE, April 29 | Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:54pm EDT (Reuters) – Cellular operator Digicel Group Ltd jumped into Myanmar early and big, hiring staff, funding local sports, negotiating land deals for thousands of cell tower sites and signing up hundreds of partners for retail outlets. The strategy helped propel it onto the shortlist for a mobile licence in one of the world’s last mobile frontiers, putting an operator that ranks 65th globally in terms of customers up against giants such as Vodafone Group Plc. Whether its strategy pays off or not, industry insiders say, Digicel, largely unknown outside the Caribbean and some Pacific islands, has shaken up a usually conservative industry. “They have been a disruptive force,” said Roger Barlow, a Hong Kong-based telecommunications consultant who has worked in Asia for more than 25 years. “Some of the big guys tend to look down their noses at them but they shouldn’t because they’re becoming a credible player.” Myanmar this month short-listed 12 consortia for two licences it plans to grant foreign operators in late June. The government wants to expand mobile penetration from less than 4 percent to up to 80 percent by 2015-16. While Digicel is up against behemoths such as Vodafone, China Mobile Ltd and Telenor ASA, several other big players failed to make the list – among them South Korea’s SK Telecom Co Ltd and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Holding SAE.
The Wine Spectator Online (via Boingo Wi-Fi Insider) reports that a Sonoma, CA, vineyard is using Wi-Fi to monitor growing conditions at their site:
The system uses 40 wireless units on existing trellising posts around the 30-acre vineyard fitted with sensors that measure microclimate data such as soil and air temperature and moisture content, rainfall and leaf wetness. The data is bounced from sensor to sensor sans wires, forming what is known as a Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), which requires less power and equipment than networks using wires or radio transmitters.
Real-time conditions in the vineyard can then be monitored on a secured Web site. Data can also be poured into a spreadsheet for long-term analysis. The information can help vineyard managers make decisions about when, where and how much to water vines or spray to control mildew.
The system sends alarms via instant messaging software or cellphone. The article quotes Bill Westerman, who works for Calif.-based Accenture Technology Labs which set up the project, as saying that the system could be used in manufacturing, retail and security. “The advantage to wireless is that it allows companies to go places where it was previously too difficult or expensive to run wires,” he said. “It can also be implanted in new products so they can automatically communicate with their manufacturer when there’s a problem.”
Further to my column in today’s FEER (subscription required) about the possibilities and pitfalls of Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, here’s the full text of answers from Alan Melling, Symbol Technology’s Senior Director, of EPC Solutions.
What are the real benefits of this technology?
Without a doubt, the ability to achieve 100 percent real-time asset visibility without the cost of human intervention to perform tracking activities. This visibility and the information it generates translates directly into supply chain efficiencies – such as lower stock-out rates and fewer rush orders – that go directly to both the top and bottom lines of traditional retailers.
Inventory tracking at the pallet and carton level are almost certain to be the applications that “prime the pump” for RFID in retail. There are a lot fewer pallets than individual items, less cost sensitivity – and pallets have no privacy concerns.
Once the tags make it to the item level, their primary function will still be for inventory control – quickly detecting that a particular brand of shampoo is out of stock, for example.
However, the technology can also be used in the store for theft detection and identifying shopping patterns, but consumers will first need to be educated on the benefits TO THEM of the technology when used this way. For example, if RFID could be used to let you know when you pass your favorite brand of peanut butter in the supermarket aisle, and it is on sale, would that perceived as plus? For some consumers yes, and for others no. The key to success will be to put the control where its belongs – in the hands of the consumer.
What’s your view on privacy concerns about RFID?
Privacy is a very real issue. To a certain extent the fears expressed to date are somewhat overblown – the technology simply does not support doomsday scenarios such as the government scanning the books you just purchased from a truck in the street – the tags just are not capable of it. What is very real, however, is every consumer’s right to understand and be comfortable with technologies applied to products they may buy. Everyone involved in the RFID industry understands and respects this – which is why the most popular tags – EPC tags – have an in-built “Kill” command that can and will be used to render them inoperative before they leave the store.
Are there issues which have not been addressed?
There are many issues that are still in the process of being addressed. Standards need to be finalized, costs need to come down further, reading equipment and systems need to be made more reliable, more RFID software solutions need to be developed, and privacy concerns need to be addressed to name a few. However, with the emergence of a strong new standard for retail and supply chain applications – EPC (Electronic Product Code) – the general tone of converstion has switched from “if” to “when” the technology will make its mark in retail. There is a general sense that the remaining issues are all very solveable, and that it just a matter of time.
How do you see the future of this technology?
The future of RFID in retail and supply chain applications is a bright one, but one that will perhaps be slower and more incremental in approach than many suppose today. In particular, some have positioned RFID as an immediate “replacement” for bar code. The reality is that it is not designed as a one-for-one bar code replacement – it does more than a bar code, but also costs more than a bar code. The companies that benefit from RFID will be those that successfully integrate RFID and bar code technologies – using each where it is the most cost effective.
Almost certainly, the first broad applicatiions of RFID will be in the backroom of stores and distribution centers – on relatively unglamorous items such as pallets, crates, cartons, and plastic containers. Over time it will become more visible on individual items on the retail floor, but this will take time – years – and will require that concerns about privacy are effectively addressed.