Internet-based Services

What brick-and-mortar based services come to your mind that can be readily offered over the Internet for a local customer base that do not have access to or willingness for using credit card/paypal for payment? (Note: This is different from Internet services such as web-development, hosting etc).

A good, creative answer to the above question can give you a very interesting idea for starting up a small business of your own which efficiently utilizes cheap Internet access available to most middle-class households today in urban Pakistan and the ability to accept payments via Easypaisa from Telenor.

The flip side of the equation is that there aren’t many EP account holders as of today and the fact that the full-year transaction limit is only Rs 120,000 which is just too small.

But the best starts are almost always humble.

The ‘voice’ of Internet

ISPAK – or anything similar – is badly needed today for fixing the current content-meddling activities of PTA. 

Unfortunately, with the demise of conventional ISPs and the rise of voice-driven telcos as the new-age ISPs, somewhere in between, we left out the platform that could address ‘Internet industry issues’ as its prime focus. 

Today, we have functional LDI industry groups (and the celluar voice probably doesn’t need any grouping as there are too few players to have communication problems) but we are short of an Internet industry group. 

The ISPAK of yesteryears first rose from Karachi with Cybernet a major financial and moral driver and active participation from others and a parallel version blossomed in North and both delivered tremendous value and achieved major milestones. The Internet user had a very distinct voice in the name of this (these?) bodies. However, today the platform probably lacks the participation, the passion and the investment that it deserves (barring a few souls that had been delivering consistently without any break such as Wahaj sb et al). 

As Internet and broadband penetration increases in Pakistan in the coming days (hopefully!), we will move from a connectivity hunger to full-functionality hunger. And the issues will get more complex. The only way of addressing this is to encourage and urge the players to invest time and money in an industry platform that can potentially address these challenges lurking around the corner. I make a passionate appeal to all who have anything to do Internet to come forward and increase their participation in ISPAK and make it the voice of the ordinary Internet user.

Offline Gmail – Made for Pakistan

Part of the magic that the search company has been able to cast on the human race has to do with its very deep strategic thinking bit. Email, at least a few years (months?) ago, had been the killer application on the Internet. Google targetted web based email services segment with the fast and efficient Gmail service and ever since than, they had been busy making it more and more useful by adding features that would let people just glued to the application.

Google Gears, the component that lets websites operate more like desktop applications, has now been tweaked to serve Gmail in ‘offline’ modes. Yes, out there they mean offline when traveling by air or in the train but for us here in Pakistan (and I guess the entire region), connectivity can never be taken for granted. Hence, the newly introduced Offline Gmail (still in the labs) has a lot more application instances than just traveling and this has more to do with the next billion people who are, or will soon be, about to go online on patchy and flip-flop networks worldwide. 

In the backdrop of the addiction to online documents and Gmail (now with the powers of enduring the outages caused by ‘traveling’ in the west or by KESC/Wapda here at home)  Google’s Chrome, with its built in support for Goolge Gears  (you don’t need a plugin for that in Chrome) and sepearately processed tabs is gently holding us by the arms and taking us from Deskabad to Cloudpur. And before we realize, the desktop (as we know it) would go the dodo’s way.

E, bay, pay, tay, say, jeem

 

No, I am not dead. Yet.

I am reproducing Faisal Khan‘s recent open letter to eBay for the lack of paypal services in Pakistan below to show solidarity with the cause (thanks for the tip Jehan Ara). And I think it is more of a perseption (of the country) problem than anything else. Let us hope to have the services available in Pakistan soon. To eBay: We promise, we won’t mishebave and that all Pakisani usage innovations we will do with the service would be copyleft! 🙂

January 11, 2009

John Donahoe
President and CEO
eBay Inc.
2145 Hamilton Avenue
San Jose, CA 95125
USA

Subject: PayPal for Pakistan

Dear Mr. Donahoe,

I understand you are someone who is immensely busy and have thousands of other important issues to deal with, but I thought I’d try my luck with you. I’ve been writing to PayPal / eBay since 2002 regarding issuance of PayPal accounts for Pakistan, in 2005 I started including eBay in my correspondences to include eBay accounts for Pakistan.

I have never received a reply back. Twice in the past, I received a reply back (filed via customer services) that my ‘complaint’ has been lodged and PayPal will look into it. Other than that, have not gotten a satisfactory reply.

The issue – simple. Why is eBay / PayPal not being offered for Pakistan?

I just finished reading an article on your hand-on approach in TIME Magazine (Issue 12 January 2009 – Asian Edition, Page 35, written by Kristina Dell), it simply compelled me to get on the computer and write another letter to eBay / PayPal. The article gave me hope (again!)

Pakistan – purely from your business perspective may not be that big of an economy, but it surely has an economy that is larger and more active than Bhutan, Chad, Honduras, Somalia, Maldives, Rwanda, Uganda, Yemen —combined!

If these countries can have the privilege of obtaining a PayPal account, why not Pakistan?

As Pakistanis cannot legally have a PayPal account, 1000s of users here circumvent the system and obtain PayPal IDs from their friends and relatives abroad to use and conduct commerce. This should be of no surprise to you.

The same can be said about eBay.

Like I cited, we may not be that big on your radar, perhaps we’re not even equated to a blip, but a country of 170 Million, to be blatantly ignored (you may agree or disagree on my choice of words, if the above mentioned countries can have PayPal, I’d like to know what piece of legislation, law, banking infrastructure, etc. prevents eBay/PayPal from including Pakistan under your countries-in-which-you-work umbrella).

Pakistan’s predominant trading Partner happens to be the US. Within respect to both imports and exports (discounting oil).

The first time I experienced eBay and PayPal in the summer of 2001 whilst briefly working in the US – I was mesmerized to say the least. Till date, I wish we had the privilege of conducting business on a website so many take for granted.

This is not meant to be a protest letter by any means. In fact it is one of a very humble request. A request whose time has come, and was long overdue. I have in the past cited my willingness to help, providing information or getting eBay / PayPal connected to Banks, regulators, whomsoever you would like to meet. I am, in no way proposing or advocating a ‘role’ for myself – my intention is just to help.

Is it too much to think that perhaps this one letter will get the ball rolling. Or if the ball is already rolling, yield the desired result. Will this letter be tacked on your things-to-do board and actually get done with? Is this the right time to plead the case for my country?

I’ll end my letter with a quote from Dale Carnegie (sorry, couldn’t find a befitting Irish quote) “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

I just want to be able to have an eBay and a PayPal account from Pakistan. In the event you want to reach me, the easiest way is via email, my personal email address is babushka99@gmail.com and official email address is faisal@nacspl.com
Regards,

FAISAL KHAN
CEO
Net Access Communication Systems (Private) Limited
Karachi, Pakistan.

CC: Mr. Scott Thompson, President, PayPal.

LDI-backed Anti-voip Move – Now More Evil

There is nothing bad in an Internet world than to fear new technologies. In fact, fearing new technologies in general is a bad idea itself.

Pakistan – like the rest of the developing countries – stands strong as a potential beneficiary from the worldwide ICT related businesses provided a liberal Internet policy is adopted at all levels.

When PTCL was a monopoly in telecommunications in Pakistan and in came the cellular operators, positive things happened for the consumers – services improved, rates declined and availability got almost ubiquitous. Of course, the financial success that the cellcos met in Pakistan is an over-stated fact.

The left-behinds in all the high-water mark events mentioned above were the LDI operators who, while started off with great zeal and put in a lot of money too, found the telecoms environment too diluted and with much of undercutting going on. The rates (for termination inside Pakistan) went as low as 1 cent per min for wholesale carriers. A number of LDI operators burnt out in these conditions never to be seen again.

Later, around the beginning of this year (2008), sanity finally prevailed and the LDI operators and the authority decided that it was time to end the next to free rates to Pakistan termination traffic and raised the nominal tariff to 10 cents per minute. This move, which was essentially about LDIs putting their own house in order, alone injected a new life in their business. Salaries for the staff started coming in time and new equipment started being ordered by the operators.

Despite some undercutting, the rates in the international market for wholesale termination inside Pakistan are still above the 7 cents per minute mark and this leaves a considerable room for the operators to keep and take their business forward. According to rough industry estimates, only the recorded business is worth in access of 700 million minutes (or $35 million @ 5c/min) per month (grey traffic not included).

The LDI operators, in an effort to pump more out of this new found oil well, requested en mass the PTA to go after the grey traffic operators and invested in equipment that claims to detect and mitigate voip traffic in real time. This equipment has been on the international exit points in Pakistan. Suspected IP traffic was detected and investigated to see if it grey, or belongs to an un-intimated call center. This stuff was reportedly being done manually so far.

So far, the business-saving and law-enforcing arrangements by the LDIs and PTA appear to be logical and permissible. No one likes grey operators – the steal legal traffic from licensed players, do not pay taxes and do not help when LEA wants their help in tracing crimes and these guys are generally of, well, grey character themselves.

But when you see this item in today’s The News, it starts getting really uncomfortable:

PTA to start automated blocking of IPs
By By our correspondent
8/27/2008
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) will start automated blocking of Internet Protocol Addresses (IPs), involved in illegal termination/origination of international traffic, in a bid to check grey traffic flowing into the country. The facility will be operational within the next few days.

This was announced by PTA Chairman Dr Muhammad Yaseen in a meeting with the CEOs of major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of the country held at the PTA headquarters on Tuesday.

He requested all the ISPs to declare their IP addresses along-with the antecedents of their customers so that illegal telecom traffic could be monitored. It was emphasised that the operators should oversee their customers to make sure they are not involved in grey traffic termination. He sought the operators’ cooperation to stem the menace of grey telephony.

The ISPs appreciated the recent steps taken by the PTA including an announcement in the press wherein call centres were asked to provide their IP addresses to the PSEB to ensure uninterrupted services.

Since the inception of technical facility in May 2008 at the PTA, the IP addresses found to be involved in illegal activities were being blocked manually and in the process, over 14 million minutes (worth around Rs100 million) have been saved on monthly basis. Now these would be automatically blocked if any IP, not authorised to carry voice, is found doing so. Under the current policy, only LDIs and international call centres are authorised to carry voice across national boundaries.

The problems with the above arrangements are many:

  1. There ‘real-time’ nature of the voip blocking apparently takes away the manual process and the sanity that can possibly accompany these efforts
  2. The regulator will now essentially be ‘peeking’ inside the contents of the traffic. True, they are looking for voice packets but one is justified to think, ‘what’s next’?
  3. PC-to-PC voip traffic – which unfortunately has been neatly wrapped in clouds of uncertainty by the regulator despite the industry literally begging for clearer guidelines on this topic – might get disrupted. The optimistic take here is that the Naurus gear would be intelligent enough to have thresholds that can distinguish between an occasional PC-to-PC voip caller and a bulk grey operator.
  4. For the network applications administrators, troubleshooting will now get more complex as the high-end IP transit operators are no more acting transparently and the traiff is getting actively peeked inside and the Naurus system would be fiddling with it if it passes the defined litmus tests of being grey voice.

The LDI operators are best advised to invest more into the reliability and reach of their network instead of lobbying the regulator to take effects that could be counter ICT development. The industry is clearly against illegal activities but at the same time, a liberal Internet regime is one of the prime enabler of a saner IT featuring future of Pakistan.

All are requested to keep an eye on their network performances with the possibility of network issues cropping up due to this imminent implementation of automatic voip traffic suppression.

And let us hope the equipment vendor is not making us a guinea pigs for their new software releases!

PKNIC Outage

PKNIC, the entity responsible for the global top level domain of Pakistan (.pk), is reportedly down for the past 8 hours. This is the latest in the series of now very ‘old pains’ that have now become synonymous with the domain controlling body.

While this do not have any immediate affect on the globally operating domains under the .pk ccTLD for now (due to the way the DNS system works), users trying to reach the site for updating their domain records or paying for their domains will be facing problems.

It is most likely that the problems would be resolved and we will see the site back soon.

However, once again, this incident points towards the weakness of PKNIC as a user-focused entity. Despite being run as a commercial operation, PKNIC has not been able to fulfill the basic need of communicating with their paying users such as providing them with a representative office or officer one can reach, a helpline one can dial, a blog that keeps its users informed about the latest with the entity and so on.

This lack of communication has been shedding a very bad light to its name. Unless PKNIC addresses the basic need of communicating with its paying users in ways that are a norm of today, it would only be normal and logical for the general public to view every move of PKNIC with doubts.

In an age where dozens, if not hundreds, of offshore companies having their ‘touchable’ operations going on in Pakistan, there is no reason why PKNIC which holds the linchpin of the Pakistani cyberspace can’t have a reachable and touchable representation in Pakistan.

I sincerely believe that this will help PKNIC and its users.

Prepaid Voucher Alert

An acquaintance of mine who runs a shop in a busy, middle-class business district and sells a host of telecommunication services (PCO, pre-paid cards for cellular, WLL and Internet services) told me how he was robbed of a few thousand rupees recently by someone who bought a good number of Rs 300 prepaid cellular service vouchers from him only to return the same within 30 minutes for some compelling reason.

This friend of mine trusted the guy and gave him the money back. Later in the day, when some other customers bought those cards, it was revealed that the cards were already consumed up and my friend ended up loosing his hard earned money.

Apparently this means that some sort of reading means have been discovered by the ever creative community of ours (of course the creativity seems to work in the negative direction) which can read the codes of concealed voucher codes. It seems intelligent now either not to purchase any high value pre-paid cards or limit the purchases from a place where you have some affinity.

An obvious second choice now seems to be the balance transfer facility (affectionately called ‘easyload’) from the cell phone shops mushroomed in every corner of the city. However, as reported earlier, there are problems with these easyload shopping that includes profiles of women who come for getting the balance loaded in their cell phones being ‘sold’ to the degenerated, mastee-obsessed ‘youth’ by these easyload shop keepers. Talk about ‘value added services’.