Jajah zones - a gauge for telecoms efficiency?

Christmas day this year saw a notable first for South Africans - free calls, all day, on and between all networks, provided the call was initiated using the website of Jajah.com. In fact South Africans could make free phone calls using Jajah to landlines or cellphones in some 90 countries! Jajah is basically a callback service where one enters the telephone numbers of all parties to a proposed call on the website and waits for the telephones to ring, starting with the one initiating the call. Conference calls are supported automatically, of course. Jajah is not free but calls are the same price all day and the price depends only on in which of five zones a country is and (for most countries) on whether a cellphone is involved or not. For four countries (Canada, the USA, Singapore and China) the costing is independent of whether a cellphone is used or not and these countries make up Jajah's Zone 1.

Normally a Jajah call consists of two parts - each a connection to the country of the one party. The price of the calls therefore has two parts and the higher the zone number, the higher the cost of that part of the call. So, although the pricing on Jajah resembles that of the London Underground at first glance, in being based on zones, it is rather different because a call between Zone 1 and a Zone 2 landline is much less expensive than a call between two landlines in Zone 3. Jajah's free calls on Christmas day were between all phones in Zones 1-3, incidentally. The complete Jajah rates table gives further information and is stunningly simple by comparison to the rates information of most mobile or fixed-line telecoms providers. Note that Jajah provides free calls between the ordinary telephones of registered users in Zone 1 (all phones) and Zone 2 (landlines only).

The 36 countries in Zones 1 and 2 are simply those countries which have a telecommunications policy that delivers cheap calls to their citizens. The main difference between Zone 1 and Zone 1 countries is in the cost of cellphone calls and here readers who have followed developments in the telecommunications industry should note the position of the United States, which had always been thought a straggler in the cellphone world, in Zone 1. Supported by my growing conviction that simple and transparent indicators, preferably not provided by governements, are by far the best, I want to suggest that a country's zoning on Jajah is a very good indicator of the success of its telecommunications policy and industry. It is a very clear indication of the cost of placing a call in or two that country and the provider of the indicator (Jajah) can be fully trusted as they are "putting their money where their mouth is" by providing calls to a country at the rates applicable to that specific zone. The profit motive and competition will insure that Jajah put a country in as good a Zone as possible.

Sadly, South Africa (self-confident candidate for the UN Security Coucil and future Soccer World Cup host) currently languishes in Jajah's Zone 3 with the likes of Armenia, Bangladesh, Malawi and Laos. Perhaps we should count our blessings that we are not in Zone 4 (with Zimbabwe and Afghanistan) or the dreaded Special Zone (Cuba, Congo, Somalia etc.) but is it really where the country (16th in the world in electricity consumption and 27th in population) should be aiming? Our telecommunications regulators, monopolistic nouveau capitalists (you know who you are!) and government ministers are fond of emphasising the remoteness of SA - and is that not a delightfully eccentric Eurocentric interpretation? - in explaining the high cost of our telephone and Internet services. But, can they explain why we are in Zone 3 but Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Thailand and Russia (so huge that it's remote and close to everything at the same time) are all in Zone 2?

Could ICASA and the Minister of Communication include a statement in their annual self-assessment on South Africa's position w.r.t. the Jajah zoning system and explain what progress has been made in moving to Zone 2? I hope so, and I am copying this blog entry both to ICASA and to the Ministry for their information.


Porn to emigrate?

UPDATE: FPB spokesman Iyvar Chetty has been quoted as saying that "We would like to be in a position to be able to police the distribution of pictures via cellphones." And, by this he apparently does mean that naughty picture you sent your significant other on Valentine's Day. Sjoe.

South Africa's dreaded Film and Publication Board (FPB, a remarkably resilient left-over from the dark days when police once actually ripped film from the projectors in a cinema where I had already bought a ticket) has ordered local websites to cease distributing pornography by the end of 2006 unless they obtain a license from the FPB. It appears the konsessiekultuur (local version of the Indian license raj) has had another ugly revival and one can only wonder what the aim of the exercise is.

South Africans will certainly still be able to participate in the making of pornography and they will surely still be viewing it. Those wishing to see S/Jannie(s) doing it to J/Sannie(s) however, now have to go to a Danish-operated website and let those poor Danish people make a few dollars and pay taxes in Denmark instead of us selfishly keeping the revenue and taxes in Africa. What about international companies operating in South Africa, like Google? Will they be applying for licenses from the FPB? Anybody doubting whether Google distributes pornography, should click here (but only if over 18, not resident in Saudi Arabia, not currently in the office, not my mother etc.).


Setting the law free

A few days ago, I read an article on the Sunday Times website about an integrated electronic document system in a pilot phase at 36 regional courts in the Durban area. In South Africa it is a very common problem that files "get lost" when suspects are supposed to appear in court. Ours being a civilised legal system, sloppy paper work leads to findings of innocence. The expansion of the Durban project to the rest of the country will - one hopes - go some way to addressing these problems. While browsing Breaking Barriers: The Potential of Free and Open Source Software for Sustainable Human Development - A Compilation of Case Studies from Across the World this evening I chanced upon an article describing the JuriBurkina project, supported in part by software developed at Canadian universities, for providing free access to court decisions and other documentation in Burkina Faso. The Burkina project uses mainly free and open source software in the interest of sustainability and affordability. There is a similar project, the Southern African Legal Information Institute, in our part of the world, also supporting the Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law which includes the laudable
Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;

among its stipulations. After all, the taxpayer has already paid for it once!


Vodacom3G herkou my SMS vir 24uur

Die afgelope week of twee het ek my selfoon permanent en uitsluitlik op die 3G-netwerk ingestel nadat ek besef het dat dít eweveel die batterylewe help bespaar is om 3G-modus heeltemal uit te skakel. Die rede hiervoor is dat dit oënskynlik die gedurige oorskakel tussen 3G en die ouer netwerk is wat die batterylewe van my geliefde Samsung erg verkort. In Pretoria is die 3G-netwerk orals beskikbaar waar ek gaan en ek verbeel my die oproepkwaliteit daarop is baie goed, dalk omdat dit (net?) op 1800MHz werk. Gister in die tou by die kasregister in die nuwe Hipermark in Montana sien ek egter dat ek die 3G-netwerk verloor het en skakel die foon toe terug op gewone GSM-modus. Feitlik onmiddelik kom daar toe sowat ses SMS-boodskappe van die vorige dag deur.

Toeval? Ek glo nie. Waarsku Vodacom mense dat die oorskakeling tussen 3G en die gewone GSM-netwerk moontlik problematies is? Ek glo nie. Hierdie ervaring het my groeiende besef dat selfone 'n 15jaar-oue tegnologie is wat nou omtrent so flink is soos 'n Sony Walkman, versterk. Die SA-poskantoor het in praktyk deesdae (soms) aflewering in Pretoria op die eerste dag ná 'n brief gepos is. Sal Vodacom kan byhou by die SAPK?