Technology Article, Issue IV

TECHNOLOGY MINUTE…A lot has been happening lately in Pakistan with respect to the Internet and businesses (both online and offline) – a silent revolution (or evolution) of sorts has been taking place. A good comparison would be looking at how things stood in year 2000 and today. Five years later – things are getting rosier. Slowly and surely the DSL roll-out by ISPs is taking shape and giving (relative?) broadband access to the general masses. Bandwidth prices are dropping fast and we will see more users connected at higher speeds then ever before. Wireless Internet access is already available (both cellular based and device/interface based) and the cable networks are improving their net access speeds (I wish they’d do it faster!). An alternative high-speed fiber link via submarine cable would be operational towards the 3rd quarter of this year giving Pakistan true redundancy in terms of cable connectivity with the rest of the world. E-commerce is picking up – point your browser to www.dawn.com, www.jang.com.pk, or www.brecorder.com and you will see an overabundance of e-commerce website advertisements, from gifts to online donations, books to brokerage. Though Pakistan doesn’t have the modern day payment gateways like Paypal or comparable online merchant accounts as readily available in the west, progress is being made. More people in Pakistan are getting educated and comfortable with online purchasing. Your Big Three (airlines that is) – PIA, Aero Asia and Air Blue, all offer e-ticketing and the ability to pay for the ticket online. A dozen or so brokerage houses are now offering internet based trading of stocks. More investors today rely on these “e-brokerage” websites to get their updates and manage their portfolio than ever before. Pakistan at present has two local payment processors: Cyber.net and Si3 ECXS (both are governed by Citibank). I’m confident over time – others will come here too (Mastercard? Amex? Or perhaps even some local bank). Today more banks are giving customers the facility to do online banking, even if it’s not “complete” – it’s a start. United Bank allows the NRP (Non-resident Pakistanis) to be able to remit money into Pakistan online (imagine that!). Western Union has sprung all over Pakistan. Being able to pay your mobile phone bill via SMS or scratch cards is a big convenience and plus. PTCL and other utility companies have followed suit – they too are introducing the ability to pay online (albeit not on the Internet yet), your utility bills via touch-tone phone. Phone banking in this country has become second nature to us all. SECP (Securities & Exchange Commission) has made it mandatory for all listed companies to have a website and disseminate their financials over it. People are now more prone to looking at a company’s website out for information than the traditional methods of “send me the information” via snail mail. PDF documents are becoming a necessity in our everyday life.

With respect to the number of online stores, that number has been booming, there are essentially thee types of stores being operated in Pakistan (a) on that caters to the ex-pat market, (b) local market (c) everyone else (ex-pat, local and international). From plots in Gawadar, subscription based matrimonial portals, flower-shops, gifts, CDs, books, apartments, computer shops, online software retail outlets, home mortgage, etc. Its wonderful to see that www.desistore.com is not the only store out there (it had been for a long time). Now there is competition all around. I’m personally of the opinion that broadband creates opportunities. The more one sits on the net, the more one is thinking of somehow wanting to do “something” on the Internet. Somehow the entrepreneur in people starts awakening and taking shape. Cyber laws are being formulated (yes, I am equally concerned it they are being formulated correctly). I see a bright future for a “wired” Pakistan (I just hope everyone is as optimistic about it as I am).

SECURITY
Majority of the PCs in Pakistan use pirated software and that too Microsoft Windows (predominantly). Well, as we all know every day vulnerabilities are found in Microsoft products (more so because they are popular), and to counter these vulnerabilities and security threats, Microsoft releases software patches frequently – for free. Well that’s about to change – Microsoft in an effort to curb the rampant piracy of its products has decided no more freebies to those who use pirated software. In order to get software updates, that includes product patches, updates, hot-fixes, critical patches, etc. MS will now require that your products authenticity be verified. This is automatically done by checking the serial number and registration of the products in your computer – against the information in their database. Match the information – and you are allowed inside. Don’t match it, well no service for you. Albeit the program is still in its infancy, whether or not Microsoft makes this a permanent feature of their website or not, remains to be seen.

DOT.COM
Its human nature to wonder what the other person is thinking Perhaps someone you saw someone in the elevator this morning, or in a car, at a restaurant, at the petrol station, walking past you, a window reflection, etc. It makes one wonder – what is “he/she” thinking about right now? Well for Simon Hoegsberg – that wasn’t enough. He actually went and asked. Over the next 3 months this Danish photographer stopped people randomly in Copenhagen and New York and asked them just that – “what are you thinking?” and then snapped a photograph of them. The site can be viewed at: www.simonhoegsberg.com – it really is a must see.

In Brief
IT Ministry to develop application for online Hajj Application submission … PTCLs SEA-ME-WE 4 (Alternative Submarine Fiber link) to be operational in 3rd Quarter of 2005 … P@SHA delegation leaves for NASSCOM 2005 (India) … HPs Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina resigns/steps-down over disagreements on how to run the company and its future course … Microsoft buys Sybari – a specialist antivirus company that develops solutions primarily for Lotus Notes/Microsoft Exchange (this is Microsoft’s 3rd purchase of an antivirus/security related company).

This Article was originally written for Money Magazine

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