Sunday, July 30, 2006

Money remittance market - high opportunity for e-commerce

The Philippines is considered having the third largest money remittance market in the world following India and Mexico. As a result, it kept attracting more and more companies to get into the money remittance business. Existing companies, pawnshops, and rural banks are also getting to be more creative in this business segment. Leading banks in the money remittance business are BPI and PNB.

On the other hand, companies like Coinstar have acquired Travelex Money Transfer Limited who has partnership with banks like RCBC, Bank of Commerce, Rural Bank of the Philippines, and Cebu Lhuillier Services Corp. Remittance in 2006 is expected to hit US$13.5 billion this year.

On the online remittance side, sites like YesPinoy are expected to continue growth in this business. Portals that have high traffic and subscription also have an edge in entering into this type of business where trust is already established with its subscribers.

This fast transfer of money is also getting the US government jittery, wary that money laundering is possibly committed through these remittance systems. Another increasing concern are the hidden fees charged in these transactions. This does not only include the upfront fee or percentage, usually at 7%, but also the foreign exchange rates once the money is given to the recipient.

Money remittance growth rate is driven by overseas Filipino worker deployment. From January to July 2006, nearly 662,000 Filipinos left the country and remittance received is up to US$7 billion.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Are government online libraries useful?

I wonder. With several online government libraries available, are there people really using them? I mean used well enough that the cost of putting up the infrastructure can be made sustainable and useful to its target audience.

Some of the online libraries I know are:
  • Philippine eLib - Note that the government spent like 167 million for this project. The materials in the website, mostly are not for free if I'm not mistaken.
  • - The portal currently links to some 65 databases of various DoST sub-agencies.

I think the private sector should seriously consider in partnering with the DOST in coming up with a profitable win-win solution to make these highly-valuable information assets useful and sustainable.

SendPage Enhancements: Anton Elaph

It is interesting to note that a Pinoy by the name of Anton Elaph, from the University of the Philippines, have received support from Google Summer of Code Program and mentoring from the Open Source Development Labs. Elaph is working on the SendPage enhancements to further improve its reliability, responsiveness, and keep the program up to date.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Affordable VOIP for Filipinos

In this discussion thread in the J Spot, Sky Internet VOIP is considered by Angelo to be quite an overkill. Although Voice Over Instant Messenger is ok, but is that the only solution we can afford best? This is especially so for companies who wants to have their own phone number and accept calls from overseas to discuss business.

If you recall in 2002, PLDT started offering their cheaper overseas phone call service for something like US$0.40 cents a minute to the USA. Although VOIP offerings online can be cheaper than that.

BayanTel VOIP charges US$0.10 per minute. The company will also be deploying IPTV as part of the bundle in 2007.

Globelines Broadband VOIP Softphone is currently pegged at US$0.05 per minute offered to more than 50 destinations such as the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Korea. Recently, non-telco providers Mozcom and VOIP Global Inc. joined the fray too.

There are also Filipino VOIP providers in the USA, such as Pinoy VOIP, that are also offering Manila phone numbers. This way, Manila callers can feel or assume that they are calling a Manila office when it is actually in the USA.

Even Microsoft is getting in the fray seriously as it open its mobile division with an initial roll-out of its VOIP phones targeted at OFWs, in partnership with OWWA.

In businesses today, especially in the IT outsourcing arena, VOIP plays an important technology in the globalization of markets. The Philippines rank second in the world for having a high concentration of call centers. That would not have been possible if not for technologies like VOIP. Penetration rate for VOIP is expected to reach 65% in two years.

VOIP is also providing opportunities for the schools in rural areas to improve their nfrastructure by tapping into these technologies. One school for example is Catanduanes State Colleges. (I miss this place!)

Websites are also expected to integrate VOIP features as an additional customer service and interaction too. Leading the pack is eBay whose VOIP roll-out is being done in partnership with Skype. Its initial roll-out included the Philippines.

Internationally, VOIP phone companies are becoming more creative. Like in this case, AdCalls Dialers shall advertise Wi-Fi TV and provide free sampling of its programs. It is interesting to note that the Philippines is one of the many countries that have downloaded the AdCalls software.

Another interesting development that happened lately as well in this scene is when movie actress/personality Dina Bonnevie joined Fusion Telecommunications International last June 2006 as its Director of Overseas Market Development.

On another note, VOIP can only be offered by companies that are 60% owned by Filipinos. Some may see this from a protectionist standpoint though. There are pending bills in Congress today filed by Senator Mar Roxas and Congressman Simeon Kintanar that intends to liberalize this. What makes the Philippines interesting as well in the VOIP space is that we are the first country, even ahead of the USA, to declare VOIP as a value added service, not voice.

Despite these challenges, VOIP is considered to be a promising venture in the Philippines as the government is on high gear in embracing VOIP.

On the handset side, Nokia N80s entry signals more wireless VOIP handsets to come in 2007. This will be definitely exciting.

State of Philippine Internet Service Providers

Well, like all other directories I mentioned in my recent post, this one is also troublesome. Yahoo's listing of ISPs are too little to the point that you'll wonder how many ISPs are really here in the Philippines. It makes me wonder as well why ISPs don't care to list themselves in search engines when most visiting foreigners and investors normally look for them (and Internet cafes too).

In the 1st volume of the Philippine Internet Review, we had a feature on challenges faced by ISPs. Admitted, the lack of trust in information sharing made it hard to explain in quantifiable terms how the ISPs are being affected by the carriers getting into the same business and give basis for the government to intervene.

Some ISPs are also expanding their offerings through partnerships. Companies like Infocom gradually transforming itself into a "technology utility firm."

One Laptop Per Child in Cebu

It seems the MIT's One Laptop per Child initiative will benefit countries like the Philippines. The Cebuano IT community, known for its proactiveness and quick action, are already gearing up to prepare for its eventuality. Of course, there are bloggers debating that this should be done country-wide.

Mobile phone: tool for disaster coordination and abuse

Mobile phones are truly important in times of crisis. Take the case of our OFW evacuation in Lebanon. Without the mobile phone, we can be certain that gathering them would not have been that fast. It is also estimated that there are around 30,000 Filipinos there.

Other countries, like Australia, are scrambling also in getting their citizens out there and things don't seem to be turning out well. There's also a disadvantage for citizens of rich countries to be in a war zone as they tend to be more prone to kidnapping or hostage for ransom.

In Cebu, companies like PLDT and InTouch Communications have partnered with OWWA to provide for families to contact their OFW loved ones in Lebanon. Lito Gutierrez of Global Forum also talked about the importance of equipping outgoing overseas contract workers to the Middle East a VOIP phone. Microsoft is about to do this soon with OWWA as they will equip outgoing OFWs with a Microsoft Windows 5.0 Mobile Phone that shall work in wi-fi areas.

Although on the other hand, it is sad to see that there are entities and individuals who had no heart in scamming their fellow countrymen gullible enough to fall prey into it. Telcos should create posters regularly that can be seen in all their retailer outlets to spread the knowledge on text scams or perhaps a monthly text alert about it. On the more proactive level, set up a procedure that a cellphone owner can do it as soon as he or she receives a potential text scam. Of course, this would need tight coordination with the police. In the end, we need solution and action where there is a clear process on how the mobile phone text scammers can be captured. There are now anti-theft services though being offered to combat this. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has released a policy for the reporting and handling of spam complaints. A Text Spam Committee was also created in the process who will handle all complaints. Some local government police units, like Marikina, are also adopting the use of text messaging as an anti-crime tool.

In the recent Senate hearing on the 2006 nursing board exam leakage, pictures taken from the mobile phone was also used to demonstrate that there's indeed anomalies committed by the party accused.

It is estimated that there are 37 million mobile phone users today. The Philippines was also dubbed as the text messaging capital of the world as it processes more than 1 billion text messages a day. As of end-June 2006, Globe Telecomm has a total of 13.9 million client base. Smart with 16.4 million and Talk 'N Text with 6.1 million. With the popularity of 3G and wireless Internet, the mobile phone modems are also making a huge comeback. What makes the mobile phone both a tool for productivity and scamming is its relevance to the lives of Filipinos today. The Philippines is the first to implement a mobile wallet scheme that allows a person to transfer money or prepaid credits to another phone and has served well those who can't afford or not qualified to avail of traditional banking services. More than 7 million Filipinos are now using this service.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Bandwidth Dilemma

This blog post in PinoyTechBlog gave a flashback on an old discussion thread where the quality of MyDestiny's Internet connection is put into question. It is interesting to see that we are still on that topic at this time. I wonder what is the speed of MyDestiny these days. Their website does not say much whether it is a 64 kbps or higher form of Internet connection.

Much has changed to the options we have today in accessing the Internet. Especially since the government became more pro-active in enabling wireless Internet.

With the Internet, consumers have more avenues to be vigilant about their concerns. More and more columnists as well have even put forward these issues seeking for proper resolution.

Mike Abundo and Cosplay mania in CNet

Cosplay mania in the Philippines is certainly attracting a lot of attention and was just featured by Joey Alarilla in CNet. Kudos to Mike Abundo!

Open source bill

Chin Wong talked about the Open Source Bill in his column this week. For as long as the bill will not go against freedom of choice and technology neutrality, I think it will be cool.

Advocacy can also be done by educating as many users as possible on how to use and avail of support for these applications, rather than imposing.

Looking into our archives, I found that last September 2002, the group Open Minds was launched. One of its goal is "to lobby for the adoption of a pro-open source software policy in the Philippine government."

I don't own FlipTunes

I often get asked whether I own Fliptunes. The site's tagline - "The Home of Digital Filipino Music" - perhaps is the reason why this site is being associated with me.

Well, I don't own it. I wish I do though. ;)

VOIP Ready Phone System

I wonder how many companies in the Philippines began investing in VOIP ready phone system. In this case, the solution offered by Anixter cost a minimal investment of US$1234, tax-inclusive, for a telephony startup kit, which includes the Nortel Business Communications Manager (BCM) 50, two analog trunks, eight digital phones and auto attendant.

Like most technologies, VOIP is also vulnerable to hacks, theft, and fraud. There's no clear best practices yet to fight them either. Although organizations like VOIPSA are gradually gaining momentum in this area.

Wireless Internet Revolution in the Philippines

The Philippines is currently going through a broadband revolution. Thanks to new technologies such as wireless that lessens the digital divide, gradually every day.

In a press conference organized by Motorola last July 2006, I just found out that the Philippines is actually one of its biggest roll-out. Smart alone rolled out 20,000 Motorola Canopy in the country. This is the infrastructure where the Smart Bro service is being deployed. There are also roll-outs being made by Convergence Network Solutions in Kalibo, Boracay, Bulacan, and Metro Manila.

However, as with any other new service, there will be glitches as part of a telcos growing pain. As the service gets further calibrated, we can expect higher adoption of wireless connectivity technologies in the home.

Philippine Internet Cafe Growth and Challenges

I'm having a dilemma in getting an estimate on the number of Internet cafe in the Philippines. Even Yahoo's listing on it is too limited. Perhaps local government units should start listing Internet cafes in their respective websites.

When talking to industry experts, the number of Internet cafes are currently pegged at 8000 to 14,000 all over the country. Most are surviving by offering more than just your traditional Internet rental service. Others are offering scanning, desktop publishing, gaming, encoding, research, among others. I believe that there shall be changes in the Internet cafe market within a year or two as the not so well-funded players, who rely on pirated software, will be more pressured to go legitimate as their competitors are the ones who report them. Microsoft is now actively educating the market with its Internet Cafe Rental Rights program to ensure that these places operate legitimately in using their products. Although there's nothing stopping Internet cafe players to use open source.

Gaming is one popular activity in Internet cafes. Like in China, there are now Filipino gold farmers in these gaming communities who sells account identities or charge a fee for playing another person's account to reach a particular level.

The use of Internet cafe by the youth has also elicited a lot of reaction from the local government units. Some even issued local regulation to ban minors from going to Internet cafes during school hours. Roberto Verzola's experience in this area drives the point to its necessity.

Another expansion approach that some Internet cafes are now pursuing is to function as a call center, or rent its facilities out for such use, like Netopia. Companies like PLDT are also making the Internet Cafe business an option that new entrepreneurs can look into.

On the advocacy side, there are now groups who sees the Internet cafe as a place where their philantrophy work can be deployed.

With the maturing Internet sector, the Internet cafe owners appear to be the most organized and even strategically quantifiable as most cities in the country have been establishing one. Some of these associations are: Internet Cafe Association of the Philippines, Internet Cafe Association of Cebu, among others.

3G in the Philippines

When 3G was first launched, there was so much expectation from it. The Europeans end up giving the spectrum to the highest bidder. As we all know, things didn't turn out well as planned. Other countries like Singapore did not go through the same expensive process but still no success. The Philippines did not follow the same process but some legislators are pushing for that. This raises a lot of of fear especially if existing licenses are revoked as it may bankrupt carriers. Carriers also express that the removal of incentives to 3G licensees will cause more harm than good.

In the Philippines, 3G is being embraced with the entry of High Speed Downlink Packet Access(HSDPA) in the country. As a result, our country is now the leader in this area in terms of deployment. Handset makers like Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, among others are marketing their 3G wares actively. We are now seeing telecomm providers from China actively offering their services here too.

Smart launched its 3G service last February 14. As of our last count, Smart rolled out its 3G infrastructure in 60 cities and 20 municipalities in the country. The Smart 3G infrastructure is powered by Nokia.

Globe on the other hand took the notch higher as it launched 3.5G that uses HSDPA. Although company admits that whether the application will be a success or not is still uncertain.

Mostly, the reason for this is the lack of a killer application. Perhaps, video phone calls are only attractive for people who are far away from each other. But since you can enable web cam capabilities in most instant messaging tools today, with bandwith far more cheaper than 3G. On-demand TV and Internet radio are seen as possible applications that may click. Telecom groups are also encouraging the media to explore this and build content demand for 3G. However, if it is a luxury, rather than necessity, that may still not be true.

3G is here and there a lot of discussion happening right now as to which one is better. What's your take? Have you tried it? Will you upgrade to it soon? Do you think that the 3G phones available today stinks?

Promising Pinoy-Aussie Golfer

Looks like a Pinoy-Aussie golfer by the name of Jason Day is attracting a lot of attention lately.

Sigaw ng Bayan vs. One Voice

Wow. I know that things have been so hectic lately but it interesting to note the various developments happening online. Here are some:

Battle of the hearts and minds continue on the issue whether the country needs charter change or not. The debate is not only on TV but also online. I wonder who will prevail.

If there are websites that you believe should be in this listing, let me know!

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