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Myanmar Telecom Winners Should Safeguard Users: HRW

Posted in Myanmar, Technology, Telecommunications by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Companies should create strong rights precedent, protect users from illegal surveillance and censorship, the NGO says

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 23) on July 11, 2013

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Myanmar’s new telecom licence winners should make a public commitment to strong human rights policies and broad transparency measures, international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said.

Firms should say how they plan to protect users from illegal surveillance and censorship, given the current lack of legal human rights protections in Myanmar’s telecommunications law, HRW, which conducts research and advocacy on human rights, said in a statement.

On June 27 the Myanmar government announced the winners of two nationwide telecommunications licences, Telenor and Ooredoo. The companies and the government will finalise the licence process by September. The government also named French telecom giant Orange’s consortium as an alternate should one of the winners fail to fulfil its commitments.

However, the government has not yet promulgated a new telecommunications law nor enacted key reforms to protect the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and access to information in the mobile and internet sectors.

“Burma’s long record of rights abuses should give pause to the two licence winners about government censorship, illegal surveillance, and even network shutdowns,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher at HRW. “The firms should put strong safeguards in place for their users, make clear that they will be transparent about government demands, and press the government to enact legal protections for rights.”

Myanmar’s draft telecommunications law has not been finalised, though the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has reported that parliament will pass the law in July. The drafters are working behind closed doors and have not solicited input on recent versions.

While the latest draft has not been made public, a version reviewed by Human Rights Watch in March raised serious concerns that the new law would provide inadequate protections against abuses in a country with a long history of censorship and surveillance. Myanmar also has a slew of other problematic laws that restrict expression and are incompatible with other human rights, HRW said.

In a report released in May, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that existing censorship and security laws allow the Myanmar government or military to require the help of telecom companies to spy on or silence bloggers, activists, and journalists. Myanmar lacks an electronic privacy law to prevent arbitrary and overbroad surveillance practices, and the courts have no history of independence from the government. The Myanmar military retains broad power to declare public emergencies and take control of telecommunications equipment. In addition, rights-restricting laws that the authorities used in the past to silence critics have not been repealed.

Human Rights Watch on May 3 wrote to the 12 international telecom companies that had been approved to apply for a telecom licence to inquire about safeguards they had established or were planning should they win one of the two licences. The letter made specific recommendations consistent with guidance articulated in the United Nations “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” framework, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and standards developed by the Global Network Initiative, a global multi-stakeholder initiative to protect free expression and privacy online.

Eight of the companies responded to Human Rights Watch’s letter in writing, including Telenor Group and France Telecom-Orange. Ooredoo, a state-owned operator formerly known as Qatar Telecom, has not responded to inquiries, HRW said.

Telenor and Orange are members of the Telecommunications Industry Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy and have committed to implementing the Industry Dialogue’s human rights principles. In March, the Telecom Industry Dialogue announced a collaboration with the Global Network Initiative to support and improve implementation of the companies’ human rights standards. Human Rights Watch is a member of the Global Network Initiative and has discussed the issues raised in Myanmar with Telenor and Orange directly.

“Burma’s investors and donors will be closely watching the steps taken by these telecom operators to protect the rights of their future customers,” Wong said. “These ventures may set the stage as to whether foreign investment can play an important role in improving the rights situation for the people of Burma.”

Human Rights Watch urged Telenor and Ooredoo to take several critical steps as they negotiate their operating licence and entry into Burma. At a minimum, the companies should put in place policies and procedures setting out how they will prevent and address human rights abuses linked to their operations, including through formal operating licenses or other agreements with the government, HRW said.

The rights NGO said such procedures should address how the company will respond to government requests for censorship, illegal surveillance, and network shutdowns during declared “public emergencies.” They should include information about how the company will resist requests or minimise their impact on rights, and report on how they have implemented these policies and procedures to the public, HRW statement said.

The companies should also identify and address human rights risks associated with their physical operations and key business decisions related to security arrangements or acquiring rights to land for installation of telecommunications equipment. The companies should vet any potential business partners to ensure they are not implicated in serious human rights abuses and secure commitments from partners to the company’s human rights policies.

Given the risk of complicity in rights abuses, the telecom firms should also strive to increase transparency around government restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, Human Rights Watch said. The companies should secure permission to publish the terms of any operating agreements and publicly issue a regular transparency report on how they have responded to government requests to limit the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. The companies should report publicly on their progress in meeting their human rights responsibility as they finalise the terms of their entry.

Telenor and Ooredoo will compete with two local licensed entities, Myanmar Telecommunications Company and a consortium of other local companies. Myanmar Telecommunications Company will be formed when the government privatises the currently state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications Company, though the exact date for this transition has not yet been set.

The composition of the second consortium of companies is unclear, though media reports indicate that Yatanarpon Teleport, another state-owned enterprise, will be a leading operator in the consortium. Once the telecommunications law is in place, the government will also enact implementing regulations to manage the sector. However, the independent regulatory authority for the telecom sector will not be in place until 2015.

“Now that the telecom licences have been awarded, the winners have a responsibility to ensure their services are not used as new tools for censorship and surveillance,” Wong said. “The time for maximizing protections for rights is now, before operating terms are set in stone.”

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Toshiba to supply modular data centre for Securities exchange system in Myanmar

Posted in IT, Myanmar, Technology, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

The company’s first modular data centre for overseas commercial project

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 23) on July 11, 2013

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Japanese electronics giant Toshiba Corp last week won an order to supply a modular data centre for a securities exchange system in Myanmar, a statement said.

KDDI Corp, one of Japan’s largest network solution providers, will work as Toshiba’s partner for the project, which will be carried out by Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd, a major Japanese think tank and consultancy.

It will be the first time that Toshiba has supplied its modular data centre in an overseas market, Toshiba said in a statement.

Daiwa Institute of Research, together with Japan Exchange Group, is working with the Central Bank of Myanmar to open a securities exchange in Yangon in 2015.

Toshiba said it is seeking to expand sales in Japan and overseas, and the market for modular data centres is growing. “They offer shorter lead times and lower initial costs than building type data centres, and as they can be stacked it is very easy to add additional capacity on the same site,” Toshiba said.

In Japan, Toshiba has supplied modules to data centre operators, cloud operators and enterprises, and was heralded for energy efficiency.

“Toshiba’s modular data centre offers the robust structure of heavy gauge steel frame, along with side-air-cooling flow, which is better in a hot and humid climate like Myanmar’s than standard vertical flow. This new approach allows centres to integrate redundant systems, allowing continued operation in the event of a problem with one unit,” the company said.

A voltage stabiliser will also be built into the securities exchange modules, as power supply voltages in Myanmar can be irregular, the statement added.

Governments of Southeast Asia, including Singapore, are promoting incentives to attract investments, including data centres. In 2012, Toshiba developed and demonstrated a pilot data centre optimised for tropical climates, in cooperation with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

The demonstration indicated that the new system had the potential to cut annual power consumption by approximately 30 percent, which is achieved by circulating unrefrigerated outside air in the cooling system, even in tropical zones.

“Building on the momentum of development work Japan and the advances achieved by the Singapore project, Toshiba will promote further sales of its modular data centres in Southeast Asia and seek to expand its global business in energy efficient, low cost modular data centres,” it said.

Toshiba opens Yangon branch

Posted in Investment, Myanmar, Technology, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

 

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 23) on July 11, 2013

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Japanese electronics giant Toshiba last week in Yangon opened a branch office of their Singapore-based subsidiary, Toshiba Asia Pacific Pte Ltd, to establish a stronger presence in Myanmar.

Toshiba said in a release that the company will fully leverage “our technological progress and leading edge product capabilities to offer Myanmar people a better future.”

“Toshiba is delighted to make this new step forward in Myanmar,” said Hidejiro Shimomitsu, corporate senior executive vice president of Toshiba Corp. “We hope to contribute to Myanmar’s development across our product lines, from infrastructure solutions to home electronics. Our home appliance business in Myanmar started since the 1980s via distributors and our automatic washing machines are still the most popular brand in Myanmar.”

“Toshiba can support providing stable power generation and transmission solutions that provide the backbone for economic growth in Myanmar,” Tetsuya Yoneda, chief representative of the Yangon branch office, said.

“Currently in Myanmar, the power distribution per population is still limited to 25 percent, and this is planned to be expanded in the coming years. Toshiba has supplied equipment for Sedawgyi hydropower plant in 1985, and we aim to contribute more to the country infrastructure,” he added.

Toshiba said ensuring sustained growth will require broad investments in social infrastructure, including power generation and distribution, and Toshiba’s Yangon branch office will investigate the market and promote business in social infrastructure and other areas, such as consumer products.

Founded in 1875, Toshiba operates a global network of more than 590 companies, with 206,000 employees and annual sales of over 5.8 trillion yen ($61 billion).

 

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DuPont to foray into Myanmar

Posted in Agriculture, ASEAN, Myanmar, Technology, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Eyes agriculture and sustainable energy solutions

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 21) on June 27, 2013

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American science and chemical giant DuPont has set its eyes on Myanmar as part of its ASEAN expansion strategy and will open office in the Southeast Asian country this year, a top executive said.

“Our regional team has done a lot of good work to get us started in Myanmar. We are in the process of getting all the government permission and finishing other formalities, and our office will open by the last quarter of this year,” Rajeev A Vaidya, the Delaware-based company’s President of South Asia and ASEAN, told Myanmar Business Today.

“There’s a lot of potential. As we come into Myanmar and we see those opportunities, we would certainly like to be a part of that,” he added.

DuPont, founded in 1802, describes itself as a “global science company” and employs more than 70,000 people in 90 countries and has a diverse array of products. Garnering a revenue of $38 billion in 2011, DuPont ranked 72nd in the Fortune 500 ranking in 2012.

Emerging markets contributed to 34 percent of DuPont’s sales in 2011 and half the company’s agricultural sales are outside the US. DuPont also spends 5 percent of its revenue in research and development (R&D).

Rajeev Vaidya, Hsing Ho

Rajeev A Vaidya (L), Dupont’s President of South Asia and ASEAN, and Hsing Ho, managing director for ASEAN. Sherpa Hossainy

DuPont businesses are organised into five categories, known as marketing “platforms”: electronic and communication technologies, performance materials, coatings and color technologies, safety and protection, and agriculture and nutrition. Agriculture contributes the greatest share of DuPont’s revenue, $10.4 billion last year, up from $9.17 billion in 2011.

 

While DuPont will “bring all our offerings” in Myanmar, Rajeev said the priority would be agriculture and sustainable energy solutions. “We will offer anything to ensure food security for the Myanmar market. If you look at the development stage of Myanmar, the priority will of course be on agriculture at first. Enhancing the farmers’ livelihood and productivity through technical assistance would be the initial focus,” he explained.

“We will also look at sustainable energy because in a geography like Myanmar there’s always need for sustainable energy like biofuel and solar, and solutions that improve energy efficiency,” Rajeev said. Technologies that help protect people, assets and the environment through improved industrial processes and lowering the carbon foot print will be introduced, he added.

DuPont’s agriculture division makes and sells hybrid seed and genetically modified seed, some of which goes on to become genetically modified food. Rajeev said the company will bring a number of different solutions to the farmers including seeds and crop protection. “These solutions help the farmers to get the most value out of every acre. We not only want to make this solutions available, but we also want to do it in a way that we actually engage the farmer community in the best agronomic practices on using those solutions to create the best outputs.”

The DuPont South Asia and ASEAN President said the company will also invest in educating farmers, and in localising and enabling them to use the technology.

Rajeev said at a World Economic Forum session on agriculture and food security that science can play a critical role in achieving food security solutions. “Over 10 million farmers benefit from our solutions. We are working on how to grow more food with less land, and science-powered solutions is relevant for this approach. Also, science has to be put in the hands of the farmers to empower them. Collaboration will unlock the true potential of science.”

Rajeev said young people should be encouraged to adopt agriculture as a profession, adding that average age of a farmer in Southeast Asia is over 60. However, Rajeev said it’s not going to be an easy challenge to lure young people into agriculture.

“It’s a major challenge. We have to change the way a generation thinks. Is that possible? Yes. Can that be done by DuPont only? No. That’s where the ecosystem of collaboration comes in.”

“That’s a problem we must solve. If we don’t make farming an attractive business for young people it becomes a sustainability issue. A big part of the solution is to actually make farming profitable for small farmers. As that happens, some fundamental building blocks can be put in place through science and in collaboration with the government.”

Hsing Ho, managing director for ASEAN, said in this regard, “There is a great potential to make farming more productive and profitable. Therefore the profitability is on the discussion table and people say who is going to reap the profits. From our perspective, it is about the notion of equitable distribution of wealth.

“If we can bring up the value of creation, we would be able to split those values more equitably with the ones in the value chain, by putting them in the centre. That’s how we create more potential for the younger people to make them more excited about it.”

Hsing Ho said farming is not only about “hard work and sweat.” “It’s about applying the right technology. When farmers’ income goes up it results in more mechanisaiton, thereby increasing productivity. When farming becomes no longer a hard work and more tech-based young people will get encouraged.”

However, Myanmar also faces its own problems such as complete lack infrastructure and a weak supply chain. Most Myanmar farmers have been trapped by very high costs due to the lack of infrastructure, while internal transport costs are five times higher than in Thailand and 20 times higher than in China.

Rajeev said: “There has to be collaboration with the government where the government oragnisations are investing in the infrastructure and simplifying the regulations so that new technology can come in. Farmers, companies, governments and NGOs can work together to create a greater market access.

“The problem is when you look at the whole thing it sounds so big and so complex that nobody wants to touch it. There’s an old Chinese proverb that a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step. So, we just got to start. We’ve heard very positive comments from the government and when we make progress things will continue to fall in place.”

SingTel prods the game up a notch

Posted in ASEAN, IT, Myanmar, Technology, Telecommunications, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Says “far exceeded” licence requirements, promises 95pc coverage in 3 years and transform people’s lives

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 20) on June 20, 2013

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Telecom giant SingTel ramped up the telecom tussle ahead of the licence winner announcement by saying that it has “far exceeded” the government requirements and vowed to provide 95 percent network coverage in three years.

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (SingTel) and its partners – KBZ Group and Myanmar Telephone Company (M-Tel) – are one of the 11 finalists in the race for two lucrative telecom licences in Myanmar.

“The consortium’s proposal far exceeds the government requirements in many areas, including network coverage plans and service prices,” Mark Chong, SingTel CEO International, Group Consumer, said at a press conference. The consortium will build a world-class mobile network, which will cover 95 percent of Myanmar population in 36 months, he added.

The SingTel CEO told Myanmar Business Today on the sidelines of the press conference, “We are confident in terms of our network reliability, quality and coverage. We will offer competitive package and innovative value-added products. We are going to offer competitive SIM prices and call rates in line with the regional standards. I don’t think we can charge supra-normal rates.”

Mark said: “With SingTel’s vast operations in many parts of the world, our knowledge in building new infrastructure and services from the ground up is unrivalled. We want to bring more than just a domestic telecom infrastructure. We will bring international connectivity that will improve the quality of lives of the people.”

“With the strength of our local partners KBZ and M-Tel, we believe through our investment, we can develop Myanmar’s telecom industry and create employment,” he added.

SingTel operates in both developed and emerging markets like Indonesia, India, Thailand and the Philippines, serving 468 million customers.

The telco said in a statement that together with the KBZ Group and M-Tel, which possess strong local presence and knowledge, the consortium is well-positioned to build a quality network to connect people, promote business activities and spur economic development.

Asked whether the government’s plan of achieving 80 percent mobile phone penetration by 2016 is realistic, Mark Chong said, “I think the government can answer it better. But we will try to do our best [to achieve that].”

However, one of the partners of the consortium M-Tel’s CEO Jonathan Myo Kyaw Thaung told Myanmar Business Today, “I believe it’s realistic and possible.”

He added, regarding the consortium’s strategy to build infrastructure in Myanmar’s conflict-prone areas, “This conflict areas are not new. The government has known about them for a while. The requirement fixed by the government tells us which township to cover and by when; and there’s leniency in terms of establishing networks in some parts of those conflict areas.”

To develop Myanmar’s international infrastructure, SingTel said, it will invite the government to participate in feasibility studies for future satellite programmes and lend its assistance in the launch of a Myanmar national satellite. “We are not saying this regardless of winning or losing the telecom. As one of the lead parties planning the Southeast Asia-Middle East-West Europe (SEA-ME-WE) 5 submarine cable, we want to include Myanmar as an ASEAN friend.”

U Nyo Myint, managing director of KBZ Group, said: “Our 20-year experience on the ground running large companies provides us with unique insights into the local operating environment. We believe that the consortium’s proposal will elevate Myanmar to be able to compete globally in the upcoming decade.”

Microsoft appoints market development partner in Myanmar

Posted in Business, Computer, Investment, IT, Myanmar, Software, Technology, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Cites close collaboration with local experts as key to ensure sustainable economic growth

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 20) on June 20, 2013

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American IT giant Microsoft announced that it has appointed local IT company Myanmar Information Technology (MIT) as its first market development partner to grow its presence in Myanmar.

MIT will be responsible for expanding the Microsoft ecosystem in the country and work with local businesses and government to provide ICT solutions that will drive greater economic growth.

Jamie Harper, Microsoft’s general manager of Southeast Asia, said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Nay Pyi Taw, “Microsoft is delighted to be forming this partnership in Myanmar. I am excited by what the future holds for Myanmar, a future we believe technology will be a vital part of.”

Describing Microsoft’s entry into Myanmar and other emerging markets, Harper said that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for ensuring success, but the company is committed for the long haul in Myanmar.

“Microsoft’s business is built on partners. Understanding the nuances of conducting business in each and every market we invest in is critical. That’s why we focus on building sustainable partnerships with local experts. A strong local ICT industry and robust partner network can create a positive impact in any country.”

Currently the largest software company in Myanmar, MIT was founded in 1997 and is a co-founder of the MICT Park with the Myanmar ICT Development Corporation. The company has more than 300 employees.

Dr Tun Thura Thet, chief executive of MIT, said, “We are very proud that Microsoft chose MIT to be its market development partner in Myanmar and we are very excited to build upon a long and fruitful relationship that will benefit our country. I believe Microsoft’s global experience and solutions will be invaluable in building the Myanmar ICT industry.”

Market intelligence firm IDC expects IT spending in Myanmar to reach $233.56 million by 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent between 2011 and 2016.

Harper said, “We believe that only through working closely with the public and private sector, can technology be part of the national agenda and play its role in ensuring competitiveness and capacity building.”

Microsoft has more than 28,000 partners in Asia Pacific. These companies generated nearly $125 billion in revenues, according to an IDC study. The study concluded that for every $1 that Microsoft generated in Asia Pacific, its partners generated more than $10.

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Promoting green technology is the goal

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Computer, Dhaka, Environment, Internet, IT, Software, Technology by Sherpa Hossainy on December 23, 2011

Published in The Independent on 20 December 2011

Read the article online in Independent website

Digital print version

With the motto “Go green with ICT”, the fifth digital ICT fair is eyeing to endorse the latest environment friendly information and communication technology products, organisers of the fair said.

“This fair aims to promote green ICT products at affordable prices and take part in mitigation of climate change through the use of environment friendly technology,” said Tawfique Ehsan, president of Multiplan Centre Shop Owners Association, organiser of the fair.

Ehsan said, “We want to raise public awareness regarding use of green technology and integrate information and technology in everyday life.” Ehsan, convener of the fair, said this fair will also help increase the penetration of ICT throughout Bangladesh.

Visitors at Digital ICT fair checking out laptops

Leading computer and computer accessories importers will showcase the latest technologies from global brands, organisers said. More than 450 stalls will take part in the fair and some will display the local laptop brand “Doel”. The introduction of recent digital innovations around the world will help achieve the vision of “digital Bangladesh”, they said.

Kazi Obaid Alam, sales executive of Flora Ltd, said, “We are promoting technology, which is environment friendly, and at the same time energy efficient and cost effective. It is imperative to move to low-radiation, low-noise and low-heat emitting energy efficient devices. This fair will promote use of green ICT products.”

Flora Ltd is displaying two new printers from Epson — K100 and L100. The cost of printing a page in the K100 model is only Tk .90, whereas for a laser printer the cost is Tk 2 and for an inkjet Tk 4-4.5. The L100 model is designed for photo studio professionals and it can print 18,500 pages or 1,200 pictures with its “inktank” technology.

Flora Ltd, the leading computer retailer in Bangladesh, is also showcasing second generation laptops and notebooks with core i5 technology, and some environment friendly computer accessories from global brands like Uniross and Sony. The company is mainly targeting bulk buyers, Alam said. The fair is providing customers with a great opportunity as prices at the fair are competitive and they can choose from a range of options, he added.

The fair, which started yesterday, will continue until 26 December at the Multiplan Computer City Centre. Citycell is the platinum sponsor of the fair and Acer, Avira and Fujitsu is among other sponsors. More information can be found on the fair website: www.digitalictfair.com.

Visitors at Digital ICT fair check products at a stall

Although free for school students, a mandatory Tk 10 ticket to enter the fair has drawn flak from regular customers in the market who were not necessarily coming as a fair visitor. Many of them refused to pay the entry fee saying that they didn’t come to attend the fair. However there seemed to be no way of distinguishing between the fair visitors and others coming for repairing or warranty issues.

Many customers who were obstructed from going up without a ticket were told to get permission from higher authorities. But many didn’t seem to bother to go up and left.

Md Asaduzzaman Khan, a businessperson, who came to fix TV card problems, was not let in without a ticket. “It’s like a forceful sale of tickets. Do they think everyone is coming to join the fair? There are many other customers too,” Khan said. This entry fee might actually backfire by resulting in a waning number of visitors, he said.

Ehsan said with permission from the authority anyone can go up without having to buy a ticket. He stood by the decision of charging an entrance fee and hoped for a major turnout at the eight-day long event. “We are hoping to get 25-30,000 visitors in the fair,” he said.

First-ever laptop bazaar slowly packing a punch

Posted in Business, Computer, IT, Software, Technology by Sherpa Hossainy on October 22, 2011

Published in The Independent on 20 October 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

With the motto of “Laptop in every house”, Bangladesh’s first dedicated laptop market is steadily pulling crowds while sales are yet to pick up to the expected level.

The Eastern Plus BCS laptop bazaar started on  October 13 in the city’s Shantinagar area with a view to creating a one-stop market for laptops, including notebooks, tablets, smartphones and portable computer accessories and software.

To kick it off, Eastern Plus Shop Owners Association and Bangladesh Computer Samity (BCS) has jointly organised a nine-day laptop fair until October 21 in the market, which showcases 52 global brands at 74 shops. While there is a plethora of visitors in the market, vendors are yet to be satisfied with the pace of sales.

“Many people are coming in and checking out machines, but we didn’t sell that many,” said Abu Siddik, an executive of International Office Machines Ltd, authorised dealer of Toshiba — one of the sponsors.

Sumon Al Mamun, branch in charge of Computer Source, the country’s one of the biggest PC vendors, said his stall had 2,000 visitors until Tuesday, but most of them only had queries about laptop prices.

“But I’m upbeat about the prospect of the market as desktop sales are going down and demand for laptops are shooting up day by day,” Mamun said.

Visitors checking out computers at Laptop Bazaar in Dhaka

Mustafa Jabbar, president of BCS, said doing some hurried sales is not the main motive of the fair; rather it is important to get many visitors and raise awareness.

“Computer is not like rice or daal. People will come and have a look, compare prices and then buy one. It might take a week or even a month for one to decide,” he said.

Jabbar, also chief executive officer of Ananda Computers, said he is happy with the turnout and the main purpose of the fair is served. “Before the laptop market this place was like a ghost house and now it feels so vibrant,” he said.

The visitors and prospective buyers were also satisfied with the dedicated laptop market.

Md Mazharul Haque, a business person, who wanted a laptop for official use, said he came to the fair to “have a look” and compare prices. “All the big brands are available here and I hope I’ll get a good quote,” he said.

Haque said these fairs should not only be capital-based and there should be rural versions so that mass people can come in touch with affordable technology.

Torsten Malmdorf, a Danish national, who also came to the fair to buy a laptop, said, “I came to know about the market from facebook. I’m still searching and comparing prices, but most laptops here are for low-end users,” he said.

Of all the laptop brands and models, the customers seemed eager to check out the newly unveiled domestically made laptop, Doel. The state-owned telecom company Telephone Shilpa Sangstha (TSS) is producing four models of the laptop while the most basic one is priced at Tk 10,000 ($130). Bijoy Digital is the only shop in the fair authorised by the government for limited scale sales and display.

Tareq Ahmed, attendant at the Doel display corner, said, “There are so many customers who want to buy Doel, but there is not enough supply.” The most hunted model is Doel 1612, priced at Tk 27,000, he said.

“We are providing necessary information and taking bookings on the spot. But we have to deliver the laptops later,” Ahmed said.

SM Sobill Hossain, who works for Destiny 2000 Ltd, said he wanted to buy a Doel laptop for official use but the attendant said it will be available tomorrow. “This is a Bangladeshi product and it’s cheap. I want to be a proud user of my country’s product,” he said.

The BCS chief urged the government to formulate an effective policy and give distributorship to experienced computer vendors and said his company Bijoy Digital is interested in marketing Doel laptops.

“The government hasn’t yet got any marketing plan for Doel. If the government thinks Telegraph and Telecommunication Board will sell and market laptops, then those will stay in the warehouses.

“We sell computers, so we know best how to market those laptops,” Jabbar said.

Kazi Hasibur Rahman Shakil, general secretary of Eastern Plus Shop Owners Association, said this dedicated laptop market will save traffic hassles, time and money of the people living around the market area.

“In other computer markets people have to look around all over the market for laptops but here we have a dedicated floor. You can get everything in one place,” Shakil said.
Jabbar hoped that with the changing trends and rising awareness, Dhaka-centric computer markets will shift to district and rural areas. BCS will organise eight fairs all around the country from November to January to promote awareness, he said.

“The market trends are changing and it’s not at all desktop-based now. So laptops will be integrated with the rural scenario hopefully within two to three years,” he said.

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Business conduit for two neighbours — India and Bangladesh

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Dhaka, Technology by Sherpa Hossainy on October 15, 2011

Published in The Independent on 15 October 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

If you have to judge a book by its cover, the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Technology Fair 2011 might feel like a glum affair with nonchalant stall-attendants having scanty visitors.

However, the organisers believe that the nine-day fair at Handball stadium in Dhaka, showcasing SME technology from 40 enterprises from India, is doing a good bridging job between the two next door  neighbours – Bangladesh and India.

The fair, first of its kind in Bangladesh, is organised by the National Small Industries Corporation Ltd (NSIC) India, SME Foundation, Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IIDFC) and Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (BFWE), in association with the industries ministry and Bangladesh Bank.

“It is a B2B (business to business) exposition and we didn’t expect too much rush in the fair,” Rajesh Jain, chief manager of NSIC, told the Independent, explaining the low turnout. According to IIDFC, the average turnout everyday was around 400 and on Friday it was only 250.

“We wanted to motivate young entrepreneurs to know about new technology, choose the machinery and start their own businesses. It is a great opportunity for SME entrepreneurs of both countries,” Jain said.

The fair, especially featuring technologies from the light engineering sector, is displaying  machine tools, electronic equipment, hardware items, bicycles and bicycle parts and sewing machines. “We wanted to explore the opportunities of those specific sectors in Bangladesh,” Jain added.

Some entrepreneurs, however, were not getting the right response they probably hoped for.

“I thought I’d get some business here, but unfortunately I got nothing. I think there was a lack of promotion, that’s why no one is coming,” said P Lodha, director of Pragya Equipments Pvt Ltd, who came from the Indian state of Madhyapradesh.

The entrepreneur, who deals with radiator parts and oil extraction (from oil seed) machines, also pointed out the weak engineering industry in Bangladesh as another reason for the low turnout, saying that there is only two oil extraction company in Bangladesh.

“If this is the condition of the fair, I don’t wish to come back here next time,” he added.

However, NSIC chief Jain waved aside the complaints, saying that the entrepreneurs are here to explore the possibilities, not to do full-fledged business.

“We can’t expect a 100 per cent business-oriented fair at first. Not all entrepreneurs will get business from the fair. Some will establish good connection and do business in future,” he said.

Jain believes that the entrepreneurs have to establish some substantial business ties at first and business will thrive henceforth. “In terms of establishing business links, I think we are doing quite well,” he claimed.

Visitors at a stall in SME Technology Fair 2011, Dhaka

Unlike Lodha, some entrepreneurs were having a good time setting up connections in Bangladesh, such as Shasank Rane, manager of overseas marketing of Apidor Abrasive Products Pvt Ltd. “We already had some businesspeople coming from Nawabpur in Dhaka and they expressed their interest to start business,” Rane said.

Rane said his company, from the Indian state of Maharashtra, is looking for authorised dealers in Bangladesh and has already found five or six potential candidates.

“We want to expand our business, and Bangladesh has no such company that produce abrasive products. So we thought we should come to the fair and establish some connection,” he said.

The entrepreneur said that until Thursday, 70 people had visited his company’s stall and he is already looking to take part in the next edition of the fair.

While the Indian entrepreneurs were busy establishing business connections, their Bangladeshi counterparts were also on the lookout for eligible partners.

Yasmin Sultana Dipa, a former service woman, said that she is going to start a SME venture and she is building a team of local and foreign entrepreneurs.

“I’m looking for some partners from India for my new SME enterprise. I’m here to get some ideas, know more about businesses, loans, and paper works,” she said. However, Dipa said the product base should be diversified and the fair should have more ladies’ products, which she is basically interested in.

Some entrepreneurs are seeing the fair as a laudable effort to deepen the bilateral relations and trade between the two countries and curb China’s dominance in light engineering sector.

Jagbir Singh Sokhi, president of Sewing Machine Development Club and proprietor of Sokhi Components, said, “There is a tremendous opportunity of doing business in Bangladesh and it is the policy of Indian government to promote business in Bangladesh.”

Sokhi, manufacturer of sewing machine parts from the Indian state of Punjab, said, “India and Bangladesh should bank on the existing good relationship and cut back China’s supremacy in the manufacturing sector.”

Although the entrepreneur believes that Bangladesh has to rationalise its import policy to use its full potential. “Huge duties have to be paid if you want to do business here. People go for some backdoor tricks like over-invoicing and under-invoicing to avoid that,” he said.

Sokhi believes a reasonable amount of duty will lure more businesspersons to invest in Bangladesh and government will get higher revenue automatically.

The entrepreneur from Punjab expressed his interest to come back again and said that he is aiming to set up a joint venture business in Bangladesh. “We are not here to sell products only. We want to generate employment in Bangladesh too,” he said.

Officials of IIDFC, one of the organisers, said the fair has successfully attracted new and existing entrepreneurs from both the countries and there will be another edition of this fair very soon.

Solar Cold Storage – a new horizon for farmers

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Energy and power, Interviews, Renewable energy, Technology by Sherpa Hossainy on September 14, 2011

Published in The Independent on 9 September 2011

Read the article on Independent website
Digital print version

Farmers in Bangladesh might finally get free from the clutches of hoarders and middlemen, thanks to a novel green technology — solar cold storage.

The impoverished farmers are most often denied fair prices during harvesting season as they are forced to sell off their produce to unscrupulous middlemen, who stockpile and sell those at much higher prices later.

Bangladesh Clean Technology Company Ltd (BCTCL) is going to introduce new solar-based micro cold storages in Bangladesh at affordable prices in a bid to give the farmers a chance to store their produce and save themselves from the menacing grip of hoarders.

“The opportunists take advantage of farmers’ inability to store their produce. So they count big losses and sell their produce at a much lower price to the cold storage owners,” said Iqbal Sufi, managing director of BCTCL.

The hoarders usually store the produce for a few months and sell it later at four to five times higher prices. The farmers and customers get extorted and exploited in the process, Sufi added.

“Instead of the traditional cold storages that are used to store potatoes, we are going to introduce micro cold storages. Such cold storages can be used to store any kinds of vegetable, fruit and other agro-products,” said Sufi.

A traditional 1,000-tonne cold storage costs about Tk 3.5 crore ($473,970) and consumes a large amount of electricity. They are rarely used to store any other agro-products except for potatoes in Bangladesh.

Micro cold storages are usually 100-500 tonnes in size and run solely by solar power. It has a backup generator, which is only used initially to achieve the standard cooling temperature.

A 100-tonne capacity micro cold storage costs around Tk 35 lakh ($47,400) and there is little or no electricity cost incurred.

Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL) has expressed interest to finance the project with assistance from the World Bank’s renewable energy development funds. BCTCL will submit the project proposal to IDCOL within a week and Sufi expects to start the project one or two months after the official paperwork is done.

The company is planning to introduce four 500-tonne capacity cold storages in Rangpur, Jessore, Munshiganj and Savar in the first phase and also aims to introduce those all over Bangladesh, even in Hatia island where it can be used to store dried fishes.

The World Bank will provide 50 per cent subsidy to the poor farmers who will buy the micro cold storages directly. Thirty per cent of the money will be given as loan at six per cent interest rates, which has to be paid back within six years. The rest 20 per cent, which is around Tk 3-4 lakh, has to be paid at the beginning.

Sufi said there are many farmers who can afford to pay the first down payment. “There are plenty of people who live abroad and upon coming back to Bangladesh invest their hard-earned money in risky ventures without thinking it through.

“They can invest their money to buy this cold storage and store their produces. Also, they can rent out space in such solar-run storage to the farmers who want to store their produces,” he said.

The micro solar cold storages can be used all year round unlike the traditional ones, which are only operational 8-9 months and used as one-time solution.

Sufi said: “If someone keeps a sack of potato for a whole season he can get Tk 300 as rent; whereas using micro solar cold storage you can store dry chillies, which are becoming increasingly popular as a all-year-round produce, and get Tk 500.”

The power consumption to store dry chillies is almost one third of potato and it is more profitable to store them than potato, he added. In these multi-purpose cold storages farmers can also opt for storing imported vegetables and hybrid seeds, and they can store four different types of produce at the same time.

“We have done the practical research and feasibility study and it is obviously much more profitable than the traditional potato cold storages,” Sufi said. A farmer can get back his investments within three to four years, he pointed out.

Unlike typical cold storages, which sprang up all around Bangladesh, solar cold storages are significantly energy-efficient and have modern designs.

“The existing structures of the cold storages are at least a hundred years old. You will not see this technology anywhere in the world nowadays,” said the BCTCL boss.

The ammonia-based traditional cold storages are only suitable for potatoes only, as other produces are affected by the leaked ammonia inside the storage.

Sufi said there is a need to get out of the trend of building potato cold storages, and put attention towards other agro-products such as tomato and chilli.

“The climate of this country makes vegetables and other produces quickly perishable. You either have to eat them or sell them at low prices within two days,” he said.

Sufi believes now it is the time to build the infrastructure to save the farmers and ensure fair prices for their products.

“The farmers won’t be able to hold on to their produces if they don’t have storages of their own. We are introducing the technology keeping this in mind,” he said.

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