Info-tech

Relevant research, relevant difference

Shyam G Menon | Updated on March 06, 2011

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During the Mumbai flood of 2005, one of the most unforgettable developments was the jammed telecom network. As a combination of cloud burst and high tide at sea caused unseen levels of water-logging inside the city, frantic people trying to contact friends and family ended up clogging phone lines. As you tried and tried, you were either rewarded with an odd flash of success and human voice at the other end or, as was the case more often, you surrendered your loved ones to the world and the world to the universe to be looked after safely. The city learnt its lesson and since then, although prone periodically to that Mumbai weakness for herd mentality in panic too, has managed to communicate through crises.

Recently, after an earthquake devastated Christchurch in New Zealand, instructions were issued on cell-phone use. People were advised to make only essential calls to prevent network congestion and save power. They were also asked to use text messaging for non-critical communication and to generally relieve the network of other loads, such as the regular indulgence of social media. That cleaning up of traffic done, and communication space thus reserved for what mattered, telecom infrastructure destroyed or debilitated by the temblor was brought back on line so that those trapped under debris and still possessing cell-phones could communicate with rescuers. Telecom companies were also handing out mobile phones to emergency workers reaching the site, news reports said.

Productive tool

Although cell-phone data for most of us in India has come to mean an invitation to unwanted advertising, used well it appears capable of being a productive tool. According to a recent report by Mergent, NTT DoCoMo and Japan's Kogakuin University plan to use mobile service statistics to improve urban planning. At its heart is the telecom company's mobile spatial statistics or “population statistics compiled from the data required for mobile service provision.”

Mobile spatial statistics are generally aggregate data that include mobile phone locations and user attributes. The study seeks to find out how this data can be used to support disaster-prevention planning. DoCoMo plans to use its mobile spatial statistics to estimate the distribution of people who would have to return home on foot, if, for instance, a major earthquake were to strike Tokyo. The university, on its part, would analyse the data to forecast post-earthquake conditions and related preparedness in each municipality of Tokyo and suggest measures to help people return home safely.

Individual users are not identified in the use of the data base for such research.

According to Mergent's report, this project was set to be commissioned throughout Tokyo over November 2010-March 2011. Japan's telecom sector is among the most technologically advanced. Besides research tapping end-user data, the Asia-Pacific telecom industry was also experimenting with materials, the report from Mergent said. It cited a move by LG Electronics to replace all the conventional magnesium inside its mobile phones with eco-magnesium, a new type of clean magnesium alloy, developed by the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology. The replacement would reduce gas emissions by a factor of approximately 24,000 during the die-casting process. There will be no alteration to the quality of the end product. It will “reduce carbon dioxide emissions by four kilograms for every handset” that the company produces.

The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.

Published on March 06, 2011

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