24th, August 1997


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Mirror Magazine


MEO satellites for mobile links

By Ruvini Jayasinghe

Another breakthrough in satellite technology, at the tail end of this millenium is set to revolutionize worldwide telecommunications with a direct impact on mobile (hand held) phones.

ICO Global Communications (ICO), an international communications company, with a strong Asian equity base, will launch 12 satellites into the Medium Earth Orbit ( MEO), facilitating direct links to mobile (hand held) telecommunication networks worldwide.

ICO's international code 8810 and 881, recently cleared by ITU will be a common code to all international mobile telecommunications links.

The new technology will offer a substantially cheaper alternative to existing mobile telecommunication systems, ICO's Director Government Affairs, Mr. Navin Kapila told the Business Times in Colombo last week.

ICO will charge approximately $1.50 per international call, when the satellites are launched .towards the end of the millenium, Kapila said.

MEO satellite technology or launching satellites into the medium earth orbit, is an advancement from GEO technology which is used for stationary satellite communications the world over.

While mobile/portable telecommunication networks that cannot be operated through GEO technology will benefit most from the new technology, MEO technology can be linked to any telecommunication system including land phones, pay phones, mounted phones on vehicles, ship etc.

The technology is targeted at a widespread development in telecommunications, facilitating fixed, mobile or payphones sans wires, loops or any kind of ground network, Kapila explained.

For example setting up a payphone system in a rural area here without electricity or a telecommunication network could cost in the range of US$3000 - US$4000. With a MEO satellite link, a payphone system can be operated without any additional infrastructure cost , Kapila pointed out.

In another situation, mobile communications in the Himalayas especially to mountain climbers is a possibility via MEO satellites, provided mobile units come with insulated batteries to survive the sub zero temperatures, Kapila explained.

With investors from 44 countries in all six continents, the project is estimated to cost US$ 4 billion.

Individual investments from member countries are limited to a maximum of US$ 100 million and a minimum of US$ one million, Kapila said. Limiting individual investment ensures that no single country can dominate the ICO, Kapila explained.

ICO's largest equity holder is Asia with substantial investment from Japan, China, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Pakistan and the Middle East. The directorate has membership of both the developed and developing world.Employes from 30 nationalities work for ICO.

ICO officials were in Colombo last week to talk to Sri Lanka Telecom, whose new management and share holder Nippon Telecom (NTT) of Japan (NTT recently took over 35% and the management of Sri Lanka Telecom) are also indirectly linked to ICO. An NTT subsidiary, SPJ of Japan is a ICO member, Kapila said.

With an extremely positive outlook on the growth of the Sri Lankan economy, with a vast potential for growth in its telecom sector, ICO will complement and supplement the existing PLLN and cellular networks here, Kapila said.

Although rapid strides have been made with the recent digitalized network, tele-density is still 1.48%, Kapila added. ICO system will also attempt to provide personalised services according a country's specific needs. Additional socio-economic benefits like employment generation will also be created with ICO's presence here.

The brainchild of MEO satellite technology is INMARSAT, a 79member country organisation , who formed a task group in 1989 to evaluate future advancements in satellite mobile technology. In 1995 ICO was formed as a separate entity to take over from the parent INMARSAT.

ICO will ring the earth with two planes of modified 12 HS 601 satellites in MEO, 10,355 km above the earth, Kapila said. Ten satellites will be launched, with two in-orbit spares, one in each plane.

The first launch is scheduled for end 1998. Using S-band, C-band and an on board digital processor each , 4,500 calls can be handled simultaneously.

ICO telephone systems dual mode capacity is integrated with both cellular and PCN networks. ICO systems will be compatible with GSM, PCN, PCS, and PDC, Kpila added.

New hand sets for mobile networks with MEO satellite connections are already being designed by top international vendors, Kapila said.

ICO's own hand set will be competitive against today's single mode cellular units in terms of size, weight and performance, Kapila added.

Private development agency bullish on Lanka

By Imran Vittachi

THE government and London-based Commonwealth Development Corporation have signed an accord facilitating an additional US$86.4 mn of CDC direct investment in Sri Lankan private sector expansion.

"I see this very much as a sign of confidence from the government that it is encouraging investment," CDC's Chief Executive Officer Roy Reynolds, told local journalists after the agreement was signed in Colombo on Thursday with Treasury Secretary B. C. Perera. "And it's also, as I see, CDC having confidence in Sri Lanka as a place to invest."

CDC, which would disburse these funds "in the next 12 to 18 months", was also looking to increase equity and loans to both large and small-scale Sri Lankan businesses indirectly.

According to Mr. Reynolds, this would be done through a CDC-run South Asian Regional Fund worth up to US$150 million that could be up-and-running by 1998. CDC would fork out $50m of its own funds, while the remainder would be raised by seeking out potential investors from across the Commonwealth.

"We have said we'll invest $50m in that fund. We're looking to raise another $100m," he said.

CDC hoped the fund would be officially approved during the Commonwealth summit at Edinburgh in December.

CDC was bullish on Sri Lanka, Mr. Reynolds added, because the economy was showing signs of picking up and the government seemed serious about privatisation and the growth of free enterprise.

"I see, certainly at this moment in time, the economy is really beginning to motor," he said. "Confidence is there throughout the business community.... Therefore, I do believe one has to encourage it and see it flourish."

This was borne out by Thursday's signing, which Mr. Reynolds said signalled an acceleration in CDC's commitment to Sri Lanka. Since 1984, CDC has invested US$ 86.4mn here, but the bulk had only been freed up over the past few years.

As far as CDC is concerned, the key to spurring economic growth in Sri Lanka is to invest, not only in large-scale development such as infrastructure, utilities, telecommunications, and ports, but also in small-scale enterprises.

"Sri Lanka is in a competitive world," Mr. Reynolds said. "If you look at [Colombo] port and the potential for transshipment, there are other countries looking to develop port facilities."

Therefore, among its prospective projects, CDC was considering ways to increase handling at Queen Elizabeth Quay from the current capacity of 230,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) to one million TEUs per annum.

The financing of smaller enterprises would be done through the Ayojana Fund, a fund management company in which CDC and the National development Bank hold shares.

In 1996, according to CDC, with 24 offices spanning the globe and nearly 50 years of private sector development financing behind it, it had accumulated a total investment of approx.US$2.5bn worldwide.

Confronting computer crime

By Mel Gunasekera

Companies are fighting shy to report theft of computer information due to the lack of adequate laws in Sri Lanka. To overcome this hurdle, the Working Committee on Law and Computers of the Computer and Information Technology Council of Sri Lanka (CINTEC) has drawn up a series of proposals for legislation to deal with computer crime.

It has also been found out that even the police force does not have suitable trained investigators to probe into IT crimes. Many firms are reluctant to let unskilled investigators into their organisations because they would unknowingly make things worse, sources told The Sunday Times Business.

The lack of trained criminal investigators is serious. This undermines a company's confidence in the criminal investigating system. The police force in Sri Lanka has yet to draw up necessary plans to give IT training to its staff. In fact, affected parties say that criminal investigators are learning technology at their expense. However, the authorities told Sunday Times Business that they intend to work on this issue once the necessary legal framework is in place.

Foreign businessmen who intend investing in Sri Lanka are unaware of the fact that we do not possess the necessary legislation to fight IT crimes. This will totally erode their confidence in our legal system, Deputy Solicitor General, Kolitha Dharmawardena said.

The rapid growth of Information Technology has raised fundamental questions regarding storage of confidential information, privacy, data protection and crime. Computers are not only targeted for crime, but are also important instruments used in crime such as theft, fraud, forgery, damage, sabotage etc. In addition, there are other forms of computer crimes like the misuse of computer facilities (hacking) and other "data protection" offences.

Even though the threat posed by information crime is very real, the criminal justice systems throughout the world have been slow in devising and implementing appropriate legal responses. Sri Lanka is no exception.

The criminal law of Sri Lanka is governed by the Penal Code of 1885, long before the use of computers and IT. The code defines offences under "tangible" and "intangible" property.

Theft, misappropriation and cheating also assumes the tangibility of property and the taking or appropriation of that property to the wrongful gain of one person or the wrongful loss to another person assume intangible property. These offences as defined, do not provide for the misuse or abuse of information or the wrongful appropriations of intangible property or the unlawful use of services. For instance under this legislation, if a person steals certain information on a diskette, he can only be charged with stealing the diskette, not for the information contained on the diskette.

At present, courts in Sri Lanka do not accept computer print-outs, computer diskettes as evidence. The situation would change with the implementation of the law. Those persons hoping to get redress for IT crimes in Sri Lanka, have to wait for another two years or so, since the proposals are still a draft.

However, CINTEC is confident that the procedure would not be delayed since the government has realised the importance of this piece of legislation and is keen to rectify the matter very early.

Continue to Business page 2 * Vanik debentures oversubscribed * Investors keep vigil over market * Business Bug * SAFTA - fears and hopes

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