Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not a killer application

You are reading this posting, you are doing well. You have access to internet, probably a mobile phone and what’s the most important - you can read.

Save the Children has published its its tenth annual State of the World’s Mothers report and you can be sure that it is not a nice paper to read. What do you think about this:
  • every year, around 50 million mothers in the developing world give birth at home with no professional care whatsoever. In Niger, only 33% of births are attended by health personnel
  • the majority of children under age 5 in the poorest regions of the world do not get basic health care when they need it
  • for the 10 bottom-ranked countries, 9 out of 10 women are likely to suffer the loss of a child in their lifetime
  • in Sierra Leone 1 woman in 8 dies in pregnancy or childbirth. In Ireland the ratio is 1 in 47.000
How could the situation of the poorest be improved? The report gives recommendations and proposes actions, such as
“Prenatal and postnatal care should include counseling to encourage a safe birth, awareness of danger signs that require immediate attention, a plan for going to a skilled health care provider, counseling on how to care for the newborn, and help to ensure breast feeding. “
This is a matter of getting information to the people when they need it.

However, it is not an option to print booklets and deliver those to the people. Where the situation is the worst, there are also most of the people illiterate; usually the situation for women is even worse than for the population in general. In Chad female literacy rate is 13%.

You might think that internet is the way to deliver information, but even that doesn't reach the masses. Mobile phones looks much better option, for example in Sierra Leone there are 66 times more mobile users than internet users.

Mobile phone is the medium to reach people that are in need of information. In the developing countries mobile phone is often shared by a family or a community, making the potential number of users even bigger than subscription numbers show. For people living in places where medical assistance is not available, getting basic information with phone is certainly an option. What’s most important, the information should be available in their own language either from a live person or from a recording. When a pregnant mother uses the service, she can be instructed and also her phone number can be stored. Later the phone number can be used by the healthcare personnel to get back in touch with mother or she can be reminded with a message to get more information as her pregnancy goes further. After the childbirth she can get information about the importance of breastfeeding, and so on.

Does anybody know if this kind of a solution has already been made?

This is not a killer application. This solution saves lives.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recycling innovations

Some weeks ago Nokia and Technopolis published information about an interesting initiative that will recycle Nokia's unused ideas and innovations to Finnish companies. Any company doing R&D is bound to have such innovations and ideas that have potential but are not part of company's core business. Now Nokia will share such innovations for free and Technopolis will do the matchmaking with companies. So, there will not be an online form that you can use to browse through Nokia's innovation catalogue...

Primarily the shared ideas are about near field communications, environmental and energy related solutions, health care and well being applications, location-based services, mobile security and future internet services. Idea quality can be anything between an idea description to a patented solution. What's nice with this initiative is that there is also funding part included tightly to the process. Funds come from participating companies, local cities and Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation).

Program has got really a quick start, first companies have already made a contract with Nokia and are now moving forward in the funding pipeline.

Must say all this sounds very good. Do you know if other companies have similar programs?


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nokiagate: Nokia busy to fix the solution

Today I had an open and honest discussion with Nokia's representative about the Nokiagate. They have been working hard first to analyze the problem scope and then to fix it. As anyone who has been involved with mobile development surely understands, there is a huge number of different variants (operator, language, region) available for every device and also many variants of the email wizard itself. All the combinations must be fixed. When this job is done, terminal fixes will be published using the suitable channel, which is also device and market dependant. Some devices are likely to require a firmware update to fix the wizard.

The fixed email wizard will no longer send your password data to Nokia's deployment server and there will also be an offline option so that you can create an email account without any communications happening from your terminal to Nokia. To prevent future man-in-the-middle attacks, email wizard will enforce certificate validation that will prevent this kind of network traffic analyzing I've done when investigating this case. This of course raises a question how we will be able to verify that password is removed from the data...

They have also been fixing the server side implementation and current setup no longer tries to log in to your email server. Also a special security audit has taken place to ensure that confidential data really hasn't been stored to the servers. I was told that the result of the audit was that confidential data hasn't been stored, also the logs were not storing the passwords. In addition to that, some server locations have been changed.

I have a feeling that now things are moving to the right direction. There is a bug, nobody denies that. Bug has been analyzed and fixes will be deployed as soon as possible. I'm sure there will be a strict privacy audit for new solutions and hopefully we will not see problems like this again.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What is Nokia EVP afraid of?

Last week I joined Nokia Developer Summit and had a couple of discussions there about the Nokiagate. Nothing new to tell about that case and the discussions followed the same pattern; first I was told there is no problem, then I explained the case and soon we were able to agree that the current implementation has a security problem. I’m still waiting for Nokia’s actions how this will be fixed in new devices and firmware versions.

One presentation at the Summit was about the new Nokia Email offering. We were explained the idea and customer need behind the new solution. My silent question before the presentation was “why to fix something that isn’t broken” and I guess I found the answer.

Please understand: what I write below is not what Nokia told, this is how I interpreted their message.

The problem that the new messaging solution tries to solve is not technical; the problem is in business. Now people accessing their email directly from mobile terminal are not generating enough revenue for operators and device manufacturers. On the other hand, user’s without data plan are unsure about the costs of the mobile email access. To “fix” this, new email solution is needed that allows new business possibilities. So, Nokia is trying to route consumer email via their servers so that operators can separate that traffic from other data traffic. When email traffic is identified, it can also be priced separately. Take a look what says about the price:
“Nokia Messaging is currently provided on a trial basis. In the future, consumers will be able to acquire Nokia Messaging through an operator plan.”
Is this a beginning of an era of operators billing separately for different protocols? To open port 3128 (Nokia’s email service) customer must pay X euros per month, port 80 (browsing) is worth Y euros and so on.

A recent interview with Nokia’s EVP Tero Ojanper√§ reveals what is his biggest nightmare: that mobile user’s don’t want to pay for services, but instead go for free solutions, just like in the internet. If Nokia is bold enough to take the new email service to its extreme, be prepared to pay for your email access and after that pay for all the other protocols as well. A better way to get revenues from mobile services is to build so good and valuable new services that users are willing to pay for those. I’d choose the latter option if I were in Ojanper√§’s position.