No law exists to stop late night mobile packages

ISLAMABAD: Moralists in Pakistan had long been crying that the night packages offered by the mobile phone companies are “a bad influence” on the society. This week the matter came to a head in the Senate.

Angry senators demanded that the government take action to stop the services. But how?

Technically, there exists no law that would allow that.

“No court or government can ask the cellular operators, conducting lawful business in the country, to stop offering the late night packages,” Barrister Mohammad Amir Ali told Dawn when asked for his opinion on the demand.

In fact, members of the Standing Committees of the Senate and the National Assembly had been seized with the issue during the last five years but their discussion never went beyond instructing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to “direct” the five cellular services operators to stop night packages.

All the lawmakers did in these meetings was to moan that the mobile phone companies had been targeting the gullible with their low rate, late night ‘talk’ and ‘chat’ offers for wasting their time, depriving children of sleep and “corrupting” the morals of their young subscribers for profit.

Even at the latest such meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, no initiative was taken to introduce an enabling law to stop all these “evils”.

Senator Mohamamd Mohsin Khan Leghari, a member of the committee, did not agree with the demand to shut down the night packages but said the mobile phone companies should “reconsider their marketing strategies and target relevant consumers” for their services.

Advocate Babar Sattar agreed that the PTA possessed no authority to regulate cellular traffic content. He said,

There is no explicit statutory provision in the Telecom Act 1996. This is moral panic and other solutions should be found instead of completely finishing services for consumers.

The government informed the Senate during its current session that each of the five companies has two to three late night, low cost talk and chatting packages on offer.

Mobilink offers ‘Gup Shup Corner’ and ‘Mtalk’, Warid its ‘Anonymous Chat’, ‘SMS Chatter Box’, and ‘Crazy Night Warid’, Ufone the ‘Ufone Dosti’, ‘SMS Buddies’ and ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and Zong its ‘Zong Chat Buddy’, ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and ‘Zong Good Night Offer’, and Telenor has ‘Late Night Offer’ and ‘Chat Room’ on offer to subscribers.

Barrister Amir Ali says that the Specific Relief Act 1877 does not allow the government to ask a lawful business to curtail its activities/dealings.

In his opinion, directing the cellular companies to stop their night packages will harm businesses operating at night, such as call centers, which have invested millions in Pakistan.

“There are no negative intentions behind these packages. Misuse happens everywhere. In the case of children, parents are best to enforce discipline,” said the corporate lawyer.

PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran recalled that after receiving complaints from the public and the legislative bodies, the PTA had sent a notice to the mobile phone companies on November 14, 2012, directing hem to stop immediately their night packages.

“The companies challenged the directive in the Islamabad High Court on November 21, 2012 but withdrew it eight days, only to raise the same in Supreme Court when the PTA pursued the matter, where the case is still pending,” the spokesperson added.

A senior official of a mobile phone company said the night packages were introduced for the entrepreneurs and businesses operating at night.

“From night watchmen to businesses – especially those conducting transactions abroad after later hours – all avail the low cost packages,” he said.

“It is imperative to utilise our networks at night when the traffic load goes down to 10 per cent compared to the daytime load of 90 per cent.”

Delays hang over Pakistan 3G lifeline

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s cash-strapped government has promised to sell 3G mobile telephone licenses to raise revenue, match regional rivals and drive prosperity, but the process has been beset by delays.

Even Afghanistan, Pakistan’s far less developed western neighbour with a weaker economy and more fragile state, has the technology.

But Pakistani consumers struggle to transfer data by phone, video streaming is often interrupted — although technically YouTube is banned — and video calls problematic.

Two months after the new government took office, there is little sign that the process will start soon.

Pakistan’s state minister for information technology Anusha Rehman told DSS that the auction alone could take six to eight months.

“The base price for 3G licenses is not set yet. Only once it is done will I be able to give a figure on how much revenue will be generated by the licenses sale,” she said.

But first the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) needs to be constituted and Rehman conceded there could be substantial delays.

“I am not sure how long it is going to take because the appointment of members have to be made by the cabinet,” she said.

A senior civil servant initially told DSS that key appointments to the PTA were expected to be finalised in July. The first half of August in Pakistan is dominated by religious and national holidays.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected for a historic third term in May, faces the daunting challenge of bringing down an 8.8 per cent budget deficit, yet his first budget was conservative.

He offered no major tax reforms and within weeks, his government was forced to seek a $5.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund: enough only to keep on top of old loan repayments.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar sought to fend off some criticism about the lack of tax reform by saying that a 3G auction would fetch a “considerable amount of foreign exchange”.

Cheap mobile phone telephony took Pakistan by storm in the early 2000s and according to the PTA there are more than 122 million mobile phone subscribers — or 68.6 per cent of the population.

PTA officials estimate that a 3G auction could raise $1 billion in annual license fees, which could be ploughed back into reducing the crippling $5 billion circular debt in the energy sector.

But delays are not the only problem.

“The previous government could not auction 3G licenses because it wanted to bypass the standard tendering practices,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“There was infighting within the PTA over the auctioning of licenses as the previous government wanted to bypass standard procedures and there was resistance by the members which delayed the process,” the official said.

Raza Rabbani, a leading senator from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, has criticised the inclusion of 3G license sale proceeds in the first budget of the Sharif government.

“These are illusionary figures. There is nothing concrete,” he told DSS

Of the five mobile phone companies in Pakistan, only Oslo-based Telenor has so far expressed public interest in acquiring a 3G license, saying it could be operationally ready at the end of 2013.

“Telenor Pakistan is presently going through a massive network modernisation exercise which is expected to finish by the end of this year and is essential in making our state-of-the-art network 3G, 4G and LTE enabled,” a company official told DSS.

He said the technology would drive prosperity and that increasing Internet penetration by just 10 per cent would raise GDP by 1.5-1.6 per cent.

“It is a paradigm shift from voice to data that will open many doors for GSM operators in the country to serve their customers through innovative avenues,” the official said.

Shahzad Ahmad, country director of Bytes for All, an independent technology think tank, says Pakistan should forget 3G and move directly to more advanced 4G LTE bands.

But he also called for clean bidding.

“The process should be transparent so that Pakistan gets a better price for its asset and ensure that there is no corruption,” he told DSS.

“So far there is no transparency in the process, nobody knows how many licenses are going to be auctioned and to whom?” he added.

Ahmad said that 4G technology will speed up telecommunication in Pakistan and create new jobs in online media content creation.

Consumers seem unfazed, saying they already have to pay more than 40 per cent taxes and service charges on recharges and calls.

“The amount of taxes on mobile phone calls is insane. I recharge a 100 rupee card and get only 60 rupees credit. The rest all goes into taxes, duties and service charges,” construction worker Mohammad Afzal, 35, told DSS

Nokia Phone’s potent camera is bid to regain market share

NEW YORK – One-time cellphone powerhouse Nokia Corp. is hoping to lure people back from iPhones and Android phones with a powerful smartphone camera that tops many point-and-shoot imaging devices.

The new Nokia Lumia 1020 phone is packed with innovations designed to provide sharp images, even in low light. With the phone’s 41-megapixel sensor and image-stabilizing technology, both rare in smartphones, you’re less likely to get blurry shots at night or indoors. You can also zoom in to an image and pick up details that even the naked eye will miss.

Although more expensive cameras with superior lenses can take better images, those cameras aren’t always with you. Nokia said the Lumia 1020 gives people the ability to take good pictures with a device they always carry.

Nokia said its new flagship phone will change how people take pictures, and marketing executive Chris Weber boasted that it will make point-and-shoot cameras obsolete.

But whether a good camera is enough to lure customers remains to be seen.

AT&T will offer the Lumia 1020 in the US for $300 with a two-year service agreement. That’s $100 or $200 higher than what phones typically sell for. Nokia is counting on customers willing to pay more for a phone that does more.

The phone runs Microsoft’s Windows Phone system, which is far behind the iPhone and Android devices in usage. Although Nokia, AT&T Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are planning a large marketing push in the US, no amount of marketing can overcome the fact that the Windows system still doesn’t have as many apps from outside parties as the iPhone and Android devices.

Tony Cripps, principal device analyst at the research firm Ovum, said Nokia “may still have work to do to convince prospective buyers to sacrifice favorite apps for superior imaging.” He said that leading rival devices such as Apple’s iPhone 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy S4 “effectively sell themselves, (but) the case for selecting the Lumia 1020 is less clear cut.”

The Lumia 1020 will be available in the US on July 26, with advance orders to begin July 16. Nokia said the phone will expand to China and Europe by September. Other markets are planned later.

Nokia reigned as the leading phone maker for 14 years, until early last year when Samsung Electronics Co. took the top spot. Among smartphones, the lucrative business for phone makers, Nokia doesn’t even rank in research firm IDC’s top 5. In recent years, the Finnish company has been losing share to high-end devices such as the iPhone and various Android phones as well as cheaper devices from Asian manufacturers such as ZTE.

Nokia has partnered with Microsoft and its Windows system in hopes of recapturing market share, but none of the new Windows phones have been hits. Weber said he believes the new camera will get people looking at Nokia and Windows phones again.

The camera’s 41-megapixel resolution is far higher than the iPhone 5’s 8 megapixels and the Galaxy S4’s 13 megapixels. Even point-and-shoot cameras and more expensive ones with interchangeable lenses often don’t go as high as the Lumia 1020. More pixels mean more sensors for capturing the light that forms an image.

But the number of megapixels is just part of the story. Camera sensors have a certain amount of sensitivity known as ISO. The higher the number, the better the shot in low light. The Lumia 1020 can be set as high as ISO 3200, which is higher than the typical camera phone. The camera also comes with image-stabilization technology to compensate for shaky hands. Most phones don’t have that, meaning shutters can’t be open as long without images starting to blur. A longer open shutter means more light can come in, allowing for decent shots in low light.

The Lumia 1020 won’t replace digital cameras with interchangeable lenses, known as DSLRs, even if its megapixel resolution is higher. For one thing, the Lumia 1020 lacks a real zoom lens; the zoom it offers is essentially blowing up the image. By contrast, DSLRs with a telephoto lens can let you take close-up shots from afar. The Lumia 1020 also lacks a setting for aperture, or how wide the lens is opened to let in light. Changing the aperture can affect how much of your image is in focus.

To make photos on the Lumia 1020 easier to share, the camera actually records two versions of each image. The first is in full resolution, which you can use to zoom in or crop, or download to a computer to make large prints. A smaller version, equivalent to 5 megapixels, is also produced. That’s the one you can use to post on Facebook or Instagram without eating too much of your cellular data plan. The US version syncs with Microsoft’s SkyDrive and AT&T’s Locker storage services. Otherwise, the 32 gigabytes of storage on the device will fill up in no time.

The Lumia 1020 isn’t Nokia’s first 41-megapixel phone. Its 808 PureView phone last year had the feature, too. But that phone lacks the image-stabilization technology introduced later in the year with the Lumia 920. The new phone combines the two in a shell that is made to resemble a camera. It comes in yellow, white or black.

Nokia is also selling a Camera Grip attachment for $79, offering extended battery life and a case that makes you feel as if you’re holding a regular point-and-shoot camera. With the Grip, you’ll also be able to attach the phone to a tripod.

The phone’s display measures 4.5 inches diagonally, which is larger than the iPhone’s, but smaller than those on leading Android phones. At 332 pixels per inch, the display resolution is comparable to the iPhone 5, but lags those of several Android phones.