Helsinki, 1 July, 2003 — The world is going for the information society age with huge steps. Among the other means of communications, the role of Internet is more and more important both for individuals as well as for the companies and organizations.
As the most developed part of the world is advancing rapidly also in this area, there is a real danger that the countries with high poverty level might not be able to follow the others towards the highways of information technology.
For the above mentioned reason, there are several ongoing projects which are meant to lend hand both economically and technologically in those parts of the world that would otherwise experience delays in their entrance to the world of Internet with all of its benefits.
One example of the related projects is established recently in Nicaragua by Inter-american Development Bank and the local government organizations. The writer of this article had chance to participate to this feasibility study in Nicaragua, which was related to the technological needs in order to create the local telecenters and Internet cafés to several rural and marginal areas of Nicaragua. Also Finland is participating to this project via the World Bank representatives.
General Situation in Nicaragua
There is no doubt that also Nicaragua is entering to the information society era. The number of the Internet users is increasing constantly, and the use of information services and telecommunications systems is more popular than ever.
Regardless of the fast development, the absolute number of the information network users is still in relatively low level in Nicaragua. The users are clearly concentrated to the biggest cities, whereas the rural and marginal areas lack of telecommunications infrastructure and even the basic infrastructure of the electrical lines and water delivery systems. There are, though, great necessities to enter to the Internet world in many areas outside the high populated centers, as the field studies have shown.
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central America with 130.000 square kilometers, although its population exceeds hardly 5 million. 25 % of the population is living in the capital city, Managua, and the major part of the population in concentrated to the Pacific side of Nicaragua. The Purchasing Power Parity of Nicaragua was 870$ in 2001, which means that the country is one of the poorest in the region. Depending on the area, the amount of the population without ability to read and write might be even near of 50%. This means, that there is a danger that the population will be divided into the wealthy ones with all the possibilities to enjoy the fruits of the information society, whereas the other part might never be able to use the technical advances.
The general telecommunications statistics of the year 2002 shows, that there were a total of 411,559 telephone lines and cellular users, and approximately 90,000 Internet users. The fastest growth rate is seen in cellular networks, since there is clear lack of fixed line telecommunications infrastructure in Nicaragua. There are three cellular operators in the country offering, among the other solutions, also GSM services. In 2001, there were 156,000 cellular subscribers, and the amount is growing heavily. As a comparison, Finland has exceeded an 80 % cellular user penetration value long time ago.
The public use of Internet is more and more popular in Managua area. This can be seen by fast revision of the city area. There are several Internet cafés in the shopping centers and in other public places. There are also increasing number of hotels adapting to Internet technology, with Internet access provided for the clients in separate communications area and with possibility to print the documents and send faxes.
The overall situation in Managua gives thus an idea of relatively developed area as telecommunications services are considered. The scene changes, though, drastically when visiting other parts of Nicaragua. If there were more means to use the Internet services, the tourism and local business would most probably develop. For the tourists, there are excellent places for spending the vacations in Nicaragua, but in many cases, there is not yet adequate infrastructure of telecommunications, power lines or water tubes constructed.
Depending on the area, the technological alternatives for the connectivity of the Internet cafés might be very limited. There are places in Nicaragua without any telecommunications infrastructure, which gives challenges in offering the Internet services. In these cases, the only option might be the satellite connection, which results higher operating costs and thus more expensive prices for the customers compared to the normal solutions e.g. via cable modem. Nevertheless, the data rates via satellite can normally reach up to 128-256 kb/s, which is technologically very interesting aspect.
As GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is in its launch phase, there might be suitable services offered via cellular phones in the near future in Nicaragua. Some of the solutions might be useful even for the telecenter purposes. As one example, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) could offer decent data rates of about 30-40 kb/s in receiving direction, and even more in the future. As the GSM coverage area is extending rapidly ever since the launch of the networks in the end of last year, GPRS might be suitable option also in the rural areas for offering the Internet connectivity to the local users.
One of the alternatives might be a combined solution, which consists of the central satellite station and VHF repeater station, and which delivers the traffic within about 70 km radius from the central. This option could be valid in areas that consist of several users spread around the centralized station. As an example, there are areas without telecommunications lines in Nicaragua that are quite difficult to access by roads. In these areas, the local businesses, as well as the private use, might benefit considerably from the connectivity to Internet.
As the traditional methods are considered, the normal dial-up modem is still valid in those places where the telephony lines are found. The drawback of this solution is the relatively low data rate, and high connection costs in intense use of the service. Depending on the noise level of the line, the data rates vary between 9.6 - 56 kb/s.
ADSL or cable modem would offer data rates of about 64 - 512 kb/s. This option is valid only near of the concentration points of the fixed telephony network. This means in practice, that only the developed areas could benefit the solutions of high speed data transmission via telephony lines.
It is important to take into account also the poorest countries when developing the information society. As generally known, Finland is a perfect example of the technologically advanced countries, with extremely high use of cellular systems and Internet services. Regardless of the Finland's relatively high unemployment rate and other domestic problems, the country has traditionally given hand for the development countries. Nicaragua is just one example of the areas where Finland is participating to the current technology development projects.
We are entering deeper and deeper to the information society, as e.g. the activities of TIEKE have shown us. It is essential that also the countries without good telecommunications infrastructure would have a chance to access to the information services among the others. We can clearly see that the provision of the Internet services in the rural and marginal areas will help to develop the local business life, and increases the general quality of the life of the local people.
About the Author:
The author of this article, Mr. Jyrki Penttinen, has wide experience of the different aspects of the telecommunication technologies since 1987. At the moment, he organizes telecom related training and consultancy via Finesstel Ltd. Among his other tasks, Mr. Penttinen is training the teachers for the new Finnish Information Society Development Centre TIEKE course that is related to wireless communications certificate in relation to Computer Driving Licence developed by TIEKE, see more on that on TIEKE's www site.