...Redifining Journalism for Development

BREAKTHROUGH with Professor MK Othman: Recognizing the Second Generation Inventors V


Three weeks ago, readers of this Column may notice the interlude of this subject “Recognizing the Second Generation Inventors”. This was done specially to report the findings of 2017 Agricultural Performance Survey (APS) and the consequential implications to food security in Nigeria.The issue of discussion before the intermezzo was “Google” and its matchless position in the global communication. Page and Brin, the inventors of Google continued to work hard relentlessly in all aspects of online communication to make it famous. In addition to Google being an illustrious “search engine”, it also experimented of being an Internet carrier. In February 2010, it introduced Google Fiber, a fiber-optic infrastructure that was installed in Kansas City; in April 2015, it launched Project Fi in the United States, which combines Wi-Fi and cellular networks from different providers; and in 2016, it packaged a Google Station initiative to make public Wi-Fi available around the world, with initial deployment in India. This is no doubt a groundbreaking trend in the global communication industry!

Thomas Haug

The crusade of Google is rapidly amazing with menacing aim at conquering the global communication industry. The Google clientele is increasingly swelling at exponential rate while enjoying effective services at relatively lower costs making the pockets of Google inventors to similarly swell without ceiling. What is the target of Google?
The target of Google is simply to capture and bring every person on Earth make a user of Google products when using Internet services at all times. The Google strategy of bringing people under its umbrella is to capture what people do on daily basis and make it easy, efficient, attractive and unresisting for people to use Google product to do such things. For instance, in the month of October 2017, Google targeted children when it introduced “kids-friendly perk” via Google Assistant, which contains more than 50 kids-loving games, activities and stories. With parents’ permission and ability to intervene, kids under 13 could have their own personalized Google Assistant with their own login while the parents could manage what the kids use Google for and for how long they can use it via Google’s Family Link app.There are many astonishing features designed to meet kids’ curiosity as part of the application.Among such things are the ability for the kids to talk to people with different jobs and professionals (for instance, when kids choose jobs like zookeeper or nurse, teacher, etc, the kids can hear a person who really does such jobs and ask questions about jobs); get homework help (including asking for state or country capitals, how to spell words, and synonyms and antonyms); enjoy story-time with a variety of titles local and international. Another instance was launching of Google Express in the same month of October 2017 when a user can place order via voice command. Google user can order for different items via a Google Home, which transmit the order to a shop “Target Corporation”, a second-largest discount store retailer in the United States of America, behind Walmart, and a component of the S&P 500 Index. This means that Target is supporting Google Express shopping service in the contiguous USA. It also means Target responds to the Google Assistant’s voice ordering feature, which is so far only live on the Google Home. Earlier, it was reported that Target was available through Google Express in New York City and California before the formal launching to cover the whole of USA. This marked a major expansion and helped to fill out Google’s service in a big way thereby increasing profitability to the owners. Well, this may perfectly be working in USA and other countries but similar application needs more effort to gradually cover many developing countries like Nigeria.
While Google is inching out to bring every person under her feet and celebrating huge success, the foundation of the success was made possible due to the existence of Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication. The mobile cellular popularly called GSM became the solid foundation of the 21st Century digital communication system, which truly made the World a global village. One can vividly remember the infamous statement of the then Nigerian Minister of Communication in the late 1980s when he was quoted saying, “telephone was not meant for the poor Nigerians”. Today, telephone is for everybody, thanks to the debut of GSM. Who invented this communication wizardry called GSM?  GSM is a digital mobile telephony system, which is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. GSM uses a variation of time division multiple access (TDMA) and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephony technologies (TDMA, GSM, and CDMA). CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobiles) are shorthand for the two major radio systems used in cell phones. Both acronyms tend to group together a bunch of technologies run by the same entities.
Jan Audestad, led the GSM network.

Historically, the idea of GSM was mooted as far back as 1975 when Henry Kieffer from the Swiss recommended the need for the Europe to find new spectrum for mobile at 900 MHz – the vital raw material for radio. This was the first idea of having a mobile telephone, which can permit users communicate while on transit. The whole idea of GSM became a reality within 37 weeks in 1987. Before then, setting-up of GSM was the next significant milestone, which many countries in Europe, Japan and USA were working hard to achieve. In those countries the standards responsibility for the radio and the linked network were split between different standards bodies. The critical decision in 1982 was to allow GSM to define everything it needed for itself. This secured a competitive edge for European mobile standards making. Thus, every Research and Development Laboratory in Europe was tirelessly working to perfect the GSM technology. Famous institutions such as CNET, CSELT and BTRL, key Industrial Labs (Ericsson, Alcatel etc) and many Universities were all drawn into this breathtaking new opportunity – digitization of Europe’s mobile networks. In 1987, the breakthrough was eventually achieved; the Finnish Prime Minister (Harri Holkeri) made the first GSM call in Helsinki to the Mayor of Tampere (Kaarina Suonio) who was in front of the Rosendahl Hotel in Tampere in Finland. This modest success of GSM was then passed into the hands of hundreds of engineers from all the major mobile radio operators and the large electrical/electronic system companies. The result was a common cellular radio network right across Europe aimed at serving the communication needs of the business community. It was an early triumph for the new European Single Market.
However, communication needs cut-across the stratum of the society, far beyond the business community, thus, the future destiny of GSM was not to stay rooted in the business market alone. Crave for high profit making and driven by cutthroat competition among the GSM promoters and service providers led the GSM to become the most successful communications network in history – with over 6 billion users as at 2013. The mobile industry was to move out of its base of professional electronics and into a new world of consumer electronics. Still, who were the personalities and their roles to make GSM achieved this tremendous success? It is difficult to credit one personality for the GSM innovation, as it was the product of collective efforts. In Europe where GSM was originated, there was a pivotal moment, which was a turbulent period in 1987; there were critical events and critical players for policy, strategy and technical advancement of the GSM. Consequently, Europe produced the very first agreed GSM Technical Specification (February, 1987). Ministers from the 4 big EU countries cemented their political support for GSM with the Bonn Minister’s Declaration (May, 1987) and the GSM MoU was tabled for signature (September, 1987). The MoU drew-in mobile operators from across Europe to pledge to invest in new GSM networks to an ambitious common date. It got GSM up and running fast. In this pivotal moment the guiding hands shaping the outcome of all three critical events were Armin Silberhorn (Germany), Stephen Temple (UK), Philippe Dupuis (France) and Renzo Failli (Italy): Thomas Haug (Winner of the 2013 Draper Prize for pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards) facilitated a seamless criss-crossing of the initiative in and out of GSM. Thomas Haug, GSM Chairman kept the ship steady in turbulent waters until success was finally achieved.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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