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Learning, Networking In Brazil

Children in a Rio favela and remote Amazon village now linked through broadband 3G connections


January 1, 2013  


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RIO DE JANEIRO  — Mere blocks from a youth facility called Social Attitude where students can now play soccer, swim in an outdoor chlorinated pool and access the Internet through the cloud, a 51-year-old investigative Brazilian television journalist named Tim Gomes was shot, abducted, driven to a neighboring community and murdered by a gang of drug traffickers, but not before being unmercifully tortured.

The date was June 2, 2002 and the Vila Cruzeiro favela (the Portuguese term for a slum or shantytown) located in the North End of this vibrant, but notoriously violent city in some parts at least, was ruled by gang members, nine of whom eventually were caught, tried, convicted and jailed for his vicious slaying. The mastermind who carried out the dismemberment of Lopes with a samurai sword, a drug lord named Elias Maluco, known as Crazy Elias, was sentenced to 28 years in jail.

Gomes, who worked for the Brazilian television network Rede Globo at the time of his death, was well known by traffickers and users alike who lived in favelas, as a result of his reporting work. One series in particular, according to a posting on Wikipedia, was entitled Big Drug Fair, in which he “used a hidden camera to show dealers on the street openly hawking cocaine to passing pedestrians, yelling out the drug and its price. His footage also captured armed traffic traffickers parading past on motorcycles with AK-47s.”

The outrage over the journalist’s execution generated attention throughout Brazil and while it took more than eight years before a special forces battalion invaded Vila Cruzeiro and finally purged the area of drug traffickers, the reaction to his killing helped to spur an eventual cultural overhaul of the community.

It is still a slum, but at least now there is some hope, especially for 3,000 children and teenagers who are part of a unique ICT initiative called Connect To Learn.

Safe enough also for a group of journalists to tour Social Attitude in November as part of a five-day Ericsson Business Innovation Forum, which began in Sao Paulo, the country’s business capital, continued on to Rio, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, and concluded in the Amazon, site of another Connect to Learn initiative.

Speaking through a translator, Antonio Tiburcio, the executive director of Social Attitude, a local nongovernmental organization or NGO, says the death of Tim Lopes had a huge impact in terms of news related to the area: “This was a very, very dangerous area. Then the army entered the area in 2010. They arrested the drug traffickers and criminals and the doors opened. What happened here today (a media tour) could never happen before — never could a group like this enter this area. Today, we are getting out of isolation, which is our big mission.”

There is almost a surreal flavour to the facility in that it is surrounded by what appears to be abject poverty. One observer likened it to a “slice of heaven surrounded by hell.”

Still, the future for children and teenagers living in this concrete jungle, brightened considerably last June when Brazilian telecom vendor Telefonica/Vivo and Ericsson announced plans to provide them with Internet access through broadband and services over the cloud.

It is an initiative that Lopes would have welcomed.

“It would be wonderful no matter what the public school, but the most beautiful part of the idea is to bring it to one of the poorest areas, which was also one of the most violent until recently” said Claudia Costin, Secretary of Education of Rio de Janiero, soon after the project was announced. “The schools had very little help to deliver classes every day, especially the school for small children.”

Connect to Learn, which was launched in 2010 by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Ericsson and Millennium Promise, a New York City-based NGO, focuses on teaching children through advances in ICT.

In Vila Cruzeiro, two public schools and Social Attitude were provided with Internet access via broadband and services over the cloud, and both teachers and students are equipped with netbooks.

“All children are entitled to have access to education, but some of the world’s young people are still being left behind,” says Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility at Ericsson. “Connect To Learn’s mission is to use the power of ICT to ensure that 21st century education is available to all.”

• • • • •

Brazil, according to Douglas Gilstrap, senior vice president and chief strategist with the company, was selected as the site of the forum because it is the “very embodiment of the Networked Society.”

The country’s economy is currently the fifth largest by nominal GDP and in telecom terms, an Ericsson fact sheet describes the growth of 3G in Brazil “as nothing short of spectacular. The number of WCDMA subscriptions (including both mobile phones and modems) has soared from less than 2,000 in June 2008 to more than 33 million in 2012.

It is also the fifth largest country in the world in terms of wireless usage, fourth largest in terms of wireless revenue and second only to the U.S. in terms of Facebook and Twitter users.

In Sao Paulo, there were a full slate of speakers and presentations on Day One of the conference. Speakers included Paulo Cesar Teixeira, CEO of Telefonica/Vivo, Eduardo Cury, the Mayor of Sao Jose dos Campos, a high-tech community which is considered the Silicon Valley of Brazil, Paulo Bernardo, the Brazilian federal minister of communications, Marcos Albagli, head of telecommunications with the Brazilian muli-national energy company Petrobras, Leonardo Tristao, head of Facebook Brazil, Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson’s chief technology officer; and Patrik Cerwall, the firm’s head of strategic marketing and intelligence.

Cerwall, who oversees the bi-annual Ericsson Mobility Report, outlined the latest results, which revealed a sharp rise in smartphone usage worldwide.

“The whole idea is to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening in the mobile world,” he said of the report. “In the last quarter, 40% of new phones sold were smartphones. Usage is doubling.”

Gilstrap, meanwhile, said expectations of mobile-network quality have been “elevated by the availability of smartphones and tablets that have changed the way we use the Internet. Mobility is becoming an increasingly significant part of our daily lives; we always have devices within arm’s reach, allowing us instant access to information, entertainment and social interaction.”

Results revealed that:


Upwards of all phones sold in Q3 2012 were smartphones and the growth of smartphone data traffic is expected to exceed the overall average


Mobile data traffic doubled between Q3 2011 and Q3 2012 and is expected to grow 12 times between 2012 and 2018, driven primarily video


Total mobile subscriptions are expected to reach 6.6 billion in 2012 and 9.3 billion in 2018

• There were an additional 13 million LTE subscriptions in the third quarter of last year and numbers are predicted to reach 1.6 billion by 2018.

“Traffic in mobile networks continues to grow at an impressive rate worldwide,” authors of the report concluded. “While voice remains a cornerstone of most operators’ service offerings, it is data growth, driven by the uptake of smart devices and apps, which is having the most significant impact on networks globally.”

In mid-October at the Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam, Ewaldsson said smartphones and the rise of “big data” now mean it is no longer realistic to address the network as separate silos.

The network, he said, must be capable of delivering the relevant, personalized, end-to-end IP based services and applications that meet users high expectations.”

As in Amsterdam, his presentation in Sao Paulo zeroed in on several key technology segments that Ericsson and others are betting on will make up the network of the future:


4G IP, virtualization and service provider software-defined networking (SDN)


OSS and BSS and real-time analytics


Heterogenous networks

According to Ericsson, 4G IP networking and service provider SDN are key to building a future network that is “smart, scalable, simple” and capable of delivering superior performance: ” The new IP network needs to be something beyond the network we built for the Internet boom. It should be aware of users, services, devices, location and scale in bandwidth and connections/signaling, at the same time as being much simpler to operate and maintain.”

Service Provider SDN is defined by Ewaldsson as an emerging technology with “great potential beyond its application in data centre.”

In his speech in Amsterdam, he stated that SDN in the telco-operator domain is “much more than (the Layer 2 communications protocol OpenFlow. It’s not about only managing the data planes in switches and routers, but about having fully integrated network control … This offers a new view on networking. Operators can orchestrate network resources on different layers for different purposes under the same management system.”

Heterogeneous networks, the company says, increase the coverage, bandwidth and signaling capacity of the mobile network as well as supporting high traffic volumes and data rates through low-power radio technologies.

“Innovation around new devices is becoming the driver of the telecommunications industry,” said Ewaldsson. “Upwards of 45% of all traffic in networks today is video. We need networks that are built to deliver these services better than anything else. In order to make this happen, we need a lot of innovation.

“If we can open these networks for any industry and use them to deliver a better service that means we have created a platform for innovation. Is that a fantasy? No, it is happening. We will move from innovation in the network to innovation on the network. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Networked Society.”

• • • • •

Roughly 2,500 kilometres to the northwest of Sao Paulo the nurturing of the Networked Society has been taking place for the past four years.

It was on display on a hot and muggy weekend in late November when journalists first toured a hospital boat named the Abare moored on the banks of the Tapajos River near the city of Santarem in an area that is known as the Amazon Basin.

Equipped with 3G connectivity capabilities in 2010, the boat is part of an initiative called Amazon Connected in which the first phase occurred one year earlier with the introduction of a 3G mobile network in the town of Belterra, located on the mainland side of the Tapajos, roughly 40 kilometres south of Santarem.

“Since then we have been working on how to leverage this activity in many aspects,” says Carla Belitardo, head of brand experience and sustainability for Ericsson in Latin America.

“There is a return on investment. This is not charity. In the end it is finding ways for the private sector to invest in areas that they would never think about. That was the plan in 2009 when we brought 3G connectivity to Belterra.”

In 2011, the Amazon connection program implemented 3G services in a remote village called Suruaca on the Tapajos, even though it has no power supply.

Through the use of a satellite tower and antenna and solar panels, smartphones and laptops can be charged, allowing residents to have Internet connections. It also means 150 children can participate in Connect to Learn. As in Rio, Ericsson teamed up with Telefonica/Vivo, but a different NGO called Projeto Saude de Alegria (SA), which in English means Project Health and Joy, is involved.

It was founded 22 years ago by Dr. Euginio Scannavino Netto, a fellow with an organization called Ashoka, a non-profit organization that promotes social entrepreneurship.

“(He) uses theatre and his ‘Health and Happiness’ circus to educate rural Brazilian citizens and (promote) good health and medical practices,” the group says on its Web site.

“Scannavino takes it to poor Amazon residents, spending a few days in each area. During the periodic visits, the multidisciplinary team performs circus and theatre acts and puppet shows using popular characters to entertain and educate at the same time. Games help teach nutrition to children. The team gives mini-courses about health issues in which the residents themselves have expressed an interest.”

A key component is the Abere boat. A fact sheet supplied by Belitardo enroute to a visit of Suruaca, located four hours away by boat from the mainland, outlined details of a vessel equipped with dental and obstetrical rooms, a pharmacy and equipment to conduct “basic” clinical tests.

“With a directional antenna connected to the nearest 3G base station, the boat also has signal amplifiers, which allow permanent access to the mobile broadband connection inside, transmitting data to the all computers via a wireless network. Thanks to this, doctors on board may, for example, communicate with specialists from other cities when they need a second opinion on a case, and even sent tests made in their lab for further analysis in places with better technical conditions.”

The pilot has been so successful that funding is currently in place for 32 additional boats and as many as 100 vessels could soon be in operation.

Dr. Fabio Tozzi, the onboard doctor on the Abare who also coordinated the program, says it is important to understand the Brazilian health system: “A law was passed 20 years ago that stated every Brazilian had to have the same type of health care. This is very easy to do in the south where you have many doctors and hospitals. The reality of the Amazon is very different. It’s a big, big challenge.

“Here, you only have four people per square kilometre.”