For some reason, our political leaders are bent on using the word “cyber” whenever the get the opportunity to. Everything is cyber here: Cyber caravan, Cyber Crime or something along that line as well as a few other cyber things here and there. What does “cyber” mean anyway?
Merriam-webster says something about “the culture of computers”. It must be a joke: I hardly see any kind of “culture of computers” in Mauritius.
We are far, VERY FAR from deserving being called a cyber island yet. Why? Lots of reasons actually…
Stuck in Slow Lane, in 1st gear with a broken clutch
What’s the fastest Internet speed in Mauritius? I guess that’d be around 40Mbps that the Government has I think. For home users? That’d be around 4Mbps. That’s LAME! You don’t consider yourself cyber with speeds like that!
Cloud services? HD Streaming? Online desktop? E-working? What, you mad? None of this would work on low-megabit speeds like that. A service like Dropbox loses its attraction. Streaming? Forget it. Ask Carrotmadman about football streams! We can’t have our own BBC iPlayer because of the slowness.
The good thing is, Orange has been doubling the speed quite consistently over recent years. If this trend continues, we may get 8Mbps in what, 4 years or so? Too slow!
Another good news: Some ISP, Bharat Telecommunications Ltd, has applied for an ISP license to ICTA. Funny thing is, I can only find the license. I think I saw that in L’Express but I cannot find the original news again. They promised 10Mbps before 2012 ends or something like that. I’ll believe it when I see it.
For now, you’re stuck watching your lolcat videos on Youtube but with everything going in stop-motion. Very fun.
Education is either expensive or lacking
We have like, 5 Universities now, all of them offering a range of IT courses, most of them should just be called “Systems Engineering and Coding” instead of fancy names like “Bsc. Computer Applications”. It’s just that: we do tons of programming and very little of what remains.
Networking? Databases? Security? Mere modules in a Bsc. Show me one Bsc. course in Mauritius that focuses only on Game Development? Only on mobile technologies and development? Nah, we don’t have that kind of specialization.
We don’t need them. Or, to be more precise, our BPOs don’t need them. Maybe they’d need a few of those mobile tech guys, but Game Developers? Nope. BSc. in Security etc are not required because companies want their Sec people to have CCSPs and Microsoft Security Whatevers and Ethical Hacker something! They don’t care about your old-time BSc that still teaches how Ping of Death works. Nooo, they want you to be able to configure an IPS, not how to understand how it works!
Why’s that? Why aren’t non-programming Bsc or other university courses not in demand? We don’t have research. UoM calls itself a University but as far as I know, doesn’t do much research. Sure, we have people doing their PhDs and stuff, but most of the things they do are either just stuffed in a library somewhere, or cannot be put into practice in the country. That’s it for the demand, so there’s no supply as well.
On the other hand, there is immense demand for professional-level certificates like CCNA, CCNP, MCITP and whatever fancy acronyms you can think of. Those courses are really cool and do teach you quite a lot of practical stuff that Universities won’t teach you, or more precisely, cannot teach you because they don’t have the latest and shiny toys.
For those wanting professional certificates, they have to go to private training centres? What’s wrong? Those courses are ridiculously expensive! CCNA is a “mere” Rs. 30,000 at best. MCITP? Rs. 150,000 or so. And people DO shell out the cash to do those because it’s easy to get jobs when you got yourself a shiny new MCITP Virtualization certification (or not, employers are starting to see the tricks and do more hands-on interviews now).
Government, instead of trying to invent Cyber-names, should instead create a regulatory body for training centres. Like a Price Observatory for professional certificates. Also, we need loan schemes to be able to afford the high cost. This has to be sustainable: if you resort to this scheme, you need to get a letter from your employer to show that your newly-acquired skills would be useful to them and you will have to refund the cost of your training + interests over the next 2 years or something. There’s no point in 13-year old kids getting CCIEs when they won’t use it and just waste money. Unless you know, they’re genius 13-year-olds or something.
Where are the startups??
90% of University IT graduates join a BPO less than 6 months after completing their studies. That’s not an official fact, just my personal observation. Most of my IT-related friends are currently in BPOs. As far as I know, none of them started their own company. That is, none of them created a startup.
Worse is, a few of them are really good at what they do, and their undergrad dissertation, with a bit of polishing could be a viable commercial product. But no, they just join BPOs like herded sheep. I understand them: Rs. 23,000 for fresh graduate is a lot of money.
The downside is that without Startups, our local IT industry is stifled. We don’t have big name players here because they don’t have anything to invest in here: they just shift out their boring work and maintenance to be done here by undergrad grunts. Not fun, but at least it brings money.
That and a boatload of call-centres. I remember the beginnings of Ebene Cyber City… I used to call it Call Centre City. Because that’s what it was filled with. That and Government bodies.
In my opinion, call centres are not IT. Yes, they use IT. Yes, they employ IT people. No, they don’t contribute anything new to the IT sector in general. They are just services, some of them existing only to annoy people into buying crap.
I do wish there were more startups. The market in Mauritius is small but that doesn’t mean you can’t sell your services to international folks. There are a good number of success stories with local companies mainly working with foreign ones, so there is hope for startups, only if people are willing to take the risk. Yes, startups do fail. A lot of them do. A few of them turn into giants like Google.
The void called Online Services
Try buying a cinema ticket online. Or try ordering a few computer parts or electronics stuff to be delivered to your doorstep. Ok, forget buying. You got a call from some number on your mobile but don’t know who that is. You want to do a reverse phone lookup. Or, you want to do a normal phone lookup, why not?
Tried any of those? Of course not! Why? Because the services are NOT available! You can’t do anything online! No services, no checking up bus time-tables, no booking a taxi, barely any online shopping, nothing! Cyber-island? More like, mall-island! You’re supposed to do all your shopping in big-ass malls that sell expensive junk. Yes, funny.
Why don’t we have any of those anyway? No one’s investing in them, that’s why! Secondly, but more importantly, we don’t have a local payment systems. Banks are more interested in getting you to shift your money from under your mattress to their vaults, that’s it. They’re not interested in investing a ton of cash in creating a local payment system!
And they’re wrong. They’d have made a ton of cash in return. People would have signed up for paid services just to get access to this payment service. They’d pay for security. They’d pay for convenience. They’d pay for being lazy. I’d pay for being lazy!
Who wouldn’t want to book their Harry Potter ticket online instead of standing like a pole in a long queue at Star Cinemas? Or check at what time and where they can get a bus to Quatre Cocos or wherever? Those services would be popular. If only they existed.
Oh, and it’d also help with that “culture of computers” thing. When someone’s told that they can avoid standing for 2 hours in a queue by using this computer-thing-service, they’d want to learn how to do that. They’d want to learn what else they can do. They’d develop a culture of computers. We’d become a Cyber Island! Yay!
We also need a more developed web-space. For now, we only have lots of Mauritian blogs but if that were to change with say, Chapeau La Paille having their webpage, Rose-Hill transport having theirs (instead of a crappy old un-updated website), we’d be better off.
Missing the cool stuff
Finally, I come to the point that grieves me most. I can’t find the computer parts I want! I can’t find that shiny gadget I want. Or if I can, it’s just too expensive!
I should probably do a comparison between Mauritian and Malaysian prices when it comes to computer parts. Just for the lulz, although I know their market is much bigger than ours. It’d be fun, probably.
I mean, really, how many good computer shops are there in Mauritius? I can name like, 5.
The main problem is not that parts are missing, but that there is no competition, or not enough competition. And not enough market. And not enough culture of computers.
Monopolies. Ah, monopolies. Am looking at you, Orange. You too, 5 computer shops. You are seriously ruining the fun. Not much to say here. It’s just that we’re stuck with drooling over parts online, parts that we cannot find in Mauritius. Too bad.
Ok forget that. We also lack specialized services. The craze is for smartphones lately and those things EAT data. Try finding a big data package from one of our… two operators. None exists. Sure, you can get a 1GB a month for a huge price but there’s no all-rounder packages to be had. Like, I’d like 200 mins of calls, 100Mb of data and say, 300 SMS for around Rs. 300. Nope, can’t have. Market too small. Need. More. Profits! PROOOFITS!
I’ll just stop here. If you’ve read all text above, you’d now know why I think Mauritius is no cyber island yet. I also offered a few suggestions about what I think could improve the situation. There is hope! All is left in the hands of our leaders, companies and corporates to decide if we could really earn that title afterwards. The future is not bright, is it?