Dhiraagu to lay “underwater highway” by June 2012

Dhiraagu, a major telecom company in the Maldives, expects to have its sub-marine communications cable installed by June 2012. This is the latest phase in its High-Speed Network Roll-Out Program.

As part of a US$28.2 million, five-year upgrade, Head of Networks Umayr Shafeeu said the cable will act as “an underwater highway,” connecting most Maldivian islands with improved bandwidth and high-speed internet access.

Shafeeu said the cable will be a significant change for the Maldives. “Connecting people is the single biggest and most difficult thing in the Maldives,” he said. “The country is very isolated, and although we have provided cell phone service it is not enough. Now, people need TV, high-speed, wireless–all these things require a lot of bandwidth.”

Recently, the Maldivian government was criticised by the opposition for releasing a third of its Dhiraagu shares to the public. “I think it’s essentially a good move,” said Dhiraagu Head of Marketing, Ahmed Maumoon. “Of course it’s a government decision, but from a personal point of view it’s good for the public to take part in a profitable and sustainable company.”

Maumoon said the public could gain confidence from the re-distribution of shares.

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Eid ul-Fitr celebrated in the Maldives

The Maldives celebrated Eid ul-Fitr this week with prayer by day and parties by night. After a month of fasting for Ramadan, residents appear to be enjoying the capital island’s festive, social atmosphere.

The Islamic Ministry announced that Tuesday, August 30 was Eid ul-Fitr this year, and Male’ residents woke early on Tuesday morning to the sounds of heavy metal playing near the tsunami memorial. By late morning, the music had stopped and people were moving among houses and shops and a relaxed holiday atmosphere settled over the usually bustling city.

As ordered by the government, all private vehicles were parked and quiet between 3:30pm and 10:30pm. The traffic ordinance made it possible for residents to walk comfortably in the streets on a day when most of Male’ comes out for a stroll or to see the festivities.

The Islamic Ministry extended prayer space from the Islamic Center to Jetty 1 on Male’s northern side. Women could pray in extended space between the Dhiraagu head office to the Friday Mosque Minaret. Men were allowed to occupy all other areas.

Many Male residents traveled to home islands for Eid this year. But those who stayed enjoyed a range of sports, music and cultural activities.

Lagoons Sports Club organised “Maali Neshun” and “Bodumas Beynun”, Maldivian sporting events, on Boduthakurufaanu Magu and Ameenee Magu on Tuesday afternoon.

In “Maali Neshun”, masked participants dressed in ash and palm leaves walked Male’s roads and frightened parade onlookers in jest.

Two fishermen in “Bodumas Beynun” used magic, or fanditha, to catch a large woven fish.

In the evening, Male’s youth and married couples were to be found in hoards at the live music show in the Raalhugandu area, which was sponsored by local telecommunications company Dhiraagu.

Local bands such as 1knightstand, Harubee, and MNDF Cops Band took the stage alongside solo artists like Unoosha and Easa. The concert, which featured a range of musical tastes from soft rock to metal, rap and ska, began around 10 pm and continued past 2 in the morning.

Just around the corner near Bodufungandu Magu, palm tree road blocks protected a street rave featuring drums and traditional dancers. Young people and families were seen, and heard, celebrating into the late hours of the night.

The five-day period of Eid continues through Sunday. Although business is expected to return to its normal, pre-Ramadan state on Monday, Maldivians are looking forward to a second, longer Eid celebration before the end of the year.

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Third of government’s Dhiraagu shares to be made public

The government has decided to release a third of its shares in local telcoms giant Dhiraagu to the public.

Dhiraagu a major player in the telecommunications, mobile and broadband internet markets of the Maldives, and is one of the country’s most profitable companies.

The government will make a third of its shares available to the public from October, to both local and foreign parties, reports Sun Online. Share prices have not yet been published.

The Maldivian government previously held 55 percent of Dhiraagu’s shares, while the British company Cable and Wireless held the remaining 45 percent. Upon winning the 2008 presidential election, President Nasheed’s government sold 7 percent of the shares to Cable and Wireless, reducing government shares to 48 percent and giving Cable and Wireless a controlling interest.

Minister of Economic Development and Foreign Trade, Mahmoud Razee, told Sun that studies would determine the prices and ratios of shares to be offered in local and international markets, and that the shares would be “affordable” to the average Maldivian.

Minister Razee also stated that as Dhiraagu was a strong company, people could benefit from buying its shares.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef told Minivan News that the shares were valuable, but said he was not in favor of selling them.

“As far as [the DRP] is concerned, we do not believe this is a wise decision. Dhiraggu is a very profitable and well-managed company, and it makes a lot of money for the government. This is a time when we are undergoing an economic crisis, and we cannot afford to have these shares dispersed.”

Shareef said he thought most Maldivians would be interested in the shares, but said he doubted whether the majority of people would be able to afford them.

“The people who have the capacity to buy these shares are either foreign companies, or very rich Maldivians,” he said.

The government estimates that the sale of the shares will generate Rf 1.46 billion (US$95 million).

Shareef said the outcome would be obvious as soon as the shares hit the market.

“In the Maldives, we know who has the money. We know a majority of people don’t have the money. There must be some political reason for this decision, it’s not just an economic strategy,” he suggested.

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Dhiraagu announces usage limits for billed data services

Telecoms provider Dhiraagu has said it will be introducing usage-limits for its postpaid billed services after customer feedback highlighted concerns over smart phone owners using “excessive data” amounts.

In a statement issued today, the company claimed that it will be issuing usage limits as well as sending SMS alerts detailing when certain amounts of a monthly data allocation had been used by each of its customers.

The limits being set by Dhiraagu will be based on each customer’s previous individual usage as well as their payment history, the company has claimed.

A spokesperson for the company was unavailable to detail which specific services the limitations will apply to at the time of going to press.

“This is an initiative based on feedback from customers and will facilitate customers to better understand and control their usage levels,” Dhiraagu said in a statement.  “Customers will also have the option to change their usage limit in discussion with Dhiraagu, should they wish to do so.”

According to the company, the new usage limit scheme is anticipated to be fully implemented as of June 2011, by which point contracted customers will receive an individually set usage-limit.  This limit will be accompanied by SMS alerts indicating when customers have used 70 and then 85 percent of their total data allowance.

Dhiraagu said that customers will also be able to check the balance of an individual bill as well as their usage limits by sending an SMS to 727 or calling 123 on their phones.

Rival telecoms group Wataniya was unable to respond to Minivan News at the time of going to press over whether it has considered implementing similar usage measures for its data services.

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Dhiraagu signed up for court video conferencing services

Maldives-based telecoms group Dhiraagu will provide video conference technology to link the country’s Criminal Court and Maafushi Magistrate Court under a new agreement with the Department of Judicial Administration, reports Haveeru.

Ibrahim Ahmed Manik , the Chief Judicial Administrator, said at a signing ceremony that launching the video service, which has been devised to remove potential difficulties in transporting people between the individual courts, had been delayed from earlier this year, adds the report.

The Department of Judicial Administration has also claimed that it has met about 99 per cent of the annual objectives stemming from its 2010 budget. These objectives include training for both judges and administrative staff in skill areas like conferencing and IT skills, as well as programmes to improve English, according to Haveeru.

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Group claims ‘2000 strong’ protest against Dhiraagu over privacy and latency concerns

A group of Maldivians calling themselves “Firaagu’’, led by Firaagu Mohamed, have scheduled a protest against the first network service provider in the Maldives, Dhiraagu (Dhivehi Raajjeyge Gulhun), claiming to have “many issues” with the company.

Protest organiser Firaagu Mohamed claimed that more than 2000 people have said they would join the protest.

“We are expecting 3000 to join us on the day of protest, January 1. We will launch a website and a hotline this month so that everyone joining can discuss and disclose more information about the protest,’’ said Firaagu.

Protesters will gather at Jumhoory Maidhaan and will march towards Dhiraagu Head Office in Medhuziyarai Magu, Firaagu said, claiming the group would also be distributing T-Shirts.

Firaagu, who claims to have obtained information concerning matters of privacy and latency from a whistleblower inside the company, say they will present their allegations in the lead up to the protest.

“We do not want our every move sniffed and monitored. And do not give us false messages when we try and call somebody by saying ‘The number you are calling is switched off’,” he alleged.

Outside the resorts, the country’s telecom providers are among the most marketed and media savvy organisations in the country, and desired employers among many young people.

Spokesperson for Dhiraagu Mohamed Mirshan yesterday told Minivan News that Dhiraagu had not received any information regarding the planned ‘Firaagu’ event officially.

”If anyone had any issues concerning Dhiraagu, they could always contact us,” Mirshan said. ”we are always easily accessible,” Mirshan said.

”Expressing peoples views on large companies through social network is very common in the Maldives as well as in other countries,”

Mirshan said if the protest was organised by a genuine person he would have contacted Dhiraagu before deciding to launch a protest.

“I have also seen the page on Facebook, and its credibility looks doubtful,” he added.

Dhiraagu is one of the only two network service providers in the Maldives, and has been providing telecom services for 22 years.

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Games could mean serious business for the Maldives, says MESA

A team of young Maldivans from the Maldives E-Sport Association (MESA) returned home last week fresh from competing at the Sri Lankan Cyber Games (SLCG), facing off against the tournament winners in their first exhibition match outside the country.

‘E-Sports’ – competitive multi-player computer gaming – are extremely popular in the Maldives. MESA holds its own gaming festival every year (the next is at the end of November) and attracts sponsorship from companies such as Dhiraagu, Point IT, Coca-Cola and Raajje Online, rivaling a major sporting event.

The Maldivian side is getting noticed on the international pro-gaming circuit too, explains MESA’s President Ismail ‘Levitan’ Azmee, for despite their relative lack of experience, the team drew their exhibition match with the Sri Lankan champions at the SLCG.

The game was ‘Call of Duty 4’, a first person shooter (FPS) in which two teams of players must coordinate to achieve a set objective, such as capturing a flag, or more usually, exterminating the opposition with virtual gunfire. A player is reincarnated at the beginning of each round.

Matches at the SCLG were a race to 13 win, Azmee explains.

“The first match we lost 9-13. But in the next match we got to chose our [preferred] map, and we won 13-11,” he says. “If you know the map, you have an advantage over your opponent because you know how to flank them.”

The Sri Lankan teams were very experienced having played together for three years, while the Maldivian side: Ali Ayham, Mohamed Maaiyz Nasheed, Mohamed Samhan, Mohamed Bassam, Ikram Easa, Mohamed Jinad, Mohamed Iyash and Ali Farooq had only eight months.

Teams play opposite each other at a bank of computers, communicating using in-game commands to avoid tipping off the opposition.

Sportsmanship was tested during the match, when, outnumbered by jeering spectators, one of the Maldivian side was ‘knifed’ in-game by a Sri Lankan player.

With all the high-powered weaponry in the game, the close-combat killing of an unobservant player is considered the ultimate humiliation.

“But we kept our cool, and knifed him back twice,” says Ali Ayham, one of MESA’s exhibition players. “They became quite agitated after that.”

Other games played included racing simulation Need for Speed.

“The Maldives is strongest in Counterstrike and Call of Duty, but we also have possibly one of the best Guitar Hero players in the region,” says Azmee. “He doesn’t miss a button.”

Far from the inconsequential past-time of idle and dissolute youth, MESA is one of the Maldives’ largest, youngest and most active associations. Were its 10,000 to 12,000 members to form a political party, it would come close to being the third largest in the Maldives, after the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Accordingly, MESA wants nothing more than to trigger a surge in high-tech investment to the Maldives.

“Maldivian industry is limited to tourism and fishing,” Azmee says, “and we want to introduce electronics in the near future. The country has a high youth population, and one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the country is electronic. Most gamers are not out to compete at a professional level, they just play for fun, but for those that want to take it to the next level, MESA is trying to make that happen.”

Gaming, he says, “is not just entertainment – it’s an industry. Game testers are paid more than doctors in the Maldives – you have to be an extreme gamer and really know your gaming history. It’s a demanding job.”

MESA has already built connections with companies in South Korea, where computer gaming is the de facto national sport. “They have committed to supporting us to develop the electronics industry in the country,” Azmee notes, adding that the association has letters from the government supporting the creation of an “electronics village”, in a location such as like Hulhumale.

“We particularly want to attract game developers,” Azmee explains. “There are already a few mobile game developers here who have submitted proposals to [famous developers] Electronic Arts and Square Enix, but there are currently few opportunities for professional developers in the country because of a lack of support for the industry.

“There are a lot of people here with the required degrees, but no opportunity to develop what they have been trained to do. They have to accept jobs with low wages doing things they are not trained for. We have asked companies to come and develop here – we’ve already talked with them, we have all the documents and support from the government, even from the President himself.”

Internet access speeds in the Maldives are not up to the level of competitive gaming however, Azmee says, which has forced MESA to decline some offers to compete online.

“We don’t have the net connection here to play online competitively, although we have really good PCs. We are working with both the telecoms companies to try and get better pings (speeds).”

However corporate support for sponsoring gaming within the Maldives is already strong, Azmee says.

“At the SLCG in Sri Lanka we observed that while they had 200 teams, they had far less support than we have in the Maldives – they’ve asked for our assistance to get it. We are shortly going to start the first ever South Asia E-Sport Association here in the Maldives, and in the near future we’ll be signing MoUs with Pakistan, Singapore, India and Vietnam.”

Locally, MESA runs a gaming centre in Male’ on the main road of Majeedhee Magu, decorated with painted characters from the popular FPS Counterstrike. Many more players from the islands play online, and the association’s local servers attract many German, Brazilian, Korean and Singaporean players as well.

Prior to MESA’s arrival the centre had a reputation for being somewhere where local drug addicts would come to buy drugs, shoot up and hang out, says Azmee, and some still drift to the centre.

Astoundingly, MESA has had significant success in rehabilitating addicts by getting them involved in gaming. Users become so absorbed in the expansive, online multi-player game worlds such as World of Warcraft (WoW) that they “forget” one addiction, trading it for another far less harmful.

“It works, and the government has acknowledged it,” Azmee says. “They tried with the youth centres to get them playing sports but it did not work. A lot of the addicts in Male’ are just people with nothing else to do, and for them gaming can truly be a life-changing thing.”

Far from a solitary pursuit, so-called ‘massively multi-player’ games such as WoW require groups of players from around the world to cooperate and work together to achieve common goals within the game, such as slaying difficult adversaries. The action-reward nature of such games and the social interaction has proven so addictive for many players that WoW is sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘World of WarCrack’.

But its dealer, Blizzard Entertainment, has out-performed any drug mafia. WoW boasts more than 11 million paying players, and revenues in excess of US$1 billion per year.

For MESA’s competitive wing, games are serious business. Top players must practice up to eight hours a day “if we want to be the best at what we do, just to stay ahead of the competition,” Azmee explains.

It’s not all in-game practice either – the teams watch and analyse replays, and study the performance and tactics of world-ranked teams such Dignitas.

But despite the in-game challenges, the greatest obstacle comes in the form of convincing their skeptical parents that time spent gaming can lead to a viable career.

“A lot of parents are concerned, and say we are wasting our time and that playing games changes you sociologically. We’ve consulted several universities on this and found studies that show that gaming engages the mind, reflexes and problem solving abilities,” Azmee says.

“I try to explain to parents and educate them that games are not bad if played in the right way – and obviously you should not let a young child play a game like Grand Theft Auto. We are planning to introduce a ratings system to help parents learn more about the games their children are playing.”

While convincing the parents is a series of battles, MESA’s elite players appear to be winning the war.

“At first they gave us a lot of trouble by saying it was better for us to focus on studying and that there was no future in gaming,’ Azmee says. “But that changed when they saw all the medals at the last Maldives gaming festival. Now they are really helpful.”

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Dhiraagu extends 3G Plus network to Fuvah Mulah

Dhiraagu has extended its 3G Plus network to Fuvah Mulah in Gnaviyani Atoll, one of the more densely populated islands in the Maldives.

The expansion gives residents of Fuvah Mulah access to high speed mobile broadband internet, the company said in a statement.

Mobile broadband, along with WiMax technology, is thought to be one of the most economical ways of connecting the scattered population of Maldives to the internet, rather than laying extensive cabling for small populations.

“We are also pleased to reveal today that the work of extending Dhiraagu 3G Plus network and Broadband service to cover more islands, is progressing rapidly,” the company said.

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No basis to ‘deadly phone virus’, reassures Dhiraagu

Erroneous reports of a deadly phone call that supposedly uses high frequency tones to cause brain hemorrhaging have hit the Maldives in a tidal wave of warning text messages, TV news reports and panicked gossip.

Several local television news channels in the Maldivians have already reported the urban legend as fact, creating widespread panic by claiming that 27 people had already died worldwide including two Maldivians, supposedly in Fuvamula. This was not confirmed by police.

The story is a recurrent hoax that is thought to have originated in Afghanistan in 2007, according to Reuters, which reported the outbreak of mass hysteria in April that year. However the rumours quickly spread to Pakistan, where they were blamed on ‘God’s wrath’, before resurfacing in India in 2006 as ‘devil calls’. These variants also featured a death count of 27.

One account by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting traces the myth’s origins to a political spat between the Afghan Interior Ministry and Ministry of Communications.

The Maldivian version involves the circulation of a text message similar to:

”Dont attend to any calls from 7888308033, 9316048121, 9876266211, 9888854137, 9876715587 these numbers come in red color. U may get brain hamrage due to high frequency. 27 person died just receiving the call. Watch dd news to confirm. Please inform all your friends and relatives soon – its urgent.”

Dhiraagu Marketing and Public Relations Manager Mohamed Mirushan said all the stories and texts about deadly mobile phone viruses were baseless.

”People are calling and asking about the virus,” he said. ”It is technologically impossible for a phone call to cause a brain haemorrhage.”

He said that people should not always believe what a text message said.

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