Friday, April 21, 2017

Dr. Ihsan Ayyub Qazi, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at LUMS, recently gave a research talk at Facebook about challenges of Internet access in developing countries at their headquarters in Menlo Park, California, USA.

He discussed two projects that his research group has recently pursued. First, using a dataset of 0.5 million subscribers from one of the largest cellular operators in Pakistan, he presented the first in-depth study of features of mobile devices in developing regions and showed how they can be a major bottleneck to Internet access. He discussed the implications of mobile device characteristics e.g. low data rates, low-capability browsers, and security vulnerabilities, for Internet access and presented abstractions for classifying phones along different axes e.g. connectivity, capacity and flexibility. This was carried in collaboration with researchers from UC Berkeley and Duke University and appeared in ACM IMC 2016, a prestigious conference on Internet measurements.

In the second half of his talk, he presented a multidimensional empirical analysis of Facebook’s Free Basics platform, which is a set of free services made available by Facebook in collaboration with cellular providers in developing countries. The programme has grown to 50+ countries in the past two years in some of the most densely populated countries in the world, with low Internet penetration but very high mobile phone usage. Facebook claims that Free Basics can bridge this gap bringing more people online and, therefore has the potential to curb the digital divide.

Dr. Qazi’s analysis included Free Basics’ architecture, users, content providers, and cellular service providers over time. Using mobile clients in three countries, Dr. Qazi presented an analysis of available Free Basics services and their temporal growth over nine months. To capture the content providers view, their team also deployed their own Free Basics services, which allowed them to characterise 49,265 unique Free Basics users who visited their services. He also talked about the network characteristics of the Free Basics architecture, using the deployed web services and dedicated mobile clients to inform debates around Free Basics performance, privacy and effectiveness. This work was carried in collaboration with collaborators from Max Planck Institute, Northeastern University, University of Cape Town, IIT-Kharagpur, IIIT-Delhi, and BUET. A preliminary version of this work will appear in the poster session of ACM SIGMETRICS 2017.

During his visit, Dr. Qazi also met several LUMS alumni.

Dr. Qazi received his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh, PA USA in 2010 and his BSc (Hons) degree from LUMS with a double major in Computer Science and Mathematics in 2005. Previously, he has held positions at BBN Technologies and the Centre for Advanced Internet Architectures. His research interests are in computer networks and distributed systems and span cloud computing and datacenters, Internet censorship, mobile/wireless networking, and ICT for developing regions. His research has appeared in venues such as ACM SIGCOMM and IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking.