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Monday, October 02, 2006

New Models For Taking Technology To The Masses

I always believe that solutions in the emerging markets would evolve based on different paradigms as against what the western corporate board rooms may propose to be – Like the case of telecom story in India. The belief here is that a combination of policy initiatives and innovation on technological and business models. In the past, efforts to bring computers to the poor often failed because they were based on Western ideas of how technologies ought to be used or paid for. Governments and foundations doled out money, only to see it poorly spent or pocketed by middlemen. And when market-oriented approaches were tried, they often presumed that PCs were things individuals owned and paid for upfront. By borrowing ideas from mobile phones and taking greater account of local conditions, some new schemes show promise of a better chance of making computing accessible. The Economist points to a few alternative noteworthy developments therein:
In England, a group of people have devised a device that allows one PC to be used by many people at once. In much of the world, a PC costs more than a house. Mobile phones are used to link the shared PCs to the internet. The organisation is called Ndiyo (the Swahili word for “yes”), and was founded by a former researcher at AT&T. The impetus has come from the thinking that one need not have to cut-down computers for poor people but make sure they get what everyone else get to use, by looking at new models to reach them. Ndiyo’s system, a small, cheap interface boxes allow multiple screens, keyboards and mice to be linked to a single PC cheaply via standard network cables exploits a little-used feature in operating systems that permits multiple simultaneous users. Success rate - Internet cafés based on Ndiyo's technology have already been set up in Bangladesh and South Africa. While, earlier, I had wanted Google to come up with innovative solutions for low cost computing, in reality, Microsoft, not to be outdone,has devised a plan to provide PCs to the poor using a business model borrowed from pre-paid mobile phones. Called FlexGo, the scheme is designed to appeal to people who cannot afford a PC because it is too expensive to pay for one all at once, or because their income is irregular or cyclical (as with farmers). Google may realise that there are tons of money that it can potentially make through unique streams of AdSense, when the reach extends.
FlexGo is a rent-to-buy arrangement in which the customer determines the frequency of payments. People pay around half the price of the computer and software at the start and then pay to use it by buying scratch cards. Once their credit is depleted, the machine goes dark, just as a mobile phone does. Microsoft has also released a scaled-down version of its Windows operating system for developing nations, called XP Starter Edition - the expectation is that by removing features and dropping the price, it hopes to reduce software piracy, as well. Cisco is chipping in with support for the free “networking academies” run by local technical experts in 63 developing countries. A combination of vision, guts, innovation, entrepreneurism, favourable policy regulations all are coming together to make this happen - the mission is nothing short of true revolution - the multiplier effect this can bring would be mind boggling.

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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
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