Technology is offering the world’s poor (spread across the emerging markets like India, China, Indonesia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Mexico, Latin America) a final chance to catch up. Two-thirds of the world, or nearly 4 billion people, lives in these markets. Technology and the Internet offers new hope that the isolation people in many of these markets faced will be over, and that the standard of living will finally rise rapidly. It can be a positive feedback cycle: as these markets adopt technology, their economies (and especially exports) can grow faster, leading to greater funds available for their development. These emerging markets offer tomorrow’s opportunities.
But there are many challenges to be overcome. Infrastructure is poor in these markets, Government is a hindrance, Languages are many, and Education levels are low. There is pain in the lives of people and enterprises. For people in these countries, the Internet can be a great leveler, providing access to information, new markets and greater opportunities. For them, the Internet is a true distance bridge and makes geography irrelevant.
Consider Internet Telephony as an example. In many markets (India included), telecom costs, especially for international calls, have been disproportionately high, thanks to a mix of government control on telecom and regulation. But now, as the Internet spreads, voice-over-IP becomes the killer application to touch the lives of many people in these countries. If the government-controlled telecoms don’t embrace Internet telephony, surely, the people will!
Solutions which have worked in the developed markets in the world may not be ideal for the emerging markets, and vice-versa. The need is for local solutions to solve local problems. Voice, for example, can play a critical role in making the Internet available to the masses, simply because a significant portion of the people are not literate. The Voice Web, built on the spoken word, then becomes the easiest way to bring the richness of the Internet to the masses.
For the small and medium enterprises in these markets, the Internet can help open up new markets, by allowing them to come on the radar screen of the bigger companies. Translation services, email and global auctions allow them to participate in the global economy directly, bypassing middlemen.
The need, therefore, for the emerging markets, is to consider the Internet as core infrastructure and embrace it completely – for their people and their enterprises. The pain that people have gone through in the past can be now channelised into entrepreneurship. Creativity which had been so far used to beat the system can now be used to open new markets and innovate in products and services. People, the biggest bane in many of these countries, can now be educated and become agents for remote services. The starting point for these miracles is a vision for creating a mass market Internet.