From the Economist:
Companies around the world are now busy developing low-cost devices and innovative business models to reach the world’s poor. Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, is pushing cheap wireless-data systems as the best way to extend connectivity to rural areas. Vodacom, South Africa’s largest mobile operator, has set up phone shops where rural entrepreneurs can buy and resell airtime. And the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chennai recently unveiled a stripped-down cash-dispenser that it plans to take to the masses in partnership with private-sector banks.
the challenge lies in the implementation. Mike Best of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has worked in rural markets in Africa and Asia, points out that many developing countries (he cites Ghana as an example) lack the requisite connectivity. In addition, aggregated demand in, say, Madagascar, with a population of 17m, is unlikely to yield the same economies of scale as in India. And with its multitude of languages and cultures, even India poses difficulties.
Some of the difficulties may have technical solutions. To deal with the problem of multiple languages, HP is devising character-recognition systems capable of recognising a variety of scripts. The engineers at IIT-Chennai are implementing a fingerprint-recognition system in their cash dispensersthat would save the (often illiterate) villagers from having to remember a personal identification number.
But perhaps the best reason to be optimistic is that the companies in question are driven by a powerful motivator that is lacking in donor-led rural programmes: profit. Mr Tawker, for example, happily characterises HP’s efforts as a long-term strategic response to saturation and slower growth in the company’s traditional markets. Now, the technologists just have to devise the technological equivalent of shampoo sachets.
This is an area close to what we are doing – creating solutions for the next billion people in the emerging markets of the world.