Wireless for Development

[via Atanu] CNet writes:

A. Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said the most important technological step to take in developing countries is to build out communications networks with wireless capabilities.

He said it is conceivable to put solar-powered antennae towers that support voice and data communications in villages for about $750 apiece. Newton also proposed a mobile phone with a much simpler interface, one he claimed was economically feasible. The phone would display images of people who called, so a user reviewing voice mail could press on the image of the person whose message he wanted to hear. “I can build that phone for less than $5 today,” he said.

Newton was among the many scholars, public officials and business leaders participating in the “Bridging the Divide” conference organized by UC Berkeley’s Management of Technology Program along with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.

Maggie Wilderotter, Microsoft’s senior vice president in charge of the public sector worldwide, began a keynote speech Friday by painting a picture of a starkly divided world. She said 2.5 billion of the world’s 6 billion people live on less than $1 a day. She also highlighted the importance of education. “What good is a laptop with broadband access if you can’t read or write?” she asked.

Still, technology can play a vital role in helping people’s well-being, she argued. Microsoft has a number of projects around the world designed to increase technology access, with wireless as one focus. In Africa, Wilderotter said, Microsoft is helping nomadic people stay connected via satellite. “The school computer lab actually moves with them,” she said.

The issue of development is a lot deeper and needs to be understood better. Atanu and I are thinking of writing a book to outline the issues, frame the problems (barriers to development) and suggest solutions (some of which could be entrepreneurial opportunities).

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.