Vision - January/February 2009 - (Page 42)
Andrew Wheeler/Alamy Developing Nations Seek Charles Sturge/Alamy Travel Ink/Getty Images “C By Gary Arlen an you imagine an Internet based on voice? Instead of a website, you have a ‘voice site.’ You get to more people that way; you encourage commerce, health, education.” Ideas like these gush from Kazi Islam, CEO of Grameen Solutions Ltd., a Dhaka, Bangladesh, software and services development company that focuses on technology for emerging markets. “We try to identify, develop and implement technology-based services to reduce poverty, create jobs and do social development through information and communications technology,” Islam explains. The “voice sites,” being developed in collaboration with global technology partners including IBM and Microsoft, reflect two realities of emerging markets, Islam says: the “tremendous reach of mobile phones in developing countries” and “the barrier of January/February 2009 language.” (Since many websites use English or other written formats, potential customers could be stymied from taking full advantage of a text-driven Internet service. Part of Grameen’s approach involves figuring out how to “bring the benefits of the Internet to the voice domain,” Islam explains. He characterizes the challenge as “partly eBay and partly Yellow Pages,” focused on the mobile platform. For customers, the service represents a giant leap into affordable, usable technology. Islam observes that in many areas, the only way to find an electrician is to go into the town bazaar/market, ask around for an electrical expert, and then bring him to your home to fix the problem. Mobile-based voice directories will provide convenience and generate new business and trading opportunities, he says. Grameen Solutions joins a growing phalanx of technology developers who see wireless and portable services as the key to the CE business in emerging markets. Islam points out that there are about 800 million PC users worldwide, a pittance compared to the globe’s 3.5 billion mobile phone customers, nearly 80 percent of who live in developing nations. He cites the penetration in his native Bangladesh, a relatively poor country, where about 30 percent of people now have mobile phones, and their ranks are growing by about 30 percent annually. Kentaro Toyama, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India, bursts with enthusiasm about “Warana Unwired,” a project using SMS textmessaging to help a sugarcane cooperative in India run its operations more effectively. By providing a fast, simple way to receive pricing data about crops, the wireless service furnishes about 55 villages with a low-cost tool that offers near-instant access to information to enhance productivity in a reliable format. Warana Unwired replaced a PC-based system. “ ‘Featherweight Computing’ is the name we give to all sorts of extremely low-cost www.ce.org 42
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