The Sunday Times (Of India) reports in their print edition that Natham, a small village in Tamil Nadu, will be the first experiment in a new WiFi mesh strategy.

The Times reports that a base station has been identified 10kms away, while a rickshaw which is based in Natham will carry a server and antenna – linking the base station to the village. From there anyone with a WiFi device will be able to connect while provision has also been made to house two computers for public use in a shack in the village.

It’s projects like this that start to right the imbalances in a country with as wide a spread of socio-economic groups as India has. While there I was astounded that the largest growth industry would seem to be mobile phones – every street corner carries ads for different phones and services while the markets have become full of mobile stalls – nearly every second shop you come to is phone related. While it’s possible to argue that mobile phone services have enabled people to stay in touch and access information and support – I can’t help but think that cell phone companies can be lumped along with soft-drink and fast-food companies in seeing huge earning potential from third world citizens desperate to become more western – sure they’re filling a demand but there are some negative side-effects to doing so.

Free Internet access for poor villages is different however – it’ll allow people to reach out, see and experience the world and better their lives and the life of the village.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Ben, I used to lead a company that made and sold mobile phone infrastructure – base station antennas in our case – and the developing nations were a key target for us. Extending mobile phone usage through developing nations has been proven in many studies to be one of the best investments they can make, along with education. Simple example – a smallholding farmer typically sells his produce to a multi-tiered, inefficient wholesale system, from whom the small retailers in the area buy all their produce. Why – the wholesalers control the information and relationships. Mobile phones enable the grower and the retailer to deal direct on a daily basis, at better prices for both. The economy is thereby more efficient. There are myriad other examples.

    Mobile phones are not luxury goods in countries with few landlines – they are essential for transforming the economy, and the more people with them, the better; the network effect in real life. Mobile broadband will have an even bigger impact in these countries – way beyond what we’ll see in the developed world. The more phones, the better.

  • @Jim – I absolutely agree with your example via a vis rural farmers accessing a market easily and more efficiently. However what I saw of urban India indiacted to me that, at least for a number of consumers, mobile phone are alongside home theatre and Nike shoes as “must have” consumer items.

    So yes – mobile access is a real enabler absolutely, however pushing (for example) the latest iPhone or Nokia multimedia phone onto customers who yearn for Western influence, is predatory in my opinion

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