EmTech Spl: ICT for a billion lives

By : |March 3, 2009 0

NEW DELHI, INDIA: With its billion plus people, there is no lack of demand for the tight technology. With a strong talent base, there is no dearth of ability to innovate and create solutions to meet that demand, either.

What, however, is lacking is the right framework to scale up the solutions so that they really touch a billion lives, said panelists taking part in a discussion, on “Touching A Billion Lives: ICT” as part of EmTech India 2009, currently underway in New Delhi. Emtech, MIT’s premier technology conference, taken out of the MIT campus for the first time, is jointly being hosted by the institutes’s ‘Technology Review’ magazine and India’s CyberMedia Group.

The discussion, moderated by Shyam Malhotra, Director, CyberMedia Group, touched upon various aspects of how could ICT make a more meaningful impact on the lives of a billion Indians.

It started with a broad agreement that price and simplicity being the key factors of a technology being successful in a country like India. The panelists agreed that the mobile phone is the best available example of what it means. India added more than 15 million mobile phones in January, which is a world record, in terms of monthly addition.

According to the recently-released International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ICT Development Indicators (IDI) data, in India, mobile mobile subscriptions account for 86 per cent of total (fixed and mobile) telephone subscriptions, compared to the global average of 72 per cent.

Yet, something somewhere is missing. India ranks a lowly 118 in the list of 154 countries in ITU’s IDI ranking. The panelists deliberated on what could be those missing links. 

In terms of technology, while all panelists agreed that mobile is the future, individual panelists bet on some emerging new technologies as well.

“WiMAx, if it can be pushed correctly by the government, could be another great technology that could go a long way in solving many of our problems,” said Ajay Gupta, Director, IPG R&D Center,Hewlett-Packard India.

“One of the problem is that we have this big vacuum of the Internet. It is still not accessible to a large majority of the Indians,” said Manish Gupta, Associate Director, IBM India Research Laboratory.

He elaborated about a new technology being developed by IBM Research Lab that will make people access what he called a parallel voice web.

This is an interconnected network of voice sites that are linked to each other by a new protocol designed by IBM for the purpose, hyper speech protocol, like hyper transfer protocol of traditional web. The users can upload content to that as and when they wish and share them with the world, he informed.

Answering a question from moderator Malhotra why the low-cost PC has not taken off, Gupta said, “PC is a thing of the past; mobile is the future”. The PC, it may be mentioned here, was an IBM innovation. But innovations do run their course.

While there is no dearth of demand and innovation, the missing link is the ability to scale up so that any solution benefits a larger set of people, agreed the panelists. All agreed that the government could play an important role.

A good part of the time was spent on the role of the government, as panelists reacted to a provocative question by moderator Malhotra about why the government should be involved after all.

“Govt needs to be proactive, not reactive,” said Venkatesh Valluri, president and country general manager, Agilent India.

He said that when we talk about the bottom of pyramid, it is not that they themselves are involved in buying what they use. Someone else takes that decision. That, in many cases, is the government.

He backed his point by saying that the government does do that sometimes, as in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. “But that is reactive, development should be proactive,” said Valluri.

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