is now connected, making it more feasible for telecomm operators to move
into rural India.
The business case around services
based on connectivity remains weak,
however, because the question of who
will pay is unanswered. But Tenet and
the IIT incubator are experimenting
with a number of technology and application options, developing ideas that
could scale to become commercial.
Jhunjhunwala forecasts that mobile
communication will reach 97% of India’s rural population in the next few
years and that every village will have
broadband in five or six years. However,
he says, “we are also concerned about
sustainable development and world issues such as climate change. Creating
a better life for those in rural areas will
challenge the poverty trap of moving to
overcrowded urban areas and reduce
In Pakistan, ICT4D programs include
a speech and language technology development research project led by Carnegie Mellon University and Aga Khan
University, and initially funded by Microsoft’s Digital Inclusion initiative.
Called HealthLine, the project seeks to
overcome a lack of healthcare information in rural areas by giving members
of the healthcare community access to
medical information. Healthcare workers, mostly village women chosen by
the government for two months of basic training, use a toll-free number to
call and ask questions of an automated
health information system. The system
overcomes literacy problems and barriers to information access, allowing the
women to act as frontline healthcare
providers in villages that often have little or no health service provision.
Jahanzeb Sherwani, an undergraduate from Lahore and a doctoral student
at Carnegie Mellon, is working on the
project in Karachi, talking to healthcare
providers about their needs and considering how technology can be adapted
for populations with a low level of literacy. The system is being tested and, if
it is successful, could be scaled to cover
the 100,000 rural healthcare workers in
Pakistan. The economics of the system
are good as health workers need only access to a phone and the health information is held on a PC server in Karachi.
Roni Rosenfeld, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon,
hopes the Pakistani government will
fund a large-scale version of the project,
but also envisions a business model
that requires people to pay a small fee
for information they want, making the
project self sustaining if it is not government funded.
Are such projects sustainable? “
Absolutely,” says Rosenfeld. “Although it
is hard to predict sustainability for any
one ITC4D project, overall sustainable
projects are sure to emerge. We need expertise in IT, economics, social policy,
different cultures, and business, and
we need to try out as many ideas and solutions as possible. Some will fail, but
some will succeed.”
It is not just academic projects that
are reaching the poorest people on
the planet. Commercial companies
are also playing a part. While cynics
suggest their interest is in cornering
emerging markets, corporations such
as Microsoft take a more balanced
view. Kentaro Toyama, a leader in Microsoft’s Technology for Emerging
Markets group at Microsoft Research
India, acknowledges the business potential of new markets, but also points
to the company’s responsibility to help
people get the most out of computers,
particularly in places that have previously lacked access to technology.
In terms of ICT4D projects, Microsoft runs many, funding research budgets and collaborating with development partners such as the World Bank.
Its projects include Digital Green,
which disseminates agricultural education to small farmers through digital video, and text-free user interfaces,
which allow nonliterate groups to access computers.
While the answer to the question
of whether the end of poverty will be
achieved by money or knowledge is
probably both, Toyama adds the need
for human interest. “The problems
of developing countries are huge and
dire,” he says. “We have to do as much
as we can to help by harnessing the
energy of people in developed countries. ICT4D is sustainable and can
be successful as long as it attracts human interest.”
Sarah Underwood writes about computing and
technology from Teddington, UK.
More patent applications were
filed in China than any other
country last year, according
to China’s State Intellectual
Property Office, which received
694,000 applications in 2007.
The U. S. had the second most
applications, with 484,955,
followed by Japan with 443,150.
Three types of patents are
granted in China: invention
patents, which are valid for 20
years from the date of filing,
and utility patents and design
patents, both of which are
valid for 10 years. In terms
of invention patents, China
is ranked third in the world,
behind the U. S. and Japan.
If China’s number of patent
applications continues at its
current rate, it will lead the
world in invention patent
applications by 2012.
of the invention patent
applications filed in China are
made by foreign businesses,
“which clearly suggests that
filing in China has become
an intrinsic part of most
strategies,” according to
Evalueserve, a market and
business research company.