Douwe Osinga's Blog: A Hacked together tech saving the World

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Of course it was never going to be this way. UMTS was going to be big before the end of 2000 and we would all be surfing at top speed using our cell phones. As it turns out, we all meant just the Japanese and Korean (DoCoMo is talking of bumping up the speed of their phones to 14Mbs, in the Netherlands we're still testing UMTS). Meanwhile we're stuck with GPRS, a hacked together protocol that allows packet switch networking over normal GSM. It is slow, it is expensive and it will save the world.

There are four billion people who don't have access to normal phones and it is going to be a hell of a job to get those people on the Internet. Not only that but these are the people that have the most to gain by access to the Internet. If you have a phone, newspapers, access to television and the money to buy stamps, you can communicate with people, read news, watch stuff and send mail faster through the Internet, but you could do all those things before too. If you're poor, the Internet can really open up these things for the first time.

But here's the thing: for most Internet solutions, you need electricity, computers and some kind of wiring, be it tv cable or telephone lines, all in short supply in Africa and all expensive. This is where GPRS comes in. GSM coverage in the Third World is increasing incredibly fast. GSM is a proven technology using standard components. Mass produced phones are getting cheaper all the time. It is really the only way to bring some kind of Internet to the real masses.

Why would they need Internet, some might ask? Communication. Knowing what price which products are going for is of huge importance to farmers, rich or poor. So is the possibility to communicate with business partners (or for that matter friends or family).  Internet is all about making things go smoother, hopefully smooth enough to include the poor in our economic system.