Rob Katz

Internet for All: A Field Report on the Wireless Revolution

Vietnamese with phoneGuest blogger Darrell Owen is an international consultant specializing in Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in developing countries. Prior to forming his own company, he worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. This week, he will present some of his on-the-ground experiences at the Silicon Valley Challenge Summit.

Over this last year, a number of my colleagues and I have been engaged in on-the-ground pilots proving that the combination of wireless networks (WiFi, WiMax, new generation IP-based satellite services) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) can cost-effectively reach low-income, rural and even remote locations.? This brings the potential of the Internet telecommunications revolution to the billions who have been left behind.? Details of this work can be found in a collection of my working papers (pdf).The experience has been real and tangible.? I personally have stood in a remote post office in northern Vietnam and, with a WiFi phone, made a VOIP phone call to my wife in Sunriver, OR.? Months earlier I experienced a similar situation on the receiving side?a colleague in Mongolia called me in Sunriver.? Not only is this now technologically possible, but it is also economically feasible, enabling sustainable solutions that fully integrate with existing public switched telephone networks (PSTNs) and mobile phone networks.?

At the core of these services are low-cost wireless and VoIP solution sets?and for most rural users in developing countries, the main access device is likely to be the phone.? Delivering voice services may not seem revolutionary, but for the next billion Internet users, most of whom are without even this basic service, this is a huge step with potentially significant social and economic impacts.? And being on a convergent broadband network, value-added services are simply add-ons, be it e-health, e-banking, e-education, etc.

More details can be found in a set of 1-page working papers, which reflect our ongoing experience in northern Vietnam through a partnership between U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Intel, LignUp, and Vietnam Data Communications (VDC). Other papers come out of experiences in developing a portable solution set and a small initiative in Mongolia.? Taking the Internet revolution to transform the lives of those living at the base of the economic pyramid may well be the single most significant impact we will ever achieve through technology.