Power. That’s the real problem for information and communication technologies (ICT) in the developing world. Specifically, electrical power, and the lack there of. All the coolest ICT tools, from radio to computers, the very Internet itself, require electricity, and usually vast amounts of it.
Yet in the developing world, electricity is very rare and expensive. National electrical grids don’t extend past the national capitol or major trading city. Outside of population centers, electricity is generated by local, even personal generators.
Often noisy, polluting, diesel or petrol generators that need constant repair, or very expensive and delicate solar panels that break or disappear overnight. Either way, electrical infrastructure costs usually exceeded the ICT investment, often by 2-3 times.
These two opposing forces collided during the 2000’s, as the international development industry, local governments, and communities themselves tried to bring ICT to rural and underserved areas, with disastrous results. Untold millions of dollars, man-hours, and even computers were lost in these ICT for development (ICT4D) projects when energy sucking computers starved themselves and their hosts, as they gorged on rare, expensive electrons.
We would still be wasting silicon and staff today, if it were not for one, very small invention that has literally revolutionized an industry: the Intel Atom processor.
Back before there was One Laptop Per Child and the 4P Computers it spawned, we had to hunt for information on ICT projects. Finding low-cost devices or the initiatives behind them was a challenge only solved by infoDev‘s comprehensive Quick Guide to low-cost computing devices for the developing world.
I can remember pushing to get the Geekcorps’ Desert PC listed, and the pride I had in our entry. Flash forward five years, and I’m now tasked with updating this list. Time has changed more than my involvement with ICT, its also changed the entire ICT field. Now, new 4P Computing devices are coming on line every day.
Yet so are great data gathering tools, like this Google Docs form below. Please let me know what’s your favorite ICT device via this simple interface:
Mary Lou Jepsen of Pixel Qi has a stunning gift for 4P Computing this Christmas. In December she will start production on the 3qi, a revolutionary new display technology just for 10-inch netbooks.
Imagine reading a computer screen in bright African daylight that has 3x better resolution that what you’re looking at right now. A screen that reflects light, just like paper, with similar high contrast and ease on the eyes. And when in that reflective mode, adds over an hour to your netbook battery life.
This is the promise of Pixel Qi’s new dual mode 10-inch netbook display, the 3qi.
Today I went to the Wuse Market in Abuja, Nigeria to check on the ability of entrepreneurs to find business opportunities using 4P Computing platforms. I found an innovative mix of using computing power to enable mobile phone content, at a profit.
Young men who invested in laptops are selling music, movies, and ringtones to market visitors at a tidy markup. Now ringtones and music sales is not new. Back in 2004, I heard of techies in the wilds of Mali selling ringtones and I got a few Gig of African tunes for a few bucks at a Senegalese cyber cafe.
What I found innovative was the movie sales.