Intel hopes to gain a head start on untapped markets in theThird World by launching World Ahead, a global program that willpour US$ 1 billion over the next five years to promote computertraining and Internet use in developing countries.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company recently unveiled itsfive-year project plan, which includes extending broadband accessto one billion users and training 10 million teachers on the use oftechnology in education.
A component of the program is the development of a $400 mobilepersonal computer, dubbed Eduwise, that will run on MicrosoftWindows or the Linux operating system. The World Ahead program willalso push adoption of WiMax wireless technology that allows highthroughput broadband connections over long distances.
Eddie Chan, lead analyst on mobile computing at IDC Canada, aToronto-based research consultancy, believes that Intel is making asmart move.
Chan said the computer markets in Japan, U.S. and Europe aremature, registering only a modest 12 per cent growth in 2005compared to 24.5 per cent for the same period by the so-called BRIC(Brazil, India and China) regions.
“Penetration in Brazil, China and India is still very low. Youget into those markets early and as they get more sophisticated,they can purchase more products from you,” said Chan.
WiMax is the key in areas where communications infrastructures arenot in place, according to Chan. “Intel has a considerable stake inthis since they are a member of the WiMax forum lobbyinggovernments to allow adoption of the product,” said Chan. “Ofcourse being a global citizen and bridging the digital divide isalso a part of it.”
But that digital divide is not clear-cut. Non-governmentalorganizations (NGOs) are challenging Intel to target lower-incomedeveloping countries with resource-poor remote areas rather thanfocusing on major cities in countries with established electricaland communications infrastructures.
“It’s much easier to introduce computer technologies into thebig cities of Brazil, India, Mexico or China where there’s a largemarket, well-developed infrastructure and an educated workforcethan in less developed and rural communities in countries likeSenegal, Indonesia, Uganda or Jordan,” said Eric Rusten, directorof new ventures at the Academy for Education and Development (AED),a US-based NGO that helps individuals, communities and institutionsin developing countries to become more self-sufficient.
Rusten believes Intel should balance its development efforts.”We recognize that Intel needs to pursue larger and more robustemerging economies that offer immediate payback, but it is alsoimportant to increase their commitment to helping schools, teachersand students in the neediest countries.”
But there are some aspects of Intel’s program that areprogressive. What differentiates Intel’s program from others isthat it’s geared towards creating sustainable communities andeconomies, said Rusten.
For instance, the Eduwise PC developed by Intel will bemanufactured in the countries that it will be deployed in,according to Rusten. The company will allow local businesses tobuild the units and ensure they can be serviced by technicians inthe area.
Intel is also developing the knowledge base needed to sustaintechnology. “They’re not just infusing money, but they’rereinforcing training by upgrading teachers’ skills, improvingconnectivity, and creating technology that is suited for the localeand helping local business.”
Rusten is also happy that Intel has established an advisory boardof NGOs to guide the company with its World Ahead program.
But Rusten is not letting his guard down. “The program is wellthought out. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”