Microsoft to expand Warana project to Vietnam

TAIPEI – Microsoft will expand a project aimed at allowing mobile phones to send commands to computers via SMS to a province in Vietnam, an executive tied to the program said this week.

The technology, named Warana because it was developed by Microsoft researchers in India for use by sugar farmers in the village of Warana, is moving into its next phase of development.

At Warana, the project used mobile phone SMSs to collect farming data, which was then tabulated and organized by computers available for the farmers to use. The Vietnam project, slated for Thanh Hao province, will allow farmers to send in data via SMSs to a central computer but also receive data, such as market prices or how much of a certain crop has been harvested so far this season.

A major difference from the original Warana project is that the Vietnam program will also allow farmers to send simple computer commands via SMS, such as placing orders for fertilizer, asking for credit or applying for harvesting permits.

“We are really looking at how we can bring relevant technologies to rural areas,” said Faycal Bouchlaghem, general manager for Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Group. The mobile phone is already popular in many rural areas, so the Warana project is one way to make them even more useful.

The Warana project proved the concept was valuable to people in rural areas, he said. The Vietnam project is much broader. It covers an entire province, not just one village. It will really put the technology to the test and we’ll likely discover many new ways to make it more useful.

Microsoft will work with Vietnam’s Military Telecom Corporation (Viettel) on the project and plans to have a pilot program up and running by October or November, said Bouchlaghem.

Microsoft is also talking with government officials in Thailand about using Warana technology in its rural areas.

The Warana project included over 70,000 farmers working in a sugar co-operative in India. Microsoft researchers in Bangalore developed the software and systems required for the project.

Microsoft hopes that going forward, the technology will spawn an industry of software developers making useful applications for Warana and finding new ways to make it relevant to people in other areas, such as health care or trading.

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