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Low-cost mobile broadband access for all

April 18, 2007

Today, the cell phone has become a commodity, a comman man’s device. In India, especially in the metros, it is hard to find someone not carrying a cell phone. It has become so convenient to use one.

Imagine what it used to be a decade back. Cell phone prices were very high as were the call charges. Today, the story has reversed. It has been well established that Wireless is the most cost-effective way to bridge the digital divide.

Higher prices of handsets were posing a barrier to growth in developing countries. This has changed considerably since. Lowering of handset prices has ensured that the maximum growth has been in the developing countries.

However, more needs to be done as the rural-urban ‘digital’ divide is still significant. We first heard of ultra low-cost US $40 handsets a couple of years back. These were developed to lower the entry barrier in developing countries and to connect the unconnected.

We also saw US $30 handsets come into the fray. And now, low-cost 3G handsets are starting to do the rounds.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the operators, the handset vendors and their partners — all need to be congratulated for having done such commendable work.

However, more needs to be done to truly make low-cost access available to all. ITU has recommended in its paper that low-cost 3G handsets “would create economies of scale for handset makers and their component suppliers. It would also make third-generation mobile services accessible to a much wider user base. The handsets will be available at a wholesale price about 30 percent less than the typical entry-level 3G phone and fully-competitive with the multimedia second-generation handsets on sale today.”

This will happen eventually. And, when it does, these low-cost 3G handsets would become affordable mobile broadband devices for the masses. This would be the first step toward providing true mobile broadband low-cost access for all!

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