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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Web kiosks for India's villagers
Indian farmers BBC
They aim to provide cheap and easy access to the web
By Frederick Noronha in Madras

For millions of Indians living in villages, making a phone call, let alone connecting to the internet, is a distant dream.

But a new, cheap and robust wireless technology could bring the information revolution to rural areas.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras have developed internet kiosks using a wireless local loop technology called corDECT.

The system is cheap, as it replaces expensive cabling with wireless base stations. A kiosk costs around 40,000 rupees (US$830), compared with 30,000 rupees for installing a single telephone line.

"Existing operators are really not focused on rural areas," said Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala at the Indian Institute of Technology. "They believe rural areas can't generate money and see rural areas as a burden,"

Low cost telecoms

Together with some of his former students, Professor Jhunjhunwala has set up a company called n-Logue aimed at providing internet and telephone services in villages and small towns.

Wireless base station BBC
Wireless base stations provide telephone lines
Using wireless-in-loop technology to provide low-cost telecommunications, the company offers the rural entrepreneur wireless equipment with antennae, cables and mast, the telephone set and a meter for subscriber calls.

To access the internet, n-Logue offers a multimedia Pentium computer with a battery backup of four hours. It comes with Indian-language software to make the computer accessible to all.

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The plan is to tie up with local service providers (LSP). These small rural businessmen will be 50% partners of the kiosks and would use their local contacts to generate awareness and revenue.

Army of entrepreneurs

"We can create an army of rural entrepreneurs. They could take small loans to set up their own rural phone and internet centres," said Professor Jhunjhunwala.

We could have a million subscribers in three to four years

Professor Jhunjhunwala
Within a 25-kilometre radius, the promoters expect to find buyers for 500-700 connections. These could be individuals, government offices or schools.

"We could have a million subscribers in three to four years," said Professor Jhunjhunwala.

Work to set up internet kiosks is taking place in Tamil Nadu and in Madhya Pradesh. Kiosks are also springing up in Rajasthan and in Punjab.

Young entrepreneurs are catching on. One team has worked on a Tamil-Hindi-English spreadsheet for the Windows operating System and they are developing a version for Linux.

Also on offer is word-processing, an e-mail program in Tamil and voicemail in the local language.

Encouraging feedback

All this, Professor Jhunjhunwala believes, will change the life of the ordinary villager.

"We're adopting two key elements. Affordability, since everything is very low cost; and involving a local person in providing the solutions."

"The first level feedback has been extremely encouraging. We have kiosks running in the middle of Madhya Pradesh where the average revenue a kiosk-man makes is 4,500 rupees a month," said n-Logue Chief Executive Officer P G Ponnapa.

"After expenses, he makes 3,000 rupees per month, which makes him a rich man in that village. And this guy is typically someone who is 21 to 25 years old."


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Wired up for wealth
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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