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September 23, 2008

Changing India and connecting the next billion

ESPOO, Finland – Research isn’t just about new technology that’s better than what we have now. Just as important (if not more important) is technology that helps change whole countries and nations. According to Nokia’s head of research in Nokia, Jan Bloom, Nokia’s ambition is to “connect the next billion”, with 10 million new subscribers on a monthly basis. In fact, during Jan’s talk, about 6,000 new subscribers will sign up to a mobile service. Which is remarkable, given it’s currently the middle of the night there.

Jan’s presentation was part of a double header with Nokia Research Africa where we had Nokia’s man on the ground there Jussi Impiƶ presenting through a video on his work in Africa. The pictures from Jussi’s presentation were quite eye opening. The proportion of people living in slums is just frightening. That Nokia sees these people from low income communities as an opportunity is pretty remarkable to me. Why? Well, from what we understand, mobile phones could well help these people’s lives. In fact, they could change them quite dramatically, forever.

Part of the research process, Nokia in Africa are using projects with the local communities to explore how they’d use devices. The projects are designed to fit into existing activities but to enable them to use technology to leverage or get more out of the projects.

In India there’s a lot of research being done around media rich content. Spiritual content, bollywood movies and western movies are all popular amongst people in India. The team there are exploring ways to make that material more accessible to local people. Jan showed off an image of a group of people watching spiritual DVD in a communal tent (which doubled up as a battery rental place).

Right now, people can go with a playlist to a content provider and buy the songs they’d like, having them downloaded directly to their mobile phone. This is a way of consuming music which we’ve completely missed in the UK, or the western world. Imagine going into a music store and buying music directly, but instead of having it on a piece of plastic, it’s loaded directly to your phone? Who’s further ahead now?