Larry Dignan featured an interesting post today on the Gartner analysis of ultra low-cost PCs (ULPCs) in developing countries. The bottom line from Gartner? Even $100 PCs are too expensive for most emerging markets and, as we know, $100 is still unrealistic for the hardware alone, never mind implementation and infrastructure costs.
I have long maintained that devices like OLPC's XO and the Intel Classmate make a lot of sense in markets where an educational infrastructure already exists and the machines can supplement classroom-based curricula. It's much harder to justify the cost of the PCs when basic infrastructure doesn't exist (both in terms of education and telecommunications). As on Gartner analyst asks,
How will it connect to the Internet? “In Africa, a one month subscription to the Internet can run you $200,” explains Jump, adding access is a hurdle even if the device is free.
Similarly, Larry asks,
Another thought: It’s possible that the laptop is the long form factor. Would mobile Internet devices be a better choice?
Which brings me to the original question I asked in the title of this post. Obviously, the ULPC has extraordinary applications in both mature and developing markets. Yet even in many of the markets in North America and Europe that Intel is now targeting with its Classmates, access and infrastructure remain problematic.
What if the access providers began offering Internet connections (whether via satellite, cellular, or other technologies) with free access devices (say MIDs for every kid in a village or inner-city school or Classmates equipped to use the provided access for rural schools)? It has worked in developed markets for cellular service providers who basically give away phones in exchange for long-term contracts.
What do you think?