Emergent India Conference… and cell phones

The conference took place at MIT with experts, scholars, and industrialists from India to discuss issues including energy, public health, poverty, and market trends, … here is a writeup. From reading about it, I was surprised to learn that Adi Gordrej is an MIT graduate (from the 1960s). He says that while rapid cell phone adoption is an equalizing force (7 million new cell phones a month), India maintains the largest illiterate population in the world that the private sector should help address this issue.

For an examination of the politics and economics driving this divide, see India’s Democratic Challenge in India by Ahutosh Varshney in the March/April 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. On page 98, he points out that it’s mostly the middle class of 200-250 million who are buying these cell phones along with five-star hotel rooms and oversold flights while a fourth of the 1 billion population lives below the poverty line of $1 per day mostly in rural areas.

This may be changing. With the urban cell phone markets are saturated, cellular operators in India are expanding their networks to target these rural poor consumers with cell service. One provider Bharati is deploying 20,000 new towers in rural areas to complement their existing network of 50,000 towers mostly in urban areas.

In India, Rural Poor Are Key To Cellular Firm’s Expansion: Heat, High Costs Pose Problems for Towers; Mr. Price’s Innovations

By ERIC BELLMAN; September 24, 2007; Page A1; Wall Street Journal

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