Business

RI needs to rethink its
approach to broadband connectivity

Technology has increasingly become a key concern in policy making, from connecting people to conduct trade, to facilitating countries in becoming a knowledge-based economy. Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft Corp., shared with The Jakarta Post’s Mariel Grazella his views on how technology can transform the country’s education sector.

Question: How do you rate the leaps made in the usage of consumer technology in emerging countries, as compared to developed countries?

Answer: In some ways, I would not say they (emerging countries) are leaping ahead (of developed economies). The growth rates have been higher in emerging countries due to their economy and presence of a large part of the population who have not used technology at all. Emerging economies have seen the adoption of cell phones very quickly, and this will continue for awhile. In the next five years, virtually every cell phone will be a smartphone, which will be the entry point for computing for people in emerging markets. People will branch out from there and get more involved, whether through business or school, with more classical forms of computing. In a sense, people in emerging countries have simply started in a different way. But I think, in the end, everybody (in emerging and developed countries) will converge in terms of what they require as they need things in their life to be smarter and connected. The world is in that transition now.

You have observed various technology policies in countries, including emerging economies in Southeast Asia. What is your view of these policies, and how will these policies impact on the development of technology, especially in Indonesia?

Some policy highlights in this region I have been focusing on are not on the question (but rather) how technological advances may create completely new opportunities and accelerate the solving of challenges faced by countries in the state of economic development. A challenge area that must be approached is education. Every country, whether the richest or poorest, is struggling to get enough talent in order to be competitive, regardless of whether they are a knowledge-based or manufacturing economy. The government of Indonesia has, through the constitution, committed 20 percent of the state budget to education.

The question now is “What is the best way of spending that 20 percent?”

In the last year or two, we have shared with leaders in Indonesia and Malaysia that there have emerged new approaches to education that uses something that young people are already very engaged with — the Internet — in particular social networking communication and web publishing. Through technology such as these, world class professors could teach courses to 150,000 students, compared to the conventional education method where one teacher can teach 30 students.

However, the adoption of this method depends on network connectivity because you are substituting real time communication and collaboration with personalized video consumption. This puts a greater demand on local network capabilities.

In my view, the strategies planned in Indonesia do no really contemplate on providing rapid solutions to the connectivity problems, particularly in the rural parts of the country. You have to consider a radical educational model, which you must link to a radical approach for broadband connectivity.

What might be the solutions of linking up the rural areas in Indonesia with broadband technology?

The only way to do it is through wireless. In my view, the model of using cellular telephony would not really work because it is too expensive and does not produce the density that you need. So, even in Jakarta today, you see cellular carriers installing Wi-fi, or hotspots, in order to get traffic off the networks. That is an indication that another (network) strategy is required.

A good number of startups have been sprouting out of the technology ecosystem of emerging economies. What potential does Microsoft see in these startups?

Technology is, in many ways, democratizing. Technology does bring opportunities if you look at the trend in cloud services, for example. Everyone, regardless of where they are in the world, has access to their own data centers, made of thousands of clusters of machines. This allows startups to get started for a very low cost. So, it has never been a better time, if you are a student, to start a company. Technology also allows startups to collaborate in interesting ways. Real time technology like Skype allows people to work together, and the program Office 365 allows people to share business planning documents to learn together. With these technologies, startups could become more competitive on a global scale since it is getting easier to do a startup.

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