OLPC Has A Network Problem

I have been fairly skeptical of the One Laptop Per Child project, not because it’s not a worthy cause, but because it doesn’t factor in the harsh realities of the daily lives of those who Nicholas Negroponte & Co. plan to uplift.

olpc.gifWhere food, water and shelter are largely unmet needs, it is my belief that a laptop is not a road to salvation. Looks like I might be wrong. Apparently kids love it, as per Brazilian Culture Minister Gilberto Gil’s speech at the Emerging Technologies (EmTech) Conference at MIT, where he talked about the magnificence of the laptop project and its deep impact on children.

Nevertheless, his country isn’t ready to order the devices just yet. Why? Because they don’t have the network infrastructure.

We can’t just distribute computers. We have to build a backbone. Just making the technology accessible is not enough. Technology leads to language, to spiritual dimensions. It’s the whole process that matters. It’s not just one item, computers are not enough.

Like putting the cart before the horse. In fact, the lack of networks is a problem that extends beyond Brazil; India and other emerging economies are trying to build network infrastructures as well.

The good news is that OLPC is going to prompt network makers to think creatively about it, and come up with ways to build networks very, very cheaply. John Roese, chief technology office of Nortel (NT), wrote on his blog about OLPC and the concept of hyperconnectivity.

While OLPC is not a Nortel product, it is a tool to stimulate the R&D teams to consider new communication models of hyper connectivity, new programming models and new collaboration methods. It also represents a new type of client, as well as new economic and networking models that are possibly a reflection of the future nature of broadband networking.

Well, let’s hope Roese is right. Leaving my skepticism aside for a moment, I wonder what the impact of a successful OLPC program might have on the network. Thoughts?

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