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Friday, September 19, 2003

The Next Billion Users

Emergic's Rajesh Jain has a series of articles entitled Tech Talk: the next billion. Really I recommend the whole series, here is the first installment:

I read this on Kevin Werbach’s weblog: “According to a Reuters report, there will be half a billion mobile phone handsets sold next year. That includes 100 million camera phones and 30 million smartphones. Stop and think about those numbers for a bit.” The line which made me think from the report was this: “The total number of mobile phone users will approach 1.4 billion individuals worldwide in 2004.”

That indeed made me stop and think. I began to wonder: what would it take for us to get to those many PC users. The corresponding figures for the PC industry are about 150 million new PCs being sold each year and about 500 million users. What would it take for us to get to the next billion PC users? This is what this series is about. The underlying assumption I am making is that the computer is a productivity enhancer, and it should be available for every worker in every enterprise of the world, and also every family. The computer has been the most important invention of the past quarter century, and yet its benefits have not percolated beyond the top of the pyramid.

First question: who are these billion users? Where are they going to come from? To answer this, first consider where the current users come from. Today’s computer users are mainly comprised of: almost all individuals, large companies and SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in the developed markets, along with a small fraction of the same in the world’s emerging markets (think Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa). The bulk of the individuals and employees in the emerging markets are without computers at this point of time. These are the next market.

By my estimate, there are about 30-40 million SMEs in the emerging markets, employing more than half a billion people who need access to information and communications. Few among this segment have adopted information technology at the core of their business. In addition, among the individuals, there are about 4 billion people in the world’s emerging markets, consisting of about 600-700 million families. Again, only about 10-20% of this segment has probably need penetrated with computers. Here too, there are about half a billion families which need a computer. How can we get a computer to each family that does not have a computer?

So, that is our challenge: getting 30-40 million SMEs to buy an average of 10-15 computers and 500 million families to buy a single computer. Both of these segments are in the world’s emerging markets. Given that this is the Internet age, it also need to be networked. In other words, our vision is: “a connected computer for every employee and every family.” For the computer industry to get to these billion users, it will need to re-think many things, including the affordability (cost) of computers, the technology architecture, the way applications are developed and distributed.

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