Intel eyes PCs for developing nations

The chipmaker unveils plans--but few details--for inexpensive computers that can handle adverse conditions. Photo: The Community PC

Intel on Thursday night announced the second rugged computer platform in an initiative designed to bring PC technology to developing nations.

The fully featured, high-quality, low-cost desktop PC platform is aimed at first-time computer users and the design is meant to be carried out by PC makers. The platform was unveiled by Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini at a press event in Mexico as part of Intel's "Discover the PC" effort.

While Intel has not yet released details, the platform is promised to be small, inexpensive, energy-efficient and reasonably priced for the average developing-nation family, according to a statement.

Photo: The Community PC

The desktop PCs will also have high-speed Internet access.

Intel is participating in the expansion of WiMax broadband in Mexico. WiMax is a wireless Internet delivery system that can travel much longer distances than Wi-Fi, enabling users in remote locations to pick up signal.

The "Discover the PC" initiative follows Intel's announcement earlier this week of a $50 million venture capital fund in Brazil for the purpose of promote technology businesses in the developing country.

Most consumer PCs are not designed to withstand unusually adverse climate conditions or handle fluctuating power supplies, and that has severely limited their use in parts of some developing countries.

On Wednesday, Intel unveiled in India a fully functional computer called the Community PC. It's well-equipped to handle adverse conditions, according to Intel spokeswoman Agnes Kwan.

Intel's Community PC is designed to withstand temperatures of 113 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 85 percent relative humidity, and has a removable dust filter. To keep the motherboard cool, the chassis houses an integrated fan. The computer operates on a "customized power supply unit," and is designed to consume less than 100 watts while operating, which is another way of keeping the computer's heat in check.

Intel has partnered with Wipro and HCL Technologies to produce the components. Wipro is India's second-largest IT company. HCL Technologies is an India-based company that specializes in remote IT infrastructure.

According to Kwan, Intel is also working with local Internet service providers to develop Internet capabilities for wireless and land-line services.

Previous PCs-for-the-poor projects, such as the Simputer and , have focused on making it possible for people living in rural areas of the developing world to own computing devices. The Community PC, as the name suggests, tunes in to the concept of community sharing that is prevalent in many developing areas.

"Our experience shows that ICT (information and communication technology) adoption in developing nations requires much more than providing a standard PC; the technology often needs to be adapted to the local usage and environment of a particular country or region," William M. Siu, vice president and general manager of Intel's Channel Platforms Group, said in a statement.

Rather than offering several PCs for private ownership in a village, the Community PC program focuses on installing one machine in a village kiosk, where time on the PC can be rented and assistance can be supplied by the kiosk owner.

Because the PC is also a source of income for the kiosk owner, the cost can be higher than other developing world devices that have been limited in functionality by price point. Intel declined to name the price of the machine but said in a statement that it is partnering with local banks to offer payment plans to village entrepreneurs looking to set up a Community PC kiosk. The kiosk program is called "Jaagruti" (pronounced Zhah-grew-ty), which is Sanskrit for "awakening," according to Kwan.

The Jaagruti kiosk Community PC platform will have certificate-based access that will allow lending banks remote-access control over payment plan participants.

Based on several pilot projects conducted throughout India, Intel sees the Community PC as most attractive to villagers seeking a registry for government paperwork they would otherwise have to travel extensively to retrieve and file. (The Community PC, according to Kwan, will also include a printer port.)

Kwan noted that Jaagruti is only part of a long-term and comprehensive commitment to expanding use of technology in developing areas, and that more platforms custom-tailored to emerging markets can be expected from Intel.