Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wireless hotspot has a different meaning in Mongolia

From Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely-populated countries, to Mongolia, one of the world's least, the mobile phone continues to change the way that poor people live.

In Mongolia, the World Bank has been subsidizing the construction of mobile phone masts in the vast countryside in the hope that once the physical infrastructure is in place, private companies will be able to offer mobile services on a commercial basis.

But according to David Dollar, the World Bank country director for China and Mongolia, the population of nomadic herders is so sparsely spread out that it would be impossible to offer full mobile phone coverage.

So the World Bank has instead focused on the development of a series of "hot zones", designed to ensure that every herder is within a 30 minute horse or motorbike ride from getting a phone signal.

For some reason, this conjures up the bizarre image in my mind of a nomad mounting his steed and galloping through the freezing cold for half an hour so he can use his iPhone to post his latest Twitter update.

Or, as the wonderfully-named Dollar, who had ventured into the Mongolian countryside on a World Bank "retreat", puts it rather more prosaically,"for a family with any kind of medical emergency, or simply a need for information, this connectivity significantly reduces their vulnerability".

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