Ericsson has seen so much success spreading Technology for Good in emerging markets across the globe that it's considering bringing the program to the US, where the challenges are different, but the needs are often the same.
To be clear, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) doesn't define the success of Technology for Good like its other lines of business as the program only covers costs, usually with the help of public-private partnerships. But, it's been successful in that it's bringing the Internet to thousands of unconnected youth, furthering the education of young girls who are prone to otherwise drop out and getting kids excited about technology. (See Ericsson Lauds ICT's Potential.)
As Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Ericsson's vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility, who is heading up the program, explains it, "The real goal was to see how we could use mobile broadband and simplified cloud solutions to improve access to Internet in schools, but also to improve the quality of education." (See Mentor Monday: Ericsson's Elaine Weidman.)
Today, Ericsson has both Technology for Good and Connect to Learn -- its program specifically targeting secondary education for young girls -- live in 22 countries, including Chile, Brazil, Mexico, India, Myanmar and several African countries. And, Weidman-Grunewald says it's beginning to explore opportunities in the US as well. (See Ericsson Delivers Cloud to African Villages and Myanmar: The Next Big Deal?)
The program started as a way to improve rural access, including for the efficient delivery of video in bandwidth-challenged areas. This is a challenge that affects many areas of rural America just as it does remote and rural Africa. Weidman-Grunewald says she's seeing interest from parts of the US that tend to be lower income and don't have the best -- if any -- bandwidth solutions available. These are regions US wireless operators have struggled to connect in an affordable way, even with government mandates to improve connectivity in schools. (See Easing the Tech Pains for the Homeless, T-Mobile Aims to Close Map Gap on Its Own, Has EE Solved the Rural Connectivity Challenge? and Getting Rural Telcos on the Services Bandwagon.)
"It is a little early to talk about the US, but we're definitely working on some projects to expand there," she says, adding that Ericsson is talking to wireless operators here about partnering. "It'd very much be about improving wireless access and coverage and bringing in better connectivity into schools."
The wireless operators would provide free or deeply discounted network access, while Ericsson provides the infrastructure, equipment, cloud storage and technology, as well as trains teachers and students on how to use it. The vendor also generates usage reports about how students are using the technology. Weidman-Grunewald says she's been surprised to see how fast young kids who had little to no exposure to technology can not only learn how to use it but excel at using it.
"We always underestimate the demand from these students," she says.
Weidman-Grunewald says the goal is to offer access to bandwidth in a way that's maintenance-free and easy to use. Part of the way it does this is by managing the access devices, whether they be tablets or computers, remotely in the cloud so that the teachers, who are also often new to technology, don't have to mess with it.
Mobile operators use the program as a way to build up their local image and make an impact on society. And, so far, it's been working. Weidman-Grunewald recalls launching a program in conflict-ridden, destitute sub-Saharan Africa where students and teachers alike had never even powered up a computer. She doubted the program could make much of a difference here, but came back six months later to a much different scenario.
"In a case like sub-Sudan, where people are desperate for a better life, the drive is so much different and so much more prevalent," Weidman-Grunewald says. "I was amazed at the change. We used to plan one hour a day [online] and saw that wasn’t enough. They wanted several hours per day to get the technology right and connect to the world."
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading