Bridging a widening digital divide is a tough challenge for India, where gains from the booming economy that is growing 8 percent annually have mostly accrued to the urban middle class.
Intel Corp chairman Craig Barrett sees a part of the remedy lying in WiMAX technology, a wireless capability that provides Internet connectivity without requiring a computer to be tethered to a cable.
"India has the opportunity to be a leading commercial implementer in WiMAX capabilities," Barrett said as he toured the remote town of Baramati in western India on Thursday to explore how the US chipmaker could help in advancing efforts to empower unemployed youth and farmers with the help of information technology.
Intel has been trying to drive the adoption of WiMAX. Like its wireless cousin Wi-Fi, WiMAX delivers high-speed connections but the coverage range can stretch for kilometers.
"The conditions are absolutely ripe here in terms of the lack of rural infrastructure and what WiMAX could do," Barrett told a news conference in Baramati, a town known for innovative adoption of new technologies.
His comments, broadcast over the Internet, came after a tour of the town that took him to a local hospital using WiMAX to access the Internet for diagnostic work and a school that is implementing new technology-driven learning tools.
Baramati has been adopted by Intel under its World Ahead Program that seeks to expedite access to technology and education for people in the world's poorer nations.
He also visited farmers in outlying villages to see how information technology could be used to improve their living standards.
More than two-thirds of India's 1 billion plus people live in villages, depending mostly on agriculture. Much of rural India lacks adequate infrastructure such as good roads, electricity supplies and telephone facilities to help people improve productivity and living standards.
Farmers often lack vital information such as weather, new seeds and crop prices. Access to the Internet could help.
"The beauty of [WiMAX] is it is relatively inexpensive and relatively simple," Barrett said. "It is ideal for rural environment where there is limited infrastructure in place."
Intel is spending about US$1 billion in promoting WiMAX, he said. Trials are underway in about 200 places across the world and some 40 to 50 companies are engaged in commercial implementation, he said.
Yesterday, Barrett traveled to New Delhi, India's capital, to meet with government and business leaders.
Intel plans to invest US$1.1 billion over a five-year period ending in 2010 to expand its operations in India.
Intel said it has been successful in working with local companies to bring cheaper computers to the country's rural poor, and the company will donate 10,000 personal computers to provincial governments and teacher-training centers in the next two years.