TN villages going hi-tech

Amidst all the chaos and the gloom-and-doom thoughts I usually have about the governments in India, here’s something different. A ray of hope? A small step for technology, giant leap for indians??? :) Ok. So, check this out. Technology major Ericsson is out with a plan to take technology beyond cellular phones, malls, hi-tech gadgets and put it to some really good use in some remote villages in Tamil Nadu.

EMR (Electronic Medical Records), eClinics etc have taken their own sweet time to enter the Indian market. I wonder why? We are one of best markets in the world to launch any new concept or product. But, still using technology for health seems to be only within multi-speciality hospitals. Few know that the innumerous medical transcription companies thriving in India are actually doing the back office operations of clinics and hospitals in other countries that have embraced technology as the way to go.

Anyway, lets cut the idealism and get to reality. So, here’s what we have in a nutshell. Ericsson has worked out a deal with the government to provide high-speed network access to some very remote villages linking them with Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. Now doctors from Apollo Hospitals can do a first level diagnosis of a patient in the village, from their office in Chennai. Note that it’s not mere video conferencing that we are talking here. The patient actually undergoes sophisticated tests without actually traveling all the way to Chennai. Neat. Eh?

And, health industry is not the only one that Ericsson is planning to work on. They seem to have similar plans for the educational system in villages. Looks like interesting times are coming up… I just hope the governments don’t screw-up this initiative!!!

[Yeah..Right! I just can’t help being the pessimistic creep!!! ;)]

VILLAGE panchayat of the sleepy coastal town of Mahabalipuram is suddenly buzzing with activity. You can t miss the middle-aged villager, with a clutch of medical ropes all over his bare torso. No doctor is in sight, but a local boy-barely out of school-seems comfortable monitoring him as he keeps an eye on the computer screen next to the bed. A villager s vital data is being beamed to multispecialty Apollo Hospital in Chennai, about 60 km away. For a fee as low as Rs 30, he is able to consult a doctor who charges Rs 250 in the hospital. And it s not plain telemedicine.

Another room in the small pan chayat office houses a class, where a specialist teacher seated far way is explaining the intricacies of physics to students in the remote village. Locals can also get a ration card or apply for a newborn s birth certificate by logging in, filling applications online. Without stepping out of the village, they can receive it by post. You could call it a bridge between broadband and medicine, education and governance. But for locals, the excitement on an average day now probably surpasses a panchayat election. It s not only work. Villagers can gather at the office to catch up with the day s news or watch a popular soap on the TV stationed there with full power back up. A pilot high-speed wireless broadband project in the remote villages of Tamil Nadu launched by Swedish equipment majorEricsson-is promising to usher in a revolution. As many as 18 villages and 15 towns in and around Chennai demonstrate the applications and benefits of highspeed broadband to provide a range of services like telemedicine, online education, egovernance, online local information, voice and video call services and live TV and entertainment.

The network for the project, named Gramjyoti Rural Broadband, has been deployed on the HSPA (high-speed packet access) technology on the existing second generation (2G) networks of GSM operators like BSNL, Bharti Airtel and Aircel. However, the pilot proj ect does need a frequency on 2.1 GHz spectrum, a 3G band, allocated to the company by the government on a trial basis. All the villages could look like this, claims the company, once the government announces the 3G policy, which enables high speed wireless broadband internet with higher bandwidth, and allocates 3G spectrum to the mobile operators. “Once the government comes out with a 3G policy, wireless broadband technology could be used to rollout the services in all the 1,00,000 villages in the country, which are currently covered by the GSM operators. The service providers can spread the technology with Ericsson partnering them for it.

The initiative would integrate rural people into the mainstream,” says P Balaji, vicepresident, marketing and strategy, Ericsson India. The idea is to demonstrate that 3G applications are not merely urban-centric and restricted to the elites. According to K Ganapathy, president, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation, which has partnered Ericsson, “Gramjyoti enables transmission of critical patient data through the HSPA network to a doctor at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai. Timely medical diagnosis and emergency help for those in rural areas will be key benefits”. Though Ericsson declines to share the economics of the project, insisting that cost is not of relevance at this point, doctors confirm that the concept is not based on charity. “The operating cost can be covered by a family of four contributing just Rs 2 every day,” says a doctor. According to NGOs working with Ericsson, the money for launching the project on a countrywide scale can be allocated from the universal social obligation fund (USOF) with contributions from companies like Ericsson and hospital chains like Apollo and once it takes off, it would be self sustaining. Can technology do what several of our rural programmes have failed to do so far?

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