A couple of years ago, I asked Berthold Weidmann, esteemed director of NETLinc, whether he thought school students in Lincolnshire would all be carrying laptops by 2007. This was a target being promoted by Microsoft’s Anytime Anywhere Learning initiative.
His answer, unequivocally, “No.”
“But” he continued, “it doesn’t matter because they all have mobile phones.”
I’ve been puzzling since over just how Berthold’s vision was going to develop. It’s not the devices I’m worried about. There are several PDA + Phone combos on the market now, and by next year prices will have dropped to levels where kids will buy them. What’s concerning me is the cost of bandwidth. I don’t believe either schools or parents will be willing to pay even a small fraction of the costs that online lessons would cost over a GPRS or G3 network.
Now, reported in the Korea Times, (via Anthony Townsend), we can see a model starting to form. The Korean government is subsidising its phone operators to offer this gadget at a knockdown price. The significance is that this phone/PDA will access Nespot in preference to the phone network if it can get a signal.
Nespot is a national network of Wi-Fi hotspots. Korea Telecom (KT) say
At present 12,000 NESPOT zones (Hot spots) use NESPOT service and wireless high-speed Internet service.
Other areas use [mobile phone] service, so that users can economically use the Internet anywhere, any time, in Korea. This is the actual service launched last February by KT and KTF.
So, the Korean model is
- a national network of low-cost Wi-Fi hotspots.
- a usable browsing device that can switch between phone (expensive) and Wi-Fi (cheap) networks.
- a government subsidy sufficient to make the whole system popular, which will bring costs down further.
It takes very little imagination to fill in the last bits of Berthold’s jigsaw puzzle. Put Nespot Wi-Fi hubs into every home (in Korea they cost $20/month which is about half the price of an ordinary ADSL connection here) and into every school. They are already in public transport nexi and other places where kids congregate. Inspire the content creators (e.g. me and my editorial staff) to produce stunning materials that really use the networked abilities, and which compensate for that small screen.
And you’ve done it. Anytime, anywhere learning achieved with three years to spare. Provided you’re in Korea, that is.