Friday, June 03, 2011

Indonesia Overtaking Australia with Wireless Internet

Greetings from the famous room N101 at the at the Australian National University, where Dr Idris Sulaiman, is speaking on "ICT-enablement in Environmental Social Movements in Indonesia". He is describing the social changes that the Internet and social media are having in Indonesia. Facebook's second largest number of users are in Indonesia (after the USA). The rapid increase in urban Indonesia is causing problems with traffic but also providing benefits. There is an increase in fixed line telephones, but what is most interesting is the rapid rise in mobile phone use, to the point where it now exceeds that of developed nations.

The Mig33 social network has 45M users in Indonesia and is unusual in being a subscription based service, contrary to the conventional wisdom, which says few will pay and even fewer in a developing nation.

Facebook, Twitter and Mobile applications are being used by official Indonesian government agencies and also by NGOs for politics and fighting corruption. This has popularised the use of the technology in the public's mind.

There is strong competition for mobile phone call time in Indonesia, with this competition now driving down data charges as well. There are "office-in-a-box" products being offered and 4G wireless.

Dr Sulaiman described the work of NGOs working wireless technology to help local people be heard on environmental issues, including Telapak.

Dr Sulaiman describes Indonesia as a 'near-networked' nation. He argues that argues that ICT-enablement is now having a significant effect and that such developing nations with smart phones are bypassing development steps of western nations. The use of smart phones in Jakarta now exceeds that of Sydney. With more applications becoming avialable for smart phones and tablet computers, this may see developing nations in a better position to exploit the technology and take the lead globally in the information economy.

This has significant implications for Australia, which has invested $43B in a nationalised fibre optic National Broadband Network. It may be that Indonesia's free market wireless approach turns out to have been the better option. If most consumers and small businesses access the Internet via a hand held wireless device, then the rationale for the NBN evaporates. However, as Dr Sulaiman pointed out the wireless has capacity limitations and in Indonesia (and Australia to a lesser extent) latency and daily peak period cause problems. These limitations are likely to be acceptable for casual personal use but not for business.

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