One of the salesmen who sits near me likes to say that he's "saving the world, one router at a time …" He means it tongue-in-cheek, of course, because while things like business continuity solutions and really awesome 4G-powered digital signs are, well, really awesome, they aren't exactly curing cancer or eradicating poverty …
… but what about enabling connectivity for education and health care in some of the poorest countries on earth, like Haiti?
A few schools and medical clinics scattered throughout northern Haiti are using Cradlepoint solutions for 3G connectivity where wired Internet systems don't exist. The medical staff can access the Internet to download medical information and do online consulting with hospitals in the U.S., and students and teachers are getting training in computer labs with quality Internet access for the first time.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. By some measures, it's the poorest country in the world, especially after the devastating earthquake of 2010 ravaged an already meager infrastructure. However, because the Haitian government uses cellular towers for emergency communications throughout the country, 3G coverage is actually quite good in most regions. (Logistically, this makes more sense when you think about the fact that Haiti is only about the size of a very small U.S. state – carriers have 354 times more area to cover in the U.S.)
Denny Baumann, who has helped coordinate computer access, connectivity solutions, and technology training sessions in the U.S. and around the world, is at the center of this project in Haiti. "The Cradlepoint solutions are working great!" declares Baumann. "They are probably the ideal solution for 80-90% of our schools."
Cradlepoint is part of a larger narrative in the developing world: there is incredible potential for mobile technologies to accelerate growth in poor regions. For people in more developed countries, it may be hard to fathom the idea that mobile broadband could be changing the lives of the world's poor – cutting-edge technology just doesn't seem like it belongs in the same conversation with critical issues like clean water and medicine. But one of the fundamental gaps separating the rich and the poor is access to information.
Wired systems have formed the telecommunications backbone in the developed world for years, but the infrastructure necessary for those systems is complex and prohibitively expensive. In many parts of the world, a wired infrastructure doesn't exist, and if it does, it's a complete mess. Wireless technologies, although more advanced than wired technologies, are often cheaper to implement. You might be shocked by how widespread cell phone use is in developing countries; people in poor areas worldwide have rapidly switched from having no phone access at all to owning a personal cell phone. This intriguing rapid growth – and its powerful potential to change lives – has been the topic of lots and lots of articles and reports, including some from the United Nations.
While the exciting potential of mobile technologies for developing countries is still in its infancy, Cradlepoint is already making a difference in Haiti.
Mobile broadband has the potential to be one of the most powerful tools in the world for closing the information gap in the developing world, improving health care, education, and ultimately the economy. In order to make a real difference in places like Haiti, development organizations and lots of different technology companies (like Cradlepoint) will have to join forces and think creatively to craft solutions that address very different types of problems from those encountered in the more developed world.
"While the people of Haiti are extremely poor, they are also very wise," says Baumann. "They realize that the education of their children is their best hope."