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Price Waterhouse Cooper: Only mobile comms can SAVE HUMANITY

Cables will take too long, we'll all be dead

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Future of Wireless Speaking at the recent Cambridge Wireless conference Price Waterhouse Cooper's Director of Product Management issued a stark warning - unless governments invest massively in mobile telephony we're all going to starve to death.

Colin Brereton presented his arguments as a keynote at yesterday's Future of Wireless conference in Cambridge, and those arguments lead him to conclude that that private companies, and pension funds, don't have the long-term view needed to prevent our untimely end. Such bodies are only interested in projects which pay dividends within the lifetime of their investors, rather than sustaining the life of their investors' grandchildren, but government can take that generational view and if they invest massively in mobile infrastructure then there might just still be time to save the world.

It's not climate change or global warning that's going to get us this time, or even meteorite strikes or pandemics, but a simple lack of food resulting from our inability to extract sufficient value from the majority of the earth's surface - leaving most of Africa and South America all but fallow as we do. Unless we can make that land productive, goes the argument, we're not going to be able to feed our expanding population, and mobile phones are - apparently - the technology we need to do it.

Not just mobile phones, obviously, but wireless telephony is described as "a key enabler of change" whose ability to spread education and information is necessary to drive the jumps in productivity we need. We're told that every ten per cent increase in mobile penetration increases Gross Domestic Product by .6 per cent, which isn't as radical an increase as that brought on by broadband (as the ITU keeps telling us), but wireless is a lot cheaper and quicker to deploy and speed of change is critical if we're all going to get fed.

The classic example is the farmer who's obliged to sell his crop to the trucker as he doesn't know if another truck will turn up tomorrow offering a better price. Once the farmer has a phone he can negotiate deals, reducing easy profits for the truckers, resulting in fewer truckers and more farmers (and thus more food). Brereton also brought up the example of fishermen using mobiles to check which harbour will offer the best price on the day's catch, not necessary leading to more fish being caught but perhaps cutting out another middleman.

Following the keynote we collared the PwC man for some more examples, and he talked about Nokia's Life Tools which are being used to deliver weather forecasts, and handset accessories for measuring soil humidity: but only a step away from direct advice to food producers is helping them do more with their money. A third of Kenya's GDP is now apparently running through Safaricom's M-Pesa mobile-payment platform which was put together by (Safaricom shareholder) Vodafone and the state-owned bank, enabling 17 million people who'd never had a bank account to interact with the economy usefully.

M-Pasa demonstrates that it's not always money that projects need, government support can build confidence as well as smoothing the regulatory path, but ultimately government money will be needed: along with governments willing to put their trust into multinational companies (such as, cough, PwC) and make the long-term investment. ®

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