Mobiles key to bridging the digital divide

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Mobiles key to bridging the digital divide

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has called for greater efforts from academics, regulators, governments and the mobile industry to empower the mobile platform as a tool to bridge the digital divide.

A new report from the organisation is based on highlights from a recent W3C workshop entitled The Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social and Economic Development.

SMS was categorised as the dominant and most easily accessible mobile technology, but there were concerns with the cost and discoverability of services, and suggestions that it is no good for people with low reading skills.

Voice was rated as a "promising way to provide information to people", but issues remain over the cost and difficulty of designing voice applications, according to the report.

The mobile web, meanwhile, was seen as an increasingly viable way of bridging the digital divide, but is suffering from misconceptions, such as high costs and complexity.

"It is therefore essential to focus in the future on raising awareness of the potential and ease of exploiting the web platform," the report said.

"Another critical point is the low availability at the global level of stable and reliable GPRS connectivity. Many operators are now focusing on broadband coverage, while the reality is that GPRS would be sufficient at present to enable the market."

The W3C also urged handset manufacturers to produce GPRS-enabled devices as standard, with open platforms to offer access to services.

Governments should ensure that regulations do not hamper development in the mobile sphere, while focusing on the channel as a means to deliver their own services.

The W3C suggested that local content and services in local languages is crucial to the success of the mobile as a platform to bridge the digital divide, and encouraged academics and standards organisations to work on ways to " author, deploy and access content in many languages".

All the findings of the report will be included in the Mobile Web for Social Development Roadmap due this summer.

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