Cheap Canadian tablet aims to bring Internet to the entire world

"Of course it's not an iPad, but for hundreds of millions of people, it's a godsend."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If the biggest problem on your tech plate right now is which new tablet you want Santa to deliver, consider this: much of the world has no access to affordable tech gear, and no access to the networks to run it.

That may change if two Candian brothers have their way.

They're about to launch the UbiSlate, billed as the world's cheapest computer. It goes on sale for about $60 in this month in India.

The android-based tablet allows users to tap quality Internet access using existing low-speed cellphone networks -- something that many in the Third World do have access to.

The scheme has its critics, but Raja and Suneet Singh Tuli are hoping to prove them wrong.

The Canadian Press has the details:

MONTREAL -- It's an ambitious plan from two Canadian brothers to bring the Internet to billions of people around the world, from remote farming communities to bustling streetside markets.

The Indian-born, Canadian-raised entrepreneurs are behind the product dubbed the world's cheapest tablet computer, scheduled to be released in India within weeks.

They say the beauty of UbiSlate, an Android-based tablet, is that users will be able to obtain quality Internet access using existing low-speed cellphone networks.

Brothers Raja Singh Tuli and Suneet Singh Tuli, who own the company DataWind, plan to retail their tablet for about $60 in India.

Tack on another $2 a month for unlimited Internet access, and the plan is that people living in even the smallest, sleepiest areas will be connected, bridging India's considerable digital divide.

That means farmers being able to access the weather forecast, India's army of small-business owners having access to eBay and email and, of course, it means things Canadians take for granted like information on schools and social networking.

"In those villages, there is no other way to get the Internet, and they've never had it before,'' Raja Singh Tuli said in an interview.

"You're talking about people who have never had a screen of this size to look at anything other than maybe a television.''

The vision was hatched in Canada, Tuli explained, in the cluttered, box-filled 11th-floor DataWind offices in a downtown Montreal office tower. The company also has a Toronto office, and is headquartered in Britain.

The Tuli brothers came to Canada from India as youth in 1980 when their father, a civil engineer, moved them to Edmonton.

They are both University of Toronto-educated engineers and have long been entrepreneurs, designing what was once recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest fax machine.

Their company is behind the Indian government-subsidized version of the UbiSlate, dubbed Aakash ("Sky" in Hindi), a $35 Wi-Fi only product intended for Indian university students.

Tuli said the problem in India is the same one that exists in emerging markets like Africa and Southeast Asia -- a lack of infrastructure and an affordable product to allow for web access.

In the recent past, attempts to digitally link Indians has wagered heavily on widespread Wi-Fi access that simply doesn't exist. Only a tiny fraction of Indian families have Wi-Fi at home.

However, 800 million people in India, and five billion people around the world, from all walks of life, have cell phones. In India, they pay about $5 a month for phone service. That cellular phone network is what DataWind technology, developed over several years in Montreal, keyed in on.

"We have a technology that reduces the amount of data required to go on the Internet by 30 times -- that's the core of what we do,'' Tuli said.

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