What does video telephony mean to you? Is it a service that you use on an occasional basis – maybe on a birthday or an anniversary? Or is it something you use on a daily basis to make life easier? An impressive new trial in India suggests that, in developing markets, the main benefit of video telephony could be to strengthen the bonds between family members separated by long distances. Just ask migrant worker Sukho Sao.
Sukho works as a rickshaw driver in Delhi, one of the world's fastest-developing economic hotspots. Like many of those who share his trade in the city, he does not come from Delhi. His home village is in the state of Bihar, hundreds of kilometers away, where his wife Rami Devi and their two children still live.
Sukho works long hours to provide for his family and is usually in Delhi for several months at a time. But luckily for him, his home village lies along one of India's "3G corridors", which are currently trialing a video telephony project aimed at connecting migrant workers with their families.
Called Aamne Saamne, which means "face-to-face" in Hindi, the project provides public call office kiosks in Delhi and other regions, including Bihar. Booth operators supply 3G phones to customers. Sukho goes to a booth in Delhi to call his family at an arranged time, while Rami takes the children to a similar booth in Bihar and waits for his call.
Sukho is delighted that the service allows him to watch his children growing up.
For Rami, the difference compared with traditional telephony is enormous: "The children miss their father. Earlier, we were only able to hear his voice, but now we can see him as well. It feels great," she says with a smile.
Stories such as Sukho's are likely to become common in India as 3G begins to take hold.
Among the range of 3G services, video telephony seems to have particular potential in developing markets such as India. Large-scale economic migration from rural to urban areas means dispersed families, and as a result, the technology should find a more immediately receptive market in India than in the West.
For one user, however, the benefits of 3G in general – and video telephony in particular – are already apparent. As his children wave goodbye and he returns the handset to the kiosk, Sukho says: "I feel peaceful now. All my worries are gone after seeing my kids playing."
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