Vodafone announced today at MWC 2011 a new device with some fascinating tech that stands to change the way people in emerging markets access the Internet. It’s called the Webbox, and it brings the Internet into homes by connecting the device, a deceivingly simple QWERTY keyboard, to a television. We’re not talking about advanced, Internet ready televisions, either. The Webbox should work fine with televisions from as far back as ten or fifteen years, and maybe even farther!
How is this possible? The Webbox itself accesses 2.5G and EDGE mobile networks, transmitting them quickly to the television thanks to heavy data compression. How does this transfer happen? That’s the beauty of it all. The Webbox uses simple RCA A/V cords to plug directly into any television set. Yes, all it takes are those little red, yellow and white cables, and the television essentially becomes a computer monitor for the offerings of Webbox. The offerings are fairly robust, too; users will have access to SMS and email, FM radio, a photo gallery, a music player, and Opera Mini 5.1 Internet access. The browser comes preloaded with bookmarks related to news, sports, social networking, and a job and application service. Most bookmarks are locally specific, especially the job and application service.
The Webbox should go a long way toward opening up Internet access in a lot of emerging countries whose people largely lack access to computers. With the power of the Internet opening up new portals of knowledge and communication, the sky is the limit. The Webbox sounds like it will be hitting South Africa first, and retailing for 749.00 rand, which works out to about $100. It will be prepaid initially, with availability based on a two-year contract coming at some point in the near future.