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Nortel studies pilot options for US$100 notebook
[December 20, 2005]

Nortel studies pilot options for US$100 notebook

( telecoms equipment supplier Nortel Networks (NYSE: NT) expects to complete talks with Brazil's government in 3-6 months on its part in an initiative to provide US$100 laptops to schools, Nortel Brasil managing director Rodrigo Abreu told BNamericas.

Nortel is a member of the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) initiative, a non-profit organization, which was formed earlier this year by Nicholas Negroponte and other faculty members from the MIT Media Lab.

Nortel's Brazilian unit is helping to finalize options for pilot projects in the country. "We are looking at several options and the timeline isn't precise yet. But we expect that in six months we will have a defined way to move forward," said Abreu.

The company is helping Brazil's government to assess the notebook, which is "in its final stage."

Nortel Brasil is also in talks with educational institutions such as the University of So Paulo (USP) and local communities about ways to use the notebook.

The firm is bringing its expertise to identify ways to connect the notebook to networks. It is helping to develop technology such as WiMax/Wimesh, which can be used in remote locations in Brazil, and allow simultaneous access for many machines from a single transmitter, according to Abreu.

One of the biggest challenges is to align various disparate organizations and fit the initiative within government projects, said Abreu.

The corporations that have joined the OLPC initiative have pledged an undisclosed annual contribution to help fund it.

The objective of OLPC is to develop a fully functioning, connected laptop to give an innovative learning tool to as many children as possible around the world - especially those in developing nations.

The machines are rugged, Linux-based, and so energy efficient that hand-cranking alone can generate sufficient power for operation, Nortel said.

The OLPC's pricing goal is to start near US$100 and then steadily decrease. However, some experts are concerned that the low cost of these notebooks may lead to low quality.

The Brazilian division of US hardware giant Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) is also advising the government about technology issues for its digital inclusion programs.

"Technology can always be made cheaper by reducing quality," Darlei de Abreu director for research and development at Hewlett-Packard told BNamericas.

However, the end goal is most important and any new notebook must meet clearly defined needs, he added.

Nortel's Abreu is confident that the notebook and related projects are high quality. "All the research is aimed at bringing a product to connect people with decent speeds and functionality that are as good as those available in other low-cost models," he said.

The notebook has to be suitable for running educational applications and provide access to information, to help on collaborative projects in communities, as well as providing access to broadband internet, VoIP and multi-media gaming, he added.

"It is a very capable piece of technology. We believe it fits the bill for the digital inclusion project."

OLPC is a non-profit organization created by faculty members from the MIT Media Lab to design, manufacture and distribute laptops that are sufficiently inexpensive to provide every child in the world access to knowledge and modern forms of education.

Nortel delivers technology solutions encompassing end-to-end broadband, Voice over IP, multimedia services and applications and wireless broadband. Nortel does business in more than 150 countries.

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