Retail Sales of CDMA-connected XO Laptops in India?!


Tucked away in Deepshikha Monga's short article, "OLPC looks to World Bank for India funding" is a XO laptop bombshell:

olpc cdma india
Rocking CDMA XO Laptops?!
Later this year, the XO laptops are expected to hit the retail stores. Sources say Reliance Communications, which partnered OLPC Foundation to conduct an XO pilot project in Maharashtra last year, is looking at retailing these laptops bundled with its CDMA modems.
Might this be the reason for Nicholas Negroponte's visit to India in August for OLPC India Day? Regardless, it would be a shocking yet welcomed shift in strategy for One Laptop Per Child.

Instead of relying on the slow, arduous, and mostly unsuccessful governmental sales process, India's Reliance Communications has the right idea: Sell XO laptops directly to parents and the public.

Just look at last year's G1G1 success - OLPC "sold" 165,000 XO laptops in less than 6 weeks by skipping school systems and selling directly to eager American and Canadian buyers. Imagine the demand for an XO that has mesh networking and CDMA connectivity! I know I'd be first in line for a truly mobile XO.

But before we get geek lust going, I have to echo Marc Valentin's questions:

Which part of it is true ?
- XO laptops will be really available in retail stores in India?
- It will be bundled with a Reliance CDMA modem?
If this is true, which operating system will be used? Linux or XP? Or maybe dual boot?
Let's be honest though, I'll be wondering these questions as I book a flight to Mumbai for a bit of line squatting.

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" egger American buyers"

hmmm... first off I hope you meant *eager* (or did you mean to refer to the fact that we've got egg on our faces?!) and secondly, I think you mean American AND CANADIAN buyers! ;-)

xo CG.

holy mac and cheese!!! i would love to see the XO-1 in stores!

i know this is an old chestnut but...i wish they would make the keyboard better...more people would buy it if it had a keyboard that they could actually use.

and btw this wouldn't involve lengthening the keyboard, but rather making it thicker, providing you used some type of butterfly keyboard. much will they be charging in india? a billion people, but 85% of them are dirt poor. and the middle to upper class people...they can be making as little as 8000 a year.

if they do come to much? i think 250 is the magic number. i just wonder how much the stores selling it are going to charge.

My understanding -- and I certainly could be wrong -- is that the olpc foundation is forbidden from normal retail sales due to its non-profit status (1G1G was a way to get around that). If that is the case, then I am wondering how Reliance could go ahead with it.


Nonprofits can do anything a corporation can do, including retail sales, they just have to pay tax on non-mission related income and cannot distribute earnings to shareholders.

Not sure if the retail path is the right one but for OLPC India to remain a development project, there should be a strong policy about the price. Retail XOs and XOs sold to rich schools (In India, in the cities, there are many schools having high fees) should be expensive enough for OLPC India to help funding NGO educative projects in the villages and/or organize teachers training sessions. This is the spirit now (I visited the Khairat pilot) and it should remain like that.

What other routes are there? The "government-only" decision can hardly be considered a success and the G1G1 program is self-limiting, not to mention purposely limited and not properly supported.

I think the only route left is retail but I have serious doubts about the ability of the OLPC foundation to bring the XO to retail even if there were a will to do so.

Allen wrote:

"I think the only route left is retail but I have serious doubts about the ability of the OLPC foundation to bring the XO to retail even if there were a will to do so."

I agree.

I'd like to add that selling the XO to the general public in regular retail outlets is not very easily done and that's the reason why Negroponte & Co. have avoided it like the plague.

Retail sales mean that marketing, distribution, shelf space, administration costs, technical support, merchandise returns, warranties, merchant profit plus a myriad other factors need to be factored into the retail price, at which point the XO will be just another product competing with all other computers on price/features.

Not a very appealing prospect.

@allen, @marc - I think a BoP strategy for the OLPC -- especially if bundled with a CDMA (or GPRS, etc.) modem would be staggeringly successful. Indeed, one wonders if someone at OLPC has been reading my blog (also posted here at OLPCNews):

A person with an OLPC and a modem is suddenly a traveling cybercafe, able to help people find market information, healthcare data, make skype/VOIP phonecalls, write and email resumes, post their homemade artesania on Etsy/eBay...


I think you just have to clearly specify what the OLPC is and what it isn't. It is a great, rugged and light travel laptop. It is not powerful or a "desktop replacement" laptop. With the right pricepoint, there's a market for that, though.


Thanks for the information. But if that is the case, why isn't olpc selling the XO to the general public, especially when this would lower the price by increasing the economies of scale of production?


Yes, it would cost more retail, but it could still compete well enough to sell hundreds of thousands or even millions.


Your question is a good one. Many of us have been asking OLPC why they don't sell to the public at retail or even with a G1-type donation. Their best answer - it would not create the density required for full saturation of every child with a laptop.

woohoo! can we get CDMA enabled XS's as well now? might make that whole mesh thing a little more real.



That's a super blog post. I really like your ideas about how to spread the technology from the bottem up.

However, I think you are making a mistake by tieing your great ideas to the XO alone. What has happened is that the XO has opened up a vast new set of possibilities in many areas: technology, economics, education, politics, and so on.

There is lots of money to be made here. That means it doesn't matter whether or not olpc follows your advice. If it doesn't (or maybe even if it does), then other organizations, including commercial ones, are sure produce XO equivalents and go down the sorts of paths you describe.

Why don't you re-package your ideas so they address all the other computer producers and interested organizations, not just olpc?

> Their best answer - it would not create the density required for full saturation of every child with a laptop.

Yeah, and the current strategy has any hope of accomplishing that goal?

I think what's starting to become pretty difficult to avoid is the realization that there *wasn't* any sales campaign planned. At least not in the conventional sense. The sales campaign, to the extent it can be dignified with the term, seems to have consisted of nothing more then a rewrite of "Field of Dreams"; if you build it, they will buy.

Even that might have worked if the people making the buying decision were spending their own money but that was never in the cards except for G1G1. No, it was going to be sold to people who were spending other people's money - politicians - which, conversely, complicates the purchase decision massively.

I really do hope the XO goes on sale at retail in India although I still maintain the U.S. is a much better market but I'll believe it when I see it.

@eduardo - two responses. First, I'm hardly the first (or evne in the first thousand or ten thousand) to promote BoP market based solutions to at least some of the worst problems in ICT-centric development; and there's already some movement (clearly highly successful with cellphones, less so (so far) with PDAs and computers).

If you go through my article and replace OLPC with "A 4P Computing Device" -- anything that's Portable (both light and rugged), Power-friendly, high-Performance and low Price -- then I think your suggested edits are done.

Why don't you re-package your ideas so they address all the other computer producers and interested organizations, not just olpc?

How about other computer producers re-packaging their technology to be BoP friendly, not just OLPC? The Eee is nice, but not quite as handy in an off-grid and rugged world, and the rest... well. Perhaps Pixel Qi or Quanta will produce a great commercialized OLPC "clone."