NetTV: The Best Way To Bring Computers To The Filipino Masses?


The $100 laptop by OLPC is old news. Even so, the Philippine government has no plans to distribute the laptops in the country. Since government will not sponsor such a project, the $100 laptop will probably not reach our soils, unless some enterprising individual manages to get hold of units and sell them in the grey market (as is usual with unsupported cellphones sold in the grey-market here).

However, the Philippine market might be ripe for the thin-client type NetTV and NetPC being marketed in India. These nifty little gadgets have been featured in Newsweek this month, with the focus of how it’s changing the face of computing in India, where Novatium, the company that created the boxes, is based.

If Rajesh Jain is successful, the NetTV, which hooks up to any television, could be the first in a family of devices that connect the next billion people to the Internet. Jain, 39, is cofounder and chairman of Novatium, the Chennai-based company that makes NetTV and NetPC, a similar product that uses a normal computer monitor. Both are based on cheap cell-phone chips and come without the hard-disk drive, extensive memory and prepackaged software thatadd hundreds of dollars to the cost of regular PCs. Instead, they are little more than a keyboard, a screen and a couple of USB ports””and use a central network server to run software applications and store data. Novatium already sells the NetPC for only $100″”just within reach of India’s growing middle class””and Jain believes he can soon drive the price down to $70.

One striking feature of the NetTV is that it can plug into any television to work. It doesn’t need any local applications, since all will reside on, and run from, the server. And the NetTV can connect to the server via any open network, be it cable, DSL, wireless (I assume).

Novatium and the OLPC initiative both share the vision of bringing cheap computing to the masses. They differ, though, in two big ways. OLPC focuses on local applications, since its intended users are those in very rural areas (with likely no stable Internet connection). NetTV and NetPC, meanwhile are meant for those middle class urban dwellers who cannot afford more expensive computers. They would likely be able to have access to Cable or wireless broadband.

OLPC intends its laptops to be large-scale projects sponsored by beneficiary countries. Novatium, meanwhile, aims to have a viable business model by actually earning money from subscriptions.

So will this be the best way to bring computer access to the Filipino masses, then? Consider that a good majority of Filipino households have access to at least one TV set. And a good number has access to a telecommunications network, whether fixed line or wireless (not necessarily subscribed to a network, but just having access to a cellular signal or telephone/ cableTV would suffice).

The NetTV/NetPC model relies on subscriptions and partnerships with ISPs/telecoms providers, so government intervention may not necessarily be required. And in India, Novatium reportedly charges only about $10 per month for the service. Would a similar amount be viable in our country? That’s about PhP 5,000 outright for the box and PhP 500 monthly subscription.

Not bad, I would say–especially since that already connects you to the Internet, and lets you run software (like office/productivity apps) without the headaches of having to install legit software or installing open source ones. And that’s cheaper than a mid-range cellphone. And PhP 500 per month for software and productivity would be more worth it than splurging everything on prepaid mobile phone credits.

The main concern now would be how to bring in the product and the services–or similar ones–to our shores.

Anyone up to this challenge?

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  • richard


    thin client devices like this would be totally dependent on the backend

    advances in thin client devices haave matched those on the server side in the corporate enterprise model

    ISP/Teelcoms would have to relly consider being ASP’s then to make sure its a real thin experience to bring costs down and eventually bring their services to utility level

    client devices are already here in one form or another its the backend that may have to the catching up

  • To use a television as the screen is an excellent idea. Even the squatters have television (I think).

    The question is if the infrastructure of our current networks (specially wireless) are reliable enough.

  • Don’t count the OLPC out just yet …

  • Berlin

    IPTV needs at least 1.5mbps to work. So it needs to hook to set-top boxes to preload, unless you’re fine with youtube quality.

  • This has nothing to do with TV programming. It’s about using the TV set as the monitor, just like WebTV, or the 1980s personal computers like the Apple II.

  • Dr. Raffy Mananghaya and the Philippine eLearning Society (PeLS) are working with CICT on the cheap (low-cost) Pc project. In a recent conference, Via-PC1 demo-ed a CPU maybe 6 in by 6 in square. And they do have some varieties, including a laptop, a green, carbonless(?) version, as well as a solution for harsh conditions (think desert, sand and heat). Hopefully, I can get my hands on one of the demo units soon. The business model is for it to be commercially available.

    The desktop cost: around 5K-6K for the. There is no hard disk, runs on Pupp Linux, etc. Google Via-PC1 for details.

    Note: I am a PeLS member.

  • For businesses and schools, diskless thin clients are an affordable and powerful option. They are the size of a paperback book and have no embedded software and no internal moving parts.

    They’re a one-time investment, because they rarely break and don’t need updating. They’re powered by a boot appliance and all data and applications are stored on the server.

    The company I work with, Symbio Technologies (, is the leader in this stateless computing approach.