Cyber Cities: An Oasis of Prosperity in the South

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The future is arriving in the South even faster than many think: so-called “cyber cities” are being created to become this century’s new Silicon Valleys. Well-known ‘cyber cities’ like India’s Hyderabad and Bangalore have been joined by many other cities across the global South. But two places are set to make big waves with their ambition and drive in 2008: Mauritius and China.

Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean strategically close to Africa, better known for tourism and luxury hotels, wants to become the world’s “cyber island”. Armed with the first 3G network in Africa (the third generation of mobile phone technology – offering high-speed internet access and video telephony), Mauritius is moving fast to make good on this advantage. And it is even moving to the next level of mobile-phone speed, something called High-speed Download Packet Access (HSDPA) – allowing even greater quantities of information to be exchanged.

Mauritius joins a select few countries, including Japan and South Korea, at the forefront of access to 3G. Wireless – or wi-fi – computer access is available in three-quarters of the island.

Outside the capital of Port Louis, former sugar cane plantations are being turned into a “cyber city”. The centrepiece of the development is the 12-story Cyber Tower, home to young technology start-ups. The country is also investing heavily in education from primary school to university, to make sure the country’s 1.2 million people are cyber-ready.

Computer novices in remote villages are being visited by a Cyber Caravan with a classroom teaching housewives, children, the unemployed and the disabled basic computing and world processing.

Mauritius built its wealth on tourism, sugar plantations and textile manufacturing. But it is worried that trading arrangements that helped the sugar and textile industries to flourish, will be taken away. So it is focusing on the future: it sees itself as the world centre for disaster recovery computing services for the world’s companies in event of a disaster in their own country that destroys computer networks.

In China, its largest Cyber Park is under construction in Wujin New and High-tech Development Zone of Changzhou. It will be a technology incubator, a research and development centre, and a place for small and medium-sized enterprises to innovate.

What is truly making people stop and think is another far-reaching project: the Beijing Cyber Recreation District (CRD) – China’s most ambitious digital media industry development: a virtual worlds’ initiative with digital media academies and company incubators. It is spread over 100 square kilometres, creating the world’s largest virtual world development. It is already home to more than 200 game and multimedia content producers in western Beijing.

The CRD says its goal is “to create a virtual economy providing infrastructure and platforms through which any business – not just those based in China – can come in and sell their real-world products and services. While a concerted effort will be placed on bringing Chinese businesses and consumers in, the effort is worldwide and open to businesses and consumers from any country.”

The idea is to create a vast virtual economy for commerce where manufacturers can directly connect with billions of customers – bypassing middlemen.

It claims it will be “the world’s one-stop shop for customers and producers.” It will host billions of avatars – or virtual people – surpassing the capability of the very popular Second Life virtual world game’s 40,000.

Resources

  • The Atlas of Ideas is an 18-month study of science and innovation in China, India and Republic of Korea Korea, with a special focus on new opportunities for collaboration with Europe. It is a comprehensive account of the rising tide of Asian innovation. Special reports on China, India and Korea, introducing innovation policy and trends in these countries can be downloaded for free.
  • The Cyber Cities Reader: the first book to bring together a
    vast range of debates and examples of ICT-based city changes.
  • Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India
  • Innovation China: A website linking all stories on the fast-breaking world of Chinese innovation.
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