go out to Craig Hall, a buddy of mine is an advisor to the Bronze winner of the WSJ Technology Innovator Awards, VNL and of course to VNL and all the innovators promoted in the Wall Street Journal Technology section today.

VNL is a Indian company that has taken a page from IKEA, the global Swedish furniture retailer. Making wireless base stations power-independent with a solar and 72-hour battery supply, simplifying and simplifying their installation so all the components can be easily carried and a job aid explains in pictures how to install the system eliminates the installation cost and expertise previously required to deploy a base station in small remote Indian villages. In the 9th annual awards, the Journal reports that installer-villagers simply point the microwave antennae and stop when the beeping is at its loudest.

Some argue that breakthroughs like VNL aren’t really innovative, however I beg to differ on two counts:

  1. The inexpensive and simple deployment of mobile communications services can revolutionize living in these remote villages. A decade ago, Mexico installed satellite solar-powered payphones in remote villages and greatly stimulated their local community and economic activities allowing farmers to call ahead to find the market price before walking there, patients can call their doctor for advice on new injuries and distant relatives can call each other, reinforcing familial ties. In the Indian case, mobile service is a micro-business in its own right as many micro-businesses rent mobile phones. So, it will as the company’s website proclaims, ‘bring mobile service to the next billion subscribers.’
  2. Simplification of product categories often revolutionizes the category to enable new markets. IKEA simplified furniture assembly so users could assemble their couch or chair or table themselves. This enabled a global network of retail outlets serviced by an efficient supply chain. Apple greatly simplified the digital music experience bringing together the 1.25 inch-hard drive, PC-synchronization software, MP3 (actually default is AIFF I believe) and recording industry to create the iPod-iTunes innovator.

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