Our 5 interviewee this week is Moses Sitati, an economist and R&D specialist with the Nokia Research Centre in Nairobi. He works in the field collecting user needs and insights translating them into mobile-based solutions. He has previously worked at KIPPRA, the Ministry of Planning and National Development, Kenya and Ashoka: Innovators for the Public.
Onto the questions.
1. What do Nokia Research Centres do exactly?
Nokia research centers focus on the experiences people will have in the future, the technology and interfaces they will use, and the infrastructure required to make it happen. The different labs have different research topics e.g. computing systems, federated devices, mobile cloud technology, multimedia and interaction technologies, cognitive radios, sensor radios, etc.
The Growth Economies Lab, which NRC Nairobi falls under (with Beijing, Bangalore and Shenzhen) explores technology disruptions for growth economy consumers. NRC Nairobi explores new business models for the next billion Internet users, new Service platforms with local content and payment systems, and new device paradigms.
2. How do the Nokia Research Centres Make a Difference?
Since 1986 the Nokia Research Centres have made great engineering and scientific contributions that are widely used by millions of people today e.g. GSM, SMS, touch technology, 3G radios, mobile web browsing, mobile multimedia, speech dialing, mobile TV, facial recognition, etc. NRC Nairobi identifies the strengths of communities in the region looking at the social, cultural and economic structures and practices and builds on these to develop new product concepts in hardware, software, services and platforms that are locally inspired, relevant, and have potential for social impact.
3. How many Nokia Research Centres are there in the world?
There are 21 sites worldwide and they are divided into five labs as follows:
- Growth Economies Lab: Beijing, Shenzhen, Bangalore, Nairobi
- North America Lab: Palo Alto, Berkeley, Hollywood, Cambridge
- Euro Lab: Cambridge UK, Lausanne, Moscow
- Media Technologies Lab: Tampere, Helsinki, Bangalore, Beijing, Sunnyvale
- Radio Systems Lab: Helsinki, Otaniemi, Tampere, Beijing, Berkely
4. How old is the Nairobi Nokia Research Centre? Examples of the innovations it has produced?
The Nairobi office is 4 years old. Has 18 researchers from mixed disciplines – computer scientists, social scientists and design working in close collaboration.
NRC Nairobi has carried out research explorations in several areas including p2p commerce, music creation, family planning, microbusiness, voice services, education and learning, crowdsourcing, web apps, “chamas”, solar charging, gaming, youth, democratizing app creation, tools for digital content creation, off-network services, flashing/missed-calling, low literacy UIs, counterfeit devices, new hardware paradigms, microwork tasks, advertising, citizen journalism, social networking, co-creation, mobile financial services, traffic and transportation.
In a number of these areas NRC Nairobi has filed several patents, written publications, tested concepts in pilot studies with hundreds of users and has some mature innovations that are soon to be introduced in the IMEA region.
5. What technologies do you see Nokia deploying in the future?
A core strategic priority for Nokia in 2012 is to deliver Internet and Information for the Next Billion. This will involve: delivering best access to the Internet and to Information access; a great range of aspirational products for consumers; and a highly localized ecosystem with relevant apps and content with a unified platform for developers and operators to create an offering.
When you look at growth economy consumers, the potential of the Internet is still largely untapped. Users are still getting to learn what the Internet is, how to use it and what it can do for them. The next billion mobile phone users are not the well-educated, technology oriented users with experience in graphical user interfaces and menu navigation. We at NRC Nairobi look forward to playing a part in introducing Internet to the Next Billion through thinking and defining a “grassroots” ecosystem, examining new UI paradigms for Internet services (cross-culture, cross-language, cross-platform, cross-literacy), enabling easy DIY mobile tools to enable local content creation and sharing with built-in incentive mechanisms.