MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti economic commentator Mikhail Khmelev) - Russia lags significantly behind developed countries in the IT sphere, said First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov at a meeting of the board of the Information Technologies and Communications Ministry.
He added, however, that this was temporary, and set an ambitious goal for the sector: to make Russia a global "leader of the IT revolution."
Apart from government and business efforts, this will require advanced technology and a developed infrastructure. At present, however, the country has neither.
The information and communication technologies sector is developing fast. Last year, according to the ministry, it grew by 17%. Russia's population is 140 million, but the number of registered SIM cards for mobile phones is 152.3 million. The real number of mobile communications users, however, is 98 million, or 70% of the population, according to the AC&M consulting bureau. Out of the 29.3 million mobile phones sold in Russia last year, not a single one was made in the country, said the IDC analytical firm. "I doubt that anyone here has a Russian-made mobile phone," Ivanov said at the meeting.
The number of computers in Russia is growing at the highest rate in the world. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of computer users has almost doubled in the last three years. However, despite this spectacular increase, the share of the population who use computers, at 35%, is still not high compared with developed countries. There are only 23 million personal computers in the country, while in the United States, western Europe and Japan almost everyone has a computer and about half of the population use the Internet. In Russia, the number of Internet users soared by 21% last year, but it still does not exceed 12.7 million people, according to Score Networks.
Ivanov, however, promised that the situation would change soon. The communications market will develop so that 50% of Russians will have a PC and Internet access by 2010, he said. The government, in turn, will make efforts to provide the necessary infrastructure for Internet connections. After the implementation of a state program, there will not be a single town or village left in Russia by 2015 where it will be impossible to install fixed phones, use mobile phones and access the Internet. To ensure a leading position in the IT sphere, the government will address such issues as the protection of intellectual property, development of technical regulations and standards in the IT sphere and modern systems of license and patent activities. Businesses, in their turn, should accelerate the development of their own high technology, Ivanov said.
Unfortunately, his speech did not touch upon the economic aspects of the IT modernization program. It is impossible to give even a rough estimate of how much investment it will require. The authorities will have to allocate billions of rubles only to provide phone and computer communications for schools and remote villages and to introduce information technology in the work of the government. However, such enormous efforts on the part of the state may prove unnecessary. For example, in just a few years, Russians have spread mobile communications to most of the country without any help from the government. They are also quite able to provide themselves with Internet connections thanks to the latest technologies, which allow doing so even in the remotest areas. It is just a matter of need and affordability.
The deputy prime minister was hardly fair when he reproached Russian businesses. It is an impossible task for domestic entrepreneurs to develop a high-tech sphere from scratch. The projects Russia inherited from the Soviet Union, to which Ivanov referred when describing the country's previous achievements, were mostly military-oriented and are of little use for modern civilian technologies. So the development of domestic Russian mobile phone production or a component base for computers could require billions. Marketing the new products on a competitive market may cost just as much.
Finally, are such efforts truly justified? Does Russia need its own mobile phones? There are numerous producers in the world, and it is impossible to compete with all of them. On the other hand, few countries have a developed production cycle for aircraft and space equipment. Moreover, Russia has very good prospects in the development of software, future technology and system solutions. Perhaps, instead of fighting for a place in the already-overcrowded mobile phone industry, it should develop the IT sectors where it already has stronger positions.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.