San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica to gain as big countries go high-tech

In 2012, advertising firms will monitor your brain activity to design more effective ads; commuters on public transport will watch 5 billion hours of television; $100 smartphones will become ubiquitous; and a lot of people who own a computing tablet will buy a second one, according to the international consulting firm Deloitte.

The firm released its technology, media and telecommunications predictions for 2012 last week, and the outlook looks good for Costa Rica. Deloitte anticipates that demand will remain high for consumer technology, and Costa Rica – a producer of technology components – will cash in. 

“2011 was a year of hardware [3-D TV, tablets, smartphones]; 2012 will be more about content,” said Gilles Maury, senior technology, media and telecommunications manager at Deloitte, when asked what the firm’s predictions mean for Costa Rica. “Still, there are many variations of maturity in the markets of different countries.” 

Advanced countries invest strongly in fiber-optic cable for homes, wireless networks with fourth-generation mobile-broadband Internet and other technology, Maury said, adding that “emerging countries have great potential for growth in the adoption of technologies … and more productivity from existing uses.”

Deloitte’s predictions include the rise of “neuromarketing,” in which advertising companies capitalize on new, relatively inexpensive Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology (similar to MRIs but cheaper and less bulky) to study brain activity of subjects who are shown ads. Their findings could help steer marketing campaigns to better stimulate the emotional responses of consumers to buy their products. 

Most of the other predictions don’t seem quite so sinister.

Multiple-tablet households will multiply, the report predicts, and 3-D printers will continue to develop but remain a niche product. The $100 smartphone will become a tech staple, and hand-held devices (phones or tablets) able to act like DVRs will allow commuters to watch 5 billion hours of television while traveling on public transportation.

Maury said the Costa Rican market for mobile devices would grow in 2012.

“The opening up of the cellular market [to private competitors Móvistar and Claro] without a doubt will provoke a lot of movement, [including] growth in the market, the appearance of competitive and original consumer options, including the use of telephony and mobile data, smartphones and differentiated content,” he said.

The report came out the same week President Laura Chinchilla announced her administration’s “social-digital” agenda, which will include attracting foreign investment in high-tech fields and funneling 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (about $346,000) into science and technology education annually.

“The development of the future of our country goes hand-in-hand with the technologies of information and communication, as well as with environmental conservation,” Chinchilla said. “If we want to continue developing on the base of understanding, innovation and the intelligent use of natural resources, the only way we can do it is intensifying all that has to with investment and development of information, communication and digital technologies.”

The Costa Rican Foreign Trade Ministry announced on Jan. 16 that foreign direct investment (FDI) in the technology sector from January to September 2011 totaled some $470 million, more than any other sector. Additionally the Foreign Trade Promotion Office said that $9 of every $10 of FDI in Costa Rica is invested in technology, and the technology sector added 7,728 new jobs in Costa Rica in 2011.

Telecommunications drew $384 million of FDI in the same period. Costa Rica is a major producer of integrated circuits used  in  many  computing  devices  (TT, Jan. 20).

“Every single day of every year we see the need in this country to participate more and more in an innovation economy,” said Science and Technology Minister Alejandro Cruz, at a press conference announcing the 2012 winners of the National Science and Technology Awards (see story on Page 12).

The minister said IBM will be looking to staff 1,000 digital-science jobs this year in Costa Rica, and he feels confident the country can supply enough capable bodies to fill those positions. Part of the Chinchilla administration’s plan for the development of science and technology is investment in human capital, hence, Chinchilla’s plan to invest 1 percent of GDP in education for the sciences.

Maury, the Deloitte manager, said the government’s continuing efforts to expand high-speed Internet across the country, especially into schools, will continue to help drive tech development.

“The national broadband Internet plan will take on more importance [in 2012], in areas of fiber-optic cable, symmetry and content, to justify these news possibilities in data consumption,” Maury said.

On the other hand, some high-tech companies, including computer manufacturer HP and micro-processing powerhouse Intel, have warned that Chinchilla’s tax-reform plan, which is before the Legislative Assembly, would drive technology companies from the country by leveling heavier tax obligations on new investment, particularly in the country’s free-trade zones.

“Honestly, I’m worried about that,” said Cruz when asked about the prospect. “But we feel that if this is handled in a proper way, Costa Rica will continue to have a great number of millions of dollars of foreign direct investment in the future, because it’s not only a matter of economic and political reasons that these companies come to the country, but mostly and mainly because of the quality of human resources.”

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