The recent communications revolution driven by optics promises huge bandwidth across the world. Even India, which has a total of 1 Gbps connectivity to the Internet, is likely to see this explode manifold, driven by undersea cables. This still does not bring enough connectivity to the enterprise. While a mix of cable, optics, fixed wireless and even lasers offer promising answers, a dark horse is emerging to offer the last-mile and last-feet connectivity. The answer lies in an extension of the protocol we are all so familiar with on the LAN – Ethernet. The use: creation of wireless networks in the office and neighbourhoods.
The two protocols to watch are 802.11b (also called Wi-Fi) which uses the 2.4 Ghz spectrum and offers connectivity at up to 11 Mbps, and the much faster 802.11a which uses the 5.4 Ghz spectrum and can offer speeds of up to 54 Mbps. These technologies will serve as the basis for the creation of “wireless Internet Access Points”. Connectivity from these points to the Internet will be at high-speed via fibre or DSL.
(Of course, there is the other alternative: 3G, for which cellular companies worldwide have bet tens of billions of dollars. If history is any precedent in technology, keep an eye open for the dark horse!)
In the next year, computers, especially laptops, will come built-in with 802.11b connectivity. Internationally, many public places will have 802.11b networks. In India, the 600,000 telephone booths (the Public Call Offices – PCOs), the million-plus kirana stores and the tens of thousands of petrol pumps can serve as 802.11b hubs.
The second development to watch for will be the availability of devices which can plug into these wireless networks. From cellphones to PDAs to sensors, there will be millions of these “data devices” which will use the wireless envelope to communicate with each other and with Web services.
These wireless devices become important considering the low penetration of PCs in the “emerging markets” of the world. In India, for example, there are less than 4 million PCs in corporates. The high cost of the PC (and the associated costs of software and maintenance) have stunted use. Data devices enabled with wireless connectivity at price points which are much lower than PCs can help in ensuring computing and communications for the entire enterprise, thus making technology a utility.
These then are the two key building blocks of the New Enterprise: Software as a Web Service on a subscription-basis and low-cost, wireless-enabled Internet Access Devices. Taken together, they form the foundation for a new technology architecture for small and medium enterprises in emerging markets.