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TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Wireless: Magic in the Air

July 24th, 2002 · No Comments

There was a time in India not so long ago when one had to wait months for a wired telephone. In the New Connected India, all it takes is a few minutes to get a cellphone and start talking. From a no phone state, Indians have leapfrogged into a land where lack of a signal is seen with askance. Five years of GSM have given India one of the worlds best cellular networks. Today, when Indians travel within the country or even globally, they truly have one number to reach me anytime, anywhere.

In many parts of the world, new telephone connections are being equally split between wired lines and wireless lines. Obviously, once people discover the joys of a phone in their pocket, few want to be tethered to the wireline connection. With rising penetrations, cellular phone prices and connectivity charges have dropped. Today, in India, new phones cost less than USD 100 (Rs 5,000) and airtime costs 3-5 cents (Rs 1.50-2.50) per minute. In particular, airtime charges have fallen more than 90% in the past five years. Wirefree has become the lifestyle and lifeline for the new generation.

Mobile handsets are now coming with additional features to entice users to keep on upgrading smart phones with integrated PDA (calendar, address book, to-do lists), MP3 players, camera phones, colour screens are making their way into the market. The other track being taken is to add high-speed data capabilities through next-generation cellular networks (2.5G and 3G).

So far, however, the big winner has been something which involves tapping out messages on a micro-keypad: SMS, or Short Message Service. Text messaging, even with its inherent limitations with data entry and the 160-character limit, has become extremely popular, showing once again that what people will pay for is interaction: people want to communicate with others, everytime and from everywhere. Next stop: multimedia messaging service (MMS).

Convergence and Dis-Integration

Communications is where the action is, right down to the chip-level. Read what Craig Barrett, Intel’s CEO, says in an interview with Tim Forenski in Financial Times (June 6, 2002):

“We are in two businesses which are in the process of converging. Having been through the computer wars, you know what is going to happen, you know what the end point is going to be”, he says. The communications equipment market, he argues, has relied on proprietary technologies and custom chips instead of off-the-shelf parts. Now, the capital crunch suffered by the telecoms sector means there is an opportunity for equipment makers that can offer cheaper hardware by using industry-standard components such as those from Intel.

The two businesses Barrett is talking about are the microprocessors and communications chips businesses. They are converging. Kevin Werbach picks up the story. In an article in The Feature (July 8, 2002), he describes how “communications is going to be free”, as it gets integrated on the same chips as computing by companies like Intel. Think of every chip with a built-in radio. Writes Werbach:

Integrating radios into chips is more than just an engineering accomplishment. It has profound consequences for the devices and services that make use of those chips. The most obvious advantage is price. When the addition of wireless communications to a device adds negligible cost to the device, there’s no reason not to do so.

Another advantage of building RF capabilities into CPUs is that wireless devices will have newfound smarts, because they will be able to take advantage of the computational power of the microprocessor. They will be able to sense and adapt to whatever wireless networks are within range.

Tomorrow: Wireless (continued)

Tags: Tech Talk

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