Inner India

As I was travelling through much of rural India, I couldn’t help thinking (as I always do when I am there) how little has changed in the interiors of India. Yes, there are more schools, STD-PCOs, Cable TV, higher literacy levels. But, village/rural life in India has been laregly unaffected by the modernisation that India’s cities are going through. The same is perhaps true even in places like China.

I got thinking on the problems and what can be done. The goal must be to make villages self-sufficient. Only then will migration to the urban and semi-urban areas stop. Villages have to be given access to the opportunities of the world outside. Have some thoughts on these – which I will perhaps build out into a Tech Talk series.

In a nutshell, what’s needed is water, electricity, food, connectivity, and perhaps more importantly, a future. For water, one could look at rainwater harvesting. For electricity, consider solar power. For food, better agricultural techniques to increase effciency of the land cultivated. For connectivity, think of telecentres with computers and Internet access. On providing a future, one must think of providing the local people opportunities to use their talents (especially at making art and crafts) which can be marketed to audiences outside their geography and even internationally, via a site like eBay.

Admittedly, these are simplistic ideas. I havent lived in a village for 20+ years – have just been an occasional traveller through some of them. But I cannot help feeling that we have to think solutions of how technology (and Emergic) can make a difference to their lives. After all, much of India (and the populace in emerging markets) still resides in villages.

Software Startups

Writing in Forbes, Rich Karlgaard asks if software startups can succeed and proffers the following tip: “Forget trying to be mission critical. No CIO in America is going to bet his company on a little-known startup. Go after a niche, and then work like hell to make your customer happy. Worried you’ll get trapped in the niche? Think of PeopleSoft. It started out selling software for human relations departments. PeopleSoft worked its way up the ladder–always thrilling customers at each rung–and now sells mission-critical supply-chain software. Over time PeopleSoft won the market’s permission to move upscale. It can be done.”

I think software startups should seriously consider looking at emerging markets. The people and enterprises in these markets are the ones who now need to use technology to bridge their own versions of the digital divide. Affordability is an important aspect of what they want.

Rediscovering BBC World Service

Recently, on a trip through India, I took my short wave radio (Sony’s ICF-SW12) with me. Its a small but very powerful radio. As I travelled through Rajasthan and Gujarat cut-off from the world of cellphones and English newspapers, the radio, and specifically BBC World Service, was a great way to stay in touch with the world. It brought back memories of my childhood when the BBC and I were virtually inseparable. In the past few years, the Internet and to a small extent the TV have replaced where I get my news from.

As I experienced the joys of radio listening, I couldn’t help thinking that the radio is a much better experience than TV. With TV, one’s hand is always on the remote, looking to flip channels at the earliest. Attention span is very limited. With radio, concentration is complete. There are no distractions. One can close one’s eyes and imagine the picture being painted by what one is hearing on radio. It’s like watching a book as compared to seeing the movie. The book lets one create our own imaginary worlds – each of us can build our own worlds.

That’s why I feel one of the best gifts for a growing child/teen should be a shortwave radio. It opens one up to the world in a way TV cannot. The BBC has some great programmes. While I do listen to the world news every morning on radio, am beginning to think I should spend a little more time with the radio. There was a time 15 years ago when I had memorised their entire schedule! The radio remains for me a window to the world. Am glad I re-opened it.

There’s Game Strategy

From WSJ about an video game launched by There, whiich is hoping that “people pay real money to help virtual characters buy make-believe stuff”:

There hopes to be paid by companies such as Web portals and ski resorts to build themed virtual destinations for promotional purposes or to produce revenue.

The company’s monetary policy is even more striking. There will give users ways to earn fictitious currency that they can spend on virtual homes, entertainment and goods. For example, members are expected to try on and buy virtual shoes from Nike Inc. and apparel from Levi-Strauss Co. at animated kiosks in There, and buy real-world items by clicking on an Internet link.

In the virtual world created by the start-up There, characters explore, flirt and play, sometimes with virtual pets, in a range of exotic settings that includes a dark forest, a tropical island, a city in the clouds and a replica of ancient Egypt. They can chat and display emotions based on typed commands.

The key difference in There: Users will also be able to trade real money for play money, using credit cards to buy additional “Therebucks” beyond those they earn or those that come with their subscriptions.

A related story from San Jose Mercury News:

I contrast to the ordinary towns and cities of “he Sims Online,” There is creating exotic destinations: a tropical resort, the Egyptian pyramids, a cloud city and a realm with dark forests and glowing crystals. Users can explore the world in dune buggies or “hoverboards” that are like surfboards that float a few feet off the ground.

What really sets There apart is its lifelike avatars, or the characters that allow the users to express themselves in the world. Users can tailor these alter egos to look like themselves and wear fancy clothes from Nike or Levi.

The objects and the avatars don’t necessarily look real, but they move with realistic physics, so that a walking person has correct movements. Users can type messages to others, and their avatars can act out the emotions related to the words that the user types. Users also can talk in their own voices.

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Unwiring the Last Mile

A good article from Network Magazine on the wireless options for the last mile connectivity. “While carriers and their representatives in congress argue over the fate of aging copper telephone lines, researchers are developing new Wireless Local Loop (WLL) systems that could make them irrelevant. If the companies developing the technology are to be believed-and they have trials and early customer deployments that look promising-WLL offers higher data rates than DSL, covering a wider area at a lower cost.”

Broadband Shift

From WSJ:

Many of the still-standing Web developers are beginning to view broadband as more than hype. Media companies and online services are rolling out a wide range of new music, videos, movies, games and other features suited for high-speed Internet hookups but too cumbersome for most people using slower dial-up connections.

In doing so, they’re setting the stage for what could be a major transformation of the Internet. Much of the new content being developed for broadband users is premised on the unproved assumption that people will be willing to pay for a wide range of entertainment on the Web. If they are, get ready for a two-tiered Internet, with the hottest content sites charging subscription fees. Cable companies, online services and phone companies already are beginning to explore the idea of offering subscriptions to packages of premium content, in the same way cable companies today sell premium channels such as HBO and Showtime.

Cable companies clearly recognize that content is the key to maintaining strong broadband sales. Up to now, millions have been signing up for broadband primarily for its speed and the convenience of a connection that’s always activated without a lengthy dial-up procedure. But for many others, those advantages are not enough to justify the cost. So cable companies are scrambling to figure out ways to use music, videos, graphics and other jazzy broadband content to keep the cash register ringing.

The story talks about the US situation, but what is also happening is that many emerging markets are also going to be getting broadband quite soon. In fact, many countries like India will bypass the narrowband step. Already many cybercafes in India and South Korea have high-speed connections. Providers like Reliance Infocomm are planning Ethernet into homes via fibre in the coming years.

China and South Korea

From NYTImes:

As China has become South Korea’s largest economic partner almost overnight, it has also become a threat.

“For years, Korea has long been the low-cost, high-efficiency producer, but now Chinese labor is eating into the South Korean margins,” said Scott Snyder, Korea representative for the Asia Foundation, a research group partly financed by the United States government. “The Koreans have to run faster — they are starting to feel the warm breath of China on their backs.”

Korea’s leading exports to China last year were cellphones and computers, displacing steel and petrochemical goods. By 2010, the Korean government forecasts, China will be on a par with Korea in such major industries as cars, semiconductors and shipbuilding. In other industries, the gap is measured in months.

South Korea’s shipbuilders, the world’s largest, are turning to building liquefied natural gas carriers and other value-added vessels, since China’s shipbuilding industry is already focusing on the market for simpler vessels.

In 2000, Korea’s $53.4 billion in information technology production amounted to 5 percent of world production, below China’s 6 percent.

TECH TALK: 2003 Expectations: Outsourcing to India and China

The importance of India and China in the technology value chain continues to grow. The world is now looking at markets like India and China for outsourced services. China has become the manufacturing hub, while India is becoming the first choice for outsourced IT and back-office services. As the two economies prosper, they will start becoming big consumers also, creating two huge markets of a billion-plus people in the years to come. More immediately, 2003 will see the outsourcing trend continue. Even as some Indian software companies try and move up the value chain to consulting, others are moving downward to offer business process outsourcing.

Business Week wrote recently on Chinas emerging technological prowess:

It seemed that hardly a week went by in 2002 without another multinational announcing that it was setting up a big research and development operation in China. From General Electric to Philips to Matsushita, the biggest names in American, European, and Asian industry were increasing their commitment to China.

For Beijing’s leaders, this investment is a key part of its strategy to move beyond labor-intensive manufacturing. For proud Chinese, it’s part of a drive to help their country regain its status as a world technology leader. For Americans in Silicon Valley, Indians in Bangalore, and Taiwanese in Hsinchu, it’s another indication that China is well on its way to becoming a far more powerful competitor.

Even as the manufacturing outsourcing to China continues, India has emerged as the preferred destination for services and software. A look at the spectacular new construction happening in places like Gurgaon near Delhi and Whitefield in Bangalore is a reflection of Indias arrival on the world scene – finally.

But 2003 could be the year that companies start to also look beyond India so as not to put all their eggs in one basket. Writes CIO: India has long been the leader in offshore IT outsourcing, with a $4 billion IT services export industry, a decade of lead time over most other countries and upward of 80 percent of the offshore market. The rising demand for those services and increasing risk of terrorist attacks are prompting CIOs who source work abroad to look beyond the usual suspects. In 2003, CIOs looking to outsource can expect to get solicitations from places like Bangladesh or Bulgaria. In reality, most countries are far behind India, which boasts 900 software companies employing 415,000 professionals and more software quality initiatives than even the United States. But there are three up-and-comers that are worth a look. The three countries identified are China, Russia and Philippines.

Tomorrow: The Real New Markets

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