WiFi Bubble

As hotspots proliferate, The Economist asks if the WiFi boom is actually a bubble:

The coming shake-out in Wi-Fi will force operators to identify which of their many hotspot locations make sense. They should concentrate on business users, advises Andrew Cole of Adventis, a telecoms consultancy. The bubble, he says, is in consumer Wi-Fi. Hotspots in coffee shops, cinemas and malls will mostly prove uneconomic. Gartner predicts that the number of hotspots in retail outlets will peak in 2005, and then decline, as uneconomic hotspots are switched off.

But for real-estate owners, hotels, airports and convention centres, you can build a business case, says Mr Chand. Such venues may, however, choose not to operate hotspots themselves, but instead delegate marketing, billing and roaming to incumbent telecoms firms. Either that, or they will give away free access to attract customers. Neither model bodes well for the hotspot-operator start-ups now trying to capture the Wi-Fi market.

The outlook is equally grim for the dozens of start-ups making Wi-Fi chips, systems and equipment. A few may get lucky, and be bought out by a larger equipment-maker, such as Cisco, says Mr Chand. But most will fail. Already, though sales of Wi-Fi equipment are booming, prices have tumbled, and margins are now wafer-thin. Wi-Fi will continue to spread, and will remain popular. But, rather like the internet, it may disappoint many investors who hoped to make their fortunes.

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I have logn felt that the work being done by Dan Bricklin on defining the SMBmeta spec is very useful. Some time ago, Dan released a sample directory and sample code.

A Burton Group article gives the wider context:

SMBmeta is a very simple set of XML tags that allow a business to describe itself. Using the tags, a Web site can provide a structured XML document that includes basic information like the business name, address, phone number, industry type, and so on. The structured XML document, which is very short and simple, lives a the root of the Web server, which makes it easy to find, parse, and process. Bricklin, who came up with the idea as a way to create value-added services for small businesses in his hosting business, thought that search engines could pick up the SMBmeta data, building a directory simply by retrieving and indexing the SMBmeta data.

In other words, SMBmeta is a self-organizing directory. In contrast with X.500 and its descendants, SMBmeta is very decentralized, pushing responsibility and data ownership all the way out to the edge. It makes data aggregation a loosely coupled operation that anyone can perform. Pretty cool.

What needs to happen is that the SMBmeta interface and directories need to be combined with an RSS-based publish-subscribe mechanism to create an information marketplace. SMBmeta is too static; it needs a dynamic mechanism (which can be built via RSS publishing) to enable SMEs to find each other and do business.

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ISV Strategies

Eric Kidd offers some suggestions for independent software vendors (ISVs):

Focus on non-strategic niche around an existing platform. If you end up threatening the platform vendor, they’ll either buy you or squash you. Be careful about creating your own platforms (like Netscape); this makes you uncomfortably strategic.

Go ahead and out-innovate the big players, and hope that vision and technology will overcome money and marketshare.

Forget technology; focus on user requirements and user relationships.

I think ISVs have to do all of the above to entertain any chances of winning. But I’d say that the most important strategy is to envision the future AND go ahead and create it. That is what we want to do.

An Integrated World

Thomas Friedman writes about how technology is bringing people closer and the impact it will have:

In the past three years, Google has gone from processing 100 million searches per day to over 200 million searches per day. And get this: only one-third come from inside the U.S. The rest are in 88 other languages.

VeriSign, which operates much of the Internet’s infrastructure, was processing 600 million domain requests per day in early 2000. It’s now processing nine billion per day. A domain request is anytime anyone types in .com or .net. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Within the next few years you will be able to be both mobile and totally connected, thanks to the pending explosion of Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity.

Says Alan Cohen, a V.P. of Airespace, a new Wi-Fi provider: “If I can operate Google, I can find anything. And with wireless, it means I will be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime. Which is why I say that Google, combined with Wi-Fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything. Throughout history, people connected to God without wires. Now, for many questions in the world, you ask Google, and increasingly, you can do it without wires, too.”

While we may be emotionally distancing ourselves from the world, the world is getting more integrated.

“The key point is not just whether people hate us,” says Robert Wright, the author of “Nonzero,” a highly original book on the integrated world. “The key point is that it matters more now whether people hate us, and will keep mattering more, for technological reasons. I don’t mean just homemade W.M.D.’s. I am talking about the way information technology everyone using e-mail, Wi-Fi and Google will make it much easier for small groups to rally like-minded people, crystallize diffuse hatreds and mobilize lethal force. And wait until the whole world goes broadband. Broadband a much richer Internet service that brings video on demand to your PC will revolutionize recruiting, because video is such an emotionally powerful medium.

Harry crushes the Hulk

NYTimes has an interesting comparison: “On Saturday alone, J. K. Rowling’s fifth novel sold five million copies nationwide. In a culture where little registers until it’s measured in dollars, just do the math. Figure an average price of $20 a “Harry” (allowing for widely varying discounts on the $29.99 list price), and you have a one-day gross, as Variety would say, of $100 million. That’s more money than the competing Hollywood fantasy, ‘The Hulk,’ brought in for its entire opening weekend ($62 million), and, assuming a very conservative average of two readers per book, a larger audience as well.”

In India too, the book sold something like 100,000 copies in a week. At Rs 650-odd per book, that is about Rs 6.5 crores (USD 1.4 million), which is more than the took of most hit Hindi movies in their opening week. Whoever thought book reading was out of fashion!

TECH TALK: An Affordable Alternative Technology Architecture for Indias BFSI Industry: Part 4

Open-source software has much wider usage. So far, we have been familiar for the use of Linux for mail (Sendmail), proxy (Squid), file and print (Samba) and web (Apache) servers. There is a lot more. There are databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL, there is an application server JBoss, there are open-source CRM and sales management applications like OpenCRM and Relata. In fact, there are open-source applications available for almost everything that one can think of. The problem is that many of these applications may not be finished or may have inadequate documentation and support. This is the opportunity for Indias software industry to build on top of and around these applications to make them industrial strength.

The one issue unaddressed so far is that of the core banking applications. Most applications today are Windows-based or need Internet Explorer. This is where the co-operating banks need to put pressure on vendors to make their applications work on Linux or other browsers. Many database vendors and applications work on Linux (or another Unix variant) at the server-level. In fact, even if a collective of banks need to even finance the cost of getting applications re-written by vendors to support Linux and the other browsers, it will be well worth the investment.

I am not suggesting that Indian banks do away with proprietary applications or slash their IT budgets. No. What they should look at is for hybrid solutions a mix of open-source and proprietary applications will create a win-win solution for the banks and their customers. The most important requirement to make this happen is an open mind on the part of the technology decision-makers in banks. In fact, one of the side-effects of this could very well be that the proprietary solution vendors also start offering rationale pricing rather than dollar-denominated or monopolistic pricing. Banks should use their IT budgets to deepen the penetration of technology both in terms of employees having access to computing as well as the type of applications in use (for example, investments in knowledge management and data mining software).

These ideas may seem quite radical and counter-intuitive. After all, banks and the financial services sectors many plenty of money. Why should they worry about reducing costs by going in for technology that may have not been used elsewhere in the world? Why should we be the guinea pigs? In fact, from the point of view of most managers, this is just the solution they should not want to try out it is different, it is not Windows, it may be risky, and most importantly, the money being spent is not their money.

The issue we need to consider as a nation is that of optimum utilisation of the limited resources that we have available and self-reliance. Expenditures on technology may not seem much when we as a nation are buying 2 million computers a year and running pirated software on more than 70% of these. Our nation of a billion people needs a technology infrastructure as much as it needs roads, power, food and water, if we are to realize the dream of being a developed nation in the coming years. The need of the hour is for disruptive innovations, and not status quo.

Tomorrow: Part 5

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