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Bus. Std: A Tale of Three Platforms

December 31st, 2003 · No Comments

My column in today’s Business Standard (ICE World) on the need to construct the next generation of platforms for the telephone network, the PC and the world wide web:

The three technology platforms that form the foundation of our digital life today are the telephone network, personal computer and the world wide web. While the legacy of the telephone goes back many decades, the PC and the web are recent creations. They have served us well today, over 500 million computers are in use across the world, billions of documents on every conceivable topic across the world are no more than a few clicks away and a global telecom network connects people, computers and information.

Yet these platforms are now beginning to show their age. The wire line telephone network which has carried voice so well gets stretched to its limits when it comes to data, the computers cost makes it unaffordable for much of the developing markets and the web has overloaded us with information, even as the time we have in our lives has remained constant.

The time has come to rethink and construct the next generation of platforms in each of the three areas communications, computing and information access. We need to consider the technological developments that are taking place, aggregate them and build platforms which will bring technology to the next billion users across much of the developing world.

Imagine a world where bandwidth for voice and data is not constrained and we are enveloped by a ubiquitous communications network. Imagine a world where computing is available for all at prices everyone can afford. Imagine a world where just the right information is delivered to us in real time. This is a world that is now at hand. The elements to construct this future are visible if only we are willing to see them. As we in India think about constructing a digital technology infrastructure, it is this tomorrow that we need to envision, and not one built and encumbered by the legacy of yesterday.

The communications platform needs to be built on IP (internet protocol) and be always on. Voice needs to become an application on IP networks. Wireless and broadband technologies need to be made available for homes, businesses and rural areas at affordable prices. Just as the Indian government is constructing a network of expressways, we need to enable the construction and deployment of high-speed IP-based networks across the country. Existing artificial telecom restraints and restrictions need to be done away with. For this, service providers need to be given the freedom to carry any traffic voice, data, video on their pipes. A reliable, world-class access infrastructure is the prerequisite for the new, shining India.

The computing platform needs to focus on affordability so that a connected computer is accessible to every family in urban and rural India, and every employee in corporate India. The requirement is access devices which are as easy to use and affordable as phones and have the functionality, versatility and footprint of computers. Think of these as PC terminals, designed for a networked world. The architecture of todays computer was created in the late 1970s and 1980s when networks were few and far between and, therefore, both storage and processing had to be done locally within the device. As we get high-speed networks, the access device can be simplified, and storage and processing can move back to central servers across a network. This re-architecting along with the use of open-source software can help cut the total cost of ownership of computers by 70-90 per cent.

The information platform needs to become real time, event driven and multimedia-oriented. The first web made publishing possible by the few, for many. The next web will enable mass publishing and narrowcast audiences many writing for the few. Information will not just be accessed through the browser or searched but will be delivered via RSS (Rich Site Summary; an XML-based syndication format) to news readers. Think of this as the publish-subscribe web. It bridges the gap between information producers and consumers by establishing an information stream between publishers and subscribers, ensuring real time delivery of news, information and events. The other shift is towards multimedia information, as the tools to create and distribute digital content proliferate in the form of devices like camera phones.

India has an opportunity once again to do things right. What is needed is a generation of entrepreneurs to think beyond the curve and outside the box to create technology platforms and solutions for tomorrows world. As Alan Kay said, The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Tags: Bus. Std. (ICE World) Column

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