Software Radios

I think one of the big stories in the coming years is going to be software-defined radios. Fast Company blogs what Vanu Bose had to say at Supernova:

Today’s wireless devices are hardware based. If you have a CDMA cell phone, it can’t be a GSM cell phone. The hardware determines the device. Software radio solves that problem. We want to move so devices become generic transmission and reception devices. The software can determine what the signal becomes. Currently, our business is focused on the military because of the wide range of non-interoperable radios. The challenge getting to a cell phone-like device is limited by battery life — it does take more energy to do this — and is probably five years away.

Technology development moves very quickly. Let’s look at wireless. That’s developed at the rate of one new standard every decade. That’s not because it’s evolving slowly. It’s because they don’t make it out to widespread deployment. That’s not technical. It’s financial. For one recent AT&T build out, they had to add entirely new base stations. With that kind of investment, it can take 7-10 years to make good on that investment. That’s why we’re trying to make our innovation a software change.

There’s also an interesting comment by Tren Griffin on rural connectivity: “Spectrum is like invisible money. It’s just lying on the ground. In these rural countries, if you have some money and you have some spectrum, you can create a network. In rural Montana, there’s a lot of spectrum, but there are no devices that can use it. We want two-way connectivity anywhere in the world. We need base stations that cost less than $10,000. We need chips that cost less than $5. We need cheap spectrum that will go through mud, adobe, and brick walls.”

How Microsoft Develops its Software

David Gristwood presents 21 rules of thumb, based on an article by Jim McCarthy. “As someone who has been involved with software development for over two decades, the whole area of how you actually bring together a team and get them to successfully deliver a project on time, is one worthy of a lot of attention, if only because it is so hard to do.”

The Digital Village

The Asian edition of Business Week had a cover story by Manjeet Kripalani on the use of technology to benefit India’s poor:

Now, the entrepreneurs are starting to discover one another: India has this year been host to three conferences on the use of technology for development in rural societies. So far, most of these ventures have been funded with entrepreneurs’ savings because venture capitalists see few prospects of early returns. With the number of success stories growing, though, Nasscom and the World Bank are planning a fund of up to $1 billion to support promising ideas. And other developing nations such as South Africa, Brazil, and Sri Lanka are closely watching India’s progress to see whether the projects can be successfully replicated. “India could lead the world in creating the grassroots social experiments that could teach both India and other nations how to use technology for the common good,” says Kenneth Keniston, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who follows such experiments globally.

Computer kiosks are at the center of all this. These are typically in the front room of an entrepreneur’s home, with one or two pcs linked to the Internet via a satellite, phone, or wireless link. The country already has some 7,000 such kiosks, and more than 100 new ones pop up each week. By 2007 there could be as many as 300,000, estimates Nasscom. The giant Indian Tobacco Co. has taken the lead in this movement: The company has funded more than 4,000 kiosks so far, giving them to farmers in a bid to boost sales of everything from seeds to soap via its Web site, e-Choupal. But new players are emerging, offering eager entrepreneurs a chance to open kiosks as a business. N-Logue Communications, for instance, has adopted something of a franchise model. The company arranges a low-interest loan of $1,000 to buy a computer and install a wireless link to the Internet. Then it teaches the kiosk owner its possibilities: Net-based education, computer training for local children, videoconferencing, photo work, and more…These kiosks often become the hub of village activity.

Can these projects transform India? Not by themselves. But if, bit by bit, they can make India’s poor a little healthier, a little richer, and a little more literate, the cumulative effect on the country’s fortunes could be enormous. The poor are eager for a wave of digital change. Young people across the country — even in many villages — are familiar with computers and keen to learn how to use them. These days, education and computers are primary items in every rural family’s budget. In the poor, dusty village of Shahpur in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, impoverished farmers save their rupees to send their children to school in the neighboring town of Barabanki. There they can study English and computers, which are considered key to prosperity. Among India’s poor, there’s no shortage of ambition to learn them both. And no shortage of ideas on how to harness technology to give the poor a fighting chance to improve themselves.

South Korea’s Rise has a special report on how it is becoming a powerhouse in technology.

With 13 million of the country’s 48 million citizens living in the high-rise forests of this dense metropolis, people are constantly spying on what their neighbors or fellow subway commuters are buying. As a result, South Korea has become something of an open-air focus group for technology manufacturers, accelerating replacement cycles and a plethora of new product uses.

The local embrace of technology along with an active national government, export-driven local industries, and extensive use of broadband are the key factors permitting the country to wedge its way toward the forefront of the digital revolution. While other national economies rose and fell with the personal computer industry, South Korea is shaping up as a technology powerhouse through consumer electronics.

Look at the vision outlined by the Ministry of Information and Communication:

The South Korean government has outlined ambitious goals for eight services, three infrastructure technologies and nine product categories.

Under this so-called 8-3-9 initiative, the country’s Ministry of Information and Communication has identified specific technologies that it will encourage by funding research or providing other incentives.

Ultimately, the goal is to raise the sagging per capita gross domestic product from around $11,000 (11,595,042 won) to $20,000 by 2010.

One 8-3-9 focus is digital multimedia broadcasting, which allows people to get broadband Internet and entertainment channels remotely. It is still primarily in development in the United States, but it powers flat-screen televisions in upscale Hyundais and Acuras stuck in Seoul’s relentless traffic jams.

Some other goals are:

Digital homes: 500,000 networked households by 2004; 10 million by 2007
RFID: tiniest and cheapest radio frequency technology by 2007
W-CDMA: countrywide network based on the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access standard by 2006
Digital TV: national network set up by 2005
VoIP: 4 million users of voice over Internet Protocol by 2006

Broadband convergence network: 20 million users by 2010 Sensor networks: commonplace by 2010 IPv6: convert to Internet Protocol version 6 by 2010

System on a chip: become one of top three countries in this market by 2007
Next-generation PC: introduce wearable PC by 2007
Embedded software: become second-largest producer of embedded software by 2007
Robots: global presence by 2007

This is the kind of vision and action India needs.

RFID could Revolutionse Retailing

Knowledge@Wharton writes:

Fans say that RFID technology promises to revolutionize the supply chain through real-time item tracking. Its goal is to keep goods on the shelves, garner more efficiency through better inventory management, enhance safety through smart recalls and cut theft, known as “shrink” among retailers. This is made possible by the fact that when RFID tags emit radio waves, that information is absorbed by a reader, which can then compile and share it with a company’s enterprise software. Suppliers can benefit from real-time inventory management that keeps goods on the shelf. Consumers may not immediately see a lot of major changes, but they would certainly benefit from better in-stock levels.

Here are a few scenarios that Wal-Mart says it would like to see beginning in 2005 as it implements RFID on a wide scale. A case of a product leaves a manufacturer and is tracked and instantly routed when it reaches a Wal-Mart distribution center. There’s no need to rip open a case and inspect the contents because the RFID reader has already identified the item. At the store, the goods are monitored in real-time so there’s no need for inventory. When the shelves are empty, RFID readers alert workers to restock the shelves. If Wal-Mart’s inventory is depleted, a replenishment message is automatically sent to the supplier.

“RFID could put more goods on the shelf,” says William Cody, managing director of Wharton’s J.H. Baker Retailing Initiative. “It would certainly be better than having a skeleton crew walking around filling empty shelves. You could eliminate goods being lost in the back room.”

Today, inventory processing requires line of sight for bar code scanning. Bar codes aren’t going to disappear, but they do have disadvantages compared with RFID. Notably, bar codes introduce human errors, can only encode limited and static information, don’t offer read/write capability and cannot read multiple codes.

Cohen explains the difference between current inventory management and RFID enabled systems this way: In current systems, you may know there are 10 items on the shelf, and that information is compiled in an enterprise planning software system. With RFID, you know there are 10 items, their age, lot number, expiration date and warehouse origin. Its like knowing there are 1,000 people in a city, says Cohen. With RFID, you know their names.

Most of the benefits from RFID at present will be tied to the supply chain and within three- to five-years electronic tags carrying product specific codes should be common, according to EPCglobal, the organization creating standards for the electronic product codes carried on RFID tags.

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BI and Search

Computerworld has a special report on Business Intelligence, with a story on text mining tools. From the introduction:

When it comes to information consumption, IT journalists and IT managers aren’t all that different. We both plow through Web sites, articles, reports, vendor pitches, conference presentations — and, most important, conversations with IT managers — and then we try to make sense of it all. In the process of doing that sort of data mining for this special report, Computerworld identified the following megatrends:

* Information democracy. Companies are putting business intelligence tools and dashboards in the hands of hundreds of white-collar employees, not just a few marketing or financial analysts.

  • Unstructured data. Tomorrow’s data warehouses will have free-form text — like notes from the call center agent about why the customer hated your product — and even images.

  • Predictive analytics. Tools that can predict what your customers are likely to buy, and when they’re likely to defect, will be extremely powerful

  • Integration. BI software will be blended into regular operations to the point where managers will be able to monitor business activity throughout the day and some business decisions will be automated.

    This all sounds great, but there are some cautionary notes. BI requires continuous, aggressive efforts to clean and standardize the underlying data. Plus, the hordes of newly empowered BI end users need to be trained so they don’t make costly mistakes with these powerful tools. (Otherwise, they’ll be empowered to make bad decisions very fast.) And we still need people in the loop to make sense of it all.

  • TECH TALK: Tech Trends: Does IT Matter?

    Nicholas Carr has written a book, Does IT Matter?, following his article in Harvard Business Review last year which created a huge debate across the industry. Carr says in Wired and an interview to CIO magazine: The IT industry is looking more and more like a traditional, mature manufacturing business. Plagued by undifferentiated products, global overcapacity, and falling prices, hardware and software companies are consolidating, shifting production offshore, and making money on maintenance and other fee-based services. They’re competing on cost rather than innovation and features As IT has become more standardizedcheaper, more ubiquitousit has become harder and harder to use the technology itself as a competitive barrier because it becomes easier for competitors to replicate your systems IT matters enormously as an essential component of business today. You can’t run a business without it. But does it matter strategically? Is it going to set your company apart from your competitors? The answer increasingly is no, and it’s counterproductive at this point to think of IT in that way and to invest in IT with that kind of hope.

    In a rejoinder to Carr, Don Tapscott argues that the best companies have the best business models because they have the best IT strategies:

    Superior IT enables superior informationa resource that rivals superior talent in competitive differentiation. High-performing business models are also based on superior informationAt the cusp of each wave of tech innovation, market leaders seize advantage, whether as early adopters or fast followers. They grab positional advantage through a combination of IT and business design, and then others have no choice but to follow in their wake. This happens anytime there are new waves of tech innovation.

    IT and business models are not discrete factors in strategy; increasingly, they are inseparable. IT is leading to profound changes in business designnot just to new business processes but to the deep structures of the corporation. Because IT and networks radically reduce internal transaction costs, companies can conduct business in real-time. My research shows that smart companies can speed up their metabolism and build high performance into their business designs.

    Most important, IT is slashing transaction and interaction costs between companies. The upshot is that partnering is becoming more cost-effective than performing many business functions internally. The vertically integrated corporation is unbundling, and companies can now focus on what they do best and partner to do the rest in what I’ve called “business webs.” Leading companies grow by focusing on their corethat cluster of activities where they have unique capabilities and where they create true barriers to replication. The evidence is clear: Companies that forge high-performance business webs tend to have better products, lower cost structures and better profitability than their vertically integrated counterparts.

    It is true that as the Net becomes a powerful infrastructure, and as new standards enable rapid deployment of applications, some technology innovations can be brought to market and replicated faster. However, it’s not so easy to do all the really hard work that makes a system advantageous to a company such as changing business processes, organizational structures, culture and human behavior. The corporate graveyard is strewn with the bodies of those who naively thought it was easy to change a culture. Launch a business innovation or new business design based on IT, and the biggest challenge for your competitors to replicate will be the changes you made to your business, not the technology that inspired them. Companies that successfully alter their business around IT can achieve a significant window of competitive advantage.

    Those in the business of selling IT solutions would like to believe that IT has not and cannot be commoditised. For those leveraging IT, it may not matter as much technology has to become part of the DNA of business and if commoditisation helps in lowering investments, so be it.

    Tomorrow: India Action: Invest in Broadband and the Internet

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