The Portable Internet

The ITU released an excellent report recently on “The Portable Internet.” From the press release:

A new set of advanced wireless technologies now promises to bring affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity to the masses. This set of technologies, and the market opportunity they create, has been termed the “Portable Internet”.

Portable Internet technologies promise to cut the cords to a wire-free future in which Internet access, for both fixed locations and users on the move, is supplied over the airwaves. The technologies that make up the portable Internet operate at short, medium and long range, according to the geographical range of their radio signals (see Figure 1). Short-range technologies, such as Bluetooth, ZigBee and RFID allow low-power connectivity within a range of 30 metres. Medium-range technologies can communicate at least 150 metres from a hotspot (e.g. Wi-Fi, or IEEE 802.11b) and up to several kilometres, depending on environmental and regulatory factors. Finally, long-range technologies such as WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) and IMT-2000 (3G) have ranges that extend up to 50 kilometres from a base station, and provide near-nationwide coverage when offered as a networked service.

“Fixed-line technologies generally offer higher speeds while IMT-2000, also known as 3G mobile phone networks, offer greater mobility. However, there is a wide gap between these two and many see this as the prime market segment for new portable Internet technologies, especially in developing countries”, says Dr Taylor Reynolds, one of the authors of the report, and the project manager of the Digital Bridges symposium. This event, to be held on 10-11 September 2004 in Busan, jointly organized by ITU and the government of the Republic of Korea, brings together experts from around the world to assess the problems of measuring and bridging the digital divide between developed and developing nations.

While wireless local area networks (WLANs), such as those based on the IEEEs Wi-fi standards, already help plug this gap at the local level, a more significant technological advance is on the horizon with WiMAX (more correctly IEEE 802.16a, WiMAX is short for Wireless Interoperability for Microwave Access; sometimes called “Wi-fis big brother”). These offer connectivity of up to 54 Mbit/s over a range of up to 50 kilometres. In rural areas, and other parts of the world that have no wired network, WiMAX could be the preferred platform for offering a wide range of voice, data and broadcast entertainment services.

Asia leads the world in the buildout of the Portable Internet. The report is a must-read not just for those in the telecoms business, but also for content and application developers — how would we do things differently in a world enveloped by high-speed networks? This is the New Net that is getting built around us. The focus of the Portable Internet will also be on the next users of technology – it is a world which, according to me, will have as its endpoints network computers and a “commPuting grid.” It is a disruptive technology platform and one that offers challenges and opportunities.

From the Indian perspective, I think we need to work on building out the Portable Internet — that should be the focus of the new broadband policy that will announced soon. Any rule or regulation that hinders deployment should be removed. India has the opportunity to lead and become a showcase for other emerging markets – at the same time creating opportunities for Indian companies globally.

So, read the report and then imagine what the world can be…! Here’s a glimpse of tomorrow by ITU’s Lara Srivastava, the report’s lead author: “Imagine a device that could store all your personal information, such as ID information and entertainment, including favourite music, photos and films. Add voice and videocommunications, and location-based information, and it becomes a very powerful communications tool. And this will not come without profound implications for society and lifestyles, both in the developed and developing world”.

Shifting Time Horizons

[via Anish Sankhalia] The Innovation Road Map Travelogue writes:

The roads leading from Austin west can go many miles through desert or semi-desert. Driving requires a focus on the horizon with peripheral vision alert to movement along the sides of the road. I hurtled along at high speeds in over 2000 pounds of metal, glass, and plastic, essentially out of control. Calmly I talked and sped along.

If a curve appeared on the horizon, I decided long before reaching it whether to slow down or if it was safe to continue at my current speed. I had learned years ago that you never try to brake after entering a curve. As race car drivers know, it is more stable to be accelerating through a curve. So it is essential to slow down before entering a curve.

I noted something as I drove. As long as I kept my vision on the horizon, driving at a high speed was easy, even if the road had many curves. As I brought my focus closer and closer to the car, driving became very difficult. If I tried to focus on the space just in front of the car, I couldn’t drive at all. In that condition, I would have to slow the car down to only a few miles per hour.
I noticed that, if I tried to drive by focusing on the road just in front of the car, even if only for a few seconds, I became very anxious. Stress built up quickly.

This is an analogy for what we are experiencing in our lives and work. Things have sped up. Our response has been to shorten our horizon. We look only to the immediate future, what’s on the road right in front of us. Then, we have tried to structure the feedback and action loops. Trapped in our perceptions by the technology, we try to use the technology in a brute force way to enable us to survive.

All we really have to do is look up. Look at the horizon for our lives, our work. Have a vision of where we are going, and living becomes easier again.

How Coca-Cola Became ‘The Real Thing’ in India

Knowledge@Emory writes:

When The Coca-Cola Company began looking into expanding operations into India, the initial marketing data showed great opportunities. After all, Indias economy is the thirteenth largest in the world when adjusted for purchasing power parity, and it is growing at 6% a year. The country has a vibrant stock market the market cap as a percentage of GDP has grown from 12% in 1990 to 41% in 2001. There are also 180 million households and 290 million economically active consumers defined as monthly households with income greater than $60 per month.

Encouraged by this and other research, the soft-drink giant entered India and soon found itself in a battle for market share and survival. Recently, Stan Sthanunathan, vice president of Knowledge & Insights with The Coca-Cola Company, spoke to MBA students in a global business environments course at Emory Universitys Goizueta Business School about the challenges of doing business in India.

According to Sthanunathan, succeeding in India meant scrapping the business model that had worked well in other locales and shifting its initial focus more toward the customer and away from business operations. Only by really understanding the Indian consumer and taking into account data and knowledge from the countrys soft drink industry, culture, consumer behavior, languages, geography, was Coca-Cola able to finally find the insight it needed to put into place a plan of action to successfully compete in the market, explains Sthanunathan.

Demandware’s eCommerce on Demand

News.com writes:

Demandware, Stephan Schambach’s latest start-up, is hoping that the online, hosted model so successful for companies like Salesforce.com will translate well to the e-commerce world.

Demandware, a 20-person company founded in February by Schambach, who also started e-commerce pioneer Intershop in 1992, plans to launch a new hosted service early next year designed to let companies quickly assemble e-commerce Web sites.

People looking to set up custom, high-volume, commercial e-commerce sites have a few options: buy thousands of dollars worth of computing gear, and hire programmers and other staff to assemble it all, or sign up with a hosting company for a one-size-fits-all storefront. “Neither of those two basic approaches really helps (midsize) companies that need advanced functions and want to look like Amazon.com,” Schambach said.

Demandware is offering a third option, and targeting companies that want e-commerce sites in a hurry but don’t want to set up the software themselves or settle for the cookie-cutter, me-too look and feel of available hosted services. The company’s service, which uses the latest technology, such as grid computing and Web services software, combines the rapid start up offered by hosted services with the endless customization available through specially built software.

Schambach said that a company doing $5 million of business online a year would spend between $3,000 and $5,000 per month for a customized, e-commerce site hosted by Demandware, based on how many customers they serve per hour.

Web 2.0 Conference

Looks like Web2.0 was a terrific conference. Some coverage on the Net:

Conference home
O’Reilly’s coverage and other links
Jeremy Zawodny
Jeff JarvisPost-mortem
The Web 2.0 Weblog – web20.weblogsinc.com [has MP3s]
Martin Tobias review
Abe Fettig
Mark Mahaney of American Technology Research (via Om Malik)
– Russell Beattie [1 2]
Marc Canter
Ross Mayfield

I think I will do a Tech Talk next week that summarises the learnings and ideas from the Web 2.0 conference.

The Long Tail

Wired has a suggestion: “Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”

Most of us want more than just hits. Everyone’s taste departs from the mainstream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order by industries that desperately need them.

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programs, not enough radio waves to play all the music created, and not enough hours in the day to squeeze everything out through either of those sets of slots.

This is the world of scarcity. Now, with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance.

This is the difference between push and pull, between broadcast and personalized taste. Long Tail business can treat consumers as individuals, offering mass customization as an alternative to mass-market fare.

What’s really amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it. Combine enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you’ve got a market bigger than the hits. Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are. In other words, the potential book market may be twice as big as it appears to be, if only we can get over the economics of scarcity. Venture capitalist and former music industry consultant Kevin Laws puts it this way: “The biggest money is in the smallest sales.”

Joi Ito and McGee have more.

TECH TALK: The Network Computer: Browser as Network Computer?

A comment by Haig in response to one of the earlier columns in this series built on the idea of the browser as the network computer (NC): I think the NC is alive and will continue to grow in software, not hardware. The NC is basically the browser, a self-contained, thin-client network computer within our computers, giving us what the NC promised without the need to limit our hardware. And like another comment said, Google, Amazon, et al. are our services and they already push their offerings to our NCs, to our browsers.

So, is the browser the next network computer?

My thinking is that the browser as network computer approach may work fine in the developed markets where computers exist everywhere, but it is not good enough for the emerging markets, where the cost of the desktop computer continues to be an inhibitor. Of course, one could argue that the commoditisation in computing will ensure cheaper computers. This is just one part of the solution what is needed is a $50 computer (excluding display). It is highly unlikely that any existing computer vendor will make such a device because of the fear that such a device could cannibalise from their mainstream business.

There is a second reason as to why the browser as network computer may not be good enough. This is because of the fact that there is a huge library of applications (like Office suites) that already exists and these are not necessarily browser-based. Over time, they will be rewritten to make them Web-friendly. But for now, they need a rich client interface.

One could argue that the next users do not necessarily need the Office suite a web-based word processor or spreadsheet would work just fine. This is a plausible argument. But my counterpoint is that it will still take time for the web-based applications to offer the functionality of these applications, and a reasonable time and money investment needs to be made to make them web-based.

There is an alternative to run these applications on a virtual desktop on a network computer. This goes beyond the browser-only approach. The virtual desktop is what applications like Citrix and Microsofts Windows Terminal Services make possible. So far, they have been used to reduce the complexity of the desktop client and deliver computing from servers primarily in enterprise environments. What is needed is the same concept to large-scale public computing.

This can be achieved by three key components: a centralised computing platform (think of this as the grid), network computers, and software that enables the creation and delivery of virtual desktops from the server to the client. The assumption here is that there is always-on connectivity of the order of 128-512 Kbps between the network computer and the grid in the networks that are now starting to emerge, this is not an unreasonable assumption.

The virtual desktop could encompass the full desktop that we see on todays computers both Windows and Linux computers have this as the starting point for user interaction. The browser would be subsumed within the desktop. In addition, multimedia support would need to be made possible by using client-side processing wherever needed; this approach can then support video playback on the client side as also voice-over-IP.

A point to note in this approach is that this does not need the rewriting of any existing applications. The entire library of applications that already exist can be supported on the grid. Over time, as browsers support richer modes of interaction, it is entirely likely that the browser could become the only interface on the network computer. As such, the network computer could even make inroads in developed markets as an adjunct to existing PCs.

Tomorrow: The Four Devices

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