India Broadband Policy

The new Indian broadband policy was announced a few days ago. Considering that it was a few months in the making, it is a big disappointment. It will do little to spur broadband deployment across India. After all the thought that has supposedly gone into it, much was expected in terms of bold measures. And bold this policy is not.

It does not take up the most far-reaching measure proposed in the TRAI recommendations – unbundling of the local loop. It also does not address the issue of the hugely expensive bandwidth prices – both nationally and internationally.

So, yet another case of a missed opportunity. The Indian IT department and minister had a chance to jumpstart India along the South Korean path of large-scale deployment. But what instead is seen is a lack of both vision and will.

[Also read: my earlier Business Standard column on what is needed for boosting broadband in India.]

Envisioning a Post-eBay Future

John Battelle points to a post by Brian Dear:

One of eBay’s main selling points for years has been: trust and safety. You’re gonna be fine if you buy or sell on eBay, even if the other person in the transaction is a total stranger halfway across the world. And that is true. Most of the time, things are fine. Fraud happens occasionally, but the vast majority of the time, even big transactions like computer and car sales go smoothy.

But now think 2005. Why might we need eBay less and less?

Consider craigslist with RSS, or, better yet, a notification service tied to RSS or email. “Notify me when a sofa with the following attributes and in the following price range and in the following general geographical area goes on sale.”

And maybe hours or days or weeks or months later, you get that notification, and your dream sofa is for sale, by someone you don’t know, but who lives nearby.

Why do I think it might be nearby? Consider for a moment how much PC/Internet household penetration there is now. And how much high-bandwidth penetration there is now. There’s a much better chance in 2005 that a whole lot of people who live in your own neighborhood or general vicinity will have stuff you want, and you certainly will have stuff they want, and both of you will have ways to find out about each others’ haves and wants. Does eBay’s trust and safety cushion still offer as much value in such a world? If it turns out a neighbor around the corner wants to buy your sofa, would eBay need to be involved in the transaction? If the market shifts locally because there are now enough people nearby to buy stuff you want to sell, or sell you stuff you’ve been thinking of buying, who needs eBay? Why not just use a “smart craigslist” system instead?

And maybe the question should also be, do we even need craigslist in such a world? What happens if you can just post lists on your blog of things you want to sell and things you want to buy, and hang them out there in RSS feeds waiting to be scooped up by Technorati-style bots, who in turn notify people who live within driving (maybe even walking) distance of you? If they can come over, inspect the thing you wanna sell, and then fork over real hard cash, carry the thing out to their car, load it up, and drive away, who needs $50 billion intermediaries anymore?

China as Early Wireless VoIP Market

Barron’s writes:

Dense cities, with millions of people who can’t afford cars or cellphone service make China a great testbed for wireless VoIP. That could create opportunities for makers of wireless networking chips, like Intel, Broadcom and little Atheros Communications.

Chinese phone operators have a good reason to bankroll voice over Wi-Fi or WiMax: Subscriber growth at China Mobile and China Unicom has been slowed by the availability of a cheap wireless alternative called Personal Handyphone Service. PHS offers limited-range wireless service at a fraction of the cost of cellular, typically about 8 bucks a month. Subscriptions for PHS have grown tenfold in three years, to more than 55 million. It’s been a clever entree into wireless for its sponsors — the fixed-line phone companies, China Telecom and China Netcom. It’s also been a windfall for equipment suppliers like UTStarcom, the fast-growing — if unevenly managed — telecom outfit in Alameda, Calif.

To compete against PHS, China’s mobile operators need a technology that’s cheaper than cellular. Urban Wi-Fi networks would allow them to offer voice and Internet services at a comparable price to PHS, says Colin Macnab, the marketing vice president of Atheros. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Atheros has competed successfully against Intel and Texas Instruments with chips that are cheaper, yet more powerful. With a reception range of more than 800 meters, Atheros Wi-Fi chips can reach twice the distance of competing products. Wi-Fi makers are also adding power management features, to conserve battery life in devices like a handheld phone. So Wi-Fi voice technology has attracted the attention of China’s phone firms, Macnab suggests.

Changing Broadcast TV Model

Reuters summarises comments made by Bill Gates recently:

The fundamental difference, he said, will be the demise of today’s concepts regarding channels and schedules. “The idea of just having that one linear thing — you don’t change your channel, so the local news leads to the whole lineup getting this great popularity — that’s on its way out,” Gates said. “But slowly.”

This change is being caused today by digital video recorders and by the breadth of available cable and satellite channels, he said. In the near future, however, the advent of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and other technologies will offer more options and flexibility to creators and audiences alike.

“The ideal for many content people would be that they just put their content on the Internet and then they have a direct relationship with the viewer,” Gates said. “That model for low-volume content is the future.”

Google Desktop Search

John Battelle writes about the importance of Google’s Windows-only desktop search application:

With this launch, Google is focusing on placing a desktop application on your computer that *makes your browser seem smarter.* The browser (IE only for now) becomes the interface front end to a major Google incursion into the PC hard drive, a space that heretofore has been owned by Microsoft. Google isn’t competing with Microsoft on the browser front – that would be madness. It’s competing with Microsoft on its own terms and its own turf: by integrating the desktop into the web browsing experience. More specifically, but integrating it *into the Google experience* as understood through search.

This is the part that’s important: As far as the user is concerned, Google’s Desktop Search seamlessly integrates your hard drive into Google.com. “Desktop” becomes another tab, right next to “Web”, “Images”, and the like (your data stays on your hard drive, of course, but to most mere mortals, it might seem like in fact it lives “out there on the web.”)

Danny Sullivan has a detailed review.

Dave Winer suggests that “an open architecture desktop search app is a requirement. I must be able to write a plug-in that teaches it how to index formats it doesn’t understand.”

David Galbriath adds:

With desktop search Google now has an application that makes it much more likely that you will continue to use their search engine.

They have created a switching cost – after spending several hours indexing your drive, you are less likely to switch to a different service.

Although there is a lot of hoo hah about desktop search, its still amazing that it took till 2004 for searching your own machine to become a mainstream app, when you have been able to search thousands of other computers around the world, within an instant, since the last millennium.

Expect Microsoft to counter aggressively, their business is built around owning the command line or desktop and they will likely build in indexing out of the box, meaning that Google desktop users will end up with two or more indexes.

Whatever Microsoft do, Google have shown the way forward, their desktop search makes your desktop just one more search tab. It brings your desktop to the web rather than the web to the desktop and this seems like a much more logical UI experience.

Dave Pollard looks at Google as a Personal Content Management tool:

Like everything Google, it’s simple, familiar and intuitive. It’s great at finding things, as long as there aren’t too many results — I’m not convinced that the ‘relevance’ ranking will work on a desktop, so Google needs to think through both the ranking algorithm, and the possible addition of filtering mechanisms. The other aspects of PCM — aggregating and moving documents, and document editing — Google hasn’t yet broached. But I suspect it’s on their radar screen, and if they can start to move into these area while keeping the simple, familiar, intuitive disclipline of their existing work, they might not only replace Microsoft as the ‘owners’ of the desktop application, but finally bridge the chasm between the still-small proportion of power users and the large majority of bewildered, marginal users.

What’s also really intriguing about Google Desktop is the possibility of being able (with appropriate permissioning) to do searches of other people’s computers. In business, I can appreciate that people might not want others accessing documents directly from their machines. But this tool provides the promise of being able to find out just that what you’re looking on is on someone else’s machine, so that you know who to call. That, to me, has enormous potential. Imagine Google Desktop being able to search for something on the computers of everyone in the company, or even everyone in the industry! This could be the start of an awesome, and amazingly simple, Expertise Finder tool.

TECH TALK: Web 2.0 Conference: Preamble

The good thing about the Web and bloggers is that one can virtually attend conferences. Of course it is not a replacement for being there the networking that takes place at these events is almost as important as what the speakers talk. But in case one is unable to attend, then now we have alternatives. So, it was with the Web 2.0 conference which was held in San Francisco from October 5-7. It looked like the place to be but it isnt easy going from Mumbai to the US for a 3-day event! So, I decided to do the next best thing read about the event from multiple sources on the Web and summarise the learnings here. [I had written a blog post with some links earlier.]

The two key people behind the conference were Tim OReilly and John Battelle both well-known names in the IT world. Tim OReilly set the tone as he described what to expect:

I’m talking about the emergence of what I’ve started to call Web 2.0, the internet as platform. We heard about that idea back in the late 90s, at the height of the browser wars, but that turned out to be a false alarm. But I believe we’re now starting the third age of the internet — the first being the telnet-era command line internet, the second the web — and the third, well, that tale grows in the telling. It’s about the way that open source and the open standards of the web are commoditizing many categories of infrastructure software, driving value instead to the data and business processes layered on top of (or within) that software; it’s about the way that web sites like eBay, Amazon, and Google are becoming platforms with rich add-on developer communities; it’s about the way that network effects and data, rather than software APIs, are the new tools of customer lock-in; it’s about the way that to be successful, software today needs to work above the level of a single device; it’s about the way that the Microsofts and Intels of tomorrow are once again going to blindside established players because all the rules of business are changing.

John Battelle added:

Time and again as I report in this space, I’m struck by how different this time round is from the late 1990s. For example, [when] I spoke with Jeff Weber, who runs USAToday’s digital publishing efforts, and we had a robust conversation about publishing models, new and old. I was part of the first wave of “new media” in the 90s, and we were convinced that the world was changing, but wrong in the timing and execution. Now, a whole host of “lightweight publishers” have sprung up, and they are challenging and undermining the entire cost structure and business model of old line publishers. This time, it’s real. Weber pointed out to me that Yahoo News, which is twice as big as USAToday.com, and has just 11 employees. Then there’s craigslist, with more traffic than nearly anyone, and only 20 or so employees. How do they do that? They’ve got a very Web 2.0, lightweight business model, that’s how (and Yahoo aggregates content, then creates interfaces, of course). Over and over, in so many aspects of industry, we see this happening – travel, finance, media, entertainment, retail. It’s exciting, and it’s fun.

The next Web has been creeping upon us. Through the hiatus of the past few years, entrepreneurs and once-maligned Internet dotcoms have been working to put together a new Web around us. It has many elements which were mostly unheard of a few years ago web services, RSS, blogs, wikis, social software, and the like. It is about machines interacting with other machines to make a better experience for us. Underlying this new Web is commodity hardware and open-source software and a lot of innovation, which goes by the name of lightweight business models. The Web is becoming a platform.

Tomorrow: Observations