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TECH TALK: Tomorrow’s World: Payments

December 14th, 2004 · No Comments

Tomorrows world will have network commPuters, broadband wireless networks, centralised grids and a wide variety of on-demand services. The question to answer is: what are the money flows in this ecosystem?

Traditionally, the worlds of computing and telecom have been very different in their approach to payments. The computer industry, for the most part, has the users assemble the various components and pay for them independently and upfront. The telecom industry has tended to subsidise the device and then charge the user a monthly subscription with a lock-in for a specified period. Which model is likely to prevail?

I believe that the payments model in tomorrows world will closely mirror that of todays telecom industry. With a zero-management access device, the commPuting industry will move to a subscription model for the whole solution device, network access, infrastructure usage, and the services. This is because the next set of users will not be able to afford large upfront payments or be savvy enough for putting together the whole solution.

This will create the need for commPuting utilities entities which aggregate and brand the full solution and user experience, and deliver to users across different market segments. There will be horizontal utilities which will work with last-mile partners or virtual utilities to take the solution to the end customers across homes, enterprises, educational institutions, cybercafes and rural areas. There will also be specialised utilities which focus on niches based on offering or market for example, online gaming or education. The commPuting utilities will need to provide for user provisioning and billing, along with revenue sharing. It is very much what the mobile operators do for the various value-added services that they offer on their network.

An interesting element in emerging markets is that of pre-paid services. Because the credit system is not as well developed and many of the users may not have bank accounts or credit cards, there will be need to offer the services on a pre-paid basis. This is what has helped the mobile industry in India, nearly three-quarters of the users are on pre-paid connections. A similar approach will need to be taken for commPuting.

What is a good price point for the minimum basic service? Two price points that are known in India are that of Rs 250 ($5.50) per month for cable TV services, and about twice that in urban India for cellphones. I believe that a price point of about Rs 700 ($15) per month would be very attractive for the complete commPuting solution. For the singleton user segment, the break-up of this would be as follows: Rs 200 for the device, Rs 100 for the grid infrastructure and a set of basic services, Rs 350 for the broadband connection, and Rs 50 for the channel who does the installation and support.

This, then, is the vision for tomorrows world: a whole, end-to-end solution at a price point of a rupee an hour (translating to Rs 700 per month). In a country like India, there is an opportunity to provide at least 100 million such commPuting connections across 40 million employees in enterprises, 45 million homes in urban and semi-urban India, 1 million schools needing 10 commPuters each and 50,000 colleges requiring 200 commPuters each. This is what will build the digital infrastructure of India. This is as big, if not bigger, than what we have seen happen in telecom over the past 5-7 years. With a platform as rich as this, we can then let the mind roam free on what tomorrow will be like.

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