TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: Tech 7-11: Hub-and-Spoke Extension

The second innovation in the Tech 7-11 is the wireless access point. This extends the network beyond the physical space that the Tech 7-11 occupies. This has a dual benefit: it can now offer connectivity to anyone with a WiFi connection in the neighbourhood, and going beyond, offer the same set of services of processing and storage to the computers in the vicinity, thus ensuring that a thin client costing no more than Rs 7,500 (USD 150) can be used as this remote computer.

Let us discuss both these benefits further. In the first case, as more and more devices are WiFi-enabled and the WiFi range increases due to the trajectory of innovation, users can leverage the wireless access point for Internet connectivity without actually being in the Tech 7-11. This is similar to the strategy being used by Starbucks in the US. It has set up wireless access points in its more than 1,00 of its outlets in the US in association with T-mobile, charges USD 30 per month for unlimited Internet access. One could of course be in the Starbucks or just outside. Starbucks is using its existing real estate and network to offer a service which goes beyond just its varieties of coffee!

In the second case, the thin client with a WiFi card can extend the network and reach of the Tech 7-11. Current WiFi speeds are upto 11 Mbps for 802.11b and upto 54 Mbps for 802.11a and 802.11g. The key limitation at present is the range limited to 100 metres or less. This may not be good enough at present, but as happens so often with disruptive technologies, there is enough work happening to increase this range. Recently, at least two WiFi companies have announced that using special antennae they can extend the range to 10 kilometres.

What this will do in the future is to extend the neighbourhood that can be served. Think of this as a hub-and-spoke network, with the server as the hub and the thin clients as the spokes. The WiFi-enabled thin client spokes are connected to the thick server which does the processing and storage. The result: for an investment of Rs 7,500 or less, anyone can get a connected computer. From the Tehc 7-11 point of view, if it can service 100 such computers in a neighbourhood and charge Rs 1,000 for both the computing and connectivity per month, it generates an additional revenue of Rs 100,000 per month using the same infrastructure that it already has. This same user base could also be targeted for additional value-added services.

There is another interesting by-product of the server-centric computing architecture. The client desktops can be controlled from the server, which means that an advertising revenue stream can also be opened up. In short, a spectrum of value-added services can help increase the earning potential of the Tech 7-11.

The Tech 7-11 in the form of a community computer and communications centre is the first mechanism in making computing available to the masses. In this scenario, the computer is a shared device. What if we wanted to have the computer in the enterprise? After all, the enterprise is where a large number of people spend their work day. A slight variation on the same basic idea of the Tech 7-11 can make this happen. Think of this concept as My First Computer.

Next Week: My First Computer

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Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.