India needs 100 million computers to build out a digital infrastructure across homes, the workplace, government and educational institutions. To make this mass-scale deployment of computers possible at price points that match that of a cellphone, India has to look at nothing short of a radical rethink of the computer architecture. Luckily for us, the ingredients are already in place.
Lets start with the question of what families and enterprises are likely to pay for computing. To get an idea, take a look at the spends on cellphones: about Rs 5,000 on a handset and Rs 500 per month for the service. In the case of computers, my estimate is that we could look at a 40% higher investment: Rs 7,000 ($150) for the computer and Rs 700 ($15) per month for the service of computing (which would have to include connectivity, since standalone computers in todays Internet-centric world would have a very limited appeal). So, the challenge before us to make computing a utility is to make a solution available at these price points. How do we make this happen?
A combination of low-cost thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software and bundling with a broadband connection is what is needed. The 5KPC is what needs to become the thin client. With an always-on connection between the client and the server, it is possible to make server-centric computing work seamlessly. In enterprises, the server will be on the local network, while for home users, the server can be at the premises of the broadband operator.
The monthly fee of Rs 700 needs to be split across the the 5KPC maker, the software provider and the broadband operator. The 5KPC maker will probably get Rs 50 per month, the software provider about Rs 200 per month for the base set of applications and support, and the broadband operator about Rs 450. In the case of the broadband operator, the monthly fee is almost similar to what cellphone providers get so it should be possible for them to provision the connection for that sum. In addition, users would have the option of getting additional services for incremental payments.
By putting together this package, we can build out Indias digital infrastructure over 5 years and transform our lives and the way business is done. This is the only way to remove many of the pain points that exist in our lives and our lower productivity in enterprises. In addition, this can also make a huge difference in the way education and healthcare, two focus points for the less privileged in India, are delivered across the country. Computing as a utility is what can build the real foundation for a New India.
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