TECH TALK: Tech Trends: 8. Always-On World

Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that Indians would be buying cellphones at the rate of nearly 2 million a month. Similarly, today, it is hard to imagine a broadband India but that is exactly what we are about to see. The next couple years will see Indian consumers and enterprises enveloped in ubiquitous, high-speed connectivity from multiple sources wireless, DSL, cable and satellite. Complement this with WiFi-enabled laptops and smartphones, and the always-on world is at hand. This will necessitate a change in the not just employees work, but also the interactions between enterprises and customers. Orange has recently launched a service which allows their GPRS users to access their mailbox on a Microsoft Exchange server via Outlook from the cellphone itself. In India, Reliance Infocomm’s data services have become very popular with laptop users as they provide instant access from anywhere. In the coming years, we will start seeing radio frequency IDs (RFIDs) which will allow every machine, device and object to start communicating with others. So, a shampoo bottle could notify a smart shelf in a supermarket when it is picked up a customer, causing a message to go out to the manufacturer who could then replenish supplies. The world of a pervasive, always-on network is here, with far-reaching implications.

The world of Always-On is being driven from multiple directions:

Access Devices: 2004 will see cellphone sales of nearly 600 million. Each cellphone makes its owner instantly connected to a worldwide network. As more and more features are packed into cellphones, they are becoming cameras, radios and TVs, gaming devices, and even computers. Smart radios are being embedded into all kinds of devices. Also, microchips embedded in products are creating an Internet of things.

Access Infrastructure: A mix of broadband and wireless technologies are providing bandwidth aplenty anywhere and everywhere. From WiFi to WiMax, Zigbee to Ultrawideband, Mobile-Fi to 3G, there is no space which can remain unwired and no device which can stay unconnected. Backhaul networks on fibre are creating a world where it is now even more economical to carry voice over packet-switched IP networks. It is a world where, according to one of the Skype co-founders, telcos will become software application providers.

Applications: The Always-on world provides a platform real-time everything. Combined with publish-subscribe, it will create a world where individuals and business users can be instantly notified of exceptions. So, instead of me checking every few hours to check the status of my waitlisted train ticket has been confirmed, I will be notified on my cellphone (or via email and IM) as soon as it is confirmed.

Nicholas Negroponte said in a Business Week interview, taking the developments to their logical conclusion: Peer-to-peer is key. I mean that in every form conceivable: cell phones without towers, sharing leftover food, bartering, etc. Furthermore, you will see micro-wireless networks, where everyday devices become routers of messages that have nothing to do with themselves.

The world of always-on in a natural manifestation of the convergence of various industries computing, telecom and consumer electronics. It is a world which telecom- and computing-poor countries like India can leapfrog to, with the right vision and will. Just like South Korea has done.

Tomorrow: South Korea Leads

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Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.