If there are five devices that define the new world in the developed markets, they are Vonage VoIP box (and service) which uses the Internet to route calls and has dramatically cut the cost of phone service for Americans, TiVos personal video recorder which timeshifts television, Apples iPoD which delivers music wherever and whenever we want, the Treo 600 from PalmOne which is a smartphone, and Microsofts Xbox which is a gaming console. Can we create similar such devices for the Indian market?
Lets start with Vonage. VoIP can help cut costs of telephony further in India and give a big boost to the rollout of broadband networks. Theres plenty of backhaul fibre that exists in India. The challenge is in the last (or first) mile. That has still been the domain of the local phone company (primarily BSNL and MTNL). Telephony is where the money is today. By creating a box which can work with cable or DSL lines and route calls over the Internet, competitors get the necessary incentive to deploy networks with good revenue potential until the time that data services start picking up.
A TiVo-like device is bound to do well in India, given the craze for television and the evening soaps! Families will no longer have to make a choice on which programme they will have to watch. This device could also be used to deliver other digital content (education, for example). Again, it leverages the broadband infrastructure and provides services that people are likely to want to pay for.
Music is part and parcel of our life in India. Thanks to the movies, there is a song for every occasion. Music consumption is now largely limited to radio or television. The iPod-like device can now be used to deliver music on a handheld device. More importantly, it can create an additional revenue stream for the music companies.
The Treo 600 with its small keyboard (like the Blackberry) can be used as a computer-on-the move with a thin client interface. There is plenty of dead time that we face in India. A device that can become an adjunct to the computer, besides serving as a cellphone, can work wonders.
Gaming hasnt really taken off in India, even though India has the worlds largest youth population. Piracy has been a deterrent, along with the costs of gaming consoles and the games themselves. A device, which can complement an online gaming service and build aspects of the console into a residential gateway or a set-top box, can help launch a new industry.
There is another agenda in creating these devices. Along with low-cost thin clients, these five devices can spur the development of a local hardware industry. The key in all these cases is to have price points which are very affordable in the Indian context. By building two or three multi-purpose hardware platforms for consumer devices, India can start to define, rather than follow, the consumer market.
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