Tech 7-11s: The communications-centric cybercafes of today need to change into neighbourhood commPuting centres. For those who cannot afford to have a computer at home or would like to try it out before purchasing or are on the move, the Tech 7-11s should offer all the benefits and conveniences that they would get if they actually owned one. This is easily done here because both storage and computing are centralised. Tech 7-11s can easily be equipped with high-speed connections and can have a large number of the network commPuters. They will also need to offer training and support for users in the neighbourhood. They could also serve like the cable MSO (multi-service operator), providing a distribution point for services in the community. In some ways, the Tech 7-11s will play the role of the STD PCOs offering a community service until most people have a personal device.
Rural Areas: Indias rural areas will continue to remain the final frontier. Hobbled by lack of power and connectivity, computers are a distant dream for most. And yet, if the basic infrastructure of electricity and telecom can be put in place, computing has great potential to become the building block for various services. One approach would be to create hubs in rural areas which can service a cluster of villages along the lines of the idea of Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons proposed by Atanu Dey and Vinod Khosla. These hubs could serve as the rural equivalent of the Tech 7-11s, and use CorDECT or alternate technologies to support network commPuters in villages. Rural India needs its own rural commPuting utilities to usher in a revolution which can finally begin to bridge the information divide that separates India from Bharat.
Last Word: Five New Opportunities
There are many opportunities which this new world opens up. Besides the need for low-cost network computers, broadband networks and the grid infrastructure all of which are capital-intensive, there are many other starting points for entrepreneurs:
LAN Grids: Think of these as smaller versions of the commPuting grid for the LANs of SMEs and educational institutions till the time that broadband networks arrive. The LAN Grid becomes the distribution point for software and content.
Broadband Content Factory: A huge world of broadband microcontent is waiting to be created. Look beyond music, television and films. Imagine making available videos of all the conferences and seminars that take place every day. Making and distributing video content is so much easier now.
Software Aggregator: There is a need to aggregate the various open-source software applications into suites for different verticals. Companies like SpikeSource and SourceLabs are the early efforts in this area, and go beyond what the likes of Red Hat and Novell are doing.
Micro-eBays: Imagine creating localised information exchanges and trading platforms combining the best of Craigslist and eBay, for neighbourhood communities. This could be made available first for enterprises and educational institutions where people know and trust each other already.
Micropayments infrastructure: The new world will also need to way to handle payments of smaller denominations. India and emerging markets need the equivalent of a PayPal, perhaps built around pre-paid cards that people could use for access to the services.
Tomorrows world is happening around us. Our actions can expedite it and create a better and richer future for all of us. The solutions this world needs are not necessarily going to come from todays giants. In fact, this new world offers the opportunity to create new giants from the middle- and bottom-of-the-pyramid of the world. The next billion users in the worlds emerging markets beckon us. It is an opportunity to do good and do well. Will we?
TECH TALK Tomorrow’s World+T