Verizon’s EV-DO

Walter Mossberg writes about the most important development in US wireless communications:

This new Verizon network, which the company calls “BroadbandAccess,” promises users in 18 cities so far that they can get on the Internet at typical speeds of between 300 and 500 kilobits a second. That’s the equivalent of what many wired home DSL modems do, and much faster than prior American cellphone data networks. But in my first tests of the new network last spring I was able to do even better, averaging nearly 600 kilobits a second.

And, unlike Wi-Fi, another form of wireless broadband, the new Verizon network doesn’t require the user to be near a “hot spot,” usually found in coffee shops or hotels. Verizon hopes to have most major metro areas covered by EV-DO by the end of 2005, and Sprint is also planning to roll out an EV-DO network next year.

But so far, this capability has been available only via a special modem card inserted into a laptop computer, and it has carried a whopping monthly price tag of $80. Now Verizon is introducing two hand-held devices, a combination PDA/phone and a standard flip phone, that can tap the EV-DO network. And it is charging lower monthly fees to use the network with these devices than it does for laptop use.

In my tests, Verizon’s new Pocket PC was never slower than 349 kilobits a second, and it averaged between 450 and 550 kilobits.

Armed with those speeds, I was able to confidently set the e-mail program on the device to get the full text of messages and even attachments. It downloaded hundreds of e-mails daily, at speeds that, while not as fast as my office and home PCs, were close enough that I felt almost as if I was at the computer. On the Internet, Web pages rendered quickly, and I was able to play streaming audio and video, at good resolution, with no more stuttering than you’d get on a PC.

Bottom line: The new Verizon EV-DO network is a very good thing, and it’s a great addition to a laptop or PDA. But until Verizon and other carriers allow regular phones to have more computerlike capabilities, wireless broadband won’t matter much for average cellphone users.

2004’s Best Performing IPO

No, it’s not Google. In fact, as on Friday, Google was 10th on the list. Barron’s writes: “The year’s best-performing IPO by far (among companies that raised at least $50 million) was Shanda Interactive, one of the largest online-gaming operators in China. With the help of Goldman Sachs, the company issued American depositary shares in mid-May for $11 apiece (each ADS represents two Chinese shares), and the stock quadrupled before retreating to 39. Although Shanda has been growing rapidly, its $2.6 billion market value is twice as large as current estimates of China’s total online-gaming market in 2008.”

Yahoo’s Video Search writes:

The beta site searches for files in Microsoft’s Windows Media, Apple Computer’s QuickTime and RealNetwork’s Real Media.

Video search is hitting prime time for a several reasons. Many people now have high-speed Internet access at home and work, and are warming to online video now that it’s not excruciatingly choppy and slow. The costs of creating, hosting and delivering video have also dropped, making more multimedia available.

Finally, the Internet is maturing into an entertainment platform for television, via convergence devices that combine PC and TV features, and search will be essential for people to find and watch media, whether its available over broadband, pay-per-view cable or broadcast.

For search providers, offering searchable video is an extremely attractive new market because it not only keeps them relevant to consumers hungry for multimedia, but it also helps them appeal to brand advertisers, which spend about $60 billion annually on commercials.

Sony’s PSP

The Economist writes on Sony’s launch of its Playstation Portable (PSP):

Sony correctly identified a PlayStation generation that had grown up with gaming and wanted to keep playing beyond their teens. This hugely boosted the market, since older gamers (today, the average age of a console owner is around 28) have more disposable income. Now, having shown that gaming on fixed consoles (which plug into televisions) is not just for kids, Sony hopes to do the same for portable gaming, with the launch in Japan on December 12th of the PlayStation Portable, or PSP, a hand-held gaming device.

Once again, it is attacking a market dominated by Nintendo, which has sold over 150m of its Game Boy hand-helds since 1989 and still has a market share of over 90% in the hand-held market, despite having lost control of the fixed-console market to Sony. And once again there is a clear opportunity to expand the market, since most games available for the Game Boy are developed by Nintendo itself and have little appeal to anyone over 16.

That is why Sony’s PSP is aimed at older gamers, aged 18-34. Its range of games is more varied and sophisticated than the Game Boy’s, thanks to Sony’s established relationships with game developers. It can double as a music and video player, and Sony has hinted at future phone and camera attachments too. This versatility should make the PSP more appealing to older users, says Nick Gibson of Games Investor, a consultancy. Moreover, he notes, the price (19,800, or around $190) is low enough to be within the reach of younger gamersthe result, claims Sony, of making many of the PSP’s parts itself. By pitching the PSP at a demographic between the Game Boy and the PlayStation, Sony is hoping both to steal market share from Nintendo and attract older users.

By introducing competition and exploiting its close existing relationships with developers, Sony is hoping to make the hand-held market more closely resemble the fixed-console market, which it dominates.

Offshore Outsourcing

Knowledge@Wharton explores “several emerging trends in the BPO landscape. Among them: new competitive models that BPO providers are using to drive growth; the shifting geography of BPO locations; and the challenges and risks that constitute life after BPO.”

TECH TALK: India Trends: Computing, Internet and Broadband

If there some disappointments in India and they are related, it is with the growth of the computing base and broadband infrastructure in India, along with the Internet services. For many, a growth rate of 30-40% in computer sales would be very good. But considering the pathetically small installed base in India, this is not what India needs. Rapidly building up the computing and networking infrastructure in India is critical to address many of the challenges that we face in educating the masses, building real-time enterprises, and removing pain points from the government-citizen interactions.

Here is the picture from a recent news report:

Information technology researcher Gartner Inc. said India’s computer market grew 35 percent during the July-September quarter compared with the same period a year ago. One in every 10 computers sold in Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, is now in India, the report said, adding India is among the fastest growing markets for computers in Asia.

India, a country with more than a billion people, has been a laggard in adopting technology due to high levels of poverty and illiteracy, but faster economic growth in recent years has led to a surge in demand. As of March, India had 12 million computers and 4.5 million Internet connections.

Manufacturers and traders expect to sell about 4.2 million computers in the current fiscal year ending in March, 2005. The latest survey by Gartner shows that the growth in India comes from small businesses, banks and notebook buyers. “While the corporate market continued to look healthy, top vendors are now seen to be aggressively targeting the premium end of the consumer segment,” said Vinod Nair, a Gartner analyst.

Much is made about the need for local languages support on computers. In fact, both Microsoft and Red Hat have made this a key aspect of their India policy, and the next year will see them have releases covering most of the Indian languages. But this is still only one dimension of the problem. The triad of access devices, networks and services go hand-in-hand. And that is where a disappointing broadband policy has taken the wind out of the sails of the domestic market. What we are starting to get is always-on narrowband connections camouflaged as broadband. The need is for innovative wireless broadband solutions in the last-mile which can connect up with the fibre back haul that exists across India. Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwalas presentation discusses how India can achieve 50 million broadband connections in the next 5-6 years.

India also needs innovative Internet services. This is now starting to happen online railway reservation is one of the big e-commerce success stories. But much more has to be done to make the Internet a utility in our daily lives.

Tomorrow: Made in India

Continue reading TECH TALK: India Trends: Computing, Internet and Broadband