Bus. Std: Wonderful World of Wireless

My latest article from Business Standard:

One of the most significant elements of Indias infrastructure that has taken shape in the past few years is invisible to its users.

The cellular networks that have put 30 million phones in the hands of Indians and continue to do so at a rate of over 2 million a month are a shining example of how wireless technologies can rapidly help India bridge the gap in digital infrastructure.

The cellphone has connected Indians with a technology that is as good as any in the world. In fact, new users prefer cellphones to landlines.

Compare this to a decade or so ago when one still had to wait months for a telephone connection and pay exorbitant charges for making long-distance and international calls.

Competition among operators, led especially by the cellular companies, has ensured that rates have fallen by 70-90 per cent in the space of a few years.

India has one of the lowest telecom rates in the world. To go mobile, all it takes is a few minutes for the paperwork and an investment of a few hundred rupees a month. As cellular usage keeps growing, India will have over 200 million cellphone users by 2010.

The cellphone with its ability to connect people via voice and SMS is just one of the wonders that wireless technologies are bringing forth.

Road warriors in India dont leave home without their Reliance CDMA cellphone connecting their laptop to the internet from anywhere has never been easier.

As 3G networks proliferate in India and handsets become more sophisticated, the cellphones functionality will increase to encompass a wider range of services.

Want to take a photo and send it to family? Want to find friends nearby? Want TV on the cellphone? Want to buy things using the cellphone as a credit card? The phone will be able to do it all.

The wireless revolution goes much beyond cellphones. In India, CorDECT/WLL, developed at IIT-Chennai, is providing voice and data connectivity to people otherwise left out of the footprints of telecom and cellular providers. In the coming years, wireless will also become a key driver of broadb and data connectivity.

The 802.11 family of protocols (of which WiFi is one) is enabling untethered connectivity for computers to devices.

As Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital put it, 802.11 is to wireless communications what the x86 is to computing and what ethernet is to networking.

The most important element of the 802.11 family is its use of the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz part of the spectrum which is unlicensed in most of the world.

However, both bands are still not completely unlicenced in India. This needs to change if India is to leapfrog into the new era via its use of these emerging technologies. India needs a million WiFi hotspots and this cannot happen with the current restrictions on access points .

In the coming years, technologies like 802.16 (WiMax) and 802.20 (MobileFi) will extend coverage to a complete neighbourhood (15-20 km), getting past the 100 metre limitation of the current generation of WiFi protocols.

At the same time, the speeds available are rising to support tens of megabits per second. This will enable a few towers to blanket entire cities, or a single tower to connect tens of villages in rural India.

Other technologies like Bluetooth and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) also hold great promise. Bluetooth is already being used to provide freedom from wires.

RFID is going to be embedded in all kinds of objects, and promises to to dramatically reduce inventories across supply chains as information flows in real-time on the movement of products embedded with RFID tags.

Whether it is in providing voice connectivity to the next hundred million at affordable prices or in providing high-speed internet access for rural communities, wireless technologies offer a great leapfrog opportunity for India.

It would be good for us to pay heed to these words of Kevin Werbach (writing in a recent report entitled Radio Revolution: The Coming Age of Unlicensed Wireless for New America Foundation):

The radio revolution is the single greatest communications policy issue of the coming decade, and perhaps the coming century. The economics of entire industries could be transformed. Every significant public policy challenge could be implicated: competition; innovation; investment; diversity of programming; job creation; equality of access; coverage for rural and underserved areas; and promotion of education, health care, local communities, public safety, and national security. Yet the benefits of the paradigm shift are not guaranteed. Exploiting the radio revolution will require creativity and risk-taking by both the private and public sectors. At every step, there will be choices between preserving the status quo and unleashing the forces of change. The right answers will seem obvious only in hindsight.

India faces many of the same decision issues. Radios of a different kind delivered news information to much of India in the previous century. The new radios promise to bring the future to the next generation of Indians provided we make the right choices today.

Bus. Std: Tech’s Disrupting Power

My latest column in Business Standard:

The recent bid by Comcast, the largest cable company in the US, for Disney, one of the worlds foremost entertainment companies, highlights how technology is disrupting industries. Through Disney, Comcast is seeking ownership of content for its fat pipes. The driving force in media and other industries is digitisation of text, audio and video, and the availability of a high-speed internet for distribution.

Rapidly increasing computing horse power, smart software and broadband networks have accelerated the process of digitisation by providing users and organisations the ability to manipulate content and transmit it cheaply and quickly anywhere across the world.

The impact of digitisation is not limited to media and entertainment. The telecom world is also being shaken up as voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services cut the cost of making phone calls and eat into the revenue of telcos. In fact, the US Federal Communications Commission is preparing rules that would allow delivery of the internet through power lines and make online phone calls cheaper. In some countries, WiFi networks are already providing an alternative to the cellular networks in providing ubiquitous internet access.

Digitisation puts power in the hands of the users. Napster forced the music industry to rethink its pricing and distribution policies, with the result that now many online music stores offer songs for as little as 99 cents (Rs 45). Apples iPod is one among a whole new generation of small, portable devices with the capability of storing and playing thousands of songs.

The creators of Kaaza, a decentralised file-sharing software which has become the most downloaded program and is now on over 300 million computers worldwide, recently launched Skype, a peer-to-peer VoIP service. Skype allows computer-to-computer phone calls over the internet for free without the need for any centralised switching system. As Fortune magazine put it, it is disruptive for even the emerging IP telephony service providers: It costs the top provider of paid Internet telephony (Vonage) US$ 400 to add a customer. It costs Skype US$ 0.001.

Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) like TiVo in the US are allowing users to timeshift content. The TiVo allows TV programs to be recorded on a computer hard disk at home, for viewing at the users convenience. TiVo users can skips ads (or replay the ones they like). Imagine the potential for PVRs in a TV-crazy country like India no longer does one have to worry about being home at a specific time to watch ones favourite soap operas.

Highspeed networks are also proving disruptive to the traditional software industry model of selling software for a high one-time price (with incremental payments for periodic upgrades). Now, a new generation of application service providers (ASPs) like SalesForce.com offers software on a rental basis for a small monthly fee via the internet. Updates are instantaneously available to all users. The same concept is being applied to online multi-player video games and is driving internet usage (and profits) in countries like South Korea and China.

So far, digitisation has had only a limited impact in India. But this is about to change. Two key factors offer India an opportunity to leapfrog into the digital world: affordable products and broadband networks. India will benefit from the incessant drive by technology providers to keep lowering the prices of their products. We have seen it with TVs and cellphones, and are now seeing it with DVD players and computers.

This will be complemented by the availability of always-on, high-speed network connections which are becoming available in pockets across the country. From telcos to cellcos, from cable companies to energy providers, everyone wants to build the digital bridges.

As the digital infrastructure gets built, a process of creative destruction and reconstruction will take place. It will be possible to deliver music, movies, software and games electronically from centralised computers, thus combating piracy which has been the bane of the various industries for long. Video-on-demand can open up new opportunities not just for the entertainment companies, but also for training and education. The combination of 802.11-based wireless networks and VoIP have the potential to offer flat-rate telecom access.

Consider one of the areas which digitisation can have a positive impact education. In India, there are great disparities in the quality of education imparted across institutions in urban, semi-urban and rural India. India needs quick and scalable solutions to deliver quality education to hundreds of millions of children and youth to prepare them for the world of tomorrow. The availability of low-cost computers and high-speed networks can completely transform education through its value chain from content creation, translation, delivery and facilitating teacher-student interaction.

The force of digitisation is here. It brings change and opportunity. Old and new economy entrepreneurs and managers need to understand and embrace it, and see how it can be integrated into their way of doing business and life. Because their customers already are.

Bus. Std: Emerging Technology for Emerging Enterprises

My latest article in Business Standard:

One of the last frontiers at the intersection of business and technology are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially those in emerging markets like India. SMEs are the largest employers in every country. Yet they are today the weak links in business value chains as their processes are still not digitised and information flows are still largely manual and paper driven.

SMEs have been slower to adopt technology than their bigger brethren. SMEs typically have low penetration of computers, limited use of business software, information that lags behind reality and websites that are not updated. In other words, there is a disconnect between business and technology usage in SMEs, leading to operational inefficiencies, lower profitability and slower growth.

Just as emerging markets can leapfrog to a higher stage with the use of the newest technologies (like India has done in telecom), so can SMEs. The dramatic and continued improvements in information technology over the past decade have resulted in commoditisation at the hardware and software level, making it affordable for emerging enterprises.

New technologies appropriately leveraged can help SMEs in modernising their operations and creating new opportunities for sustainable growth. Technology to improve operational efficiency needs to work at three levels:

IT Infrastructure: Affordable computing solutions like thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software, remote management and mobility integration can help build the right base for 1:1 computing (one employee, one computer; one office, one server) within SMEs. Cellphones can provide real-time access to business information from anywhere and at anytime. Multiple office locations can be connected together via a virtual private network (VPN).

Collaboration and Communication: A computer for every employee can make individuals more productive. For the enterprise as a whole to be more productive requires software that makes teams work together better. Collaboration software in the form of weblogs and wikis can help in making groups work together in distilling tacit knowledge. E-mail, enterprise instant messaging (IM) and voice-over-IP (VoIP) can assist in facilitating low-cost real-time interaction among employees, partners and customers.

Business Process Automation: With a computer for every employee, SMEs can think of their business processes very differently. Information flows across the organisation can now happen in near real-time, layered on web services and service-oriented architectures. Business process standards like ebXML and RosettaNet can help in information sharing beyond enterprise boundaries.

Taken together, this provides the right technology platform for SMEs to build their business:

  • A scalable backend infrastructure which provides instant, personalised and cost-effective communications, secures the enterprise and provides simplified administration of the technology resources.
  • A computer for every employee provides the foundation for personal productivity enhancement and creates the base for electronic capture and flow of information.
  • A suite of applications that powers an information refinery and ensures an intelligent, event-driven, real-time enterprise.

    Technology can also help in opening up new opportunities in two ways:

    Information Dissemination: One of the biggest challenges that SMEs face is getting prospective customers to know about their existence. While websites that are updated regularly are the starting point, CEO weblogs can amplify the message. A CEO weblog helps build direct communication channels to prospective partners and helps the SME to distinguish itself from others, based on its knowledge of the industry in which it is operating.

    Information Access: SMEs need to use the resources available on the web more effectively. This can provide market intelligence, track the competition and identify possible business partners outside the local area. What the web and search engines have done is reduce the friction in finding information. For example, when going for a meeting, it is now possible to Google the person and company so one is much better prepared.

    The right use of new technologies can help SMEs bridge the gap with their larger competitors and help make them into intelligent, real-time enterprises. Ciscos CEO John Chambers called productivity the new engine of wealth. Productive SMEs powered by new technologies can be the growth engines for their economies.

    What is missing? The big enterprises have consulting organisations, IT services companies to complement their in-house IT staff to identify and deploy solutions. SMEs are handicapped by their small size and limited budgets, besides being much harder to reach. As a result, they have little help in their technology deployment. There is a need for full-service IT organisations focused on SMEs that can understand business requirements, suggest solutions, help in the implementation (based on standardised technology components) and provide outsourced management of the technology infrastructure.

    This is an excellent opportunity for mid-tier Indian IT companies. If they can create the right solutions for the bottom of the enterprise pyramid, a market of three million SMEs in India and another 50 million outside India is waiting for them.

  • Bus. Std: Say Hello to the Always-On World

    My recent column in Business Standard:

    Imagine a world where access to networks is the norm and not the exception, where information is available and notified in real time, where people are reachable independent of their location, and where objects can talk to other objects. This is a world where pervasive wireless networks create an atmospheric layer of connectedness between people, computers and things. This is the always-on world. It is a world that is being born, creating new applications and opportunities.

    The 1980s saw the computing revolution, while the 1990s saw the communications revolution – in the form of mobile telephony and the internet. This decade is seeing it all merge into an IP-based wireless and broadband revolution. The cellphones have greater power than the early personal computers, and computers are coming with in-built wireless connectivity. Even as wireless and the ethernet are combining to provide high-speed access to homes and offices in the coming months, optical fibre networks provide the backbone to connect networks.

    India, too, is starting to see the first glimpses of the always-on world. Telcos have started offering always-on, narrowband internet connectivity at fixed, affordable prices. Code division multiple access and general radio packet switching cellphones offer internet access. Service providers are setting up Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband-enabled cybercafes. Computer prices are falling, driven by a reduction in levies and increased competition. This year will see India add over 30 million cellphones and four million computers. Low-cost “thin” computers have the potential to accelerate the penetration of computing even more. The lack of a legacy installed base means that India can leapfrog directly to the always-on world. The availability of networks and access devices is helping to create the infrastructure for the always-on world.

    What is missing is the content and applications that can take advantage of this ubiquitous platform. This development in India has so far been hobbled by the lack of a delivery infrastructure and the limited access device base. Suddenly, these limitations of the past are disappearing. What application developers and service providers can expect in the always-on world is a computing and communications platform that is real time, affordable and everywhere. Here are a few examples of solutions that can be created for the new, emerging world:

    Connected homes: Low-cost terminals can be used to offer e-mail, chat, local information and limited transactions (bill payments, ticketing) for lower middle-class homes, for which the PC may still be too expensive. Services for tiny businesses: Small shops and neighbourhood stores can be provided networked terminals for providing updates on sales and inventory levels to wholesalers, and doing their accounting electronically. This can help bring down inventory costs across the value chain.

    Sales force automation for SMEs: The mobile workforce in small and medium-sized enterprises can be given wireless-enabled handheld devices which can be used for real-time sales management.

    Logistics and distribution for large enterprises: There is a need for fleet management applications to track trucks and other delivery vehicles as they move across the country. In the coming years, technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) will enable individual items also to be tracked as they move across the value chain.

    IT for education: With the increasing focus on universal primary education, schools can be given graphical terminals with a server for computer and computer-enabled education. Multimedia content can be created by the best teachers and distributed through the network to schools.

    Today’s interactions on the web are in the form of request-response – we type the address of a website (or click on a link), and then are taken to the destination page (or website). We need to drive the interaction. What always-on infrastructure does is create the base for the publish-subscribe-web (PubSubWeb).

    The PubSubWeb makes possible a new class of information that has the following four attributes:

  • It is frequently updated (as opposed to being static)
  • It needs to be repeatedly distributed to a continuously interested set of entities (as opposed to one-off, need-based access)
  • It is incrementally accessed (as opposed to getting the complete chunk and figuring out what has changed)
  • It needs to be “pushed” in real time (as opposed to demand-driven “pull”).

    In essence, the PubSubWeb establishes an information stream between information producers (publishers) and consumers (subscribers), making possible a whole range of new applications and services. For example, cricket updates, stock quotes, news alerts can be streamed to interested users in the form of microcontent – just the relevant and incremental snippet that has changed, rather than full pages with a lot of redundant information. On the PubSubWeb, information is syndicated by publishers and subscribed to by users. Weblogs and news aggregators are a good example of what the PubSubWeb makes possible. When a weblog is updated, it notifies a central server of its update, which in turn alerts users who have subscribed to receive the updates. Special software (news aggregators) can now go to the weblog, pick up an XML file, parse it, and make the incremental updates available to readers. This process eliminates the need for readers to keep scanning websites to see what content has changed.

    Just as HTML powered the request-response web, rich site summary (RSS) will power the PubSubWeb. Think of the PubSubWeb as the next upgrade to the web as we know it today. It is made possible by the always-on infrastructure that is being constructed. The tools and building blocks for the PubSubWeb exist. What is needed is for service providers to aggregate these tools and integrate them in a seamless manner to build a complete information and events refinery.

    The always-on world will thus bring forth new innovations. It is an idea whose time has come.

  • Bus. Std: Portals of the Future

    My column in today’s Business Standard looks at the opportunities in the Indian portal space:

    Even as India changes, its internet portals remain almost frozen in time. Scan through the home pages of the leading Indian content sites and you will find that the formats remain almost unchanged from what they were many years ago. Even as new technologies are edging on to the mainstream, the legacy of many of our leading portals holds them back. Content creation and consumption needs to change if the internet is to become a utility in the lives of Indians.

    For long, the growth of the internet in India has been hobbled by high telecom access charges. This is now beginning to change as fixed price narrowband bundles offer the promise of always-on connectivity. Broadband is also becoming selectively available, especially in cybercafes. This 24×7 connectivity will make the internet part of the daily routine of Indians those who have the access devices.

    Affordable computing devices will be the second factor which will have an impact on the internet in India. Low-cost thin clients which outsource storage and processing to central servers over reliable, high-speed networks will lead to a dramatic increase in the availability of computing for employees at work and families at home.

    The dramatic growth in cellphones will also alter the landscape. By the end of 2004, India is expected to have over 50 million cellphones (as compared to an installed base of computers of about 13 million). Many of these cellphones will have data connections. If the operators price data at flat rates rather than by the download quantum, the cellphone can become a possible alternate for accessing microcontent in some situations.

    Thus the combination of always-on connectivity and affordable access devices will lay the foundation for a renaissance in the Indian portal business provided the service providers go beyond the legacy of HTML and start adopting new technologies.

    The foundation for the next-generation information platform needs to be built on the two pillars that have driven the open-source software movement user customisability and distributed collaboration.

    Users should be able to dictate what information they get and how it is delivered to them. This means they should be able to subscribe to content feeds which deliver new, incrementally updated content in real time rather than having to remember to visit websites periodically and scan multiple pages to find out what has changed. This is where RSS (rich site summary) comes in. RSS enables syndication and thus becomes the core of the next generation two-way web.

    Just as RSS impacts content consumption, change is also afoot in the world of content creation. The ease of publishing showcased by the growth of weblogs (which are personal journals) is creating alternatives to traditional media. People at the grassroots can now be connected via the strength of weak ties in micro communities, as has been demonstrated in the US by the election campaign of Howard Dean.

    By leveraging these emerging technologies such as RSS and weblogs, Indian portals can integrate themselves more closely with the lives of their readers who now can also help contribute to their evolution.

    Three ideas can help launch the next generation of activity (and the first wave of profits) in the Indian internet space: NINE, PIN and STIM.

    NINE (New Indian News Ecosystem) goes beyond the personalisation offered by MyYahoo by allowing the inclusion of content via RSS feeds from any website. By combining customisation, editorial recommendations and analytics from blog posts, the portals can facilitate interactive interactions among the participants in a way not possible in traditional media and discussion forums.

    PIN (PIN-code-based India Network) brings neighbourhoods alive. The postal code is a natural unifier since we all know the codes of where we live and work. Yet we know very little about what is happening in our vicinity. Via PIN, merchants and service providers can produce RSS feeds of new events. Residents can subscribe to these feeds based on their interests and provide contributions to shape the online reputations of the shops. Thus PIN provides a platform to create a two-way flow of information and experience.

    STIM (SME Trade Information Marketplace) bridges the information gap between buyers and sellers, thus providing a solution to the biggest problem for small and medium-sized enterprises generating new business. SMEs are their own biggest customers and yet find it hard to reach one another. STIM helps SMEs make business connections via the internet.

    The first chapter in the Indian dotcom story ended up getting aborted as investors and advertisers cut off the oxygen of capital. The second chapter in this epic is waiting to be written. What portal entrepreneurs need to do is discard the legacy which holds them back and bring in innovative thinking combined with new technologies to craft a new and profitable future.

    Bus. Std: A Tale of Three Platforms

    My column in today’s Business Standard (ICE World) on the need to construct the next generation of platforms for the telephone network, the PC and the world wide web:

    The three technology platforms that form the foundation of our digital life today are the telephone network, personal computer and the world wide web. While the legacy of the telephone goes back many decades, the PC and the web are recent creations. They have served us well today, over 500 million computers are in use across the world, billions of documents on every conceivable topic across the world are no more than a few clicks away and a global telecom network connects people, computers and information.

    Yet these platforms are now beginning to show their age. The wire line telephone network which has carried voice so well gets stretched to its limits when it comes to data, the computers cost makes it unaffordable for much of the developing markets and the web has overloaded us with information, even as the time we have in our lives has remained constant.

    The time has come to rethink and construct the next generation of platforms in each of the three areas communications, computing and information access. We need to consider the technological developments that are taking place, aggregate them and build platforms which will bring technology to the next billion users across much of the developing world.

    Imagine a world where bandwidth for voice and data is not constrained and we are enveloped by a ubiquitous communications network. Imagine a world where computing is available for all at prices everyone can afford. Imagine a world where just the right information is delivered to us in real time. This is a world that is now at hand. The elements to construct this future are visible if only we are willing to see them. As we in India think about constructing a digital technology infrastructure, it is this tomorrow that we need to envision, and not one built and encumbered by the legacy of yesterday.

    The communications platform needs to be built on IP (internet protocol) and be always on. Voice needs to become an application on IP networks. Wireless and broadband technologies need to be made available for homes, businesses and rural areas at affordable prices. Just as the Indian government is constructing a network of expressways, we need to enable the construction and deployment of high-speed IP-based networks across the country. Existing artificial telecom restraints and restrictions need to be done away with. For this, service providers need to be given the freedom to carry any traffic voice, data, video on their pipes. A reliable, world-class access infrastructure is the prerequisite for the new, shining India.

    The computing platform needs to focus on affordability so that a connected computer is accessible to every family in urban and rural India, and every employee in corporate India. The requirement is access devices which are as easy to use and affordable as phones and have the functionality, versatility and footprint of computers. Think of these as PC terminals, designed for a networked world. The architecture of todays computer was created in the late 1970s and 1980s when networks were few and far between and, therefore, both storage and processing had to be done locally within the device. As we get high-speed networks, the access device can be simplified, and storage and processing can move back to central servers across a network. This re-architecting along with the use of open-source software can help cut the total cost of ownership of computers by 70-90 per cent.

    The information platform needs to become real time, event driven and multimedia-oriented. The first web made publishing possible by the few, for many. The next web will enable mass publishing and narrowcast audiences many writing for the few. Information will not just be accessed through the browser or searched but will be delivered via RSS (Rich Site Summary; an XML-based syndication format) to news readers. Think of this as the publish-subscribe web. It bridges the gap between information producers and consumers by establishing an information stream between publishers and subscribers, ensuring real time delivery of news, information and events. The other shift is towards multimedia information, as the tools to create and distribute digital content proliferate in the form of devices like camera phones.

    India has an opportunity once again to do things right. What is needed is a generation of entrepreneurs to think beyond the curve and outside the box to create technology platforms and solutions for tomorrows world. As Alan Kay said, The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

    Bus. Std: Borrow a leaf from Rajiv Gandhis book

    My technology column has started in the ICE World section of Business Standard. ICE World is published every other Wednesday as a technology supplement. The first in the series looks at the need for India Technology Missions.

    India is in the news in the Western media finally, for the right reasons. Indias brainpower is attracting attention.

    Could India be the services capital of the world, just as China is en route to becoming the worlds workshop?

    The question is moot at this point India still has a long way to go. While a beginning has been made in the right direction, a lot still needs to be done.

    Indias infrastructure is still pathetic, technology adoption by companies is still quite poor outside the export-oriented IT sector, education is still not universally available, rural areas remain frozen in time and governance still hinders rather than helps.

    Can something be done about this?

    The need of the hour is a focused national agenda in key areas that delivers results in a specified time period. There also needs to be co-ordination across different entities so that they are not working like scorpions in a pit.

    The country must rise above individual and local self-interests. It is a kind of agenda that is ideally pushed by a centrally created team which decentralises execution and is able to get the best from different elements that have specific expertise. We need a few, focused missions.

    My mind goes back to the mid-1980s when Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister, launched a mission under Sam Pitroda to create appropriate technologies for transforming Indias telecom sector.

    The result was C-DoT (Centre for Development of Telematics), which created low-cost exchanges for rural India and began the first phase of Indiaa telecommunications revolution. Later, a few more missions were created. But after Gandhis death, the scenario changed.

    A note on one of the websites of the Madhya Pradesh government offers an insight into the role and working of missions: The missions crafted a model that worked through participatory structures, which generated collective action as well as altered institutional arrangements within government to generate intersectoral action around identified mission goals. Missions gave time frames with milestones and fast-tracked procedures.

    India needs a set of technology missions to build human capital and digital infrastructure in the country. The government (or a collective from the corporate and educational sectors) needs to initiate these missions, staff them with the best people it can find, give them the appropriate budgets, promise non-interference and let them run.

    Indians are capable of doing things well not just when they are non-resident Indians. Look at some of the physical infrastructure projects that have been undertaken in recent times the Delhi Metro and the Golden Quadrilateral expressways project , for example. A lot more needs to be done. This is where the India Technology Missions (ITMs) come in.

    A few ideas for the India Technology Missions:

  • Hardware – The Rs 5,000 computer: Imagine a PC-terminal a thin client which can connect to a central server for processing and storage. Given the high-speed networks within organisations, this can help dramatically reduce the total cost of computing. With keyboard, mouse and a refurbished monitor, the total cost of such a computer should not exceed Rs 5,000.

  • Software – Indian Language Desktop Applications: Local language support at the application level is critical for the growth of computing in India. What is required is to use an open-source software base and to translate the strings that make up the various applications, adding appropriate utilities (like a spell check for a word processor).

  • Business – Industry information and process maps: There is a need to create business process templates for applications used by small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This means mapping the information flows for various industry verticals and getting software developers to use these maps to develop their applications.

  • Connectivity – Fixed-price broadband bundles: For all the talk of the telecom revolution, bandwidth remains expensive in India. What does it take to offer always-on 500 Kbps connectivity for homes and 2 Mbps for enterprises at Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, respectively?

  • Content – Locally relevant information and services: The neighbourhood around our home and office is where we spend our lives. And yet there is no easy way for us to know what is happening in the vicinity and for the shops and service providers to notify us of whats new. Personalisable and localised information marketplaces are required.

    These are but a few ideas which can take computing to the next billion users in India to improve lives, increase incomes and spur domestic growth.

    In forthcoming columns, we will explore what disruptive innovations are needed to make these a reality and build Indias digital infrastructure not between two generations but between two elections.