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Sunday, April 17, 2005

ICE: The Telecom / Technology story!

Communication and Technology revolution has flummoxed many in the so-called "real" world. On one side, more people are comfortable in downloading ring-tones and watching movie trailers. On the other, there are others who are still wondering about what happened to the future when the refrigerator would talk to the online grocer and order groceries. In the business world the top management is scared that their ERP solution will become obsolete even as they roll it out. But will it actually happen is a question to which there is yet no answer.

I am as confused as everyone else. Yet, in the following these are a series of articles detailing some aspects of these issues that may provide an answer. I have read some literature on these issues from various sources and Telecosm by Gilder is something that I would like to recommend. Yet the views expressed in the following articles are my own and may be wrong. I invite you to please provide me valuable feedback and opinions on these.

The Issues with Communications Revolution
We all expected that communication revolution that started with the Internet to invade every aspect of our professional and personal life would hit us soon. We all waited but it hasn’t come yet. There are reasons that are apparent in the hindsight. Some of the prominent ones were:
1) Lack of Cheap bandwidth
2) Lack of last-mile access Infrastructure
3) Lack of Ideas.

Bandwidth Problem
The applications thought possible, during the peak of the 2001 tech bubble were conventional applications. Like “movies-on-demand”, a lot of these applications required bandwidth that is simply not available. Some applications like Internet based real-time ERP faltered because bandwidth across international borders was absent. This connectivity was essential as the businesses became more and more globalized.

But as of now, a lot of band has come up. There is a lot of fiber very close to where you are sitting and reading this article now. A significant gain has also been because of the price discovery of the fiber bandwidth by the service providers. Service providers now see fiber-optic cables as information pipes and are focusing on capacity utilization. This seems to be common sense wisdom and they were focusing on these earlier. But there is a key difference. I will highlight it as we come to it.

Last Mile Access Infrastructure
Last mile access was unavailable. By this I do not mean that we had no solution to last mile connectivity, but that it was expensive.
Often the accessing equipment could be used for little else. The desire was never urged on by a need. This is exactly what mobile-phone revolution has done. The coming of age of 3-G mobiles has given the mobile users different ways and means to be connected. The revolution has changed the lifestyle of people making them comfortable carrying a device with them 24X7.
Only two other devices in human history have created such a powerful change, first being wristwatches and second being the Walkman. Yet the key aspect of the mobile revolution is that now people carry with them in the form of a mobile phone, a processor, memory and a modem. And they carry it 24X7.
This has subsidized (mentally) the cost of getting the last-mile-access device with you.

Lack of Ideas
The foremost problem was the lack of ideas. Of course business has a way of weeding out the bad ideas sooner or later. But there are a lot of things that are starkly visible. Like for example, what Gilder says in Telecosm, we have voice networks (Telephones) carrying data (Fax) and we also have data networks (Internet) carrying voice (Internet Telephony).
Similarly we have different business models running on same “bandwidth”. Like we pay per minute for calls on mobile phones, but FM radio on the same device is free. Some of the data (voicemail) is stored on remote server, some on device (SMS, voicemail). Some data (PIM data) that ideally should be on a remote server is replicated on different devices; where as some data that should ideally be on the device we need to download (MP3, Songs).

Problems are solved…
But all these problems are getting sorted out. And a new reality we all were anticipating is emerging. But it is not something that we envisaged. The new reality is mix of partly things that we anticipated and partly of something totally different. So what is the new reality?
In the next article we will examine the future gadgets that can exploit these developments. We will also examine which gadgets can succeed and what infrastructure can profitably come up to serve the new information applications that will thrive in the new world.
Please let me know what you think on this. Your feedback is critical and will enlighten me. And do check back again to read about the new devices and the future of ICE.