Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for February, 2008

How disruptive is Femtocell?

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 21, 2008

So everyone went gaga about femtocell at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona couple of weeks back. It appeared everyone almost overwhelmingly accepted femtocell to be the next big thing in mobile communication. So first, what is a femtocell?

Femtocells are tiny 3G base stations that could allow cheaper calls in homes and businesses over mobiles by routing that signal over the fixed line broadband network. Hooked up to a home’s broadband-internet connection, femtocells provide solid indoor coverage and allow residents to make cheap calls using their existing handsets. Leave the house while chatting, and your call is automatically handed over to the wider mobile-phone network. The competing feature of femtocell is that it doesn’t need a dualmode handset that can take voice over wireless network as well as over wifi data network. A regular cell phone can take advantage of the 3G just like a regular cell call inside the home. The cheap conversion takes place past the miniature base station that routes the call through a data network originating from a cable or a DSL/ADSL modem. mobile_congress_barcelona.jpg

Now, my question is, ‘Is Femtocell that disruptive a technology – or rather a disruptive innovation with a potential of changing the format of the industry?’ Well, this is definitely a convergence technology that just takes one step ahead of VOIP – a disruptive innovation that shook the conventional wisdom around voice communication. But what is Femtocell delivering? And to who? What is the WOW factor here? Well, the marketing engines of big cellular networks and other similar providers figured out that majority of voice calls are made from inside the building/house. So, if the voice traffic can be bypassed through the data route, that will significantly save cost and traffic bottleneck over the cellular networks during prime hours – thereby freeing up bandwidth for more data/media etc. Well, obviously something gotta give and that would be the data pipes. So high speed data channel is the key element for a successful FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence). However, with WIMAX on the horizon, this convergence to fixed line may again end up a not-so-great innovation since the entire communication traffic will go over the WIMAX channel (wireless). Read some discussions below:

http://www.itwire.com/content/view/16541/127/

http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10689597

My final concern is the pricing structure of the FMC service along with Femtocell devices. For 2-4 phones accessing the base station, how will the service feature drive profit margin from the usage/hour/primetime aspect? Next, if the base station costs $100 a piece, will there be a model similar to VOIP service with free routers for a limited time contract? One other thing – if you have cell phone through VOIP technology, why need a home phone at all? BUT – ubiquity of the system will depend on the penetration of broadband service from the cable/telco/and other data connection providers.

The whole convergence concept is indeed very challenging and exciting!

Picture: Barcelona, Mobile Congress

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Posted in broadband, Communication, Innovation, wireless | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Fight malaria by contributing your computer while you sleep

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 16, 2008

Remember the SETI@Home project that was launched in 1999? It has been one of those pioneering projects where grid computing was brought to average consumers who would donate their computer hours for complex analysis of radio-signals from the space. The down-loadable software would receive data from the SETI server in the background and do calculations when the machine is idle at night or when you are away from it. Such grid computing way back then opened the doors for a new class of utility that would one day serve for complex stochastic simulations that could take years with limited computing power. A new possibility emerged!

Paying heed to this tremendous potential of volunteered grid computing across populations with desktops/laptos, MalariaControl.net hosted by AFRICA@HOME has launched a similar grid computing effort to model transmission dynamics and health effects on demographics with potential of getting infected by malaria. These simulations are intensive as they demand a huge set of grid points (human populations) with innumerable attributes that control the derivation of disease progression trajectory and other forecasting knowledge. The idea is simple. The Swiss Tropical Institute has developed a model for malaria epidemiology that uses the volunteer computing ability to calculate a credible analysis and a platform for evidence-based-treatment for malaria in Africa. malaria_kid.jpg

Again, the possibility of grid computing with volunteer computer hours is enormous. Further, to sweeten the deal, the architecture to support such efforts is FREE! The Berkeley Open Architecture for Network Computing (BOINC) is a openly available middleware that can be used to launch any such project. Another greatness of the BOINC framework is the support for both Microsoft Windows and Unix/Linux systems. Even though disease epidemiology studies for non-profit endeavors are great objectives for harnessing BOINC-like utility, the for-profit sector can also benefit from such volunteer contributions. Market research based on demographic behaviors and activity patterns across international borders is a demanding aspect of international business today. Stochastic marketing research models can leverage such grid computing efforts to run comprehensive analysis of product usage patterns. Furthermore, the volunteer attribute can be enriched by a monetary payment factor for hours of modeling usage of one’s computer too.

Picture: Courtesy AMREF

Posted in Computation, health, Innovation, Medicine, poverty, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

Is MODU, an Israeli startup, pioneering change in modular cellular connectivity?

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 10, 2008

Before I even start talking about MODU, I should first explain why this modular cellular connectivity interests me in the first place. It’s all about customization delivered through personalized device adaptation. The concept of modular phones is that there will be a bare minimum radio device with basic functionalities like keypad, speaker, and LCD. Once these components make the UI, the basic need of the phone is delivered through two way communication. However, the device unfolds to a genie when you snap the small modular phone into bigger devices with added functional attributes. That’s what interests me. The ability to build non-cellular objects over a cellular backbone (handset) that can flip in and out whenever needed.

Now let’s see how MODU, an Israeli startup led by Dev Moran (the guy who sold USB flash drive to SANDISK for $1.6B), plans to change the landscape through it’s modular phones. MODU has come up with this device that weighs 1.3 oz and has all the basic items of a cellular phone. What gives this phone a competitive value is the ability to slide it in jackets that have different functional components and deliverables beyond just a phone. MODU has already partnered with three major cell service providers in Europe and eying into the US market pretty soon. As claimed by the market analysts, MODU has the potential of changing the nature of the game. Just think about it – as of today cell phone OEMs are coming with more and more electronic capabilities in their phones – camera, media player, scanner, video. On the other hand, if the modular phone takes off, it can dissociate the need for all those fancy abilities from the fundamental nature of a phone. And that’s what opens the horizon for non-phone makers. Consider Gucci coming up with a very very fashion sleek jacket that can ride on MODU and change into a cellular phone. On the other hand, MODU can slide behind a GE Microwave and provide the ability to call the microwave and start heating food. Ofcourse, you would need a OEM standardization of operational uniformity through IEEE or some other body. Read about MODU [here].

Recently, I have been analyzing new market entries from the perspective of disruptive innovation (Clayton M. Christensen). Christensen distinguishes between “low-end disruption” which targets customers who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high-end of the market and “new-market disruption” which targets customers who have needs that were previously unserved by existing incumbents. Now, MODU kind of satisfies the pointers of low-end disruption. Nevertheless, the disruptive technology comes with a potential of putting existing business models on their head as new market entrants can use this platform. Just think about it this way – when broadband became ubiquitous (in relative term) the VOIP players who are non-traditional service providers, got into the game and wrecked havoc on the telecom incumbents. May be MODU is going to alter the image in a similar manner? How about if MODU runs it’s plan well and every connected device comes with a logo MODU-Enabled? Just the same way DOLBY became the de facto standard for high end digital sound. Now, that will entirely depend upon how MODU approaches the market, builds the partnerships, creates a robust leverage with economy of scale, and executes with finesse.

Posted in Communication, hardware, Innovation, wireless | 1 Comment »

Totally automated parking for only $14

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 3, 2008

Now this one got my attention from the perspective of mechanical automation in industrial scale. From the angle of idea generation, it’s nothing serendipitous – an automated parking lot where hardware (steel, levers, rollers, metal planks) integrates with software (logistic and arrangement). The combination parks your car without a human valet, stacking efficiently across different isles arranged vertically. But this same perceptive understanding gets challenging when you translate this idea to an industrial scale with high precision. The challenge is further amplified when you try to commercialize this new, extravagant mechanical system with a competitive pricing that beats the present day market. That’s where comes the real efficacy of a business solution that is empowered by sophisticated software, automated systems, and a possibility of reducing the carbon footprint by delivering a relatively greener process. robot-park.jpg

This automated marking system in Manhattan, NY is not the first one in the world and neither it is the only one. I just happened to come across this article a little later. What made me post this news is the realistic implementation of a sci-fi idea that was floated around in i-Robot where we saw vertical stacking of cars right off the parking meters. If you watch the videos in the links given below, you will really appreciate the engineering accomplishment in developing a decently large mechanical system that operates with a very high degree of accuracy in a constrained spatial degree of freedom.

Read the links with the videos:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/1001-people_free_parking.htm

http://www.popularmechanics.com/blogs/technology_news/4213198.html

However, there are some questions that came up in the feedback sections of one of the blogs talking about this robotic parking. Some of the concerns are very good pointers for future scaling issues. This NYC parking puts 67 cars in one place and loads them up serially. But what would be the interesting thing to wonder about is when the demand goes up and you have a long queue of cars waiting to getting parked. This is a operational hurdle and the system will be tested for robustness when these issues become realtime business revenue drivers. May be they can consider a different architecture with loading points at different sections of the building. Now that would create the challenge of precision being controlled by the software. You will need a very very sophisticated application that will move the cars from all directions (vertically and horizontally) without colliding. One feedback was to create a adjustable spot that configures according to the size of the car (horizontally ofcourse). Well, that is the next step to a really complex system of the future.

Some stats for an interesting perspective: (from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.12/start.html)

Parking by the Numbers
• Number of vehicles entering Manhattan on weekdays: 948,213
• Number of curbside spots: 30,000
• Average parking-ticket fine: $115
• New York City revenue from parking violations last year: $537 million
• Cost to park for 30 minutes at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street: $21
• Cost of a subway ride: $2
• Average speed of crosstown traffic in Midtown: 6.1 mph
• Average speed of subway: 13 mph

Posted in automobile, Innovation | 2 Comments »

Guess how crucial these submarine cables are in our daily communication and lifestyle

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 1, 2008

Recent news article from NY Times talks about the cable breakdown.

This post has germinated from sheer curiosity. Early this week, you all may have read the news about how Internet traffic came to a standstill in the Middle East and Asia after a pair of undersea fiber optic cable broke in the South Eastern Mediterranean. The story goes that some ship while waiting to cross the Suez Canal, anchored along the Egyptian coast, and in doing so breached the undersea cable. Result: the entire Internet backbone connecting Egypt, Dubai, India tanked!

Often, wrongly enough, we are under the impression that majority of our Internet/voice/data traffic goes wireless or satellite. When, on the contrary, we are still significantly dependent on the conventional infrastructure of long undersea cables that traverses across continents. It’s a global infrastructure in reality. Then comes the traffic management complexities through this mesh of cable networks. When U.A.E and India got hosed, they started redirecting traffic through the Pacific, but the switching took time and the rerouting created a little longer wait due to a roundabout path. I even found a link to a map of undersea cables across the continents. Take a look and you will be amazed. cable_map_big.gif

As the Internet traffic grows exponentially, you may seriously consider investing in cable management companies. I wonder if one day these cables get as critical as inter-continental oil/gas lines. Well, noting the real-time dependency of our day-to-day activities, we in fact are surprisingly unaware of this incredible traffic network laid out on our sea-beds – or at least I am!

See the link [here] for more details.

Posted in broadband, Communication, Innovation | 2 Comments »