Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Archive for the ‘broadband’ Category

Smart electrical grids and broadband over power lines – two winner propositions

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 22, 2008

Over the recent years we have heard, talked, and ruminated about informatics – clinical informatics, bio-informatics, neuro-informatics, social informatics. Now we are adding one more – power-informatics. Yes, that could be a very legitimate name for a science that blends sophisticated engineering, advanced conservation, and proactive allotment of resources in electrical power development, distribution, and savings. All these together are forming a very potent tool in power consumption and smart-grid management.

So what is a smart electrical grid. Even few days back I didn’t know much about this concept – a concept that develops its fundamentals from advanced monitoring of power production, distribution, and usage at both the source and the consumer end. Minneapolis-based utility Xcel Energy has embarked on a project that will ‘equip homes with smart power meters that help people reduce demand when electricity is most expensive. Substations will also use information from the meters to automatically reroute power when problems arise’. You may read the full article [here]. the smart grid is all about saving energy, over-usage, and bottlenecks in grids, power lines, and cluster nodes. In a nutshell, as I understood, when there is peak hour, your intelligent monitor installed in the garage will send a signal to the washer to wait for few hours when the grid load mellows down. Further, the household electrical utensils will pass usage analytics to the power company that would help them forecast usage volume and cost peaks across demographics that stretch across geographic, economic, and cultural spectrum within the population. powerlines-squareweb.jpg

Now there are two other things that came to my attention.

First, one partner of this project, called Current Group, has designed and deployed what is known as BPL systems – Broadband over Power Lines. Now this is just amazing. Being interested in ubiquitous access of the Internet in remotest parts of the world (and poor parts as well), I have often encountered insurmountable difficulties in envisioning accessibility to broadband in under-served communities of the world. Now BPL creates a whole new dimension and henceforth a disruptive innovation that could be called RADICAL. As electricity is considered fundamental to modern civilization, every government have tried their best to push the electrical outlet as deep as possible into villages and remote corners of their countries. Internet is a new phenomenon. But power lines had been growing for decades and have evolved their way into households affected by poverty and other infrastructure disparities. Now if BPL becomes a viable option, then communication accessibility to these parts of the world will be a very very reasonable option. I am very excited by this opportunity. Got to do some real research on the policy, infrastructure, and capital investment needs to bring this to fruition.

Second, is a whole new market development in electrical utilities that talk to the user over broadband – whether that is laid through power lines or wifi or other wireless networks. I will just give a small use case and you can dream all different ways to extend it. When your washing machine gets a warning from your power provider about peaks, it sends you a ping to your cell phone and you communicate back asking it to start two hours later. If you plan to override, your power system charges you premium and you bear the cost by confirming the alert through your mobile device. Is this sounding like sci-fi. May be 5 years from now it won’t!

Last but not the least: My salute to one of the greatest sci-fi author Arthur C Clarke, who passed away in Sri lanka on March, 19. A true dreamer and a visionary of the time.

Posted in broadband, Communication, electricity, Energy, Environment, Innovation, social innovation | Leave a Comment »

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

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

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 »

Is ‘Meraki’ bringing social innovation by broadband reselling?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 30, 2008

This thing totally missed my sight. The more I read about Meraki, a start-up based out of Mountain View delivering hardware and firmware to connect people through a community wide wi-fi network, the more I got excited about the potential of social innovation at the bottom of the pyramid [CK Prahalad]. Sanjit Biswas, the CEO of the emerging company, talks about hooking the next billion to the Internet at a very very affordable price. The viral nature of his business model foresees creating a organic and somewhat self-sustainable network of wi-fi distributors who connect into a community wide mesh by becoming an individual distributor of broadband. Read more about the concept [here]. biswas_x220.jpg

Meraki proposes to bridge the digital divide where the less fortunate can log in over a mesh of broadband percolated through hundreds of repeaters that keep on extending the physical reach of a wi-fi originator node. What I perceive is that the model is meant to extend the physical reach of a simple router by cumulatively building it’s penetration through an asymptotic network of broadband resellers. First, let me ask two basic questions:

  1. How would a repeater, or for that the originator, sign a legal contract with broadband providers like COMCAST, ATT, etc., who are strictly prohibiting reselling of their bandwidth?
  2. If an individual repeater promotes the bandwidth and tries to make money out of it, how is the revenue kicked back to the originator node? How is the revenue model built around the service distribution hierarchy? Does it sound like a replication of a pyramid model? And, is there a loss in intensity of the signal if a repeater resides at the end of a long chain of hundreds of repeaters ahead of it? In that case, will the revenue kickback be tied up with attenuation factors?

Here’s my idea of true social innovation among the demographics at the bottom of the pyramid. Let’s talk about India in the mid 80’s (since I come from there :). During that time, people back there had to reserve a trunc-line to talk to someone in another city or country. Accessibility to long-distance phone was a remote possibility. At that time, Sam Pitroda, the telecom adviser to Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, brought revolution by launching ubiquitous, yellow-signed Public Call Offices (PCO) that quickly brought cheap and easy domestic and international public telephones all over the country. The theme of subscriber trunc dialing (STD) at a very high density and accessibility led to the emergence of public phone booths across the country. This helped the staggering unemployment of the country by driving millions as entrepreneurs opening PCO services all around.

What if Meraki brings a similar revolution in near future where individual entrepreneurs can sign up as broadband repeaters and resell bandwidth across a mesh network. Ofcourse there has to be policies in place for driving the revenue share and the opening of the last mile node from the big telecoms for resale. But, imagine the prospect. In a small town 100 miles from a big city, just one node will bring the fat conduit to a meshed network. The network will then grow organically as more people hop in. The service penetration will expand in geometric progression and the structure can shape like a small-scale industry. However, the bothering question would be the infrastructure-cost-density factor. 100 ft/500 ft is still too low. With new protocols, if the density denominator increases to atleast 100/500 mts, then the feasibility of becoming a reseller from a profitability as well as a social empowerment perspective will be worth it.

May be this is one small step towards a big change in underserved communities.

Another Meraki news link: http://www.wi-fiplanet.com/news/article.php/3663591

Picture: Sanjit Biswas, CEO of Meraki.

More about Sanjit Biswas.

Posted in broadband, Communication, Innovation, wireless | 2 Comments »