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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Tiered broadband – an upcoming war between content providers, bandwidth providers, and reshaping consumer habits

Posted by evolvingwheel on June 15, 2008

Briefly, what is tiered broadband? Well, it’s about tiering the pricing of broadband access according to one’s usage habits. So simple. Now, the broadband ISPs or telco providers will meter your Internet usage the same way the utilities company meter your water and electricity. So, in a nutshell, the cable and DSL providers found out that a small percentage – nearly 5% (that what they publish), hog the bandwidth with heavy downloads of movies and shows, games, and other P2P services. So, there should be tiered pricing for byte usage so that it could deter the heavy users and provide a level playing field for the average consumers! Does it sound to you like an ominous bell ringing somewhere very close to your dataport to your computer?

First, let me put forth an analogous argument. We all drive cars and we all fill our tanks with gasoline. Do the gasoline companies like our beloved Chevrons and Texacos restrict customers with gas-guzzling SUVs to tiered gas access at the pump? How come we all walk to the station and can fill our pump to the limits without any kind of caps? And besides, there is no balance check on the pollution that our big vehicles spew out into the environment either. So how come the gasoline industry run a model that works on a equal pricing point for everyone regardless their usage habits? When infrastructure (here gas) dries up, everyone ends up footing the bill.

Let’s just run a small math on what our average daily Internet usage looks like. Assumptions – growing number of users now watch video and TV shows on the Internet through channels like HULU and VEOH. Same users sign up often for QUAD-play services offered by the same cable companies/telcos that include VOIP and other @HOME calling plans (unlimited usage).

  1. Average NBC/ABC 1 hour shows on the Internet – 500MB
  2. Average Netflix movie downloads regular/HD – 500MB/3-5GB
  3. Average application downloads for productivity – 100 MB
  4. HULU/VEOH shows over the Interent – 500MB for 1 hour
  5. Apple iTune downloads can range around – 100MB – 1GB (for video downloads)

So, if you start metering users for practices that are soon going to demolish the 80-20 rule of 20% heavy users accessing 80% of bandwidth and rapidly percolates through a more common habit across the metropolitan lifestyle, the concept of tiered bandwidth access will just land us back to the early days of AOL online where Internet usage through dial up was billed hourly. We have to realize on thing. Today, broadband is almost a commodity because there are lots of players who have found ways to use the Internet to generate revenue. Now, that all depended on a huge volume of consumers using it in the first place. And what triggered that? When AOL in 1996 first launched the unlimited access plans. That was the tipping point. As users got a taste of the free infrastructure, usage boomed and reached an astronomical magnitude.

I personally do not believe that the operators are trying to stop the heavy users because they want to make a level playing field. Just listen to this – Mr. Leddy of Time Warner said that the media companies’ fears were overblown. If the company were to try to stop Web video, “we would not succeed,” he said. “We know how much capacity they’re going to need in the future, and we know what it’s going to cost. And today’s business model doesn’t pay for it very well.” [read here]….. so you can see that it’s all about the monetization model! 

The other party of interest are the content providers like big labels and other independent content production houses across the world. These content producers are eyeing heavy content usage as their new source of revenue when TV and radio usage are running flat with stagnant ARPU. How would they consider tiered bandwidth as a sweet proposition? Yes, you are absolutely right. They hate it from their guts. Now the interesting part is, these content producers are trying to find a revenue generation model for themselves as well. And they are trying to partner with marketing brands to pay for their production. Intreresting development will take place if they have to incentivize their offering by paying for the bandwidth needed to download their content. Hmmm.. sounds very enticing!! Obviously, the Time Warners realized that as users are more and more accessing heavy content, they can’t make those millions of dollars from total monopoly on their laid cable lines as bandwidth access tops their ARPU generation model. They want to eat a piece of the pie too. More with time, these network providers are figuring that it might be their only way to not being mutated to just a pipe provider with a flat fee model. How will they survive?

So, for now, the war is impending. The key to an amicable solution with the consumers enjoying a great Internet experience like before will be a monetization model (or several) that generates cash through some relationship leverage and revenue share. Let’s keep on working on that -;)

You may also check Marc Cuban’s blog – interesting discussion.

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

RFID goes beyond tracking – Can smartcard be smart enough?

Posted by evolvingwheel on March 29, 2008

John was standing by the door of the overhead Red Line commute train with no idea about where to get off. As he stared blankly at his ticket for the Maroon 5 show, the automatic door just closed. Suddenly an idea clicked. He took out his cellphone, turned the ESI (External Source Input) button on, brought it near the ticket, and BINGO! It worked – the ticket had an embedded RFID chip that beamed the phone with the location map of the theater. Now imagine one step ahead – John, then held up his phone closer to the transit map on the train and a blink flashed – the RFID chip in the CTA map absorbed the existing target location in his phone, mapped against the current location of the train, and sent him back a direction log to get to the right stop! nokarfid.jpg

Well, this is not a Arthur C Clarke imagination – it’s more like a reality in next few years or may be even at the end of this year. Samsung has been up to developing a RFID chip that will be able to read information from different RFID chips embedded in all kinds of materials. The chip, more like a smartcard, will be able to read schedules, recipes, route maps, directions, and what not from chips that will appear at different spots and in multi-functional objects. Read the detail [here]. The best part will be when this RFID chip will be a two way gateway for information swapping.

Now comes the better part. Once you have these RFID chips in mobile devices, what will you do with the extracted information beyond just finding maps and reading calorie charts in grocery stores? Well, then will come the applications that will figure out ways to derive more meanings out of that tag information. In fact, information could be distributed just to trigger some specific application needs.

I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to showcase another company who have been developing some incredibly powerful applications with RFID technology. Mayalys, based in Malaysis, has been set-up by experienced businessmen and engineers based in Asia and France to handle designs, promote & market a range of innovative applications relying on a two way radio smartcard handheld terminal called YADILYS™ that addresses three market segments: electronic payment, intelligent transportation system, and sustainable lifestyles. Investors, interested professionals, and any other RFID enthusiasts should read about the technologies that they are using in implementing RFID based smart systems.

Picture: Nokia is rolling with the big dogs now by pushing out a phone with a technology that hasn t been done much before in cell phones. The company is including read/write RFID capabilities into a mobile phone. The phone seen here is the 3220 NFC prototype that is capable of reading any RFID tags and also writing to an RFID information tag.

Posted in Communication, Innovation, RFID, wireless | Leave a Comment »

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 »

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 »

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 »

MIT launches searchable video courseware

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 14, 2007

This thing gotta grab your attention. A searchable video discourse with an ability to select sections of it. Recently, MIT’s Regina Barzilay and James Glass launched a new lecture search engine that allows a student to land on the exact location of a video lecture and listen to the section signficant to him/her. In paper transcripts, it is easier to perform a text based search. But there is no such easy cross-section search in video and audio.

The researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab helped with this dilemma. The team created transcripts of lectures using speech recognition software. Then the video is loaded with the text assigned to its flow. I just had a demo and it was incredible. As the speaker kept on talking, the application kept on cursing through the words one after the other. In more than 90% of the time the words were mapped correctly. This mapping will help to locate one element of the video on the fly. Meanwhile, students do not have to play the whole content to locate a specific section. They can use the transcript search utility to land on the right spot.

This utility can also be used in medical transcription practice. Another use could be reading content to visually impaired people. A voice recognition element can also take instruction from them and reach the exact section of the text/speech on the video. Interactive audio books could use this concept too. Any other idea? You can read the entire article [here].

Posted in artificial intelligence, brain, Communication, Innovation | Leave a Comment »

Nanotube radio – world’s smallest: Can it be tied up to MEMS?

Posted by evolvingwheel on November 12, 2007

I love technologyreview.com. Whenever I visit after a while, I always find something enthralling. Something that just pokes my mind and ends up creating a boundless array of imaginative possibilities. This time I came across the article on world’s smallest radio – a carbon nanotube that is able to receive radio-frequency and play the song sent over the carrier wave.

Innovative engineering feat resides in the simplest perspective. When a complicated scientific phenomenon, in this case a radio, is condensed in a nanoscale dimension, the magic is worth watching. Even if there is no immediate commercial prospect of the invention, the concept itself is path-breaking. One of the coolest aspect of the research is the way the radio receives the signal. In conventional radios the antenna receives the electromagnetic signal. Over here the radio starts responding when the frequency of the carrier wave matches the resonating frequency of the carbon nanotube. You can find the detail in the link [here]. nanoradio-timeline-sizes.jpg

I was also reading about the possible applications. One of them worth talking about is the packaging of this radio with MEMS (microelectromechanicalsensors). MEMSare supposed to be injected into the bloodstream and the sensors will record data – blood sugar level, cancer markers, blood pathogens, etc. Once this radio is configured to transmit data, a whole new world will open up (may be already in the process of opening up). MEMS will play an enormous role in preventive diagnostics and this tiny radio can remotely send information to a receiver outside the body. I have to do some more research in biological MEMS now!

Posted in biotech, blood, Communication, Innovation, micron, nanotechnology | Leave a Comment »

More applications for ‘smart’ sunglasses

Posted by evolvingwheel on October 23, 2007

The ‘Informance’ sunglass displays a stopwatch and heartrate on one edge – the athlete adjuts his breathing rate and speed while he closes in for his last one mile stretch. On the left edge of the glass screen, the runner could read scrolling temperature and steps/minute. All these is made available by a thin wedge-shaped prism is built into the left edge of the lens.

Rodenstock, a German lens manufacturer, has developed these sunglasses with an estimated steep price tag for it’s tentative commercial release in 2009. We have head-up displays for defence. Fighter pilots have head-mounted display mounted on their view finder/glass in their helmets. But embedding these display capabilities make the equipment very heavy and are not feasible for a light sunglass that often stands as a signature of fashion. Rodenstock has brought an innovation that makes the lens much lighter. For details, read [here].

What makes this thing cool is the wireless link that connects the glass with a digital clock reading pulse beats, body temperature, and ambient humidity. I believe that this innovation could be further stretched by blending the display unit into the lens – to maintain the look and feel of a cool shade. Some of cool applications could be:

  1. Connect wireless devices with the glass – a flashing ringer that will alert you of an incoming call.
  2. Show time/stopwatch/lap time fed from a wireless transmitter in the viscinity – a stadium.
  3. Show heartbeat and other physical attributes being transmitted by receptors attached to the body.

—————— while doing the research ————————————————————

Guys: While doing the research for this article, I came across a product with the ability of watching video from iPod on a glass mountable video display – totally portable! You may check it out.

http://www.myvu.com/Experience/

Posted in Communication, glass, Innovation, optics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »