Archive for January, 2004

SMS Kiosks from Bharti

January 31, 2004

Bharti announced the setting up of SMS Kiosks – places where Airtel customers
can go send SMS at 1 Rupee a message without having a cell phone handset and
receive SMS messages free. It is an interesting development. With falling
phone tariff and mobile telephony taking off, STD booths are losing money. STD
Booths (the fallout of telecom revolution that was started by Rajiv Gandhi and
Sam Pitroda in late eighties) are the engines of growth providing millions of
jobs across the length and breadth of the country. With mobile revolution
taking a toll on them, many of us were very concerned; here is an innovation
that will give life to STD booths. In fact, it may offer new business
opportunities for growth. Many STD booths became Internet kiosks, but they do
not generate enough revenue for the kiosks. Second, wile SMS became youth
friendly, with their own SMS lingo (partly due to the need to do 170 character
long message, to be composed with one character buttons), the introduction of
the SMS terminals with keyboards might bring even other age groups into SMS
bandwagon. In any case it is interesting development to watch

EDUSAT – project is great, but where are the teachers?

January 30, 2004

ISRO is planning to launch a 2,000 Kg satellite EDUSAT exclusively for
education with 12 Ku-band transponders at a cost of Rs 200 Crores that can
support 5,000 remote terminals and 25-30 upward links. It is expected to be in
place by July 2004. A pilot project with 70 engineering colleges got
connected in a ceremony that was kicked off by the Karnataka Chief Minister
Shri SM Krishna in the presence of ISRO Chairman Dr Nair (and the former
Chairman Dr Kasturirangan, MP) on January 26, 2004
. A series of
consultative meetings are being held in Ahmedabad, Chennai, and Kharagpur &
Delhi. Considerable work is going on in planning the ground station equipment;
financial resources are being arranged. Expectation is building up; a Kerala
daily even wrote that education will reach millions at zero cost; lack of
teachers will not stop the IT revolution in India

While a satellite for education is an excellent idea, one should not lose
sight of the hard reality
; availability of inexpensive books of
exceptional quality does not lead to everyone getting educated; web sites with
enormous wealth of information & knowledge does not make the world intelligent
overnight; libraries and Internet are great enablers of education but no
substitute for education; the same is true of EDUSAT, it will NOT substitute
teachers for high quality education.

The real focus must be on teachers, the true “deliverers” in the value
chain, particularly in higher education. Unfortunately, I do not find anyone
talking about teachers in the EDUSAT program (I hope I am wrong in my view).
We need a strategy to identify high quality teachers; then we need incentives
for them to be part of this innovative experiment; last, but not the least, we
need to sustain and grow this tribe of high quality teachers. They, and
they alone can solve the real problems of higher education in India; of course
aided by the satellite they can solve the problem faster; but without those
teachers any number of satellites can not and will not solve the problem!

Amrutha Varshini – FM Indian Classical Music channel start in Bangalore

January 29, 2004

After years, All India Radio finally got its act together by starting an FM
Channel in Bangalore, exclusively focused on classical music. All India Radio
for well over 50 years has done a pioneering job through its Radio Sangeet
Sammelan and the weekly concerts; “AIR Artist” is a title that will do any
musician proud; AIR even perfected the “audition” process. However, AIR never
recognized the huge potential offered by music. Anyone in e-commerce and
m-commerce would know that the largest driver of digital economy is music –
Napster, MP3, Apple iPod & iTunes, RealAudio, Microsoft Media Player and
others are all billion dollar opportunities propelled by music.
India with
a rich music tradition offers immense potential. HMV through Sa Re Ga Ma
popularized, but not capitalized on Indian music. If only AIR gets its act
together (and not be lost by mis-directions from the mandarins of Mandi
House), this channel will be the harbinger of the changing fortune of AIR; the
Indian youth will support it in a big way (if only SPIC-MACAY is any
indication)

Interestingly to support Amrita Varshini AIR has digitized 10,000 tapes of
high quality music

Bharti Telecom gets second best service provider in cellular and fixed

January 28, 2004

Bharti Telecom (Sunil Mittal run telecom service provider in the landline &
wireless space under Touchtel and Airtel brands) has been adjudged the second
best telecom company in Asia, next only to Singapore Telecom. It is a moment
of pride to Bharti, since Asia is the scene of hottest activity in telecom
scene globally, and wining a quality award is indeed a rewarding moment. What
bothers many of us (I had written earlier in my web log of January 15, 2004)
however is the absence of BSNL & Tata Telecom from this list and the falling
quality of service of the entire mobile telephony in India in 2003. I do
hope that Bharti will NOT rest on the laurel, but use this as an incentive to
improve the quality of mobile telephony
. The rate at which our calls drop
is a sad reflection of our capability.

UR Rao Report on Engineering Education – the real issue

January 27, 2004

UR Rao Committee Report on Technical Education created a furor – that of
reducing tuition fee and improving teacher-student ratio. It is true that 776
undergraduate engineering colleges graduated 187,758 students in 2000 that
went up to 1,208 colleges producing 359,731 students (as per AICTE) in 2003.
It is also true as per NTMIS, that there is a significant unemployment. The
report also talks of student-teacher ratio of 1:10. While these observations
are fine, what is not necessarily true is the conclusion in many circles,
(particularly in MHRD & AICTE), that IT industry has erred in estimating the
needs leading to over supply and we should stop any new engineering college
getting opened in this country. The fact is that many colleges permitted by
AICTE produce “unemployable” engineers; they are unemployed not because there
are no jobs, but because the colleges with questionable quality (which AICTE
ends up permitting due to circumstances beyond its control), end up supplying
to the markets those who engineers who do not have the aptitude, who do not
have the right education, and in turn unemployable. We need to address this
situation squarely, if need be even closing down these institutions of
questionable quality or merging them with better institutions. There are
enough jobs for quality engineers and all efforts must be made to increase the
supply of quality engineers by improving the quality of existing engineering
colleges and NOT stopping good colleges
if they are being proposed (by all
means stopping bad colleges from coming up).

Open Source is NOT a new philosophy

January 26, 2004

IT professionals sometime tend to believe that they are so unique that no
other industry shares similar developments.
They talk of Open Source in
similar vein. If you look at river water Vs bottled water, solar energy Vs
commercial energy, nature cure Vs modern drugs, professional associations
running magazines Vs commercial publishing houses, free music concerts in
temples Vs paid concerts – you will find there were similar attempts in every
area – making things available free in a community spirit. All such
experiments are alive and thriving, but they end up as marginal players, with
no significant impact. Linux could be an exception in O/S area; will it
happen in more lucrative areas – database, with Oracle dominance, middleware,
with IBM dominance, and application, with SAP dominance, I have serious
doubts.

(Part of the Panel Discussion on Open Source organized at Delhi on January
23, 2004)

Open Source for those who open the Source

January 25, 2004

Open Source is a great idea for academicians, who are competent, willing and
with a mindset to open the source, improve it, add value it and share it with
others freely. It is not for those who may not be competent (it does not mean
incompetent individuals, it could be those immensely competent individuals in
many fields, who may not be competent to appreciate the source code of a
particular software), willing to open (those in industry who would rather pay,
demand and get a superior service rather than spend their valuable time
opening the source) and without a mindset to share with others (those who
would make money, of course by fair means, through selling their products).
Not appreciating this point causes a lot of confusion in people’s minds;
proposing that Open Source is for everyone is rather superficial
.

Society pays academics a salary only to pursue studies; students have to
explore and experiment in order to learn. Naturally for them Open Source is
great; others should carefully examine the relevance of Open Source for them
and then (and then alone) decide.

(Part of the Panel Discussion on Open Source organized at Delhi on January
23, 2004)

Bangalore Devanahalli Airport work to finally start on January 29, 2004

January 24, 2004

After years of dragging it appears that all hurdles for Bangalore
International Airport have been cleared and according to Karnataka Chief
Minister, construction work should start soon. Instead of making it just one
more Airport can the people make it a pride of place among all airports? It
will not be the biggest airport (like Chengi or O’hare), but can it be the
most IT-savvy airport? Can it be the first “most unwired” airport? Can it have
the next generation ILS? Can it boast of being super efficient in terms of
passenger comfort, enabled of course by IT?

That alone will justify Bangalore International Airport – else it will be just
one more obscure late-comer

Income Tax Department sets up the Tax Network

January 23, 2004

The Finance Minister formally inaugurated the country-wide Tax network.
Hopefully, this would help the department in collecting more tax more
efficiently, reducing the cost of collection per unit of tax mop up. While
such an efficiency approach is good, the department should also focus on
effectiveness – the ease of interaction between honest tax player and the tax
department. It is not electronic filing alone that everyone wants – it is just
a “feel good” factor when dealing with Income Tax department – you will get
fast answers from a courteous voice, there is no fear of harassment for honest
people and you get 24X7 service. That would be the acid test for
effectiveness. The author had the personal experience of waiting for 2 years
to get PAN number; another Government department issued Voter Identity card so
effortlessly – one week advance notice, specific appointment, 2-hour service
time and one returns with a correct VIN (Voter Identity Number). Why should
PAN be a century-long process (I waited from 1999 to 2001)! Is it a permanent
account for a vendor?

Net Devices starts development centre in Bangalore – there is enough

January 22, 2004

Seenu Banda and a set of outstanding engineer managers from Silicon Valley got
$ 15 Million funding to start Net Devices; they opened their Development
Center in Koramangala, Bangalore. Their value proposition is to make
Network gear for enterprises that can bring down costs ten-fold!

Hopefully, they will succeed. The jury will be out by July when their first
product will be out.

Many youngsters think that there is not much scope for innovative products in
the network space; many also think that VC’s will NOT fund them. Both are not
true!

Youngsters in IT, go get IT!! There is so much more to do in IT