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Killer apps: key to sustenance for India?

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DQW Bureau
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You've heard all the worries. Will mobile commerce ever take off? Will we ever see meaningful location-based wireless services? Will the economic downturn hurt funding for wireless enterprise projects? Despite these concerns, wireless devotees still abound and many companies are carefully considering applications that run the gamut from messaging to Wireless Local Area Networks

(WLANs). 

Wireless applications that lets customers and employees track the status of their packages on different types of devices have helped a lot of companies distance themselves from their competitors. 

"As we all know voice is the most popular application on wireless. Second place goes to SMS. Data is trying to push itself and is a big player for stationary wireless (location-based) services. Lot of people are developing diversified applications as of now for wireless, but still the customers are not ready to pay for the huge cost of these applications," said Rama Rao Sreeramaneni, VP & GM Indian operations at Hyderabad based HelloSoft, a wireless applications focused company.

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"The next best thing that could happen is video over wireless but this needs a lot of uninterrupted thru-put on the bandwidth without errors. The current problem is that no one can transfer those huge data rates continuously for long time. This requires the service providers to install more base stations to cater to the needs of the people, which in turn will drive the cost," he explained. 

Until recently, wireless arena was mobbed by several wireless standards such as 802.11, Bluetooth, HomeRF, etc., which were working towards a common goal of connecting devices wirelessly and giving mobile computing a real-time advantage.


"Other advantages included replacement of messy wired networks, creation of ad-hoc networks, etc. Irrelevant comparisons were often made among these non-competing standards from a competing angle. But, over the last couple of years, the complementary nature of these standards has clearly emerged. For instance, 802.11 and bluetooth need not be competing standards but can work complementarily as bluetooth is a Personal Area Network (PAN) protocol and 802.11 is LAN standard," said, Sanjiv Gupta, CEO at Hyderabad based BodhTree Consulting. 

Wither M-Commerce? 



While wireless applications used to dispatch information to field service technicians or connect embedded factory machines to one another have caught on big, mobile commerce, in which consumers use wireless devices to obtain product information or make purchases, has dropped off. Still, analysts say that it's premature to sound the death knell for m-commerce.

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"M-commerce, to banks and airlines, still makes sense because their customers see time as critically important and airlines lose revenue if they don't sell seats," noted

Sreeramaneni.

In India rediff.com has recently began zapping product information to customers with wireless devices in addition to the mobile mail facility but there are no reports of it being an instant hit among the users. "We don't see the consumer demand for m-commerce the way we anticipated and we're continuing to watch this in a year of economic challenges," explained Ram Kidambi, VP e-business at

Karvy.

At Hyderabad based Karvy consultants, efforts are still under way to test or deploy Unified messaging systems that would be sold to different telecom service providers. But because wireless is an emerging technology, the financial services giant has been "judicious" in its rollouts. "The product has already been developed by the company and we are talking to some telecom service providers who can take this product," Kidambi added.

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Karvy, a financial services company, has already deployed wireless systems that can notify customers about transactions and send investment, stock and mutual fund alerts to mobile users. The delays and miss-starts on some corporate wireless projects during the past year obscure the fact that many of these efforts began in earnest as long as five years ago. Interestingly, consumers have given dismal responses to more recent applications such as the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) running the much-hyped wireless Web, thanks in part to the hassle of navigating small screens. 

"Mobile commerce will take off but will take more time. As we have seen now, few companies like yahoo, amazon, ebay, etc. are making good money on the e-commerce. Now e-commerce does exist and lot of business is taking place on e-commerce stuff. The things that got hit more are the portals. Mobile commerce will only make money once the individuals start using the e-commerce more. And this will come only after the economy is up," Sreeramaneni added.

As we move forward, cellular industry is slowly moving into its 2.5 generation in India and abroad. "What has killed the concept of mobile commerce most (for now) is the thin bandwidth pipe that GSM (2G) offered. What may salvage it might be the better bandwidth GPRS (2.5G) would offer. 

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Along with that, mobile devices are becoming better in terms of system navigation, form factor, usability, etc., which is further going to enhance the chances of survival of this concept. Given that technology will shape up in the time to come, content providers too, would have to be in place to use these channels to the benefit of the user," quipped Gupta.

LAN the new buzzword



Analysts say that the payback from 802.11b networks often occur in less than a year, thanks to improved efficiencies and savings resulting from the fact that users don't have to spend as much money installing cable. Analysts also see industry interest in machines that "talk" to one another over wireless networks, although such devices aren't expected to become mainstream for some time. Beyond that, analysts expect that wireless notifications of machine functions from car engines, computers and other electronic devices should become commonplace within five to 10 years. "Most of the corporate interest surrounding wireless fits in three areas: messaging (which includes field service applications), WLANs and wireless embedded devices.

For now, messaging is the killer application, given the widespread interest in it from a variety of business categories," added 


Sreeramaneni. 

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Among the various WLAN standards, 802.11x has emerged as the leader. Bluetooth on the other hand is increasingly being contested for PAN based solutions. "One can find 802.11x network in airports, college campuses and even organizations and Bluetooth in mobile phones, PDAs, etc. Within the next few years, we could see wireless networks coming in to consumer's everyday life and enterprise's everyday operations, replacing wired networks and adding value to the networking concept as such," explained Gupta.

Future holdings for India



A number of business analysts say that India would play a primary role in the development of key applications that would go on to govern the corporate world, but propellants of industry do recognize the fact that the country still lags far behind in terms of the basic infrastructure. "In terms of application development as a product, India will play a major role, but as far as the usage part is concerned we are way behind other countries. I do not see the service providers changing equipment in the near future. We do not even have a proper wired bandwidth, so forget about the wireless application usage." Sreeramaneni explained. 

India, as always, can be seen more as a provider rather than a consumer for wireless applications too. India's strengths in technology percolate even to wireless technologies, thus making it a strong contender for development of wireless applications. India should focus on developing IP-based wireless applications rather than being a typical outsourcer. That's how, it can maintain its position for wireless solution provider. Developing killer apps/solutions for domain-specific requirements is the key to sustenance for a developing nation like India.

Zia Askari


CNS

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