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Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Monday’

If you have been looking for an update of last month’s Mobile Monday Bangalore on this blog site and didn’t manage to find it, it’s because I was absent at the event. I had a family function to attend on the same day. So I was more than keen to attend yesterday’s event. Better still, it was at the Indiranagar Sangeet Sabha which is a spacious venue with good arrangements; and it is only ten minutes walk from my office.

The first piece of important information was that Forum Nokia is the first sponsor of Mobile Monday Bangalore on a long-term basis, starting from this month’s event. The more interesting aspect is that the first sponsorship money went towards providing Qualcomm a platform to present BREW to the MoMo community.

BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) is an application development framework that provides developers a rich set of API for quick and easy development of mobile applications. For end users, the user experience is enhanced. When these two are met, the man-in-the-middle (the operator) stands to benefit as well. In fact, BREW enables operators to reach subscribers with a richer set of applications. The end result is a win-win situation for everyone.

What is the problem today? Rakesh Godhwani of Qualcomm pointed out that the network is ready, devices are ready but content is lagging far behind. With networks getting upgraded to HSPA and CDMA2000 EV-DO, bandwidth appears to be available. With handsets able to operate to full capability in such networks, the only thing that’s missing are the applications. In my opinion, this is a rather simplified view if not biased, but it is partially correct and the argument holds water.

Take the example of BSNL’s recent launch of CDMA2000 EV-DO. Someone announced that this service has been launched in a couple of circles in Kerala, not as handsets but as data cards. I don’t know much about EV-DO but I would expect it to exist with the same hype as HSPA where guaranteed high bandwidth to individual users is rare if it happens at all. It’s a shared bandwidth under non-ideal channel conditions only occasionally close to the base station. So what if applications are not available? Is the market ready? Are subscribers willing to pay? Is the pricing attractive? What’s the predicted change in consumption patterns of mobile subscribers? Are these subscribers changing on a social level when it comes to tele-interaction?

But the importance of applications cannot be underestimated. If not more important, applications are just as important as a subscriber’s choice of an operator or a handset. For VAS, what we are seeing is a fragmentation of device, technology and networks. It is perhaps only applications that have the ability to give subscribers a seamless experience across these diverse environments. The onus is therefore on the developer to develop applications that can work in more than one environment. A case in point is the fragmentation of the PC market between Windows and Linux. The choice there is obvious for developers but in the world of mobiles there is no obvious choice. Developers would have to consider Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, J2ME, BREW, Maemo or Android without being dismissive of any of them.

As for BREW, the case is strong. As of November 2006, BREW was being used by 69 global operators, by 45 device manufacturers and in 31 countries. Every CDMA mobile deployed in India supports BREW. CDMA taking up almost 30% of the Indian market, the outreach for developers for their application is no small number. The additional advantage is that price negotiation and revenue sharing is done between Qualcomm and the developer without involvement of the operator who is free to charge his premium to the end user. Having said that, other business models are also possible. Lucrative, yes. It also means that Qualcomm has to make the decision of pick-and-chose. Only applications that are unique and have a promise for the market will get a chance. It is something like writing a fiction novel. Publishers look for market value in conjunction with individuality of writing.

How does one entice the subscriber? Give a free trial for two weeks. Once he gets used to it, chances are he will buy it once his trail starts to expire. Getting new and exciting applications is one thing and using it is another. A successful application must be easy to download and install. The user interface must be elegant and intuitive. It must be attractive and useful. All these are challenges on a device that is so much smaller than a laptop monitor. In India, we are still a long way from getting there. Only 10% of revenue is from VAS, much of which comes from SMS-based services. This is where companies like Mango Technologies make a difference with solutions targetted towards low-end handsets and the cautious spender.

BREW doesn’t come on its own just for developers. There is an entire platform built around it for service delivery, billing, subscription and so forth. One such framework is uiOne whose software framework is captured in Figure 1 [1]. This enables easier rollout and maintenance of services on the carrier network.

Figure 1: uiOne Software Framework
uiOne Software Framework

Following Rakesh’s informal and interactive presentation, there was a short demo of an LBS application running of BREW. It was shown on a Motorola phone from Tata. My user experience was good but nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps this is because I prefer to explore the environment on my own rather than let someone else tell me where the nearest restaurant is. In this demo, assisted-GPS was used which enables locating the subscriber indoors even without good satellite reception. This is because the access network sends satellite information to the mobile for location computation. In addition, Qualcomm employs many proprietory fallback mechanisms to locate a mobile. Once of these is called Advanced Follow Link Triangulation; there are six others. LBS is one of the promising applications but we are yet to see the “killer” LBS application. Point to note: developers are to tie up with map and GIS data providers on their own and Qualcomm is not involved in this at the moment. In fact, developing and deploying an LBS application is a challenge because it involves so many parties – operators, government (for privacy), map providers, developers, OEMs, chipset makers.

The philosophy of Qualcomm is of three parameters – innovation, partnership and execution. R&D spending is 20% profits. The end subscriber is kept in view but their main business is to license their technology to OEMs and operators. Thus, they say that Qualcomm has a high number of engineers (who innovate) and lawyers (who protect the licenses). Idea generation is an important activity in the company. Once a promising idea comes to the fore everyone brings it to fruition by taking it from being an idea towards making it a product.

The meeting ended with a short presentation by Forum Nokia. They talked about Symbian and its many components. They talked about Maemo, Widsets and FlashLite, about which I will write separately. This presentation, seen within the context of Qualcomm’s, highlighted that diversity in all aspects of the mobile world is here to stay. If we cannot agree, let us compete.

References:

  1. Personalizing Information Delivery with uiOne™, deliveryOne™, and the BREW Express™ Signature Solution; Qualcomm, 80-D7262-1 Rev. C, March 7, 2007.
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Yesterday at MoMo Bangalore’s November event, it was yet another session of sensible arguments, discussions and insights which I have come to believe characterize every MoMo event. In this community, ideas are shared openly. Suggestions are welcomed and analyzed. In a world in which knowledge is power, the people of MoMo community realize there is a greater power in sharing knowledge. Yesterday’s session had a high level of interactivity and this in part must be credited to Deepak Srinivasan, the CEO of Mobiance Technologies, who opened the floor for Q&A from the outset of his presentation.

Mobiance is in the business of mobile Location Based Services (LBS). Unlike the usual method of using GPS for delivering LBS, Mobiance has adopted a different approach based on a patent pending technology. The technology involves locating the mobile using cell triangulation. In other words, a mobile’s location can be identified by it’s distance from at least three base stations. This is done using Timing Advance. I believe (the discussions did not get into details of the technology), no extra signalling needs to be generated on the air interface for this purpose because such data is usually readily available with the network. All signalling is at SS7 level between Mobiance system and MSC, BSS and OMC. Data from the signalling network is filtered and processed intelligently to keep Mobiance generated traffic to a minimum.

Coming from an engineering background, I know that none of this sounds difficult. In fact, there is nothing to be solved here. GSM as a standard has evolved over a few decades. It has solved the problems of mobility management to a large extent. The value that Mobiance brings is in applying the fundamentals effectively for services that matter and marketing them at the right level. For example, Mobiance claims that their method of using timing advance brings greater accuracy. In Metros, an accuracy of 150-200 m is possible; 250 m in other cities that include Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad; 2.5-3 km in rural areas and highways. The latency of locating a mobile is only 3 seconds. Locations can be updated once a minute or once in fifteen minutes or even once in an hour. This flexibility is in-built into their platform that allows configurability to administer QoS policies. Some solutions may require only a location displayed as a text; others may require the location displayed on a map that delineate taluk boundaries. Such flexibility of solution delivery exists with Mobiance. The technology does not need changes to base stations or mobiles. Even a low-end handset can get services enabled by this technology.

What are the services that can be deployed on this platform? Most of us will be familiar with services for consumers. These are generally services available in the vicinity – ATMs, restaurants, theatres, internet cafes. Then there are navigation services that tell drivers/pedestrians how to get from point A to point B. For enterprises, LBS can be used to deliver fleet management systems or verifying if their distribution network is working as planned.

The company was started in October 2004. In March 2007, they signed a contract with Airtel. In July 2007, their Enterprise LBS solution was launched. The challenge for Mobiance is to bring in more services, use more accurate maps and GIS data, partner with more cellular operators and continue to build on the partnerships that they currently have. As I listened to the presentation with interest, I can attribute their success to these key factors:

  1. Local solutions for local needs: India has many languages. People communicate differently. Directions are given differently – “next to”, “opposite to”. Any LBS enabled service should consider the cultural environment in which it is deployed.
  2. A model of effective partnership: Mobiance has recognized that solutions that work in a Western context may not work in India where partnerships are important. While in the West one may license Navteq maps, in an Indian context what is needed is a strong ecosystem of providers, partners and users in which everyone benefits and progresses in tandem. Thus Mobiance partners with device vendors, cellular operators, GIS (Geographic Information System) and map providers, and the like.
  3. Do what you do best: Mobiance has created the platform for LBS. This platform can be used by partners in developing services. Mobiance is not into creating these services. They concentrate on getting the platform right leaving the creation of services to others. Their platform API is currently based on XML-RPC.
  4. Initial focus: one common reason why startups fail is that they try to do too many things from the start. While the host of services that LBS can enable is many, Mobiance is focusing only on its enterprise solutions (fleet management, verification, awareness). A success in these can lead to more services in various other segments.

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Mobile Monday is a global community with various chapters all over the world. What does this community do? This is what they say of themselves:

Mobile Monday is a global community of mobile industry visionaries, developers and influentials fostering cooperation and cross-border business development through virtual and live networking events to share ideas, best practices and trends from global markets.

As often is the case, Bangalore is not far behind in whatever happens at world stage. A group of enthusiasts have combined forces to start the Bangalore chapter of Mobile Monday. This happened in June 2006. Their meetings are fairly informal and full of ideas, discussions and business networking.

As I understand, they meet on the fourth Monday of each month at various venues. I attended the October meet. A roundup of this meeting is on their website. My own review of the meeting follows. The meeting started with a presentation by Vanu India Pvt Ltd, a global startup expanding in India. This was followed by a demo of QuillPad by Tachyon Technologies, a small Indian startup.

Presentation by Vanu India Pvt Ltd

Vanu India Pvt Ltd is a sister company of Vanu Inc., a global startup founded in 1998 and focusing on Software Defined Radio (SDR). SDR is a technology in which some or all of physical layer processing is done in portable software rather than custom-built hardware. This enables base stations and access points to activate different access mechanisms from the same platform with ease of mainenance and operability. The interesting aspect of this software is that it runs on a general purpose processor rather than a DSP. This makes Vanu’s approach disruptive to existing market norms. Vanu’s advantage is that as processors get better and faster, the same implementation can be ported with little difficulty to leverage on the latest advancements.

Figure 1

Waveform-Device-Vanu

This can be better understood by referring to Figure 1. The top flow is a traditional model. The bottom flow is what Vanu is following. Traditionally, it used to be the case that the average lifespan of a device is much longer than the waveform model. This was only because implementations in software used to be easier to change. This is no longer true as software modules are large and complex. Software these days is doing a lot of what hardware used to do, particularly in the domain of SDR. This means that if a new device is released much of that software has to be rewritten to take advantage of the advances in the device. The cost of developing new software or updating old software is quite high. Why not write a portable software that needs no update?

For this approach to work, General Purpose Processors (GPP) need to keep pace with advancements in DSPs. Only then, Vanu’s approach will have a competitive advantage.

SDR is presently not practical on a mobile but Vanu sees this as a goal for the future. Current technology requires that the RF frontend be duplicated for different access standards. The business case for Vanu is also not obvious at present but there is much promise in an evolving market where multiple standards will continue to exist and interwork.

The many insightful questions that were asked during the presentation underlined the uncertainty that’s present in an evolving market. Only those who innovate boldly and find an apt business case will succeed. Vanu appears to be doing just that, although there are sufficient challenges to keep them busy.

Demo by Tachyon Technologies

Representation of Indian languages in the digital domain has made much progress in the last decade or so. We now have unicode representations. We have many types of fonts. We have websites purely in Indian languages. However, methods of input have failed to catch up with these advances. Or rather, what we have today are sorely inadequate to fulfill the expectations of users. Anyone who has attempted to type Indian characters will know the difficulty of the exercise. The challenge is greater if we attempt to do this from a mobile keypad.

Tachyon aims to make such input a lot easier and intuitive. The ordinary way of Indian language input is to transliterate Roman characters to Indian characters using predefined rules. Because there are many more alphabets in Indian languages than in English, the methods of input are often non-intuitive and sometimes involve special keyboard characters. Tachyon has taken a different approach of using a trained data set of common patterns that occur in words. This enables users to type more naturally. The language interpreter takes on the job of finding the right word based on context. If there are multiple options, the most likely one will be suggested. It is also easy to navigate across the options. This make Tachyon’s input tool, the QuillPad, a more user-friendly tool than Google’s Indic Transliteration. Tachyon has taken the competition head-on. They appear to be in the lead.

The demo at the meeting was on a Nokia handset loaded with QuillPad software. Before coming to this meeting, I tried the online QuillPad for Tamil. The product is by no means done and dusted. It needs improvements. For example, try typing “Thekkady”. It makes the same mistakes as Google. Hopefully, Tachyon will win the race.

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