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Network congestion is a problem…Ruckus Wireless has a compelling offering….Offload to WiFi will solve the problem temporarily!

27 Feb

A common problem facing wireless operators today is network congestion, especially in areas that have high densities of population. Mobile customers have experienced poor voice/data quality in some of these locations:

  • Convention Centers
  • Downtown Business districts
  • Fairgrounds
  • Shopping Malls
  • Sports arenas and stadia
  • Transit

Wireline network operators faced similar challenges 12-14 years ago, as internet services like dial-up access, cable modems and DSL were experiencing hyper growth.

Most of us have experienced slower Internet speeds while using our smart phones, tablets and laptops. One solution to this problem is off-loading some of the traffic from the 3G/4G wireless networks  to a Wi-Fi network.

I did not realize the severity of the problem that wireless carriers were facing with data congestion until I spoke  with Dr. Andrew Odlyzko, Professor at the University of Minnesota and formerly the Director of its Digital Technology Center. “Carriers will have to embrace WiFi as spectrum is scarce and there is a limit to the number of cells that can be added” said Dr. Odlyzko.  In 1998, as a researcher at AT&T, Dr. Odlyzko was the first person to challenge UUNET’s (part of Verizon now) overly optimistic forecast that Internet traffic was doubling every 3-4 months. Dr Odlyzko published a memorable paper estimating that Internet traffic was at best doubling every 12 months. He proved to be right.

Ruckus Wireless has developed a compelling carrier grade WiFi product by using its experience in the following products:
  • Residential and enterprise wireless access products.
  • iPTV carrier products
  • Wi-Fi carrier products
I have not  examined either Ruckus’ or its competitors offerings in detail. However, the demand for Ruckus’ Wireless products and those offered by its competitors like Alcatel-Lucent, Belair Networks (acquisition pending by Ericsson), Cisco Systems, Nokia Siemens and others will be strong. It will be interesting to see how Ruckus competes with larger rivals in a market that not only has a limited number of customers per country but also competing with established competitors that have a broader portfolio offering. My experience tells me the company will succeed in selling its carrier product as  as carriers typically have two sources for a network element.

According to Steven Glapa, Senior Director, Ruckus Wireless, “Ruckus wireless offers unparalleled adaptive antenna technology which combined with the intelligence of its gateway make its offering the best in the market.”  An exuberant  Mr. Glapa, added by saying.”We have the possibility of being the next generation Ericsson.”

Ruckus’ customers include:
  • An Australian operator
  • KDDI (Japan)
  • PCCW (Hong Kong)
  • Cloud, a division of BskyB
I  will not be surprised in the coming months if the  company announces a large operator in North America like Comcast that will enable Comcast it to offer WiFi services in high density locations that I mentioned earlier in the post.
To date, Ruckus has raised about $70 million in capital. Revenues were $100 million last year and are expected to double this year. The company was  founded by Ms. Selina Lo in 2004. Previously, Ms. Lo was a founder of Centillion and AlteonWeb Systems which were  acquired by Bay Networks and Nortel respectively. Coincidentally, Bay Networks was acquired by Nortel in the late nineties.
Finally, history has shown us that whether it is bits or bytes – the increased capacity in networking and computing generally gets consumed rather quickly.

Why we need tablets in different sizes? One size does not fit all.

2 Feb

Almost two years ago, Apple launched the Ipad which has sold more than 55 million units. I have bought both the versions of the iPad and have been generally pleased. The one beef that I have with the iPad is that it is a cumbersome e-reader aka book. I find the original iPad and the iPad 2 heavy and awkward reading devices.

Compared to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the smaller version of the Motorola Xyboard, the iPad is 25% heavier. Moreover, the devices with seven inch screens feel more like a book than the iPad. I found my reading experience on these smaller devices a lot more desirable than the iPad. These 7″ tablets are similar to the form factor of most books.

Steve Jobs maintained that the screen size of the iPad was optimal and would provide customers the best experience. However, like it does in iPod’s,  I believe that Apple should offer the Ipad in a smaller versions – at least one smaller iPad. Here are the benefits to Apple:

  • Access to a different and a potentially larger  market segment
  • Lower cost product should increase sales further
  • Complete product portfolio in the tablet category
If Apple prices an iPad mini in the range of $199-$249, I can see Apple sell at least sell 20 million units annually in addition to the iPad and increasing its revenue y $4-$5 billion annually.


Five things Microsoft must do after launching WP7

12 Oct

Launching WP7 is only half the battle won for Microsoft. Yes, the devices are there, the carrier tie-ups are in place and one can expect to buy these devices within weeks. However, it will be the next three-four months that will decide WP7’s fate and with it that of Steve Ballmer. After all, neither the company nor its CEO can afford another KIN.

In the early-2000’s Windows Mobile used to be the most expensive, yet most popular business phones. Those were the only touchscreen phones around and were also the only ones on which could replicate the PC experience of MS Office on a phone. They handled e-mail pretty well (some even had slide-out QWERTY keyboards). And who can forget they had a mobile version of Internet Explorer when all one could otherwise get was a WAP browser.

But by 2007, no one seemed to like Windows Mobile. The reason – Microsoft forgot to update the OS and would only bring one update every year that required users to buy a new device.

Microsoft should not let it repeat again. It should keep its eyes peeled and ears to the ground and find out what consumers miss in WP7 and bring those features to the OS. It was heartening to hear that copy and paste will eventually come to WP7 in early 2011 via a software update. I’m hoping that it would also bring multi-tasking soon enough.

The taller hurdle, however, would be to ensure that OEMs share those updates with consumers. We all know what has happened to Android. Since Microsoft has standardised hardware to a great extent, I hope that all devices will be updated. Microsoft must clear the air immediately as to how these updates would work. Who will provide these updates to the consumers – Microsoft or individual OEMs?

Another thing that Microsoft has not done in the past is to embrace competing services. It needs to realise that many of its phone users will not be using Microsoft services for other things like e-mail, IM, photo sharing, etc. It needs to open WP7 up so that consumers have a choice. Yes, WP7 supports competing e-mail services like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail etc but what about photo sharing. Will it give an option to a user to click a picture and upload it directly to Flickr?

OS for smartphones is a different ball game these days with the advent of iOS and Android. Updates are now no longer just essential updates that address some bugs. Instead, updates have become an essential medium to keep users hooked on to the OS by adding more features and some non-essential functionalities. Microsoft needs to do the same – release about three updates and one major overhaul every year.

And finally, it should send some devices over to its India office for us to get our hands on the new ware!

What Nokia can learn from Microsoft's WP7

12 Oct

Yesterday, Microsoft showed off the commercial version of its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) operating system (OS) as well as nine new smartphones from Dell, HTC, LG and Samsung that will run on it. The software giant has a lot at stake considering that this is the first major revamp of the OS in almost two years. Rather than updating the existing OS, Microsoft decided to start with a clean slate and build a new OS from the ground up. And what Microsoft demonstrated at the launch event (you can watch it here) was pretty impressive.

My first and only hands on experience with WP7 took place during MWC in Barcelona in February, when the OS was still a work in progress. It was not stable and things won’t run properly. But even back then, one thing was pretty clear – rather than following the heard, Microsoft decided it was time to bring something new to the table.

Rather than competing with the iPhone head-on, WP7 takes a different approach. One that might appeal to everyone – kids, youngsters, corporates. It has something for everyone. Again based purely on what we have seen today, it seems to handle social networks as well as it does PowerPoint presentations and e-mails. It seems WP7 will give Google some serious competition when it comes to online search, navigation and related services with its Bing ‘decision’ engine. WP7 is not about work anymore, work is just one of the many things it can do.

I would be worried right now if I were at Nokia. Microsoft has managed to tackle some of the biggest issues that Nokia is struggling to get rid of – most of them related to user interface. WP7’s major focus has been around a brand new user interface design, one that is uniform across all menus. An experience that does not change from one device to another. Everything has been standardised. While Nokia is still working on MeeGo, Microsoft has a portfolio of devices ready to ship along with a number of apps to sell.

It is too early to even think whether Windows Phone 7 would be able to create a niche for itself like Android did, at a time when the only smartphone that seemed to be selling came from Cupertino. But take a look at things today, the iPhone is still doing impressive numbers and Android is not far behind (some might reckon it is ahead of the iPhone). It ain’t gonna be the iPhone or one of the many Android smartphones, Windows Phone 7 will eat into Nokia’s market share in Europe and Asia (Nokia does not have a big presence in North America).

Why Microsoft sued Motorola for Android-related patent infringements

3 Oct

With too much at stake when it comes to smartphones (the high-margin game), it is not surprising for Microsoft to sue Motorola for patent infringement. The Seattle, Washington based software giant claims that Motorola’s Android-based smartphones infringe upon its patents.

“Microsoft filed an action today in the International Trade Commission and in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against Motorola, Inc. for infringement of nine Microsoft patents by Motorola’s Android-based smartphones. The patents at issue relate to a range of functionality embodied in Motorola’s Android smartphone devices that are essential to the smartphone user experience, including synchronizing email, calendars and contacts, scheduling meetings, and notifying applications of changes in signal strength and battery power.”

We doubt if Microsoft managed to rattle any cages in Chicago, Illinois, where Motorola is head quartered. Remember, Microsoft cut a deal with HTC, which makes smartphones running on both Android and Windows Phone operating systems, to share IP and help HTC stand against Apple, which had sued it for patent infringements. Motorola, on the other hand, is devoted to Android alone (at least for the time being) and hence, is a potential threat to Microsoft. Smartphones from HTC, LG and Samsung, running on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices are expected to be launched later this month.

This is also Microsoft’s ploy to warn others that using an open source operating system will make them vulnerable to such IP-related lawsuits. Unlike Google, Microsoft licenses Windows Phone 7 operating system to manufacturers which frees them from getting hassled with these lawsuits.

Samsung Galaxy Tab to cost Rs 40,000 in India?

1 Oct

Samsung is still mum about the pricing of my favourite Android Internet Tablet – the Galaxy Tab – but one of my connects informs me that it would be priced at Rs 40,000 when it gets launched in India in the coming weeks. Samsung is also working with Indian app developers to pre-load India specific content. I have seen some of those apps working and was mighty impressed with one particular navigation app tailor-made for the tablet’s 7.0-inch display complete with 3D maps and other content.

However, I am not convinced with the Rs 40,000 price tag. Consider this, one can buy the iPad 16 GB 3G version for approximately Rs 35,000 from Hong Kong. Take into account the App Store and its hundreds of thousands of apps and suddenly the Galaxy Tab sounds too pricey. In the past, Samsung has tried creating its own app store for Android (on the Galaxy S) but I have not seen a single new app added to it since the Galaxy S was launched.

Samsung might point out that people pay up to Rs 30,000 for the Galaxy S smartphone and would be willing to pay more for its bigger version but I have my doubts. Yes, I like the device but Samsung could probably learn from Apple that priced the iPad lower than the iPhone.

Monday Morning Rant: Motorola reveals Android update plans, kinda disappoints users in India

23 Aug

We have been asking Motorola ourselves about their plans to update their Android wares to the latest OS version and they had been non-committal so far. However, it seems we were not the only ones and after being overwhelmed by similar requests, Motorola’s software team has released a tentative plan that outlines when users in specific countries can expect Android OS updates on certain phones. To say the least, the list seems highly partial to the US and we are not pleased to see no confirmed plans for any updates for users in India. The only thing the sheet mentions for users in Asia (excluding Korea) is that update plans are currently ‘under evaluation.’

I have loved all the three Android phones that Motorola has launched in India so far – the Milestone, the Backflip and the XT720. As you might have read in my Backflip review, it is the most innovative product out there but its dated OS undoes whatever Motorola has gained with its industrial design. What’s more, I test all Android apps on a Milestone. (Disclosure: We have loaned the unit from the company.)

Considering that these smartphones are not cheap by any means and most people buy Android thinking that it is an ‘open OS’ and will get regular updates. However, that is seldom the case. It is not just Motorola but look at any handset vendor selling Android smartphones and none of them have any clarity whether they will provide OS updates or not. For the serious consumer out there, buying a new Android smartphone is a gamble – either wait for the latest phone that runs of the latest OS version (and burn a big hole in your pocket) or buy the phone you can afford and pray that it gets updated to the latest version.

I won’t spare handset vendors and give them the benefit of doubt (after all, if they update their old phones to the latest version then who will buy their new, expensive phones), but I would also pin the blame on Google for not coming out in the open and clarifying what is the criteria of phones getting updates. Many product managers from handset manufacturers have, off the record, told me that Google likes to roll out Android updates regionally and not globally. (No points for guessing which country/region gets the updates first.)

So what’s the deal? Why is it that phones like the Motorola Milestone and the Samsung Galaxy S are getting updated to Android 2.2 in Europe while the same OS update is under evaluation in India and other countries in the region? After all, isn’t it the same hardware?

Six amazing features of the T-Mobile G2

19 Aug

T-Mobile’s teaser site for the HSPA+ capable G2 does not reveal much but if you read between the lines, you can easily guess some of the specifications of the upcoming superphone. The biggest advantage of the G2 will be its ability to surf the Internet at lightning fast speeds (T-Mobile claims up to 14.4 Mbps). And most of the specifications of the G2 will be laid down according to what a user can do with such great speeds. Here’s my take on the six features the G2 is likely to have:

1. A 4.3-inch display: HTC has already done the Evo 4G for Sprint. The G2 would be its equivalent on T-Mobile and nothing less than a 4.3-inch display will do. Remember, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network would be best utilised for video streaming and hence a big display.

2. An 8.0 MP camera with HD video recording: Let’s face it, this device will be expensive. T-Mobile would like to show off how you can shoot an HD video (720p) and stream it live or upload it in matter of seconds to YouTube. Of course, it would have an HDMI out slot to connect directly to an HDTV.

3. Snapdragon Onboard: HTC has been using the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset for a while now and it is a given that the G2 too will run on one. However, what remains to be seen is whether it uses the standard 1 GHz configuration or the upcoming 1.3/1.5 GHz. T-Mobile and HTC will create a major upset if they are able to ship the faster version by September.

4. At least 8 GB of internal memory: HTC does not really have a reputation of offering large internal storage memory but I’m willing to go out on a limb here that the G2 will have at least 8 GB of internal memory.

5. Video calling camera: T-Mobile would like to go all out with its HSPA+ network and what better way to do it than giving a video calling camera? I reckon the G2 will have a 1.3 MP front-facing camera with an option to shift to the higher resolution back camera during a video call. Something similar to FaceTime on the iPhone 4.

6. Wi-Fi sharing: Android 2.2 aka Froyo already has a feature that allows users to create a Wi-Fi hotspot from their phone’s data service and share it with up to five devices. However, many carriers block this service. The G2 will have it and T-Mobile won’t block it.

The changing face of Indian cellphone market

16 Aug

A couple of years ago, we used to share a joke – “soon every convenience store would have their own brand of cellphones.” It was the time when companies like Micromax were trying to set up base in the market and we were busy dismissing them and other like them as mere fly-by-night operators. Of course, we were proven wrong.

Two years down the line and our joke might be on the verge of coming true. It is only a matter of time before gadget store chains like Chroma, Future Group and Reliance among other would launch cellphones under their own brand. Chroma, for instance, already retails self-branded digital photo frames and even PCs. Future Group, meanwhile, has tied up with Tata DoCoMo to launch T24, a GSM connection that gives users loyalty points either when they shop at Future Group’s outlets or talk using the co-branded connection.

The ease with which one can launch a cellphone brand, I’m actually surprised why it has not happened yet. I have a feeling it won’t be long before we start seeing ‘Big Bazaar’ cellphones in the market.