Creating Ripples

Date:   Thursday , November 29, 2007

The ‘spectrum’ heat is on..
Ever since the mobile phones became a necessity in India, the telecom industry has seen a fast paced robust growth. Since then the industry has been witnessing intense discussions and even altercations. Latest addition to this is the controversy over allocation of 2G spectrum, leading to a war of words between operators over spectrum allocation. Top industry leaders like Reliance Communication’s Anil Ambani and Bharti telecom’s Sunil Mittal have also joined the battle.

For mobile operators, India is a hot destination. The number of subscribers is exploding every passing day with more than six million people being added to the subscriber base every month. Almost seven million people have been added to the subscriber base in September alone, taking the number of wireless phone connections in the country to 210 million plus. The earnings for the private sector service providers have also gone up by 71 percent.

The rift
Controversy started when the Telecommunications Engineering Centre (TEC), an arm of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), proposed the new norms for the allocation of 2G spectrum. TEC’s report, which asked operators to pack in more subscribers before they become eligible for additional spectrum, had effectively put all existing operators out of the contest for additional spectrum. Besides, the decision of the Telecom ministry to award CDMA players, such as Reliance Communications and HFCL, a license to run GSM services as well has made the existing GSM players indignant.

Expressing anguish over this development, Chairman of the Bharti Telecom, Sunil Mittal, wrote to the secretary of the DoT, exposing the flaws in the proposed policy and requesting that the department should ensure that no spectrum is allocated which may compromise the legitimate rights of the existing operators.

Vodafone Chief Executive Officer, Arun Sarin too wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and communications minister A Raja, complaining about the stiffer spectrum allocation norms proposed by the TEC. The minister responded to the PM with two letters on the same day briefing him of the decisions taken by the ministry on the issue. Meanwhile, the GSM lobby, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) petitioned against the new policy of TEC in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT).

Now, it was Anil Ambani’s turn to write. He wrote to the PM that it is essential that the future of telecom industry is “not undermined by a few vested interests playing for their narrow personal interests”.

Ambani, whose company uses CDMA technology, accused that some GSM companies are holding extra spectrum. He also lashed out indirectly at Vodafone and Bharti Telecom, and accused them of spreading “misleading and false propaganda” to block fresh competition in telecom, hoarding spectrum, and indulging in “anti-consumer practices like cartelization”.

The issue
The existing GSM operators like Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea Cellular want the available spectrum to be given to them first, before new players are considered. They also demand 10MHz spectrum in all circles and 12.4MHz in metro areas. Whereas companies that have already acquired licenses and are waiting for spectrum, such as Aircel and Spice, are demanding that allocation should be made on first-come-first-served basis. But, the companies that were among the first to apply for new licenses, such as Shyam Telecom and HFCL, want the government to go ahead with enhanced subscriber criteria as suggested by TEC. However, the others in the queue to get the licenses want the government to auction 2G spectrum. This includes companies like Videocon and AT&T.

A meeting held in the third week of November to sort out the differences between the DoT and the telecom companies failed to arrive at a consensus. The meeting was called to hear out the various views on spectrum allocation and pricing.

According to market reports, in the fifteen days after the rift began the market cap of Bharti Airtel fell to Rs 1,67,823.98 crore from Rs 1,93,452.6 crore and Reliance Communication fell to Rs 1,44,462.21 crore from Rs 1,45,804.56 crore. The case was similar with Idea Cellular, MTNL, Spice Communications, and Tata telecom (TTML).

Nine Indians in the MIT’s Top Innovators’
Indians across the world have always brought glory to the homeland by their spectacular achievements in business, science, and technology. Nine Indian innovators under the age of 35 are among the top 100 in the list of innovators selected by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review magazine for the year 2007. After Bobby Jindal and

Lakshmi Mittal, it’s time for these navratnas (nine jewels) to bring glory to the country. Be it the 31 year old Srinidhi Varadarajan, Director of Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Polytechnic Institute who built the world’s third fastest supercomputer for $5 million (Other supercomputers of this class cost $100 million or more) or Smruti Vidwans with her new approach to develop drugs for tuberculosis, the chosen hundred represent a group whose innovative work in technology has a profound impact in today’s world.

28-year-old Vikram Sheel Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Dimagi, founded this organization in Boston to develop interactive software that motivates patients to manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and AIDS.

Chaitali Sengupta, a systems architect at Texas Instruments, made it to the list for her work on communications chips used in advanced cellular systems now coming to market. These chips allow multimedia cell phones handle Internet access, videoconferencing, and mobile commerce more easily.

The other Indian innovators in the list are Anuj Batra, systems engineer, Texas Instruments, Ramesh Raskar, visiting research scientist in Mitsubishi Electric, Mayank Bulsara, cofounder and Chief Technology Officer, AmberWave Systems, Ravi Kane, Assistant Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Ananth Natarajan, Chief Executive Officer, Infinite Biomedical Technologies.

While Ramesh Raskar has built large computer display systems that seamlessly combine images from multiple projectors, Anuj Batra leads one of the industry’s top teams advancing ultra wideband wireless technology, which provides the high transmission speeds needed for streaming-media applications that also consume less power.

Mayank Bulsara co-founded AmberWave to develop strained silicon, an advanced form of silicon that makes computer chips run faster and consume less power. Ravi Kane has to his credit the invention of a highly potent anthrax treatment and he is extending the concept to anti-HIV therapies as well. Ananth Natarajan innovated a lifesaver as he has developed the technology to enable implantable cardiac devices to detect incipient heart attacks.

“The biggest challenge an Indian student faces is finding the space to develop an independent mind. Resources abound and so do inspiring minds. The secret is to be foolish and stubborn enough to believe one can do what has not been done before,” says Kumar.

“As regards research, India has brilliant minds that need direction and adequate resources. A critical component of direction is patience and a hard work ethic - none of the awardees achieved their goals overnight,” he adds.

The chosen 100 (TR100) represent a group that demonstrates that the barriers to innovation, both geographical and disciplinary, are crumbling, the Technology Review said. Many are developing technologies that defy easy classification, often fusing recent advances in computing, medicine, and nanotech.

‘Building India as an IP Hub’
NASSCOM, the apex body of the domestic software industry, has opined in the recently held Annual Product Conclave that India’s product industry should aim to grow from the current market size of $1 billion to a $15 billion industry by 2015.

Addressing the opening session of the conclave, Subash Menon, Chairman, NASSCOM Product Forum, Founder Chairman and MD, Subex Azure, said, “The Indian product industry, currently very small compared to the $300 billion business globally, has to grow in both organic and inorganic routes, to reach its full potential.” “With the talent available here, investors in the Silicon Valley in the U.S. should kill to fund the opportunity in India,” he added, and informed that NASSCOM would conduct a study to arrive at the different measures necessary to propel the industry forward.

The two day event on ‘Building India as an IT Hub’ saw an emphasis on the need to change the image of Indian IT industry from an IT service provider to a product developer. It was debated that though the young professionals are seeing the need to make a choice between a product and a services company, a large number of talent is lost to the IT services industry. “The industry should exploit the existing ecosystem for software services, to grow the products’ space,” expressed Sharad Sharma, CEO, Yahoo! India R&D.

During the discussion on international experience of Indian product companies Srini Rajam, Chairman and CEO, Ittiam Systems said, “It is prudent to go beyond developing the product design to realize the reference designs of the end product. This instills confidence in potential customers.”

Mahesh Mehendale, TI Fellow & Chief Technologist, Digital Entertainment Product development, Texas Instruments (TI), meanwhile stressed the need to leverage product and software standards to address a global market.

They also saw the requirement for a change in the Indian laws for patents, which allow patenting for any hardware but has restrictions on patenting software. Focus was also on the importance of participation of educational institutions in such forums and working hand-in-hand with the industry. It was also pointed out that though tier-1 institutes now have a changed syllabus that trains the students according to the industry needs, the majority of the institutes are yet to make an effort towards this.

Wild geeks camp at BarCamp, B’lore
On an early weekend morning, with a passion to share and learn more about new trends in technology, about 300 geeks and technology enthusiasts trekked to the winter edition of Bangalore Barcamp5 at IIM Bangalore on November 16-17. Barcamp is a forum of people from diverse walks of life that breaks all the traditional and formal tracks and provides a platform to unwrap the ideas and hold discussions on pressing issues.

There is no tyranny of slots and themes imposed by organizers. Hence, a Barcamp is appropriately called an ‘unconference’. If anyone is interested to hold a discussion on a particular topic, he or she can just go ahead, book a conference room and a time slot and make the announcement. Unlike other conferences that are usually formal and follow strict schedules, the talks at Barcamp are bi-directional and asynchronous, which is uncommon.

The event gave an opportunity to learn more about the trends in an ad-hoc manner, share ideas, and huddle with strangers. Entrenched in the beautiful premises of IIM Bangalore added an electrifying effect to the event and the Wi-fi enabled environment catalyzed the energy levels of the masterminds who were armed with laptops. “I don’t see much difference in the energy levels of the people here, compared to the Barcamps of Silicon Valley. Everyone has an appetite to learn and share more from others,” says Narayana Aroori, CTO, Zveego.

This wave continued to remain the same followed by a series of tremendously successful Barcamps that started back in Palo Alto, California, from August 2005 and sprawled to Bangalore in March 2006. This continues to attract the brightest minds worldwide and makes them fly down to Bangalore’s fifth Barcamp from all parts of India and the U.S. And it was easy to spot these bright minds as all were sporting funky stickers with their names and various messages including their status at the Barcamp as ‘This is my first ever’, ‘I am Barcamped’ or ‘This is my 4th Barcamp’.

This time, the Barcamp witnessed many young graduates and other young entrepreneurs who aspire to have their own startups making their way to the event. The event, which was sponsored by Google, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, and Thoughtworks witnessed a wide diversity of issues being discussed at different classrooms of IIM. At every nook and corner the young enthusiasts were making their proposals to have discussions on. Web analytics, how to earn from blogging, Independent filmmaking, and Scalability of Ruby on rails were among the topics discussed in the camp.

There were also informal debates to have more bonding among these geeks who left an imprint on IIM. The high energy and enthusiasm amongst the participants remained unabated till the end of the event.