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June - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
The Research Moto
Christo Jacob
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Scientists at Motorola Labs in Bangalore believe that next wave in communications will be created by blending the mobile world with the Internet.

In order to attain this, an essential problem has to be tackled. Primarily, one has to connect the unconnected. Today, out of six billion people globally, only two billion enjoy a certain degree of connectivity. Most of the people among the other category reside in regions like China, India, and Eastern Europe. “Motorola believes India is the ideal market for applied research and software development for these emerging markets,” says Padmasree Warrior, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Motorola.
Motorola labs, which started its Bangalore operations two years back, is focused on addressing the needs of the local market, and has 50 researchers working in areas ranging from radio to mobile communication.

Out of its 30 full time employees, 60 percent are PhD holders and execute research in key areas of mobile communication technologies such as delay tolerant technologies for voice and text messages delivery; nano materials for efficiency storage, displays and RF electronics; residential gateways for converged communications and seamless mobility.

All this is aimed mainly at harnessing untapped opportunities in the Indian rural context. Interestingly, says Dr Chandra Kintala, Director Motorola India Research Labs, a significant percent of the 6,00,000 Indian villages still remain unwired. The market in these villages could prove to be the clinching pie for Motorola, which lags behind Nokia’s 42 percent market-share in the handset arena, with its own eight percent share. The challenge to tapping into that market, of course, is to bring them on to the network. “How do you reach out to those remote villages?” questions Kintala.

The answer, he says, lies in what exists on ground today. Almost all of these unwired villages have public transport connectivity. The team at Motorola Labs extrapolated the post office-post man concept and devised a prototype, wherein they envisioned that every bus hitting the rural hinterland will have an access point. At every village, there will be a kiosk. When the bus arrives, information gets exchanged between the access point and kiosk enabling delivery of messages to people in that particular area. It works somewhat like a store-forward delay-tolerant network. The field trials were carried out for last few months in four villages near Bangalore. While whether these prototypes will ultimately be implemented remains to be seen, such experiments give scientists a platform to go to the rural base and see what technologies can have a play.

While Motorola looks to address rural connectivity, it knows that power is a big challenge. “How do you charge cell phones in areas where there is no power for a day or two?” questions Kintala. “We are looking at enhancing the battery life of a cell phone such that it lasts for at least for two weeks time.”
Towards this end, Motorola lab is experimenting with nano-materials. It is trying to stimulate the properties of various possible materials to create better materials for high-energy storage and displays. It is also collaborating with research institutes like Indian Institute of Science and Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research to further accelerate this process.
A big thrust of research in the Motorola labs is around Motorola’s new corporate vision: Seamless Mobility. Simply put: Researchers across all of Motorola Labs worldwide, including India, are developing solutions that will provide easy, uninterrupted access to what people value most - communication, information, entertainment, monitoring and control. Seamless mobility will, using sensors determine the user’s need, transparently transfer a call to whatever network or device - mobile, WiFi, fixed, cell phone, PC or TV - best suits his needs as he moves from office to car and to home. “This is a big challenge and requires us to work on advanced technologies, standards, and applications,” says Kintala. And yes, it fosters innovation.

With this platform of innovative research and corporate vision, Motorola India Research Labs is contributing to the technology creation for products that might be two-five years in the coming.

The Indian Metamorphosis
Having spent over two decades at Bell Labs, the Mecca of research activities, Kintala had witnessed that the best of research can be enabled by hiring the brightest minds. While heading Motorola India Research Labs, he is executing the same strategy—hire the best minds.
Hailing from a little town of Behrampur in Orissa, Kintala had left the Indian shores at a time when there was no mobile phone or television. Even getting a wired telephone connection meant long waiting time, which would run for months. Today, he is excited with the research opportunities a developing economy like India offers.
“The India I see today is way different from what I had seen when I left. While India has changed so has the scope of research. In my early days at Bell Labs, research, due to the high investments it required, was meant only for the elite corporations. Today, five geeks can sit in any remote part of the world and develop a new search algorithm. Research, especially in the hi-tech arena is more affordable these days,” he quips.

The Unwired Opportunities
“India does not have the legacy of the wired-world. The proliferation of mobile devices coupled with different topologies required to meet the needs of a growing market presents interesting opportunities for research. And this gives me a kick,” says Ian Chakeres, a doctorate from University of California, Santa Barbara. He chose to pursue his research activities at Motorola Labs in Bangalore as his interests lie around wireless technologies. “Being a part of new market, there are new ideas and undefined concepts that we need to grapple with. Added to that, the opportunity here is very large,” he notes.
A co-chair of the IETF MANET working group, which caters to standardize IP routing protocol functionality suitable for wireless routing application, Chakeres brings in the technical vitality that a research group needs.

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