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The Year Of M-Power

Mobile data, 3G, MNP... or, why 2010 will be better than the year gone by.

tech reviews Updated: Jan 01, 2010 19:35 IST
Prasanto K Roy

Why will 2010 be better than 2009? That’s easy. It has to be better. It can’t get any worse.

Ditto the new decade. How forgettable was the old one?

Well, even when it’s over, no one knows its name. We had the ’80s, the ’90s... and then what? Shashi ‘Oops’ Tharoor tweets his vote for ‘00s’, or the oh-ohs. “Bye-bye, oh-ohs.”

Maybe that’s being unfair to a busy decade. The whole decade wasn’t all bad: just the beginning (the dot-com bust), the end (the mamma of all recessions) and most of the middle. Tech saw a few bright patches, though memory begins to fail me about what they were. As for 2009’s own bright sparks, I draw a blank. Oh wait, now I remember: Windows 7 happened, and what a surprise after Vista: it worked! And then, the iPod saw a stream of new models with earth-shaking features such as a camera – never seen before in a mobile product by the wild creatures of sub-Saharan Africa.

So there’s little that we in the tech world will remember 2009 for. In NDTV’s new year edition of Gadget Guru, when asked for the tech highlight of the year, I had to struggle. I couldn’t admit to not remembering a single one (I finally picked India’s mobility explosion, and the global app-stores – the online stores for mobile-phone software). But then I realised with mounting horror that I hadn’t bought a single new gadget in 2009, barring an LCD TV, sound bar and a small Bose system. I don’t recall another year when that has last happened. I was happy to note that the other tech expert on the show hadn’t bought a single gadget last year either.

2010: New & Improved
This year’s different. For a start, we enter the new decade on a mobile-user base of over 500 million. Few use data, but that’s changing. A million data-enabled smartphones are added each month. Data plans are cheaper, BlackBerry handsets are ubiquitous, GPS is visible, and mobile users are sampling all the free and cheap phone software on the app-stores: online stores for iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and Android handsets.

We’ll still have lousy service quality and call drops, but there are two bright sparks on the horizon: MNP and 3G.
Mobile number portability should have happened by now, but hasn’t. MNP will allow you to switch mobile operators but retain your number, for Rs 19. Older operators like BSNL, Airtel and Reliance are threatened by this – and by the newer, nimbler players like MTS, Tata DoCoMo and Uninor, who have fewer customers and less crowding. Airtel and co were hoping for 3G to come along so they could ease the crowding. Now that 3G is so badly delayed, they have no reason to want MNP in a hurry so they can lose customers quicker...

MNP should be in place by March end, and 3G by year-end, if the 3G spectrum auction finally happens this month as promised. Just 11 years after the birth of 3G. At least India won’t be accused of being over-eager, or maverick, or wantonly ahead of the curve. Slow and steady... 19 years to a judgment... that’s us.

And so here’s a snapshot of five things to look out for in this connected, M-powered year:
Mobile Data: With 50 million data-enabled smartphones, we’ll see mobile-apps taking off on phones – along with a half million connected netbooks. By year-end, 3G will be speeding up our data.

Broadband: Abysmally low base of 10 million users. Will get a boost from mobile data – but not before year-end, when both 3G and Wi-Max offerings settle down.

M2M: Machine-to-machine connectivity – insignificant today – will take off this year. That’s machines with built-in mobiles and SIM cards. Electric meters remotely read, cars remotely tracked (and locked by SMS), elevators that report faults, school buses that report route and speed deviations...

Multimedia: It’s usually a toss-off: choose a phone with either good music, or a good camera, or applications support. The highest common factor will go up in 2010, so that most phones at the Rs 10k level will sport a usable camera, good stereo audio, and expandable memory – backed by an app-store.

Mobile power and the battery: Aggressively tackling power consumption, sleep and standby modes, and improvements in battery tech, will just about maintain phones – countering increasing data and 3G – at one to two days on a charge, and ‘smartbooks’ to nearly a full day on a charge.

The author is chief editor and green evangelist at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles and sites such as LD2.in. pkr@cybermedia.co.in, twitter.com/prasanto