Check out the happening infotech, communications and entertainment trends of 2006.
1. Blu-Ray of hope
Remember the 1.44 MB humble floppy? Now we only talk about CDs (can store around 650 MB) and DVDs (anywhere from 4.7 GB to 17 GB). However, with the announcement of Pioneer's Blu-ray or Blu-disc format, the game is changing.
Blu-ray is the next generation large capacity optical disc video recording format -- enables recording, rewriting and play back of up to 27 gigabytes (GB) of data on a single side and can transfer date at 36 Mbps (the CD transfers data at around 150 Kbps while DVDs do the same at around 11 Mbps).
The High Density Digital Versatile Disc (HD-DVD) is also in the news. However, HD-DVDs can store up to 15 GB on a single layer. While HD-DVD is promoted by Toshiba, NEC, Sanyo and Microsoft and backed by four major film studios, Blu-ray is backed by Japanese consumer electronics giant Sony.
At CES 2006, Sony already announced plans for its first high-definition Blu-ray DVD players and recorders. High-definition technology from Toshiba called HD DVD will also be available to consumers in March 2006.
HD-DVD is similar to DVD, hence analysts consider it cheaper for manufacturers to switch production lines. On the other hand, Blu-ray will need whole new equipment setups. Both formats are yet to agree on a standard, which is a problem.
Market monitor SMD sees Blu-Ray and HD DVD discs (Moser Baer is already working on them) really kicking in only from 2007 onwards in India. For now, CDs and DVDs are here to stay -- at least till 2010.
And as these two formats battle each other, the first holographic storage systems, capable of storing up to 300 GB on a single disc (over six times more content than Blu-ray and HD-DVD), will reportedly go on sale towards the end of 2006.
2. Digital ticket
After the convenience of booking cinema tickets online, comes the ease of buying tickets on your cellphone. And also paying for it through the phone. Bangalore-based Jigharak is believed to be working on the software application. Not only this, you will be able to book tickets using your personal digital assistant (PDA) or any hand held.
Vijay Basrur of Inox Leisure says it is kicking-off one such initiative this February, either in Bangalore or Pune. Shringar Cinemas also has plans to start hawking tickets through PDAs in the next couple of months at its multiplex in Andheri, says Arshad Kazi, technology head.
Moreover, with the setting up of self-collection kiosks, buying tickets will become as simple as withdrawing cash from an ATM. Costing around Rs 1 lakh each, they will be installed in metros soon. PVR Cinemas has already installed one in Bangalore.
As for the theatre screens, D-Cinema (the high-end of digital cinema is still about five years away thanks to high costs) 2006 could see some upgrades of E-Cinema.
Currently, around 150 theatres in India are digitised which means that unlike a celluloid print, there are servers hooked on to projectors that beam the pixels (read picture) onto a screen. But only two screens of Satyam Cinema in Chennai have real D-Cinema.
Kazi opines that it is a volume game -- at least 800-1,000 screens are needed for cinema operators to be able to afford the D-Cinema projectors and servers. The price of a D-Cinema projector is four times that of an E-Cinema projector, which currently costs about Rs 15-20 lakh (Rs 1.5-2 million).
3. Games people play
The global mobile games' business is pegged at $ 2.2 billion, with India accounting for around $100 million of the overall pie. Nasscom states this market could well touch $500 million in exports alone by 2010.
And thanks to the next generation of cell phones with enhanced graphical, sound and data capabilities, mobile gaming is poised as the next big thing for the Indian gaming scenario.
However, a console/PC genre, awaiting its day, in India is the massively multimedia online role playing game (MMORPG). Indeed, even the introduction of MMORPGs in the mobile market should bring in a whole new audience.
Due to the stratified nature of online gamers, there is little crossover between those who play first-person shooter (FPS) games and those who play MMORPGs, states a recent Juniper report.
While versions of these games are currently available on mobiles -- EverQuest, for example, which was introduced on the BREW platform in 2003 -- they do not permit multiplayer play. Juniper expects subscriptions to be the key source of revenues for such games.
In the console/PC market, MMORPGs such as Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies typically retail at around $40 with monthly subscription costs of nearly $15 per month. So, as the MMORPG community increases, gaming revenue should increase.
4. Movies on Demand
With Tata Sky planning to launch Direct to Home (DTH) services in May-June this year, consumers will have much more choice. Not to mention better picture and sound quality, thanks to set-top boxes.
Vikram Kaushik, CEO, Tata Sky, says his company will leverage the expertise of BSkyB and Foxtel and customise the programmes to suit local needs.
Gaming channels too are likely to become a reality. We should also see the launch of digital video recorders this year which can record 100 hours of programing, says Sunil Khanna, CEO, Dish TV. So you can always record your favourite programmes -- six channels at a time -- and watch them at your leisure.
Last month, DishTV kicked-off with a Movie-on-Demand Service for Hindi films and this will be followed up with a service for English films in March. India might also see High Definition TV (HDTV) before 2006 is over. Khanna notes that HD-compatible television sets are already here but broadcasters need to get their act together.
Are customers biting? Yes, the momentum's been building up in the last six months or so say broadcasters. Khanna believes that by March 7, Dish TV would have 2.5 milion subscribers. A set top box which earlier cost Rs 6,000 now comes for Rs 4,000. And subscriptions are affordable, starting from Rs 60 and going upto Rs 300.
And do you want to replay Sachin's square cut repeatedly? Thanks to interactive TV, this too will be possible in 2006.
5. Plug into the IP Phone
While Internet Protocol telephony is known in India -- many of us having used it on the sly for the last four years -- what is little known is that Indian enterprises have bought over 100,000 IP phones in the last couple of years.
IP phones transmit voice using data packets (similar to the way the Internet routes data) instead of circuit-switched (the way your vanilla telephone operates) connections over voice-only networks. Since the calls are routed through the Net (these phones have an ethernet phone in which your phone (copper) cable can be inserted), all the user pays for is the IP phone software and the Internet connection.
While it took Cisco three years to sell its first million IP phone, it took just four months to sell the sixth million (total global sales till date). In a few year's time, one out of two phones in India could be an IP phone, opines Ranajoy Punja, VP (Marketing), Cisco. Frost & Sullivan estimates the Indian IP telephony market in India to be around $ 54 million.
IP phone prices have, on an average, dropped from $800-$900 four years ago to around $100 today. The voice quality too has improved. However, since the IP phone uses the Internet route, there are concerns over security, though companies are taking care to ensure that the network is adequately protected and all messages are scrambled. IP phones (unlike the vanilla phones) can be customised. And this trend is expected to catch on further in 2006.
6. Robots, robots everywhere
Aibo has a cult following in the United States and Japan. Of course, American AIBO buyers tend to be computer geeks who want to hack the robotic dog's programming. Japanese consumers, on the other hand, treat this Sony robot as a pet.
Robots in the US have already taken over domestic tasks like lawn-mowing, vacuum cleaning (the Roomba by iRobot) and window cleaning. iRobot says it has sold hundreds of thousands of units of the Roomba -- a self-guided, self-propelled vacuum cleaner that sells for around $200 -- in just one year.
A United Nations report on Robotics expects the sales of such robots to reach 4.5 million units with an estimated value of $3 billion. The market for entertainment and leisure robots, including toy robots, is tipped to touch 2.5 million units. The sales value is estimated at over $4.4 billion.
With labour cheap in India, will domestic robots become popular? Not likely in the coming years. However, robots have other uses in our country. Many Indian auto, auto-ancillary majors and machine tool players are using robots to meet global precision standards. Robots have also been used in cardiac surgeries.
And now a Pune-based urologist has taken the lead for using this technique to treat prostate cancer and other urological disorders, like opening up narrow fallopian tubes in women. A Kolhapur-based general surgeon, Suresh Deshpande, along with a young IT engineer, Vikrant Yadav, has also developed a laparoscopic robotic arm fitted with a camera to perform orthopaedic surgeries.
7. Tag on to RFID
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is no longer only about the US and Wal-Mart. Pune University's Jayakar library uses RFID tags on its books as well as library cards; the Chitale Dairy at Bhiwladi in Maharashtra's Sangli district has installed RFID to monitor the feeding patterns of cattle and bisons; Pantaloon Retail India and Shopper's Stop have RFID tags in their factories; more than 45 colleges in Pune have introduced student identity RFID cards that allow students access to hostels and monitor their classroom attendance; and ITC uses RFID to track what goes into the manufacturing of its cigarettes.
These are but a few cases in point. Indian suppliers to retail majors such as Wal-Mart, Metro, Target and Tesco have already been issued directives to replace barcodes with RFID tags.
While this may lower margins of these suppliers, it will unwittingly create a demand for RFID tags in India. The estimated market size of this industry in India is anywher between Rs 125-150 crore (Rs 1.25-1.50 billion) and is said to be growing at 30 per cent per annum.
The current cost of tags is anywhere from Rs 5 to Rs 30, considered to be prohibitive when tagging hundreds of products. The rates are bound to decrease this year. Worldwide RFID spending is expected to surpass $3 billion in 2010, predicts Gartner. A Research and Markets report pegs the figure at $6 billion by 2010.
RFID is not a bar code replacement, note analysts. While bar codes are better at collecting data in structured places like warehouses (likely to continue for the next five to seven years), RFID tags are expected to be used for data collection in largely chaotic or unstructured business processes like retail environments to hospitals.
8. The new intelligent vehicle
Telematics, integrated use of telecommunications and informatics, is catching up in the transportation sector. Global Positioning System (GPS) is being used in KSRTC buses (pilot project) in Bangalore. Many Indian logistics companies too are using GPS to track vehicle movements and errant drivers.
The recently-introduced Tata Novus range of commercial vehicles feature the 'TRAK i t' Vehicle Locater -- a GPS system for vehicle tracking; 'TRAK i t' Vehicle Data Recorder -- for critical vehicle and driver performance recording; and electrical systems that ensure 'vehicle start' in neutral gear, as an enhanced safety feature.
Our cars too are becoming smarter. For instance, the REVA-NXG introduced this April as a "concept car" in Monaco, was fitted with a `wireless tablet' -- an embedded computer based on Mobilius having a touch screen display which shows all essential information about the car like speed and mileage. It also doubles up as a GPS navigation system. Internet is accessible via GPRS. It also has a MP3 player.
Vehicle telematics systems are also increasingly being used to provide remote diagnostics; a vehicle's in-built systems will identify a mechanical or electronic problem, and the telematics package will automatically make this information known to the vehicle manufacturer and service organisation. Other forthcoming applications include on-demand navigation, audio and audio-visual entertainment content.
9. Where the Podcast's headed
If you have an iPod, you would know what podcasting is. For the uninitiated, imagine a desktop aggregator where you subscribe to a set of feeds. Podcasting works similarly, except that instead of reading, you listen to the content on an iPod.
Juice was the first major podcasting software (downloads podcast media file like oggs/MP3) and is still the most popular podcast aggregator.
With smartphones getting cheaper by the day and 3G networks becoming commonplace (well at least in developed nations), 2006 will see the growth in 'mobilecasting', predict tech pundits.
All we need now is empower people with video phones, 3G mobile telephony, and a Flickr-like tool to upload audio and video to RSS-enabled websites. This is not mobile blogging or podcasting now -- we're talking about a social revolution and that's mobcasting.
Mobilecast (a software to convert podcasts to Adaptive Multi Rate (AMR) converter for mobile phones) and mobilecasting have become the 'One' when it comes to downloading and listening to podcasts on mobile phones. All you need to do is install and configure Mobilecast on the iPod.
Thereon, it will be run after each podcast downloads, splitting the podcast into segments of 10-minute AMR audio files for the mobile phone. Podcasters have now begun brainstorming on how to create podcasts specifically for mobile phones.
10. Wi-Fi on steroids
Worldwide Interoperability of Microwave Access or WiMAX is the new kid on the block. Taking over from Wi-Fi or the 802.11 b technology, WiMAX (802.16 a) promises to bring bandwidth to the masses at higher speeds this year.
It broadcasts its signal over many more channels than WiFi, and those channels are less cluttered. Its signals face less interference, thus helping them travel as far as 30 miles. Besides, WIMAX provides metropolitan area network connectivity at speeds of up to 75 Mbps (compare that to Wi-Fi's 11 Mbps).
WIMAX covers wider metropolitan or rural areas. It is meant to solve the last-mile problem. In India, where the telecom infrastructure is poor and last-mile connections are typically through copper cable, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and fibre optic, installation costs are high as it requires ripping up streets to lay cables. The ability to provide these connections wirelessly, without laying wire or cable in the ground, greatly lowers the cost of providing these services.
Intel and BSNL have already introduced Hot Spots (wherein you can connect your Wi Fi-enabled (or Centrino) laptop to wireless network and logon to the Net instantly). Satyam Infoway is on the way to adopt WIMAX. Intel (which also plans to introduce a WiMAX computer chip) is said to be working with Reliance on a pre-standard WIMAX pilot project. It is also reportedly working with Bharti and Navini Networks, and is in talks with BSNL for similar pilot projects.
Meanwhile, the Indian government is expected to introduce 3G by 2006. Intel and BSNL have already introduced Hot Spots (wherein you can connect your Wi Fi-enabled (or Centrino) laptop to wireless network and logon to the Net instantly). 3G will help in enhancing India's competitiveness in the ITES / BPO segment.
All this will entail an increase in India's optical fiber network which currently stands at 670,000 km (all providers including BSNL).