Low-cost computing and broadband penetration in the country is expected to get an added boost, with India's largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, launching a low-cost online computer powered by Microsoft and Nivio.
The Airtel Net PC is a plug-and-play online computer, inclusive of a 15-inch LCD monitor, keyboard, mouse and Nivio companion (which enables the PC to connect to a backend Linux-run server for storage and applications) and priced at Rs 7,999 exclusively for Airtel broadband customers.
It will initially be available at Airtel Stores and NEXT Electronic Stores in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida from tomorrow. If customers do not want the monitor, the package costs Rs 4,999.
The hardware and software (genuine Windows XP) for the Net PC is being provided by Nivio, while the internet connection provided by Airtel. The Net PC consumes only around 5-10 watts of electricity. Airtel will provide 10 GB space to store documents, photos, presentations at a central location (Airtel's own data centres), and regular original software upgrades, according to K Srinivas, joint president, Bharti Airtel.
The Net PC (also referred to as the Network PC) is an industry specification for a low-cost personal computer designed primarily for internet use and small businesses. They are also sometimes known as thin clients, since they are light weight and lack CD-ROM drives or hardware expansion slots.
There are limitations, though. Users, for instance, cannot download software on the Net PC nor are these low-cost machines meant for playing games.
"It costs only around Rs 9,000 (including taxes and installation) as a one-time investment with no recurring costs on maintenance/upgrade, etc. Moreover, there are no upgrades required, since the computing power is provided by the globally distributed NivioGrid. There are no data loss worries since all the data is backed in the NivioGrid in real time. And it's really portable, since the user can also access any work s/he does from any internet-connected computer around the world. It is like accessing a web-based email," says Srinivas.
Airtel, according to Srinivas, is initially targeting around 1 million subscribers (its existing broadband customer base plus new customers). "We expect first-time buyers of computers to go for these Net PCs. Additionally, households that have kids may opt for these machines instead of investing in pricey computers.
Moreover, there are small businesses which can use these Net PCs to only pay for services and applications they need. They need not worry about viruses, crashes or security since we take care of the backend," says Srinivas. Airtel expects to have a pan-Indian rollout (beginning with the metros and 25 towns) once "we gauge the initial response and iron out the glitches, if any".
Chennai-based Novatium Solutions had earlier launched the Nova netPC and has tied up with BSNL, MTNL and Tata Indicom for broadband services. It expects to have 200,000 subscribers nationally for its Nova netPC by the end of this fiscal.
Nova netPC is currently available in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Haryana, Lucknow and the North East telecom circle. It is also available in some regions of New Delhi through a tie-up with MTNL. The company hopes to roll out the service across the country soon.
The product uses a globally-patented desktop utility delivery model and supports Linux, Mac and Windows operating systems. The netPC is priced at Rs 2,999 excluding taxes, installation charges and the cost of the computer monitor (which works out to a pricing that's similar to Airtel's).