In the coming five to ten years, I see life getting busier and, at the same time, less complicated because of advances in communications. Greater connectivity will bring the worl closer and knit individuals and businesses in a seamless web of virtual reality.
Interactive communication will no longer be confined to entertainment; it will find a great deal of application in business and make life much easier for consumers. Both individuals and businesses — small, medium and large — will enjoy the benefits of communication as it percolates and becomes available to everybody.
I think the future will see both wired and wireless technologies, but the trend will be to gradually move away from copper and fibre optics to wireless.
The rise and rise of telecommunications will transform the knowledge economy as we know it today. Mankind's entire body of knowledge will be transferred and stored electronically and everyone all over the world will have access to it.
Making real time information available and then making it easily accessible to individuals and businesses is truly cutting edge. The rest is mere connectivity; broadband availability, wireless, etc — means towards reaching that end.
Today, telecommunication involves the senses of hearing and sight. Perhaps not in the next 10 years, but in the foreseeable future, there is a possibility of other senses also being simulated by a software programme. If communication can use the aural and the visual, why not smell and touch too? Just as the internet now shows consumers the bottle of the perfume and its price, they would be able to sample the fragrance online too! It is distant, but it will happen. People will be able to 'smell' and 'touch' mangoes online, before placing an order for a crate.
Road to convergence
The next 10 years will see the convergence of a vast variety of technologies — voice and data, CDMA and GSM, convergence of standards, etc. I would think that we are just at the beginning of an era of convergence of software and telecommunications.
Ultimately, we are talking about the synergistic combination of voice (including telephony features), data (including productivity applications) as well as video onto a single network. As these presently separate technologies are able to share resources and interact with each other, they will create new efficiencies and throw up amazing new possibilities.
Not long ago, the value chain was disintegrated. Different companies had expertise in different domains, like content, broadcast, transmission or software. Now, across industries, the value chains are changing. In communication technology, this will result in the entire value chain coming together. The disintegration of entry barriers across the IT, telecom, media and consumer electronics industries will create one large 'converged' industry.
Some of this has already begun and the future will see more of these interactive arrangements coming together. Direct-to-home (DTH), for instance, is a reasonably well-connected new value chain that is under active development. If DTH turns interactive, it will be an additional loop in connectivity. In high technology driven set-ups, this could dramatically shorten turnaround time.
Convergence of communication in terms of transfer of bits — voice, data or smell — is one dimension of telecommunication. The second dimension is the related software. The third dimension comes with the expertise involved in using and finding applications for these tools. Today, they are used in entertainment, travel facilitation, etc, but this is bound to lead to new applications and expand to an array of new industries very quickly.
Life on a roller coaster
I see convergence dramatically changing our lifestyle. As more of our needs are met by a converged knowledge industry, I see people moving to a single-window set-up. This process has already begun, as people prefer to spend their time and direct their energies either towards leisure or towards productive efforts to earn more money.
Already, businesses using the power of communication are doing better. If I go to the websites of British Airways or Lufthansa, I can get a tremendous amount of information and plan my entire visit without any help, in less than half an hour. Obviously, I am not going to use an airline that does not give me information in the shortest possible time or connect me to a place I want to visit, in the shortest possible time.
Think of this: you could log on to a computer in Mumbai, feed in your image, get yourself measured online, and get a suit tailored in Delhi in time for your visit there, which is also completely planned online, including travel, stay, appointments, commuting, excursions and entertainment. This is not commonly done yet because India doesn't have enough computers and connectivity. Besides, not everybody is comfortable with a computer, since software is not yet sufficiently user-friendly. But as software becomes friendlier and the means become cheaper, there will be a much larger usage and businesses will leverage the power of the net to tap markets in a much bigger way.
The Israelis have developed a 1-inch capsule-camera which can be swallowed and still continue to function from within the digestive system. As long as the patient is in a connected area, /images/article/ of the digestive system can be accessed and sent to a panel of specialists at different locations, who can discuss and arrive at a diagnosis online. Think of how devices like this could revolutionise medical services!Worldwide web for the masses
There is no question of connectivity not being able to reach the masses, the question is when and how. Since our per capita income is lower, individual ownership may not take off in India very soon, but that does not mean Indians will not use the facility. I see the benefits of connectivity reaching almost every economic unit (families above the poverty line) in the country.
The use of the internet and its services through public availability or through community ownership at a mohalla (residential area) level is happening even as we speak. Individual ownership of sophisticated computers and broadband may not become widespread for the next five, 10 or even 15 years, but culturally, as a people, we are used to sharing.
In the villages, even today, newspapers are shared through a public reading facility. In 1982, when television first made inroads on a large scale, people gathered around community sets or shared with neighbours to watch programmes. Sharing telephones is not alien to us either.
Low-priced broadband may not become available in the near future but it is bound to become cheaper over a period of time. A technological breakthrough in wireless — there is already some progress on this — or enhancements in existing technology could make the benefits of broadband available to all.
Tata group in telecom
The Tata group has a leadership role to play in telecom in India with its wireless telecom vehicle Tata Teleservices and VSNL for international voice and data services as well as domestic broadband services. Further, through partnership with TCS for joint ICT solutions the Tata group is looking at an integrated telecom play.
The CDMA network covers as many as 2,500 towns and marks the fastest network expansion in the country. The Group owns about 43,000km of optic fibre cable covering all major cities and is the only company to have a capacity of five of the six submarine cables connecting India. Its global footprint covers 240 countries.
Its current presence coupled with flexibility in operation, innovation in technology and ability to partner has placed the Tata group firmly on the way to becoming a leading telecom service provider.Related articles: