Category Archives: Internet Bottlenecks

Broadband Problems in India

I have been wanting to do a post on what plagues broadband in India for a while – a problem which is probably among the biggest hindrances to the growth of Internet businesses in India.

The latest issue of Businessworld addresses this topic in an article aptly call ‘the Hindu speed of Internet access’. (:D)

A birdie once told me that it had got something to do with VSNL and their monopolistic methods, however, Businessworld lists the following chief reasons for the state of broadband in India (which as per the fraudy definition for India is upwards of 256 kbps, while for the rest of the world upwards of 2 mbps).

a) Evidently the biggest deterrent has been the cost of the last mile (laying down optic fibre to reach the end customer), which is ‘as high as 90 per cent of the total cost of wireline’ to the telecom operators and the government has refused unbundling (access to the last mile network of the largest landline operator, BSNL, to private players.) Also see: An article in Hindu about the same issue and a very good read on Wikipedia about the the last mile – it even plagues the US.

b) The profits from the mobile business are high and the costs low compared to broadband and thus there is no incentive for Telecom companies to push broadband. Businessworld suggests that the answer might be allowing non-telecom players to offer the last mile pretty much like ISPs offer their services.

c)  An alternative solution would be to get the last mile problem solved via WiMax and although companies such as BSNL/MTNL and Bharti have done trials, the rollout has been stuck because India is still to release spectrum. [I don’t fully understand the spectrum issue – in another post maybe]

d) Costs: Retail Broadband costs in India are 5 times those in Japan and Korea. In my perspective that’s only half the story because what’s worse is that downloads are charged for. A 2 mbps BSNL connection has monthly rental of Rs. 3300 and a download limit of only 20gb!

 

The article paints a rather bleak picture indeed for businesses ranging from e-learning to e-governance, and of course e-commerce.

 

Oh, and that doesn’t stop the government from doing a good PR job. They proudly announced 2007 to be the year of the broadband (and have failed to notice that it is coming to a close). Plus stories abound about how we will get free 2 mbps internet by 2009 – “All citizens to receive complementary 2 mbps internet.”

 

We live in hope.

On Music : Online Music Stores in India

It’s been a while since I have really blogged (test posts from blogging softwares obviously do not count). So, getting started again with something which I really live on. Music. Though less philosophical and more functional – I am going to do a series of posts on a bunch of stuff around music. The first one about online music stores in India – or rather the lack of them.

Q. So, don’t you wish there was an online music store in India? (Before you say Soundbuzz, or before you think I am an illiterate fool who hasn’t even heard the phrase peer-2-peer or used some such software, read on).

I agree most of us have our fill (for free!) using BitTorrent or even plain old Google, I think the the lack of a good online music store, is a rather embarrassing gap in the e-commerce industry in India. Infact, I think the e-commerce industry is something can be really fueled and driven by an online music store. Why is this so? Let’s investigate this a bit.

Consumers would ask: Why pay for digital music when you can get it for free?

To begin with, sample this and this. First page results lead you to downloadable mp3’s hosted on pakimp3s.org/indianpad.com or other sites like rapidshare.de. Plus I seriously believe that Indians are among the most guiltless when it comes to piracy (Or as Russell Peters would say : we are cheap). Of course, enforcement is also an issue here, but that needs to examined within a larger context – so later.

I am no saint either because I haven’t spent a penny on music for the last few years (except for buying the occasional song or two on Gomusic.ru and a few audio cassettes to play in my car).

But I really hate it when I can’t find a song online. I hate it when I get viruses acting like valid search results on on Limewire. I hate it when find no torrents, or worse still no seeds for a torrent file. I hate it when I have spent an hour looking for a song and still havent found it. I would pay to get that song online. And believe me this is not that one occasional song, it could be a whole catalogue of old music, which never has enough ‘peers’ compared to newer music.

Providers would ask: Where will I find paying customers?

First off, don’t count college students (or just out of college junta) who are probably the least likely to buy music, especially when the alternative is free.

But consider all these people. People who perceive using BitTorrent or even Limewire/Kazaa as geeky. People who don’t find these geeky but a waste of time – to avoid which they are willing to pay money. People who have bought swanky new iPods/Walkman Phones/or other mp3 players, but don’t have the first clue about how to get music on them (a subset of the first). People who actually buy CD’s. People who think downloading free music is piracy (a possible rarity).

I think all of the above are target customers for an online music store. And, most importantly, before you go on about online piracy – at least provide the consumer an alternative in the first place, because right now there is next to nothing. Obviously when there is no online music store, everyone will resort to downloading free music of illegal p2p networks.

Question no one has answered yet: What is a viable alternative?

This is where I count out Soundbuzz. Soundbuzz, while it does have a good catalogue of songs at reasonable prices – it suffers from that one big thing which plagues the online music industry in the US, and has been a hot topic of debate – DRM.

To put it simply, DRM is copy-protection technology which prevents the music being played on unauthorised computers, prevents conversion to other formats, limits burning on to CDs beyond a specific number and prevents it from being played on incompatible portable music devices.

In the case of Soundbuzz, it sells files in DRM’d .wma format which renders it unplayable on the most popular music players in India right now. So unplayable on my iPOD, Sony Walkman phones and my RAZR V3i. It only played on a friend’s Creative MuVo NX – and that too only if I transferred it using Windows Media Player (otherwise you can transfer songs on to the MuVo using Windows Explorer). Even Yashraj Films sells music in the same format. Also, in the US, inspite of DRM, at least there are enough stores to cater to all possible devices.

Compare all this with the ease with which you could play audio cassettes in any cassette player, CDs in any CD player and MP3s in practically every device.

So which brings us back to our first question with the additional condition – how do strike a balance between the interests of the concerned parties. Providers want to prevent music from from being pirated, yet that should not stifle the choice that the consumer has. That’s going to be the content of my next post – evaluation of the issue of Digital Rights Management in greater detail – and the hope that India might set a different yet successful example. (Chhota muh badi baat?)

Pondi’s Book of Business Ideas: Idea 2 – Bajao.com

In my extended family and my friends circle, I have the dubious distinction of being the ‘Bhaand’. So besides being expected to dance away at every potential moment (which honestly, is something I quite enjoy), another something which my bhaailog expect from me is to have the right music for a party. Unfortunately, practically all of my music collection these days is a combination of Alt Rock and Hindi Film music, and at any rate not enough of the fare you would need to have a dance party. So, second in the PBBI series is a idea which I thought of when last contacted by my cousin brother for arranging the music for his house party.

Product Name
: Bajao.com (The domain name by the way is unavailable, owned by someone in Mumbai)

Tagline:
Jab Bhi, Kuchh Bhi

Description: Q: Which is the one thing that house parties always seem to not have enough of, or of the right kind? A: Music. Bajao.com would be your Broadband DJ – a music streaming site specifically catering to people organising a house party, but in no mood and with no money to hire a real DJ.

Product Logo: Maybe the O can look like a drum, and the j like a martini glass. (Too banal?)

Details: The way it would work is this. Bajao’s servers host all the latest and greatest dance tracks on it’s servers. You have a party, you logon to Bajao.com, create a playlist with the tracks you want played, and have the music stream over your broadband connection during the party – making it a rocking success and you a perfect host. The Bajao technology also enables numerous DJing effects like crossfading, scratch, mixing etc. Integral to Bajao.com would be a social networking element where people not only can create and share playlists but also share stuff like cocktail recipes, food ideas and the like. Additionally it could have special playlists created and the music recorded by celebrity DJs bringing the Elevate experience to your own house.

Show me the money: a) Since there would an obvious cost of music acquisition, and possibly major copyright issues (will get to that later), one way to make money could be to charge a small fee for each hour of music played. This would seem justified because to get that music otherwise you either paid money to get it from the store (you’d say but I own what I buy from the store – will get to that as well) , or spent a fair amount of time acquiring it from your friends. b) Another obvious route (though, from what I hear, unproven as yet in India) would be online advertising – it will not compromise user experience, because of kind the service that if offers, allows it. c) One can buy a custom CD/Tracks from an online music store from his playlist. There could be a revenue share element between Bajao and the online store/custom CD maker. (You would say then why would I use Bajao again, if I already have the music? It might work, because you don’t have a party everyday, plus dance music is quite shortlived – there isn’t really a concept of ‘classics’ the way it it with other music styles.)

Pros: a) Since a party is a one-time affair, ownership is not necessary an issue. I am fine dancing to Jamelia’s Superstar at a party but I may not necessarily want to own it. It is inefficient for me to go and buy it. If I have a broadband connection and Bajao – bingo! I have it when I want it the way I want it b) Social Networking features – which party organiser would not want premade and well rated playlists with cocktail recipes to boot?

Cons/Bottlenecks: a) The obvious one firstBandwidth – which seems to practically non existent in India, and bandwidth is VERY important. I can’t stream music over 64kbps, because the bad quality would sound even worse on a high volume deck. Also, imagine the track stopping in between because of insufficient buffering – complete disaster. b) Copyright issues – as is always the case with music, plus the rhetoric around the whole issue has subconsciously affected all of us. It could jeopardise the custom CD part of the business. But the core service IS like radio so it should be feasible in some manner (though Internet radio, at least in the US, is governed by different laws than terrestrial radio, as a result of which they have to pay higher royalties compared to normal terrestrial radio) c) Does it address a broad enough market or is it a mere subset? Internet radio companies might see it as an addon for example.

Competition: Satellite radio companies could be a big ones, and they have no Bandwidth issues. Although it lacks the interactivity of the web as of today. (Worldspace by the way does not count – as it plays the same music over and over again, at least on all channels I hear). It’s quite possible that such a service exists, but I havent googled this idea as yet (a cardinal sin) – updates as and when.

Damn, I don’t have a quote to go for this one. Nevermind, shall add later.