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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Quantum Computing - The Next Leap Towards Our Future!

Quantum computers, which function according to the laws of quantum physics, have the potential to dwarf the processing power of even today's computers! Able to process huge amounts of information "all at once". Researchers at the University of Oxford have achieved a quantum logic gate with record-breaking 99.9% precision, reaching the benchmark required theoretically to build a quantum computer. 

A logic gate is a physical device implementing a logical operation on one or more logical inputs, and produces a single logical output. It is at the core of designing a computer and it helps us in producing an output from a given input. However, the logic gates used in modern computers are designed electronically and are slower since they work on the principles of electricity as compared to quantum logic gates. Quantum logic gates would be much faster because they would work on the principle of quantum physics which is based on a phenomenon called "quantum entanglement". 

The team at Oxford achieved this logic gate, which places two atoms in a state of quantum entanglement and is the fundamental building block of quantum computing, with a precision (or fidelity) substantially greater than the previous world record. The term "fidelity" used here means the degree to which the atoms are connected to each other through the process of quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement -- a phenomenon described by Einstein as 'spooky' but which is at the heart of quantum technologies -- occurs when two particles stay connected, such that an action on one affects the other, even when they are "separated by great distances". This connection is possible due to the correlation in their behavior with respect to each other which means that change in one atom results in change in behavior of the other atom !! This phenomenon can happen even over large distances and thus the effect travels much faster as compared to electricity.

Quantum technology is a complex area, but one analogy that has been used to explain the concept of quantum computing is that it is like "being able to read all of the books in a library at the same time", whereas conventional computing is like having to read them one after another. This may be over-simplistic, but it is useful in conveying the way in which quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize the field.
But what does this actually imply? The fact that it is not merely a different technology for computing in the same way our everyday computers work; it is at a very fundamental level a different way of processing information. It turns out that this quantum-mechanical way of manipulating information gives quantum computers the ability to solve certain problems far more efficiently than any conceivable conventional computer.

The applications for Quantum computing are thus enormous !! Here is a peak into the applications of Quantum computing :

1. Safer airplanes—Lockheed Martin plans to use quantum computers to test jet software that is currently too complex for classical computers.

2. Discover distant planets—Quantum computers will be able to analyze the vast amount of data collected by telescopes and seek out Earth-like planets.

3. Win elections—Campaigners will comb through reams of marketing information to best exploit individual voter preferences.

4. Boost GDP—Hyper-personalized advertising, based on quantum computation,we will be able to stimulate consumer spending.

5. Detect cancer earlier—Computational models will help determine how diseases develop.

6. Help automobiles drive themselves—Google is using a quantum computer to design software that can distinguish cars from landmarks.

7. Reduce weather-related deaths—Precision forecasting will give people more time to take cover.

8. Cut back on travel time—Sophisticated analysis of traffic patterns in the air and on the ground will forestall bottlenecks and snarls.

9. Develop more effective drugs—By mapping amino acids,for example, or analyzing DNA-sequencing data, doctors will discover and design superior drug-based treatments.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Modular Smartphones – The End As We Know It?

A modular smartphone is a cell phone that can be upgraded or customized through the attachment or replacement of discrete components called modules. This aims to reduce electronic waste, lower repair costs and increase user affordability and flexibility. These are packaged in easy-to-remove modules which can be replaced as needed without having to rework the soldering. Components could be obtained from the open-source hardware stores.

Ideas behind Modular Smartphones

The earlier desktops used the tower cases where one can easily swap or upgrade components like Graphics cards, Hard-disks, Processors etc. to further customise the systems to enhance the computing and the processing speeds. Among the earlier mobile devices, the Handspring VisorPDA had a Springboard Expansion Slot which could give it the capabilities such as a phone, GPS, a modem, or a camera - but only one at a time.

The first of its kind to seek the limelight was Phonebloks – the first commercially released modular handheld device. Then many of the computing giants has been working on the Modular smartphones concept including LG, Motorola and Google.

Developments in the category

Last year LG dropped the jaws of all the tech-savvies when they announced the concept of LG G5 – the first modular smartphone of its range. The Modules available ranged from LG 360 VR- a VR goggle, LG 360 CAM, LG Rolling Bot-a companion device that rolls like a ball while capturing images and videos with its embedded 8MP camera, H3 by B&O PLAY- a set of high-end earphones, LG Smart Controller- device that allows users to easily control certain drones. There are many such modules which can be used to extend the functionality of the device with additional customization.

Motorola has also been working on a similar project Moto Z and is expected to be released this year. But perhaps the most discussed among all the developments going across the globe in this category is that of Project Ara- The project under development by Google. The project was originally headed by the Advanced Technology and Projects team within Motorola Mobility while it was a Google subsidiary. Google retained the ATAP group when selling Motorola to Lenovo, and it was placed under the stewardship of the Android; Ara was later split off as an independent operation.

Project Ara was intended to consist of hardware modules providing common smartphone components, such as processors, displays, batteries, and cameras, as well as modules providing more specialized components, and "frames" that these modules were to be attached to. This design would allow a device to be upgraded over time with new capabilities and upgraded specifications without requiring the purchase of an entire new device, providing a longer lifecycle for the device and potentially reducing electronic waste.

But to everyone’s surprise, Google pulled the plug on Project Ara funding. On September 2, 2016, Google announced that Project Ara had been officially cancelled in an effort to "streamline the company's hardware efforts.” The Project had already been delayed in the past in its 2005 commercialization deadline. Earlier this year, the project was again delayed to 2017. Additionally, the Ara team had announced that Ara would pivot from fully modular to having a fixed CPU, GPU, antennas, sensors, battery, and display. After that announcement, Ara was watered down so much it barely had a reason to exist. Finally on September 2, Google decided to Kill Project Ara.

The quote about "streamlining the company's hardware efforts" points to Google's new hardware division as being behind the change in strategy. The division, with former Motorola President Rick Osterloh at the helm, has been tasked with combining Google's hardware efforts into a single portfolio.

LG has also similar future plans for G5 as G5 failed to impress its customers. Experts suspect that these instances may discourage the other developers from further working on it. The modular smartphone concept seems to be fading slowly, with the Lenovo owned Motorola being the only one still in the market. A new module for Motorola’s Moto Z smartphone was announced last week, by Hasselblad, but that also seems quite expensive.


The development of Modular smartphones is challenge in itself. Developing such devices is particularly challenging, because of issues with size, performance and price.
Here are the top seven reasons why it's so difficult to develop smartphones that let users swap out the processor, camera and storage options:

The biggest technical challenge to building a modular smartphone is the underlying architecture, the structural frame and data backbone of the device, which makes it possible for all the modules to communicate with each other. It has to be so efficient that the overall performance doesn't take a hit and still be cheap and frugal with power consumption.  

Last year, the Project Ara team posted and then retracted a Twitter message that a prototype had failed a drop test. But it's clear that keeping the modules in place is a challenge. In the message that wasn't retracted, Project Ara said it's developing a new and better solution. It also remains to be seen how the modules and connectors will be able to handle the wear-and-tear of long-term daily use.
Form factor

While modular design gives users more flexibility it also comes with several drawbacks. Smartphones have become more svelte thanks to tighter integration between components, so the addition of chassis that needs to be quite sturdy adds to the overall size and weight. Vendors have to find the best possible balance between durability and size, which won't be easy.
However, the size likely won't be a deal breaker. Recent flagship smartphones from the likes of LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility and HTC aren't very light or small for their respective screen sizes and they still leave little to be desired.
Battery life

The communication between the modules uses more power than in a traditional smartphone. What the eventual power tax will be remains to be seen. It was one of the main challenge of Ara team.

The testing part of the development process is more complicated and time-consuming for modular phones. Instead of having to ensure that one hardware configuration works, vendors have to make sure that all permutations work equally well. 

A more complicated development process and less product integration will have an effect on pricing, as well. The Project Ara FAQ states that it’s much too early to tell what phones will cost, but the bill-of-materials cost of a basic, entry-level Ara device is in the $50 to $100 range. The smartphone market has become very price competitive, so if modular smartphones are to succeed, the extra cost for manufacturing them has to be as small as possible.
Do consumers want one?

Spending money on developing modular smartphones is at the end of the day very brave since there are no guarantees they will succeed technically or commercially. There will always be tech enthusiasts who will buy them. But those customers aren't enough to make them financially viable in the long term, and convincing the large group of consumers who simply want a smartphone that just works will be very challenging.

Future of Modulations – Revolution or Doomed?

After the death of Project Ara, the future of the Modular phone category hangs on the line.

Reuters says that while "Google will not be releasing the phone itself," licensing the technology to third parties is still an option. Will anyone dare to pick up the modular smartphone torch when even Google has failed?

But the market is promising. A fair vision and estimate tells us that in 2017 the number of Android users who will opt for a modular smartphone will be 10% and around 30% in 2018, which is roughly equals to 140 million and 450 million respectively. After 2018 the new market factors are expected to sprout. This will further drive the demand for various categories of modules. The forecast is getting more complex, still it remains intriguing.

Recently, a research on the smartphone market was conducted by a respected research and analysis company IDC.  According to IDC, due to high speculations and buzz on the web, it is likely that many Indians will think of grabbing one for themselves. But, the chances of it creating heat waves isn’t likely because the concept of the modulation and customization is entirely new and people treat new concepts with caution. They would probably expect their highly tech savvy friends to get one, and later buy one for themselves depending on their experience. Going down on these, we concluded that only around 2% of the Android users in India would lay their hands on the modular phone in the first year. 
It will be interesting to see how the modular phones will fair in the current market. 

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of DoT as a whole.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Jio - The Business Model!

Reliance Jio been making a buzz for a while and finally it is making a disruptive entry in the telecom industry by making Relinace Jio 4G services available from 5th September. Reliance Jio will surely revolutionize the Indian internet market reasons being – it has the largest optic fibre optic network in india (250,000+ KMs of high quality fiber optic cable and have installed over 90,000 eco-friendly 4G towers (camouflaged signal towers), 4G spectrum in all 22 zones of India, capital investment over Rs 150,000 crores which will further boost Indian economy and generate employment opportunities for millions,and as stated by Mr. Mukesh Ambani presently India is ranked 150th in mobile Internet rankings out of 230 countries. He believes that India's ranking will go up and it will be ranked among top 10 of mobile Internet rankings in the world. But it raises a concern that will Reliance Jio will live up to its promises and a cloud of confusion emerges in the market as well in the consumer’s mind that Relinace Jio will they be able to provide such cheap services in the telecom industry. The answer of this question lies in Jio's business model. 

Under the business model it mainly focuses on giving unbelievable tariff plans, free voice calling and cheap data plans but if things are analysed further, different story emerges.

Firstly, unbelievable tariff plans: Let us look at existing telecom service providers before coming to Jio's tariffs. It is an Industrywide practice to judge a mobile network operator's performance through a metric called ARPU (Average Revenue Per User.) In India ARPU (monthly) for almost all the telecom operators is around Rs.150. Now let us have a look at Jio’s tariff plans:

As you can see the lowest tariff plan is Rs.150 which means that Jio will be earning monthy revenue equal to average revenue per user i.e Rs.150 and this means that it is smart pricing not cheap service. So by default, Reliance is going to earn Rs 150 and not less than that. If we look closely, they are going to earn more than that. 28 days which generally is perceived as a month is not a month. There can actually be 13 (365/28) 28 days months. That means, ARPU per month is going to go upto Rs 162 (Rs 12 more than the existing operators.) Smart indeed!

Secondly, free voice calling: Reliance unlike many other mobile networks was built on a strong Data foundation. So even voice calls you do is treated as data in Jio's network. This technology is called (VoLTE - Voice over LTE). This allows company to provide superior quality calling service at cost effective price. In 2010, Mukesh Amabani, Founder of Reliance Jio acquired Infotel Broadband which had won 4G spectrum in India and renamed the company as Jio. After doing so company started building a fibre optic network which could handle 5G & 6G. (Generally the infrastructure of other operators have a 12/24 fibre lines but Jio has 64/96 fibre lines which could handle 5G or 6G in the future) Thus the way in which WhatsApp calls are free as internet is used for calling in the same way Jio will provide free voice calling using its fibre optic network laid before. Now considering Jio’s data plans if wifi hotspots and unlimited night data are rubbed out of the picture then per GB price of the plans are as follows:

0.3GB for Rs149 = ~Rs 497/GB
4GB for Rs 499 = ~Rs 125/GB
10GB for Rs 999= ~Rs 100/GB
20GB for Rs 1499= ~Rs75/GB
35GB for Rs 2499= ~Rs71/GB
60GB for Rs3999= ~Rs66/GB
75GB for Rs 4999= ~Rs66/GB

As stated by the company that it will lowest per GB data i.e Rs.50/GB. But the additional benefits (wifi hotspots and unlimited night data) are excluded even highest plan does not fulfil the promise.

Now question arises that is it really worth it? Answer is a resounding yes as it will be economical for users for who have high 3G/4G consumption it will reduce the bills by 50% (Provided data consumption remains same) and they are proving LYF branded handsets that are one of the cheapest 4G phones in the world. Despite low specs, it would connect homes of many people with 4g. It also provides bundle of benefits like 3 hours night unlimited, Wifi hotspot access, free voice-calls, free sms, no-roaming charges, free access to live-tv and other apps, etc which prove to be a great deal. I believe launch of Reliance Jio will change the face of the Indian telcom industry (which it has done even before its launch as its competitors have started making tariff changes). 

To conclude I think it will provide 2 to 3 times value for money to consumers through smart pricing,it is securing its future as consumers will instantly port to Jio and it will be able to capture a large maket share in near future. 

PS: To answer a few who ask: "What does it cost a company to provide an MB of data," the answer is Zero because once the infrastructure is laid, barring the cost of electricity, the cost of producing data is zero. The cost would instead be the cost of capital that allowed them to lay the fibre optic lines.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of DoT as a whole.