Sunday, November 30, 2008

The rise of the Netbook

While walking in Media Markt's laptop aisle yesterday I was surprised to see the number of mini laptops (Asus EEPC, Acer Aspire 1, Toshiba netbook etc.) in the €299-500 price range. Interestingly, some of them are being sold like cellphones - with a price tag of just 1 Euro with a 2 year "3G data plan". The data plan costs 37 Euros, and probably gives customers a few GB of bandwidth a month.

So adopters get to carry their *free* netbook and Internet connection anywhere, without paying outrageous Wifi hotspot/hotel Internet charges. Perhaps in a few months this Netbook offer will spur many to switch to 3G Internet and give up on tethered Internet (cable, DSL) entirely. Are we looking at this cannibalization in the next couple of years? Low cost cellphones cannibalized fixed line telephone users. Can netbooks with 3G data plans cannibalize tethered DSL?

It all depends on the service quality of 3G data vs. DSL. Now 3G data can seldom serve more than 100s of kbps versus the multiple mbps of DSL connections. But I hazard that there is a sizeable market segment to whom the mobility (and free netbook) will appeal more than blitzy Internet connections.

Another issue will be the scalability of 3G data - 3G infrastructure has some fundamental bandwidth limits - which make a mass deployment in dense areas problematic. There is LTE, the next generation of cellular wireless networks that promises much more bandwidth, but its deployment is only planned over the next decade. Perhaps mass data demand over wireless will speed things up for LTE (or WiMAX).

The multi-person home tethered service is probably safe from wireless 3G data for now. Splitting 3G bandwidth is certainly possible via Internet sharing or a router that accepts a 3G data card and then wifis the bandwidth to multiple home PCs, but the slow speed will be an issue for demanding applications like online video, gaming, etc. 3G data is still a 'midband' service. Moreover, netbooks are difficult to use with their small screens and cramped keyboards. Presently deployed laptops and desktops are certainly more comfortable (minus their limited mobility).

The Netbooks' rise is absolutely remarkable. A couple of years ago MIT's OLPC project was the seed of the idea to create cheap affordable laptops for school children in developing countries. Then Intel threw in its own school laptop competitor. Asus stole the commercial show with its EEPC 701. Intel's spectacular strategy of creating the low-power Atom processor created a captive netbook market for Intel and allowed for smaller and lighter batteries. Microsoft resurrected Windows XP as the Netbook operating system while Linux provided a free alternative to Windows XP. And then there is the 3G data availability through USB sticks.

It all seems to have come together at the right time.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pure gold statistics about the Internet

Figure: Internet users by age (Click to enlarge). Reproduced from here

I found an absolutely remarkable report issued by the OECD in the summer of 2008. It has got lots of goodies on OECD Internet usage. Here is the URL

The future of the Internet Economy, a Statistical profile

One graph in the report that was very interesting and it is pasted above. The graph shows OECD countries' Internet usage conditioned on the age-group. It is clear that younger people use the Internet much more than older people.

Now as time progresses the young people will age, and I do not think the young people of today will give up on the Internet as they age. Meanwhile the next generations will be even more Internet savvy than today's youngsters. So the low down is that the next 15-20 years will see a high growth period for OECD Internet broadband demand. There is about 20-30 more years of growth in this space before Internet broadband growth saturates, say, the way Electricity did.