At PC Forum Novatium Solutions demoed its $100 PC appliance (without keyboard or display, which adds about $75) for emerging markets. The Nova netPC and Nova netTV are based on thin client (server-based, zero administration for users) and mobile phone technology. "We have the guts of mobile phone and use the business model of phone industry," said Rajesh Jain, co-founder of the Mumbai, India-based company. "We reduce the price of the thin client by about 50 percent, moving away from the Intel architecture, and change the business model to suit emerging market customers." It's like a cell phone in square box and a bunch of I/O ports.
The core processor is an
AMD Analog Devices digital signal processor, rather than x86 architecture, used in cell phones, and works over LAN, Wi-Fi and broadband networks. (After the session an Intel representative was primed to talk to Jain.) The only client side processing is for the display and multimedia, and the maxiumun video display is 1024x768. The device also supports standard I/0 ports and outputs only 5 watts. A future edition could include DSL on the motherboard. Jain expects that the base price will remain steady over time as new features are added and as volume sales increase.
Software is provided at $10 per month, and supports Unix and Windows terminal services. The license for Windows software and terminal services has to be purchased separately, but an open source, Linux-based desktop stack is available for free. "There is a growing flexibility to look at monthly pricing cycles, including from Microsoft," Jain said. Since few people in many emerging markets pay for software, having server-based subscriptions could reduce piracy, he said.
Novatium has 20 pilots underway in India, the U.S, South Africa, Mexico, Austrailia, New Zealand and in some European countries. The official product launch is in April, Jain said. In the U.S., Novatium is working with cable companies, who can also provide the billing infrastructure. The company hopes to grow volumes by attracting existing thin client companies to OEM the device. "The real opportunity is in the annunity business, and we have not decide to work with partners or do it ourselves," Jain said. Service providers could also serve ads on the devices as part of the revenue generation scheme, he added.
Several other companies, including MIT's project to create a $100 Linux, mesh-networked PC, are developing low cost, networked devices. Is it the perfect storm for the networked PC. In my conversation with Wyse Technology CEO John Kish, the answer is yes, but we have heard that before.