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An always-on-broadband ''PC'', for Rs5,000news
Venkatachari Jagannathan
12 March 2007

Chennai: For K Sridharan residing in Chennai's K K Nagar, a personal computer (PC) is a luxury product. But that was till he and his two daughters and niece saw the Nova net PC, the low-cost thin client from Novatium Solutions (P) Ltd.

Promoted by Ray Stata, chairman, Analog Devices Inc, US, Rajesh Jain, managing director, Netcore Solutions, Mumbai, and Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala from IIT Madras, the company was showcasing its product and the server computing service near his apartment.

Rustling up the needed money Sridharan signed up for the service. Similarly another elderly resident contemplating buying a PC was confused with the varied hardware configuration and the cost. When he saw the demo, he immediately signed up for the service.

Thanks to Novatium, today around 100 residents of K K Nagar are able to enjoy the facilities of a desk top PC and the internet, all for a one-time installation fee of Rs500, Rs4,499 towards hardware and three monthly subscription schemes starting with the basic for Rs449, going to the premium for another couple of hundred. All the schemes offer Microsoft Office, games, education software.

The differences between the schemes are in the hours of internet connection, file storage capacity and the kind of programmes that are available for usage.

The thin-client concept is very old for the corporate sector. Novatium's novelties are: taking the thin computing concept to the open to connect residences under what it calls the term locality area network and more importantly through a low cost device.

Simply put, Novatium's access infrastructure is modelled on the cable TV service. There is a server that is housed in the service provider's premises. From there a thick cable is strung around the locality where the service is offered.

As and when a customer signs-up for the service, his house is linked through a link cable. The customer premises equipments consists of a 15" thin monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and a set top box like instrument that interfaces between the user and the server.

The advantages for the subscriber is that he not only gets a fully functional 'PC' at low cost and an `always on' internet connection but is also relieved of other burdens - cost of original software, bugs in the case of pirated one, upgradation of hardware/software. There are ports to plug in equipments like printers.

According to Sridharan's niece R Swathi, who works for a BPO, the MS Word, Excel are the major programmes used by her and her student cousins S Hemamalini and S Harini. "It will be better if other popular programmes like Coral Draw are also offered."

However, there are some concerns. According to a subscriber he was not able to retrieve his saved Excel file after the server broke down at the service provider's end. Says another, "The service got disrupted a couple of times owning to some server problems. Fortunately I didn't lose any file. The down time has come down in the recent times."

According to V Chandrasekar a subscriber, the operator or Novatium could send an SMS to the subscribers informing as and when the service gets disrupted. Adds his son C Hariharan a 12th standard student, "It will be helpful for professional course aspiring students if Novatium could list out websites that offer good educational programmes."

Similarly, the recharge of the internet account takes a day or two. Though an alert warns the subscriber well in advance, users say it would help considerably if the recharge time was speeded up.

Users also point out that the service is available only in select pockets of K K Nagar. As a result, if the buyer shifts to a non-service locality the investment in the Nova netPC will be sunk They also say the machines may go slow when there are more users.

However, Novatium CEO Alok Singh was not available for comments.

With the pilot connections giving satisfactory results, Novatium is planning to extend the service to whole of K K Nagar. According to officials Novatium is looking at the enterprise segment for its thin client. The enterprise segment will be serviced by Sun Microsystems that supplies the servers while Novatium will do the residential segment marketing.

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An always-on-broadband ''PC'', for Rs5,000