Crowd Sourcing India Internet Mapping Mobile Web 2.0

Social Mobile Mapping (Mapiki)

With Google’s release of Google Maps for Australia, I am hoping Google Maps India isn’t going to be that far away. Being a complete outsider to Indian roads and traffic, it would be a very welcome addition to our list of expat related sites and tools that we’ll be relying on after we move to India.

I know the challenges of putting together Google Maps in a place like India. I’ve been to the tiny little alleys that are at least 400 or 500 years old. I’ve also been to what was farmland 6 months ago and today is a luxury residential development outside Bangalore. In a country where the streets are thousands of years old and where farmland and undeveloped land is changing so rapidly, it will be an immense task to keep the data updated. However, could this be the perfect place for an experiment in Social Mobile Mapping or Mapiki? This is the term that I’m going to use for what I think could be a tremendous addition to the social web.

Imagine an application that will redraw maps based on GPS transmitters and SMS text messages, submitted by none other than the users of the mapping application. In a place like India, a rikshaw driver can pull out his mobile and type in a message and sms it to a service that will instantly display on the map the changes reflected by the rikshaw driver. Of course, this can be gamed but so can Wikis. The question is, can the wisdom of crowds provide cleaner more accurate mapping information just like it has helped to create Wikipedia?

For now, however, at least I can get driving directions in New Delhi.


Internet Access in India and the Nokia E61

A little background on how I was led to the Nokia E61. Back in April, I had picked up a Motorola SLVR L7 and have been pretty happy listening to my favorite podcasts on it.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I was going to be taking a trip to India and needed Internet connectivity consistently. I tried finding out from people in India, websites, and well known blogs like GigaOM on the best method of WiFi connectivity in multiple cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Delhi. Most places I didn’t even get a reply from but a few people in India told me that WiFi hotsopts aren’t as prevalent as the ubiquitious T-Mobile hotspots at Starbucks in the US. For example, Tata Indicom (in collaboration with VSNL) has a Wifi service but from their website, I can only find one or two hotspots in most major cities ( Mumbai and Bangalore are exceptions – both have many access points ).

I soon realized that my best chance of having some kind of consistent Internet access was using mobile phone technology. Many people recommended Reliance Infocomm.

Reliance is a CDMA based mobile phone service offered through most of India. Reliance has been a very cost effective alternative to the GSM based technology that has been most prevalent in India ( Read some reviews on Reliance Infocomm ). My problem was that I would have to buy a CDMA phone ( or rent ) that I would use whil I was there. I couldn’t use the phone back in the states or really any other part of the world that I would travel to. As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled at wasting the money on a phone that I would use for a very short time.

I dug around on the web a bit and took a look at some more of the mobile carriers in India. Hutch, Bharti Airtel, are two of the larger national carriers that I came across. If you think mobile plans and prepaid plans in the US require a PhD to understand, well, you haven’t looked at the possibilities from Indian mobile carriers. To understand the most cost effective postpaid or prepaid plan you will need a team of Internatioanl PhDs. Here are the prepaid plans available on Hutch ( you’ll need to look at all the possible offers as well to really understand what is best for you ) and Bharti Airtel.

For voice, I think that Bharti Airtel has a better offering. However, BA has no EDGE access. They are using straight GPRS from what I can see on their website. They have a nicely laid out map of all their value added services.

Bharti Airtel Value Added Services

Hutch on the other hand, has slightly higher calling rates but offers EDGE access either using an EDGE PCMCIA card in your laptop, or via your phone. This sounds like it could suit my needs pretty well, at least until I figure out a high speed alternative for using my MacBook while traveling. Hutch EDGE Screenshot

I continued looking at other services like MTNL’s Dolphin, SPICE and IDEA but it appeared that SPICE and IDEA were very limited in network coverage and MTNL’s Dolphin service and charge description was so difficult to follow, I just gave up.

Now, I’m back to Hutch and Bharti as my two primary phone and Internet carriers during my travel. I have a sleek, sexy Motorola SLVR L7 that has Bluetooth, synchs up very nicely with my MacBook, though I still haven’t figured out exactly how to use it as a bluetooth modem. The SLVR, unfortunately, doesn’t have EDGE support so my speeds in India are going to be miserably slow. Not to mention, I will have to carry around my MacBook everywhere I go. I decided to look into a smart phone that has bluetooth and EDGE support. It would be nice to have WiFi along with UMTS and HSDPA but my options are very limited. I was, therefore, looking for a phone with the following functions:

  • Quad Band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM for global connectivity
  • Uncrippled Bluetooth
  • QWERTY Keyboard
  • EDGE/GPRS Support
  • 802.11b/g WiFi
  • Replaceable Storage – Secure Digital/MiniSD/MicroSD
  • Expandable through thirdparty applications
  • IMAP/POP3 Support

Things that would be nice to have:

  • 1MP or better camera
  • Video Camera
  • MP3 Player
  • MP3 Player that synchs up with iTunes
  • Lightweight and Slim form factor

I tried using the Treo 650 over a year ago and hated the phone. It’s bluetooth was horrible and they keyboard was so small, it was impossible to really type effectively on it. The Treo 700/750 hasn’t been widely available for GSM yet so I kept looking to the most obvious choice, Blackberry. I wasn’t thrilled about spending the monthly Blackberry connection fee that most carriers charge. The fee to use your Blackberry is typically much higher than just having unlimited GPRS/EDGE access. I kept looking around and came across the Nokia E61. The phone had most of what I wanted but it wasn’t yet released in the US. I looked around on eBay and found a store near by that had the phone for $350 all in. I picked up a Nokia E61 a few days before Labor Day and have been playing with it for the last three weeks.

I will provide an overview of my experience with the Nokia E61 in a separate post.