Friday, June 26, 2009

Riots in Delhi Caused by Lack of Electricity

This past week, there have been riots in parts of Delhi for two reasons - lack of electricity and lack of water. This is becoming serious. The worst power cuts were in Dwarka averaging 10-12 hour outages at a time, Krishna Nagar at 10 hours, Vasant Kunj at 8 hours and Greater Kailash, averaging 5-6 hours. No part of the city has been spared. On Thursday, the 400 KV Mandola Power station tripped and went off-line, along with one unit in the Singrauli plant affecting large parts of the city. The highest demand for electrical power was this past Friday at 4,171 MW, while the region can only provide around 3,500 MW on a good day.

The reason? The monsoon is late. Much of the power here is hydroelectric. Without rain in the hills, the hydroelectric plants can't generate power. The power ministry has stated that there has been a 12% decline in generation leading to an overall 25% shortage. [As I've said before, infrastructure here isn't planned for growth. Well, infrastructure here isn't planned. Period.] Water is so precious that people are hoarding it. A 34 year-old man was killed in a fight over water earlier this week. We keep buckets of the stuff in our baths so we have water when the tanks on the roof empty. Food prices have risen because crop yields are down. With system failure, traffic lights don't work (not that anyone follows them anyway) causing massive traffic jams. Earlier this week, riots broke out in the Ambedkar Nagar, Govindpuri, Kondli, and Rajbir Nagar sections of Delhi. We need an alternative. A sustainable and affordable alternative.

VVDN is a company coming up with exciting new alternative energy products. The three light system they installed at my house last month has been working steadily and dependably with no decrease in brightness and no outages. The LED bulbs did blink one evening, but Parveen at VVDN said that it was because there was little charge left in the battery. Overall, the system is quite successful.

I met with Parveen because I'm totally sick of the lack of electricity and I need to at least keep one room cool by fan or AC, running a TV, cable box, computer, and wireless hub for at least four hours. Our existing inverter/battery system hasn't been keeping a charge for more than an hour or so. Parveen said to check the water levels in the batteries because in this heat, the water dries up and the chemicals in the batteries turn into a gas. [Note to self: check batteries regularly.]

He recommended a standard 540W solar-powered system that would run 3-4 fans and 4-5 lights (8-10 hours of backup by solar charging). The cost of this system is around US$ 3,000 with replacement batteries every 3-4 years; they cost around $350. The panels have a 20 year warranty. He said that the panels and batteries can be purchased from the market any time but the main charge controller unit that I want (hybrid unit) is not available commercially at this time. You see, I want a system that integrates both the grid when it's available AND solar power to maximize the charge in the batteries. I want the solar power to be the main provider of charge with the grid only being pulled when there is still capacity available in the battery array. There is nothing on the market right now, but Parveen shared with me that there is technology in the R&D stage that is exactly what I want.

One of the companies he's working with has such a system and he says it is very stable. One of the features is the fancy new controller, which can be configured to favor one source over the other. They are at the stage where they need to do field trials and I volunteered. He will be discussing it with the people running the trials and get back to me next week.

Let's look at the financials. This system retails for 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees). I pay between 3,000 (winter) and 9,000 (summer) rupees per month for electricity, averaging around 5,000 per month. Payback on this sytem is 30 months, assuming no grid usage. Even if payback takes twice as long, with panel life at 20 years and battery replacement every 3, it's still an incredibly viable option. Plus in India, subsidies for solar systems can be up to 70%, so, to me it seems practically criminal to be relying on an unreliable grid when these systems are so readily available.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CommunicAsia 2009

Revisiting Singapore after a 30+ year wait, it was like the other Singapore I remembered never existed. We did get to the Raffles' Long Bar for Singapore Slings one evening, but even that place had been upgraded. The Raffles Hotel was a dump back in the 70's. It's been refurbished and expanded a hundredfold since then. The city is impeccably clean and its residents are very friendly. The Ibis Hotel, where we stayed, was merely okay. The staff were nice, but the amenities are not up to standard. The rooms were small, but typical for Asia. Their TV channels were few, and no pay per view. They did not have room service. Breakfast buffet is usually an extra S$17/day, but of course, BS managed to negotiate that, too. I swear that guy can haggle on anything...

Debashish, from Insta - our booth designer, stayed until we were happy with the quality of our custom booth space. Fan, the booth contractor did a remarkable job getting the space ready. All the men from Shyam and VNL put the base station together which took about six hours because a) the parts were mislabeled, b) no one looked at the instructions, and c) every decision was by committee. Rajneesh, Carlo, Niyati and I shopped for all the booth paraphernalia which took a whole day of prep.

CommunicAsia 2009 proved remarkable considering the global economy. Attendance was good along the main aisle, but deadly on the alleys and byways. The ratio of booth babes to attendees was probably 1:10, much higher than shows in the States. A lot of the booth babes working the show were walking the aisles in skimpy outfits with signs or passing out brochures to drive traffic back to those booths. Ericsson and Nokia weren't there, but ZTE and Huawei were. Carlo said they were using the same stands as in previous shows.

CommunicAsia is a big show, probably 500 exhibitors overall utilizing four halls at the Singapore Expo. We were located on the main aisle, right behind LG's two story booth which looked pretty much like a hair salon, all pinks, purples and lavender. Across the aisle was Powerwave, who brought a Formula 1 simulator. Powerwave is a direct competitor to Shyam Telecom whose booth space faced the byway. This simulator attracted a lot of traffic which congested the main aisle. They had booth babes along the main aisle passing out clipboards with forms for attendees to complete - for what? I have no idea. It got so congested between onlookers and people filling out forms that people spilled into our booth to get around the congestion. I'd had it when they started using my reception desk for clipboards.

I walked over and found out who was in charge of the booth and approached him. I told him that the noise from the simulator was way too loud and needs to be turned down. I also told him that he needed to keep his staff on his side of the aisle. He replied that there was nothing in the rules that said he had to and that pissed me off. I started arguing with him. He refused to move his babes off the main aisle.

"See the red line in the center of the aisle? That's the DMZ. Keep your people on your side and we won't have a problem."

He told me that I didn't want to go there.

"I'm already there," I replied. "See the size of my booth? (120 square meters) See the size of yours? (maybe 36) When I go and complain to the show services, who do you think they'll want to keep happy?" He continued with the noise, but the babes moved off. It's tough being a good neighbor at these shows when everyone is competing for attention, something we didn't have a problem with - we felt like the prettiest girl at the dance. All the mobile operators attending the show came to our booth to see our solution, which was very well received. A gent from Nigeria complained about his US$ 110 million he spent on diesel fuel last year and said if he spent half of that on our bases stations, he'd be a much richer man.

On day 1, Rajiv presented a session on Microtelecom that sent a lot of conference attendees to the booth to get more information on our business model. Tony Chan of CNBC interviewed Rajiv about the products and business model. We pushed the press conference scheduled for the next day and collected business cards. The VIP tour showcased a selection of ten vendors including VNL, and Ministers from 17 countries stopped by. Comments overheard were, "This is much simpler than the solution we saw in Sweden" and "If it works in India, it can work anywhere."

On Day 2, Bridget, our PR consultant produced our press conference announcing that VNL's solar-powered GSM base stations for rural networks were now commercially available. Rajiv was interviewed by a number of journalists following that. The Day 3 Official Daily Show paper featured an article about VNL. Day 3 also featured the Green Telecom stream hosted by Laina Green of TelecomTV (love her!). Mats presented the keynote speech and Rajiv joined the panel that discussed green telecom. There were a lot of attendees at this event.

Evening events I went to were sponsored mostly by the news companies, Questex and TelecomTV. Both were good, well attended events where marketers like myself got to meet with many journalists. It really helped to be able to spend "quality time" getting to know these people as they'll be important to our PR efforts moving forward. I really enjoyed meeting Laina and Neal of TelecomTV and networking with other telecom marketers, especially since I have no history with previous shows to compare our results.

On my last night, Carlo and I went to Low Pa Sat to eat Singaporean street food. We gorged on barbecued stingray, chilli crayfish, prawns, beef satay and peppered beef, washing it down with Tiger Beer on ice. It was an extremely tasty meal, but one hint - wear a bib when you try to eat seafood with chopsticks. My shirt was a mess.

Overall, CommunicAsia was a big success, which is a huge relief for me. We're doing ten trade shows this year. CommunicAsia is the first of the shows for which I am responsible. At the same time, the West & Central AfricaCom Conference was being held in Abuja, Nigeria, where we were also exhibiting. Next week is AmericasCom in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Word from Abujs is that our booth was mobbed. We had conversations with 6 or 7 journalists as well. Judging from the response from the industry, VNL is in position to make serious change in the industry. See you in the future. :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Suntrica’s Solar Mobile Phone Chargers Save You Money and Save the Planet at the Same Time

I'm just off to CommunicAsia in Singapore, a telecom conference focused on Asia. They will have a whole stream devoted to solar and other alternatively powered technologies. I am super excited to see everything that is available out there...

Suntrica gave me 50 samples of their SolarStrapTM solar mobile phone chargers because VNL is exhibiting at CommunicAsia in Singapore in mid-June. We’re distributing them as a giveaway there to promote their solar products.

Suntrica is a Finnish company that specializes in designing, and manufacturing cost-efficient solar energy harvesting solutions for use with mobile battery powered devices. In the world today, 600 million cellular phone subscribers lack recharging facilities. The fastest growing region for subscriber growth is in the areas +/- 30 degrees from the equator, ideal for solar energy use. These nifty solar powered chargers were short-listed in the Green Network Hardware and Infrastructure category of the CTIA Emerging Technology awards earlier this year.

Suntrica’s charger is about the size of your hand, with Velcro that enables it to wrap around things. It’s extremely lightweight, bendable and weatherproof. The first day, I wrapped it around my clothesline to soak up the sun. I’ve hung it around the strap of my laptop while walking around Delhi and it charges quickly. When you plug your mobile in, the battery shows a red light. Its output is rated at DC 5.5V at 800mA. It comes with a variety of adapters to fit most mobile phones and other portable devices. My friend, Yu Yu Din, founder of Renewable Spirit, bringing solar panels to Burma, was the first user of the product because it fit her phone easily.
“It’s very cool because you can use it anywhere. It’s applicable anywhere you need your mobile working, like disaster areas where there is no reliable electrical grid,” she said.

Hang it anywhere in the sun and always have a fresh (and free!) charge available for your mobile phone. I plan on using mine everywhere. :-)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Our New Place in Gurgaon

I live in Gurgaon, just outside of Delhi. We now rent the ground floor of a three family house. It features two bedrooms, two baths (one with a bathtub!) a large living and dining area, kitchen, enclosed patio space in the front and back, plus a storeroom, which we may convert to an office. We’re having a lot of issues straightening out the electricity.

As Americans, we use a lot more electricity than the typical Indian. We have two televisions with satellite TV boxes, two ACs in our bedrooms, and wireless broadband with three computers. Typically each of our bedrooms in the States would have a TV, cable box, plus a computer, game station, DVD player and whatever. Our house would also have a whole house AC, with dishwasher, refrigerator, vacuum cleaners, and washer and dryer as well. Typical new home construction in the U.S. requires 200 amps.

Here in Delhi, our panel is probably one fourth of that, for three families in one house. Most families in our colony here have a refrigerator, but no AC, no microwave, maybe one computer… the amount of energy we consume is considered shocking to a standard family here. I feel guilty sometimes, but need my connections to home. There are certain things I will give up in order to live in a “developing country”, but broadband internet, refrigerator, two TVs, one DVD player, three computers, and AC in two bedrooms are absolutely compulsory for me to live comfortably.
Another issue is water. In our sector, the electrical grid type is called “agricultural” and is primarily used for pumping water. Twice a day, a siren goes off, reminding us to turn the pump on. Our house has a tank on the roof and a pump in the backyard that has to be turned on in order to get water into the tank. We have to do it to ensure we have enough water for the day.
Being fully conscious of our use of electricity and water makes us more mindful of just how much we waste, and it has changed the way we use these resources for the better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sunday Morning in Gurgaon

We have a very annoying peacock living nearby. Actually, more like three or four. I know. How can you complain about something as exotic as wild peacocks, but they are very big, very noisy, and very territorial. They are absolutely gorgeous, with brilliant blue heads and necks, tapering down into teal and green chests... long flowing tails – they are the perfect bird for the overly decorated and bejeweled people of India. This one sits in the tree across from the house and doesn’t move for hours.

They do, however, have a very loud call, something similar to a cat in heat, mixed with the sound of a tractor-trailer engine downshifting. I don’t know if they are calling to attract a mate or define their territories, or both. I’m hoping it’s mating, otherwise this will go on all year, not just for one season. :-) No one seems to know whether peacocks are protected in any way nor can anyone tell me anything about their nesting habits. I have yet to see the much smaller brown female.

There also seems to be a nesting pair of green parrots living in the tree just outside our front windows. They come out to eat seeds left by the neighbors and then preen their feathers while sitting on the electrical wires. They make a clucking sound, usually six to seven in a row, then wait for a call. There are split tail swallows, wrens, and sparrows but interestingly enough, no signs of the ubiquitous crow. There also black and grey birds with yellow stripes in their feathers that are only lucky when seen in pairs, plus a few random pigeons, not a lot.

I remember the delight I felt when we were visiting my aunt in New Jersey just a week ago and watched two robins in the back yard. The showiest birds in New England are blue jays, and in Chicago, the star bird was the cardinal. I think the iridescent hues of the hummingbird come the closest to the peacocks – just imagine a hummingbird the size of a turkey to understand the impact of a big male peacock. I have yet to see one fly. He’ll sit for hours in that tree and I’ll wait for him to move, only to give up, walk inside to grab a cigarette or get a drink, only to return and find him gone. I think I may begin planning for his “disappearance” sometime around Thanksgiving. I hear they are quite delicious. :-)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Message from the American Consulate: June 2, 2009

NOTE: Yesterday, there were riots in Kashmir over the rape and death of two Muslim women. The attacks were said to have been carried out by members of the Indian police. There is no mention of this in the Consulate's message - just a general warning. No wonder Americans are paranoid... "we don't know who... we don't know where... we don't know when... we don't know how... but they're trying to kill you. Take care now." Go figure.

Urgent Warden Message

June 2, 2009

The United States Mission in India wishes to urgently remind all U.S. citizens resident in or traveling to India that there is a high threat from terrorism throughout India. As terror attacks are a serious and growing threat, U.S. citizens are urged to always practice good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile. Americans in India should be vigilant at all times and monitor local news reports and vary their routes and times in carrying out daily activities. Americans should consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or choosing hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Americans are also encouraged to read the Country Specific Information for India, available on the Embassy's website at, and also at

U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site at so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. For additional information, please refer to "A Safe Trip Abroad" found at

U.S. citizens may contact the American Citizens Services Unit of the Embassy or the Consulates General for further information:

-- The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located at Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri 110021; telephone +91-11-2419-8000; fax +91-11-2419-8407. The Embassy's Internet home page address is

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay) is located at Lincoln House, 78 Bhulabhai Desai Road, 400026, telephone +91-22-2363-3611; fax +91-22-2363-0350. The Internet home page address is

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai (Madras) is at 220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600006, telephone +91-44-2857-4000; fax +91-44-2811-2027. The Internet home page address is

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata (Calcutta) is at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, 700071; telephone +91-33-3984-2400; fax +91-33-2282-2335. The Internet home page address is

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad is at Paigah Palace, 1-8-323, Chiran Fort Lane, Begumpet, Secunderabad 500 003; telephone: +91 (40) 4033-8300. The Internet home page address is