Techie-guru and ex-editor friend Vickram Crishna announced in cyberspace that Giovanni Maruzzelli would be visiting India. After a few emails were exchanged, he added Goa to his route.
This Italian techie believes that the right solutions can turn telephones into a powerful tool. He speaks at the BITS Pilani Goa campus (Zuarinagar) on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 6 pm. Giovanni explains how techies could make a difference. An interview with Frederick Noronha (FN).
FN: What is the focus of your trip to India?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I’m focusing mainly on two things: to enjoy incredible India, and to enjoy its incredibly good food.
As an aside, I want to get acquainted with the technical communities that relate (as users, developers, entrepreneurs, administrators, teachers, etc) to free and open source software. I’m making presentations at various venues around India about the free software that I’m now contributing to.
This software is used to connect the Asterisk PBX [http://www.asterisk.org] or private branch exchange to the GSM and Skype networks for making and receiving voice calls and SMSs.
[A private branch exchange (PBX) is a telephone exchange that serves a particular business or office, as opposed to one that a common carrier or telephone company operates for many businesses or for the general public. PBXs are also referred to as PABX (private automatic branch exchange) or EPABX (electronic private automatic branch exchange).]
It uses second-hand, recycled or cheap cellphones as interfaces to the GSM network.
FN: What do you hope to achieve here?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I would like to get an idea about how open source is perceived in India, and to understand how it is used toward social and economic development.
Also, to get to know what can be done in the future using open source to narrow the digital divide at social (between rich and poor) and geographical (between city and village) level.
I’m interested to both the commercial and the educational-social applications of open source in fast growing countries.
FN: How has the trip shaped up so far?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I’m still at the beginning of my trip. I’ve just visited Chennai, Mumbay and Auroville (Pondicherry) for very few days each. But in each place I’ve been very refreshed by, and glad to see, the people that come to the presentations of Asterisk-celliax-skypiax.
I see that there is a precise awareness, also among people who have no technical knowledge, about how strategic the new voice communication technologies — and mobile communication — could be for India.
How much easier, on many occasions, it is for people to interact using a phone than using a computer. And how is important to move toward an approach that combines low cost, low power, recycling, and sustainability.
So, I can say the response so far has been very much satisfying and stimulating for me.
FN: What do you see as the potential for Asterisk and the related software tools in India, and why?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: India is a very big country, with a thriving fast growing economy, and a large and diverse population with various languages, instruction level, and grade of access to communication technologies.
It also has wide differences between countryside and the big cities. In such a context, organizations, communities, companies and public administration have to evaluate and use each tools that allows them to interconnect with and between people.
Voice communication, when it is managed by advanced technologies like Asterisk and VoIP, allows for a large public to tap the same benefits of information access and interactivity that the internet allows to the technical advanced part of the population.
Voice menus, the phone interrogation of databases, speech synthesis and recognition, automatc attendants — these are technologies ready right now to be implemented.
Also, there is a fast growing market for any technology that can save money in telecommunication.
VoIP, Asterisk, FreeSwitch, and the other open source technologies allow for bigger savings, and for extreme flexibility. Both at the level of big telco and at the small office or tiny community level.
I’ve had experiences as founder of the first mass consumer ISP and portal in Italy, as partner in an incubator and venture capital private fund and as an Internet and Telecommunication Investment Expert for the World Bank-IFC in Serbia (ex Yugoslavia). So I know very well that if you start from technologies that have a high degree of usefulness and a great potential for penetration, you can build a viable and successful business.
So, all the pieces are there, and I see a very bright future in India for all the opensource technologies related to VoIP.
FN: How do you see the skills of techies in India?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: The Indian elite technologists are the best in the world; but this is not news.
With such a big population, India will however have to grow a much bigger number of medium and advanced techies, that can bring about innovations in all parts of the country.
FN: Finally, tell a little about Celliax.org and its focus.
The website http://www.celliax.org is the gathering point for the development of celliax, skypiax and directoriax technologies, that allows for a cheap interconnection between fixed lines, Skype, GSM, and VoIP.
Being an open source project, any person in the world is encouraged to contribute — at least by way of a comment, or a suggestion. We also receive help, code, and fixes from people living in many different countries.
Celliax uses second-hand, recycled and cheap cellphones as interfaces between VoIP and the GSM networks.