THE WAVE OF INTERNET IN INDIA
Two years back Ujwala Debnath (57) struggled to answer a keypad phone. “It was very confusing. I used to panic and forget which one was pressed for receiving and which one was used for disconnecting calls.” However, today Debnath can order saris for herself, is quite an active user of Facebook and can even make video calls. “My grandson gifted me an android phone six months back and taught me how to use it. Since then most of my time is occupied on the phone,” she adds. Like nearly 500 million people in India, Debnath too is shaping the future of internet in the country. India has seen explosive growth in internet users, stimulated by the initiatives of big tech giants to tap vast new markets with an aim to modernise the country’s infrastructure. The Indian government too has been taking several hard hitting initiatives since the past decade to promote digital literacy and ensuring that internet access is available in every home.
India’s internet users expected to register double digit growth to reach 627 million in 2019, driven by rapid internet growth in rural areas, according to market research agency Kantar IMRB. “Increased availability of bandwidth, cheap data plans and increased awareness driven by government programmes seem to have rapidly bridged the digital gap between urban and rural India. Consequently, the penetration in rural India has increased from 9 pc in 2015 to 25 pc in 2018,” the report added. India has proved to be a critical market for Facebook’s messaging app WhatsApp, as it has more than 200 million users here, more than any other country. Similarly, Google has helped set up free WiFi services at over 400 train stations across India, and also runs a digital literacy programme to teach rural Indian women how to use the internet.
According to a recent BBC report, India has the cheapest mobile broadband prices in the world. The BBC report, citing a UK-based price comparison site, said that one gigabyte (GB) of mobile data cost USD 0.26 in India (EUR 0.20), compared with USD 12.37 in the US, USD 6.66 in the UK, and a global average of USD 8.53. Normally users in India pay less than USD 3 a month for unlimited free calls. With that they get 42GB of 4G data, at 1.5GB a day, which they use for viewing videos. The Indian government is working to improve the online infrastructure and internet connectivity through the ‘Digital India’ programme with a vision to transform the country into a digitally-empowered society and knowledge economy.
According to a report titled ‘Unlocking Digital for Bharat’, published jointly by Bain & Co., Google, and Omidyar Network, India had 390 million active internet users in 2017, the second highest user base in the world after China with 733 million. Even at this level, internet penetration in India stood at a mere 28 pc, compared to 53 pc in China, signalling the future runway for growth available in the country. The internet user base in the country has doubled since 2014, and the same report suggests that the velocity of addition of internet users in India, at 40 million per year, is the highest in the world.