The Long Trail

India Aims to Bring Internet to Every Village

India_lDevice makers and service providers looking for big-number opportunities are beginning to look to India, and things could get bigger and better.

There are currently 150 million Internet users in India — a huge number that’s supporting a swarm of new online retailers and services. The country comes after China and the US in total number of Web-connected individuals, but this is only an individual penetration rate of 13%. There are more than 1 billion people in India who have yet to use the Web. The country’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has announced plans to bring broadband to “every village in the country”, a target that’s part of the government’s country-wide infrastructure push. It’s an impressive and encouraging goal and, given Mr Modi’s tech-friendly attitude, could become a reality in the coming years.

This should present mobile network equipment makers and device manufacturers with the opportunity to work with the Indian government to bring wireless broadband coverage to remote areas. It’s a large and diverse area to cover, its 22 official languages making localisation is a requirement for success, but the volumes are large enough to justify culturally customised products. Individuals look for low-cost, robust and power-efficient devices, and smartphone makers will need to modify these for different locations and environments.

Connectivity is intended to go some way towards enabling the country’s goal of 100% financial inclusion: rural India is a notoriously unbanked area of the world. The early opportunities are likely to be limited in terms of value, but the volume of accounts and transactions could be among the highest in the developing world. The possibility of India leapfrogging into a mobile money economy is an intriguing long-term consequence of the government’s goal to spread connectivity across the country.

For those talking about connecting the next billion, it should be noted there are that many in India alone yet to be connected. The government’s IT-friendly attitude is bringing excitement to the market as the country’s current mobile prospectors are looking for new areas to expand. Going rural will require product variations, but the numbers could justify the investment.