Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been the dominant factor for the productivity growth in the developed markets. The problem with the current ICT is their cost the dollar-denominated pricing makes it affordable to only a small segment of the business and consumer segment in India. While competition has ensured that talk on cellphones is now among the cheapest in India, the same is not the case in computing given that two virtual monopolies (Intel and Microsoft) control the two most critical components.
For India to develop, there is an increasing emphasis on the need to build out the physical infrastructure roads, ports, airports, power and the like. But there is the need for a parallel digital infrastructure high-speed networks, access terminals, software and content. While the telecom carriers are now building out the high-speed networks, not enough attention has been paid in the other areas. This needs to change.
What India needs is an affordable computing and communications platform, one that dramatically brings down the cost without compromising on the performance or utility. Luckily, many of the components are now coming together to make this happen. What is needed is for us to adopt these innovations to build the equivalent of tech utilities which make commputing (as Om Malik put it) a reality for the next markets.
The connectivity front is an easier problem to address, thanks to competition, the tens of thousands of optical fibre that have been laid across India, and technologies like WLL, DSL and WiFi which can help bridge the last mile. The challenge lies on the computing front.
Consider India and its present installed base of 10 million computers. In the next 12 months, that figure is expected to rise by about 4.5 million. But it is still not good enough. India needs a much faster adoption of computing technology. There is a potential for 100 million computers in the next few years 3 million SMEs need an average of 10 computers each (30 million), 40 million Indian homes need one each (40 million), 1 million Indian schools need 10 each (10 million), 100,000 colleges need 100 each (10 million), and rural areas and the government need 5 million each. These are the next markets for computing.
While it is tantalising to think of the cellphone as the computer (or perhaps commputer), in reality, portability and mobility is a requirement for only a small segment of the markets. The display size and the limited data entry capabilities of the cellphone make it more useful as a last-mile, always-on bridge rather than the primary computational device. We still need the desktop computer but at a fraction of todays price points. In some segments, we can consider using the TV as a display, but a refurbished monitor costs about the same and gives a much better resolution.
In short, what India needs is a next-generation computing platform for todays non-consumers, which makes affordability as its primary objective, and at the same time leverages the plethora of software and content that is already available. Think thin clients, server-centric computing and open-source software.
Tomorrow: ICT (Part 2)
TECH TALK As India Develops+T