In India today, a bandwidth of 64 Kbps is a very big deal. It is also very expensive. George Gilder and his Telecosm have not yet touched us! While the commercial Internet has been around now for 5+ years, access speeds from home continue to be better for most of us than the shared connections at the workplace. India has kept pace with development on the LAN (local area network) front, but we are many years behind on the WAN (wide area network) front. This is about to change.
Many companies are now rolling out infrastructure to provide high-speed fibre and wireless connectivity to the corporate desktop. Reliance in 115 cities, Spectranet in Delhi, BSES in Mumbai, Satyam Infoway, MTNL, VSNL, the cable companies – everyone’s getting into the act. Even the cellphone companies are now talking of rolling out their packet-switched 2.5G (GPRS) networks in the next year. Broadband is coming to India. Hopefully, at an affordable price.
Bandwidth is critical if India has to keep up its growth in the IT sector. The next generation of IT-enabled services (call centres, eCRM, medical transcription, etc.) are bandwidth-hungry, and could rapidly eclipse the software companies in their demand for bandwidth. Unless a lot of bandwidth is available at very cheap prices, India’s cost advantages will be frittered away. It is very difficult to be entrepreneurial in one’s thinking when sending and receiving email becomes a daily chore!
The bandwidth bottlenecks in India are at each stage: last-mile, within the country and internationally. Different companies are working on solutions to eliminate these hurdles. 2001 will be the year when all of these solutions will dovetail nicely to provide a much superior end-user experience. This will further spur creativity and innovation – its difficult to dream up streaming applications when all you have is a 64 Kbps connection to the Net.
As bandwidth becomes less of a challenge, India can also become a hotbed for prototyping other mass market Internet ideas. Video mail, wireless data devices, voice-over-IP can all become possibilities, and change people’s lives for the better. India’s roads may not be the best in the world, but if our communications networks can be the best, then distance and geography will finally become irrelevant. This will open up opportunities for Indians and Indian businesses in ways we cannot imagine.
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