TECH TALK: A Tale of 4 Anniversaries: PC 20, Internet 6

If the India of tomorrow symbolises Hope, then Technology spells Excitement. As India has liberalised, software exports have zoomed creating innumerable entrepreneurs seeking to initially arbitrate labour, with a few looking to go beyond to create intellectual property. The global tech slowdown has done little to dampen spirits, even though the large pool of venture capital in India has more or less evaporated to become growth capital. Technology, built on the foundation of computing, communications and software, holds the greatest promise for India and Indians going ahead to become best-of-class internationally.

In India, the installed base of Personal Computers is a mere 5-6 million. Even though India’s growth rate now of 30-35% is good enough to make her one of the more attractive Asian markets, the adoption rate is dismal. Even in corporates, the deployment rates are low and slow. The primary issues, even after all these years, remain Cost and Localisation.

The base price of the PC has not really changed much from about Rs 30-35,000 in recent years even as the innovations have made them increasingly powerful. But powerful for what? What we need in India are lower-priced computing devices for them to become adopted by a much larger segment. Making software available in local languages is another challenge – we are still stuck with the English-language versions of Microsoft Windows for the most part.

Another issue with the PC is the cost of software. Indian corporates are realising that the cost of Rs 20,000 per computer for the Windows-Office combination is serious money. All other software products priced in dollar terms become exceedingly expensive in India. The result is a proliferation of illegal software, which will become more difficult as time comes in as software companies combat piracy. This problem of software costs can become an opportunity for India in the coming years.

Commercial Internet in India is six years old. We had an opportunity to leapfrog into the communications revolution with the Internet. But short-sighted policies for both telecom and the Internet have crimped growth. We have just over 5 million Internet users and about 4 million cellphone users. While these may look big, there are quite pathetic if India has to be a force in technology in the world. Compare with China’s 25 million Internet users and over 80 million cellphones. Bandwidth availability (even for enterprises) is still limited and intermittent. Of course, there is eternal hope for tomorrow!

The consumer Internet revolution in India may have been still-born, but that does not mean an end to the opportunities. The Internet has introduced a discontinuity. As computers get networked, the primary usage is shifting from processing to communicating. For the better part of the past two decades, the focus was on applications to create and process files and documents. Now, as the Internet has brought down the cost of information exchange, the key driver for enterprises is “real-time communications”.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.