TECH TALK: 2.0: The Changing Digital Infrastructure

The digital infrastructure in India is undergoing a dramatic change, which may not be very obvious. This transformation will create opportunities for content and community portals and websites, and rekindle interest in Internet information services. But along with the change in the connectivity and access devices will also come the need for change in the content that users would like to access. In short, computing and communications technologies stand at the threshold of making the Internet a utility in India the question that needs to be discussed (later) is: how can the portals rise to the occasion?

There are three significant changes taking place in the connectivity infrastructure in India:

  • Availability of fixed-price, narrowband, always-on connections: Telcos, cable providers and Internet service providers are offering connectivity of upto 128 Kbps for less than Rs 1,000 a month. While still not broadband, this is a good start and a major change from the days of dial-up Internet access at Rs 35 per hour. Once a connection is always-on and there is no worry about running up big biils, usage of the Internet changes and it starts to become more of a utility in peoples lives.

  • Broadband connections from cybercafes: Sifys iWays and Reliances soon-to-be-launched cybercafes (as part of their Web Worlds) offer true broadband connectivity. This is starting to open up new applications like video gaming, video conferencing and VoIP. Over time, we are likely to see broadband connectivity available to businesses at reasonable price points (no more than Rs 2,000 per month).

  • Proliferation of Internet-enabled cellphones: While the computer still remains the primary mechanism by which users access the Internet, there are now cellphones which allow Internet access via CDMA and GPRS. Speeds are still slow, the screen size is quite limited and data entry is still a challenge, but at least the access is there.

    A few government decisions can go a long way in opening up the access infrastructure dramatically. Legalising Voice-over-IP, delicencing WiFi and eliminating (or even halving) duties on IT and telecom equipment can help create greater demand.

    This brings us to the access devices. What is needed is a family of access devices which has the affordable business model of phones (payment of less than Rs 1,000 upfront and Rs 500 per month) and the functionality, versatility and footprint of a computer. This is where thin clients costing Rs 5,000-7,000 need to come in this will bring the price point of a user device to the levels of a handset, enabling low-cost monthly rentals for the service provider to recover the cost of the device.

    An always-on, broadband access infrastructure and affordable access devices are two of the three legs that the Indian Internet infrastructure needs to be built on. The third is the availability of content, software and services which can attract users and make the Internet a key part of their lives. This is where visible innovation has stagnated, with the current art being the web browser, websites that we visit and search engines that we scour to get to the websites. What is needed is a New Information Platform.

    Tomorrow: The New Information Platform


  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.