As we look ahead, the perspective I will take is that of emerging markets and in many cases, specifically India. It is a market that I am most familiar with even as much of my reading comes from what’s happening across many other markets.
So far, India has been a tale of missed opportunities. Even though we have seen four important revolutions in the past 15 years, there is so much more that could have been. Let us see what these four revolutions have been, and then we will look ahead to what can be.
India’s first revolution started with Rajiv Gandhi and Sam Pitroda, and their telephone booths across the country. For people who had to wait years for a telephone line, there was now an opportunity to get access to telecom without ownership of the device by using a shared resource in the neighbourhood. A million or so of these public call offices (PCOs) now dot the Indian landscape. Even though their livelihood is now threatened by the emergence of the mobile phone, their role in connecting India cannot be overestimated.
India’s second revolution was the bottom-up deployment of cable television infrastructure across the country. This has transformed entertainment across India in the past decade. With no government regulation, entrepreneurs sprung up all over India, set up satellite dishes, strung cables across roads and trees and into homes, and brought variety into a country long fed with a staple diet of a handful of government TV channels. Today, a hundred TV channels are available for no more than a few hundred rupees a month across most of India. More than anything, it is cable television which has created a positive, aspirational attitude across India.
The third revolution built on the first by making mobile phones available to individuals on-demand, again for a few hundred rupees a month. Inspite of some short-sighted government policies, cellular telephony has thrived in India, and with a base of 45 million users growing at about 2 million a month, it has amplified the communications revolution within India. Family and friends are now just a few digits away.
The fourth revolution which is in its early stages is in the IT-enabled services realm. India is rapidly becoming the back-office to the world. Even though this sector employs only about a couple million people, the growth rates and positive feedback loop has now started. It is this services revolution which has to a certain extent helped engineer the retail revolution as there are now plenty of young people with money to spend.
The two revolutions which did not happen in India were in computing and the Internet. Both showed promise, but stumbled due to a variety of reasons with lack of demonstrable utility being one of them. This is where our story begins.
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