India and Indian companies have an amazing opportunity ahead of them to build the digital infrastructure of tomorrow’s world. India, like China, is a large enough market get things right here or in China, and you have some heft to drive standards globally. We can expect little help from the government. A perfect example of this is the most recent broadband policy announced after a hundred days of thought. With a deep desire to put the interests of two government telecom incumbents (BSNL and MTNL) and their employees, the government has demonstrated that it cannot be expected to make decisions in the greater interest of hundreds of millions of Indians. One can spend a lot of time and energy being critical of our decision-makers. That path is not going to get us anywhere. We need Plan B. And luckily for us, there is plenty of help at hand.
Technological innovations are going to do what the Indian government has singularly failed to enable in the past decade: make India the hotbed and testbed for cutting-edge technologies which can dramatically transform lives in India. After all, the problems we face are not small in magnitude ensuring that 200 million Indians have access to quality education, getting millions of information workers access to technology so that they can do their work more efficiently, providing new forms of edutainment to the growing middle-class, and lifting much of rural India out of its poverty. What is needed is the potent mix of technological innovation and Indian entrepreneurship to build solutions for the middle and bottom of the pyramid here, and then take them out to others like us across hundreds of nations globally.
Once we decide that the government is not really a factor in decision-making, life becomes easy. Consider what we are already doing: voice-over-IP is already happening inspite of a government ban, wireless hotspots are starting to proliferate even as the government only now is starting to open up spectrum, and low bit-rate wireless data networks exist in hundreds of Indian cities connecting lottery terminals, ATMs and credit card authorisation terminals to centralised data centres. Indians have solved the problem of expensive software by using a mix of piracy and open-source software. Solutions like Skype and Vonage are edging into computers and Indian networks, and there is little anyone can do to control or regulate them. Technological innovations have made geography irrelevant from the viewpoint of their own diffusion.
Armed with cash, flush with recent successes, and powered by entrepreneurial zeal, Indian companies have the ability and opportunity to now build out the model of tomorrow’s world. So what if the local loop is not going to be unbundled and the last mile is a challenge? Let us use wireless broadband. So what if Intel does not enable lower-cost computers? Think network computers. So what if Microsoft still insists on dollar-denominated pricing? Think open-source software. So what if collecting money is a problem? Think pre-paid.
For the first time, the future of India is in our own hands with the government being irrelevant. We can choose to experiment with and adopt new technologies and architectures. Some ideas will fail, but a few will succeed big time. We are about to make India a laboratory for trying out new solutions to construct the platform for the New India.
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