India is witnessing amazing change. While life on a day-to-day basis still has its challenges (poor road infrastructure, erratic power, limited bandwidth, growing urban-rural divide, quality and availability of education, a population that is still growing more rapidly than available resources), there is a lot that is happening to augur well for the future.
Cellphones: Recently, the number of cellphones in India passed the number of landlines. This is not just a statistical milestone. It signifies the choice that Indians are making. By leapfrogging to a wirefree world, communications in India is being transformed, and so is life. Hoardings in Mumbai announce the availability of TV via EDGE networks and railway reservations via the handset. About 2 million new users a month are being added to the current base of about 45 million cellphone users. India has one of the lowest tariffs in the world for mobile telephony. Text messaging has become a way of interaction for many. Value-added services like ringtones and gaming are growing. State-of-the-art networks and feature-rich handsets across India are beckoning the next set of users. Cellphone companies are profitable at average monthly revenues of Rs 400 ($9) per user.
Cable TV: A hundred channels for all of Rs 250 ($5.50) thats what about 55 million households pay to enjoy their television. And there is no dearth of new channels launching every month. I still remember the launch of Zee TV, Indias first private channel it happened just over a decade ago. A mlange of cable companies are now tying up with Internet Service Providers to offer broadband (more like, always-on narrowband) Internet to homes.
Wireless Data: Reliance Infocomms CDMA-based wireless data networks covers more than a thousand towns and cities across India. Lottery terminals, ATMs and even credit card authorization terminals are using it to connect to centralised servers. Providing speeds of 30-60 Kbps (versus a theoretical maximum of 115 Kbps), these data networks are also providing laptop users the ability to connect to the Internet in under five seconds for 40 paise a minute (less than a penny) from almost anywhere in urban and semi-urban India.
Cybercafes: Even as the cost of ownership of a computer remains high, thousands of cybercafes function as Tech 7-11s in neighbourhoods. Sifys 2,000 iWays offer not just Internet access, but also Internet telephony and video conferencing.
Internet Telephony: I still remember the time a few years ago when phone calls to the US cost nearly Rs 100 a minute. The other day, one of the VoIP company sales representatives came calling offering calls for less than Rs 2 a minute. Smart Indians are also buying by Vonage boxes in the US and getting them to India to make calls to the US for a flat rate of $30 (Rs 1,350) a month. Geography indeed has no barriers!
eCommerce: For all who think we have been left behind in the b2c revolution, think again. Indian Railways and Deccan Airways have proven that Indians will pay for transactions over the Internet. The Indian Railways website address one of the major pain points in the life of many booking train tickets and checking the reservation status of waitlisted tickets. Deccan Airways, one of the new low-cost carriers, does bookings of Rs 1.5 crore ($330,000) daily over the Internet.
Tomorrow: New India Glimpses (continued)
TECH TALK Tomorrow’s World+T