Indias IT leadership has, by and large, been limited to the services area in software and business process outsourcing. Except for a few exceptions, we have not really applied ourselves to creating world-class technologies out of India. This is what needs to change. If we can build the next-generation networks, access devices and services for the mass markets in India, we can foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that will enable Indian companies to take on the best in the world. But for this to happen, we need to look inward first and begin at home. Making the future a reality will require a mix of the right government initiatives with a willingness by Indian companies to take risk and think big.
At the government policy level, we need to get hurdles to our broadband infrastructure out of the way. For this, opening up access to the BSNL and MTNL lines to private sector players is important. DSL is one of the best and most reliable ways to get more bandwidth into Indian homes quickly. Between them, the two government-owned telcos control most of the wirelines. Enabling multiple players to piggyback on this access infrastructure and deploy technologies to get multi-megabit connectivity into Indian homes is the starting point for starting to think about next-generation networks and services.
In addition, the government needs to make available spectrum for the mobile operators to launch 3G services and also open up the space for WiMax and equivalent services. Taken together, this will create the wired and wireless networking infrastructure to allow Indian companies to focus on the two end-points: access devices and services.
Indian companies then need to then start thinking big and building the affordable and manageable access devices (as alternatives to todays personal computer). The need is for solutions that cost just about what a lower-end mobile handset costs (about $110 or Rs 5,000). These devices need to have the form factor of a PC with the guts of a mobile phone. They need to be able run existing Windows and Linux applications. They need to be manageable because the user base is not likely to be savvy enough to be their own IT administrators. While the government could help seed such initiatives, it is really up to the private sector companies to build these access devices assuming the availability of broadband networks.
With the networks in place and mass-market access devices on their way, Indian companies can now start thinking of the new world of content and services to be delivered on mobile and broadband networks. The starting point will be the three screens in the lives of the users: a computer screen, a TV screen and a mobile phone, all connected and integrated with the Internet. Both in content and software, there is a need for innovative ideas and services. By leveraging Indias inherent strengths in story-telling (Bollywood) and software-writing, we can make these services work in the Indian context first and then diffuse them to other countries.
India needs its own IT839 strategy built around access devices and services. A public-private initiative can help ensure that Indias development is accelerated by the right mix of technologies and Indian companies have an opportunity to be global leaders.