I wrote an article recently for Business Today (reproduced below; actual print article may differ) for its issue celebrating 10 years of the Internet in India. In fact, August 1995 saw not just the launch of the Internet but also mobile telephony in India. Going ahead, the next versions of both will redefine the way we live and work.
As the Indian Internet celebrates its tenth anniversary, one can look back at the past decade as a tale of missed opportunities. We should have had 100 million users (we have about a quarter of that), we should have had real high-speed broadband available cost-effectively and on-demand across the country (we are just about starting on this), and we should have had a wide variety of innovative services to make the Internet a utility in our lives (we are still far away from that).
The Internet could have been the transformative force in its wired and wireless forms for both consumers and enterprises but it hasn’t. A lack of vision from policymakers, the high cost of bandwidth, a paucity of venture capital, the relatively high cost of computers, and perhaps most importantly, a dearth of compelling content and innovative services have limited the growth of Internet 1.0 in India.
Going ahead, though, the story can and will be very different. The second decade of the Indian Internet will go a long way in fulfilling the promise of the first. Converged next-generation networks will make the Evernet – a ubiquitous, always-available, high-speed network envelope a reality, limiting the impact of flawed policies. Bandwidth prices are falling rapidly due to competition and a realisation that the more one gives, the more people will want. Venture capital will be increasingly available as India’s user base rises and investors see another China-like story in the making. Cheaper computers along with alternative platforms like network computers and mobiles will make access available to much larger numbers. Content and services, too, will become more relevant completing a positive feedback loop to accelerate reach and usage.
There are two key drivers which will define tomorrow’s Internet: broadband networks and mobile phones.
With an always-on, flat-priced broadband connection, there is no worry about running up big bills. The usage of the Internet changes and it starts to become more of a utility in peoples lives. The proliferation of these networks will create demand for zero-management network computers, making the computer almost as easy to use as a TV. Broadband will also spur the creation and dissemination of multimedia content, which will drive the twin consumer application areas of education and entertainment. User-generated content in the form of weblogs and podcasts will add a richer tapestry to the Internet. For enterprises, broadband will enable software-as-a-service, as application service providers make available integrated stacks of encoded business processes to power the real-time flow of information.
Internet-enabled mobile phones will make all the new services available to people wherever they are. In emerging markets like India, more people will access the Internet from their mobile phone than the computer. The mobile Internet will bring connectivity to swathes of India untouched by the data revolution. Mobile phones are also two-way devices besides displaying received content, they also enable their owners to create content and share it with others almost instantaneously. Thus, photos and videos now don’t just get consigned to archives but can spur conversation now between people separated by distanced but linked with their mobiles. The mobile phone will be the social computer for India’s next generation of Internet users.
Tomorrow: The New Internet (continued)
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