The mobile Internet needs to be put in context with other communications channels. We have one-way broadcast media like newspapers, TV and radio. The PC-based Internet, SMS and voice-based access via mobiles are the modes of interactive access. Over time, I believe that the mobile Internet will dwarf them all. The PC is not available to us all the time. SMS has an inherent limitation in the size of the message (160 characters). Voice-based access is great for request-reply type interactions. The mobile Internet in emerging markets will be equivalent to the PC-based Internet in the developed markets from an information access and transaction perspective.
In India, the sweet spot is in the middle of the pyramid the 30 million audience which today goes to cybercafes to access to the Internet. They all have or will have soon GPRS-capable mobiles. A combination of two technologies will transform their lives.
The first is the mobile Internet as we have discussed in this series. What the users will need to do is to activate GPRS on their phones. The current high tariffs of operators will give way over time to pay-as-you-go pricing (as Hutch as done in India with its 5 paise per 10 KB plan) and to reasonable flat-rate data plans (Rs 50 per month is likely to be a reasonable figure). This, combined with a proliferation of mobile publishing, will make the mobile Internet come alive.
The second technology is network computer, which becomes the big screen in the lives of these users. The network computer brings computing home with the server grid at the telco. The network computing should be available at a one-time cost of Rs 5-7,000 and a monthly payment of Rs 500-700 (for computing, connectivity, storage and applications).
Taken together, these two technologies will make the digital world a reality for Indias youth. They will be always connected via the mobile Internet. And they will have access to a big screen computer at home for education and entertainment. In both cases, their information will reside in the network cloud, providing them access to it anytime and from anywhere. This will serve as the digital foundation for a new India.
India grew from a few million mobile users in 2001 to over 100 million users currently. Users accessing the mobile Internet are just a few million. Also, broadband is where the mobile industry was in 2001. We have just over a million broadband users. It is possible for India to grow both its mobile Internet and broadband user base to 50 million in the next 4-5 years. Indias lack of legacy can be turned into an advantage. The building blocks to enable both are there. Whats needed is a mix of vision and will to make this new world a reality.
TECH TALK: Mobile Internet+T