Rural India Connectivity Potential
We are closer than ever to being part of a more connected world that promises a better life for all. The unprecedented speed of breakthroughs in fields like artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing are all a part of the fourth industrial revolution building upon the momentum of digitization that came about from the third.
The telecommunication sector is often seen as just mobile phones and network operators. Things like mobile banking, online education, eHealth, and so much more begin to fall under the umbrella of telecommunications, as the sector becomes more and more about connecting people in all forms and thus plays a huge role in the technology revolution.
Over the past decade, India has taken great strides in the telecommunications sector, which has primed India to be ready for the fourth industrial revolution. The telecom industry in India has become the second largest in the world with a subscriber base of over 1.2 billion, and the number of smartphone users crossed the 300 million mark in 2016, making it the largest smartphone market in the world. This is an impressive accomplishment, but given the population of India, there is still tremendous room for growth. The 300 million represents close to 23% of the total population in India, while in the US there are only 225 million smartphone users, which represents about 70% of the entire US population.
While the number of Indians living in urban areas has increased over the last 20 years, about 67% of India’s 1.3 billion population lives in rural areas, which equates to a market of approximately 900 million people.
With a rising demand for internet services in the under-serviced rural markets, the government has targeted 100% rural teledensity by 2020.
To bring rural India to the same level of connectivity as the rest of the country, the government has taken up initiatives like E-sign, PayGov, Digital Locker, E-TTAL, Jan Dhan Yojana, National Digital Literacy Mission, and E-Bhasha. These initiatives fall under the Digital India program for the transformation of India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
The first pillar of the Digital India Program is BharatNet, whose mission is to link 250,000 Gram Panchayats of India through a broadband optical fibre network. This is the largest rural connectivity project of its kind in the world. On its completion, BharatNet would facilitate Broadband connectivity (with a 100 mbps of bandwidth) for over 600 million rural citizens.
India’s lack of legacy infrastructure serves as an additional advantage allowing the country to make the leap directly into the fourth industrial revolution. Countries like the US and Canada are slower to take up these new changes, as they must deal with upgrading existing hardware, whereas India does not need to spend money on changing infrastructure and can start from scratch installing new technologies.
In 2013 the government increased the allowed FDI in the telecom sector from 74% to 100%, increasing opportunities for foreign investors to enter the India market. With so much government support, India has the capabilities to support investors entering the telecom market and growing the country’s infrastructure and networks, which only brings India closer to reaching its aspirational goals. In order for the world to truly become connected it is essential that entrepreneurs, companies, and investors put their resources into building up infrastructure in rural areas. India is on the path to being part of this big change, but investments and collaborations must continue in order to make India the next powerhouse in technological innovations.