Guest Column: Universal connectivity is key to a Digital India

04-Nov-2015 #Digital India Source: India Inc

by Nilotpal Chakravarti

I dare say these are exciting times for India. I say these on the basis of hard data.

Let’s look at the digital commerce sector first up. The Digital Commerce market in India has registered an average growth of almost 35 percent since 2010. Total Digital Commerce market in India was valued at INR 53,301 crores ($8,208 million) in December 2013 and grew at 53 per cent through 2014 and reached INR 81,525 crores ($12,553 million) by the end of December 2014. The industry is estimated to grow further at a rate of 33 per cent and cross INR one lakh crores ($15,400 million) by the end of 2015. This is impressive, isn’t? Now let’s look at what is fueling this growth. Obviously, for any digital sector to thrive, you need customers/consumers. In this case, there are more than 350 million internet users, as consumers/customers.

The Internet in India took more than a decade to move from 10 million to 100 million and 3 years from 100 to 200 million.

However, it took only a year to move from 200 to 300 million users. This makes India the second largest internet users’ base in the world behind China, but is ranked first as the largest internet users in a free market democratic setup.

I must admit that however rosy the picture may look today; and hence my sense of optimism, only a few years ago, the Indian start-up ecosystem was not as vibrant as it is today, mainly due to poor infrastructure, lack of support from the government and unavailability of funds from investors. Earlier, Indian entrepreneurs were not used to receiving enough attention they deserved from other stakeholders, to sustain the start-up eco-system.

However, today, I am happy to state that the scenario has changed dramatically and reflects the fact how corporate giants and the government have come forward to boost the start-up ecosystem in India via mentoring, acquisition, funding, acceleration programmes and setting up of incubation centres. This indeed has helped the digital commerce sector in India grow further.

Mobile Internet in India too is playing a stellar role in the redefining of this sector. Mobile internet in India witnessed significant growth rate over the last year. There were 173 million mobile internet users in India in December, 2014. Mobile Internet users in rural India registered an impressive growth rate of 33 per cent from October 2014 to reach 49 million by March 2015 and 53 million by June 2015.

Urban India however continue to account for a large percentage of the Mobile Internet users across the country and reached 143 million by March 2015 and 160 million by June 2015.

The number of mobile internet users reached 213 million by June 2015.

This indeed is music to the ears of digital entrepreneurs, and thus we see focus shift towards mobile shopping and more specifically towards apps. This is also propelling the growth of digital payments in India as there is a huge spurt in demand for digital payments.

The ambitious Digital India programme is laudable. And Universal connectively is one of the most important pillars of the Digital India programme. It is an absolute precondition to the success of Digital India. In addition to the Bharat Broadband project, I feel that private sector companies, especially, internet companies and telcos should come together to discuss how to enable universal access, which will further boost the digital industry in India.

Nilotpal Chakravarti is associate vicepresident of the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and executive editor of ‘Thinking Aloud’ – an IAMAI publication. @icyneil

This article was first published in India Inc.’s India Investment Journal.

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