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India's Tryst with Broadband

Ramesh Balakrishnan,
Principal Analyst, Next On Mobile
  Ramesh Balakrishnan |  | 28/01/2014

As one of the largest telecom markets in the world, India offers huge potential for growing Broadband. Yet, the growth of Broadband in India (both Wireless and Wireline) has been excruciatingly slow. Various reasons have been cited for this situation. A series of regulatory missteps on issuing licenses and FDI, under investment in the sector and lack of a fixed line infrastructure (Wireline telecom and Cable) have slowed the growth of the sector over the past many years.

In more developed markets, the existence of a widespread wireline network enabled the early growth of the service as telcos made investments in DSL and other variants of the technology and later in Cable, FTTH, 3G.4G in that order. This has led to billions of dollars of investments in Broadband technologies over several decades that has unleashed a bandwidth revolution and the blossoming of the Broadband economy of those countries. While a robust Broadband infrastructure is vital to the growth of the Broadband economy, even more important was the development and nurturing of a content and application ecosystem. This is where India falls short on the demand side of the Broadband equation. Even though India boasts a huge 'English' speaker content ecosystem, the 'English' Internet reaches at the most 100 -120 Million Internet users.

Large segments of India's population are native language speakers and find the extant mobile Broadband not usable because they cannot discover and consume relevant content at the touch of a button. This pent up demand for content can be satiated if India takes a leaf out of the Chinese Internet experience. A key reason for why the Chinese Internet is hugely popular is because Internet services like Sina, Weibo and Tencent are tailored to the needs of the Chinese end user and have made it easy for them to access Chinese content on the fly. Content is not something you search for, but is presented to you. Another reason could be because popular Internet services like Google and Twitter are banned in China. Nevertheless, China is marching ahead with building its own Internet industry without relying on services that are developed for the West. This is not to suggest that India should follow the Chinese lead in blocking popular Internet services or curbing Internet freedom by limiting access to content. Rather, as the penetration of Smart Phones and other touch screen devices grows, 4G services are deployed more widely and affordable Broadband access becomes a reality, India needs to focus attention on developing a local content ecosystem that takes into account the unique user needs and limitations of more than 800 million Indian users who have more interest in accessing the content they want, but have no interest in searching the Internet or consuming content the way Indians do today. Content Discovery is still a huge issue for developed market Internet users. Enabling large segments of the Indian market to access the content they want, when they want it on their own devices without having to search for it (reverting to the traditional portal model)is the way to go. That would do a lot more to unleashing a new wave of services for and by India and encouraging a new class of entrepreneurs in the mobile and Internet space that is already exploding.

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