Fueling the next Indian Revolution

I have been pondering over the question of who or what will trigger the next revolution in India. Pablo’s post on the mobile revolution triggered the process [8]. Pablo was interested in determining what other factors, apart from liberalization[1,3] , were responsible for triggering the mobile revolution? He correctly summarised that the Mobile revolution [9] was brought forth because it solved a very basic need cost-effectively.

The assertion that the mobile revolutionized the average Indian’s life could be debated. Some research reveals staggering numbers. Of the billion Indians, many million companies and other entities, 68 million of them are now cellular subscribers [9]. This number by itself is unparalleled when compared to other sectors and even exceeds the landline installed base. Further, 4.5 million users are being added every month (this by itself is revolutionary). The thinking behind schemes that reach across to even the bottom of the pyramid have been there with India for a while now [2,5,6].The fact that the technology industry is warming up to such strategies can only bode well for India.

Pablo correctly surmised that liberalization only brought about the revolution quicker, the wireless nature of the mobile phone network allowed it to proliferate into areas where the landline could not reach. It brought the ability to communicate even when travelling. A common job profile in India. Only a few years ago, the second wave in the mobile revolution was triggered by a rash of schemes from wireless providers that put the mobile within reach of almost every working family in India.

The question that then persisted was what next? I offered the following areas as possibilities:

  • Voice over IP over the wireless network.
  • Micropayments using mobile phones (see mChq [MobilePundit]).
  • Wireless-based location services (see Xora).

The common pattern is the use of the existing wireless infrastructure. That is an obvious one to latch on to. However, there are arguments against each one of them. For example, for VOIP for mobiles to really succeed, STD call and local calls must cost the same (i.e. Rs 1.99 per minute) or even better, must be even cheaper than that. VOIP must also provide additional value over simple voice plans.

On Saturday, global VC’s Ram Shriram of Sherpalo and John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins (KPCB) met with entrepreneurs and others in New Delhi [7] to talk about their interests for investments amongst other things. Their discussion centered around the following questions of interest to those in the audience:

  • What areas are KPCB looking to fund in India?
  • The Software services trend in India.
  • Why invest in yet another search engine, Google?
  • What is the role of Indian software service companies in building products for the world market?
    Are investors interested in Indian application product companies?
  • What is the state of seed funding for entrepreneurs in India?
  • What approach do you adopt when investing in India?

To add to the list of products and services part of the next wave to hit the Indian market, they added:

  • Content services for mobiles (e.g. CellNext).
  • The Consumer Web (Mobile and Internet).
  • The Internet.

While they agreed that the mobile is where it will be at, their choice of the Internet as a platform by itself surprised me. Perhaps John Doerr is trying to reconcile his more global view of the Internet being the single largest source for the creation of wealth on this Planet. The last I checked broadband penetration in India was abysmally low, those who used credit cards online even lower. Also, going by Pablo’s argument, the need to invest in wired connectivity infrastructure will slow it’s propagation.

Note that slow adoption does not imply non acceptance. India has never been known as an early adopter of technologies and standards that arise out of developed nations. But that has not really hurt us. Instead, we have always found ourselves to be in a favorable position to switch over whenever the next, more cost-effective increment in the standard came along (e.g. CDMA verus GSM, or PAL versus NTSC).

[1] “Thud in the Hills” – The Other India.
[2] “The Perfect Vision of Dr. V” – Fast Company.
[3] “The Myth of India’s liberalization” – India Uncut.
[4] About “The Other India”.
[5] “Morality of Markets” – Parth Shah.
[6] “Law, Liberty, and Livelihood: Making a Living on the Street” – Parth Shah.
[7] “Ram Shriram and John Doerr in Delhi” – ContentSutra.
[8] “The mobile revolution: economy, technology or both?” – The Spanish in India.
[9] “Telecom Sector Trend” – Indian Economy Blog.

Related stories on Sukshma.net:
Made in India for India – Why entrepreneurs and the Government must not ignore products for the Indian market.

Update (6th Feb. 2006):Tech Talk – India Internet and Mobile: Internet Challenges“. Rajesh Jain of Emergic.org from Mumbai, discusses the challenges before Indian Internet companies.

Update (7th Feb. 2006): Since no one has commented yet 🙂 on VOIP over Wireless data networks, I poked around a bit to see if this was a lot of hot air or not. I did find an affirmation that VOIP over GPRS could reduce costs. See “GPRS VOIPVOIPReview.org. In any case, there are two hurdles, wireless operators who might not approve of the usage of the data network, second is the fact that most wireless operators tack on a voice plan irrespective of what your intended use of the phone (at least that seems to be the case in the US).

Mar00ned left a link to BBC South Asia – “Fast Track for Indian Internet“.

A team of engineers in India say they have found an innovative way of bringing the internet cheaply and quickly to India’s rural population.

Update (8th Feb. 2006): Rajesh has the next installment of Tech Talk up on Emergic.org – “Mobile Challenges“. From his discussion, it seems the Indian mobile content market has turned out to be very different from markets elsewhere. However, I digress, mobile content is but an obvious windfall of the mobile revolution. Rajesh points out that any further radical change will only be delayed if carriers continually limit the options available for network usage.

There is little that can be done about that. Carriers probably feel left out when companies that add value over content or make content available begin to pull in the dough. They want to avoid such scenario’s as far as possible. See “Verizon Executive calls for end to Google’s Free Lunch” – Washington Post. I do not want to be seen as defending their selfish atitude. This serves as a warning to every entrepreneur, regulation could end your dream – quickly. Deal with it cleverly.

Update (10th Feb. 2006):India a Topper in average e-com deals“. – United Press International. Measures the trend towards e-com in India and reports surprisingly optimisitic results.

Update (19th April, 2006): Norwest Venture partners raises $650 million to fund technology deals in India, Israel and USA (wireless and Internet).