Indian Decade

India’s Internet Revolution?

The number of internet users in India is set to boom. A large chunk of new users will be using smart phones.

As a 21st century urban Indian, dealing with unwanted text messages, or SMS as they are more popularly known, is a survival mechanism you can’t cope without. Despite various regulations that seem to come and go, and which offer temporary respite from realtors offering you the latest apartments, or astrological services offering you the “most accurate horoscope forecast at the lowest prices,” a regular barrage of text messages are still a constant companion.

Of course, the ubiquity of the mobile phone is very much last-decade news. The big question now in India is whether the Internet can live up to its promise of heralding another communications revolution for us.

A few things last week got me thinking about this. First, was an e-mail I received a few days back from a political candidate in the fray for the state elections currently going on in Uttar Pradesh. I live in Noida, an important part of the Delhi National Capital Region, but an area that is actually part of Uttar Pradesh; Noida goes to the polls on February 28. In the extremely well-crafted, smartly written e-mail, this particular candidate extolled the virtues of his candidacy, and pointed to a variety of social media outlets where he hoped we would try to find out more about why he was the best candidate. The savviness of the communications campaign caught me by surprise. But I was even more fascinated when I heard my driver say his newly acquired Gmail id to a relative in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. He was asking his cousin to scan some identity papers he needed and to then e-mail them to him.

All through 2011, as a business journalist and somebody who watches what’s happening in India’s buzzing entrepreneurial scene, e-commerce ventures and their seemingly incredible valuations dominated the news here. Despite some scepticism that this smacked of a bubble-in-the-making, recent reports seem to suggest that the scope of the internet is rapidly broadening in India. For example, India Goes Digital, a report by Mumbai-based investment banking firm Avendus, says it expects the number of unique Internet users in India to reach 376 million by 2015. (Most studies estimate current Indian internet users at around 100 million).

Interestingly, the mobile phone is powering much of this growth – according to the report, 3G will reach 22 percent of the population by 2015. In India, first time internet users are more likely to first experience the internet on smart phones rather than more expensive personal computers or laptops. Already, internet users have impacted a variety of e-governance mechanisms such as online tax filings.

If the base of internet users grows as rapidly as the trends above predict, there will be plenty more change to come in India. And plenty more spam…