Seek, and you’ll Find a Market

Sixty-five. That’s India on the information infrastructure scale.

Twelve billion is our IT industry this year, in US dollars, with over half in software exports. That’s a seventh of IBM’s size, but good against such abysmal infrastructure.

“How do you do it,” a European asked me, about the IT-enabled services boom, “without phones?” He’d just spent 20 minutes hunting for a working phone at Delhi airport.

I spoke about HR and about our islands of infrastructure, the tech parks and EoUs with IPLCs and exemptions.

“But what about the rest of India?” he asked.

“It’s happening,” I said. India is too complex to be summarized in a drive back from the airport. Well, it’s happening real slow for the billion people. The fiber spanning India will mostly serve the cities. Our people are mostly outside them.

Digital divide. Social cause. Rural projects. “Old hat,” an industry person said at a conference. “Development happens where the market is.”

The alternate emerging view makes more sense today. There’s a market where there are people. Rural India is a viable market.

In our 7 lakh phone booths, the clients are mostly rural users. They make only long distance calls. Obviously, they spend on telecom (if not on electricity or taxes).

A number of projects have been doing their bit to take this idea–the viability of the rural tech market–forward. Some came down the social cause or World Bank route… others, the business-and-market route. But their effect could be felt in the year ahead.

Projects nurtured by an IIT Chennai ‘subsidiary’ have been addressing rural and community access, such as with cheap self-sustaining multimedia kiosks that use WLL where there’s no copper.

Media Labs Asia, the venture with MIT, will work in the “pre-competitive” space–such as with projects to take connectivity deeper into the population. They’ve used innovative solutions elsewhere. Buses with 802.11 LAN cards take broadband wireless to villages for a few hours a day.

HP Labs India launched in February, and is also aimed at tech and products relevant to less developed countries. The objective is more business and less “pre-competitive”, but the effects could be similar.

As a speaker said at that launch, you can cover social objectives while making business sense. There need be no divide between doing good and doing business.

India can become a tech powerhouse only if it uses tech, and when all it’s people do, not just those in STPs. That’s no social cause, it’s a business objective. China and Japan would not be tech superpowers sans domestic markets. Tech usage has to happen in rural India. That would be a step toward superpower status, well beyond coding for Fortune 500 companies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *