A vision for Digital India

Ajay Gupta | Updated on November 07, 2014 Published on November 07, 2014

Smarter than an ice-cream cart But a long way to go

The spread of mobile broadband, by making more spectrum available, can transform delivery of social services

In India, 133 million people are visually impaired, with many living in poor, remote villages. Access to good healthcare is a huge challenge. Imagine if the smartphone, which is gaining popularity in India at a dramatic speed, could be converted into an affordable eye test solution.

Well, this is possible and is happening. An optic device, NetraG, is plugged into a smartphone and using software and basic optic technology, measures the refractive error of an eye — all at a cost of less than ₹300.

For those requiring more than just eye glasses, the patient’s data can be shared with remote experts in real time. But this will be possible when we become a networked society. Digital India will revolutionise the country as key citizen services such as education, healthcare and banking will be accessible to all.

Internet is the backbone of this transformation, with mobile broadband playing a key role. However there are several challenges that the stakeholders would need to address to achieve success.

Focus on supply and demand

Increasing population coverage and data speeds will require significant attention to factors on the supply and demand sides. On the supply side, regulators and operators need to tackle the constraints of limited spectrum availability, device affordability and network performance gaps. On the demand side, the industry needs to ensure it can meet the pent-up demand for mobile broadband.

In recent years, India has witnessed an exponential growth in wireless subscribers. While fibre deployment is expected to be limited to the top 25 cities in India, the rollout of 3G networks is already propelling growth in mobile broadband. Mobile broadband has also started to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban populations.

By 2020 about 45 per cent of the total population is expected to be covered through LTE networks, which will further push data growth. According to the Ericsson Consumer Lab Analytical Platform, India Country Study, 2012-2014, mobile broadband users now send 40 out of every 100 messages through instant messaging apps, rather than SMS, thanks to lower cost, ease of use, ease of content sharing, and better overall user experience.

On average, 3G smartphone users download 10 new apps per month, of which chat and gaming account for more than 35 per cent. Due to suboptimal user experience on 2G and 3G currently, monthly data usage per subscriber is still relatively low across India.

However, in future, as operators improve their 3G network coverage and launch 4G services, subscribers’ usage patterns are likely to evolve towards consumption of high-bandwidth content and video. Average data usage per month of a 3G subscriber is expected to increase to around 1GB (conservative scenario) and around 1.6GB (aggressive scenario) by 2020. Consequently, the revenue mix of Indian operators is expected to evolve to include a higher contribution from data-driven 3G and 4G service revenues.

The industry’s overall gross revenues are expected to increase from $28 billion in 2013 to $46-49 billion in 2020. Data will represent an increasing proportion of the total revenues, and is expected to rise from 10-12 per cent in 2013 to 35-40 per cent by 2020.

Currently, spectrum availability for 3G/4G services in India is much less than other markets with high mobile broadband penetration. The release of additional spectrum in the relevant bands will contribute to affordability of services, and harmonisation of spectrum will allow a lower-cost device ecosystem to evolve. This will play a key role in driving mobile broadband growth.

The writer is the vice-president and head of strategy and marketing, Ericsson India

Published on November 07, 2014
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