Sundar Pichai, global chief executive at Goggle, the giant search engine, believes India will become a bigger market for the company than the US sometime in the middle of 2016. In an interaction with half a dozen journalists in New Delhi on 17 December, he said it was not only with regard to the use of Android-based phones that India would scale ahead of the US.
There were also many areas of technological development where India would become Google’s first market for experimentation and trial, before launch in other markets.
“We developed the offline version of YouTube in India, tried it here, and are now taking it to other countries,” Pichai said in his first media address since taking over as Google global head in August this year.
There are eight ways Google plans to connect a billion Indians on the Internet. For Google, the next phase of growth in this country would come from reaching out to 18 million small and medium businesses (SMBs), 300,000 villages, 10 million railway users and almost 200 mn new internet users. These are the numbers the search engine major plans to tap into with its ambition to give internet connectivity to people in the remotest corners.
1. BETTER PERFORMANCE AT LOW SPEED: Google products will perform better on slow internet services, including 2G cell phone connections; web pages will load faster, leading to 50 per cent traffic hike
2. SMART MAPS: Google Maps allowing real-time navigation and searches without a data connection
3. OFFLINE YOUTUBE: Now, one can watch videos offline without an Internet connection, and a new feature from next year will buffer paused videos faster
4. RAILWIRE: Project to provide free WiFi at 100 stations by next year, connecting 10 million people passing through
5. PROJECT LOON: Balloons in the stratosphere to provide Internet connections in the villages
6. INTERNET BIKES: Google will work with Tata Trusts to provide Internet bikes in over 300,000 villages in three years. It has already started the project in 1,000
7. TRAINING PLAN: Will train 2 million Android developers over the next 3 years, with 30 universities in partnership with the National Skill Development Corporation
8. CHROMEBIT: A device to turn a monitor into a computer. To be available in India from Jan, likely to boost computer use in education
Elaborating on the Google Loon project, which envisages the use of floating balloons to transmit data to devices using the internet, Pichai said the company was working with data carriers like phone service providers to roll out the new facility. Google Loon would essentially derive its advantage from these balloons, which would be like floating mobile towers and naturally work more effectively in less densely populated areas and rough mountainous terrain.
Google plans to get on board millions of small businesses on its Google Maps and Google My Business interface. This will help small businesses get located on the search engine’s maps and the latter help highlight their businesses on Google searches.
According to Google, there are two aspects of helping the internet reach the remotest of villages. One is to educate people about the internet and help them move with the times. The other is that it will help Google enter a market from where it sees a new wave of revenues generating.
Google and social media major Facebook are both in a race to promote their respective platforms for all programmes. Facebook has been aggressively marketing ‘Free Basics’, earlier known as Internet.org, as ways to make millions of people get internet access. Rural areas are becoming a focus for e-commerce companies and those planning to start payment banks. These are also on Google’s mind as a potential untapped market.
Google has developed many applications and customised features to meet India's language diversity. Here is a look at some:
- Tap to translate: To be released early next year; to help rural and semi-urban population translate messages in the vernacular into English, and vice versa
- Translation of text on any format: To transliterate texts on images to a preferred language, making it convenient for tourists and foreigners to understand signboards or shop names
- New virtual keyboard: To type in 11 languages
- Panoramic imagery of Indian monuments: Images of 250 Indian monuments to Google Maps and Google Cultural Institute; in some a 360° view is available
Facebook’s aggressive advertising campaign for Free Basics on many TV channels and hoardings cannot be missed. Free Basics is the company’s controversial programme to bring millions of unconnected Indians online. This ad campaign comes days before the December 30 deadline for comments on a consultation paper about zero-rating released by the TRAI. Faced with a temporary ban on its service — the TRAI asked Reliance to shut down Free Basics till it concludes whether it violates net neutrality or not — Facebook is just doing that in its ad campaign, promoting that its programme supports Net Nutrality.
It claims, it is crucial for “digital equality” in India.
Free Basics, currently available in 37 countries through Facebook’s partnerships with dozens of telecom operators (Reliance Communications in India), allows users a limited access to internet including Facebook, education websites, healthcare information and employment listings without paying for a data plan.
According to facebook this limited set of services is a bridge to the full internet for people who can’t afford data. “When people have access to free basic internet services, they quickly overcome the digital divide,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg opined.
Free Basics, which began as Internet.org, was first launched in India in February as a closed platform with services hand-picked by Facebook. Facing intense criticism for playing gatekeeper, the social network rebranded Internet.org to Free Basics, and opened it up to any service that wants to sign up as long as it meets certain technical requirements.
Critics feel that Free Basics, splits the internet into free and paid tiers, and violates the principles of net neutrality, which state all types of data on the internet are equal and shouldn’t be discriminated against.
e-commerce is another business that has grown unprecedentedly in India, but it is yet to touch rural lives in any big way. Experts believe that the real e-commerce boom will come with increased participation of rural consumers. With the prospects of internet reaching rural India via BharatNet and mobile services including 4G, e-retailers like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon have started trying to get into rural markets. Even some e-commerce startups like iPay, StoreKing and Inthree solely focus on rural markets.
Encompassing an increasing range of economic activities such as retail, travel, tourism, food and beverages, e-commerce in India is on an exponential growth path. The industry is set to cross $16 billion by the end of 2015, according to an Assocham-Deloitte joint study.
With Indian cable TV becoming digital by 2016, many entertainment giants running OTT services are also eyeing the market for a speedy expansion. Most of the television channels are today available on OTT platform.
India’s active OTT video subscribers in 2014 were 12 million and is expected to grow to 15 million by 2015 says the MPA report. By 2020 India’s active OTT video subscribers are expected to grow to 105 million.