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With the government committed to giving a massive push to its vision of a Digital India, the tribe of those online is bound to grow at an overwhelming pace in the not-too-distant future.
'India is moving towards becoming a very digital country. You have seen the examples from the money perspective over the past several weeks. Irrespective of which side of the debate you are on, the benefits of digital are going to be across sectors,' emphasises Narendra Bhandari, General Manager, Developer Experience & Evange-lism, Microsoft India. He predicts that this 'Digital' or 'Fourth Industrial Revolution' will transform the infrastructure sector too in an unimaginable manner.
With a population of over one billion, the world's second most populous nation has 1.04 billion mobile phone users. Out of that, 350 million are smartphone users, with 500 billion logged into the Internet. The federal government's initiatives such as 'Make in India', 'Digital India' and 'Startup India' are giving a further fillip to India's drive towards digitisation.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Law & Justice and Electronics & Information Technology, says,'Digital governance is good governance, digital governance is transparent governance and digital governance is honest governance.' Like Bhandari, referring to the federal government's decision to demonetise certain higher denomination banknotes, Prasad adds,'Demonetisation is a part of a transfor-mative programme which is aimed at a stronger and more movable digital economy.'
Other than an attempt at curbing the nation's humongous black economy, the demonetisation move is also being viewed as India taking a leadership position in the global Digital Revolution by migrating to digital payment systems.
However, Digital India is not merely about improving online infrastructure. It is also about positioning India as the global manufacturing hub in a bid to create 100 million new jobs by 2022. Analysts believe that formulation of the right policy framework would go a long way in ensuring that. The government's focus on the electronics manufacturing sector has resulted in establishment of 40 new mobile phone manufacturing centres in 2017.
The aggressive push to Digital India has also resulted in people living in the country's rural hinterland accessing digital tools. Today applications such as Kisan Suvidha, SmartAgri, Mandi Trades, RainbowAgri and mPower are helping both cultivators and livestock farmers to seek relevant data on soil, crop prices, buyers and veterinary advice.
At nearly 1.1 billion, India has the world's largest non-Internet user population, McKinsey & Co estimated in an October 2014 report. Although low literacy levels and the struggle to afford Web access are the usual suspects, India's Internet base has grown 30 per cent in the last decade-and-a-half. Of the over 200 million Indians that are online today, the majority connect to the World Wide Web through mobile phones.
While there is a section that is completely unconnected, there is another which accesses the Net mostly via patchy 2G or 3G networks. This seemingly incongruous story simultaneously hides a huge growth opportunity. With the government committed to giving a massive push to its vision of a Digital India, the tribe of those online is bound to grow at an overwhelming pace in the not-too-distant future.
But this expansion in the user base will have to also be concomitant with a drastic improvement in connectivity. In the developed world, 20-30 per cent users log on to the Net via mobile devices, with broadband services accounting for the rest. But in India, the figure for people using mobile devices to connect online is 65 per cent or two-thirds of its total online population.
A million kilometres of fibre optical cable were laid in the last three decades. Digital India proposes to lay 700,000 kilometres by 2017. However, the programme can be a real game-changer only if the project for creating a nationwide grid of optical fibre network is successfully accomplished.