This kid is a citizens of what will become the world’s largest mobile digital society. India will have unbelievable 150 million mobile Internet users already by March this year. 90 millions are on social media – also from the deepest of the Mumbai slums. Mobile internet first. Toilets next?

Written by: Trond Skundberg (C) 2014


In 2004:

Our driver Eldrin gave us a quick call (preferably a missed call) from his very basic cell phone – only if he had an important message related to the transport mission.

In 2014:

From his smart phone, Eldrin now publishes sightseeing photos of my family on Facebook much before we reach back to our house.

Eldrin doesn’t owe a computer – but he is for sure online

He is accessing internet from anywhere, getting real-time information and interacting with friends on social media. All from his mobile device.

One of 155 millions

Eldrin is one of 155 million mobile internet users in India. (March 2014) One-hundred-and-fifty-five-million people. Knowing the total number of mobile subscribers in India is 900 millions – I am sure you agree it’s a potential for mobile internet growth over the next years.

Urban vs. rural

As much as 70% of Indians live in rural areas. At some point the infrastructure in the villages will contribute to slow down the mobile growth figures, but the potential is so huge that no one seems to worry about that right now.

Only in the slums: Facebook first

Recently I spent some hours in Mumbais mega-slum Dharavi. One million people there lack basics that others of us take for granted. In the deepest of the slum, we passed a young boy that was very busy with his smart phone. A little surprised we noticed he was on Facebook. At least it made our group “talk about it”. Hundreds of thousands in the Mumbai slum will probably be connected to Internet long time before they get connected with decent sanitary conditions. It gives the expression “mobile first” a new meaning, right?

Straight to a mobile

As typical for millions in emerging markets, the desktop computer is bypassed. People jump straight to a smart phone. Because the devices are cheaper. The price of Android driven smart phones are falling. But what I really think can create a major breaktrough -is the introduction of rock bottom priced smartphones with Firefox OS. The word is out we can expect devices at the rate of 25 USD soon. Combined with the telecompanies very reasonable mobile data packages, it theoretically opens up for hundreds of millions of new Internet users. People that with different degrees of prioritization can afford getting part of the mobile internet revolution.

Eldrin is hungry for digital services

As most Indians he has a good appetite for entertainment. He is already a big consumer of TV and DVD’s. Now that he has gone online, where do you think his future digital entertainment purchases will take place? 50% of smart phone users in India has already (2013) bought something online. I am sure Eldrin will in 2014.

Enormous need of services and local content

One don’t have to be a hairy guru to predict a tremendous need of new web-based services the next years. Knowing India has more similarities with a continent then one single country, regional content is an absolute requirement to keep the fire burning. Hundreds of languages, 22 of them official -is a strong enough indicator, right? Considering the diversity of the 29 Indian states -it’s obviously not just about the language of the content either. When it comes to content strategy, it’s probably wise to considere India as 30 different countries.

I am worried about the design and communication aspect

Unintentionally, the Indian Internet development industry could actually slow down the growth. Willingly catering to the huge demand of development of new services, we will for sure see high volume and unfortunately a lot of low quality. I think the areas of communication, content and design will suffer. Creating services useful enough to engage the masses of users -is not a technical matter. It is more about communication, design of the user interface and quality of the content.

Example: Some Indian states has a high illiteracy rate. Hence universal design is especially important. The services have to be intuitive. Clear communication and simple design is going to be crucial to satisfy the users. Good content, not to mention in local languages is another highly important factor. To design for “mobile first” is of course obvious.

Who will assure quality content?

The telecompanies have all the incentives in the world to lead way and keep the users engaged to sell more data. The official India obviously has all the good reasons to speed up on good e-governance. Time will show if the political interests will match the need and possibilities. As for everything else these days; let’s see what happens after the election.

Thousands of commercial players will surely dominate in the rough jungle of good and bad information services, entertainment and web shops for all thinkable goods and services. Let serve as an example of what we will see a lot more of. Smooth online purchase of any product – delivered to any village 2 days later.

“COD” of course

In the big Indian cities one is already very familiar with online orders of about everything thinkable. “Cash on delivery” on your doorstep.

Brand marketing

The awareness for international brands is still relatively low in India. The millions entering the middle class every year, with a nose for “not absolutely required products” – obviously is good news for brand managers. That most of them can be reached through a Facebook Ad, must be even better news. I think brands has a particularly bright future in India.

Innovation urgently required

There is no Silicon Valley in India. The mindset for risk-taking and innovative entrepreneurship is partly missing. So, where do entrepreneurs, investors and the official India meet – to give birth to the so important future web services?

Facebook first – followed by a better life?

Just imagine how a unique digital identification number, Internet banking, e-healthcare and online interaction with governmental offices will change the life of hundreds of millions in India.

Ralph Lauren to Dharavi?

If our friend from Dharavi get lucky, he will be ordering a Ralph Lauren shirts soon, cash on delivery in Dharavi. If not that, in a few years he might cast his vote from his smart phone. That will not necessarily mean “vote his cast”, as is traditionally done. So the mobile internet revolution is likely to be a political game changer as well.

No matter what happens – it’s a mobile internet revolution in India.