India to have largest number of people using Net in the next half decade

by Ashwani Mishra    Nov 09, 2011

India’s Internet community will total 121 million users by end of this year, fuelled by increase in Internet penetration and availability of affordable personal computers (PCs) says a report published by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB.

As per the findings of the annual I-Cube Report jointly published by IAMAI and IMRB, India’s Internet population is expected to grow from 100 million in September this year to 121 million users by December 2011.

“We have achieved a critical mass and this will usher in a new stage of growth for our economy,” says Subho Ray, President, Internet and Mobile Association of India.

He adds that within the next four to five years, India can become the largest Internet using country in the world.

Out of 121 million, 97 million would be active Internet users who access Internet at least once in a month. Of the 121 million users who claimed to have used Internet in the past, there will be 92 million Internet users from the urban parts of the country and 29 million will represent rural users. Of the 97 million active Internet users, 73 million will be from cities and the rest (24 million) from rural villages.

Unlike the mobile phone revolution in the country that spread quickly from urban users to farm workers in India, the Internet has taken longer to catch on. Analysts opine that the absence of a strong infrastructure, right from electricity to an extensive landline network, has been a massive stumbling block to widen Internet access.

“It is good to talk about the past, but it does not serve any purpose. Yes, these issues slowed down Internet adoption. However, the government and private players now understand that infrastructure is critical and they are trying to put the pieces together,” says Ray.

The National Telecom Policy-2011 has set a target of achieving 175 million broadband connections by the year 2017 and 600 million by the year 2020 at minimum 2 Mbps download speed and making available higher speeds of at least 100 Mbps on demand.

The policy intends to provide high speed and high quality broadband access to all village panchayats through optical fibre by the year 2014 and progressively to all villages and habitation.

A McKinsey report states that the government is also making large investments to overcome other hurdles. In particular, it is sponsoring efforts to give citizens unique identification numbers that will, for instance, allow identities to be authenticated with mobile devices. That will facilitate wireless banking and other services, such as e-health care.

In addition, the ability to identify all citizens means that subsidies and incentives can be delivered to them efficiently. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Authority, for example, is supposed to distribute $8.5 billion to citizens in 2011.

“In the past, significant portions of such funds have failed to reach the recipients. The digital opportunity may substantially eliminate this problem, and citizens spurred by the prospect of finally getting what’s due to them should make the leap to mobile-Internet services such as e-commerce,” writes McKinsey & Company Director Laxman Narasimhan in the report.

Sarvesh Kumar, a farmer from Bhopalpatnam village, Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh says that usage of mobile and Internet has helped the village to access better healthcare facilities. This has been possible due to the initiative by a local NGO and public health department who collaborate on a regular basis using mobile and Internet technologies for the benefit of villagers.

“We will see more action from the government and other players to increase Internet penetration,” says Ray.

The I-Cube report also found out that common access points like cyber cafes continue to be important, though there has been a fall in access from these centres. According to the study, around 37 percent of users access the Internet from home, 23 percent from cyber cafes, 22 percent from office, nine percent from mobile devices and rest from schools and other centres.