India's internet population to reach 600m by 2020

Eden Estopace
21 Dec 2016

India’s rapidly expanding digital population is expected to double to approximately 600 million users by 2020 from 343 million users today, a new study reveals.

The joint study, conducted The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and Deloitte, also showed that of India’s over one billion mobile subscriptions, smartphone users account for approximately about a fourth or 240 million subscriptions. This is expected to grow to 520 million by 2020.

While India is the second largest mobile phone market globally, the study noted that over 55,000 villages remain deprived of mobile connectivity, largely because providing mobile connectivity in these locations is not commercially viable for service providers.

Spectrum availability in Indian metros is also just about a tenth of the same in cities in developed countries, which is a major roadblock to providing high-speed data services.

The study noted that public Wi-Fi penetration remains low, with only about 31,000 hotspots available. For India to achieve the global average of one Wi-Fi hotspot for every 150 citizens, the country needs over eight million hotspots.

Rural adoption of data-enabled devices, however, is expected to increase with the BharatNet initiative under the Digital India program, which itself has been hampered by many challenges including a lack of technical skills and capabilities or competent organizations to support the program.

Other factors include lack of awareness of internet services among Indian consumers and non-availability of most of these digital services in local languages. Moreover, with the proliferation of cloud-based services like DigiLocker, data security has also emerged as a major challenge.

The recent data breach in August 2016, in which debit card data for more than 3.2 million subscribers was stolen, highlights the importance of implementing foolproof security systems.

The study recommends that the government should make efforts to make additional spectrum available to telecom service providers for deployment of high-speed data networks and must effectively collaborate with the private sector to develop the digital infrastructure.

Moreover, it noted that in rural and remote areas, private sector players should be incentivized to provide last mile connectivity. Satellite communication solutions could also be used to speed up broadband access in rural and remote areas. For instance, banks can use VSAT technology to connect remote ATMs, remote branches which need instant access to customer data.

“In order for the benefits of the Digital India program to reach all sections of the population, improving digital literacy is imperative. A strong skill base is required to support the initiatives and services that are envisaged under the Digital India umbrella,” the study concluded.

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