NEW DELHI: India could reach one billion digital users by expanding the rural internet user base in the country, which is 35 crore compared to 43 crore in urban areas, a senior Vodafone Idea executive has said .
“Today we have 1.15 billion mobile phone subscribers. And out of the total number of people using mobile phones in the country, about 68% are internet users… And if you look at urban internet users it’s 43 crores, in rural areas it’s 35 crores. And this is a great, great opportunity. While we have 68% internet users, only half of India’s population owns a smartphone,” Abhijit Kishore, chief operating officer of Vodafone Idea, said in a keynote address at the India Mobile Congress on Saturday.
According to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), wireless subscriptions in urban areas fell from 625.49 million in June to 626.74 million in July, but wireless subscriptions in rural areas fell from 521.90 million to 521.29 million during the same period.
Kishore pointed out that the value of bandwidth [tarriffs] and lower purchasing power is a barrier for non-data users in the demographic that prevents them from taking advantage of digital services. “I think for us, reaching one billion digital users will be a reality soon enough,” he said, if certain challenges are met.
“The biggest challenge in my mind is educating them about the trust and safety of different aspects of digital adoptions due to their lesser exposure today to this digitization driving ecosystem. In this cohort, I think we need to redesign our approach,” he said. added.
The executive added that the ecosystem comprising telecom operators, apps and handset players needs to upgrade users in the digital value chain which will lead to increased consumption of content which will ultimately result in the use of applications and the carrying out of financial transactions. “This requires the industry ecosystem to take a very targeted approach to addressing this particular demographic.”
“One of the hurdles in my view is language fluency and the availability of relevant business content in the local language, and therefore the need for alignment and vernacular as well as application development in both languages is very important,” Kishore said. “The ecosystem of devices and its affordability will be another factor. While we still see prices coming down, as you also heard today from Prime Minister [India setting up] from 2 to 200 device manufacturing units in the country, I think it will also give a boost to the Make in India vision that we have,” he said.
The COO of India’s third-largest telecom operator also implored the rural cohort to understand the utility arising from going ‘digital’, other than using the internet for social media and entertainment. “For rural India, [internet] penetration should increase significantly.
Citing internal examples, Kishore said that Vodafone’s idea platform now serves 5 lakh farmers in 10 states and 25 districts with its Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, resulting in an increase of 25 % of their income and a 20% reduction while Gurushala, an online education initiative of Indus Towers and Vodafone Idea Foundation, implemented by Pratham Education Foundation, today serves over 16 lakh students of class 6-12 who can connect from anywhere to study.
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