Friday, March 20, 2009

How Green Is My Country

When I went to Japan for the first time some nine years back I was very surprised to see that every other person there carried a mobile phone. At that time the mobile was still considered a luxury item in India - the tariffs were quite high, the phone sets were costly and the coverage not at all good. Even in 2002 not every nook and corner of our country was covered by the mobile networks. Like the feelings I had in my first US trip - when can we have such good roads in India? - the first thing that came to my mind was - when can we see every grown up Indian carrying a phone?

Things have changed astonishingly over the past few years. India now has 350 million mobile phone connections. Considering the fact that there are still about 180 million households (~900 million people) in India thriving on less than $2/day per head - out of which 90 million households thriving on less than $1/day per head and only 40 million households earning more than $2/day per head, it's indeed a very interesting statistic. Even if we assume that the 40 million middle and upper class households, who earn more than $2/day, have one phone each for their members, still that accounts for only 160 million connections. This means that the remaining 190 million connections are coming from the households that earn less than $2/day.  So mobile phones are no longer items of luxury or aristocracy.  Even the poorest households can afford to have a mobile phone. More than that even the poorest of the households consider a mobile phone as a necessity. That's what I'd aspired of when I first saw so many mobile phones in Japan. I feel so happy to see that my dream came true in less than a decade.

Telecommunication is perhaps the only technology or industry or service that has grown at such a rapid pace in India and that has touched the lives of so many people in such short time. I can't think of any other technology that had so huge impact on the people of India. The taxi drivers can't survive without a phone; a fisherman in Kerala can't survive without the useful information that he gets in his mobile, while still in sea, about the right price of the fish at the right market; my maid servant can't manage her daily work at so many houses so efficiently without being touch with each of them and knowing when exactly both sir and madam are coming back from office, or when they are leaving; the farmers are getting used to know about the demand of their vegetables and fruits before coming to the mandi and so on. 

There's lot more scope of improving the technology and making it more useful to the mass of the country. Sadly most of the innovations in the communication have gone towards making useless and costly products which will never be used by majority of Indians for quite some time. Is there any need of making a 3G enabled phone that allows you to see live videos? How much fast the internet connection be, it's not at all an ergonomic and satisfying experience to view a movie on a small screen of a mobile phone. Instead of that all the energy and innovations could have gone towards making 3G the essential technology to provide really fast and cheap wireless broadband to villages which still don't have the infrastructures for the conventional broadband. There are around 650K villages in India, out of which not many would have internet connections. 3G technology has huge potential to provide connectivity to interior parts of India where laying cable would be quite a costly affair. Like mobile phones, that went to places where landlines couldn't go, 3G can take internet to places where conventional broadband hasn't yet reached. Also a cheap 3G device can replace a computer, the cheapest of which is still something like $200. For a village where all the households earn less than $2/day, spending $200 might not be quite feasible. But if it's something like $20 many households can afford to buy a computer and browse the internet. 

The dream I have next is to see each household in India using computer and browsing the internet. That's when I can really say How Green Is My Country!!

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