Google says high-speed public wi-fi will spark a data revolution in India as companies look to woo the estimated 300 million Indians who will start using the internet over the next four years.
The internet giant says every second in India, three people experience the internet for the first time in their lives – but most of them have never touched a computer, with smartphones the device of choice.
Google on Tuesday announced plans to start using its expertise in setting up free public wi-fi networks for profit, by partnering with shopping malls, universities and other public places.
Rajan Anandan, Google’s vice-president for India and South-East Asia, says it is part of the internet giant’s plan to overcome a major hurdle in luring potential customers in India, who currently have slow connections or no internet at all.
“Most Indians who are coming online even today are still doing so through slower networks and slower networks that can also be patchy,” he said.
“So I think that’s where wi-fi, especially high speed public wi-fi networks as well as 4G will really have an impact over the next several years.
“Everything that we’re doing is really focussed on getting every Indian online, making the internet useful for every Indian and also making sure the internet is a vibrant right.”
It makes for an enticing market, and one of silicon valley’s giants has already stumbled in its eagerness.
Earlier this year, Indian regulators barred Facebook from offering free access to a limited number of sites and apps – Facebook included – through its local provider Reliance Telecom.
Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of tech publisher MediaNama, says when internet service providers make some sites free and others paid, people then gravitate towards those sites which are faster or cheaper.
But he does not see that issue arising with Google’s latest move.
“Now we won’t have this problem as there’s an increase in connectivity in India, as prices come down and we need to look at growing the pie, at increasing the internet access instead of making a few things free for someone,” he said.