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Data superpower

Data superpower

In this data-driven age, the internet is not a privilege anymore. In a world where the digital spectrum and scope have tremendously widened, queries revolve around the speed of internet access rather than an opportunity per se. Two reports cited significant progress by India in its digital narrative. Cable.co.uk presented its research on a price comparison of data across the globe, concluding by placing India at the top of the list with a mere Rs 18.5 ($0.26) per GB of data. Significantly above the US and the UK having $12.37 and $6.66 per 1 GB data respectively, India's cheap data paradigm has been greatly supported by the advent of Jio since 2016. The price war raged by Ambani in India's cut-throat telecom market with the launch of 4G phone service Jio paved way for dirt-cheap data and free domestic voice calls. Expectedly, competitor rates saw a drastic fall ensued due to Jio's entry in the competition. While Jio aided Ambani to jump to the 13th place on Forbes list of billionaires, it unlocked the world of data and internet on an entirely new level for India. Naturally, the urban centres grabbed the opportunity which resulted in soaring data consumption levels, augmented by the entire market providing cheap data to remain competitive following Jio's theatrics. But it was not just urban India benefitted from this Ambani trump card as rural India too initiated slow strides on the same path. Another report which compliments the cheap data situation of India is the number of internet users. Market research agency Kantar IMRB in its ICUBE 2018 report revealed that the number of internet users in India will expectedly reach 627 million in 2019 in the backdrop of rapid internet growth in rural areas. The report aimed at tracking digital adoption and usage trends in the country mentioned an annual growth of 18 per cent in internet users, further citing that 97 per cent of the users opted for smartphones as one of the devices to access the internet. With over 430 million smartphone users, India is the second-largest smartphone market in the world following China. The proliferation of smartphones coupled with cheap data seemingly corroborates the findings of ICUBE 2018 report which draws a very progressive picture for India's internet access. The report revealed that an estimated 251 million internet users belonged to rural India, which is expected to increase to 290 million by the end of 2019. Increased availability of bandwidth, cheap data plans along with proactive awareness driven by various government programmes have faired well in bridging the digital gap between the urban and rural India. The current government's Digital India campaign, launched in 2015, has indeed accrued definite results. Improving the online infrastructure and making government services digitally available for the layman has seen a dramatic rise in data utility evident by the digital empowerment of the nation. Radical digitisation by the government induces economic inclusiveness and social transformation. India eyes an era of increased digitisation powered by new age technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. But new technologies are in the nascent stage, as the internet itself was once, and while they augur well for the technological advancement of the nation, cheap data and unobstructed internet access remain the pretext of those. There is a plethora of opportunities unlocked through the increased internet access (via cheap data) for the users considering the treasure trove that internet is. The internet opens the door to entertainment, knowledge, communication, creativity, expression, et al. With social media at the helm of communication and expression, digital markets have started to become a regular feature of the internet, selling products despite not having any physical shops. Small or big, the online markets have certainly changed the way India shops, greatly influencing the customers via a variety of services. Not just market, the Digital India ambition to provide e-government services empowers India digitally, enabling them to more simplified processes of government engagements such as passport, bills, taxes, FIRs, grievances, schemes, gas connections, government forms, online submission of documents, etc. So e-commerce and e-government services make it a lucrative internet advantage in itself, and with the rising numbers of rural users to this equation, India looks at unprecedented connectivity between its urban and rural segments. IMRB's report also cited gender balance in internet usage with 42 per cent of women in the total figure which definitely augurs well. With cheap data, internet access has been greatly augmented. India needs to do is place appropriate regulations to keep in check any misuse and let it thrive – making us a data superpower!

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