As recently as 2014, India had a total Internet user base of approximately 155 million and this number is expected to more than triple to over 500 million by 2018. So who are these users and what are they doing online?
Three key elements of the changing dynamics of Indian Internet consumption deserve a special mention. India is predominantly a mobile first country when it comes to Internet consumption, driven as it is by the explosive pace of smartphone adoption. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the number of mobile Internet users was projected to grow to about 213 million by June 2015, representing a 22% growth in just six months since December 2015! Secondly, the demographics of the user base are changing--with more than 35% of users today now coming from rural areas and this segment has a continued projected annual growth rate of over 33% over the next few years. Lastly, not unlike some other countries, watching videos is the number one activity for mobile Internet users (16%) in India followed by use of social media activities (11%).
So while it is clear that the demand for Internet is increasing, the supply side of the equation, sadly, has been unable to keep up. Today, only about 30% of India's 5.5 lakh cell towers are 3G enabled compared to the global average of over 70%. And even where available, the difference in speeds is hardly noticeable to the end user. According to Akamai's State of the Internet Report, the average broadband speed (across mobile and fixed access) for Q1 2015 is just about 2.3Mbps, a far cry from the over 24Mbps speeds that users in South Korea experience. Even in terms of international bandwidth capacity, India has had to purchase bandwidth from neighbours such as Bangladesh to meet its requirement.
When you put the exploding demand together with the supply constraints, it is not unexpected that the Internet pathways in India are severely congested, leading to poor user experience--not unlike the state of our roads. So what can be done to help relieve the congestion? From a road traffic perspective, there are three things you can do to remedy this--build more roads, especially side roads to provide alternative paths; encourage time shifting so that one can manage peak times better; and encourage car-pooling, thereby reducing gridlock.
Solutions to Internet congestion can be analogous. First, to increase the capacity there is a need to heavily invest in expanding network presence around the globe to deliver the content faster, more reliably and securely. Secondly, you need to make better use of the available capacity with the help of predictive analytics to anticipate and reduce traffic congestion by better leveraging off peak times and customer preferences to preposition content and avoid congestion. Lastly, to enable the delivery of a broadcast-quality viewing experience to the ever-growing base of users watching video over the Internet, one needs to leverage advanced technologies to address the reliability and sustainability of video quality over the Internet.
With less than 20% of India's population today accessing the Internet, we have a long and explosive growth ahead of us. While fears of Internet congestion leading to poor user experiences is a valid concern, public and private sector players in the country can leverage emerging technology solutions to greatly relieve the pressure of this explosive growth on their infrastructures and deliver a consistently fast, reliable secure Internet experience to their users.