Battle for the next billion clicks

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Sep 2 2013, 15:05pm hrs
In 2000, internet was a rich mans tooltechnology of the West. In 2013, emerging markets are the mediums growth drivers. Recent initiatives by Facebook and Google to bring new users online from developing countries, such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, are a pointer to this. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has announced an ambitious partnership,, with the goal of making internet access available to the next 5 billion people. Google, the Mountain View, California-based company expects 500 million new users from emerging markets to come online, compared to only 15 million new users from the US.

India will play a very significant role in bringing the next billion customers online, says Lalitesh Katragadda, country head, products, Google India. Traditionally, India has been an under-penetrated market which has meant a vast scope and opportunity to grow here. There are many trends which point towards this growth. Indian users are evolving and so is the Google platform to cater to them. Our aim is to bring the usage in India from the current 100-120 million to 200 million and we believe that the trends in the country are highly favourable for this development. he adds.

What happens when a billion new people come online Both the internet biggies profess that one of the first things they will do is use the Web to express their entrepreneurial spirit, grow their businesses and share their culture. Also, the Web is a big enabler for small and medium businesses, hence a win-win for both the parties; the internet companies as well as the consumer.

Globally, there are 2.7 billion people internet users. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has also mushroomed to reach the five billion mark this year. At 73.9 million home and work internet users, the Indian online population currently ranks as the 3rd largest in the world after China and the US, says comScore. With 75% of its internet users under the age of 35, India has the youngest skewing online population among BRIC countries.

Back to the Facebook-led initiative. The social networking firm will be working with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, to develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilise industry and governments to bring the world online. Today we connect more than 1.15 billion people each month, but as we started thinking about connecting the next 5 billion, we realised something important: the vast majority of people in the world dont have access to the internet, says the 29-year-old Zuckerberg. Today, only 2.7 billion peoplejust over one-third of the worlds populationhave access to the internet. Internet adoption is growing by less than 9% each year, which is slow considering how early we are in its development. There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy.

The goal of is to make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today. The new partnership formed by Facebook is influenced by the successful Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative that has lowered the costs of cloud computing by making hardware designs more efficient and innovative.

The ventures business strategy is simple and straight forward. First, partners will collaborate to develop and adopt technologies that make mobile connectivity more affordable and decrease the cost of delivering data to people worldwide. Potential projects include collaborations to develop lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones and partnerships to more broadly deploy internet access in under-served communities. Mobile operators will play a central role in this effort by driving initiatives that benefit the entire ecosystem.

Second, partners will invest in tools that dramatically reduce the amount of data required to use most apps and internet experiences. Potential projects include developing data compression tools, enhancing network capabilities to more efficiently handle data, building systems to cache data efficiently and creating frameworks for apps to reduce data usage.

Third, partners will support development of sustainable new business models and services that make it easier for people to access the internet. This includes testing new models that align incentives for mobile operators, device manufacturers, developers and other businesses to provide more affordable access than has previously been possible. Other efforts will focus on localising servicesworking with operating system providers and other partners to enable more languages on mobile devices.

On the Google front, the internet firm is working to get more people online in emerging markets by making the internet faster and cheaper. Lalitesh says, We are working with local internet service providers to ensure people have the fastest Web experience possible, and we are launching tools like Free Zone that provide free access to Gmail and search results so more can afford to connect. We are also adapting our services, including Gmail and video chat, to work on less reliable internet connections.

Needless to say, such industry initiatives have big potential to help accelerate access to the internet for everyone.