Digital payments and internet connectivity: Here’s why India may well be on way to leave dark ages behind

By: | Published: March 9, 2017 4:31 AM

While the government had launched digital initiatives to promote e-payments, there was a big roadblock in terms of internet connectivity.

internet indiaOver the last decade, most of the country has been equipped with mobile phones, but smartphone penetration has just reached 250 million. (Reuters)

While the government had launched digital initiatives to promote e-payments, there was a big roadblock in terms of internet connectivity. Over the last decade, most of the country has been equipped with mobile phones, but smartphone penetration has just reached 250 million. In fact, the number of mobile internet users are still low as compared to rest of the developing world. But if a new plan proposed by Trai is to be believed, India may well be on its way to leave the dark ages behind, that too, at high speeds. According to a report in The Times of India, the regulator is contemplating a big scale WiFi project, which would allow individuals, communities and small-time entrepreneurs to offer affordable high speed internet. Though there is no paper to highlight how this is to be done, Trai says it would soon come out with recommendations to overcome this hurdle. The regulator had addressed some concerns in a paper released last year in July.

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Once done this would boost the existing WiFi infrastructure in the country, while also supporting a framework for digital payments. At present, India lags its BRICS peers, as well as Indonesia in terms of operational hotspots. As per data from iPass WiFi growth map, India had just 31,518 commercial hotspots in 2016, as compared to 2,25,030 in Brazil and 54,88,419 in China. This is only expected to increase to 36,265 in 2018, while China is expected to have 61,99,317. Moreover, in terms of residential and office hotspots also India is expected to lag its peers having just 20,26,000 hotspots against 1,26,18,200 in Brazil and 6,52,60,300 in China. Although the government is expected to change this, the idea of 20p per MB or R20 per GB of data can only be a reality if existing operators who have paid huge amounts for spectrum for both broadband and mobile telephony to offer such services. With WiFi seen mostly as a free services, public internet would also have to create enough incentives for ISPs and existing operators to invest into operational and capital expenditure for the service.

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