Internet Access in IndiaGrowing internet access has the potential to transform the lives of India’s 270 million poor people. A country of almost 1.4 billion, India has seen tremendous technological and economic growth over the past 20 years. Until recently, the lack of pervasive and affordable mobile coverage served to limit internet access in India. Most regions still relied on 2G technology and only 9% of rural Indians had reliable mobile internet access as recently as 2015. Jio Platforms, launched in 2016 by Reliance Industries, was the country’s first nationwide 4G network. It is a disruptive telecommunications company that facilitates innovation in India by expanding internet access in an affordable way.

High Speed, Affordable Internet

Jio was launched in 2015 by Indian billionaire, Mukesh Ambani, as a part of his $125 billion company, Reliance Industries. With deep sources of funding, Jio could afford to invest over $22.5 billion. This would go toward an ambitious plan to build a nationwide 4G mobile. Unlike 2G and 3G, 4G technology handles both data and voice in the same, data-efficient way and offers cheaper and faster speeds. This has made 4G technology the backbone of the modern internet. It enables the speed and instant connectivity required for tasks like streaming videos or online banking.

After it launched, Jio gained customers by giving them access to its 4G network entirely for free in 2016. It has since introduced rates that start as low as $1 a month and scale to offer gigabytes of data for just a few dollars. Along with the mobile network, Jio has built an online ecosystem and sells its own 4G smartphone. Customers can acquire smartphones for as little as a $20 deposit. Jio’s low prices have been a complete gamechanger for the hundreds of millions of Indians who previously couldn’t afford an expensive data plan.

Over the past four years, Jio has gained almost 400 million subscribers and became the largest mobile network on the planet. With the tremendous scale and 4G infrastructure, Jio has been able to make money while upending the Indian mobile market. Competitors have been forced to cut prices to compete, leading to a 35% drop in revenue in the industry over the past two years despite an expanding market.

What it All Means for India

Jio has fundamentally transformed what internet access in India looks like for hundreds of millions of people. Access to the internet in rural areas has tripled since 2015 and is growing at a rate of 35% a year. As a result of Jio’s prices and 4G infrastructure, analysts estimate that the average internet user has gone from using 700MB of data a month to 11GB. This means that more people are accessing sites such as YouTube, for which India is currently the fastest-growing market.

Currently, 80% of poor people in India live in rural areas. Rapid growth in internet access stands to shorten the opportunity gap between urban and rural areas. In recent years, there has been a boom in tech companies innovating in e-commerce. They have also been innovating in financial services and entertainment among other things. For many people in rural areas, access to the internet also means access to services that can improve their quality of life. These services include online education programs.

Just the Beginning

For all of Jio’s success, 627 million people in India are internet users. It is expected that millions more will be online over the next few years. Google, Facebook and other American tech companies have announced over $20 billion in investments with Jio so far in 2020. By all accounts, the internet transformation unleashed by Jio is just beginning. Internet access in India will continue to expand at a very high rate over the years to come.

Jack McMahon
Photo: Flickr