In the next few months, India will have a billion mobile subscribers and will become the second largest wireless country in the world after China. In the last 20 years, the country has moved from 2% telecom penetration to nearly 78%. But telephony till now has been all about voice connectivity. With less than 105 million Internet subscribers and around 20% of revenues, the data business is at the same infliction point where voice was 10 years back. There is optimism that mobile Internet users will grow five-fold to cross 500 million mark in the next five years.
There is no denying that India is at the cusp of another technology revolution. But there is a fine print to these numbers. Though India has 980 million mobile subscribers, there are segments of users who are being left behind in this digital transition. Significant amongst these are the senior citizens and the women population.
A recent study by the Telenor Group research revealed some significant findings. For example, amongst the mobile phone users in India, only 6% are over 50 years of age. This difference is exacerbated for mobile data, with only 1% users being 50 years or older. Interestingly, non-data users have a lower income profile and higher age than the average mobile user.
The reasons for such dismal numbers of mobile adoption in the higher age category are multiple. In India, the perceived utility and complexity of the services prevents adoption of mobile data. Almost a third of the respondents feel no reason to use the mobile Internet and 24% reported that using these services was “too complicated”.
This is a generation that has not grown with mobile technology and is usually aversed to new technical skills. They will be at a considerable disadvantage as the government moves India towards digitisation. They will be at a loss and will not able to use services like healthcare, paying utility bills and mobile-only banking, as more and more services go online.
Unfortunately, it is not just senior citizens who are being left behind. According to Telenor Group and BCG report, almost 70% of women are part of the unconnected population in the country. Various socio-economic challenges are responsible for this exclusion. But a major reason is that in a patriarchal society, there is still a certain section of the population that believes that mobile is an evil responsible for all the bad things happening to women.
We can talk about 3G, 4G, and to be the second-largest app downloading country, but the lack of digital literacy and fear of technology prevents the benefits of mobile connectivity to reach a large and important segment of our population. Spreading awareness and educating users about the benefits of a digital lifestyle is an important component of inclusive Internet growth. This is also aligned with the Digital India mission of our Honourable Prime Minister.
Research shows that for every 10% increase in broadband penetration or even simple mobile adoption, adds nearly 1.5-2% in GDP of a country. This also indicates that if senior citizens or women are left out from the connected world, it is a loss to the economic development of the country. While the economic impact is quantifiable, social isolation has an indirect impact and cannot be measured. Encouraging digital inclusion is not only about being socially conscious, but it also means being profitable. Marketers in Japan – one of the most rapidly ageing economies in the world – are beginning to see the value of tailoring products specifically to the needs of the senior citizens. Like in Japan, depending on the income level of senior citizens, there are free mobile devices, Apple iPads and monthly airtime given out to encourage the use of digital solutions and mobile phones.
In India too, both the government as well as industry need to come together to support the senior citizens and women to adopt digital technology with ease and confidence. As a mass-market telecom operator in India, Telenor has taken several initiatives to prepare the ecosystem for an Internet-enabled communications environment. We recently announced Grahak Sikhsha Kendra and Internet on Wheels to disseminate information related to mobile telephony and how it can be used for a better digital lifestyle. Such initiatives act as knowledge and awareness centres, and encourage the unconnected to take the first step towards mobile and Internet services.
Digital Literacy is the key to realise the Digital India mission. Being a responsible operator committed to mass market, Telenor is taking measures to build mobile literacy amongst our customers, with a special focus on women and the elderly.
We believe technology should not be just for the few but for the many and that’s why we adopted an ambition to offer Internet for All. Since it’s launch in 2013, Telenor is committed to make Internet affordable, relevant and safe for the consumers.
The author is the chief marketing officer of Telenor India