The lack of a robust digital infrastructure in the country is one of the key challenges that need to be overcome to realize the dream of Digital India. Interview with Suneet Singh Tuli of Datawind and Faiz Askari of SMEStreet.
By Faiz Askari, Founder Editor, SMEStreet
India is surging ahead in the journey of becoming a developed nation from the status of developing nation. The Appetite for becoming a developed nation from a developing nation with the help of technology is the key business driver and industry is witnessing this trend very closely. Organizations like DataWind in India are front-runners of this space. In an exclusive interview with Mr. Faiz Askari of SMEStreet, Mr. Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of DataWind Inc. explained the trends and shared an overview, according to him, on India’s Digital Success story ahead.
Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:
Faiz Askari: What are the business drivers influencing DataWind business in India?
Suneet Singh Tuli: I strongly believe that empowerment and freedom come with knowledge and internet is a great medium to know all that you want to. My vision to change the society with internet and technology has inspired me to establish a business in India. I am glad to see today the Indian telecom industry is growing by leaps & bounds. According to a recent research report by IBEF, India is the world’s second-largest telecommunications market, with over 1.21 billion subscribers as of July 2017.
The key business driver influencing our business in India is the affordability factor ie growing demand for smartphones and tablets at competitive prices, and DataWind has been a pioneer in the same. We are the only tablet provider in India focused on offering affordable tablets and Internet access. All DataWind devices come bundled with one year of unlimited Internet access and feature the most affordable ongoing plans available in the market due to the company’s unique, patented technology that reduces up to 97% the amount of data needed for web browsing.
The lack of a robust digital infrastructure in the country is one of the key challenges that need to be overcome to realize the dream of Digital India.
Faiz Askari: What are the key challenges you experienced in ensuring strong and wide outreach for the Indian market?
Suneet Singh Tuli: The lack of a robust digital infrastructure in the country is one of the key challenges that need to be overcome to realize the dream of Digital India. Digital revolution requires the strategic ecosystem to sustain and grow in the right direction. For success, it is imperative that we customise the adoption to suit the social environment.
As per a report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and KPMG, the number of mobile Internet users in India is projected to double and cross the 300 million mark by the end of 2017 from 159 million users at present. However, rural India showed only 17 percent penetration, indicating a large scope for development. The report states that there are potential 750 million users still in rural India who can be reached out to. And this is where we come in. DataWind firmly believes that this digital and internet divide can be addressed through technology intervention, at an affordable price for this segment of customers. We are striving for newer ‘lows’ in price discovery for computing and access products.
The Government has launched the ‘Digital India’ and ‘Make in India’ campaigns to rev up the economy, boosting investor confidence and re-chart India’s growth story. Both these campaigns provide a significant opportunity for transforming the country’s telecom sector and spearhead the economic growth. DataWind firmly believes that this digital and internet divide can be addressed through technology intervention at an affordable price for this segment of customers. We are striving for newer ‘lows’ in price discovery for computing and access products.
A well-planned Internet penetration programme can solve the problem towards building a digitally strong India. A thought-out framework is needed (and to be acted upon) that ensures democratization of technology, and most affordable connectivity made available at grass root level. The provision of infrastructure further needs to be supported by an awareness and educational campaign that enthuses the disconnected to leverage the inherent benefits. Affordable tablets and phablets are very much in the market, what we lack is poor internet connectivity and educational content. There is a need to collectively work towards correcting the above i.e. better IT infrastructure and making available educational oriented content on the computing devices for easy adoption.
Faiz Askari: Are education technologies getting popular and becoming drivers in today contemporary education system?
Technology ushers in fundamental structural changes that can be integral to achieve significant improvements in productivity. By its very nature, technology changes at a fast pace and making it accessible to teachers and other stakeholders is an ongoing challenge. While many of the educational content has matured with the general education technology programs in urban areas, we are in the process of revolutionizing the rural populace. The role of technology in education continues to expand as teachers seek to take advantage of available technology in the classroom to enhance learning opportunities using an assortment of teaching tools to enhance student learning. Technology is evolving the way of teaching and students learning.
FA: What role can DataWind play in this market opportunity?
ST: Customers enter into transactions with us for the value we deliver to them. The customer wants affordable solutions and we deliver it. Our technology gives us the ability to offer ‘optimized’ products that are not only great for value and price but also representative of high-end technology. We’ve consistently demonstrated the company’s endeavor to breach affordability barriers for our customers.
We believe our brand has the necessary requisites to forge and sustain a long and beneficial relationship. We are driven by our vision to bridge the digital divide and we will do that by creating access and reach through our devices. Our brand promise is to offer a ubiquitous mobile solution that stands on two firm pillars of technology and affordability.
R&D has a major focus at DataWind. Please highlight some priorities of the R&D division of DataWind.
DataWind’s patented technology allows for the wireless delivery of a basic internet experience across existing network infrastructure at a fraction of the typical cost and bandwidth.
FA: How was 2017 as a business year for you in India?
ST: The current year has been a roller coaster ride for us but nothing but it has not bogged us down. This year was a very important milestone for us as DataWind donated tablets to the underprivileged girls at Khushi Rainbow home on the occasion of Children’s Day to celebrate the delivery of its UbiSlate tablet computers impacting lives of 5 million Indians. In the first half of the year, we were the leaders in the tablet market in sub Rs 5,000 category. We have also applied for a license for MVNO in India for better connectivity and we are hoping to get it soon. In terms of new launches, we have introduced new devices like MoreGmax, Vidya tab, and 3G6 smartphone.
The biggest development that we saw this year was foraying into Indonesian markets with our new product Meranet browser in a partnership with Datami, the leading provider of brand sponsored data solutions, to provide unlimited data-free browsing on its app through mobile networks Telkomsel and Hutchison in Indonesia. The launch will bring affordable web browsing too many millions of subscribers in a market where affordability remains the number one barrier to bridging the digital divide. The Meranet browsing app brings large benefits consumers, as they will be able to download the app at a one-time price of Rp. 99,000 only (INR 471), and get unlimited browsing privilege, for a period of one year.
FA: What expectation you have from the market in 2018?
We are expecting 2018 to be a great year for us as people in India have learned to grow faster with technology. The colossal increase in the number of people using the internet and how the internet has created its space even in the remote areas of the country gives us immense opportunity to grow in the coming year. We are hopeful to acquire MVNO license in 2018 and also hoping to launch new products for the Indian audience.
FA: What are the key market drivers in this space?
ST: If we look at the recent trends, phablets are replacing most of the use cases of an entry-level tablet and becoming more popular amongst the new tech startups for their service delivery, taking a pie from tablet commercial market. The reason for this being- high costs, the absence of a keyboard, high service costs and so on. The manufacturers are leaving no stone unturned to include maximum but best features which include attractive design elements like flexible display, longer battery life, detachable tablets etc. Essentially, the key drivers expected in tablet market include an increase in the need for mobile applications among consumers due to improved internet connectivity. Also, there is a huge increase in the demand for tablets in corporate, hospitality, healthcare, education, and other sectors which are further projected to amplify the market growth.
Faiz Askari: In terms of features, what are the key demands you are experiencing from the market?
ST: People demand the best of modern technology from phone manufacturers in the least payable amount. What attracts buyers the most these days is both rear and front camera quality, decent RAM space and light-weight handsets. People want their handsets and tablets to be handy, smart looking with a very good battery backup. Phone chargers should be wire-free and in most cases of less weight. Voice, face and eye movement recognition are a few technological revolution that people want their phone should feature to have a hassle and hands-free usage. People would also love to have a phone with long durability as in the race of mobile phones people sell the best technology but all these companies are missing on the long life of mobile phones no matter how expensive your phone is.