Digital Illiteracy Hinders India Internet Adoption

The modest efforts of India's operators to educate consumers about the benefits of Internet services may ultimately benefit 4G players.

Gagandeep Kaur, Contributing Editor

May 8, 2015

4 Min Read
Digital Illiteracy Hinders India Internet Adoption

Digital illiteracy has emerged as a key obstacle to the adoption of mobile broadband in India, according to a recently released report from Sweden's Ericsson.

A headline finding of "The Changing Mobile Broadband Landscape" is that nearly 48% of consumers believe there is no difference between 2G and 3G in terms of connection speed. Moreover, around 30% of consumers do not know how to use smartphones and digital services, while 53% reckon mobile broadband will not add any value to their lives.

These findings follow the publication of a recent Mckinsey Report (part of the "Digital Inclusion Report 2014" released by the GSMA) revealing that nearly 69% of Indian consumers indicated lack of awareness was their main reason for not using Internet services.

These statistics suggest Indian service providers are doing a poor job of educating consumers about the benefits of mobile broadband.

Emerging Internet services are a very different ballgame from plain old voice, which can be used with little education and training. The high levels of illiteracy in India appear to be compounding the challenge for the country's operators.

Nevertheless, some service providers have recently started making an effort to address this problem. Vodafone India , for example, has been opening up mini stores in rural areas. Also known as Laal Dukaan (Red Shops), these are usually managed by a resident of the area and have become important touch points for subscribers to learn more about mobile broadband.

Idea Cellular Ltd. is another operator that has been active on the educational front. Its Har Mobile Par Internet (Internet on every mobile) initiative, launched last year, provides step-by-step digital literacy lessons using interactive voice response (IVR) technology. The IVR lessons cover basic topics like how to open Gmail and Facebook accounts.

"There has [sic] been approximately 500 tutorial activations per day since the launch of the IVR tutorial, making a clear business case for Idea to continue providing the tutorials," said Idea in the GSMA's Digital Inclusion Report.

As of December 2014, Idea had 12.9 million 3G subscribers but a total of 28.5 million who were using a 3G-enabled device, suggesting that lack of education may be affecting its bottom line.

Uninor , a smaller player, does not own a 3G network but has been making efforts to educate consumers in rural areas about mobile and Internet services. So far, it has launched 200 Grahak Shiksha Kendras (Customer Education Centers) that allow subscribers to learn more about these various technologies.

Another Uninor initiative, called Project Prayaas, led to a 12% increase in the number of customers using Internet services on their handsets. The operator now plans to extend the project to more than 400 semi-urban and rural locations in Uttar Pradesh (West) in 2015. Customers will be shown how mobile Internet services can help to improve their quality of life.

Next page: The Dawn of 4G

The Dawn of 4G
Training and educational initiatives would probably have made little difference in the early days of 3G, when network coverage was patchy, even in metropolitan areas. High tariffs also remained a barrier to adoption at the time.

But India is now gearing up for the rollout of 4G technology, with new entrant Reliance Jio recently announcing it will launch 4G services in 900 towns later this year. While Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) has already launched 4G services in a few circles (service areas), the response among consumers has been lukewarm due to the problems of digital illiteracy and lack of awareness.

Want to know more about 4G LTE? Check out our dedicated 4G LTE content channel here on Light Reading.

Even so, 4G may ultimately be the beneficiary of efforts to educate consumers about the advantages of mobile broadband technology. As interest in 3G services picks up, consumers are likely to be drawn to a higher-speed offering that will ultimately prove far more pervasive.

With Reliance Jio waiting in the wings, India's mainstream operators may have to move quickly to hold on to their subscribers.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Gagandeep Kaur

Contributing Editor

With more than a decade of experience, Gagandeep Kaur Sodhi has worked for the most prominent Indian communications industry publications including Dataquest, Business Standard, The Times of India, and Voice&Data, as well as for Light Reading. Delhi-based Kaur, who has knowledge of and covers a broad range of telecom industry developments, regularly interacts with the senior management of companies in India's telecom sector and has been directly responsible for delegate and speaker acquisition for prominent events such as Mobile Broadband Summit, 4G World India, and Next Generation Packet Transport Network.

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