India has overtaken the US, China, Japan and Russia to record the fastest growth in Internet usage. Its relatively small user base increased by 33%, up to 21.1 million in January from 15.8 million during the same time a year ago.
Worldwide, some 747 million people—aged 15 and older—used Internet in January this year, which is a 10% jump from the same period the previous year. Among the top 15 countries that were measured, Internet users in India (33%), Russia (21%) and China (20%) grew the most in 2006, according to a survey by ComScore, a UK-based market research firm. The US, which has the world’s largest online population with 153.4 million users, registered a 2% increase. China is No. 2, with 86.7 million “unique users.” India currently ranks eighth. and is preceded by Japan, Germany, the UK, South Korea and France.
Other analysts, however, are not too upbeat and feel that there is scope for a much higher growth rate. “We can double this growth rate to 60% by April 2008, keeping in mind factors such as improved speeds, more functionality, reduced costs and the availability of more interactive, social and economic services on the Internet,” said Diptarup Chakraborti, an analyst at Gartner, a research firm.
According to Gartner’s estimates, 7.58 million computers were shipped within India in 2006. With about nine million Internet connections—of which three million are on broadband—there is a huge gap between new computers sold and existing Net connections. Chakraborti noted that the stated populations of India and China vary by about 13%, but “there is a huge, 400% difference in Internet penetration” levels. The Internet Service Providers Association of India (Ispai), attributes the growth largely to the PC user base than the ownership of computers. “There is a big disconnect between the number of people who use PCs and those who own or buy PCs,” said Rajesh Chharia, president, Ispai. “Ideally, this ratio should stand at 50:50 (it’s 70:30 in India) and that can only happen if the government allows a more liberalized policy that includes incentives to Internet users to buy PCs, and the abolition of service tax.”
Industry groups also peg the user base to be higher than 21.1 million. Nasscom estimates there are seven million subscribers in India and 70 million users, while the Internet and Mobile Association of India says that, as of September 2006, there were 38 million people who said they have used the Internet.