With urban markets more than saturated, the telecom industry has its eyes set on India’s villages, which have a teledensity of about 26%. For decades, rural India has been plagued by problems of poor infrastructure combined with inadequate doctor-patient (1:870) and teacher-student (1:40) ratios. These challenges can be significantly overcome by third-generation (3G) and WiMax technologies, unleashing opportunities in the following sectors:
Healthcare: According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, the size of India’s healthcare industry is $35 billion (Rs 1.58 trillion) and projected to touch $77 billion by 2012. Because of their potential reach, 3G and WiMax technologies can play an important role in real-time treatment, video diagnostics, and remote disease monitoring. The department of information technology’s technology development programme for telemedicine aims to link three premier medical institutions for realizing telediagnosis, teleconsultancy and tele-education.
Education: India’s education industry is expected to reach $80 billion in size by 2012 from $57 billion in 2009. Providing a platform for e-learning, in which thousands of teachers can participate by way of virtual classrooms, can improve the student-teacher ratio. Many coaching classes have undertaken programmes to provide study materials in the form of video-based mini-tutorials and e-books over mobile phones.
Banking: Banking and financial services is a $250 billion industry in India, but 65% of the country’s population remains unbanked. In emerging markets, services such as electronic money transfers are going to be central to businesses. National Payments Corporation of India has enabled mobile banking transactions, connecting people in remote areas to banks. Using the Internet, non-profit institutions can mobilize micro-loans for impoverished entrepreneurs in the villages.
Agriculture: The agriculture sector contributes around 17% to India’s gross domestic product, and has 59% of the country’s population dependent on it for a livelihood. The Indian system of agricultural marketing suffers from a number of defects: lack of information, exploiting middlemen, marginal landholding, etc. These challenges can be minimized by services such as Mandi Bhav (a Hindi language commodity price tracking application for mobile phones), agriculture updates, weather forecasts, water-level monitoring, data gathering for milk and agri-cooperatives and soil analysis.
Farmers and horticulturists who have perishable produce can take advantage of 3G services to bargain for the best prices before harvesting, bypassing middlemen.
Hemant M. Joshi is a partner with Deloitte Haskins and Sells.