Home >politics >policy >Aspirations driving India’s Internet user base

Maya, a domestic help in her mid-thirties in West Delhi, says she bought a smartphone because everyone else in her neighbourhood had one.

“My children use it to learn new things. They teach me how I can send voice messages for free. It is good to be connected. It means more work opportunity," she says.

Maya is one of the many aspirational users who have joined India’s 300-million strong Internet users, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones.

According to a January 2015 report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a large proportion of India’s new Internet users is likely to be those who are older, rural, female, regional language speakers and mobile phone users, compared with existing users who are mostly young, urban and professional.

Experts attribute the shift to rising aspirations among new user segments.

“As smartphone prices have decreased, those from low-income backgrounds have a greater opportunity to fulfil their aspirations—to own a smartphone and use the Internet services offered," said an April 2015 report by Ericsson ConsumerLab. “Regardless of income, age, gender and education, Indians are immersing themselves in the networked society by using smartphones and mobile Internet."

Jayanth Kolla, the founder and partner at research firm Convergence Catalyst, agreed the shift is gaining momentum.

“While the shift is natural, it is being driven by smartphones becoming extremely affordable owing to falling device prices and increasing aspirations among rural users of owning the iconic devices," Kolla said.

Consumers in smaller cities and towns are embracing smartphones and mobile Internet “to bridge the gap and bring new, affordable entertainment", said the Ericsson report.

“Those migrating from smaller villages and towns to large cities and metros for job opportunities, value the connectivity of smartphones for work," it added.

“This increasing adoption of smartphones and mobile internet is also driven by social and image-conscious aspirations to connect to the wider world."

According to BCG researchers, the Internet user base in India will change from over 60% being below 25 years of age in 2013 to almost 55% at 25 or above by 2018; from about 30% rural to over 50% rural; from 60% mobile-led to over 80% mobile-led; from nearly 28% women to nearly 35%; and from about 45% using vernacular content to more than 60%—in the same time period.

According to the BCG, in June 2014, there were 190 million Internet users, and the number is projected to go up to 580 million by 2018.

However, according to Internet and Mobile Association of India, the number of Internet users crossed 300 million in December 2014.

The “real action, however, is set to unravel in rural India", said Alpesh Shah, Nimisha Jain and Shweta Bajpai in the BCG report.

The Internet user base in rural India is projected to expand by up to 40% per annum to reach 280 million in 2018 from 60 million in June 2014, based on “the assumption that India will make progress at desirable pace in terms of affordability and reach".

According to research by Convergence Catalyst, of the 300 million Internet users, about 250 million people use Internet only through mobile phones.

According to Kolla, the shift in India’s user profile is being driven by saturated urban markets, cellphone stores in rural areas, online availability of cellphones by new entrants and four-plus inch screen sizes that are convenient for viewing videos in areas with limited entertainment options.

India, with one of the youngest population in the world with a median age of 26 years, remains the largest market for smartphone and mobile Internet; however, recently, there has been an increase in users above 50 adopting mobile broadband, according to the BCG research.

“The primary motivation for this is the desire to stay connected with loved ones scattered across both India and the rest of the world, particularly through email, chat applications and instant messaging. In addition, the ability to indulge in activities and hobbies later in life, or during retirement is a key factor," the BCG report said.

“For others, keeping pace with the younger generation or on top of work-related news are compelling drivers."

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