Archive for ‘Internet’


India election 2019: When will broadband reach all villages?

Indian women check their mobile phones at a free Wi-Fi zone in Mumbai in February 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants more than a billion Indians connected to the internet – and his BJP government is counting on a project taking cheap high-speed broadband to rural areas to achieve this.

The project, to build a nationwide optical fibre network, was launched in 2014 and is the flagship scheme of the government’s Digital India programme.

In the run-up to the Indian election, which gets under way on 11 April, BBC Reality Check is examining claims and pledges made by the main political parties.

So has the project been a success?

Presentational grey line

Pledge: Indian Communications Minister Manoj Sinha promised to provide every village in the country with high speed broadband and that this would be achieved by March 2019.

Verdict: The project to set up digital infrastructure in rural India has made substantial headway but has so far achieved less than 50% of its intended target.

Quote card for Indian minister of state (communications) Manoj Sinha
Presentational grey line

An ambitious plan

India has the second highest number of internet users in the world but the penetration is quite low for its size and population.

The BharatNet scheme aims to connect more than 600,000 villages in India with a minimum broadband speed of 100Mbps.

It would enable local service providers to offer internet access to the local population, primarily through mobile phones and other portable devices.

India’s telecom regulator says there were 560 million internet connections in India in September last year.

What’s been achieved so far?

The government’s overall target is to connect 250,000 village councils covering more than 600,000 individual villages across the country.

The work of laying cables and installing equipment to connect 100,000 of them was finally completed in December 2017 after significant delays.

This milestone was hailed a success but there were also critical voices, especially from government opponents about whether the cables were actually operational.

Indian villagers from a self-help group with laptops in Bibinagar village outskirts of Hyderabad on 7 March 2013Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The next phase, to connect the remaining councils by March 2019, has been under way for a year now.

In total, as of the end of January this year, official data shows optical fibre cables have been laid in 123,489 village councils – and equipment installed in 116,876 of them.

There is also a plan to install wi-fi hotspots in more than 100,000 council areas – but as of January these were operational in only 12,500 of them.

Old plan, new name

It has been an ambition of successive governments to connect all India to the internet but plans have hit many roadblocks.

BharatNet was first conceived in 2011 by the then Congress government as the National Optical Fibre Network but did not make much headway in its pilot phase.

A parliamentary committee said the project had been affected by “inadequate planning and design” from 2011 to 2014.

When the BJP came to power in 2014, it took over the project and has pushed ahead with national broadband coverage.

And in January last year, the government said it would complete the work ahead of the stipulated deadline of March 2019.

Has the deadline been met?

There was impressive progress made in 2016 and 2017 but since then the pace has slowed.

In January this year, the agency executing BharatNet said 116,411 village councils were “service ready”.

This means that provisions for ready-to-use connectivity have been made.

But not all “service ready” village councils have proper connections, says Osama Manzar, from the non-governmental Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF).

DEF found that only 50 of 269 “service ready” councils inspected across 13 states in 2018 had the required device and internet connection set-up.

And only 31 of them had “functional”, but slow, internet connections.

Mr Manzar notes that this is problematic considering “the public welfare distribution and the financial sectors rely heavily on digital infrastructure today”.

Another report, citing an internal official memo, said most of the councils had non-functioning networks or faulty equipment.

Next steps

BharatNet has faced also difficulties with electricity supply, theft, low-quality cables and poorly maintained equipment.

And these delays come as India aims to provide broadband in all households and move to 5G networks by 2022.

An official source defended BharatNet as a large-scale infrastructure project tackling difficult sites and not a service scheme, saying it was natural to see delays between set-up and use.

Source: The BBC


How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ

The internet fails to reach millions of women in the small towns and villages of India, so Google is trying to deliver it to them — by bicycle.

The Alphabet Inc. unit has built an army of thousands of female trainers and sent them to the far corners of the Subcontinent on two-wheelers, hoping to give rural woman their first taste of the web. Each bike has a box full of connected smartphones and tablets for women to try and train on.

The idea is to give people who have never even sent an email a better understanding of how being connected could improve their lives. Families that can afford to be online often chose not to be because they do not see the value. Meanwhile women are sometimes blocked by their families from new technology.

ENLARGEA web trainer who is taking part in Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.‘s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Bhagwati Kumari Mahawar got her very first taste of the internet just a month ago.

The 19-year-old used a smartphone Google brought to her remote village in the desert state of Rajasthan to search for designs of mehndi, the elaborate henna designs Indian women get on their hands and feet. Then she looked up information on how to sew a blouse.

ENLARGEBhagwati Kumari Mahawar in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

“I really wanted to learn,” she said, sitting in the shade near the Google bicycle and a water buffalo.In the project, called Internet Saathi, Google partnered with local philanthropy Tata Trusts to show women in rural India how to connect to the web.

Instructors are trained in how the web works, and then are given bicycles with large boxes on the back containing internet-enabled devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system. The newly equipped “saathis” — or “partners” in Hindi — then cycle from village to village providing instruction to their peers.

“I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not,” said the instructor who helped Ms. Mahwar get online, 30-year-old Kamla Devi Mahawar, who is unrelated to her pupil.

She never used the web until she began her Saathi training ten months earlier, but since then has enjoyed showing women how to search for information like recipes and stitching guides, and showing them how to use voice queries if they are unable to type in text.

ENLARGEWomen look at cell phones as part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: NEWLEY PURNELL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a demonstration, she sat on the ground while half a dozen women circled around her, watching as she searched for images of nearby temples and forts. Some women want to learn how to use Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service, while others simply want to make phone calls, she said.

Since the program’s launch last year, about 9,000 guides have helped reached 1 million women, Google said, noting that the program fits its mission of helping expand internet access globally.

India is an increasingly important commercial market for the Mountain View, Calif. search titan given its nascent internet economy.

While the country is home to more than 1.2 billion people, consultancy McKinsey & Co. reckons some one billion people still lack regular web access. More online consumers in the years ahead could mean more users of Google’s services, like its search engine, email and Android.

A bike used by an instructor who teaches women how to use the web, part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Last week, at an event in New Delhi, Google executives said they are expanding their efforts to reach Indians with products and features like a new version of its YouTube app designed to work even on India’s often sluggish mobile networks.

Asked how her work with others could be made easier, Ms. Mahwar, the trainer, was quick to point out that better web connectivity is key.

“The internet doesn’t work half the time,” she said. Fixing that “would help a lot.”

Source: How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ


What Stands in the Way of Modi’s Digital India – The Numbers – WSJ

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has grand plans to expand the reach of the Internet to his country’s most far-flung citizens.  But some big numbers stand in his way.

1.06 billion

The number of Indians who currently don’t have access to the Internet. India’s offline population is greater than that of China and Indonesia–home to the next two largest unconnected groups–combined.

1 million

The number of miles of fiber optic cable needed to connect 250,000 village clusters in India to the Internet, according to a committee set up to get the project into gear. The original plan estimated that 370,000 miles of cable would do the job.


The proportion of clusters of villages that up to June 30 were fully connected to Internet services in community centers, hospitals and schools under the National Fiber Optic Network that was launched in 2011.


The original deadline for completion of the network. The date has since been shunted back twice and now stands at 2019.

$11.2 billion

The revised budget for the fiber optic network. Almost four times what was originally planned.

via What Stands in the Way of Modi’s Digital India – The Numbers – WSJ.


China’s rising Internet wave: Wired companies | McKinsey & Company

Until recently, China’s Internet economy was consumer driven. The country leads the world in the number of Internet users, and Chinese enterprises deploy sophisticated e-commerce strategies. The same companies, though, have lagged behind the United States and other developed nations in using the Internet to run key aspects of their businesses (Exhibit 1).

That’s changing. China’s companies are quickly climbing the adoption curve. Their increased digital engagement will not only give the economy a new burst of momentum but also change the nature of growth. China sorely needs a new leg of expansion because the industrial growth of recent years—driven by heavy capital expenditures in manufacturing—will be difficult to sustain. The Internet, by contrast, should foster new economic activity rooted in productivity, innovation, and higher consumption.

For global companies counting on China for continued growth, the new Internet wave will change the nature of competition: it will enable the most efficient Chinese companies to grow more quickly, shine more transparency on business and consumer markets, and create conditions for a better allocation of capital.

A new McKinsey Global Institute report looks broadly at the coming transformation.1 Our research shows that Chinese companies are investing heavily in the building blocks of the Internet economy: cloud computing, wireless communications, new digital platforms, big data analytics, and more. Across six sectors (Exhibit 2), which accounted for 25 percent of Chinese economic activity in 2013, we find that increased Internet adoption could add 60 billion to 1.2 trillion renminbi (about $10 billion to $190 billion) in GDP to individual sectors by 2025. About one-third of these gains will come from the creation of entirely new markets, the remainder from productivity gains across the value chain. When we scale up this level of growth across all sectors of the economy, we find that Internet adoption could add 4 trillion to 14 trillion renminbi to GDP by 2025. The Internet is also expected to contribute 7 to 22 percent of total GDP growth from 2013 to 2025.2

via China’s rising Internet wave: Wired companies | McKinsey & Company.


Consumers Drive Chinese Internet But Enterprise Use Lags – China Real Time Report – WSJ

By some measures, China’s Internet dwarfs that of the United States.

China has the world’s largest Internet population with 618 million users, well over twice as many as in the U.S. China also has the world’s largest online retailing industry, with e-commerce giants like Alibaba that sprawl far larger than the likes of eBay EBAY +1.08%.

But a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute argues that enterprise use of the Internet is still lagging in China and that the country’s businesses will need to catch up in this area to unlock economic gains.

“The Web is just beginning to penetrate many Chinese businesses – and the most sweeping changes are yet to come,” said the report, which was published this week.

MGI estimates that increased adoption of Web technologies like cloud computing and big data by China’s enterprises can add 0.3 to 1.0 percentage points to China’s GDP growth rate. By 2025, it could translate to annual economic gains of between 4 trillion yuan ($645.5 billion) and 14 trillion yuan, the research firm said.

China’s Internet has outpaced the U.S. among consumers. Alibaba’s online shopping platforms Taobao and Tmall have nearly twice as many active buyers than the U.S. site eBay. Jonathan Woetzel, one of the MGI study’s authors and a partner of the firm, told The Wall Street Journal that Chinese consumers spend more time shopping online and make more purchases than their American counterparts.

“China’s consumer generation has shown up at the same time as the Internet,” he said. “They have the money, but the offline shopping platforms like malls haven’t been built up fast enough to accommodate their expectations and needs. So more of them shop online.”

But when it comes to China’s businesses, they still lag in use of Web technologies, he says. The typical Chinese company spends 2% of revenue on IT, half of the international average, according to an MGI survey of CIOs. The enterprise cloud adoption rate in China is 21% compared to 55%-63% in the U.S.

Some sectors that stand the most to benefit in China include the financial services, health care and automotive industries, MGI says. Big data can help financial firms manage risks and reduce non-performing loans, while remote monitoring of chronic diseases can save costs for the health care industry.

via Consumers Drive Chinese Internet But Enterprise Use Lags – China Real Time Report – WSJ.


Software products bring hot career choices as India looks beyond IT services | India Insight

When Zomato was setting up shop six years ago, the online restaurant search service had to woo engineers, but many weren’t interested in working for an unknown company. Instead, they wanted to work for larger and prestigious names. Slowly, that is changing.

Indian companies such as Zomato and Flipkart, which make their own technology products rather than provide services are becoming more attractive to the country’s engineering school graduates, and are hiring more people as they alter technology industry hiring patterns.

“We had to convince parents to let their kids work with us. Most people had no idea of what a products startup can offer,” said Gunjan Patidar, Zomato’s chief technology officer, talking about the company’s early days. “They know about Infosys and TCS because that’s where their cousins and friends have worked.”

Backed by Silicon Valley-based venture capitalists, these homegrown companies are not afraid to match salary packages offered by established foreign companies, and offer perks such as employee stock options.

Not everyone is born to be an engineer, but in India, many parents are determined to make it so for their children. India produces about 80,000 engineering graduates every year, according to Sandhya Chintala, vice president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies.

Engineering is considered a prestigious profession. In India’s close-knit family system, jobs can be associated with upward mobility, and can make a son or daughter a better marriage prospect. Children often have no say in the decision.

Working in information technology services with hundreds of thousands of employees, such as Tata Consultancy Services or Infosys, which handle other companies’ technology needs, has long been the easiest way for graduates to go abroad on job assignments, adding to their perceived social worth.

“I often say in India people first become engineers and then they decide what to do with their lives,” said Girish Mathrubootham, founder and chief executive of online customer support platform Freshdesk, which recently raised $31 million in funding from private equity firms Tiger Global, Accel Partners and Google Capital.

Freshdesk lost a potential employee in the early days to TCS because the employee’s parents wanted him to work for a well known company, Mathrubootham said. “Now we have an employee who went to work with Honeywell, but she came back within six months.”

via Software products bring hot career choices as India looks beyond IT services | India Insight.


The Secret Weapon Behind China’s Booming Online Retailers? Women – China Real Time Report – WSJ

The secret weapon for many of China’s booming e-commerce companies is women, who shop more, spend more and generate bigger profits. Though the income of Chinese women is generally lower than that of men, they are also more likely to spend on themselves.

As the WSJ’s Wei Gu reports:

A new crop of Chinese e-commerce companies has harnessed the power of female consumers. Shares of Vipshop Holdings Ltd., which specializes in branded apparel at big discounts, have soared 30-fold since the company went public in New York two years ago. Women are 75% of the customer base and provide 90% of the revenue.

The company said it chose apparel because it is more profitable than alternatives such as electronics, which appeal more to male buyers. VIPshop’s gross margin is a healthy 25%.

The companies are embracing a research-supported stereotype: Devoted shoppers are disproportionately female. A third of Chinese consumers shopped online more than 40 times in 2013, according to iResearch, a Chinese Internet tracking firm, and 59% of those frequent shoppers were women.

“The ones that are succeeding in China’s e-commerce space are the female-dominated ones,” said Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research. “The optimism level for female is considerably higher, and they drive retail sales.”

A survey of 1,000 Chinese consumers by China Market Research found that 62% of the women between 25 to 45 plan to spend more in the next six months than in the previous six months, compared with only 52% of the men in that age range. Younger women, aged 24 to 35, are the most optimistic of all.

If they found themselves with extra money, Chinese women say they would spend on clothing and health products, while also setting some aside as savings, according to Nielsen. Women in developed markets would spend on a vacation and pay off debt, as well as saving some. As many as 86% of Chinese women believe their daughters will do well financially, versus less than 40% of women in developed countries.

via The Secret Weapon Behind China’s Booming Online Retailers? Women – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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How Small U.S. Businesses Can Court Customers in China – Businessweek

Question: What are Chinese consumers looking for in an online shopping experience? What would you describe as the main reason websites aimed at Chinese consumers fail?

How Small U.S. Businesses Can Court Customers in China

Answer: News about Chinese tech companies making their way to Wall Street has been raising awareness about the vast potential Chinese market for U.S. small businesses. China is definitely interested in American-made goods. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your website is appealing to these new customers.

First, as I discussed recently, you need a website in Chinese. Make sure the site is created by a native Mandarin speaker who can convey the culture of your brand without a clunky verbatim translation that will fall flat, says James Chan, president of Asia Marketing & Management.

The main obstacle to selling online in China is the pervasive fear of being cheated or of buying a pirated product. “You need to find the best way of making a Chinese customer in front of a computer comfortable with the fact that you really have a brick-and-mortar company on American soil,” Chan says.

Pictures are a must: an exterior shot of your office or shop, a map showing your location, and pictures of you and your staff. A video of you talking about your business and its history (include Chinese subtitles) and giving a tour of your premises will go a long way. “Some companies ship orders with a certificate that says, ‘This product is made in America,’” Chan says. “Others will wrap the product in their city’s American newspaper for that day. Anything that authenticates you will help.”

Your site should also feature lots of good pictures of your products. “Use different angles, show different colors, and give detailed written descriptions as well,” advises Stanley Chao, managing director of All In Consulting, and author of Selling to China: A Guide to Doing Business in China for Small- and Medium-Sized Companies (2012). “Seeing is believing for the Chinese.”

Anything you can think of that would allow a wary Chinese customer to feel comfortable with your company will help: Your mailing address, your e-mail address, your telephone number. It will cost some money, but if you can, hire a customer service representative who speaks Chinese and can answer telephone queries or at least provide online chat support. “Also, always include 100 percent-guaranteed refunds, or even an added incentive where they get a small credit for the inconvenience of returning something they did not like,” Chao advises.

The piracy problem has prompted Chinese shopping sites such as to institute multilayered customer rating systems for every product, Chan says. You most likely cannot replicate that, but you can include comments on your site—in Mandarin and English—from your Chinese customers. “If others successfully bought your products, then [Chinese customers will think] maybe you are trustworthy.”

Being a small business will put you at a disadvantage in the minds of most Chinese consumers, Chan says, so if your company has any connection to a celebrity or an iconic American brand—such as a major corporation that buys your products, sells them in its retail outlets, or uses your services—trumpet that connection on your site, with pictures, if possible. “Maybe you make a food product that has been served at the White House, or your shoes were worn by an American celebrity,” he suggests. That will appeal to some shoppers in China. “Just make sure you’re being truthful,” Chan says.

Company websites fail in China for the same reasons they fail in the U.S.: They’re done on the cheap, so they are marred by misspellings, ugly design, bad photos, and technical glitches. “I’ve noticed that successful sites are updated frequently, so users want to come back to check for new information, special deals, or more products. This also shows that the site is active, it’s busy, and there are real people behind it,” Chao says.

The bottom line: Take care of your Chinese customers, and they will recommend your company to their friends, show off your products proudly, and visit your store when they’re vacationing in the U.S. When they do, get pictures and put them on your website, Chan says: “If you can build a history in China, where there are millions of people buying and selling online, you’ll win big business there.”

via How Small U.S. Businesses Can Court Customers in China – Businessweek.

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All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company

A lot of people view China business as mysterious. Relax. Consumers behave pretty much the same everywhere. Competition is pretty much the same everywhere. You just need to ignore the hype and focus on the basic fact that in China today, there are six big trends (exhibit). That’s it. Six trends shape most of the country’s industries and drive much of China’s impact on the Western world. They are like tectonic plates moving underneath the surface. If you can understand them, the chaotic flurry of activity on the surface becomes a lot more understandable—and even predictable.

Coauthors Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel discuss China’s six megatrends with Nick Leung, the managing partner of McKinsey’s Greater China office.

These trends move businesses on a daily basis. They’re revenue or cost drivers that show up in income statements. Deals, newspaper headlines, political statements, and the rising and falling wealth of companies are mostly manifestations of these six trends, which aren’t typically studied by economists and political analysts. In fact, we happen to think that Chinese politics or political economics are wildly overemphasized by some Westerners in China. So let’s tell a story about each of these megatrends, with some important caveats. They’re not necessarily good things. They’re not necessarily sustainable. For every one of them, we can argue a bull and a bear case. Most lead to profits or at least revenue. Some may be stable. Some lead to bubbles that may or may not collapse. We are only arguing that they are big, they are driving economic activity on a very large scale, and understanding them is critical to understanding China and where it’s headed.

via All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company.

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The internet: From Weibo to WeChat | The Economist

WHEN Luo Changping, an investigative journalist, tried on November 22nd to post the latest chapter of his big scoop on WeChat, a popular Chinese mobile messaging service, censors blocked it. But he was able to work round them. In a follow-up message he told his subscribers they could send him the words “Chapter Seventeen”; users who did so automatically received the post on their mobile phones, uncensored.

WeChat, or Weixin in Chinese, is known mostly for private chatting and innocuous photo-sharing among small circles of friends. With more than 270m active users, it has become the star product from Tencent, an internet conglomerate. Some have compared it to WhatsApp, an American messaging service. More quietly, it has become the preferred medium for provocative online discussion—the latest move in China’s cat-and-mouse game of internet expression and censorship.


Mr Luo began posting his serialised stories on WeChat in May. They related how he had exposed the alleged corruption of Liu Tienan, a senior economic official. He had tried tweeting them on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog on which he had accused Mr Liu of corruption months earlier, but internet censors blocked him from doing so: hence his switch to WeChat. Though his initial attempts there were also blocked, the loophole that enabled him to send out the file is typical of WeChat’s more relaxed approach to censorship.

A WeChat account works much less publicly than accounts on microblogs (of which Sina Weibo is the most prominent). Anyone using Sina Weibo can see almost anyone else’s tweets and forward them on, meaning a single tweet can spread very quickly. On WeChat, it is usually only subscribers to a public account who will see a post (though such posts may also be viewed on a separate web page), and if a subscriber forwards a post, only that subscriber’s circle of friends see it. Its non-public accounts are even less open. Information on WeChat spreads at such a slow burn that authorities feel they have more control over it. Also in contrast to microblogs, many types of public account (like Mr Luo’s) can send out only one post to subscribers a day, making them much easier for authorities to monitor.

Mr Luo does not always have problems sending out his stories on WeChat and, since switching to the service, he has posted the equivalent of a blog post every week or two, and built a following of more than 60,000—“higher than the actual subscription figure of many Chinese magazines”, he says. WeChat is now his prime delivery platform for newsy titbits, including sensitive information that would be censored more rigorously on microblogs. (He has not published for Caijing magazine, his former employer, since being transferred in November to a non-reporting position at an affiliated research institute.) Meanwhile, he makes much less use of his Sina Weibo account, even though it has more than four times as many followers: “The ground for public opinion has begun to shift toward WeChat,” he says.

The rise of WeChat is a business phenomenon in its own right (see article). But it is also a measure of how adaptive and resilient China’s political and social discourse has become—almost as adaptive as the censorship regime that seeks to contain it. Recently a number of public intellectuals have lamented the decline of meaningful discussion on weibo. The microblogs were full of user-led activism in 2012 but, starting in 2013, officials have dramatically escalated their efforts to control them. Propaganda outlets have intensified attacks on the spread of rumours online, authorities browbeat online celebrities to be “more responsible” (at least two have been arrested on unrelated charges), and microbloggers can now be jailed for up to three years for tweeting false information that is forwarded 500 times or viewed 5,000 times. President Xi Jinping, in a speech to party leaders in August, said that the internet was the prime battleground in the fight over public opinion, and that officials must seize control of it.

via The internet: From Weibo to WeChat | The Economist.

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