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Reality check: India's net usage is growing by measured steps, not large leaps

This is the year India is supposed to overtake the US, and become the world’s second-largest user of the net.

The year 2015 is supposed to be a seminal year for the Internet in India.

This is the year India is supposed to overtake the US ‒ it may already have, but there are no data, only estimates ‒ and become the world’s second-largest user of the net, with active internet users predicted to reach 269 million by June 2015. Claimed users are higher, with a figure of 302 million. (The Chinese rank No 1 in net usage.)

Here’s the rub: No more than 20.08 million actually use 3G, or third-generation mobile services (seven of eight Indian users access the net on mobile phones), essential to viewing and sharing multimedia content.

The average broadband speed in India is 2 Mbps (megabits per second). This puts India at a rank of 115 globally, lowest in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a report by Akamai Technologies, a US technology company.

Source: Akamai

Source: Akamai

With the internet now seen as having a positive effect on education (but a negative impact on morality), in emerging nations, its spread would appear to be particularly important for India, but a new Pew research report also classifies India as having low internet usage.

“The so-called explosive growth of the internet [in India] is a misnomer,” said Osama Manzar, founder-director of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, an advocacy group. “Internet growth in India is still not exponential, it is going up step by step, not multiplying, as is being projected.”

More than 80% of Indian net users are what Manzar called “static users”, or intermittently connected. Only between 2% to 5% of users are regular, which means their daily lives depend on the Net, which they use to contribute to the economy, he said.

“Wired broadband is quite insignificant in India,” said Prasanto Roy, a commentator on information technology. “It has not been an economic success. Of approximately 15 million wired broadband users, about 7 million-8 million are corporates and private-sector organisations.”

An ambitious government project to universalise broadband also struggles with access speeds.

In October 2014, the Centre started the National Optical Fiber Network, to bring broadband to 250,000 gram panchayats. A state-owned company, Bharat Broadband Network Limited, was created to implement the project.

Connectivity is patchy ‒ at best. Only 67% of panchayats, in the pilot phase, were actually connected to the national fibre network (20.5% had no connection at all), but no more than 45.5% of panchayats had access to services, said a December 2014 DEF study.

Rajnish (he uses only one name), a technology entrepreneur, said there were two ways to improve India’s broadband situation: Allow private operators to use the fixed subscriber lines of state-run telecommunications companies MTNL & BSNL to provide internet access; and cut taxes to private service providers.

“But overall, I believe, investing in fixed-line broadband internet doesn’t make sense,” said Rajnish.

India also struggles with broadband on mobile internet services.

With an average speed of 1.7 Mbps, India ranks below Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Globally, India ranks better than Brazil but falls behind other major economies.

“About 60 million mobile users are intermittent 2G users, who mainly use Facebook and WhatsApp applications once or twice a day,” said Roy.

Source: Akamai

Source: Akamai

There’s no dearth of demand for broadband. India is the fastest-growing smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific region, with smartphone sales estimated at 53 million in 2014, compared to personal computer sales of 9.6 million.

Speeds may only increase if 4G, or fourth-generation services, become widespread. Reliance Jio is expected to launch its 4G LTE services across 800 cities in May/June 2015. But it had acquired spectrum, or telecommunication airwaves, almost four years ago and was waiting for clarity in telecom policy and better technology.

In response to Reliance Jio, and with a possible objective to gain an early edge, Airtel, which offers some 4G services, has also speeded up up its roll-out plans.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.com, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.