India – Thinking Outside The Box

I’m writing this short post over a GPRS connection (yes, you read that right) in a quiet orchard, straddled by mountains on three sides. I am quite fond of taking breaks like these regularly. It helps me stop, reflect and interact with a part of the world that I don’t often interact with.

Yet, such interactions are vital if we are to understand India and the massive opportunity she has to offer. We speak often of our massive mobile opportunity, how 3G has had better penetration than EDGE, smart v/s feature, data APRU and all. But at the ground level, all these assumption fail. As product people we need to understand the reasons behind this failure.

India has always been, at best, an abstraction. Technology adds another complicated layer on top of this. Take the case of mobile. BSNL supossedly has the most widespread 3G network. Yet, even in towns that have 3G on BSNL the coverage is less than spectacular. I’m sitting now, barely 40 kilometers away from a main district center in Himachal Pradesh, with clear line of sight to at least 4 cellphone towers, yet the best I get is EDGE and BSNL is carrying data over GPRS.

When we build products, especially for mobile, how do we factor all of this? Yes, it is awesome to have an iPad app for our products, but I have not seen a tablet for at least 3-days now. How do we take into account data availability that ranges from nothing to 4G within the same country? Do we even think about that?

Obviously, it is possible to build healty businesses that tap into the current base of smartphones and tablets, but if you are looking to tap into the billion-plus-people opportunity you have to get out of the cities and travel and learn how people are using various technologies.

The bubbles that we live in within the cities lead us often into cycles of validation that are based on our immediate peers in the industry. The world outside of it is a different ball game. Step out, understand the real problems faced by people outside our immediate circles, then the billion-plus opportunity will open up us.