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Digital Communications in India: Global Aspirations, Local Economics


November 15, 2018 - 6 Comments

When I left India to work in the US (1997), little did I realize that I would reconnect with her in a way unimaginable then!

At the time, less than 1% of India’s population had access to the Internet at home.  Since then, Internet connectivity in India has exploded, growing to 426 million users as of January 2018.  And it’s only going to get bigger. India’s country rank in mobile broadband data consumption jumped from 150th to 1st in the world between 2016 and 2017. If we look at IPv6 deployment today (IPv6 is the most recent standard to send information over the Internet), almost half of the world’s users are in India—more than any other country in the world.

India’s economy is gaining huge momentum from this digital intensification.  Gross domestic product has grown from $350B in the 1990s to more than $2.8T today, and this is having a significant socio-economic impact. Every second, three Indians experience the Internet for the very first time. This means a great deal to a farmer or a student—it’s an equalizing opportunity and it’s empowering them. Digital growth will help create jobs, promote innovation, positively influence the GDP, and enable citizen welfare.

Source: Asia Pacific Network Information Centre

From a global perspective, we can characterize the last two decades as an era where we worked relentlessly to scale the internet—scaling to connect the unconnected and to connect everything beyond that requires cost-effectiveness and automation at a level never achieved before. And that requires innovation.

While one school of thought in the industry is that the networking space (routers and switches especially) is mature, innovation has only accelerated in this space. Over the last three to four years of internet build-out, especially in the mobile broadband space, India’s Digital Communication Sector has pushed the envelope in terms of scale and cost (effectiveness), providing world class internet access to the masses over mobile connections.

I would like to share a few important observations. First, it is critical to understand a very important aspect about India. The aspirations of the Indian consumer are no less than the global consumer of digital communication services. However, the economics are radically different. This implies building networks and infrastructure that is second to none.

Second, delivering and operating this requires vision, execution, and courage. My salute to the digital communication providers in India, especially their technology teams, for driving significant innovation and delivering mass-scale, cost-effective networks.

Third, this requires delivering network technology that is better, faster, a lot cheaper, and ruthlessly automated to successfully serve more than 1 billion people.

Cisco has been fortunate to be a part of the rapid scaling of the Internet in India, and during this journey, we have created products, tools, and organizational models that have relevance across the globe. At Cisco, we focused on helping providers in India achieve scale in a way that was difficult to imagine just three years ago.

Some of the important capabilities that Cisco developed to enable IP network scaling in India include:

  1. Driving the lowest possible cost per gigabit innovation in silicon, systems, and optics.
  2. Enabling flexible consumption of bandwidth in the right form factors – from very small to very large.
  3. Delivering environmentally hardened systems to cover the length and breadth of this vast country with ecological challenges and variations.
  4. Creating a consistent network architecture (end2end IP/MPLS) followed by building and operating some of the largest scale IP networks in the world.
  5. Developing total and complete automation, from the initiation of a network element to deploying a complete network service and its monitoring.
  6. Reducing layers and hops in networks to bring users as close as possible to content. Eliminating separate optical networks in high density metro areas.
  7. Distributing subscribers to reduce blast radius and improve resilience—using virtualization only where it makes economic sense.
  8. Integrating services and product teams on site to deliver automation capabilities at the speed and scale of India.
  9. Listening continuously to and innovating in a rapidly evolving market.

Cisco’s participation in the mobile Internet boom in India has many positive spinoffs. The capabilities and ideas developed here have global relevance and are being leveraged beyond India and across the world today.

As the digital communication and services space evolves and scales further within India, we can look forward to the next round of innovation. While connectivity will continue to expand, we will see the network be even more relevant as the whole country and its citizens experience a digital revolution. New services will reach every home, every office, and every premise, and with these new services will come new opportunities for economic development and new challenges.

Moving forward from secure connectivity at scale to secure services at scale over these connections will be an exciting adventure. Cisco is ready to help build this bridge to the future, and India, of course, is!



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6 Comments

  1. Well articulated points Sumeet, thanks for sharing. As you have brought out this point, I am just thinking aloud, for the need to have secure connection options for consumers. For example, with my mobile LTE not active, I was reluctant to use RailWire connectivity provided in Railway Stations, just because it's free and open! Is there a good market opportunity to provide secure services directly for consumers or through enterprises?

  2. Nicely articulated India digital growth story and how Cisco is innovating itself to be a strategic partner.

  3. Well captured on how Cisco is positioned and helping to accelerate the digital transformation in India.

  4. Informative article ! Would love to see cisco's contribution in the IOT sector as well and being a technological catalyst for pulling millions out of poverty and ignorance by harnessing the power of collaboration through technology.

  5. Definitely the mobile Internet in India as gone as deeper as it could which increased the communication and Entertainment aspect . Still the Knowledge aspect and making the difference in life style is yet to come out of it , especially from Rural India .

  6. Well captured, Sumit!