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Strong Digital India requires empowerment of rural people

DataWind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli says digital and internet divide can be addressed through technology intervention at an affordable price Excerpts

Suneet Singh Tuli
CEO DataWind
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Digital Divide is a major concern.Rural areas face the problme of connectivity. How would DataWind be able to achieve its target of providing Education or Skill Development through its products like Tablet?

India's education system needs a major refurbishment and the seeds for this have already been sown with the current Government’s Digital India initiative. Although the Digital India vision seeks to bridge the digital divide between the societies at large, India still lags behind world standards when it comes to providing Internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). At DataWind, we believe that with proper ICT interventions, average teaching talent in rural areas can be supplemented with e-learning and concept of flipped classrooms.

The vision of a strong Digital India is impossible without empowering the people in the rural areas. Meaningful action needs to be taken to ensure that last mile connectivity is achieved to provide internet access at the most affordable rates. As an organization focused on connecting the forgotten billions, we at DataWind are doing our bit to help bring down the cost of hardware as well as access to the internet. We believe the right combination of affordable technology with internet access at low rates can sow the seeds of a much profound and deeper change across education, empowerment, transparency, governance and economic independence. Our smart devices like mobile phones and tablets are now helping students get more out of the instructor, in terms of their valuable guidance and an opportunity to practically put to use the acquired knowledge.

Affordability and quality are two critical components.How does DataWind maintain the balance for its whole range of products?

Our technology gives us the ability to offer ‘optimized’ products that is not only great on value and price but also representative of high-end technology. Our patented technology allows fast, rich and affordable experience on existing networks without any new infrastructure. We have created specific categories of low cost smart phones and tablets. A market that was of just 250,000 tablets per annum has grown to more than 5 million in just under three years. Our products are designed for masses and our apps cater to the educational segment.

It is our commitment to ‘Made in India’ thought that we became the first ones, in fact the only ones so far, to set up a facility for manufacturing ‘touch panels’ in India. Also we have opened our first Indian manufacturing unit in Amritsar through which we exported almost 2 lakh tablets and smart phones in two months of operations.

Initially DataWind had tied up with Reliance as service provider but to capture bigger market including rural market its needs to tie up with other major players. Is DataWind entering into agreement with other players?

Yes, we recently tied up with Telenor which was earlier known as Uninor. The same offer which we provide on reliance network, free Internet browsing for 1 year is available on any of our devices across six telecom circles (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar & Jharkhand, UP (East), UP (West), Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) across the country where Telenor offers commercial mobile services. We are expecting more tie-ups with many more renounced telecom providers in the country. The tie-ups will be chosen strategically for Pan-India penetration.

Has the company prepared a roadmap especially for rural India? 

The aspirations of rural India are no different from those in developed India – their basic needs are the same – access to vital goods and services, education, affordable technology and connectivity solutions that help improve their standard of living. Internet connectivity has and still is a key limitation in these areas, but with our breakthrough web delivery platform it is possible to access internet on 2G/3G mobile networks at virtually zero/near zero prices. All our models for the UbiSlate tablets and smart phone range offer free internet browsing for 1 year, we are taking this mission to do it in every state and every circle on the very same 3G networks.

To uplift the rural India, we at DataWind are doing our bit to bring down the cost of hardware as well as access to the internet. We believe the right combination of affordable technology with internet access at low rates can help remove the distinction between the haves and the have nots.

To bridge the rural-urban gap do we need some changes at policy level ? 

A well-planned Internet penetration program can solve the problem towards building a digitally strong India. A thought out framework is needed (and to be acted upon) that ensures democratization of technology, and most affordable connectivity made available at grass root level.

DataWind firmly believes that digital and internet divide can be addressed through technology intervention, at an affordable price. We are focused on driving the cost downward to a level where access to technology becomes ‘universally affordable’ and democratization of technology finds its true meaning.  We are striving for newer ‘lows’ in price discovery for computing products. In India the internet penetration, levels are abysmally low at about 100 million which is perhaps less than 10 percent of the total population or marginally higher than 10 percent if one was to consider the 950+ million cellular subscribers.

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