NetCore CEO Rajesh Jain Interview
Monday, October 23, 2006
Knowledge@Wharton: You were among the first entrepreneurs in India to recognize the potential of the Internet when you launched the IndiaWorld portal and websites like khoj.com, samachar.com, and khel.com. What was your assessment of the infrastructure of the web at that time, and how does it compare with your view of the Internet in India today?
Jain: When we launched IndiaWorld in March 1995, commercial Internet access was not available in India. In fact, the portal that we launched at that time was essentially meant for Indians who lived outside the country. Commercial Internet access in India became available in August 1995. So initially we had to dial the U.S. in order to upload our content; we had our servers there.
Since then, of course, the Internet has grown quite a bit in India, but I believe that it has two real shortcomings. One is the low PC penetration and limited broadband, which really restricts usage of the web. Many reports indicate that India has some 40 million users of the Internet, but almost three-fourths of them access the web through cyber caf?s. This limits the number of services they can use because they are paying for every minute. In such circumstances you can’t build your digital life around online services.
The second problem is that the services that are available on the Internet in India are still very limited. If you go beyond the news, email, and those kinds of things, they still don’t touch other facets of daily life. As a result, the Internet still hasn’t become a utility in people’s lives. Some services have done well in India — activities such as online matrimonial ads, employment ads, and even online stock trading. I think the real opportunity in India is around what I would describe as local information. I can search for global information, but it’s still very hard for me to find local phone numbers or find stuff in my neighborhood.
Knowledge@Wharton: If the Internet has not yet become a utility in people’s lives because of the low PC penetration, what does this mean for the future?
Jain: I believe another dimension will define the future of the Internet in India, and that’s going to be built around the mobile phone. Given the way that mobile phones have taken off in India during the past four to five years, I am convinced that more people in India will access the Internet through mobile phones than through computers linked to narrowband or broadband connections. We need to start thinking about the mobile Internet differently than we do about the PC Internet.
For me, three words help define the mobile Internet. They are: now, near and new. “Now” is about what is happening right now in real time. Wherever I am, I can find the latest cricket scores or the top news stories because my mobile phone is always with me. “Near” is about location — it can be as small as a neighborhood or it could be a city. If I’m about to take a flight this evening, could I get an alert on my mobile phone if the flight is delayed? Some of this is starting to happen, but it needs to happen a lot more. It could make a real difference to people’s lives. Finally, “new” is about new stuff in which I might be interested. Just as a search engine like Google is a good way to find material that has been published in the past, the mobile phone is a great way to keep in touch with future or incremental content. If there is a sale, it should be possible for my book store to send me an alert and suggest business books that I might find interesting.
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