Some of India’s top companies, including many leading telecoms operators, have committed a total of INR4.5 trillion (almost $71 billion) to support prime minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign, which was back in focus last week with the launch of Digital Week.
The prime minister in November pledged INR1.13 trillion ($17.7 billion) for the Digital India programme, which targets connecting 250,000 villages via a national fibre network by 2019. It also aims to give citizens online access to government services to improve efficiency and strengthen governance.
The ambitious plan has been criticised by some for making slow progress, but top executives have rallied behind the prime minister, the initiative and the launch of Digital Week, which included citizen awareness programmes.
Together, the commitments from the private sector are forecast to create an estimated 1.8 million jobs.
While India’s average internet speed was ranked 115th globally by Akamai Technologies in Q1, the country is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world and is on track to overtake the US as the second largest in 2017.
Its population of 1.3 billion has a 74 per cent SIM penetration rate, according to GSMA Intelligence. Just 11 per cent of mobile users have mobile broadband, but that rate increased almost 50 per cent last year. The country has almost 300 million internet connections, and the Telecom Ministry has set a target of 500 million connections in two years.
The country’s mobile leader Bharti Airtel has announced it will invest INR1 trillion ($16 billion) to expand its infrastructure to bring telecoms services to citizens in parts of the country that remain unconnected.
While working to expand 4G services beyond the current seven cities, Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal said it is also looking to launch e-health and e-education services.
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani plans to invest INR2.5 trillion ($39 billion) across different projects that it says have the potential to create 500,000 jobs, the Times reported.
That sum presumably includes its huge investment in subsidiary Reliance Jio Infocomm, which plans to launch commercial service in December. Jio is the only private player with broadband wireless spectrum in all 22 telecoms regions.
Ambani said its wireless network covers 100,000 villages. “We are expanding this footprint to cover nearly 80 per cent of India’s population by the end of this year. Our roadmap is to have 100 per cent national coverage within the next three years.”
Ambani also announced the establishment of the Jio Digital India Start Up Fund to encourage entrepreneurs setting up businesses focused around the Digital India initiative.
Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, which owns Idea Cellular, said it would leverage its network of 165 million subscribers across 350,000 towns and villages to provide mobile-based healthcare and education services as well as weather forecasting advisories to over one million farmers, the Times reported.
The company will also launch a mobile wallet and payment bank as well as invest over $2 billion in the next five years in areas such as digital manufacturing, energy storage, the Internet of Things and the development of smart cities.
“We are launching an initiative to partner with and mentor entrepreneurs to commercialise their digitally-enabled products or services. This will provide an opportunity over the next five years to more than 10,000 entrepreneurs, potentially creating over a million new jobs,” Birla told the Times.
Other firms pledging support for Digital India are Reliance Group, which owns Reliance Communications and has committed INR100 billion ($1.57 billion) to fund initiatives across the telecoms, cloud and digital sectors, and Tata Consultancy Services, owned by the Tata Group, which said it aims to hire as many as 60,000 IT professionals this year.