LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS SHANGHAI: India recently passed the one-billion telecom subscriber mark, with the vast majority mobile users and about a quarter with access to the internet.

But that is about to change quickly, declared Idea Cellular managing director Himanshu Kapania, now that the country has held 4G spectrum auctions, the prime minister launched its Digital India initiative to bring connectivity to 250,000 villages, and users get a taste of internet services.

Giving an afternoon keynote, Kapania said the country’s one billion telecom subscribers have the potential to become one billion internet or digital users in the near future.

He said the key drivers will be financial services and e-commerce. Only 30 per cent of Indians have a bank account, or about 200 million people, and just 1.7 per cent of the population have credit cards.

India’s internet population is growing 37 per cent annually and of its 267 million internet users, 250 million are mobile.

Almost 60 per cent live in urban areas, so the rural opportunity is huge. And the population is relatively young, he said, with 86 per cent below the age of 50.

Demonstrating the importance of mobile in India, mobile accounted for 69 per cent of the country’s internet traffic as of May. By comparison, in Japan and China mobile represents just 30 per cent of internet usage, while the percentage in Indonesia is 57 per cent.

Idea, the country’s third largest operator, has 165 million total subscribers, he said. It has 37 million data subscribers but only 17 million 3G data users, which is 10 per cent of its total user base.

Last year it added 23.5 million new subscribers, which he said represented 7 per cent of global additions.