2018 K.R. Narayanan Oration: Dismantling Inequality through ASSURED Innovation PART II
ASSURED Indian Innovation
An exemplar in ASSURED innovation has been recently very successfully demonstrated by Indian private sector.
One of India’s early successes was the mobile revolution. In the two decades from 1995 to 2014, about 910 million mobile phone subscribers were added – the numbers are incredible in themselves, but especially so if you consider that this was 18 times the number of landline connections in 2006 when landline subscriptions peaked at 50 million. The era of ‘trunk calls’ and ISD and STD booths had come to a definitive end. Thanks to liberalisation, the private sector rose to the occasion and innovation flourished in devices, processes, and business models, among others. It represented a joint victory for the public sector, for private enterprise and for people.
Despite India’s impressive achievements, the benefits of the digital revolution were not shared by all, thus creating the ‘digital divide’. In spite of having a phone and a telecom connection, many could not afford to actually make calls. Some of you may have heard of the Indian term ‘jugaad’ – the Oxford dictionary defines it as “a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.” So Indian jugaad came to the rescue and people began using ‘missed calls’ to communicate. Many a parent, spouse and loved one signalled that they have arrived at their destination by giving a missed call to their anxious relatives and friends. Restaurants that catered to students started ‘missed call ordering’ – the students would place a missed call, and the restaurant would call them back and take their meal orders. In fact, an entire marketing field called Missed Call Marketing was born.
Look around yourself today, and you will see that the situation has changed drastically. Competition in the Indian telecom sector reached a fever pitch in 2016 with the entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., or Jio. Today, millions of Indians enjoy the benefits of free voice calling and extremely affordable (10 cents per GB!) high-speed 4G internet using their Jio connections. Communication behaviours are changing across India as we speak, with the focus shifting from exchanging information to expressing emotion.
One incredible example is that of speech and hearing impaired people using video calls to communicate with each other in sign language. Earlier, they were confined to using SMS and other texting apps. This transformation has happened through myriad technological, product and business model innovations at Jio.
One of the most important innovations at Jio was its configuration- Jio’s greenfield LTE network is the first countrywide deployment of VoLTE or voice over LTE in India. Jio has a 4G LTE network with no legacy 3G or 2G services, making it the only network in the world with this configuration. This unique configuration allowed Jio to offer free voice calls to any network across the country – at a time when it accounted for the majority of revenue for other telecom operators. Jio also did away with national ‘roaming charges’, marking the first time in India’s history that the length and breadth of the nation are truly connected.
There are many other product, business model, process and service innovations at Jio, which fulfil all the elements of ASSURED innovation. Consider this: Jio fast-tracked Aadhaar-based eKYC (Know Your Customer) roll-out across thousands of stores. This allowed SIM activation in under 5 minutes! Before Jio, the activation process usually took hours if not days and racked up significant costs for the telecom companies. Each one of its over 100,000 telecom towers erected was pre-fabricated and consumes 3 times less power than conventional towers. Other equally important infrastructure development included 250,000 route kilometres of fibre optic cables laid, done using high-tech machines that laid the fibre deep underground with minimal surface disturbance just by drilling two holes.
The JioPhone is an Indian innovation – by Indians, for Indians – and is offered effectively free of cost to customers. It is a feature phone that again fulfils all the elements of ASSURED innovation and allows users to benefit from access to the internet. I am convinced this will fast track access to high speed internet across the country and empower each Indian to enhance their quality of life.
All these efforts have risen India’s rank from #155 just one year ago to #1 today in global mobile internet usage and India now has one of the most competitive telecom networks anywhere in the world. More importantly, Jio has moved India from missed call to video call, a shift from Jugaad to systematic innovation. Jio is a true exemplar in ASSURED innovation.
You will say, but this is doing good for the people of India. But is Jio doing well? Is it making a profit? Yes, it is. In the very second quarter of operations, it has turned profitable. So this is indeed a case of doing well by doing good.
CONTINUES IN PART III