[mckinsey quarterly] Almost 1,500 years ago, Indian mathematicians, including Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, and Pingala, transformed mathematics by conceiving the rules of the binary numeral system. While those rules today lie at the heart of the code powering the Internet, India has relatively few Internet users: just 7 percent of its population is connected to the Web, compared with 32 percent in China and 77 percent in the United States.
Yet India has an opportunity to lead the world once again by becoming the first truly mobile digital society. All the elements are in place: the cost of network access and handsets is going down, wireless networks are going up, and Indian consumers already display an insatiable appetite for digital services. In addition, bypassing the personal computer—moving straight to widespread mobile access—simply makes sense. It would sidestep a host of hurdles associated with delivering affordable Internet services to a population that is geographically dispersed and relatively poor, in a country where infrastructure development can be problematic.
Can India actually transform itself from an Internet laggard into a world leader? The trail the country would blaze could serve as a model for other developing markets. But much depends on whether India can rediscover its revolutionary spirit and garner unprecedented cooperation and commitment from both the private and public sectors.
Can India lead the mobile-Internet revolution?