Hello? India Calling
So I forget which tech company has the tagline “The Future is Wireless” regardless, they got it wrong. The present is wireless. At least it is in India. Sometime today the number of mobile connections will race past the number of landline connections in India, according to the Hindustan Times. This is really amazing stuff for India, considering our beautiful reputation for being a laggard in most developmental figures.
Last time I checked, the average monthly rental for a mobile phone is about 500 rupees (US$11) whereas the outgoing call rates are about 2 rupees/min (US$0.04) – we don’t get charged for incoming calls in India, and an outgoing SMS costs 60 paise..which is less than 1 US cent). GPRS and EDGE have been implemented here, so our mobile networks are very much at the 2.5G stage already…
Contrast this to 1992, which is when I moved back to India after spending 9 years in Hong Kong (heaven, compared to the India of the Eighties…).
We had to fill out a form obtained at a filthy disgusting office populated with paan stains and uncouth bumpkins. This form asked you if you were Government Servant, a Hindu Undivided Family, a Doctor, an Exporter and some other rubbish. If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you got a phone a little bit faster. If the answer was no, you had two options – option 1 was a 5 year wait, and a bribe at the end of it all. Option 2 was a bribe at the beginning of it all, a one year wait, and then a monthly bribe (usually in the form of a bottle of ‘Old Monk’ rum, presented to the local linesman) to ensure the smooth working of your phone. Everytime it rained, you knew your phone would die, along with your connection to the outside world. And every once in a while, somebody would bribe the linesman, who would then hack into your line and allow the briber to make calls on your line, for free.. Fun.
Then one day the government came out with a Telecom Policy, which paved the way for GSM Mobile phones. They were pretty slow to take off, as they were considered pure luxury items, toys for that class of people who pretend to be perpetually ‘on the run’. But slowly and surely, call rates dropped (when mobile phones were launched the incoming AND outgoing rates were 19 rupees/min), and people realised that there was no corruption involved in getting a mobile phone. Further, the quality of the mobile phone network is very much late 20th Century/Early 21st Century, and not 5th century b.c. like the fixed line network . And so mobiles grew so pervasive that people may be homeless, but they aren’t mobile-less. Also, in typically Indian “ishtyle”, the government came up with idea of a “Shared Mobile”. This consists of a mailman with a mobile phone who travels to villages, and allows villagers to make calls on his phone for a small fee. Finally, competition from the mobile companies (and private fixed-line companies) forced the state-owned telecom firms to start behaving, so much so that now, getting a landline in Delhi/Mumbai/Other big cities is also a graft-free experience. And then people say nothing has changed in 5000 years. BAH!