India, the emerging high tech superpower

Author: Sanjay K Jha
COO, QUALCOMM & President, QUALCOMM CDMA Technologies.
I remember when, as a child, I was once playing cricket with some of my friends in our front yard one of my friends hit a “six”, a well-hit half-volley that soared over our fence and landed in our neighbor’s yard. The neighbors happened to be having tea on their lawn at the time, and to this day, I do not know whether the ball actually hit anyone or not. However, the result of this play was quite far-reaching. These were the neighbors who had a telephone which they allowed us to use to stay in touch with our faraway relatives. With this transgression, they decided to stop this benevolent act of charity altogether. With one fateful hit of a cork ball, my baba (grandfather) decided not only that we could no longer play cricket in the front yard, but that we needed to get our own telephone connection.

Every second or third year, Dharbhanga (Bihar) floods during the monsoon season. We were lucky that it hadn’t flooded that particular year, but it had rained earlier and the dirt path to my grandmother’s home was muddy. We had been waiting for the telephone workers to show up for several weeks. When they finally arrived, they had to dig two holes for the telephone poles so they could string the wire to our house. It was a long process, and after many more no-shows and half-days as a result of rain and floods, we were finally connected. The process probably took eight months from start to finish. If my memory serves me correctly, the year was 1972.

A lot has changed in India since then. To be sure, energy generation and distribution, healthcare access, the consumer electronics industry, the private sector as a force for change, and the education system have all seen advances. But, I think, the emergence of the Indian wireless industry has, and will continue to make, some of the most fundamental contributions to the industrial, commercial, and consumer transformation of India.

Today, no one has to wait for someone to dig holes-for-poles, so to speak, to get connected. With 185 million wireless subscribers in the country today, India has established an excellent springboard to become a major high-tech player in the global market. An advanced communications infrastructure with wireless as its backbone will enable its people to become more integrated with the global community. By connecting more people in India with the minds and vast resources that the Internet offers, the amount of knowledge flowing in and out of the country will be broadened exponentially. Some estimates say that by 2010, the number of wireless subscribers in India will reach upwards of 500 million.

Wireless communication is becoming more affordable and more accessible than ever before. As a result, Indian consumers even in remote parts of the country today can access a wide range of information and entertainment services using their mobile device. Farmers are beginning to have the ability to compare the price of their crops at various markets at the press of a button. Fishermen can check vital information - such as weather forecasts, high yielding fishing zones, and conditions at sea - with their mobile phones displaying the information in their local language. And of course, Indian youth today can keep up and interact with the latest cricket and Bollywood action news from virtually anywhere with their mobile phones.

Furthermore, exposure to technology will only increase people’s appetite for more. Making more advanced technology available in India can help arm people with the tools to compete on a global playing field. Many of the latest devices launching in India today rival those available anywhere else in the world in terms of functionality and ease of use. Businesses are now discovering the value of having mobile workforces be connected no matter where they are, and frequent travelers are able to take advantage of multi-mode devices that work in nearly every country around the world.

The wireless and semiconductor industries in India show tremendous potential. With the depth and breadth of talent that exists here, India will become a powerful player in the intellectual property businesses in its own right. By encouraging local research and development efforts, fostering entrepreneurship opportunities, and focusing on technology advancement from within its own borders, India will very quickly become a major force in the global IP market. As the mobile phone quickly becomes a key platform for productivity applications, games, and entertainment there is a huge opportunity for the Indian software industry as well. With its extensive software development resources India is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in the mobile software business.

Education has played a key role in the progress that India has made thus far, and will only become more important in the upcoming years as India becomes a stronger semiconductor player. Tomorrow’s experts are today’s students, and the establishment of a world-class educational system that encourages the intellectual growth of every Indian citizen will be key to the country’s success in the future.

As a testament to the business and technical potential that exists in India, QUALCOMM has offices in Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi, and Mumbai. QUALCOMM has also made substantial investments into R&D, education, and rural initiatives in India. Last year we established a QUALCOMM Chair at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. This will help bring wireless technology experts to the Institute from all over the world, providing the students an unparalleled opportunity to learn and contribute to wireless innovations. Under our Wireless ReachTM initiative we are collaborating with local partners to bring internet connectivity and innovative mobile applications to rural and underserved communities.

As the Indian market matures, the focus should continue to be on bridging the gap in terms of technology literacy, connectivity, and education. While things have come a long way since the day a well-hit six became the catalyst for my home being connected for the first time, the ever-greater change and advancement that is just on the horizon promises even better progress to come.
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