While a lot of larger markets are saturated, and some, like China, are giving Google a hard time, they seem to be finding a foothold for growth in emerging markets. Just like everybody else in the tech world, their biggest growth success story is taking place in India, the country that’s essentially the poster child for the term “emerging market”. Thanks to recent factors like network infrastructure improvements and an economic upswing, India has been thrust into the world stage as the place to be if you’re a tech company of any sort looking for user growth. As it turns out, Facebook got the boot from this market not too long ago, at least when it comes to providing internet service. Their “Free Basics” service, also known as Internet.org, hit a snag when people got more than a little angry about the fact that only certain sites were accessible on the free service. While the service was free and the limited access was likely for the purpose of saving Facebook’s bandwidth in the country, the local government nonetheless put a stop to the service on the grounds of net neutrality, essentially saying that India’s new internet users deserved better.
Google is that “better”, according to recent usage data. Their free internet services in India, including the likes of Project Loon and a project aimed at providing internet access at over 400 train terminals in the near future, have garnered roughly 2 million daily active users. With India being hailed as the site of “the next billion” new users to hit the internet, 2 million is not only a significant figure in and of itself, but it speaks volumes about the sort of headway Google has in the country. Right now, providing their free service isn’t netting them much money, but future plans include monetization. Internet plans will, of course, not only likely stay cheaper than local options, but also reach areas that local options don’t; Google has the money to put infrastructure down anywhere they please, essentially, and Project Loon is there to not only help fill in the gaps, but to help get Google’s name out there to the billion some odd unconnected folks out there who are only now becoming able to get on the internet.
Although train station access is limited to one hour per user per day at the moment, data is already showing users in India sucking up far more data than they would otherwise be comfortable using. The main conduit for internet usage in India right now is mobile devices, and mobile devices come with limited data plans. While data saving services and handy portals to avoid aimless surfing do exist, the fact is that India’s economy means that mobile plans are still on the expensive side for most people’s income levels, meaning that many will, in all likelihood, take care of little daily business that doesn’t take much data, like email, on their mobile connection, then turn to Google’s services for things like video content, downloading games and apps, and other such high data usage antics.
Google is not the only provider trying to capitalize on India’s status as a growth hotspot, but it’s one of very few companies currently offering services in India for free, and is doing quite a lot of legwork to reach the rural and far-flung corners of the market that most providers seem content to ignore. While Google may not offer free internet forever, their free offerings are likely to drive down prices in the area and make things a bit cheaper. Inevitably, new local providers will show up to piggyback off of the infrastructure that Google plans to set up in previously unconnected areas, as well. This means that Google’s actions are all set to give a boost to the entire Indian internet market, and put them at the forefront of the race to reach “the next billion“.