Cellphones in India

Cellular telephony is spreading rapidly across India.

Recently, it was widely reported in the US media that cellphone-only households (20.2%) outnumber homes with only a landline [SF Chronicle].

In India, on the other hand, “There are 65 times more cellphone connections than broadband Internet links, and the gap is widening” [NYT]. India is a very young country – the median age is something like 20 years – and they are adopting mobile technology rapidly.

Cellphones are incredibly pervasive, even among the poor.  India’s cellphone rates are some of the cheapest in the world. It costs nothing to receive calls, and you can add time to your phone in small increments, perhaps just 10 rupees at a time – buying you about 10 minutes of talk time.

boys playing with a cellphone in the huge courtyard of Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi (December 2008).

India now has 400 million cellphones – the population is 1.1 billion – an incredible penetration rate considering that they only emerged within the past 15 years or so. And it’s growing fast; “India now adds more cellphone connections than anyplace else, with 15.6 million in March alone.” Indeed, “… if present trends continue, in five years every Indian will have a cellphone.” [NYT]

The result is a hotbed for entrepreneurs developing business models that reach this mobile market — consumers, most of whom have no television or Internet, but have a mobile phone. Personally, I’m interested in their potential uses in healthcare.


This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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