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India IT firms eye rural populations

Posted: 27 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:rural populations? India IT frims? IBM?

India won its independence from Britain in 1947the same year the transistor was invented. The first IT rumblings came in the late 1970s, when the nationalist government asked multinational companies like IBM Corp. and Coca-Cola to leave the country.

After IBM was shown the door, the government set up Computer Maintenance Corp. to manage the country's IBM mainframes. Companies like Wipro, DCM and Modi Computers subsequently sprang up to service domestic customers.

But the real inflection point for the country's IT industry came in 1984, when Texas Instruments Inc. arrived on Indian shores, toting a blueprint for outsourcing that proposed hiring Indian engineers to write code that would be electronically transmitted to TI offices in the United States.

TI "asked the Indian Government for a 64Kbit/s telecom line," said Vivek Kulkarni, a former IT secretary of Bangalore who is now the CEO of an analytics firm. "This proposal caught India off guard. Bureaucrats wondered if national secrets would be compromised... After about three years of deliberation, the government agreed to give them a 64k telecom line."

Last year, by contrast, one of the world's largest software companies were granted a 90Mbit/s telecom line in three months.

The challenge
But infrastructure remains a challenge for India. While huge campuses like those of Infosys and Wipro seem air-dropped from another world, with hundreds of thousands of engineers working remotely on mission-critical deployments for projects in Europe and the United States, two-thirds of the country's population lives in villages where electricity and water supplies are unreliable, communications infrastructure lacking and education inaccessible.

"There are 700 million people who still have no access to any kind of IT automation. We have a few startups here and there, but nothing much has come up by way of any disruptive technology that could change life for the huge rural population in India," said Jhunjhunwala, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

That need has prompted the country's IT and electronics interests to look inward. "Earlier, when we used to speak of IT products, it was always in the context of what we could do for outsourcing partners, but the scenario is changing," said B.V Naidu, managing director for SemIndia Systems. "The domestic market is attracting manufacturers as well as design companies... There is an ecosystem that is being created, and if we could get the hardware manufacturing piece right, it would complete the entire food chain."

- Sufia Tippu
EE Times




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