In the wake of demonetisation, Digital India no longer seems like such a distant dream. Prashanto Roy, VP and Head, NASSCOM Internet Mobile and E-commerce, said at 2016 that India before demonetisation had 78 percent of cash transactions by gross revenue and the remaining 22 percent came from RTGS, IMPS, and mobile wallets. However, in the three weeks since demonetisation, the number has come down to just 20 percent, with an increasing number of people using mobile wallets for payments.
However, accessibility is still a huge challenge in digital India because although a billion users are online, only a small fraction is actually online in a meaningful way. Out of a billion mobile subscribers, 350 million are internet users, of which 90 percent use a mobile device. The top three apps in India by monthly average download are WhatsApp, Facebook, and Messenger.
When it comes to payments, the secure way of transacting digitally is through smartphones and not feature phones because SMS is very unsafe. Now when it comes to connectivity, it triggered one question: how will the smartphones connect? If it is via 4G, then there should be enough spectrum for the same. But if one looks at the social pyramid of a billion mobile users, there is a huge section of illiterate masses on the way down the structure.
Challenges on the payment side
Though the adoption of digital payments has witnessed a rise, the payments themselves remain an issue. According to Priya Karnik, ‎Vice President — Business, at Paytm, digital payments have various aspects like connectivity, serving customers digitally, and digital literacy.
She said, “In financial services, we have to be very cognizant in terms of what have we achieved so far. We have more than a billion people with Aadhaar as an identity. India Stack is the foundation for us to launch financial services digitally and the Jan-Dhan Yojana. By mobile banking we don’t mean that we are accessing the banking interface via mobile, mobile payment goes beyond where we can use it commerce.”
Paytm currently has over 150 million registered wallet users and one billion offline merchants and performs seven million transactions a day. Priya emphasised that today, everyone from the chaiwala and kirana stores to the tender coconut water guy is accepting payment digitally. This revolution is creating a lot of opportunities for financial services providers which offer various financial services like micro lending, micro insurance, etc.
Addressing the issue of local languages has also become crucial in terms of reaching the rural and semi-urban areas. Therefore, Paytm recently launched a multilingual interface in 10 languages to overcome language barriers, enabling people to shop and pay in regional languages. The user interface will be available on Android in 10 different regional languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, and Punjabi.
Challenges in digital transactions
The key to the Digital India initiative is accessibility, which can be divided into two verticals — wired and wireless connectivity. The delivery of internet has to be seamless, affordable, and widely available. India’s position in the world of broadband services has been elevated with consumers’ changing preferences towards internet adoption.
Bala Malladi, CEO, ACT Fibernet, said, “If you want people to come on the digital bandwagon, you need to give a good experience, which comes from trial and adaptation. The trial is something we need to generate at both the government level and private level. The best way to make people experience something that they haven’t done earlier is through Wi-Fi. If you go to any Wi-Fi hotspot zone assuming that the backend technology is robust enough, this is a wonderful experience. The trial should be done with a little bit of adaptation and there is no other option but to have the backhaul network. I don’t see any alternative other than connecting and getting a reach to every village.”
Overcoming the challenges
Before conquering the challenges of internet services delivery, it is very crucial to ascertain the prevailing problems like availability of supporting infrastructure and literacy.
Jayant Bhatnagar, Director, Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), said, “The problem of literacy cannot be solved overnight; we need infrastructure to do that. Therefore, we have developed equipment which will enable illiterate people to get access.”
C-DOT has developed a product called GyanSetu to bridge the gaps in connectivity and communication dissemination in the rural parts of the country. GyanSetu allows rural masses to connect to the internet in local language, bridging the digital divide between rural and urban areas by providing multi-lingual text and audio- and video-based solutions.
Ashish Arora, ‎CEO, Airtel Business, said that Airtel is working with state governments to create awareness of the internet. Airtel is working on a few projects in the villages of MP and UP, training women to improve education and awareness in digital literacy.