Rohit Paranjpe, Co-Founder & CEO, Sugarbox
With invaluable experience in entrepreneurship, he is exclusively skilled in digital content and media knowledge for in-travel, in-store, licensing and OTT.
It is a sign of our times. For almost every need – from ordering food to medicines to consulting a doctor or attending online classes, we have an App. India now has one of the largest Internet user bases in the world. A survey conducted by Atlas VPN, released in September 2020, estimated that the Internet penetration rate in India reached 50% at the start of 2020. This is an extremely rapid rise, when you consider the fact that in 2015, only 19% of Indians actively used the Internet. India’s extremely young population, affordable smartphones and the lowest data rates in the world – all have been factors that have influenced the rise of Internet usage.
The smartphone is one of the biggest factors influencing this rise, as people prefer to use their mobile phones for staying connected all the time. Thanks to huge advances in technology, people today are less restricted by space and time, and can use their travel time more productively by using their Internet-connected devices on the move. Smartphones are now the primary device for consumers, as they are fulfilling multiple needs of the consumer – from communicating, entertaining and improving productivity. This is corroborated by a report from Cisco released in February 2020, that highlights, devices and connections are growing faster (7% CAGR) than the population (1% CAGR) in India.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated the shift towards digital media. Every industry now is forced to have a digital touch. This includes schools, banks, retail outlets to even smaller unorganized players such as the vegetable vendor or the kirana shop. A lack of digital presence in the current times where lockdowns and curfews have minimized contact can be detrimental to the survival and competitiveness of any organization that does not have a digital identity. It is common to see QR codes or the UPI ID on a placard of even smaller vendors. Customers now prefer to buy from online stores, triggering a wave of orders from e-commerce stores.
TV sets are slowly evolving to become smart, and it is common to see consumers watching movies or even streaming IPLontheir smart phones. Today, the purchasing journey is shorter than ever, and the consumer has a huge choice of e-commerce portals to pick from. Consumer behaviour is also changing quickly. Shopping lists or favourites are a common feature, which helps customers to quickly order their favourite products.
Reliable connectivity is the need of the hour
Digital has become an integral part of our lives. Almost everything is instant and online – from reading news, ordering food or sharing a moment with our friends. A reliable network or Internet connection is hence needed for ensuring that there are no dropped calls or outages, endless buffers or failed transactions, with consistent and reliable access to data or applications. Customers now care more for reliability than speed, as it ensures continuity of experience.
India, which is one of the largest markets for telecom companies, especially for mobile services, is witnessing a decline in subscribers. At the same time, subscriber complaints are skyrocketing about poor service and network quality of almost all the major mobile service providers. A cursory check on Twitter would reveal that the quality of network and Internet connection is not the same everywhere. Despite paying higher charges for fourth generation (4G) services, subscribers complain that they neither receive the 4G network signal nor the desired download speed. Almost all subscribers witness poor network coverage or signal, which affects call quality and data speed, and frequent call drops across telecom service providers. In certain parts of the country, it is getting difficult to even download a photo on WhatsApp or send files from your e-mail account.
“Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) were created to store content closer to users by replicating or caching, using a distributed network of servers”
While it is easy to blame the telecom service providers, they too have their fair set of challenges. Most telecom service providers have still not recovered the cost of buying spectrum, and are struggling to stay competitive in an era of falling ARPUs. In many cases, certain geographies or regions do not give the expected ARPU. This may be due to lesser population or people’s inability to pay, or a combination of both these factors. This has prevented many telecom service providers from fully upgrading their outdated infrastructure.
Can CDNs be the answer?
Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) were created to store content closer to users by replicating or caching, using a distributed network of servers. When users want to access content, they can connect to the closest server, which makes their online experience faster and better. Latency is reduced as users connect to a server that’s closer than a global server or a server that is in a different region. In the current digital age where network connectivity and reliability is increasingly being sought after by users, CDNs can make a massive impact. Better or faster access to apps or websites can directly translate into higher customer retention.
The value of hyperlocal CDNs
However, it must be remembered that CDNs still need a seamless last mile connection via an ISP or Telco, which is where the major bottleneck is. If CDN technology is deployed in the last mile or at the user premises, then they can be leveraged to use local area networks as a last mile. These hyperlocal CDNs can solve the last mile connectivity issue to a large extent.
Let us understand this with the help of an example. Today, a common complaint with respect to online classes is that most students are not able to access online platforms due to poor Internet connectivity. Hyperlocal CDNs can offer a reliable and effective solution to this vexing issue. Hyperlocal CDNs can ensure that content is placed in a local edge server in a school can be accessed by students quickly. This helps in ensuring quality education to students in remote areas which have limited network connectivity.
If one looks at the current situation that has emerged as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, then hyperlocal CDNs are a powerful solution, as almost every type of content can be delivered using these CDNs. They are also a powerful medium for content consumption in moving vehicles such as trains or buses. This opens up a range of immense possibilities – from enabling e-commerce, payments, music streaming, last mile transport booking to even smaller villages and hospitals. Local content servers can be setup depending on the need. A farmer can for instance have agriculture content related to his local region, while a school may have regional language based content for serving its particular needs. All these possibilities can be explored in regions with limited or no Internet connectivity.
As we can see, if hyperlocal CDNs are extended to the last mile to harness the full potential of local area networks – they have the potential to offer one of the best possible solutions in solving the perennial problem of poor or limited access to content in areas that do not have an adequate telecom infrastructure.