A Digital India rant that you should give attention to

The first positive perception about India that comes to peoples mind all over the world is that it is an IT powerhouse. Its a perception that we have stacks of coders and testers who are creating software by the truck loads. At the same time, it is common acknowledgement that this is despite the government and not because of it. But, we underestimate the hindrance that the government (or the supply chain) has created, where in we pay nearly 2x the price for outdated technology. I wanted to go through this while some idiotic (and probably out of date) govt. official makes a proclamation about “digital India” or “Make in India” or any other marketing term without doing any real policy change.

Lets go through a normal scenario a tech startup goes through. You are working on a complex problem and you want to buy the best hardware to enable your coders to focus on work. Lets list out the common hindrances for this “out of a hostel/apartment” bootstrapped company:

  • Internet is really really unreliable: While China and South Korea are trying to get Gigabit internet to every household, people are hard pressed to get even a reliable 10 Mbps at a reasonable price in the capital of the country. Purely based on my personal experience, this is the plan available on Airtels website for Delhi. When I called to get the 40Mbps, they told me that they don’t have it my area (lol), but the worse thing was that even the 16mbps has constant disruptions and I have no words about the data limit. I am still waiting for players like Nextra or Excitel to put these guys out of business, but unfortunately their coverage isn’t high enough yet. Of course this is Delhi, I can’t even imagine the situation in tier 2 cities like Guwhati or Jaipur or Raipur.
  • Building that fast PC or buying that laptop: Be prepared to shell out 2x the price for even the shittiest components. No wonder, people try to get a lot of tech equipment from outside the country. Most of this equipment is built across the border and yet while dirt cheap mobiles are dime a dozen, laptops and PC components are still at 1.5x-2x the price. I made a small excel to research this here

Though after initial research I was surprised that it is not actually 2x-3x. All the rates are pre-tax though and it is still high considering that these products are manufactured almost exclusively just across the border and yet are cheaper in a far away part of the world. Also a thing to note is that there is a huge gap in purchasing power. But, the real difference can be seen in the difference between older products where the price drops are of much higher magnitude in US over India.

Eg: Lookup LG G5, a year old phone in India vs US ( Hint: 1.75x price)

Questions to be raised from this

  • What are we or the Govt. doing to ensure that India has the required Internet connectivity and speed to enable people to work on the latest technology and remain competitive ?
  • Why do we have high customs and excise plus Gst on products with no competitors in India — Aren’t these meant to give Indian industries an advantage ? Eg: Why do we have to pay a huge tax on Intel processors when we don’t have anyone manufacturing that ? Why is the govt. actively working to impede our growth with taxes and Red tape, rather than enable us ? Doesn’t the IT sector already pay enough taxes
  • How do we expect Indian software engineers to independently write great software and use the latest tools when they are on outdated hardware. Example: Try building an android app on those old systems prevalent in the country or downloading that 10gb SDK that just dropped.
  • While the techies in India (and all over the world) keep using terms such as AI and Machine learning, and how they’ll bring on a new revolution. We are working on old systems which would take a long time to run something as basic as an SVM. Very few universities have supercomputers and even those resources are rationed behind multiple rules and protocols. Big data is certainly not something which we’ll be competing on (though some MNC in a foreign country might buy our Aadhar data and do some evil big data on it :D ). We are neither competing on research nor on implementation and things can’t change when we are handicapped at every stage.

A Dooms day scenario looms

While our IT sector has done an awe inspiring job despite the hindrances, It seems to me that a dooms day scenario looms with better technology on the horizon. While we bathed in the riches of the service sector by building huge IT towers and complexes, yet we have seemingly invested very little in terms of technology infrastructure, policy and education. Many of our colleges and universities are shamefully still teaching on Turbo C++, the gap between internet speeds in India as compared to the rest of the world is still pretty much the same and we are still on old hardware which we pay more money to buy. My fear is that at some point we’ll become obsolete and fail to compete with other south asian countries who are copying our model but with a little less emphasis on “jugaad”. At some point, this party will end, but I guess we can party on till then.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe the National optical fibre network will finally be complete and become a roaring success, maybe the slow growth in tech with Moores law failing in the past few years will ensure that we are still competing even with our old hardware. But its definitely not a bad time to stop depending on external factors and ensure that we at least remain on the path to becoming a tech giant.

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