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Google tries to show India it’s all cuddly and lovely

Google station screen

Google has launched a number of new India-specific products and features apparently designed to ingratiate the internet behemoth to the lucrative emerging market.

Just when we were all starting to think the Silicon Valley giants were only in it for the cash, Google has shown its caring side by offering data starved Indians reason to hope. Connectivity within the country has traditionally been poor and data plans offered to customers less than ideal. Google is seizing this opportunity to show just how big its heart is by launching pre-loading features for YouTube, more free wifi spots, as well as the Hindu version of Allo. Aren’t those Googlers nice chaps.

“The growth of the Internet has been explosive in India,” the company said in a blog. “Every second, three more Indians come online for the first time — that’s over 10,000 people every hour. But this latest wave of Internet users still has significant barriers to getting the most out of the Internet: low-powered phones, 2G connections, and very little data.  So today at our second Google for India event, we announced several new Google products, platforms and access programs to deepen India’s participation in the Internet.”

YTGO-App-screens-previewThe team will begin testing of YouTube Go, new mobile app built to tackle the access and affordability challenges of the Indian market. The app will allow customers to preload videos and play in ‘various connectivity situations’ as the company claims, which one can only assume is a polite way of saying when ‘ur totes owt of signal fam’. The feature is being tested only in India for the moment though there are plans to roll out worldwide in the future. The team also plan to localise the newly launched Allo to the India market by introducing Hindi to the messaging app.

Another area being expanded in the country is the public wifi initiative. Launched last September in partnership with Indian Railways and RailTel, the initiative plans to provide free Wifi at 400 train stations throughout the country. The team currently provide Wifi access at 50 stations, claiming 15,000 Indians come online each day through these stations.

Building on this initiative, the team has just unveiled a new project called Google Station, which gives partners tools to roll-out wifi hotspots in public places, including malls, bus stops, city centres, and cafes. The team are currently looking for new partners and plan to extend the coverage of the project throughout India.

India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and more importantly for companies such as Google is the wealth is being distributed through to a fast growing middle-class. Connecting the Indian people to the internet is a very noble gesture by the team, and I’m sure we’ll hear in the quarterly announcement how much it cost Google, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s how much Google cares about connecting the world. Not to mentioned the extra couple of billion which the team may collect through advertising revenues.

But Google could be building momentum for another play in the Indian market which could demonstrate the connectivity crusade the team has embarked is not just a crude effort for advertising revenues.

The company’s MVNO, Google Fi, currently only operates in North America. The US market is prime for Google Fi, as the USP for the offering is its automatic link to open wifi connections. Users pay a small amount for texts and voice calls and the Google engineers have created a clever algorithm which detects, and automatically connects to, open wifi connections to allow messages and calls to take place over the internet. In these circumstances, calls and messages are effectively free. It’s a clever idea, and potentially very disruptive.

Connectivity is paramount, which has been a barrier to entry for Google Fi into the Indian market. The success of Google Station could reap substantial rewards far beyond advertising revenues. It could position Google as a major player in the MVNO sector.

Alongside these developments, Jio has been causing quite a stir in the industry. The operator, owned by Mukesh Ambani, one of India’s richest men, is in the process of building a vast 4G network which will cover the majority of the country. Jio has not been making many friends in India as competitors have questions why it has been given a nationwide license when they have struggled to obtain one after years of lobbying. Jio is basically giving everything away for free as well, which is great for the consumers but not so much for the telcos.

If Jio succeeds in delivering the 4G network across India, this could make some of the features Google has delivered for the connectivity-starved Indian consumers less compelling. However, if the Google Fi team are able to snuggle up next to Jio and become one of its MVNO partners this could be a useful move.

Google has not indicated its MVNO proposition will enter into the Indian market to date, though there could be an opportunity for disruption, and the Google team does like a good old bit of disruption. In any case, whether it is because of the goodness of Google execs or flashing dollars signs, the internet giant is set to stomp its sizable footprint on the Indian nation.

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