Interview with Suneet Singh: Bridging the Digital Divide for the Forgotten Billion

PUNJAB, India—Suneet Singh Tuli is the co-founder and CEO and president of Canada-based DataWind, known the world over for its innovative and affordable Akash tablets designed to revolutionise education in India before creating a worldwide storm.

The civil engineer from the University of Toronto has an entrepreneurial spirit which also led to him setting up a manufacturing unit of large-format scanning and plotting equipment and portable imaging peripherals, employing over 250 people in the US, Canada, England, Germany and India.

He tells India Inc. about DataWind’s plans to move in on the affordable smartphone market and where the Digital India programme fits in with the Ontario-headquartered company’s ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ slogan.

What is the unique selling point (USP) of DataWind?

DataWind’s innovations have always been focussed to break the affordability barrier and provide internet access to empower the billions of people globally who are left out of the digital age. Our patented technology allows for a fast, rich and affordable experience on existing networks without any new infrastructure.

This is achieved by our breakthrough delivery platform invented by our founder and co-chairman Raja Singh Tuli. Covered by 18 US and international patents, this technology is offered through DataWind’s UbiSurfer browser on its tablets and smartphones, it reduces bandwidth consumption by factors of 10x to 30x to render a fast and rich desktop-like web experience even on traditional GPRS/EDGE 2.5G mobile networks in five to seven seconds. Utilising this technology, DataWind has been successful in providing free internet on the entire range of its low cost internet connectivity devices.

Suneet Singh Tuli IGBHow does your technology scale up globally?

There are over 4 billion digitally disenfranchised citizens of the world (in India alone, close to a billion) – ones who are yet to join the internet age and yet to experience empowerment and freedom that comes with immense knowledge accessible through internet. In India, these are the forgotten billion.

Customers enter into transactions with us for the value we deliver to them, both in India and outside India.

Every customer wants affordable solutions and we deliver it. Our technology gives us the ability to offer ‘optimised’ products, which are not only great on value and price but also representative of high-end technology.

We have consistently demonstrated the company’s endeavour to breach affordability barriers for our customers. Our sales figures validate the trust and confidence of our customers in India. We believe our brand is ideally suited for India and has the necessary requisites to sustain a long and beneficial relationship with our customers.

We are driven by our vision to bridge the digital divide and we will do that by creating access and reach through our devices. Our brand promises to offer a ubiquitous mobile solution that stands on two firm pillars of technology and affordability globally.

What are your views on Digital India?

We believe that a strong Digital India is impossible without empowering people in the rural areas and such can be attained with a well-planned Internet penetration programme. A thought out framework is needed and to be acted upon that ensures democratisation of technology and most affordable connectivity made available at grassroots level. With expansive availability of these two prerequisites, we can hope to create an environment for more than 70 per cent of India to join the digital age. In line with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India initiative, DataWind is devising ways to ramp up dissemination of data and make more data available to public for free. Key barriers of affordability and connectivity have limited the penetration of technology in many parts of emerging markets. These barriers are now being nullified.

Today, DataWind is providing powerful tablets with cellular connectivity (phablets) at under INR 3,000 and smartphones starting at INR 1,999, which has made it possible for everyone to have a personal computing device. These devices have dual-core processors and the latest operating systems, yet are one-tenth of the cost of devices from just a couple of years back. DataWind has proved that you don’t need expensive technology to deliver better performance.

Internet connectivity has and still is a key limitation, but with our breakthrough web delivery platform it is possible to access internet on 2G mobile networks at virtually zero/ near zero prices. All our models for the UbiSlate tablets and smartphone range offer free internet browsing for one year with Telenor and Reliance connections. We are always looking for more such associations.

Can DataWind’s offerings help bridge the rural-urban divide in India?

The aspirations of rural India are no different from those in developed India as their basic needs are the same – access to vital goods and services, education, affordable technology and connectivity solutions that help improve their standard of living. Meaningful action needs to be taken to ensure that last mile connectivity is achieved to provide internet access at the most affordable rates.

The Digital India vision seeks to bridge the digital divide between the societies at large, India still lags behind world standards when it comes to providing Internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). At DataWind, we believe that with proper ICT interventions, average teaching talent in rural areas can be supplemented with e-learning and concept of flipped classrooms.

Our Ubislate tablets are optimised with a feature set that is most appropriate for the low income group. Our patented Internet-Delivery Platform and parallel processing environment harness the written off potential of 2G networks to deliver basic internet browsing and emailing at blazing speeds. The technology not only reduces network load, it speeds up delivery of content by a factor upto 30X on these networks, thus resulting in lowest access cost for the use.

Our smart devices like mobile phones and tablets are now helping students get more out of the instructor, in terms of their valuable guidance and an opportunity to practically put to use the acquired knowledge.

How do you plan to tie in with Make in India?

The Indian mobile phone industry is witnessing favourable conditions in terms of the explosive growth of smartphones. Today, the affordable and ultra-affordable segments are primarily driving growth in the mobile industry and they are uniquely positioned with smart features at affordable cost to disrupt the related markets.

We at DataWind provide top notch quality phones at most affordable rates. We are able to do so due to our motto of Make in India. We have two facilities in Amritsar out of which one is for touch panels and we are the only company to have touch panel manufacturing in India and our second facility is for manufacturing smartphones and tablets.

We are in the process of launching a smart phone in the price range of INR 1,000 soon.

 

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