Facebook’s controversial Free Basics programme has hogged the maximum attention for trying to solve the problem of low level of Internet penetration in emerging countries. Yet it is not the only one which has thought about it.
One such firm is Gurgaon-based Adstuck which took upon itself to solve the problem serendipitously. While working on an augmented reality product – a browser that identified the things one is trying to find and exploring use cases for it, the founders realised that for such a product to do well in India, the challenge is not the number of smartphone users but rather the recurring cost of Internet.
Thus, the founders Abhishek Shankar, Kundan Kumar, and Ritesh Malik hit upon the idea to develop a reverse data platform – where brands would reimburse the data of users for using their apps and give some more for future retention. The idea stemmed on the back of some hard statistics – even though the number of smartphone users totalled 350 Mn, only 80 Mn of them were active subscribers of a 3G connection on account of expensive data plans. Added to that was the fact that broadband infrastructure is quite broken and inadequate. Similarly, brands were spending billions of dollars in advertising and on mobile to acquire customers, something which could have been brought down by almost 3 times using Reverse Data platforms.
As per estimates, out of the approximately 7.1 Bn people worldwide, there are still 4.2 Bn non-Internet users, mainly in developing markets. Though, as per forecasts, some 500 Mn to 900 Mn more individuals will gain access to the Internet by 2017, but they still won’t be able to afford it fully. For instance, in Mexico, 42 hours of work can give earn them one hour of Internet and in India three hours of work can earn them the same. So even with a $15 Android phone and all the apps therein, affordability remains an issue for the masses.
These are the challenges Adstuck wants to fight. The idea is to provide free Internet access and connectivity to two-thirds of the world, without taxing the masses or the overburdened government or by forcing telecom operators to lower prices. It is this gap in emerging markets which the 32-member team, based out of Gurgaon, is aiming to address.