Unilever & Internet.org Join Hands To Improve Internet Access In Rural India


In his MWC 2014 appearance, while remarking on Facebook’s future plans, Mark Zuckerberg said that it wants to be the “dial tone of the internet” much like the 911 emergency line in US. To put it simply, it simply to be the essential online knowledge stream for internet enabled mobile phones.

That will surely make the life of the telcos even harder and thankfully a little better for us. Mark is very indulged by his initiative to get into the mobile business (openly proclaims Facebook as a “mobile company”) and for that to happen he needs more people to use the internet. So he got Internet.org as a tool and powerful brands to play along. Now it seems that he knows which door to knock first.

India, the home to billions, has an internet penetration of only 13%. The market opportunity is huge. The steep growth curve in the mobile internet adoption also speaks volumes for the scope.

On the other hand the online retailing industry is growing at an astounding pace of 50-55% a year and is expected to become a INR 500 Crore market by 2016. Hindustan Unilever Ltd (indian child company of Unilever PLC) currently works closely with online retailers like BigBasket LocalBanya is keen on scaling up its efforts to jump into this opportunity to leverage from this emerging market.

Unilever Internet.org

HUL, India’s largest consumer packaged goods company, brings in a lot of field experience to this deal which will benefit both parties. The primary initiative of this deal is gaining insights into the barriers of the internet adoption in rural India.

Cost and infrastructure being the primary adversities for connectivity, the researchers will try to look for the educational and cultural aspects that restrict internet use. The venture aims to bring internet to two third of the people who do not have access to it yet.

The urge of being the first one in this race is quite noticeable. Mobile is the buzz of the day and the viewable future. While Google products like YouTube, Gmail, Google+ etc are riding high on the success of Android which ships pre-installed with the OS on 80% devices sold worldwide. However, a sizeable chunk is still untapped.

People who do not have internet access yet are more likely to get internet through mobile before they experience it on desktop, which is the make or break opportunity for any product. The reason behind it is the interest and hence competition in the market. Brian Blau, an analyst from Gartner remarks, “If Facebook is not first in line when those people are firing up their devices, it stands a chance of never connecting with those folks, because there are so many alternatives,”. And that is scary.

Facebook has been expanding it’s surface area with apps like Paper, Instagram and (revamped)Messenger and now WhatsApp. It is now ready to put up a strong fight which it was losing for sometime. All set, it now needs a market to flourish into an even bigger ecosystem, India being among the very first steps.

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