Tech startups in India

Tech startups in India building resilience amid disruption

by | Feb 27, 2021 | Covid-19, Technology

Tech startups in India have successfully played a pivotal role in healing the economy and reviving hopes.
Share to lead the transformation

Indian tech startups are setting a perfect example of building resilience amidst the crisis. Even though the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and resulting in severe pain, it is also true that the outbreak profoundly influenced indigenous innovations, new tech startup ideas, and digital transformation roadmaps in India. (See: Digital transformation deals put IT sector back on track)

When businesses were scrambling to find the best ways to deal with the crisis, Indian tech startups emerged as a force to reckon with. According to a recent Nasscom report, India added a whopping 1600 plus tech startups in 2020 and has become the third-largest tech startup ecosystem in the world after the US and China. 

Ravindra Kumar, IT Delhi Alumni AssociationRavindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi
Alumni Association

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI),
blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach.”

Rajesh Kumar, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com

“The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface for better positioning.”

Akhilesh Shukla, TechshotsAkhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

“We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of Techshots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions.”

The number of unicorns (those who have a valuation of over $1 billion) is also growing steadily in India. In 2020 alone, 11 startups from India joined the unicorn club, which boasts of Paytm, Ola, Zomato, Cars 24, and 34 others.

The above figures are intriguing and contrary to the early fears raised by several industry observers. The Indian startup ecosystem was projected for a steep decline by many in March 2020 due to the Covid-induced bedbound economic environment. Technology interventions and innovative ideas played a pivotal role in resuscitating the growth path. (See: How is digital transformation shaping the new future?)

Turning the crisis into opportunity

When millions of citizens were confined to their homes, the rise of digital technologies created fresh opportunities. These technologies enabled people to do things efficiently and in a cost-effective way. Had it not been for the role of IT and tech startups in India, the impact of the crisis could have been more upsetting!

Amidst the widespread uncertainty and social distancing measures, the dependencies on digital solutions grew enormously. Whether it is healthcare consultation, retail, astrology, education, grocery supply, or entertainment, technology kept the economy running and helped us adapt to the new normal.

If Indian tech startups such as Byju, UpGrad, and Unacademy excelled in transforming the education and learning delivery, location surveillance apps such as Unmaze, Aarogya Setu, and Sahyog kept the COVID-19 virus in check. India also witnessed a massive surge in fintech and health startups as the demand for their services, such as contactless payments and telemedicine, grew much faster.

News aggregators such as InShorts, Dailyhunt, and TechShots have gained significant traction as people continue to switch to their personal mobile devices for real-time information and news.

Some of the new habits that people learned during the pandemic are likely to remain permanent, and this compelled many entrepreneurs to launch niche and specialized services. “Media consumption habits are changing quickly. Most consumers now prefer to receive their daily dose of news bulletin digitally in a crisp format. During the COVID-19 crisis, this demand reached a record level. We saw a significant gap in the Indian news industry, lacking a common tech-news platform for enterprise decision-makers. And that’s how the idea of TechShots was born. Leveraging technology, we are delivering technology news and enabling technology decision-makers to make informed decisions,” said Akhilesh Shukla, Co-Founder and Editor TechShots.

With quarantine and lockdown rules forced consumers to stay indoors, online grocery delivery demand witnessed a massive rise throughout 2020. Along with established online grocery suppliers such as Big Basket, Grofers, and Amazon, agritech startups such as Otipy, Sabzibhazi, Freshokartz, Agrowave, among others, also made their presence felt.

“I started Sabzibhazi in 2019. When I first launched this company with my meager savings in 2019, it didn’t do well. The idea was to provide the freshest produce at a reasonable price using a new-age tech platform. Even though we did much research, but there were still no customers. It was a tough time. We didn’t go for fundraising as we didn’t want to be answerable to anyone. Moreover, we were not sure if we would get that much attention from venture capitalists,” says Rajesh Kumar Pandit, Founder CEO of Sabzibhazi.com, a South Delhi-based digital farm-to kitchen service provider.

Things changed quickly for Rajesh when India announced nationwide lockdowns. Many established players failed to meet the unprecedented surge in demand for online fresh produce. “The last few months have been good for our business. As people moved to digital channels for their grocery shopping needs, we got thousands of new customer registrations, and there is substantial revenue flowing in now. We are planning to expand our operations and upgrade our app interface,” an enthusiastic Kumar adds.

In the healthcare space, startups like Pharmeasy, CureFit, and EyeNetra attracted massive investors’ interest.

Innovative ideas fueling startups

Besides the above, innovative virtual event platforms Airmeet also garnered significant attention from enterprises. Businesses took their services for hosting various internal workshops, panel discussions, and customer events in a setting where physical events are restricted.

There are also pure-play data analytics firms such as Mu Sigma, which are growing exponentially. 

The tech startup culture in India is equally supported by the government and premier institutes like IIT. The Indian government has taken several initiatives recently to help the local startup ecosystem grow. Under the AatmaNirbhar Bharat vision, the government has eased regulations, announced tax exemptions, and set up a Rs 10,000 crore fund exclusively for startups.

“Fostering entrepreneurship and nurturing tech startups has always been a key priority area for IIT Delhi. We utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and cloud to get all our students and alumni together and build a global outreach,” said Ravindra Kumar, President, IIT Delhi Alumni Association, in an earlier interaction with Better World. (See: IIT Delhi can help develop an Indian equivalent of Google or Facebook).

The year also saw spectacular ideas such as anti-viral t-shirts and COVID-19 protective lotions unveiled by E-TEX and Clensta, two startups incubated at IIT Delhi.

Another startup that caught our attention was ATAI Labs; an applied AI company launched recently. The startup provides AI-based digital transformation solutions for the supply chain and logistics industry, which bring the data center capabilities closer to the source of data and enable AI inferencing, decision making, and analytics at the EDGE.  The 70-employee young Indian startup offers innovative solutions to augment maritime, retail, locomotive, and surveillance capabilities. (See: AI is a must now to speed up digital transformation)

Factors.ai is also an AI-based startup that focuses on providing marketing analytics for entrepreneurs and small-medium businesses. The startup was chosen as one of the 20 firms for the fourth cohort of the Google for Startups (GFS) Accelerator program in India last year.

An equally exciting tech-startup, The Water App, was launched to solve the water crisis in Hyderabad. The company leverages advanced technologies and intelligence to monitor supply chain management of water and deliver clean water at the doorstep.

Final thoughts

Before the pandemic, many enterprises were reluctant to go online entirely. But things changed quite dramatically. Across all sectors, there was no option but to accelerate the digital transformation.

Indian tech startups and IT companies proved that integrating innovations with adaptability models led to new pathways and behavioral models, bringing together enormous resilience and resolve.

At Better World, we believe that this is just the beginning. Indian tech startups not only took risks and found new innovative models but were also instrumental in adding thousands of new jobs at a time when people were losing hopes. In 2021, according to Nasscom, the Indian IT industry (along with the tech startups) is expected to add over 1,38,000 new hires, taking the total employee base in this sector to 4.47 million.

By leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, analytics, and cloud-based collaboration tools, these young tech companies will continue to bring the best of the ideas and tools to revive the economy and develop life-enabling solutions.

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Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems
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Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems

Time to get ‘responsible’ with AI systems

Humans have built very complex robotic systems, such as convoys and airplanes, and even neural networks to communicate with each other, but we’re only starting to scratch the surface of what artificial intelligence (AI) can do. It’s also about time we started paying more attention to ‘responsible AI.’

A future with artificial intelligence would be very mixed. It would be an actuality that could not only eliminate many of today’s human jobs, but also allow us to solve complex problems much faster than we could if we used a human brain to solve those same complex problems.

As technology gets closer to achieving full intelligence, we will start seeing the artificial intelligence (AI) systems that are fully self-aware and can think, reason, and act like a human would. This may raise some concerns, because some people fear that as artificially intelligent computers become more advanced, they might start to have a good enough IQ to be more intelligent than humans. The concern is not if, but when, it might happen.

In future we will have artificial intelligent robotic ‘teams’ of robots that can do all the menial tasks which we traditionally assign to humans such as vacuuming, picking up items, cooking, shopping and more. All jobs will eventually be done by artificially intelligent robotic machines. Even without this new development, all work will still be based on traditional methods such as task assignment, task resolution, and reward and punishment systems.

Today, we are beginning to see the first AI machine prototypes at work and many exciting projects are in the works. One such project is a robotic dog, which can recognize objects, humans and other dogs. Other projects include self-driving cars, self-piloted planes, artificial intelligent robots, and new weather systems.

The future of artificially intelligent robotic androids is exciting but also scary due to the autonomous capabilities of these machines. These robotic androids may be made up of two different types of artificial intelligence, a human-like non-conscious neural network (NCL) and a fully conscious human mind with all its own memory, thoughts, and feelings. Some NCL robots may have both systems in one system or may only have one. Many experts believe a full AI will be closer to human intelligence than any current technology can ever make.

Such concerns and apprehensions around AI have triggered the need for AI developments and implementations to be humanly, ethically, and legally more responsible.

Microsoft recognizes six principles that it believes should guide AI development and use (see link). These are fairness; reliability and safety; privacy and security; inclusiveness, transparency; and accountability.

PwC Responsible AI frameworkPwC has created a ‘Responsible AI Toolkit,’ which is a suite of customizable frameworks, tools, and processes designed to help organizations “harness the power of AI in an ethical and responsible manner, from strategy through execution.”

The field of ‘Responsible AI’ is generating more and more interest from various stakeholders, including governments, developers, human-resource experts, and user organizations, among others.

Distributed cloud is the new enterprise IT frontier

Distributed cloud is the new enterprise IT frontier

A titanic struggle for control of the cloud has begun in earnest by the emergence of various distributed cloud architectures. The shift is being driven by the need for enterprises to move away from traditional infrastructure-aspect-management to ‘utility cloud’ models, which can be far more sustainable as long-term strategies.

Amazon Web Services, IBM, Google, and Microsoft are the giants whose bet in the development of such virtualization technologies has won them large shares of the cloud market. Several other companies are also active in this arena, and a closer examination of the main players may reveal a number of smaller players too.

distributed cloud

Multiple drivers are fueling growth

The star attractions of distributed clouds include (1) low latency due to proximity to user organizations (e.g., on-premises delivery or edge delivery); (2) better adherence to compliance and data-residency requirements;  and (3) rapidly growing number of IoT devices, utility drones, etc.

With distributed cloud services, the service providers are moving closer to the users. These cloud services are offered not just as public-cloud-hosted solutions but also on the edge or the on-premise data center. This approach of having a SaaS model with an on-premise application has its own advantages like ease of provisioning new services, ease of management, and cost reductions in the form of greater operational efficiency brought about by streamlined infrastructure management.

Cloud service providers have a deep understanding of both the needs of enterprises and their unique business requirements. They use their expertise to develop solutions that meet these objectives. They are also well known for providing easy accessibility to their services from the internet. This enables fast and convenient access for end-users.

Enterprises may think that by switching over to a distributed cloud computing service they will lose control of their data. However, the cloud service providers enable excellent security and monitoring solutions. They also ensure that users are given the highest level of access to their data. By migrating on-premises software to a cloud service provider, enterprises do not stand to lose the expertise that their employees have built up during their time in the organization.

Google Anthos: A first-mover advantage

Google formally introduced Anthos, as an open platform that lets enterprises run an app anywhere—simply, flexibly, and securely. In a blog post, dated 9 April 2019, Google noted that, embracing open standards, Anthos let enterprises run applications, unmodified, on existing on-prem hardware investments or in the public cloud, and was based on the Cloud Services Platform announced earlier.

The announcement said that Anthos’ hybrid functionality was made generally available both on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) with Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and in the enterprise data center with GKE On-Prem.

Consistency, another post said, was the greatest common denominator, with Anthos making multi-cloud easy owing to its foundation of Kubernetes—specifically the Kubernetes-style API. “Using the latest upstream version as a starting point, Anthos can see, orchestrate and manage any workload that talks to the Kubernetes API—the lingua franca of modern application development, and an interface that supports more and more traditional workloads,” the blog post added.

AWS Outposts: Defending its cloud turf

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been among the first movers. On 3 December 2019, the cloud services major announced the general availability of AWS Outposts, as fully managed and configurable compute and storage racks built with AWS-designed hardware that allow customers to run compute and storage on-premises, while seamlessly connecting to AWS’s broad array of services in the cloud. A pre-announcement for Outposts had come on 28 November 2018 at the re:Invent 2018.

“When we started thinking about offering a truly consistent hybrid experience, what we heard is that customers really wanted it to be the same—the same APIs, the same control plane, the same tools, the same hardware, and the same functionality. It turns out this is hard to do, and that’s the reason why existing options for on-premises solutions haven’t gotten much traction today,” said Matt Garman, Vice President, Compute Services, at AWS. “With AWS Outposts, customers can enjoy a truly consistent cloud environment using the native AWS services or VMware Cloud on AWS to operate a single enterprise IT environment across their on-premises locations and the cloud.”

IBM Cloud Satellite: Late but not left out

IBM has been a bit late to the distributed cloud party. It was only on 1 March 2021 that IBM announced that hybrid cloud services were now generally available in any environment—on any cloud, on premises or at the edge—via IBM Cloud Satellite. The partnership with Lumen Technologies, coupled with IBM’s long-standing deep presence in on-premise enterprise systems, could turn out to be a key differentiator. An IBM press release noted that Lumen Technologies and IBM have integrated IBM Cloud Satellite with the Lumen edge platform to enable clients to harness hybrid cloud services in near real-time and build innovative solutions at the edge.

“IBM is working with clients to leverage advanced technologies like edge computing and AI, enabling them to digitally transform with hybrid cloud while keeping data security at the forefront,” said Howard Boville, Head of IBM Hybrid Cloud Platform. “With IBM Cloud Satellite, clients can securely gain the benefits of cloud services anywhere, from the core of the data center to the farthest reaches of the network.”

“With the Lumen platform’s broad reach, we are giving our enterprise customers access to IBM Cloud Satellite to help them drive innovation more rapidly at the edge,” said Paul Savill, SVP Enterprise Product Management and Services at Lumen. “Our enterprise customers can now extend IBM Cloud services across Lumen’s robust global network, enabling them to deploy data-heavy edge applications that demand high security and ultra-low latency. By bringing secure and open hybrid cloud capabilities to the edge, our customers can propel their businesses forward and take advantage of the emerging applications of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Microsoft Azure Arc: General availability awaited

Julia White Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Azure, in a blog post, dated 4 November 2019, announced Azure Arc, as a set of technologies that unlocks new hybrid scenarios for customers by bringing Azure services and management to any infrastructure. “Azure Arc is available in preview starting today,” she said.

However, the general availability of Azure Arc was not to be announced anytime soon. Six months after the ‘preview’ announcement, Jeremy Winter Partner Director, Azure Management, published a blog post on 20 May 2020, noting that the company was delivering ‘Azure Arc enabled Kubernetes’ in preview to its customers. “With this, anyone can use Azure Arc to connect and configure any Kubernetes cluster across customer datacenters, edge locations, and multi-cloud,” he said.

“In addition, we are also announcing our first set of Azure Arc integration partners, including Red Hat OpenShift, Canonical Kubernetes, and Rancher Labs to ensure Azure Arc works great for all the key platforms our customers are using today,” the post added.

The announcement followed Azure Stack launch two years earlier, to enable a consistent cloud model, deployable on-premises. Meanwhile, Azure was extended to provide DevOps for any environment and any cloud. Microsoft also enabled cloud-powered security threat protection for any infrastructure, and unlocked the ability to run Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services AI models anywhere. Azure Arc was a significant leap forward to enable customers to move from just hybrid cloud to truly deliver innovation anywhere with Azure, the post added.

Looking ahead

A distributed cloud presents an incredible opportunity for businesses that are looking to improve their bottom line while also increasing their agility and versatility.

A distributed cloud is essentially a distributed version of public cloud computing which offers the capability to manage nearly everything from a single computer to thousands of computers. The cloud promises the benefits of a global network without having to worry about hardware, software, management, and monitoring issues. The distributed cloud goes a step further and also brings the assurance on fronts such as latency, compliance, and on-premise application modernization.

Why it’s time to regulate social media platforms now?

Why it’s time to regulate social media platforms now?

In the last two decades, social media platforms have gotten too big  and powerful but have mostly shrugged responsibility. Moreover, the big ones are literally without competition in their respective markets. There is no close direct competitor to a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, et al.

In this sense, social media platforms have become analogous to governments that are either free of any opposition or have a very weak opposition to contend with. Isn’t that what we call nonconductive to democracy?

Indeed. Be it Facebook, WhatsApp, or Google, they keep changing privacy policies. Sometimes these changes are to meet the regulatory requirements of the markets they operate in but often these changes are also at their wills (I chose not to use whims here) and fancies. Mostly, these changes are to suit their commercial interests, period.

Arm-twisting users to accept new privacy rules

Take the most recent and glaring instance of WhatsApp, for example. In early 2021, the Facebook-owned social messaging behemoth decided to issue a new privacy-policy diktat to its more than 500 million users in India to take it (the new privacy policy) or leave it (use of the WhatsApp app). After the government didn’t approve of its new privacy policy, WhatsApp did a climbdown from its earlier stand. It has postponed the exit of those users who have not accepted its policy for now.

WhatsApp argues against the government’s new guidelines (see article) on the pretext of servicing the ‘privacy interest’ of its users. At the same time, it tries forcing a privacy policy on users that they don’t approve of, by making a blatant misuse of its dominant position in the social messaging market segment. (It may be noted that Telegram is a distant second to WhatsApp globally as well as in India).

See also: Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it.

Sumant ParimalSumant Parimal, Chief Analyst at 5Jewels Research and a keen IT industry observer agrees, “When they (social media companies) want, they impose any kind of term and conditions on users while even compromising privacy of users, but when Indian government asks for something then they are citing privacy as reason for not complying.”

So, what recourse do users have against such misuse of power by these platforms? There is no social-media appellate who could step in to safeguard the democratic interests of netizens. They are left with no other choice but to approach real-world courts and governments, who sometimes do step in and intervene.

Has regulation become a need of the changed times?

There is a thin line between democracy and anarchy, just as there is a thin line between freedom of speech and indecency of speech.

Social media is a platform that espouses the tenets of democracy and freedom of speech but where these cherished values can easily be sucked by dungeons of anarchy and indecent speech.

Worse, social media–and more so the social messaging platforms—can be misused by criminals and terrorists for perpetuating their respective agendas. Tech media is often replete with news of various cybercrimes ranging from digital frauds and cyber stalking to ransomware attacks.

Is government-led regulation of social media platforms needed?

Let’s be fair—the average internet user faces a perennial dilemma whenever the topic crops up. Netizens tend to see government interventions as a double-edged sword, which can cut both ways. There have been numerous instances in the past when netizens have opposed steps taken by governments to regulate the internet.

There are obvious reasons for users to be distrustful of both the government and the internet companies when it comes to protecting their freedom of speech and expression, particularly on social media platforms.

While the average utopian users will quite likely be fine with an intervention that rids social media platforms of obscenity, violence, and disharmonies of all kinds, they may not like any intrusive policing and patrolling of their social walls and communities.

Alas, internet is no longer the global village it was conceived to be!

Nevertheless, with the right regulatory mechanisms in place, it can be made a lot better than what it is today.

Verified accounts are a good way to autoregulate

Anshuman TiwariAnshuman Tiwari, a well-known process transformation professional, podcaster, and YouTuber has summed it up aptly, “So there is this chaos around the banning of some social media services in India. While we can debate the interest and logic in doing this, there is a huge opportunity to sort this mess. All social media should be ‘verified.’ Verified accounts will behave better. And the trolls will be careful. Essentially, what you can’t say in real life and get away with should also be not said online.”

A lot of people will lose a lot of ‘followers’ though, he quips.

A good thing is that amidst all the recent social-media din and commotion in the wake of the Intermediary Guidelines issued earlier by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY), there has been some positive development on the front. Most significantly, Twitter has recently said it will enable a system for users to verify their Twitter accounts. It noted on its official website, “Starting May 20, 2021, we’ll begin rolling out verification applications to everyone. If you don’t see it in your Account Settings tab right away, don’t worry! Everyone should be able to apply soon.”

It is a well-known fact that getting an account ‘verified’ on Twitter has historically been one of the most arduous and hard-to-achieve tasks for a common Twitterati.

Multi-stakeholder regulation can infuse trust

When it comes to the wider impact of social media, there are multiple stakeholders at play. These include the general users, the government, the opposition, public figures, businesses, academia, judiciary, and the social media platforms themselves, among others.

So, a panel that comprises representations from several of these stakeholder groups should ideally be allowed to monitor, judge, and moderate the social media platforms. Such a measure would help alleviate the apprehensions that the new rules and regulations may be misused by a government in power.

It would also ensure that social media has not just power, but also shoulders the responsibility that is required of an internet intermediary in today’s context. With up to half of India’s eligible population (less than 13/14 years of age) likely to be on one social media platform or the other, there indeed is a need to ensure that these platforms are not used by elements that are detrimental to the society and the nation.

Indeed, when too much power, direct or indirect, gets concentrated in any institution or platform, it is important to put the right set of checks and balances in place.

By issuing the intermediary guidelines, the government has done well to put the necessary checks in place. What it needs to do now is to balance it all by constituting a multi-stakeholder mechanism (panel) to monitor any potential breach and recommend any corrective measures or punitive actions to the concerned government authorities.

This way, the panel itself works like an intermediary between the government and the social media companies as well as between the users and the government or the social media companies.

Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it!

Ironic that WhatsApp breaches privacy but wants govt to practice it!

Deepak KumarThe deadline to comply with the “Intermediary Guidelines” issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) ended on 25 May 2021 for Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and others. For most of the part, the guidelines are not hard to comply with. To its credit, the government has given the intermediaries significant amount of time to take the necessary actions.

However, none of the major social media majors at whom the guidelines were aimed at, have bothered to fully comply. It looks like they were hoping for the deadline to be extended, which didn’t happen in this particular case.

Twitter has not commented. Facebook said it “aims to comply,” and also wants to discuss some “issues which need more engagement.” Google said it has a “long history” of compliance.

WhatsApp has responded by filing a lawsuit in the Delhi High Court against the guidelines using the ‘privacy’ pretext. It is ironic that the social messaging major has used the ‘privacy’ argument to oppose the guidelines, especially when it has been widely accused by users as a usurper of users’ privacy rights.

Its argument is particularly in the context of rule to “enable identification of the first originator of the information” for certain types of messages. It says that enabling this feature would break its “end-to-end encryption” and undermine people’s right to ‘privacy.’

Sometime after the beginning of this year, WhatsApp started notifying its users that it had updated its privacy policy and the users could either accept the new policy or quit using WhatsApp by 8 February 2021. Later, it extended the deadline to accept the new privacy policy by 15 May.

Better World had done a quick survey with 565 users, in which only around 18% user said the change didn’t bother them at all. Of the remaining 82%, 37% users considered the new privacy policy a serious breach of their privacy, while 45% said they it was not good, though they could live with it.

To see the survey details, read: Better World User Survey on WhatsApp Privacy Policy.

Interestingly, the survey also showed a majority of users had no qualms in leaving WhatsApp on privacy issue. Around 18% of respondents said they had already quit WhatsApp as the only app, while another 25% said they planned to do so within a week’s time and yet another 29% said they planned to quit in a month’s time.

The key alternatives to WhatsApp are Telegram and Signal, albeit they have significantly less number of users when compared with WhatsApp. For instance, Telegram is estimated to have around 500 million users as against 2 billion WhatsApp users globally. In India, WhatsApp has around 530 million users, as per industry estimates. (It goes without saying that other social messaging platforms will also need to comply with the new guidelines as much as WhatsApp.)

Rules that intermediaries are required to comply with

The rules were published on 25 February 2021 by Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY)

  • Due diligence to followed by intermediaries: the rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. in case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbor provisions will not apply to them.
  • There will be two categories of social media intermediaries, namely, social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries, based on the number of users on the social media platform. The rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism: The intermediaries should establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. intermediaries shall appoint a grievance officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. Grievance officer shall acknowledge the complaint within 24 hours and resolve it within 15 days from its receipt.
  • Ensuring online safety and dignity of users, especially women users: Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes individuals in full or partial nudity or is in the nature of impersonation, etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  • Additional due diligence to be followed by significant social media intermediary:
    • Appoint a chief compliance officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India.
    • Appoint a nodal contact person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
    • Appoint a resident grievance officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
    • Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
    • Enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.
    • Have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
    • Provided an appropriate mechanism for users to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification.
    • Provide users an opportunity to be heard in cases where intermediaries remove or disable user access to any information on their own accord. A prior intimation shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.
  • Removal of unlawful information: An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.
5G is a missing cog in digital transformation wheel

5G is a missing cog in digital transformation wheel

In the last one year, the new remote-working normal has accelerated the adoption of most of the ‘digital-transformation-enabling technologies’ in a big way. There has been a lone notable exception though—5G! Like cloud, analytics, and mobility, 5G has been hailed as a foundational technology block for constructing the superstructure for enabling digital transformation. However, while investments in cloud and big data/analytics have swelled, 5G streams have dried up even before they could be formed.

For example, NASSCOM pegs the cloud computing market in India at $2.2 billion and expects it to clock a growth of 30% year-on-year. All major public-cloud service providers, including Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Amazon Web Services have established strong presence in India.

5G, on the other hand, is yet to be launched, as the commercial licenses are not yet in place. Auctions for 5G spectrum have got delayed and there are little chance that they will be held this calendar year. Early this month, on 4 May 2021, the Department of Telecom (DoT) approved of 5G trials to be conducted over a six-month period. This implies that the trials will not get completed before October–November this year, so auctions will get pushed to 2022.

(See: Tipping point for 5G networks likely in 2023, says Report)

(Also: India needs a coherent industry approach for 5G success)

5G is digital transformation’s missing pillar

Until 5G is licensed and deployed, digital transformation (DX) projects in India, whether at enterprises or in the government, will remain bereft of a key building block. A slew of next-generation digital applications, especially those involving internet of things (IoT),  can realize their true potential only with the advent of 5G.

The DoT press release had rightly noted, “The objectives of conducting 5G trials include testing 5G spectrum propagation characteristics especially in the Indian context; model tuning and evaluation of chosen equipment and vendors; testing of indigenous technology; testing of applications (such as tele-medicine, tele-education, augmented/virtual reality, drone-based agricultural monitoring, etc.); and to test 5G phones and devices.”

“5G technology is expected to deliver improved user experience in terms of data download rates (expected to be 10 times that of 4G), up to three times greater spectrum efficiency, and ultra-low latency to enable Industry 4.0. Applications are across a wide range of sectors such as agriculture, education, health, transport, traffic management, smart cities, smart homes, and multiple applications of internet of things (IoT),” the release had added.

IoT platforms await a 5G push

In April 2021, Airtel had launched its ‘Airtel IoT’ integrated platform that enables enterprises to harness the power of IoT and be ready for the emerging era of connected things. Airtel counts some key customers that have been using Airtel’s IoT solutions. These include MG Motor, Pine Labs, Paytm, Kirloskar, BSES, Genus, and Kent, which are spread across industry sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, automobiles, BFSI, and utilities.

Close on the heels of the launch of Airtel IoT, Vodafone–Idea too launched its IoT solutions for enterprises in April itself.

While these platforms will be functional even in the absence of 5G networks, their true digital transformation (DX) potential will be unlocked only after the advent of 5G.

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