In the West, data usage is about 6 GB to 7 GB per person. Can India create the capacity to sustain such demand?
Most advance countries have a good home broadband infrastructure which India lacks. The average western home uses roughly 150 GB to 200 GB a month of broadband data and consumes about 5 GB to 7 GB on the mobile network. In India, the demand was there but it did not have an outlet. We have seen it with Jio in the last three months with the huge consumption of data. I am convinced that with Jio, we are converting India from a data short to a data long market.
Will acquisitions be a part of that journey or will it all be an organic growth?
We think that the Indian opportunity is big and we will partner wherever it is relevant. At the same time, we will not hesitate to invest on our own wherever we think there are gaps. We are home grown and have a good track record in creating things from scratch. We will do both, we are not wedded to any one basic philosophy. It depends on each opportunity.
China is building huge cable infrastructure which the United Nations has said can help boost their gross domestic product [GDP]. How can India catch up with China and the rest of the world?
This is similar to saying in the industrial age, if you have good electricity it will strengthen your manufacturing capability. In India, we are effectively building as good or better connectivity than China or anywhere else in the world. Here we are setting a standard, which others will also have to rise up to, and so our networks will collectively get upgraded.
The way we think about this is essential infrastructure. It is for every Indian consumer, every Indian business to build on top of this infrastructure. We will facilitate and partner. It is about empowering everybody. We do not have a megalomaniacal plan of wanting to own the Internet or any such stuff. Our mindset is that of a facilitator. It’s like saying if you have good roads in the country, the journey becomes smoother. The same way, if you have this digital infrastructure, everybody can prosper and can aim higher and do better. That’s the objective.
Along with connectivity, the other big pieces are software, data, and analytics. This is where India has an advantage driven by the gene pool of young Indians. I am a big believer that the next 20-30 years will be a good time for India with the setting up of this essential infrastructure. It is a good time to be a 15-year-old in India.
Talking of youth, you have highlighted the importance of listening to the younger generation. Can you give us an example of when this approach helped you?
Let me pick a simple one, in the old way of doing things, all of us filled forms to get SIM cards. To actually do this, we said we will build regional centres and have 10,000 people in each centre. That was our plan when we launched, trained our agents, etc. We would have achieved smaller numbers of customer acquisitions, and a lot of manual, paper work. Most of our young people said we should use biometrics and link it to the government’s Aadhaar network for KYC [know-your-customer] purposes. This way, the customer could get the SIM in 10 minutes, rather than waiting for one day. We said OK, let’s do both the manual and the biometric solutions, but in just 60 days we were able to practically shut our manual system and have gone for just the Aadhaar-linked system.
We are looking to use the same approach for enabling rural payments where customers could just use their biometrics for transactions. These are simple things where... when you listen to young people, you find better solutions. That’s our biggest lesson, that if we listen and iterate, chances of success are much higher.
But you’re the one in the driving seat, so what is the advice you give your young team?
This is not a one-person effort. It is a collective team effort that we put together. And it evolved. And we evolved with it. We are evolving continually even today. The good thing about this whole new world is that you can adjust pretty quickly and get to build a host of new capabilities and competencies by just bringing a group of hungry and talented people together. I have always believed that businesses cannot be one man’s vision and execution.
My job is really to make sure that we orchestrate [our plans], keep all of them orderly, and make sure that we reach our end goal. But the good news is that [our team] sets the targets for themselves. We just facilitate them. It is like a trainer trying to bring the best out of you. If they can do 100 push-ups, my job is to push them and say ‘Hey guys, now you can do 200’. And once they achieve it, it gives them a happy feeling about themselves. That’s a good job to have.
How can you keep Jio future-ready?
Well, you just have to listen to the next generation. We learn from the aspirations of our now over 24,000 engineers who are around 30 years of age. And when you look at our young leaders I learn from their aspirations and their ability to do things much more than what you can learn from anywhere else. As a leader, I feel learning from the next generation is the best way of creating the future.
I’ve learnt that you have thought of telecom by yourself on the treadmill—watching DVDs; of course DVDs are now largely obsolete. What do you listen to on the treadmill these days?
Spirituality. That’s what engages me. I listen to Swami Vivekananda. We have enough young guys to take care of technology, but this is beyond technology. A lot of really high quality stuff is available online on Indian spirituality. I am impressed. It is good, very good.