Over the last few years, improved connectivity and more affordable data have paved the way for India’s startup ecosystem to scale and solve for the needs of the country’s growing number of internet users. And now, in a matter of a few months, the pandemic has not only accelerated internet adoption, it has also expanded how people use the internet to get things done in their daily lives. All over the country, people are embracing new ways of doing things like virtual learning, making online payments and buying groceries online.
In the last two years alone, 100 million new internet users have come online from rural India. Data shows that rural consumption now accounts for roughly 45 percent of overall mobile data usage in the country, and is primarily focused on online video. But many of these internet users continue to have trouble finding content to read or services they can use confidently, in their own language. And this significantly limits the value of the internet for them, particularly at a time like this when the internet is the lifeline of so many people.
Teams at Google have been working over the years to solve this challenge in a number of ways. We’ve built new products and features that enable people to create, consume and communicate more effortlessly across more Indic languages, and through that, better serve not just the needs of over a billion people in India, but many more people around the world.
And we’re also eager to support the wider ecosystem in India, particularly local startups innovating in this space. When we shared details of the India Digitization Fund in July this year, we identified enabling affordable access and information for every Indian in their own language, whether it’s Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, and more as a key pillar in order to drive forward India’s digitization.
This is why we’re pleased to announce investments in leading Indian startups Glance Inmobi and VerSe Innovation, enabling them to further scale the availability of relevant and engaging content in different formats across various Indic languages. Glance Inmobi delivers visual, immersive and localized content experiences across products like Glance and Roposo, while VerSe Innovation serves vernacular content in 14 languages through platforms like the Dailyhunt and Josh apps.
These investments underline our strong belief in partnering deeply with India’s innovative startups, and our commitment to working towards the shared goal of building a truly inclusive digital economy that will benefit everyone.
Today we signed an agreement to invest $4.5 billion (INR 33,737 crore) in Jio Platforms Ltd, taking a 7.73 percent stake in the company, pending regulatory review in India. This is the first investment from the Google For India Digitization Fund announced earlier this week, which aims to accelerate India’s digital economy over the next five to seven years through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments.
Google and Jio Platforms have entered into a commercial agreement to jointly develop an entry-level affordable smartphone with optimizations to the Android operating system and the Play Store. Together we are excited to rethink, from the ground up, how millions of users in India can become owners of smartphones. This effort will unlock new opportunities, further power the vibrant ecosystem of applications and push innovation to drive growth for the new Indian economy.
This partnership comes at an exciting but critical stage in India’s digitization. It’s been amazing to see the changes in technology and network plans that have enabled more than half a billion Indians to get online. At the same time, the majority of people in India still don’t have access to the internet, and fewer still own a smartphone—so there’s much more work ahead.
Our mission with Android has always been to bring the power of computing to everyone, and we’ve been humbled by the way Indians have embraced Android over recent years. We think the time is right to increase our commitment to India significantly, in collaboration with local companies, and this partnership with Jio is the first step. We want to work with Jio and other leaders in the local ecosystem to ensure that smartphones—together with the apps and services in the Play Store—are within reach for many more Indians across the country. And we believe the pace of Indian innovation means that the experiences we create for India can ultimately be expanded to the rest of the world.
For Google, our work in India goes to the heart of our efforts to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible. We opened our first Indian campuses in Bangalore and Hyderabad in 2004. Since then, we’ve made India central to our Next Billion Users initiative—designed to ensure the internet is useful for people coming online for the first time. We’ve improved our apps and services so they’re relevant in more Indian languages and created offline versions for those facing network constraints. We’ve extended our tools to small businesses, sought to close digital divides with initiatives like Internet Saathi, and we’re increasingly focused on helping India harness AI. More and more, apps we create for India—like Google Pay or our Read Along language-learning app—influence what we do globally.
Jio, for its part, has made an extraordinary contribution to India’s technological progress over the past decade. Its investments to expand telecommunications infrastructure, low-cost phones and affordable internet have changed the way its hundreds of millions of subscribers find news and information, communicate with one another, use services and run businesses. Today, Jio is increasing its focus on the development of areas like digital services, education, healthcare and entertainment that can support economic growth and social inclusion at a critical time in the country’s history.
In partnership, we can draw on each other’s strengths. We look forward to bringing smartphone access to more Indians—and exploring the many ways we can work together to improve Indians’ lives and advance India’s digital economy.
Posted by Sanjay Gupta, Country Head & VP, India, and Sameer Samat, VP, Product Management
Google for India is always a really special time, and I only wish I could be there in person.
One of the challenges of this moment is that we can’t visit the people we love, or the places we call home. During this time, the ability to be online has been a lifeline to so many of us: whether you’re a small business trying to stay afloat…a parent looking for updates on how to keep your family healthy … or a student trying to keep up with your studies. Being helpful in these moments is at the core of Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
A new generation of Indian innovation
This mission is deeply personal to me. Growing up, technology provided a window to a world outside my own. It also brought us closer together as a family. Every evening we were drawn to the television by Doordashan’s special rendition of “Saare Jahan See Achha.” I tried to explain this to my colleagues the other day, but I eventually gave up and just showed it to them on YouTube.
When I was young, every new piece of technology brought new opportunities to learn and grow. But I always had to wait for it to arrive from someplace else. Today, people in India no longer have to wait for technology to come to you. A whole new generation of technologies are happening in India first.
It’s been incredible to see the rapid pace of change unfolding over my past few visits. From the excitement of young people using the latest apps and services, to the ways people are using smartphones to improve lives in rural villages, to the more than 2,500 Indian YouTube creators who each have over a million subscribers. I’ve actually turned to some of these creators for help over the last few weeks … for example, to learn how to make dishes like paneer makhani or pizza with my kids.
Indian small businesses go digital
One of the most exciting success stories has been the digitization of small businesses. Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses in India had an online presence. Today, 26 million SMBs are now discoverable on Search and Maps, driving connections with more than 150 million users every month. What’s more, small merchants across the country are now equipped to accept digital payments. This has made it possible for more small businesses to become part of the formal economy, and it improves their access to credit.
The global pandemic has supercharged the adoption of digital tools. Digital payments, for example, have enabled families across India to access goods and services during lockdowns. For them, grocery delivery services have been invaluable—though I’m sure my grandmother misses haggling over the price of her vegetables in person.
When we build for India, we build for the world
Of course, all this progress was only possible because of a strong foundation of digital connectivity. Thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s vision for Digital India, the country has made huge progress in getting a billion Indians online.Low-cost smartphones combined with affordable data, and a world-class telecom infrastructure, have paved the way for new opportunities.
At Google, we’ve been proud to be a partner in India’s digitization journey since 2004, when we opened our first offices in Hyderabad and Bangalore. In those days, our focus was on getting helpful and relevant information to Indian users through Search, whether they were searching for their favorite Bollywood star or cricket scores.
From there, we spread awareness of the Internet in rural villages through programs like Internet Saathi. It’s helped more than 30 million women across India gain digital skills to improve their lives and their communities.
Google’s efforts in India have deepened our understanding of how technology can be helpful to all different types of people. Building products for India first has helped us build better products for users everywhere.
A recent example is Google Pay, our fast, simple way to pay contactless or online. Together with the rise in BHIM-UPI adoption, Google Pay makes it easy to pay the rickshawala, or send money to family back home. India is setting the global standard on how to digitize payments, and it’s now helping us build a global product.
Our AI-powered reading tutor app Bolo, now called Read Along, is another example of a technology built specifically for Indian users. Last year I visited with students in Mumbai who were using the app to learn to read on their own. It was amazing to see their excitement when they read a new word in Hindi for the first time. It received such positive reception, we’re rolling it out to the rest of the world—now children in 180 countries can learn to read in nine languages, with more to come.
And our AI flood forecasting system was designed to keep people safe during India’s monsoon season. I’ll never forget how the 2015 floods in Chennai impacted so many families. I’m hopeful that this technology will bring greater peace of mind to the hundreds of millions of people affected by floods each year around the world.
Our next chapter of investment: Google for India Digitization Fund
These are just a few examples of how innovations that start in India can benefit the rest of the world. But India’s own digital journey is far from complete. There’s still more work to do in order to make the internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians…from improving voice input and computing for all of India’s languages, to inspiring and supporting a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.
Over the years, we’ve invested in many Indian businesses through Google, as well as through our growth equity investment fund CapitalG.
Today, I’m excited to announce the Google for India Digitization Fund. Through this effort, we will invest ₹75,000 crore, or approximately $10 billion, into India over the next 5-7 years. We’ll do this through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, and operational, infrastructure and ecosystem investments. This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy.
Investments will focus on four areas important to India’s digitization:
First, enabling affordable access and information to every Indian in their own language, whether it’s Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi or any other.
Second, building new products and services that are deeply relevant to India’s unique needs.
Third, empowering businesses as they continue or embark on their digital transformation.
Fourth, leveraging technology and AI for social good, in areas like health, education, and agriculture.
As we make these investments, we look forward to working alongside Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government, as well as Indian businesses of all sizes to realize our shared vision for a Digital India.
There’s no question we are facing a difficult moment today, in India and around the world. The dual challenges to our health and to our economies have forced us to rethink how we work and how we live. But times of challenge can lead to incredible moments of innovation. Our goal is to ensure India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation, but leads it. Working together we can ensure that our best days are still ahead.