Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Now everyone knows that, with the kind of revolution and global tie-ups happening in the telecom domain in India today, more Indians than citizens of any other nation would be signing up for mobile telephone services each month. This to me is a symbolic milestone in India’s rapid catch-up with other growing economies in the world.

I am not going to touch that bit, but what interests me more are the kind of changes in our social life that the mobile revolution has introduced. Let's keep the economic, business and technological related changes for some other day to discuss.

Long long time back, during the era of tring tring telephony, people had to wait for two and half hours or more to make a call. It would have been a privilege to have conversed over the phone then. More so owning one of those magic boxes at home would have been a matter of pride. I think in this direction because from whatever I have read, I learn that in those bygone days, to dial a number and stumble onto someone else's conversation was a common affair. Consider yourself more fortunate, if at all the call made the correct connection in your first attempt.

A call from Rangoon to Dehradun to one's lady love, would have been marked in bold letters as an achievement in one's curriculum vitae. Yes, I mean it because it had to surpass two major road blocks. One for sure is the connection getting through and other being to be an avant-garde to call and speak to your dulcinea. With an air of conservative, loog kya socchengye and closed-mindedness prevailing in the society, how would the newly married couples or lovebirds have interacted over the phone. May be our grandfathers and grandmothers can reply to this. Shhh....

India probably had the worst telephone penetration rates in the world till the time we entered the era of liberalization around 1991. The most common anecdote, to cite the government's impassiveness to improve India's communications infrastructure is to quote the words of C.M. Stephen who was the Communications Minister under the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. In reply to a question of regular telephone infrastructure breakdown in India, he told that telephones were a luxury, not a right, and that any Indian who was not satisfied with his/her telephone service could return his phone. From that day till today a lot has changed, and in my view the Government's role in this revolution has always been there but not as much as the private sector telecom companies, who have drafted the new story of connectivity.

Apart from the regular services that I get while I am within the city perimeters, my connectivity is not lost while I am out of town too. When I travel within the different states in India, as soon as I cross the borders of a particular state and enter another one, I immediately get a message on my mobile, 'XYZ Services Welcomes You to 'A' State'. Here 'XYZ' is a service provider and 'A' refers to the state that I have just entered to. Most of the time, our mobile phones connects to its service provider's regular network. Now when my mobile phone is located somewhere not covered by my local carrier's network, I can still avail the facilities by the using services of another provider or a sister arm of the same service provider for connectivity. This is my understanding of what is called 'roaming' on mobile in India. Today this comes at an affordable rate of Rs 1.50 per STD call and Rs 1.00 for local calls.

Mostly, we Indians are a conscientious lot when it comes to spending money on mobile phone talk time. We know which calls can be cut short and which calls can be extended and we do that masterly in our daily lives. Over in India, Ph.D student Carolyn Wei of the University of Washington's department of technical communication has researched the important role mobile phones play in India's Tech city, Bangalore. Not surprisingly, she found that mobile phones play a crucial role in relationships among young people there.
The research was conducted last summer in the fast-growing city of 6.1 million that is experiencing forces of globalization and modernization. Many educated Indian people have moved to Bangalore to work for foreign corporations. The 20 participants in the study were aged from 18 to 30 years, and were fairly typical of young people who have moved to Bangalore for jobs, Wei said. They were financially stable, most had lived in Bangalore for less than two years and most spoke both English and Hindi but none of the local languages. More than half the study participants worked the graveyard shift because they provided technical support for people working during the daytime in North America.

"The people I studied were in this 24/7 environment and they were always on the go," Wei said. Many were involved in long-distance relationships with someone working or studying in another city. The phone provided couples with a "perpetual virtual connection." For people working long hours and commuting in Bangalore's heavy traffic, the mobile phone was even crucial for maintaining relationships with people in the same city.
Now if analyze it, deep down, it's a win-win for both the service providers and the customers. These days, the operating costs are low because the sheer volume of traffic generated by the ever increasing customer base has persuaded many companies to bring down call rates. The end result, invariably everyone, more so the mobile office worker, hopping different cities for business meetings/assignments would like to use a mobile phone for the convenience, add to it the emotional connection, it brings to day-to-day life.

Grandparents from one part of India, (say Delhi) call their grand children based in Bangalore and they carry on their conversations as if they are sitting in the next room. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, sons and daughters living away from parents, brothers and sisters living in different cities, for that matter you think of any human relation, and it's a fair bet that the ubiquitous mobile phone network play some part in the exchange of words. To me the 24/7 mobile phone connectivity today can be appropriated as a means of extending traditional sociality between friends, relatives and family members.

Keep reading and remain connected.

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At 12:06 PM, Blogger RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:10 PM, Blogger RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

Very nice. To be connected to one's near and dear ones is top priority in anyone's list, and the mobile tops the list.

There was a time when one had to wait years for a telephone connection. Then wait for hours to make trunk calls.

Now whoosh - it is all done at the touch of a button.

Technology is wonderful.


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