DataWind – Decoding Affordability for Mobility Devices on Global Turf

By Telecom Drive

India’s very own global device manufacturer – DataWind is on a mission to enable the availability of affordable mobility devices such as smartphones, tablets and phablets for a huge number of unconnected people.

The company is moving ahead with a clear focus on driving the device cost downward to a level where access to technology becomes ‘universally affordable’ and democratization of technology finds its true meaning. Suneet Tuli, CEO, DataWind speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the company’s core focus areas of operations and its plans for near future.

 Suneet-Tuli 

What is the core focus of activities for DataWind today?

The Core Focus area for DataWind has always been to break the affordability barrier and provide internet access to billions of people globally that is left out of the digital age. Our patented technology allows for a fast, rich and affordable experience on existing networks without any new infrastructure.

We break the affordability barrier with the world’s most affordable tablets, phablets and smartphones. Our range of products starts from as low as INR 1,999 with 1 year of free internet browsing with Reliance connection.

We have recently joined hands with Telenor, earlier known as Uninor to provide free internet browsing in six circles of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar & Jharkhand, UP (East), UP (West), Andhra Pradesh & Telangana. Telenor users coupled with DataWind device in these circles stand to get this offer.

Please share your top priorities to stay ahead of the competition?

There are over 4 billion digitally disenfranchised citizens of the world (in India, close to a billion alone!) – ones who are yet to join the internet age or are yet to experience empowerment and freedom that comes with immense knowledge accessible through internet. In India, these are the forgotten billion.

One has to scratch the surface to see this community at the base of the pyramid. They have access to electricity and cellular telephony, which they use for their livelihood.  They aspire to join the internet age but have been unsuccessful due to the affordability factor.

DataWind firmly believes that this digital divide can be addressed through technology intervention, at an affordable price for the low end segment of customers which is the top priority for us.We are focused on driving the cost downward to a level where access to technology becomes ‘universally affordable’ and democratization of technology finds its true meaning.  We are striving for newer ‘lows’ in price discovery for computing and access products. This mission keeps us stay ahead of competition.

As the Digital India vision seeks to bridge the digital divide between cities and villages, India still lags behind the world standards in providing the Internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) support services in Schools. At DataWind, we believe that, with proper ICT interventions, average teaching talent in remote areas can be supplemented with e-learning and connectivity. Smart devices like mobile phones and tablets are now helping students get more out of the instructor, in terms of their valuable guidance and an opportunity to practically put to use the acquired knowledge.

What are some of the most important global geographies for you as a brand and please share your strategy to target these geographies?

For us India is the most important geography. As mentioned earlier, our mission in India is to bring the internet to the grassroots level, which has the ability to create tremendous social and economic benefits, to billions of unconnected people. Our Internet Delivery Platform offers low cost Internet connectivity solution by bundling an affordable computing device with a free one-year pre-paid internet browsing service plan. We are perfectly in line with PM Digital India Campaign.

Besides India we are in conversations with many other world markets, including countries in South East Asia, Middle East, Africa, Central and South America.

How do you look at adding big value to the end customer value proposition while pushing your next gen products today? What is the key value proposition that a customer can get while purchasing your products?

Customers enter into transactions with us for the value we deliver to them. Every customer wants affordable solutions and we deliver it. Our technology gives us the ability to offer ‘optimized’ products that is not only great on value and price but also representative of high-end technology.  We’ve consistently demonstrated the company’s endeavour to breach affordability barriers for our customers.

We believe our brand has the necessary requisites to forge and sustain a long and beneficial relationship. We are driven by our vision to bridge the digital divide and we will do that by creating access and reach through our devices. Our brand promises to offer a Ubiquitous mobile solution that stands on two firm pillars of technology and affordability.

We have made that possible by powering our devices with internet as well as requisite education content to complement the average teaching talent in the country.

Today it is more about better timing and coming out with the right set of features for the customers – what according to you are some of the killer features that can catapult success for smart devices?

We believe that the on-going brouhaha is about the competition to bridge the digital divide in the country. A well-planned Internet penetration programme in place can solve the problem towards building a digitally strong India.

We believe that with an organized framework, democratisation of technology with most affordable connectivitycan be made available at grass root level. Our Killer feature is to provide learning through pre-installed apps in our smartphones and tablets. We give special focus on education keeping in mind the unique needs of Indian students at different levels and in different geographies.  We at DataWind put in a lot of effort to ensure that we bring to the user an app that aids their learning process.

We believe the right combination of affordable technology with internet access at low rates can sow the seeds of a much profound and deeper change across education, empowerment, transparency, governance and economic independence. Our range of products in the markets already comes bundled with free internet browsing, however, besides the killer features; there is a need for robust IT infrastructure in the country to achieve the dream of Digital India. The government’s vision to connect 225,000 gram panchayats in 3 years towards the ‘Digital India’ will be a major step in cutting the digital divide. 

Please share some of the innovations that you are working on? What can we expect from DataWind in the coming months?

There are 900 million mobile phone subscribers but only 18 million broadband connections are available. This gap segment is our priority. We create products that create theoptimum balance between usability, performance and affordability for the Indian population.

Instead of the small niche of high-end tablets and smartphones, our focus will continue to be on affordable devices that can empower the masses of India. Future specifications will include expansion to 3G and 4G networks.

Also, DataWind has recently partnered with Mitacs, a Canadian not-for-profit research and training organization, to create and deliver an educational mobile software suite for children in developing countries that do not have access to a formal education. Primarily funded by Mitacs with a contribution from DataWind, this new software suite will provide a traditional educational curriculum through the use of modern educational techniques, like gamification. The software suite will allow for interaction among students, Q&A, forums and grading, through DataWind’s proprietary low bandwidth internet delivery platform.

The software suite will be developed in collaboration with several universities working under the Licef research centre of Teluq university, under the leadership of the Principal Investigator, Professor Richard Hotte and his co-researchers: Professor Charles Gouin-Vallerand from the Sciences and Technology department at Téluq, Professor MickaëlGardoni from the Automated Production Engineering Department at École de technologiesupérieure (ETS), and Professor Emmanuel Duplaà from the Education department at the University of Ottawa, each working the four different fields of the technology.

In education domain moving forward, we intend to roll out more devices and integrated solutions that address the educational segment. We are constantly on the look-out for partnerships and collaboration for content and app development specifically in the educational space. As in the past, we will bring free world class quality educational content for learners across age groups and their academic areas of interest.

How do you look at the ongoing push for make in India by the government? What kind of role do you think an indigenous brand like DataWind can play on the long run?

Government regulations, duty structure, and uncertain political conditions have been the main challenges in the past. With Mr Modi government taking steps in the direction of ‘all clearances under one roof’ and fast track approvals, we are confident that the dream of ‘Make in India’ will actualize. Improved policies on manufacturing, duties, and skill development will enthuse players to come to India for setting up their manufacturing units. Not only ‘Make in India’ but also ‘Use Swadeshi’ will also help produce low cost devices in bulk here.

DataWind has always been very vocal about ‘Made in India’ products. From the very beginning we have been propagating the cause and requesting to make manufacturing process easier for those who want to set up their FABS here for computing devices. It is our commitment to ‘Made in India’ thought that we became the first ones, in fact the only ones so far, to set up a facility for manufacturing ‘touch panels’ in India. Also, we have opened our first Indian manufacturing facility in Amritsar through which we exported almost 2 lakh tablets and smart phones in 2 months of operations. We are happy that the Govt is moving in the direction of creating a manufacturer friendly atmosphere.