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Google’s India story, and how Sundar Pichai might help

Growth for Google is dependent on the growth of the Internet. This is where India holds the key for the company.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: August 13, 2015 9:51:54 am
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With Sundar Pichai at the helm, Google’s India connect has got a huge boost. That also makes great business sense for Google — India, after all, is the second largest market for the world’s largest online search and advertising company.

To understand why India is so significant, one needs to understand how Google works. Google pretty much dominates the Internet landscape — with its Search holding the key to traffic for most web sites, and AdSense locking the monetisation opportunities.

However, growth for Google is dependent on the growth of the Internet. Only when there are more people online will it get more pages to serve ads on, and more search queries to monetise. That is why the company is always talking about taking the Internet to places where it is not currently available.

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And this is where India is critical — especially since Google is all but locked out of China, the world’s largest Internet market with 642 million users. Soon after Google co-founder Larry Page announced the creation of Alphabet Inc., the new holding company, its web site (https://abc.xyz/ ) was blocked in mainland China. No matter that all it had was a note by Page, the CEO of Alphabet. Add to the block in China the fact that Google has reached saturation point in its home market US, the second largest with over 270 million users, and you know why India — the third-largest market — is vital.

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India has over 240 million Internet users, and is growing, thanks to the popularity of affordable smartphones, most of which are driven by Google’s Android. Google has been saying that at this rate, India will have 500 million Internet users by 2018. That is a doubling of what is potentially its largest market.

This is where an Indian CEO could be a big help. While Sundar Pichai was quick to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his congratulatory tweet, it is hard to miss the fact that he has already been warming up to India over the past year or so. He made a high profile trip to this country to announce the global launch of his ambitious Android One platform — and while the idea of giving a reference design for affordable Android smartphones might not really have found the kind of takers Pichai hoped for, the move surely reiterated Google’s focus on India, and its attempt to get the next 250 million Indians online.

The challenge for Google is the fact that Indians who are comfortable with English are already online — and the growth has to be in regional languages, especially Hindi, which has over 250 million speakers in the country. Big growth will depend on Google’s ability to take Search, and thus the Internet, to more native language speakers in India and in other parts of the globe. It will be hoping that having a Chennai-born, Bengal-educated, Tamil Brahmin helps.

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