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India connected: One in three has a phone

January 30, '09; BANGALORE: The monthly report on wired and wireless telephone connections in India, just issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) shows that teledensity -- the proportion of citizens who have access to a phone connection -- has crossed 33.23 percent by end 2008.

That means there is a phone for every three Indians. Extrapolating from the numbers for December 2008, at growth rates that have remain fairly steady for a year now -- 10 million new mobile connections a month -- this means the total number of phones in use in India is 394 million today - of which only 38 million are fixed lines, the rest mobile.

It was just over four years ago, in October 2004 that the number of mobile phones -- 4.4 million -- overtook the number of fixed lines. The number has galloped ahead to 356 million today; while land line numbers have tended to shrink in recent months by about 100,000 a month.

The figure of one phone for every three Indians hides some disparities: while urban Indians might have more than one phone each, the rural densities are significantly lower -- estimates from different agencies speak of densities of one in ten in the hinterland.

A Jan 27 release from the Internet and Mobile Association of India quotes from a study conducted by the association, jointly with market research agency IMRB, to put the number of active Internet users at 45.3 million till September 2008, and growing at around 13 percent -- which would make it about 46.7 million today. The number represents Indians who access the Net at least once a month. The number of connections is much smaller: we estimate it at 16 million, extrapolating from the last numbers from the Internet Service Providers Association.

Using another benchmark, the UK based Net monitor, comScore has tracked the numbers of 'unique visitors' to the Internet to arrive at a figure of 32.099 million from India, constituting 3.2 percent of the global Internet audience.

One way to make sense of these different benchmarks is this: One in twenty Indian uses the Internet. One in three uses a phone. They may overlap -- marginally; Net enabled phones are still very thin on the ground .

Let's say salaam to an India, getting slowly, but steadily, connected.