It's been another year of bumper growth for all things digital in India, with the latest in We Are Social's series of studies into Digital, Social & Mobile usage around the world revealing that over a quarter of the world's second largest nation now uses the internet on a regular basis:

Digital In India, Aug 2015

Here are the key data headlines:

  • Internet Users: 350 million, up 44% since our last report in July 2014
  • Social Media Users: 134 million, up 26% in the past year
  • Unique Mobile Users: 590 million – a penetration rate of 46%
  • Mobile Internet Users: 159 million – 45% of all internet users
  • Mobile Social Media Users: 97 million, up 5% since July 2014

Read on for our analysis of what these numbers mean in context.

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Internet in India
The Internet and Mobile Association of India recently announced that internet users in India now exceed 350 million; a considerable jump since We Are Social's previous report on digital use in India in July 2014, when the number was just 243 million.

This 44% growth is particularly encouraging, as it takes internet penetration past 25% for the first time. Our sense is that the impressive growth figure may be largely due to more accurate reporting, rather than a sudden surge in new internet users, but it's clear that increasing mobile internet access has also contributed to an acceleration of internet adoption across the country:

Internet in India

Internet access in India still isn't evenly distributed though, with rural users accounting for barely 17% of India's internet community, despite representing more than 70% of the country's population:

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This disparity is changing thanks to mobile, but in contrast to most other developing nations, mobile access still accounts for less than half of India's internet connections:

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The balance will likely tip in the coming months though, with projections from the IAMAI and KPMG indicating that mobile internet will account for nearly two-thirds of all internet connections by 2017.

This shift is clear in terms of share of activity too; more than two-thirds of the web pages served in India in the past month went to desktops or laptops, but that figure is down 6% versus the same period last year:

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India's connection speeds remain disappointingly slow, however, with barely 10% of the country's fixed-line connections achieving broadband status. The picture is slightly better for mobile users, but India still sits well below the global average reported in Akamai's most recent State of the Internet report:

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Despite these slow speeds – or perhaps because of them – Indian internet users spend more than their global peers using the internet, with the average internet user spending nearly 5 hours online every day.

Social media use accounts for more than half of that time, with social media users spending 26% more time engaging with their networks than watching television:

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Social Media in India
Social media use continues to grow in India, but barely 10% of the country is currently 'socially active':

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The number of active users is increasing at a rate of roughly one every second, but even at that rate, it will take another 16 years before half the country's population is using social media.

We suspect this will change quite considerably in the coming months though, largely due to a shift in behaviour related to mobile usage.

Facebook dominates today's platform rankings in terms of monthly active users, but it's worth highlighting that chat apps – and WhatsApp in particular – are already beginning to change the look of the social media landscape:

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As mobile-focused internet connections claim a greater share of the overall user-base, we predict that these chat platforms will gain a much more important role in users' lives – and therefore in marketers' strategies.

This is where the biggest opportunity lies for internet and mobile companies in India; the company that can claim a disproportionate share of the nation's burgeoning chat app user-base will be best placed to shape broader consumer behaviour – and revenues – on the internet.

It's worth noting that non-mobile use of social media accounted for the majority of new users in the past year though, which we found quite surprising. Facebook recorded 28 million new users in India in the past year, but just 5 million of these – 18% – used mobile devices to access the service.

Overall, however, 72% of India's social media users log in via mobile devices, and we predict that this proportion will increase in the coming months as mobile internet access accelerates further.

It's also worth noting that the average social media user in India is considerably younger than the global average, with more than half of the platform's Indian user base aged 23 or younger:

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The numbers also show that men account for more than three-quarters of Facebook's users – something we suspect is true of internet usage as a whole in India. This is something that we believe should be addressed urgently, whether that's by government bodies or by the corporate world.

Providing women – everyone, for that matter – with better access to digital services has been shown to deliver significant societal benefits, so we believe that marketers should play a disproportionate role in helping to ensure that more women in India can access social and digital services.

In addition to the obvious benefits to the individual – better access to education, financial services and health information – such assistance should also help the marketer, providing a powerful, direct way to reach one of the world's most untapped audiences.

Mobile in India
As is the case almost everywhere in the world today, mobile use is the big story in India's digital scene, with 590 million people – almost half the country's population – now owning a mobile device of some description.

Mobile subscriptions in India stand at 976 million, and with this figure climbing at a rate of roughly 3.5 new subscriptions every second, we fully expect that subscriptions will exceed 1 billion before the end of 2015:

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As with internet use, however, mobile use is very unevenly distributed across the country, with considerably less than half of India's rural population using mobile:

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Even for those with a phone, the experience is still far from ideal. Smartphones are still very much in the minority, even when it comes to sales of new handsets:

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This ratio has significant importance, as it is closely tied to the adoption of internet services and social media. More than three-quarters of the handsets in use in India today are of the more basic 'feature phone' variety, yet smartphones account for five times as much Facebook usage as feature phones do:

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E-Commerce in India
Despite some great progress in recent months, e-commerce is still in its infancy in India. The value of online purchases in India totalled just US$12.5 billion in 2014 (INR 81,500 crore) – less than 3% of the value of China's e-commerce market:

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Encouragingly, however, more and more people are using internet-powered services to research products and purchase online, so we expect to see this number explode as mobile internet access, faster connectivity, and increased familiarity with online shopping combine in the coming months.

Conclusions
So what does all this mean for marketers? Here are our three key tips:

  1. Go Mobile: at least in the short-term, design all internet experiences to work via mobile devices and via relatively slow connections. Online video is definitely rising in popularity, but make sure that downloading it and watching it are even a possibility for your target audience.
  2. Be The Change: internet and social media access in India are considerably behind the global average, and this impacts marketers' abilities to reach and engage key audiences. We recommend that brands use some of their marketing budgets to enable more people to access (faster) internet services, whether that's by subsidising data plans, providing free internet services like internet.org, or by working with government bodies to bring internet access for all a step closer.
  3. Get Involved In E-Commerce Now: India's e-commerce market may still be nascent, but now is the time to get involved. There are still many opportunities for brands to gain early mover advantage, and brands that can help e-commerce platforms in their growth stand to forge powerful relationships will stand them in great stead when the e-commerce revolution gathers pace.

If you're looking for more stats on Digital, Social and Mobile usage around the world, you might find our Global and APAC reports, and our latest Global Digital Statshot useful.

Indian marketers looking for more tailored insights may also like to note that I'll be presenting at the upcoming International Advertising Association Whats Coming Next conference, which takes place in Kochi, India, between September 3rd and 5th. You can find full details here.

If you'd like tailored advice on what these tips mean specifically for your brand, get in touch with our team in one of our 10 offices around the world for more information.

We'd like to offer our special thanks to GlobalWebIndex for allowing us to use their data in this report. We'd also like to thank the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, Ericsson, GSMA Intelligence, StatCounter and Akamai for the public data they share that makes these reports possible. For more details on data sources, please see the full report.