The Future of Digital India lies in Voice, Video & Vernacular

10 Oct,2022



By Indrani Sen


Indrani SenThe IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE report published in 2020 predicted that internet users in India would increase by 45% between 2021 to 2025 and will touch 900 million. The report also made a forecast that the growth will be driven by higher adoption of internet by users in small towns and rural areas. In 2020, two out of every five active internet users in the country came from small towns and there was a 13% growth in the number of rural internet users between 2019 and 2020. The report also estimated that by 2025, the number of rural internet users will surpass the number of urban internet users. In a country with 29 states based on linguistic divisions and 22 major regional languages (including Hindi), the emerging digital ecosystem is calling for urgent applications of voice and video in vernacular to reach out to the new internet users.


An article in Economic Times by Rahul Sachitanand published on October 7, 2018 did an excellent analysis of India’s  changing internet landscape covering its past, present and future ( The article talked about the three waves of internet adoption in India, the first wave (1995-2005) saw the arrival and early adoption of internet and digital content in India followed by the second wave (2005-2015) when internet took the centre stage and a variety of new businesses were built in travel, e-commerce and fintech riding on internet which not only attracted international players and investors but also laid the foundation of Digital India. The third wave, which began from 2015 (2015-2025), saw the validation of Indian Internet market with Flipkart’s sale to Walmart for $16 bn. Data prices crashed as reliance Jio entered the telecom market and mobile became the main device for accessing internet across the country breaking geographic and demographic boundaries.


I wrote two articles here, the first one “The Deep Divide” published on February 5, 2018 dealt with the difference between the language of communication used by our advertising industry and the language understood and appreciated by their target audience across India in the digital age (; and the second one published on November 4, 2019 dealt with the inevitable upcoming process of localisation of Indian digital market ( However, in 2019 I was not able to foresee how fast the timeframe of reaching out digitally to the rural internet users would shrink during the three waves of the pandemic, national/ regional lockdowns and forced online education at primary and secondary school levels. A lot of water has passed under the bridge during the last two years and today a number of new entrepreneurs are ready to offer AI solutions for enabling Voice and Video in vernaculars for reaching out to the new Indian internet users from small towns and rural areas.


The Indian internet which was initially designed in English for the top end of the market is now going through an explosion of vernaculars enabling usage of voice and video for enabling the new users to graduate from utility services to online transactions. Today, it is estimated that more than 60% of smartphone users in India consume various content in their mother tongue and about 30% consume content in multiple Indian languages along with English. Only 10% of the smartphone users consume content only in English and this percentage is expected to decrease with the increase in the number of smartphone users. According to Google, there has been a four-fold increase in rural internet users. India’s data consumption now can be easily compared with developed countries at an average of 8GB per month per user. The transacting audience kas gone beyond the large cities to touch 170 million. The next generation of Indian internet users would prefer to have content, communication and ecommerce in non-English vernaculars and would be more comfortable with voice rather than typing messages in their mother tongues.


Google has introduced India First and India-only apps to bring in new users to its fold. It has launched support on its Gboard handset keyboard in all Indian languages; its voice assistant can understand and interact in eight Indian languages and its web browser Chrome can translate web pages into eleven Indian languages. More Indian languages would be added to the Google apps in near future.


For over 10 years, Reverie Language Technologies, a vernacular language venture, has been building capabilities for search and discovery in multiple languages. They have gone beyond translation and have built interfaces to engage via voice the need of the new users of internet by focussing on customer relationship management (CRM) of this emerging digital consumer segments. Over the last couple of years, a whole new B2B sector with digital organisations like offering AI enabled use of voice and video in vernacular has opened up.  VIVA or Vernacular Intelligent Virtual Assistant is one of the services which are offered by today. All large ecommerce companies operating in India have started voice enabled transactions in vernaculars.


YouTube, Hotstar, Voot, etc. along with first TikTok and then desi versions of TikTok have shown us the operations with videos, particularly videos in vernacular can reach a massive scale. Research has shown that close to 90% of marketing companies use videos as the main tool for digital marketing. More than 75% of all B2C content is delivered through videos which have higher engagement rate leading to greater penetration of the messages. In future with technological developments, search operations will be done through voice search or video search in multiple Indian languages.  While voice and video will be adopted in future by the entire digital world, Digital India will be clearly different market by the use of at least a dozen of vernacular platforms.


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