The GSMA on Tuesday announced that India will become the second largest mobile broadband market globally within the next four years with 367 million mobile broadband connections by 2016. In doing so, India will overtake the U.S., which will account for 337 million mobile broadband connections by 2016, but will still be second to China, which will have reached 639 million mobile broadband connections in the same period.
Since 3G licenses were first awarded to mobile operators in India in September 2010, mobile broadband connectivity has grown steadily. There are now more than 10 million HSPA connections across the country, and this is expected to grow exponentially, by 900%, to more than 100 million connections in 2014, says GSMA . This will make India the largest HSPA market worldwide within the next two years, surpassing China , Japan and the U.S. in the process.
"The mobile industry in India is set for immense growth as mobile broadband technologies such as HSPA and LTE start to proliferate, but there is scope for far greater development," says Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA. "To take full advantage of this, the Indian government should facilitate the timely release of additional spectrum in a fair and transparent way for all stakeholders. The benefits are clear to see - a 10% increase in mobile broadband penetration could contribute as much as $80 billion of revenue across the country's transport, healthcare and education sectors by 2015."
According to a recent study by the GSMA 's Wireless Intelligence service, despite a large rural population, mobile growth in India is being largely driven by more affluent communities in cities. Net additions in urban areas reached 85 million last year compared to 57 million in rural areas, with mobile penetration increasing by 20 percentage points in urban areas to 161%, against a 6.5 percentage point rise in rural areas to 36.6%.
The provision of mobile broadband in rural and remote areas will help India bridge the so-called "digital divide". It will improve productivity, help overcome the constraints of transport infrastructure and provide much needed services such as banking, health and education, says the GSMA. Given the significant social and economic benefits, expanding affordable access to mobile broadband should be a high priority of the Indian government.
According to Wireless Intelligence, with an average retail price of $500, the cost of an LTE smartphone is four times the average monthly GDP per capita in India, and at an average of $200, the retail price of an LTE USB dongle is twice an Indian's monthly income on average. As LTE networks proliferate worldwide and more devices become available, costs will come down. Initiatives like the introduction of the low cost Aakash tablet in India are helping spur widespread access to the Internet in emerging markets, but more can be done, says the GSMA 
"It is important that all citizens in India have access to high-speed Internet connectivity and the transformative opportunities it provides," says. Bouverot. "The current average cost of an LTE device is prohibitive for the uptake of Mobile Broadband for those on low income."