Google to invest $10bn in India to accelerate digital economy

Investment will be made over the next five to seven years, chief executive Sundar Pichai says

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said Covid-19 pandemic has forced the company to rethink its strategy. AFP
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Google will invest $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) in India to help the South Asian country accelerate the development of its digital economy, the company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said on Monday.

The Google for India Digitisation Fund will see the Alphabet-owned company invest the sum over the next five to seven years.

"This is a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy," Mr Pichai said.

“Today, people in India no longer have to wait for technology … a whole new generation of technologies are happening in India first.”

The California-based company said the investment will be made through a mix of equity investments and partnerships, as well as operational, infrastructure and ecosystem upgrades. It will focus on four areas crucial to India’s digitisation journey.

These include enabling affordable access and information for every Indian in their own local language, building new products and services relevant to local needs, empowering businesses and leveraging technology and artificial intelligence in areas for social good such as health, education and agriculture.

Mr Pichai, who was born and educated in India, said there is a huge scope for digital growth in India, which is home to more than 1.3 billion population.

“Just four years ago, only one-third of all small businesses had an online presence … today, 26 million SMBs are now discoverable on Search and Maps, driving connections with more than 150 million users every month.”

Low-cost smartphones, affordable internet data and a large telecoms infrastructure have paved the way for new opportunities, he added.

Mr Pichai said the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the company to rethink “how we work and how we live”.

“There’s no question we are facing a difficult moment today … but times of challenge can lead to incredible moments of innovation. Our goal is to ensure India not only benefits from the next wave of innovation, but leads it,” he said.

Google, like other technology giants, is eyeing a share of India's booming internet market. The country has more than 500 million internet users and more than 450 million active smartphone users, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

Such massive potential has led Google's rivals Facebook and Amazon to plough billions into the country's internet economy. Facebook invested $5.7bn in Reliance's Jio Platforms in April while Amazon committed to invest $1bn in India in January.

Google, which launched in India in 2004, has also successfully rolled out several of its services like Google Pay and literacy programme Internet Sathi in the country.

The search engine giant's investment comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India initiative looks to promote adoption of digital services across the country.

Mr Pichai said on Monday that Google continues to see a massive opportunity in India for innovation.

"There’s still more work to do in order to make the internet affordable and useful for a billion Indians … from improving voice input and computing for all of India’s languages, to inspiring and supporting a whole new generation of entrepreneurs," he said.