Cellphone to fuel internet growth, says Google guru

Google vice-president and chief internet evangelist Vinton Cerf predicted yesterday that cellphones, not personal computers, would fuel growth of the worldwide web as countries like India snapped up millions of handsets monthly.

From 50-million in 1997, the number of people who had logged on to the internet had exploded to nearly 1,1-billion, Cerf, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the internet, said.

Yet, the internet reached only a sixth of the world’s population, Cerf told reporters during a visit to the southern city of Bangalore, known as India’s Silicon Valley, where Google has a research and development facility.

“You will get those other 5,5-billion people only when affordability increases and the cost of communication goes down,” said Cerf, who joined Google in 2005.

“The mobile phone has become an important factor in the internet revolution.”

The silver-bearded scientist, dressed in a three piece suit for a presentation on the internet, is hearing-impaired and had to read the lips of reporters who asked him questions.

Worldwide, there were 2,5-billion cellphone users, whose numbers were growing rapidly in developing countries led by China and India, the world’s most populous countries, Cerf said.

India, a country of 1,1- billion people, alone is adding 7-million cellphone users a month, a powerful enough lure for British telecom giant Vodafone to pay $11,1bn for a controlling stake in local mobile firm Hutch Essar this month.

Handset manufacturers and cellphone companies were offering an array of internetenabled features and services including payment and navigation systems while dropping charges under the pressure of growing competition that would bring many of the new subscribers to the internet, Cerf said.

“There are an enormous number of applications available on mobiles,” said Cerf, who is responsible for identifying new technologies and applications on the internet for Google.

Google has rapidly expanded its research and service offices in the country at the cities of Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai, besides Bangalore. Cerf said he had been visiting India since the early 1990s to understand its technical scene.

The company wanted to tap the talent of Indian engineers to innovate technologies and widen its range of services, said Cerf.

India was estimated to have 40-million people online, a meagre 3,5% of its vast population, he said. Google would focus on local languages, culture, content and delivery of new business models to widen the reach of the internet.

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Cellphone to fuel internet growth, says Google guru