Data As Currency

The devil is in data, argues Dhaval Parekh and suggests that in the 21st century data is the new currency.

There was a time when money was considered evil, as it could be used to achieve any heinous plan that a man had in mind. Money has been used as an indicator of success, money has used as a political tool , money has used to bribe, to convince and to reward.

With the world going digital, times they are a-changin. Why depend on something as ancient as money when you have data to do all that for you? Welcome to the digital age.

Data is the new currency. Today, data is used to indicate success, to convince and control, to reward and reprimand and even as an electoral tool.

Evidence isn’t hard to gather. Inside almost every Indian home data there is almost a fight for data. Earlier parents would restrict children from watching TV during exams, now they switch off the Wi-Fi. No Whats app, You tube or Facebook during exams! Restricting Wi-Fi is also the latest tool to ground kids. And while it was earlier courteous to offer water or tea to guests coming home, the new etiquette includes offering your Wi-Fi password and the android charger!

Across small towns and income strata, smartphones with data connectivity is an indicator of success and even power. Those who have it, flaunt it. Even the road-side mobile charging guy is feeling left out, despite the boom in mobile telephony. Phones today charge by themselves – if you have the data plan and apps, that is.

If mere mortals are using data to reward and reprimand and show off, how can our politicians be left behind? Arvind Kejriwal famously kicked off his campaign with the promise of 700 liters of free water and free Wi-fi. Other chief ministers and city mayors are falling over each other to offer free wi-fi to citizens. Whether you are in Park Street in Kolkata, MG Road in Bangalore or Connaught Place in Delhi, our politicians will be at your rescue offering free wi-fi connectivity, albeit for a limited amount of time. And guess what the Prime Ministers’ Digital India program that will cover all tourist destinations in key cities have in common by December 2015? Yes, Wi-fi.

Earlier restaurants and hotels would woo customers with discounts on food or stay. Now they have another “Divya Astra” in their armory… the all important “free Wi-Fi”. In tourist heavy places like Goa and Kerala restaurants and hotels have large FREE Wi-Fi boards on display to lure customers, who would otherwise have to pay more for data on roaming charges.

Data clearly is becoming an important bargaining tool in every aspect of life, but if you are still not convinced let’s take a more academic approach.  The economics text book says that the main characteristics of money are that it is fungible, divisible, portable, acceptable, durable and stable. Well, data fulfills all this criteria and the best part is that the world seems to have and unsuitable appetite for it.

Demand for data is driven by increasing usage of smart phone and devices. As per the Mbit Index study, average an Indian with a 2G phone used about 216 MB per month, while one with a 3G consumption used 688 MB , or almost 3 times the amount of data .And while India is yet to see the roll out of 4G technology , almost 20% of the phones sold already have 4G adaptability.

The fact is that data usage is shooting though the roof. Mobile data consumed in India grew from 49 petabyte (PB) at the end of 2013 to 85 PB by end of 2014, while on a global level mobile data usage is seen surging from 2.5 exabytes a month in 2014 to 25 exabytes a month in 2019, with a large portion of that growth coming from new device users in developing countries.

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