This Tech-preneur is All Set to Launch the Cheapest Browser in India
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He was at his dentist's when he stumbled on an interesting article in a magazine and wanted to take it home. He was caught tearing the page off the magazine, as the dentist walked right in! Embarrassment yes, relenting no! The young enthusiast decided to come up with a battery-operated pocket scanner, which could be used as a mobile office peripheral. Naysayers were quick to point out that companies like HP will crush him. They were right! No sales happened. With an indomitable spirit, he approached the management at Guinness Book of World Records and got the record for the world's thinnest scanner. It has been around two decades since he had created the record, but there is still no Chinese competitor to the product.
That’s Suneet Singh Tuli for you, founder and CEO of DataWind Inc. (TSX: DW), the maker of the UbiSlate/Aakash2 tablet computer, the world’s most affordable tablet at $35.
As an engineer in Applied Science from the University of Toronto, at a time when there was no internet, Tuli noticed a problem when large blueprints/drawings needed to be cut in pieces to be sent through regular fax machines. Tuli's company DataWind came out with the large-format fax-machines for engineers and architects in 1992.
At $40,000 for a pair of fax machines, Tuli found no takers for his product and came up with a brilliant marketing ploy. He approached the Guinness Book of World Records and soon held the record for the world's largest fax machine. That gimmick generated publicity and sales shot up in no time. Such was the impact that by 1995, Tuli went public with his start-up on the NASDAQ.
Founded in Montreal, Canada, where the company still maintains its research and development operations, it has offices in London, Delhi and Amritsar. Tuli now shuttles between India and Canada where the company is headquartered and listed. His company has over 1,000 employees and approx INR 200 Cr. in annual revenue.
Delivering Internet Access to Anybody Who Can Afford a Basic Mobile Phone
“The impossible journey is the one you never begin” this quote by American Author Tony Robbins has struck by Tuli and inspired him to never give up. In late 2011, DataWind launched Aakash tablet computers with an initial trial run of 100,000 units. Upon its launch, The Wall Street Journal stated that the Aakash was the World's cheapest tablet.
DataWind’s journey that started in 2011 with the development of the Aakash tablet computer continues with their upcoming launch of the world’s most affordable data plans, limited only to browsing. The company is credited with developing UbiSlate in 2011 (commercial version of Aakash, the world‘s lowest cost tablet computer which rippled the world with its innovative features in an affordable price band). Datawind’s most cost-effective tablet is the Ubislate 7W which costs INR 2500.
“Low-cost computing devices have proven to be the biggest milestone for us, which has changed the face of the brand completely along with the ICT industry in India and across the globe. To help bridge the digital divide, DataWind’s products have broken affordability barriers and bandwidth constraints of wireless networks to deliver internet access to anybody who can afford a basic mobile phone,” shared Tuli who has filled the lacunae in the segment by creating a new category altogether. DataWind started the trend of low-cost tablet devices and Phablets which offer computer-cum-voice-calling facility just for Rs. 4,999/.
Addressing the Digital and Internet Divide Through Cost-Effective Tech Intervention
Tuli firmly believes that digital and internet divide can be addressed through technology intervention, at affordable price points. He is focused on driving the cost downward to a level where access to technology becomes ‘universally affordable’ and democratization of technology finds its true meaning.
DataWind's patented, cloud-based technology reduces up to 97% the amount of data needed for web browsing, providing a broadband experience on even 2G networks that are still prevalent in developing countries. Its web-delivery platform reduces bandwidth consumption by creating a parallel processing environment, which shifts the burden of memory and processing power to back-end servers, thus allowing users to access the web with a lower-cost device and lower data costs. It also provides economical smartphones and tablets that come bundled with one year of unlimited web access, making it the largest tablet provider in India.
“We focus on providing to entry-level users a cost-effective, web-access device with free internet access. The company, as a mobile, virtual-network operator (MVNO), purchases wholesale access to mobile data from wireless-network operators in order to offer free, mobile-internet access to its customers. However, the customer can only browse sites or read files, Pdf or other, online but cannot download them. The offering also does not support any app usage,” informed Tuli.
Datawind has partnered with VSNL in India and has struck a wholesale deal which they are bundling with their browser to offer free, mobile-internet access. The data reducing technology patented by Tuli for the last 18 years enables mobiles with 2G connections access the internet at a decent speed.
Digitalisation Should Be Integrated Development Goals at the Grassroots Level
As we look at Digital India, it is imperative that benefits of improved access to technology and internet reach the very bottom of the pyramid. Tuli firmly believes that digitalisation should be integrated with the larger objective of meeting the long-term development goals at the grassroots level.
Union Budget 2018- 2019 proposed digital intensity in education by taking the teaching culture from blackboards to digital boards. Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley says in the budget that technology is playing a major role in bringing revolution in education worldwide. Bringing technology in our education system can also get us the same revolution. DataWind has been working on this since the beginning and has the aim to make Indian education culture technology pro.
Tuli firmly believes that contextual application of technology is the only way to close the chasm between the educated and the deprived. “We intend to roll out more devices and integrated solutions that address the educational segment. We are constantly on the look-out for partnerships and collaboration for content and app development specifically in the educational space. As in the past, we will bring free world-class quality educational content for learners across age groups and their academic areas of interest,” enthused the leader in tech space.
DataWind has donated tablets to the underprivileged at schools & NGOs in the past, the most recent being, distribution of 50 tablets to girls of Khushi Rainbow Home in the presence of Honourable Navdeep Bains, Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Over the last five years over 1Lakh tablets have been donated to various NGOs.
Tuli has recently touched the milestone of delivering 5 million units of UbiSlate tablet computers. We have also spread our wings in Indonesia with our MeraNet data plan which is a low-cost data plan wherein we are offering free data browsing for one year for 99,000 IDR (approx. INR 449 in Indian currency). The tech-preneur is planning to launch the MeraNet browser in India shortly which will offer unlimited browsing at INR365/year = INR 1/day.