Google, the tech giant turned 25 on 27th September 2023. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford in 1995 and established a search engine named ‘BackRub’, which became the direct predecessor of the Google search engine. Today, ‘googling’ has become synonymous with ‘looking up’ something online.
Since its birth, Google has spearheaded the Internet age and the new industrial revolution.
Evolution of World Wide Web: Early Internet & Web Browsers
Birth of the Internet and its Introduction in India
Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which was developed in the USA in late 1960s was the first network within which data packets could be shared between computers.
In India, Educational and Research Network (ERNET) was launched in 1986 by the Department of Electronics (DoE) for educational and research purposes. It was a project funded by the Indian Government and by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Participating agencies in ERNET were the DoE, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), and various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
Surfing the World Wide Web & Google’s Unique PageRank Algorithm
WorldWideWeb was the first web browser which was developed in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist. People could now surf or browse information over the Internet, and thus they started calling the Internet, the ‘World Wide Web’ (www).
Subsequently, in 1993, another web browser, Mosaic, was developed which could be run on Windows OS. It was the predecessor of Mozilla Firefox, a web browser still in use. More browsers such as Netscape Navigator were launched in the 1990s.
It was at this time that ‘BackRub’ was being developed, which would lead to the launch of the Google search engine in 1998. Larry Page developed a propreitory algorithm, called PageRank, which ranked web pages based on their inter-linking. This algorithm would prove revolutionary in the years to come when the volume of web pages would skyrocket, as this would mean more inter-linking, making the PageRank algorithm more powerful.
Internet Access to the Indian Public
Internet was made available to the Indian public in 1995 by Indian Govt.-owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL). Following this, the first cyber cafe in India was launched at Mumbai’s Leela Kempinski Hotel in 1996. Since then, internet connectivity in India has come a long way from being a premium service offering dial-up connectivity at a maximum speed of 128 Kbps to competitively-priced 5G connectivity at speeds of several hundred Mbps.
Information Superhighways & Conception of Broadband Internet
In the 1990s, the term Information Superhighway was popularised. It was inspired by the ready access to information over the Internet which was made possible by web browsers and search engines such as Archie, AltaVista, Yahoo and Google.
Information Superhighways envisioned a high volume of information being transmitted over digital corridors or ‘superhighways’ at high speeds, enhancing accessibility to information and services across geographies. Such information superhighways were to find application in areas of education, industry, entertainment, governance, and more. This would essentially mean using the Internet for diverse applications, and on a larger scale than previously imagined.
Development of Cable Technology to Support the Internet Superhighways
In the earlier days of internet, thick co-axial copper cables enabled data transfer speed of about 10 Mbps. This was unsuitable for realising information superhighways, prompting evolution of the ethernet cable. Later ethernet cables enabled splitting the bandwidth into several channels, paving way for broadband internet.
In 1995, the Cat5 ethernet cable was launched which offered data transmission at a rate of up to 100 Mbps. Following this, Cat5e and Cat6 ethernet cables were launched in 2001 and 2002 respectively. They remain the most widely used ethernet cable, offering a maximum data transfer rate of 1,000 Mbps.
Dot-Com Bubble, its Collapse & Effect in India
As the internet became popular, various ‘internet companies’ came into being which dealt in web hosting, web advertising and online selling of goods.
Dot-com bubble refers to the investment bubble that came about between 1995 to 2000, when investors were pumping money into almost any company with a ‘.com’ attached to its name.
In India too, the dot-com bubble had its effects. Indian Technology and IT consultant Wipro Ltd.’s shares peaked at Rs. 334.81 apiece in February 2000 from being at Rs. 13.80 apiece at the start of 1999.
However, as the dot-com bubble burst soon after, IT and tech startups around the globe suffered. In the US, NASDAQ fell by over 76% from March 2000 to October 2000. Wipro’s share value in India also fell to Rs. 60.40 in May 2000, and plummeted even further during 2001.
Bursting of the dot-com bubble discouraged further investments in tech companies during the early 2000s. Several companies perished during this period, however, a few such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and eBay survived the dot-com bubble’s burst.
Google Becomes More than a Search Engine, Introduces Innovative Services & Products
Birth of Google News & Innovative Use of Crawlers for News Service
After the burst of the dot-com bubble, Google started expanding its products and services. One of the earliest services that Google came up with was Google News, launched in 2002, after the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre.
Mr. Krishna Bharat, an Indian research scientist at Google, and his colleague, Mr. Amit Singhal developed Google News out of the need to provide top news much quickly. For this purpose, crawlers were implemented for Google’s news service.
Gmail First e-mail Service to Offer 1 GB storage Space, Google Maps Launched
Soon after Google News, the company launched Gmail in 2004. It was the first mail service which offered users 1 GB of storage space, which was not anticipated at the time when most mail services offered a few MBs of storage space.
This was followed by the launch of Google Maps in February 2005.
These releases were for desktop at the time, and the more familiar app-based versions which we use today came later with the development of Android.
Both these products are industry staples and have been integrated with or supported the development of many innovative products across the World.
Android and Google’s Role in the Smartphone Revolution
Android, the most popular smartphone operating system today, was originally developed for digital cameras in 2003 by USA’s Android Inc. In 2004, the company began developing smartphone OS, post which Google acquired the company in 2005. Google then went on to develop Andoid OS based on Linux as an open source product and in 2008, T-Mobile G1 became the first smarphone to feature Android OS.
Since then, Android has had several iterations and upgrades.
Google Assistant and Domestic Internet of Things (IOT)
Google Assistant was announced in May 2016, and it featured in Google’s app ‘Allo’ in September 2016. Allo, now discontinued, was the predecessor of Google Messages. Google Assistant has since then grown to incorporate Artificial Intelligence in its algorithm. This is not only instrumental in enhancing its functionality as a pocket assistant, but also is revolutionising domestic applications of Internet of Things (IoT). Domestic IoT works by enabling networking between ‘smart’ home appliances to enhance end-user experience.
Its top contenders include Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.
Digitisation of india and Ongoing Projects
Broadband had been established in India in the late 2000s. Since then, internet connectivity has grown rapidly in the country. As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) the number of internet users in India has gone up to 88.13 crore as of March 2023 from a mere 25.16 crore users in 2014.
Bharatnet Project: Fiberisation of Rural India
Google’s search engine, which has become an indispensable resource for accessing information and services, has made people and governments realise the importance of internet connectivity.
Bharatnet project was approved by the Union Cabinet in October 2011 as National Optical Fibre Network. This project targets providing internet connectivity in rural India, and is being deployed in a phased manner to cover India’s 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats by laying 6.5 lakh Km of OFC.
Undersea Cable Projects Underway in India
As of now, India is connected to 17 OFC submarine cables, which land at 14 sites. Two major undersea projects by Reliance Jio Infocomm, namely the India-Asia-Xpress (IAX) and the India-Europe-Xpress (IEX) are being developed to enhance India’s connectivity to parts of Asia and Europe. Together, the IAX and the IEX cable systems entail the laying of about 16,000 Km of undersea cables.
Another key undersea cabling project in progress is the SEA-ME-WE 6 (South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 6, or SMW6), which will connect Singapore and France through India. This project is about 19,200 Km in length, and is being developed at an estimated cost of USD 500 million. This project is expected to be ready by Q1 of FY-25.
Expansion of 5G Connectivity in India
With the evolution of smartphones, wireless internet connectivity has become a necessity. Most Indian smartphone users use Google’s Android which offers a range of solutions such as internet searching, e-mail, navigation, and web storage. Apart from this, streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube for video content, and Spotify for audio content rely on high speed data transmission.
India has seen one of the fastest rollouts of 5G connectivity since the spectrum was made available to telcos in August 2022. As reported by The Economic Times on 16th August 2023, Reliance Jio has extended its coverage to 6,258 cities and towns in India, while Airtel’s 5G network spans over 5,000 cities. In about a year, Jio has deployed 2,54,000 5G base stations and Airtel has deployed 60,000 base stations.
All Pervading Applications of Internet Connectivity: Industrial Automation, e-Governance, Education, e-Commerce and More
With projects like Bharatnet, internet penetration has reached high levels even in rural and semi-urban areas of the country. This fertile base of users opens innumerable possibilities for the areas of application development for Internet in India.
Industry 4.0 – Revolutionising Industrial Automation with Smart Machines
Industry 4.0 targets the establishment and adoption of self-managing systems in the fields of industrial production and plant management. ‘Smart machines’ and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have assumed the center stage in Industry 4.0.
IIoT is a framework where industrial equipment make use of sensors and real-time data to communicate within a plant. In IIoT, data collected over time from the plant’s functioning, and real-time metrics are used for implementing plant-handling solutions.
Major players in the industrial automation sector such as Siemens, L&T Automation, and ABB already offer IIoT-enabled solutions to industrial manufacturers for pre-production, production, and plant management purposes.
The Digital India Initiative
The rapid development of technologies by companies such as Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Microsoft etc has spearheaded innovation and inspired governments around the World to unlock power of the Internet for its citizens. The Indian Government’s Digital India initiative, which was launched in 2015, targets development of network infrastructure to provide wider internet connectivity, e-governance services to Indian citizens.
Aadhar, which was rolled out in September 2010 has now become key in providing e-governance services to the general population under Digital India.
Education through Online Courses, Online Research Aids
Google and other search engines enabled public access to educational research and resources. Wikipedia, the world’s most popular online free access encyclopedia was launched in 2001.
Several international universities and institutes such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also started offering online courses and access to online study material under its OpenCourseWare (OCW) as early as 2001. Soon after in October 2006, Google Apps For Education (GAFE) was launched. As of now, Google offers various solutions for educational institutions which are included in Google Workspace for education (edu.google.com) such as Google Classroom, Meet, and Assignment.
By the early 2010s, e-learning startups such as BYJU’s sprouted in India, and other popular platforms such as Unacademy came up soon after.
In 2011, Google launched Chrome OS, an open source Operating System, for notebooks and laptops, subsequently giving way to ‘Chromebooks’ which gained popularity among students. Further, open source OS meant that it’s source code could be developed and modified as per requirement by third party developers to suit the diverse need of users.
The major growth driver, however, in the Indian online education scene was the CoVID pandemic, during which schools and colleges had to resort to conducting classes and programmes online. This led to usage of video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meet to a record extent.
Digital Advertising: Google’s Role in Developing Contextual Web Ads
Web Advertising has seen remarkable evolution in its concept and algorithms since 2000s, when Google used AdWords for hosting ads on its search result pages. The early version of web-advertising was not pointed and contextual in nature, and it wasn’t until 2007 that Google launched AdSense to tackle this problem. This was followed by Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007 which offered targeted advertising and behavioral advertising services.
e-Commerce: Transforming the Shopping Experience
As per a report by The Hindu BusinessLine dated 23rd March 2023, the Indian e-commerce market is expected to grow to USD 150 billion by 2026. Further, the report also mentions that Account-to-Account (A2A) transactions using Unified Payments Interface (UPI) increased by 53% from 2021 to 2022, which has been a major factor for the thriving of e-commerce businesses in India.
Today, e-commerce companies such as Zepto, Zomato, Amazon, Flipkart, Uber, Dunzo, and several others have been incorporated into regular usage by the internet-connected population of the country. Apart from B2C, even B2B space is exploring the option of e-commerce platforms. In March 2022, infra giant Larsen & Toubro launched its B2B e-commerce platform ‘SuFin’.
These e-commerce apps and websites make use of some of Google’s (Alphabet’s) technologies in some way or the other such as search, online adverts, android OS, maps etc.
Artificial Intelligence and its Industrial Applications
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been gaining massive traction of late, and has found application in various industrial fields. If put simply, AI refers to the capability of a machine to perform human-like cognitive functions based on available data and logic paradigms.
This capability is being extensively explored as it is capable of realising ‘smart machines’ and minimised need for human involvement in industrial processes or tasks of repetitive nature. On 19th April 2021 Siemens and Google Cloud announced their collaboration via a press release, for implementing AI-based solutions ‘to optimize factory processes and improve productivity on the shop floor’.
As per an April 2023 report by McKinsey & Co., AI can be used to perform predictive maintenance of industrial equipment, which can minimise downtime and operation costs. Apart from this, AI can be used in the logistics segment to predict the best route for transportation of goods. This can enable higher fuel efficiency and faster deliveries since AI would combine human-like understanding of logistical data with powerful computing capabilities.
Deep Learning & AI Powered Chatbots for Customer Support
Another kind of AI is referred to as ‘deep learning’, which can analyse images, videos, audio and other forms of multimedia to replicate human cognizance more efficiently. This capability can help improve end-user experience by providing better customer support by analysing the tone and responses of customers.
Google has been a pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, and Google AI, the company’s AI division was first announced by Mr. Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, in 2017.
Subsequently in 2023, Google’s AI chatbot ‘Bard’ was launched, which can generate human-like responses when fed chat prompts. ‘Bard’ came soon after Microsoft had launched their AI chatbot, ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) in November 2022.
Plans for 6G Connectivity in India & the Road Ahead
This rapid technology development and democratisation of the Internet have lead to the need for greater bandwidth requirements for bandwidth-hungry applications such as video and audio streaming such as Google’s YouTube, content rich websites such as Facebook, whatsapp, VoIP applications, and mass services such as e-governance and e-learning. This has lead to the development and deployment to new and secure Internet protocols, faster network architecture and development of faster physical networking equipment such as innovation in optical fibre technology.
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) under the Ministry of Communications, has launched Bharat 6G Alliance (B6GA) in 2023. The B6GA is a collaborative platform which will have the participation of academia, public and private companies. It will target the development of 6G connectivity in India by promoting knowledge sharing and planning for the same. Another key target of the B6GA is India owning at least 10% of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in the development 6G technology by 2029-30.
Growing Market for Online Service Providers & Tech Startups
As per India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the number of Internet users in India is projected to grow at a CAGR of 45% till 2025. Further, India’s internet industry is estimated to reach a valuation of USD 5 trillion by 2030 as per IBEF. This is backed by the fact that India has a growing consumer base for social media platforms, Over-The-Top (OTT) content, short video content such as YouTube shorts and Instagram Reels. Further, daily smartphone usage in India is estimated at an average 4.9 hours a day as per an article published by Mint on 11th January 2023. These numbers suggest that the penetration of internet in the Indian society, which is likely to increase further in the coming years, has opened up several market opportunities for a diverse range of online service providers and internet-based startups.