It’s lunchtime in Mumbai. Millions of workers are looking forward to a meal. For some, that means being handed their lunchbox by a dabbawala – a delivery, usually via bicycle, that has been a familiar service in the city for 125 years. Increasingly, though, some customers don’t deal directly with the courier. They do everything via an app.
“I live in Mumbai and food delivery is now a big deal,” says Anu Madgavkar, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute. “If you walk into a Starbucks outlet there will be five delivery executives from [food delivery app] Swiggy.”
Here’s proof that a digital revolution is taking place: the app for the dabbawalas was developed by a 13-year-old boy. While this new-fangled way of doing things has split local opinion, Madgavkar says there are plenty of fans. While India has long had the building blocks of a gig economy, the internet has now forced businesses to be more organised and offer a more consistent service.
Here, though, is the twist. Internet coverage in India is low. Fewer than a quarter of Indians have access to the web or a smartphone. In rural parts of the country, internet penetration may be as low as 14%. It’s a similar story in many emerging economies around the world – from sub-Saharan Africa to Latin America and much of Southeast Asia.
More than half the world is still unconnected to the internet. While coverage is rising in the regions mentioned above, installing cables and mobile phone masts to hook up the remaining 4 billion people would be a very slow process. The distances involved are huge. But now a handful of companies are planning something different – the internet, from space.