Phones without data plans are still a source for innovation. Image: Paul Adams, Flickr.

US-India Tech Collaboration Breeds Innovation and Income


A missed call is worth millions of dollars. At least that is true in India for ZipDial, an app that was recently purchased by Twitter for between $30-$40 million. ZipDial was created in 2010 by Valerie Wagoner, an American and a Stanford graduate, who moved to India because emerging markets interested her more than Silicon Valley. Once in India, Wagoner noticed that most people have smart phones but no data plans, and wireless internet is not readily available. As such, many Indians use missed calls as a code for things such as arriving home safely.

ZipDial users, be they individuals or corporations, can communicate without using data by having ZipDial followers. More than 500 brands are now using ZipDial. Advocacy groups such as Greenpeace can ask users to call a ZipDial number to show support and commercial business such as Gillette can run interactive ad campaigns. The app provides free texts and alerts to its users without the need for a data plan.

The world will have about 2 billion smartphone users by 2016 and India is projected to overtake the US to become the second largest smartphone market, with over 200 million users. China is currently the largest smartphone market in the world with about 574 million users, while the US and India trail behind China with 165 and 132 million users, respectively. However, by the end of 2014, India had the fastest growing smartphone market in the Asia-Pacific region at 27%.

Twitter is not the only American enterprise taking notice of India’s technology sector. Venture capital and growth equity firm, Accel Partners, has set aside $305 million to support tech companies in India. Foreign investment increased from $3.9 billion in December 2014 to $5.5 billion in January 2015. In February, Google announced that its first investment office abroad, Google Capital, will be in India. The relationship goes both directions, as there are about 43,000 people employed by Indian firms located within the US.

The growing cooperation between US and India’s technology sectors is one policy objective of the two countries’ leaders. In January, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi discussed expanding the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which will mark its 10th anniversary in 2015. Expanding DTTI would include increased military engagement, maritime cooperation, and technology and trade collaboration. The successful launching of a satellite into orbit around Mars last year is just one example of the impressive feats that have been accomplished through US-India technology cooperation.

Melissa Newcomb is a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C