Oil billionaire Mukesh Ambani explains why data is better than oil

The next-gen tech.
The next-gen tech.
Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
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Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani last week built on the often-used “data-oil” adage to say why the first of the duo was better.

“Data is indeed the new oil. But this new oil is fundamentally different from the traditional oil,” the 63-year old billionaire said at an event on Dec. 3. While oil was usually extracted at only a few places, generating income only for select countries, he said data could be generated and consumed anywhere and by anyone.

“It (data) has the potential to create value equitably, across sectors, across geographies and across economic classes. Every person can be a user, creator and owner of data. Therefore, the new oil has been completely democratised and decentralised,” the businessman explained.

Data’s growing importance

Speaking at the Infinity Forum, a global financial tech event, Ambani said “…digital will be the way of life for people…” Every citizen’s right to privacy has to be safeguarded, he said.

Ever vocal about Indians owning and controlling their own data, the Reliance Industries chief said nations have the right to build and protect strategic digital infrastructure. He applauded prime minister Narendra Modi for taking the “right steps” on this front. The Indian government plans to introduce a data privacy bill in the upcoming session of parliament.

“India is putting in place the most forward-looking policies and regulations,” he said. The country, he added, already has a great framework of digital identity through Aadhaar, digital bank accounts, and digital payments.

India’s position in the digital era

Emphasising data’s power in a smoothly digitising world, Ambani said India has a “unique advantage” in terms of demography.

“We are a nation of 1.35 billion people and will soon become the world’s most populous nation, overtaking China, and will also be the world’s youngest nation,” Ambani said.

Further listing the advantages it can leverage, he said the country’s major strength is the “digital pipeline” it has built over the years.

“Our second major strength is that India has built the digital pipeline—a world-class digital infrastructure—that has reached all our cities, towns, and almost all our 600,000 villages…Jio, I am proud to say, has taken the lead in this,” he added.

Ambani’s Jio was responsible for a remarkable decline in data pricing, catalysing India’s internet economy. In 2015, before Jio was launched, the cost of 1GB of mobile data in India was 225 rupees ($3)—now a mere Rs6.

“Jio has ensured affordable high-speed data connectivity, which is a pre-requisite for the digital revolution,” Ambani said. “With 5G rollout next year in India, we are well on our way to having one of the most advanced infrastructures in the world.”