From mouse to WiFi dongle, Covid-19 fuels demand for IT peripherals

The nationwide lockdown led to the rise of a new work culture - work from home (WFH) and with that the dash and scramble to get everything from a keyboard, to a mouse to a laptop. Unfortunately, supply is severely limited.

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Flagging that Indian IT vendors are totally dependent on China to meet domestic demand, Chachra opines that this over dependency is currently presenting a catch 22 paradox for Indian vendors.
A visible bi-product of the nationwide lockdown has been a marked spike in the demand of IT peripherals required by customers and companies alike. Right before the days prior to the Janta Curfew announcement, customers were seen standing in long queues outside many major IT peripherals markets.

With work from home (WFH) becoming the new normal, companies and individual consumers can be seen scrambling to secure various IT products for their employees. As a result, supplies of IT peripherals, including laptops, WiFi hotspot dongle, printers, data cards were sold thick and fast, leading to a sharp spike in demand for all such items.

With school classes moving online, it has meant even children in the household now needed access to IT infrastructure of their own.


“The demand for laptops, desktops has certainly gone up, as everybody suddenly wants to work from home. Companies are scrambling to secure laptops, even refurbished ones for their employers, but products are in short supply across major IT products markets. WiFi Hotspot Dongle, data cards and even printers are in huge demand now,” says Atul Chachra of Aastha Computers an importer and a reseller, based out of the Delhi’s Nehru place market, famed as the biggest electronics market of Asia.

“Though we had many orders, but we could not execute because of lack of supply,” rues Chachra, adding since all distributors are closed, there is no way they could meet the burgeoning demand in IT peripherals. “We had to skip many lucrative orders because only essential goods are allowed. Even if we have stocked supplies in our shops, we can’t give to customers. That’s a major crisis for us now.”

Hence, amidst the lockdown, there does exist demand-supply mismatch in this segment, which needs to be filled and filled fast, should the epidemic persist, leading to a possible extension of lockdown.
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Industry body MAIT (Manufacturers Association of Information Technology), highlights that it had noticed a definite increase in the demand for laptops, data cards, dongles, printers in the pre lockdown time period.

According to MAIT CEO George Paul, unlike services and network bandwidth, which can be allocated on-demand online, the ICT industry works differently. Hence, ever since the lockdown was announced, there was a significant spike in demand witnessed for IT peripherals.

In Paul's view, the growing popularity of the WFH culture is a “tipping point in the societal behavioural change on working online'', and increasingly, organisations have urged their employees to leverage their individual laptops and desktops to overcome this hurdle.

“As we go into extended lockdown, we can see one by one, more and more business services are being opened up in a controlled manner, or we expect that to be the case in near future. Subsequently, the movement of ICT products and peripherals will also begin, leading to a fairly large offtake to be seen across the country,” the industry leader remarks.
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Booming sales
For various IT and telecom service providers, the lockdown came as a blessing in disguise. With more and more people now working from home, there is a visible spike in network demand.

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“With the nation under lockdown and business and professionals working from home, we are witnessing an increase in demand for our seamless connectivity solutions and collaboration products. There has been a surge in demand for WiFis and Dongles as enterprises strive to keep their employees connected. We are seeing the same demand being reflected in the retail segment as well,” said an official company spokesperson of Vodafone Idea Limited.

However, both supplies and deliveries have been impacted due to the ongoing Covid-19 challenge, adds the spokesperson of the IT major, having a subscriber base of more than 332 million and a distribution reach of 1.7 million retail outlets.

The company says that to cater to the increase in the data requirement of enterprise customers, it offers better mobility plans so that they always stay connected. But there is a downside of the WFH culture too, highlights the official quoted above. “With WFH gaining prominence across metros, the threat of data breach has increased since people are working remotely from various devices, resulting in an increase in the need for security products,” he adds.

Holes in supply chain
In Chachra’s view, uninterrupted web connectivity, coupled with adequate IT infrastructure and resources is the key in today’s scenario. Technology plays a key part in our lives, and even during the current lockdown, connectivity to the internet and the performance of our gadgets has been the key.

“From e-commerce companies to ride hailing firms to food delivery providers, all of them need web connectivity. Hence, IT services are as essential to citizens just as those declared ‘essential’ by the government. Thus, we demand that IT vendors should be allowed to operate at least for 2-3 hours or be allowed to offer home deliveries. This will enable thousands of people to utilise plenty of man-hours, who otherwise are unable to do so, due to lack of IT resources,” reasons Chachhra.

In fact, smartphone manufacturers like Xiaomi and Realme, MAIT and the India Cellular & Electronics Association (ICEA) have written to the government to allow delivery of smartphones among other electronics devices and removal of restrictions on the movement of components for inland and export purposes. “Smartphones today are probably the most essential items after food and groceries that anybody needs,” Manu Kumar Jain, the managing director-Indian subcontinent at Xiaomi, told ET recently.

There is, however, another problem. Flagging that Indian IT vendors are totally dependent on China to meet domestic demand, Chachra opines that this over dependency is currently presenting a catch 22 paradox for Indian vendors. “About 90% of IT supplies come either from or via China to India. The neighbouring supplying nation was in lockdown mode from January to the first half of March, and now the anomaly is when they are ready to ship, our ports and flights are closed down. So, it will take another 1 or 2 months for us to be able to take any deliveries. Thus, any recovery in the supply chain isn't visible anytime soon,” he says.

So, to what extent this overdependence on China’s supplies acted as a double whammy to a resource-scarce Indian IT peripheral space? MAIT’s Paul is of the view that ever since China announced a lockdown at the end of January, there have been no supplies from it to any global destination, including India. “As I recollect before the lockdown, made in China supplies were already running low in the country. When the government announced pan India lockdown, we typically had 7-10 days of supplies leftover,” he says, adding since as China has restarted production, we have to give them another 2-3 weeks before shipments start hitting Indian ports.

Asked how India can avoid a recurrence of any such a future event, Paul roots for promoting the concept of import substitution. He, however, adds that getting such an idea to work is easier said than done in a country like India, where there is widespread usage of Completely Knocked-Down/Semi Knocked-Down(CKD/SKD) components.

Interestingly, the Paul goes on to highlight that China also doesn't make all components, and it's dependent on other countries to make certain components. “So in a crisis like this, irrespective of where you are based, you are going to get hit,” he feels.
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