Bangalore's Big Bang: Will outsourcing's unofficial capital implode under its own success?

Explosive growth puts the city's fabric to the test...

Bangalore's population has more than tripled in the past 30 years: great for employers - but not so good for its creaking infrastructure, says outsourcing expert Paul Morrison.

For a decade or more Bangalore has reigned as unofficial capital of the outsourcing industry. In that time it has grown, sucking in investment, talent - and traffic.

It's been a hugely successful time for the city, but a question now looms about its future - is it just bursting at the seams, or has it become morbidly obese?

Travelling across Bangalore can be a slow process with the city's rush hour seemingly lasting from 5am, with a barely discernible break, until 9pm

Travelling across Bangalore can be a slow process with the city's rush hour seemingly lasting from 5am, with a barely discernible break, until 9pmPhoto: blrframes

Bangalore's epic traffic captures something of the city's reputation in the world of technology - energetic, vibrant - and very busy. I had a good opportunity to observe the phenomenon up close, when I helped a client to set up a new service centre in the city earlier in the year.

Stuck in the back of a taxi over a period of weeks, you can't fail to notice the average speeds in this seething mass of humanity averaged little more than five mph, or that the rush hour in fact lasts from 5am, with a barely discernible intermission, through to 9pm.

Bangalore - or Bengaluru as it is officially known - is not the only city struggling with the demands of massive growth, supercharged by foreign investment, technology companies and outsourcing, but its rise from obscurity has been uniquely fast.

In the mid-1980s, the Garden City - also the town of boiled beans - was well known as an ideal place for retirement, with India's best climate and a good line in pubs.

Then something happened. In one generation, the population rocketed from three million to about nine million today. The city became world famous as the home of Indian tigers such as Infosys and Wipro, and is now central to the operations of multinationals such as Motorola, Texas Instruments, Intel, HP, and 1,500 other global companies. It also accounts for one-third of India's outsourcing revenues and is home to about 500,000 of its 1.5 million technology workforce.

In reality, the seeds of this preeminence were sown over many decades, particularly in the form of government and business investment in the aerospace, defence and telecoms sectors - like its role model, Silicon Valley.

But, by 2000, Bangalore's flowering had become known across the world, and its profile has continued to grow ever since. Homegrown competitors - in particular Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai - have also prospered. But none has approached the scale or the fame of Bangalore.

This meteoric growth is ample explanation for the...