Mobiles Churning a Tech Revolution for Consumers
Date: Tuesday , March 30, 2010
Just a decade ago, in India, mobile phone was a status symbol in the hands of the chosen few. Many aspired for it but could not afford it. A few enterprising mobile-user-wannabees, well-versed in the good old Indian jugaad (a locally contrived motor vehicle used as a means of low cost transportation in rural areas) even put together mobile-look-alike shells to serve this need. The proud shell owners were not shy about pulling out their ‘handsets’ with flourish and displaying them at prominent locations to impress the unsuspecting audience.
Fast forward a few years, and a popular television advertisement shows a busy intersection, in what appears to be a tier-3 town in India. A phone rings and everyone takes out their handsets to check, but then, they all realize that the ringing phone belongs to the paan-wallah’s mundu (assistant of the betel leaf seller). The advertisement goes on to show the assistant talking to his family in the village, enquiring about his cousin’s marriage. The difference today is that the paan-wallah and his buddies are not just talking with folks back home but are also using ‘missed-calls’ effectively to communicate with their customers and bosses. One ring means the chauffeur has arrived, two means that he is delayed, and for more elaborate communication the boss knows that he has to call-back.
The Short Message Service (SMS) messages are not just for keeping up with friends, but are a valuable link into the world of television and can be used effectively to vote for changing the end sequence of popular TV soaps, to determine compatibility with the significant ‘other’ half, or to participate in various contests. SMS contests have become extremely popular in India, and interestingly more women have participated in these contests than men.
Today a young engineer discards his student-days handset just as soon as he gets a job and goes on to buy a new model every six months. Quite often the latest purchase costs twice as much as the monthly income, but it’s a luxury he is willing to splurge on. At the workplace he may not openly demand (as yet) that both his handset and desktop environments should give him equal mobility and flexibility of operation but he is very aware of how to juggle both platforms to instant message with personal and professional friends with equal ease.
So what is the outlook for the next decade? Pundits declare that prepaid mobile is expected to continue to dominate with over 90 percent market share. The mobile tele-density is expected to rise from the current 39 percent to over 80 percent by 2014. In some metros, surprisingly the number of mobile subscribers is greater than the recorded population. But in rural India where 70 percent of the population resides mobile tele-density hovers below 30 percent. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and the next 100 million subscribers are expected to come from rural markets. Compared to the UK or even the U.S., a significantly large percentage of Indian radio listeners recall advertisements on radio on mobile. Even the low end handsets costing around $20 have the radio as a feature. The mobile advertisements segment is expected to grow rapidly.
Compared to the rest of India, the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala have higher rural mobile penetration. A study funded by Vodafone has concluded that Indian states with higher mobile penetration can be expected to grow faster, with a ‘growth rate 1.2 percent higher for every 10 percent increase in the mobile penetration rate.’ This is an interesting empirical data that emphasizes that speed of information through efficient communication channels accelerates economic development. The rural usage is expected to increase in telemedicine, mandi (wholesale depot for agricultural produce) information, virtual marketplace, and e-learning applications.
Mobile value added services (VAS) is already dominated by P2P SMS, Caller Ringback tones, and Ringtones. According to a study by the research firm Vital Analytics, more than 50 percent of the users in the VAS SMS category use the service for exchanging jokes and getting their astrology forecasts. Of the big Indian cities, Delhi tops the list of users accessing social networking sites via mobile phones, nearly three times more than Bangalore. In spite of low Average Revenue per User (ARPU), mobile VAS already accounts for upwards of 10 percent of carrier revenue. This number is expected to grow exponentially as penetration rates increase and the proliferation of services adapts to the needs of the growing market segments. Recharging pre-paid cards, paying phone bills, and buying movie tickets are the top mobile commerce activities at the moment. According to the FICCI, mobile VAS is expected to account for nearly 30 percent of the operator revenue in the next five years. Mobile payments and m-commerce will remain all time favorites. The users in urban India and the enterprises can expect an increase in broadband service offerings such as video calls, video messaging on 3G, and higher networks.
The enterprise market in India is also witnessing some interesting trends. PBX, Centrex, single number, data, and enhanced services are delivered to a geographically distributed enterprise in a creative bundle of wireless and wireline services. This commercial convergence of wireless and wireline to deliver a unique bouquet of services is a testament to both the maturity and willingness to experiment.
In India the ARPU is low compared to the markets in developed countries and is expected to fall further, yet the Indian service providers have managed to keep profitability high. In the last 15 years or so the size of the Indian market for telecom equipments and applications has grown from a negligible level to the top 3 markets globally; the business model of the Indian carriers, especially around equipment capex, introduction of new services, and margin or yield management is touted as the model for the future and is being studied and adapted for other markets. We are also seeing the emergence of global aspirations. What started as a goal to build international capacity and network operating centers is now moving towards ownership of consumers. In the next few years we will see the first of the truly global Indian carriers.
In a very short period of time, the mobile eco-system in India has evolved from being virtually non-existent into a vibrant vertical. With the top service providers stepping onto the global arena, the Indian users have much to look for, beyond enjoying live Indian Premier League (IPL) matches from YouTube on their handsets.
The author of the article is Anupam Arya, CEO, Mobera Systems.