Insights on Mobile Internet in India

Posted by Rahul Sethi on 11:16 PM

According to the latest TRAI (Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India)figures, the number of Indians using their mobiles to login to the internet has almost doubled from 16 million to 38 million just last year. This includes both CDMA and GSM users logging on to the Internet to surf, check email etc.


The number of ‘active’ Internet users in India currently stands at 32.2 million. In my post on the real internet ‘user’ I pointed out the problem with the word ‘active’ and other things that may be painting a picture that’s less than accurate with respect to the number of Internet users in India.


If the figures of the TRAI are to be believed, then it seems like mobile internet is overtaking broadband in a big way. Again the question is how often are people logging in? How much time are they spending? What is their use experience like? What are the capabilities of the Internet vis mobile?


Here are a few reasons as to why the mobile internet phenomenon is likely to be more sustainable than the Internet revolution:

-       There are low start up costs and low barriers to entry. A mobile phone is relatively cheaper than a computer. So it is more accessible than a computer.

-       A mobile phone is with a person most of the time. Well a laptop can be with a person as well but the real mobility factor inherent in a laptop is minimal – especially while travelling in crowded spaces which is what a lot of our country’s socio demographic spatial scenario is like.

-       Currently, Internet on the go is not available by any players other than telecom players. They use a GPRS or a CDMA format. So there is technically no high quality broadband on the go currently available. So in a sense, the same speeds for the internet on a laptop and the internet on a mobile are technically available. One has to also keep in mind that there are higher start up costs to use the same internet that is available on a mobile phone on a laptop. It costs around Rs. 3000 to buy a USB stick which gives you access via CDMA from Reliance or Tata Indicomm. For the Airtel GPRS enabled USB’s, the cost is slightly higher. So there are obvious cost advantages for the mobile as well.


One of the key learning’s from the mobile Voice revolution in India is that simplicity is the key to success. With a large population, that’s not extremely literate, success initially comes if a device offers obvious benefits that are simple and easy to access.


In developed countries the name of the game is ‘feature richness’. That phase will come to India as well – but maybe a few years later. Initially its all about getting individuals roped in to a technological phenomenal where there are no or low ‘perceived’ barriers to entry. The access to internet via mobile must not ‘appear’ elitist. If it does the entire brand of ‘mobile internet in India’ will have an intimidating feel which is never a good thing because operators can make revenues only if they rope in more people and have them using the Internet via the mobile often. 


In terms of allaying such fears of the Internet being elitist I do not see much in terms of communication happening. A heartening case study in terms of a brand that’s doing a lot of good to the mobile internet scenario in India is Tata Indicomm.


Tata Indicomm’s cheapest mobile internet phones cost around Rs. 2, 300. They have reasonable browsing capabilities and have been taken on by consumers in a big way.  


Apart from offering low cost phones, Tata Indicomm now offers internet packages that are extremely reasonable. 99 Rs/- a month unlimited access. Such pricing strategies will go a long way in accelerating the growth of mobile internet in India. For mobile Internet, pricing is the key element of the marketing mix that will probably allay fears of mass users. I don’t see any other operators doing enough. Some of the plans on Airtel and Vodafone are ridiculously expensive. On the GSM operators, one can pay a monthly fee of about Rs. 500 for unlimited access. For those not willing to pay those kind of fees, the cost is about 10 paise per 10 KB. On standard mobile browsers, a site may take up to 100 KB to load. So that model, even though it seems cheap, really isn’t.


This takes me to my next point – the mobile internet browser.


One of the other innovations that may aid the spread of mobile internet in India is the mobile internet web browser. On a normal mobile web browser, as stated earlier, it may take about 100 KB to load a website. So generic web browsers are taking up a lot of bandwidth that’s not necessary and also time, which makes the use experience less effective.

Apple has gone a step ahead by releasing Safari Mini. There is also Opera Mini. Both these browsers are extremely effective in the sense that a page takes about 15 KB to load.  The problem with these browsers is that they are not effective when it comes to the installing of mobile applications which have to be installed only through the generic mobile browsers. I see this problem being resolved very soon as phone companies will probably buy out technologies that will make the use experience better for their customers or integrate their services with these web browsers.


Specific specialized web browsers are also really effective when it comes to the arranging of content on the mobile screen. In a sense this is one more thing that probably hook the users on and give them an incentive to browse again.


Infrastructure to provide high speed internet over mobile phones still remains a problem which will have to be solved soon in order to maximize the capabilities of mobile Internet. A lot of phones are now available with Wi – Fi capabilities. In the future one may see 802.16 Wi Max enabled phones as well. That’s where the real action is going to be. High speed low cost internet over mobiles.


This week, a premier operator (Vodafone) experienced a failure of its voice services. Click here to read more on that.


If the infrastructure problem is not solved, and if there is no reinvestment into latest technologies by telecom operators, one can try and optimize the use experience and the prize of handsets as much as possible – the real fruits of internet over mobile can be enjoyed only with an infrastructure that’s superior. 


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