Kushal Shah, a technology buff, was looking forward to lesser bills on account of 3G after several telecom operators announced discounts.
That’s because he was not planning to increase usage even after discounts as steep as 70 per cent. “I have a plan where I can use 3 GB per month. I do not consume all of it anyway,” he said.
In the past couple of weeks, both Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular reduced 3G rates by 70 per cent, averaging to three paise per kb, from 10 paise per kb earlier.
Operators expecting more usage might end up disappointed, as experts say price isn’t the only reason why there had been a lukewarm uptake in the services. Even as 3G subscriber base expanded significantly after private players launched services since 2010, the technology did not create many ripples in consumer consumption patterns. The number of 3G subscribers was expected to be about 22 million.
“Customers did not get significant upside in experience to transition from 2G to 3G,” observed Kamlesh Bhatia, research director, Gartner. Not many 3G-based applications which would work exclusively on the high-speed data access provided by the technology could gain ground. One of them was video calling. “Video calling as an application has not picked up as yet,” said Hemant Joshi, telecom leader, Deloitte Haskin & Sells.
Nevertheless, experts call it the second coming of 3G, at lower rates. This, however, they say should come with much stronger network coverage, and better roaming services.
“Coverage is a challenge, as rollouts are still happening. But the biggest challenge is the relevant and affordable content,” said Abhishek Chauhan, senior consultant, Frost & Sullivan.
Chauhan also pointed that compression technique which aids video-rich content on smaller mobile handset screens was yet to take off in the country. The second push for the technology had to be backed by solid foundation where they can deliver a value-added technology, according to Bhatia.
Yet, another technology backing which 3G requires would be an ecosystem of 3G-enabled handsets, which is yet to take off. “Availability of affordable 3G handsets is still a challenge in the country with average price still hovering around $100,” said Chauhan.
The reduced prices, however, might induce a new set of consumers to come and try the services, youngsters. Idea Cellular, which reduced its 3G prices, said its objective was to drive mobile internet usage for the mass market, and the new pricing would cater to new set of consumers.
“Consumers, especially youngsters, will find these (smaller 3G packs) very lucrative to try and experience 3G services,” the company said in a press release.
Joshi says high-speed data would find takers among the young professionals and college going subscribers.
“They are into social networks, social media, gaming, music downloads, and video surfing,” he said.