As more people opt for smartphones, mobile internet users are driving up data traffic.
Riya Ghosh, a 24-year-old hotel management trainee at the Taj group, bought her first smartphone along with an Airtel data plan in 2011. This year, she is already thinking of upgrading her smartphone. “I had never experienced email or data on my handset before. Now that I have and know how convenient it is, I am ready to shift to a better data plan that gives more free data usage, and is value for money,” she says.
Users like Ghosh are set to become the telecom industry’s biggest growth reasons in 2012. An IMRB and IAMAI research pegs the total number of mobile internet users in India in 2010 at 12.1 million, and this figure was projected to reach 30 million in 2011. Another report from Boston Consulting Group predicted that there could be as many as 237 million mobile internet users in India by 2015. This is a growth driven by smartphone base, assert telecom operators.
Armed to address the demands of new age smartphone users, leading telecom operators like Vodafone and Airtel are making sure that they don’t miss out any opportunity. Airtel, which saw 7 million 3G adopters soon after the service was launched, estimates that nearly half of its customers use GPRS-enabled handsets that presents a huge potential for data consumption.
“In fact, we are currently seeing a 10 per cent increase in data downloads every month,” says K Srinivas, president (Consumer Business), Bharti Airtel.
Vodafone India, which saw it data subscribers climb to over 30 million in 2011, is expecting even better growth in 2012. Jonathan Bill, head (Data Services & 3G), Vodafone India, says, “We have recently upgraded our network, billing capabilities and internal capabilities to position ourselves well to take on the continued momentum.” He estimates that a smartphone user typically consumes four times the amount of data than feature phone users.
A Nielsen mobile insights survey only highlights the telcos’ belief. Young smartphone users (between 15 and 25 years) spend more than three hours a day on their phones and spend 60 per cent of that time on entertainment and browsing (for example, gaming, surfing the net and multimedia). “The Indian consumer’s quest for a new phone is almost entirely feature driven. And, while the camera and FM radio remain favourites, consumers are now also looking for internet connectivity via their mobile phones, hoping to finally connect to the growing online community,” says Farshad Family, managing director (Media), Nielsen India.
A study by Ericsson notes that a small percentage of smartphone users generates the bulk of data traffic for the operators. “Just six per cent smartphone user base contributes 75 per cent of all data traffic in 2011,” cites the report. Ericsson analysts say, “Our study shows that even with the existing quality of data network, consumers are showing an increasing interest in videos. We also see that as consumers start spending more time with services on the internet through their phones, they could be potential opportunities for service providers in the near future.”
Paritosh Jejurikar, a 27-year-old sales manager at LIC, claims that in a pre-paid data plan of Rs 500 per month from Vodafone, he manages to email, watch news, browse cricket scores, download an odd music video from YouTube and manage his social networking account on Facebook on weekdays, while at work. “I had a dual SIM handset in 2010. I had never used data on the handset, and I was surprised to know how easy it is when a friend bought his smartphone,” says Jejurikar. Having invested just Rs 8,000 on a Micromax smartphone, he is now happy to pay for data.
Ghosh and Jejurikar admit that checking emails and social networking are their top activities every morning.
Srinivas of Airtel outlines, “Non-SMS contribution continues to grow and the data story indicates a promising rise - over 14 per cent of our revenue come from value added services. In fact, Airtel sells more music (via ring tones, ring back tones, etc) than any music company. In the next phase of growth, we expect to see the demand for VAS moving towards data-based applications.” Airtel feels concepts like m-commerce, m-health, m-education and m-entertainment will emerge in 2012.
Mobile Broadband, states Ericsson’s study on smartphone users, is the most sought after service among consumers across age groups in tier I and II towns where access to good internet connection is limited. The report says, “However. when it came to specific services that 3G can offer, social media, multiplayer gaming and app downloads found favour with consumers in metros, while mobile TV and video calling were attractive for consumers in tier I and II towns.”
As smartphone users continue to demand more carrier bandwidth for applications and personal usage of videos, the sharp rise in data consumption will put more pressure on operators to speed up capacity investments, as they are already struggling with clogged telecom networks to keep up with the growing demand for data services.