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The mobile internet tipping point in India

About 110 million monthly users now access the internet through their mobile devices in the country; the number is expected to reach 130 million by the end of 2013, according to a study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB Interna

Devina Joshi  |  New Delhi 

Sunil Kamath

"Video is driving mobile data traffic"

By 2017, mobile data traffic in India is projected by Cisco's Visual Networking Index to reach a whopping 900 petabytes per month, up from 15 petabytes per month in 2012. Factors such as the increasing market penetration of affordable smartphones, access to regional content relevant for users from smaller cities, consumption of online video from mobile devices and innovation in the service provided by mobile operators will contribute towards the explosion of mobile internet in India. The mobile data explosion will primarily be propelled by video. New and affordable devices have made mobile media more accessible and compelling to the mass market. Cisco's VNI predicts that by 2017, 60 per cent of all mobile data will consist of video alone.

According to Opera Software's State of the Mobile Web report which tracks trends on the mobile web, the number of people using smartphones to access the Web in India increased by 136.6 per cent in the last year. They constitute 19 per cent of the total number of users who actively browse the web from their mobile devices using the Opera Mini browser.

The increasing usage of internet from phones has opened up new avenues for publishers and content providers. After social networking, information and entertainment websites are driving mobile data consumption. Because the penetration of mobile devices is spread beyond the Tier-I and Tier-II cities, content in regional languages is highly prized. India is considered a 'mobile-first' country, meaning many users have their mobile phones as their first window to the web. There will be an increasing demand for localised content for such users.

Sunil Kamath
Vice-president, Opera Software, South Asia


Nickhil Jakatdar
"Cooperation is king in the ecosystem"

According to a report by Ericsson, India saw 742 million mobile subscriptions in the third quarter of 2013, including a net addition of 10 million new subscribers. The gap between the total number of mobile subscriptions and mobile internet users, however, is still significant. Although devices are getting smarter and bandwidth is improving with time, challenges remain. Mobile manufacturers have only just begun to produce low-cost smartphones. Networks are improving but infrastructure improvements take time.

As factors like affordability and network quality progress, what can the mobile ecosystem do now to push the mobile internet to its tipping point among consumers? Democratise access. While carriers reach a significant base of subscribers, many consumers do not have data plans. Mobile operators need to explore new ways to introduce voice and text users to the power of data.

Second, cooperation in the ecosystem is king. Carriers have the consumer reach, but strong engagement platforms allow them to add mobile internet users, as well as give more to current subscribers. Enter content providers. Whether browsing or shopping a mobile video segment, localised, regional content is what captures the consumer's attention. The glue holding all this together is technology. Technology should be designed to support mobile internet interactions across all types of handsets and networks. The data load on mobile networks is expected to go up 50 to 100 times over the next three years. It will be the role of advanced technologies to ensure that the consumer experience remains one that drives continued engagement without bringing down the mobile operator network.


Nickhil Jakatdar
founder and CEO, Vuclip


Anupam Vasudev
"A smartphone user consumes six times more data than a feature phone user"

The biggest challenge facing adoption of mobile internet is the right mix of devices in the ecosystem. Out of the 210 million devices that are expected to be shipped in 2013, only 35 million are smartphones. The situation is expected to change over the next 3-5 years with about 300 million smartphones entering the ecosystem.

Globally, the internet consumption started off with plain text message, moved to email and low end browsing. Then came video streaming and now, it is moving on to real time applications like VoIP, live streaming etc. Text-based content had limitations due to diversity of language and low literacy levels in the country. Availability of video content will break down that barrier. The first 200 million internet users are easy to reach as there are no language barriers, and international services/content based on English will suffice. However, for majority of India to adopt mobile internet, the same has to accommodate users from different socio-economic classes.

The ecosystem of device, content and infrastructure providers have to work together as partners to help create simple plans for consumers to take the mobile internet explosion to stratospheric levels.


Anupam Vasudev
chief marketing officer, Aircel

Jaideep Ghosh
"The footprint of mobile internet needs to expand across rural areas"

The key drivers that are instrumental in defining the extent of mobile internet growth in the country include the availability, the affordability and the applicability of mobile data services.

In India, the internet subscribers have traditionally been low (especially the broadband segment). However, there is an increasing uptick in this trend. Mobile has emerged as the de-facto access medium for accessing internet with 87 per cent (143 million subscribers) of total internet users accessing internet using wireless phones. However, when compared to overall mobile subscribers the total mobile internet users is only 16.5 per cent.

The uptake of mobile internet will depend on several factors, the first being coverage. 96,000 of the 736,000 telecom towers in India are 3G enabled and even those are mostly restricted to urban areas. Second, the quality of service. Although we are witnessing the launch of next generation (4G) services, the quality of service is still a challenge.

Third, affordable internet services. The incumbent players are bringing down 3G data tariffs at par with 2G prices. Entry level mobile data plans are much lower than the global prices (with per megabytes revenue realisations being less than one-sixth of the global average).

Much of the hype is around 'Co-So-Lo-Mo' (cloud, social media, location-based services and mobile) across the globe. In India, email, social media, instant messaging and search have emerged as the top internet activities. It would be interesting to see if there would be growth in data services at the cost of cannibalising hitherto popular services: voice and messaging.

Jaideep Ghosh
partner, consulting, KPMG India

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First Published: Mon, November 25 2013. 00:17 IST
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