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A couple of weeks back I attended the NASSCOM EMERGEOUT Conclave 2011 at Gurgaon, India. While the event featured several interesting sessions and panel discussions, the keynote by R Chandrashekhar interested me specifically. R Chandrashekhar is the Secretary in Ministry of Communications & IT of Government of India. It is always insightful to learn about government’s perception of the industry and the initiatives it is taking for the sector to foster in an organic manner. Since the theme of the conference was around emerging companies, it made all the more sense. Here are my thoughts on the Indian mobile and internet space based on the keynote session.
Indian economy has seen tremendous growth in IT and ITES sector, and much of it can be attributed to the emergence of domestic market. One would want it to mirror the amazing growth of the telecommunications sector in India. Deregulation and liberalization have been key drivers of the telecom market. With over 850 million mobile users, India has a high mobile penetration with near-saturation of the urban market. What ails the Indian ecosystem is the low broadband penetration with only 12.32 million users. Although, recently there has been initiatives for wireless broadband and 3G rollout, there is a long way forward. In a country with approximately 800 million rural population and 550 million people below poverty line, inclusive development is a huge challenge.
For mobile apps, this ecosystem provides both immense opportunities and some awkward challenges. The growing number of users, increasing sales of smartphones, recent 3G rollout, and evolving VAS users are positive signs. However, the steep VAS prices and hazy revenue sharing models present issues in plenty. Another bummer is that the Indian market is dominated by pre-paid subscribers and ultra low handsets.
So what are the development enablers that build the sector and the opportunities around it? While the government has to bring better policies into effect and start initiatives to build the ecosystem, the industry has to serve in product and service creation for existing market as well as work on creation of new markets. The Government of India has already commissioned new Telecom Policy 2011, IT Policy 2011, and National Policy on Electronics 2011 as well as have several initiatives in the works: National Broadband Plan, National e-Governance Plan, UID, Mobile Service Delivery Gateway, National Knowledge Network, e-Education, Skill Development Mission, and e-Health. The National Broadband Plan intends to extend the fibre-optic network to 2.5 lakh panchayats as well as provide last mile wireless broadband to 6 lakh villages. The 3 years plan is a Rs.30,000 crore project.
Bharti Airtel has introduced high speed broadband internet plans for tier-1 and tier-2 cities in India. The best part about these new plans is that they cost less, have high data download limits and have minimum data speeds of 2mbps in Tier-1 and 1mbps in Tier-2 cities. The cities where this minimum 2mbps broadband plan will be available include Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Pune.
Here is the detailed tariff structure:
Top 10 Cities
All the plans listed below will have a minimum download speed of 2mbps
Alpha Plan: 3GB data @ Rs. 649
Alpha Plan: 6GB data @ Rs. 799
Max Plan: 10GB data @ Rs. 999
Max Plan: 30GB data @ Rs. 1299
Max Plan: 75GB data @ Rs. 1599
Max Plan: 150GB data @ Rs. 1999
Rest of India
All the plans listed below will have a minimum download speed of 1mbps
Ace Plan: 3GB data @ Rs. 549
Ace Plan: 6GB data @ Rs. 699
Mega Plan: 10GB data @ Rs. 899
Mega Plan: 30GB data @ Rs. 1499
Mega Plan: 75GB data @ Rs. 1999
Airtel’s Chief Marketing Officer – Girish Mehta said while unveiling the plans that raising the broadband internet speed threshold with the new broadband plans will help enhance uptake of the array of content and rich media experience on Airtel broadband.
The broadband internet connection scenario in India is deteriorating gradually. If you are finding hard to believe this then you do not have any other option than believing this. India ranks very poorly on the list of 25 developing nations which were the part of a new global report as compiled and published by Nokia Siemens Networks.
Here are a few noteworthy points from the report:
- India’s broadband penetration rate, which is measured as number of subscribers per 100 households is around one eighth of the rate that has been achieved in China.
- India does not perform well even when it comes to Mobile internet penetration and lies behind even the Latin American countries when it comes to Mobile internet.
- India has a score of 1.25 on the Broadband Connectivity Scorecard whereas Malaysia and Chile have have got a score of 6 which almost 4 times that of India’s score.
- The four countries which India ranks ahead of are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Kenya respectively.
Akamai Technologies, an internet company that addresses problems associated with the Internet such as performance, security and scalability has found out in a separate report that there has been a 9.1% overall decrease in internet connection speeds. By the end of 2010, almost 35 per cent of all internet connections in India metered an average speed of 256 kbps.
We have heard about in-flight wi-fi services and internet earlier. Also there was some news about Indian Railways getting free internet connection to all passengers on all it’s express trains. However what Meru Cabs (a private cab service in the various metros of India) has announced simply sounds to be an icing on the cake. Meru Cabs has partnered with MTS Telecom to provide free internet services to all travellers using it’s cab services.
As of now the service has been launched only in New Delhi and Mumbai. However Meru Cabs plans to launch this in other major cities soon – Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
How does it Work?
If you are travelling in a Meru Cab in one of the above mentioned cities in India then all you need to do in order to get free internet service in the cab is just ask the cab driver for an MBlaze dongle. Just plug in the data card dongle into your laptop / netbook and you will be instantly connected to the Internet with unlimited data download.
But, Will this Work?
Today most of the users in India who carry a laptop / netbook along with them have a mobile internet solution, be it the 3G or the USB internet dongles from various Internet Service Providers in India. So, when an user is already using one, installing the MTS MBlaze may be a problem on their laptops. The unlimited data plan may lure users, but then on an average travelers do not take cab rides of duration more than 1 – 1.5 hours. So, only time will tell if this initiative from MTS will really work.
The 3G rollout to various parts of India has gradually begun and users all over India can now finally start experiencing fast mobile Internet speeds via 3G. Airtel has announced it’s plans of launching 3G service for it’s users in less than a week and Tata DOCOMO, after jumping onto the 3G Bandwagon quite early, has now unveiled it’s 3G services in yet another Indian state – Karnataka.
Bharti Airtel ‘s CEO Sanjay Kapoor told PTI that Airtel will make the announcement for the commercial launch of our 3G service in next six to seven days. However he did not reveal so as to in what all circles is Airtel planning to launch this service initially. Bharti won the 3G spectrum for 13 telecom circles in India and has given contracts to Ericsson India , Nokia Siemens and Huawei to set up the necessary 3G infrastructure.
In other news, Tata Docomo increased it’s 3G presence all over India by launching it’s 3G service in three areas of Northern Karnataka, namely – Hubli, Dharwad & Belgaum. Tata Docomo’s 3G Network currently supports internet access with high speeds of 21.1 Mbps and the company plans to introduce more products and services with support of NTT DOCOMO.
To boost broadband penetration in the country, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has suggested rolling out an optical fibre cable network across the country at a whopping cost of Rs 60,000 crore. Here are the details of TRAI’s plans for the same:
- An autonomous body – National Optical Fibre Agency (NOFA) will be created under the Central Government.
- A State Optical Fibre Agency will be formed at the state level whose 51 per cent equity will be vested with NOFA and 49 per cent by the respective State government.
- Project to be financed by the Universal Service Obligation fund and grants from the Government.
- New network will be rolled out in two phases by 2013 and TRAI has set a target of 75 million broadband connections by 2012 and 160 million connections by 2014.
- 25.45 lakh km of fresh optical fibre to be laid all across India in order to meet bandwidth requirements. Current lines are limited only to Tier-1 cities.
Currently it is only BSNL that provides broadband internet facilities in rural areas of India. However, things are going to change soon. In order to make broadband internet available to millions of subscribers, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has suggested that BSNL’s last-mile copper lines could be unbundled to private operators.
BSNL has a huge and extensive copper network that caters to 30 million subscribers and this can be ramped up to support millions of more customers. Since BSNL’s fixed line subscribers are gradually declining, unbundling the last-mile local loop in the copper lines will allow private operators to use BSNL’s nationwide fixed line network for offering broadband services to more customers.
Doing this has two benefits. First is, it will bring in additional revenue for BSNL and the Second benefit is that more new consumers can now expect to use fast broadband internet connection. The DoT has also suggested that the excess capacity should be provided to the private players only after BSNL’s own requirement is met.
Launched in Bangalore on Thursday, Acer’s latest netbook, Aspire One532h, comes bundled with in-built Reliance Netconnect Broadband Plus which has a capability of offering high speed connectivity of up to 3.1 Mbps across 66 Indian cities. This device is really a must-have for those who work on the move. Acer has partnered with Reliance Communications to launch this netbook which comes embedded with wireless broadband.
The netbook is Priced at INR 19,499 and comes with two months of complimentary usage of integrated and in-built Reliance NetConnect Broadband Plus worth INR 2,198. The netbook has good hardware and is capable of running rich media applications like video conferencing, video streaming, electronic surveillance, online multi-player games and heavy file transfers.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) has plans of offering a plethora of freebies to all gram panchayats. These include three broadband connections for every gram panchayat absolutely free of any charge for three years along with free installation of computers and a printer. Not only this, the DoT also plans to provide the panchayats with three telephone connections and one cable TV connection again without any charge.
All this will cost the DoT about Rs 2,000 crore. However all this money will be funded through the Universal Services Obligation fund. This move is basically aimed at helping the rural people experience and relate to benefits of broadband. The DoT is also hoping that the freebies will also soften up villagers to give unobstructed right of way to rollout the infrastructure.