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An amazing milestone for India indeed! One has to look back to understand the significance of this milestone.

In 1997, when I was a Product Manager for Base Stations in Motorola’s Cellular Infrastructure Sector, we were amazed at the rapid pace of Telecom growth in some parts of the world. Back then, Japan was adding 1M subscribers a month. We used to be amazed at the vibrancy of that market and 1M per month was an unbelievable number.

Times have changed dramatically. India today adds a whopping 10-15M subs a month! India recently crossed 500M subscribers (~470M wireless and around ~35M wireline) and is showing no signs of abating. This is significant for many reasons. In addition to all the economic benefits,  job creation and accessibility of communication infrastructure, India has benefitted tremendously in terms of the Social impacts that communication has had on common people. All of this growth has come in the last 6-7 years. What a hockeystick growth! To put things in perspective, here are some facts about life in India not very long ago (around the telecom topic):

  • When I went to college in the 80’s in India, the entire hostel (dorms) had access to one landline telephone
  • Owning a landline telephone was considered a luxury even in the 90’s
  • Even in the early to mid 90’s, one had to wait for weeks on end to get a landline connection
  • Calling rates to India were highest in the 80’s and 90’s from other countries. In the late 80’s, it used to cost on average $2/min between the US and India. Today it is a few cents!
  • Teledensity (number of users as a percentage relative to population) in the 90’s was well in the low single digits
  • A large swathe of the population had access to a telephone primarily through calling booths (ISD/STD booths) – Thanks to Rajiv Gandhi and Sam Pitroda
  • When Mobile services were introduced in India, per min calls were Rs. 16/min for both incoming and outgoing calls. Today, the norm is Rs 2/min and a number of operators have moved to 1p/sec billing!
  • Color phones were not the norm up until 2003-04
  • Mobile handsets used to cost a fortune in those days (Rs. 20k to 30k). Today, one can get laptops (Netbooks) for that price. High end smartphone offer amazing levels of productivity through the features offered in high end prices today.
  • Email on phones were a novelty even 5 years back
  • This list goes on and on – one just has to go back a few years to a few decades to see how far we have come!

Click on Article for Zooming in on article.

Access to the common man

The Telecommunications revolution has gripped India to such an extent that the common man now equates it to that of a watch – a bare necessity. The core value proposition – voice communication is understood by all and the many dazzling offers in the market will only help India move ahead even further.

In spite of this growth and volumes, India does not enjoy some of the qualities of other nations:

  • QoS (Quality of service) is inconsistent and abysmal in some areas for both voice calls and data. One can attribute this to spectrum availability. I think there is also an element of operators not optimizing their networks enough.
  • There is absolutely no ‘telephone etiquette’ in the country amongst users – consumers talk anywhere, at any volume without any regard or common courtesy to others.
  • No respect for privacy – Tele marketeers run amuck  in this country. Mobile numbers get traded freely and there is no sanctity to the process of approaching people. Even though operators offer DND (Do Not Disturb) as a paid service, reports are that they are not very effective.

The next big opportunity is the rollout of 3G services in India. Licenses have been delayed for more than a few years already due to various reasons – clearing of spectrum in the 2.1GHz band being one of them. As India continues to play in the bottom of the Pyramid, I hope at least one of the Indian operators change tactics towards potential high ARPU users. There are huge gains to be had to cater to a list of high end users by differentiating not just customer service, but also QoS – for which a band of customers are willing to pay a premium! As Metros are more than a 100% penetrated, high end differentiated services can provide a fillip to sagging ARPUs for a lot of operators.

The other opportunity lies in increasing Broadband penetration. As ‘last mile’ technologies evolve – it is expected to  harness all the Fiber criss crossing India, it is only a matter of time before India stands to gain tremendously in this area too!

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