Friday, March 27, 2009

The Beginning of the End

Prophetic as it may seem, the official launch of Sistema-Shyam's mobile service in India, under the MTS brand, indeed appears to portend the beginning of a slowdown in the great Indian mobile story that has thus far been steaming ahead. With Sistema being the first of five new entrants to get off the ground, along with expansion from incumbents, the word competition just got a whole new meaning. Also, with the subscriber base likely to rise strongly over the next two years, and slowing down therefrom, the battle for top-line and bottom-line growth is only likely to get more intense, pushing back payback periods. 

Sistema appears to have recognized the new imperatives of the market and the impact that it is likely to have. Their break-even, which they have hinted at seven years, suggests the same. More than the increase in competition, it will be interesting to see how some of these global majors bring their expertise and strategies into the Indian market. MTS has been following a micro-segmentation strategy of its consumers based on demographic and behavioral patterns, and to add, with reasonably strong success. Operators in India, have thus far been using one-size-fits-all solutions. With it's low cost and segmented strategy, it will be quite interesting to see the strategy that MTS adopts and incumbent operator response to it. Early indicators of MTS' strategy appear to be seen in the variety of special value vouchers that it has already launched. Likewise, it will also be interesting to see how Telenor, with its GSM focus and strong experience in other emerging markets, plays out in the Indian context. Moving beyond current land-grab strategies will prove the litmus test for incumbents, and new entrants sure will play their part in playing spoilsport for the incumbents.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MVNOs-New Models, Old Problems

Yet another MVNO is launching in the US next week. And this one hopes to achieve success with a twin combo of VoIP and flat rate plans and completes the combination with a prepaid plan. Zer01 Mobile hopes to achieve what multiple others have tried and failed at. Run a successful MVNO! The model, as in the case of multiple other MVNOs is quite interesting. The company claims to have developed it's own applications for most of the current smart phones, and all calls are routed through VoIP by it's application that is closely integrated with the handset dialpad.  The company's business model appears to be intriguing in ways more than one. They claim to have their own IP backbone, and rely on roaming agreements with AT&T and T-Mobile. And incredibly enough, also claim to have fine-tuned their VoIP platform to even work on GPRS & EDGE networks!! Remains to be seen if they actually go beyond their closed beta and launch commercially. Success, however, is an altogether different ball-game. 

High costs of subscriber acquisition coupled with extremely ambitious targets have seen many an MVNO burn cash like there's no tomorrow. Indeed, apart from Virgin Mobile in the UK, there aren't too many successful MVNOs across the world. Of course, there are some of the smaller, interesting and arguably successful examples across some of the Benelux countries, and then there's the new kid on the block, Blyk. 

India's experiment with MVNOs, although still caught in regulatory and inter-departmental conflict, will be quite interesting to see. With limited uptake of data services, and a larger problem surrounding scarcity of spectrum, it will surely take some serious thinking to break the MVNO conundrum !

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Indian Media Factbook 2009

Came across this comprehensive report on performance of various segments of Indian media in 2008. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Voicing its way ahead

It appears any and all news in the online world in the recent past has been doomed to be focussed on the GoogApp duo ! Be it Apple' announcement on its new iPhone OS or Google's launch of a souped up Grand Central or the more controversial move to have behavioral targeting in adsense !   

Google's frontal move into voice appears, as always, ominous to the telcos that have hitherto survived in locking out users in closed environments. Google's attempts to open this ecosystem up, with all its efforts on spectrum/platforms/handsets, whilst having minimal immediate real impact, are however forcing telcos to go in directions that they have resisted up until now. Whilst Google has thus far restricted itself to what can best be described as Guerilla tactics in targeting telcos, Google Voice goes a step forward and takes the competition right into the backyard of the operators. With free domestic calls in the US, and low rate international calling, Google appears to be looking at a revenue stream that goes beyond its staple diet of search advertising. Of course, directory services will likely be a focus and be tightly integrated with Google Voice. However, I am more inclined to look at this launch as an acknowledgment of the fact that establishing platforms and ensuring Android based handset uptake grows is an uphill task. In its home market, Google is yet to tie up with the top two operators for the Android platform. And with the global handset market showing clear signs of losing steam, mobile advertising could take that much more time in becoming mainstream. And it is in this backdrop that Google's launch of Google Voice appears all the more interesting. Instead of building an ecosystem that is favorable to its core business from ground up, Google appears to have realized the advantages of taking a multi-pronged approach that effectively uses their repertoire of acquisitions.   

Telcos will definitely not be pleased with Google's latest move. However, there's little that they could do, other than accept the fact that their distance from the consumer is rapidly increasing. Being a dumb pipe now appears to be thrust upon them, even when it comes to delivering their core service, voice!  And while the extent of upside for Google is debatable, what appears certain is the downside for telcos that competition of this nature is likely to bring to the overall telco industry.