Sunday, April 5, 2009

3G in India-A Non Starter?

That India's 3G spectrum auctions have been jinxed right from the start has been more than clear, given the clear timeline of regulatory delays. The DoT and TRAI, aided by the finance ministry, have contributed more than their part in ensuring consumers in India are denied 3G services.   Nevertheless, operators have been patiently waiting for the spectrum matter to be cleared, and tap on to the data-starved Indian consumer. Indeed, some have even expressed the intent to enter the Indian market using the 3G route ! However, the acute spectrum crunch in most major cities of India, and consumer reticence towards using high-priced data services are very much likely to act as a dampener. Add to this, the fact that operators have not really encouraged consumer friendly tariff plans when it comes to data and you have a picture that is definitely not encouraging for uptake of 3G based services. Operators such as Reliance and Tata Teleservices recently launched their wireless broadband services based on EVDO revA (grey area when it comes to its classification/spectrum usage). And the prices belie any real interest in encouraging uptake. With prices hovering around Rs.1,200/- for an unlimited connection, and fair usage caps coming in at a paltry 10GB, uptake is quite likely to be muted. Given India's abysmal broadband penetration, and with limited visibility on local loop unbundling, one would have thought the mobile operators would have been a bit more aggressive on pricing their mobile broadband services. That ain't to be, sadly though ! 

The intriguing part is the pricing strategy adopted by the two state owned incumbents, BSNL and MTNL.  MTNL's pricing at Rs.5/MB and BSNL's Rs.3/MB on 3G spectrum that they have already been granted displays limited understanding of the potential and of their first-mover advantage of this space. By pricing next generation services out of reach of most potential consumers, operators continue to display their disconnect with the consumer on data services. While most operators have successfully demonstrated the demand that could be generated by offering affordable voice services, sadly, when it comes to data, they don't appear to be inclined to do so, atleast, as yet! It is probably no wonder, that reports in media suggest a very poor uptake for the 3G services that have already been launched by BSNL/MTNL. Operators need to appreciate the scale of the opportunity that delivering mobile broadband and data services offers in India. However, it appears very likely that operator focus will continue to remain on voice for the immediate future, given the galloping growth rates. Nevertheless, with voice pricing set to be commoditized pretty soon, operators would do well to start paying more attention to data services.
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