2011 is perhaps Indian telecom’s biggest year yet with launch of 3G services, mobile number portability implementation and 175 million new mobile phone subscribers in 10 months, taking the total subscriber base to 881 million.
However there have been challenges for the Indian telecom businesses-
1. 93 percent of users are low-spending pre-paid users
2. A low ARPU together with high energy costs for the diesel backup for a half-million towers, it’s a struggle for margins.
3. 3G licenses have come at a very heavy cost and the impact is in terms of cash strapped operations for many Telcos. The government made a lot of money and squandered off a little more, but that is a different story.
4. Inspite of huge investments on 3G, Poor user experience and a lack of content failed to draw users, killing all operator hopes of recovering that money.
5. Mobile number portability: 25 million users applied to switch operators while retaining their number, with 2.5 million requests pouring in each month. The churn is also taking its toll as Operators are responding with tariff cuts and deals.
A few future defining trends also shaped up in 2011 as markets evolved, matured and consolidated:
1. 2011 is possibly the year, when the Indian Telecom Industry moved up from a entry to a replacement market. The new sub adds plummeted to 6-7 million per month as against an average of 15-20 million activations in 2010.
2. Data emerges the hero as Telecom starts evolving from a some-what voice centric industry. 2011 should herald the decade of data for India with preliminary 3G and EVDO Rev. B launches. LTE is round the corner.
3. New classes of devices such as Smartphones and Tablets in the entry level with advanced OSs and application capabilities widen the consumer choice as well as the experience. Low cost Androidss are driving smartphone adoption rapidly across in ~$80 price segments
4. Tariffs bottoming out, Indian Telcos look for the next springwell of revenue and profits and new revenue models would start to emerge. Operators are looking at various VAS aided business models to augment their margins and profits.
5. The Aakash Tablet (and NotionInk’s Adam before that) established India’s status as a low cost innovator. Going forward with the markets in SE Asia and Africa being key to telecom growth, India will feature as a global innovation and R&D centre
6. The government has announced the NTP (National Telecom Policy) which is a proactive step in terms of defining telecom sector businesses going forward. The industry awaits greater clarity on a few issues such as mergers and acquisitions and we will see things get more clear and better as wel go along.