DoT, in a first ever forecast of mobile penetration across India for the next 6 years, has projected a billion mobile phones for the Indian markets. It is well established that India has one of the most remarkable growths in mobile phones since the sector was first opened to private investment in 1994. From two operators in 1995, the country now has 12 to 13 operators of which 6 to 7 are fully functional, offering the Indian consumer unprecedented choice and low tariffs.
India edged USA as the second largest Telecom market in Q1, 2008 and even in the recessionary times, has been building up subscriber base by 8 – 10 million phones a month. The latest DoT report shows that India will reach the half a billion landmark by 2010 and will add the next half a billion in 5 years after that. This reflects the greatest growth opportunity in the next 5 years surpassing China. 600 million subscriber adds would feature as the biggest subscriber adds for any country in the world.
While there is a buzz in the industry and the segments, with 600 million sub adds in waiting, the party is still young. The challenge however is not the subscriber growth but educating the consumer to use the medium for more than just voice and SMS related communications. The advent of 3G would probably fast track the industry on those points. This is also essential in terms of building long term profitability of the Telecom operators.
The Indians are going places and they are doing it fast and furious. The case in point is Bharti which has now emerged as a front-runner for equity stake in South African MTN. This would make Bharti-MTN the 4th largest Telecom Operator in the world leap frogging big names such as Verizon, AT&T and the likes. Only the Chinese Telcos would have more subscribers than Bharti MTN. One of the most important reasons for Bharti to emerge as a frontrunner for equity stake in MTN is its leadership position in the Indian Telecom market.
After almost an year, India’s Bharti Airtel and South Africa’s MTN Group are back to the talking table. The duo have restarted merger talks to create $20 billion telecom entity. In fact, at a time when global giants are complaining about a cash crunch and putting ambitious plans on hold, Bharti Airtel has relaunched its audacious merger bid with MTN that could create a $61-billion transnational telecom Goliath with combined revenues of $20 billion and over 200 million subscribers across Africa, Asia and Middle East.
The Bharti-MTN deal, if it goes through, will usher in the next round of the Indian telecom M&A story. At an estimated ticket size of $23 billion, this will be the biggest cross-border deal that India Inc has been involved in, and twice as much as what British telco Vodafone paid to acquire a little over half of Hutchison Telecom International’s Indian operations in early 2007.
The Proposed $23-29 bn deal would be biggest ever M&A transaction involving an Indian company, almost double the previous highest of $13bn paid by Tata Steel for Corus. It would be the third largest deal in the world in 2009 so far, after Pfizer’s $64bn buyout of Wyeth and Merck’s $46bn deal with Schering-Plough Excluding pharma, Bharti-MTN deal would be the largest in world this year so far. Bharti-MTN’s combined subscriber base of 200m would make it the world’s 4th-largest telecom entity, and largest outside China. The top 3 are China Mobile (472m), China Unicom (247m) and China Telecom (237m). If the deal goes through this time, it will make Bharti the largest telecom entity in the world (by number of subscribers) outside China. Add MTN’s 100 million subscribers to Bharti’s 100 million, and the combined figure of 200 million will see Bharti comfortably leapfrog US giants Verizon (122m) and AT&T (108m), among others.
Fund managers with exposure to Bharti feel that with the Indian telecom market showing signs of saturation, the stock-swap deal will be critical for the company’s next phase of expansion. The deal is a good opportunity for Bharti to enter into a lesser-penetrated market like Africa, especially when the company is generating free cash flows.The valuations that have been offered by Bharti may be at a premium to MTN’s share price, but its valuations are cheaper than Bharti’s.
Nokia’s decision to get into the Netbook space raised a few speculations but then it was the vindication moment of the fact that Netbooks are here and they are here for good as a communications device of the future. The Netbook space is heating up quick and fast and the production lines at the Chinese ODMs are perhaps running on overdrives.
A Netbook is different than a notebook or laptop. It’s built for web browsing, emailing, and word processing. You can also remote in to the office and use applications remotely. They are small, lightweight, and have a low processing power. They generally cost much less than a normal laptop at around $50 – $350. They come with a small screen, small keyboard, and a wireless connection. Nearly all laptop work is made up of email, surfing, spreadsheets and a few power-points and since, there is a fair bit of travel involved for the user, the slot for a mobile SIM card would set up the machine for a complete communications and computing solution.
However, the need for a notebook purchase has to be analyzed well, since these are personal devices. (It is bit like choosing your own wand in the Harry Potter series: You need to check the compatibility between the device and your habits/usage).Consider the following:
- Screen Size: We are used to 15 – 17 inch screen sizes and it can be difficult for the eyes to adjust to a 8 inch monitor.
- KeyBoards: The smaller keyboard can cramp the hands very easily
- With its limited processing power, running MS Office any other productivity-type application, may return disappointing performance
- Another critical drawback is in terms of security systems. With the available processing power, you can either run firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware apps or cut that out in favour of other applications.
Thus it is important that before your next Netbook purchase you analyze your requirements. If you think that your planned activity will involve running applications locally at all, you should consider a lightweight laptop, and there are few of these available which are real good (maybe a Vaio or a MacBook Air). If the applications are all “cloud”-based or remotely accessed, your Netbook would be able to do justice to you. With improvements in the cloud computing space, Netbooks will come of age in sometime and will be equally adept (like a Notebook) in handling computing and communications with all its bells and whistles.
Mobile number portability is one of the most debated topics in the perspective of the Indian Telecom Industry. It was first announced in 2007 and TRAI submitted its first recommendations on the MNP in April 2008. Given the intense lobbying that one has seen form the industry at large, the introduction date has been shifted from June 2009 to August 2009 and now September 20th, 2009. The first regions to be able to test this service by September will be Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kolkata. MNP will cover the other places in these regions by March next year. The other sginificant part of the story is that Consumers may not have to pay more than Rs 300 to change from one mobile service provider to another while keeping the phone number intact. Other unofficial reports put the MNP charges to be Rs.200, which would be peanuts to consuners who want to change their service provider. It is suspected (not confirmed), that lot of the MNP churn would be the top 9% consumers who contribute 29% of the revenues and 45% of the Telco Margins!
Mobile Number Portability along with other factors such as Infrastructure Overcapacity (and sharing of Infrastructure), entry of new players into the Sector, Reduction in Call termination charges, is expected to reduce the call tarriffs in the country.The fall in tariff may add boost to the fastest growing Telcom Market in the world and may also help in reaching new records in subscriber additions. However, it is the Telco margins which are under pressure and there is not much that the Telcos are doing about it except probably for vehement lobbying.
The convergence of personal computing and mobile communications is a near reality as different companies use different platforms to marry these services together. The driving force today is the internet”ization” of business, economy and life as a whole. This creates exciting opportunities in the market today in terms of innovation, platform building, product development and the development of the single window of access to the digital world. It is widely believed in the technology space that most of the first time users in the developing states will experience Internet for the first time on their mobiles.
With that background, one can see the technology war heating up in the internet access device space. On one side you have the mobile technology players: Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola who are migrating mobile usage from a talk/SMS centred one to a complete internet experience. On the other hand you have computer majors such as Apple, Acer, Dell who are venturing into the smartphone space. There is a niche of eco-system players like Google and Microsoft who are owning up the content eco-system in a very unique way by leveraging services. Software and Services is another platform which companies such as Apple, Google, Nokia, RIM and Palm are focussing their strategies upon to create stickiness!
The Hardware/Services Evolution
Presently the communication and computing spectrum is split under the Lap Tops and Smartphone space. Going forward it is unlikely that either of these devices is going to be out moded completely. Both have their own utility and it is unlikely that any new device would radically substitute them or take their space completely! There will be stages of evolution on the Lap Top and Smartphone eco-systems as technology would evolve.
However, we would also see the evolution of Netbooks, a fusion between Lap tops and Smartphone providing the Internet solution on the go. The change into the 3G/4G technology and the advent of Cloud Computing and other services: SaaS, PaaS would enable this evolution. The Netbook would be an improvement over the smartphone in terms of its internet and software capabilities, screen and convenience, but wouldnot provide the whole host of features that the lap top would provide. Essentially it would be lesser than Lap Tops on memory and its primary use would be to access the internet. Apart from its memory capacity, it would use the cloud as its hard drive. Thus the three categories of internet devices would be so positioned:
Smartphone: Internet enabled voice communication devices. It would offer Social Networking, Navigation as value adds to its basket of services. It would essentially be based on Portability.
Lap Tops: The full monty on computing with data storage, internet access etc.
NetBooks: The internet device per se which would bridge the Smartphone and Lap Top capabilities.
The following table depicts the growth rates expected in the Lap Top versus Netbook across the world.
Whether the Netbook will replace the Lap Top or not will depend upon these three factors:
1. 3G/4G data evolution providing fast computing
2. Advent of Cloud Computing and the ability to use the internet as a enabler and dump for all software services
3. Security perceptions and concerns about data in the internet
e-Commerce was a non starter in India in the early days. That was before IRCTC stepped in with its online booking. I remember the long painful queues in front of the railway booking counters before the online booking system of IRCTC stepped in. A railway ticket in those days could be booked only by an agent or else, the whole activity of booking a train ticket used to be a half day ordeal in itself. All that changed with the advent of IRCTC train ticket reservation. How easy it was booking a ticket by simply clickinginto the website and doing the needful. The long sweaty queues were now relegated to history.
Led by train and flight reservations online ticketing has been the most successful force in online E-commerce industry. This also supplemented by the fact that today online travel industry constitutes 78% of the total E-commerce industry in India. IRCTC contributes to 1/3rd of the total e-Commerce revenues in India.
The e-Commerce revenues are slated at Rs. 9000 crores and IRCTC contributes Rs.3400 crores in that. 45 million tickets were sold in FY 2008 and it has seen a jump of 100% YOY. However the potential for IRCTC is still higher and it can yet add more revenues to itself. A few steps to increase the online ticketing activity:
1. Reduce additional charges for i-tickets and e-tickets to increase penetration and induce more people into a internet based ticket purchase. This helps since the service is mostly used by agents who charge additional commission apart from charges levied by IRCTC from their customers this again limits the penetration level and if the users are given more payment avenues it could propel many to go for direct transactions.
2. Allow booking of rail cargos and other railway services on a large scale then it can definitely garner more traction in terms of higher transaction size and remove bottlenecks at the same time attracting SME to the fold.
3.Association with commercial banks may help in getting more traction especially if rail cargos and other services are introduced through IRCTC.
The growth today is good, but it could get much better if these simple steps are also taken up. For Railways, it would reduce process costs of maintaining a bulky ticketing department.
The other large player which can simply multiply its value add by online transactions is India Post. It currently delivers 1,575 crore mails every year linking every nook and corner of the country through a network of 1,54,149 post offices and 5,64,701 letter boxes. The government owned services like India post if implements E-commerce in a serious way then India could definitely remove the barriers of E-commerce industry.
“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.”… That was Steve Jobs at the launch of iPhone in 2007.
The ever-expanding array of touchscreen handsets is just the physical evidence of the monumental change the iPhone has wrought. It has sent some of the largest technology companies in the world back to the drawing board and proved that, given the opportunity, people will do far more with a phone than make calls and send texts. For Apple, the iPhone may also be one of the most important products it has produced since its first personal computers in the late 1970s.
Before the iPhone there were already touchscreen devices; there were mobile phones that could play music and videos; there were mobile phones that could access the internet and send emails; and it was already possible to download applications on to some devices in order to personalise them. But hardly anyone took advantage of these features. Finding them was hard enough; getting them to work was a nightmare and most consumers gave up.
“It is not as though Apple invented a totally new technology,” says Adam Leach, principal analyst at consultancy Ovum. “What they did was re-think the whole mobile experience and produce a very polished experience compared with what people were used to.”
The iPhone was also aimed at a segment of the market that the giants of the handset industry had been ignoring – the “high end”. Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson were chasing the middle of the market where the high volumes and high subsidies from the mobile phone operators were. Their launch strategies involved upgrading their phones bit by bit – a better camera, a brighter screen or larger memory – so as to make the “new” device just a little more attractive. Making a phone a different colour boosted sales, but did nothing to persuade anyone to do more than make calls, send texts or download the occasional ringtone.
The iPhone, in stark contrast, is sexy and very, very easy to use. Since its arrival there has been a stampede back into making top-tier phones, not least because the recession has decimated the mid-market. Cash-strapped consumers are demanding a much better phone in return for signing an expensive monthly contract; if they don’t get one, they are opting for cheaper Sim-only deals and holding on to their old handset. BlackBerry rushed out its first touchscreen device – the BlackBerry Storm – to be followed by the first from Nokia, the 5800; Samsung and LG have been churning out touchscreen devices from the Tocco and the Omnia to the Renoir and the Arena. Waiting in the wings are new touchscreen devices from Palm (the Pre) and Sony Ericsson (the Idou).
The iPhone’s ease of use, meanwhile, has turned the spotlight back on an often neglected aspect of mobile phones: the software. A month after the iPhone appeared in the UK, Google brought together some of the biggest names in mobile to develop a new operating system. Called Android, it has already appeared on two touchscreen devices, made by HTC, and many more are planned. A year after the iPhone appeared, Nokia bought out its partners in Symbian, which produces operating systems for smartphones. Then Microsoft rewrote Windows Mobile and its new guise – unimaginatively called Windows Mobile 6.5 – has borrowed a lot from the iPhone’s look and feel.
Already more than 1bn iPhone applications have been downloaded from the iTunes store. The Android marketplace is operating, while RIM – maker of the BlackBerry – is also pushing applications at its users. Nokia’s Ovi Market and Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace are both set to go live this month. In the 12 months before the handset launched, Apple raked in $22bn in revenues. That has rocketed to almost $34bn in the past year, largely boosted by the iPhone and iPod Touch. The success of the iPod made Apple’s Cupertino headquarters one of the coolest places to work in Silicon Valley and the iPhone has made it one of the most powerful.
With so much now at stake, some experts suggest the iPhone will soon become the most important technology Apple’s empire has produced, even, potentially, eclipsing the computer business that revolutionised our lives in the 1980s. There are an estimated 1bn personal computers in use worldwide, but that many mobile phones are sold every year and for many people their first experience of computing will be through a mobile phone.
But while Apple caused a revolution, it is unlikely to become dominant in the market. It has sold just over 20m iPhones since the first device appeared in 2007; in that time more than 1.5bn phones have been shipped by everyone else. Later this month, the first wave of British users are freed from the contracts they had to sign to grab one of the early iPhones and start contemplating a replacement, they will be faced with a range of remarkably similar devices.A similar thing happened with the personal computer market. The concept was championed by Apple when it launched Apple II, the world’s first personal computer, in 1977, and the first Macintosh in 1984, but other players now lead the market.
While iPhone is the Touch Pioneer, it faces tough competition from other wannabe’s in the market today. So far, the other part of the twin strategy, applications has been successful in creating a stickiness around this product. However, competitors are working hard at that as well. It will be interesting to see, whether Apple slides down despite retain its Technology leadership crown or do the folks at Apple have another ground breaking innovation around the corner.