If 2007 was the year of broadband penetration in India then, 2009 could well be the year of the mobile Internet. This year is set to see high usage of Internet via mobile. Broadband Internet’s penetration in India has not been as widespread as that of mobile penetration, one of the reasons being the cost factor.
Currently, active mobile Internet users in the country number at 30 million, while nearly 100 million people have activated GPRS on their mobile phones, which shows that mobile in India has come of age. exchange4media finds out whether mobile Internet can take forward the Internet penetration in India.
Taking mobile Internet to the masses
Naveen Tewari, CEO, mKhoj, observed, “I don’t think it’s as niche as we believe it to be, because at mkhoj we are seeing a lot of traffic come through smaller towns. It will take another two years until it reaches a significant mass level and that will be because the handset prices are certainly coming down, having all sort of features, data charges are reducing all the time, and all these factors will promote the wireless Internet into smaller towns and rural towns.”
Pradeep Shrivastava, CMO, Idea, said, “For Internet via mobile to have a deeper penetration in India what is required is a little bit of consumer education, on getting GPRS connection and access to relevant content. For the urban users, there is a necessity of more aggressive promotion and a handset that is more GPRS friendly.”
Viren Popli, Senior VP - Mobile Entertainment, Star India, noted, “I don’t think there is a need to target the rural masses right now, I believe the first step really is to get our aids well and get the large cities sorted out, second is to get into category A and B towns and cities. Mobile Internet is no longer niche, if the mobile Internet penetration is 10 per cent, you are talking of 35 million individuals. I believe as we go forward, what needs to be done for further growth is that the speed needs to be better, accessibility to the Internet needs to be better and most importantly services and content needs to be better.”
Saurabh Vartikar, Vice President – Mobile Marketing, Mauj Mobile, explained, “Villages are perhaps the best bet for mobile Internet to breeze through. In metros or even towns, we have multiple media that we can access, whether for information or entertainment. In rural India though, even a call on the mobile is an event. So, if there are regional portals and operators, make it easy for people to know about them and access them. We can then have a winner. Services like commodity prices, regional TV, etc. can fly.”
The coming trends
mKhoj’s Tewari said, “The trend to watch out for in mobile Internet space is a significant focus of a lot of brands that has started to come on the mobile Internet platform and utilising it as a medium for advertising. We will see a lot of big brands coming in. We will also see the active users of mobile Internet surpass those of the traditional Internet users.”
According to Star India’s Popli, “The trend to watch out for will be far more content and services on the mobile platform. Second trend will be the launch of newer products and services on the mobile platform.”
Mauj Mobile’s Vartikar pointed out, “Industry figures peg the active mobile Internet users at anywhere from 25-30 million. We see double digit growths for mobile Internet as operators are making it simpler to enable GPRS and media and content owners popularise discovery. Video consumption is one service that would pick up fast as mobisodes or short episodes for mobile gain in popularity.”
Will 3G India rollout trigger mobile revolution?
According to Popli, “With 3G, you are going to get a better GPRS speed on your mobile phone and the 3G users will get high speed, high bandwidth usage and so on, therefore, 3G rollout will definitely change a lot of things as and when it’s going to happen. 3G is broadband Internet, so you are going to see very high speed of Internet connectivity when you are on a 3G network, you are definitely going to see speeds and services and ability as and when it happens.”
Shrivastava said, “With the 3G rollout, over a period of time there will be many applications running on mobile, both in terms of quality and speed, including interactivity allowing a possibility of many kinds of services.”
Tewari opined, “3G is nothing but a fast capability of accessing the Internet, which means people will be able to access the Internet in a much faster way, but over a period of time, 3G will take Internet on mobile to the next level.”
According to Vartikar, “Initially, 3G will be used more for network optimisation since there has been scarcity of spectrum for long. Also, 3G handsets are still expensive for the general public. But as time passes and handset prices rationalise, we will see the launch of newer and better services, and hence adaptation. We see a 2-3 year time frame for that to happen.”
Is mobile Internet more sustainable than broadband?
Tewari of mKhoj said, “Yes, mobile Internet is the way forward and I do believe that the Internet story will only be true from mobile and not PC. It will be the wireless Internet and not wire Internet, and it will be more sustainable because the sustainability comes consumers and if there are more consumers on the ecosystem then that means that there will be more content, more advertisers and more money. So, that is why the Internet story from the wireless side will be a sustainable one in this country.”
Popli of Star India said, “Absolutely yes, the first experience of the Internet will be that mostly entrants will be on the mobile phone, because the mobile phone far more affordable and lucrative device than a computer. We still haven’t solved our electricity problem, so unless we have a laptop that runs on battery power and is long lasting, the mobile phone is probably the best friend of the Internet in small towns and cities for surfing the net. Therefore, mobile Internet going be significantly larger than the broadband Internet.”
Vartikar of Mauj Mobile said, “Both broadband Internet and mobile Internet have their own uses. The form factor (display/ keyboard) of mobile has limitations as compared to the PC. At the same time, the PC is restricted by its cost and the single utility that it offers, unlike the mobile, wherein browsing or mobile Internet is an add-on for most Indians. Today speeds are not beneficial to people spending time on mobile Internet, but the advent of 3G and higher bandwidth may well change that. Also, as form factors improve (large screens with touch utility) for the mobile, we will see a major shift in how the mobile is used more and more for browsing.”
Evangelising the medium
Tewari said, “Not just this medium, but the whole of digital medium needs evangelising, even if it requires four or five meetings in order to make the advertisers understand the medium well. Educating the advertisers is very important.”
Vartikar said, “Advertisers will take note of this new medium when they can co-relate to it. TV or print has become too comfortable. Internet has never moved beyond the cities and English language. Hence, despite its promise it has never come into main stream. In the case of the mobile, we are seeing a very different trend. It’s a media that in terms of reach far exceeds anything else. In terms of multiplicity of services and solutions, nothing can beat this device. The agencies as well as the telcos, who are the other stakeholders beyond mobile marketing companies like us, are playing a very active role in making sure that this medium succeeds.”
With over 300 million mobile users in India, of which 35-40 million of them are using Internet via mobile, the medium is no longer considered niche, at least among those in the mobile industry. Mobile Internet is increasingly becoming a popular feature in India today, however, it still has a long way to go. The year 2009 certainly has a lot to offer the mobile users in India and with the 3G India rollout on cards too there is a lot to happen in the wireless world.