India: Half of country’s mobile customers use internet

NEW DELHI: Nearly half of India’s mobile customers use some form of internet and web related data services on their handsets, offering a huge base for telecom companies to tap as they all launch third generation services in the country.
The numbers indicate the data potential that India holds: Customers who access some form of internet service on their handsets has risen 70% over the last 12 months to touch 214 million as of June 10, says telecoms regulator Trai. Analysts say this figure has risen to over 240 million as of September 10. This is more than ten times the number of internet connections on a PC in the country.

Unlike the West, Europe and other markets such as Japan and Korea, the first experience of the internet as well as email for vast majority of the country’s population is on a cellphone and not on a PC. India has over 650 million cellular connections, but the number of actual customers is estimated to be only about 450 million since many own double of even triple SIMS. A mere 6% of the 1.1 billion Indian have access to internet via computers, but the country enjoys a mobile telephony penetration of over 65%.

According to Trai, Bharti has the highest number of data customers at close to 71 million as of June 10, followed by Vodafone Essar at 36 million.

“ 3G will enable us to bring fantastic services to this country and the data opportunity in this market is great. Data will be segmented and the plans will be tailor-made for different segments of the population. Data will bring consolidation to the business, because it is nonsense to have 13-14 players with only some offering data services,” Vittorio Colao, chief executive officer Vodafone Group Plc . told ET in a recent interaction.

A leading executive with a top telecoms company said that most of the 240 million data subscribers in India were only using free or promotional data and internet related services. “The challenge for operators is to ensure that these customer numbers can be translated to revenues. Currently, only about 10% of the any operator’s revenues is from data, and off this text messages, or SMSs accounts for 50%,” this executive added.

“The way GSM services led to mobile phones being the first telephone at home in India, 3G products and services will lead the democratization of information. Proliferation of 3G services will see Mobile Internet far outpacing conventional forms of internet access,” Tata Teleservices’ executive president, mobility Deepak Gulati said.

Mr Gulati also added that the company had the first-mover advantage in the 3G space from the private sector perspective, and combined with the partner in Japan’s NTT DOCOMO , it was poised to take up a leadership position in the Internet access space, both on mobile phones and other larger-screen devices.

New York based Allied Business Intelligence, Inc, in its latest report has predicted that rapid offtake of mobile data usage in India following the launch of 3G services here would result in the Asia-Pacific region consuming 2,400 petabytes of mobile data annually by 2015, accounting for 23% of global data traffic, only second to North America with an expected consumption of 3,100 petabytes.

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