India World’s Fastest Growing Mobile Market

April 28, 2008

in general

I’m in India for a week and one of the things I’m doing is getting an update on the local mobile phone explosion. India just had their single largest month an quarter for new cellphone registrations. India is now the world’s second largest mobile market after China with 261.09 million users. In March 2008 operators here added 10.16 million users.

Unlike China where China Mobile which has 392 million subscribers the market in India is much more fragmented. Bharti Airtel the largest has 64 million subscribers and added just over 2 million per month in the first quarter of 2008

Rates here are amongst the lowest in the world. Almost each time I return I see the rates being cut. The latest cuts are to SMS pricing with offers at half a rupee commonly advertised. So less than 1 cent per SMS to counter the Indian norm of “missed calls”. Call costs are similarly down at the same sort of rate per minute. Bharti reported average caller minutes at 505 per quarter.

Growth which is not expected to slow down anytime soon is now moving to the rural areas. The auction for the 3G spectrum is likely to take place later this year. It will have to happen soon otherwise WIMAX or another technology may surprise us.

The ramifications and the changes mobile is bringing is visible everywhere. From kids in the streets of wealthier suburbs to small traders and service providers everywhere. The missed call behavior is endemic. Why pay money when you can signal for free “pick me up”, I’m ready, call me etc. It’s worth looking into “sharing” too as with limited “Internet connectivity” sharing both takes on new meaning and is in high demand.

Users are also increasingly savvy about features. Any large phone retailer or large mobile bazaar will have 100’s if not 1000’s of different models on display. It’s almost overwhelming and all the more impressive that Nokia continues to have a huge share of market. Phone are not subsidized US style. You get what you pay for and there is a ready repair market. In fact I returned with my daughters broken N73 and had a new case, new keyboard, and repairs to the sound control made. All for less than $50 using original parts. Had I gone for “unofficial” (I really couldn’t see the difference) I could have made that $15 and perhaps bargained for less.

Then for most this is outrageously expensive. New low end mobiles are approaching the 1000 rupee price barrier ($25). Prices for top end phones like the Nokia N95 are running 20000 rupees. As a comparison you can get a new laptop here for the same money. Of course that will be running pirated software.

The iPhone is available here for 24000 rupees. I also know a few are using them with Twinkle (a twitter location client) because others have updated within a few miles of me. It’s a good demo of how fast technology is disseminating. I also note the real demand for all in one phones with cameras, MP3’s (they will load them up for nothing) and radios built in.

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