Sunday, January 2, 2011

The change !!!

With the introduction of 3G services, the expected rise in mobile data consumption will modify user habits. The 3G wireless platform that would provide data speeds of up to 21Mbps, mobile TV, high-definition video content, multimedia gaming, video calling and conferencing on your mobile handset is definitely worth waiting for. Here’s what industry experts think about the third generation of mobile telephony and how it would influence new consumption regions and patterns for the 700 million mobile subscribers – growing at the rate of 15 million subscribers every month – in the country.

Mobile services to modify user habits
3G was introduced in several other countries in the past decade, but the evolution of services have been different. Samaresh Parida, director strategy, Vodafone Essar, is betting on “easy access to Internet.” He said services like entertainment, sports and news will gain importance among users. “In the next phase, a number of ‘economic enablers’ will gain traction rising on the back of 3G - services like finding potential employees and employers, specific information like market prices, etc.”

But for now Vodafone is focusing on educating the consumer about the potential of the services on offer.

For now, the delay in the launch of services like video calling on 3G networks following regulatory & security concerns, has not dampened the enthusiasm, either in consumers or telecom operators.

Reliance Communications (RCom), which had launched its 3G services in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chandigarh, said the key to success will be the infotainment segment.

Syed Safawi, president & CEO (wireless division), RCom said: “The favoured services on the Internet has moved from e-mail to m-commerce to social networking. We expect to see similar social behaviour on the mobile platform as well.”

RCom is also confident about the targeted 3G applications like medical journals and disease-specific apps for doctors and patients; tutorials and guides for students appearing in various competitive exams; or banking and trading platforms for those who are hooked on to the financial markets.

Payment and banking through mobiles
Sample this: India has about 70,000 bank branches, 6,000,000 villages and a mobile subscriber base of 700 million. It is getting increasingly difficult for banks to expand in rural areas because of infrastructure, manpower and operational problems. Mobile phones have penetrated almost all Indian villages. The way forward for banks is to expand through mobile phones.

Last year, when mobile banking and m-commerce services were introduced, people shied away especially due to security concerns. But in the second half, with most banks offering mobile services and educating the customers, the average Indian are more at ease with the use of these services. In 2011, banks are all set to capitalise on the mobile platform for full range financial services following the introduction of 3G and an encouraging regulatory framework.

“Initially customers used m-banking to check their account balance on handsets, but we expect it to graduate to person-to-person money transfer and payment of utility bills,” said Deepak Chandnani, president, Obopay, an m-payment solutions company that has tied up with Yes Bank and Nokia for its Mobile Money Services in Pune, Chandigarh and Nasik.

With commercial banks empowered to open mobile branches without RBI’s approval in areas with less than 50,000 population, Chandnani feels the move will allow easy and cost-effective access to financial services among the unbanked rural areas. “The thumb rule for any m-payment service provider will have to be platform agnostic service. This will enable consumers across various telecom service providers, banks and handset users to adopt m-payments without any glitches.”

Entertainment morphs into premium mobile content
“While content makers are making tall claims in this space by redoing existing content, from Films, TV and other Video formats, for mobile consumption — I believe that is very short sighted,” said UTV Group CEO and founder chairman Ronnie Screwvala. Original content, especially designed for the mobile keeping in mind the consumer ‘snacking’ habits, is the key to cracking the code for 3G, he said.

Screwvala said up to 15 per cent of 3G consumption will come from aggregated content while massively re-purposed content will be around 35 per cent. “Leverage an existing brand like films or TV shows to create something for the mobile and the rest will flow from original content and that alone.”

Content providers like T-Series claimed to have tasted success with new delivery models like selling music on websites like www.itunes.com. The primary challenge, according to Bhushan Kumar, CMD of T-Series, was micro payments. “In order to sell our content on mobile, we are evaluating subscription models, including freemium models.” The challenge ahead, said Kumar, was to ensure that interaction with the content or the artist was seamless on mobile phones and “3G will play a very vital role in enabling this interactivity.”

Screwvala argued that while most of us have been paying a meager sum for our cable connection – average of Rs 100 for 400 channels a month – at the same time, we are comfortable paying Rs 30 per month to download a ringtone. Clearly, mobile offers an excellent opportunity for subscription revenue rather than just being dependent on advertisers. However, piracy continued to be a concern, especially with high-speed data on mobile phones. “If telcos are not able to stop illegal content sharing websites, then 3G will become a double-edged sword for both telcos and content owners like us,” said Kumar.

Social Networking on mobiles to become a ‘must-have’ feature
According to a study report by Analysys Mason, the number of mobile social network users in India is expected to reach around 72 million by 2014, driven by reduced costs of smartphones and the launch of 3G services.

With users tuning in with social personas on their mobile phones, professional networking sites like LinkedIn have launched apps for iPhone, Palm and BlackBerry to ensure that mobile professionals stay connected on the go. “A new application for the Android platform from LinkedIn will provide users of this fast-growing operating system to connect with professionals on their tablets and handhelds,” said Hari Krishnan, country manager of LinkedIn India.

Web access on mobiles is gathering speed but players have realised that 3G services may be limited, initially, to metros and Tier-I cities. “Within social media, the most heavily used services on mobile phones will be messaging and photos. Besides social media, we will also see increased usage of other web-based services such as content, travel, commerce, education etc,” said Beerud Sheth, CEO SMSGupShup, a popular social networking platform on mobiles.

“As interfaces on handheld devices evolve to enhance user experience, communication in social and professional contexts is bound to increase over the next decade,” said Krishnan. Sheth said 3G data plans need to be cheap and simple — without any hidden costs. “Educating customers on web usage is a particularly unique hurdle in India — if users don’t know the benefits of using the web, how can we expect them to use the mobile web?” he wondered.

Priyanka Joshi

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