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Mobile internet making inroads

Popularity of smartphones, data connectivity in feature phones and special tariffs introduced by operators, coupled with users' need for information has led to surge in data traffic.

Way back in 1995, when mobile technology first came to India, the first priority of Indian telcos was to make voice services available in every nook and corner of the country, and data services were last on their list. But things have changed since then and telcos have now started focusing on data services not only to increase revenue but also to meet their consumers’ data needs.

Smartphones are increasingly being used for accessing emails, sending multimedia messages and for interacting on social networks. People are also using music services either by downloading music files or by streaming music over mobile broadband.

“Mobile voice has already been surpassed by mobile data traffic on some networks, and this trend will only accelerate,” says ABI Research wireless analyst Bhavya Khanna. “This boom in usage is driven by the rapid adoption of smartphones in these markets.”

According to a Google report, India is the second largest mobile data consumer in the world. Indian users account for 5.9 per cent of mobile web page consumption. Although India is a distant second after the U.S.A. the very fact that we have outdone China underscores how much mobile broadband data we are using.

What led to this situation?

With time, the emphasis over feature phones which just concentrated on voice and SMS services reduced and newer feature rich phones with data connectivity options arrived.

Many feature rich phones now come integrated with Opera browser, Facebook and other messaging apps which further drive the need for more data consumption. The arrival of smartphones with bigger screens means better computing capability for users, who can also interact with the phones better, thus extracting more information from the same phone and interacting with their friends more.

The service providers, on the other hand, need to generate more revenue per user, for which providing more and efficient data services was the only way out.

If we look at Aircel, it promised customers internet through the mobile in 2008 and at that time it was promoting mobile internet with music or ring back tones, cheap calling rates and internet usage on the go. Unlike other mobile companies it was concentrating on data rather than voice services.

Also, since early 2010 MTS is eyeing growth through mobile data services as it believes the technology it was using afforded great potential for mobile broadband access.

Current scenario

Nowadays, mobile users have a lot of options to choose from to meet their data needs. According to research reports, data usage is increasing significantly as around 40 million people in the country access the internet through their mobile phones.

For mobile apps, consumers can access app stores from telcos, handset companies and independent players, and if they wish to use internet on a mobile they can choose from sachet plans starting from Rs 5 to minimum monthly rental plans of Rs 99.

Also, with the introduction of 3G services, data consumption is on a surge with faster access and an improved user experience letting people access even live music, video streaming services, video calling, and HD gaming on their handsets.

However, due to expensive 3G services, people are using WiFi wherever possible for data surfing.

Due to this, some operators like Aircel and Tata Indicom are offering data through WiFi hotspots.

Future

With the wide basing of 3G services and the arrival of 4G, data services will become much more main stream and can be offered in areas where people have never experienced an internet connection.

According to an Opera research, Indian consumers want unlimited 2G packs for Rs 50. While this price might be difficult to match, operators definitely need a better pricing structure for both 3G and 2G customers, to introduce to them the benefits of the internet and maybe withdraw or increase pricing later on, as is happening in case of voice tariffs.

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