Monday, April 28, 2008

India Overtakes US For Mobiles, But Broadband Sucks

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released the latest figures on the number of subscribers using wireless network in India. According to the press release, India became the 2nd largest wireless network in the world, overtaking US and 2nd only to China. India has 261.09 million wireless subscribers and most of these are mobile phone users (GSM, CDMA and WLL).

  • India becomes second largest wireless network in the world.
  • 10.16 million Wireless Subscribers added in March 2008
  • Subscribers base touched 300 million mark.

Mobile subscribers have been increasing at an exponential rate for sometime now and this was expected. Mobile voice services are pretty good across India and a lot of cities, towns, villages are under coverage area. But something needs to be done quickly about the data services. Wireless data services suck completely and WiMax is just starting to catchup with Reliance and TataIndicom boxing each other. The service quality for WiMax in cities is still below par and services needs to improve.

According to the TRAI figures, broadband users are at 3.90 million at the end of March. If you look at the figures, you'll realize broadband penetration is really really low. Even the growth rate is pretty slow... There are a few reasons to this and the poll at Trak.In shows some reasons. But I guess its a little more complex than what the poll shows.

Reasons for Low Broadband Penetration:

  1. Illiteracy & Lack of Computer Knowledge: I think this is the primary reason why broadband penetration is low compared to mobile phone usage. You don't need much skills to talk on phone, but operating a computer and browsing the Internet is not as simple. It is partly to do with illiteracy in India, but as a programmer I can only believe that we need to make the User-Interface on the computer lot more intuitive. I feel really bad when I see new users struggle to use the computer and probably we need to improve the interface quite a bit.
  2. Expensive Broadband: The entry-level broadband service in India is really not very costly. Its only that its costly in the long run because you have very few plans where you can get unlimited data download/upload. As soon as you realize the Internet is a big place, you already have downloaded too much and pockets start feeling lighter.
  3. Poor Quality of Broadband Services: The downtime, low data speeds, big repair time, too much time to provide a connection are probably only adding to the problem of high cost.
  4. Few Useful Online Services: Although this is changing slowly, there isn't much local stuff that you can do online. There isn't a online retailer like Amazon or useful online services like Pizza shops, cafe or Online hardware stores. Online banking and travel booking is popular, but still is far from mass market.

Actually it is a circle of things. The online services will improve if more people come online and more people will come online if there are useful services. Hopefully soon, one of these will improve and accelerate the growth of the other...

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