Mobile Internet in India has the propensity to change the whole face of the social and economic sectors in India. As it has been said time and again, the high level of mobile penetration is going to bridge the technological gap between the different classes in the nation. The increase in smartphone sales is a positive indication of people wanting to do more than just make phone calls and avail VAS offered by mobile phone subscribers. This is where mobile Internet plays an important role.
Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) held its first Mobile Internet Conference in New Delhi on 26th November 2013. The whole event was a knowledge session on the present state and the future potential of Mobile Internet in India. This article has included some of the views and facts mentioned by the speakers at the same.
There are 205 Mn Internet users in India, including 110 Mn mobile Internet users. Mobile devices are going to play a key role in the increase of Internet users in rural India. However at the same time high mobile penetration will not guarantee high Internet penetration
As pointed out by Martin Villig, Vice President Strategic Projects, Fortumo – India is a prepaid mobile market. 75% of the Internet users have pre-paid plans. The number of mobile internet users saw a sudden increase in 2009 i.e. after the enablement of 3G data services in India. Out of the total mobile internet users approximately 81% still prefer WiFi connectivity over mobile data plans.
Around 30-40% of the total Internet users in India are female, but that is justified considering a similar pattern is seen in Indian population demographics i.e. 47% of the Indian population is made up by females. But this still calls for a need to have gender specific services offered by content providers and network operators, to balance the ratio.
The number of mobile internet users is expected to rise to 130 Mn by the end of 013. Out of this IAMAI estimates that 103 Mn users will be from urban India and 27 Mn from rural India. Tarun Abhichandani from IMRB mentioned an interesting point that people in rural areas use the Internet for knowledge seeking purposes rather than for entertainment, this might seem like a wonderful thing, but due to lack of availability of content in local languages, the demand of Internet users in rural India is unfulfilled.
Spectrum availability and management is one of the biggest issues in the development of mobile internet in India. According to a report by GSMA, on an average only 40% of the total relevant spectrum has been allocated to the mobile operators by the government. This inhibits the operators to realize the full potential of mobile networks and offer better data services to the customers.
Most of the websites are not mobile optimized, let alone made specifically for mobile. This causes an increase in data downloading time, and a high cost of access. It is high time that companies and website developers realize the importance of creating a ‘mobile first’ website.
Although, there are companies who have taken initiatives to develop mobile apps and websites specially designed for mobile. For instance, the job portal Naukri.com was getting 22% of its traffic from mobile devices, hence the company decided to develop a mobile version of its website and an app as well.
Another hurdle in the spread of mobile internet in India is the lack of localisation. The most downloaded mobile apps are from International developers–Whatsapp, Facebook, Gmail etc., plus most websites are in English. And India has lack of English speaking population, especially in the rural areas–around 10% of the total population speaks English– resulting in a hindrance in Internet penetration.
Getting past these roadblocks:
Mobile Internet in India undoubtedly has a great potential, due to the high penetration of mobile devices, even the Government has taken up initiatives to distribute mobile phones and tablets to bridge the technological gap. But all these efforts are fruitless if there is no Internet connectivity. Just yesterday Department of Telecom’s proposal to provide Internet to 2.5 Lakh Gram Panchayats in India was approved. This is a big step, but providing seamless mobile network connectivity should be a priority too.
To increase mobile internet penetration in India, it is important to target the younger generation, so that they grow up with mobile internet as an integral part and are less skeptical about using it. Also, there should be schemes like the Re.1 video campaign launched by Airtel, to expose the less-privileged society to the utility of the Internet.
Also, in order to reduce the cost of access, content providers could work together with network providers to reduce the data charges for the end users by appropriately optimizing the content. Proper spectrum regulation could also greatly affect the cost of using mobile internet.
As mentioned above, localisation of websites and apps is highly important in India, in order to enable mobile internet penetration in rural India. Moreover availability of low cost smart feature phones could be an enabler for the same.
Currently, the number of mobile internet users in urban areas is 4 times than that in rural India, which makes up 70% of the total Indian population. Hence to give a boost to mobile Internet penetration in India, it is important to break into the majority. Only then will there be a true mobile internet revolution.