- The past has been a proof that cheap and free are two words often thrown into the mobile sector, but seldom solved an issue.
- They have to be supplemented with good infrastructure.
India is a price conscious market, and we’ve always been. It’s something that comes in-built with us.
As a developing nation, we’ve made the world sit straight and take notice when it comes to the mobile revolution. We have skipped past the US to become the second biggest smartphone market in world. And, this has happened even with 900 million Indians who don’t have access to Internet.
In 2015, about 22 percent of adults in India had access to the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. Now, if you compare the figure with other developing nations such as China and Brazil we are far behind. China and Brazil stand at access rate of 65% and 60% respectively.
After a stagnancy of sort last year, we saw over 32 million smartphones shipped in Q3 (IDC report). In the past two years, private players as well as government bodies have been trying to push digital initiatives. We’ve seen private players trying to reach tier 2 and tier 3 cities, and government initiatives like National e-Governance, e-Kranti, mobile apps like Kisan Suvidha, Farmer's portal and so on.
Now, Reliance had introduced another digital wave with Jio. The controversial free data plan has only compelled the competition to lower prices and make their offer more lucrative for users.
For instance, BSNL recently offered unlimited local and STD calls at ₹ 144, Airtel increased its 4G data limit for select plans and Idea Cellular increased its data usage limit across select unlimited calling plans while offering 3GB additional mobile broadband for customers who upgrade to new 4G handsets.
Considering feature phones continued to dominate the Indian phone market with more than 50 percent share in 2016, Reliance Jio’s rumoured move to bring 4G VoLTE to feature phones priced as low as Rs 999 could prove to be beneficial. Well, maybe not, as the feature phone won't be well equipped for a 4G network. On contrary, a feature phone doesn't serve the purpose of owning a 4GB SIM. Alongside, there is no denying that Jio is already struggling to offer decent quality service.
Free and cheap are the buzzwords in the telecom sector. While all of this is appreciated, we need to work at building a stronger infrastructure and awareness.
Connecting a billion users will require private and government bodies to work more closely at taking mobile connectivity to the remotest areas. In the past, we’ve seen Facebook pitch its noble case with (free data to select services) Internet.org or repackage Internet.org (Free basics) or for the third-time re-packaged Internet.org in the form of Wi-Fi Express, but it came at the cost of net neutrality that would bring other issues. Google’s Internet-beaming balloon has not been in sight either.
Last year, we saw another digital wave that promised phones for all. We saw Freedom 251 grip the nation, followed by a heap of cheap phones with jaw-dropping prices. But, as you know, there is no free lunch. Where are these phones today? The previous UPA government had also tried revolutionising the sector with a cheap tablet – Aakash project. Well, all seemed good until the device reached students who could barely use it due to poor quality. They were almost redundant.
The past has been a proof that cheap and free are two words often thrown into the mobile sector, but never worked. Yes, we are price conscious, but we are also value conscious. That’s the reason why iPhone 5s fared better than ‘cheaper’ iPhone 5c in India.
Again, the efforts are appreciated, but we need to work on the basics – infrastructure and awareness. There are remote places that lack connectivity or the connectivity is very poor. More towers, expanded servers and finding novel ways to reach rural areas is essential. In terms of quality, even cities lack a decent infrastructure.
The connections are patchy and most of us may have experienced how the network only worsens as we move towards outskirts. But, it's not just outskirts and rural areas, in plush offices of cities, all of us have experienced that one section where the network is poor.
Affordability will always be a factor, but getting more people online using right channels is the only way to cut down prices. Offering free data to rural areas for sometime may not essentially solve a problem. Even with the lowest priced devices, a data pack may just evaporate even before you say 3G video streaming. The government can certainly play a larger role here, to help millions of others get online by developing infrastructure.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:57 PM IST