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Insights into the Indian Mobile Internet Market

Following closely behind China’s population of 1.3 billion, India has a population of 1.2 Billion. A report by McKinsey Quarterly, “Can India lead the mobile-Internet revolution?” answers the question of where India stands in terms of the mobile Internet industry.

India has relatively few Internet users: only 7 percent of its population is connected to the web, compared to the 32 percent in China and 77 percent in the United States. However, the China and US governments have to be credited for the better policies and telecom infrastructure that has given them an edge to the mobile internet industry.

India’s base of 81 million mobile internet users is the world’s fourth largest, though this is composed of just 20 percent of India’s urban citizens who are connected to the internet, compared with the 60 percent in China.

According to McKinsey, research forecasts that the total number of internet users in India will increase by more than a five-fold to 450 million by 2015, with a total digital content consumption to double to as much as $9.5 billion by this time. Access charges and  the total digital consumption revenue could increase by a four-fold to $20 billion, twice the expected growth rate of China.

In February 2011, India had an increase of 20.2 million wireless users, resulting in a total of 826.25 million telecom (wireless and landline) users, up from 806.13 million in January 2011. The overall teledensity in India is 69.29%.

Top mobile Internet service providers in India:

In February, Vodafone added the most number of subscribers, followed by RCOM and Airtel. Bharti Airtel’s market share is now 20.9%, followed by Reliance Communications at 16.7%, and Vodafone at 16.54%. BSNL has 11.41%, while Tata Teleservices has 11.08% market share, followed by Idea with 10.97%.

According to Opera Software (owner of the popular mobile browser, Opera Mini), the total number of page views on Opera Mini in India went up by 337 percent in the last 12 months.

The mobile Web in India has evolved as an important place to do business, as the proportion of people going shopping on the mobile shows,” said Jon von Tetzchner, Co-founder of Opera Software.

Between May 2010 and May 2011, India remained the third largest market in the world using the Opera Mini browser for mobile Internet browsing. According to Opera, a total of 113.5 million people around the world used the Opera Mini browser in May.

A study released in March 2011 titled Mobile Internet in India by Opera Software – in association with the UK-based mobile research agency On Device Research, points out that 49 percent of  people who use the mobile Internet either never, or infrequently use the desktop Internet in India. Such users are classified as Mobile Only Internet Users (MOIUs)

According to the cover story in afaqs, here are some interesting findings:

  • There are now 250 million mobile Internet capable handsets, with 25 million active users. Compared to 8 Million active users in the previous year
  • Page views have jumped by 337%
  • Mobile web usage is not restricted to the metropolitan cities
  • 60% of users are from non-metropolitan cities
  • Users in small towns tend to have irregular or no access to desktop computers

The increased usage of the mobile Internet is not just a metropolitan phenomenon. The metropolitan cities contribute roughtly 40 percent of the total mobile web traffic, while around 60 percent of the traffic comes from non-metropolitan areas.

Top 10 mobile handset manufactures in India:

As of July 2011, the top 10 mobile handset manufactures in India still did not include the leading smartphone brands we’re used to seeing in the US such as HTC and Apple. Nokia still dominates the Indian market with 39% market share, followed by Samsung with 17.20%, Micromax with 6.9%, and Blackberry RIM with 5.9%.

Cheap and affordable mobile Internet plans paving the way:

The rise of the mobile web in India is also attributed to the universal availability of relatively cheap internet plans. Almost all of the major mobile operators such as Aircel, Airtel, Vodafone, Tata Docomo, Idea Cellular, and Reliance Communications unveiled unlimited internet consumption data plans for less than Rs 100 per month in the past year. Note that telcos in the US are moving away from such unlimited plans.

Many operators have also opted for sachet pricing, meaning that not only are internet packages launched for daily, weekly or fortnightly internet consumption, but there are also plans designed for accessing specific choice websites only. Aircel, for instance, introduced and extensively promoted a Pocket Internet plan/package of 20 MB free internet usage for a day at Rs 5 a day. Similarly, Tata Docomo, the GSM brand of Tata Teleservices, started offering 10 MB of free internet usage for Rs 5 a day. On the other hand, Idea Cellular offers unlimited Internet packages for specific regions. In West Bengal and Kolkata, their unlimited rate packages run at Rs 5 (day-use package), Rs 16 (3 day package) and Rs 98 (30 days package).

Additionally, Tata Docomo also launched an innovative pay-per-site data plan where instead of paying monthly rentals, users can select and pay for surfing a single website or buy a combo pack of a several websites which they visit more frequently. In this case, a Tata Docomo subscriber can purchase a data plan for Facebook (Rs 20 per month and free usage up to 400 MB) or buy a ‘social networking’ combined data pack of five websites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Orkut and Nimbuzz – for  Rs 25 per month (and up to 500 MB of free data usage).

Likewise, other service providers such as Reliance Communications and Videocon have partnered with Facebook to give their subscribers free access by accessing, a special mobile version of the social media site.

This clearly indicates the growing popularity of mobile internet in the country. Some of the factors responsible for the growth can be attributed to the introduction of 3G in India and the flood of smartphones entering country in recent years.

According to Naveen Mishra, Lead Analyst, Mobile Handsets Research, IDC India, “In the smartphone segment, an increasing number of vendors are displaying confidence in the Android OS, having grown from just one vendor in 3Q 2009 to as many as seven in 3Q 2010. This trend is expected to show healthy growth as the Android applications ecosystem widens in terms of its reach into the developer community and number of users, both of which will further prompt device vendors to introduce new models”.

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