India Mobile: Action Stations

PCQ Bureau
New Update

This year opened with more action than Indian telecom

has seen in years, if you don't count the dizzying subscriber



In January, major operators launched 3G services and

MNP-mobile number portability (the latter, at gunpoint).

Ten years late, but 3G is finally here. What does it mean for


One, mobile apps will finally take off in India, along with the

world's m-app platforms: Android, and even iPhone. And

maybe, if Apple wakes up to India, even the iPad.


Two, 3G services, aimed at bumping up the operators' ARPU

(average revenue per user) in a desperate bid to recover crores

blown up on the 3G auction. Many postpaid users like me will

jump on to 3G. But we don't matter. It's the prepaid, low-ARPU

mobile users, who make up over 90% of India's mobile user

base, who need to be enticed to spend a few rupees more each

day, downloading a Bollywood dance clip, or playing with other


Three, your battery will run out quicker. If you get a day of

charge today, expect to halve that if

you use 3G data services.

But don't expect blazing

speeds. Surfing will be slowed down by limited spectrum, and

bandwidth shared among lots of users. 3G data cards have been around for long, and we've already seen declining speeds--from

3 Mbps down to a few hundred Kbps in busy times and places.


Still, all that 3G spectrum let loose should mean fewer call

drops and network congestion.

MNP may end up resulting in far lower subscriber churn

than it appears to promise, but it is a big deal in three ways.

One, the excitement it brings to the table ... the full-page

ads, tariff wars, offerings, and more ...


Two, improved features, offerings, service levels, and consumer-

friendly (often lower) pricing, that it will trigger.

And three, the enormous spends and resources that telcos

will have deployed, to roll it out.

The telcos have invested heavily and for over a year. No wonder

they were reluctant players, and had to be dragged, kicking

and screaming, into MNP.


MNP changes everything for them. So far, operators simply

used the phone number as customer identity. Now, that no

longer works: your mobile number is no longer hard-wired to a telco: it just shows

who you started with.

This meant major changes to the core

parts of the telco's IT systems, including the

B/OSS (billing and operations software), to

route an incoming call or SMS.A central

database of ported numbers will be replicated

by operators, to help instantly route a call or SMS to the

correct network. International calls and SMSs coming into India

will need to query the operator's home location register (HLR)

over a data network called SS7, to find out the current network

of a mobile phone number.

Yet MNP will result in lower churn than expected. For 9 out

of 10 mobile users in India are prepaid users, with low commitment

to an operator. They anyway change numbers frequently,

switching to better deals. So only the postpaid minority is getting

excited over MNP, because we're the ones holding on to our

numbers. Okay, we do matter, thanks to our high ARPUs, so for

us the competitive offerings, service improvements, and retention

tactics may be significant.

Overall, I hope for improved quality of service, features, and

customer service: simply because now there's more choice, with

MNP making it easier for us to exercise it.