by February 16, 2011 0 comments

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.

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