Jai Ho! India now a nation of a billion phones

14th May 2015
Jai Ho! India now a nation of a billion phones

Special report
Bangalore,  May 14 2015:  Many regular readers of  IndiaTechOnline  tell us they find the Snapshot section amongst the most useful -- the  corner where we summarise  the numbers that define Indian IT   -- then extrapoloate them  using an algorithm we developed,  to take note of the numbers released by multiple agencies.  This allowed us on April 15 to quietly update the number of telephone numbers in India to 1 billion.  Yesterday the official  numbers  released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, corrected up to April 1, vindicates our finding and  lends authority to the number we have posted this morning -- 1.01 billion.  This includes a very small number of fixed lines. By June-July India will be a nation of a billion  mobile phones.
One billion phones in a nation of 1.2 billion people might look like almost saturation coverage -- but let's not kid ourselves: that is hardly true ( there are a lot of multiple number holders). But it is reasonable for us to now say:  Every Indian home has atleast one phone. This no mean achievement in empowerment.  Correction: self empowerment.  Around  12 years ago, the government  quietly, cynically reneged on its promoise to use technology to help empower every Indian citizen with the  means to connect, communicate and improve his or her quality of life.  The decade gone by --  with two different governments at the helm, has seen little change in this scenario, where  short term  goals rarely extending beyond the expected life of one government  have over ridden long term hopes of   Indians lifting themselves to a better life.  The recently concluded auction of telecom spectrum is just the  visible in-your-face  example of   greed air brushing election promises, as  government mopped up all the money it could from the sale of wireless spectrum with little thought for the social costs or the brakes this would put on empowerment through communication
The  19-day auction in early 2015  included  some of the 'most wanted' bands—800 megahertz (MHz), 900MHz, 1,800MHz and 2,100MHz, which support advanced services such as 3G and LTE .There were eight telecom  companies fighting for 20-year spectrum licences across four bands and 22 circles. The   most sought after spectrum was in the 900 MHz band, with Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea managing to retain their spectrum. Most players  tried to enhance  their 3G and 4G capabilities.
Reliance Jio aimed to achieve a  nationwide  4G footprint by adding eight new circles in the 1800 MHz/800 MHz bands. It won six.   All this came at a huge price:  The auction finally  saw government sell spectrum for over  1.1 trillion rupees  ( Rs 1100 billion /Rs 1.1 lakh crore).  The upfront payment alone which government  has already realised exceed Rs 32 billion ( Rs 32,000 crores).  
Some arm twisting by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has seen the  major telecom providers slash roaming and SMS charges by   around 40%  This seems  aimed at diverting attention from the inevitable increase in  3G and data rates once the service providers  adjust to the reality of the huge cash outflows they have suffered.
The Indian mobile broadband landscape is evolving.An interesting study  conducted by Ericsson shows  that  around one in three people are using smartphones in urban India.48 percent of those using mobile internet on 2G or 3G are unable to perceive any difference between 2G and 3G services. Some of the most widely used services on smartphones in India are for social networking and instant messaging. With 70 percent of users streaming videos and 40 percent streaming music weekly, entertainment services are also greatly valued.
Indian smartphone users are increasingly adopting online navigation, e-commerce and cloud storage services. 36 percent of urban mobile internet users access financialservices weekly on their smartphones. 
The smartphone mobile broadband revolution in India began in key metropolitan areas, and continues to be dominant in these places. In contrast, smaller cities and towns have fewer entertainment options such as digital theatres, large retail chains and shopping malls.
Consumers in smaller cities and towns are rapidly embracing smartphones and mobile internet to bridge the gap and bring new, affordable entertainment.
For many, mobile technology represents an easy to carry and less expensive alternative to other personal technology devices-- and ultimately to self empowerment.
The days to come will see  -- we're betting -- much official self congratulation, as the '1 billion phones'  fact sinks in.  We believe this would be misplaced. At best only a small part of the credit should go to government.  
Much of the credit needs to be directed at Indian private enterprise -- and international investment and partnership which made this country the launch-pad for many mobile technologies and services that  are uniquely Indian. 
And credit should go to the  aam aadmi or lay Indian, who with little official encouragement or  practical incentive   seized on the cell phone as the  single biggest tool to lift himself or herself up by the bootstraps.  Who  egged service providers  to  remain affordable, even as they rolled out services  that Indians demanded and appreciated.  
And yes, let's salute the unknown Indians who   made their phones paisa vasool or money's worth by uniquely   Indian spin-- like 'missed call!'  
So let's say Jai Ho to -- us!                                                                                             
-- Anand Parthasarathy