Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Can 4G be Successful in India Even While 3G Isn't Established?

If India's Reliance Industries (Reliance Communications) does move ahead and build a national Long Term Evolution fourth generation mobile network, it will have to leapfrog third generation mobile networks just getting established in the Indian market.

By some estimates the total number of 3G subscribers in India is just about two percent of the total number of mobile phone users. India has 893.8 million cellphone users according to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India).

So the big gamble is whether Reliance can leapfrog a whole generation of technology. Reliance's 4G network would be the largest of any outside the U.S. and Japan. 

India is expected to have more 4G wireless subscribers in four years—37 million—than Brazil, Russia or Indonesia, according to consulting firm Ovum. 

Looking at the broadband access market broadly, about nine percent of India's 1.2 billion people now have Internet access. Virtually everyone expects mobile to be the way most people in India get Internet access.

But what is unknown is whether 4G can leapfrog over 3G, at a time when even 3G is a very new service in the market, and such a small number of users (three percent, by some estimates) have smart phones. 

In May 2012, 3G adoption in India had reached perhaps 10 million to 12 million users. 

But some might argue the proper framework is not "3G" users but "Internet users." 

India has added 69 million Internet users between 2008 and 2011 and now has 121 million Internet users with a population penetration rate of 10 percent.

According to Mary Meeker, Kleiner Perkins  Caufield & Byers partner, India has 39 million 3G subscriptions as of the fourth quarter of  2011, with four percent penetration rate and 841 percent year over year growth

Reliance Communications has 3.2 million 3G subscribers(Q4 FY12), Idea has 2.6 million and Airtel has about 9 million 3G subscribers. Vodafone has 35 million data subscriptions including both 2G and 3G subscribers, including perhaps eight million or nine million 3G subscribers, Meeker estimates. 
She doubts that BSNL, MTNL, Aircel and Tata Tele have 15 million 3G subscribers between them.

But mobile Internet usage surpassed desktop Internet usage in India during the April 2012 May 2012 period. So it might not be unthinkable to argue that 4G could indeed leapfrog 3G, especially if the market is Internet access, not "mobile" Internet access. 

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