Boost for broadband but operators face teething problems

As many as 9 million consumers have taken a third generation (3G) mobile connection since the services were launched in the country four months ago. This number assumes significance when one considers that there are only 11 million wireline broadband customers till date.

The leader of the 3G pack is Bharti Airtel with 3 million subscribers followed by Tata DoCoMo with 1.5 million users. Idea Cellular, Vodafone and BSNL have over a million 3G customers each. Reliance Communications did not give out its numbers but sources said that it also has close to a million 3G connections. “The initial trend clearly shows that 3G is giving a boost to broadband uptake in the country. Wireless is the way forward,” said Mr Alok Shende, Principal Analyst, Ascentius Consulting.

The initial numbers have added up despite the poor quality of service being experienced by consumers. While 3G is expected to give data speeds of about 500-600 kbps, consumers across the country are complaining of frequent call drops, poor speeds and erratic connectivity as operators have not yet fully set up their networks. “There is no excuse for operators to offer poor 3G connectivity given that technology is available to them. The initial uptake shows that there is a huge pent-up demand for broadband and operators should use that opportunity. At present, they are not even doing personalised marketing to high-end consumers who already have a 3G handset,” said Mr Kunal Bajaj, Director of technology advisory firm Analysys Mason. Another issue is the high cost of roaming. Most operators are charging as much as Rs 15 per MB of data even if the subscriber is roaming on the same network.

But operators say that these are only teething troubles and they are well on their way to meet the target of 100 million 3G connections by 2015 as projected by analysts. Mr Shireesh Joshi, Chief Marketing Officer -Mobile Services, Bharti Airtel, said, “The initial response from customers has been overwhelming - but we believe the revolution has just begun. The game changing differentiator for 3G in India will be content and services and not price points.”

tkt@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on May 19, 2011)
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