Idea Cellular is 4G Ready, Poised for Competition

The future is centered on data and not voice... Fair comparison (among players) would happen when everybody starts charging the customer... eventually prices would fall rather than rise." - Anil Tandan, Voice&Data Telecom CTO of the Year 2016

Gopal Vittal Powers Airtel's Transformation

Year 2016 was Airtel's Year all the way. At the helm, apart from Sunil Mittal whose rise in India telecom is legendary, there is Gopal Vittal, the man Mittal hired as CEO in 2013 and tasked him with leading Bharti Airtel through the data boom.

Indian Telecom : A Challenging Era Starting 2017

Faisal Kawoosa, General Manager and Principal Analyst, Industry Intelligence Practice, Cyber Media Research

Industry captains deliberate about the future of telecom in India at Telecom Leadership Forum (TLF)

This was my 6th TLF in a row and every year I see the event growing in stature. I have been attending a lot of telecom related events in the country, but the forum that TLF has been able to foster is class apart. Rarely does it happen that one can see all industry veterans and champions on a single dice.

Having said that, the TLF 2016, I may call it because it was its 16th edition in the year 2016, raised some thought provoking points that highlights the challenges that the telecom industry in India is poised with from within the telecom fraternity as well as from overlapping and overriding technologies such as the OTT players.

The biggest challenge emanates from the fact that the telecom ecosystem operates under a heavily regulated regime while the disruptors are from free markets; though they have their own regulatory systems to deal with. But, it does not hamper their earnings potential. Under the present scenario the telecom operators are becoming just the communications infrastructure providers and their roles are rapidly changing from service providers to service enablers against an access or subscriber fee. Now, this model becomes challenging in the Indian context where prepaid subscribers are in the range of 80-85% who pay as per usage. So, the operators cannot remain content with positioning themselves as telecom service enablers. That would work only if a considerable percentage of subscribers are on a post paid mode ensuring stable revenue streams for the operators.

The other option left for them is to evolve as application providers in addition to the service enablers. This way, they would earn out of subscription fee as well as services usage fee. But the challenge here is that not all applications can be created in-house and applications by nature are global in nature. So, a potentially disruptive application created out of US or Japan or Australia has all the outreach to a potential user in India even at the cost of eroding revenues of the operator from whose network the application is enabled. The operators can opt in for a tactical move to become gatekeepers but that will go against the net neutrality essence and also erode its enabling image as these disruptive applications have created such kind of a pull that the equations have reversed. Also, somewhere operators are benefited by the success of such applications as they are the reasons of growing data usage and revenues for the operators. Again a paradox for the operator! The operator may plea for collaboration. But why should any such application owner be ready for collaboration and share revenues. They have a strong pull and are now driving the data growth for the operators. So they are contributing anyways to the growth of operators. Yes, however, it means transforming of revenues for the operators from voice only to voice and data and eventually data only scenario.

This transformation is not an easy one for the Indian telecom operators. Reason being that for all these years, the networks have been prepared and enhanced for catering to the voice only environment while as with the penetration of OTT services there has been abrupt growth of demand for data services and with the huge resources already deployed by the operators in the voice friendly networks, be it in spectrum or in networks, they are finding it very challenging to make an abrupt shift towards a data only network that is demanded now.

The second challenge I find is that as compared to the broadcast services where the operator regulates the channels to be broadcast and hence the content providers are forced to collaborate and share revenues with the operator; Internet operates in a much free environment. So one cannot really have a controlled and closed system in place where operators could force collaboration and get a pie of the revenues that application owners earn. The telecom operator is not in a strong position to ‘claim’ that, “I own the subscriber.”

It is not easy to find an answer to this challenge that the telecom industry is ushering into in 2017. However, telecom operators have to leverage from the huge base of subscribers whom they know in and out. They can become the connect between demand and supply bring that delight element as we move closer to connected society and Artificial Intelligence going forward. So while many of the OTT services and platforms are earning out of the advertisements, the telecom operators can differentiate by earning out of consumer and user insights that can go into several industries and sectors. Nobody other than telecom operator will and can know where and when the demand is and that is a great value add as the economies become very competitive. However, it can be only of significant value, if the operators are able to keep the uniqueness of the subscriber. This can only happen if the phenomenon of dual SIMs is reduced considerably. As much as the operators are able to keep the subscribers unique to themselves, they are going to leverage most out of it. So while operators do ponder on the integration of disruptive applications and earning out of them, they have to address some basic issues like network qualities and other such factors for which around 70% of the subscribers have more than one SIM, hence identity.

Faisal Kawoosa heads the Telecom, Semicon and Electronics practice at Cyber Media Research

21st December 2016, witnessed a stellar Telecom Conference followed by the most awaited Voice&Data Jury awards, category awards, and telecom circle awards.
Eminent speakers from the industry shared their views, ideas, strategies and also shared their concerns in shift in demand by the data hungry generations and strategies to meet the ever changing demand of the netizens.

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