India's Mobile Data Explosion

5:00 PM -- Even though the average revenue per user in India's mobile networks has fallen a little in recent years, a larger percent of India's mobile revenues are coming from mobile data usage. (See Top 10 Emerging Mobile Markets 2007.) And that's driving a lot of growth.

Data from Pyramid Research says that, by 2012, India will be the fourth-largest market for mobile data revenue, with revenue in excess of $14 billion. That's huge, considering Pyramid only reported $2.2 billion in mobile data revenues for India for all of 2007.

Table 1: Mobile Data Revenue/Growth Estimates
Country Actual 2007 Mobile Data Revenue ($B) Projected 2012 Mobile Data Revenue ($B) Estimated Growth
Germany 6.1 6.8 12%
Korea 5.1 11 116%
Mexico 2.1 4.8 128%
France 4.9 6.7 137%
US 26.3 70 166%
India 2.2 14.1 536%
Source: Pyramid Research

Where's the growth coming from?

For a couple of years, it'll come from lots of people sending lots of text messages. Pyramid's mobile data estimates do include SMS usage, so even the most basic data services can drive the numbers up. It's worth noting, too, that India's millions of mobile users have fewer broadband fixed-line options than a lot of other countries, so SMS makes a lot more sense than booting up a computer to sit down a write an email. (See Puzzling Out India.)

Heavy Reading's wireless analyst Patrick Donegan agrees that the government's low expectation of what qualifies as broadband service is partly to blame (or credit) for India's mobile data explosion. The fact that the government there is settling for a 256 Kbit/s broadband service nudges a lot of Indians to get "good enough" data services from their mobile devices -- even if those devices are nowhere near as user-friendly as the iPhone.

Some growth will come as more mobile users in India get WAP-enabled phones. Heavy Reading's Gabriel Brown says the majority of the 70 million Internet users in India access the Internet via a WAP (wireless application protocol) phone, and that's only about 25 percent of India's total mobile phone customers.

So is India's mobile data explosion just a low-margin, statistical fluke? Not really -- and that's the interesting part. The growth happening now isn't terribly sexy, but because of the cultural conditioning to be more reliant on the mobile Internet, there is plenty of opportunity on the horizon. When mobile broadband networks arrive, the game changes.

It's reasonable to assume that when WiMax networks start really taking hold in India, that will spur a new kind of investment in mobility, prompting a new kind of content demand, and resulting in a new kind of consumer. "India is emerging as the world’s single largest market for WiMax equipment, certainly in terms of the numbers of subscribers that are likely to be added and potentially even in terms of capital expenditure as well," Donegan says.

While SMS is nothing to sneeze at, India's absurd mobile data revenue growth doesn't look to be a two-year, or even a five-year story.

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

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