Mr D. Shivakumar is Vice President and Country General Manager for Nokia India. Mr Shivakumar has over two decades of experience in the consumer market in India. He previously headed the consumer electronics business for Philips India as Senior VP and Executive Director on the Philips India board. Prior to this, he spent several years with Hindustan Lever in various sales, marketing and business head roles; his last assignment at Lever was heading their hair-care business. Mr Shivakumar is passionate about writing and teaching. He used to contribute to a marketing column in BusinessWorld between 1985 and 1992. Mr Shivakumar also teaches regularly at business schools across the country. Mr Shivakumar holds a degree in Management and Engineering.
Mobile telephony, a novelty and luxury until recently, now outpaces traditional telephony throughout the world. In developing nations, where the cost of wired infrastructure was always prohibitively expensive, mobile is the communications system and a social and economic lifeline for those that use it. It drives economic development and brings better health, educational, social and government services. In India, even the teawallah, the dhobi and the sabziwallah’s (tea vendor, launderer and vegetable seller) use mobile phones for their businesses.
Before the 1870s, no one would have thought it was possible to communicate instantaneously, person-to-person, without both people being in the same place at the same time. The invention of the telephone by Sir Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 revolutionised this ‘human’ communication forever. Almost a hundred years later, in 1973, the first call on a portable cell phone marked another milestone in the evolution of human communication, bringing mobility to telecommunications. Since then, the world has shrunk in the palm of our hands with mobile communications transforming the way we live, learn, work, play and relate to each other! Mobi-nomics Just a few years ago, fixed lines were the way to build telecom services. Today, mobile has become the obvious choice in helping increase economic development by telecommunication services. Voice and simple messaging services have become a key element in increasing the welfare of both society and the individual, in countries with a marked lack of telecommunications facilities, especially in the rural areas. The availability of such services is a significant contributor to the development of local and national economies; it supports better health services, education, social contacts and helps governments efficiently and effectively serve the nation. India shining While the mobile telecommunications transformation is happening the world over, few markets have grown at the pace shown by India. India’s tryst with mobile telephony dates back to 1992 when the telecommunication sector in India was liberalized and private companies were allowed to invest in the telecommunication industry. A couple of years later, in 1995, the first mobile phone call on a cellular network was made in Kolkata. Since then, the Indian mobile industry has triumphed; monthly wireless subscriber additions in India have accelerated from two million a month in 2003-04 and 2004-05 to three million subscribers a month in 2005-06. With six million subscribers added in September alone this year, India has become the world’s fastest-growing telecom market. While most of this growth has been recent and centred around big cities, the next spurt of growth will come from the smaller towns, cities and villages. India’s success as a telecommunication market is the result of a synthesis between a positive regulatory environment, a burgeoning middle class, industry working as one to reduce the total cost of ownership of mobility, business model innovations and the realization of the massive productivity benefits that mobility can bring to the lives of people. Although considered a luxury until a few years ago, mobile phones are regarded today as an indispensable utility. Even the teawallah, the dhobi and the sabziwallahs (traditional tea vendor, launderer and vegetable seller, respectively) are using mobile phones to drive greater efficiency and productivity for themselves and their businesses. Mobility today has helped vegetable sellers to take orders, fishermen to bring their catch to market, and farmers to access market information. It is no wonder, then, that mobile handsets are the largest selling consumer durable product in the country today! With overall teledensity - fixed and mobile - at over 13 phones per 100, compared to around three per cent in 1999, India was probably one of the first few countries in the world where the mobile subscriber base grew at a much faster rate than fixed line connections. It is not unlikely that the first call made by many an Indian today was on a mobile phone instead of a fixed-line telephone! Although telecommunications seems to be rapidly establishing its presence in urban India, it is fairly evident that its benefits are limited to urban clusters with limited impact on rural India. This is extremely disconcerting since statistics prove that ‘India lives in its villages’. Over 700 million Indians, nearly 70 per cent of the total population, reside in rural India’s 600,000 plus villages. Rural India is in urgent need of empowerment through access, and the challenge before us is to use mobile telephony as an ally in the movement for economic, social equity. There is also an immense need for the canalized intervention of public-private partnerships to make this a reality. To drive adoption to the proverbial bottom of the pyramid, the industry as a whole needs to make a concerted effort to reduce the total cost of ownership of mobility and focus on relevant localized content. Another big step in this regard, which is currently being considered by the Indian telecommunications regulator, is allowing rival companies to share telecom infrastructure. Driving mobility in India India is a diverse market and, therefore, the task for mobile companies is to offer the most comprehensive product portfolio, focus on customer-centric innovation and extend market-making initiatives across different segments of consumers. The critical success factors for organizations in India will be their ability to customize the offering and create solutions and applications that communicate with the people in their regional languages. At the same time, they must create value domains by educating consumers about what more they can do with their devices in addition to pure voice and basic data applications, such as SMS. India is a profoundly price-sensitive market, so the term ‘value for the money’ has far greater meaning in India than any other market. It is important to make mobile services affordable in India by maximizing customer value and reducing the total cost of ownership by working with operators to offer bundled services. Also, given the geographic spread of the country, making services available is also a big challenge and the operating companies have to find innovative ways to bridge its geographical and cultural differences effectively. Mobilizing change - connecting 100 to 1000 At one level, mobility is about bridging the communication divide by connecting the unconnected, the 100 million mobile subscribers to the 1,000 million Indians who do not yet have mobile phones. At another level, mobility is an economic enabler; it creates an economic multiplier effect that can transform the lives of people and countries. Over the past decade, mobile companies have created economic opportunities in India by deploying networks, managing infrastructure, creating reseller points of presence, generating sales and services among others. The setting up of the Telecom Park in Sriperumbadur in Chennai, India has helped create a strong ecosystem and contribute to the economic development of the region. It is expected that by 2008 the Telecom Park will employ 20,000 workers. Today, mobility is transforming the way people live and conduct their lives, and it will continue to play a fundamental role in the development of both the economy and the society of the future. Mobile technology is of growing importance in our daily lives and is driving a positive change in the economy, society and industry at large. It is clear that 'life going mobile' is an eventuality and it will change the world as we know it.