Indian handset makers drive increased mobile internet usage

India and China are constantly talked of as the biggest growing mobile and internet markets on the planet, for good reason. With both countries’ huge population and huge digital divides (between those that have/use technology and the internet and those that don’t) India and China’s online presences are likely to develop way beyond their current size and, together, take up a significant share of the world’s online voice.

The two countries are not alone in having the potential to grow, aside from traditional western markets like the USA, Northern Europe and parts of East Asia, technology adoption is generally low across the world.

Smartphones and mobile internet access are widely recognised as the most practical and effective way of ‘digital enfranchisement’ (giving large numbers of people access to the internet) across the world, so it was with interest that I read the (selected excerpts) below from India online

Social media is a well-known phenomenon on the web, with millions logging on to Facebook, Twitter and Orkut every day, but, it is also fast becoming a necessary feature on all mobile phones.  

Even telecom operators have plunged into the social wave. MTS, a telecom provider based in South India, has launched its own handsets, called MTS Alive. Manufactured by Chinese handset manufacturer ZTE and brought to India by MTS under its own brand, MTS Alive comes pre-installed with access to social networking websites, as well as ready-to-use Opera mini browser (for mobile web access).

Importantly, these social phones are being priced reasonably. MTS Alive is priced at Rs 6,000, while Micromax and Maxx Indian phones with social access are priced between Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000. A handset by MVL (another Indian manufacturer) provides social networking and push mail in a handset priced at just Rs 4,000.

It is the proliferation of these handsets that is driving social networking into the hands of the consumer. It comes as no surprise that Facebook is being pitted as the competitor to Google.

With access to social sites on handsets and India’s over 600 million mobile subscribers yearning to go online, it’s no wonder that social networking has begun to dominate mobile phones.

I’ve long lamented the reality of the “smartphones are taking Asia” headline which the media loves to portray because the reality is, in markets like Thailand, high-end smartphone are gaining significant adoption in urban areas like Bangkok, but in a country of 65 million that is just scratching the surface.

Recent research estimated rural mobile internet usage in India would rise 30 percent to reach close to 5.5 million by the end of this year. Though comparative the the country’s overall population this number may be low, handset deals mentioned in the article above are driving mass market mobile internet adoption rates and it seems likely this figure of rural users will only grow.

Though many will claim 5.5 million out of an estimated 570 million rural population is insignificant, recent research suggests lack of understanding, and not affordability, is the number one reason mass market mobile internet adoption hasn’t yet occurred in rural India.

Attractive handset deals and increased marketing/information may begin to change this situation.