If there is one word which describes mobile phone use in India, it’s ubiquitous.
With over 860 million mobile phones in the country, they are literally the extension of people’s hands today.
The aggressive growth of mobile connectivity is beginning to recondition how people engage in shopping, entertainment, banking, work, healthcare, and perhaps more than anything else, with each other.
While you run the risk of being laughed at for whipping out a clamshell phone in western countries, they are still favourites in India.
But this only indicates that the smartphone market here, 10% of the current phone sales, has room to expand furiously. And the signs are all around us.
According to a survey conducted by Hindustan Times, 42% of respondents use their smartphones at least once a day to access the internet.
But that’s not all. Smartphones are fast becoming essential components of modern life. Animesh Mishra, a senior consultant at a software firm, uses his phone as a tool to enhance his living experience.
“I used it to quit smoking. With the help of an app, the whole process turned into a game. And of course, I wanted to win. It’s good to have one device for many purposes.”
Users are also beginning to realise that a smartphone is only as good as the data transfer speed on it.
According to the survey, over 40% users in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata already subscribe to 3G speeds. But what’s interesting is that 80% of them look forward to getting 4G soon.
“I use my smartphone as my newspaper, personal journal, health monitor, guide, etc. And good connectivity is central to all that,” Mishra adds.
Phone wars in India have heated up, with domestic players Micromax, Karbonn and Lava taking on giants Apple, Samsung and Nokia. Marketing smartphones as your window to a world of entertainment seems to be their mantra, which makes sense given the results of the survey. Most people use phones to access music and chat, while 66% have never looked at work files in their smartphones.
The want for mobile internet is not limited to users in big cities. Satish Tiwari, an employee at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, is hooked to downloading songs on the go."No wires, no going to shops — I can get whichever song I like in a few seconds."
The big three network providers such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea are falling over themselves to attract consumers, offering packages which suit the customer's pocket. Other providers such as Reliance, Aircel and Tata Docomo, as well as BSNL, are also offering competitive data packages aimed at the youth.
While there is no lack of mobile services in the country, it is the quality and economy that concerns the users.
Mahinder Shrivas, a 21-year-old engineering student who uses an Airtel connection, says he is reasonably happy with the coverage and download speeds.
“It is the price of 3G that seems slightly too high for me, particularly when compared to other services,” he adds.
It’s a consumer’s market when it comes to network providers. The reason? Mobile number portability.
“Portability lets one switch, without changing their phone number, if the service provided isn’t up to speed,” says Vishal Ramchandani, associate vice-president, consumer research and brand planning, at MaRS, the research agency which conducted the survey for Hindustan Times.
According to the survey, conducted across 3,100 people in 8 cities, 36% users who switched providers said it was due to dissatisfaction with service-related interactions.
Network related issues remain an important factor nevertheless, cited by 30% of the users.
Post switching, however, only 4% were happier with their tariff plan. So, it’s service, not lower bills, that attract customers.
But not all. Tanya Sarah, a 19-year-old student at Delhi University, loves using her smartphone. “I use 3G for chatting and email and watching videos on YouTube. The speed is fine, but the prices are atrocious.”
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