Friday, 13 October 2017

The changing and challenging telecom landscape of India

The telecom landscape of India is changing exponentially. Approximately 215 million subscribers may have to change their allegiances due to the lack of financial stability at Reliance Communications, Aircell and Tata Teleservices (which is on the verge of closing down its operations across India).

The beneficiary is Mukesh Ambani. The oil tycoon who ties with Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s Pony Ma as the third-richest person in Asia is winning subscribers at a rate of 5 million a month by offering free voice calls and cheap data through his operator Reliance Jio. 

“…there are more than 50 crore (500 million) feature phone users who have been left out of the digital revolution,” Ambani said at Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting in Mumbai, where he launched the JioPhone. “This digital disempowerment and unfairness must end. Jio is committing to end it today.”
 In effect, apart from giving telecom companies a run for their money, Reliance Jio is also set to disrupt India’s smartphone market. Launched last September, Reliance Jio already offers free voice calling, as well as the world’s cheapest internet data plan, starting at Rs49 ($0.76) per gigabyte (GB). On the JioPhone, voice calling will “always” be free and unlimited data will cost only Rs153 ($2.38) per month.

Its free schemes and recharge options have expanded Jio’s user base rapidly. Some 66% of Reliance Jio customers were using the service as their primary connection by March, up from 50% in December. The company claims that mobile data usage in India fared around 0.2 billion GB per month in the pre-Jio era. After Reliance Jio’s entry, overall data consumption supposedly skyrocketed to 1.2 billion GB per month, of which 1 billion is consumed by Jio subscribers. According to Ambani the service provider now has over 125 million customers. 

However such radical changes are accompanied by various issues for example with only 300 million smartphone users in the country, the growth could soon hit a wall—hence, the development of the JioPhone, a 4G-enabled feature phone with a large screen and access to apps. More on the JioPhone here. Not to be left behind Airtel and Vodafone India are also launching smartphones. 

So Jio are dynamic enough to offer competitive data rates and a 4G phone but  as a result the prices of wireless data have fallen by about 97% in one year after the entry of Reliance Jio, from about Rs 200 per GB a year ago to about Rs 6 per GB in the June quarter.
While operators like Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular used to offer 1 GB of data for Rs 250, they now offer about 50 GB for the same price. 

Such massive growth creates its own problems for example: Reliance Jio’s network is “overloaded”, with congestion creating a bottleneck that is slowing down connections for its customers, according to new analysis by OpenSignal. According to this report, Reliance Jio lags behind Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea in terms of 4G speeds, but is market leading in terms of 4G coverage. 

Moreoever what about the ARPU downshift? According to analysts due this reorganisation of subscribers and the very reasonable prices they are paying this is will continue. Reliance Jio has irreversibly changed the market from a pricing-focused one to an ARPU-focused one. In the price-focused market, companies like Vodafone and Airtel tried to keep prices high, volumes low and margins fat. In the volume-based game, pricing is dictated by two factors — the ability of the network to support demand, and the need to increase consumption by users. While the second factor — the need to increase data use — puts a downward pressure on prices, the first factor — network stability and quality concerns — puts a bottom on how low they can be kept.

 Another major issue is spectrum India allows relatively little spectrum for mobile communications, and splits that up among a dozen operators. A lot of radio spectrum is blocked for defence use. The 'Spectrum Crunch' is pretty bad, for example Delhi's top operator has roughly the same number of 3G users as its counterparts in Singapore and Shanghai (about 3 million), but it has about a tenth of their spectrum. As user numbers grow - faster than spectrum availability. And more people will use data, especially video, stressing the network further. This is yet another challenge for the operators. Success in this new telecom landscape depends almost entirely on network capacity. The more capacity the network has, the lower your offering can be priced and the higher consumption can be driven.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Vodafone and Connected Farming in India

After reading several very tragic reports about large numbers of Indian farmers committing suicide. I was intrigued to come across Vodafone's 'Connected Farming in India' report. This report alleges that the mobile services summarised below could enhance 
earnings by an average of US$128 a year for almost two-thirds of Indian farmers, achieving
a material positive impact in communities where the average farming household lives on 
less than $4 a day and many farmers struggle to feed and educate their families.

ndia is one of the world’s largest food producers with more than 200 million people currently estimated to work in agriculture, around 100 million of them farmers and the remainder working as agricultural labourers. In India, around 62% of farmers own less than one hectare of land, significantly increasing their exposure to the effects of crop failure, pests, disease and volatile market pricing.

Vodafone and Accenture Strategy have identified six mobile services with the potential to transform Indian farmers’ lives and livelihoods.

Agricultural information services providing early warning of weather events, information on the best times to harvest and advice on crop techniques to enhance yields. These services could increase an estimated 60 million Indian farmers’ annual incomes by an average of US$89 a year in 2020.

Receipt services to provide greater transparency in daily commodity supply chains, allowing farmers to raise their incomes by improving efficiency and eliminating fraud.

Payments and loans enabling farmers to access simple and secure financial products and services using mobile money payment systems such as Vodafone’s M-Pesa, launched in India in April 2013. Access to highly cost-effective micro-finance and quick and transparent electronic payment systems could provide an annual benefit of US$690 for some farmers in 2020, representing a 39% increase in their average farming income.

Field audit enabling auditors monitoring quality, sustainability and certification requirements to move away from paper records and adopt instead electronic reporting via tablets and mobile data, greatly enhancing efficiency and potentially increasing annual average income by US$612 for some farmers.

Local supply chain enabling small-scale producers to transact with local co-operatives through simple but robust information services and mobile money systems. These could boost some farmers’ annual incomes by US$271 in 2020; a 50% increase on current farming incomes.

Smartphone-enabled services to provide deeper functionality and richer sources of information than is possible using basic SMS and voicemail services. While smartphone penetration is currently low in rural areas in emerging market economies, average device prices continue to fall year-on-year. Advanced and affordable mobile services could lead to an increase in average annual farming incomes of US$675 for more than four million farmers in 2020.

For more information: link to the report. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

Indonesia’s operators and ISP make progress with LTE

As of June 2011, the number of mobile phone subscriptions in Indonesia was recorded to be 220 million which corresponds to a penetration rate of 92% over an estimated population of around 237.6 million.

At the end of 2012, The three main operators owned 221 million of the then 278 million mobile subscribers in Indonesia.
  • Telkomsel is undeniably the largest operator, and its user base of 123 million makes it the 7th largest mobile company in the world. 
  • Indosat with 55 million subscribers 
  • XL Axiata with 42 million subscribers
  • 3 (known as Tri in Indonesia), which has 20 million subscribers.

As of December 2014, all three of the biggest telcos, along with ISP Bolt! launched their 4G LTE networks commercially in the country. In order to be able to use the 4G connections in Indonesia, you must use 4G-ready smartphones. To connect to 4G network from operators, users in Indonesia must first exchange the SIM cards in respective service centers, and then subscribe to specific data plans. For Bolt, you can either connect to its 4G modem via a 4G smartphone, or directly use Bolt SIM cards which are only compatible with Bolt’s own smartphones.

Bolt! at the beginning of 2015 it claimed to be the first operator of 4G LTE  to have more than one million customers in Indonesia .
Based on the presentation (embedded below) they are using two carriers and they move users between the frequencies using inter-frequency handover to which ever one is less congested. This process is done automatically as a part of Mobility Load Balancing (MLB) which is a feature of Self-Optimising Network (SON). 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Country Overview: Pakistan

This seemingly struggling nation has one of the highest rates of cell phone usage and penetration in South Asia. Close to 140 million people have a cell phone connection in Pakistan, and they enjoy some of the cheapest service rates in the global market.

  • Of Pakistan’s 180 million people, 68 percent are under 30 (compared to 63 percent in India, 40 percent in the US)
  • Pakistan expects to have 110 million 3G or 4G subscribers by 2019
  • Pakistan has the fourth largest middle class population in developing Asia
  • 30 million internet users
  • 6.8 million smartphone users

Mobile Internet is also widely used in Pakistan, which has led to operators introducing 3G and 4G services in the country. One of these operators, China Mobile’s Zong – the world’s largest mobile network operator – invested $516 million in acquiring 3G and 4G licenses and is currently the only operator providing the latter.

Zong is Pakistan’s fourth biggest mobile telco.

In March 2014 Zong surpassed 25 million customers, out of a total of 125 million mobile subscribers in Pakistan. Mobiilink remains number one with over 38 million subscribers, Telenor is second with 33 million, and Ufone is third with 26 million. Warid is down in fifth with 13 million.

Mobile subscribers in Pakistan - to January 2014

Friday, 24 October 2014

Country Overview: The Philippines


With the second-largest population in South-east Asia after Indonesia, the Philippines has a large consumer base for its mobile market. Penetration in 2012 reached 106%, or 102.3m subscribers, according to a report by PwC. Filipinos are also among the world’s most prolific texters, accounting for 10% of global SMS messages.

The two major network operators for mobile internet in the Philippines are Smart Communications and Globe Telecom, which combine to make a total of 83 percent of the market share. Sun Cellular is a distant third.

3G services
The roll out of the 3G network began in 2005 when the government opened bidding on five new 3G licences. Despite having five licences on offer, the NTC ultimately granted only four, as it argued that the remaining applicants lacked the capacity to effectively provide 3G services. The four successful companies included Globe Telecom, Connectivity Unlimited Resource Enterprise (CURE), Smart Communications (owned by PLDT), and Sun Cellular. Smart Communications, having acquired CURE in 2008, was itself acquired by PLDT in 2011. As a condition of the latter deal, PLDT agreed to relinquish its CURE licence.

Delays in spectrum allocation have been a drag on the region’s 3G uptake, which has been relatively slow. Low penetration of smartphones that are equipped for mobile broadband have also dampened growth.
All the same, growing data demand and the introduction of low-cost smartphones, such as the Nokia Lumina series unveiled in the Philippines in March 2014, paint a bright picture for the future of the industry.
Smart Communications was one of the first operators to introduce 4G LTE services in the Philippines. In August 2012, it launched LTE service at bands of 850 MHz and 2600 MHz, adding additional capacity at 1800 MHz the following month. These services are already available in larger cities such as Manila, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Quezon City, San Juan, and Valenzuela, according to Telegeography, a telecoms research firm.
The company is also set to expand this service further. In March 2014, it unveiled plans to extend its 4G LTE network to all major cities by the end of 2014 – areas including Bohol, Bacolod, Davao del Sur, Tagaytay and Ilocos Norte – thus reaching 50% of the population. In addition, the P32bn ($714m) of planned capital expenditures for 2014 will include expanding Smart Communications’ 3G coverage from its current coverage of 71% of the population to 100%.
Globe Telecom, too, is widening its networks. In November 2011, it launched a $790m programme to modernise its services, including the roll-out of a 4G LTE network in Makati, Manila, Pasig, Muntinlupa, Mandaluyong, Cebu City, Boracay and Quezon City. The company’s president and CEO, Ernest Cu, told OBG that the existing network infrastructure in the Philippines was built primarily to handle SMS traffic, which requires considerably less backbone capacity than data-intensive services. Now, in addition to expanding the company’s fibre optic network, Globe Telecom is seeking to standardise the communications protocols used for voice, SMS and data in order to further improve network capacity and help in future proofing the system. In 2014, capital investment in excess of $200m has been earmarked to further expand the data network and build additional capacity, which is becoming more important given high-end customers' growing mobile data needs.

Globe narrowly leads for LTE download speed, with an average speed of 6.1Mbps., slightly faster than Smart's 5.9Mbps. Internationally, however, both speeds are comparatively slow – with Australia ranked as the fastest country for LTE in the world, averaging 24.5Mbps earlier this year.

For upload speed the results are again very close, with Smart edging ahead of Globe with speeds of 7.2 Mbps. With speeds this close, as with the close download speeds above, most mobile users will not notice a significant difference unless they are downloading particularly large files, or using some other data-intensive service.


Smartphone penetration

The smartphone penetration rate in the Philippines is still at a low fifteen percent according to a recent study by On Device Research. That pales in comparison to the total mobile penetration in the country of 101 percent.Smartphone penetration in the Philippines is also the lowest of all the countries in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia (80 percent), Thailand (49 percent), and Indonesia (23 percent).

Smartphone penetration is expected to more than triple to 50 percent by 2015. Another positive: 88 percent of the total mobile internet population is below the age of 34. 

The battle for smartphone supremacy will be fought (and won) largely on price, given that 20 percent of the population lives on less than US$1.25 a day (54 PhP). For example, local brands Cherry Mobile, My Phone, and Star Mobile offer Android phones priced between US$50 and US$250 (2191 PhP to 10,958 PhP). This range is expected to be the sweet spot that will drive further adoption of smartphones.

International brands are also getting in on the action. Chinese brands Oppo and Xiaomi plan to expand into the Philippines, while Huawei is already offering their Ascend G6 to Filipinos. Priced at US$228 (9,994 PhP), which is half the cost of the previous model known as the P6, the Ascend G6 represents the Chinese firm’s bid to capture 10 percent of the market for mid-priced smartphones.

The race to be the cell phone brand that dominates the Philippine market is wide open. At the moment, Samsung leads at 43 percent. No other cell phone manufacturer has larger than a 10 percent market share. Sony and Cherry Mobile each have seven percent, Lenovo has five percent, and LG, Alcatel, and MyPhone each have three percent.


The rising prevalence of smartphones will likely be the main driver of mobile revenues going forward, as consumers alter their preferences by reducing voice and SMS usage and increasing reliance on alternatives such Skype and instant messaging. While this may cause revenue losses with respect to these more traditional offerings, the wider range of data-driven services, such as applications, video-streaming and mobile gaming, will likely compensate over the longer term.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bangladesh Mobile Operator Overview


Brig Gen Md Wahid-Uz-Zaman, director general of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), said only 3 percent of Bangladeshi mobile users use high-end handsets and only around 10 percent of the handsets are 3G-enabled.
The LTE technology can offer far more data speed than 3G. The government issued LTE licences to three WiMax operators last year, but they are yet to launch the service.


Banglalink, the country's second largest mobile phone operator in terms of subscribers, has crossed the landmark of three crore active subscribers on Thursday.
Ziad Shatara, chief executive officer and managing director of Banglalink, confirmed the news to the Dhaka Tribune yesterday, saying: “Banglalink is proud to have reached this coveted milestone. We have made mobile telephony affordable to the people of Bangladesh.”
Only Grameenphone – which currently has 4.94 crore subscribers – had previously achieved the landmark.
According to the BTRC, the country currently has 12.68 crore active SIMs with Banglalink having 25.46% market share.
Grameenphone is the market leader with 42.33% market share, while Robi is third with 2.43 crore subscribers, which is a market share of 20.72%.
Banglalink started its operation in February 2005, when Egypt-based Orascom Telecom Holding (currently Global Telecom Holding) acquired the then Seba Telecom, which had only around 50,000 active subscribers. In 2012, Banglalink's majority share was bought by Netherland-based VimpleCom, the sixth largest mobile network operator in the world.

See also:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Chinese carriers dominate global operator ranking as M&A deals shake up US market

All three Chinese mobile operators feature in the top ten in GSMA Intelligence’s latest ranking of mobile operator groups, underlying China’s status as the world’s largest mobile market.
The study ranks global operators using a model based on reported mobile connections and mobile revenue (see methodology below). China Mobile was comfortably the largest group by both measures, reaching 790.6 million mobile connections and recording annualised revenue of £66.4 billion for the period to Q2 2014. China Mobile’s two domestic rivals, China Unicom and China Telecom, are ranked third and tenth, respectively.
The remaining positions in the top ten were filled predominantly by operator groups with substantial global footprints across multiple markets, including Vodafone, Telefónica, América Móvil, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and VimpelCom.
Notes on methodology
Subsidiaries are included within a parent group as per reported consolidation. Minority holdings (less than 50 percent plus one share) are included where a group does so within its audited financial statements.
Data for connections is shown as the period-ending value, excluding customers from any subsidiaries that have been divested over the course of the year. Revenue data is annualised, such that revenue attributed to any qualifying subsidiary is included on a quarterly basis over the four quarters provided the subsidiary meets the rules for consolidation in the respective quarter.
The ranking gives equal weighting to period-ending connections and annualised mobile revenue in determining final positions. The ranking by connections and revenue is combined to give an overall ‘score’, with a lower combined score ranking higher. For example, Vodafone is ranked second by connections and fifth by revenue, giving it a combined score of 7 (2+5). This ranks the group second behind China Mobile, which scores 2 (1+1), as it the largest group by both connections and revenue. Where scores are tied, the rank by connections is used as the deciding factor.