Regional Focus: Accenture's View from... India

The Accenture "View From" series of blogs will periodically take us to a number of different countries, giving a light but enlightening insight into those markets' characteristics and daily challenges when it comes to implementing mobility across enterprises.

Calls are cheap, but data is Dear

India is an enormous and complex nation, but there are strong trends when it comes to mobile phones. There are 1.2billion people here, and mobile phones have reached a majority of them, even in the most rural areas.

According to the GSMA, there are 959million mobile subscriptions, and 63% of people have access to the mobile Internet[1]. By 2020, Ericsson expects 95% of the population to have network coverage[2] - no small achievement for a country this size.

Feature phones are still the most prevalent device type, but with two major home-grown manufacturers and the world's device makers acknowledging the potential of the market, affordable smartphones are becoming commonplace.

India is one of the cheapest markets in the world to make a mobile call from, and as over 90% of Indians are 'pay as you go' users, over the last few years telecommunications companies have been pushing data hard in order to increase their revenues. Data costs are significantly more expensive than calls or text messages, but as 3G rolled out 2G became much more affordable, and as we're about to see a wide rollout of 4G networks across India, 3G costs are also lower now. With no contracts holding people down to older handsets, we see a high turnover of devices as people update their technology to suit their needs, and feed their consumption habits.

Content is king - especially the cricket

The drive towards data, which has recently included the introduction of almost unlimited data plans, has really been led by content. Since it emerged that one of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks was planned using a public WiFi connection, the security and registration processes to log in to such free networks have become so cumbersome, that people are more willing to use paid-for data connections from their mobile devices. For those providers who can tempt people to buy data through them, the potential for revenue is significant because of the data-heavy user trends that are emerging.

Indians really love to watch and listen to things on their phones, and even before wireless Internet was available, people were plugging them in to physically upload music or movies onto their devices. Social networks are also a growing phenomenon, but while India is one of the world's largest markets for Facebook with over 100million users[3], that is just a small proportion of the potential.

WhatsApp has grown extremely popular and is used by both consumers for social purposes and businesses for sharing photos of invoices and the like, but with 69% of the Indian population being active users of the service[4], it is still the consumption of content and, increasingly, the streaming of that content, which is driving the use of data here.

Indians are active consumers of online video on phones - especially sports, and cricket in particular. In February, STAR India was able to serve more than 25million video views via its digital platforms during an India-Pakistan cricket match, making it the most watched sports event online, of all time.

Accenture is currently working with STAR to deliver broadcast-quality content to mobile devices, in order to cater to the enormous demand for video, and STAR's catalogue of more than 45,000 television shows and movies is available for India's entire population to watch on their phones, phablets or mobile device of choice.

Dongles transforming Indian enterprises' productivity

The government has made data connectivity a priority, and not just for cities. Most people in rural areas don't have access to a PC, let alone fixed-line broadband, so they are using their mobiles not only to access the internet to watch sport, but also to carry out business and do their shopping.

eCommerce companies get more than 50% of their orders from outside of India's top 10 cities, and much of this is via mobile phones. However, a large proportion also comes via the mobile internet accessed from laptops through dongles.

Dongles have become very popular for enterprises both large and small, and telcos are selling them aggressively to people both on and off contracts. Most businesses today need connectivity across the nation, and dongles are proving an excellent way to provide this, even for industries such as the financial sector. They have good speeds, are cost-effective, and, should one break, it can be replaced immediately.

Whole business models have been designed around the use of the dongle. For example, one microcredit company's model involves regularly meeting customers, wherever they are, and using dongle connectivity to carry out fingerprint ID scans and get real-time access to their files.

India has close to 80% mobile network coverage, and the areas that are lacking it include the Himalayan Mountains. It is a quirk of India that cities have worse coverage than rural areas because of the sheer density of people, and issues around antenna placement. You can walk around a field hundreds of miles from the nearest town and get great coverage, but you'll often find a dead zone in the middle of Mumbai or Delhi. This means that thanks to the mobile internet, businesses have greater reach and productivity than ever before, and the potential customer-base for a previously local Indian company has been extended up to the borders, and even beyond.

Mobility is intertwined with the cloud

Nationwide, enterprises are moving towards mobiles, tablets and dongles to expand their areas of operation. While informal BYOD programmes are commonplace for phones that can connect to an enterprise network via VPN, it is increasingly the case that tablets are being provided to employees that can access data in the cloud.

As mobility has enabled enterprises to operate on the move, we've started to see real success with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), particularly for CRM systems, and management software for reservations in hotels, restaurants, and facility management.

These non-core business areas are seeing great success with SaaS, and this will begin to lead to enterprises moving towards making core productivity improvements enabled by mobility and the cloud. Before mobile internet access was possible, it wasn't feasible to store anything in the cloud, but now Indians have access to major service providers such as Amazon Web Services.

Changes are imminent as a result. For example, while at the moment insurance companies have been taking information via mobile devices out in the field, they still have to return to the office to actually issue paper-based policies. This will change in due course across industries, and we're already starting to see major banks looking to transform their operations to enable mobile banking. In some cases, we're seeing them strive to offer purely mobile banking, and the transformation will affect everything from where employees are needed and what their role is, to how customer relationships are created and maintained over time.

Once major industries have seen results from the adoption of digital technologies, others will follow. India is wildly entrepreneurial in terms of creating new business models around technology and experimenting with monetisation of data and the like, but at the moment, enterprises are focused on productivity, not innovation.

People are waiting and watching to see what happens elsewhere, and are just starting to experiment with what the cloud can make possible, but there's no great drive to be the first to adopt certain types of technology. There's still some catching up to do in terms of what's available in India compared to markets like the US and the UK.

India has vast potential to take full advantage of mobility. It's an extremely exciting time, watching how we will adapt global trends to work on our streets. As of this month, auto-rickshaws in Delhi and other cities can be booked via a mobile app, so what will come next?!

This article was written by Abhijit Kabra, Managing Director, Accenture Mobility in India, part of Accenture Digital for the regional 'view from' series.

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