There are six reasons why I believe the time for the mobile Internet is coming.
First, users will want more than just voice and SMS on their phones. Ringtones and games are a good start for the value-added services, but theres a lot more to life than that! I think of life as having a mix of empty moments and know-now moments. In both of these moments, the mobile is there with us and can be the window to a wide world of services.
Second, the mobile data infrastructure is very good. It may be hard to believe this but I think Indias mobile data networks across operators are amongst the best in the world. Even though the focus of the operators is in customer acquisition, the technology to support data services exists. This is probably true not only in India but also in other emerging markets.
Third, the mobile phones themselves now come equipped with data capabilities. Compared with 2000, the phones of today are affordable and data-capable. The screens are much bigger and support much higher resolution. The phones multimedia capabilities are also driving the desire to create and share content which in turn needs data services.
Fourth, mobile operators will need to focus more on value-added services in a world where there isnt much growth coming from voice and SMS for the existing user base. For the next couple of years, they can get away with market expansion, but these users come with much lower ARPUs (average revenue per user). There will be a need to target the top-end of the users with new services and I dont think the killer services are going to be visual radio or voice SMS.
Fifth, there are two technological disruptions which will accelerate the arrival of the mobile Internet. Even as 3G will being higher speeds to the phones along with always-on connections (much like what i-modes underlying technology infrastructure was), there is WiFi on mobiles lurking in the background. As WiFi hotspots proliferate and mesh networks envelop entire neighbourhoods, mobiles equipped with WiFi will be able to bypass the traditional operator networks for data access. WiFi on mobiles will also impact operator revenues as voice moves over WiFi networks.
Finally, I dont think the PC-based broadband Internet is going to happen quickly and for large numbers of users in India. Most of the investment that the government-owned telcos (BSNL and MTNL) are doing is in the mobile space. Their control over the last-mile into homes remains tight but without large investments into DSL and low-cost devices, the broadband Internet will happen very slowly in India.
Taken together, these factors create the right environment for the mobile Internet to take-off in India.