Idea’s Missed Mumbai Opportunity

Idea recently launched operations in Mumbai. It is interesting because it is perhaps for the first time in India that an operator is being forced to focus primarily on SWITCHING users (in an era without mobile number portability)  from other operators rather than just acquiring new ones. This is because Mumbai already has nearly 15 million mobile subscribers and a penetration of 70-80%.

Idea is the 5th largest Indian operator — finally entering one of India’s largest and most lucrative markets. And what is the campaign they launch? “Get yourself a Mumbai phone number.” Whatever that means. I mean,given the wayour behaviour is, we don’t even remember phone numbers anymore. The first time someone calls us, we probably end up adding it into our address book if we think its worthwhile. Mobile numbers are exchanged primarily via ‘missed calls.’ Whoever cares about the actual number. Maybe, I am wrong — but we will see soon. Idea has painted the town Yellow, but perhaps they should have focused more on the Message.

So, what could Idea have done differently to switch users? I think the entry strategy could have revolved only around one of two key ‘ideas’. The first, aggressive reduction of voice tariffs since voice remains 90% of the industry revenue. But they would have known that this would have been matched within hours by the others. So, it would have only ended up in taking industry revenues lower for everyone, and not necessarily ended up gaining them subscribers.  Alternately, Idea could have created a first-class service targeting high ARPU subscribers, who are also VAS (value-added services) hungry. Idea could have created an i-mode in India — a platform that could have gotten content and service providers excited, creating a positive feedback loop for the service rapidly. In essence, Idea could have thought disruptively and differently. But so far, they haven’t. They still have a golden opportunity — many of us in Mumbai are hungry for innovative mobile data services. Can an Idea change our lives?

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