Back in India, I started wondering how the US missed the mobile opportunity. This is the next big thing. And the US is not at the forefront. In fact, during the conference, there was very little mention of the US computing and Internet kings Microsoft, Intel, Yahoo and Google.
I can think of three reasons why the mobile opportunity is not going to be driven from the US but from Asia. First, US is perhaps the only country in the world where there are more computers than mobile phones. So, SMS hasnt taken off as people prefer to email each other. Second, the operators exercise a great deal of power on what the users do on their mobile phones and they have every interest in keeping them within their walled gardens. Third, commuting in the US is more by car than by public transport. Add to this the fact that most Asians cannot afford desktop computers or laptops for them, the mobile is the first (and perhaps, only) computer they will ever have access to.
Back to an excerpt from what I wrote in the Business Standard:
For us in India, we have a very good mobile infrastructure. What is needed is for the operators to alter their mindsets and open up their walled gardens to third-party content and applications developers much like the way NTT Docomo did with i-mode in Japan when they launched in 1999. More than voice and person-to-person SMS, future growth will come from an array of lifestyle and business services and for that the need is to build an ecosystem.
The broadband situation in India is nothing short of a disaster. Whereas countries like South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong talk of multi-megabit connectivity, we are stuck in the kilobit world. India needs cheap, reliable, high-speed, ubiquitous broadband access for homes and businesses. (Anyone who thinks 256 Kbps at Rs 350 per month with download caps is broadband should visit to one of our Asian counterparts.)
This will spur our content and software developers to innovate and build services for the domestic market and potentially extend them to others globally. South Korea did that very well and the result is not just companies like LG and Samsung, but also online gaming innovators like NCSoft. India has the creative talents in both story-telling (Bollywood) and software. The combination is what can help build out the next-generation killer services.
The scale of Indias developmental challenge needs big, bold decisions. Technology can play a small but critical part in this process. State-of-the-art mobile and broadband networks can help India address the challenges of education, health and governance. Removing obstacles to their buildout should be a national priority.
The big Internet winners Yahoo, Google, eBay and Amazon have emerged from the US. In telecom equipment, Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are making an increasing impact. While India has done extraordinarily well in the software services and business process outsourcing space, a bigger opportunity is emerging. This lies at the intersection of mobility and broadband.
The next generation of services content and software need to be built for this world. Yes, the PC-Internet companies can do it. But this world needs fresh, innovative, legacy-free thinking. India has the opportunity to make this happen. Just as the mobile phone is helping Indians leapfrog the wireline world and jump to an always-on, always-available world, so can Indian companies jump into the new world of teleputer services for a world where connectivity is persistent and pervasive. We may not be the first to enter this world, but we are early entrants.
Will this new world see the emergence of the Indian multi-mobi-nationals? All those interested would do well to keep these words from Peter Vesterbacka, founder of HP Mobile E-Services Bazaar, in mind: All people are mobile, even when they work. They have needs all the time, either private or professional. They need access to services and information all the time, wherever they ware. The devices they will use to access these services can be wired or wireless the people are mobileMobility is a natural state of being, not a niche market. The Internet is a subset of the mobile market.
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