The top and middle segments are the ones who are the right candidates for using the mobile internet with the middle segment being the one for whom it is going to be much more critical. Over time, the middle segment of 30 million will expand as users from the bottom of the pyramid move upwards to better phones.
So, from an audience perspective, there is a fairly large potential user base. But it is easy to get carried away with the numbers. In India, we get excited about the Internet user base of 40 million users forgetting that for most users access is via the cybercafe and therefore patchy. Sure, the Internet user base will grow to 100 million in the next years, but the question that also needs to be addressed is how much of a utility the PC-based Internet will be in India.
Similarly, the 100 million mobile users (growing at about 5 million a month) seems like a great big market for value-added services until one realises that for a majority of this segment, the killer app will remain voice for the foreseeable future.
My belief is that the real opportunity for the mobile Internet will be in the middle of the pyramid at the 30 million users who have access to both the mobile and the computer, and whose digital lives are being built around the mobile. These users are less likely to live in South Mumbai than North Mumbai and perhaps even more likely to be in tier 2 cities in India. For them, ubiquitous PC-based Internet remains a distant dream.
[As an aside, I think what will change the balance is the combination of three innovations: network computers, city-wide broadband wireless networks and a business model which makes computing a utility. These are some of the ideas that we are working on in Novatium.]
For the middle of the pyramid, the ability to access the Internet via their mobile phone will open a new world of opportunities. Whether it is making use of lifes empty moments or getting answers in lifes know-now moments, the mobile Internet will become an integral part of their lives in the coming years.
In India, the mobile data infrastructure is excellent. I have travelled across Western India and have been able to access GPRS almost everywhere. The speeds are quite good and reminiscent of the early days of the Internet. Over time, the devices will become faster (improving the speed of rendering pages) and so will the networks. What will, however, not change dramatically is the input-output capabilities of the device. Those limitations are essential because the phone is something we carry with us all the time.
Tomorrow: Mobiles First
TECH TALK Mobile Internet+T