GPRS outside Cities; iPhone in India

One of the things which surprised me was the amazing quality of mobile data connectivity outside Mumbai. I have always felt that GPRS access in cities like Mumbai leaves a lot to be desired. To actually get a feel of this, go outside the cities. On the train and in Palitana, the experience that I had on my iPhone accessing email and browsing websites was outstanding. Perhaps, there aren’t too many other users. Whatever be the reason, perhaps the wireless Internet will become the lifeline for people in the smaller towns and cities of India.

On a related note, the iPhone was officially launched in India recently by Airtel and Vodafone. I have been using a hacked iPhone for nearly a year (since last September). I recently checked my GPRS usage statistics on the phone:
Data Sent: 185 MB
Datas Received: 1.1 GB
So, that’s about 1.2 GB of data transfer in about 12 months – about 100 MB a month. (Note: This excludes WiFi usage.)

Until the official launch of the iPhone in India, there were estimated to be about 100,000 hacked iPhones. The high pricing of the official device (at Rs 31K) is definitely a dampener, especially since 3G is still many months (perhaps, a year) away. Of course, operators in India have no control on the pricing which is essentially being dictated by Apple. I think the sweet spot would have been in the Rs 20-25 range.

Also, the data plans need more sense. Operators should introduce a flat-rate data plan for the iPhone at about Rs 500. Given that speeds within cities aren’t that great, I cannot see very high usage – my 100 MB consumption is, I think, par for the course. At Rs 500, they still make about Rs 5 per MB, which is anyways the unit pricing. What flat-price data will do is drive consumption of the mobile Internet – and more smartphone sales. But maybe, that’s exactly what the spectrum-starved operators don’t want!

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.