I have written in the past about the need for an i-mode in India to drive data services, create monetization opportunities for mobile VAS companies, drive up ARPUs for mobile operators and enable an innovation ecosystem that could be the model for next-gen mobile services.
India of 2008 in the mobile space is quite similar to Japan of 1998. And into that Japan is when NTT Docomo launched its i-mode service in February 1999. In less than 3 years, 30 million subscribers were using i-mode.
What are the similarities between 2008 India and 1998 Japan? (Here, my focus is on the saturated, urban markets.)
– Mobile is at the centre of people’s lives. For many, mobile is the only interactive device.
– Lack of PC installed base handicaps Internet growth.
– Broadband is available only in pockets.
– There are few value-generating services on the PC (fixed line) Internet.
– Services are on the mobile are still limited due to operator control.
It was in this world that NTT Docomo, Japan’s leading mobile operator with a majority share of the market, launched i-mode. The focus of i-mode was on mobile data services. Content providers got 91% of the end user price, with Docomo taking the other 9% for providing billing services. In addition, Docomo retained the full data transfer charges that were paid by subscribers. It also created the entire ecosystem – including that of handsets and key anchor service providers.
This is the revolution that India needs on the data side. Will it be one of the incumbents who does it or a newcomer?
As it turns out, the opportunity in India still exists. Let us understand this i-mode opportunity in more detail.