In the weakening global mobile market, Airtel has crossed 5 million consumers mark in the Delhi & NCR (national capital region) circle. During the last month, about 8 million new GSM subscribers came in the Indian market, which has over 300 million GSM consumers in a total mobile user base of nearly 400 million in the country. 

Bharti Airtel, a group company of Bharti Enterprises, is Asia’s leading integrated telecom services provider with operations in India and Sri Lanka. It claims an aggregate of over 100 million customers.

To woo new mobile users, leading device makers are increasing their focus on the local market. Of late, a number of devices have appeared to target ordinary as well as deep-pocketed buyers.

For example, Bharti Airtel and BlackBerry producer Research In Motion (RIM) offered BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220 smartphone. It comes with a price tag of Rs.21,990 (about $450). (Read: India’s Airtel Offers BlackBerry Pearl)

The company also took other initiatives to expand its customer base. Last year, it decided to use envIOWorks platform that enables social marketing of mobile content to add social marketing to its Hello Tunes service. (Read: Airtel Offers Hello Tunes with a Social Touch)

Mobile phone company HTC has launched HTC Touch Diamond2 for Rs. 29,990 (over $600) in India. (Read: Is Pricing Right for HTC Phone in India?)

And Nokia says its Nokia Life Tools solution for the Indian market will be available on the newly launched Nokia 2323 classic and Nokia 2330 classic devices, and will be later expanded to other Nokia devices. (Read: Nokia Provides Life Tools in India)

Mobile players are rushing to emerging markets like India, as advanced mobile markets in the world are showing signs of sickness. According to researcher IDC, vendors shipped a total of 289.0 million units in the fourth quarter of 2008 (4Q08), 12.6% lower than the 330.8 million units shipped during 4Q07. For the full year 2008, vendors shipped a total of 1.18 billion units worldwide, 3.5% greater than the 1.14 billion units shipped during 2007. (Read: Mobiles Market: Missed Call)

However, the first quarter of 2009 was bad for the worldwide mobile market. Nokia’s net sales fell down 27% year-on-year (YoY) at EUR 9.3 billion for the first quarter of 2009. The company said its mobile device volumes of 93.2 million units have also suffered a 19% YoY decline against an industry drop of 14%. (Read: Nokia’s Missed Call – Net Sales Down 27% in Q1)

With the weakening global markets, mobile players see a good potential in the Indian market. However, for most Indian consumers, mobiles are for their pockets, not for ears. That is, people hardly use airtime that mobile companies aim at, though mobile devices are increasing.

In a bid to chase plain numbers, mobile operators have been reducing call charges constantly. Still, they’re not able to persuade the buyers to use more airtime. People mostly use mobiles as pagers; after receiving the ring, they’d use office landline to call the caller. Or sometimes, 1 blank ring means “Yes” and 2 for “No”.

All this is evident from the average revenue per user (called ARPU in market parlance) that is too low and almost stagnant at around Rs. 300 (US $6 or so). That must be giving sleepless nights to mobile operators that have plenty of mobile phone owners who are too thrifty.

So the real challenge for marketers is to encourage people to consume more airtime. For this, voice-based business models won’t work. Mobile data services could be the key to success if mobile content is good, among a slew of other factors.

According to Wireless Intelligence, the GSMA’s market intelligence unit, the global market will reach 6 billion connections by 2013, as it says that the mobile world has celebrated its four billionth connection on February 11. (Read: Mobile Phone for Everyone on Earth by 2013).

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About Rakesh Raman

Have extensive editorial, content management, and integrated communications experience and have worked as a senior tech journalist, analyst, and columnist with different newspapers, magazines, and Web/online properties in India.

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