India Mobile Opportunities – Information and Media Sharing

I’ve been thinking that it’s actually quite difficult writing about investments for NRI Matters. Of course, there are tremendous investment opportunities in India, but it’s not clear to me whether many of these would be of interest and of use to the average NRI Matters reader, because some of these opportunities require considerable resources – perhaps at a level that only a multi-million dollar private or public company could muster. However, there are some very early stage possibilities in emerging sectors that may require little capital to initiate and which are also scaleable, which brings us back to the mobile telecom space.

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This article is a cross-post from NRI Matters, where I blog on Indian investment opportunities.  NRI Matters is joint effort of the Government of India and the Confederation of Indian Industry for reaching out to foreign investors.

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I’ve written in previous posts about how fast Indian mobile telephony is growing – there are well more than 600 million users and more than 10 million are being added every month. In addition, with the recent 3G spectrum auction, a whole host of new services is poised for launch. To date, the mix of VAS (value added services) in the mobile telecom space has included ringtones, various SMS services and poor quality video, but this is set to change with the onset of 3G technology. Importantly, I believe we are on the cusp of ubiquitous mobile video sharing capability, which opens up a whole new array of potential business models.

Currently in India, there are only about 50 million internet landlines, and only a small percentage of the population has regular access to television. With the advent of 3G and mobile video sharing technologies, the reach of internet and television/video services is going to increase significantly in the coming months and years. You can bet that the large mobile telco and content players will ensconce themselves right in the middle of this mobile revolution, but there are significant opportunities within the cracks for creative and combative startups to provide unique and valuable services.

I recently came across an Indian startup using mobile technology in a very simple yet valuable way. The problem that was solved: villagers in a certain UP district indicated that, while they had access to national and regional news, there was no service providing local news from their own village and surrounding villages. A non profit sponsor stepped in with a mobile telecom based solution: the sponsor hired two local individuals to gather news from the surrounding locale, which they uploaded via mobile voice. An editor assembled a newscast from these daily reports and villagers accessed these newscasts by dialing in to a mobile telephone number. Presto! – villagers now had local news and even those without mobile phones could benefit by frequenting the local tea shops, where villagers and tea-shop owners would put the newscasts on speakerphone throughout the day. Initially, the service was provided for free. However, after a short period of time the service was switched to a subscription and advertising based model – 80% of initial users subscribed and local business purchased advertising, which I think demonstrates the value proposition. Now imagine moving such a service over to mobile video, which would significantly enhance the content. Further imagine expanding this service to multiple villages….at sufficient scale regional, national and international brands would find it an interesting advertising venue. And there is no need to chase advertisers on an individual basis – there are plenty of advertising aggregators who have existing relationships with brands who would be willing to sign on board given the right pitch.

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