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The Indian mobile wars- Part 1 : The Intro

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The Indian mobile battles are fast turning ugly. Given the declining call rates and increasing competition, the picture on the mobile landscape is changing every minute.  We are beginning a series of posts to give you an idea of where mobile market is going and what it means for you , the end customer.

Here is a short intro and strategy of each mobile carrier :

1. Airtel – India’s number 1 mobile operator. Focus on staying at Number 1 with rural additions. Not too much emphasis on new plans or offers. Perhaps best overall network quality across India. Leverage their vast distribution network to the hilt. Planning a merger with MTN of South Africa.

2. Vodafone – Number 2 GSM player. It has the highest ARPU ( average revenue per user) for all mobile operators in India. High postpaid customer base. High ratio of urban versus rural.  Focus more on quality of plans/cute marketing ( doggy ad/zoozoos etc etc) and new VAS services. Not too strong in South India.

3.  BSNL – 3G launch was a big flop , as expected. The network which goes where no one else will go ( since it is a PSU). Dud as far as technology, new plans or VAS services is concerned. Very absymal marketing.

4. MTNL – smaller sister of BSNL in lucrative Mumbai and Delhi circles. Its a big hit amongst school/college students due to plans with ultra low SMS and call rates. Not much otherwise to write home about. Launched 3G along with BSNL, but no one noticed.

5. Reliance – Number 2 overall, and Number 1 CDMA player.  Recently launched GSM and clocked up 5 million in 1 month mainly through free plans.  CDMA players have very low ARPU ( nearly 50% less) compared to GSM. So, GSM is their next big thrust forward.

6. Tata Indicom – Number 2 CDMA player, launched GSM recently in partneship with Docomo of Japan. Pretty hefty marketing since then, including the 1 second plan. Traditionally big in western part of the country.

7. Idea – Backed by the Aditya Birla group, Number 3 GSM player after Airtel and Vodafone. Also known as  ‘The common man’s telco’. Very powerful in semi-urban and rural areas thanks to their plans and marketing ( What an Idea Sirjee, starring Abhishek Bacchan) .  Strong in UP and Maharashtra and catching up elsewhere.

8. Aircel – The dominant GSM player from TamilNadu. Maxis group from Malaysia recently invested in Aircel.  Most flexible plans and vouchers in the country that I have seen. They have a tariff voucher for everything! I think they were also the first to launch vouchers for mobile internet ( Recharge for Rs 35 and get GPRS access for 20 MB free etc) , which now Airtel has also followed. They have expanded in all circles since getting the All India license. Showing strong performance in North East ( traditionally neglected by bigger players). They are also one of the fastest growing in relative terms. Innovative marketing/sales  as well with Aircel DIY kiosks.

9. MTS – CDMA arm of Shyam Telecom backed by Etilasat of UAE. In the process of expanding across India.

10. Loop Mobile( earlier BPL Mobile) – Strong player in Mumbai with very high ARPU.  Very Loyal user base. In the process of expanding across India.

11. Virgin Mobile – Use Tata’s network and Virgin’s famous customer service to create an MVNO kind of model. Appeal directly to the urban youth with cheap plans but have not yet got the traction they expected, despite spending a lot on marketing. Only prepaid and handsets are mostly cheap Chinese makes ( ZTE) bundled with SIMs.

12. Unitech wireless – Telco owned by Unitech group. In the process of launching.

13. Datacom – Telco owned by Videocon group. In the process of launching.

With urban penetration at 80% already, the new players will need to be very innovative with their marketing. However, all is not lost for them with 3G and Mobile Number Portability in the offing.

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