The advent of 4G and telecom wars

Every-time there is a disruption in the telecom market, there is a flurry of wars that come out of it. It happened when Reliance had its CDMA phones, it happened when Tata-Docomo was launched and there will be now when Reliance JIO is launched. These are healthy wars from the end customer point of view.

Telecommunications in India is a good case study. It gives many interesting insights about consumer behaviour, about how markets are driven and how companies bring their strategies to execute to win.

Telecom IndiaA few months ago, I was in Bihar, where Reliance Jio was already launched as a part of their pilot study (or early market capture if you want to call it). The new markets to be captured are there. (Bihar, UP and Bengal are amongst the most populous states in India). I was pleasantly surprised to see that people had these amazing phones with good configuration and decent design. I was further surprised to find many of my friends catching up on serials on Colors, Sony etc, on their JIO connection phones without buffering. Now this is a location in Bihar, that had good 3G and now has 4G. Not many places around the country has the same. So when Reliance mentions that they are looking to make 4G accessible to at least 90% of areas in the country, it is definitely worth taking notice.

There is a whole new generation of users who are going straight onto mobiles without ever having used a laptop/desktop and also now on 4G directly. This is an interesting thing in the context of designing and developing solutions for this market. New rules would have to be written for this interesting demographic.

There are different plans launched for the consumers, and I think the Rs 499 one is a good price bracket to capture the masses. The unlimited usage at night is a good offering. Mobile data has always been the more expensive thing, left for the elite few. For this audience that I am talking about, the notions of small recharges, 100MB data over a slow 2G connections have been normal. So 4G and this really attractive pricing changes all of that. The behemoth that Reliance is, it can take this step to not (or low) charge customers upto December, till they get their critical mass of audience.

In a way this is also a signal to other service providers to get in the game and play. Some service providers have already announced the reduction of the rates of their existing plans. I am sure the likes of Airtel and Vodafone and Idea have been following the developments on the 4G front with keen eyes. We wait to see what comes of it. Airtel has been trying to get the maximum of this 4G game for some time, with advertisements specifically focusing on 4G and the free distribution of  (or upgrade to) 4G sims.

While Reliance could have done this to play to the masses, it is important to see how the experience is. Quality will suffer and the challenge is to see whether the technology and telecommunications network is able to live up that expectations. Loyalty of customers to a certain brand, was nullified with the ability to port the number to other network. As a result the only way that remains is the customer experience and value added services that come along with it. I am hoping that the end customers will benefit immensely from this.

On the equipment front, Reliance had done this game changer move with bundling up with Nokia and other phones for their CDMA technology service. Currently it is doing the same with LYF phones and its range of affordable yet good smart phones. The vision is that the phones will become a top selling phone, for there will be no other way to get JIO.  Which also really brings to the point worth pondering over. Just how much extra do we end up paying for our Phones presently!

Today Innovation happens in an Ecosystem and not in isolation. JIO is also relying heavily on VoLTE as a key offering through the JIO eco-system. Eventually the plan could be to build this Eco-system.

These are all interesting times for the designers and innovators. We will be forced to come up with new rules and ways of working to ensure that the products and services that are designed for this audience who perhaps do not care about loyalty, and is still highly experience driven.

Remembering Prof M P Ranjan…

It has been just over a week, since the Design fraternity in India woke up to the tragic loss caused by the sudden demise of Prof M P Ranjan, who has been the most revered Design Evangelist in India by a long way. His passing way has left too huge a gap both in the academia and the professional side.

Professor Ranjan was a Designer Teacher, whom I never had the fortune of getting taught by in person in a course in particular at NID (where he taught most of his life), but I am still hugely inspired by. Way back in 2003, when he was visiting the Bamboo centre in Tripura, he had stopped by at the Department of Design, IIT Guwahati where I was a student. His fascinations with processes and methodologies was indeed inspiring. His association for the cause of Bamboo and its revival or survival (depending on the way you see it) was highly motivating. What also remained with me was his eagerness to record all his meetings, and visits, then done with the Sony Digital Camera that he carried around. Later this tool gave way to the iPad, and the famed Selfie with Ranjan.

Later I was only fortunate to have read through his postings on his popular website. Design for India. There was so much passion into even the name of the website. Today when I reflect back, I must admit, his writings also played at the back of my mind, when I decided to come back to India after studying in the US for my masters. I wanted to contribute back in India and help the discipline of Design grow and find more takers here.

Finally I did a chance to sit through his classes in 2013, a good 10 years after I had first met him. During his meeting, I did remind him of our meeting in 2003, of which he had no memory, but I had clearly. In my capacity at the India Studio Director of  L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, we invited Professor Ranjan to Bangalore to take sessions on Design Thinking and Design Methodologies. This was when I happily became a student again. Sitting through those 3 days of workshop style classes itself was filled with joy. The one thing that stuck with me from these sessions was his emphasis on System Design Thinking and why we need to think about different stakeholders. A simple exercise like understanding the Pizza Delivery Service, and using that as a reference to teach Design Methodology is something that I will cherish.

M P Ranjan at TCD Class
M P Ranjan at TCD Class of L’École de design Nantes Atlantique (India Studio)

I also remember his excitement when I mentioned that I was a student of Erik Stolterman, Professor at Indiana University, whose book The Design Way was in his list of must read books in Design Theory. During one of the conversations over lunch, one thing that he did talk about is that Design in India has been there for a long time, if you look at the history of Indian crafts and the rich cultural heritage we have. Only recently it has become a profession. I have used this example a lot of times in my talks and interactions at conferences, as it conveys a lot about Design in India.

Professor Ranjan is a legend that will live on for generations, whenever design in India is spoken about. Such was his passion for Design in India, that over the past few years he became very vocal about opinions on Design. When governments refused to think Design (Thinking) could change things, he was there fighting it alone to let Design in India get its due importance. It was his vision for Design Thinking that led me to believe that it could help in running organisations. This is something that has even formed the basis of running my non-profit venture Happy Horizons Trust.

A few things that inspired me to the core, was his passion to share knowledge. Be it his articles, research papers, research methodologies, everything was accessible to all. Today, there would be thousands of students of his and researchers who would have his website bookmarked, as the information was too valuable. His postings on Social Media was followed religiously as well.

As A Balasubramaniam writes in his blog post, Onus is on us, I do reflect back on the things that I have got to doing after I started following Professor Ranjan’s Blog more.

I started teaching more. The more I taught Design (school kids to college students to industry professionals to company CEOs), the more i learnt. I started to share more. I started to engage more in discussions and realise the importance of theory to back up your claims. These are somethings that i can truly owe it to Prof Ranjan.

My brief interactions was Professor Ranjan was rewarding and something that I will cherish lifelong and only aspire to follow his footsteps towards evangelising Design in India.