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.