We’ll be ready for 5G by 2020 – Reliance Jio

Reliance Jio owner Mukesh Ambani has stated India will be fully-4G by 2020, and is setting his eyes on the 5G euphoria already.

The statement of intent adds to a remarkable couple of years for Reliance Jio and the Indian digital economy on the whole. Starting from nothing in December 2015, Reliance Jio has risen to become arguably the most influential telco in India, dragging the country’s digital economy into the 21st century. A little over two years ago, India was in the digital baron lands, though now the Indian digital appetites are as insatiable as those in ‘developed’ nations.

“India has moved from 155th rank in mobile broadband penetration to being the number 1 nation in mobile data consumption in the world… in less than two years,” said Ambani at the India Mobile Congress, courtesy of Live Mint. “This is the fastest transition anywhere in the world from 2G/3G to 4G. By 2020, I believe that India will be a fully-4G country and ready for 5G ahead of others.”

Paying complements to the pro-active approach to stimulating the digital economy from the Indian government, Ambani is continuing the ambitious expansion of the Reliance Jio business. 5G is what will attract the headlines, most notably after a few telcos highlighted 5G is not a top priority for some nations at Broadband World Forum last week, but the broadband ambitions are just as important.

Tackling the 5G euphoria and increasing broadband penetration across the country perhaps work happily alongside each other when you consider the importance of a fibre network in both cases. The JioGigaFiber proposition, announced during the company’s AGM in July, promises FTTH connectivity in a market where broadband penetration is roughly 10%. ‘Fibering up’ the country is critical for 5G, and Reliance Jio has already started the mission.

“India will be among the largest digital markets in the world,” said Ambani. “Every enterprise must have an ‘India First’ vision to participate in this market. We will need to reinvent to grow and nurture this market to its full potential. This will be a win-win for the entire industry, for India and for the entire world.”

One interesting question which remains is whether the lessons taken from the Jio-effect can be implemented into other nations which are struggling in the lowly places of the digital league tables.

Jio earnings more than double as it tops a quarter of a billion subscribers

The spectacular, if unsurprising growth of Indian operator Reliance Jio continues with an annual EDITDA increase of 148%.

You can see the main numbers below and you don’t even need to be able to get your head around India’s arcane number system to see that everything’s moving in the right direction, fast. This doesn’t come as a great surprise since it put up similarly spectacular numbers last quarter too, but the Jio train is showing no sign of slowing.

Jio Q3 financials

“We, at Jio, are glad with our progress towards our mission with more than 250 million subscribers on our network within 25 months of commencement of services,” said Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani. “Our next generation FTTH and enterprise services are now being made available to our customers to further enhance our value proposition to our customers. We are making rapid progress on the growth of our digital platforms, across new commerce, media and entertainment, agriculture, education, healthcare and financial services, which will further enhance the quality of life and productivity of the people of India.”

Not content with all this ownage, Jio is splashing some of the cash that is now flowing in on some other strategic investments. It has grabbed majority stakes in Indian cablecos Den Networks, Hathway Cable and Datacom, as well as a 12.7% stake in US personal rapid transit company SkyTran,

“Our partnership with SkyTran reflects our commitment to invest in futuristic technologies,” said Jio Director Akash Ambani. “Reliance is well-poised to capitalize on its existing business portfolio and capabilities to accelerate the development of SkyTran across the world and especially in India.”

Check it out.

 

US Senators hit out at India’s pro-privacy and localisation laws

Two US Senators have signed a letter addressed to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting new rules to tighten up data practices in the country could lead to a weakened trade relationship with the US.

The US Government has already shown the damage which can be done when it starts throwing around economic sanction and hurdles, almost sending ZTE to join the Dodo on the extinction list, and it appears to be using the same tactics here. However, instead of punishing an organization which broke trade laws, it is attempting to bully a country into its own line of thinking and away from a pro-privacy stance.

“We see this (data localization) as a fundamental issue to the further development of digital trade and one that is crucial to our economic partnership,” the letter signed by Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner states. The Senators serve as co-chairs of the Senate’s India caucus.

The letter, seen by Reuters, relates to new data protection, privacy and localisation rules which are set to come into play this week (October 15). The rules have been in the making for some time, and while there are some very suspect clauses, this is an attempt to tame the wild-west internet in the country, applying regulations which should be deemed more acceptable for the digital economy.

Back in July, the Indian Government unveiled a report which detailed its new approach to data regulations in the country. Included in the rules are restrictions on how data can be collected and utilised, setting out a similar stance to GDPR in Europe, while also including new approaches such as the right to be forgotten, explicit opt-in consent for certain categories of data (that which is deemed sensitive), and also data localisation. It is a much more stringent approach to the data economy, taking India closer to the European stance on privacy than the US’ views.

Aside from the data protection and privacy benefits of localisation, and not to mention greater influence for the Indian Government, such a strategy also stimulates the economy. Local jobs will have to be created and new data centres will have to be constructed to meet the rising demands of the increasingly digital Indian economy and society. These are clearly benefits for the country, though the threat of an impact on US trade will certainly be a worry for India.

Over the course of 2017, India exported $34.83 billion worth of goods and services to the US. This figure accounted for 16% of the total exports for the country, making the US the largest trading partner. The US Government certainly does have leverage to coerce India into its own way of thinking.

The letter from the Senators also happens to coincide with some pretty heavy lobbying from the likes of Visa, Mastercard and American Express. All would certainly find life simpler if there was no such thing as localisation, though it seems lobbying Senators to fight the cause has been more effective than efforts to persuade Indian officials to head a different direction. The new rules seem to have been influenced by Europe’s GDPR, though the US, both the Government and companies, have a different approach to data than the pro-privacy Europeans.

With India’s economy fast evolving from analogue to digital, there certainly will be profits to be made. Many US companies, most notably those in Silicon Valley, will be looking greedily at the country though such rules would make life more difficult. Not impossible, but not as simple. Perhaps the economic weight of the US Government can bully India into believing the ‘American Dream’.

Indian government greenlights plan to increase broadband penetration

While Reliance Jio has been ripping up the rulebook, causing chaos in the Indian mobile market, some might be surprised to hear broadband penetration is still less than 10%.

Accessibility has long been an issue in India, from a mobile perspective Jio seems to have addressed this issue, though broadband remains an challenge. According to the latest subscription figures from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), there are currently 22.2 million broadband subscriptions in the country, compared to roughly 250 million households. This is one of the discrepancies being addressed by the National Digital Communications Policy – 2018.

According to the Indian Express, the government has officially given the green light for the policy, which aims to attract $100 billion investment and create an additional four million jobs in the digital communications sector. The ambitions and targets are certainly bold, though momentum is certainly with India.

In terms of the top-line objectives, there are six; provisioning broadband for all; creating the four million jobs; increasing the percentage digital communications contributes to GDP from 6% to 8%; taking India into the top 50 places in the ICT Development Index of ITU; ensuring digital sovereignty; enhancing India’s global contribution to the digital economy.

Looking specifically at the broadband side of things, by 2022 the Indian government hopes to enable fixed line broadband access to 50% of households across the country, 100 Mbps broadband on demand to all key development institutions, provide 10 Gbps connectivity to all Gram Panchayats of India. These ambitions will be realised through creating a ‘fibre first’ initiative, promoting collaboration models involving state, local bodies and private sector, as well as incentivising and promoting fibre connectivity for all new developmental construction.

The telcos will surely be rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the opportunity. Fixed broadband infrastructure is an expensive game, though love and care from the government, as well as subsidies and potential tax benefits, will certainly offer opportunity to deploy infrastructure, new customers and revenues. Over the next couple of months, the government will aim to create a National Digital Grid, through the establishment of the National Fibre Authority, building Common Service Ducts and utility corridors, facilitating development of Open Access Next Generation Networks, as well as standardising costs and timelines.

Broadband offers a significant opportunity for the telcos who have seen profit margins decimated by the entry of Reliance Jio. With such low broadband penetration, the land grab for customers will be a vicious one, though with higher ARPU the rewards are quite clear.

From a global perspective, increased broadband penetration will certainly offer India a greater opportunity to play a more notable role in the global marketplace. This is looking at the global question outwardly; there will be a number of international businesses keeping an eye on developments here. Should broadband accessibility increase, companies like Netflix will almost certainly be lining up new products and tariffs. This in turn will stimulate the Indian creative industry, as a cornerstone of the Netflix strategy is to create local content.

The mobile revolution kicked off by Jio’s disruptive pricing proved to be a catalyst for India in the international digital economy, though increasing broadband accessibility and penetration could have the same impact. India has been an interesting market over the last 12-18 months, and with broadband now being addressed, it has recaptured our attention.

Jio leapfrogs Idea and Vodafone for second place in India

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has unveiled the monthly growth statistics for July and India is still the market which keeps giving.

Looking at the wireless segments to start with, Jio is once again dominating. Overall, the market grew by 10.5 million subscriptions taking the total to 1.15 billion. This number is already pretty staggering, though when you consider the total population of the country is over 1.3 billion there is still room for growth. In most developed markets the mobile penetration (the total number SIM cards) exceeds 100% of the population, while there are numerous cases of this percentage going north of 110%. Looking at these statistics in the simplest of terms, there is still potential for another couple of hundred million subscriptions in the country.

Of course, Jio is capitalizing most from the insatiable appetite of the Indian digital society. When looking at the total number of subscriptions secured by the telcos, Reliance Jio captured roughly 91% of the new customers, boosting its subscription base by 11.7 million. Amazingly, the 609,000 subs captured by Vodafone or the 313,000 attributed to Bharti Airtel are nothing more than footnotes; how many markets are there were you could say that!

The end result is continued momentum for Jio. As you can see below, Jio has leapfrogged both Vodafone and Idea in the market share rankings. That said, with the much-anticipated merger on the horizon it won’t be long before the combined entity hits top spot.

Telco Net Adds Market Share
Reliance Jio 11,796,630 19.62%
Vodafone 609,974 19.3%
Bharti Airtel 313,283 29.81%
BSNL 225,962 9.8%
Idea 5,489 19.07%
MTNL -9,914 0.3%
Reliance Communications -31,814 0.004%
Tata -2,357,690 2.1%

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these statistics is in the broadband market however. The staggering growth of the mobile segment will continue for at least the short- to mid-term future, though with a total of 22.2 million broadband subscribers there is an incredible opportunity for the right offering.

Just to put these numbers in perspective, the broadband would have to grow 50-fold to even come close to the same scale as mobile. Admittedly, it significantly more expensive to invest in infrastructure for a future-proofed broadband network in comparison to mobile, but this is an area which seems primed for the right disruption.

Of course, with disruption comes uncomfortable truths. Jio might be on an upward trend, collecting subscriptions and hiring generously, though the consequence of this disruption has been market consolidation. In the most general terms possible, consolidation is never a positive for the job market, while the Financial Express is reporting job losses of 50,000-75,000 in the Indian telco market across 2018.

OnePlus grabs global market share in the era of the affordable flagship

It looks like we may have hit the ceiling with respect to what people are prepared to pay for a flagship smartphone and cheaper alternatives are benefiting.

Counterpoint Research has released some interesting data tracking the global smartphone market by vendor and also by price tier and region. This kind of slicing and dicing of data can reveal some interesting trends and in this case it uncovers some significant movement in the price tiers immediately below premium.

Apple continues to kick ass at the very top, and it’s hard to see this ever changing given the unique differentiators it has in the form of software, brand, loyalty, etc. But with the start of the iPhone X era, Apple decided to test the market’s price tolerance by going over $1,000 for the basic version of a phone for the first time. It seems to have got away with it, but these new numbers indicate it’s also driving demand for cheaper devices that are almost as good.

You can see the chart below. Counterpoint says and smartphone costing $400 or more is in the premium segment, but then subdivides it by price tier. Above $800 Apple has a near monopoly and then it largely shares the $600-$800 tier with Samsung. Below that, however, is where the Chinese vendors come in, with OnePlus being especially interesting as it’s far less reliant on its domestic market than the likes of Oppo and Vivo. It is doing especially well in the UK and India, in the latter case becoming the leading premium smartphone vendor by volume for the first time in Q2 2018.

Counterpoint premium smartphone Q2 2018 prices

We spoke to Neil Shah of Counterpoint to get some insight into what’s going in in this price tier. “As smartphone users mature on the usage experience curve they are looking for premium specs and experience,” he said. “However, the bulk of them are not able to afford or invest more than $800+ for a phone as $800+ is the new normal for premium specs.

“Hence, there is a pent-up demand for ‘affordable flagship’ grade premium smartphones. Players like OnePlus has been able to offer the flagship grade specs at almost $500-$600 price points helping it significantly grow share. OnePlus has been expanding swiftly in Western European markets with growing  popularity especially in Nordics, UK, Germany and so forth hitting that affordable premium price points.”

The other table served up by Counterpoint was a top-5 list of premium tier vendors by region. As you can see, OnePlus is among the leaders in Western Europe and APAC excluding China. Apple and Samsung top nearly all of the lists, but there’s a reassuring degree of diversity among the next three, with Motorola still doing OK in the Americas, Nokia-branded HMD appealing to the Middle East and Africa and even Asus getting some success in Eastern Europe.

Counterpoint premium smartphone Q2 2018 regions

OnePlus was so pleased with its achievement it even got some more granular data from Counterpoint to use in its own press release. Apparently OnePlus was the third best-selling premium smartphone in Sweden in Q2, fourth in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and fifth in Italy. That comes as no surprise to us as we found it to represent great value for money even when compared to other premium Android phones.

Facebook surge shows how quickly India is embracing digital

Few countries can claim to have embraced the digital world with the speed India has, and Facebook is hoovering up the cash as a result.

According to Reuters, Facebook will generate almost $1 billion in revenue across the country in 2018, a milestone which Google only reached last year. Despite the fact Google has had a presence in India for a substantially longer timeframe, Facebook seems to be better capitalizing on the surge towards virtual, inspired by the Jio disruption.

There will of course be multiple reasons for this rise, though industry commentators have pointed towards the simplicity of Facebook’s platform as one of the reasons. Although Facebook is yet to develop any India-specific products, unlike Google, the platform relies on visual communications not text, which makes the proposition a simpler one to translate for advertisers targeting Indian consumers and businesses.

The simplicity of engaging the international advertising community will of course be a factor, but perhaps timing should be taken into consideration as well. Google might have had a presence in India for years, but it is only over the last 18 months the digital economy has taken hold. The entrance of Reliance Jio should not be undervalued here either, as the firm democratised digital with ridiculously cost effective and accessible offers on mobile subscriptions. The appetite for digital has been raging in India since.

Hence the timing factor being an important one. Google might have had a presence in India, but pre-Jio there the opportunity to capitalize in the same way it has elsewhere was not present. Facebook joined the Indian bonanza just as the tsunami of consumer data consumption was rising, creating the perfect conditions to grab advertising revenues as consumers toured the digital highways for the first time.

Looking at the rise of digital advertising spend, the Pitch Madison Advertising Report estimates digital advertising spend increased by 27.2% over the course of 2017, with 2018 commanding a boost of 25%. Most estimates put the global average at a 4-5% increase. With the number of mobile subscriptions continuing to increasing month-on-month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India suggests 15 million new subscriptions were added to the total in July, the opportunity will only become more apparent.

For Facebook, the opportunity to grow will come as a welcome relief for investors. The most recent financial results proved to be somewhat tepid for Facebook, as while profitability is still abundant, worries about future growth have been aired. The Facebook business model, while a very successful one, is limited. It relies on advertising services to users, though there is a limit to how much the platform can be commercialised before customer experience declines. In some markets, this ceiling has been reached. For Facebook to continue growth in the long-term, the subscriber base needs to be bolstered continuously.

This is of course not an immediate worry but saturation point might be reached in the next couple of years. When you take out those who are too old, too young, not interested, not allowed or not able, how many more users are there on the planet for Facebook to lure into the walled advertising garden. Facebook initiatives like TIP become more logical when you understand the need for Facebook to fuel advertising growth with new users.

Whether this means Facebook will overtake Google in the advertising revenue league tables remains to be seen, Google’s ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative is ramping up to give it some impetus, but the management team will certainly breathe a bit easier knowing there are still users to entice out there.

Vodafone India and Idea Cellular officially tie the knot

The merger of Vodafone India and Idea Cellular to create India’s largest MNO has finally been completed.

The two companies first started publicly courting back at the start of 2017 but their protracted engagement took almost two years to come to fruition. The capex-intensive telecoms industry naturally tends towards M&A and the economies of scale it promises, but the brutal arrival of Reliance Jio hastened this process in the unusually fragmented Indian market.

The Vodafone announcement was of the stripped down type often associated with M&A – we didn’t even get a canned quote from the CEO saying how excited they are. There was plenty of reassuring talk about synergies, however, which was nice, and the new company is going to be called Vodafone Idea.

The combined effort claims 408 million customers, which makes Vodafone Idea the largest Indian MNO, with around 38% subscriber share according to Ovum’s WCIS. Bharti AirTel’s 30% share is relegated to second place, while Jio continues to grab subscribers and is a solid third with a 19% share.

It remains to be seen how smooth this merger will be and how much of the anticipated $1.5 billion of synergies will ever be realised. Thanks largely to Jio the Indian market has gone from being highly fragmented to just four players (BSNL has around 10% of subscribers). The brutal price war seems likely to continue and, as much as anything else, this merger seems designed to ensure the two companies involved can survive it.

Amazon Pay acquires app aggregator platform Tapzo

Amazon has acquired Indian app company Tapzo in a deal to bolster its digital payments offering.

According to the Economic Times, the deal will be valued between $40-45 million, while co-founders Ankur Singla and Vishal Pal Chaudhary will be brought onto the Amazon team to continue development of the offering. While the acquisition is yet to be confirmed by either party, sources state Amazon is after a shortcut to get in on the mobile money bonanza.

“It would have taken Amazon Pay up to two years to build an entire stack of service offerings to enable efficient use-cases for its payment platform,” one source familiar with the deal stated. “So this acquisition helps them save time and also enables them to spread their cashback offers across a host of services immediately.”

Tapzo is an aggregator platform that allows users to access over 35 apps including Amazon, Flipkart, Ola and Uber through a single screen, but also allows for mobile payments, to pay bills, order cabs and food and book flights and hotels. The most popular service for users to date has been bill payments and recharges, with about 15,000 transactions per month across the two services.

Integrating the Tapzo capabilities into the Amazon Pay business will offer the team plenty of ammunition as the battle for domination in the Indian payments market warms up. While there are several local firms are controlling market share for the moment, PhonePe and Paytm for example, the continued digital revolution in India is attracting the interest on the international scene.

Aside from Amazon, Google has also been carving itself a new revenue stream in India. Its Tez offering has recently been rebranded to Google Pay, and will start offering new services such as pre-approved loans.