India Needs Affordable Smartphone, Mobile Plans with Unlimited Data

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The Indian telecom market is “certainly one of the most competitive” in the world, Antonios Drossos, managing partner at Rewheel Research told TelecomTalk on Monday. Rewheel Research, an independent telecom research firm in late March highlighted that India is among the countries with low prices for telecom plans while Canada is among the countries with “highest” telecom prices. In its report, the firm said that the Canadian telecom prices is the “highest among 51 European, American, Asia Pacific, Middle East and African countries.” In comparison, Drossos said that an 4G telecom plan with “at least” 20GB data is priced 24 times “lower in India than in Canada.”

Maverick Operator Reliance Jio Transformed Indian Telecom Market

However, if one takes into account the country general price level (CPL) metric, Drossos said that the telecom plans in Israel and Italy “have similarly very low prices.”

“The Indian market was completely transformed from the entry of Jio, a maverick operator group,” Drossos told TelecomTalk. “India has the lowest 4G monthly prices for plans with up to 50 gigabytes. But there is no affordably priced plans with very large (e.g. 500, 1000) or unlimited data volume which according to our research is the most important competitive metric.”

Drossos said that a telecom user in Israel can buy 30GB data for 5.48 euros (approximately Rs 483) while 5.98 euros (approximately Rs 526) in Italy would offer 50GB data. In comparison, the managing partner at Rewheel Research said that a telecom plan with 50GB data in India costs 4.39 euros which roughly translates to Rs 387. However, Drossos said that the general price level of Israel and Italy is three times and two times respectively higher to that of India.

“So those prices in Israel and Italy are relatively lower than the Indian price for 50 GB,” Drossos said. “Prices in mobile markets are primarily driven by the number of mobile network operators (MNO). The more MNOs the lower the price.”

Indian telecom plans are 24 times lower than Canada
Image courtesy: Rewheel Research

The managing partner at Rewheel Research said that Israel had five mobile network operators but that the country now has only four catering to its users. Similarly, Drossos said that Italy now has four telecom operators but that the operator count is set to increase to five.

In 2019, Fastweb, an Italian telecommunications company received official approvals from the country’s Ministry of Economic Development to become the nation’s fifth mobile network operator.

Further, Drossos said that Malaysia with six mobile network operators enables users to purchase 20GB data for 4 euros (approximately Rs 353) while 7 euros (approximately Rs 617) offers 6 Mbps “4G unlimited data volume.” Drossos also said that Malaysian telecom users can purchase “high speed 4G unlimited data volume” pack for 12 euros which roughly translates to Rs 1060.

Indian Telecom Operators Lack Spectrum, Mobile Sites

In mid-March 2021, Rogers Communications, one of the largest telecommunications company in Canada inked a deal to purchase Shaw Communications in a transaction valued at C$26 billion (approximately Rs 1537 billion) including debt. Rogers Communications offers wireless services through its subsidiaries Fido, Chatr and Rogers Wireless while Shaw Communications offers its services through its subsidiaries Freedom Mobile and Shaw Mobile. Freedom Mobile is said to be the fourth largest wireless operator in Canada with the company currently having over 1.9 million users as on November 30, 2020.

While the deal between Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications is currently being reviewed by the Canadian government, industry experts including Rewheel Research said that the merger will “result in higher prices and consumer harm.” However, the companies said that the transaction will “enhance competitiveness” and that it would offer “more choice and improved services” to Canadian users.

The Canadian telecom market is largely similar to the Indian telecom market with three large operators namely Rogers Communications, Telus and BCE controlling the majority of the wireless market. While the country does have multiple other operators including SaskTel, a government-owned telecommunications firm, these operators are largely restricted to one or two provinces.

Drossos said that such a scenario of a merger between two Indian wireless operators or even the collapse of an telecom operator will “most likely” result in the increase of telecom plans.

“Consumers prefer to buy very large or even better-unlimited data at the lowest price. How low can the lowest monthly price drop in a market depends on competition,” Drossos said. “If the smallest operator can make money by selling unlimited data for less than 10 EUR per month (see Malaysia and Russia for example) then the lowest price will be set at that level.”

While Indian telecom operators have been vocal about the need for an increase in the average revenue per user (ARPU) metric, Drossos said the operators need to offer “truly unlimited mobile data” to increase the APRU.

“In our knowledge and experience the only way to sustainable increase the monthly spend of mobile customers is to offer them truly unlimited mobile data [sic],” Drossos said.

Crucially, Drossos said that India needs “affordable” smartphones and telecom plans with “unlimited or practically unlimited” data volume as there is minimal wired broadband penetration and a “huge rural population.”

“The mobile operator that will move first has a lot to gain. Of course, this needs a lot of spectrum and a lot of mobile sites,” Drossos said. “And Indian operators do not have much of those two.”

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Born in India, Yogesh loves to travel and has lived in multiple countries including New Zealand and Canada. His bylines can be found on various newspapers and blogs throughout the world, including Vancouver Sun, Surrey Now-Leader, Daily Hive , Investing News Network and Rach F1.

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